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Filtering Out Google Analytics Junk to Read Your Numbers Better

This is a guest contribution from Larry Alton.

Web developers, content managers, marketing teams, and many other online professionals rely on Google Analytics to understand visitor trends. However, you can run into a significant amount of noise, which can skew your Google Analytics numbers and your subsequent interpretations of this data.

Luckily, you can filter out certain types of traffic, so that your numbers don’t get watered down by your own traffic, Web crawlers, or duplicated because of web address letter case discrepancies. Here are three main filters to consider setting as you move forward with a Google analytics strategy.

Cutting Out Internal Traffic

Every time you and your colleagues navigate throughout your website, it can skew your traffic numbers. Luckily, you can filter these out of your Google Analytics reports, so that you get a more accurate representation of your traffic.

Just head over to your Admin page and select “Filters” under the “View” column. Next, click on “+New Filter” and make sure that the “Create New Filter” bubble is selected.

Name your filter something like “Exclude office traffic” or “Exclude home traffic.” Choose the “Custom Filter” option, then select “IP address” from the dropdown menus.

When you enter the IP address in the Filter pattern field, you’ll need to use backslashes before each dot, according to Google’sregular expressions requirements.   

Excluding Bots and Spiders

It can be extremely frustrating to examine your web traffic data, only to see that certain recurring bots and spiders are accountable to a large chunk of the pie. Luckily, Google istaking proactive measures to protect Analytics users from these annoyances.

You can opt into Google’s automated bot and spider filtering by going to your Admin panel, clicking on “Reporting View Settings” and checking off the box that reads, “Exclude all hits from known bots and spiders.” However, some bots and spiders will still be able to leak through. You can target these individual irritants by creating a new filter, selecting “Custom” and then choosing “Visitor ISP Organization.” Then enter the service provider of the bot using a regular expression.

Keep an eye on your analytics, and be sure to create manual filters for additional bots that attempt to sneak past you. This can prevent bothersome bots and spiders from skewing your website’s data.

Enforcing Lowercase

If visitors enter an URL into their browser or click links that use a mix of uppercase and lowercase characters, then you could wind up with duplicate Google Analytics entries for the same destination. Luckily, you can fix this issue by creating a filter.

Just create a brand new filter and call it something like “Force Lowercase.” Choose “Custom,” click on the “Lowercase” bubble, and select “Request URI.” Once this is done, you should stop seeing multiple entries when browsers load up a page using different letter cases.

Increase the accuracy of your Google Analytics traffic data by using filters to cut through the noise. Don’t allow your metrics to become skewed by your own internal traffic, spiders and bots, or by web addresses that contain a mixture of letter cases.

Larry Alton is an independent business consultant specializing in social media trends, business, and entrepreneurship. Follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn.

 

Dazzle & Connect With Your Audience with these 7 Storytelling Strategies

Image via Flickr user Digital Paradox.

Image via Flickr user Digital Paradox.

This is a guest contribution from writer Thai Nguyen.

After finally asking the young lady for a date, the nervous young man asked his father how to avoid moments of awkward silence.

His father quickly responded, “Son, when it comes to conversation, all you have to remember are three things: food, family, and philosophy, and you’ll have plenty to talk about”

The night of the date came, and so did the awkward silence. Recalling his father’s advice, he quickly asked about food:

“Mary, do you like asparagus?”

“No,” she replied. “I don’t really care for it.”

Met with more silence, he asked about family:

“Mary, do you have any brothers?”

“No,” she replied. “I don’t have any brothers.”

With no luck, he turned to philosophy:

“Mary…if you had a brother…would he like asparagus?”

And that, my friend, is philosophy.

That simple story is better than any textbook for explaining what is philosophy. Indeed, ancient cave paintings have long affirmed modern neuroscience—humans learn and communicate best through stories.

People will remember your name when it’s connected with a compelling story; you’ll bore investors with facts and figures but capture them if they’re wrapped in a story.

Whether it’s creating a memorable brand or connecting deeper with customers, here are seven essentials for effective storytelling:

1. Opening and closing the curiosity gap

What if I told you your income could be tripled in less than one month?

It may be snake oil, but it perked enough of your interest to hear the rest of the story and pitch. Storytellers call it an “inciting incident.” We have curiosity wired into us, tapping into that through provocative questions opens the window wide for the rest of your elevator pitch.

2. Evoking VAK

Psychologists and therapists use VAK—visual, audio, and kinesthetic modalities to immerse a person into a desired experience or state.

When the mind begins to imagine and think through emotional and sensory experiences, parts of the brain light up as if they’re actually happening.

Using these cues by describing the adrenaline racing through your body, or the tragedy that brought you to tears, will immerse a person from passively listening to the story, to feeling like an active participant.

3. Conflict and resolution

Whether it’s your business proposal or product demo, two traditional storytelling elements you don’t want to leave out are conflict and resolution.

