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The 6 Step Online Marketing Strategy Every Small Business Should Follow in 2015

This is a guest contribution from Jawad Khan.

2013 was the year when people started taking content marketing seriously. The momentum grew in 2014 and thousands of corporations, small businesses and startups invested heavily in content creation. 2015 will see this trend grow even further. Thousands of new blogs and millions of new blog posts will be created over the next 12 months.

Perhaps the biggest revelation is the way local bricks and mortar businesses have taken up content marketing. From search results to social media, the internet is getting more and more local. Many local businesses have realized that content is the cheapest way to build trust and attract customers from online channels. And the way people are turning towards Google for suggestions about their local outlets, means that more local businesses will start investing in different online marketing activities.

But with increased competition, content creation alone is not be enough to win you customers, especially if you own a local bricks and mortar business. You need to come up with a comprehensive promotional strategy to make your business stand out.

To simplify this for you, I’ve divided this strategy into six key activities. In 2015, you need to stay focused on these six areas to get ahead of your competitors and boost sales.

1. Content Marketing

Content marketing is the foundation of this strategy. Creating high-quality, actionable, and useful content is not an option anymore, it’s a necessity. If you want to be perceived as a company with in-depth knowledge and expertise of your industry, you need to create high quality content that addresses the problems and questions of your target customers.

This includes creating content for your own blog, guest blogging on other established blogs in your niche or a niche that complements your industry. Target the blogs where you can engage your potential customers.

Take your content right where your audience is. Get active on forums and discussions websites like Quora, LinkedIn groups, Twitter and any other platforms where you can talk directly to your customers. Share your content on social networks, create engaging and educational email courses, and write eBooks and Whitepapers on industry issues.

Make sure everything you know about your industry is out there in the form of your content.

2. Reputation Management

You’ve created a great blog with high-quality content. You have also been featured on high-traffic blogs in your niche. You have traffic flowing in to your website from different sources.

But when a customer decides to visit your outlet or buy from you online, what does he do first? He looks for reviews about your company.

Generating positive reviews and maintaining a strong online reputation is crucial, especially for local bricks and mortar businesses.

Research shows that dissatisfied customers are twice as likely to write an online review as compared to satisfied customers. So even if you have lots of happy clients, your reputation can be tarnished by just a few unhappy customers, because they speak out more often.

To counter this, make sure you have lots of happy client reviews on the web. Your reputation is at stake here and, with it, thousands of dollars in potential sales.

I personally recommend automating this reputation management process with Reputation Loop, a smart online reputation management tool.

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It maximizes positive reviews from satisfied customers using a series of follow up emails and updates, and minimizes negative reviews by proactively approaching dissatisfied clients for feedback. So before they can write negative reviews about your company on a public forum, they’re given an outlet to express their anger and dissatisfaction.

In short, the online reputation of your business is the gatekeeper for all other forms of marketing. So take it seriously.

3. Influencer Outreach and Networking

Every niche or industry has certain influencers who command respect and enjoy a large following. They’re perceived as the ultimate industry experts and their opinion holds a lot of weight. Your target, as a local business, should be to get in the good books of these influencers. Even a few words of endorsement from influential figures in your industry can skyrocket your reputation, credibility and sales figures.

There are different ways of getting in their radar. For local bricks and mortar businesses, the best thing is to associate with the influencers in real world. But to do that, you’d first need to engage with them in the online world.

You can start by following their Twitter account and joining their blog’s mailing list. Tweet the different posts from their blog (don’t forget to tag them), comment on their posts and respond to their Tweets. Do this for a while so they start recognizing you. You can then invite them to your outlet or offer them something complementary (even if that means sending a gift through a courier service).

You need to invest time and energy in building your network and engaging the influential figures in your industry. These relationships can pay back dividends

4. Email List Building

If you’re not building an email list, you’re not building your business (even for a bricks and mortar business). In this age of competition, where companies are approaching customers through multiple channels, you need to engage your customers regularly even when they’re not buying from you. Keep reminding them about your presence and stay in touch with them through informative emails, exclusive offers and discounts.

Make sure your website and blog are optimized for email conversions. Place email opt-ins on multiple prominent locations of your website. Use pop-ups and free giveaways to seduce your visitors.

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I’ve personally found great results with SumoMe List Builder. Even its free version has lots of great options for maximizing email conversions. You can use it as a pop-up, activate delayed appearance and many other useful features to get the attention of your readers and increase opt-ins.

5. Offer Ecommerce and Online Shopping

 

If you’re currently not offering online shopping options on your website, seriously consider doing so. The global ecommerce growth, thanks to smartphones and tablets, is reaching unprecedented heights. Just recently, the Chinese ecommerce giants Alibaba made more than $9 billion sales in one day. Even local customers are much more likely to buy from your online store as compared to previous years.

 

Thankfully, adding ecommerce features to your website or setting up an online store is not difficult these days. You can create a fully functional online store and add complete ecommerce features to your website with tools like Selz.  It’s an easy to use ecommerce and shopping cart solution that is equally effective for selling digital and physical products and services.

 

 

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Selz handles everything from product listing and store creation to payment collection and list building. You can embed a Selz store to your website by copy/pasting a simple html code or using their WordPress plugin.

There are other great ecommerce tools that you can choose as well. Here’s a useful comparison chart to help you.

