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7 Ways to Suck at Building Relationships Online

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grave-hands-623090-m You know your  blog would take off if only Joe Schmoe the a-list blogger in your niche would have the good sense to read it and promote it. You just know it. It’s time to build that relationship. You’re going to be a rock star. You can feel it in your bones.

I hesitate to say that most people suck at building relationships online, but some days it sure feels like that, doesn’t it?

Building relationships is the key to blogging success, in my humble opinion, so if you don’t have this skill, you’re at a huge disadvantage. Let’s take a look at all the ways people are doing it wrong:

Mistake #1: Not Introducing Yourself

Several years ago, I wrote a post called, “Scott Stratten Doesn’t Know Who You Are,” which is filled with advice that I still stand behind today. The thesis was that you shouldn’t expect a-listers to just magically find your blog. If you want someone to know who you are, you have to say hello. You have to put in that work to build the initial relationship, and you have to be memorable.

Mistake #2: Playing the Tit for Tat Game

Just because you do something for someone doesn’t mean they are obligated to do something for you in return. When you do a favor for someone, like tweeting a link or giving a LinkedIn recommendation, you should do so because you want to, not because you think they’ll do the same for you.

Mistake #3: Disappearing

We’re building a great relationship with some funny banter on Twitter and then…poof…I don’t hear from you for three months. In that time, I won’t forget you, but our relationship certainly isn’t improving. I know it can be a challenge to keep up with everything and everyone, but I suggest making a list of 100 or so people and putting in the effort to continuously build your relationships with them on a weekly if not daily basis.

Mistake #4: False Flattery

There are few things worse than someone blowing smoke up your rear. Don’t flatter someone because you want to build a relationship. The best relationships are build on honesty and constructive comments. That doesn’t mean that the first contact you have with an a-lister out of the gate should be criticism (no matter how constructive), but gushing over someone’s work can come off as really fake.

Mistake #5: Building a Friendship of Convenience

Some people only contact me when they need help. It’s not even a tit-for-tat thing, which would almost be better, because at least I get something out of the deal! When you build a relationship with someone online, it’s okay to ask for help when you need it, but if you take, take, take without ever giving, people are not going to be inclined to help you.

Mistake #6: Thinking You’re a Bigger Deal than You Really Are

The “don’t you know who I am” mindset is really unattractive. No, I don’t know who you are, no matter how big your audience is. If you want to build a relationship with someone, be humble. Assume they’ve never heard of you, and if they have, it should be a pleasant surprise. Even if you are a big deal online, that kind of attitude makes it seem like you think you’re better than the other person. When building a relationship, always make the other person feel like the most important person in the room.

Mistake #7: Demanding Too Much Time

We’re all strapped for time. If you want to build a relationship with an a-lister, realize that they can’t spend three hours every day replying to your emails, tweets, Facebook messages, and phone calls. Be respectful of their time, and always say thank you for any advice or help they give you. Believe it or not, “thank you” is a phrase that never goes out of style (and is waaaaay too uncommon online).

What mistakes do you see people making when it comes to building relationships online?

The Ultimate Step-By-Step Guide to Selling Digital Products on Your Blog (Step Five)

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Step Five Serving Cusomters

Your product is out there! You’re starting to make some money! Now you can sit back and just watch the passive income roll in, right?

Wrong.

One of the biggest mistakes most people make when selling digital products is thinking that the work ends after launch day. Very few people can “set it and forget it” when it comes to digital products. You need to provide great customer service to turn your fans into customers and to turn your customers into advocates.

Step Five: Continuously Serving Your Customers

Today, before ending this series of posts on selling digital products, I want to delve a little deeper into the life of a digital product after launch day. Let’s talk about…

  • Whether or not digital products are actually a source of passive income
  • Finding new customers beyond the initial burst of sales
  • Short-term customer care
  • Long-term customer care

When Passive isn’t Really Passive

Everyone always talks about how great passive income is, but the fact of the matter is this: passive income isn’t typically truly passive. Whenever you have money changing hands, customer support is needed. There will always be someone who has trouble downloading your product or logging into your website. There will always be someone who wants a refund. There will always be someone who has problems with payment processing.

This can be passive in the sense that you don’t have to be personally providing the customer support. You can instead hire a team of VAs to help you with this task. Then, all you’ll need to do is some initial training.

Just be aware that if you choose not to provide customer support, the result will not be good for your bottom line. People who have bad experiences tend to be extremely vocal on social networks. When someone googles your name/product, do you want a bunch of bad reviews to be the first thing that pops up?

Finding Customers

Launching a digital products is exciting because you typically see a rush of sales on launch day, slowly dropping off over the course of a week or two. But what then? If all you do is link to your product on your sidebar, you’re doing yourself a disservice. Every person who visits your blog is a potential sale. How much money are you missing out on, simply because you leave it up to people to figure out you have a product for sale?

So what can you do to find new customers continuously? Here are a few ideas?

