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How to Build a Successful ‘White Hat’ Business on a ‘Black Hat’ Internet

White-HatOver on the ProBlogger Facebook page I was asked a great question by Aman Tandon, who asked for some tips on ‘how to stay alive using white hat techniques?’ when competitors in his niche were being ‘foxy’.

It’s a great question and one that I know many bloggers face in different ways.

The reality is that when you’re developing blogs or websites, there are many temptations that face us as bloggers. People make all kinds of choices about how to grow their businesses – choices that span the entire length of the ethical spectrum.

These choices impact the way that bloggers:

  • create content (eg. using others people’s words, images, and ideas)
  • optimise their sites for search engines (eg. buying links)
  • engage on social media sites (eg. buying followers)
  • monetise their sites (eg. selling links, disclaimers, promoting dodgy products)
  • grow readership (eg. personal attacks on others to create controversy)

The list could go on… and on.

Not a day goes by when I don’t see some kind of black…. or at least murky grey…. hat strategy being employed in some of the niches that I operate in (particularly the ‘make money online’ space).

Note: it is probably worth saying that while there are plenty of examples of ‘black hat’ around, most bloggers I come into contact with are good people with great morals, integrity, and a genuine desire to build businesses that not only are profitable, but that serve and help others. It’s also worth saying that there’s lots of different shades of grey between the extremes!

I have always taken the stance that I want to approach what I do with high ethics, transparency and integrity. That doesn’t mean the temptations are not there. I, like everyone else, am human and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t face temptations to take shortcuts or get ahead.

However I’ve worked hard at keeping on the straight and narrow and operating at the ‘white hat’ end of the spectrum. This probably flows from a mixture of motivations – partly it’s just who I am and how I was raised, partly it’s because I get a lot of satisfaction from doing things well and without taking short cuts, and if I’m honest it probably is partly out of fear – I’d hate to lose what I’ve built as a result of making a dumb choice.

I’m not going to use this article to define what is a ‘white hat’ vs a ‘black hat’ approach to blogging (although that would certainly make for an interesting discussion), but let me make a few comments for those bloggers who do try to play by the rules and approach what they do with ethics – sometimes in the face of others in their space who don’t mind bending (or completely breaking) the rules in an attempt to get an advantage or take short cuts.

Play with a long-term vision in mind

The main message I have regarding this topic is to approach what you do online with a long-term vision in mind.

As I mentioned above, I’ve seen many examples over the years of people crossing over to the ‘dark side’ to grow their online businesses. It is frustrating to see it happen, but in each case I’ve reminded myself that I’m not looking for a quick buck, but am looking to build a business that sustains itself over the long haul.

Numerous examples come to mind of when I’ve seen people make decisions for short-term gain that have led to long-term hurt.

  • I think of one blogger, seven or so years ago, who went on a spree of personal attacks of other bloggers to grow traffic to his site. He got the traffic, but destroyed his own reputation in the process.
  • I think of another blogger who made the decision to promote a product he knew was dubious as an affiliate on his blog. He hyped it up and made a lot of promises the product couldn’t live up to. While he made some quick money, he lost his reputation and most of his readership.
  • I think of another blogger who tried to grow his blog with some prolific link-building schemes with a ‘blog network’ that promised he’d be #1 on Google overnight. He did get to #1… for a week, before disappearing from Google altogether at the last big Google algorithm update.

Of course there are good examples around of people who behaved in arguably unethical ways that ended up doing well (anyone who has seen the movie ‘The Social Network’ probably has a good example in mind – however in many (if not most) cases that I’ve come across, the people who decide to go to the ‘dark side’ to get a short cut often end up behind the pack as a consequence of their decisions.

Deliver value

Instead of looking for a short cut, look to deliver value and be useful.

Usefulness trumps pretty much anything else I can think of in the online (and offline) space.

  • The online businesses that I support by spending my money with, are the ones that solve a problem for me.
  • The blogs that I support by subscribing, reading, and interacting with, are the ones that make my life better in some way.
  • The people that I meet on social media that I retweet, link to and recommend to others to follow are the ones that add value in some tangible way to my life.

Conversely:

  • the website that is clever enough to get me to visit them by ranking #1 in Google but doesn’t serve any purpose when I get there doesn’t get me to come back.
  • the person on twitter who simply self-promotes, or spams out affiliate products gets unfollowed, blocked, or reported as spam.
  • the business that rips me off or tells untruths to get a sale gets their reputation left in tatters, as blog posts and tweets go out exposing what they’re really about.

My personal experience is that when you build value, you build something that is much more likely to last as a business.

Stay true to your values and build something that matters to you

Much of what I’ve written above probably sounds a little trite, and will probably be laughed at by those who take pride in their ‘black hat’ ways.

I’ve previously been linked to and ridiculed in a number of black hat forums for the stances I’ve taken, so as I’m writing this half-expecting that reaction again.

However, all I can really say is that you’ve got to be true to yourself and do something that matters to you.

Me donning a black hat and going to the dark side simply isn’t who I am. I get a lot more satisfaction in life in building something of value, serving others, and looking to build a business and become sustainable through a win/win exchange with those whom I interact.

I sleep easier at night living in that way.

Others seem to be comfortable living at other points along the spectrum, and sleep easy with the decisions that they make. At least to some point, I think we have to live knowing that we’re each different.

When I first started out in blogging, and I would see others doing things that I disagreed with, I would often get angry and outspoken about it. I guess in some ways I’ve come to peace with the fact that in most cases, as angry or outspoken as I get, it is unlikely to change the perspective and practice of the other person.

Instead, these days in most cases I choose to focus my energy less upon what others are doing that annoys me, and more upon doing something myself that matters to me and those who read my blogs.

One last note on taking a stand

A final thought – there does come a point when sometimes you do have to take a stand, and not ignore what others are doing in your niche.

For example: if I see another blogger blatantly copying and pasting my content onto their blogs without any attribution, or pretending it is they who wrote it – I act. I start with an email to them, and will escalate that to issuing DMCAs.

Another example that comes to mind is a time when I saw a lot of ProBlogger readers being ripped off by a certain blogging network/service that I felt was a scam. In this case I wrote about it as a service to my readers.

While I’d rather ignore the dodgy behaviour of others and focus upon building something of value, there are times when I think it is important to take a stand to either protect what you’ve built, or to stay true to your values.

What would you add?

These are just my thoughts on this topic – I’d love to hear yours.

How do you approach working on the web where there is such diversity in the approaches that people take on an ethical level?

What do you do when you see others in your niches taking different approaches to you?

How Targeting Influencers Can Sky Rocket Your Blog

This is a guest contribution from Rebecca Price, marketing specialist currently working for Davpack.

Have you ever sat in front of your computer, looking at other people’s blogs, and thought: “How the hell have you managed to be so successful so quickly?”

I know I have.

For a long time, I just couldn’t figure out the secret; it often seemed like I was close, but it was always just out of reach.

Then I stumbled on a book called ‘Influence Marketing’ by Danny Brown and Sam Fiorella.

That was the answer – market influencers.

Why is this so powerful?

Instead of starting off from scratch with no blog readers, traffic or any sign of engagement, you put a strategy in place to connect with influencers and get them to promote and share your content to their already established audience.

Of course, there is a bit more to it than that…

In this post I’m going to show you how to expand your reach, increase your audience, get more social shares, become an industry influencer and attract more traffic to your blog.

Finding industry influencers

If you have been operating within your niche/industry for a while, then you will probably have a good idea who the key influencers are and, while they should certainly be on your list of targets, don’t forget the ‘new rising stars’.

These people can potentially carry a lot of weight and your list should never be limited to just a few influencers. This works best at scale.