6. Facebook Advertising

If there’s one paid advertising mode that I’d gladly recommend any day of the year it has to be Facebook advertising. It’s by far the most economical, targeted, and effective paid advertising mode especially for local small businesses. You can choose your target audience based on interests, age groups, location, Liked pages and many others criteria.

It’s most effective for boosting your list building activities. My personal formula is to create a landing page (use LeadPages or create a simple one on your blog), add a free giveaway on the page and use Facebook advertising to route traffic to the email list. It’s almost like switching a traffic button on.

But if you’re using it for the first time, start with a small budget. Test $20-30 ads with different configurations. Once you get the right combination, increase your budget gradually.

If trends from the previous years are anything to go by, 2015 will be a rocking year for small businesses that are prepared to take advantage of the different online marketing, advertising and promotional channels. The significance of content marketing will increase even more. But you’d have to combine smart reputation management techniques with it to ensure that visitors convert into customers. As I said at the start, if you stay focused on these six points, it’ll be hard for your competitors to catch you.

What are your thoughts? Which one will you be trying this year?

Jawad Khan is a content marketing consultant and a freelance blogger for hire. Follow him on his blog Writing My Destiny, Twitter, and Google+.

How To Advertise Your New Business In Blog Posts Without Looking Too Promotional

Image via Flickr user twicepix.

Image via Flickr user twicepix.

This is a guest contribution from freelance writer Victor Ijidola.

Sometimes we just want to advertise our new businesses in blog posts so people can quickly know the new product or service we’re selling.

But then, we don’t want our readers to see us as being too promotional. So often we say little or nothing about our product, thereby making a lot of them read, get value, and leave. without ever having a glimpse of what we sell.

Honestly, that doesn’t sound good for business.

So how do you solve this puzzle?

Here’s the truth: Millions of people visit various blogs every day to get tips that would help solve specific problems for them. If they begin to read your posts and notice that you’re all about how to get their hard-earned cash, they mostly won’t have a reason to give you their attention.

And when when they don’t give you their attention, they’re not in the right frame of mind to buy whatever you’ve got to sell.

So you really don’t want to look too promotional in your blog posts.

In this post, I’ll be sharing two basic strategies by which you can effectively advertise your new business in blog posts without turning people off.

Strategy #1: The challenge approach

Okay, this approach will stress you. However, you will discover that it’s worth the effort in the end.

Basically, here’s how it works:

  • Come up with a problem
  • Solve the problem with your product/service
  • Get results
  • Share your results in blog posts

The following posts will give you a clearer picture of the challenge approach:

  1. Neil Patel’s How I Grew Techcrunch’s Traffic By 30% In 60 Days

So what’s the problem in this case? Traffic.

It’s something anyone who makes blogging a part of his marketing strategy would crave for. But if you’re running a blog, you’d know how challenging it can be.

Neil solved this problem by using his digital marketing service to grow TechCrunch’s traffic by 30%, and then shared his result in a blog post.

See how it works?

This way, he’s not only sharing some great tips with his readers, he’s also advertising his craft.

  1. Zac Johnson’s How I Made $860,538.38 PROFIT in 4 Months!

Six figures in four months?!

Seriously, that’s a big problem for a heap of us bloggers.

Zac got it solved and made a blog post out of it — telling the whole world that he really is a genius in making money online.

How does this apply to his products and services?

Well, there are a lot of bloggers out there who would do anything possible to make as much as six figures in a year, let alone in just four months.

Hence, if Zac is offering any make-money-online coaching service, trust me, people would sign up from all over the world.

But how do you get these kind of challenges and results to share as blog posts while you’re just starting out your business?

After all, these guys have being in their respective niches for years. Of course, they would have even more to share form their experiences.

Well, it’s the same approach:

  • Challenge yourself with a problem – particularly one that your peers find challenging.
  • Use your product/service to solve it
  • Then share your results in blog posts

It doesn’t have to be multiple challenges at once.

Just pick one. After all, we all face challenges at one point or the other in our lives, and we discover that one problem is better tackled than two or more.

Here’s an example of a post by a blogger who challenged himself to write 270 guest posts around the year he started out blogging.

Bamidele Onibalusi’s How I Wrote 270 Guest Posts In 8 Months.

Bamidele started blogging in 2010 and challenged himself to write more guest posts that every other blogger in that same year.

Long story short, he was able to write 270 guest posts in 2010.

The problem here is this: getting 40 guest posts published in eight months is a huge problem for a lot of us bloggers.

Bamidele wrote 270! Seriously, that’s huge.

So what results did he get? He puts it this way

“…I got no true results until I told people what Im capable of. It all started when I wrote a post on my blog telling people how I wrote 270 guest posts in 8 months, this boosted my credibility, made people to start respecting me, brought a lot of interview offers and eventually landed me a big client…”

See how it works?

If you’re freelance writer, for instance, you come up with a challenge like: getting a good number of social shares on a particular articleor getting published on a big blog.

When you’re done with the challenge (if you succeed, of course), you can then come up with a post like: How I Got [xxx] Number of Shares on a Single Guest Post.

This would tell your prospects that, as a freelance writer, you can write articles that will get their prospects engaged and in turn, expose their brand to more customers.

See how it works? When you solve a common problem, you become recognized.

