Close
Close

The Why and How of Split Testing for Bloggers

This is a guest contribution from  Michael Johnston, co-founder of MonetizePros.com.

Split testing has become an absolute must for anyone running an e-commerce site or driving PPC traffic to a landing page. The benefits of disciplined experimentation have been well documented, and any serious e-commerce company has embraced split testing as a surefire way to grow revenue and improve ROI.

But split testing isn’t just for e-commerce sites. It can be a tremendously valuable exercise for websites that don’t have a product to sell or even a landing page to optimize. Bloggers and other publishers are often afterthoughts in split testing discussions and tutorials, but there’s a huge opportunity for this audience to utilize both the user-friendly and more sophisticated split testing apps out there.

If you’re a blogger or publisher looking to improve your website monetization and user experience, we’ll assume that your primary goals look something like this:

  1. Increase newsletter signups
  2. Increase pageviews per visit (i.e., decrease bounce rate)
  3. Increase social shares (Facebook Likes, Tweets, +1s, etc.)

If you have any interest in accomplishing some or all of those goals, there are a number of experiments that you can start running now. Here are 25 of them to get you started:

Nav Bar Testing

Your nav bar is some of the most valuable real estate on your site; it represents an opportunity to steer visitors to the pages you most want them to visit. There are several tests that can be run on the navigation bar to determine the layout that will maximize your conversion rates:

Test #1: Nav Bar Text

Try testing the text you use to describe each of the destinations featured in your nav bar. If you’re featuring a link to your newsletter, try several variations on that concept and see which get the highest and lowest click rates. For example you might try:

  • Newsletter
  • Free Newsletter
  • E-Newsletter
  • Subscribe

This experiment can be run for each section / link included in the nav bar; try different phrasings of each until you come up with the top converters.

Test #2: Nav Bar Colors

Changing the colors of the links in your nav bar is another easy-to-run test. This can be especially productive if there’s one nav bar link that you value above all others–a primary section of the site to which you’d like to drive traffic. Try contrasting that link in a number of different colors, and see which results in the highest click rate.

Test #3: Number of Nav Bar Links

Sometimes in a nav bar, less is more. Try experiments that remove some of the sections of your nav bar and leave only the sections of your site to which you most want to drive traffic. It’s possible that by removing some options you’ll get more total clicks (a result of eliminating the “analysis paralysis”).

Search Engine Land stands out as an example of a site that has a crowded nav bar:

 

Conversely, the blog at Ritholtz.com features only a few sections of the nav bar:

 

Newsletter Signups

For most bloggers and publishers, building an email distribution list is one of the most important parts of the audience development process. More email addresses means more recurring traffic, more regular readers, and more visibility for your content.

Converting a visitor who lands on your site to a newsletter subscriber is a huge win, and many websites devote prime real estate to an email capture mechanism. Here are some tests you can run to figure out the optimal layout for converting visitors from search or referring domains to newsletter subscribers:

Test #4: Signup Box Placement

Many publishers drive newsletter subscriptions through a widget in the sidebar of their sites. In most cases, a significant percentage of all signups comes from this placement.

Experiment with where this box goes on your site, or for an advanced implementation make it “follow” your readers as they scroll down the page.

Newsletter-Signup-Box

Test #5: Newsletter Signup Box Copy

The copy that accompanies your newsletter signup widget can impact your conversion rate. Try different calls to action to see what grabs readers’ attention and prompts them to enter their email address. Variations can be plain vanilla (“Sign up today for our free email newsletter”) or more bold (“Get the best [niche] content delivered to your inbox”). Come up with 3-5 different variations and see which performs best.

Here’s an example from MissyWard.com:

MissyWard newsletter sign up box

And here’s one from the KISSmetrics blog:

KissMetrics newsletter sign up box

Test #6: Subscribe Button Color

The color of the button that seals the deal for newsletter signups is probably an afterthought for most bloggers. This is one of the easiest tests to run; pick a few different color patterns for the “Subscribe” button and see if any stand out at attracting attention from visitors.

You’ll notice that a lot of newsletter signups feature an orange Subscribe button; that color is known to generate positive feelings:

Orange Subscribe Button

In their e-book on Conversion Centered Design, Unbounce notes the emotions associated with certain colors:

  • Red: danger, stop, negative, excitement, hot
  • Dark blue: stable, calming, trustworthy, mature
  • Light blue: youthful, masculine, cool
  • Green: growth, positive, organic, go, comforting
  • White: pure, clean, honest
  • Black: serious, heavy, death
  • Gray: integrity, neutral, cool, mature
  • Brown: wholesome, organic, unpretentious
  • Yellow: emotional, positive, caution
  • Gold: conservative, stable, elegant
  • Orange: emotional, positive, organic
  • Purple: youthful, contemporary, royal
  • Pink: youthful, feminine, warm
  • Pastels: youthful, soft, feminine, sensitive
  • Metallics: elegant, lasting, wealthy

Test #7: In-Content Newsletter Plugs

One of the best places to create new newsletter subscribers is within your content. While readers are digesting your content, they’re ripe for the suggestion of joining a mailing list that will provide them with more of the same. Here’s an example of one of our in-content plugs for our mailing list:

In Content Plug

Test out different implementations of this to see what combination delivers. Items to vary include the copy, position within content, and even the color / font.

Test #8: Newsletter Page Copy

In addition to a sidebar widget to capture emails, most blogs include a page dedicated to the newsletter sign up process. Try different copy on your newsletter signup page above the fields that will actually be filled out to subscribe. Variations to test may include:

  • Bullet points highlighting the benefits of signing up (the number and content of each can vary)
  • One sentence call to action (“Enter your email address below to sign up for our free e-newsletter”)
  • Pledge to not spam
  • No copy at all (simply a signup box)

Smitten-Kitchen-Subscribe-Page

There is a ton to test here, including location of subscribe box, color of the button, number of bullet points, copy of the bullet points, etc.