Have you identified a problem, and explained how your product brings a resolution? Shawn Coyne from The Story Grid says a common mistake for entrepreneurs is presenting heavily from a developer’s angle and ignoring a consumer’s perspective.

Approach conflict and resolution like a consumer, and tell your product’s story like a satisfied customer.

4. Appealing to the higher self

Whether crafting your own personal goals or presenting a vision to a company, we can’t fight our survival mechanism’s self-interest. So why not leverage selfish motives? Fuel for achieving a future goal comes with presenting a better version of ourselves, or a better version of the customer.

The story of the tortoise and the hare will be more compelling if it ends with you celebrating in your mansion by the beach after signing up to your investment plan. The personal image of being an environmental savior is enough for many to spend extra on a Tesla.

5. Shock and awe

Humans think in patterns. We process the vast exposure to information and try to spit out a logical understanding. A break in that linear pattern is like a splash of icy water on your face. That’s why movies like The Sixth Sense, Fight Club, Romeo & Juliet are capturing. The twist endings created a mental pattern break.

It doesn’t need to happen at the end. A paradoxical opening statement for a speech is a common attention grabber. Incorporating pattern breaks anywhere within a story increases effectiveness.

6. Build a catalog of illustrations

Everyone knows the story of the Good Samaritan, perhaps even the Prodigal Son. Jesus’ teaching are known through his compelling parables.

Use personal experiences to build a catalog of metaphors and illustrations and add more color to your stories. The time you drove past three gas stations and then ended up on the side of the road with an empty tank can later highlight to your staff the importance of checking email notifications or, to your investor, how your new app will save people from disaster.

7. Internal and external components

Just as Stephen King said, “Fiction is a lie, and good fiction is the truth inside the lie.” There are layers. A good story doesn’t just present raw content, but uses vehicles to deliver it. That’s the power in allegories and discovering the moral to a story.

Before crafting your story, decide what elements will be latent and what will be obvious. Facts and figures are best delivered under the surface. Promoting your product’s new features as raw content won’t be as effective as layering them underneath a traveling husband talking ‘face-to-face’ with his daughter.

A refugee from Vietnam, raised in Australia, with a BA from Texas, Thai’s unique background is reflected in his work. He writes for The Huffington Post, Entrepreneur.com, and The Utopian Life. Having been a professional chef, international kickboxer, and spiritual teacher, Thai is passionate about helping people become the best version of themselves. Signup for his free weekly Infographics at TheUtopianLife.com | Connect @ThaiWins | On Facebook  

10 Simple Hacks That Will Increase Your Blog Traffic

This is a guest contribution from Garrett Moon, co-founder of CoSchedule.

Of course, you know that writing more blog posts will increase your blog traffic.

If one blog post results in an average of 200 visits, then two blog posts should magically turn into 400 visits. Voila!

But, that sucks.

What if there was a way to increase your blog traffic without creating more content?

Rather than using two posts to reach 400 visits, what if you could get those same 400 visits from a single post?

The good news is that it’s possible. Just recently, we began publishing one less post per week on the CoSchedule blog. Even better, our traffic actually went up. Yes, up!

We did it by better optimizing the traffic we received from each piece of content that we posted online. We decided to blog smarter, and not just harder.

The good news is that you can easily do it, too.

Here are the 10 ‘hacks’ that we used to optimize traffic on our own blog. Most of them will make an instant impact on your traffic growth, so plan to implement a few as soon as you can.

1. Make Your Content More Shareable Using A Click To Tweet Plugin

Everyone has social media share buttons somewhere on their blog, but what happens if you add them in your content as well?
Screen Shot 2014-12-19 at 4.59.41 pm

Click To Tweet links do just that by helping you to create tweetable quotes and comments throughout your post.

The idea is that you are not only providing readers a way to share, but actively suggesting that they do. This naturally leads to more shares and more exposure for your content.

At CoSchedule, we wanted to be able to add these Click To Tweet boxes with a single step, so we made a custom plugin for ourselves and have since decided to distribute it for free. It’s easy to install. You can grab it here for free if you’d like.

2. Maximize The Emotional Value Of Your Headlines

A while back, we did some research on more than 1 million blog post headlines and make a huge discovery—blog posts with more emotional headlines actually result in more shares.

Screen Shot 2014-12-19 at 5.00.33 pm

The takeaway? Write headlines that have stronger emotional output.

There are several tools that you can use to do this. The Emotional Value Analyzer by the Advanced Marketing Institute will give you a basic rating on the emotional value of a headline.

The Blog Post Headline Analyzer will do the same, but also give you a rating on the overall quality and length of your headline. It should make it easy for you to to write awesome (and emotional) headlines every time.

3. Create Longer-Form Content

Did you know that Google gives precedence to long-form content in its search results? By long-form content, I mean posts that have a total of 2,000 words or more.