Strategy #2: The business blogging approach

If you run a regular blog, don’t worry, it won’t hurt to do some business blogging once in a while.

After all, you want to advertise your product/service blog posts without looking to promotional, right?

By the way, what exactly is business blogging?

As Corey Eridon of HubSpot puts it Business blogging is a marketing tactic that uses blogging to get your business more online visibility.

It’s simply the art of running a blog that talks about how your product or service can solve specific problems for people.

For example, HubSpot is an inbound marketing company, hence, you’ll usually find topics related to inbound marketing on their blog. That’s business blogging.

Okay you get the drift.

So if you’re an internet marketer, for instance, you can simply write posts like:

  • 7 Incredible Reasons Why Internet Marketing Is A Must For Every Business
  • How Internet Marketing Can Get You Longtime Customers, etc.

Here are few tips you need to make this approach effective:

  • Content is king – you’ve heard that a million times. So genuinely write great contents. We know it’s really not about word counts, but take your time to dive into every corner of each topic. This way, you would get your prospects’ attention.

Ive just developed a handful of simple habits that have bumped my pay rate much higher than the pay rate of the average freelance writer 

See how she dropped the hint that she’s a freelance writer?

  • Lastly, craft a compelling author bio.

Bonus tip: You can use this approach on your guest posts on bigger blogs. This way, you’ll be reaching a wider audience, telling them how much you know your stuff.

I used this approach with my guest post on Blogging Tips.

The result? I got a client.

Here’s the harsh truth 

If I’m going to be honest with you, I’ll let you know that the strategies above don’t always bring an overnight success.

However, it does bring success.

But you’ve got to use them to write a heap of great posts, on your blog and on other blogs.

Danny Iny of Firepole Marketing puts it this way, “You understand that if you want blogging to part of your marketing strategy, then you’re going to have to write great posts, and lots of them on your blog, and on bigger blogs, too” .

What are your thoughts?

Victor Ijidola is professional freelance writer and copywriter. You can learn more about his freelance writing services or more get sales and marketing tips for your new business on his website. Some of his works have also been published on Forbes and Blogging Tips. Connect with on Twitter @veeblogs

Why Every Entrepreneur Must Become a Blogger

This is a guest contribution from blogger and graphic designer Luke Guy

You’ve heard about this blogging stuff. You’re already making money and time isn’t on your side. Is blogging really worth it? Can afford to do it (time-wise). The answer is: Yes. Here’s why.

As you know eBay, Amazon, and all these the other sites spend millions to do one thing. And that’s win people’s trust. How much are you spending to build trust with new people? And how exactly are you doing this? I understand they’re not making time anymore, but trust doesn’t come easy either. Knowledge is ever exploding and your competition probably just started their blog yesterday. But is it for you? What if you’re an ecommerce site? Do you still need a blog? I talk more about this in my article: The Epic Guide To Growing Sales With Content Marketing. Google is a business site and they make billions, simply by building trust and letting users feel the Google experience without spending a penny. How have they done this?

They built the following all for free:

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Mobile

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Specialized Search

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Home & Office

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They spent millions of dollars trying to gain users and one day beloved customers. Don’t tell me freeware and resources can’t build a business. The top websites in the world do it. According to Alexa, the top 5 sites in the world are freeware based.

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I’m not saying go make free software that cost millions. I’m just saying start building and create something useful. And you can doing that by starting with a simple blog post. Instead of having agenda, just be helpful. Why? You’re building relationship. It’s hard to turn a man down that’s always giving.

It’s not that blogging is some kind of magic, it’s what it does. Let me give you some of the other benefits here besides trust:

  1. You solve problems (with your product)
  2. It’s effective advertising
  3. Another form of marketing
  4. Great way to capture emails
  5. Growing connections
  6. Receive feedback from customers
  7. Gain Influence
  8. Attracts people
  9. Express your thoughts
  10. Gives you a talking piece

So much is happening from your blog article. You really don’t have time not to write. How much and how long is up to you. But no where in history has man had more opportunity to build an audience and make a living doing it.

 

What To Write About

I’ve seen many business owners talk about the world and everything in it when blogging. Wrong move. Why? You attract traffic who don’t care anything about your products. You want to attract buyers here. Traffic isn’t the only thing you want, but traffic that buys and trusts you.

The number one thing you should be focusing on is your customer’s problems. Let it be your title even. Within that post, talk about the problem and the pain it causes. From there, explain how your product can solve that. When you advertise that, and share that, you will attract people from all over who are now valuable leads. People who are hurting and needing a solution. You are that solution! By addressing their problem, offering a solution, and being entertaining… You will generate sales. It’s really beautiful.

Once you blog and gather traffic, you want to establish that trust even farther and get their email. So you can spam them? No, so you can hook them and pull them close. And then…  Offer even better content like webinars or free courses. You want to saturate that list with your amazing content. Once you do that good things began to happen.

 

How An Email List Is A Customer List In Disguise

The biggest thing you can do is build the email list. By sending that list content that helps, it makes them love you. You’re cultivating relationship, and better yet traffic. That traffic will buy from you more than any other traffic. Why? It has relationship with you. It’s even better than Facebook which is built much like the list. That’s fading though tremendously though. I talk more about that here: How the Email List Beats Facebook Every Time.

