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Blog Accessibility Essentials: The Complete Guide

This guest post is by Steff Green of the Disabled Shop Blog.

Digital content has opened up a whole new world of possibility for people with print disabilities.

Previously, very little printed material was available in a format that blind and low vision people can access, (Braille, audio or large print), and these formats were costly and time-consuming to produce. But now, adaptive software has meant that content available electronically can be accessed by practically anyone.

With more resources than ever moving online or to electronic formats such as ebooks, people like me with low vision have access to more content than we could ever imagine.

It is estimated that there are around 25 million adults with significant sight loss) in the US today, and more than 285 million people around the world. That’s not including people with other disabilities who use adaptive software to access information, such as learning disabilities or motor impairments.

All these people could be reading your blog, so it stands to reason that you want to make sure they’re able to enjoy everything you have to offer.

A blog is never going to be perfect for everyone. There are so many conditions and disabilities in the world that it’s impossible to cater to all of them. That’s why many people who have disabilities use adaptive technology to help them access the web—they have to create the optimum conditions for themselves.

When creating an accessible website, what you’re trying to do is create a site that’s both easily viewable in its normal state and optimized to perform well when viewed with adaptive software.

As a bonus, an accessible website also happens to be extremely user-friendly for your whole readership, as well as being great for SEO.

What is adaptive equipment?

Adaptive equipment is any type of device that helps an individual perform an activity that they would not otherwise be able to perform due to a physical or mental condition or disability.

A blind person cannot access your blog in the normal way, so they must use some kind of adaptive equipment in order to enjoy your content. The most common piece of adaptive software is a screen reader: a program that reads out websites using synthetic speech for people with vision problems. A person can use keyboard commands to navigate through the site (since using a mouse is impractical).

Other adaptive software includes: zoom software, such as Zoomtext (I used to use this, but since switching to Mac, all the necessary software is inbuilt), Dragon Naturally Speaking. and a refreshable Braille display.

Blind and low-vision users aren’t the only people who need accessible websites. Other users have motor skill issues that make using a mouse difficult, or might have dyslexia and have difficulty understanding text when they read it. Adaptive equipment such as switches and keyboards controlled by the feet, head or other input methods can be used.

Making a blog post accessible

So how do you ensure that your blog is accessible? It may surprise you to learn that creating accessible blog posts is easy, and you’re probably doing a pretty good job already.

But understanding why you format blog posts in a certain way will help ensure that you continue to create accessible blog posts.

Headings

Heading levels are an important part of the functionality of adaptive software. The screen reader can navigate through headings, much like skipping through the chapters in a book. This enables the reader to choose the content they want to read.

Problems arise when bloggers don’t use the heading tags correctly—usually by bolding a heading instead of using an h1, h2, h3, or h4 tag, or by failing to use headings in a cohesive way.

Adaptive software retains the hierarchy of headings, so a user can navigate through post titles (h1) or subtitles within a post (h2) or headings underneath a subtitle (h3-5). But if you don’t use these headings consistently, the reader will become confused.

How can you improve?

  • Always use the heading levels to denote headings—don’t simply place headings in bold.
  • Nest headings correctly, so the heading hierarchy makes sense in a screen reader.

Images

You might wonder how adaptive software deals with images. Screen readers read out the alternative or alt text, and this tells the listener what’s in the image.

So to make your images accessible, you need to ensure each and every one has an alternative text description that explains what’s in the image. It doesn’t have to be long and wordy: “infographic displaying social media stats” is fine, as most of the info will be in the text surrounding that image.

SEO gurus recommend putting your keywords into the alt text, which is definitely a good idea, but only if they make sense in the context of the image.

How can you improve?

  • Ensure every image has an alt text description.
  • Use descriptions to explain what is happening in the text, not just to add keywords.
  • Add titles to your images (this helps with navigation, though it isn’t necessary).

Links

Hyperlinks within your post (and across your whole blog) should be able to be easily read and understood on their own. This is because screen readers can give the user a list of the hyperlinks on a page. Having ten hyperlinks reading “here” doesn’t help the listener figure out where she wants to go.

Meaningful hyperlinks (especially those containing keywords) are also good for SEO, so it’s a good practice to get into.

Links should also open in the same window, as opening extra windows can make navigation cumbersome. On WordPress, you can do this easily by setting the Target at “Open in this Window/Frame” in the Link box.

And, finally, when designing your blog, make sure links stand out from the text. Use bold, underline, and different fonts or colors to distinguish links from your main text. This helps everyone locate your links with ease.

How can you improve?

  • Avoid links like “Click here” and “NOW” and “More”.
  • Ensure the text of hyperlinks provides a meaningful phrase when read out of content.
  • Make sure links are easily visible—by being a different color, bold, and/or underlined.
  • Ensure links open in the same window.

Tiny links and icons

Tiny things are cute: tiny houses, tiny hands and feet, and tiny kittens. But tiny links and icons are just plain difficult. If you have some vision, like me, you may spend several minutes looking for a link or icon on a page, when you’d have found it easily if only it were a little larger.

One of the hardest things to find are those little “X”s or “close” links in the corners of those pop-up boxes (which I also loathe, but more on those in the next section). On some sites, these are practically impossible to see. I’ll click away if I can’t get rid of that box without straining my eyes.

Tiny links are also difficult for people with poor motor control to locate. Likewise, having lots of tiny links close together, such as social media keys on a navigation panel, means your visitors are often clicking the wrong thing by accident. This is frustrating and often forces readers to look for information elsewhere.

How can you improve?

  • Look at your site. Are you links identified visually? Can you easily determine where you are and what the focus of each page is?
  • Can you make hyperlinks longer than one symbol/word so they’re more obvious?
  • Can you make icons larger and use more space between them?

Dynamic elements

Pop-up boxes, slide out menus and other dynamic elements may look great, but they are extremely difficult to navigate.

If you’re slow on the mouse, the panels can disappear before you’ve clicked on the link you require. And those pop-up “sign up to my newsletter” boxes are extremely frustrating, but I understand why some bloggers are reluctant to get rid of them.

How can you improve?

  • Think carefully before using dynamic elements on your website.
  • Test your site by attempting to navigate it using the mouse in your non-dominant hand. If you’re struggling with navigation menus and tiny icons, maybe it’s time to improve your design.
  • Ensure your site is coded correctly so adaptive software users can easily skip past or stop dynamic elements such as menus or updating Twitter feeds.

Captcha

Okay, captcha services are one of my pet accessibility peeves. They seem to be getting progressively illegible, with letters layered on top of one another, squashed up like they’ve gone through a sausage machine, or struck through with so many lines and swirls they’re impossible to read.

You might say, “Oh, but there’s that audio button beside it. That makes captcha accessible.” Which is a fair comment. Except, have you ever tried to use the audio function? Half the time it doesn’t work, and the rest of the time it’s so garbled it’s impossible to understand.

How can you improve?

  • Choose captcha screens that are readable: letters and numbers spaced apart with a non-distracting background, and small letters instead of capitals.
  • Choose services without sloping letters.
  • Use a tick-box that says “Uncheck if you’re human,” or another, non-captcha method of determining spam from legitimate comments.

Other tips for improving blog accessibility

  • Have you created an audio or video post? It would be awesome if you could also provide a transcript and captions, so that everyone could enjoy the information in their preferred format.
  • Using blockquotes to identify longer quotes helps those using a screen reader to distinguish between your voice and someone else’s.
  • Instead of using the dash—or other symbols—to show items in a list, use the ordered or unordered list tags. The screen reader can then tell the listener that the items are in a list.
  • Unplug your mouse. Now try to navigate through your site. Can you do it? Where do you get stuck? That’s the same place that will trip up adaptive software.