Test #9: Newsletter Page Ads

The screenshot above highlights another testing opportunity: try removing all ads from your newsletter signup page, and measure the impact on your conversion rate. In all likelihood, you’ll see an increase in signups; the page will load more quickly, and there will be fewer distractions for potential subscribers.

You’ll forego some revenue from deleting ad units, but may make up for it with increased newsletter conversions. So the variation might look something like this:

Smitten-Kitchen-Subscribe-Page-No-Ads

Test #10: Required Fields

If your site requires multiple fields to be completed in order to complete a newsletter signup or other registration (such as a free membership), there’s an opportunity to test the impact of changing the number of inputs required.

Here’s a site that requires first name and email address in order to get a copy of an e-book:

An obvious test to run here would be to remove the “First Name” field and measure the change in conversion rate with only one required input.

Test #11: Thank You / Confirmation Page

Once a visitor has completed the newsletter signup process, there’s still more you can prompt them to do. The “thank you” page that confirms a newsletter signup is often overlooked, but is a great place to test strategies to funnel new subscribers back into your content (i.e., lower the exit rate from that page).

To demonstrate, we’ll stick with the Smitten Kitchen example from above. Here’s where I land after signing up for the newsletter:

Smitten Kitten Thank-You-Page

I would guess that the exit rate from this page is pretty high; there is no clear call to action, and the link that directs you back to the site is hidden near the bottom of the page. There’s a great opportunity to do some testing here to pull new subscribers back to the site–a section with popular posts (including images) could be a place to start.

Joseph Kerschbaum put together a great article on this concept that includes some specific examples.

Test #12: Social Proof / Testimonials

In order to convince visitors to sign up for your newsletter or create an account, it may be helpful to use the testimonials of others. There are two primary ways to reflect your site in a positive light: volume and quality. Volume simply means using numbers to show how popular your newsletter is.

Here’s an example from ShoeMoney.com:

Earlier we showed the newsletter signup at MissyWard.com, which includes a testimonial to enhance the perceived value of signing up for the free newsletter:

MissyWard Testimonial

Test both of these methods for boosting the perception of your newsletter, and evaluate the impact it has on conversion rates.

Social Sharing

Increasing the social sharing of your site will lead to more pageviews, incoming links, and overall recognition of your brand and content. Here are some tests to run to determine the set-up that leads to maximum Tweets, Likes, and +1s:

Test #13: Social Share Positioning

Where on the site are readers able to share your content socially? The share buttons can live just about anywhere on the page, and you should be sure to know the impact that each position has. For example, here’s a site that positions them at the beginning of an article:

Here’s one (SEOmoz.org) that has them at the end:

 

And here’s one that uses an increasingly popular floating left sidebar implementation:

Floating-Side-Social

If you want to increase social sharing of your content, test different positions of your sharing widgets to see which locations result in the highest level of visitor engagement.

Test #14 Social Share Implementation

In addition to testing where social share buttons should appear, publishers can experiment with the look and feel. Here are three different examples to try:

Example #1:

Example #2:

Example #3:

Content-Related Tests

The way you lay out your articles or blog posts will have a big impact on how many pages the average visitor to your site views. By testing various implementations around your content, you can uncover the settings that will make your site “sticky” and generate more pageviews per visit.

Test #15: Featured Content

Many sites highlight their best content in a “Featured Articles” or “Most Popular” section. ReelSEO has a slick widget for highlighting different types of content:

Example of Featured Content

Driving higher engagement with Featured Content boosts time on site, pageviews per visit, and ultimately revenue. This is another great testing opportunity: rotate in different features, images, and positioning to this section and see which settings result in the most clicks.

Test #16: Images For Featured Content

When trying to draw your visitors’ attention to certain parts of your site, images can be a powerful tool to capture and guide the eye. Text is easily overlooked and ignored, whereas pictures tend to prompt an immediate response and may be more likely to generate clicks. Note the bottom of articles at the Crazy Egg blog:

Test #17: Sidebar Ordering

The sidebar–either left or right of content–is often used by publishers and bloggers to promote different services (such as newsletters or social media accounts) and sections of the site (such as specific pieces of content or content categories). Here’s an example that includes 1) newsletter signup 2) advertisements 3) popular stories 4) e-book 5) another e-book 6) more articles 7) upcoming events.

Example of side bar ordering

There’s a big opportunity to test the order of these offerings.

Test #18: Breadcrumbs

Breadcrumbs are often used to orient your visitors on your site, and can also be tools for helping them discover additional content and features on your site.

Several aspects of breadcrumbs can be tested to drive engagement, from the structure to the font and colors. The Crazy Egg Blog uses a unique color scheme to draw attention:

Here’s the more detailed breadcrumb we use on our site:

And here’s one more example:

Best of the Rest

There are a number of other areas that can be used to steer visitors to the parts of your site that you particularly want them to visit (e.g., newsletter or membership signups, or your best content). Here are a handful more tests bloggers and publishers can run to get their funnels optimized.

Test #19: Footer

Not a lot of thought goes into the footer of a website, but this section represents another opportunity to funnel visitors to the stickiest and best parts of your site. There are lots of opportunities to test here, but perhaps a good starting point involves two very different strategies.

Here’s a footer that effectively functions as a sitemap, featuring links to just about every section of the site: 

Example of a footer

Here’s a much slimmer implementation that includes only a small number of pages:

There are some obvious extensions of this testing; you can try different layouts, copy, and color schemes as well.

