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How Lying Can Vastly Improve Your Blog


lying on your blog

Allison Boyer (that’s me) is a liar.

Lest I be accused of sensationalizing a title for a post that doesn’t live up to the hype, I want clarify something right now. This post is not going to be able how to trick or mislead your readers. So before you start thinking I’m a major scumbag, please understand that I’m only a huge, stinkin’ liar, but to one person: myself.

And this post is going to teach you how I lie to myself and why it has helped me vastly improve my posts.

It all started with a challenge to myself.

After NMX 2013, I heard someone mention that they didn’t think the conference had enough advanced content. This is something I believe to be untrue, but as I perused our blog, I realized that I had recently been writing a lot of beginner-level content. It made me think to myself, “I don’t want our advanced attendees or potential attendees to have to hunt for relevant content. I want them to read this blog and know that we’re dedicated to providing education at all levels.”

And so, I started to think about what I could do to “up” my game. I wanted to challenge myself to grow as a blogger and attract more advanced learners. After all, I have been blogging for over a decade and professionally since 2006, so there’s no reason I can’t teach to a “beyond-the-101-level” crowd.

First, I thought that it would help to imagine an A-list blogger reading my post. After all, this is the type of reader I was hoping to attract. But that wasn’t really enough, because it’s about more than the education. It’s also about the delivery. So then, I thought:

“What if I completely lie to myself and write a blog post as though it’s part of a portfolio I’m sending to my favorite advanced-level blogger to get a job.”

This idea came to be on a whim. I had just been speaking to a friend the day before about the fact that I hadn’t updated my writing portfolio in a long time because I wasn’t looking for a job. I remembered thinking how much work it was to choose and prepare pieces for this portfolio because you want to put your very best foot forward. Nothing seems good enough.

I might as well have been a cartoon character with a light bulb popping on above my head. Ding! How would it improve my writing to lie to myself about the posts I was writing was for my portfolio, which I’d be presenting to an A-lister in my field.

Self-deception Research

I started looking into the idea of lying to myself to improve my writing, and I actually found that research shows this kind of lying, officially called “self-deception” by scientists, can be beneficial. In an article by Sue Shellenbarger at the Wall Street Journal, experts note that this kind of lying has enormous advantages – in small doses. Says Robert Trivers, an anthropology professor at Rutgers University and author of “The Folly of Fools,”

“Believing we are more talented or intelligent than we really are can help us influence and win over others. An executive who talks himself into believing he is a great public speaker may not only feel better as he performs, but increase how much he fools people, by having a confident style that persuades them that he’s good.”

Most of us lie to ourselves on some level, and research by Zoe Chance from Harvard Business School suggests that we don’t even realize it.

Certainly self-deception can lead to more destructive behavior. We want something to be true, so we tell ourselves it is true, even when the facts say otherwise. Doing this can leave to giving ourselves permission to do terrible things. For example, someone might justify picking a male candidate over a female candidate, but when self-deceptive excuses are wiped away, the truth is that there was a gender bias.

Or maybe the male candidate actually was the better choice. Self-deception is tricky because it is so often unconscious.

The major theme I saw in most articles and studies about self-deception is that while their are benefits, lying to yourself can spiral out of control. So definitely proceed with caution. Don’t lie to yourself and say you’re not lying to yourself! Lie-ception!

The Experiment

The problem with self-deception in my experiement is the inherent consciousness that I was lying to myself. Writing a blog post like someone is going to read it as part of a portfolio is very different than writing a blog post you know someone is going to read as part of a portfolio.

To make it a little more “real,” I looks on some job boards and found a few high-level blogging and social media jobs. I tried to reach beyond my own skill level when searching, looking for jobs where I knew I wouldn’t be the most qualified candidate, or at least jobs where I wouldn’t be the only qualified candidate if I applied. If I wanted to be hired in any of these positions, I would have to really have to convince them to take a chance on me. I’d need to have the strongest portfolio possible.

The result? I wrote a number of posts I’m very proud of including these right here on the NMX blog:

I take pride in every post I write both here and on my own blogs. However, when I told myself that someone would be looking at these posts in order to consider me for a high-level job, I kicked things up a notch.

But this method isn’t sustainable.

