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Google+ Tactics of the Blogging Pros

Over the next couple of days on ProBlogger, we’ll be taking a look at key marketing tactics bloggers are using on Twitter and Facebook.

Since we covered Pinterest recently, I thought I’d explore Google+ today, and check out the approaches some of the A-list bloggers are using on this network.

Tactic 1: Cross-promote a particular offering

Gary Vaynerchuck might have become famous for his books, but he’s been vlogging since 2005, so its no surprise that his Google+ page is dominated by video posts. In fact, he appears to use Google+ primarily as an outlet to cross-promote his YouTube channel and associated videos.

This is interesting, because Gary has a lot of different projects on the go (notably, his agency VaynerMedia, as well as writing and speaking), but he’s focusing his Google+ engagement on his videos.

A similarly focused strategy might be suitable for you if you feel that some aspect of your blog offering is particularly appropriate for the Google+ audience, and you want to see how much traction you can get from the network for that particular offering.

Tactic 2: Day-in-the-life reportage

Deb Ng, Blog World Expo’s community director, and Sonia Simone, the self-proclaimed “Pink-haired tyrant of Copyblogger Media,” both use Google+ to engage with followers on a combination personal-and-professional level.

Have a look at their Google+ profiles and you get a feel for them as people, but you also gain insight into what they’re doing for the brands they work with. Both use Google+ to mix personal interests with family, home, and work-related content. They regularly provide glimpses behind the scenes of their work on brands that are extremely important to many of us in the blogosphere.

While Deb has her own blog, Sonia doesn’t, so this approach can either complement your other online offerings, or be used independently. But in both cases, these Google+ pages give us an insight into what makes these guys tick—something that I expect is pretty valuable for people wanting to engage with Deb about Blog World, or with Sonia about Copyblogger. I imagine more than a few bloggers have tried to get inside the heads of these A-listers by putting them into circles on Google+.

This tactic might be a good one for you to use if your followers and readers would appreciate an insight into how you operate on a professional level, behind the glossy front of your blog’s brand.

Tactic 3: Personal brand miniblogging

Anyone who follows me on Google+ knows that my own approach has been to adopt the forum as a sort of all-encompassing miniblog.

I have branded Facebook pages for ProBlogger and Digital Photography School, and separate Twitter streams for each, but on Google+ I combine those brands under a kind of personal brand.

I see it as a location for rich exchange with followers who want to engage with me as a person, rather than simply with ProBlogger or DPS. In this way, Google+ has become a personal branding outlet for me, and has helped me strengthen engagement with readers and followers significantly since it launched last year.

I think that Google+ allows for a broad reach and a richer kind of interaction with those who have me in their circles, which is why I’ve made it a key part of my online strategy.

Tactic 4: Close curation

Serial entrepreneur and ideas woman Gina Trapani is always re-sharing other people’s Google+ posts. She also spends a lot of her Google+ time sharing content she’s found herself, that she feels others will appreciate. This approach turns her stream almost into a curated newsfeed: it’s cultivated, professional, and targeted.

After decades in the industry, Gina knows her audience well, and knows what they like—and as the host of This Week in Google, she can be sure that a large portion of her tech-savvy audience is using Google+ heavily.

If you’re in the same boat, you might take a few ideas from Gina’s approach. Of course, in any case, re-sharing is a good way to provide valuable information to those in your circles and to support and encourage those peers you admire. How far you take that curated approach will likely depend on your niche and audience, but the sky really is the limit.

How do you use Google+?

This list represents just a handful of approaches used by bloggers, but I’m very interested to hear how you use Google+ in your social media strategy. If you don’t use it, why not? If you do, what tactics and techniques are you using to build and engage with your following there? Let us in on your secrets in the comments.

How to Pitch Your Dream Company for a Win/Win/Win Blogging Collaboration [Case Study]

Recently at a parenting blogger conference here Melbourne, I was listening to a panel discussion on business models when Aussie blogger—Laney from Crash Test Mummy—made a statement that connected strongly with my own recent experience.

I’m paraphrasing here, but Laney talked about how as bloggers we’re often on the receiving end of bad PR pitches from companies, and that we should learn from those bad pitches to make good ones ourselves.

This struck a chord with me because over the last year, I’ve decided to do just that.

It struck me that I was on the receiving end of a lot of bad pitches from companies and agencies. The pitches were often bad for a number of reasons:

  • The company was pitching a product that was irrelevant to the topic of my blog.
  • The company was pitching for the wrong geographic location (I get a lot of pitches from Aussie companies who don’t realize most of my audience is international).
  • The pitch was impersonal and non-relational.
  • The pitch wasn’t a win/win/win pitch. By this I mean that many times the pitch is only really of benefit to the company—there’s no win for me as a blogger or for my readers.

The list could go on. Not a day goes by when I don’t get at least two or three bad pitches (sometimes it’s closer to ten).

It is a frustrating process. I’ve worked hard to build my audience and I know there are companies out there that I could serve well as partners, but they never seemed to come knocking.

I decided to take matters into my own hands

As I wrote earlier in the week, a couple of years back I wrote a list of companies, organisations, and products that it was my dream to work with. They were things I not only used and loved—they were companies that I believed I could serve well, based upon my knowledge of my own audience.

Some examples:

  • Apple: I use Apple products 24/7. My audience (of bloggers and photographers) also are computer users. It’s a match made in heaven (in my humble opinion).
  • Qantas/Virgin Australia: I’ve flown with both companies regularly and appreciate the services of both. Both are looking to expand their reach and the audience on my blogs is very international.
  • Canon/Nikon etc.: My biggest audience is around photography. I’ve used Canon gear for many years and have a real admiration for Nikon (as well as other companies like Leica, Sony, etc.). As a result, all of these manufacturers made my dream list.
  • Aussie Tourism Organisations: This one has been on my mind a lot. I obviously live in Australia, I love living here (and travelling around the country), and my audience always asks me questions about Australia—many have expressed a desire to visit. It seems to me like a no-brainer of a partnership and I added numerous Aussie tourism operators to my list.