As that list grows your traffic will grow, your readers will grow (in number:), and your profits will grow. So having your opt-in forms handy is a must. Make sure to build an email collecting machine are your site. This is great when you have a deal you want to mention.

Imagine a list 3,000 people. 20-30% usually open from a trusted blog. That’s around 900 people who will that deal. Imagine if only 2% bought from you. That’s 18 sales from a single email. Once again though, they’re not waiting to get pitched. They’re waiting to hear from you because you help them so much.

 

The Biggest Struggle With This Method

Main problem most people face is creating the content, and making sure that content is amazing. Not easy. Someone with passion must be behind it. If money is your drive, content creation isn’t for you. If making someone’s life easier today your drive, then you will make it. It’s not easy writing for free at first, but soon it becomes who you are. You must serve a purpose and be the hero for someone.

Many feel overwhelmed with creating content and they under the load. Just know it’s worth it, that it’s not easy reaching out, but the connections you’re building is worth the struggle. If you’re wanting to gain a customer base in a noisy world, this is how you do it. You don’t want to park the business in ghost town do you? Then you must build your traffic and get more eyes on you. From there you build trust, and then you gain a client. It’s that simple, but you can’t be selfish. You must simply be a power giver.

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.

500 Top-Tier Publishers Tell You What They Want from Content Marketers

This is a guest contribution from Kelsey Libert from Fractl.

The good news: Content is here to stay as a digital marketing powerhouse, giving marketers more opportunities than ever to tune their SEO goals for every stage of the buying cycle.

The bad news: The boom in content marketing has resulted in a veritable avalanche of email for publishers. In fact, some top-tier publishers receive over 300 pitches a day – more than 3x the email volume of the average worker.

What does this mean? Without placements that will reach the right audiences, the quality of your content is a moot point. Competition is tougher than ever in the inboxes of those who are calling the shots on publishing your work; only the best pitches will receive the attention of the most coveted sites. That’s why BuzzStream and Fractl collaborated to survey more than 500 publishers to find out how to break through the noise and improve your content promotion.

Pitch Perfect Subject Lines

The subject line is your first and most important opportunity to capture a publisher’s attention. Honing this one area of your pitching practice can mean the difference between a top-tier placement on HuffingtonPost.com, Mashable.com, or BusinessInsider.com – or weeks of fruitless pitching with your fingers crossed for some low-authority pickups.

Why is the subject line so crucial? 81% of publishers want email pitches, which means the inbox is your best avenue for earning their interest. 85% open emails based on the subject line alone, which means that knowing what they’re looking for will improve your odds of earning their attention. Our survey results tell us that the following six influencers have the most impact on your open rates.

1. Speak to Their Beat

The single most important takeaway from our survey might just be this: more than 60% of publishers told us that the best subject lines should be tailored to their beat. This means that you need to use that limited space to let them know that you both understand what they cover and have something relevant to share with them.

More than 50% agreed that you should do this by being both specific and descriptive. In a sea of hundreds of emails, publishers want you to get to the point. Tell them exactly what you have and why it matters to them.

2. Keep it Short

Once you’ve nailed down the content of your subject line, the next important step is to keep it under 10 words. Nearly 40% agreed that subject lines should be brief, making brevity the fourth most important quality on our list. 75% prefered subject lines between 0 – 10 words, and this range has an added benefit: keeping your subject line concise helps ensure that it won’t be cut off in inboxes.

3. Offer your Assets

Letting publishers know in the subject line what kinds of assets you’re offering will help them make a quick decision about whether they’re interested. If you’ve done your research on the kinds of assets the publisher typically embeds, this will work to your advantage; if you haven’t, you may lose their attention before they open your email. In our survey we learned some of the assets publishers request most:

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  • 85% want raw data. While they won’t publish the raw data, having quick access to your research information will help them verify your findings and explore their own interests more.
  • 65% want data visualizations. This includes infographics, mixed-media pieces, images, video, and interactive maps.
  • 19% want articles. If this is an asset you offer, be sure to take a look at the average length of the articles your target publishes to ensure your piece is in line with their preferred word count.

4. Entice with Exclusives

Publishers love to be the first to report on a hot story. Nearly half reported that they prefered offers for exclusive pickups over syndications, which means a subject line that includes the opportunity for an exclusive will earn extra attention from eager writers and editors.

Even though exclusives are a great incentive for publishers, that doesn’t mean that your content promotion strategy should end once the first placement has been secured. A good syndication strategy can protect you against a lackluster first print, or unpredictable variables like competition from breaking news or unfortunate headline flubs.

5. Establish and Maintain Relationships

65% of publishers feel that establishing a personal relationship before pitching is at least somewhat important. Once you do the legwork of getting to know a publisher’s work, making contact, and landing your first placement, don’t let that relationship flag. 66% said they’d also be more likely to open a future pitch if you reference your past relationship in the subject line.

Sending a publisher a quick comment every so often via email or social media is a good practice to keep your name and work familiar to them. But beware sounding overly friendly; publishers were quick to point out that they don’t appreciate phony tones in pitches or messages.

6. Avoid These Pitfalls

While you incorporate these best practices into your pitching tactics, be sure to avoid the pitfalls that will get your email deleted – or worse, earn you (and your company’s domain) a place on a publisher’s blacklist.

