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What is a Sales Funnel and Why Should Content Creators Care?

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“What the heck is a sales funnel?”

I remember that thought going through my mind when I first started to get serious about my blogging. I forget where I first saw the term, but I certainly didn’t know the definition of sales funnel or why it mattered to me as a blogger.

More and more, I saw it, though. And not just for bloggers. It seemed like everyone was talking about it – podcasters, business owners, video producers – pretty much everyone creating content online.

So I decided to get to the bottom of it. What is a sales funnel? And since understanding this concept, I’ve been able to take my online content to another level. So today, I wanted to do a little 101 lesson for anyone out there who doesn’t know what a sales funnel is or doesn’t think it applies to them. I assure you, it matters, even if you don’t think you work in sales!

A sales funnel can be illustrated with this simple graphic:

sales funnel So let’s say you’re working in a traditional sales setting. The first level, the wide pool, might be 1,000 names and numbers you’re given to cold call. Of that wide pool, most people hang up on your or say they aren’t interested, but maybe 10% or 100 people show some interest. They’re in that second level. Once you explain your product more, maybe 10% of those, or 10 people, are willing to come into your office to discuss more – they move to the “very interested” level. And over those 10 people, maybe 1 person actually takes action and buys the product.

The theory is that the more people you put into the top of the funnel, the more people who will come out the other side having taken action. If 1,000 cold calls = 1 sale, I need to call 10,000 people every month to make a quota of 10 sales.

The reason to look at a sales funnel is so you can make improvements. 10,000 people might be WAY too many people for me to call every month. So, to meet my quota, maybe I need to improve my pitch so that instead of 10 people being interested in coming into my office, 50 people are interested. If I still make sales to 10% of them, that means 1,000 cold calls is worth 5 sales instead of 1, so I only have to call 2,000 people every month to meet my quota.

Or, looking at the sales funnel, I might determine that I need another step or level. Maybe instead of inviting people to the office as the next step, I ask if I can send them more info in the mail as the next step, and from there I follow up with the ask to come into the office to hear about the service or product.

But Why Should You Care?

As a content creator, you may or may not be selling a product/service. But you do have an end goal, an action you want your audience members to take. When someone lands on your website, what is it that you most want them to do.

Let’s say that you have an ebook to sell. Someone who comes to your site for the first time probably isn’t going to buy it right off the bat, unless they had a strong word-of-moth recommendation. Instead, you have to move them down that sales funnel. This is what it might look like for you:

sales funnel 2 Your funnel might have more steps. But think about what moves a person from level one, where they’re visiting your site for the first time, to the final level, where they’re buying your ebook. Then look at the conversation rate of each step. How can you boost the percentage of people who move down the funnel, so more people are making it to the end of the line? (This is an awesome guest post on proven techniques for boosting your conversation rate.) Or what can you do to add more steps? If you’re jumping right from reading posts to trying to sell your ebook, people might not respond as well because that’s a big action to take. But if you’re asking for something smaller, like signing up for a mailing list, more people might be inclined to move to the next level.

Like I said, this works even if you don’t have a product to sell. For example, let’s say that your goal is to get as much traffic as possible because you make money through sponsored posts, and the more traffic you have, the more sponsors will be willing to pay for these posts. In this case, your end goal might be for people to share your posts on social networks. So, your funnel might look like this:

sales funnel 3 The more people you get to each level, the more people who will come out the other end of the funnel sharing your content. So maybe you need to start at the top can think about ways to get more people to see you links. Or maybe you need to work on your headlines so that more people who see the links move to the next level and click.

You can create a sales funnel for ANY goal you might have. Just think about the action you’d most like new visitors to take, then write out the steps someone would take to get there. Go back and analyze your conversion for each step to see where you can improve.

Now that you understand what a sales funnel is, will you start using it? Leave a comment to tell us your plans (or what you’re already doing to funnel people to your final goal)!

How to Improve Your Site Conversion: 10 Data Proven Tips

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“Conversion” – it sounds like such a mysterious thing to newer website owners. You want more of your site visitors to buy your product. Those who are already buying, you want them to come back, buy again, and spend more while they are at your site.

However, the sheer number of elements that go into creating good conversion rates can seem overwhelming at first. Should you look at your call-to-action buttons? Do you need a better product description? Fortunately, there are companies that have big marketing budgets, or sometimes small ones but a lot of time to experiment, who have studied what works best to improve site conversion. By studying the techniques these companies have used successfully, you can gain some insider tips that will help improve conversion on your site.