The list was longer, but you get the picture. I identified 20 or so companies that I thought were a match in terms of my genuine love or admiration for them, but also in terms of my audience needs and what I saw as each company’s needs.

With that list in hand, I began to pitch

At this point, I’ve pitched most of the companies listed above—and numerous others. The experience has been fascinating and so far there have been a few expressions of interest (nibbles), a couple of “no” responses, a few more silences, and one bite.

The bite was from Tourism Queensland, and the result is the current competition we’re running with them to fly 10 bloggers in from around the world to experience the Great Barrier Reef first hand.

The idea gathered steam as a tweet I sent out in an airport last year, but I had Aussie tourism organizations on my list long before that tweet. So when I got responses from such organisations inviting me to talk to them, I was ready to move with an idea that I’d been pondering.

WIth the invitation to pitch them I put together a short PDF document titled, ProBlogger: Tour Down Under. Here’s the front cover.

Screen Shot 2012-04-03 at 12.56.03 PM.png

The following page briefly outlined the idea.Screen Shot 2012-04-03 at 1.18.23 PM.png

I followed it up with some details of my own audience at the time (although this information is now quite dated):

Screen Shot 2012-04-03 at 1.19.23 PM.png

The last page was an invitation to continue the discussion, along with my contact details. I sent the PDF out with a cover email that had a little more information, including a few variations on the idea.

The PDF was just three pages long: short, sharp and to the point. It outlined how the I thought the organizations I was pitching would benefit from the project, and made it clear I was open to evolving the idea to further meet their needs.

I actually ended up sending a variation of this PDF to a few organizations that had expressed interest. In the end, two of them came back to me to continue the conversation. The conversation with Tourism Queensland continued (they’ve been amazing to deal with) and the idea gathered steam until it became a reality last week.

Become a pitching blogger

This whole experience has been an eye-opening one for me. Rather than waiting for the perfect company to come along to work with, I decided to put myself in a position to identify and pursue that relationship myself. In doing so I was able to devise a pitch that was a win for that organization, a win for me as a blogger, and a win for my readers.

I was able to pitch something relevant to all parties, and that idea has a much better chance of working for my audience than most of what companies come to me with. While my hit rate is low from the companies I’ve pitched (so far), this experience has given me enough hope that I will no doubt be continuing the approach.

Take-home lessons

  • Identify who you’d love to work with. Make a list of companies that you use and recommend, and that are relevant to your readers and topic.
  • Identify those companies’ needs and how you can help them in those areas.
  • Reach out—you might not start with a “pitch” at first. Be relational, and learn from all those bad pitches you receive yourself.
  • Don’t be timid. You know your audience best. Be creative and bold.

I’d love to hear your own stories about reaching out for dream collaborations. Please let us know your stories and ideas in the comments below.

P.S.: Don’t forget to enter our Great Barrier Reef Competition—there’s not long now till the cutoff for submissions!

Pinterest Basics for Bloggers

This guest post is by Yang of ChilliSauce.co.uk.

Does your world only revolve around Facebook and Twitter? Now it’s time to move on: in case you haven’t heard, Pinterest is the new rising star of social media!

Pinterest was developed in December 2009 as a closed beta that was released within a restricted group of individuals. After it opened registration to everyone in 2010, the Pinterest boom began. On August 16, 2011, Time magazine named Pinterest among the “50 Best Websites of 2011”.

Pinterest has dominated the headlines in Mashable, TechCrunch, VentureBeat and many other websites. The world seems to be going Pintereset crazy.

The Pinterest home page

So what is Pinterest?

Pinterest is a visual social network. Every time you come across pretty or eye-catching images online, you can “pin” them to your Pinterest bulletin board, where you can share and organize them into various categories.

For example, if I see a pretty wedding dress, I will pin it to my “wedding ideas” board, which is full of images of my favorite wedding-related ideas gathered from various websites.

Pinterest boards

Image 2: Pinterest Boards

Shareaholic compiled a Referral Traffic Rrport that looks into various social media platforms, such as Facebook, Youtube, and so forth. Their findings, based on aggregated data from more than 200,000 publishers that reach more than 260 million unique monthly visitors, show that Pinterest has driven more referral traffic than Google+, LinkedIn, and YouTube combined!

Shareaholic Referral Traffic Report

So what are you waiting for? Let’s start mapping out Pinterest strategies for your site!

How can you use Pinterest on your blog?

To get started, you need to register for your own Pinterest account.

Take some time to fill out your bio, as this is a great opportunity to introduce yourself or your business to the masses of Pinterest users. Then you are ready to start pinning!

A good place to start is by following other popular pinners and “re-pinning” their images onto your board. Browse through the categories on the network that interest you (see image below), such as “Art, Design, DIY & Craft” and so forth. When you find an image you like, you can pin it to your boards.

Pinterest has more than 30 categories

Bloggers can make use of these “clickthrough images” to attract more people to our blogs. Set up your bulletin boards and pin images from your site. Then, when other users click on an image, they’re taken to your site, where that picture is located.

Take my favorite chocolate bars, for example: I saw this yummy Snickers bars under the “Food & Drink” category.

Clickable Snickers bars image

When I clicked on the image, it immediately led me to the How Sweet It Is website, where that image is hosted (see below).

The landing page of that clickable Snickers bars image

Scroll down and there’s the image, pinned to my Pinterest board

6 tips to kickstart your Pinterest campaign

1. Pin with discernment

Every time you pin or re-pin a picture, it shows up on the Pinterest community boards. Here, all the pinners can see your pins, which gives you exposure to the public. So pinning quality images from your site to your boards is a must.