By following these simple rules, you’re creating accessibility best practice on your blog, and ensuring that more people are able to access and enjoy your content.

It only takes a few extra minutes to check that your blog posts are accessible, and after a few weeks, accessibility will become second nature.

The more you learn about accessibility, the more you come to understand and appreciate how different people access information, and this makes you a better—and more considerate—blogger.

Accessibility resources

Steff Green is a legally blind freelance writer, blogger and illustrator. She writes about disability news, adaptive equipment and advocacy for the Disabled Shop Blog. Check out her latest post on Christmas Gift Ideas: Children’s Books about Disability.

How to Create White Papers From Your Blog Posts and Use Them Effectively

This guest post is by Mitt Ray of The White Paper Blog.

With the rise in inbound marketing, more and more blogs are using white papers to promote themselves effectively. Blogs can use white papers as part of their marketing campaigns to spread expertise, generate leads, get more subscribers, and to take advantage of many other benefits. If you’re keen on learning how to write effective white papers and then use them to promote your blog, then you have to read this post!

What is a white paper?

A white paper is a cross between a magazine article and a brochure. It possesses both the educational qualities of a magazine article and the persuasive qualities of a corporate brochure. This combination of education and persuasion makes it one of the most powerful marketing tools.

How do white papers differ from guides and reports?

Guides and reports are helpful documents that usually dwell into the solution right away. There’s a brief paragraph or two as to why the guide is helpful and why they need to read the guide, and then the helpful information starts.

A white paper, on the other hand, dwells into the problems first. A white paper usually starts with a headline and an introduction which explains what the white paper is about, and how it’s going to help the reader. Then there’s a detailed description of the problems faced by the reader. The white paper goes into detail about every problem faced by the reader and how it affects them and their business. After making the problems clear, the white paper discusses the appropriate solutions in details.

This is the main difference between a white paper and a guide—a white paper dwells on the problems before providing the solution. One more difference is that the white paper has a persuasive brochure at the end which usually sells a service or product relevant to the solution in the white paper. This can play an important lead generation. Another important point to keep in mind is that white papers can be scientific with a lot of references.

When should you use a white paper and not a guide?

As I mentioned above, a white paper can be a fantastic tool to promote your blog, but you can’t always use it. If you want to use a white paper to promote your blog, you need to make sure that a white paper would suit your blog topic, your audience, etc. A white paper might be a fantastic marketing tool for some blogs, but it might not be for others.

For example, I have two blogs on marketing: one of them is on white papers, and the other’s on social media and inbound marketing. On my white paper blog I give away the free white paper on how to write white papers. This works because people who visit my website are people looking to learn more about white papers and how to write them—therefore a white paper on how to write white paper acts as a helpful document and sample, and this helps promote my blog.

When I first started my other blog on social media and inbound marketing, I offered the free white paper “How to get started with inbound marketing.” This white paper explained the problems with outdated marketing methods, how inbound marketing works, and how to get started with it. This white paper did well, as I was able to display the problems and solutions clearly and white papers do play a role in inbound marketing.

Recently, though, I took that off the site and replaced it with a guide on how to get started with Pinterest. I could have written a white paper on it, but I decided to use a guide as a white paper on Pinterest would have been redundant. If I wrote a white paper on how to use Pinterest, I’d need to talk about the problems with other social media and image-sharing sites and I didn’t feel that this would be appropriate. Also, I wanted to make a free guide which doesn’t have any marketing messages or information about any of my services. This is why I decided to write a guide instead of a white paper.

If you want to write a white paper for your blog or to promote your business you need to be clear about your aims, your audience, your topic, etc. and then decide if it would be better off to use a white paper or to stick with a guide. Normally it’s best to use a white paper if you’re providing a service or product in the B2B sector. Sometimes white papers might not work in the B2C sector; the best thing to do in those cases is to use a guide instead.

How can blogs use white papers?

Whether your blog is part of a business, or whether it’s a standalone blog, there are plenty of ways you can use a white paper to promote your blog or your business. Here are a few ideas.

How can an independent blog and a blog that is part of a company use white papers?

The different ways in which standalone blogs, and blogs that are part of businesses, can use white papers include:

  1. Get more subscribers: One of the best ways to get many people to sign up to your newsletter is by offering a free white paper in exchange for the signup. When you let people know that they get a free white paper in exchange for their email addresses they will readily give you their names and email addresses. For this to work well you need to make sure the white paper you give away is in relation to the topic you blog on.
  2. Rejuvenate old blog posts: If you are disappointed with the amount of traffic your old posts are receiving, then the best thing to do is to convert them into a white paper. You could select some of the best posts which did well in the past and combine them together to create a powerful white paper. This way you will be happy with the extra recognition some of your hard work is receiving, and your reader will be happy with the quality content you provide.
  3. Increase blog traffic: A white paper can also be used to increase blog traffic. Your white paper doesn’t just have to contain content and pictures—it can also contain links to blog posts on your website. For example, if you need to define a term or explain something clearly, you can just add a link to the blog post from your white paper, instead of adding heaps and heaps of secondary content to the white paper itself.
  4. Attract backlinks: A well-written white paper can be fantastic link bait. If your white paper is written really well, and is unique and contains lot of fantastic tips, people will want to link to it. If someone’s writing a tip on SEO and they feel that your white paper is the best resource for more information on a particular tip, they will want to link to it. This can help you get a ton of backlinks which can, of course, help improve your website’s search engine rankings.

How can blogs that are part of a business use white papers?

Below is a list of the benefits of white papers to blogs that are part of a business. These advantages usually don’t apply to independent blogs:

  1. Spread expertise: If your white paper is filled with amazing tips which can help readers run their businesses better, it can help you or your company gain recognition and authority as an expert in te field. And what’s the advantage of being “the expert”? Everybody wants to work with the expert!
  2. Generate leads: As mentioned above, white papers can be used to generate leads for a service. After reading your white paper, people have two choices: they can either try out the tips you have provided by themselves, or they can hire the expert who has provided these tips. It’s more likely that they are going to hire the expert, as people prefer to work with someone experienced who has produced results, instead of taking a chance themselves. This is exactly what your white paper proves. In this way, it can increase your chances of landing the job.
  3. Sell products: White papers can be used not only to sell a service, but also to sell products. At the end of your white paper in the brochure section, you can let people know about your product, explaining how it provides the solution you’ve described in the white paper. This can really help to increase the sales of your products. White papers are commonly used to sell expensive products.

How to create white papers from your blog posts

You can either create white papers from scratch, or from your blog posts. Given that we’re all bloggers, I’m going to teach you how to create white papers from blogs post. If you would like to learn how to create white papers from scratch, read my white paper on How to Write White a Paper!

Contents of a white paper

A white paper usually consists of:

  • headline
  • sub-headline
  • an introduction
  • a statement of the problem
  • an explanation of the best solutions
  • a “brochure” section that explains your offering.

If your blog has been around for a while, you can probably get all the above required information for a white paper from your blog posts. In fact, you can take any solution-focused blog post and use it to build a white paper.

A blog post usually consists of a headline, followed by the introduction where you briefly write about a problem. Next comes the main part of the post, where you write the solutions to the problem in detail. As you can see, it’s pretty easy to either repurpose blog posts, or use them as the basis, to create your white paper.