You will need to put together a list of your target influencers and there are some key pieces of information about them that you should keep track of:

  • Their name
  • Their contact information
  • Their location (potentially a good conversation starter!)
  • Links to their social profiles
  • Links to their blog and any other sites they own
  • What topics they like to blog about
  • What topics they like to share

You could use a CRM or, alternatively, an OpenOffice or Microsoft Excel spreadsheet will also do the trick.

I could write an entire post on finding influencers alone, and a lot have. There are also some awesome presentations floating around on Slideshare, like this one by Wishpond:

Tools to help you

I won’t go into too much depth now about individual tools, as the subject has already been covered in some depth; you can find all of the tools to help you right here.

Don’t rely entirely on tools to do all of the work for you, for while there are some extremely powerful tools that can give you most of the answers – the human element is important.

Computers are getting smarter and so are the algorithms that they use, but there are opportunities that they can miss.

A few things to remember

This entire strategy hinges on building a positive relationship with influencers and, if you go about things in the wrong way, then you could just end up wasting your time.

And your time is valuable. Don’t waste it.

Be helpful and courteous when you are dealing with anyone, not just influencers. There will always be people that waste your time and take the wet, but give them a chance; but know when it’s time to walk away.

Whatever you do, NEVER email someone or ask them via social to do something for you out of the blue.

You will eventually need to ask an influencer to do something for you, but there needs to be a clear benefit, and you must have done something awesome for them beforehand (and they need to know about it).

So, before you ask anyone to do something for you, you need to ask yourself – “what’s in it for them?”

You have to come across as authentic and credible – being real is your greatest asset.

Avoid burning bridges at all costs. Relationships are difficult to repair once you have destroyed them.

Building the relationship

Now that we’ve laid the ground rules, it’s time to start building your relationship with influencers in your niche:

Making things easy for yourself

You’ve got your list of your target influencers and their social profiles, so now it’s time to go ahead and follow them across as many as possible.

Another way to make things easy for yourself is to keep right up to date with what’s happening on your target influencers’ blogs.

So make sure you subscribe to their mailing lists if they have them and subscribe to their RSS feeds too. After Google Reader closed, I started using Feedly but recently switched to Netvibes in favour of their iGoogle style RSS reader – either are solid RSS readers that will help you keep on top of things. 

Commenting works wonders

Try commenting on the blog of an influencer you’re targeting and do it regularly – it works wonders, especially if they respond to comments. You may find that commenting on Facebook statuses and Google+ updates can work equally well, if not even better.

Drop them an email

At this early stage, you could also drop them an email, but if you do, don’t ask them to help you out at all. You need to warm up to that.

Instead, say something awesome and highlight something awesome you have done for them, like share a piece of content etc.

Connect through multiple social platforms

Facebook

Make sure you have the same display picture throughout all of your social profiles – consistency is important and it makes you easier to recognise.

Start off by following the influencers on Twitter, Google Plus, Facebook and whatever other social networks they are active on.

Create a separate circle on Google+ for influencers and a list on Twitter, too – people love it when they’re referred to as a market influencer. It’s quite flattering and great for grabbing their attention, because a lot of influencers don’t actually think of themselves as influencers.

Your next step is to start sharing their content, but there is an important part of the process that a lot of people forget – tell them about it!

The idea of this is that when you do something awesome for someone, they know about it, or at least you do whatever you can to let them know.

So, when you Tweet their content, @mention them and add some positive commentary. Do a similar thing with Google+ and Facebook too.

You can also take things a step further by sharing quotes and making sure the influencer you have quoted knows about it.

Involve influencers in your content

Grab the attention of your target influencers by involving them in the content that you create.

This can be as simple as linking out to them and saying some awesome stuff about them in a regular blog post or an industry round-up – or it could go so far as to involve them directly in a group interview.

The point here is that when influencers are involved directly in a blog post, they are more invested and therefore more likely to share.

Here are a few examples:

Kikolani

In September, Kristi Hines published a group interview which involved 32 experts who shared their best blog post promotion tips. This post featured 600+ Tweets, 245+ FB likes, 448+ Google+1’s and 180+ Linkedin shares. The post also earned links from over 50 referring domains.

Earlier this year, Blurbpoint.com published a roundup of over 101 SEO experts which also did rather well and received 375+ Tweets, 438+ Google+1’s, 230+ FB Likes and 145+ Linkedin shares. This group interview also earned links from over 30 domains.

These are examples of influencer marketing at scale – these types of posts do take a lot of time to produce, but they attract a lot of eyeballs to your blog, and the fact you have included these participants in an ‘expert round-up’ is quite flattering. Doing great things for people can make great things happen.

The use of social media is a big part of this whole influencer marketing thing, and there are a number of things you can do to get more results using social that I talk about here.

Write for influencers

I guess we could call this guest posting, but there are certain connotations that come along with that word and some people do assume that the focus is on the SEO benefit, but here’s where it’s different.

Sure, you could go around guest posting to build links to your site, people do it and it’s fine, because it will still help you at least from an SEO perspective if you do it right, although you do need to do a lot of it.

The SEO benefit here is a secondary consideration, because the whole idea of writing for influencers within your niche is to expand your audience and reach.

It’s also to get your name out there and help to position yourself as an authority.

Your ultimate goal should be to join the ranks of influencers within your niche, but why? Well, having influence is a great thing and then other bloggers will do awesome stuff for you too.

It all starts off with blogger outreach, which is an extensive topic itself; there are plenty of courses out there, like Jon Morrow’s guest blogging course, while Ian Cleary wrote a great guide that you can find here.

Summary

Marketing your content to influencers within your niche can be a powerful way to not only get more traffic to your blog, but you will also get more social shares, expand your audience and increase your own influence too – you will soon find you’re on your way to becoming an authority.

You can do it, I believe in you.

What other tactics do you use to get traffic to your blog?

Rebecca Price is a marketing specialist currently working for Davpack. Rebecca’s specialty is helping businesses become more visible online.

Photo Credit: Spencer E Holtaway via Compfight cc

WARNING: These 4 Self-Publishing Myths Are Keeping You Down

This a joint guest contribution from Johnny B. Truant and Sean Platt.

Too many indie authors buy into the myths and lies that keep them running in circles rather than charging forward into a lucrative self-publishing career.

Before successfully writing fiction full time, we both wrote for our own blogs for years, along with guest posts for sites like Problogger. We wrote about entrepreneurship and all the blah blah blogging you’re plenty used to. But in 2012, with millions of e-readers in circulation, and hungry consumers in need of content, we made a decisive shift.

We spent the last year writing and publishing 1.5 million words of fiction through our company Realm & Sands. We’ve never been happier, and we’re writing what we want for an audience who loves us.

Isn’t that the dream of every blogger?

Fortunately, we didn’t let some of the most common self-publishing myths hold us down like they wanted. We hope you don’t either. Whether you write fiction or nonfiction, avoid these myths and you too can build yourself a lucrative self-publishing career.

MYTH #1: If you self-publish, you can’t publish traditionally.

We’ve get this question all the time on our Self Publishing Podcast. It usually looks like this: “I’ve just finished my book, and figure I have two options: I’m trying to decide if I should self-publish or shop it around to literary agents. Why should I consider self-publishing instead of traditional?”

The root of this question is a fear that the writer has used up what’s inside them — often all they feel is inside them, because the notion of writing a second book feels daunting — and that they therefore have exactly one shot and don’t want to waste it. These writers (and bloggers) see self-publishing versus traditional as a binary decision wherein they can choose one or the other … but not both. If they use their only chance to pursue self-publishing, they’ll never see their book in a bookstore.