  • Set up an email campaign some that when someone signs up for your mailing list, they get a message about your product.
  • Write blog posts about similar topics and link to your product at the end.
  • Write guest posts for other bloggers and mention your product in your bio or even within the post if relevant.
  • Run promotions throughout the year, offering discounts or free trials.
  • Work with your affiliates for special promotions.
  • Host a Google+ Hangout and talk about your product.
  • Come up with a plan to mention your product on social networks on a regular basis.
  • Create free products related to your paid product to give away, then upsell to the full product.
  • Do a free webinar about a related topic and talk about your product at the end.

Short-Term Customer Care

Short-term customer service is all about taking care of problems, right? Well, kind of. Problems should be your main focus, since these are opportunities to turn a bad situation into a good situation. However, don’t ignore your customers who are singing your praises or you biggest group of customers–the ones who say nothing at all.

Create an automated email sequence so that about a week after your product is purchased, the customer receives an email follow up. Ask for feedback, offer a surprise bonus, or simply thank them a second time. You want that “second touch” with each customer to show that you really do care.

Make sure you reply to anyone who emails you, even if they are not inquiring (or yelling!) about a problem. The people who love your product or just have a question are the people who will sing your praises if you give them a little attention. We all like to feel like we’re important. When you personally reply to someone, even to just say thank you, you’re making your customers feel noticed.

While I do advocate you doing this yourself, you can have a VA help you manage this part as well by categorizing your emails so you can reply more quickly.

Long-Term Customer Care

Think about how you’re going to connect with your customers long-term as well. Why should you care? Because they’ll give you even more money! When you have another product for sale, someone who has felt they received a lot of value from you in the past is going to pull out their credit card a second time.

It’s about more than a great product. You do want to be sure that what you’re selling is awesome. But more importantly, if you go that extra mile, you’ll have people begging you for another product or even giving you more money in the form of a donation. Pat Flynn once told a story about people purchasing a product from him that they didn’t even need just to say “thank you” for his free help in the past!

The key is VALUE. Here are a few ways you can offer long-term value:

  • Offer a free “second edition” version of your book to people who purchased in the past.
  • Ask your customers to become affiliates so they can earn a little income from recommending your product.
  • Engage with customers on social networks. Beyond just talking about your product, get to know them and share their links from time to time.
  • Create a community around your product, offering forums, Facebook groups, etc. for customers to talk to one another.
  • Do a call/webinar with your customers around the 3-month-since-launch mark to answer any lingering questions.
  • Touch base via occasional emails.

The point is this: keep people involved. Then, when you have another product for sale or want a boost in sales for your current product, ASK your community of customers to help you! They can…

  • Tweet, pin, and otherwise share via social networks
  • Send emails to their friends and followers
  • Write testimonials
  • Review your product on other sites

So, while you might be thinking of your digital product as a passive source of income, if you put some more time into building a community around the product, you’ll sell more products over the long term. Passive? Not really. Profitable? Absolutely!

I hope this series has helped you prepare for selling your next digital product. Remember to check out all of the other posts in the series if you haven’t already!

 

See Other Posts in This Series:

  1. Step One: Building Relationships
  2. Step Two: Choosing the Perfect Product
  3. Step Three: Creating Your Product
  4. Step Four: Planning Your Launch
  5. Step Five: Servicing Your Customers (this post)

Image credit (altered): Bigstock

Highway Blogging: How to Keep Your Readers Happy No Matter What Their Experience Level

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highway Recently, I went on a pretty epic road trip to visit family members living in various east coast states. Driving thousands of miles gives a person a lot of time to think (especially when your boyfriend/driving buddy falls asleep like a baby whenever he’s sitting in the passenger seat of a car for more than five minutes). Y’all know me: when I have a few minutes to my mind turns to my favorite subject: blogging.

Somewhere in Tennessee, I started to think about how to better please my blog readers.

One of my challenges has always been figuring out how to keep readers happy even though they are worlds apart in terms of experience and skill level.

Here on the NMX blog, we have people who are just starting out, but we also want to keep our long-term, more experienced readers interested. It’s a tall order to provide educational content for someone who has been blogging for a decade AND someone who only recently started blogging.

I call this highway blogging, because you need lanes for everyone, from slow, inexperienced drivers to drivers who are testing the limits of their cars speedometers. Without enough lanes, the highway is congested and drivers get frustrated.

So how can you make sure that your blog’s highway is wide enough to accommodate all readers without being too unfocused? Here are some tips I use:

  • Schedule your content: When you look at a calendar of your content, you can easily see if you’re posting too much beginner content or too much expert-level content.
  • Err on the side of “advanced”: You’re more likely to lose experts who are bored than beginners who are in over their heads. Beginners are hungry for knowledge, so even if they aren’t quite ready for your advanced content yet, they’ll bookmark it to read later.
  • Focus on being unique: Even advanced users will read your beginner content if your approach to the topic is unique. Remember, people come to your blog to read posts from you, with your style and voice. Teach from a different perspective and an expert in your niche will still share your content, even if it’s teaching a skill they already know.
  • Combine content: There’s no reason you can’t cover a topic from both educational levels. Start with a few paragraphs about the basics, then go over some advanced content as well.
  • Poll your readers: You might be wrong about the skill level of your primary audience. You might think that most of your readers are more advanced (or more beginner) than they actually are.

