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Make Your Blog a Call to Action?!

Yesterday’s posts here at ProBlogger (Better Buttons Part 1 and Part 2) looked at the question of driving readers to take action on our blogs. Whether we blog for profit or pleasure, for most, reader action is an extremely important part of blogging. We need readers to action if we hope to:

  • build a communtiy
  • create loyalty
  • use organic techniques to find readers
  • and more.

On the most basic level, we want that first-time visitor to our blog to click to another page on our blog, rather than hit the browser’s Back button. And everything else flows from there.

The strongest call to action is…

I’ve found time and again as I’ve built blogs that the strongest “call to action” is … content. Not in the content, but the content itself.

The most loyal followers my blogs have are those who have been helped somehow, as individuals, by the content of those blogs. They’re people who read a post, and felt compelled either to act on it immediately, there and then, or to bookmark it so they could implement the advice later.

That kind of content is its own call to action. As bloggers, our role is to educate and/or inspire—at least some of the time. Content that is itself a call to action so strong that readers can’t resist is ideal. Because when your content is so strong that people will stop what they’re doing to implement it, you have a huge opportunity to engage readers.

What makes CTA content?

Call-to-action content has a few common characteristics:

  • It’s extremely practical (so it lends itself to action).
  • It makes the benefits of taking action clear.
  • It meets a real need in the audience.
  • It’s clear enough that anyone in your target readership can see how to implement it just by reading the post.

To give your content an even stronger call to action, you could:

  • Do it yourself first: Be the guinea pig, and report what you experience, and your readers will be much more likely to give your advice a try.
  • Add accountability: The show-and-tell-style post is a great way to build accountability into your content. If you make readers accountable, they’re more likely to heed the call to action.
  • Make it a process: By breaking up your call to action into a process, you can hook readers into responding to a series of calls to action over a period of time—something that can build familiarity and loyalty, as well as satisfaction.
  • Recognise those who respond: Making a point of recognising those readers who publicly respond to your call to action can help you to foster a culture of response around your blog, within your community. Tie this into the accountability idea above, and double your impact.

These are just a few ideas—I’d love to hear some of yours in the comments. But the point is that if you want to create an active community around your blog, you may need to consider your blog as a call to action.

People who find the content on my blogs so useful that they can’t walk away without trying it are definitely the blogs’ biggest fans. Do you find the same is true for your blog?

Better Buttons Part 2: Buttons as Brand Engagement Tools

Earlier today, the Ninja made an important point about buttons on your blog: he said that users have an expectation about the kind of response they get when they interact with a button.

In a world where engagement is the blogger’s ultimate goal, we can take this one step further. We can see buttons as the mechanisms by which users effect their engagement—whether they’re clicking Subscribe or Comment or Share or Download or Buy, users enact engagement on your blog using buttons.

This is, primarily, why it’s important to use the correct—honest—words on your button: as the Ninja says, verbage sets an expectation that your conversion process must fulfil.

Another consideration is usability. The poor average reading levels of many web users, coupled with the distractions and limitations we all face as we use the web, suggests that we should keep button text as straightforward as possible. There are also standard web conventions for many interactions, and it makes good practice to consider those, too.

But there’s another element of engagement that we should consider when we look at button text, and that’s your brand.

If buttons are the ultimate point of engagement with your blog, they may well be the ultimate point of engagement with your brand, too. So your button text needs to be honest, clear and brand-appropriate.

Does your button text reflect your brand?

For most bloggers, honesty and clarity are brand values, so a button that invites users to sign up for an email newsletter with the words “Subscribe now” is probably pretty brand-appropriate.

But, depending on your brand and your audience, there may be other options, including:

  • Sign up now
  • Sign me up!
  • Subscribe me
  • Let’s do it
  • Bombs away!

That last example is a real-world example: it’s from the subscription form on Ashley Ambirge’s The Middle Finger Project.

As the Ninja alluded in his post, the button text you choose will always be seen in context, so you can shape it according to the surrounding calls to action. That said, it’s true that readers’ eyes may be drawn to buttons before they’ve read any surrounding text, so there’s a very strong argument that your button text should make sense independently of that text as well as within it.

Of course, “making sense” is relative to your audience: what makes sense to you may baffle me. So while some may argue that a text input box followed by a button that reads “Bombs away!” is not prescriptive enough—not a strong enough call to action—Ashley may reply that her readers get it, well and truly.

Moreover, we can imagine that those who do get it also get a kick out of clicking a button that reads “Bombs away!” rather than boring old “Subscribe.” Maybe “bombs away” is within their own personal vocabulary; maybe it simply resonates with them—tickles their fancy, or gives them a chuckle.

I wonder how many people are smiling as they’re clicking Subscribe buttons on websites right now? If your blog’s users are having a positive physical response to your brand as they’re interacting with your blog, that may well dictate something about the emotional depth of that engagement, and its potential to evolve into lasting loyalty.

A tall order?

This isn’t to say that your button text should always make people smile. Obviously that’s not appropriate for all brands or contexts. But words do solicit feeling, so a consideration of users’ feelings—which will, after all, affect their eagerness to undertake the interaction your button is inviting—is important.

Would you rather:

  • Get started, or
  • Proceed?
  • Buy now, or
  • Purchase?
  • Become a member, or
  • Join us, or
  • Create an account?

Your answer probably depends on the site’s purpose and brand. And what about your blog? Is the text on your buttons consistent with your blog’s brand? I’d love to hear in the comments whether you’ve considered buttons as a branding element.

Better Buttons Part 1: Set the Right Expectations

This guest post is by the Web Marketing Ninja.