  • Double check your spelling, including the publisher’s name. 85% said they’d delete a pitch with bad grammar or spelling regardless of the quality of the content.
  • Don’t sensationalize your subject line. 99% agreed that subjects shouldn’t look like clickbait. Less than 20% said subject lines should be provocative or catchy.
  • Limit your follow-up. 87% told us that you can send one or two follow-up emails at most, but any more than that and you risk being seen as a spammer.

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Start perfecting your pitch by writing subject lines publishers want to open. Be specific, descriptive, relevant, and brief, and you’ll earn the attention of editors who want to amplify your content rather than delete it.

Want to see which verticals are pitched most – and least – along with more insights from this study? Download the free white paper on Subject Line Open Rates.

Kelsey Libert is a Marketing VP and partner at Fractl, a creative digital agency specializing in high-quality content creation and placement. Kelsey’s industry research can be seen on the Harvard Business Review, Inc, The Next Web, Fast Company, Contently, HubSpot, Marketing Land and Buffer.

Stay a Step Ahead on Social Media: Tips from SMX Social in Las Vegas

SMX_Social_1This is a guest contribution from Paul Zubrinich of Little Web Giants.

Late last year, I returned from the biggest social media marketing conference in the world, SMX Social in Las Vegas. There were experts from all fields of social media and a wealth of new ideas floating about. Here are some of the takeaways.

ROI is more than conversions

“Facebook News Feed is like email with a 100% open rate” – Beth Horn, Facebook

Think about this scenario. Someone discovers your business through Facebook and likes it. In the coming months they notice a few of your posts and engage with a couple of them.

A few months later, they Google your business and convert to a buyer. Now in your web analytics, the conversion is falsely attributed to Google organic search, even though Facebook was the first point of contact and crucial to the sales cycle. Due to this realisation, marketers are moving toward measuring ROI based off more factors than just the last click. If you only measure by the last click, it is like measuring each player on a footy team by how many goals they kicked, thus neglecting the contributions of the backline and mid-fielders.

The takeaway for SMEs: Measure engagement – it has value!

Tone down the “buy now” rhetoric!

“ROI isn’t important in this arena. Engagement is!” – Erik Jensen, Denny’s Restaurants

You know the guy. He clomps into every online conversation, selling. All of his posts are so promotional that they make infomercials look subtle. Imagine if he went to a business conference and in every conversation he was just telling people how good his product or service was. This is no way to build trust or make friends.

This is becoming even more important as Facebook has stated that as of January 2015, people will see less promotional content in their News Feeds. It prompted Altimeter Group’s Rebecca Lieb to tell the New York Times, “It’s a clear message to brands: If you want to sound like an advertiser, buy an ad.”

On social media, the soft sell is the best way to win people over (and reach their News Feeds). An oft-recommended strategy is to apply the Pareto principle: 80% of your posts should be informative and 20% can be promotional. This article is an ideal example. I am sharing information without loading it up with my own sales spiel.

The perfect time to post is different for everyone

“The world’s best practices aren’t always your best practices.” – Tim Welsh, Academic Partnerships

I will embrace the day when people abandon those memes saying the “best time to post”. Imagine you sell UV lamps and one of your target demographics is people who work night shifts. You read one of those blog posts that says mid-afternoon is the ideal time to post on Facebook. But your target demographic is in bed then. What about a fast food place that targets young students up late at night? Post in the evening. Go for it. The takeaway: Know your demographic and meet them on their terms.

There is a wealth of tools out there for discovering when your followers are online. Facebook has Insights, Twitter and Pinterest have Analytics, and Simply Measured offers analytics tools for LinkedIn and Instagram. No matter what social network you are using, find out about your followers and your target market, rather than settling for population averages. It will put your posts in front of more potential customers.

Summing up…

The future of social media will not be built on one-size-fits-all strategies. You must know your target market. Track your outcomes and do more of what works and less of what doesn’t. Take part in the conversation with a more human tone. Show you care about your customers. Now get active and join the conversation!

Did you follow #SMXsocial on Twitter? Do you have any other tips to share or questions for the author?

Find all the slides from SMX Social here: http://slidesha.re/1xZoFX0

Paul Zubrinich is co-founder and head of online marketing at Little Web Giants, an internet services firm. He blends a skillful mix of strategic search engine marketing, conversion rate optimisation, content marketing and pay-per-click advertising. He has worked with clients from fields as diverse as the solar photovoltaics industry, environmental advocacy and the health and beauty industry. He won Marin Software’s Biggest Social Geek contest of 2014 against over 2,300 social media marketers worldwide.

A Powerful Exercise inside Google Analytics to Set You Up for a Successful Year of Blogging

Have you started the year off on the right foot? I hope you had a worthwhile end of 2014 and are looking at 2015 with excitement and anticipation!

Today I wanted to share with you an exercise that I do on my blogs at the end of every year that helps me to grow my blogs in the year that follows.

I find that it both inspires me to get moving on the new year of blogging but also gives me some starting points for direction for the new year.

It’s an exercise that I do over the last week of 2014 and the first week of 2015 but is also something you could spend just 10 minutes doing and still get some value from.

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It all starts for me in Google Analytics (the tool I use to track how my blogs are performing). You may use a different tool which will get you the same results (and if you’re not using something please do).