To be honest, this is still something I struggle with: finding that balance to keep all of my readers happy. Leave a comment with your tips. How do you  cater to all experience levels on your blog?

Get More Long-Term Readers with the Soap Bubble Approach to Blogging

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getting more long-term readers

Traffic spikes can be exciting. It’s fun to watch a post go viral, especially if those new readers are also leaving comments. But when those people leave your blog, they often don’t come back. Getting more long-term readers is a lot harder than getting more traffic.

Ten long-term readers who will become a part of you blog community are better than 100 readers who read one post and never come back, though. It’s hard to grow your blog if you don’t build a solid foundation of readers who are addicted to your posts. One of the techniques I use to convert first-time readers into long-term readers is what I call the soap bubble approach to blogging.

Blog Structure for More Long-Term Readers

The net time you work up a lather in the bathtub or splash some suds on your dirty car, take a close look at structure of the soap bubbles. You’ll notice that it typically isn’t a collection of air pockets that are all the same size. Instead, you’ll see mostly small bubbles that make up the foam with occasional mid-sized and larger bubbles. The small soap bubbles are what creates the sudsy power, though. Without them, your larger bubbles aren’t very effective.

I find that a lot of bloggers are obsessed with creating epic content. I’m a firm believer that every single post you write should be your best work. However, not every post your write has to be a “big bubble.”

Big bubble content is typically long, evergreen content that is highly sharable and often a comprehensive list or guide to a certain topic. An example of big bubble content is this post: 58 Ways to Get Noticed as a New Blogger

But “small bubble” content is just as important. This kind of content is still high quality, but aims to teach a single tip or skill or cover a single topic. An example of small bubble content is this post: The #1 Best Way to Understand Your Audience—And Why This Matters for Your Content

Whenever you write a big bubble type of post, you should be able to link back to at least five other supporting posts on your blog. Think of your big bubble content as a hub for the small bubble content you’ve written in the past.

Why This Leads to More Long-Tem Readers

In general, I’ve found that if someone reads three posts from me, they are likely to come back and read my posts again and again. In many cases, people who read at least three posts are so hooked that they read several posts on your blog. They’ve discovered your content, and they can’t get enough.

Internal linking encourages them to read more content, but this isn’t just about making sure you link to previous posts in every blog post you write. It’s about making sure that you have related posts to support the epic content that is going to get the most attention. Super relevant posts that first-time readers can visit to learn more is going to be extremely enticing. Again, if you can get someone to read at least three posts on your blog, they will be much more likely to become a long term reader. A lower bounce rate definitely leads to a bigger community.

So, the next time you sit down to write a list post or an ultimate guide or another type of post that you know is going to bring in lots of traffic, ask yourself this question: Do I have a small bubble (supporting) post to go with each point I’m making?

If not, write one before you publish so any post that goes viral encourages people to read more instead of bouncing on to the next website.

Is Removing the Dates from Your Blog Posts a Good Idea?

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dates One of the defining characteristics of a blog is that they’re updated instead of just being a static website. Over the past few years, however, more and more bloggers are opting to remove the dates from blog posts, so if you land on a single post/page, you have no idea when it was actually published.

Here’s why some people are doing it:

  • People will judge a post because it is older, even if the content is completely evergreen.
  • People hesitate to share older posts, even if they enjoyed the content.

Advocates of removing dates from their blog posts point to their traffic. When tested, bounce rate decreased and pageviews increased for many bloggers, so it seems like a really great argument for at least trying this out on your own blog.

I’m not sold, though. Just because something is good for your stats doesn’t mean that it is good for your readers. This is the same argument we see with pop-up advertisements. Time and time again, bloggers who use them point to the fact that their stats show that pop-ups work. However, people hate them so violently that you’re also potentially driving away your community if you use them.

Here’s why I’m not sold on removing dates:

  • Readers should be allowed to make the decision about whether or not a post is evergreen.

When you remove the dates from a blog post, you’re not allowing a reader to make the decision about whether or not a post is relevant. As a reader, that annoys me. I should have the ability to think, “You know what? Even though the blogger thinks this post is evergreen, I don’t want to read advice from 2008. I want to read advice from 2013.” I actually make a point to stop reading blogs that no longer include dates and I will rarely link to them. It just makes me feel like they don’t value me as a reader. I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels this way.

  • Evergreen content is rarely actually evergreen.

I don’t know about you, but my opinions shift over time as I learn and grow. I also like to link out to other posts, which might not be as evergreen as the post I’m writing, and whenever possible, I like to use examples and data in my post, which both get outdated pretty quickly.

  • Few of us only write evergreen posts.

Removing dates might sound great for your evergreen posts, but what if you want to write a post that is dated? In this case, you’re doing a disservice to your readers if the post doesn’t have a date on it. You also have to stay away from saying stuff like “recently” and “yesterday” in your posts, since readers will have no concept of what that was. Syed Balkhi wrote about how removing the dates hurt his community because so many of the posts he writes are not evergreen, even though so many large blog have opted to remove their dates.