I think that going through this process has helped me stretch myself as a writer, but it also isn’t sustainable over time. It’s easy to start thinking that no post is good enough, to start doubting everything you write. Analysis paralysis is no fun.

Also, in writing this kind of content, it’s easy to ignore what the beginner audience needs, at least in my specific case. Not every blog post you write has to be super detailed, analytical, or creative. Sometimes, you just need to get basic information across in a clear way. Here’s an example of that: How to Track Conversions from YouTube Viewers [Video]. I wouldn’t typically use this post as part of my portfolio, but it doesn’t mean it isn’t a good lesson for people looking for this specific information.

Still, this was a great experiment. Most of the posts I wrote received a higher number of social shares than normal, including some attention from the advanced-level bloggers I did hope to attract. It may not be the approach I take when writing every blog post, but lying to myself was definitely a great exercise that I will use again to continue to grow my blogging skills.

Black Eyes and Bruises: How to Finish a Blog Post That’s Fighting You


Finish a Blog Post That's Fighting You

Most of the time, blog posts just kind of flow from my fingers as I type. I might do a bit of an outline before I start, but I can finish the first draft of most posts in under an hour (and sometimes in as little as 10-15 minutes).

But every so often, a blog post decides to fight me. I have a great idea–or so I think–but the words just won’t come. I’m stuck staring at a blank screen, and when I do finally get some words written, I’m not happy with what I’m producing.

So I scream.

Or, at least I want to. I don’t actually scream because I don’t want to frighten the neighbors, but I have a little temper tantrum that usually involves me slamming my laptop closed and proclaiming that I’m giving up blogging and all other writing jobs because I’m no good. At one point, I actually told my boyfriend at the time, “Stick a fork in me! I peaked while in college! IT’S ALL DOWNHILL FROM HERE!”

I might be a tad dramatic when I have writer’s block.

Yet, this isn’t traditional writer’s block in that I don’t know what to write. I know exactly what I want to write. The words are just in a boxing match with me.

I’m going to share with you a few ways I get through it whenever this happens, but please tell me that I’m not alone. Have you ever experienced knowing what you want to write but for some reason not being able to write it? What do you do to get through this kind of writer’s block?

My tips:

  • Delete everything.

Yep. It seems harsh, but sometimes, the best course of action is to highlight the entire post and hit the delete button. When you aren’t feeling it, your readers aren’t going to feel it either, and editing a pile of crap is often not worth the trouble. Save the idea, but burn everything else to the ground. Starting fresh can be cathartic and it might inspire you to approach the topic in a new way, giving you the ability to write something worth reading.

  • Have the tantrum (and work on something else).

As I mentioned, when I can’t seem to write, I throw a fit like a five-year-old who’s balloon just popped. It’s actually pretty effective. I get really mad, pace a bit, and then work on something else. Like a post about what to do when you’re trying to finish a blog post that’s fighting you. (Seriously, I just got done with a tantrum about another post that is bothering me.) Sometimes, I just need to come back to the original post with fresh eyes another day.

  • Play devil’s advocate.

Sometimes, it can help me clarify my opinions on a topic if I try to write the opposite. Playing devil’s advocate is not easy, especially when you have really strong feelings about a topic, but doing so really helps me find weaknesses in my own argument. Looking at a topic from a different angle is also great for getting the creative juices flowing, so for that reason alone, I like doing this writing exercise.

One thing I never do, no matter how frustrated I might be, is publish a post that isn’t my best work. The amount of utter crap on the Internet disgusts me, and by not putting my best foot forward with every single post, I’m only adding to the problem. In addition, it opens up the gateway to complacency. One “meh” blog post easily turns into two and before long, you’ve lowered the bar for your entire blog. So, even if a post takes a little more time, I’ll let it give me a black eye while wrestling it to perfection instead of just muttering “good enough” and hitting the publish button.

Your turn: when you can’t find the right words for what you want to say, how do you get through the blogging slump and finish the post that’s fighting you?

5 Ways to Avoid B2B Blogger Burnout


falling from chair Whether you write about GPS systems or accounting software, you know blogging about business-to-business (B2B) topics gets boring quickly. As time goes by and you keep pushing for new topic ideas and trying to find more time to write about them, you often find yourself feeling uninspired, bored, or otherwise wishing for a way out. So you have to ask yourself: How can I avoid this problem in the first place?

