4 Simple Growth Strategies Any Breakthrough Blog Can Learn From Pinterest

This guest post is by Mike Holmes of the Simple Strategies for Startups blog.

You don’t need me to tell you about Pinterest do you? I’m pretty sure you’ve heard all the media outlets singing its praise:

  • the fastest growing site
  • its user base is mostly female
  • its breakthrough rise from obscurity
  • how marketers are using it
  • how marketers CAN use it
  • how its a step forward in the evolution of social media
  • …and etc.

Pinterest LogoI mean we’ve talked about it over here too, haven’t we?

But what else can we as bloggers and businesspeople learn from this recent phenom? Namely:

1. Have a greater purpose

When CEO Ben Silbermann created Pinterest, he did so with the purpose of making something “timeless.” Like most great entrepreneurs, he created the company out of his own interests, passions, and purpose.

Throughout history, truly great companies answer these question: Who are we? And what are we about?

In fact, purpose is the catalyst for all great companies and organizations.

When Steve Jobs came back to Apple he came back to a mess: little to no market share, declining revenue, and a business almost on the verge of bankruptcy. He turned the company around simply by focusing on what the company had long overlooked: its core purpose.

According to Jobs:

“Apple was in serious trouble. Apple had to remember who Apple was because they’d forgotten who Apple was.”

We all know how that ended up!

Companies like Wal-Mart, Southwest Airlines, Charles Schwab, and BMW are all purpose-driven. In fact, John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods Market, repeatedly stresses the importance of companies having a core purpose. These entrepreneurs make money (in fact, they make a ton) but they set out to “change the world” in some way or other.

I know this sounds like some touchy-feely-cry-me-a-river-nonsense! I understand that.

But purpose is anything but nonsense. It’s a viable business strategy—an immutable law. And those companies, entrepreneurs, and bloggers that practice it always rise above the crowd!

2. Have a great product

Not an okay, good, or not-too-bad product. But a great product!

From the very few interviews there are with Silbermann, you can feel his obsession with the quality of the site:

  • He and his team spent a lot of time agonizing over the site’s five-column layout, producing almost a dozen fully-coded versions before settling on the one that is live today.
  • According to him, he’d rather spend time working on the site than giving interviews. The site is incredibly addictive because he obsessed over every detail.

For the blogger, this boils down to writing epic content (thanks again, Corbett Barr!).

But maybe that’s not for you. I mean, you could just follow the crowd, make an okay product, and write ok content.

You could do that.  You won’t get noticed that way, but you could do it. It’s totally up to you!

3. Forget the mainstream: go after those who want it!

Pete Cashmore noted early on that Pinterest didn’t take the mainstream route to success:

“The web-based pinboard, which launched almost two years ago, barely got a mention on Silicon Valley news sites until six months ago, when early adopters suddenly realized that a site with millions of monthly users had sprung up almost unnoticed by the tech press. That’s because Pinterest didn’t take the usual route of Web-based startups: romancing early adopters and technology journalists before attempting to cross the chasm to mainstream adoption. Instead, Pinterest grew a devoted base of users—most of them female—who enjoy ‘pinning’ items they find around the Web.”

That was totally unheard of. And yet this strategy produced better results than a thousand press releases.

It was the strategy used by early hymn writers. While the majority of church attendees didn’t see the value of the songs, the hymn writers focused all their attention on those that did. Ultimately the majority came around.

It’s the strategy used by great salespeople, startups, and game changers. For instance:

  • When an unknown author named Tim Ferriss decided to promote his book, he focused his efforts. He called successful authors and asked them how they promoted their books. They gave him two answers: radios and bloggers. Since radio was losing its influence he decided to rely on bloggers. He went to a blogger event, met the ones he wanted to meet, established relationships, and then asked them to do a review. They did. And with the book becoming the #1 New York Times, the #1 Wall Street Journal, and the #1 Businessweek bestseller, the rest is history.
  • When Mel Gibson decided to market The Passion of the Christ, he focused his efforts. When he approached movie executives about producing the movie nobody wanted to go near it. So Gibson decided to fund it himself using $30 million of his own money. Not having much money left to marketing (it usually costs $40 million for marketing, he only had $15 million) he tried an unconventional approach: letting pastors see it for free.  They started small–showing only a few pastors, but it grew exponentially. One of the final screenings was at Willow Creek Church. After the showing, Bill Hybels took the stage and spoke for the 5,000 pastors in attendance: “All right, what do you need us to do?”  And with $611,899,420 in gross sales, the rest is history.
  • When a Baptist preacher named Rick Warren decided to market his book, Purpose-Driven Life, he focused his efforts. Years before he wrote his first book, Purpose Driven Church and followed it up with a website: Pastors.Com. The membership of the website grew to 85,000 pastors who saw Warren as trusted advisor. He enlisted their help with the PDL book–asking them to conduct the “40 day campaign” in their churches. And 1200 agreed to it. He gave away copies of the $20 book for $7 to churches and congregations that agreed. Within two months, those spokespeople pushed sales to $2 million, then to 30 million copies by 2007 … and the rest is history.
  • When an pop artist by the name of Lady Gaga found success it was through focus. She did everything she could to break through: schmoozed the music execs, performed wherever she could, had doors slammed in her face, begged to have her music played on the radio, was cut from a label, and was told she wouldn’t make it. But the turning point for her was her acceptance by the gay community. Once they accepted her, they championed for her, and she championed for them. And the rest is history.

Why do we spend the bulk of our time trying to get people who don’t like us to like? And in the meantime turn our backs to those that love us?

  • Rick Warren didn’t market to atheists.
  • Mel Gibson only showed screenings to conservative Christian and religious groups (even refusing to include those that initially criticized the film).
  • Timothy Ferriss didn’t go after those interested in a nine-to-five lifestyle.
  • Not once did Lady Gaga try to win over those who adamantly opposed her. She focused all her attention on her “monsters.”

It doesn’t make any sense does it?

Well, with 20 million users and a $1.5 billion valuation, it’s evident Silbermann understood the power of fans.

4. Remember: service is the best form of marketing

In the beginning, Silbermann said he personally wrote to the first 5,000 users, gave them his cell phone number, and even met many of them for coffee. He asked them questions, listened to their concerns, and went above and beyond for them.


Sometimes in the middle of our social media, SEO, and direct marketing efforts we forget that great service is still the best form of marketing.

There are six primary reasons people stop doing business with a company:

    1. 1% die.
    2. 3% move away.
    3. 5% develop other relationships.
    4. 9% leave for competitive reasons.
    5. 14% are dissatisfied with the product.
    6. 68% percent go elsewhere because of the poor way they were treated by employees of the company.

Case in point: when Patton Gleason went live with his online startup, the Natural Running Store, he outhustled his competitors in terms of service:

      • He created personalized videos that thanked customers for their purchase.
      • He created videos that told customers their shoes were on the way.
      • He put handwritten notes in the shoe boxes.
      • He sent follow-up emails asking about his or her training plans.
      • Instead of having an FAQ page, he sends out a two-minute video answering the customer’s questions.

Because of this, Natural Running Store receives a ton of organic traffic, customer referrals, and endless praise.

And this is with Gleason admitting he doesn’t know how to sell.

You’ve all heard the story of how the Blog Tyrant became a true fan of Darren? You didn’t? For shame! “What happened?” you ask. Well, I’ll just let the Tyrant tell you:

“I once sent Darren Rowse an email telling him that I was having problems leaving a comment on his site. I told him not to worry about it too much as it was obviously working fine for everyone else. He replied in about ten minutes telling me that every single one of his readers were important to him and then tried to problem solve the issue with me. Instant fan for life.”

My friends, we’ve entered a new paradigm: marketing is the new selling and relationship building, engagement, and delivering new and innovative content is the new marketing.

High five for Silbermann!

What can we learn?

Right now we don’t know what’s in store for Pinterest. Right now, they’re flying as high as a Facebook IPO. They’re on top right now.

But if history has been any kind of teacher we’ll find more lessons in their story as the days go on. Good or bad.