  • The comments could be non-evergreen.

One of the great things about blogging is that your community can add to a post by leaving comments. Sometimes, the comments have a better discussion than the actual post! But your commenters can say stuff that is dated, even if the post is fairly evergreen. I’ve seen some bloggers keep dates on comments even though they are removed on the post, but that seems a little counter-productive. However, once you remove the dates from comments, you’re risking giving future readers outdated information by mistake. As a commenter, I would also worry about looking dumb if I left a comment and someone read it three years later when it was no longer relevant even though someone might assume I said it last week.

  • Sometimes we don’t realize that what we’re writing isn’t evergreen.

The world changes. New services pop up. Platforms’ popularity waxes and wanes. Scandals happen. Having a post dated is almost like protection against a changing world. For example, I might do an awesome evergreen interview with someone today and a year from now find out that the person is scamming people. If my post is dated, anyone who comes to it can clearly see that I sang my praises for the person before they were outed as a scam artist. Or as another example, I might give people advice based on the face that Facebook doesn’t have certain features. If Facebook introduces those features next year, my advice would sound stupid or incomplete.

Even though there might be traffic benefits, I truly believe that removing the date is the wrong choice for most blogs. Notice I said most but not all. Ultimately, you have to make the decision that’s best for your content. I just encourage you to not only look at your stats when testing, but also to think about what your community of readers really want and need.

Do you have dates on your blog posts? Why or why not?

How to Build a Stronger Blog Community Using Comments (Part One)

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stronger blog community

About a year and a half ago, I started an interesting experiment on one of my blogs. Previously, I had only replied to comments sparingly, when someone asked a direct question or challenged the opinion in the post. I would get one or two comments on each post, with the occasional post getting more comments and some posts getting no comments. This is about average in the specific niche in question, especially for the size of my blog at the time (15,000 to 20,000 pageviews per month).

I made a distinct decision to start replying to comments. With very few exceptions, I started replying to every single comment received on my posts, from thoughtful, long comments to comments that said little more than, “Great post!”

Here’s what happened:

  • My pageviews increased more rapidly than my unique views.
  • I got an increase in emails from readers.
  • I began to notice certain commenters popping up over and over.
  • My email list subscribers began to increase at a faster rate.
  • I started receiving sponsored post inquiries.

I want to go over each of these points one by one, because I think it’s important to analyze exactly what happened and why. Replying to comments isn’t some kind of magic technique that will suddenly make your blog super successful. But if my experiences are indicative of the norm, this is a practice your should consider.

stats Increase in PageViews

When I made the decision to start replying to comments, I also made other changes. This was part of an overall strategy to move the blog from being more personal in nature to having more strategy for increasing traffic and revenue. Making the decision to reply to comments was just one of the changes I made.

Some of the other changes I made at the same time included:

  • Putting more effort into search engine optimization (previously, I had not considered it at all)
  • Posting more frequently (3-4 times per week instead of 1-2 times per week)
  • Scheduling my posts (previously, I might post twice in one day, then not again for a week)
  • Using Tumblr to promote my blog (previously, I had not used this platform)
  • Having a weekly feature every Tuesday (the same type of post consistently)

I think all of these changes helped me gain more traffic. Plus, most bloggers find that their traffic will increase over time naturally, as long as you’re posting regularly.

What was interesting, however, is that I didn’t see the same rate of increase in unique views as I did in overall pageviews. My bounce rate went down slightly, but more importantly, the same readers were coming back again and again. SEO, increase in frequency, and new promotion methods all brought in new readers, while the scheduling, weekly feature, and replying to comments all contributed to having more returning readers.

email Increase in Emails from Readers

On this specific blog, I publish a lot of “advice” posts. Commenters will often ask for clarification or ask new questions. However, the niche is relationship-related, so not everyone is comfortable posting questions that are so personal.

When I started to reply to comments, I saw an increase in the number of emails from readers asking for advice.

Of course, some of this can be attributed to my increase in traffic. However, regularly, I will have readers mention the fact that they’re email me after reading one of my comments or that they’re asking for advice because they like the advice I give to other commenters. I believe that this is by far the biggest reason I get more readers’ emails.

As a side note, this is an awesome way to get content ideas. Often, several people will ask the same question, and I end up turning my answer into a post. I keep a spreadsheet if ideas for my blog, including questions I’m asked via email.

comments Return Commenters

Before I started replying to comments, I had some regular readers. However, when I started interacting more with commenters, I noticed that the same people started to comment more and more often.

Were these people regular readers before? In some cases, yes. In other cases, no. The fact that old and new readers alike began to comment regularly is an advantage, though. Their comments make my posts more valuable or start interesting conversations. Sometimes, comments can even lead to new post ideas.

In any case, regular interaction has helped these readers feel like they are a part of my blog. Someone who feels like an active member of my community, not just passive reader, is invested in my content and community, and they’re more likely to share posts with their friends and buy products.