Test #20: Search Box

Search boxes can help your visitors find exactly what they’re looking for, which makes your site stickier and more useful to them. If you want to drive higher engagement here, try changing the color of the search button and the location of the search box. Move it within the sidebar or try re-positioning above the fold and integrating it into the leaderboard:

Test #21: Wide Stripe

We’ve seen some cool implementations of a page wide stripe to promote newsletter subscriptions, free trials, or other actions. Here’s an example from the Crazy Egg blog:

This can be a great way to funnel visitors towards a specific objective, and there are obviously plenty of testing opportunities here as well. Try changing the call to action and color for starters, and monitor the impact on click rates.

Test #22: Pop-Ups

The pop-up offer is one of the most effective tools available for boosting newsletter subscription rates, They’re annoying, but they work. There are all sorts of variables that can be tested within the pop-up itself, from the color scheme to the offer to the copy used to capture email addresses:

Test #23: Post-Article Membership Offer

The real estate at the end of articles / blog posts can be a great opportunity to drive your readers deeper into your funnel. For example, here’s the call to action we include after the conclusion of each article that prompts readers to sign up for a free membership:

Obviously, there’s lots to test here; the copy used, number of lines of copy, color of the e-book cover, color scheme, etc.. If you have a call to action below your content, test out different combinations to see hat drives conversions.

Test #24: Arrows

In a recent e-book on conversion centered design, Oli Gardner from Unbounce sums up the effectiveness of arrows as tools to help drive visitors to the desired sections of your site:

As directional cues, arrows are about as subtle as a punch in the face, which is why they work so well. With so little time on your page, visually guiding the user to the checkout is a smart move.

Here’s an example from AffiliateTip.com, a popular affiliate marketing blog:

We’ve also experimented with arrows on pages that drive signups to our free memberships (with pretty good results):

Try incorporating arrows into pages or sections of your site where visitors are able to sign up for your newsletter or create a membership. Evaluate the impact this visual cue has on conversions, and test variations of the implementation (e.g., style, colors) if the results are encouraging.

Test #25: Author Bios

Once visitors have read an article or blog post on your site, there’s a great opportunity to present them with an offer to engage with or follow the author. This is especially true if you reinforce the authority of the writer with an impressive biography–and then serve up an easy opportunity to follow on Twitter (or other social platforms).

Here’s an example from Unbounce. Notice the prompt to follow the author on Twitter:

Here’s another example from ReelSEO:

And one from ESPN.com:

Try implementing an author bio section at the end of your posts (even if there’s just one author) and include an option for readers to follow you on Twitter and/or get your posts via email (i.e., sign up for your newsletter). Throw together a headshot, brief bio, and call to action and measure the impact on conversion rate through this placement. Once implemented, there are obvious opportunities to test effectiveness through tweaks to image, headline font, color scheme, etc.

Bottom Line

While most cases for split testing are geared toward e-commerce companies, this exercise can be a tremendously valuable one for bloggers and publishers as well. Conducting split tests across your site can help you boost newsletter conversion rates, increase social sharing and pageviews per visit, and generally make more money from your existing traffic.

Take advantage of the numerous resources out there for split testing, and start optimizing your site today.

Michael Johnston is a co-founder of MonetizePros.com, a resource devoted to helping publishers and bloggers make more money from their existing Web traffic.

How to Get Dreams Out of Your Head [And a Video of Me Wearing Tights]

Watch it with your Tweeple: Tweet that you’re watching this video

Last month I had the honour of speaking at the World Domination Summit in Portland.

Conference founder, Chris Guillebeau, gave me the brief of sharing my story and to share some tips and ideas for helping people to lead remarkable lives in a conventional world. He also said he didn’t want me to just talk about blogging – a task I found very refreshing!

I spoke on the topic of ‘Getting Dreams out of Your Head‘ and covered quite a bit of ground. In this video you’ll see my full keynote and hear about:
[Read more...]

10 Tools To Help Protect Your Blog From Content Theft

This is a guest contribution from Adam Connell, blogger at Bloggingwizard.com.

If you write or publish a blog, you’ll inevitably experience the gut-wrenching feeling of content theft at some point in the life of your blog. It’s not fair but it’s now just part of the world of online content.

What can you do to protect the content you slaved over?

There is no 100% fool-proof way to protect your content, but you can make it more difficult for content thieves to steal your work and to punish them when they do.

I’m going to share some ways you can protect your content from theft and give you some resources to use to defend it against thieves and scrapers.

Padlock on door and your blog content!

How Do You Know If Your Content Has Been Stolen? 

Posting a copyright notice on your blog is a deterrent, albeit a small one. A copyright notice lets would-be content thieves know that you understand your rights to the fruits of your labor and that you intend to protect them. Nevertheless, not everyone is going to be deterred by your copyright notice.

The following online tools can be used to discover whether your content has been stolen or not. What you do after that is another story.

Google Alerts

Google Alerts are simple e-mail alerts you can establish by notifying Google that you want to keep tabs on certain keywords or phrases. Copy a unique phrase in your blog post or the title of your post and ask Google to send you an e-mail any time it is published elsewhere on the Web.

Use a plagiarism checker

There are several plagiarism checkers online. All of them have their benefits. Grammarly is a proofreading service and grammar checker, but it will also check your text against plagiarism. Plagium is another one. However, unlike Grammarly, you can check an entire URL to see if your content has been plagiarized.

While Grammarly and Plagium both are good services, Copyscape is more recognized. Like Plagium, you can check an entire URL for plagiarism, and you can put a “Protected By Copyscape” notice on your blog, which should scare away a few content scrapers.

All three services have a free service level and a premium paid service for high volume users.

Small Steps To Protecting Your Content From Theft

While Google Alerts and plagiarism checkers can tell you that someone has used your content without your permission, there are other things you can do to protect your content.

These are small steps that help you maintain a little control over your content and ensure that you at least get attribution should someone use your content without your approval.

WordPress SEO by Yoast

This WordPress plugin is useful if you are using the standalone WordPress software. The plugin has a feature that allows you to add some code to your RSS feed so that if your post is republished elsewhere, then an automatic link will be inserted pointing back to your website.