Creating the white paper

As I mentioned earlier, white papers usually detail problems, then follow up with solutions to these problems. So let’s start off by taking all the blog posts you plan to include in your white paper. Make sure all these posts are on the same subject or belong to the same niche.

1. Write down the problems

Write down a list of all the problems from the blog posts you have amassed. After you have written them down, go through them thoroughly.

Now, write down a brief introduction to the Problems section of the white paper. This needs to be written briefly, based on all the problems you listed.

After you finish writing this introduction, you can start listing out each of the problems and describe them in detail. Make sure you expand on those few lines you wrote earlier. You want each problem’s description to be between 100 and 400 words long.

After you have listed all the problems, write down a brief conclusion which tells the reader that the problems stated can be solved with simple solutions. This conclusion should lead the reader into the Solutions section of the white paper.

2. Write down the solutions

For the Solutions section of the white paper, you can use the same solutions you provided in your blog posts. You might need to modify it a bit to suit the white paper and the detailed problems you just wrote.

First, start off by writing a headline and brief introduction to the Solutions section. Here, write about all the solutions you plan to discuss, and how they can help solve the problems you’ve already covered.

After that introduction, list the solutions one by one and copy in the content from your blog posts, modifying the content so that it reads well in sequence and so that the problems and solutions match each other perfectly. This will improve the flow of the white paper and make it easy to read.

3. Write a conclusion

At the end of the Solutions section, write down your conclusion. The Conclusion should lead the reader into the brochure section of the white paper. You need to let the reader know that the tips you have provided in the white paper do work, and if they would like to try out a product or service that provides the same solution they should keep reading…

4. Create the brochure section

After the Conclusion, it’s time to create the brochure section of the white paper. Here, you can just give a brief outline of your blog or business, and then follow it with the benefits of your product or service. At the end, don’t forget to include a linked call to action which asks the reader to contact you to find out more about your product or service.

5. Write the Introduction and headline

After you finish writing the Problems, Solutions, and Brochure sections of the white paper, go back to the beginning and write the headline, sub-headline, and the introduction. I like to leave this task till last, because by the end of the writing, I know exactly what’s in my white paper and how I’ve pitched the problems and solutions. Writing the Intro and headline last means I can make sure that they pre-empt the content of the white paper very well.

First write an attention-grabbing headline and sub-headline that will convince the reader to read the rest of the white paper.

For the introduction, all you need to do is sum up the contents of the white paper in around 300 to 500 words. Here, just outline some of the contents of the white paper. Let the reader know what the white paper is about, mention some of the important problems and solutions that are discussed here, and highlight how they will find the information helpful.

Think of the introduction as a mini-white paper, or a teaser. Don’t give away too much information in the introduction, as you still want the reader to read the rest of the white paper and find out more about what it contains by themselves.

6. Check the flow

After you finish writing the entire white paper, read it several times to make sure all the contents of the white paper complement each other and fit in well together. This will improve the flow of your white paper and make it easy to read.

If you follow this process you should be able to create a powerful white paper from your blog posts. You can then use this white paper to take advantage of all the benefits mentioned above.

Have you ever created a white paper from your blog posts? Have you got any other tips you would like to share with us? Please share your comments with us below.

Mitt Ray blogs about white papers on “The White Paper Blog,” where you can download his free white paper on “How to Write a White Paper.” He is the Founder of Social Marketing Writing and the Director of imittcopy. He is also the author of the book White Paper Marketing. You can follow him on @MittRay.

Plagiarism … or Inspiration?

This guest post is by Dawn Walnoha of Brandsplat.

In all writing, blogging being no exception, there is a fine line between borrowing ideas and plagiarizing content. Since the issue is not clearly defined the same way everywhere, it is open to interpretation. And that means the line is somewhere in a gray area between the black and white of honest content and dishonest theft.

One area that has been a perennial gray zone is that of borrowing another writer’s structure or approach to their writing style, while not borrowing their content. This is absolutely, in no way shape or form, plagiarizing. But because of the nature of ideas and how they originate and propagate through society as memes, there are people who take this kind of structural borrowing as a theft of ideas.

So how does one evaluate the matter to be sure they’re simply using a reasonable approach, rather than stealing from another writer?

Comparing content

Let’s take a look at two very popular television series, two of my personal favorites in fact: ABC’s Castle and Fox’s Bones.

Castle, which first aired as a mid-season replacement in 2009, features a male and female partnership duo heading up an ensemble style cast of quirky police detectives. Rick Castle, an author who is tagging along on police investigations in order to do research for his books, often clashes with the experienced police detective Kate Beckett. Castle lacks any kind of police training and can’t protect himself like a cop could, but their personality clashes hide a growing and intensifying attraction to one another.

Compare that to Bones, which first aired in 2005. Temperence Brennan and Agent Seeley Booth head up an ensemble cast of quirky characters. Brennan (who is an author) is working with the experienced FBI field agent Booth.  Booth often clashes with her over decorum in the field because she wants to get close to the action but lacks the training of an experienced officer. However, their clashes hide a growing and intensifying… you can see where I’m going with this, I’m sure.

On the surface, these two shows look very much alike. Just looking at the facts as presented, you would probably excuse someone for making the initial assumption that Castle ripped Bones off. But looking a bit more in depth, you’ll see that it is not the case.

Bones is a show focused on forensic anthropology based out of a lab in the “Jeffersonian” institute (a Smithsonian analog) working with the FBI on high profile cases. It showcases the very real concerns of the interactions between specialists who are civilians and actual agents invested with police powers.

Castle, on the other hand, shows a rich playboy author who does a “ride along” with Detective Beckett and becomes fascinated with her.  He decides to base a novel character on her, and uses his pull with the mayor to get assigned to her cases. This scenario is well into the realm of fanciful whimsy, rather than the situation in Bones, which at least attempts to illustrate the actual way two different agencies might interact.

Further, before Bones could make a claim against Castle, one has to remember that Bones is simply a retread of the tried and true “buddy cop” formula itself, which dates back much further than either series.

Both shows use a very similar format, but Castle is not a copy of Bones. They simply start from a similar premise, and follow the creators’ logic and own unique creative processes from there.

Borrowing format

So it is with blogging. Perhaps one day you come across a format from a favorite blogger that you can see will work for you. Maybe the way they present their research and conclusions appeals to you in an organizational sense, and you borrow the format. This does not mean you’re borrowing the ideas, nor are you stealing actual content. Thus, it should not be considered plagiarism or intellectual property infringement.

Maybe it even goes further than that. A blogger could write about a specific topic you find interesting, and you decide to use the topic as a starting point. So long as you do your own research and do not simply take their article and rewrite it, again you are not plagiarizing.

Ideas are very fluid concepts. It is very difficult to demonstrate exactly where any one meme began in most cases. You should not be afraid of reading your favorite blogs and drawing ideas on what to write about from them. On their road to success, Bones and Castle weren’t afraid to revisit the buddy cop series idea, borrowing liberally from CSI and, yes, each other along the way. (The creators of Castle have even acknowledged that the relationship between Beckett and Castle has similarities to the one between Booth and Brennan.)

Don’t be afraid to look for ideas anywhere, so long as you are honestly willing and able to do the work yourself to flesh those ideas out.

Dawn Walnoha is the VP of Production at Brandsplat.  Brandsplat creates blogs, articles and social media in the voice of our client’s brand. Click here for the Brandsplat Report or visit our blog at www.ibrandcasting.com.

11 Pro Tips for Unmissable Talking Head Videos

This guest post is by Marco Montemagno of Presenter Impossible.