But don’t spam the community boards with your pinned images. Remember that Pinterest is public and social; I’m sure you don’t want to brand yourself as a spam artist. In the following example, I just pinned a yummy Snickers bar and my pin immediately appeared on the whole community board.

Start pinning!

Your pins show up on the Pinterest community board

2. Pin quality images

Pinterest taps into people’s love of “visually sumptuous eye candy.” Therefore, when you’re blogging, try to attach interesting and high quality images to go with your articles.

If your pictures are not clear or look dull, then don’t waste your time on Pinterest. The whole point of the network is to use images as “bait” to attract more people to your blog. If your images don’t stand out in Pinterest, then people are not going to click through.

3. Track recent activity from your account

When you’re logged into Pinterest, the top-left column, labeled Recent Activity, shows who has re-pinned, liked, or commented on your pins. In social media platforms, social always comes first. So do these people a favor: browse their pin boards, and re-pin or comment on their images as well!

Being social and showing them your appreciation will help you become popular on Pinterest. I still get a little buzz every time I see people re-pin my image, and I always visit their boards and show them we share the same interests.

The Recent Activity column

4. Use watermarks

Try to add watermark with your blog’s URL to your original images. Then, no matter how many times your images have been pinned or re-pinned, readers can always see the image is originally from your site, which gives your blog maximum exposure.

Add a watermark to your images

5. Add catchy descriptions to your images

Try to craft catchy image descriptions that include key words or tags that are likely to be searched.

To make them more engaging, express yourself and your sense of humor here, to provoke a response from other pinners. Or simply ask a question as the description, such as “Who wouldn’t love a yummy donut like this?”

6. Speed up pinning with the Pin It button

Don’t forget to add a Pin It button to your bookmarks on Pinterest: go to About in the main navigation, and click Pin It Button. Then, drag the white button to your bookmarks bar.

Now, the next time you come across an awesome image, you can just click the Pin It bookmark, choose the picture that you want to add to your pin board, add an engaging and interesting description, then you’re done! Easy!

Add a Pin It button

Drag the Pin It button to your Bookmarks bar

Can’t wait to try it? It really is easy to get started! I look forward to your comments about your experience with Pinterest.

Yang manages the Chillisauce.co.uk website, who specialise in organising corporate events.

How to Launch a Product on Your Blog (and Sell Out in 12 Hours!)

This guest post is by Danny Iny of Firepole Marketing.

Congratulations, you’ve made it.

You’ve worked hard and paid your dues, and finally you have a blog with healthy traffic and a large list of engaged subscribers.

You know what they need, and you’ve invested the time and energy to create a product that will meet and exceed their expectations.

Now all that’s left for you to do is launch the product, and rake in the cash. I mean, at this point, what could go wrong?

Well, the truth is that a lot could go wrong.

Even with a great product and an engaged audience, success isn’t guaranteed. You still have to launch the thing properly.

Here’s how to do it…

It’s all about commitment and reward

There are two keys to effectively launching a product (or selling anything, for that matter): commitment and reward. These two keys feed off of each other in an escalating dance. Commitment leads to reward, and reward leads to more commitment.

Now, you’ve probably already got the cycle going if you’re thinking about launching a product; you’ve got readers who are committed to your blog, and you reward them with content. They commit by subscribing to your list, and you reward them with emails full of great materials that they enjoy.

Simple enough, right? You’ve got a commitment action, and you’ve got the reward – now all you have to do is lather, rinse and repeat. When they commit, you reward them by exceeding expectations. And once you’ve rewarded them, you create another reason and opportunity for them to commit.

In business, this is how someone goes from reading a blog, to subscribing to a list, to taking a free session, to buying the $20 product, to buying the $200 product, to buying the $2,000 product, to registering for the exclusive one-on-one coaching in Maui.

In relationships, this is how a couple goes from casually dating, to serious dating, to taking trips together, to getting engaged, to getting married, to having kids and raising a family.

Now theory’s great, but examples are what makes it real, so let’s look at a real live case study of how I did exactly this with the launch of my Write Like Freddy blog writing training program.

The back-story (how I built Firepole Marketing)

So first, a bit of backstory, in case you aren’t familiar with Firepole Marketing.

We started the blog about a year and a half ago, and a big part of our strategy was guest posting. So I wrote a lot of guest posts; over 80 of them in 2011, and mostly on very well-recognized blogs that you’re probably familiar with (like the one you’re reading right now!).

I didn’t just do a lot of writing, though—I did my best to time my posts so that they would go up all at once, to make it more likely that people would notice me. It worked, and my friend Eugene made a comment likening me to Freddy Krueger. He said “Danny, you’re like the Freddy Krueger of Blogging—wherever I turn, you’re there!”

Well, the nickname stuck, and I started receiving a lot of emails from people who wanted to know how I wrote so much, and would I teach them?

I resisted for a long time, because I’m not actually in the blogging business—I’m in the marketing education business. But people kept asking, so I finally relented, and put together a training program that teaches my method for writing. I finished it back in January, but I didn’t want to release an untested product to the public, so I did a small internal launch, only to the people on my mailing list.

In other words, if you hadn’t already either subscribed to my free video course or downloaded my book, there was no way for you to hear about it.

This is very important for the case study, because in this launch there was no outside promotion, affiliates, or anything like that. Everybody was already on my list, so the entire launch was about this cycle of commitment and reward.

Don’t just say “Buy my product”

Now, the simplest way to go through a cycle of commitment and reward would be to say, “Hey, I’ve got this new blog writing training program, click here to buy it.”

That would be the commitment opportunity, and then the reward would be the great training that they would receive once they sign up. But that’s really just the bare minimum, and I wanted to do better.