Almost everything I read, see, or hear about buttons (the web version) is all about color, size, location, and contrast. Do any research on this topic, and you’ll come across statements like these:

  • “Just make the button bigger.”
  • “Orange buttons always convert better.”
  • “Get your buttons above the fold.”
  • “You need to use contrast and responsive design with you buttons.”
  • “Make sure your button’s at the bottom of the page, too.”

To a degree, that’s all relevant (although I still can’t explain the orange button mystery!). But there’s one aspect of buttons that I never read about, and it’s something I think is just as important—maybe more important.

And that’s the text you use on your buttons.

Sure, design and location will get your button noticed, but it’s the text that drives that all-important user action.

Button breakdown

Let’s first fly a little left of center a look at what a button is … in the real world.

Excluding the really real button—the fashion button—a button is something you interact with (that is, press) in order to make something happen. And we usually have an expectation about what that “something” will be.

There are three key points here: interaction, expectation, and response.

A button’s color, size, and location might suggest to a users what’s going to happen (“Don’t press the red button!”) but it’s either a symbol or words that give users the greatest indication of what will happen when they press a button. And the same goes for buttons on the web.

So let’s look at each of these stages in a button-press.

  • Interaction: In the web world, interaction involves a mouse click, a tap (on a tablet or phone), or a key stroke. The interaction is the easiest part of the process to wrap your head around.
  • Expectation: You’ve asked your user to do something and yay they have…  but what have you set in the way of expectations?
  • Response: The interaction initiates a response. That response might be to show a page, enlarge an image, or something else.

Now, let’s look at a good web example. On your sales page, you have a nice, clear, above-the-fold, and—for the sake of it—orange button. The text on the button clearly reads Buy now.  A user clicks on the button, and the next page they see is the Checkout page.

  • Interaction = click
  • Expectation = to order
  • Response = checkout

Tick, tick, and tick! We have a happy customer, and a happy blogger.

Now, let’s look at a not-so-good example. On your sales page, you have a nice, clear, above-the-fold, and—for the sake of it—orange button. The text on the button clearly reads Download now. A user clicks on the button, and the next page they see is the Checkout page.

  • Interaction: click
  • Expectation: to download
  • Response: checkout

Here, the user is clicking a Download button and getting a “pay me” response. That’s bad.

What’s that? More people will click on a Download button? That’s true. I guarantee that if you put a Download button on your page, rather than an Order Now button, you’re going to get more clicks. But why stop there? Make it a Free Download button, and watch your clicks go through the roof!

But what happens next?  When the user’s expectation about their interaction with a button isn’t met by an appropriate response, fear will strike and they’ll bail.  After all, a lot of users are just looking for an excuse to leave.

But that’s not all. There’s a name for this kind of tactic: it’s called “bait and switch.” In many countries it’s actually illegal, but regardless of where you’re located, it undermines your sales process. You shouldn’t do it. But if you do do it, and you do it before you’ve got the cash from your customer, you’re only robbing yourself.

Button text in action

Let’s look at a real-world example: let’s see what Darren does.

Download buttons

Darren opts to include a double meaning in his sales page buttons. Because he’s selling ebooks, he wants to set the clear expectation that customers are going to need to download something (that is, they’re not buying a printed book), and that they’ll need to pay something to get the download.

Given the larger font used for the Download text on this button, I do wonder if he’s trying to toe the line between getting as many clicks as possible without misleading his customers—this is something I’d love to test on the site.

When I talk to people about buttons, in 99% of cases, they’re not trying to bait and switch customers—it’s just that many online marketers chase the click first, and worry about checkout abandonments later. Most of the time, they haven’t really through about the expectations that button text can drive, either.

I’ve focused here on just one type of button, but let’s look more subtle example.

Join vs. Sign Up buttons

When you click a button that says Join, you expect to be joined with the site’s community. On the other hand, button text that reads Sign Up suggests that something still needs to happen before I join—I need to sign something.

So Join is best used when it’s complimented by an input box that accepts the user’s email address—you have all the information you need by the time the user clicks on the button, and you can respond with a message that tells them they’ve joined your site. However, if it’s a standalone button, you might want to use text like “Sign-up to our newsletter” before taking users to you form.

These subtleties can make a significant difference.

Right text, right time

I’ve spoken about sales funnels before, and when you’re thinking about button text, there’s timing to be considered as well.

If you take on board the advice we’ve already discussed, you’ll meet users’ expectations of your buttons with an appropriate response, but now you’ve got to ask yourself, “Am I asking for the interaction at the right time?”

Continuing with our transactional (Buy Now) button text example, your sales funnel might move people through these stages:

  1. Google AdWords ad
  2. to a sales page
  3. to a checkout process
  4. to a sale.

This is pretty basic—you might include a free sample or email auto-responders as part of it—but for now, let’s keep it simple.

Now let’s think about what button text we’ll use, and where. On your AdWords ad, you could use button text like More information, Order now, Free download, or Free sample—to name a few options.

You might find Free download is your best-converting button text for clicks (but if you don’t offer a free download, you’ll be in trouble, as we saw earlier). To then meet users’ free download expectation, you take them to a free download landing page (mentioning a paid option if you want to).

However, your testing might show that a Buy Now button does the job with fewer clicks. You’re now in an interesting position.  As we mentioned at the beginning, the expectation around a Buy Now button is that it will let the user buy, so take them straight to the shopping cart, rather than a sales page. In my experience, the straight-to-cart option wins in terms of both conversion and dollars.

If your More Information button wins, that’s the easy one: you can take users straight to the sales page.

You’d repeated the same test on all the steps in your sales funnel—your ad, your landing page, and your cart—to make sure you’re showing the right text at the right time, and delivering on user expectations.

Here, I’ve talked about buttons from a customer satisfaction perspective, but later today, Georgina will look at button text from a branding perspective.