What do you think? Are there any other lessons we can learn from Pinterest, or other startups like them?

Mike Holmes is an author, speaker, and serial entrepreneur who leads a small movement of world changing startups. You can find out more about him on The Simple Strategies for Startups Blog

Boost Conversions Step 2: Revisit Your Conversion Funnel

In this, the second part of our short series on boosting conversions on your blog, it’s time to look at your conversion funnel.

Yesterday, the Blog Tyrant showed us how to review our offer of a paid or free product or service. Through that analysis, you should be able to pull together some detailed and valuable information about your product. That’s great, but the other aspect that the Tyrant touched on was your conversion funnel.

I want to take those ideas a step further today.

Understanding your conversion funnel

We’re talking in this series about conversions for any product or offer—so that could be a product or service you’re selling, or it could be a free subscription you offer on your site.

Whether it’s free or sold for a price, your offer has a conversion funnel. The Web Marketing Ninja showed us this one in his article, How to Optimize Your Sales Funnel for Success:

Sales funnel

The key is that at each point in your conversion funnel, you’ll lose potential customers.

As the Blog Tyrant explained yesterday, you can use your blog stats package to review where, exactly, those losses are occurring.

And as the Web Marketing Ninja explains in How to Optimize Your Sales Funnel, the best thing to do is put measures on each point in the funnel so that you can understand what, exactly, is happening at each point in the conversion process. He says that looks at as much data on each point in the sales process as he can—and that includes bounce rates, time on page, entries and exits through the page, traffic sources, and so on.

So the conversion funnel review process might look something like this:

  1. Go through your site, and map each step in your conversion funnel.
  2. Look at your analytics work out what you’ll measure at each point in the funnel.
  3. Put numbers against the metrics you’ve decided to measure at each step.

Understanding the data

Once you work through this process, you’ll find yourself armed with a lot of data. How you interpret that data will go a long way toward boosting your conversions.

For example, finding that you have a high exit rate from a page in your funnel means people are leaving it—you’re losing potential conversions at this point. That’s good to know, but that information alone doesn’t tell you what you can do about it.

In working out implications of that information you may need to also look at bounce rates for the page, and where the traffic it receives is coming from, for example. This information can be a big help in making the right choices when it comes to tweaking the funnel.

For example, let’s imagine that we’re analysing the About page for ProBlogger the Book. Now this page is the second in my sales funnel—the default page is at

Most visitors go straight from that default page to Amazon or B&N. But let’s imagine that a significant percentage click through to the About page … and then exit without clicking on one of the Buy buttons, or subscribing.

If I look at the data, and all I see is that this page has a high bounce rate, I might be tempted to try a range of different strategies to fix that. But what if I look at the traffic sources and notice that a large percentage of users are arriving at the About the Book page through search engines?

The About page doesn’t have any Buy buttons above the fold, so if users are coming from a search engine, where they’ll likely also see an Amazon or B&N link in the results, they may immediately think, “Oh, this is just marketing information. I’ll click back and look at the details on Amazon—I know I can buy the book there.”

In this case, my strategy for tweaking the sales funnel will differ from the ideas I had when all I noticed was the high bounce rate. My efforts might also include improving the search rank of the default sales page for the book, if it’s appearing below the About page in the SERPs, but converting better.

As you can see, understanding the data as a whole is very important if you’re to make decisions that will have the best likelihood of positively affecting your conversion rates.

Focus on key points of loss

As you review your funnel, you’ll also need to consider where to focus your efforts to improve it.

While the data may reveal a number of areas for improvement, you’ll likely find that some will produce a much bigger bang for your buck—as the Ninja explained in this recent post. If your time is limited—and whose isn’t?—you’d be best to focus on these pages, if not exclusively, at least initially.

As you’re looking at those pages, don’t limit yourself to considering one or two factors. Often, we can become fixated on things like button size or placement, and forget about other considerations that might be negatively impacting conversions. These could include:

  • headlines, sub-heads, and scannability of the content
  • how we’re using images and where they’re placed
  • whether the language on the page resonates with users
  • the strength of your calls to action
  • links to other content, including navigation links
  • use of testimonials
  • offers of samples
  • the page’s purpose in the conversion process, and whether it meets that from a fundamental, usability standpoint.

These are just a few ideas, but consider them broadly. For example, reviewing the strength of your calls to action is on that list—but that doesn’t just mean the calls to action to buy your product.

The ProBlogger Book sales page includes subscription box. Should that remain on a low-performing page? Should it be removed? Is it likely to be diffusing the strength of my call to action or is it providing a valuable mechanism by which I’m capturing new subscribers who may not be ProBlogger regulars?

My analysis of the data, coupled with my strategy for the page and goals for the conversion funnel, should help me determine the answers here.

Match the changes to your users

A quick final point: you’re not in the dark when it comes to trying to work out what tweaks you’ll make. In a later part of this series, we’ll find out how to conduct split tests that will help you to test various incremental changes so that you can see which ones work best, and use those.

But even before you get that far, the audience research that the Blog Tyrant was talking about yesterday should give you some insight into how you can alter points in your conversion funnel to match the needs, characteristics, and expectations of the audience you’re seeking.

He mentioned, for example, that video can be useful for certain audiences—perhaps that’s something I should consider adding to my book’s About page? I know from my other data and reader feedback that my regulars love video content, so it seems like it could be a good idea…

Ready to act?

Once you’ve finished reviewing your sales funnel, you’ll have a pretty clear idea of the possibilities before you for boosting conversions. It’s time to act.

Tomorrow, Tommy Walker will step us through the changes he actually made to his own website in an effort to improve conversions, so that we can get a first-hand account of how all this research feeds into practical alterations to things like page layouts, calls to action, images, and more.

But in the meantime, I’d love to hear your tips or extra advice for reviewing conversion funnels—whether for a paid or free offer. Have you ever done it? What secrets can you share from your experiences? Let us know in the comments.

Boost Conversions Step 1: Review Your Offer

This guest post is by the Blog Tyrant.

A few weeks ago I was sitting down to dinner with my big sister, and talking about one of my web businesses.

“What’s your quotation success rate?” she asked me with a face full of pizza.

“Pretty good,” I replied, sounding—I admit—pretty stupid.

“Find out exactly what it is,” she came back.

My big sister, the psychologist-turned national-sales-leader for her real estate company, then went on to explain to me how she knows exactly how many quotes she has to send out in order to make a sale. She knows how many phone calls it takes on average, what delivery method is most successful, and when to follow up the client with a phone call or an email.

And she’s constantly trying to improve that quotation figure by getting feedback on her failures.

While she was telling me all of this a penny dropped: this quotation (or conversion) rate applies to blogging, too. Sure, knowing why people buy your product or sign up to your email list is important. But perhaps even more important than that, is this:

Find out why people don’t buy or sign up.

The first of five steps

If one of your blogging goals is to boost your conversion rates—for sales, subscriptions, downloads, or some other action—you don’t need to just consider your successes. You also need to look at your failures. Boosting conversions isn’t just about doing more of the good stuff. it’s about identifying the bad stuff, and doing less of that.

But this is just the first step in the process.

Over the next four days, ProBlogger will walk you through a process that will help you to boost conversions—for sales or signups—on your blog. In it, we’ll cover these steps:

  1. Review your offer.
  2. Revisit your conversion funnel.
  3. Revamp your communications.
  4. Run A/B tests, tweak, and refine.
  5. Reach all your audience segments using these techniques.

It’ll be quite a ride—so I hope you’ll join us for three posts that will follow this one! But now, let’s get started, and consider the question:

Why aren’t people converting through your sign up or sales page?

Getting started

Before you can really understand your audience, your product, and where things might be going wrong, you’re going to need a few tools in hand.