Traditional publishing is seen as “better” and self-publishing as “Well, at least you did something.” It’s publishing is often referred to as “real publishing,” as if it’s somehow more genuine or has more inherent value. We get it; if anyone can self-publish but not everyone can traditionally publish, the latter means you’ve passed another tier of approval. But does that matter? Maybe and maybe not.

Is it a mistake to self-publish that masterpiece rather than banging on doors until you crack your way into an agent or publisher?

Well, yes and no. There is some truth to the idea that a publisher won’t want a book that’s already been published … at all … anywhere … including by you. Publishers want fresh meat, so they can shape it how they’d like without worrying about your current readers who may have earlier versions.

If you have Book X and you self-publish, it’s possible a publisher won’t later be interested in Book X because it’s already out there in the world. So, if Book X is all you have in you, and your life won’t be complete unless you see Book X in a bookstore, and nothing less is acceptable, then maybe you’d better keep querying and networking and trying to get it to a publisher. If you’re a total unknown, and Book X is your first and only book, the odds are very, very heavily stacked against you, but if you want to keep at it, that’s your business.

On the other hand, let’s say you can write a second entry, called Book Y. If you publish Book X yourself, and if Book X is a big self-published success, publishers will be much more interested in looking at Book Y. You’ll be able to tell those publishers, “Look at Book X … I already have readers and fans who love me!”

Publishers always want to know about your “platform,” which means “your ability to promote the book without our help.” Racking up a few self-publishing successes before pitching traditional publishing is like playing baseball in the minors: Publishers can look at your record and see you have the chops needed to sell in the majors.

MYTH #2: Publishers can do things for you that you can’t do yourself.

There’s technically some truth to this one, but only a little, and it’s irrelevant for most writers.

Big publishers are built for scale. They can, in essence, take large things and make them larger. But the average writer will get a marketing budget commensurate with what they expect your books to sell. That means virtually nothing for most of us. There’s a certain “chicken versus egg” loop at play. Authors think it’s a publisher’s job to earn them money, but publishers don’t see it that way. In their eyes, you and your book are assets at best and liabilities at worst. You’re a stock in their portfolio; you’ll either perform, or you won’t. They won’t market the crap out of you to ensure your success. It’s more accurate to say that they will market the crap out of you if you become successful.

Book publishers can get your book into big brick and mortar stores. That’s true. But unless they expect your book to sell quite well, the publisher won’t pay the extra money to get you prominently featured in that store: face-out on the shelf, displayed in the end caps, laid out on the front tables. That positioning isn’t earned by merit. With the exception of something like staff picks, a bookstore isn’t going to think your book is awesome and set it up front. Chances are, for most authors, you’ll be another anonymous spine on the shelf, begging for attention. Your book will then have a few weeks to prove itself, and if it doesn’t, the bookstore will declare it a failure, pull it from the shelf, and return it to the publisher.

For most authors, publishers will handle editing, covers, and book packaging. They’ll get your book into stores. From publicity to promotion, the rest is up to you.

Yes, technically, traditional publishers can do a few things that indies can’t … but for most writers, those things are irrelevant, especially compared to the loss of control. You can’t make assumptions. Always weigh all sides of any deal; know what you’re getting and what you’re giving up.

MYTH #3: Self-promotion and marketing are dirty.

Much of the resistance to selling and marketing people naturally have is the fault of used car salesmen, timeshare companies, and multi-level marketers — fields based on the hard sell. Nothing matters more than nabbing the buyer, and if you must deceive and bully your prospects to get that sale, so be it. Coffee is for closers, they say. So close, at all costs.

The world’s used car salesmen and high-pressure realtors have left a bad taste in our mouths, because no one likes being sold to, but that’s not what we’re talking about. Being sold to, for most people, is something that happens almost against your will. Like an assault. When you’re sold to, the salesman might as well be putting a knife to your throat. But haven’t you ever bought anything outside of a high-pressure situation? Have you ever seen something in a store or seen an advertisement, thought you might like that thing, then bought it? That’s selling. That’s marketing. The seller set the object or service in front of you and accentuated the positives so that you could agree to buy it. Transaction done, and no one had to get knifed.

Have you ever gone to see the sequel of a movie you liked, or ordered dessert when the waiter offered it after your meal? Have you ever Super-Sized your Value Meal? Those are all examples of an upsell — another “dirty” marketing word. Yet you probably don’t regret any of those transactions.

You might, in fact, have appreciated the chance to get more of what you already knew you liked, often at a preferred price. Shocking!

We could beat this to death, but you get the point. In valid, non-sleazy salesmanship and marketing, everyone wins. Do you really feel that you “lost” and that the seller “won” whenever you buy something? Do you really feel that duped? No? So, why be hesitant when you’re in the seller’s position?

In an ethical sales transaction, the buyer and seller should be equally pleased. Each party should feel like thanking the other.

Ethical marketing is nothing more than letting people who might like your product know it exists — and, ideally, giving them some sort of a deal that makes the offer better for the potential buyer.

If you ever find yourself resisting sales and marketing, read the previous two paragraphs a few times until you believe them, because they’re true. If you refuse to believe they are — if some deep part of your brain continues to insist that all sales and marketing are about manipulation and winning at someone else’s expense — you’ll never succeed as an indie author.

MYTH #4: Self-publishing is a lottery, and you can (or have to) get lucky.

This is one-title thinking.

If you’re thinking self-publishing is a lottery (either one you hope to win or one you hesitate to enter because winning seems impossible), please do yourself a favor and look at the title of our book. We called it Write. Publish. Repeat for a reason. You must write, publish, then do it all over again.

There are success stories out there like 50 Shades of Gray, where an author had exactly one title, and that book blew up big time, but those are lottery scenarios and in no way typical. E.L. James scrambled to write the rest of the 50 Shades trilogy after she started making the equivalent of a small nation’s GNP each month, but even today every book in her catalog starts with 50 Shades. E.L. James did hit the self-publishing lottery, and never has to write another book if she doesn’t want to. But don’t let her story discourage you because it seems so unlikely. Don’t let her story encourage you, either, because you’re hoping for the same.

To the gamblers: You’re not going to have that one-in-a-million hit, so stop hoping for it and keep writing.

To the skeptics: You don’t need to have that one-in-a-million hit … because you can keep writing.

We do not believe in lightning-strike thought, or that you must hit it big to find success as an indie. A surprising hit would be great, and surely boost your catalog. We’ve raised a dozen funnels to market, with around 40 individual titles. If one of our titles hits BIG, everything sells at least a little more. But the magic is that we don’t need a big hit. The approach we believe in, use ourselves, advocate, and evangelize is workmanlike. Get one book that makes $200 per month, then create another 20 or 30 like it over time. Two hundred dollars per month is in no way a big hit, but it’s good. And achievable. It certainly isn’t the lottery.

Any good, persistent, business-minded, prolific writer can succeed if they keep writing and moving forward. For the modern writer, that’s excellent news.

Johnny B. Truant and Sean Platt published 1.5 million words and built full-time self-publishing careers from scratch in 2013. In their comprehensive self-publishing guide Write. Publish. Repeat, they tell you everything you need to know about how to do the same. The book is half price for launch (and comes with a bonus book) through Friday, December 6.

How I Diversified My Blogging Income Beyond Having All My Eggs in the AdSense Basket

Last week I wrote about the experience of almost losing my online business as a result of having too many eggs in one basket and then followed up with a post on what I did to diversify the traffic sources coming into my blog to become less reliant upon Google.

Today I want to continue talking about diversification but to switch our attention to diversifying income streams.

Ways-to-Make-Money-Blogging1

Back in 2004 when I almost went under, I not only was too reliant upon traffic from the Google Search Engine – I was also very reliant upon Google’s AdSense Ad Network as the main source of income for my business.