Stay tuned for more posts by the Web Marketing Ninja—author of The Blogger’s Guide to Online Marketing, and a professional online marketer for a major web brand. Follow the Web Marketing Ninja on Twitter.

How to Convert Visitors from Your About Page

This guest post is by AJ Kumar of Single Grain.

One of the most under-utilized pieces of website real estate out there is the About Us page.  While most webmasters treat it as a throw-away repository for a stock biography or company history, consider the mindset of the visitors who arrive on these pages. 

They’re interested enough in you and your brand to want to take the next step and learn more about you—indicating that they’re more receptive to sales or other conversions that those who have simply stumbled on to your Home page.

So why waste this valuable opportunity to engage visitors and increase conversions?!  Instead, use your “About” page as a springboard to increase engagement with your readers and the number of conversions that result from this valuable web content.

In general, there are three types of conversions that you can pursue from your About page: sales, leads and newsletter signups.  Let’s look at each of these in turn to determine when to implement each option and how to integrate each one effectively.

Conversion option #1: Newsletter signups

We’ll start with newsletter signups, as this is the easiest conversion type to feature on your About page.  As mentioned before, people arrive on this page because they want to know more about you.  From there, it’s easy to convince these readers that one way to get to know you and your business even better is to sign up to receive your email newsletter.

For proof that this strategy works, consider the case study featured by Pat Flynn of Smart Passive Income, who added an opt-in form for his email newsletter to his About page on the recommendation of conversions expert Derek Halpern.  The result?  A 446% increase in signups from this page alone.  According to Pat:

“From the changes I made, adding an opt-in form to the About page has increased the number of subscribers the most (by far!) and this makes perfect sense.

The About page serves to describe who I am and what my site is about. It’s one of the most visited pages in my navigation menu and it doesn’t include links, resources, or any other calls to action, so having an option to learn more about what I do through a newsletter after reading (and hopefully being interested in) what my site is about, is perfect.”

To increase newsletter signups from your About page, create a separate opt-in form from within your email list management program to embed on the page.  Use language on your form that’s targeted specifically to your About page (for example, “To get to know more about us, subscribe to our newsletter below!”) in order to maximize newsletter signups.  Don’t forget to create a separate version of your form to split test on this important page to make your opt-in form as effective as possible!

Conversion option #2: Leads

If your online business model revolves around attracting qualified leads to either sell or use in an offline business, your About page is a great place to start converting new visitors!

Similar to the newsletter opt-in conversion process described above, adding a lead generation form to your About page works because the people who have arrived on this page have already demonstrated interest in learning more about your company.  With visitors already in this mindset, it’s an easy transition to encourage them to take the next step of giving you their contact info to receive more information.

For example, say you begin your About page with a brief history of your company and a description of the services you offer.  If visitors reading this page find your information interesting enough, they’re naturally going to want to learn more about your products and services.  So instead of hoping they’ll meander back to your homepage, where your lead generation form is installed, why not create a separate form here to capture these already-interested readers on the spot?

To make this area of your site even more effective in capturing new leads and increasing conversions, use language on the page that tells readers that filling in the lead generation form is simply the next stage in the process of getting to know your company—not the scary prospect of handing over personal information to a nameless, faceless website.  Doing so will help overcome your visitors’ natural hesitation to reveal personal information unless it’s absolutely necessary.

You could also use this opportunity to highlight a special bonus that you’re offering to visitors that complete your About page lead generation form.  This could be a free consultation, free ebook, or other giveaway that will help to overcome resistance and encourage visitors to this page to convert into leads.

Conversion option #3: Sales

Converting your About page visitors into buyers is the trickiest option in terms of increasing conversions, but when it’s done well, it can dramatically increase your website’s revenue and ROI.

Again, the key to increasing sales conversions on your About page lies in understanding the mindset of your readers.  The people who have reached this important page on your site want to know more about you, which means that they’re ready to invest time in your business and are likely open to taking further action on your website.

So instead of leaving them cold with a simple bio and company history, use this space to highlight a few products for them to start with.  To do this effectively, consider any of the following options:

  • Highlight your favorite products: If you sell multiple products on your site, use your About page as a place to recommend a few of the products that you feel best showcase your business.  Offer personal comments on why you love each of the products you recommend in order to make your About page product features more engaging to visitors.
  • Showcase your bestsellers: Your About page visitors may be looking for the next steps to take with your company, so if you offer an extensive variety of products for sale, consider using this space to feature the products that sell best on your website.  Doing so will give visitors an easy starting place to delve into all of your different product lines.
  • Feature your “most viewed” offerings: Use your Google Analytics data to determine which products on your site are viewed most often, as these popular products will likely be a good place for your About page visitors to jump into your product offerings.

To determine whether or not you’ve chosen the right products to feature on your About page, set up a Google Analytics “goal” that tracks how many sales result from visitors who land on a product page from your About page.  If you aren’t seeing high conversions from the products you initially feature, swap them out with others until you hit on a winning combination.

At the end of the day, the specific type of conversion you decide to pursue on your About page is less important than the fact that you take any action in order to make this digital real estate as effective as possible in the first place.  Track your results as you go and make improvements as needed in order to make your About page both useful for your visitors and lucrative for your company’s bottom line.

Are you gaining conversions through your About page? What kind, and how? Share your tips with us in the comments.

AJ Kumar is co-founder of Single Grain, a digital marketing agency< based in San Francisco. Single Grain specializes in helping startups and larger companies with search engine optimization, pay-per-click, social media, and various other marketing strategies.

How to Awe Your Readers to Take Action

This guest post is by Jeevan Jacob John of Blog Networking 101.

You have traffic.

You have a great number of people reading your blog posts daily.

What do you want to do with these people?

Have them subscribe? Comment? Read?

Simply put, you want them to take action, right?

And how are we going to do that?