Anyone can create a video and upload it to their blog or onto YouTube. But so many of the videos out there are boring, and viewers shut them off after a few seconds.

In my six years presenting my own TV show on Sky News on Italian television, I saw many great clips from the web—and an equal number of really horrible ones.

So how do you create a really great video?

The trick is to make a video clip that is not only inspiring and entertaining, but also interesting to watch. This can be achieved with good technique and knowledge—and it can be surprisingly simple.

Here are 11 tips to help you create better talking-head videos.

1. Use tools and other objects

This is very, very simple, but tools and props will keep the viewer interested.

A good example of this is the above video, which won the Davos YouTube video awards 2009. In it, a guy talks whilst showing cups—an instant attention getter. Or you can watch this Hans Rosling video where boxes and toys are used live to attract audience’s attention.

It’s simple, but it works!

2. Use a whiteboard with a countdown

If you think that a whiteboard is old-style, think again. Watch how Brendon Burchard uses it effectively.

His presentation may sound a little austere because he explains his topic using only a whiteboard, but the information he provides is interesting and worth paying attention to.

Plus, he uses countdowns. One easy way to create a countdown is to video a wall to which you’ve stuck pieces of paper showing the numbers one to ten. Remove or lift up a piece of paper as you count down through the items and show what’s underneath. Who doesn’t want to know what you’ve got hidden under number 1?

3. The “super-zoom”

Ze Frank is another good person to watch on video—he’s funny, but more importantly his editing is spot-on, fast, and unique. He has perfected the art of mixing images and profiles into powerful presentations using the “super-zoom. Check it out.

4. Use text and images

Text and images can give rhythm to your clip. Try to insert something every 60/90 seconds to break up the monotony of your direct-to-camera video, and keep the visual interest of the viewers piqued.

The audience will also find the video easier to follow, because you’ve made distinct breaks between sections. At the most basic level you can simply add a countdown or a slide with a phrase taht you add during editing.

5. Be active and pay attention to your body language

Don’t stare at the camera like a stunned animal caught in the headlights! Allow your eyes to move naturally, the way you would if you were talking to someone face to face. Use your eyes to give rhythm to your speech—let them move around as you think of something or when you collect your ideas and then look back to the camera.

This approach is natural and super-effective. Check Gary in the above video for some ideas about how you can be active in front of a camera!

6. Partner up

Think Batman and Robin, and consider tag-teaming with a partner. Everything sounds more interesting when discussed between two people. The topic of conversation is easier to follow, because the viewer’s attention is recaptured whenever the other person talks.

A good example of partners in presenting is given by Diggnation with Kevin Rose.

7. Use your voice creatively

Don’t speak in a monotone—that’s guaranteed to make the subject matter boring and dull. Change the volume according to where the emphasis is in your script. Slow down when talking about important things, and speed up when the content is not so important.

Watch in the video above to see how many voice variations Robin Williams can perform. For the average blogger, I think 1% of them will be more than enough!

8. Nail down the format

This should be done before you start recording. If you want to talk about your niche, think before starting about the best format to use. How long should the clip be? Where should it be filmed? I would suggest writing down exactly how long each block of content will be (for example: the opening jingle four seconds, introduction 20 seconds, chapter 1 topic four seconds, chapter 2 topic 40 seconds, etc.).

Timing is very important and will depend on the topic and the host. Work on your format and keep improving it. How about trying a video that explains your topic in 60 seconds, like the above video?

9. Use subtitles

I’m not a native English speaker. Yet I cannot tell you the number of videos that are presented in English which I have quit after few seconds because the audio is not good, or the accent is very difficult to understand. Like me, plenty of other non-native English speakers around the world are doing the same thing.

Subtitles are a great tool because they draw attention and make the video more understandable. They also boosts the SEO of the video. Still not convinced? All TED videos come with subtitles. English subtitles on a video that’s presented in another language (or vice versa) can also expand your video’s audience.

10. Use super editing

Are you a video editing god? Great! Cool video editing will pump up the number of views your video gets, so if you have access to video editing software, learn how to use it. Slick editing keeps the audience on its toes and surprises them. In Italy, a user called Zoro uses a selfmade fast editing format where the same person acts in multiple roles. His editing makes the video very exciting.

11. Be the next Tony Robbins

Tony is a motivational expert and storytelling guru—and he’s generating great content.

His web video clips normally just feature him in front of a white background. Sometimes he inserts a short sentence into the video to break the rythm, but that’s it.

Only if your content is great and you have his passion and charisma can you go “naked” the way Tony does!

Which techniques do you use?

So there you have some simple tips and tricks to make your YouTube video clip stand out and get your message across.

Let me know which tips you’ve tried—or plan to use—in your videos in the comments below.

Marco Montemagno is a tech entrepreneur and founder of “Presenter Impossible, lessons from a decade of unconventional presentations“, where he shares ideas and tips to create inspiring presentations.

Three Easy Video Formats for First-time Vloggers

This is a guest post by Gregory Ciotti of Sparring Mind.

YouTube is the next big thing for blogging.

Seems like pretty poor advice, since everybody is hopping all over Pinterest and people have known about YouTube for a long time.

The thing is, few bloggers are utilizing YouTube to its full potential.

And it’s not just me thinking that: on a recent post on Social Media examiner, many of the 30 experts featured agreed that YouTube was going to see a tremendous rise in use by bloggers in 2012.

Why?

Because YouTube has finally come out of its “Wild West” past.

That means people are taking original content more seriously on YouTube these days—it’s no longer for Family Guy clips and videos stolen from elsewhere.

YouTube partners are making some serious coin, and many bloggers are learning that the traffic generated from YouTube can be big. David Edwards has been pointing this out here at ProBlogger for a while.

Check out the traffic just one of my blogs receives per week from YouTube:

Most bloggers get stuck when it comes to video content, because they’re unsure of what to make. (We’re not all illustrators and animators like David, after all.) Don’t worry, you won’t be forced to make any cheesy comedy videos, or “S_____ People Say” style viral videos either.

We’ll be taking a more serious and proven approach. Let’s look at three kinds of videos you can make to capitalize on the rise of YouTube.

1. Screen-capture videos

This is a biggie: screen capture videos can bring in huge amounts of search traffic. Why? Because people are constantly searching for “How-To” videos on YouTube, and nothing beats the good old-fashioned screen capture in a tutorial.

If you title your video “How To _______”, get some views on your blog, pick a good how-to topic, and do a great job presenting it, you are guaranteed to have made a video that will give back for years to come in terms of views and traffic.

Not only do your readers benefit, but you get big exposure from the browsing YouTube audience who have the very real possibility of turning into future blog subscribers.

Leveraging your blog’s audience by embedding your video into a post is a great way to ensure you rank well for the “How To” term as well, since view count affects how high videos display in YouTube’s search results.

Get started by checking out programs like Camtasia and CamStudio (free) to record what’s on your screen.

Example video:

This is a great video by Pat Flynn detailing how to create whiteboard videos, so you’ll learn something else too!

2. Interview videos

You know if you read my blog that I’m a huge fan of interviews to bring in traffic. I’ve done plenty, and they’ve all sent a tremendous amount of shares and links my way:

  1. Interview with Brian Gardner of StudioPress
  2. Interview with Rafal Tomal (Lead Copyblogger designer) & Alex Manginig (owner of Kolakube)
  3. Interview with Danny Iny, Onibalusi, and Georgina Laidlaw (Content Manger of Problogger)
  4. Interview with Leo of the BufferApp

The thing is, as much as I love these text interviews, I’ve seen the obvious benefits of video interviews from a few of my other favorite sites.