Screen Shot 2014-12-19 at 5.01.12 pm

Oye!

In a recent post, Neil Patel outlined Google’s trend towards long-form writing. He found that long-form content was more likely to be linked to from another site, and it was more likely to take the top spot in search results.

Not a bad deal for a few hundred (or thousand) extra words.

4. Improve Your Meta Tags And Rich Snippets

There are a ton of things you can do to your blog to make sure that your content looks as good as possible when it’s shared on social media or picked up by search engines like Google.

Most of this relies on a small bit of meta tag code that you should include in the <HEAD> of your html page. This code will provide instructions to networks like Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and Pinterest by telling them which image, title, and description to use when a post goes live.

You can even preview what your own link previews look like using this handy debug tool provided by Facebook.

If you’re using WordPress, the Yoast SEO plugin is a great way to make sure that most of it happens automatically. By making sure your content looks as good as possible when it’s shared, you will increase your blog traffic with ease.

5. Tell A Better Story

In 2014 helpdesk software maker Groove shut down their content marketing blog after seeking a solution that would bring them more traffic. Groove decided to shift their content from “generic evergreen content” to the story of their own success.

Screen Shot 2014-12-19 at 5.02.09 pm

Groove relaunched their blog as a step-by-step telling of their journey from $20k in revenue per month to more than $100k.

As it turns out, the relaunch worked! In the first five weeks of the new blog, Groove gained 5000 new email subscribers instantly, and gave us all a lesson in the power of storytelling.

One way to increase your blog traffic is to actually tell your story!

6. Promote Your Content On Social Media More Than Once

One of the biggest mistakes we make as bloggers happens right after we press the “publish” button. Once a blog post goes live, too many of us only share our posts once or twice on social media—even though we are frequently producing evergreen content.

Screen Shot 2014-12-19 at 5.04.03 pm

The trick here is to follow a simple pattern to promote your content on social media.

  1. On publish – Social messages publish when your blog posts go live.
  2. Same day – Initial social messages trickle out to your accounts throughout the next 2–3 hours.
  3. Next day – Messages are shared again on the appropriate social channels.
  4. Next week – Another series of messages are pre-scheduled and sent the following week.
  5. Next month – More social messages are pre-scheduled for the following month. This is especially important for evergreen content.
  6. Next _____ – Additional messages can optionally be scheduled for the three-month mark or beyond.

By the way… make sure you add some variety to your social content so you don’t come off as just another spammer. You can read more about this whole process here.

7. Make Your Blog Load Faster

Did you know that Google considers the speed of your website when ranking your website in search results?

Back in 2010, Google engineer Matt Cutts announced that Google is now factoring site speed into search rankings. So, it only makes sense that you would make your blog as fast as possible.

If you aren’t careful, you can easily add a bunch of crummy plugins and themes that degrade your site’s performance over time. It’s important to spend some time reclaiming that speed and improving how you rate on Google.

While it can be a bit technical, WPMU DEV has a great guide for speeding up your WordPress blog. Follow it, speed things up, live long and prosper.

8. Optimize Your Social Sharing Buttons

Do you know where the best place to put your social media buttons is?

The placement of these buttons can actually make a big impact on how many shares your posts receive. Our research has found that they seem to do best near the top left of the page, but you can use this free heat map tool from SumoMe to find out how readers interact with your pages.

9. Clean Up Your Sidebar

One of the fastest ways to make a big impact on your blog is to simply clean up your act. After a bit of time, most blog sidebars start getting pretty congested with ads, links, and other cool widgets.

Screen Shot 2014-12-19 at 5.05.33 pm

But, those widgets aren’t so cool if they’re distracting your readers from what they should really be doing. Take a minute to really decide what you want your readers to be doing and remove any clutter that you can.

10. Improve Your Call To Action

One way to determine if a widget belongs on your blog is to ask yourself if it is contributing to your bottom line.

At CoSchedule, our blog is set up to lead readers to only two different calls to action. Users can either sign up for our email list or try CoSchedule. It’s that simple!

Have a  a clear call to action, and a blog layout and design that accurately leads your readers to it. This is a guaranteed way to improve your blog traffic and conversion rate.

Garrett Moon is a co-founder at CoSchedule, a social media editorial calendar for WordPress that allows users to schedule blogs posts and social media on an easy drag-and-drop calendar. He blogs about social media and content marketing every week on the CoSchedule Content Marketing blog. You can follow him on Twitter @garrett_moon.

SEO: The Must-Dos That You Just Can’t Miss

Last year, we had Rand Fishkin sort us out with a comprehensive post on SEO basics, tips, and tricks. If you haven’t thought much about SEO and the traffic it can bring your blog, now would be the time to do it! Get into the right habits at the start of the year, and they’ll become second-nature.


 

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

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

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

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

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

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


spike-of-hope

There is another way.

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

You’ll probably recognize it:

google-search-box

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

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

But, it should.