Yes, of course: through different strategies. In this blog post, we will take a look at some strategies to “awe” your readers to take action—to subscribe, to comment, or to do whatever.

Why should you “awe” your readers?

If you look up the definition of the word “awe”, you will get something like this:

Awe: A feeling of reverential respect mixed with fear or wonder.

Notice that I highlighted the words, respect and wonder. These are the feelings that we need to take care of. In other words, you want to create a feeling or emotion of respect and wonder within your readers’ minds.

And how exactly can we do that?

How to create “awe” in your readers

Think about this from a normal-life perspective. Do you read fiction? How do fiction authors create a feeling of wonder within your mind? Through twists, dramas and wonders within the story.

In other words, they give you something unexpected.

The same thing goes for your blog. You can awe your readers by giving them something that they don’t expect from you. Now, the action you need to take depends upon you, your blog, and where your blog is in the popularity race.

What do your readers expect?

The best way to answer this question is to ask your readers through surveys and polls. But there’s something else you can do: analyze your competitors. Take a look at your competitors’ blogs. What do they have that’s different from your blog? Is it the quality of content, design, layout, writing style?

You can also analyze the blogs that you read outside your niche. What is it that makes you want to read those posts? Is it about the creativity used by the author? Identify what makes those blogs popular, and decide to do the same thing for your blog. But, when it comes to doing, do better.

In other words, aim for similar success, but strive for something bigger.

Action: Comment

We all know about the standard ways to get your readers to comment on your blog posts: write high-quality content, include calls to action, and conduct giveaways. The trick in doing this with success is to do it differently.

Conduct random giveaways

The first reason why I love surprise giveaways is because you can get more out of less. Here is how it works:

To encourage comments, tell your readers that for the next 5 months, you’ll offer two or three giveaways for the best comment.

Now, here comes the best part: you don’t have to conduct giveaways every month. Choose the months you’ll award your giveaways at random, but don’t tell your readers. You’ll encourage comments and you’ll surprise readers when you do award the giveaway.

The giveaway should inspire awe in itself—make it extremely generous and valuable to your readers. The comments themselves, and your responses to them, should also help to create a sense of awe if you approach them the right way.

Conduct surprise giveaways

This works similarly to random giveaways; the only difference is that you don’t tell your readers that you are going to conduct a giveaway at all—until you announce the winners of the first one.

When your readers see the announcement post, they will have a stronger motivation to leave “better” comments more frequently (compared to the random giveaways technique). Again, this helps to foster a sense of awe in your readership—and prompt them to act.

Action: Subscribe

Okay, admit it: you want subscribers. You want subscribers who are loyal and are willing to buy your products and those you recommend.

Here are several techniques that can help:

  • On your landing page, include beautiful screenshots that depict your subscription offer: Include the screenshot of the email’s design, the first page and Table Of Contents of your ebook, or screenshots of weekly tips emails and autoresponders—whatever your subscription provides, show images of it. The goal is to awe your readers so that they feel that they’ll be missing out great things if they don’t subscribe. Just don’t tell them, show them!
  • Conduct exclusive giveaways for existing and new subscribers: Here, you want to do two things: conduct giveaways for existing subscribers and for new subscribers, separately. This will be easier for you to do if you can sort out your subscribers by subscription date (Aweber is a great tool that you can use here). And if you do conduct giveaways, include screenshots of that in your landing page!
  • Make your landing page beautiful: On your landing page, you want to amaze your readers with design and words. Experiment, analyze, learn, and tweak your landing pages. Make them stand out from the rest of your blog.
  • Include testimonials and comments: These could be from your clients, subscribers, friends, and even the popular people from your niche. You want to showcase all these things—create awe by making your readers feel that you’re an authority.
  • Give something, even if they don’t subscribe: Don’t hate readers for not subscribing; instead, share and care. Here is something else you can do. All of us have seen exit pop-ups. Use those for your own good. Let’s imagine that one of your prospective subscribers wasn’t awed enough to click the Subscribe button. What can we do? Give them something useful. For instance, if you are offering your ebook to subscribers, then give a handful of chapters to prospective subscribers. Keep one thing in mind: you want your prospective subscriber to read it, be amazed by it, and then subscribe to your list. So, include the subscription link in that giveaway.

Inspire, awe, and encourage

Having great content is important. So is marketing and networking. But, that’s not all. You need to invest time in every little step. You want your blog and brand to stand out from others, in content, design, layout, and every possible elements. Play with it. Experimentation is the best possible way to find out how you can create a feeling of awe within your readers’ minds. And that’s what you want to do. Inspire, awe, encourage, and gain action.

Editor’s note: later today, we’ll showcase another approach to increasing conversions on your blog—this time, through your About page.

Jeevan Jacob John is a young blogger who blogs about everything that is related to building a better blog. If you like what you are reading here, then you should probably check out his Why You Should Give A Damn Page.
You can also find him at his blog – Blog Networking 101.

Blog Smarter: Invest in Your Own Success

This guest post is by Jeff Nickles of MySuperChargedLife.com.

My blog grew by leaps and bounds in 2011.  It was exciting! But it wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t made a few smart investments in my blog—investments, you could say, in my success.

I’m a regular guy and a part-time blogger just like many of you.  I’ve learned how to grow my site through trial and error.  Over the last four years, I have probably made more mistakes than the average joe.  I’ve done a lot of the wrong things, but occasionally I get it right. I’ve benefited tremendously from the experience of others since I started, so I want to share with you the tactics behind my success, hoping they will help you.

The results I achieved

First, let’s look at the results I achieved. My blog’s experienced what I’d call explosive growth in the last year:

  • 353% increase in number of email subscribers.
  • 103% growth in number of pageviews (doubled in one year!).
  • 141% increase in AdSense earnings.