So instead of just the one cycle, the Write Like Freddy launch involved several cycles of commitment and reward:

Involve your audience

The first cycle involved a survey.

Instead of announcing that this new training was available, I put out a survey asking people if they wanted it, and if they did, what they wanted it to include. This was great for me, because it helped me understand what to include and what to leave out in order to make the training as good as it could be. At the same time, filling out a survey is a much easier commitment to make than buying a program, so a lot more people took that action.

I took all the feedback that I received, and announced that I was going to build the program, pretty much to their specifications. That’s the reward—everyone who filled out the survey saw that making a commitment made a difference.

The second cycle involved updates.

Rather than just disappear, and then come back when the program was ready, I shared my progress and my excitement with my subscribers, in several emails. Every one of those emails was an opportunity for readers to reply and engage, and many of you did exactly that.

I value all of the conversations that ensued, and I did my best to show my readers that that emailing me is a worthwhile thing to do!

More commitment, more reward

The third cycle involved the actual option to purchase. The program was made available, and people signed up for it. They were rewarded by getting into the program, and by the promise of what was to come—a promise that I have since delivered on, as good marketers always have to.

The fourth cycle wasn’t actually planned, but it happened anyway.

Since this was a new program that I was releasing, and I wanted to get feedback before releasing it to the public, I had originally intended to cap registration at 50 students. What ended up happening, though—at least partially because of all these cycles of commitment and reward—was that half of the spots had been taken before I even put up a sales page on the Friday, and all of the spots were gone by early in the weekend. A bunch of people complained, and rightly so—they were away from their emails, and hadn’t even had a chance to read the sales page before the program had filled up.

It was my mistake for doing a bad job of anticipating demand, so on Monday I announced that I would let more people in until midnight that day. It wasn’t intended, but that was another cycle of commitment and reward; people emailed me, which is a commitment act, and the program was reopened, which is what they wanted—a reward.

Celebrate and strategize

If you implement these cycles of commitment and reward in your own launch, then two things are likely to happen:

  1. Your launch will go very well; people will be engaged, interested, and buy lots of whatever you’re selling.
  2. Some things will be fumbled, bungled, and for a bunch of reasons just won’t work out as well as you had hoped.

The first thing to do after your launch is over is celebrate the success. You’ve worked hard, and you deserve it!

The next day, you should go back to the drawing board, and make a list of everything that you’ve learned from the experience, and everything that you can do better next time.

What’s your experience with launches? Have you tried one? Thought about trying one? How did it go? Leave a comment and let us know…

Danny Iny (@DannyIny) skyrocketed his industry-leading marketing blog to success by writing 80+ guest posts on major blogs in less than a year (earning him the nickname “The Freddy Krueger of Blogging”). Now he teaches others how to do the same in his Write Like Freddy blog writing training program.

The Essential Ingredients for Building a Blog That Ranks in Alexa’s Top 10,000

This guest post is by Neil Patel of Quick Sprout.

Would you like to know how I grew Quick Sprout to have an Alexa ranking of 10,000 in under four years?

That’s not an easy feat. But the cool thing is I didn’t do anything that you can’t do now. My tactics will work for you, too.

Fortunately, late last year I did an interview with Michael Alexis over at WriterReviews about how I grew Quick Sprout. It’s a great interview to listen to. In the meantime I’ve summarized the content in this post.

Endure and sacrifice to get great content out

At this moment my ranking on Alexa stands at 10,060:

Let me tell you, I’ve had to sacrifice a lot to get there.

Because I’m so busy with KISSmetrics and Crazy Egg I have to use my holidays and weekends to write posts. When people think of Christmas Day or New Year’s Day and time spent with family, I look forward to a peaceful day of writing posts.

Saturdays and Sundays? Because the flow of work-related stuff is slow on these days I use these days to knock out four or five posts.

But listen: I don’t say this to brag or to make you feel guilty. I’m simply pointing out that you have to sacrifice if you want a great blog. You might have a family that will not appreciate you writing blog posts on holidays and weekends.

I totally understand that.

So ask yourself, where are there hours that you could better use your time? And here’s a hint: When you sit down to write during that time, give yourself a two-hour deadline. I’ve found if I focus intensely on a blog post like a surgeon at the operating table I can knock posts out quicker than if I allow myself to get distracted.

Use Digg

This is not the greatest tactic now, but I share it since it has been part of my success with Quick Sprout.

In the early days of Quick Sprout I worked hard to become a top user on Digg. I added lots of friends who had similar interests, submitted their content, commented and even gave them tons of diggs.

Eventually those influential people would friend me back and start to digg my stuff. And so the way it works…the more friends you have the more chances you have of getting stories to the homepage.

It really wasn’t very hard to become a top 100 Digg user as long as you added friends and submitted good stories from BBC, Forbes, Yahoo News, PCWorld, CNN, and the Washington Post. The quality of the posts is what really mattered, and you’ll eventually get in close with the top digg users.

The unfortunate part of being a great digg user is that it can take up a lot of time! It doesn’t have the same sort of impact as it did in the early days of Quick Sprout, but there might be some value if you can invest a minimal amount of time.

Build real relationships with people over time

Another part of my success in building up Quick Sprout is that I systematically built relationship with power bloggers over the years. That’s right: I said years.

See, you can’t expect to get any favors like free traffic from big players unless you invest the time in them. You have to always ask, “How can I help you?”

The way I would do it is travel to conferences and run into these bloggers. I would talk to them, ask them questions and invite them out for a drink or dinner, and always pick up the tab.

Some guys who have been instrumental in helping me grow Quick Sprout include:

I met these guys face to face and over time built a relationship with them. The conference that I recommend you definitely attend is Blog World.

But you should also attend other conferences that are related to your industry. The point is to meet people who share similar interests like you, then go out of your way to see how you can help them.