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

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

Here’s the tragedy:

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

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

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

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

Step 1: Keyword Research

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

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

adwords-kw-planner1

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

adwords-kw-planner2

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

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

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

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

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

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

Step 2: Post Title & Body Content Inclusion

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

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

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

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

Step 3: A Teensy Bit of Proactive Outreach

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

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

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

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

———–

A few last pieces of advice:

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

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

Don’t Blog this Year Without the Most Important Thing of All

On Valentine’s Day last year, Darren reminded us all that blogging won’t get you far if you’re not legitimately passionate about it. What you’ll have is a site you’re only half-hearted about and you won’t be able to sustain that for very long – nor will your readers come to enjoy and respect your work. If you’ve got passion, then you can channel it into the best blog you can create 


Recently on Twitter I was asked for some tips on what sets ‘great’ blogs apart from the rest.

With millions of bloggers creating blog posts every day – how do you stand out?

It’s a big question, and the reality is that there are many ingredients to building a successful blog.

A variety of words came to mind as I struggled to come up with my 140-character guide to ‘standing out’.

I started to list them:

  • Credibility
  • Share Your Opinion
  • Great Writing
  • Ability to Connect
  • Understanding Readers
  • Injecting Personality

As I brainstormed, I realised 140 characters was not going to cut it:

  • Great blog design
  • Tell Stories
  • Use Great Visuals
  • Network with other bloggers
  • Be prolific
  • Be funny
  • Be smart
  • Be first
  • Write great headlines

I started to think of the blogs I love and what makes them stand out:

  • Be Useful
  • Be Entertaining
  • Take note of your readers
  • Have a different spin on things
  • Be Original

The list continued to grow and with it my heart sank a little.

“There’s no one way to stand out…”

But then I had two realizations:

Firstly – I love that there’s no one way to stand out! There are no rules. There is no blueprint – and that’s what is so simultaneously exciting and frustrating about blogging.

That’s why I love what I do. Constant experimentation, learning, testing and trying new things.

The second thing I realised is that there actually was a common feature about all of the blogs that came to mind as ‘stand out’ blogs.

Passion

There are plenty of bloggers that do the things in the lists above. There are bloggers sharing opinions, writing well, with a heart to connect, with great personalities…. bloggers who are smart, funny, prolific, original, entertaining and bundles of wonderful!

But something that seems present and that shines through in the blogs that I read and love is passion.

They are created by people with passion for the topics being covered, passion for the process of creating content, passion for their readers, passion for learning, and passion for pushing the boundaries of thinking and creating.

They love… they enthuse… they delight in what they do. By doing so they somehow draw others into their passion too, which is where the real magic seems to happen.

This isn’t to say that passion is the only ingredient needed for success – but maybe… just perhaps… it’s what binds it all together and helps a blog just click.

Are you passionate about your blog?

Happy Valentine’s Day.

Finding Readers: Strategies for Building Your Audience in 2015

In 2014, Dustin Stout outlined how he grew his audience, and how you can find readers too. It’s worth revisiting so you start this year off on the right foot. What would you add?
growing-readershipIn today’s instalment of the Finding Readers theme week, we delve right into Dustin Stout’s incredibly eye-pleasing site, dustn.tv, and hear how he has built a blog people just can’t help but read and share.

When I launched dustn.tv in March 2011, I had no idea what I was doing. All I knew was that I had some insight and skills that people needed and I genuinely enjoyed helping people.

Between then and now, I’ve had successes and complete WTF-just-happened failures. Through all of that I believe I’ve landed on a handful of crucial elements that have allowed me to get to where I am today.

1. Give the Reader A Beautiful Experience

It doesn’t matter if you have the most amazing, jaw-dropping, slap-yo-mamma content in the world, if people don’t read it. When someone lands on your webpage you have five seconds or less to prove that your site and its content is worth their precious time. So if your web design is cluttered, hard-to-read and visually unattractive, you’re content may not have the chance it deserves.

One of the primary reasons people continue to visit and read my blog (rather than just through an RSS reader or email) is because the reading experience is enjoyable.

With all the templates, themes, and examples of good design permeating the digital space, there’s no excuse for poor design. You don’t have to be a designer in any sense of the word to create a beautifully-designed, content-focused blog. Just find what’s working, what you would enjoy looking at, and imitate it. You can read my tips for creating a stunning reading experience for your readers here.

2. Write For Real People

Once your canvas is ready (your design) you can now fill it with glorious content that knocks people’s socks off! But the most important thing to remember is just that— you want to knock people’s socks off. Not robots: real people.

Having a voice that people can relate to is crucial to growing your readership. If people can’t relate to what you’re saying or how you’re saying it, why would they return?

One thing that has helped me to communicate effectively to my readership is focusing in on exactly who I’m speaking to. No, I’m not talking about my demographic or target audience— that’s not specific enough. To effectively write from an authentic, relatable voice you need to write as if you’re talking to one person.