AdSense had been very good to me up until that point (and it continued to be for years after), but by focusing so much of my efforts upon it I now see that it left me exposed and in a risky position.

As I suggested last week, a great question to ask is:

Is there a single thing that could kill my business right now?

At that time, AdSense accounted for 95% of my income – losing it would have had pretty devastating consequences.

I had already been experimenting with a few extra income streams in 2004 (including Amazon’s Affiliate program, some small time direct ad sales, and some other affiliate programs) but had become a little lazy in these experiments – mainly because Adsense was already doing so well (I was pretty much at a full time income from it).

As a result of almost losing it all in December 2004, I came to my senses and decided it was time to get my act together and to begin to grow some serious extra income streams.

How I Diversified My Blogging Income

Other Ad Networks

My first experiment was to try to find another advertising network that might work like AdSense. I tried a few (Yahoo had one at the time, for example) but none really converted as well as AdSense for me until I found Chitika (aft).

Chitika blew my mind. I remember the day I came across it and was impressed with it because, like AdSense, it was just a matter of copying and pasting code into my blog to show the ad – but unlike AdSense it showed ads with product images IN the ad unit. This was particularly good for me because my blog at the time was a camera review blog and I was talking about products every day.

I excitedly added an additional Chitika ad unit to every page on my photography blog at that time and the next day logged in to see how it had performed.

It did really well and that single ad unit made about 25% of what AdSense did every day.

Over the coming weeks I added more ad units and tested new positions of ads and grew that Chitika income to the point that some months in the year that followed saw it earn more than AdSense. Amazingly to me this increase in income from Chitika didn’t come at the expense of AdSense which continued to work well.

Note: Chitika ads don’t work perfectly on every blog. I myself noticed that they slowly slid back in what they earned over the next few years and today I don’t use them any more – mainly because we’ve moved to selling ads directly to advertisers (more on that below).

Making Money BECAUSE of my Blog

As my blogs and my own personal profile grew (particularly here at ProBlogger) I began to notice opportunities open up for me to generate an income by offering my services of creating other products to sell.

These largely fell into three categories – speaking, consulting and writing a book.

The speaking came first. I had already done a little speaking for free in my local area, but after launching ProBlogger I began to get paid opportunities to speak to groups about blogging.

These started off being local opportunities in my city but then grew to become interstate and international.

Similarly, as my readership on ProBlogger grew, I began to get emails from readers wanting to hire me to help them with their blogging.

I began to offer ‘blog consulting’ services where I would charge an hourly rate to advise bloggers. I didn’t stick at this for long as I didn’t find it as enjoyable as actually blogging – and I also thought I could probably help more bloggers by writing about blogging rather than working one on one with bloggers.

Also around this time I was approached by Wiley US to write the first edition of the ProBlogger book (a paper one). This book is now in its third edition.

While speaking, consulting, or the book never became million dollar income streams, they all did help me to diversify my income – they also all helped me to grow my audience and learn a lot!

Additional Onsite Income Streams

Over the years since numerous other income streams have emerged.

These have come to include the Job Board here on ProBlogger, the membership site at ProBlogger.com (stay tuned for some big news about this in the coming months) and what became my biggest income stream – selling eBooks that relate to my blogs topics.

Each of these streams started as a small experiment to see what I could learn and what I could grow.

The job board has been a slow burner income stream in many ways. It generally only sees 1-2 jobs added to it every day at $50 a pop, but over the years this has added up to bring in more than $100,000.

eBooks had a more spectacular impact on profit. Again, I started slow with a single eBook that I put together largely by myself and a little outsourcing. I didn’t know how it would go but after nervously launching it to the photography blog audience that I’d worked hard to build up, it generated over $70,000 in a week (important note: I had been blogging on that blog for years and had build a decent audience – it didn’t happen overnight)!

The success of that eBook launch led me to publish more photography eBooks (15 so far) and ProBlogger eBooks.

Other Related Sites

As Digital Photography School has grown, there have been a number of opportunities to start new related ventures off the back of that original site.

The first of these was SnapnDeals – a deals site for photographers where we promote both our own eBooks that might be on special, but also other people’s products as an affiliate.

Similarly, we’ve also launched SnapnGuides – a photography mini-eBook site (we’ve published two eBooks there so far) that are smaller and cheaper eBooks/guides on niches of photography.

I have numerous ideas for other smaller ‘sister sites’ for the photography niche that I’d like to roll out in the coming years.

Events

Four years ago I had an impulsive idea to run an event for Aussie bloggers. Six weeks later we held our first ProBlogger Training Day for 100 bloggers in Melbourne.

We’ve held this event every year since, each each time growing not only attendance levels, but also the professionalism of the event.

We’ve also added a ‘virtual ticket’ for those unable to get to Australia for the event.

While not a huge money spinner, it is another income stream in the business and helps support other aspects of what I’ve built.

Direct Ad Sales

In the last few months I’ve circled back to one of the early income streams that I touched on above – direct sales of ads.

I’ve never really stopped doing this but last month have completely removed AdSense from my blogs for the first time since I started blogging and have engaged the services of a great little team of ad sales specialists to sell ads directly to advertisers.

The initial results have been very encouraging!

While I know some people have a lot of negative things to say about AdSense, I’ve never really written it off completely. It’s an ad network that has generated over a million dollars over the last nine or so years, and the people at Google have been nothing but helpful to us. But for now, we’re seeing more potential in working directly with brands.

The Current State of Play for Me

Here’s a breakdown of my own income streams in April of this year. While it doesn’t reflect the switching off of AdSense (Ad Networks) or the increased attention to direct ad sales, it shows you how I’ve become less reliant upon any one stream of income for my blogs.

NewImage

What is Your Income Split Like?

That’s my story – what about you?

Of course there are many many more potential income streams for a blog, but I’d love to hear your experience.

Have you got a variety of income streams? Or are you focusing pretty heavily upon a single one?

Good News for Publishers: Facebook Continues to Reward High Quality Content

Earlier this week Facebook published a FYI update about more updates that they’ve been making (and are about to make) to what will show in users news feeds (thanks to Jen at FBAdslab for the tipoff).

The information is particularly relevant to those of us with Facebook pages who are sharing links in the hope of driving traffic back to our blogs.

High Quality Content Will Appear More

The ultimate goal of the latest updates to News Feed rankings is to show more relevant news to Facebook users, and Facebook states that they’re continuing to focus their attention upon showing ‘high quality content’ to users.

It seems that they’re going to start giving links to articles a higher ranking than they have been previously – particularly to users using Facebook on mobile devices.

This is great to know as a Facebook Page owner. I’d previously spent more time sharing photos with links in the descriptions of the images but have always put a few direct links into my updates as well – of late I’ve noticed these links doing quite well and now we know why.

Also in Facebook’s FYI update this week is an indication that they’re also focusing their attention upon distinguishing between high quality content vs ‘meme photos’.

This focus upon delivering high quality content to your Facebook page rather than going for cheap comments or engagement talked about a few weeks ago – but it’s only going to become more important (and this is yet another signal from Facebook that you need to pay attention).

Facebook to Start Showing ‘Related Articles’

The next part of Facebook’s update this week is pretty interesting for us as publishers. If someone clicks a link that you share on your Facebook page they will then see up to three related articles directly below in the newsfeed. Here’s how they show it as looking:

facebook-related-articles.png

THIS is pretty cool and has potential to drive some decent traffic to publishers creating high quality content.

Keeping the Conversation Live Longer

Lastly, Facebook indicates that they are going to be bringing back older posts that people comment on in their new feed to lengthen the life of those conversations, which is pretty good if you’re using Facebook as a community engagement tool.

Read the full article on these recent changes over at the Facebook Newsroom and let us know what you think in comments below.