To help answer that question, here are five ways to avoid getting burned out as a blogger!

Keep Up with the Competition

A little healthy competition can be a good thing. When you watch the other guys churning out quality content time and time again, you know it’s possible. What’s more, you’re challenged to try to keep up. Hopefully you’re already following a variety of other blogs in your industry, but if not, do some research and subscribe to a handful of the best. Then use them to keep yourself motivated.

Seek Out Inspiration

Finding inspiration goes hand-in-hand with eyeing the competition—by continuously taking in relevant content, you set yourself up to be inspired. Follow blogs in your industry, media outlets relevant to your field, interesting users on social media, and so on. Anything that serves to cultivate fresh ideas and concepts is worth using.

Get Help

When it comes to blogging, your load gets lighter when you ask for help. Who else on your team could contribute? If you’re a one-person operation, could you enlist guest bloggers? What series could you launch and then ask colleagues to contribute content? By delegating part of your blog work, you free yourself up to stay inspired.

Think Outside the Box

When you’re stumped for new topic ideas, don’t quit blogging—think about a blog post that’s different from the ones you’ve been doing. If you typically share your thoughts, why not post a roundup of other articles from around the Web? Or perhaps you might interview an industry authority, review a relevant book, or create and post a unique infographic. By letting yourself think outside the box, you expand the ways blogging can work for you.

Plan Ahead—and Be Realistic About It

Setting an editorial calendar for your blog, in which you plan a month’s or a quarter’s posts ahead of time, may sound daunting. The truth is, though, that knowing what you need to write ahead of time is half the battle. It’s harder to feel uninspired when Friday’s topic and synopsis are right before you. Likewise, when you set your schedule, be realistic about it. If you know you are only able to write once a week, set your calendar accordingly. This not only helps you avoid frustration and burnout, but it also gives your readers clear expectations about when you post.

What do you think? Have you experienced some sort of blogger burnout from time to time? What could you do about it? If you’ve tried one of the above strategies, has it helped? If you haven’t, what are you waiting for?

Image Credit: Bigstock

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


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?

What is a Blog: Is the Definition of Blogging Changing?


definition of blogging When I first started creating content online, I didn’t like to call myself a blogger. Few people actually asked, “What is a blog?” Most people just assumed it was some kind of online diary. No one, other than my fellow blogger friends, understood how I could possibly make a living as a blogger. So, I instead called myself a freelance writer. After all, as a blogger, I was certainly doing a lot of writing. Writer was a word people in my life understood.

Today, I don’t hesitate to call myself a blogger, since more people are familiar with the idea of professional blogs. But as this industry continues to grow, I have to wonder, is the definition of blogging changing? How can we properly characterize what we do? And most importantly, what does this mean for the future of the blogging industry?

Can Blogs Still Be Monetized Successfully?

Dictionary.com defines the word blog as follows:

a Web site containing the writer’s or group of writers’ own experiences, observations, opinions, etc., and often having images and links to other Web sites.

There’s a good reason lots of people associated blogging with writing an online diary: that’s what blogging was before people started to define niches and think about blogging as more than just an outlet for expression. In the early to mid 2000s, lots of people were starting new blogs and blogging networks in order to monetize them. Many were extremely successful.

Today, starting a blog is a completely different ballgame, and the monetization bubble seems to have burst without anyone even realizing it. Instead, blogging has become all about content marketing.

In other words, many bloggers are not making money by selling ad space and making affiliate sales. They’re using their blog content to get people to their website where they sell them a product or service. For example, here on the NMX blog, we’re hoping you like our content enough to purchase a ticket to our event.

And so, there’s become a divide in the blogging world. There are blogs still monetized primarily through ads and sponsorships, and their are blogs that take the content marketing approach, so the actual blog doesn’t make any money, but is instead used as a vehicle to reach more potential customers for a product or company. Some bloggers do both.

What Characteristics Define a Blog Anyway?

Because so many blogs are taking the content marketing route, the definition of blogging has gotten even muddier. What is a blog? How do you describe it to people? These are questions I struggle to answer.