NMX testimonials 1. Include Customer Testimonials

Adding customer testimonials tells your site visitors that you can be trusted because others have been happy with your product. WikiJob, a graduate jobs website in the UK and one of the largest, was able to increase sales by 34% simply by adding an optimized customer testimonial. You will want to take three steps to not only add testimonials, but ones that will increase your conversion rates.

  1. Collect customer testimonials. The easiest way to do this is to provide a link the customer can click on, e-mail current customers, and simply ask for testimonials.
  2. Use the testimonials on your site. Have a separate page, sprinkle them throughout your text, put them in an image box and include on your landing page, etc.
  3. A/B test the statements by optimizing them for SEO, increasing the size of the text, trying different placements, etc. and see which combination works best to increase your income.

The  co-founder of WikiJob, Chris Muktar, shared with Visual Website Optimizer how they tested their theory. They had two main goals. First, they wanted to get people to click through to PayPal, but their final goal was to convert that click into the customer purchasing the product. They tried their theory on a single landing page at first. They even experimented with placement, but the only thing that made a difference was upfront, sincere testimonials on the landing page.

2. Offer Trust Signals

Imagine for a moment that you are a visitor to a website for the first time. The product looks interesting, but you don’t know the person running it or anything about the company. Can you even trust them to deliver what you pay for? How do you know they will offer good customer service if you’re not happy with your purchase?

You can allay a lot of fears your customers have by offering trust signals. Offer a 30-day full refund, returns without questions, double money back guarantee (careful with this one), or even free shipping to help entice those new customers to trust you. Even the USPS offers a money-back guarantee on their Express Mail services.

3. Create Closed Checkouts

When you study your website statistics, do you notice that a lot of your customers go to the ordering page but don’t follow through with the order? Perhaps the customer is getting distracted. People are crazy busy these days. There are dozens of distractions for the average person. From children needing help with homework, to television, to a text message coming through to other websites and even, at times, your own website’s sidebars.

Closed checkouts remove all distractions in the checkout process. Amazon is a perfect example of a closed checkout that has translated into a massive sales machine. Once you arrive at your shopping cart, it is not easy to suddenly browse elsewhere. Instead, Amazon funnels the customer through the system, gathering payment information, shipping and suggesting additional products others have purchased. To model Amazon’s method:

  • Remove links that will take the customer away from the checkout process
  • Try to stick with simple pages without a lot of clutter, such as multimedia or even a lot of images
  • Create a clear process where the customer confirms the order, adds payment info, adds shipping and sees one clear button to click to complete the sale.

4. Add Special Effects

Let’s go back to your landing page for a minute. Special effects can drive the traffic that hits your site to the page you want it on, such as the ordering page, or a special offer. The goal is to make it easy for the site visitor to navigate to the page you want him on.

  • Hello Bar is a neat little tool which allows you to place a bar on your page that has text and is clickable. You can make it a bright red, for example, so it stands out and the customer will see the bar and may click on it. Be clear in the text as far as where the customer will go. For example, put the words “more information on plans and pricing” in your bar.
  • nRelate Flyout is a plugin that works with WordPress to insert a flyout box on your page similar to what is used at New York Times or Huffington Post. This catches the reader’s eye. Offer a tidbit, such as “save 34% on heating costs this winter with our energy efficiency plan” and your visitors may just go to your product page to learn more.

5. Watch Industry Trends

Check trends in your industry, watch what is trending on Google and Twitter, keep an eye on your friend’s Facebook pages and even tune in to the national news. A perfect example of how a company went with trending news and revamped their site to increase conversion happened when Michael Jackson passed away. According to Andrew Girdwood, it was within two hours if the King of Pop’s death that Amazon edited their MP3 homepage to feature Michael Jackson songs.

Editor’s note: of course, always be sensitive to current events, especially tragedies. There’s nothing worse than a company trying to profit off of sad news, like a shooting.

6. Check Site Usability

All the site traffic on the Internet won’t do you a bit of good if your site is hard to use. Bad navigation, home page clutter, lengthy pages, or poor layout will all hurt you with site visitors. If your site is slow to load, visitors will leave and move on to the next site that loads more quickly. Here are some things you can do today to ensure your home page and landing pages are easier to read in digital format:

  • audible Create a page layout that is balanced. If you’re not sure, ask a graphic designer or web designer friend to help. Artists usually have a natural eye for balance as well.
  • Use headers, subheaders and bullet points to break up the text and make it easy to skim.
  • Make sure there is white space between paragraphs and make your paragraphs shorter.
  • Make sure important navigation links are easy to find.