PPC: A Viable Alternative to Organic Traffic for Bloggers?

This is a guest contribution from Nicholas Whitmore, freelance journalist and website content editor.copy

With search engine traffic becoming increasingly difficult to rely on, it’s important for bloggers, like you, to think of different ways to drive people to your website. After all, there’s no point in blogging if no one is going to read what you write, right?

One question I’m asked a lot is whether PPC traffic is a viable alternative to organic search engine traffic, from the point of view of a blogger. It’s something I’ve looked into, experimented with and drawn my own conclusions about.

It’s not free

You didn’t need me to tell you that PPC traffic isn’t free, but I wanted to get it out of the way.

The main different between PPC and SEO is that you pay on a cost per click (CPC) or cost per mile (CPM) basis. Whereas organic traffic is served on a golden platter to your website completely free of charge, PPC traffic costs you real money. 

The fact it costs money isn’t a problem in itself. Hundreds of thousands of websites use PPC, so it is definitely worth it in a lot of situations.

A few merits of PPC

Some people point blank refuse to use PPC because they don’t like the idea of paying per click or impression. Each to their own – but here are a few reasons you might consider using PPC advertising for your blog:

  • Instant traffic: As soon as your site goes online you can drive traffic to it. Whereas organic traffic can take months to arrive, PPC traffic is nigh on instant.
  • Turn it on & off like a tap: Going on holiday? No problem! Pause your PPC campaigns and you can pick up where you left off when you get home. You can’t do that with SEO.
  • Highly targeted: Depending on the campaign settings you choose, PPC traffic can be just as targeted as organic traffic if using search networks on Bing or Google.
  • Control: You’ve got control over loads of factors including ad copy, landing pages visitors are directed to and more – it’s a great way to split test pages on your site and optimise them for conversions.
  • You’re billed after the traffic is received: If you’re really good at what you do, you can maintain a positive cash flow from day one – providing you make more money than you pay in costs.

Return on Investment (ROI)

Some bloggers I know cram their blogs full of affiliate links, adverts and sponsored editorial content. The more traffic they get the more affiliate sales they make, the more advertising revenue they receive, the more they can charge clients to publish sponsored editorials.

These aren’t your average hobby bloggers – they’re calculated people aiming to make serious cash. There’s nothing wrong with that though.

Other bloggers I know have vast sites that ooze authority and popularity – but their owners have made no effort whatsoever to monetize them. They just don’t want to for one reason or another. Their blogs are hobbies, interests – but not apparatus for making money.

It’s clear that in the former example, there’s some ROI to be calculated – the difference between the PPC expenditure and the sum of the income from various revenue streams. For the later example there is no ROI, because the blogs aren’t being monetized.

If you’re attempting to monetize your blog in any way, shape or form, it’s generally a good idea to at least dabble with PPC traffic. If you’re not going to monetize your blog at all and it’s just a hobby, there are few merits to throwing money at traffic – you’ll never make that money back, so what’s the point?

Define your goals

The original question posed in this blog is whether PPC traffic can be a viable alternative to organic traffic for bloggers.

In truth, the only person that can answer that question is you. It’s important for you to define your goals as a blogger – if you’re going to create value and generate revenue somehow then PPC will almost certainly be a traffic generation method you should use.

Examples of value generating techniques bloggers might use when driving traffic via PPC include:

  • Adverts
  • Affiliate links
  • CPA offers
  • Physical products for sale
  • Services for sale
  • Email list opt-in (addresses can be used in future email marketing campaigns)

All of the above are reasons why a blogger might pay to send traffic to their website using PPC.

Even if PPC is useful, is it really an alternative?

There’s a difference between something being useful and something being an alternative.

The problem a lot of bloggers and website owners have is that they’re overly reliant on one source of traffic. They invest all of their time and effort into that one source of traffic – when that goes belly up their interest wanes and their blog dies.

PPC isn’t an alternative to SEO traffic. The two should be used in tandem – they complement each other perfectly. They should also be used alongside traffic generation techniques like social media marketing and email marketing.

To conclude…

Most people look for an alternative to SEO because their organic traffic has come to an abrupt halt – usually due to a search engine algorithm update.

By putting all of your eggs in one basket (and focusing solely on SEO) from the outset you’re asking for trouble. If you put an equal amount of time and effort into various marketing practices like SEO, PPC, social media and email marketing, if one of your campaigns goes badly wrong, you’ve got the others to fall back on.

If you’re a hobby blogger and you make little or no money through your website, PPC is probably not something you should look to experiment with. If you’re a blogger that monetizes your website, PPC is very useful indeed.

That said, PPC shouldn’t be seen as an alternative to any other traffic source though – the most successful blogs and websites draw traffic from multiple sources including search engines and social media.

Nick is a freelance journalist and website content editor from http://www.contentwriting.org. He writes extensively about the art of blogging, as well as online marketing techniques such as SEO, PPC and SMM.

Blogging, and Twitter, and Readers…Oh My!

This is a guest contribution from Courtney Gordner.

If you want to maximise the potential of your blog, it’s essential that you interact with your followers. And if you want to interact with your followers, you need to know where to find them.

When they’re online and not reading through your latest post, odds are, they’re engaging with social media.  This is exactly why if you have a blog, you should be interacting with your readers on Twitter.

But hang on just a second.  Before you jump right into linking your blog with Twitter, you should take some time to make your blog “Twitter friendly.”  Here’s how this is done:

Creating a Twitter-Friendly Blog

Be Familiar with Your Target Audience and What Interests Them

It’s tempting to think that your blog should be all about your interests, but in reality, if you want to accrue a consistent readership, it’s essential that you write for your audience.

With this in mind, you should develop a marketing persona to understand the needs and priorities of your audience and a social media persona to know where they gather and interact on social media.

Use a Featured Image

Pictures, infographics, and visual aids draw readers in and grab their interest. Pictures should be properly formatted and appropriate for your content. Also, images of people are especially effective, so they should be used whenever possible.

Twitter Tools to Use with Your Blog

Use the Sidebar

Ask visitors to follow you on Twitter in your sidebar. Maximise the value of your blog by getting readers to interact with you on other social media sites.

It’s likely that visitors are already spending a lot of time on these platforms, and if you want to attract more readers, you need to go where the people go.

Incorporate Social Sharing Icons Above and Below Every Post

This is especially effective with your readers who are visually oriented.

Linking Twitter and Your Blog

Develop a Blog Profile

In your blog profile, you should give information about your blog, along with providing its URL, a current description, and gravatar.  The name you use on Twitter should be consistent with your blog.

Make Your Blog’s Brand Part of Your Twitter Image and Background

Since you’re using social media to enhance your blog’s brand, you should make sure that your Twitter profile uses brand elements that identify with your blog.

Enlist the Help of Your Friends

Share posts from your friends on your Twitter page, and have them return the favor by sharing your posts on theirs.

Keep Your Eye on the Competition

Use your personal account to follow and interact with your competition on Twitter.  The benefits of this are twofold:  first, it allows you to develop relationships with people who may be interested in your content; secondly, it gives you ideas for other topics to address on your blog.

Optimizing Your Blog’s Potential with Twitter

Tweet Each Blog Post Multiple Times 

Since people on social media live across the country in different time zones, this helps to ensure that your posts get noticed.

Condense Blog Posts into “Tweetable” Chunks

For more lengthy posts, roundups, and lists, make the most of your content by creating a set of tweets to be posted over an extended period of time.

For Reader Accessiblity, Pre-Format Tweets

This works especially well with quotes and data roundups.  To promote tweeting, use Clicktotweet.

Extend Your Blog’s Reach with Optimal Hashtags

Keep your audience in mind as you evaluate the relevance of the content for your hashtags.  You should use a maximum of three hashtags and keep them separate from the body of your message.