Note: I know the mention of ‘analytics’ is enough to put some of you off reading on any further. I get that – I’m not really an analytical guy. In fact anything with numbers or statistics elevates my blood pressure and makes me want to run screaming into my happy place. But bear with me – the numbers are just the starting point for this exercise and not the main thing!

I’m going to break this post down into three main sections which are based upon the three main categories in Google Analytics – ‘Audience’, ‘Acquisition’ and ‘Behaviour’.

I should say that there’s a HEAP more we could drill down into than what I’ll cover in this post but my hope is to give you some starting points to do some analysis in.

Note: Google Analytics also has ‘Real Time’ and ‘Conversions’ sections. I’ve previously touched on Real Time stats and it’s not as relevant for the type of analysis we’re talking about today. The ‘conversions’ area of analytics is something I’m still relatively new to so won’t be touching on today.

OK – grab a cup of your favorite beverage and make yourself comfortable – this will take a little while but I hope will be well worth your time!

Audience

Audience Overview

Firstly I log into Google Analytics and head to the ‘Audience Overview’ and plug in the dates for the full year to get a quick overview of how the year was. I usually look at things first in a ‘daily’ view to see where the spikes were and get a sense for the weekly cycle of traffic.

Blogging exercise daily overview

Note: all the screenshots in this post are stats from my main blog Digital Photography School (dPS). They are stats just for the ‘blog’ area of that site and not the forum or sister sites.

You can see in the above chart that there’s some regular patterns to traffic on dPS. Each week there is a spike (related to the day we send our newsletter) and a lull (weekends). There were also a few great spikes where we had posts go viral (this is something to investigate and take note of – we’ll touch on it later).

From this chart I immediately can begin to see that there wasn’t huge growth in the site over 2014 – although things were definitely lower at the start than the end.

To get a better picture of growth I find looking at a weekly and/or monthly view can be helpful. Here is the monthly view.

Blogging exercise monthly overview

Now we have a clear picture of the months things did well and slowed down. We can immediately see February was lowest (it always is for dPS – mainly because it has less days) and December was our record month (ever).

Some of these peaks and troughs will be seasonal but others are not. For example July and August tend to be slower months for us as many of our readers are out and about enjoying the Summer of the Northern Hemisphere.

Compare This Year to Last Year

Another fun chart to look at here is to compare 2014 with the year before.

To do this click on the date section and tick the ‘compare to’ box and plug in last year’s dates like this:

Blogging exercise comparison

You can again view this by day, week or month. I like monthly as it can show you seasonal impacts. Here’s how mine looked:

Blogging exercise monthly comparison

You can see here the Feb slump in both years as well as the November and December rise.

I love this comparative view because it shows the real growth we’ve had. While you can kind of get the feeling some of the other views above that we grew over the year it’s a relatively flat line.

This comparison shows that even in November where the lines are closest that we had 31% more traffic than the previous year. April was 82% higher than the previous year.

Note: comparison reports are a lot of fun and can be very motivating. Here’s how I use them during the year to keep my blog growing month to month.

Scroll further down the report and you get more comparative data:

Blogging exercise monthly comparison 2

We can see here that overall we were up by 51.58% in terms of traffic, 31.87% in users and 39.03% in page views – all good signs.

Below however we see some areas to work on. Pages viewed per session, time spent on site, bounce rate and new visitor numbers were all down (I’ll dig into the reasons for this below) – something we need to work on improving in 2015.

We had already noticed this and are getting ready to launch an evolution of our design that is all about trying to get visitors to view more pages per visit (which will lift their time on site and decrease bounce rate).

If you scroll down the page further you can also do some comparisons from year to year on other areas including language spoken by visitors, their location, the browser they use, operating system, screen resolution etc.

A couple that interested me:

Blogging exercise monthly comparison location

While numbers of those visiting from the US have growth significantly (62%) as a total percentage of our readers we’ve seen a fall and much faster growth in terms of our readers from parts of Asia.

This is something to keep in the back of our mind as we think about content but also how we monetise the site.

The other big shift from 2013 to 2014 was the growth in mobile use of the site which we can see in looking at operating systems used.

Blogging exercise monthly comparison operating system

Mobile vs Desktop

While we’re talking about devices lets quickly click the ‘Mobile > Overview’ item in the menu on the left of the page and see the comparison of desktop to mobile and tablet.

Blogging exercise monthly comparison mobile overview

As I mentioned just a couple of months ago in a post here on ProBlogger mobile/tablet traffic is now overtaking desktop traffic on many sites. In fact on dPS in December we saw desktop traffic make up only 46.41% of the overall site traffic with mobile getting 39.11% and tablets getting 14.48%.

Thankfully we now have a fully responsive design on the site!

One interesting thing I noticed looking at the breakdown of mobile/desktop traffic is the difference in bounce rate on them.

Blogging exercise mobile analysis

Mobile traffic has a significant higher bounce rate and lower page views per session/time on site. This is an ever increasing problem with mobile traffic growing and gives me some great information to feed into our site redesign – we obviously need to think about how to get those viewing the site on mobile to view more pages. It’s not the only reason these stats are down though (read on to find out the other part of the issue).

Lets move onto the ‘Acquisition’ section.

Acquisition

OK – so in the Audience section we saw we had some decent growth in traffic to the site. In the Acquisition area we can begin to analyse where that traffic is coming from.