Audible.com is a good example of a usable site. The layout is easy to read and the text stands out against the white background. The top of the home landing page states two options very clearly: “How It Works” and “About Membership”. This is the information a visitor needs to decide whether or not Audible is right for him. Audible very effectively funnels the first-time visitor to one of these two pages and then offers a free book so you can try it out.

7. Have Separate Landing Pages

Nearly every business out there has more than one type of customer. If you sell pet rocks, for example, you might have a very young audience made up of children ordering pet rocks with their birthday money and an older audience ordering pet rocks as gifts. You may also sell different types of pet rocks, such as mini pet rocks and boulders. It is important to have different landing pages for different targeted audiences. You can more easily track how successful a particular site conversion tactic is with that product or audience.

Voices.com was able to improve their conversion rate by more than 200%. Through customer surveys and analytics, they determined that they had two main types of customers. Their customers were either voice over artists or companies seeking such artists. They created two separate funnels, one for each customer type.

8. Improve Headlines

The headline is the first impression the reader has of your website. Perhaps it is while she is browsing on a search engine, or maybe it is when a friend shares an article on a social media site. Whatever the case, you have a chance to make her want to read more or to yawn and walk away.

You can easily keep her on your site and through your content convert her into a customer by:

  • Improving your hook
  • Creating a set of templates that are proven effective formulas for headlines

There is no need to reinvent the wheel. Read the Headlines Writing Guides at Web Hosting Secrets Revealed for 35 sample headlines and how to create your own.

# 9: Add Videos

Would your product be presented better with a video? In one case study, jewelry sales rose by an impressive 247% when videos of the product were added. A few things to keep in mind based on this case study:

  • Feature one product at a time so you can easily enable A/B testing for how successful that video is for that product.
  • Keep in mind that some visitors will have slower load times and cover the information in text in case they have multimedia disabled.

10. Keep It Short

The average Internet browser spends around 4 seconds looking over a page before deciding to move on. This could be due to the increased use of smart phones and tablets to access the Internet, but whatever the cause, you have a very short amount of time to hook that reader and get her interested in your product.

Remember that less is more. Let’s look at AssessmentDay’s success with cutting some of the elements on a landing page. The company had a landing page with a call-to-action button, a FAQs section about what type of assessment tests they offer, screenshots of their software in action and some headlines to tie it all together. They simply removed the screenshots, a very easy change, and their A/B test results showed a 62% change. Shorter landing pages are better for conversion rates.

Convert Visitors into Customers

If anything, these case studies prove that small changes can make a big difference. Removing a few graphics, adding a guarantee, showing customers that others love your product call all work to increase conversion. Smart conversion tactics equals success.

Six Ways to Make Your Brand Shine in a Small Business Blog

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Ask a dozen marketers what “branding” means and you’ll get a dozen answers. Why? Because it’s a word with many meanings, depending on who’s doing the defining. This blog alone shows 30 unique definitions, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

What we do know is that branding is that it is the yin-yang of your business: You tell the world how you want to define your services or products, what differentiates you, and why people should trust and buy from you. Ultimately though, your brand ends up in the hands (and minds) of customers and prospects—they will be the ones collecting experiences and driving business to or away from you. Some even argue that companies have lost control of their brands altogether, unintentionally passing the baton to consumers, thanks to the power of social media. That’s why it’s even more important to exploit the brand equity you do have with the vast web connections, from your web site to social media presence to search, and anywhere else your business lives.

In the end, your blog can be one of your biggest brand assets, or do nothing to add value and attract business. Here are some top tactics to work it to your advantage:

#1 Mirror, Mirror On The Web

Starting from the outside in, your blog should walk the walk as a natural extension of  your company name, logo, color scheme, and all other tangible elements that make up your brand identity. The best way to stop that natural flow in its tracks is to publish a blog that lacks brand identity. A company blog should be a seamless transition from anywhere you’ve marked your (brand) territory: a real-world meeting where your business card was passed, a visit to your store, an eBook you wrote, or a transaction on your site. Make sure to give your blog a name—not just a “blog” section on your web site—one that reinforces who you are and what you do (My business name is LiveWire Communications and my blog name is Marketing Sparks. Get it?). And don’t forget about a tagline so readers know what your blog is about (Mine is “Insight about Advertising, Marketing, and Branding.”).