Some blogs use scraper software to automatically republish content from around the Web. No human is looking at these posts. If your blog is included among the URLs added to the scraper script, then you’ll at least get a link back. Don’t count on that link being very valuable, but it is there.

Tynt

Tynt is a service that provides code for you to insert into your web pages and will also tell you how many times your content has been copied and pasted. When someone copies and pastes your content, Tynt will add a link back to your website.

Google Authorship

Google Authorship is a content marketing strategy that associates your name or brand with your content in Google’s search index. By implementing Google Authorship you are increasing your chances of retaining control over your content by having your photo image appear next to your content in the search rankings.

While that won’t stop content thieves from scraping your content, it will make it easier to prove the content is yours and it will be easier to have stolen content removed when you file a DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) complaint. Learn more about Google Authorship here.

What You Should Do If Your Content Has Been Stolen

It is not always necessary to confront a content thief. You have to determine if there’s any real damage to your content being stolen.

First, ask yourself if the person is profiting from your content. If they are, then that’s a red flag. Secondly, ask if your reputation may be damaged by someone claiming that content. And thirdly, ask if it’s worth your trouble to pursue the content thief. Sometimes it is and sometimes it isn’t.

So let’s say that you determine you want to pursue the content thief and have them remove your content. Your first step should be to send them a friendly letter by e-mail, or by using their contact form, and asking them to remove your content. Alternatively, you can ask them to link back to your website.

If that doesn’t work, then you’ll have to take other measures.

You can start by finding out where their website is being hosted and contact the hosting company. Let the hosting company know that they are hosting a website that is stealing content. Under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, the hosting company is obligated to prevent access to websites that have infringed on someone’s copyright.

WhoIsHostingThis.com

You need to find out who is hosting the website that stole your content. That’s where Who Is Hosting This comes in. Once you know who is hosting the website, you can then send a DMCA request to the hosting company to have the website taken down.

Remove content from Google

To have content removed from Google’s search index, you’ll have to file a DMCA request with Google.

One Final Step To Combatting Plagiarism: Creative Commons

As I noted earlier, copyright notices are small deterrents. The same goes for Creative Commons.

However, Creative Commons licenses are becoming more acceptable and more popular. If people know that you don’t mind them using your content for benevolent purposes, they are more likely to respect your right to that content and its privileges.

Creative Commons

You can learn about the various Creative Common licenses on the Creative Commons website.

It’s a wild Web out there

Be diligent in protecting your content and you will reap the benefits of it for a long time to come.

What sort of experiences have you had with content theft? Whether you have successfully stopped people from stealing your content or not, we’d love to hear about it.

Adam Connell is an internet marketing and SEO nut from the UK. He can be found blogging over at Bloggingwizard.com, where he talks about marketing, social media, SEO and a few other topics. Follow him on Twitter @adamjayc.

How to Make Your Blogging Dreams Come True [Part 2]

Choose one small thing to start with that will move you toward your dream and do it to the best of your ability (tweet this).

I issued that challenge in a post How to Make Your Blogging Dreams Come True just over a month ago. Since publishing that post, I’ve had literally hundreds of readers email me to let me know that they’ve been using the mantra to move them toward their blogging (and non blogging) dreams.

As a result, I thought I’d circle back to it today to check in with how people are going as well as suggesting another strategy for helping you to move toward your dreams.

Last week, I spoke at the World Domination Summit about ‘getting dreams out of your head’. I finished my talk by suggesting those in the audience take a moment to tell the person next to them a dream they wanted to chase.

What I’ve discovered, over the years, is that when I share my dreams the chances of them happening increases. I think this is for three reasons:

Sharing Dreams Creates Accountability

Firstly, it creates a little accountability. When I share a dream I have (whether it be a big dream or a small one) I find it opens a conversation that becomes ongoing. The other person then has permission to followup and ask how the dream chasing is going and even if they don’t ask, I know they know… so I am motivated to pursue it!

Sharing Dreams Helps You Recruit Dream Collaborators

Secondly, I find that by sharing a dream with another person you often find collaborators who can help you make it happen. Just last week I told a friend a dream of mine and two days later I received an email telling me that they’d been thinking about what I’d told them and that they:

  • knew someone that I should talk to that had experience in that area
  • had just read an article that I should read that touched on my dream
  • wanted to offer to help with one aspect of making the dream a reality

Sharing your dream might just unearth the keys to make that dream happen.

Sharing Dreams Makes Them More Robust

Lastly, I find that verbalising a dream helps the dream to find shape. My dreams usually start off just living in my mind. But once I share it, verbally, I begin to hear the strengths and weaknesses of what I’m saying. By putting words to your dream, you begin to test it and shape it. When others ask you questions about it you’re forced to look at it in a more realistic way – something that helps to make it a more robust idea!

Who to Share Your Dream With?

So at WDS last week I asked people in the audience to share a dream with the person next to them. This took a few people out of their comfort zone but in the days that have followed, I’ve had emails from a number of people who took the challenge who have already seen their dreams becoming a reality. And it all started when they shared a sentence or two about their dreams.

Sharing your dreams with random people is certainly something that can have a big impact but you might want to be a little more selective than that, particularly if your dream is more personal or in its very early stages.

Sometimes you want to be a little careful about who you want to share a dream with because some people will bring their critical thought processes to the dream before it is ready to be critiqued. There’s certainly nothing wrong with having a dream ‘tested’ by such people but I tend to do this once a dream has been developed and becomes a little emote robust!

I have a small group of friends and team members who I know are great for listening to my dreams and ambitions. They are people who care for me, who I trust and who I know will encourage and give energy towards making dreams come true. They are also people who can tell me if an idea isn’t so great when required – without crushing my spirt :-)

Challenge: Share a Dream

So here’s my challenge to you. Share a dream!