Try this as an exercise– the next time you draft up a blog post, think of one person in your life that could benefit from the information you’re about to write, and write it in such a way as if you’re talking directly to them. This will help you communicate your message more clearly and your voice will be more authentic.

And people will love you for it.

3. Engaging Content (Actionable)

Another thing I’ve found when crafting content is that the actionable always wins out on engagement. Give people clear, easy-to-do actions and watch your engagement soar.

People don’t always know right off the bat how to take the action you may be moving them towards, so make it easy for them. Tell them exactly what to do.

4. Compelling Content (Sharable)

Making your content sharable is a crucial peice to the continued organic growth. When people share with other people there is power that no degree of marketing could ever capture.

In order to compell people to share your content, you have to first understand why people share things. The motivations are many but here’s just a few powerful reasons someone would share your content:

  • It makes them look smart
  • It makes them look funny
  • It makes them look cutting-edge
  • It makes them look interesting

Do you see a pattern there? People tend to share content based on how it will make them look to others. So if your content gives someone the chance to look better in front of their peers, they will be compelled to share it.

5. The Right Distribution Channels

Okay great, so you’ve got your awesome content written and wrapped inside a beautiful package (your web design) ready for people to consume, engage, and share. So now how do you get people to that content? Distribution channels, otherwise known as social networks.

The right distribution channels make all the difference. For everyone’s audience it may be different. If your target audience is mommies looking for great recipes, then Pinterest may be your best channel. If you’re ideal audience is teenagers who don’t want their parents knowing what they’re up to, then Snapchat may be your ideal channel.

My biggest piece of advice though when it comes to distribution channels is to resist the lie that you have to be on all of them. I’ve built the majority of my audience by doing one network really well. You can either do a mediocre, semi-invested job at many networks or you can knock one single network out of the park.

The latter will grow your audience faster than the former.

For me, I’ve found that the most powerful distribution channel in both driving traffic and acquiring new readers is Google+. No platform has yielded the return on investment that Google+ has, despite what lazy journalists might have you believe.

For me it’s about being able to not only distribute content, but also to be able to create and repurpose content in different formats such as images and video. With Google+, the number of tools at your disposal is beyond that of any other platform making it the most diverse, feature-rich and multi-demensionally engaging platform of them all.

Ultimately though, your perfect distribution channel will be one that has all of the following characteristics:

  • Your audience is there (or at least willing to follow you there).
  • You can fit it into your workflow.
  • You thoroughly enjoy the platform.

One Last Thing

Above all else, be true to yourself. Don’t be someone or something you’re not. Be uniquely you because that is your secret sauce.

Nobody else has the perspective, experiences, and thought process as you in the same combination of skills, knowledge and insight. The more true you can be to yourself, the better you can relate to your ideal audience.

Top 3 Takeaways

  1. Make it more about them than about yourself.
  2. Give them an enjoyable reading experience.
  3. Be a real human, not a regurgitation robot.

Make Money Blogging: Start the New Year by Increasing Your Income Streams

It’s the aim of the majority of the readers of this site – make an income via your blog. Today we revisit the post where Darren outlined all the ways he diversified his streams and how after 10 years he was still going strong. We also have a look at the Ways to Make Money Map – make sure you also see the Make Money Page, if you haven’t already. It’s a great place to begin, or to refresh your memory.

make-money-advertising-blogs

Today I was speaking with a blogger (I’ll call her Alice for the sake of this post) who was feeling a little overwhelmed with the idea of monetizing her blog. She expressed that as she looked at other blogs in her niche, everyone seemed to be doing such amazing things. She said she felt she’d never be able to compete.

Other blogs in Alice’s niche were running online courses, selling out hundred people live events around the country, selling ads to fortune 500 companies, authoring best selling eBook and more. The thought of even beginning to monetize her blog in these ways was completely paralysing Alice!

It is so easy to be overwhelmed to the point of paralysis when you look at what other bloggers are doing. I know this from personal experience!

My advice to Alice was to keep in mind that all those other amazing blogs started in the same place that she was – without any income streams at all.

Often it is easy to forget this and see a successful blog as always being what it is today.

By way of illustration, I shared my own story

When I started blogging, I did it as a hobby. I had no intention of it ever being more than that and there were no examples of people directly monetizing blogs.

Over the coming year and a half, my blog grew in popularity and the hobby became something of a passion and obsession. It also began to cost me money to run for hosting, domain, design etc.

Phase 1

Blogging Income 6

I began to dabble in monetizing with the hope of simply covering my costs. My first experiments were with Google AdSense and the Amazon Affiliate Program. The results weren’t spectacular but they were encouraging enough for me to keep trying. A few dollars began to trickily in but more importantly – I was learning a lot!