#2 No Blog-ots 

Of course your blog should not only walk like your business, it needs to talk the talk too. Speak in your brand voice at all times: Is it funny? Conversational? Whimsical? Even if you’re a number-crunching accountant, you can still let your personality come through (unless you’re crabby). The tone, style, and words that you use act as a conductor for your brand. Be true and authentic, whether you’re a storefront or a one-person shop. No one would question speaker and self-proclaimed “Unstuck-er” Erika Napoletano about this: Whether or not you like her cussin’, in-your-face style, her brand is illuminated in every word of her blog, even the four-letter ones. That also goes for your “About” page too. This is a great opportunity to showcase and reinforce your brand story.

#3 Stand Out From the Competition

It’s pretty easy to be a “Me Too” when it comes to blog topics for various industries. You can go outside the lines, but only so far. Your blog is a prime opportunity to bring out the uniqueness of your brand, no matter what the post is about. Marc Sheridan turned River Pools blog into what it calls itself  “…the most educational swimming pool blog in the country” through his efforts to educate and inform readers on the pool industry (which he turned into a successful content marketing/speaking career as The Sales Lion). Conversely, another tactic is to deliver contrasting point of views from industry bloggers. For instance, if all graphic designers are writing about the hottest trends in typography, write about the suckiest fonts instead—you’ll stand out for your knowledge in a different way.

#4 Dole Out Your Branding in Quick Hits

Another way to continue brand extension in your blog (and amp up your content promotion while you’re at it) is to leverage a thought-provoking quote, stat, or visual from a post and blast out to your social networks at various intervals. It will make a brand statement and also serves as a call- back to the blog while you’re at it. And don’t forget to make thoughtful, impactful comments on related blogs, this can be another great opportunity to put your branding stake in the ground.

#5 Hitch Your Wagon to a Like-Minded Star

Reinforcing your brand in your blog can be also be achieved by bringing someone else into the writing mix. Think interviews, quotes, or a guest posters. And I’m not talking about using a generic quote from Abraham Lincoln here; more like showing your affinity with a thought leader, industry luminary, or cheeky scofflaw who will draw attention. This will speak volumes about who you are (not to mention getting your blog some back links).

#6 Look Inside Yourself

Still stumped on how to bring out the essence of your brand? Conduct a brand audit to get more clarity. That may seem fancy pants if you’re a consultant or small business, but it can also lead to valuable insights. Do a free quickie one with a consultationdownload a tool, or ask yourself a few pointed questions. Doing these exercises can help reveal the true essence of your brand and point to any disconnects communicating to your audiences. If you’re strapped for time, try Wordle to visually capture brand descriptors and get a snapshot of who you are. After all this soul-searching, you may find that your brand is not reflecting what your small business is about, and it might be time to rebrand—but we’ll save that subject for a future post.

What tactics do you use in your blog to bring out your brand?

Lynette Young on Your Follower Count versus Your Bank Account

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lynetteyoungpic002 I’m not so naive to believe that follow count doesn’t matter. The bigger your audience, but more potential customers you have. But I think we can all get a bit caught up in caring too much about our follower numbers and not enough about how we’re going to convert those followers.

Writes Lynette Young in her blog post “Social Media Success and Profit for Your Business,”

So many times businesses seem to think the ‘goal’ of participating in digital communications and social media is to collect as many “friends, followers or fans” as they can. If your business could earn income off of popularity then the “Triple F” formula would serve you well. If you are looking to make money or grow a profitable business, then those three items don’t mean anything without the knowledge and expertise to turn the Triple F into money.

You can’t pay your mortgage with likes. But that doesn’t mean that likes (and shares and followers, etc.) don’t matter at all. What you need is a PLAN from turning a new follower into a repeat customer.

If you’re a blogger or podcaster without a physical or ever digital product, this still applies to you. Instead of “repeat customer” think about how you can turn social follower into “repeat readers/listeners.”

So my question to you is this: what’s your conversion plan?

Learn More from Lynette

I love learning from Lynette, and if you do too, consider coming to NMX 2014 to see her live on the keynote stage! Right now, we’re giving away a group of past session recordings, including one of Lynette’s presentations. Help us celebrate by downloading and enjoying these sessions now!