Not only are you going to rank well for the interviewee’s name (it’s YouTube after all, and YouTube videos rank easily on Google), but you’ll also get the obvious additional traffic from people finding your videos on YouTube from search and related videos.

Not only that, but having an interview means that anyone can share the interview on their own site, even the person that you interviewed! (It’s like a free guest post on content you already created for your own blog!)

That’s a whole other audience right there with no effort, so you should really consider making your next interview of the video variety.

To get started with interview videos, check out the programs Call Recorder (for Mac) and Pamela (for PC) to record Skype video chats.

Also, look out for a post on how interview videos can help grow your blog here on ProBlogger later today.

Example video:

Two of my favorite bloggers, Corbett Bar and Jeff Goins in a great discussion on writing.

3. “Talking head” videos

The last video I love to see bloggers using is the classic “talking head” video.

In this style, you are simply going to be facing the camera, and chatting with your audience about advice, tips, a personal update, a story, showing them something live—really, any topic works for these videos.

You can feature someone else (non-interview style) discussing a certain topic, as Derek Halpern did with his videos on blog design.

Or, you can simply record yourself, which gives a really personal take on your content and allows you to mix things up from the standard blog post.

Darren is known to do this himself on his YouTube channel, and you’ll see through the comments that people really enjoy getting a personal take from a blogger via video. Nothing adds “you” to your blog like video content.

To get started with a talking head video, all you need is a camera with video recording capabilities (HD preferred) and a YouTube account, which makes this one of the easiest forms of video to get start with. Darren’s also handily explained the setup he uses for his videos.

This is another topic we’ll look at in detail later today, when an experienced video blogger shares his tips for making talking head videos like a pro.

Example video:

This video example from Amy Porterfield shows how to relay a quick tip via video, using an in-person recording and screen capturing, which we discussed above.

Over to you

Have you tried out video content yet?

What is your favorite form of video style that I’ve discussed above? Any that you are looking forward to trying? I’d love to hear your thoughts on video in the comments.

Gregory Ciotti is the author of Sparring Mind, a content marketing blog that focuses on research & facts to find what really works in creating valuable content that creates a loyal following. Find out how Greg does things or follow him on Twitter.

10 Types of Killer Filler Content for Your Blog

Last week I ran an impromptu Ustream chat session with my Twitter followers on the theme of Blogger Productivity (to celebrate the launch of Blog Wise). It was an informal and fun session (you can view the hour-long recording of it here) but one of the recurring questions that came up was around the topic of posting rhythm and how to keep up regular posting when you may not have the time to post daily.

It’s a question I hear quite a bit. The pressure of posting daily, coupled with keeping the quality and usefulness of posts high, tips some bloggers over the edge—particularly those who write longer, deeper articles that take a great deal of thought and research to prepare.

One of the answers I gave was to consider developing a posting rhythm that mixes up the types of posts that you deliver to readers.

If you can only sustain one or two longer, deeper, more researched posts a week, you might want to consider adding in some regular posts into your week that are of a different style. The key is to keep the posts of a high value to your readers without them taking a whole heap of your time to prepare.

What we’re talking about here isn’t “filler” content. It needs to be “killer” content … or perhaps “killer filler” content.

Let’s look at a few examples.

1. Reader discussions

A semi-regular post type that we run on dPS are posts that purely ask readers a question. There are a few ways to do this. One is to give readers a couple of alternatives to an issue and ask them to nominate which is their preferred approach (e.g. Are you a Binge Photographer or a Snack Photographer?).

Another alternative is to run a “community workshop” where you take a reader’s question and then give it to your community to answer (e.g. Help this Locationally Challenged Photographer Improve her Portraiture).

You could also set up a debate… ask for stories or examples on a topic… or just pose a question. These posts are easy to write but can add a lot of value in terms of reader engagement and community-building on your blog.

2. Polls

Similar to asking a question, a poll can be an easy post to get up, and can deepen reader engagement—and start a good discussion too (e.g. What Mode do You Shoot in Most?). Not only that, you can take the results of the poll and turn that into a second post a week or so later.

3. Homework and challenges

One of the most popular weekly posts that we do on dPS is a weekly photography challenge: I name a theme, and readers go away and take a photo on that theme before coming back to share their image. This little challenge has become a weekly assignment that some readers revolve their photographic week around—and it could be adapted to many other topics (e.g. Photographer in the Picture: Weekly Photography Challenge)

4. Link summaries

A few years back, this type of post was a regular thing on many blogs. Bloggers would freely link up to other posts in their niche, quite often sharing a list of links with a few added thoughts on each. These days much of this link sharing happens on social media but I still find readers love these posts. In fact when I’ve created these posts on dPS, they often become posts that others share on social media (e.g. 18 (+7) Great Photography Links from Around the Web).

You’ll see in that example that I not only link to 18 great posts on other photography blogs, but also link to seven dPS articles from the archives, driving traffic both externally and internally.

5. Link of the week

Another way to write link posts is to just feature one in a post. Identify a high-quality, useful post from another blog or site, link to it, and add a few of your own thoughts to preempt or build on what your readers will find when they visit the link.

In this way, your readers find some useful content but they also get your quick insights on the topic. You’re also potentially building a relationship with the blog you are linking to by publishing this kind of post.

6. Best of and archive posts

If your blog has been running for a number of years, you probably have hundreds, if not thousands, of useful posts in your archives that new readers have never seen. Why not throw some posts into your mix that link back to some of those older ones?

Perhaps you’ve written five posts on the same topic over the years. A “best of” post that links back to them can be useful to readers. Another way to do this is to do what blogs like Lifehacker used to do regularly: publish a regular “One Year Ago on Lifehacker” post that links to a variety of posts from 12 months ago.

7. Guest posts

Much has been written on the topic of guest posts, and they work better on some blogs than others, but it is certainly worth including posts written by others from time to time on your blog. You may not do them every day, but a number of blogs I know run “guest post Tuesday” (or another day of the week) where they feature either a reader’s submission.

8. Hire a columnist

Some people don’t like to publish guest posts because they add too many different voices to a blog. An alternative might be to hire someone to write a post or two a week. This way, you build consistency into your blog and can hopefully build some momentum into your posts.

9. Videos

Head to Youtube, type in some keywords related to your topic, and see what videos are available—you might just find a video that is of high value that would really help your readers.

Embed it into a post, add some of your own thoughts, and you’ve got a great post (e.g. How to Create Impossible Images). I don’t do this every week, but I do like to throw a video into the mix once or twice a month on dPS—and readers love them (they’ve also helped us build relationships with other sites who produce the videos).

10. Interviews

This idea does take more work than some of the others listed above, but interviewing someone in your niche can be a great way of creating content without a heap of work. The hardest part is finding someone with expertise in your area who has time to be interviewed, and then constructing some questions that will be interesting to your readers to hear the answers to. But once you have this, you just email the questions to your interview subject, and let them shoot back the replies for you to format and put into a blog post. The key is finding interesting people and asking questions that will help your readers in some way.

I’m just scratching the surface here of the types of posts that are a little less labor-intensive to create, but which can still serve a purpose for your readers. The key is to experiment, test what types of posts get positive reactions, and evolve them into something that you can add into a regular posting calendar for your blog.