I want to assure you that these numbers are a reflection of consistent increases over the course of many months.  I’m not just comparing a freakishly bad month from a year ago to a freakishly good month now.

The investments I made

As you can see, I saw big boosts in the number of subscribers, pageviews, and earnings on my site.  These are the key measures of success that I’m always looking to improve.  I attribute the growth of my blog to some important investments that I made about a year ago.

1. I changed my WordPress theme

Not all themes are created equal.  This is especially true when it comes to search engine optimization (SEO).  I’ll admit that I don’t understand all the minutiae behind this art, but I don’t have to, and neither do you—assuming you’re running a self-hosted WordPress blog.

You can significantly increase your site’s ranking with search engines by using a theme that optimizes this for you.

A little knowledge of SEO will certainly help, but the more you get out of the box with your theme, the better.  Just over a year ago, I invested in a premium WordPress theme that had a strong commitment to search engine optimization.  Yes, I had to pay a little money for my theme, but boy has it been worth it.

Before I made this purchase, I ran a different premium theme and used a popular WordPress plugin to supposedly optimize my SEO.  I’m sure the plugin helped, but I can tell you that changing to a different theme—one that was already optimized—helped a lot more.

My traffic has doubled in the past year, and all of the extra traffic has come from search engines.  On top of that, my AdSense earnings have gone up almost 1.5 times on what they were just one short year ago, all because of this increase in traffic.  That’s a nice return on investment—and a clear justification for investing in a good theme.

Investment #1: Catalyst Theme
Cost: US$77.00.

2. I moved to a better email subscription management service

Previously, I used Feedburner to manage my email subscribers.  The thing I liked best about Feedburner was that it was free, but it lacked some key features.  As I learned more about blogging, I discovered what Darren and others say about the importance of building an email list.  Therefore, after three years of puny email subscriber growth, I decided it was time to get serious about how I handled this aspect of my blog.

I want all the new search engine visitors coming to my site to become email subscribers.  One powerful way to encourage this is to offer a first-time visitor an incentive to subscribe.  In my case, I put together a free ebook called The Super-Charged Guide to Smart Living.

The new email subscriber service gives me the ability to use autoresponders.  When someone subscribes, the service automatically sends them a specific Welcome email that I have set up.  I can include links in these emails.  Therefore, I can offer all these new search engine visitors a free copy of my ebook as an incentive to subscribe. This definitely works.

Furthermore, once they become subscribers, I can send them a series of auto-responder emails walking them through a complete sequence of strategic interactions with my blog.  By the way, I got this idea from Darren in What Process Do You Want to Lead Repeat Readers Through?  Excellent advice!

Again, I have to invest a little each month to get these features, but after just one year, I certainly see the advantages.   This new service allows me to engage strategically and proactively with my email subscribers.  It also gives me the ability to brand the emails so I look more professional, credible and consistent.  I believe all of this has contributed to my site’s growth.

Investment #2: FeedBlitz
Cost: US$13.95/month (when I signed up).

3. I implemented a pop-up lightbox

In my first three years of blogging, I had only accumulated about 800 email subscribers.  This is very puny, I know.  I now have over 3,600 valid email addresses on my opt-in list.  Here’s a chart that shows the phenomenal growth I’ve experienced.

Isn’t this amazing?!?  It is to me!

How did I achieve this kind of growth?  Well, I implemented a pop-up lightbox that offers visitors my free ebook in exchange for their subscription. That lightbox looks like this:

I configured this pop-up to appear to first-time visitors.  This really seems to work.  I’ve been averaging around 250 new email subscribers per month since I turned it on about a year ago; before I used this, I averaged around 20 per month.

Originally, I was hesitant to put something like this in place because I knew it could be a minor irritant to some.  However, the results speak for themselves.  I’m definitely glad that I did it.

I had to make a small investment in a premium plugin for WordPress to get the professional look I wanted, but this has more than paid off.  I’ve recouped this expense many times over already.

Investment #3: Popup Domination
Cost: US$77.00.

Make an investment to grow your blog

The growth I’ve seen in the last year has been awesome, although I haven’t had to work a whole lot harder to achieve these explosive results.

It just goes to show you that by investing in the right aspects of your blog, you can really make a big difference.  My total investment for my new theme and for Popup Domination was just a little over $150.  I would spend that money again in a heartbeat.

I started out only paying $13.95 per month for my FeedBlitz subscription, but now, because of my phenomenal email subscriber growth, I pay $49.95 per month.  I don’t mind it a bit—I can assure you that it has been well worth it.

Here’s my advice if you want to grow your blog: educate yourself on what works, and then don’t be afraid to make a few investments.  Not all of them will turn out exactly as you desire, but you’ve got to be willing to take the risk if you want the big payoff.  It worked for me.

Jeff Nickles is a regular guy on a quest to live life to its fullest. He began MySuperChargedLife.com in December of 2007 as a way to share his experiences and to learn more about life.  You can reach him by visiting his blog.

The Most Common Word at My House: “Why?”

As a father of three boys aged five and under, there’s a word I hear a lot in my house. I’m sure other parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents, child care workers, and people with kids in their lives will know what it is.

“Why?”

  • Why do I have to brush my teeth?
  • Why are there clouds in the sky?
  • Why do you have to feed the baby again?
  • Why do have to wear clothes and not my PJs to Grandpa’s birthday party?
  • Why does daddy get more chips than me?
  • Why does poo smell so bad?
  • Why do I have to go to bed now?

The questions come fast and while there are a few “what,” “when,” “where,” and “how” questions mixed in, “why” questions seem to dominate—at least at our place.

Of course why questions are a normal healthy part of a child’s life. They’re curious little beings and asking “why” is partly about making sense of the world they live in.