After a few months, you then have enough emotional equity built up with them to be able to email them and say, “Hey, would you mind blogging about me?”

Of course you need to offer something in return—that you’ll blog about them or something else. Ask them how you can help. Whatever it is, make sure you reciprocate.

The two sides to responding to comments that grow a blog

There are two parts to commenting that will drive traffic to your site—responding to comments on your blog and responding to comments on other blogs. Let’s deal with responding to comments on your blog first.

For me, responding to comments is one of the things that I enjoy the most. It is the time that I get to engage and learn about you, and how I can help.

This is not easy.

It takes time, but it’s worth the effort, even though it takes me anywhere from 30 to 90 minutes a day. But this is not me saying “Thank you.” It’s got to be more than that. Your comments must seem like they really care about the person who wrote the comment, and that you are listening to the questions they ask.

For example, you should acknowledge what they’ve said, point out an interesting point they made and then ask them a question. It could be as easy as “I’m curious, how did you come to that conclusion?”

Equally important about driving free traffic to your blog is commenting on other blogs. As I grew Quick Sprout I would try to be the first person to respond to an article on Mashable or TechCrunch. That first comment gets the most exposure, but you have to be quick on the draw.

How?

Set up an account with an RSS reader that sends you desktop notifications when a blog publishes new content. You can use an iPhone app like Push for these notifications. When you do comment never write “First comment” or “Thanks for this awesome post.” Those are useless comments, and might even get deleted.

Instead, you need to write a detailed comment—one that demonstrates you understand what the blogger wrote about. And you need to ask questions, too, that compel the author to engage and shows that you are interested in learning more.

And don’t be afraid to critique what the blogger wrote about. If you see a flaw in something they wrote, first tell them something you appreciate about the article, and then transition to the point you disagree with. Be kind. Respect goes a long way.

Keep in mind, you don’t have to comment on every single article. Select articles that are relevant to your blog and what you do and that will drive traffic to your site.

Write content people want to read

Finally, when it comes to building free traffic to your blog, you cannot get any better than providing great content. I’ve blogged about this extensively on my guide to blogging. You should read those posts again if you haven’t already and apply the principles behind each.

But perhaps you’re wondering how you find out what readers want. Here are the ways I would go about it:

  • Read hundreds of blogs and figure out three things: who are the top bloggers, what are the top posts, and why?
  • Next, try to put your finger on a topic that is not getting a lot of attention. You are looking for a need in the space that you can fill.
  • Crawl through the comments on busy blogger sites and see what people are saying. You’ll often find a person or two who are asking for something specific. Collect these ideas as possible blog topics.
  • Build your blog and start asking your readers and visitors what kind of content they would like to read. Use survey tools or devote entire posts to asking for topic ideas.

Don’t forget that when you write detailed, long-form posts, you will get better comments. And as the content grows, promote it across the social web.

Grow your Twitter account first

Another free strategy that you can use to build traffic to your blog is to build up your Twitter account before launching your blog. We did this with our KISSmetrics blog.

We invested a whole lot of time in building up our Twitter following by sharing great content across the web, responding to tweets, following influential Tweeters and thanking people for retweeting. When we reached a point where we felt was critical mass, we finally launched the blog.

The Twitter handle had paved the way for creating hard traffic to the blog, allowing us to grow the blog very quickly in a very short period of time.

Check out the 10 Ways to Get More ReTweets and How to Create a Jaw-Dropping Social Media Strategy in 5 Steps posts for more information on this topic.

Invest in ReTargeter

All of the tips I gave you above are based on free traffic. This last one is a paid traffic source, but it’s worth it!

With ReTargeter, you can serve up ads to people who’ve visited your site to encourage them to come back. This is great for first time visitors who may not have subscribed. I pay $500 a month for ads to be served up on various networks. Some of the networks that ReTargeter access include:

  • Audience Network
  • Right Media
  • Double Click
  • PubMatic
  • Glam Media
  • OpenX

As you can imagine, that huge network spreads a very big net. This means my ads are more likely to appear in front of a visitor, and drive them back to my site to sign up.

Two things you have to keep in mind when you create your ad:

  1. Rotate your ads: Create three or four different ads that appeal to the viewer. Tests have shown that you’ll get a higher click-through . Most people will see about three ads before they click.
  2. Create a compelling message: Cute or clever messages will not work nearly as well as a compelling message. Appeal to their pride, vanity, greed, or fear—some emotion that reflects your content but will get them to click.

Conclusion

When it comes down to it, growing a blog to be in the Alexa top 10,000 is really all about doing old-school stuff: writing great content, commenting, promoting and trying to help as many people as you can.

There are no shortcuts. No sensational ways that will get you tons of steady, quality traffic to your site. You can’t have a great blog if you’re not willing to work. So … are you?

What other questions do you have about creating a great blog that I didn’t answer in this post?

Neil Patel is an online marketing consultant and the co-founder of KISSmetrics. He also blogs at Quick Sprout.

Cash In by Paying for Guest Posts

This guest post is by Carol Tice of Make a Living Writing.

If you’re looking for a way to grab attention for your blog and grow your income, I’ve had great success with this one: I pay writers.

Since May 2011, I’ve been paying $50 for guest posts on my blog. I started paying because my mission is to help writers earn more, and I needed to walk my talk. I usually buy two or three posts a month.

I thought it would just be a cost I’d have to cover every month. But paying for guest posts has turned out to be one of the most powerful strategies I’ve found for building my blog into a money-earner. My number of subscribers has doubled in the months since I started to pay.

I know—you’re here to learn how to make money with your blog, not spend it!

Fair enough. But I’ve discovered investing a little money in your content can be an affordable way to draw that big audience you’ve been trying to coax over to your neck of the virtual woods.