Phase 2

Over the coming months I continued to experiment with AdSense and Amazon. I vastly improved how I was implementing the programs (better ad positioning, writing reviews for affiliate products). I also began to think about how to drive more traffic to my blog. I even started a second blog (and then more followed)!

The results were that my income began to grow. I began to see my blogging as a part-time job and even began to wonder if it could one day be full-time.

Over the coming year I also began to also look at other forms of monetization.

Blogging Income 6

During this time I started promoting affiliate programs with other online stores. I also did something that terrified me but which became a great income stream, I picked up the phone and began to sign up advertisers directly. This was a period where I had to bite the bullet and start to treat blogging not just as a hobby – but as a business.

Again – these new income streams started small and were experiments. My first ad sale was for $20 for a month long ad. It didn’t bring me overnight riches but securing the ad taught me a lot and contributed to my overall income.

It was around this time I realised that while none of my income streams were enough to sustain me alone, a blog could actually sustain multiple sources of small income that could add up to something significant.

My goal was to go full time as a blogger. To do that I knew I needed to grow multiple streams of income and my blog’s traffic.

Phase 3

It was around this time that other Advertising Networks began to appear. I experimented with quite a few but the one I had most success with was Chitika. At the time, AdSense was my #1 source of income but putting Chitika on my site almost doubled that income overnight and allowed me to go full time as a blogger!

Blogging Income 6

Of course it wasn’t just that Chitika worked well. I’d also been growing my traffic, building reader engagement/community etc – but the extra income stream helped a lot.

Phase 4

It was around this time that I’d started ProBlogger as a blog along with a whole new range of income streams. I did monetize ProBlogger in the early days, using all of the above income streams but I found that ProBlogger was actually better to monetize indirectly.

By ‘indirect monetization’ I mean that ProBlogger began to grow my own personal profile and authority on the topic of blogging and I began to be approached to provide products and services that I could sell. The blog itself didn’t necessarily make money – but it enabled ME to make money as a result of the blog.

Blogging Income 6

For example, it was through ProBlogger that I landed my first paid speaking opportunity. I was asked to fly to Washington DC to speak at a conference – (all expenses covered plus a small fee paid).

Around the same time, I was approached to write the ProBlogger Book (the hard cover one that is now in it’s 3rd edition). This only came off the back of the ProBlogger blog.

Similarly, around this time I began to offer my services as a consultant to help people with their blogging strategy (a service I don’t offer any more).

Once again, these income streams started small (in fact writing a Book isn’t generally a big income stream for most authors) but they each contributed to the overall revenue from my blogging, which was now adding up to be a lot more than I’d ever earned from any other job (keeping in mind that I’d been blogging now for 4-5 years).

Phase 5

Most of the above income streams have continued to grow but other opportunities have presented themselves as new technologies emerge. While I’d previously been approached to create a hard copy book, we began to see the emergence of eBooks. While people previously had asked me to speak at their live events we began to see people delivering content via virtual/online courses and conferences.

Blogging Income 6

I began to experiment with creating eBooks and membership areas to my sites. eBooks have gone on to become my main income stream (both with ProBlogger eBooks and Photography eBooks). The main income from eBooks tends to come in fits and starts, when we either launch a new eBook or run a sale/promotion on one but even when we don’t have these events happening they still steadily sell each day in small numbers. Again, contributing to the overall revenue.

I also added the Job board here at ProBlogger.

The job board is an interesting example of what I’m talking about today. It has never been a spectacularly huge income stream but it has actually been a pretty steady source of income over the years. We generally see 1-2 new blogger jobs advertised every day and that $50-$100 per day in income adds up over time. I’ve not got the exact figures but I’d estimate that over the last 5 years it has brought in over $100,000! I’m glad I started it!

By this stage my income was growing to the point where I was able to bring on others into my team. This started with some very part time outsourcing of small jobs but in more recent times has enabled me to hire a number of team members to help run different components of my business.

Phase 6

The final income stream has become a growing focus of my team and I (although I have to say it’s not a massive income stream at this point) has been running events and conferences.

Our annual ProBlogger Training Event here in Australia has grown in number each year and this year we think it’ll probably turn a small profit. Having said that, my intent with these events is not to make a lot of money. Rather, it is about giving something back to the Aussie Blogosphere (it is also great for branding and gives me a lot of personal satisfaction and fun).

We’ve also started to run some smaller more focused workshops (our Email Marketing workshop in Melbourne still has a handful of spots left).

Blogging Income 6

My suspicion is that events will be something we’ll see expand a little in the coming years.

Final Thoughts

Let me sum up with a few thoughts, disclaimers and words of encouragement:

Keep in mind that all of the above has happened over 10 years. While today there are obviously 12 or so income streams (although I’m sure I’m forgetting something) they all started quite small and as experiments.

There have been moments where it did seem like I had rushes of income, those rushes were usually the result of several years work and investment of time and money.