The other part of the “why” obsession is a little different, though. It has more to do with gathering information to help them make decisions.

Take “Why do I have to wear clothes and not PJs to Grandpa’s birthday party?” for example. Behind that question is a three-year-old trying to work out what to wear to grandpa’s birthday party, and whether to make a stand on it being PJs.

What he’s really trying to work out (in his own way) are the benefits of getting dressed as opposed to wearing PJs to the party. As his parent, if I can give him some compelling benefits of one or the other option, I’m hopefully going to convince him to make a good decision (although it doesn’t always work with three-year-olds).

As a result, after many “why” questions there is always a “because…” response.

  • Because your PJs are not clean.
  • Because we want to show Grandpa your brand new party shirt.
  • Because you’ll match daddy if you wear your clothes.
  • Because nobody else will be wearing PJs.
  • Because I’ll give you a chocolate if you wear your clothes (second-last resort—bribery!).
  • Because I said so! (last resort—only occasionally works if said in the right tone of voice).

Why isn’t just a “kids’” word

While my boys will mature in many areas of their life, they are unlikely to ever stop asking “why?” I know this because it’s still a word that I use all day every day. It’s not always spoken, but it’s definitely one that echoes in my mind all day long as I make decisions.

In fact, almost any time I come to make any kind of decision, big or small, I question “why?”

  • Why should I buy the Volvo over the Mazda?
  • Why should I go for a run today?
  • Why should I read a book to my boys?
  • Why should I buy this app or ebook?
  • Why should I give money to that charity?

The questions are big and small, important and insignificant—but “why?” is a question I ponder almost every time. The “because” responses can be compelling … although at times it can be as simple as “because it will make me feel good.”

Why is this relevant to bloggers?

As bloggers I think it’s good to think about this, because “why?” is also something that your readers will be asking as they read your blog. Constantly.

Every time you ask your readers to do anything, they’ll be wondering “Why?”

  • Why should I read this blog?
  • Why should I subscribe to that newsletter?
  • Why should I read this post?
  • Why should I tweet out a link to this?
  • Why should I buy that ebook?
  • Why should I bookmark this?

Readers are asking these “Why?” questions almost every time you ask them to do anything explicitly (and sometimes just as they decide if or how to use your blog).

Knowing this, you can put yourself in a good position to respond. As you look at your blog on a big-picture level—as well as when you’re doing micro tasks like writing posts—identifying the “why?” moments and then providing compelling “because” statements can be a very effective exercise.

Sometimes you might weave the “because” into your writing in a gentle way, but other times, you might explicitly give voice to the “why?” questions and then give “because” answers.

Why? in practice

Let me give you an example. One of the important points of action that we have on Digital Photography School is around the selling of our ebooks. It’s not the first action we call people to take, but for the sustainability of the site, it’s obviously important that we generate income.

So as we put an offer to readers, I’m very aware that they’ll be asking a series of “why?” questions including:

  • Why should I buy this ebook?
  • Why is the topic relevant to me?
  • Why an ebook? Why not a “real” book?
  • Why buy this ebook over buying another ebook?
  • Why should I trust this site to deliver value?

Identifying some of these main “why?” questions allows me to begin to answer them in the marketing material for our products.

I first did this exercise on dPS with our very first ebook after reading some work by Michael Daehn (and some of Michael Fortin’s work on “why”). Michael Daehn talks in a case study in which they found that explicitly using the word “because” in your marketing had real impact.

The resulting sales page for our bestselling portrait ebook includes this section:

Why Invest in The Essential Guide to Portrait Photography?

Let’s answer the question of why this is a resource for you:

  • Because it will teach you how to take portraits with that “wow” factor.
  • Because it contains our very best portrait photography tips on 25 topics—all in the one easy-to-read book.
  • Because it has inspiring illustrations to show how the teaching along side them can be implemented.
  • Because each page is packed with teaching—there’s no padding here.
  • Because you get six bonus interviews with pro photographers who make a living from taking portraits.
  • Because you get a 30-day, no questions asked, money-back guarantee.
  • Because you get it immediately—there’s no delivery fee because it is a downloadable ebook.

If you look over the marketing material surrounding our other photography ebooks you’ll see similar “because” paragraphs in a number of them.

Not only that, but most of what you see in other parts of our sales pages also emerges from answering “why?” questions. Identifying the real benefits, rather than just listing features, gives readers a reason why what you’re offering is worth acting upon.

Again, this isn’t just about selling products or services—it’s an important consideration in any action you might ask people to take, whether that be subscribing, commenting, sharing, or even just reading.

So, if you want readers to act upon your calls to action:

  1. Identify the “why?” questions your readers will be asking in different parts of your blog.
  2. Identifying the benefits of their taking an action.
  3. Provide “because” statements (whether they be explicitly stated with the word “because” or not).

You can do this exercise on a post-by-post level, on sales pages, when you’re thinking about your navigation and site-wide calls to action, services pages, advertisers’ pages—even on your social media profiles!

Why?

Because it works (and I’ll give you chocolate if you do).

When I asked my contacts how they felt about asking “Why?” in their blogging work, I got some interesting responses. Patricia Patton, who’s had trouble developing a unique selling proposition for her blog, said she felt this approach would help her “to be more objective” about herself and what she has to offer.

And Andrij Harasewych shared some thoughts from the perspective of a customer, saying, “there really needs to be some sort of truly unique content to get me motivated enough to buy an ebook.” All too often, he said, the “Why?” question is not even answered intrinsically by the product itself, let alone in the marketing copy.

Do you ask yourself “Why?” as you work to improve different aspects of your blog? Do you think this technique could be helpful? I’d love to get your insight in the comments.

8 Blogging Lessons I Learned from Being Scammed by a Marketer

This guest post is by Chris The Traffic Blogger.