When you see someone comment regularly, I actually suggest reaching out via email and letting them know you appreciate their support. This is only going to keep them coming back and commenting.

Also, if you see a regular commenter stop commenting, take a moment and email them or say hi via social media. That little efforts lets your biggest fans know you appreciate them.

email 2 More Email Subscribers

Because I made several changes on my blog, there’s no way to say what attributed to the increase I saw in email subscribers.

I did notice some of the same names popping up–readers who had emailed me and who had become regular commenters also subscribed. So, I have to infer that replying to comments did make a difference. I won’t dwell on this point, though, since I don’t believe it’s one of the main advances, just fringe benefit.

Want more tips for getting email subscribers? Check out these 30+ tips for building your list.

money3 Landing Sponsors

By far, the best part of this experiment, for me, has been the increase in revenue for the blog. I started offering sponsored posts about two years ago, but I didn’t really see any traction on this until I began interacting in the comments section of my blog. Prior to that, most of the money I made on this blog can from banner ads and affiliate sales. Now, I get 5-10 sponsored post requests per month, and I get to pick and choose who I want to work with and what I want to post. (For the record, I only post about 2 per month due to the nature of my blog, but having the option to post more is nice!)

I know for a fact that landing more sponsors for sponsored posts has happened because of the interaction in the comments section of my blog. Potential sponsors have flat-out told me that they’re impressed with the interesting conversation that happens on my posts and the fact that I’m so involved with the community.

Some Final Thoughts

So should you reply to all of your comments? This really depends on your blog style. Seth Godin has a very successful blog that doesn’t have comments at all. Jenny Lawson has a very successful blog despite rarely responding to comments. There’s not one right answer. For me, for this blog and this niche, it has had advantages.

Do you reply to all of the comments on your blog? Tell me about your experiences in the comments section of this post!

Stay tuned for part two in this series, where I talk about commenting on other blogs to build your own community.

From Good to Great: 5 Ways to Turn Passion into Better Blogging

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If there’s one thing that sets the big blogs apart, it’s passion. With that in mind, here are five ways to turn your passion into better blogging!

1. Be Willing to Learn New Things

Take that enthusiasm you have for your industry and use it to grow your ability to communicate about it. Blogging is a unique medium, different from magazine advertising, direct mail marketing, or email newsletters—so invest the time to learn how it works and to continually improve your skills. Here are a few areas to explore:

  • HTML/CSS: In today’s world of user-friendly blog software and templates, you don’t need to know HTML or CSS coding to start a site—but learning a few basics won’t hurt. In fact, with a little extra coding knowledge under your belt, you’ll be better equipped to tweak your design as you like. For a good start, see this helpful article at Google.
  • Design: Content may be king, but design definitely matters. Keep track of blog designs you like and continually look for ways to raise the bar on how your site looks to visitors.
  • SEO: Search engine optimization is crucial for increasing traffic because it helps bring users to your site when they’re already searching for related information. For more information on this topic, take a look at “Why SEO Matters No Matter How Brilliant Your Content Is.”
  • Photography: The Internet is a visual place, so improving your pictures goes a long way towards improving your site. At the Straight North Blog, we’ve used royalty-free images from Fotolia; at my personal blog Food Loves Writing, I’m always looking for ways to take better pictures and even to hand-illustrate when appropriate.

2. Let Your Excitement Show—on Social Media

When someone is passionate about what he or she is saying, it’s not hard to tell—and that’s just as true online as it is at cocktail parties. Whether on Twitter or Facebook or another site, let your genuine enthusiasm show by sharing and posting online the things that catch your attention.

  • Relevant Links: Find a blog or website that inspires and motivates you? Share it with your followers and tell them why you like it. Not only does this make your feed more valuable, but it also builds community with the authors and creators whose works you’re promoting. Food bloggers do this all the time when they share recipes and links from other sites, like Sarah Kieffer from the Vanilla Bean Blog does here on Facebook:

vanilla bean blog

  • Interesting Articles: When you come across a study or article that relates to your industry, tell your fans about it—they might feel the same way, like Helene from French Foodie Baby does here:

french foodie baby

  • Your Own Work: Promoting your own content on social networks is acceptable, as long as that’s not all you promote. With discretion, let your followers know about your recent work—blog posts, press releases, news updates—and where they can find it.

the house that lars built

3. Find Other People as Passionate as You Are

One of the greatest benefits of sharing your passion online is finding a network of people who also love what you love. Whether you’re a food blogger obsessed with baking, a business blogger fascinated by corporate case studies, or a graphic designer ever on the hunt for slick logos, you can bet there are other bloggers who feel the same way. By forming relationships with like-minded people, you create a strong community that greatly enhances your online experience. Reach out on social media or via email.

Some of the benefits of blog community include:

  • Genuine friendships
  • Loyal audience
  • Promotion of each other’s work
  • Creative inspiration
  • Opportunities to learn
  • Greater visibility
  • Enjoyment

4. Reach High for Specific Goals

Passion is great, but passion with a purpose is even greater. Rather than just striving to blog better, set specific goals—this helps guide your efforts and ensures you’re moving towards a better blog.