Acquisition Overview

Click the ‘Overview’ item in the menu for a quick top level look at where traffic is coming from.

Blogging exercise acquisition overview

Obviously organic search is driving a lot of our traffic (44.4%) with social and direct each contributing around another 25%. Email looks small but a lot (in fact most) of the ‘direct’ traffic is actually from our email newsletter. There is also talk lately that some direct traffic is actually mobile traffic from Facebook.

Channels

Drill down further into each of these channels by clicking the ‘channels’ item in the left hand menu. In turn you can begin to look at each channel in turn and look for trends.

We could spend a lot of time digging around in here and it can be well worth doing – but for the purpose of this post here are a few things I found.

Firstly – a lot of the growth to dPS in 2014 can be attributed to social traffic – in particular Facebook.

While I know many publishers have become frustrated with Facebook in the last couple of years I have persisted with it – in fact I’ve put more time and effort into developing a rhythm of posting to our Digital Photography Facebook page (and even started a second Facebook page).

Here is a chart of all social traffic (blue line) with Facebook (orange), Twitter (purple) and Pinterest (green) to show you just how much Facebook is responsible for our social traffic.

Blogging exercise acquisition social

This above chart is both simultaneously encouraging (that all my work on our Facebook page is paying off) but also worrying (that perhaps we’re becoming too reliant upon Facebook). It is inspiring me to think about how to grow other social channels in 2015 (something I’ve begun work on with Twitter in the last week).

What I find really interesting looking at social traffic is that it’s this traffic that is dragging down our performance in terms of pages viewed per page, bounce rate, time on site and ‘new users’ that I mentioned above.

Here’s some analysis of our social traffic:

Blogging exercise acquisition social analysis

You can see there that Facebook traffic brings in only 23.99% ‘new’ visitors to the site. It’s very much about engaging with regular/loyal readers. This is great for building engagement but given Facebook brings in over 20% of our site’s traffic it has dragged down our overall stats in this area.

The same thing is happening withe ‘bounce rate which is a little higher than the site average’, pages viewed per session and average time on site.

Knowing this gives me a little comfort but also motivates me to work harder on our design to get more pages viewed per visit.

Referral Traffic

Another thing I noticed in the acquisition area is that ‘referral’ traffic only makes up 4.98% of our overall traffic. While this is still 2.3 million sessions its an area that I think there’s room for improvement on.

We did see one really nice day of referral traffic mid year after a mention in a Business Insider post – but other than that it’s been slowish (interestingly that post was syndicated on many other sites also which led to a lot more little trickles of traffic for the months after).

Blogging exercise acquisition referral

I’ve not really spent much time in the last couple of years working on this. Perhaps it is time to start doing some guest posting or networking with other site owners.

Social Landing Pages

Before we leave the ‘acquisition’ section it is worth looking at the Acquisition > Social > Landing Pages report which will show you the posts and pages on your site that got the most traffic from social media.

This is actually a report that I spend some significant time looking at. Here are the top 10 results for dPS in this report (click to enlarge).

Blogging exercise acquisition social landing pages

This report is one that can be well worth some real analysis on. Dig deeper than the first 10 items though (you can show as many as 5000 but the top 100 or so will give you some great insights).

By looking it over you’ll identify some great information on what type of content is getting shared, liked and engaged with on social media.

This will hopefully give you some hints for what type of content you might want to create for 2015 but also might give you some hints as to how to engage on social media too.

For example the #1 post in this report is an old post on camera settings that I noticed did well on Facebook back in 2012. I reshared it on Facebook in December and it went wild again. In fact it did so well that it was responsible for our biggest day of traffic ever later in December and is still sending us traffic weeks later.

I can’t emphasise enough how powerful it can be to reshare content that has done well previously. So many bloggers only share their new stuff on social media and forget that there’s gold in their archives.

This report is great for identifying these shareable posts – I’d even go so far as to advise exporting it and using it as a part of your social strategy for the next 12 months.

Note: I’ll write more below on analysing content below in the ‘behaviour’ section.

If you click on any of the landing pages in this report you get taken to a page which shows you where the traffic came from.

For example item 4’s report looks like this:

Blogging exercise acquisition social landing pages report

This can help you to get a sense for where content might be being shared around.

Behavior

This is by far my most favorite section in Google Analytics and I spend a lot of time in here during the year. I particularly love the ‘Site Content’ area – I guess because content is what I’m really most interested in.

All Pages vs Landing Pages

There are two reports here that I find most interesting. ‘All Pages’ and ‘Landing Pages’.

While both show similar data I think it’s well worth looking at both.

‘All pages’ shows how many times pages and posts on your blog have been ‘viewed’.

‘Landing Pages’ shows how many times a page or post was the entry page into your site.

While these might sound similar they can produce quite different results. Lets compare the two for my blog.

First ‘All Pages’.

Blogging exercise behavior all pages

Now ‘Landing Pages’.

Blogging exercise behavior landing pages

Obviously there are some similarities here but some differences too.

For example our ‘photography tips for beginners‘ page is in both lists but people land on it only 197,669 times in the year but end up viewing it 566,590 times. This is because it is linked to very prominently in the navigation menu. The reason I put it there was that I’d previously noticed it had a very very low bounce rate

You can also see in the ‘all pages’ report that our Cameras page is our 6th most viewed page on the site despite it not featuring prominently as a landing page. This is our category page for cameras on the site and is really useful to see as it’s a page that has not previously had as many clicks on it. Obviously our audience are increasingly interested in knowing more about ‘gear’ – this will inform our posts for 2015.