Some people will tell you that a blog is a collection of articles (posts) in chronological order. What sets blogs about from other web content is that posts are dated and the newest content is presented first. But what about bloggers who argue that you should remove dates from your blog posts? There are two sides to this argument of course, but lots of blogs don’t date their posts anymore. Since most people don’t come to a blog’s homepage, is a date what really makes a blog different?

Other people argue that the community sets apart a blog from other online content. It’s the readers who comment to help add to the discussion that makes blogging unique. However, interaction isn’t a new concept. Newspapers publish letters to the editor, for example. The Internet makes interaction from a community faster, but I don’t think it’s a defining blog characteristic. After all, there some blogs, like Seth Godin’s, that don’t allow comments. It also brings up the question: if readers don’t leave comments on a blog, is it really a blog?

Personality might also be used to define a blog. Instead of dry how-to articles and news stories, blogs are all about opinions, experiences, and perspective. People follow blogs because they like the writer, not just because the content is educational or informative. Again, however, this is not necessarily a new concept. One might subscribe to a newspaper in order to read a certain column, and some blogs are extremely objective. In the case of blogs run by brands, sometimes you don’t even know the names of the bloggers.

As blogging continues to evolve, it will become even harder to define.

But is This a Bad Thing?

I argue no. Because the lines are blurring, it’s much easier for bloggers to be taken more professionally.

When we draw lines in the sand and say, “Bloggers over there and real writers and journalists over here,” we are saying that bloggers shouldn’t be taken as seriously. Because it’s becoming increasingly difficult to see the differences because blogs and other type of web content (especially news outlets), bloggers are being more commonly invited to press events, being offered sponsorship opportunities, and having their posts cited by others when discussing the topic of the day, whatever that may be.

Is the definition of blogging changing? I think so. And I think that’s a good thing.

How do you answer the question, “What is a blog?” Do you think the definition is evolving? What do you think this means for the future of blogging? Leave a comment!

What Happens to Your Traffic when You Stop Writing at Your Blog?


I taught a Marketing with Social Media MBA course at a fully accredited university in Silicon Valley earlier this year. The class ran from Feb 9 – April 28. There were 73 students enrolled. Just over 50 survived to the end.

During the last day of class I asked my students, “How many of you have been angry at me some time during the past 11 weeks?”

They all raised their hands. Some raised both hands and waved them violently. Thank goodness there were no single digit waves … I think. But it was clear the students had had enough of blogging no matter what I called it – marketing with social media, content marketing, inbound marketing, whatever. They were done.

Indeed I was curious to know what would happen to the traffic to their sites when they stopped writing.

Now I know.

Take a look.

Aggregate After

This screen shot reflects the aggregate traffic to all the students’ sites.

It is clearly visible that the traffic is increasing overall.

Increasing?! When most of them had stopped writing?! And all of them are writing less!

Indeed. The traffic continues to grow.

And be sure to take note where the traffic is coming from. Organic traffic is far outperforming the biggest social network on the planet.

Case Study – Info-Nepal

A look at one of the student’s stats is particularly enlightening. Her site is dedicated to Nepal. It would be a great complement to a travel agent site dedicated to Nepal as a destination.

Not a couple of days AFTER the class was finished, look what happened.

After class

I wrote to her, “Very sudden and very nice jump in your traffic! What’s going on?”

Her reply:

“Yeah it all started about 3 weeks ago. All of a sudden I am getting a lot of traffic. It increased from 40-50 per day to almost 300 per day. I am excited. I need to write more frequently. Thanks for keeping and eye on it.

In other words, she did nothing special. Just plugging away, and even writing less than during the class.
We can see where her traffic is coming from.

Lesson Learned

The crystal clear message: Creating good content results in good residual traffic, sometimes known as the long tail.
When traffic is purchased (think adwords) or pushed via social networks and social bookmarking sites (think referral traffic from other sites) traffic will come as long as it is pushed, driven. But when the buying and pushing stops, so does the traffic.  Not so with good content that is on topic and created at the home site. It’s the content that keeps on giving, um, pulling.
Content marketing is inbound marketing. And it can’t be beat long term.
What is your experience with creating content compared to buying traffic by hook or by crook? Got case study? Wanna share? Feel free to read the students’ firsthand experiences at BillBelew.com. And by all means, reach out to me if I can help you see similar results at your site(s). See you in the comments.