Here’s how paying for guest posts helps my blog succeed:

  1. It changes your attitude. When you start shelling out $100 or more a month for content on your site, it constantly reminds you why you have this blog: it’s a business. You’re investing in your business so it can ultimately earn you money. When your business has overhead, you get focused very quickly on how to earn enough to cover your costs.
  2. Quality goes way up. You get a lot of submissions when you wave a few bucks in writers’ faces. This means instead of begging and scraping to find guest posts when you need a writing break, you can pick and choose the posts you accept. You end up with better posts, and that attracts more readers.
  3. You are news. Offering pay in the blogosphere right now can get you some free press and valuable backlinks on popular sites, too. My blog has turned up in several widely read list posts about paying markets, such as this one. These are great traffic drivers whose effects can last for months.
  4. Word spreads like wildfire. In a world jammed with starving, out-of-work writers, the news that you are willing to shell out even $50 for a blog post gets you a lot of attention. Set up your writer’s guidelines to recommend writers subscribe to learn about what your readers like, and it can drive signups and grow your list.
  5. You learn and improve. Instead of just slapping up whatever half-baked ramblings would-be guest posters send you, you start editing and polishing. You ask for rewrites, because you want your money’s worth from the post. It’s an opportunity to help other writers improve their craft and do some giving to your community, as well as a chance to hone your editing skills. Who knows? You could find a gig editing another blog off that experience. You also gain exposure to new ideas and approaches to writing on your niche topic that can help improve your own posts.
  6. It builds your reputation. We all know trustworthiness is a critical factor in whether visitors decide to subscribe. When you pay for content, readers sense you are the real deal. After all, you’re putting money down to bring them valuable content.
  7. It’s a good marketing value. My experience is that paying for posts is more cost-effective than other forms of paid online advertising you might use to promote your blog. You could easily blow $100 on Facebook ad click-throughs and not get as good-quality new subscribers as you do when those paid guest posters tell all their friends to check you out.
  8. You make raving fans. When I look at who retweets everything I post—the people on Twitter and Facebook saying things like “@TiceWrites is a genius! Read her awesome post right now”—they are often writers who have previously guest posted on my blog. Pay a writer, and you earn their undying gratitude. Months after their guester, I see many writers out there, continuing to mention my blog.

Paying writers helps you grow a network of enthusiasts around your work. Then, when you have a paid product to launch, you’ve got a ready-made group of devotees ready to buy it, review it, affiliate-sell it—or just plain spread the word.

What tactics have helped grow sales on your blog? Leave a comment and tell us your approach.

Carol Tice writes the Make a Living Writing blog, and serves as Den Mother of the Freelance Writers Den, the learning and support community for freelance writers looking to grow their income.

How I Beat my Best Month Ever by Doing Something Good, Better [Case Study]

Mid-December 2010: on my photography site, we launched a new campaign—our first ever 12 Days of Christmas promotion.

The result was my biggest month of earnings ever up to that point.

The idea was simple: offer discounts on 12 products over the 12 days leading up to Christmas. I used a mix of my own ebooks and products from other photography sites with affiliate commissions.

landing-pages.png

The result was massive. Not only did we see some great revenue generated, it created some lovely buzz on the site.

Due to the success of the 2010 campaign, in mid-December 2011 we launched our second 12 Days of Christmas promotion. This time around we made some changes and evolved things a little. The result? It was big. I’ll tell you more about just how big below.

A number of my Twitter followers have been asking how it went and how we changed things this time, so here’s a quick snapshot of the changes and lessons we learned.

The Web Marketing Ninja helps out

Last year, I ran the promotion completely alone. I’d seen similar promotions on other sites and thought it’d work well on dPS. But never having done such a promotion, I made numerous mistakes and spotted many ways I knew it could be improved. So I brought the Web Marketing Ninja (regular guest poster here on dPS who recently revealed his identify) on to manage it for me.

The Ninja worked hard on adding some of the new strategic elements mentioned below into this year’s promotion. Plus, his work took a massive load off my shoulders in terms of the day-to-day running of the campaign. 12 Deals in 12 days is a big task—that’s 12 sales emails, numerous blog posts, loads of tweets, liaising with partners, and more.

Using MailChimp

I decided this year to take the opportunity of sending out 12 emails to our list in 12 days to test out a new email newsletter provider: MailChimp. I’ve wanted to test out this service for a long time based upon the amazing feedback it constantly gets from other bloggers.

I’m very glad that I have tested it, because so far, using MailChimp has been a real pleasure. Their interface is really intuitive and their technology is innovative. Deliverability rates were high, support staff were really helpful, and there are loads and loads of add-ons and extras that you can plug in to make the service even more powerful.

If you’re in the market for an email newsletter provider, I can certainly recommend you check MailChimp out (yes, that’s an affiliate link).

A new landing page

Probably the biggest change we’ve made this year is to create a central landing page for the promotion. You can see it in full here (although all the deals are now over, so it’s not active). This is the work of the Ninja at his finest.

landing-pages.png

Last time, the promotion largely happened around a series of sales pages, but there was no central place to tie it all together and build buzz. This year, having the central landing page worked really nicely.

Offering better deals

Having run this promotion once before, we were in a better position to make smart decisions about what deals to run this year on a number of levels.

  • Firstly, we know what types of products converted last year, and could focus on those. For example, last year we ran a couple of days on Photoshop actions which didn’t perform as well as teaching resource, so we swapped out the actions in favor of some new courses and ebooks.
  • We learned last year that the bigger discounts converted better than the smaller ones—we were able to offer bigger discounts on our own products easily, but also feed that back to the product owners we promote with the affiliate deals, and in most cases they came to the party to give bigger discounts.
  • We saw last year that bundles of products converted particularly well, so this year’s deals were more centred on bundles (around half of the the days’ deals) rather than single products.
  • We were also in a better position this year to negotiate better commissions with some of our partners, having shown them what we could do last year. Interestingly, word had gotten out about 2010 and this time around I had potential partners pitching us to be involved months out from December.