  • Google Analytics: If you haven’t done so already, go and install Google Analytics on your blog. It will take you all of two minutes, but it will provide you with essential data you’ll need to grow your business.
  • Email marketing software: Again, everyone who takes their blogging seriously will need some form of email marketing software that works better than Feedburner. I always recommend Aweber for bloggers, as it’s easy to set up and has amazing stats for you to play with.
  • A desire to understand some psychology: Yep, you read that correctly. I’ve always put an emphasis on studying psychology alongside other marketing techniques, because it really helps you to understand buyer behaviour and the psychology of desire, and to figure out what people do or don’t want.

Armed with these three things, we’re in a good position to help grow our conversions.

Conduct a conversion review

As I said, my sister knows exactly how many quotations she has to make to generate a sale. In blogging terms, she knows her conversion rate, and she’s always looking to improve it by seeking feedback from failed quotations.

So let’s look at three key questions that you can ask to better understand why your blog’s readers and visitors aren’t converting on a given offer (paid or free). Once you understand this, you’ll be in a much better position to dramatically boost your conversion rate.

Question 1: How well does my offer suit my audience?

The first thing you’ll need to do is make sure your product or free giveaway is well-matched to your audience. Pitch the wrong product to the wrong audience, and you’ll find it extremely difficult to boost conversions—that is, if you can generate any in the first place.

Let’s consider the Mercedes Benz brand as an example. This is a high-quality, luxury car brand with a higher price tag than the average motor vehicle. This means their marketing methods need to be tailored to the right audience. For example, you’ll never see and ad for Mercedes in a magazine aimed at the teen girls market. However, you might see one in a golfing magazine. Why? Because the latter is read by older men who have disposable income and a desire to communicate a certain status with their car. Obviously, teen girls don’t have either of those things.

This is fine for a offline brand, but how can you make sure your product is matched to your audience? Study your traffic stats.

Guest post stats

This image shows a few weeks of traffic from some old guest posts I did here at ProBlogger. As you can see, the red arrow shows a post that had a bad bounce rate, and the green arrow shows a post with a better (lower) bounce rate.

As you can see, even traffic coming from the same source can vary wildly in terms of expectations and satisfaction levels with what the users find on your site. Fortunately, we have other metrics to review.

A key metric is your users’ demographics—you’ll need to know how old your blog’s users are, whether they are male or female, where they live, and so on.

While this basic information may seem elementary, you’d be surprised how often bloggers find new data hidden in their user stats—data that can point to fairly obvious changes that can help to boost conversions.

For example, if many of your blog’s readers come from an area that’s suffering high unemployment at the moment (for example, Spain), you might need to consider changing your pitch for a product to make it either seem more relevant and valuable, or more affordable to your target audience. You might consider lowering the price—so that more people can afford your product—or increasing it, to create a stronger impression of value and ensure that you get a better margin on the sales you do make.

Don’t go making any decisions yet, though! We still have some more reviewing to do.

Question 2: Are customers happy with your current offering?

The next thing you’ll need to do is to ask for feedback from satisfied and unsatisfied customers. You absolutely need to find out whether your offering is hitting the mark. While conversion statistics are one thing, they don’t give you a clear idea of what the customers who did convert actually wound up thinking of the product or service once they used it.

If you don’t seek their feedback after the point of conversion, all the hard work you do with product creation and conversion optimization could be going to waste.

Here are just a handful of the steps you can take to tap that information from your customers:

  • Use Survey Monkey to survey them: It’s a good idea to occasionally send out a survey asking customers what they like and dislike about your offering (be it a free or paid offer), and inviting constructive feedback. Obviously you don’t want to keep surveying the same users, so you need to take care not to try to survey the same customers about the same offerings over and over.
  • Set up an automatic email in Aweber: Aweber allows you to send out an automatic email called a Follow Up. The idea here is that after a few days of their signing up to your list (either through your subscription form, or as a result of a purchase on your site), subscribers receive and email asking whether or not they enjoyed the subscription product. If you like, you can take this opportunity to encourage them to pass it on to their friends, but in any case, be sure to ask them to email you any feedback or ideas they have to improve the offering.
  • Email people who unsubscribe: Aweber also allows you to keep a list of all the people who unsubscribe from your list. It’s a really good idea to email them just once to tell them you’re sorry to see them go, and to ask why they’re leaving. Their feedback will often be a lot more honest than those who still like your stuff. While the criticism can be hard to take, this feedback can be a goldmine for understanding your offering’s shortcomings.

Now, this all sounds great, right? Well, here’s the problem: sometimes people don’t know what they’re talking about. More specifically, they say one thing, but mean another. For this reason you have to be very careful about the questions you ask readers through any kind of survey. For example, if you ask a generic question, you probably get a generic—and inaccurate—answer.

“Did you like my eBook?”
“Yes it was good.”

The words “good” and “yes” here tell us nothing. This feedback doesn’t mean that the user shared your offering with their friends. It doesn’t mean that it totally blew them away and they’ll be a loyal subscriber forever. It means nothing.

People have changed their careers after reading Pat Flynn’s free ebook. People share it around and talk about it constantly on his Facebook page. That’s the kind of feedback you want. And to get it, you’ll need to ask more specific questions, like these:

  • Did you share the product with your friends?
  • What was your favorite part of this product?
  • What was your least favorite part of the product?
  • What did you do differently after you read the product?

You could also considering surveying customers about the conversion funnel itself, with questions like these:

  • What was it that made you want to subscribe/buy this product?
  • Did you think the subscription/purchase process took a long time?
  • Was it a hassle to receive the product/subscription?
  • Did you have any trouble accessing the information, or using or sharing the product files?
  • What did you expect to get? Did you receive it?

At least with questions like these, you’re going to get some clear feedback on which aspects of your offer work, and which don’t.

Question 3: How might you use this information to tweak your offering?

The next step is to tweak your product or offering based on the lessons you’ve learned.

Now, I’m not talking simply about matching your offer to your audience here. Rather, you need to look at ways to improve the quality and presentation of your offer, based on what your target market is interested in, and what you know is and isn’t working for the members of your current audience.

Recently on my blog we talked about whether or not the free ebook giveaway is dead or not. Most people agree that it’s not, but we all agreed that the poor quality ebook is dead. People are looking for better and better quality all the time.

This is where the psychology of marketing comes in to play. Here are two examples in which we can look at the behavior of an audience and try to better shape our offer to suit them:

  • Mothers: Studies have shown that women who are mothers respond poorly to promotions and products that use hype to sell their benefits. These women are highly practical and intelligent, but they’re also tired and overworked. They just want honest, trustworthy products and landing pages that don’t “over-promote”. Women in general don’t like unrealistic marketing.
  • Male teenagers: Studies have shown that male teenagers, on the other hand, are more likely to be interested in quick fixes. A generation of boys raised with video games, mobile phones, and the web generally show less patience and a greater desire for instant gratification than other market segments.

As you can see, it’s not just about aligning your offer with your market: it’s also about making sure your product pitch, and presentation to your target market.

For example, your offer might be an ebook. Great. Now, let’s imagine you’re targeting the younger male audience segment mentioned above. Tweaks you might make to your product and its pitch include:

  • Using short chapter and section titles.
  • Using imagery to communicate quickly wherever possible.
  • Keeping the design and layout simple.
  • Making sure the product delivers instantly, and communicates that it does so both in its body content and through any marketing materials.
  • Using instant, easy-to-use marketing tools like video, which suits the instant-gratification needs of the target audience as well as the fact that they’ll be more likely to access the offer through a smart phone or tablet.

By this point, you should have a list of potential ideas that you can use to try to boots conversions by tweaking your offering.

Trial and continuous review

The most important thing that I learned from my sister is that we should be constantly assessing and changing our product and pitch. Trends change, competitors come along, and people’s interests shift.

You probably won’t make all the changes on your shortlist of ideas for improving your offer. That’s fine—you can test the ones you feel will give you the best impact, then check your results and consider the rest of your list (which you may have added to!) in light of those results.

How can you choose which elements to change? The feedback you obtained from existing customers, coupled with conversion and market data, should give you a push in the right direction, but often these decisions come down to your own intuition or “feel” for your target audience, and what they want, like, and need.