All Pages

The ‘all pages’ report is really interesting to look at how readers are viewing all posts and pages on your site.

Other interesting findings by looking at this report include that our ‘thank you for subscribing to our newsletter’ page is actually the 22nd most visited page on our blog. I’ve not updated that page in over two years – so this gives me cause to go to it and see if I can optimise it.

Blogging exercise behavior thank you

Another useful piece of information I found on our ‘all pages’ report were a couple of pages with odd URLS that were appearing in our top 200 pages viewed on the site. Both had /?s= strings.

Blogging exercise search results

These pages are search results pages. So over 83,000 people have searched for ‘lightroom‘ and over 63,000 have searched for ‘photoshop‘ in the last 12 months. While in comparison to other pages on the site this isn’t massive traffic – it gives us some hints as to what our readers are looking for and perhaps are not finding enough of.

This is great information for future content planning.

These two results were the most searched for terms on the site but it got me wondering what else people are searching for – so I dug deeper. I plugged in ‘/?s=’ into the search box in the ‘all pages’ report and ran a report on anything with this string.

There were 211,751 results to this search! That’s over 200,000 words or phrases that people have searched for in the last 12 months. Here’s the top results:

Blogging exercise more search results

These are all single word searches and give us some good broad information on topics people want information on – but dig further down into the search results and you start to get phrases and more specific searches.

Blogging exercise more search results 2

This is really useful information. While only 13 people searched for those terms I can already see topics that we could write posts on based upon some of the more common words and phrases being searched for.

You can bet that I’ll be digging further into this report and that it’ll be informing content on the blog in 2015!

Landing Pages

OK – digging into the ‘landing pages’ report is one of my favorite things to do as it gives some great insights into where people are entering your site – great information for thinking about how to grow your traffic further in the next year.

This is one report I regularly export into a spreadsheet to do more in depth analysis on.

How to Export this report Before you export it scroll to the bottom of the page and choose to show more rows than the default 10. I choose 100 or 500. Then scroll to the top of the page and look for the ‘export’ drop down menu and choose how you want to export it. I usually export as a CSV and then view it as a spreadsheet.

9 Questions I Ask Myself About Content Reports in Google Analytics

As I work with this report there are a number of questions I’m asking myself including:

  1. what posts you might want to reshare on social at some point? – if it did well once it might do well again (see above for an example of this).
  2. what types of posts/mediums get shared most? – for example I notice in our most popular posts this year were a number of cheat sheets and infographics. This gives us hints as to what kind of posts might do well in 2015.
  3. what topics are hot? – for example I noticed in our top 100 posts for social that we had a lot of posts on camera lenses that did well. This informs what we might do more of in 2015.
  4. what headlines did well? – I noticed in our top 100 posts that we saw a number of posts that talked about ‘mistakes‘ that photographers make doing well. While we don’t want to do these posts all the time they do do well on social so we’ll no doubt do a few more in 2015.
  5. what posts could you extend? – some posts that have done well might lend themselves to become a series. For example our post ‘the only three lenses you’ll need for Travel Photography‘ could easily be extended to feature lenses for other types of photography.
  6. what posts could be optimised? – if posts are getting decent long term traffic from search or social it can be worth thinking about how to update them either by adding new content or by optimising them for search or social traffic. For example I noticed that our post on ISO settings is ranking well in Google but was not in the top 2-3 results in searches for ISO – so I’ve tweaked the post hoping to help that.
  7. what posts that I expected to go well under performed? – a lot can be learned from posts that DIDN’T rank in the most visited post lists. Perhaps they had the wrong headline, perhaps they could be republished at a better time, perhaps they are just a signal that the topic isn’t of interest to your readers.
  8. what older posts that need updating are still getting traffic? – this year I’ve noticed a number of 7-8 year old posts still getting significant traffic from Google. While some of them have evergreen content that is still relevant today a couple are very dated and in real need of updating.
  9. what posts are generating a lot of extra page views? – some pages stimulate readers to view a lot of other pages. On dPS I’ve developed number of what I call ‘sneeze pages’ that propel readers deep within the site. For example this year I notice that anyone entering our blog on our Portrait Photography Tips page is going on to view over 5 other posts on the blog. These pages that ‘over perform’ are ones to consider adding to menus, side bars, ‘further reading’ on other posts and sharing more regularly on social media.

Other Behavior Reports to Look at

There’s a lot more in the beheavior area of Google Analytics to dig into. Site speed is one to watch and work on. We’ve worked hard in the last 18 months to speed up dPS (although we could do more) as Google seem to be putting more emphasis on the speed of a site when working out how to rank it.

If you use AdSense on the site there’s some good data in Analytics too if you sync them up. Doing some work on working out which posts in your archives are most profitable on that front can certainly help you in working out which posts to keep promoting and what kind of content seems to be converting.

Summing Up

The above description may seem a little overwhelming but I cannot emphasise enough just how important it is to begin to develop this kind of analysis of your blog.

You may choose to only do some of this or might focus on other areas – but the more you know about how your blog has been travelling the better position you’ll be in to plan for future growth!

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.