Other lessons learned

  • Use clear calls to unsubscribe: One thing that I’ve done in both campaigns is to give our newsletter subscribers a very clear way to unsubscribe right up front. Our first email explained the next 12 days’ program (and the fact that we were about to send 12 emails), and acknowledged it wouldn’t be for everyone, with a clear call to unsubscribe if it wasn’t of interest. Of course in each email we sent there was a similar call to unsubscribe. Note: we set up a separate email list for this campaign so that subscription cancellations wouldn’t stop people from getting our weekly newsletter. Feedback on this from readers was excellent.
  • Super deals: We suspected that some of our deals would perform better than others, based largely upon last years results. As a result, we placed these on mid-week days (Tuesdays) to give them the most exposure possible. I also gave them extra promotion with blog posts on those days (I didn’t post on the blog for every deal).
  • Diversity of deals: One thing that we were very aware of and tried to balance was mixing deals up so that readers didn’t get 12 invitations for fairly similar products. We did deals on physical products, software, ebooks, courses, and other teaching formats.
  • Give some “space” in the lead-up to your campaign: We purposely didn’t promote anything to our readers for a good month before this campaign. While we could easily have launched a product or promoted an affiliate campaign late November or early December, I didn’t want to push our readership too hard. In fact, I sent an extra email or two in that period that was simply free good content. The same goes for afterward—we had a great new ebook on post-processing ready to launch mid-January, but pushed it back a week to give a little more space for our readers to “recover” from December.
  • Be organized: The biggest tip I can give is to be organized. Work on partnerships for a month or two ahead of time, start working on sales emails as early as possible, and so on. The more you do ahead of time, the better, as there are always last-minute things to take care of.

The results

In 2010, this campaign contributed to December being our biggest month ever, up to that point. This last 2011 campaign saw us almost triple revenue from 2010. We have a new record-breaking month!

Revenue Comparison between 2010 and 2011 Campaigns

I did invest more into the 2011 campaign—paying the Ninja, investing some money into the design of landing page development and design, and beefing up our web hosting—so profit wasn’t tripled, but it wasn’t far off.

While this was a highly profitable way to end 2011, I can’t emphasize enough just how much work goes into a campaign like this. The 12 days itself were intense, with a lot of late nights and quite a bit of juggling.

For example, on one of our last nights we were preparing to go live when we realized the coupon code a partner had given us didn’t work. We had to quickly switch deals over, as it was a weekend and we couldn’t contact the partner.

Of course, along with the work comes a lot of fun. I’m coming to realize that there is a real rush that comes with launching products. Devising strategy, implementing it, and then waiting to see how things convert is a lot of fun (for me and the Ninja, at least). Doing 12 launches in 12 days just multiplies that!

Another big benefit—beyond profit and fun—of this type of campaign is that you learn a lot about your readership. In running 12 deals in 12 days, you get to test out a lot of different things. For example, this year our products included physical products, single ebooks, ebook bundles, courses, and software. Price points were also interesting to watch—products ranged from $17 right up to $180! While dPS has traditionally just published ebooks at a pretty similar price point, we now have some great information on what other types of products and price points our readers are interested in.

Onward to 2012

So with the 2011 12 Deals of Christmas behind us, we’re already thinking about how we can make the 2012 campaign even bigger!

What Motivates Readers to Share?

This guest post is by Dan Zarrella of danzarrella.com.

In my research into sharing, I realized I needed to develop a framework that would serve as a model for the decision-making process that takes place before someone spreads an idea.

This framework describes the three criteria that must be met before someone will spread an idea in any format:

  1. The person must be exposed to your content. This means that the person has to be following you on Twitter, be a fan of your page on Facebook, subscribe to your email list, and so on.
  2. The person must become aware of your specific piece of content (the idea you want to spread). S/he has to read your tweet or open your email message.
  3. The person must be motivated by something (generally in the content itself) in order to want to share the idea with his or her contacts.

Every piece of content, social network, and campaign has a vastly different conversion rate at each step of this process. For you to understand the scales involved, it helps to visualize a hypothetical set of percentages. If you email 900 people, and 20% of them notice and open the message, and then 10% of those readers forward it to a friend, your email message was shared 18 times.

At each step, you can change the numbers in your favor:

  1. Increase the number of people exposed to your content. Get more email-list subscribers or Twitter followers.
  2. Create attention-grabbing content. Do lots of testing on your subject lines to increase open rates.
  3. Include powerful calls to action.

The keys to real science are data and experimentation. I’ve spent nearly five years conducting research into the why, how, and what of contagious ideas. In the three middle chapters of ZarrellasHierarchyofContagiousness (“Exposure,” “Attention,” and “Motivation”), I present some of my most important findings and describe how you can use them to optimize your ideas for maximum spread at each step of my hierarchy. This is an excerpt from the chapter “Motivation.”

The bottom level of my hierarchy of contagiousness is motivation, and it’s the trickiest to achieve. Once someone is exposed to your idea and it catches her attention, she has to be motivated by it to want to share it. This is where you can find the most superstitious advice.

People claim that they spread ideas only when those ideas are good, are funny, benefit the world, or conform to some other nebulous standard. So how do we really motivate people to share our ideas? That question is best answered in two parts: Why do people share ideas? And what kinds of ideas do they share the most?

What do people share?

Now that we’ve got an understanding of the real reasons people spread ideas, let’s talk about what kinds of ideas they share the most.

Uncomplicated language is contagious

Readability tests are designed to measure the reading grade level required to understand a specific piece of content. The higher the score, the more complex the language is. The most popular readability test is called the Flesch-Kincaid test and is built into Microsoft Word.