Do you have a dream that you’ve been struggling to get out of your head? It may or may not relate to blogging – either way, I encourage you to share it with someone.

You may choose to do this by sharing it with a trusted friend as suggested above.

Or if your dream isn’t so personal or you’re ready to put it out there more publicly you might choose to do it in comments below or you might even write a blog post about that dream.

But don’t keep it to yourself!

7 Surprising Skills Blogging is Teaching You

This is a guest contribution from Kelly Teng, Digital Outreach Specialist at Switched on Media.

Blogging can take you on a whirlwind journey. It can have you running around at events, losing sleep, and sitting in front of your computer for hours and hours (and hours…). The end result is a great blog with stellar posts, and a myriad of experiences that you get to embark on and incredible people you get to meet.

However, your experiences and the amount of time you invest don’t just make for a great blog – in fact, your blogging benefits you in ways that you may not even realise.

Here are a few surprising skills that you acquire as a byproduct of blogging. You may discover some hidden talents you never thought you had (party tricks not included).

The gift of words

All right, perhaps this isn’t a surprising skill: blogging has you writing almost every day, so it’s almost a no-brainer that you’ll become proficient at it over time!

When you blog, you have to think up creative and interesting ways to convey your content to your readers, and also you have to articulate your thoughts clearly and express yourself well. Although you may not notice it, your writing has improved. Don’t believe me? Take a look at your first few posts and compare them to what you are writing now.

Blogging is also useful to help you find and establish your own personal tone of voice and style of writing. Whether your words are motivational, inspirational, dry and sarcastic, funny, or apathetic, you’ll slowly uncover a style that will stick with you and your blog for years to come.

Time management

Us humans are notorious for complaining about having so much to do in so little time. We struggle to find time for work and looking after our families, let alone looking after ourselves and doing the things we want to do.

Blogging is almost like a crash-course in time management. You have to manage your regular job (if you have one), your family, writing, answering emails, scheduling posts, and formatting and designing your blog. You have to coordinate taking photos for a post with making lunch or dinner for your kids. You have to be as punctual as possible with your posts and comment responses; if you don’t, your readership stays stagnant or falters. You have to check and reply to emails quickly as well, because often opportunity can come knocking, get impatient, and leave.

It starts to get overwhelming, but then you adjust and figure out better ways to manage your time. Your blog is teaching you how to be more efficient and effective, and to get as much out of every day as you can.

A little bit of design

When you started out, you probably selected a default Blogspot, WordPress or Tumblr theme for your blog. However, you have probably found that as your readership grows, you begin looking for a new theme or revamp your site with a customised feel (maybe it’s even in alignment to your tone of voice). You also have probably jazzed up your photos with text, borders, and colour balanced them on Photoshop to make them look better as well.

Without even realising it, your blog has helped turn you into a bit of a designer. From choosing a colour palette to redesigning your layout and editing your images, you now have more design experience than much of the adult population – without even trying.

Relationship creation and maintenance

Brands and bloggers are working together more now than ever. Many bloggers get approached by brands on a daily basis for reviews, giveaways, advertisements and guest posts; for those that haven’t yet, it’s only a matter of time.

The more you interact with brands and advertisers, the more adept you become at creating and maintaining business relationships. You learn how to reach diplomatic solutions and establish partnerships with stakeholders, and to work in a way that is mutually beneficial for you, your readers, and your stakeholders (be it a brand, client, or customer).

Through working with brands, you can also learn how to become a brand storyteller and a creative as well, by talking about products or companies in a new and exciting way that fits your audience.

Diplomacy to rival U.N. delegates

…and speaking of diplomatic solutions, blogging also helps you build your diplomacy skills.

There are always going to be readers who will be unhappy when you change something, or trolls who have nothing better to do but to try and upset people. Unfortunately, these are a byproduct of sharing a piece of your life with the world; however, another byproduct is the chance to build your diplomacy and establish best business practices.

Every unhappy reader you manage to quell and every troll you manage effectively contributes to your ability to diffuse a situation well – and this will come in handy often in day-to-day life, as well as in business. For extra tips to enhance your skills, have a read of Dale Carnegie’s How to win friends and influence people.

Content creation and management

The key to a successful blog is content – there’s no getting around it. As a blogger, you become a curator of content much like an editor of a magazine or newspaper. You plan and schedule posts, and must think about newsworthy and unique content that is relevant to your readership demographics. If your blog accepts sponsored posts, you often have to carefully plan it so it is spaced out along with regular content.

You learn how to create useful and original content, and how to create a balance of editorial and sponsorship. In essence, you have the skills of an editor, which makes sense – after all, you are the editor of your own publication.

Social media strategy and community management

This is perhaps one of the most coveted skills in today’s technologically saturated environment. With more and more businesses and people going online, experience with social media strategy and community management is a vital asset to have on your side.

As a blogger, you talk to your readership base through social media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter, and you engage with them and share your life through Instagram and Pinterest. You plan content in advance sometimes, and learn how to acquire more followers and post content that is relevant, informative, and interesting.

Through blogging, you have acquired the skills needed to manage a community online and strategies to foster stronger engagement and create effective content on social channels.

Did you ever realise you were becoming so talented? What other skills do you think your blogging has taught you?

Kelly Teng is a Digital Outreach Specialist at Switched on Media with a penchant for all things internet-related. Check out her other insights and musings here, or follow her on Twitter at @tellykeng.

9 Ways to Keep You Fresh, Inspired and Creative

Image by Rares Dutu

How do you keep yourself fresh, inspired and creative as a blogger?

I was asked variations of this question three times this week, so thought I’d put my mind to giving a public answer.

There are certainly times when I don’t feel overly ‘fresh’, ‘inspired’ or ‘creative’. However, I guess over the last 10 years of blogging I’ve begun to develop some rhythms and habits that enable me to keep consistently create content on a daily basis.