I also would say that in each case, I started each experiment not really knowing what I was doing (on at least some level) but really seeing the experiments as a chance to learn. For example, my first eBooks were taking previously published blog posts and updating, completing and adding to them to offer readers a more convenient way to access my content.

At the time I had no idea if that would work and the design and delivery of the eBooks was fairly basic. In time I learned what did and didn’t work and was able to grow the sophistication of my delivery systems, design, authoring and marketing to the point that it’s become a fairly well-oiled machine.

The key is to pick something to try and to see whether it connects with your readership and to learn as much as you can while you’re doing it. Often you end up evolving what you do to the point that it is a better fit for you and your blog – but you’ll never get to that point without starting.

Update: I’ve since published a followup to this post that gives a split of the different income streams.

Email Lists: Make them a Priority in 2015 with These Tips

Last year, Luke Guy ran us through why our email open rates are nosediving, and what we can do about it. He also gave us solid tips on how to write great emails to begin with. We’re re-running this post today so you can nail your email list right from the start 2015. You won’t regret it!

emailcrashThis is a guest contribution from Luke Guy, blogger and graphic designer.

It’s amazing how blogs have exploded within the last 10 years – take ProBlogger for instance. Blogs like these can provide a good living for the owner if the traffic remains strong and healthy. But how do these blogs retain the traffic and keep a steady flow? There are many ways, but I want to discuss with you a vitally important one: your email list.

Usually more email subscribers would mean more traffic. Right? Well, not anymore.

Bloggers are facing diving open rates today like never before. Small bloggers and the celebrity bloggers alike suffer.

But why?

Let me give you 8 Reasons Why Your Email Open Rate Is Nosediving.

1. You have lots of images within the email.

When it comes to email open rates, fashion is not how you make waves. Simpler is better in this case. HTML is good, but text based emails are even better. I know we’re tempted to be flashy, but if no one is seeing it, what’s the point? Your email is going to be seen more when images aren’t within them. They flag filters many times, and can annoy the reader also. It’s best to simply state your message and get to the point quickly.

2. Way too long!

In the blog world an article of 200-1000 words is considered an informative post (View Darren’s Post On Word Count). Reading one of these could take 5-7 minutes to read, and 15 minutes to fully understand.

In email this is simply not so. Why? You’re simply updating them with short exclusive information, and persuading them to spend a minute on this unexpected message from you. Think of your email newsletter as a bite-size sample of your blog. Let every bite be extremely pleasant and leave them wanting more. Where do they get more? Your blog.

In order to do this, your email must be short, sweet, and fulfilling in bite-size. 150-450 word count would be best when writing. You’re sharing exclusive content, updating, and telling them about your new blog post kind-of-thing.

3. Links Everywhere.

When all they see is outlined sentences everywhere, landing somewhere in the unknown, the word SPAMMY is the first thoughts of most readers. They get the idea that all you’re trying to do is send them to a place they don’t want to go, to spend money they don’t want to spend. Put only one link in your article, and give them many good reasons why they should click on that link. Not one reason to click on 10 links, that’s not as effective. So choose your link wisely, and this also will prevent your email from getting vacuumed by the email filters.

4. Your agenda appears to be making money.

When they see your email appear, what should they expect? If it’s another course, eBook, or program in which they must buy, there’s a good chance you’re going to get turned off eventually. A good rule of thumb is to give your reader 10x more. Instead, offer freebies just so they will warm up to you. If you need some freebie ideas, go here: 6 Freebies That Will Spike Engagement In Your Blog

I know we’re all trying to come up with ways in which to make money, but it’s better to have our customers coming to us with their money, not the other way around with us chasing them and their wallet. When they understand that you’re for them and wanting to help more than to make a buck, they will come.

5. Your email is only a result from an RSS blast.

Your emails should be exclusive content, not an email blaster from your RSS feed. Many will disagree with me on this, because they don’t want another article to write. I understand their pain, but what’s the point of offering this option of RSS if they’re not going to read it? With Google’s Gmail Algorithm, RSS is a turn off and a good chance it will never make it to their inbox.

How will they find out about by my new blog post then? you might be asking.

Give them many reasons within that email why they should read that article and give them a link to it. The reason shouldn’t be because it’s new. It should be because it’s helpful and can be found almost no where else. You’re just pointing them back to it so they won’t miss this amazing content.

6. Not full of helpful information.

You thought that tips, helpful information, and how-tos were only for blogs? Not so, it will apply to your email rate as well. Except you have only a few seconds to persuade them to read it, a few more seconds to finish reading it, and finally to click on whatever link you may have for them (that was the point of the email right?).

The only thing is with email, shorter is better. Why? When trying to catch the eye, you have only a few seconds to persuade them to read it and consume your information. As for a blog post, most were searching for the solution you have to offer and were willing to spend the time to solve their problem. So make it short but powerful since your message was unexpected!