Struggle to Juggle: Three Marketing Kickstarters To Do Right Now


Multi-tasking Business Woman

National Small Business Week celebrates its 50th anniversary this June on a high note:  According to the Small Business Administration, half of Americans own or work for a small business. While this is a glowing testament to America’s entrepreneurial spirit, one of the biggest conundrums small businesses still continually face is marketing: knowing they need promotion to grow and thrive but often lacking the time, money, and people to do the work. “Of all the classes we offer during San Francisco Small Business Week, marketing courses are the most popular,” said Jane Gong, a City coordinator of the nation’s largest such event.

So what can small businesses do lickety-split to get started, brush up, or recommit to a marketing program? Here are some ways to start or reboot your  efforts: After that, it’s up to you to make it a habit.

#1 Ask, Don’t Tell (When it Comes to Social Networks)

News flash to small business owners: social media is no longer a “trend” or “sexy”– it’s a reality of an integrated marketing plan. “Small business owners need to stop complaining about having little or no understanding of social media and no time to learn it,” said Brian Moran said in an article interview. “One of my favorite sayings is, ‘If you don’t have the time to do something right, when are you going to find the time to do it over?” Gong said, “When people are starting a business, the questions we get asked most about are social media. They think they need to be on social networks to increase their returns, but if you’re a mom and pop corner store, they are not sure it makes sense.”

Kickstarter: Go where your customers social-ize: Though it seems intuitive to get your target audience’s input to help drive marketing decisions, many businesses don’t, not because of lack of desire, but preoccupation with five hundred other tasks at hand. In the end though, the time you spend upfront getting feedback will prevent wasted time later. Though Facebook appears to be the most popular social network for small businesses, get the raw data from your  customers and prospects: survey in-person, by email, or quickly and free online . They’ll appreciate that you want their insight and the input will help shape your plans.

Once you establish your social media direction, get educated for free online. Also, check out what your competition is doing and get inspiration from the  brands you admire. Start small by offering something of value to get fans and followers, such as a Facebook-only deal, a discount for Twitter followers, or showcase customer photos on Pinterest. But start something and do it consistently as you build and fine-tune your social media program.

#2 Give Your Blog Nine Lives (or At Least Five)

Chances are if you’re reading this article, you already have a blog or want to: as most bloggers will attest to, it’s one of the easiest and straightforward ways to promote your business. Did you also know there are at least five things you can do to transform a stale blog to fresh content? The best place to start is to check your stats (or tags and categories) and determine the best performing ones. If you don’t have a blog yet, come up with a popular industry topic and use that as a starting point.

Going through the stats exercise for my own blog, I found a piece from a year ago about J.C. Penney’s rebranding disaster was my third top-read post of all time. Upon further research I found out why: On a Google search of “JC Penny Branding Disaster”, my blog comes up fourth, below PRDaily and Forbes and above Huffington Post. Even though the position could change, I got great SEO by writing about a popular topic when the story was blowing up in the media. Now, to use it for my own purposes…

Kickstarter: Repurpose. Repurpose. Repurpose. Did someone say repurpose? For the J.C. Penney blog, potential ideas are: 1) Update blog to reflect the recent booting of its CEO and apology ad and republicize on all social networks; 2) Use as partial content for quick blog countdown “The Five Worst Branding Disasters of All Time”; 3) Turn blog into online story and publicize; 4) Reformat with some quick visuals and create Slideshare and blast out to social networks. 5) If I were feeling particularly ambitious, I could create a short video that tells the story of what happened (a search revealed just one interview.) People are hungry for online information in different ways to learn about big events, industry trends, and practical tips–you can be the expert, go-to source no matter which they choose.

#3 Putting the Cure in Curation: the Multi-tasker Extraordinaire

Content curation for your business can be  a great marketing Swiss Army Knife, but it’s a lot of work. There are services that  do the legwork for free, collecting relevant content in your industry, monitoring your competition, and  even prepping a targeted customer newsletter. “I use the analogy that people really are looking for water,” said Scott Scanlon, CEO of You Brand, Inc. in a content curation video.” …ultimately they don’t want to drink out of a fire-hose–they want a glass of water. If you can be there providing that glass of water on a consistent basis you’ll begin to garner their trust.” Bonus: Content curation services enable topic discovery for your blog, web site, or email marketing campaign–the possibilities are endless.