An example posting schedule

How you do it will completely depend upon you, but you may even find it useful to assign a different type of post to each day of the week:

  • Monday: Guest post
  • Tuesday: Reader discussion
  • Wednesday: Your longer, more thoughtful post
  • Thursday: Video of the week
  • Friday: Your second longer, more thoughtful post
  • Saturday: Link roundup
  • Sunday: Challenge/homework post

The 5 Keys to Blog Usability

This guest post is by Neil Patel of Quick Sprout.

The user is king. That’s what a lot of pundits are saying these days, from usability experts to SEO gurus and content marketing pros.

Actually, it’s always been true, and it’s why the mantra “content is king” has always been so important. Content is exactly what users wanted. Naturally, you should give them what they want.

But content isn’t enough today. Total user experience must be baked into blog content if you want to make it bigger and better so that you stand out and dominate in your space. These five elements of user experience are essential to doing just that.

1. Navigation

When it comes to a site heavy with content like a blog, navigation is essential. The primary job of navigation is to lead the user around the site. When it comes to a blog, this is especially important. The goals are as follows:

  • New content should be available and obvious to users. They shouldn’t miss out on anything.
  • New users should be able to understand in a short period of time what content is exactly available.
  • Users should know how to find the content they want. They are looking for answers, and it’s your job to get them to the relevant content.
  • Older content should be available to users who liked newer, related content.

In the end, it comes down to putting the content where your users can find it. And the number one navigation strategy rule is this: the navigation should never change even though new content is being added.

Let’s deal with a couple of typical navigation problems: finding old content and keeping users reading.

A blog that is just a few months old will not run into navigation problems. There just simply isn’t enough content. As that blog grows, however, and new content is added, you will begin to run into navigation problems, namely older posts are getting lost and forgotten.

That’s not good.

The common way to handle this is by adding a Monthly Archives widget to the blog. That is probably the worst possible way you can handle this problem.

 

Instead, put your content in proper categories and use a workable search system.

The Popular Posts sidebar widget is a great place to start. And instead of allowing the plugin algorithm to decide which content should go there, you make the choice. It’s better to choose based upon your experience and what your analytics are telling you, than to let the machine guess.

The same is true for adding older posts as related material at the end of posts. This is how Smashing Magazine does it:

Internal links are also another great way to improve the navigation of older posts. This way you can give them related material that’s immediately relevant to what you are writing about … and may even expand on a point.

There are two ways of doing this correctly. One is to make the links organic to context, so that they flow, like I did in my 8 Things Blog Readers Want More Than Just Content:

Or you can highlight the post by suggestion it as additional reading, like James Aultucher does in his 10 Things to Do When They Don’t Call post:

 

One way you don’t want to link to older posts is like they sometimes do at Freakonomics:

 

That is neither helpful for SEO purposes, or to users. It’s bad user experience. You are not giving users any indication of what is behind the link, and that slows users progress.

The goal is to keep them reading. Once someone lands on your site, you want them to stay. Otherwise you have high bounce rates. That’s why a Popular Posts or Recommended Reading plugins are essential.

Categories are useful for navigation when done right, but I don’t use categories because my tests have proven they aren’t useful. But perhaps they make more sense for your blog. If that is the case, you always need to keep three rules of thumb in mind when creating them:

  • Keep the number of categories to a bare minimum: Remove categories that have fewer than five posts until you can fulfill your category authority plan and create more content in those silos.
  • Use keywords that explain what the site/blog is about: A user should be able to look at your list of categories and understand immediately what the site is all about. Here are some categories I would use: Advanced SEO Techniques, Web Analytics, Digital Marketing, and Entrepreneurs. In fact, your category labels should come from your SEO keyword research.
  • Use categories only when you can justify them as being useful to help users find content: They should be intuitive and easy to understand. A confusing category list can sow distrust in your user.

Here’s a poor example of category use by Dumb Little Man:

Copyblogger demonstrates a clean, unique, and simple way of using categories:

While categories can prove useful, you should always test to see if they are helping or hurting you.

2. Speed

In a 2009 Google study, it was reported that a 0.5 second delay in page-load time caused a 20% drop in traffic. Amazon experienced a similar drop in traffic and revenue due to a fraction-of-a-second load delay.

More recently, Google has reported that slowing down search results by as little as 400 milliseconds will actually increase dropped searches from 0.2% to 0.6%.

That’s a huge drop in traffic for 400 milliseconds, so it pays to minimize the page speed. This is usability 101. It forces you to always ask if that new feature you want to embed on your page is worth the drop in load times and traffic.

You might like the flashy features, but they can dramatically slow down site performance. And don’t get fooled by the fact that internet connection is speeding the web up. How much site load speeds impact user experience will always be important. Just look at how it impacted Google.

I’ve covered the topic of speed extensively in How Design Your Blog for Awesome SEO, as have authors here at ProBlogger.

3. Focus

When it comes to creating a user experience that will make your blog better, the focus of your blog is equally as important as any of the onscreen, tangible things we have been talking about.

For example, page load speed and conversion are both actions that can be measured. Focus is less tangible, but highly important.

Let me share some common mistakes people make to show you what I mean:

  • Trying to please everyone: A blog that thinks everyone is its target user is going to be a miserable failure.  But you can’t simply pick an industry and then think you are narrow enough in your focus. For example, saying that your target audience is people who love food is still too broad, especially if you want to dominate that space. You have to pick a unique, narrow segment of that broad space. People who love hospital food may be a little too narrow, but you understand what I’m saying.
  • Confusing your content with your context: Sometimes you can attract the wrong audience by giving them the wrong content. If you run a social media blog, for example, but write content about postcards, or something totally from left-field, like home-made beer, you might get your user to come to your site, but he or she won’t stay.
  • Hiding behind everyone else: Another focus mistake occurs when you copy someone else’s success and provide nothing new or unique to the conversation. Say you love what Seth Godin is doing, and think you have some worthy things to share. Your blog will flounder if you don’t define some way to make you different than Godin. You just simply can’t compete.

A good, focussed blog strategy has the following elements:

  • Narrow definition of what you are trying to accomplish: As I mentioned above, your blog should be focused on delivering content that fits into your definition of cornerstone content.
  • Narrow definition of your target user: Your defined cornerstone content should fit perfectly with your defined target user. These should really mirror each other.
  • Unique selling proposition: Next, your focus should be on something that your competitors don’t provide. And this should be a focus that you regularly highlight. The harder you can make the focus uncopiable by your competitors, the longer you will be able to dominate the space.
  • Cornerstone content creep: A narrow focus will also help keep you from straying too far off topic when it comes to creating content. A warning sign that you may be experiencing cornerstone content creep is that your category list keeps growing.

Creating a focused strategy begins with user research and analysis of your competitors. And as you do your research, you’ll come up with a lot of ideas. It’s key that you rank these ideas in order of importance. Keeping just the top two will help you keep your focus narrow.

4. Display

You may not think about display too much, but whatever stage you are going through in your design process, you will need to think about how most visitors will see your layout depending on what screen resolution they use. Remember that you want to give users what they want.

This means that you have to take into consideration height and width and line length. But that’s not so easy. High-resolution monitors have a high screen resolution, which means users get in a habit of browsing in small windows in which the browser window resolution is much smaller.

In other words, we want to know the size of people’s browsers’ content windows.

So your first step is to figure out who your average user is.

Look at your Google Analytics and see the average screen resolution of your visitors. This data will also tell you about their preferences and behaviors. Then see which user is staying on your site longer, and start to design user display size toward that average profile.

In an older study in which over 18 million screenshots above the fold on browsers, most users will be able to see content that is located within a 500px by 800px space. Over 80% will see the content in a display that is 1000px wide, while the remained browse in a display that is 1250px wide.