Publish Your Tweets With a Scheduling Tool

Scheduling tools allow you to set the time you want your tweets to appear.

Express Gratitude Towards People Who Share Your Blog Posts

They will appreciate the recognition, and by thanking people, you can develop and strengthen your social media relationships.

Join Pertinent Twitter Chats

Joining chats on Twitter is another great way to build social media relationships.  Consider joining #BlogChat on Sunday evenings to learn ways to optimise your blog and interact with other bloggers.

Interacting with your blog readers on Twitter shows readers that you care about them and value their input.  It helps you maintain your current readership and even allows you to draw in new readers.

So, if you want a widely followed blog that can’t be beat, the answer is clear:  you better start to tweet.

Courtney Gordner is a blogger with a passion for all things internet, social media and SEO. She learned her skills while working for an internet marketing company.

11 Ways I Diversified Traffic Sources for My Blogs to Become Less Reliant Upon Google [With a Surprising Twist]

Yesterday I shared the story of how back in 2004 I almost losing my business overnight. That big blip made me realise that I had too many eggs in one basket when it came to both traffic and income.

At that time the basket that all my eggs were in was ‘Google’.

I was reliant upon Google for most of my traffic and most of my income (by monetising purely through Google AdSense).

Over the next week, I want to suggest a number of ways I’ve tried to diversify my business since 2004, to build something that isn’t quite so reliant upon any one thing.

My hope was and is to build a business that could survive any one source of traffic, income stream, type of content or trend disappearing.

Today I want to start with the most obvious area and one that was a big problem for me….

Diversifying Sources of Traffic

Rather than a single stream of traffic I've been trying to grow multiple streams.

Rather than a single stream of traffic I’ve been trying to grow multiple streams.


Yesterdays story is the perfect example of why this is important. I was reliant upon Google for around 80% of my traffic so when that traffic all but disappeared – so did my income.

If I’m honest with myself I think I had become a little complacent about traffic in 2004.

Two years earlier I had worked hard to grow my readership. Every day I networked with other bloggers, submitted content to other blogs, engaged in forums on my topics, commented on other blogs, learned about SEO and much more. The result was growth in profile and traffic. All of the above also contributed to a growth in search engine rankings.

So in 2004, when I was getting decent traffic from Google and was making a decent income, rather than pushing to grow my blogs through every avenue available, I’d allowed myself to become reliant upon search traffic and stopped pushing as hard.

That traffic disappearing was a wake up call that I needed. I’m actually grateful for it because it started a sequence of events that led to much faster growth of my blogs.

At the time I decided to do a number of things to grow new traffic streams to my blogs including:

1. Identifying WHO I Wanted to Read my Blogs

Part of this process was paying more attention to thinking about what type of reader I wanted to attract to my blog. This thinking later led me to create reader profiles for my blogs.

Action Item: spend some time working on reader profiles for your blog.

2. A Renewed Focus Upon Creating Great Content

It dawned on me that I’d not only become a little complacent with growing my readership but I’d probably also become complacent about creating compelling and useful content for my blogs.

This wakeup call changed all of that. I began to identify my readers’ problems and needs, and write content that served my readers rather than content that I thought might rank well in Google. In doing so I created content that made a big impression upon the readers I did have – and they did the next step, sharing it with their friends!

Action Item: spend a little time each day dedicated to trying to understand your readers needs. This might be by creating a survey for your readers, engaging with readers on social media, running a poll or discussion oriented post or perhaps even shooting some emails out to those who’ve left comments on your blog to try to get to know them.

3. Writing Content on Other Blogs as a Guest Author

At the time the term ‘guest posting’ wasn’t that common but people did feature content from other bloggers from time to time. I sought out a number of these opportunities and they drew new traffic to my blog but they also helped me get ranking again through new incoming links to my site.

Action Item: identify a few other blogs in your niche that accept guest posts and try to come up with some ideas to pitch them for posts.

4. Starting a Newsletter

At the time I didn’t realise how important this would end up being but I started a free newsletter for readers of my site.

I offered to email monthly updates to anyone who signed up with the best content from the blog. It started very slow and initially only sent a trickle of traffic to my blogs each week but today we now have over 1,000,000 subscribers and each week when I send these emails the result is great waves of traffic.

Action Item: if you’ve not got a newsletter already, set one up today!

5. Promoting Other Subscription Methods

At the same time I began to realise that I should be working hard to promote other ways to subscribe to my blogs. I began to promote our RSS feed more prominently both in navigation areas but also occasionally in blog posts.

Action Item: when was the last time you mentioned your RSS feed on your blog? Perhaps it is time to incorporate a Call to Action to subscribe to it?

6. Social Bookmarking

Back in 2004/5 social bookmarking sites were just starting to hit the scene. Over the next few years we saw sites like Digg, StumbleUpon, Delicious and Reddit rise in popularity. I didn’t spend a heap of time on them but certainly began to create occasional content that I thought might have a ‘shareable’ appeal to it which led to some great spikes in traffic when that content did hit the mark and get shared around.

Action Item: spend a little time on sites like StumbleUpon or Reddit to research the kind of content that gets shared around on the topics that you write about.

7. Social Networking

At the time there wasn’t a lot of social networks around but in the years that followed I certainly began to jump onto networks like Twitter, Facebook and Google+ as a way to engage with readers but also drive traffic.

Action Item: another thing to spend some time researching is what social networks your readers are on. You can find this out with a survey or poll – but also check out what other blogs in your niche are focusing their energies upon.

8. Networking

I also spent more time getting to know other bloggers at this time. At the time as there were so few social networks this was largely done through commenting on other people’s blogs and email.

At one point in my early years I made a point of emailing one other blogger in my niche (or related niches) every week. This led to some great friendships and a few profitable partnerships in time too.

Action Item: Set a little time aside this week to reach out to another blogger in your niche. You never know where it might lead!

9. Events

2005 saw me make a decision to start finding readers to my blogs through attending and running events. It started very humbly by me running some free workshops in my local library to 20-30 people at a time but in time I saved enough money to attend some conferences relevant to my content – and eventually even got invited to speak at a couple. All of this helped grow traffic, little by little.

Action Item: is there a meetup or event that is running in the coming months in your local area that relates to your niche? If not – why not try pulling one together? It need not be anything major – even a small gathering could lead to some interesting opportunities.

10. Personal Interactions with Readers

At this time I also realised that while all my Google traffic had vanished, I still had something pretty powerful – I had regular readers. The people who had already subscribed via RSS or had bookmarked the site in their browser were real people and they were connected with a lot of other people.

Rather than spending all my efforts looking for new readers, I decided to spend some serious time looking after the ones I already had. So spending more time in comments on my blog, emailing readers to thank them for contributions, linking to their blogs, running site challenges and engaging with them on social media all helped to build relationships which led to readers telling others about the site.

Action Item: look through the last comments left on your blog and choose one reader to give some personal attention to. Shoot them an email, visit their blog, follow them on Twitter – get to know them!

11. Pitching Other Blogs

Another technique that helped grow my blog a lot at this time was promoting the content I was writing to other bloggers in the hope that they might link up. I didn’t do this for every post but when I’d written something that related to the topics of other blogs I would email those bloggers suggesting that they take a look.

Back in 2004, this would often lead to those other bloggers blogging about it. Things have changed a little and I find that most times these days when you pitch other bloggers they share the posts on Twitter or Facebook – perhaps not quite as good as a link on a blog but still a great way to grow your traffic.

Action Item: Choose the best post you’ve written in the last few weeks and find a blogger to shoot the link to. Before you do – check out my post on How to Pitch Bloggers which is written for PR people but is also relevant to us sharing our content too.