One of the things that I’ve intuitively done over the last few years is to put aside time each week for activities that help me keep fresh. These activities aren’t specific to blogging and I suspect they might be helpful for people working in many kinds of jobs – particularly those where you need to develop ideas and be creative.

Here’s a quick summary of the types of activities I try to include in my life each week:

1. Inspiration

When I’m not inspired, I find it very difficult to be creative or generate ideas.So every week, I try to build in moments to get in touch with my dreams. I put myself in places where I’m likely to be inspired. This includes everything from spending time with inspirational people, watching inspirational videos (I’m a TED addict), attending inspirational events, watching great movies and reading inspiring books.

2. Preparation

If I’m working on a big project (like a mega blog post, a presentation, or an eBook) I quite often feel quite overwhelmed with the process.

I find I can take some of the pressure off by setting aside ‘preparation’ time for the task of creating the project. I set aside time to research, read on the topic, talk to others and plan out how to go about getting the project done. This might sound a little like procrastination but I find by setting aside time for ‘preparation’, the quality of what I actually ‘create’ (next step) is much higher.

3. Creation

Each week I put aside significant time to ‘create’. For me, the creation is largely around creating content (blog posts, videos, eBooks, presentations) and because of the publication schedule I’m on creation needs to happen on a daily basis. I publish three blog posts per day across my blogs and I need to keep that schedule up.

For me, creation time is usually in the mornings. My Golden Hours are from 9-11am which is a time I protect from intrusions.

4. Completion

A few years ago, I went through a stage of creating a lot of content that would then sit unfinished for weeks, even months. I would get distracted by new things or lose inspiration along the way.

So I’ve started to build time to ‘complete’ into my week and I tackled the things that fall into this category. I often do these ‘completing’ tasks in the afternoons or evenings.

5. Interaction

I’m an introvert. I love people but they suck energy out of me so I naturally feel drawn to spending time alone. This works quite well for me as a blogger as I don’t need to be around people to blog.

However… while being around people takes energy from me I know that there are many benefits of spending time with other people. Sometimes my best ideas emerge in conversation and to grow my business, I’ve needed to bring in others to complement my skills and help me scale. Every Friday, I work in a friend’s office (it’s more of a man cave). Three to four of us (mainly people who are in my team) work side by side on that day. We spend some time working together in a meeting, but also time working on our own projects.

I love these days and often find amazing ideas flow out of them!

6. Mindless Activity

I recently asked my Twitter followers where they get their best ideas. I was amazed how many people said two things – ‘in the shower’ and ‘while walking/exercising’. I’m exactly the same.

I often get light bulb moments while I’m doing some kind of mindless activity. For me, it can be while I walk, shower or weed the garden! I noticed this several years ago so decided to punctuate each day with mindless activities. Most days, I take 15 minute walks 2-3 times a day. I also moved my shower from first thing in the morning to mid-morning.

I don’t schedule these activities for specific times each day but rather once I end something I’m working on, I will just do them then before jumping into the next activity.

7. Play

This one has a little overlap with some of the other activities. I like to set aside a little time each day to ‘play’. By play I mean numerous things including playing with ideas and problems (I journal, mind map and daydream) and playing with my kids (I often find doing lego or doing something creative with my boys stimulates ideas but is also fun time with the kids). I’d also slip photography into this category too.

Having a creative outlet that is not about creating something for the blog gives me a lot of energy.

8. Rest

Five years ago I was proud to say that I worked 60-70 hours a week on my blogging. While I often spoke about work/life balance, I was enjoying my work and so I worked hard – too hard. Unfortunately, I was setting myself up for a fall and came to a point where my heath suffered as I began to suffer from blogger burnout.

These days I not only teach work/life balance but practice it. I take more regular vacations, rarely work on the weekends and schedule a couple of hours off every Wednesday afternoon. I still work hard but I also prioritise rest and I see the positive impact it has upon my blogging (and life).

9. Self Improvement

Lastly, each week I attempt to do something that is not so much about creating content or improves my business but which improves me in some way.

Often we look at the early years of our life when we attend school or university as the ‘educational’ period of our life but I’ve found that if I’m not learning, not stretching myself or not working on doing something to improve skills or knowledge then I often become stagnant. As a result I like to take on mini-projects to work on who I am.

These might range from the fun, I recently took a Thai Cooking class, through to more serious and related to my work like reading a book, taking a course or attending a conference related to my work.

I’d love to know, what do you do to keep yourself fresh, inspired and creative?

3 Ways to Get More Subscribers for Your Blog

I have hundreds of readers coming to my blog every day – but nobody ever subscribes to my newsletter. Help!?!

This request came in via email today and I thought I’d share my reply with the 3 suggestions I offered.

—–

Thanks for the question – I suspect you’re not alone with this problem. While a lot can probably be written on the topic, let me suggest 3 things I’ve found helpful increasing subscriber numbers.

Note: the #1 thing I did to building subscriber numbers on Digital Photography School was introduce a lightbox subscriber box. I spoke about this in my 10 Things I Wish I Knew About Blogging webinar so I won’t rehash it here.

1. Ask People to Subscribe

This sounds a little too simple to be effective but I’m amazed how many people do subscribe once you mention you’ve got a newsletter. I’m also amazed how many of our regular and loyal readers don’t know we even have a newsletter, despite it being promoted around the blog.

Some semi-regular calls to subscribe can be very effective.

You can do this in a number of ways, including:

  • Writing a dedicated blog post, every now and again, explaining you have a newsletter and the benefits of subscribing.
  • Mentioning your newsletter in passing in your blog posts. I don’t mean every single post, but a mention now and then will work wonders.
  • Promoting your newsletter across social media. I regularly mention our newsletters on Twitter, when I’m writing a newsletter and when it goes out.