The moral of the story is that you need to design displays for your average user. For most, that means the layout will be less than 1000px wide. To give you an idea of what you can do with that, check out The Big Picture Blog by the Boston Globe.

5. Readability

Readability is all about what your user reads on the screen. And the golden rule to good readability is this: the easier your content is to read, the better.

If you want to see how your blog ranks when it comes to readability, run it through the readability test. In the meantime, here are the basics behind good readability:

  • Contrast font color with background color: This is critical, because it’s easier to read font text when its color contrasts with the background on which it appears. Black text on white background is the most basic and easiest to read:

     

    Just so you can see how awful a bad contrast can be, check out this pink on blue page:

     

    Also, check your site with Vischeck to see what colorblind people see when they visit.

  • Break your copy into chunks. Large blocks of text will discourage people from reading.
  • Use bullets. 
  • Keep your paragraphs short. 
  • Keep your columns narrow so the eye doesn’t have to travel across the page too far: The best line length is between 60-80 characters. This metric should remain constant across different browsers and screen resolutions.
  • Avoid backgrounds that are busy: Think of MySpace and how awful those pages were to read. Talk about distracting!

     

  •  

  • Keep it simple: From your home page to an article page to your contact page, a user should know quickly what the site is about and what the main goal is of that page, wherever they are.

  • Keep the font style clean: A sans-serif font is the easiest to read on the web. Serifs are the little hooks at the end of letters in fonts like Times New Roman and Courier New. Helvetica and Calibri are good sans-serif fonts.
  • Avoid tiny fonts: That will certainly cause eye strain and frustrate your user. Font size 12 or larger is optimal.

Blog usability means content usability

It used to be that content was king. It still is from the perspective of the user. You need to deliver that. But it’s not enough these days. Your readers want a good experience, too.

In 2012 and beyond the user is king, and so you need to design your blog with these usability elements in mind: navigation, speed, focus, display, and readability. It’s essential to get these right if you want to attract and keep more visitors and create a link-worthy blog.

So, what other elements of usability do you feel are important for creating a killer blog? Share your perspective in the comments.

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

Blog Smarter: Turn Your Blogging Skills into Successful Affiliate Promotions

This guest post is by Regine Becher of Syndicated Partners.

Like most bloggers, you probably want to make some money from your blog. Chances are good you’ve tried things like writing product reviews or putting banners or links to affiliate products into your sidebar.

But while many bloggers have mastered the “Art of Blogging” (or at least the basic principles) successfully, earning money from your blog doesn’t seem to be that easy. So what could be better for you than to use your blogging experiences and skills to improve the results of your affiliate promotions?

In this post, I’ll show you how you can re-purpose three of the most successful blogging strategies to get more out of your affiliate promotions. As a nice extra, these tactics will also have a positive effect on your blog. But more importantly, you’ll learn how you can merge them into a combined and even more powerful strategy for your affiliate promotions.

While some of what I write may seem simple or self-evident to the more experienced affiliate bloggers, it’s this way of tying it all together into one strategy that will make the affiliate promotions on your blog really stand out.

Let’s look at the three important blogging strategies on their own first.

Write (and promote) for your audience

You know that well enough—if you want your stuff to be read, it has to match your audience’s interests. The same is true for your affiliate promotions, in particular for the products you choose to promote: they have to be relevant for your audience.

This sounds self-evident, but frankly I’m stumped at the number of bloggers who have an affiliate banner for a hosting company on their blog—even though their audience clearly isn’t thinking about computers or internet when visiting their blog.

So instead of promoting your hosting company on your garden blog, why not try it with an affiliate link for garden tools, or link to an ebook about gardening?

Publish (and promote) quality

You know the game… Quality content attracts real readers which are interested in the topic. An excited and engaged audience. (Just look around here on ProBlogger if you don’t believe me.) It also makes people stay on your site longer, come back for more, engage with you and others, and recommend you to friends.

Just the things you want for your blog.

The same holds true for any products you promote: choose quality. Again, this seems to be self-evident. But take a look around at some blogs and see what they promote. (Or take a close look at your own blog, just for good measure.)

A lot of times, I see just the same banners or “product reviews” for the same old products. It seems that a lot of affiliate bloggers don’t bother to pick a product by its quality. Nor do they care about the “quality” of the vendor, i.e. about his integrity, and about how much he cares about his customers.

In the long run, your readers will notice the difference. And they will trust your recommendations just because they know you watch out for them.

Even the quality of the affiliate program should matter to you as affiliate. After all, you can and should expect a fair treatment for your efforts. Affiliate promotions are a business deal between the vendor and you, the affiliate. If a vendor doesn’t care about the success of his affiliates, why should you bother to promote his products?

So, again, be picky. Choose the right kind of products to promote.

Establish expertise—not only for yourself

This powerful blogging strategy has several facets which can all play together:

  • You can establish yourself as expert on your own blog by posting the right kind of content.
  • You can establish yourself as expert to a wider audience by guest posting on other blogs.
  • You can establish other people as experts on your blog by publishing their guest posts.
  • And you can establish yourself as a “meta expert”, as the go-to guy/girl of the experts in your field, by publishing a selection of guest posts by recognized experts in your field and/or by interacting with them on your blog, e.g. through interviews.

Again, you can make use of the same strategy in your affiliate marketing. If you want your readers to buy the products you’ve selected for them, they need to do two things: trust your judgement, and trust the vendor to deliver quality. A big step towards the first is if your readers see you as the expert. That will make them much more likely to trust your recommendations.

But don’t forget about the second part, about trusting the vendor. Before somebody buys from a vendor you recommend, they have to be reasonably sure that this person will be honest, and that (s)he will deliver quality.

To some extent, you can establish that trust towards the vendor with your recommendation: if readers see you as trust-worthy, your recommendation carries some weight, too.

But you should also consider establishing expert status for the product creator on your blog. Then when a reader clicks on your affiliate link, he will already be prepared to trust the vendor whom he sees as expert.

Tie these strategies together for even more power

Just by using these three strategies, you can improve the results from your affiliate efforts a lot. But there’s a very simple, though rarely used way to combine these strategies into something even more powerful:

Publish guest posts by product vendors on your blog, and include your affiliate link in the byline.

Now, just to be clear about it: I’m not talking about promotional content or “product reviews”. I’m talking about guest articles with real, quality content. And about establishing the vendor as the expert (unlike a product review, where you are the “expert” who reviews). And, of course, about picking and promoting the right kind of products in the first place.

To fully understand the power of this strategy, put yourself in the shoes of your readers for a moment:

They come to your blog. They know you publish good stuff, and you’re an expert in the field—you’ve done your best to establish that status. On your blog, they read a guest article by another expert. It contains great content, is helpful, informative, and entertaining.

They like the style and want to read more of the same.

Do you think they’re likely to click on the link (your affiliate link) in the byline? And do you think they might be willing to spend money on a product by this expert?

To achieve this, you only need to re-purpose and tie together the three simple strategies you’re already following when you blog: write for your audience, publish quality, and establish expertise. Do this by choosing the right products, and then publishing informative guest posts by product vendors with your affiliate link included.

In return, you get more out of your affiliate promotions for everybody involved:

  • Your readers get to read great content.
  • You recommend a good product which will improve your readers’ lives in some way.
  • You make it easier for your audience to trust your recommendation, to buy the product and thus to improve their life.
  • The vendor has a chance to make more sales and get happy customers.
  • And you? You benefit from fresh quality content. You have a chance to enhance your reputation even further. And of course there’s the thing with the affiliate commissions…

In short, it’s a win-win-win. What I like most about this strategy is its simplicity. Despite being a really powerful strategy, it’s also about as simple and easy as it gets.