The Twist: An Unintended Impact of Doing All of the Above

My intent with engaging in the above strategies was to diversify the sources of traffic coming into my blog and become less reliant upon search engines.

I’m glad to report that the strategy worked and traffic from other places did increase, however the unintended implication of doing all of the above was that my traffic from Google actually increased too!

While I’d previously done some SEO on my blogs with limited success this intentional effort to grow my readership from other sources than Google actually increased my search rankings higher than they’d ever been before.

The satisfying thing is that while I’d hate to fall out of Google again my business today wouldn’t but sunk by that happening. It’d hurt – but the blow wouldn’t be fatal any more.

Further Teaching on Finding Readers for Your Blog

Looking for more teaching on the topic of growing your readership? Check out my free webinar on the topic here (it’s completely free without any need to register).

You might also like to read my recent post that analyses 5 posts from the first year of my main blogDigital Photography School – and how they led to 6 million views since publishing.

PS: in the coming days I want to turn my attention to other areas that I think it might be wise to diversify in as a blogger.

The Day I Almost Lost My Blogging Business By Having Too Many Eggs in the One Basket

It was 17 December 2004 and my dream was falling apart, right before my eyes.

I had just celebrated the 2nd anniversary since I started to blog and I was on the tipping point of my part-time earnings becoming a full-time income.

I’d quit my only other employment to devote 100% of my time to blogging and had recently started ProBlogger to share what I knew about blogging for money. I had just been interviewed in a national paper about my business and all in all, I was pretty happy with how my dreams were progressing.

Then it happened. Most of my traffic disappeared, almost overnight.

I had been averaging 12,000 visitors per day to my main blog (a camera review blog that no longer exists) – around 80% of which came from great Google Search Engine rankings.

That level of traffic was enough to make a living from using the Google AdSense program (which accounted for 95% of my income).

I woke up on the morning of the 17th December 2004 to discover that my blog’s healthy Google rankings had disappeared overnight.

The result was that I was dropped to 2000 visitors a day (from nearly 14000) on my main blog and my other blogs lost even larger amounts of traffic.

Here’s how my traffic looked on my main blog at that time.

Statsdpb 1 2

Of course, with only a sixth of the traffic I previously had I also saw my income from AdSense take a similar tumble. Rather than a full time income, I was looking at earning enough money to call it a 1 day per week job.

I was devastated.

I was confused.

I was angry.

I was also deeply embarrassed.

Not only did my friends and family know that I’d quit my job to become a blogger… so did the world because I’d talked about it here on ProBlogger.

Falling from the rankings in Google was the single biggest challenge I faced as a blogger. I didn’t understand why it had happened and I came very close to giving up blogging altogether.

Thankfully I didn’t give up.

I’m glad I hung in there because just under 2 months later I began to rank in Google again and saw most of the traffic that I’d lost return. I’m also glad because that that really tough period taught me a lot about blogging, and about business.

The Biggest Lesson Learned: Diversification

That experience taught me many things but one of the biggest lessons was about diversification and becoming too dependant on any one area of a business.

Thankfully I learned this lesson very quickly. In this post (which I wrote 3 days after falling out of Google) I wrote about my mistake of having too many eggs in the one basket.

I was too reliant upon Google for traffic and too reliant upon AdSense for income.

Rather than see this challenge as something to stop me I decided to see it as a hurdle – something to get over that would make me stronger in the process.

I decided that I would not only keep blogging but that I was going to work hard to rebuild my blogging in a way that was less reliant upon any one source of traffic or income stream.

This mind-shift led to a range of decisions to diversify in the coming months and years.

It also led me to regularly ask a simple question that helps me avoid this problem again…

Is there a single thing that could kill my business right now?

I regularly ask myself this question (in fact our team discussed it the other day). By asking it on a regular basis I get a good sense for whether the balance in my business it out and whether I need to adjust my approach to spread the risk a little.

In a series of posts in the coming days, I’ll talk more about some of the areas I’ve diversified what I do to help with this but in the mean time, I’d love to hear your own reflections upon this.

Have you ever realised that you’re too reliant upon any one form of traffic or income stream? What have you done to diversify what you do?

Stay tuned for some suggestions on how to diversify your blogging to avoid having too many eggs in the one basket by subscribing to our RSS feed or to the ProBloggerPLUS newsletter below:

UPDATE: I’ve since followed this post up with a post looking at how I diversified traffic to my blog but do plan another couple of articles in this series in the coming weeks.

5 Fundamentals That Determine How Fast Your Blog Grows

This is a guest contribution from Tim Soulo.

This year I’ve managed to grow a photography blog by 500% in about 6 months and I think I’ve learned something along the way.

I was following five fundamental things that you can learn from any marketing blog, but I like to think that I’ve made a few personal discoveries about each of them.

And the most important of all the discoveries is how these five fundamentals unite into one solid strategy. Once you comprehend it ­ your blog will start growing.

So let’s see if I’m good enough in sharing what I’ve learned.

1. Write Mind Blowing Content

Writer's warm-ups

Image copyright Robert Kneschke – Fotolia.com

I know it’s been said thousands (if not millions) of times how much the quality of your content matters. But let me try and give you a deeper understanding of this matter.

Poor content doesn’t get shared on social networks.

Of course you can always trick people into sharing your articles with all these “Social Locker” plugins (those will hide the content from readers unless they click on social sharing buttons). But this will only get you so far.

If your content is poor ­ there’s no motivation for visitors to click the “tweet” button.

Unless of course you have a raving community of fans, who will support just about anything you do. But…

Poor content doesn’t attract fans.

How can you expect a person to stick with your blog if he can hardly make himself read the first few paragraphs of your boring article?

Remember this: every time you allow yourself to publish a mediocre article, you lose a few potential fans (and maybe a few existing ones as well).

Most free content is poor content.

I think many blog owners will support me on this one. How many guest post offers do you guys get per week? And how many of them are actually worth being published at your blog? Hardly a few.

And that is one of the reasons everybody hates SEO guys.

They order cheap content from freelance copywriters (like $5 for a 500 words article) and then send out canned emails to every blog they’re able to find, offering this poor content.

In their turn, lazy blog owners are often tempted by the chance to publish a ready­made article on their blog. Somehow many of them still think that the more posts you publish, the better your blog performs.

And, to be honest, it’s not just SEOs. Many bloggers will challenge themselves to something like “write 3 guest posts per day for 30 days” in order to promote their blog.

But can one write 90 awesome articles in a month? No. Maybe 30? Sorry, but No. I guess this very post will take me 2­3 days to be finished (but I’m not doing this full time of course).

Even the content you pay for can be lame.

At a certain point you may feel you need to hire a few people to help you with your blog. Well, the fact that you pay them doesn’t mean they will write great articles.

Unfortunately most of the so­called “freelance copywriters” will treat their work as a routine, where they exchange a certain amount of words to a certain amount of money. While in an ideal world, they should be looking for someone to pay them based on their level of expertise and the amount of effort they put into their work.

So now you understand why poor content won’t get you anywhere. Here’s what you can do about it: learn to write awesome articles.

2. Get Serious About SEO

SEO flow chart SML

People should be able to find your awesome articles. And Google is where they will search for them.

But you have to do quite a few things to make your articles rank well in Google.

On the photography blog, that I was talking about earlier, the traffic from Google was growing by 10­15% each month. And surprisingly I didn’t do much to achieve that.

So what are the basics to get you started?

Learn to pick relevant keywords.

As they tap into SEO, most bloggers will always go for very broad and popular keywords… and fail miserably.

I mean for a post titled “10 Leather Camera Bags Reviewed”, newbie bloggers will pick the keyword “bags” ­ as it’s more popular and should bring more traffic once you’re on the first page of Google.