Don’t be afraid to change aspects of your offer, and don’t be afraid to ask people hard questions about your product. The best products in the world have all got there because of constant improvements.

Once you have your new product and offer prepared, you’ll need to tighten up your funnel to ensure you’re not leaking potential conversions. Tomorrow, Darren will take us through that process.

But for now, I’d be interested to hear what you’ve found out about why readers aren’t signing up for your product or service offering. And if you made tweaks to it, what did you change? Share your stories with us in the comments.

The Blog Tyrant is a 26 year old Australian guy who plays video games at lunch time and sells blogs for $20,000 a pop.

Weekend Project: Research Your Existing Audience

This guest post is by Logan Marshall of the Free Life Project.

You now know a few ways to research the audience you want, but don’t have. If you already have a list, I still recommend you employ those strategies, but there’s more you can do. Much more.

In fact, the following strategies will allow you to determine exactly who your best customers are so that you can optimize your marketing to speak directly to their fears and fantasies, and push their “hot buttons,” allowing you to attract more of the same (high-value) customers.

This is incredibly important. With strategic engagement, you can virtually guarantee that your marketing will resonate with your ideal target audience.

Here are five ways to understand your customers better then they understand themselves.

1. Strategically designed surveys

Despite my systematic bashing of surveys, they can be a great way to uncover the unmet needs of your audience. But you have to do them right. Surveys can come across as annoying. And, unless you ask the right questions, your results will probably be pretty meaningless.

Here are a few guidelines to help you craft a killer survey (that people will actually complete):

  1. Don’t survey too often. Survey at critical times (especially during product creation) and use other, less direct methods to gain more customer insight. When you do survey, I recommend you use Survey Monkey.
  2. Be simple and direct. You have to remember that when people take a survey, they want to finish it as quickly as possible. Don’t you? With this in mind, it’s important that you get straight to the point. Don’t make people read. Eliminate extraneous decisions. Ask no more than five questions per survey.
  3. Ask only super-high-leverage questions. Most people fill their surveys with unnecessary questions that don’t give them real, valuable data. Whenever you design a survey question, ask yourself the following: will the answer to this question be immediately useful at this stage of my business? If not, get rid of it.
  4. Gather qualitative data. Instead of filling your survey with endless check boxes, ask people to give you short responses in their own words. By employing these “open answers,” you’ll gain valuable insight you could have never thought up yourself. This will allow you to communicate with your audience using exactly the same language they’ve used to speak to you.

If you want to master the art of survey writing, I advise you check out Ramit Sethi’s How to Write a $100,000 Survey. It’s free and will change the way you interact with your audience.

2. Automated email investigation

I’m all about automation, especially when it comes to my email list. With this in mind, I like to weave strategic questions into my autoresponder sequence.

For example, say I just finished an email all about traffic generation. Instead of just ending the content, I’ll say something like, “What can I help you with? Please hit “reply” right now and send me your two biggest problems related to traffic generation.”

If people enjoyed the content, they’ll often take the time to respond. And the answers you’ll get will rock your world. And, if you get a particularly intriguing response, you can follow up with that person and keep the conversation going. Over time, you’ll start to see trends popping up, and you’ll be able to refine and optimize your funnel to match these common problems. Pretty cool stuff.

In addition to automated questions, I also have another (unconventional) email strategy. Here’s how it works: Every time someone joins my list, I take the time to send them an email. From my personal Gmail account. In this email I thank the person for signing up, build anticipation for the value to come, and then ask one question:

“What is your biggest [your niche] problem right now?”

This one “insight gaining” question, combined with the relationship-building power of a personal email is extremely powerful. (I must give credit where credit is due. Thanks to Derek Halpern for sparking this idea)

3. Consulting

While email and surveys can be effective, nothing compares to speaking one-on-one with your readers. This can be via email or on social media. Or, ideally, you can offer free or paid consulting services and talk with dozens of people over the phone.

However you do it, the most important thing you can do for your business is to spend time every day interacting with your customers and asking what their needs, problems, and dreams are. Even a few consulting sessions will revolutionize your understanding of what makes your audience tick.

4. Webinars

While I don’t claim to be a webinar expert, I know that they can be extremely effective both for understanding your audience and selling your products. Webinars allow you to monitor people’s questions in real time and really put a finger on how they are responding to your content.

Here’s the webinar workflow:

  1. Deliver extraordinary value upfront.
  2. Open up to questions at the end.
  3. Follow up with people after the webinar (email them) and ask for their feedback.

Try it out. You’ll learn a ton.

5. Facebook

As you know, Facebook is a great place to interact with your audience. It rocks. It’s one of the best engagement platforms on the web. I’ve found that people let down their guard on Facebook and really spill the good, juicy, valuable beans. The stuff you’re searching for. The insights that will skyrocket your success.

Plus, it’s fun to meet them!

How do you use Facebook to better understand your audience? I have two main ways:

1. Regularly ask engaging (but valuable) questions on your Facebook fan page

People love to talk about themselves and their problems. Especially on Facebook. I know I do. With this in mind, using your fan page to ask fun, strategic questions can be extremely effective. Questions like:

  • “Describe your ideal life one year from now in one sentence.”
  • “I can’t figure out X! What is the biggest thing you’re struggling with in your business right now?”
  • If you could take a pill and instantly become a master at any online skill, what would it be?”

…you get the point. Keep your questions engaging and fun. Ask for short answers (people will be much more likely to respond). Respond to peoples comments and keep the conversation going.

2. Do weekly Facebook chats

This is a strategy I noticed Blog Tyrant using with his “Sunday Night Facebook Jams.” Here’s how it works.

Once a week, hang out on your Facebook page for a few hours and let people ask you any question they have regarding a certain topic. For example, a while back Blog Tyrant held a “Jam” about Blogging SEO. Here’s what his email said:

Hey guys.
Hope you are all well.

Well, its time for another Sunday Night Facebook Jam! Tonight’s topic is any question you have about getting ranked on Google. It’s all about Blogging SEO!

Just head on over to the Facebook page and leave a comment. I’ll hang around for two hours. Oh, and if you share the page with your friends you’ll go into the draw to win a FREE SEO Audit by me.

See you over there. It starts now!

See how that works?

This strategy is extremely powerful and will also help you improve yourEdgeRank Score so that you show up in the news feeds of your fans more often.

Key reader research tactics

In all of this there are few key takeaways I want you to understand:

  1. Whatever strategy you decide to focus on, the key is to engage with your audience daily and keep your finger on their pulse so that you can fill their needs better than anyone else.
  2. Instead of randomly talking to everyone and anyone, focus on talking to the “critical few” in your business: subscribers and customers. Especially customers. These are the people you want to “target” and attract more of.
  3. Focus on employing high-leverage strategies to get the biggest results for the least effort.
  4. Pay attention and be interested in what your audience has to say. Not only will this increase your insights and understanding, but your authenticity will shine through, winning you more loyal fans and customers.

Oh and one more thing: if you employ even a few of these strategies on a regular basis, you’ll likely have a ton of data about your audience. My advice is that you compile it all into a common folder that you can refer to when creating content and marketing.

Putting it all together: creating your customer avatar

Okay, now is the time to create what Eben Pagan calls a “Customer Avatar.” If you’re unfamiliar with this idea, a “Customer Avatar” or “Customer Persona” is basically an imaginary person who represents the composite of your ideal customer. It’s a figure who you’ve determined to be your “average” customer based on the data you’ve gathered.

Yaro Starak explains it like this:

“The best example of an avatar that I can refer you to is that of characters you create in video games. In games you can often define appearance (include fine detail attributes like eye and hair color), strengths, weaknesses, associations, and all manner of conditions that make up your character in the game. You play the avatar in the game world and its characteristics influence what you experience in the game.”

This is exactly what we’re doing. Just for the kind of person who reads your blog or purchases the product or service you sell.

Knowing this information allows you cut through the clutter and talk directly to the right audience with messaging and a language that resonates with them with emotional impact. Watch this video for a better understanding.