Get your free recordings here >

Julien Smith: “Your Environment is Everything”

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julien smith When I was in college, I was very interested in learning about nature versus nurture (i.e. the debate about what is more important: your innate abilities/genetics or your environment/experiences). It was the first time I had stepped outside of my secure, rural community to meet people from all over the world. It was uncomfortable and exciting at the same time.

Nature versus nurture was a topic brought up in my Psychology 101 class, and I began looking at my own life through more refined glasses. What I realized is that certain beliefs and personality traits that I thought were just “who I am” (nature), were more likely a result of the environment in which I was raised (nurture).

Writes Julien Smith, in a blog post on In Over Your Head,

Where you live is not trivial– at all. Your environment is everything for you. It shapes you. It’s made you who you are, from the people you spend time with to the very streets you are driving in and walking on every day.

This can be both good and bad. For example, I consider myself to have an extremely strong work ethic, and I attribute that to the fact that I grew up in a rural farming community where everyone had to work hard just to make ends meet. There, you won’t find a tolerance for laziness. But I also am extremely hard on myself when I  face any kind of failure, large or small, because where I grew up, failure in your career meant no food on the table.

So what does this have to do with content creation or your online business?

I believe, that the same way your physical environment can effect how you interact with the world and what level of success you achieve, so do our virtual environments. As Julien writes, where you live is not trivial, and because we “live” online these days, we need to broaden our horizons a bit to include your online presence in this idea.

Think about the people in your closest circle. Think about the websites you visit the most. Think about the online communities where you choose to interact, and the online communities where you consider yourself a member. Think about how your own content reflects the online environment where you live. Think about how you can step out of this cycle and build new relationships or simply just find refreshing places to hang out online, at least occasionally.

It’s about growth, and about ensuring that you surround yourself with an environment, both online and off, that is aligned with your personal and professional goals.

See Julien Live on the NMX Stage (And Download a Free Session Featuring Him!)

We’re happy to be welcoming Julien to the keynote stage at NMX 2014. If you missed our recent keynoter announcement, you can check it out in full here.

To go along with this announcement, we’re giving away past sessions featuring our keynoters, including Julien. Download these sessions now while they’re still available!

Influencer Driven Content Marketing: Lee Odden Explains this Powerful Tool for Businesses

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lee odden Last year, you couldn’t walk ten steps down the hall of any business conference without hearing the words content marketing. Bloggers have been doing it for years, but the idea of content marketing and how it can help your business has been thrust into the spotlight.

More recently, however, the mummers I hear center around a different buzz word: influencers. Influencers aren’t the people in your industry who start trends or break new ground. They’re the people in your industry who spread the trends and report the news. They turn a kernel of an idea into something everyone is talking about. So, business owners are starting to realize the advantages of connecting with influencers and turning them into brand advocates.

But what happens when the worlds of content marketing and influencer marketing meet? As Lee Odden suggests, the result is something even more powerful. In a post on his TopRank blog, Lee writes,

“Influencer driven content marketing is one of the best examples of how digital marketing and public relations are converging. The integration of messaging, content, social media and engagement right along with performance measurement and business outcomes should be the focus of any business that wants to differentiate and grow.”

Working with influencers not separately, but as part of your content strategy, means doing more than just connecting with the right people so they talk about your business. It means integrating them into your plan for spreading educational, inspirational, and entertaining content. Influencers don’t even need to mention your brand to have a serious effect on your bottom line.

Let’s go over three steps to get started with influencer drive content marketing:

  • Step One: Identify the influencers.

These are NOT necessarily the people with the most social followers. Quality is more important. How likely are those followers to do what the influencer says? I know people on Twitter with millions of followers who don’t have the influence that someone with ten thousand has.

In addition, someone who has a ton of influence may not be right for your specific needs. How likely is the audience to be looking for the kind of content you have to share? The more targeted the audience, the better.

  • Step Two: Determine the type of content you can create.

Every influencer will be different, and your budget also plays a factor here. One of the best options is to have an influencer create content for you in the form of blog posts and videos, but the bigger the influencer, the bigger your budget needs to be (unless you have something else to trade, like free service/products, a large audience, etc.).