The key to remember, when mentioning your newsletter regularly, is to find fresh ways to talk about it. Don’t just have the same tweet to subscribe every 2nd day.

  • Mention something that is in the next newsletter, that you won’t get anywhere else.
  • Mention that you’ve just hit a milestone number of subscribers to build social proof.
  • Mention that it’s a milestone newsletter. We recently sent out 250th on dPS and made a bit of a big deal about it.

2. Start a Series

Announce that you’re going to be doing a series of posts, on your blog, on a topic that you know will really be useful to your readers.

I remember the first time I announced that I was going to run the 31 Days to Build a Better Blog series (the series that later became the eBook by the same name) I was amazed at how many people subscribed to my blog over the next 24 hours.

I was signalling to readers that I was going to do something that would serve them and in doing so, created anticipation among my readers. This anticipation (as I’ve written about in the past) is a key reason people will subscribe to your blog.

3. Place Calls to Subscribe in ‘Hot Zones’

One last tip is to identify some ‘hot zones’ on your blog, to place calls to subscribe. These zones are either places that your readers will be looking or pages that they’ll be visiting.

Let me suggest a couple:

1. Under Posts

I’m not currently doing this on my blogs, as I use the space under my blog posts for other things, but I’ve found over the years that the area under your blog post (and directly above comments) is a ‘hot zone’ where readers often look for what to do next.

Put yourself in the position of a reader. You’ve read the post and have found it useful. This is the perfect time to ask readers to subscribe because they’re hopefully feeling satisfied, stimulated and helped in some way.

A bold call to subscribe can work wonders here.

2. On Hot Posts

Dig into your blogs analytics package and identify which posts are the most read posts on your blog.

You’ll probably find that these posts are receiving traffic from search engines and are likely being read by first time readers to your blog – people that are often quick to leave again once they’ve got what they’re searching for.

These posts are a real opportunity to make your blog a little more sticky and to hopefully call some of those first time readers to subscribe.

You can do this either by adding a call to subscribe directly to the posts – or you might like to link from these posts to a ‘sneeze page’ (see below).

3. Sneeze Pages

Screen Shot 2013 06 20 at 1 25 12 PMLet me show you a page on dPS, which is a page that generates a large number of subscribers. It is our Photography Tips for Beginners page.

This page is a page in which I link to 33 of the best articles in our archives for beginner photographers. It is a page that ‘sneezes’ readers deep into our archives to good quality content.

It is a great page for driving traffic and getting readers deep into the site but you’ll also note we have a couple of strong calls to subscribe on that page. People click those calls to action like crazy because they can see on the page that we’ve created a heap of useful content.

We link to this sneeze page prominently in the navigation areas all around the site to drive traffic to it and regularly promote the page on social media (as I write this it has received over 90,000 ‘pins’ on Pinterest for example).

Take home lesson – create a sneeze page with a strong call to action to subscribe and drive as much traffic to it as you can!

Note: Sneeze pages are written about on day 18 of 31 Days to Build a Better Blog.

How Have You Increases Subscribers to Your Blog?

I have barely scratched the surface here on how to increase subscribers to a blog and would love to hear your suggestions and experiences on the topic in comments below.

What has worked for you?

Content Creation vs Content Promotion: Where is the Balance?

A few days ago we published a post on ProBlogger titled ‘Forget about Marketing: Concentrate on Blogging‘, which led to some interesting discussion on Twitter and in the comments.

I love the points author Nicholas Whitmore made in the post but I wanted to give a few thoughts, based on my own experience, on developing great content and promoting your blog.

Nicholas wrote some great arguments for focusing your energy on writing great content as the central way of growing your blog. He writes:

“When you write and publish awesome content on your blog, good things will come your way.”

I completely agree with this sentiment. As a blogger your #1 focus needs to be on producing content that is useful, engaging and of as high a quality as possible. Without it, all the marketing you might do will be wasted as you’ll just be directing people to something that is of no value to them.

As Nicholas goes on to write:

“When you write and publish boring content then spend hours on end building links to it, trying to force people to your website, good things will never come.”

Again, I agree with the sentiment expressed here.

However, on Twitter a discussion among some of my followers highlighted that some bloggers differ quite a bit on how much effort should be put into promoting a blog vs developing content for it.

  • On one hand, there were certainly people who felt that if you build a great blog that it markets itself.
  • On the other hand, there were people who felt that if you didn’t get out there and market your blog you ran the risk of all your hard work in developing great content going completely unseen.

While I think we all agree that the content on your blog needs to be of a very high focus, I’m also of the belief that if a blogger wants to grow their readership they also need to put effort into promoting that blog.

I like the idea of the marketing being taken care of by your visitors, if you have good enough blog post. In my experience, there are things you can do to promote your blog to help speed the process up, without compromising the quality of your posts.

In the early days of my own current blogs (here on ProBlogger and at dPS) I estimate I probably spent almost as much time writing content as I did working on growing the readership. In fact, I’m sure there were some weeks where I did spend considerably more time promoting my blog than writing content!

In short, I don’t see marketing and creating content as mutually exclusive – both are really important to me.

How did I grow my readership (or market my blogs)?

I recorded a webinar last year on this very topic with a load of tips in it. You can listen to it and see the slides here so I won’t rehash all of that but here’s a summary slide of the points I talked through.

Screen Shot 2013-06-18 at 1.53.20 PM.png

You can see that my process actually talks about the content that you develop as being a part of finding readers for your blog (both in points 2 and 8). But by getting off your blog to promote what you do you are certainly able to significantly grow your blog.

Point #9 shows that this is an ongoing thing.

For me, I’d say that the balance of creating content and promoting has changed over the life of my blogs over the years. This is probably partly because the life cycle of a blog but also due to my own personal circumstances and how much time I have available to work.

That said , I would always prioritise both on a daily basis… and would probably also add in that I prioritise other things too such as ‘engaging with readers/building community’ and also a focus upon ‘monetization’ (without which I can’t sustain what I do).