Three tips for setting blog goals:

  1. Be Specific: Don’t say, “I want to blog better.” Say, “I want 2,000 new RSS subscribers by the end of three months.”
  2. Make Goals Measurable: If your goal is more subscribers, find a way to calculate that number. If your goal is a lower bounce rate, set up Google Analytics. Make your goals measurable so you know if you’re hitting them.
  3. Set Time Limits: Be sure to set time limits on your goals. Rather than aiming to blog twice a week, aim to blog twice a week for a year—this helps to keep you motivated.

5. Branch Out

Who says you have to stop at blogging? Why not branch out beyond traditional posts into the world of videos or podcasts? Sometimes a new vehicle is all you need to improve your work. Here are a few ideas for spreading your passion even farther:

  • Videos: Visual, engaging, and filled with potential for adding your personality to your site, videos are typically crowd pleasers. Try answering reader questions, sharing behind-the-scenes information, running interviews over video, or giving helpful how-tos, like Meghan from Eat Live Make does here:

photography 101

  • Podcasts: Built off the idea of radio broadcasts, podcasts let you communicate with your audience orally, opening up all kinds of possibilities, from interviews to roundtable discussions to music and more. One new way to do this is through a Google+ Hangout, which is what Alex and Sonja from A Couple Cooks did on March 9.
  • Guest Posting: Spread your voice online by guest-posting on other websites, like authors do on this site regularly. This builds community with other blog authors and gets your brand out to a larger audience.
  • E-books: By making an e-book, you have a packaged product to sell or give away. This option is great for how-to guides, topical booklets, compilations, etc.  You may create the book in a Word processor, save it as a PDF, and market that PDF directly through your site; or you could go through a service like Amazon Kindle Direct, like we did with our ebook.

written together

Your Thoughts

Whether you’ve been blogging a day or a decade, what have you seen to be keys to blogging passion? How does it show? How can you nurture it? Is passion driving what you do?

7 Pieces of Blog Advice to Ignore

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When it comes to advice, blogging’s like anything else—everybody’s got an opinion, and these opinions often conflict. How can you know whose to trust? Which advice is the right advice? Are there certain tips that you can always assume to be untrue?

To help answer those questions, here are seven pieces of advice you can safely ignore:

1. “Always blog every day.”

One of the earliest and most popular pieces of advice given to bloggers was also one of the worst, saying you have to blog every day. While the experts say daily blogging is necessary for building traffic, the truth is that daily blogging is not the only way to gain readers. In fact, some bloggers find the pressure to post every day lowers their posts’ quality and therefore, in the long run, hurts them more than it helps.

Better advice: Blog regularly, but blog quality.

2. “You need to be controversial.”

Controversial topics indeed draw readers’ attention—but sometimes they backfire. When a site with a generally happy, uplifting tone publishes a sharp, critical article, the audience recoils. Controversy for its own sake is not beneficial; it’s alienating.

Better advice: Don’t feel you need to be controversial to be different. It’s just as interesting to approach a topic from a new angle or perspective. More than that, stay authentic to your own voice.

3. “Comment on other sites constantly.”

In blogging’s early days, everyone said to comment on other sites as much as possible because by responding on other blogs, you alert other bloggers to your site.

Better advice: Rather than commenting on blogs to bring traffic to your own, comment on other blogs when you’re genuinely interested in what the blogger has to say. This fosters real relationships.

4. “Don’t go too specific.”

The biggest blogs are about the biggest topics—or at least that’s what some experts say. That’s why specialists often recommend writing about the industries with the largest followings. But if writing about the popular topics isn’t authentic to your voice, readers will notice—and you’ll never get anywhere.

Better advice: When someone says your niche is too specific, don’t listen. Whatever your passion, an audience exists for it.

5. “You have to build traffic.”

Whether you blog about accounting or home design, the experts push for numbers, numbers, numbers. Everything is about building Web traffic and attracting more eyes to your content—but, in reality, building traffic is only one potential goal.

Better advice: Evaluate what you hope to accomplish with your site—Brand awareness? Better SEO for your website? New leads? More sales?—and see if that goal demands more traffic. If it doesn’t, don’t waste your time.

6. “Pull pictures from Tumblr.”

Everybody knows pictures make blogs more attractive and interesting—they give readers something to look at, respond to, and sometimes share. And if you look at other blogs, you’ll find other bloggers taking pictures from Tumblr or Pinterest and posting them on their own sites. You may do it, too.

Better advice: Most photos on Tumblr don’t link to the original source, and taking someone else’s picture without permission is not okay; it’s stealing. It’s better to use your own pictures, or use a resource that gives full permission for usage.

7. “Nobody reads blogs anymore.”

Here’s a piece of advice meant to discourage: Blogging is done. You hear this from cynics and experts alike, along with stats on how many blogs exist and how few find success. Why should you even bother with a blog? Stick to social media instead.