You can also look at ways to create content that puts more of the work on YOU. Interviews, for example, are an awesome way to have an influencer create content for your brand without you needing a huge budget. You can also quote them in your blog posts (like I’m doing in this post for example) or do case studies. Most influencers will share content where they are featured.

Lastly, you can also create content that answers questions an influencer poses online. In this case, you’re targeting that influencer, but in an indirect way. This is the easiest option, but also has the lowest potential of an influencer sharing your content.

  • Step Three: Reach out to the influencer and begin building that relationship.

When you publish a post that features someone or answers a question, let the influencer know. One of the biggest mistakes I see people making (and a mistake I’ve made in the past) is creating awesome content, but being too humble or shy to reach out to the people who should be spreading this content. Don’t spam people with links, but let them know when you’ve published something of value to their audience, especially when it features them.

Also important: if you’re paying for an influencer to create content for you, make sure you discuss promotion as well. If a large parenting blogger writes about your brand of cereal but doesn’t tweet the link or pin an enticing image, that post might go unnoticed. Always set clear expectations not just for the content creation, but also for the promotion of the content.

Don’t Forget About Our Giveaway!

I’m featuring Lee today not only because his advice is super smart, but also because we recently announced that he’ll be presenting a keynote at NMX 2014 in Las Vegas this coming January. If you missed the keynoter announcement, check it out for more information about all five of the keynote speakers we announced.

To celebrate, we’re giving away previous sessions from all of our keynoters. Yes, they are completely free! Get access here before time runs out!

“Own the Good You Do”: Scott Stratten’s Advice for Businesses on Twitter

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scott stratten Every time a business joins Twitter, an angel gets its wings. It means they’re going to at least try the social media thing. Getting businesses to realize the power of social media is half the battle.

Whether or not they use this platform well is another story. Recently, I like the advice Scott Stratten wrote on his blog, UnMarketing, about the art of engaging with your fans, not just responding to customer complaints. Writes Scott,

Own the good you do. Value the positive voice.  It’s too easy only to focus on the negative.  You need to make time to thank customers who love what you do.  Be proud and say thank you. […]

Don’t leave all those high-fives hanging.  Take time away from fighting fires, and seeking out new customers, to thank the ones you have. This is the where the opportunity for brand endearment begins.  Don’t value your customers based only on purchases already made.  A happy customer is your best marketer.  Grow those relationships.”

There is absolutely positively no better marketing tool than word of mouth, and that’s not something you can buy. Think about it: when you’re going to make a large purchase, what’s more important: what the company says about themselves or what others are saying about the company? I will spend more money based on a friend’s recommendation, and I’m not alone. A 2010 study by Opinion Research Corp revealed that 59% of consumers consult friends and family members to get their opinions before making a purchase.

All it takes, sometimes, is a little recognition. A simple thank you on Twitter is the equivalent of a smile and a “come again” when someone is leaving your brick-and-mortar store.

Check out the rest of Scott’s post and his entire UnMarketing blog for more advice on using Twitter for your business.

Did you see our recent announcement?

We’re proud to announce that Scott is presenting a keynote at NMX 2014 in January. He’s always one of our highest-rated speakers, and we loved his keynote in 2010. See more information about Scott and the rest of our recently-announced keynoters here!

Want a free recording of one of Scott’s previous sessions? Check out this giveaway!

How to Stay Committed to Your Small Business Blog

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bigstock-Dictionary-Series--Attributes-4045852 One of the biggest marketing gurus in the country, a well-known author and researcher, also happens to be one of the most erratic bloggers I’ve come across—her smart, insightful blogs are published randomly. Sometimes I’ll get two in a week, other times it’s months before I see a post. It makes me wonder: if this big marketing name can’t crank out a regular blog, what hope is there for us poor souls running a small business?

The answer is easier than you think…but only if you make blogging a priority by really committing to your blog.

Be Brutal

I sometimes run across corporate and small business bloggers that aim to post every day of the week. Their reasons vary, from building up SEO to outblogging the competition. This is an admirable  stretch goal, but is it realistic while running a small business? Doubtful.

The first step is to take an unflinching look at your time and how much you can devote to your blog. Chances are you’ll have to recalibrate the ideal frequency from the day-to-day tasks of running a business (not to mention putting out fires). Is it once a week? Twice a month? Or Some other cadence? Once you accept that baseline, planning will be easier. If your honest answer is once every three months, wait for a time when you can devote more energy to it.