As Andre Chaperon puts it:

“Creating a customer avatar allows you to “get specific” and use triggers and hot-buttons to help pull your audience towards you (towards your offer).”

Incredibly powerful stuff. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Get out a black sheet of paper.
  2. Using the knowledge you’ve gathered about the hopes, fears, and dreams of your audience, “project” yourself into their shoes and answer the following questions:
    • What’s your gender?
    • What’s your name?
    • What’s your age?
    • Marital status? Kids?
    • What do you do for a living?
    • What do you look like?
    • What do you believe in?
    • What communities do you belong to?
    • What really ticks you off?
    • Who do you want to be like?

    Try to really “fill out” this persona so that you have a crystal-clear understanding of the person you’re talking to. Get specific. Give them a name. Really “feel” what it is like to be them.

Don’t worry about getting this perfect right away. It will be an evolving process. It won’t happen overnight. As your business grows and you learn more about your audience, your “Avatar” will change, and that’s fine. The key is to get started.

Use what you know to create a rough avatar right now, or create a plan to better understand your audience. Schedule a survey. Analyze Quantcast. Plan a Facebook chat. Offer free consulting. Whatever you decide to do, don’t wait. I see so many “Wantrepreneurs” just messing around online instead of actually doing what it takes to achieve success. Yes, it takes work, but it’s worth it. And, once you get started you’ll realize that it’s actually a ton of fun.

The bottom line

I’ve know there’s a lot of information in this and yesterday’s post. And I hope I’ve given you at least a few “Aha!” moments.

But you’re probably wondering a common question: What does all this add up to? What’s the end result of a crystal clear understanding of who my audience is and what they are looking for?

Well, simply this: by understanding your audience at a deep level you’re able to create marketing that speaks directly to them. Marketing the makes them stop dead in their tracks and give your site their full attention. Marketing that skyrockets conversions.

You’ll know exactly what you need to say to get people to subscribe to your list, feel an immediate connection to your message, open and read your emails, comment on your posts, and when the time is right, buy what you have to offer.

As Eben Pagan puts it, “You must know what you’re offering, who it’s for and what the benefit is to them, then present it to the irrational human mind. If you don’t, you might as well not even start.”

Stop writing about what you think your audience wants. Stop guessing. Stop assuming. Discover what needs are going unmet, what your audience really wants, what is “emotionally motivating” them to seek out a solution, and crush it.

Logan Marshall is on a mission to help aspiring entrepreneurs change the world with their message. If you’re one of them, check out the cinematic trailer to his upcoming blog.

Google+ Tactics of the Blogging Pros

Over the next couple of days on ProBlogger, we’ll be taking a look at key marketing tactics bloggers are using on Twitter and Facebook.

Since we covered Pinterest recently, I thought I’d explore Google+ today, and check out the approaches some of the A-list bloggers are using on this network.

Tactic 1: Cross-promote a particular offering

Gary Vaynerchuck might have become famous for his books, but he’s been vlogging since 2005, so its no surprise that his Google+ page is dominated by video posts. In fact, he appears to use Google+ primarily as an outlet to cross-promote his YouTube channel and associated videos.

This is interesting, because Gary has a lot of different projects on the go (notably, his agency VaynerMedia, as well as writing and speaking), but he’s focusing his Google+ engagement on his videos.

A similarly focused strategy might be suitable for you if you feel that some aspect of your blog offering is particularly appropriate for the Google+ audience, and you want to see how much traction you can get from the network for that particular offering.

Tactic 2: Day-in-the-life reportage

Deb Ng, Blog World Expo’s community director, and Sonia Simone, the self-proclaimed “Pink-haired tyrant of Copyblogger Media,” both use Google+ to engage with followers on a combination personal-and-professional level.

Have a look at their Google+ profiles and you get a feel for them as people, but you also gain insight into what they’re doing for the brands they work with. Both use Google+ to mix personal interests with family, home, and work-related content. They regularly provide glimpses behind the scenes of their work on brands that are extremely important to many of us in the blogosphere.

While Deb has her own blog, Sonia doesn’t, so this approach can either complement your other online offerings, or be used independently. But in both cases, these Google+ pages give us an insight into what makes these guys tick—something that I expect is pretty valuable for people wanting to engage with Deb about Blog World, or with Sonia about Copyblogger. I imagine more than a few bloggers have tried to get inside the heads of these A-listers by putting them into circles on Google+.

This tactic might be a good one for you to use if your followers and readers would appreciate an insight into how you operate on a professional level, behind the glossy front of your blog’s brand.

Tactic 3: Personal brand miniblogging

Anyone who follows me on Google+ knows that my own approach has been to adopt the forum as a sort of all-encompassing miniblog.

I have branded Facebook pages for ProBlogger and Digital Photography School, and separate Twitter streams for each, but on Google+ I combine those brands under a kind of personal brand.

I see it as a location for rich exchange with followers who want to engage with me as a person, rather than simply with ProBlogger or DPS. In this way, Google+ has become a personal branding outlet for me, and has helped me strengthen engagement with readers and followers significantly since it launched last year.

I think that Google+ allows for a broad reach and a richer kind of interaction with those who have me in their circles, which is why I’ve made it a key part of my online strategy.

Tactic 4: Close curation

Serial entrepreneur and ideas woman Gina Trapani is always re-sharing other people’s Google+ posts. She also spends a lot of her Google+ time sharing content she’s found herself, that she feels others will appreciate. This approach turns her stream almost into a curated newsfeed: it’s cultivated, professional, and targeted.

After decades in the industry, Gina knows her audience well, and knows what they like—and as the host of This Week in Google, she can be sure that a large portion of her tech-savvy audience is using Google+ heavily.

If you’re in the same boat, you might take a few ideas from Gina’s approach. Of course, in any case, re-sharing is a good way to provide valuable information to those in your circles and to support and encourage those peers you admire. How far you take that curated approach will likely depend on your niche and audience, but the sky really is the limit.

How do you use Google+?

This list represents just a handful of approaches used by bloggers, but I’m very interested to hear how you use Google+ in your social media strategy. If you don’t use it, why not? If you do, what tactics and techniques are you using to build and engage with your following there? Let us in on your secrets in the comments.

Is Perfectionism Stalling Your Productivity?

We’ve all been there … You sit down to write a post. You get the opening line down, but half-way through the second sentence, you go back to tweak the first. A bit further on, you decide to chop up the paragraphs you’ve done so far and rearrange them … but on second thought, is that really the better option?

In two minds, you “finish” the post, then spend a half-hour writing and rewriting the “ideal” headline.

Finally, happy(ish!) your cursor hovers over the Publish button … but you just can’t press it. You decide to give it some time, and come back tomorrow, when you know you’ll end up rewriting the whole thing from scratch using the same “process.”

Meanwhile, your blog’s getting more dated by the minute. Your regular publishing schedule has gone out the window, and you’re miles behind on your blogging goals.

Perfectionism: the ultimate time drain?

Back in the days of print, things had to be perfect before they were published. There are certainly plenty of great reasons for making sure your content is as good as it can be before you publish it. Yet die-hard perfectionism holds many a blogger back from achieving their full potential.

I’ve seen it many times online—and discussed it with plenty of bloggers, from all walks of life and areas of the blogosphere, over the years.

In How to Stop Procrastinating and Start Your Blog, Jennifer Blanchard lists perfectionism as one of the main reasons why people procrastinate.

As someone who’s started more than 20 blogs in my time—and wound up quite a few too!—it’s safe to say I’ve got a pretty good handle on perfectionism now. Here’s how I managed to overcome it.