Better advice: The prevalence of blogging is less a testament to over-saturation and more a testament to its power. In 2013 more than ever, content is key for firms to stand out online, as well as for individuals. Blogs add relevant, authoritative content for businesses and draw big-time SEO power for websites. That’s why, whether you blog for business or pleasure, blogging is worthwhile.

Your Turn

Does this post resonate with you? Have you received advice like this from well-meaning blog experts and wondered what didn’t add up? What other bad advice have you received about blogging? What good advice?

5 Beginner Steps to Creating a Blog that You Can Monetize

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Last week, I wrote Follow 50+ MBA-level Case Studies in Content and Inbound Marketing about a 48-hour class that is happening at a university in Silicon Valley.

In the first week, my students wrote a combined 750-ish posts of varying length and purpose – daily posts, guest posts, link bait posts. At Top 10 Content Marketing Sites in the Social Media MBA course I listed up the best performers. You’re welcome to take a look to see just how many unique visitors, total visitors and page views that much effort can produce in sites that are starting from zero.

In this post I want to articulate the 5 first steps my students and I had to take BEFORE they could think about making money with content marketing and the challenges I faced to get them there and how I, ahem, overcame those challenges just to get the students online and writing.

Step One: Get a Domain Name and Hosting

More than 2 weeks out my trusty TA (teacher’s assistant) and I started sending emails to the whole class via the school’s learning management system. No response. What do you do when you can’t get a response and the only way to contact the students is email? You spam them until they figure out they had better do something.

About half of the 60+ students showed up with a domain name and hosting.

Another one fourth showed up thinking, “What’s the difference between having a domain and hosting? Aren’t they the same?

And still others said, “You emailed us? When? You want us to do what?”

There was no easy answer. My trusty assistant, Kevin, came to class and they drove him ragged getting everyone a domain and hosting. It wasn’t pretty. But over the course of the first 2 days and 16 hours of in-class time and a ton of emails, we got everyone in the class online with a domain, hosting and WordPress installed.

If any reader here has a better solution to this problem…by all means let me know.

Step Two: Get the Right Plugins and Set Up the Back End

With a group of students who don’t even know what WordPress is, much less a plugin, there was no easy answer to this either. Throwing something up on the giant screen and having everyone follow along just wouldn’t work. Besides I had to spend a LOT of time on Steps 3-5 and couldn’t afford the time.

I nearly killed my local and overseas staff. They were spending about 1-2 hours per site setting the permalink structure I like, getting the right plugins in place – SEO, sitemap, etc. Creating webmaster accounts for each and installing Google Analytics so we can track the results. 60+ websites at various stages of coming online x 2 hours each = a LOT of time.

Again, I knew of no simple way to do this other than throw food under the door to keep my staff happy, or at least well fed, while they brought all the sites to an equal footing. Suggestions?

Step Three: Decide What to Write About

Unlike the first two steps,  at this point I finally had everyone on the same page, in the same room, doing the same thing. I could get all 60+ students to look up and follow along.

I had all students create a tagline. My specific instructions were for them to tell me what they were going to write about in 10 words (not a magic number, but definitely less than 12) or less what they planned to write about. They were NOT to use adjectives, adverbs, prepositions, conjunctions or articles. They were to come up with 3 different iterations and show them to five other classmates for feedback and pick the best one. Focus for a site from the get go is critical

Other instructions:

  • Write about something you are interested in
  • Write about something you can create an interest in
  • Write about something you have a lot to say about.

In my world, if a blogger doesn’t have a 1,000 things to say about their topic they will have a hard time making money with their site.

Step Four: Use SEO to Ensure Posts are Found

What is SEO anyway? Search Engine Optimization. But what is that?

I define Search Engine Optimization as content that appeals to real people (first) and to search engines (second). But it must appeal to both.

If a blogger only considers readers they might get read but only by the people the blogger tells to go their directly. They will not be found as well by search engines. If the blogger considers only the search engines they are likely to come up with stuff that is just unreadable. There is an ideal balance for the content. Ideal balance = optimization.

I have learned that there are some 220+ parameters that can go into an ideal post/page. I have also learned that pages can be overly optimized. But what I find of particular value is that I have also learned that there are about 20 ‘things’ you can do to a blog post that will get you 90-95% of the results you want. I will write about them in a future post.

If you can’t wait, you can buy the book – Marketing with Social Media. It’s the text book, first draft, that I wrote for this course.

Step Five: – Make a Plan and Work the Plan

For every hour of classroom work, I can require 2 hours of work outside of the class.  I am requiring my students to write 600-750 words DAILY. How hard can that be? They are permitted to adapt to their own style.

Some like to write multiple short posts.

Some like to write one long post each day.

Some like to do a combination.

It doesn’t matter to me.

Additionally, the students are required to guest post weekly at my home site about their progress (you can read their posts at Bill Belew Guest Writer AND guest post at one classmate’s web site that is relevant. Lots of link love happening that will only get better and of more value as the sites mature = get more content. Lastly, they are required to write one relatively higher quality post – link bait style.