Wherever you end up, bolt that frequency onto your schedule and be accountable to it. If you miss a post date, don’t blow it off because you’re “busy” or don’t feel like it. Finish up writing as close to the original post date as possible. Otherwise, you could end up on a slippery slope delaying more, making excuses, and before you know it, it’s RIP, blog.

Be Branded

Not surprisingly, one of the reasons blogging gets pushed to the side: it often does not generate income in a direct way. Your blog might get comments, shares, retweets, and likes, but kudos don’t pay the bills, right? Because I’m in marketing, promotion is in my  DNA, but if you’re busy running an insurance, retail, or other type of small business, you are likely more focused on the guts of getting and doing business. That doesn’t mean you don’t understand the importance of  marketing, but it might not be your number one focus.

No matter what you are selling—services, products, or something else—the key is to view your blog as a strategic, fundamental part of your brand; not something you can turn on and off. Your customers and prospects will appreciate you blogging consistency, and it will also help instill trust in you as a business.

Be Brainiac

Everyone knows that cliché that the best ideas come to us while taking a shower, or getting that light bulb moment while driving to the store. That is how our creativity percolates sometimes. Or as Agatha Christie once said, “The best time for planning a book is while you’re doing the dishes.”

That’s why you should be ready to catch those gems before they disappear, never to return (trust me, the older you get, it will happen more frequently). Don’t rely on your “great memory” when it comes to those moments. No matter how organized you are, we all still need a little helpnow and then.

Luckily there are endless task-master sites, tools, and apps to organize your ideas, random thoughts, and future blog fodder. Having them in one place, on-hand is the first step to incubatinga future post. Most of these tools are no-cost at the basic level and offer a premium upgrade. Some of the biggies are: Evernote, ToodledoRememberthemilk, and the wittily named Tjjeklist and  Wunderlist. Here’s a comparison list.

Be-holden

OK, now that your ideas are organized in one place,  you know what you want to write about for your next next post, but you still have to sit down and do it. That is often the hardest part and when a  well-timed bout of procrastination can kick in. There are a lot of ways to fight this urge.

Besides a cornucopia of books, articles, sites, and tools to help get initial thoughts on that blank computer screen, there are shortcuts that can help: Written Kitten as promised, shows a kitten at  selected intervals (wonder when the puppy version comes out). Write or Die takes a more dramatic approach with its “gentle” to “kamikaze” non-compliance settings. This post also has several ideas to help you get that post done when it is fighting you.

Also be aware of your personal blogging habits: some people thrive on deadlines, others freak out with anxiety about The Looming Word Count. The key is to know your writing personality. I like to write my posts slowly but surely, starting about a week before, ideally, then edit (and edit). I know if I start a post the day before, it simply won’t meet my standards.

Of course, you can also use an editorial calendar to keep you on track. This may seem too formal for a small business or feel like extra work, but plugging in topics and dates will keep you focused on the big picture and reinforce your commitment. Besides, what a great accomplishment to see the blog post published on the day you planned for it!

There are many editorial calendars to choose from, but if you want to keep it simple and integrated, WordPress Calendar can help (.org site only). Heck, you can even use Microsoft Excel or Google Calendar, but using a tool built as an editorial calendar offers more features and functions.

Be Bold (and Brave)

However you get yourself on track for your small business blog, keep a schedule, be committed, and most importantly, know that your blog can make a big difference— both for your business and your readers.

What are your tricks to keep committed to your business blog?

Image credit: Bigstock

A Hard Truth: Google Doesn’t Care About Your Awesome Content

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Recently, Google introduced a new search feature called “in-depth articles” The idea behind this feature is that mid-way down on the first page of search results for more popular keywords, you’ll find older, but extremely relevant, content that serves as a “guide” to the topic at hand.

Google wants good content, not necessarily new content. When you hear bloggers talk about “pillar” evergreen posts, this is what they mean.

Learning More about In-Depth Articles

Ana from Traffic Generation Cafe wrote a really great piece about this announcement, which you can find here. I really recommend giving it a read if you want to get started writing content for Google’s new in-depth article feature. In this post, she also points to another interesting and extremely helpful post on the topic, from Mark Traphagen. In one of the comments, he writes,

 

We tend to think of Google as being really, really smart and almost omniscient. And compared to other data retrieval systems, it is leaps and bounds ahead. But the reality is that properly indexing, evaluating, and ranking the billions upon billions of pages on the web is more enormous than most people think. And at the end of the day, even Google ends up taking easy short cuts.