While studying Facebook sharing, I gathered a database of stories published in a variety of popular news sources, including geeky places, like Mashable and TechCrunch, and mainstream outlets, such as CNN and The New York Times. I measured how readable each story was and how many times it was shared on Facebook. I found an inverse correlation between the complexity of the articles and the number of times they were shared. As stories became more challenging to read, they were posted to Facebook less often.

I also explored the parts of speech in the titles of those same articles. I determined that the use of flowery, adverb- and adjective-laden language was related to lower sharing rates. As Strunk and White told us decades ago in their book, Elements of Style:

“Write with nouns and verbs, not with adjectives and adverbs. The adjective hasn’t been built that can pull a weak or inaccurate noun out of a tight place… it is nouns and verbs, not their assistants, that give good writing its toughness and color.”

The most and least retweetable words

Perhaps my favorite data set is my giant MySQL table of 100 million retweets. A while ago, I pulled out of that table a list of the most “retweetable” words and phrases. I found twenty words that occurred more often in retweets than they did in non-contagious tweets. I also pulled out the least retweetable words, or what I call “viral kryptonite.”

I’ve presented these lists at events probably a hundred times, and at nearly every event, someone will come up to me afterwards with his phone out and show me how cleverly he smooshed all the words together to make the world’s most (or least) retweetable tweet. It is invariably meaningless. The funny part is that when I tell the person to check his mentions, he often finds that he has actually gotten retweeted.

The list of the most retweetable words is topped by the word “you.” People don’t want to hear about you; they want to hear you talk about them. Tweets that tell people how they can do things and learn things do very well. The list also contains phrases like “how to” and “top 10.” These phrases indicate that the content they point to is broken up into manageable chunks rather than being huge blocks of intimidating text.

The best phrase on the list, however, is “please retweet.” You should see the unicorn folks freak out about this one. They tell me that it sounds too desperate, demanding, and downright wrong. But it works. Try it out right now. Irving Kirsch, a researcher at the University of Connecticut backed me up in a recent experiment. He gave some subjects hypnotic instructions to mail thirty postcards, once a day. And just nicely asked another group to do so. “Please mail these.” The second group complied with the request more often. Social requests are just as powerful as full-on hypnotic trances.

On the flip side of the coin are the least retweetable words. Drivel like “tired,” “bored,” “watching,” and “game.” Words that indicate people narrating particularly boring parts of their lives. Of course I’m not going to retweet those.

The most and least shareable words

To come up with similar lists for Facebook, I looked at words in articles shared on Facebook and found the words that correlated most strongly with those articles being shared more often or less often. There are some significant differences between these lists and the Twitter word lists because the Facebook audience is a much more mainstream one.

The list of most shareable words is headed by the word “Facebook.” Yep, Facebookers love talking about Facebook. The rest of the list was mostly stuff you’d hear on the nightly news. Political words and phrases like “Obama” and “health care.” Most interesting, the words “why” and “how” do very well. Online, people want to get deeper into stories than they can with the thirty-second sound bite they heard on TV.

The list of least shareable words is full of social media dork words. Stuff like “apps,” “social,” and “Twitter.” Everyone is on Facebook. Both your mom and your college roommate are, and most Facebook users aren’t into every bleeding-edge new media website like you are.

This is an excerpt from Dan Zarrella’s latest book, to read it in it’s entirety, buyZarrellasHierarchyofContagiousnessonAmazon. It’s less than $10 for the Kindle version (which will work on any computer or device).

Whose Blog First?

This guest post is by Shakirah Dawud of Deliberate Ink.

Writing for three blogs on a regular basis, with the odd request for a guest post elsewhere, my writing plans are already tight. But because I write for overlapping fields of interest, my  plans can also tangle. The most common:

  • Snag A: The topic could be of use to any blog I write for. Should I send it to my friend’s blog, where the people know me better, or let it air at the writing forum where it’ll snag more eyeballs?
  • Snag B: If I don’t write about this topic I’m gonna bust wide open, but it’s not appropriate for my audience’s needs, my friend won’t be able to post it till it’s no longer relevant, and I don’t think enough people will see it over a the writer’s group.
  • Snag C: I have one blog topic on my mind right now, and only one. But I have three blogs to post to this week.

Whose blog first?

It might seem obvious the answer is my blog, but that’s not always the case. Depending on who the audience is, what the post is addressing, and the characteristics of the other blogs, it can be tough to decide.

Look at the post. When you have a post that may fit more than one blog, the post itself can sometimes tell you which blog it belongs to. What level of the industry or topic are you addressing? What point are you making? What image are you projecting?

Look at the blogs. Each of the blogs you write for may lie within the same area of interest or industry. But the reason you chose to write for them is because of their differences. What are those differences? Community size, reach, posting schedule, and general atmosphere often make your pieces self-selecting.
Look at the audiences. Think of one reader from each of your blogs. Don’t make one up. Literally find the readers who interact most often with comments and shares. Ask yourself which piece each person would most enjoy reading, and don’t hesitate to give it to him.

Readers have rights. It’s unfair to try shoehorning a post into anyplace it doesn’t belong (at least, not without a good excuse). That’s why you should look at the other factors involved when deciding where to post what. But what happens if you have something valuable to share, and nowhere to share it? Network with your fellow bloggers and find the right fit for a guest post.

Plan ahead. Do this only if you want to avoid getting into any posting snag in the first place. Create a chart including each of your blogs and the dates you’ll be posting. Fill in each date with more than one topic idea. This way there’s no worry about topics that overlap because there’s always an extra. Pick one and start writing, tangle-free.

Shakirah Dawud is the writer and editor behind Deliberate Ink. Based in Maryland with roots in New York, she’s been crafting effective marketing copy as a writer and polishing many forms of prose as an editor since 2002. Clients in many fun sizes, industries, and locations reach her through the Web.