7. They don’t feel a personal connection with you.

If all you do is sell, command, and write like you’re talking to the wall, they’re not feeling what you write. To avoid this, write as if they’re your friend. Instead of writing to your readers, write to your reader specifically. Pretend that you’re writing to one of your readers, and let them feel that one-on-one connection. It’s about winning their trust, which is key to any business.

8. You’re boring.

If you’re doing all of the above, it’s time to face it. It’s time for a recharge. Sometimes to make our tips more helpful, and our writing voice more inspirational, we need to read more and be inspired. Like an athlete, we must eat more than we burn. If not, we don’t have much to offer.

Go out in your niche and explore again. It could be the simple fact that you are burned out and need to refill with more helpful information.

Ways to improve email letter quality:

1. Read a blog post like this one by Darren Rowse On Passion: Passion – Do You Have It?

2. Interact more in the comment section.

3. Listen to podcasts.

4. Talk to pros in your niche.

5. Take a course.

6. Think more, and spend more time with that writing piece.

7. Study your competition and how they write their emails. Read this to be inspired: Learning Your Foes Makes You a Better Hero

So basically you’re defeating two things here, the email filter and the reputation of scammers. It’s so easy to be flagged as a scammer these days and you must work extra hard to appear the very opposite. These tips will make that happen, and will also get your emails to bypass the filters.

Mission Accomplished.

You’re going to see great results from this if applied correctly. I’ve learned by not selling, you kind of are. When they know you’re in business, and all you do is help, curiosity takes over them. When they see your free tips work tremendously, what will your paid versions do?

Thanks for reading and I wish you higher email rates!

Did I miss something? Leave a comment below and let’s see what you have to offer to the Problogger community.

Don’t miss the other side of the coin: How to Write Successful Emails and Improve Open Rates

Luke Guy is both graphic artist and blogger, publisher for LukeGuy.com, and graphic designer for hire. He’s loves to blog and helping people with dreams in starting a business.

Happy New Year! What are Your Blogging Resolutions for 2015?

Image via Flickr user Amodiovalerio Verde

Image via Flickr user Amodiovalerio Verde

Well here we are again, folks – the start of a new year. The time when we’re usually bursting with motivation and promises to not repeat the mistakes of the past. I know I’ve learned a lot in the last 12 months (especially my bad habits, which I’ve vowed to ditch in 2015!), and I have spent some time thinking about what my priorities will be for this space, my blog, and my work habits this year. Namely: use my time more wisely, slow down and focus more, and remembering to always be useful.

So have you taken some time to get your priorities in order? Sworn off Facebook and will bump up your email list efforts? Ready to write an eBook? I’d love to hear how you’re starting 2015 with a bang.

Happy New Year! Here’s to all your successes!

Stacey is the Managing Editor of ProBlogger.net: a writer, blogger, and full-time word nerd balancing it all with being a stay-at-home mum. She writes about all this and more at Veggie Mama. Chat with her on Twitter @veggie_mama (cat pictures welcome!).

Seasons Greetings from ProBlogger

Greetings from Melbourne Australia where it has just ticked past midnight and we are now officially celebrating Christmas day (or at least I am… while the rest of my family are asleep).

As I sit here – having just wrapped my latest gift – I’ve been contemplating what a massive year it has been.

It’s been big for our family – Vanessa’s blog kicked up a gear, our second eldest son started school, his older brother joined every sporting team he could and our youngest… well he just doesn’t stop!

It’s been big for our team – in fact we’ve had our biggest year ever on many fronts. Our Aussie event grew to 550 attendees, we relaunched ProBlogger.com, and saw a heap of new members join up, we hit record traffic levels on my photography blog and a couple of hours ago we sent our last email on our biggest 12 Photography Deals of Christmas promotion in five years.

This year also saw my little team grow again. We now have nine of us working in the core team (many on a part time basis) and another 30 or so people contributing in different ways as regular writers, designers, developers, editors, and more.

I’m feeling particularly grateful to this team. They’ve worked hard this year, many of them behind the scenes, to help keep ProBlogger and dPS running. I thank you all from the bottom of my heart.

Lastly I am very thankful to those who keep coming back to my blogs, forums, sites and events as readers, members, customers and friends. Without you this little business that I’ve managed to carve out of blogging would not be possible.

Looking forward to 2015 I’m excited about the many possibilities and the plans we’ve already put in place for a new new ventures and experiments. But before we get into that… it’s time for a little summer break for most of us here at ProBlogger.

Some of us are going to the beach, others of us are taking road trips and a few of us are going to simply recharge at home and watch some cricket. But we will all be back in a week or two when we’ll ressume blogging here on ProBlogger – so stay tuned.

In the mean time – don’t forget to check out our ‘best of’ series from the last week or so with all our best posts of 2014.

Have a safe and restful end of the year and we’ll see you in 2015!