  • Realize that the web is flexible: The web isn’t print. You can very easily add to, update, and tweak a published post later, either based on feedback from readers or on additional information that’s come your way since you wrote the post.
  • Understand that your readers know you’re human: Your readers don’t know just know it—they respect it. Bloggers like Jon Morrow and Leo Babauta work closely with their readers, and are happy to show their human sides. And their readers are all the more loyal for it.
  • Recognize the value you can get from using reader feedback to improve your posts: Reader feedback can add depth and perspective to your posts, and boost their usability for other readers. But the process of working with readers on your posts—crowdsourcing the icing for your blog post “cake”—can also boost the sense of community, collaboration, and engagement around your blog.
  • Respect the importance of your publishing schedule: Your posting schedule isn’t just about content—it’s about meeting reader needs. Showing up—publishing great content—is square one for bloggers. That’s where blogging starts. No content, no blog. So by using your publishing schedule as a guide—and sticking to it—you respect your readers and you’re ticking the first box on the checklist for achieving your blogging goals.
  • Realize that an incomplete post will probably attract more comments: By “incomplete,” I’m not suggesting that you stop writing before you get to the end of the post and publish it as-is! But the Blog Tyrant makes the very good point that a post that exhausts its topic “leaves readers with nowhere to go.” You don’t need to cover off every aspect of the post’s topic in order for that post to be “good.” A post that doesn’t exhaust the topic may receive more comments—and shares if the conversation becomes particularly interesting or illuminating.

Of course, we all want our posts to be factually accurate and typo-free—that’s a given. But there are also considerable advantages to letting go and seeing where a less polished post might lead…

Do you struggle with perfectionism? How is it holding your blog back? And how have you overcome it (if you’ve managed to do that!)?

How Successful Blogging is Just Like Surviving Highschool

This guest post is by Josh Sarz of Sagoyism.

Do you ever feel like it’s high school all over again?

I’m talking about blogging. The whole “turn over a new leaf, do something great, do epic stuff, get famous” sense of it all feels like high school.

You know that feeling. It’s similar to when you’re just starting out, wanting to make a name for yourself, and hoping that some day you’ll become famous and get buckets of cash.

But just like high school, it’s a jungle out there. It’s not completely safe, nor is it any bit as easy as it seems. There are bullies, psycho teachers, cool kids, not-so-cool kids, and geeks.

You need to learn some rules on how to survive, just like in high school. This time around, you don’t just want to get out alive. You want to come out on top of your game.

1. Work hard

In high school, working hard was just about studying for the exams. Nothing more, nothing less. That would be decent effort, and you’d get decent grades.

When you’re blogging, studying is a prerequisite. There are loads of things you need to do to survive.

You need to learn how to multitask. You need to know your trade by heart. You need to sacrifice a lot of your time, and use it for brainstorming, writing, editing, designing your website, marketing yourself and your blog, pitching for guest posts … the list goes on.

2. Get involved

Getting involved in high school meant joining clubs. Lots of clubs, if you had the time and energy. It also included joining school plays, or getting into sports.

In blogging, it’s pretty much the same.

There are loads of clubs/groups/courses/forums where bloggers, writers, business owners and the like can hang out and socialize in their own little space. There’s the Third Tribe, The A-List Blogger Club, The Warrior Forum, and a whole bunch more.

Now when you want to get involved without having to join clubs (and pay for them), there are a lot of other ways to do so.

We’ve all heard of social media, blog commenting, and building relationships. That’s all good, but everyone’s doing it. What else can you do?

Subscribe to newsletters: But not just so you can get on their list. In a way, you’re getting them on your personal list. Not your “making money” email list, but your “talk to this guy about stuff” list.

Usually, the big boys and girls of blogging use their email list to communicate with their readers, right?

Bam! You have their email. Maybe not their personal email, but a contact point nonetheless. Another similar tactic is to use their contact forms, but some don’t really reply to that.

Name-drop: What’s this? It’s when you just talk about the cool kids; you could also opt to step it up by linking to them. If it’s good enough content, and if they notice that you mentioned or linked to them, they’ll think you’re cool and hang out with you.

Does this really work? I don’t know. Ask this guy.

Personal army: This is sort of risky. I’ve gotten permission from Martyn Chamberlin of twohourblogger to talk about it. Martyn had his friends pinged Brian Clark to ask him to retweet a post. Long story short, Brian Clark got annoyed but now they’re buddies.

There are a lot of ways to get someone’s attention; this is one of them. It worked.

3. Be on-time/present

You might be thinking “Not this again.”

You see, in high school, if you were always tardy or even absent during class, you’d get demerits. But those demerits aren’t that deadly.

With your blog, if you’re never showing up when you’re supposed to, it’s deadly for your image.

This does not mean having to post every day. You don’t want to force out below-par blog posts. No. You want high-quality content, with a story to tell.

So what else is being present and on-time about?

A hundred tweets a day isn’t presence. It’s annoying. Like a mosquito flying around near your ears.

Presence is when you reply to readers’ comments on your blog posts. It’s when people send you emails through your contact form, and you actually reply. Not your virtual assistant. Not an automated robot. But you.

4. Do your homework

High school. Homework. Important, although not life-threatening. But you still had to do it if you want to survive all the way through.

When you’re writing great content, you don’t get it by  just churning them out like a machine. Do your homework.

There are plenty ways to research for information to put in your content.

Surveys: A common website/tool to use for making surveys is You can sign up for a free account, and it’s a decent tool for getting information from people.

Direct email: You can email anyone: bloggers, writers, journalists, friends, strangers … anyone. Don’t have their email? There’s social media to help you out.

Call interviews: This doesn’t have to be through phone. You can use Skype, Google Voice chat or Google Hangouts.

Split testing: This ranges from writing styles, tone, formatting, blog design/structure and more.

Blogging is hard work. Still with me? Good. Let’s continue.

5. Make a diverse circle of friends

In high school, you could get away with sticking to a single circle of friends. If you wanted to stand out and get recognized, you’d have to reach out to a lot more people.

The same goes for blogging.

Remember the age-old advice that the “veterans” talk about, like making friends with people in your niche? That’s great, but you could make it even better by making friends with people from other niches. Why should you bother doing that?

Think of it this way. If you have ten pals who blog about blogging talk about you, that’s great. If you have 30 people from all sorts of niches and industries willing to vouch for you, that’s massive. Think of them as your personal army.

How do you do this?

  • By getting involved with other people’s blogs and activities.
  • By replying to people who comment on your posts, reaching out to their blogs. Circling them on Google Plus.
  • Talking with people who comment on the A-list blogs, since they’re talking, might as well jump in the conversation. Some might find you intrusive, but if you do this with 100 people you’re bound to make at least ten friends.
  • Keeping in mind that one day, they can be your personal army who will vouch for you when you mess up.

6. Keep your locker stacked

We all had lockers back in high school, right? It’s where we put our things just in case we’ll be needing them soon.

In blogging, your locker can be your CMS, whether you use WordPress, Blogger, Hubpages, etc. How do you keep it stacked?

Always have backup posts written, proofread, formatted, and ready for publishing. If you need places to look for ideas, here are some examples that the cool kids don’t preach:

The Bible: A lot of people don’t talk about this as a source of inspiration for their writing because they’re afraid to sound all religious-like.

You’re missing out on a lot.

And if you’re not into the Christian faith, think of this book as the biggest piece of fiction that has inspired countless generations. More than all the Stephen King, John Grisham or Chuck Palahniuk books combined.

Kids’ entertainment: Again, a lot of people don’t talk about getting inspiration from kids’ shows because they don’t want to sound immature.

They’re just scared.

If you want to talk courage, here’s a post from a guy who wrote an amazing, inspiring blog post about courage using a character from the storybooks.

Again, these are stories that had inspired generations. They may be childish, but these stories have enchanted more people than any “mature” show like Mad Men.

7. Be excessively happy

Highschool gives you a lot of stress. Not from classes, but from people.

It’s the same in blogging.

You write your blog post, and expect to get massive traffic, but nothing happens. Why? People will be people. They flock to where the good stuff is. And to top it off, they don’t know you even exist.

Don’t go whining and quit. Hang in there, and smile. Be excessively happy. Crazy happy. Nobody likes to hear people whine all day. Or take out their frustrations on other people.

When someone comments on your posts, be happy. Reply to them in an awesome way. Stop being so uptight. Be more like Ayo Olaniyan. When he replies to comments, it’s like he’s always smiling just like his picture. Crazy happy.