To show you just how easy it can be, I’ll give you the outline again in eight simple action steps. Why don’t you just give it a try and actually do the steps while you read along?

1. Choose a few good products to promote

By “good”, I mean quality products from trustworthy vendors with a quality affiliate program. And of course products which fit the interests and needs of your audience.

2. Sign up for the affiliate programs of the vendors

Make sure you read the terms of the affiliate programs, and are happy with them.

3. Check the existing promotional material

If the vendor offers promotional material for his affiliates, browse through it to check if there are any suitable articles you could use.

Don’t be disappointed if there aren’t any, though—usually vendors provide what is most asked-for by affiliates, and most affiliates don’t use this strategy… (bad for them, good for you!).

If you find ready-made articles by the vendor anywhere, make sure you’re allowed to enter your affiliate link. If in doubt, ask. If no suitable articles are readily available, go to step 4.

4. Get in touch with the vendors

Introduce yourself, and give them the URL of your blog. Be professional: you’re contacting a potential business partner.

Ask for suitable articles, and explain what you want to do with them (establish the vendor as expert on your blog, give your audience good content, and generate sales for both of you). It should be clear that you’re not looking for purely promotional material, but for actual content.

Make sure it’s absolutely clear that you will use your affiliate link in the resource box and/or the article content—you don’t want to risk any misunderstandings about this.

To increase your chances of getting suitable material, you can also point out that the articles could have been published elsewhere before. Most vendors, especially the more established and successful ones, won’t provide each affiliate with a different set of “unique” articles.

I’m not going into the depths of the “unique content” discussion here, but since this is not primarily an SEO strategy, it may not matter for you whether the guest articles on your blog have been published in other places, too. The quality of the articles is much more important! The internet is a huge place, and chances are very high your readers haven’t seen them before.

5. Read between the lines

Not every vendor will send you suitable articles. But regardless of that, their replies might tell you a lot about how they do business, and how they treat their customers and affiliates. Even if somebody can’t provide you with articles, he/she might be a great guy or girl, and there might be options for other business ventures in the future.

Just be open for ideas.

6. Check the material you get

Seriously. You want to feature the vendor as expert. So to make this strategy work, you have to stick to your standards. Make sure you only publish articles which:

  • are a good fit for your audience and topic
  • contain real content, are entertaining, informative, or helpful
  • aren’t promotional
  • meet your quality standards

A good test is to ask yourself if this article would be worth publishing without your affiliate link. If an article doesn’t match your requirements, don’t use it.

7. Insert your affiliate link

Insert your affiliate link for the vendor in the places you two agreed upon. Then double-check the link, just in case.

8. Publish

To add even more leverage, don’t just publish the article on your blog. We’re talking about serious, quality content here—about guest articles you could and should be proud to anounce to your audience and to the world.

Use social media to point people to the article. Link to it in your newsletter, or publish it in your ezine. Add it to an autoresponder sequence for your mailing list, so that any future subscribers can read it, too. Or link to it from your “thanks for opting in” page.

After all, if you’ve chosen the right kind of guest article, your audience will love you for the pointer to the post! Once you’re done with all the steps, go back to step 1 and start over.

The biggest enemy of success…

We’ve all been there: you read about a great new strategy that would move you forward quite a bit. You’re very excited about the idea, and make plans to implement it as soon as possible. Only “asap” usually turns out to be tomorrow. Then next week. Then next month. And then never.

Sound familiar? Why don’t you do it a bit different this time? I’ve given you eight action steps above. Take a piece of paper or open a file right now and start a list of suitable products and affiliate programs. If you’re already signed up for such affiliate programs, go straight to step 3. Check the available content for suitable pieces. And if you can’t find any, don’t pass go, proceed with step 4 and send a note to the vendor(s). Right now.

Worst case is you’ll spend the next hour getting in touch with potential business partners—not the worst thing that can happen to you today, is it?

Editor’s note: tomorrow, our final posts in this series look at blogging smarter (and more profitably) with WordPress.

Regine Becher is an affiliate manager and JV broker. To help affiliates and bloggers get more out of their affiliate promotions, Regine runs a service called Syndicated Partners, where affiliates can download quality articles and publish them with their affiliate link inside.

Use Social Sharing’s True Motive For Better Traffic

This guest post is by Shakira Dawud of Deliberate Ink.

You’re getting regular traffic, but it’s flatlining. The regular crowd is still with you, but your subscriber base is fluctuating. And you’ve noticed you’re not being shared on social media very often.

If you were to ask, you’d hear all kinds of reasons why, but I guarantee you the basis of all of them is always personal.

There is no way around the adage, “People do business with people they know, like, and trust.” Your blog is serious business. So why is it we’re told not to take business personal (and business between friends is retold as the stuff of Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado“), when every single business decision comes from a personal place?

You need that personal place to get the following and response you want from your readers. Find it and put it to work building your blog’s traffic in the following three steps.

Step 1: Complete the picture of your existing following

I’ll use Twitter as an example. I seldom follow people with just the hope they’ll follow me back (although that’s a reason, too).

I want to take part in their Twitter banter, find likeminded people, siphon useful information from their posts, get them to visit my blog, and build relationships I deem important. I unfollow only after I’ve lost hope of getting those things. Sometimes I lose hope sooner, sometimes later. I know I’m not alone in this.

If we don’t follow our followers, we’re blind to too many quality people who’ve made it a point to follow us. So make the most of your social relationships by finding the real and active people connected to you on each platform and reciprocating, before they lose hope in you.

Step 2: Unravel a “thread of discontent”

Start listening to your crowd closely. Watch the comments they leave on posts and blogs, and note what they share most often. In a recent post, Derek Halpern introduces the concept of the thread of discontent. He encourages being the “pebble dropped in the pond” by creating “ripples” in the standard.

Derek’s point is well taken. But before you become a pebble, I advise that you pick up that thread and unravel it to its origin. I bet you’ll find it’s ultimately a personal one. Something based on their values, beliefs, or experiences. You may even find more than one thread. Once you find out what it’s made up of, hold onto it. Now it’s time for the final step.

Step 3: Provide content they want—but not like you have been

“That’s all you got?” you’re thinking. “Lady, I’ve been creating content out the wazoo, every day for months–and it ain’t too shabby, either!”

No, that’s not all. Let me explain with an example.

Listening in on a webinar for email marketers, I noticed the presenter played up the rivalry between marketing and sales departments. He dotted his discourse with pointed statements like: Salespeople are only interested in their numbers, not our strategy… They asked for all the hot leads we could get, and then let them go cold… So much of our hard marketing work is wasted on the sales end.

On the individual level, marketing employees who’d been frustrated by salesepeople were remembering those feelings of futlity, concern for their careers, and even a bit of self-righteousness. You can be sure he had our undivided attention when he explained how we could refine our strategies to build the credibility of our numbers, and waste less time and energy—in spite of those pesky salespeople. This was personal.

Superglue-strength loyalty

So you see, to be worth sharing, you can’t just deliver consistently high quality content. You don’t have to rock the boat (although it will give you quite a boost). You do need to produce content that provides the value readers can carry out with them in a package that confirms their personal reality.

Subscriber loyalty will grow to superglue strength, and what you write will demand to be shared with more and more likeminded people. Without any further ado, perfectly targeted, better traffic will pour in.

How have you used these ideas to your advantage? Can you share any examples?

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.