We have to face the reality that Google doesn’t care about “surfacing the little guy” or “reduced access to legacy content.” Their business model is built upon getting something useful to the searcher withing the top few results or ads. They may say they want to rank the “best,” but at the end of the day, how can they even successfully judge that, and if users are happy with what they are getting in the top few positions, then it works for Google.

What really struck me about this statement was how right Mark is about Google not caring about “surfacing the little guy.” In fact, I would go as far as saying that Google doesn’t care about your content at all, even if it is awesome. They aren’t some altruistic being whose job it is to find great content and make sure the world sees it. They’re a business performing a service, and that service is giving people answers to their questions based on whatever keywords they type into that little box.

Google doesn’t care if your piece was more well-written or insightful if the search results are already full of relevant, quality content. Their aim is to consistently show good results, even great results, but they don’t care about showing the best results.

This post sounds a little bitter, but I promise it’s not. What I’m trying to get across is this:

Awesome content is not enough.

At least, it isn’t for Google, especially for their new in-depth articles. Awesome content will make readers love you, but search engines care about relevant more than awesome.

So, What Can A Blogger Do to Get Some Google In-Depth Article Love?

Actually, it isn’t as hard as it sounds. Google might always cater to large sites they know and trust, but just because you’re not The New Yorker doesn’t mean you’re doomed to live on page two or three of the search results.

I’ve never given much thought to SEO. I always thought that writing great content was always the best SEO tactic I could use. And I still think that’s the case. But recently, some SEO experts taught me a little about basic keyword research (shout-out to the team at DragonSearch!) and it has made all the difference. In addition, here are a few tips Google has given us about getting your content flagged as an in-depth article:

And ALWAYS write awesome content, even if Google doesn’t give a rat’s patootie. At the end of the day, people matter more than Google. Google will help you get found initially if you cater toward their algorithm, but people will share your in-depth content if it is the best they’ve seen.

 

An End to EdgeRank: What Does Facebook’s New Feed Algorithm Mean for Your Page?

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facebook like button Facebook EdgeRank has officially been retired, but that still doesn’t mean every single user will see every single post you write. Facebook has a new feed algorithm, and if you’re managing a page on this platform for your business, blog, podcast, or web series, it’s important to understand how Facebook’s changes are going to effect you.

Storybumping: It’s Good News

The feature everyone is talking about right now is called storybumping. In the past, Facebook annoyingly decided which posts users would and would not see based on a calculated value. A post that got a lot of attention quickly could go viral, but if you didn’t post at exactly the right time, it didn’t matter what your update was about: people wouldn’t see it. In a few hours, that post would be buried by newer posts.

Now, Facebook is “bumping” stories that you haven’t seen yet, instead of just looking at the publish time. That means Facebook users still have a chance of seeing your posts, even if they’re older. Post timing isn’t as important as it was before.

The results are extremely positive for those of us wanting our page updates to be seen. In initial tests, TechCrunch reports that these changes mean an “8% boost in interactions for stories from Pages and public figures” and that people are seeing about 70% of all possible updates in their stream, as compared to just 57% in the past.

As a user, this means that Facebook will be more interesting for you, since you’ll see new updates whenever you log in, even if the posts are a bit older, instead of just seeing recent stories that you’ve already read.

Last Actor: It’s Even Better News

Even more interesting that storybumping is the “last actor” concept. This way of showing posts to users runs on the theory that the people/pages you’re interacting with most (by looking at their profiles/pages, liking, commenting, browsing their photos, etc.) are the updates you want to see.

This is good news for anyone actively engaging with users on Facebook. If people are interacting with your page, that means they’ll be more likely to see updates from you in the future. It keeps your most rabid fans involved with what’s going on with your page.

So What Does This Mean for Your Page?

It’s all pretty good news, in my opinion, for people who are consistently sharing awesome content and actually engaging with fans on Facebook. It’s bad news for people who just “check in” occasionally, even if your posts do tend to be interesting.

But more importantly, what it means in a broader sense is that if you market a business online or create content online, you have to be flexible. The rules for any platform are fluid, so being stuck in your ways of doing things will bite you in the behind in the the end. Always be experimenting, learning and evolving, on Facebook and otherwise, so you can continue to tweak the way your share and create content. If you stop, you’re really just going backward.

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