8. Stay focused

Make lots of friends. Get involved. But remember to stay focused on what you’re blogging for.

Write down your goals on a piece of paper, and stick them somewhere in your desk. Someplace where you can see it whenever you’re working. Make your goals specific and tangible. Also, add the element of time restriction.

Here are some goals you can write down:

  • guest posts on X
  • ebook on X
  • interview with X
  • email X about X’s post about X

Writing specific goals lets you know what you need to do, and the deadline helps you avoid procrastinating.

9. Go out on dates

Yes, plural.

If you went out on a lot of dates back in high school (or at least tried to), you’ll know what’s coming when you’re pitching other bloggers for guest post opportunities.

Guest posting is just like dating.

As Sean Platt would say it, you’re going to be wooing other bloggers with your bouquet of words. And unless you already have a solid reputation, it’s going to be hard.

Those who’ve made a name for themselves through guest posting know the feeling of getting dumped. It happens. But you have to be persistent and get better. Get a better bouquet and try again.

People like Leo Babauta, Brian Clark, and Danny Iny all went crazy guest blogging. Jon Morrow teaches a course all about guest blogging. It’s that crucial to success.

10. Get in the yearbook

Getting featured in the yearbook back in highschool meant that you did something great. Something that made other students look up to you.

In blogging, there’s no physical yearbook. But there are blogging roundups, like the ones on ProBlogger, Copyblogger, Write to Done, and a bunch of other sites that give recognition to other bloggers at the end of the year.

It’s not biggest achievement that you could get with blogging, nor does it mean you’re the best out of all the other blogs not featured in them. But if you’re in one, you must have done something fascinating and remarkable, right?

Marcus Sheridan of TheSalesLion talked about this on his blog:

I’ve written my share of these types of posts in the past simply because I enjoy shedding light on great people who are blessing others through their work. This, in my opinion, is a very good thing and will never grow old.

But it’s also time we all understood and defined our true individual metrics of success, as it’s this vision that will carry us through the good and bad times that come with all the hard work, effort, and deep passion that is blogging.

When asked about what he thinks other bloggers could do to “get noticed” and grow their blog, he says:

I read the a-listers, and if they something I feel strongly about, for or against, I write about it. I’m not a blind follower. And I don’t want others to blindly follow me. I think A-listers respect you more if you disagree with them, but do it tactful. I’m not a jerk. I don’t demean. I think people demean A-listers too much, and that really bothers me. We’re all imperfect.

Keep in mind, I’ve been at this 2 years now. I’ve never written less than 9 articles in a month. I’m extrememly consistent, and show up to work everyday. A-listers notice up and comers, but they don’t necessarily embrace them right away (nor should they) because so many folks come and go in this business. Once they see someone who is talented and consistent, then they’re much more likely to notice.

I also did a quick interview with James Chartrand of Men with Pens, as she was also featured in a roundup at Copyblogger. Here’s what she had to say:

What’s really important to me (beyond having my hard work and efforts recognized) is that by having my name on the list, people can discover my blog and find helpful advice they need.

That’s always been my personal mission. I’ve been writing advice for writers, freelancers, entrepreneurs, and small business owners for years because I want to help these people earn more money and more clients.

So it’s fulfilling to hear from people who’ve applied my advice and seen positive results. They’re changing their lives for the better and reaching their success goals. I feel good about being part of that!

But she also said this:

I think people should actually stop blogging until they have something to prove that their knowledge helps other people accomplish goals or that they’re achieving important milestones and can share proven techniques with others. Many bloggers don’t actually know what they’re doing—they’re faking it until they make it.

I feel that recognition comes from the ability to show results—and results come from working hard, putting in the effort, being willing to take risks and having a strong drive to succeed.

Getting included in these roundups is great. Your name and your brand gets more exposure to people who haven’t heard of you yet. That being said, getting featured in these roundups at  the end of every year shouldn’t be your ultimate goal.

It’s great and all, but achieving your personal goals as a blogger, like getting clients, selling your books, and so on, is way better.

Survival isn’t the end-game

Surviving highschool wasn’t the end-game. Nor is it the same for blogging.

After you’ve established yourself and your blog, there’s a whole new ball game.

It’s going to be about continuously delivering content that inspires people, and helps them in some aspect in their lives.

Are you up to challenge of surviving the blogosphere? What other tips can you add to the list above? Share them in the comments section below.

Josh Sarz is a Freelance Writer, Blogger and the founder of Sagoyism, a blog which talks about Epic Content Marketing and Storytelling . He also likes punk rock and metal, among other things.

10 Of The Web’s Best Sidebars

This guest post is by the Blog Tyrant.

The sidebar is the second most important place on your site. It is where, after engaging with your content, people head over to subscribe to your list, follow you on Twitter, or buy your product.

It is vital that you get it right.

In this post I am going to show you some of the web’s best sidebars, and then talk about how you can improve yours with a goal to get more subscribers and conversions, and make more money.

NOTE: You might also like the best About Us pages and the best Contact Us pages.

Criteria for a great sidebar

So what makes a sidebar great? Well, I have come up with a few criteria over the years but, of course, I would love to hear if you can think of any others.

  • Above the fold: Do you know what I mean by above the fold? It’s everything you see before you scroll. Good sidebars have good stuff above the fold.
  • Eye-catching, but not distracting: The sidebar needs to be eye-catching in that it gets people to interact, but not so much that people forget about your content.
  • Takes readers deeper: The sidebar should take people deeper into your blog or site. It should get them to subscribe or convert them in some other way. That is the purpose of true navigation.

Of course there are more but these are the ones that really do it for me. After all, the whole purpose of the blog’s sidebar is to increase conversions.

The 10 best sidebars on the Web

Okay so let’s get into those sidebars. Here are the ones that I thought ticked the most boxes and really helped their users navigate their way towards a sale or a conversion, while still providing a fantastic user experience.

1. Tumblr Staff Blog

The Tumblr Staff blog is really cool because they show you the faces and personalities of everyone who works there.

Tumblr staff sidebar

Tumblr staff sidebar

Their sidebar is particularly useful because it advertises their product: Tumblr Blogs themselves. They give you a little form to start your own blog right there in the sidebar and then underneath have a very eye catching graphic on 30 reasons you will love their site.

This is a great combination—a sign up form and a list of reasons for why you should act. Might be a good idea for all blogs to explain to readers what they will get from signing up.

2. Copyblogger

Brian Clark of Copyblogger has totally redesigned his blog to appear more like a landing page that sends you off to his other products. The result? No sidebar. And that is something really brave and something that I had to include in this list

Copyblogger sidebar

Copyblogger sidebar

Sometimes the best thing you can do with a sidebar is get rid of it. If you are building a landing page that serves to get people to a sign up or purchase area, then a sidebar might just be distracting. Have a look at the way Copyblogger does things. It’s making money.

3. ViperChill

Pretty much everything that Glen does is amazing. He is a very talented guy. And his sidebars are simple but extremely effective.

Viperchill sidebar

Viperchill sidebar

The thing he does that I haven’t seen anyone else do is add testimonials from big players like newspapers and Fortune 500 companies talking about how good he is at what he does. This type of social proof really serves to solidify his brand and make him appear more authoritative.

4. Huffington Post

Huffington Post is the world’s most successful blog—it’s even listed on the Stock Exchange now. So following their lead is a very good idea.

HuffPo sidebar

Huffington Post sidebar

In my previous post on the best comment areas we saw that they used badges and rewards to “level up” their readers and make them feel invested in the site.

The sidebar takes that idea further by showing readers what’s hot on Twitter, Facebook, and in other sections of the site itself. The net result would be that they get more social shares and a lot deeper user interaction with their content.

5. Mashable

Mashable is the biggest social media news site online. And they get that part of it really right.

Mashable sidebar

Mashable sidebar

One of the best things you can do with your sidebar is get your readers to engage with your Facebook and Twitter accounts, and Mashable does this by getting people to log in with their accounts. Then, they show those users which topics are trending. It is a very clever way to mix both the social outlets as well as the site’s content. The result? They get a lot of viral content.