Ongoing:

All 5 of these steps were done in the first 2 days of class, each a full 9-hour day, counting lunch. The students are off and writing at this point. Some get it, some don’t. Every educator knows that just because you tell somebody something, it doesn’t mean they learned it.

In the meantime, in about 10 weeks, this class will wrap up with some 15-20,000 posts being written over a large variety of niches and at various paces and different lengths and with different intensity and interlinking. How cool is that?

What do you think I can learn from this?
What would you like to learn?

What you can do:

Step 1 – Subscribe to the Bill Belew.com/blog to get more immediate updates from me at my home site. You will also be able to read the inbound and content marketing student experiences first hand

Step 2 -Subscribe to this NMX blog to get updates when they come out here.

Thanks for reading.

Blog Gamification: The Key to Community Growth?

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I look at my clock and it’s less than an hour until my next deadline. I haven’t had time to eat a proper meal in days, nor do I remember the last time I got a full night’s sleep. Heck, I haven’t even had time to shower yet today, and let’s not talk about my pile of laundry. Must work. Must get this done before time runs out…

And then my phone buzzes to tell me that it’s my turn to play on Draw Something. Somehow, I find the time to play.

Does that scene sound familiar? It does for me. A few months ago, I had to quit mobile/social games cold turkey because they were actually starting to interfere with my work. These games can be intoxicating, addictive even. And it’s no accident. Gamemakers know exactly what they are doing when they make games. They want you to spend as much time playing as possible, since that means you’re viewing more ads or even spending your own money on customization options.

It’s no wonder how Farmville, one of gaming powerhouse Zynga’s most popular games, has 2.5 million active daily users. What blogger among us wouln’t kill for those stats? Games are addicting; they keep people coming back for more. Maybe there’s something we can learn from that.

Could gamification be the key to building your blog community? Could it be the element you’re missing, the reason your stats haven’t yet exploded?

Gamification, Blog Style

Gamification doesn’t mean that you make your blog agame. It simply means that you use game elements to make the experience more interactive and addicting for your community members.

Blog posts as an evolution of the article already bring some of these elements to the table. For example, blogs were the beginning of a more social web. For the first time, published articles weren’t just a one-way street, with the author talking to an audience. Most blogs allow comments, which makes the conversation two-way.

Being able to add to an article and start a conversation makes you invested. You’re talking to the author and you’re talking to other members of the community. You’re involved now.

Comments are so common online, though, that they don’t have the same effect as they did at first. So, how can you take these same gamification elements and expand them to get your community involved even further?

Gamification Examples

To better understan the concept of gamification, let’s take a look at some examples of bloggers adding these elements to their sites:

  • Featuring Community Work at Six Sisters’ Stuff

Over at Six Sisters’ Stuff, the blog is host of a weekly link party, where other food and DIY bloggers post links to their favorite projects from the past week. This already adds a level of interaction, but even more importantly, the sisters feature their favorites every week, choosing a handful from the projects submitted to promote to their fans. It’s a mini competition every week, with the community encouraged to participate every week in order to be considered for the honor of being featured.

  • Leaderboards on Social Media Examiner

To complement their highly successful blog, Social Media Examiner also launched community discussion forums. Called Networking Clubs, this area of the Social Media Examiner site allows users to continue the discussion even away from traditional blog posts. It’s a great community element. But there’s a gamification element too. On the Social Media Examiner sidebar, you’ll see a “leaderboard.” Here, ten members are featured, so it’s a game among members. The more you participate, the more likely you’ll show up on the sidebar. You also earn a higher “rank” the longer you remain an active member.

  • Rewards with Comment Luv

Comment Luv’s premium version isn’t free, but it does allow you to enable some gamification on your blog posts. With Comment Luv, you can allow readers to include a link to their latest blog post every time they leave a comment. This in and of itself is gamification, as you’re rewarding people for taking an action that you want them to take (in this case, the reward is the link and the action is the comment). With the premium version, however, you can also allow them further rewards for taking more actions. For example, you can set it up so that readers who comment a certain number of times get access to post not just their most recent link, but any of the ten most recent links.

You can increase the gamification of this by including a “top commenters” widget on your sidebar in order to recognize readers who comment the most. This is something we do here on the NMX blog. Our sidebar shows the top non-staff commenters over the past 30 days, which encourages people to comment more and reach the top of that list.

The Elements of Gamification

Basically, gamification comes down to two elements: a rewards system or competition. The best systems allow for both. You want to offer something of value for people who participate in your community, whether that’s a link or a special feature or something else. You also want to pit community members against one another to see who can be the best at something (always making sure the competition is as fair and friendly as possible). The three examples above aren’t the only ways to do this on your blog.

Businesses are starting to realize more and more the benefits of gamification. Offline, this translates to items like punch cards (buy seven coffees, get one free!) while online this translates to items like Foursquare check-in coupons. Blogs, however, have been a little slower to the world of gamification. What examples of gamification have you seen on other blogs? Do you think this is a good way to build a community?

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