But what they don’t understand is:

1. Shorter, broader, more popular keywords are much­much harder to rank for. So you’re doomed to stick somewhere at page 15 of Google’s search results with no visitors.

2. A person searching for “bags” is not necessarily interested in “camera bags”, with even a smaller chance of being interested in “leather camera bags”. So why do you want to show him your article anyways?

Think logically. You want to show your post to people that search for “leather camera bags” or, to be even more precise, “leather camera bag reviews”. That’s the keyword you should go for.

Learn to optimise your articles.

I guess the majority of you guys know it already, but I can’t just make gaps in this article, so…

In order to optimise your article for a certain keyword, you should put it to:

  • Title of your article;
  • Headline of your article;
  • URL of your article;
  • Meta Description of your article;
  • Content of your article.

And there’s a handy free plugin for WordPress that will help you do this ­SEO by Yoast.

Build links.

The last ingredient of your success in Google is links pointing from other sites to your article.

Where do you get them? Just reference your articles all the time!

  • Writing your next post? ­Reference a few of your past articles.
  • Writing a guest post for another blog? ­Put a few links to your own articles.
  • Writing a comment somewhere? ­See if a link to a post of yours would be relevant.
  • Writing a post on forums? ­Well.. you’ve got the idea.

The more trusted links your article has coming in, the better it ranks in Google. So you should get serious about your SEO starting today!

Ask any blogger and he will tell you that Google is responsible for 40% to 70% of his total blog traffic. That’s definitely something worth investing some of your time.

3. Master the Art of Guest Blogging

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Google is huge, but it takes lots of time to build traffic from it. How about some instant visitors?

You can get them quite easily by tapping into the existing audience of relevant blogs that dominate your niche. How? Just write them a guest article.

But not every guest article will bring visitors to your website. Only those that follow the next two principles:

Make readers care about you.

Your writing style is super engaging ­ good for you. You’re sharing tons of tips and giving out lots of value ­ well… I guess… thank you? But why should readers care about YOU anyways?

Here’s the thing: people won’t read your author byline and follow the link to your personal blog, unless they are interested in you.

Take Problogger per se. There are dozens of people, who write exceptionally well, but do you remember all their names? Most of them share super valuable advice, but again, can you recall if they have personal blogs?

So how do you make people care about you? The answer is damn easy: tell stories about yourself!

Did you notice how I started this article? ­ “This year I’ve managed to grow a photography blog by 500% in about 6 months…

This is a part of my personal story which helps me to differentiate myself from the rest of the guys who share cool articles at Problogger.

To be honest, this particular fact is not too memorable, but you can always add some extra information about yourself later in the article.

So since we’re speaking about guest blogging… The very first guest post I wrote got published at Moz.com (a very popular SEO/Marketing blog) and to my sincere surprise it became a Top Post of 2010 in three categories: “thumbs up”, unique visits & retweets. Which makes me kind of a big deal (just kidding).

See how it works? Now you are interested in my persona a little bit more, so there’s a better chance you will check my author byline.

It’s not that hard to tell stories about yourself, unless of course there’s nothing too exciting that you can share. Well, why don’t you DO something exciting, get some impressive results and go tell everyone about it?

PS: I didn’t know about the storytelling trick back in the days, so sadly this huge guest post I wrote for Moz.com didn’t land me much traffic.

Reference your articles.

Most bloggers don’t like it when you “self promote” too much. But hey, everyone understands that the primary reason why you’re contributing an article somewhere is to promote yourself and your own blog.

So just don’t go overboard with linking out and you’ll be fine. Make sure you’re referencing only articles that truly deserve attention and make sure they fit nicely into the post.

I think the best way to link out is when you mention something that deserves an article of its own and by a lucky coincidence (hint! hint!) you already have that article published earlier on your own blog.

And yeah, the actual article that you’re contributing should be perfect in all senses! This way the blog owner won’t resist, even if there are a few of your links here and there.

Just to wrap it up, don’t waste your time writing numerous guest posts if you don’t know how to make readers interested in you and don’t have any solid articles on your blog to reference.

4. Outreach Is Your Gun Powder

Let’s say you have a friend with 100k followers on Twitter. You’ve just published a new article and you ask him for a tweet…

Bam! A couple hundreds of visitors land on your newly published article immediately! You wish you had more friends like that, right? So just work on it!

Connect with other bloggers.

I’m not necessarily talking about the big guys. They are already overwhelmed with people, asking them for “small favours”.

You can start with bloggers that have the same size of the audience that you do, or maybe a little bit bigger. They are much easier to connect with and who knows, maybe in a year some of them will grow really big.

Oh, and by the way, once you contribute a guest article somewhere ­ that’s a perfect way to start building a relationship.

Later you can exchange tweets, reference each other in your articles and maybe even mention each other in your email newsletters.

Mention people and let them know about it.

Surprisingly enough this doesn’t necessarily refer to mentioning other bloggers in your articles (though this tactic has proven to work really well).

When I was running a photography blog, we did a series of articles like:

  • 50 Brilliant Photo Sites of Professional Photographers
  • 50 Awesomely Inspiring Tumblr Blogs for Photographers
  • 100 Incredibly Tasty Instagram Accounts for Foodies to Follow

And then we went ahead and reached out to everyone saying that they were featured in our article.

As a result, most of the guys “liked” and “tweeted” the articles they were mentioned in. Their friends saw that and did the same, which was kind of a chain reaction.

In other words, when you mention 100 people in an article and let them know about it ­ prepare for a noticeable traffic spike.

But remember, at the end of the day it all comes down to the quality of your content. If your articles are lame ­ people won’t care about them, even if you point them personally.

5. Make Your Visitors Stick

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Most bloggers refer to it as “community building”, but you won’t build a community unless you make your visitors stay at your blog right after their first visit.

When you’ve mastered the first four fundamentals that bring a plethora of visitors to your blog, it would be really silly to just let them bounce and never come back.

Take their email address.

Once you have it, you can bring back a person to your blog anytime you want (and do all sorts of other cool things).

But most people won’t just give you their email address for nothing. That is why most pro bloggers are offering tons of free stuff in exchange for your email: pdf ebooks, email courses, free downloads, exclusive updates, etc.

Three best locations for your email capture form with a freebie are:

  • pop­up email form upon first visit;
  • sidebar email form;
  • email form below the post.

If you ask me, I use all three of them on my own blog, with pop­up form bringing me the most email subscribers.

Interlink your articles

Remember the trick with mentioning something that deserves an article by itself and actually linking to your own post?

Well, each article on your own blog should be full of such cliffhangers that make it impossible for readers to get a feeling that they’ve already learned everything they needed.

Show them your best content

Most visitors are likely to leave after reading the article they’ve landed on. So your job is to advertise them your most amazing content till they’re still here.

I’m talking about:

  • “popular posts” section in your sidebar;
  • “related posts” section at the end of your article;
  • resource pages that list the best articles of your blog.

Once they read your best work they are much more likely to stick around and follow the future updates of your blog.

Get rid of the clutter

I don’t remember where this thought comes from, but I like it a lot:

“If people don’t click a certain element on your website you should either replace it or remove it.”

Learn analytics and put tracking everywhere. Try to make your website a black hole where people can easily get in, but can’t get out. Everything on your blog should be carefully crafted to make people stay longer.

That’s all Folks!

I honestly believe that these five fundamentals will make your blog grow once you put enough effort there.

And I hope I was able to demonstrate that they heavily rely on each other. Once you drop one of them, the whole system will slow down.

Want to talk about that further? See you in comments!

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Tim Soulo is a blogging experimenter and conversion junkie. Check his free email course if you want to grow the traffic of your blog or check his free online tool that will show you the most popular articles of any blog you put there.