6. Smart Passive Income

Pat is a super-nice guy, and his sidebar lets you know right away. The first thing you see is a picture of him with his young son.

Smart Passive Income sidebar

Smart Passive Income sidebar

This instantly builds trust with the new readers and, aside from building his personal brand equity, it makes you feel at home and in a very personal space. Pat then follows up by offering his free ebook below, as a natural progression from his little introduction.

7. Digital Photography School

Digital Photography School, Darren Rowse’s other blog, is a gold mine of “how to do it right” information. It is one of the best blogs for user engagement and has a wonderfully successful and active community.

dPS sidebar

dPS sidebar

The sidebar is perfectly done for encouraging users to get involved—how to make money, how to write guest posts, how to start a weekly assignment, etc. Useing your sidebar as an advertisement for different areas and functions of your site is very important.

8. Youtube

YouTube, after Facebook, has the highest page views of any site in the world. Last estimates I heard were around 30 pageviews per person. That means that, on average, every time someone visits YouTube they end up watching 30 videos! The reason? It’s the sidebar.

YouTube sidebar

YouTube sidebar

By showing people related content with enticing screen shots from the videos, YouTube gets users to dig deeper and stick around longer than they normally would. All this browsing makes it more likely users will see an advert and interact with it.

9. Facebook

For some reason people always overlook Facebook when it comes to discussing excellent website and blog ideas. I think it is because it just seems to big and impossible to mimic. But the way they have designed sidebars is extremely indicative of what we as bloggers should be doing on our blogs.

YouTube sidebar

YouTube sidebar

It shows insights into the page, what your friends are doing, and any important notifications. All of these things, when applied to a blog, can serve to really make your readers more addicted to your site. And aren’t we all addicted to Facebook?

10. Men with Pens

Like some of the others, Men With Pens uses its sidebar to promote the variety of services on offer.

Men With Pens sidebar

Men With Pens sidebar

One thing I really like about this sidebar is that it is totally consistent with the rest of the design. It goes a long way towards keeping the site true to its brand. But, as always, the best thing about James’s work here is the copy. The way the calls to action are written in this sidebar are second to none.

Which is your favorite?

Leave a comment and let me know which sidebar is your favorite. It doesn’t have to be one on this list, either; if you know a good sidebar that I’ve missed, please drop the URL below. Lastly, will you be changing anything in your sidebar as a result of this post? Let us know.

The Blog Tyrant is a 26 year old Australian guy who plays video games at lunch time and sells blogs for $20,000 a pop.

Wealth Creation Through Blogging

This guest post is by Shaun of MoneyCactus.

There’s a blog for just about everything these days. Some are a lot better than others, but I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that any blog has the potential to become great.

It is completely possible to find a niche and an interested audience if you are serious enough about it yourself.


Image copyright Maria Goncalves -

Some Internet entrepreneurs are better at doing this than others and make the process look easy. While many of these great bloggers definitely have a talent for what they do, the fundamentals of how they go about it really don’t change too much at all.

I guess now is probably a good time to tell you that this is not an article about making money from your blog. Before you even get to this stage you need to develop a strategy, understand your market, and allocate your resources. Good bloggers understand this. They are the same principles that you would use when making any investment.

If you want to create a blog that is successful, then these basic wealth creation fundamentals should go a long way to getting you there.

Hobbies are not an investment

People often make bad investment decisions, most of which are based on their emotions or—even worse—a “gut feeling.” Bloggers can make this mistake when selecting a niche as well.

A hobby is not an investment, it is just another way to spend your money. You do not need to be good at a hobby. Really, it’s just something you do to waste time.

The best investments are made in things that you are very knowledgeable about. Don’t confuse something you like the sound of with something you know a lot about. In order to create an authority site and demonstrate social proof, you need to know enough about your area of interest to attract readers. You do not need to be an expert, but you do need to have a knack for delivering information that makes readers want to keep coming back.

Do your research before anything else. You wouldn’t waste time and money on a dud investment; don’t do the same with a blog.

Risk makes it real

If you told me I had an imaginary sum of $1,000 and then asked me to pick some stocks to watch over a year as a way to practice my investing skills, I probably wouldn’t have any trouble making a choice and playing the game. If you told me I had to actually put my own money on the line, the chances are I would be studying those stocks very closely and sweating every decision I made.

If you are really serious about blogging, then you need to have a stake in the game. It doesn’t need to be big money, but spending some money on your blog will help keep you motivated as losing it is never fun.

Forget Blogger,, Tumblr, or any of those other free platforms (believe me, I learned the hard way). Yes they can be useful and they are simple to set up, but if you plan to use your blog as a means to generate income, then invest in yourself, and pay the small amount of money it costs to get a unique domain name and a self-hosted account.

Give before you receive

Tithing is practiced by many of the world’s richest people, but you don’t need mega bucks to start giving. You can give in lots of ways that help others, and the nice thing is that giving has a habit of coming back to you in lots of other ways.

Bloggers are quite possibly the nicest people I know. It is amazing how approachable they are, and what they will do to help or provide advice if you ask them. If you spend some time hanging out in the blogosphere, then you will quickly realize that the whole network runs on love. Bloggers write about things they love, people follow the things they love, and the better you are at showing people how to do what they want, the more love you will get in return.

If you can find ways to be ridiculously useful to others within your niche and over-deliver on your promises, you will attract people organically. Unsurprisingly, bloggers follow other bloggers in their niche, so reach out and give to a fellow blogger or combine your powers to offer even more.

Diversify your traffic sources

In order to spread risk, investors often use different vehicles to grow their wealth. The same principles apply to blogging: a nice spread of traffic will ensure you are not reliant on any one stream.

There are many ways to do this, and you might have your own methods, but here are a few things that I have been doing to grow my audience.

Search engine traffic

There are ways to help make your blog posts as targeted as possible by focusing on keywords and employing other SEO tactics. But, to be perfectly honest, the most visited pages on my site are poorly optimized (I really should do something about that).

Instead, I write about what is affecting me, and I try to solve the problem. Funnily enough there are lots of other people that have similar problems, so my posts end up getting found anyway. I’ve found the best thing to do is just focus on a single topic per post. That way, basic things like keyword density seem to happen on their own.

Blogging carnivals

This is one of the best ways I have found to share my blog posts as widely as possible and get referrals from other blogs. It is also a really great way to network with other people in your niche. Different carnivals have different rules, but they usually let you submit a recent article that you have written on your site. A link to this is then listed on the carnival host site, which means potential traffic from other bloggers and people that are regulars on the host site.

Blogging carnivals are often hosted on a different site each time, so submitting your articles regularly means you are more likely to be seen by a broader audience. If you want to look for a blogging carnival for your niche, you could try starting here.

Commenting on blogs

This has got to be the next best thing to guest posting. You get to have your say on a topic, actively participate in an online community, and you can often leave a link to your site for people to see what you are all about.

I think that this traffic generation strategy is completely underrated. I can’t tell you how many times I have checked out a site because I liked a comment I read somewhere else, and Google Analytics tells me others do the same with my site too. If you want to develop your comment strategy, you might like this guide to writing killer comments.

Blue-chip blogs

The best blogs have “shareholders” in the form of subscribers. These people have decided that the site is an asset to them, and that it’s worth investing their time in. Like any good stock, a blog needs to continue to perform over the long term in order to hold or increase its value, and that requires ongoing effort.

I’ll be the first to tell you that there is more I could do more to improve the stock of my blog, but every time I have invested in it, I have seen a gain. My final wealth creation tip is to continue investing in your blog: set short-, medium-, and long-term goals, but view it as an appreciating asset that will grow in value over time.

Try these simple wealth creation strategies on your blog and see what happens for yourself.

Shaun is not an accountant, financial planner or life coach, but he writes about wealth creation anyway! Shaun’s motto is “Make wealth, not money,” which fits quite nicely with where he wants to be in life. You can find out more by visiting his blog where he shows you how to do nothing and grow wealthy.