This past month my fiancé and I went to a wedding expo. No, I am not one of those guys who lets the girl run around and do everything for the wedding! So I was there getting sold on everything from limos to flowers, and watching marketing at its finest (and worst).

Most of the vendors practiced the art of scummy marketing—you know, making mediocre products look worth much more than they actually were. Even though I understood this, I fell for a marketing scam that ended up costing me initially $1600 and quite a few phone calls to my credit card company to get the transaction voided.

However, I’m not upset that I was scammed. The experience actually reinforced several things I have learned over the years about marketing, and I’m going to use the story of what happened to me to reinforce these core concepts with you. But before I get into the lessons I want to share, here’s exactly what happened to us:

We entered a raffle for a free honeymoon. When we were called and told that we were selected to win, my fiancé and I were ecstatic. We were told that we had to listen to a one hour seminar on pots and pans from the company and then we could collect our reward. That should have been red flag #1.

The seminar lasted two hours. Red flag #2. The pots looked amazing, but they cooked twice as long as they were advertised to cook when the saleswoman made chicken for us to try. Red flag #3. A quick internet search for the company in question came up with articles about how it was an expensive scam. That should have been the biggest red flag of them all!

Despite these red flags, my fiancé and I still bought the pots. Why? Because the saleswoman made the decision ours, and a no-brainer. It was only after we made the decision to buy that we found out she was lying to us, on everything from prices to quality of the pots.

So what did the saleswoman do that made us believe every word she said? What made us think that the all expenses paid vacation was really that, even though it would have cost us a couple hundred dollars in taxes and then enough fees to pay for a second vacation? I’ll show you in this post, but please keep in mind that the entire point is to use this marketing knowledge for good. You know: to promote great products and deliver on the promises you make, not rely on legal gimmicks and tricky documentation to confuse your buyers into buying mediocre products.

Every single day that you post on your blog, you are selling your audience on your blog’s value. Use the following information that I saw on display at the marketing seminar to improve the value of your website and your products.

1. Presentation matters

As you probably already know, the average person looks a fraction of a second at your site before deciding if they want to click away. Sometimes, they don’t even read a single word of your headline!

In this blink of an eye, your graphics are the only way to hold their attention. Having a really nice, eye catching graphic is essential to your blog’s success. Personally, I saw around a 30 second increase on the average time people spent on my first blog, once I had an eye catching graphic for the title.

2. Internet readers are a mix of skim and full readers

Some will just read your headlines and sub headlines before deciding if they actually want to read your paragraphs between them. Make an effort to create interesting headlines throughout your article, not just at the top. A mixture of bold and different sizes for your headings will also draw the eye to the information you want readers to focus on. Lists and numbers do this naturally and our brains want to read each and every bullet, especially if there’s an ounce of OCD in us!

The trick is to hit as many sense as possible in your audience. This is difficult to do online, as you are limited to just site and sound, but offline you can go for touch, taste and smell.

3. Relatability is huge!

I related quite a bit to the saleswoman who spoke to us at the seminar. She was from Jersey (I grew up going to the shore quite a bit) and had an awesome accent. She also grew up in a large family, played outside all the time as a child, and ate meals with her family every night. I related to this so much and this drew me into the experience by recalling memories of my past. I really felt like I had a lot in common with the presenter.

I don’t care if you talk about picking your nose as a child, do everything in your post to try to relate to your audience in any way possible.

4. Interesting facts really do make a difference

Saying something like, “X% of internet readers find facts interesting” goes a long way towards making people believe you are researching the information you present. If you actually do the research and come up with cool facts then readers will pay far more attention to your post.

Also, any fact about life that people ignore is going to have the same effect. For example, the lady at the seminar mentioned that ground meat in the supermarket appears to bleed red, but that’s dye because ground meat can’t bleed! In that moment, I actually admired the intelligence of the statement because I had never thought of that before. Do this to your audience as often as possible, as it greatly improves your credibility and will lock people into reading your entire article.

5. Laughter works

No matter how dry a personality you have, always attempt to incorporate humor into your posts. I don’t care if you have to steal cheesy lines from standup comedians, do as much as you can to make your audience laugh. It helps to hold their attention and keep them locked in throughout the experience of reading your blog.

What’s more, if your headline is funny, then people will pass your post around simply because of the headline! That will greatly improve the chances of someone new being exposed to your work.

6. Price points make decisions easier

In fact, having price points naturally makes people consider the consequences of buying, or rather, not buying your product. Here’s the strategy that the saleswoman used to sell her pots and pans to us.

  • Step #1: Pick a really expensive product that does work for what the audience needs.
  • Step #2: Explain why this product is way too expensive and unnecessary.
  • Step #3: Pick a really inexpensive product that is of low quality and can’t get the job done.
  • Step #4: Explain why this product is subpar for the job and will break, eventually costing you the same over time in repairs or repurchases as the expensive product.
  • Step #5: Show your product that is right between the two other price points.
  • Step #6: Explain why your product is perfect for the job and just the right price.

7. Selling is about never actually selling

By picking the right price points and products to showcase those price points, you create a decision for your audience. When done correctly, this decision is obvious and a no-brainer. Just as it was for us, buying pots for twice the price (or so we thought, it ended up being over four times) of a regular set of pots and getting a lifetime warranty on them seemed like a great deal. It made no sense for us as a young couple to pass up this opportunity!

You can create the same simple decisions for your audience and if you have a product to sell, I highly recommend that you make comparisons to cheaper/worse products and more expensive/equally useful ones. That way you can say that your product is of higher quality yet cheaper than what you would pay anywhere else for that same quality. If you do this, then your audience will not feel sold to; instead, they will feel like they are making a conscious choice.