Where is the Balance of Promotion and Content Creation for You?

I’d love to hear how others get this balance right in your blogging?

Don’t Be Lazy: 9 Ways to Blog Smarter and Harder

This is a guest contribution from Eric Cummings who writes about art and philosophy for On Violence.

I’ve been writing this post for three years. What can I say? I’m lazy.

Or I should say, I used to be lazy.

That’s not the case anymore. Four years ago, my brother and I started taking our writing career seriously. I now write. A lot. On my days off from work, I regularly put in over ten hour days, just writing, editing and re-writing. I’ve learned how to work, both smarter and harder. You can too.

(Finally, an admission: though I wrote down an outline for this post three years ago, I resuscitated this idea for today’s post a few weeks ago.)

Tip 1: Forget the “To Do” List. Use Next Actions. 

“To do” lists don’t work because most people include “do’s” like “write a novel”, “pay bills” or “find web hosting”. I know, because that’s what I used to do.

Then I read David Allen’s Getting Things Done. Instead of “to dos”, Allen proposes “next actions”. “Next actions” answer the question, “What do I need to do next?” Instead of “start a blog”, your next action is “research domain registries”, “brainstorm blog title ideas”, and “list blog post ideas”. This way you know what you need to do next.

For every blog post I write, I have a “NA” written at the top, stating the exact next action, like “research the topic” or “edit post” or “proofread”. I can’t do the entire concept justice in a blog post, but I’d recommend everyone read Getting Things Done. If you can’t do that, when you’re writing a “to do” list, ask yourself, what do I need to do next?

Tip 2: Figure Out Where You Lose Time

A number of years ago, my co-writer started listening to a podcast on business advice called Manager Tools. One episode changed my whole perspective on time, the appropriately titled “Time Management”. Most importantly, I learned how to do a “time audit”.

A time audit records everything you did on a given day. For one week, every ten or fifteen minutes, write down what you just did. At the end of the week, analyze it. Where do you waste time? What did you actually work on? What can you differently in the future?

What’s our most valuable resource? Time. You may want to write, you just don’t have the time. Then figure out where your time is going. Trust me, this analysis will blow your mind.

Tip 3: Figure out Your Golden Hours

A few years ago, Darren Rowse keyed me into his principle of “Golden Hours”, the two or three hours of the day where everyone is the most productive. Some people work better in the morning. Others write better at night.

My golden hours occur between 9:00 to 12:00. Knowing this, when I have a day off, I make sure I’m writing during my golden hours. I do other tasks (chores, bills, answering comments) later in the day.

Figure out your golden hours and organize your day around them.

Tip 4: Break Up Your Writing…With “Productive Breaks”.

Ever find yourself doing chores before writing? It’s a common delay mechanism. Instead of delaying, solve this problem by planning out your day before you start writing.

If I know at the start of a writing day that I have chores to do, I plan on doing the chores in half hour chunks between bursts of writing. So I will write a guest post for an hour, then do dishes. Then I’ll research blog posts, then sweep. Then I’ll edit posts. Then go shopping.

Breaking up your writing day has two benefits.

First, you can clear your mind and recharge your batteries. Second, it frees your brain, which is still thinking about what your were writing about, to come up with new ideas. You can’t write straight for hours on end. Some people probably can, but I can’t. So I break up my day with “productive breaks”.

Tip 5: Break Up Your Writing…By Writing About Different Things

My co-writer and I write a lot of different things. Blog posts, guest posts, essays, research papers, screenplays and more. We do this because we like writing about different things. But more importantly, it breaks up our days. I can get more writing in if I write in different mediums about different things. If I only wrote screenplays, I’d get bored. If I only wrote blog posts, I’d lose energy.

Vary up your writing and you’ll work harder.

Tip 6: Monotask 

Multi-tasking doesn’t exist. Sorry, but your mind can’t input multiple streams of information at the same time. You can’t write an email and talk on the phone at the same time. It’s impossible. And switching rapidly between tasks takes away your energy and focus.

So turn off your email, Twitter and chat programs. Don’t answer your phone. Stay off the Internet, unless you’re doing research on a current project.

Tip 7: Use Email in Bursts

As I just said, email can be a horrific time waster, especially if you leave it open all day.

Try this instead: Check your email in one hour blocks throughout the day; hopefully once in the morning, afternoon and at the end of the day. This applies to social media like Twitter, Facebook and chat programs as well. While that seems like an outrageously small amount of time, with practice you’ll learn to get all your social media taken care of in these quick bursts.

Tip 8: Strengthen Your Will Power Muscle 

New studies show that “will power” is a muscle that we can train like real muscles. I’ve learned this the hard way. When I first started writing five years ago, I could only work for about two hours at a time. Every year that time has increased by two hours.

Today, for instance, I’ve already been writing for about five hours, give or take some five minute breaks and a twenty minute walk. I’ll probably write for another four hours, before I totally crash. I can only do this because I’ve been developing the writing muscle for a long time.

Another thought on will power: it will deplete itself. I lose energy at night, especially after I eat dinner. Understand this, and figure out when/why you crash and stop working.

Do something post dinner that requires less attention, like commenting or tweeting, than something you do during your golden hours.

Tip 9: Follow a Blogging Schedule!

My co-writer and I write our posts early, and schedule them ahead of time. When you’re blogging, force yourself to follow a schedule. Know that you’ll post two, three, or four times a week and stick to this schedule. It will make you a better writer and a better blogger.

There are no excuses for missing a week of posting. Write posts ahead of time, and create a folder of hold posts to use for emergencies. And write every week.

Eric Cummings writes about art and philosophy for On Violence, a blog on military and foreign affairs written by two brothers–one a soldier and the other a pacifist. Find him on Twitter, @onviolence.