8. Time limits create hype

By the end of the seminar we were on the fence about the pots, but being told that we only had ten minutes to decide if we wanted them made us buy them. Why? Because we had just been sold on the value of these pots for two hours, the presentation was wonderfully entertaining, and the price points made the decision a no brainer! Of course we bought them, and almost everyone else there did as well.

You can create hype with your blog, even if the purpose isn’t to make money. One great way to do this is to offer a special report by the next day that requires a subscription to your list to see it. In 24 hours I have increased my normal subscription growth by 50% doing this.

Each of these eight lessons rely on the previous one to work. As a blogger, these kinds of ideas create a template for your posts. If you start off with the first point and work your way down, you can create an awesome post that sells the audience by convincing them to make a decision. Most people want to skip all the way down to the deal, without taking the time to build a relationship with their audience. This could take months, weeks, days or even hours, but it rarely happens in a few minutes.

As an internet marketer and blogger, understand that people need to trust you before they will believe in your products and services. Even if you just want to get more subscribers, you need to first convince them that you are valuable. It’s no different than getting them to open their wallet!

If you have the opportunity, go to one of these scams and see how the salespeople target your emotions, sense and reason… just don’t bring your wallet!

Chris “The Traffic Blogger” writes to help bloggers learn how to drive traffic, build relationships and earn revenue through blogging. His most recent efforts have been on teaching others What to Tweet to get more followers and make money on Twitter.

A Tale of Two Ebooks

This guest post is by Alexis Grant of The Traveling Writer.

During the last six months, I’ve published two ebooks: one that’s selling wonderfully, and another that flopped.

Why did one succeed, while the other—at least in sales terms—didn’t? What was the difference?

It wasn’t a beautiful cover, nor a pre-launch sale, nor an impressive newsletter list. The differentiator was a factor you have to consider before you even begin writing your ebook.

But we’ll get to that in a minute. First, some background on the products, so you can avoid making the mistake I made:

EBook No. 1: How to Build a Part-Time Social Media Business

I released this guide to the world without much of a strategy. It was my first time writing and launching an ebook, so it had a DYI cover, no affiliate program and no guests posts at launch. At the time, I didn’t realize promotion—or getting eyes on my product—was just as essential as writing an awesome guide, so I simply created a product I was proud of and put it out there.

I cobbled together a sales page on my website, used ejunkie to sell it and spread the word through my networks, sharing the link to the sales page on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

Immediately, the guide began to sell. Not at a ridiculous pace, but steadily, enough copies to make this first-time-product-creator happy. After three weeks, I reported selling 32 copies at $24 a pop.

Then Mashable ran a post I wrote about how to use your social media skills to make money, and copies flew off the digital shelves. Word began to spread among the social media community, and within two months of launch, I’d sold my first 100 copies.

I’d been bitten by the ebook bug! I began studying how to launch a product—homework I should’ve done weeks before—reading resources and guides on the topic and asking launch experts for advice. Soon I’d slapped a more professional-looking cover on the social media consulting guide and created an affiliate program.

Each morning, I woke up to see a guide or two had sold while I was sleeping. So this was what passive income was all about! I loved the instant gratification, and I smiled every time I got an email from someone who had used my guide to land their first client.

Then an idea hit me. I’d been scheming to write a traditional book about how to take a career break to travel, having left my job as a newspaper reporter several years ago to backpack through Africa. What if I turned that into an ebook instead? That would allow me to bypass the traditional publishing process, sell the product on my own site and keep all the profits. Genius, right?

So I toiled away on the guide. This time, I wrote nearly twice as long as I had for the first ebook, packing the guide with practical tips for anyone who was thinking about long-term travel, plus interviews with travelers who’d actually taken their own trips.

The result? Ebook No. 2: How to Take a Career Break to Travel

Now that I knew what it took to sell an ebook, I hired a designer to create a flashy cover and arranged the details for an affiliate program. I pitched guest posts to more than a dozen popular blogs and spend hours writing the pieces. I offered a pre-launch discount to my (lean but growing) newsletter list, plus a bonus for anyone who bought the guide.

In terms of launch strategy, I did everything right.

Except I’d overlooked a crucial detail: people didn’t think they needed my career break guide.

As guest posts for the guide went live around the Web, something funny happened: sales for the social media consulting guide spiked. What?! A few sales for the career break guide came through, but the first ebook sold far faster. I was getting eyes to my site, but they were buying the first guide instead.

For the record, both guides were priced around the same: the social media consulting guide went for $24, the career break guide for $29. And yet people felt compelled to learn about how to make money off their social media skills, not how to take a career break to travel.

The Lesson

In retrospect, I’d made the biggest of mistakes, creating a resource people didn’t think they needed.

To be honest, I knew when I began writing the career break guide that it was a risk; I wasn’t sure how big of a market was out there for that type of book. But I wrote it anyway because finding time in your life to travel is a topic that’s important to me personally. I wrote it because it was a guide I couldn’t not write.

Yet at the other end of the spectrum, the market for the social media consulting guide is even bigger than I realized. Which is great not only for me, but also for the reader. Because there’s a huge need for those skills, there’s also huge opportunity for each of my readers to make money, often on the side of their day job.

And that’s the other differentiator: the first ebook helps readers make money. I think people are more willing to shell out a few bucks if it means they’re going to make money in return. Often, we’re willing to invest if it means financial gain on the other end.

So do I regret writing the second ebook? No, and not just because I care about the topic. A big part of my transition into entrepreneurship is allowing myself to experiment. Sometimes I’ll make mistakes, but sometimes—like with ebook No. 1—I’ll strike a chord, one that helps fund my next project. In many ways, experimenting—and as a result, learning—is what this is all about.

Alexis Grant is a journalist, social media strategist and entrepreneur. Follow her on Twitter or subscribe to her Solopreneur Secrets newsletter.