Kickstarter: Max out a free curation serviceScoop.it paper.liCurata, newcomer Swayy and other services specialize in online curation from thousands of online sources to slash time and effort. Take advantage  to get information compiled, organized, and leverage for your own purposes. If you use a curation service for customer newsletters, put your own brand stamp with commentary or tweaking a headline for your audience.

Too pressed for time to try any of these? Break down kickstarters into baby steps and do one part each week.

Image Credit: Bigstock

12 Ways Blogging Would Be Different Without Twitter


blogging would be different without twitter

It’s hard to imagine a world without Twitter. It was the faster-growing social network in 2012, and 1/5 of all US Internet users are also active on Twitter.* For bloggers especially, the world would be very different without Twitter.

But maybe there’s something we can lean from that. Twitter is an amazing way to reach your community, but it can perhaps cloud our vision. By thinking about what the world would be like without Twitter, we can perhaps find some new opportunities for our blogs. Here’s how blogging would be different if Twitter did not exist:

1. We’d would have jumped on the image train sooner.

Bloggers today are starting to understand the power of having good images, especially with the rise of Pinterest and Instagram. However, I believe we would have come to that conclusion as an industry sooner if nor for Twitter, which embraces text, not images. Yes, you can tweet out pictures, but it isn’t the same as an image-heavy social network. Even on Facebook, images are more important than text and links.

Are you putting effort into your images or are you begrudgingly using crappy stock photography because you “have” to? I’ll be the first to admit that I was late to jump on the boat with using images with my blog posts, and it’s still not my favorite part of blogging, but without a doubt, I get more social share and comments (on average) when I have compelling images to go with a post.

Need some advice on image creation? Here’s how I do it.

2. Reading and commenting on other blogs would be more important.

Instead of commenting on posts we like, we usually just retweet the link, even though most of us are ecstatic when we get an email saying that there’s a new comment on one of our posts.

Social shares are great for promotion, but in my opinion, actual comments are even more important. The entire point of a blog is to have a conversation. That’s what makes blogs different than newspapers and magazines–there is interaction. If your post is meant to educate, commenters can add to that knowledge. If your post is meant to entertain or inspire, commenters can share their stories and opinions to make your original post even better.

Even if you opt not to allow comments on your blog, without Twitter, I believe we’d be more easily able to build communities. Before Twitter, I remember that I had my favorite blogs bookmarked (and later added to my RSS reader) and I’d check for new content every day. I felt more like I was part of something, and I anticipated every post because I wasn’t getting 140-character snippets from the blogger every 10 minutes between posts.

I highly encourage you to think about your online activities as they pertain to other bloggers. Don’t just follow someone on Twitter, retweet their links, and call it a day. If you enjoy someone’s work, be a part of their community by being present on their blog, and encourage your followers to do the same.

3. Responding to your own comments would be more important.

Some bloggers opt not to reply to a single comment. Instead, they interact with fans via Twitter. That’s all fine and good, but it means that you’re taking the conversation away from what should be your most important platform: your actual blog.

If Twitter didn’t exist, we’d be forced to interact with fans via our comments instead. Conversations would develop, and this only adds to the value of the post for the next reader.

For those of you not current responding to comments, give it a try. You don’t have to respond to every single “great post” or “thanks for the info” message, but if someone takes the time to leave a thoughtful comment or ask a question, answer them. This is the single best way I’ve found to build a community on your blog. When you respond, you’re telling the commenter, “I see you, and I value you.” We all like to be acknowledged.

Recently, I posted about my own experiences responding to comments. Check it out here.

4. Niche forums would drive more traffic.

In some niches, forums are still hopping, but this has died down a bit since the days before Twitter. If Twitter didn’t exist, I think more blogs would have a forum associated with them or, at the least, more bloggers would be participating in general forums about their topics.

Instead, we just log onto Twitter and interact with the people we follow or the people who mention us. I bet if you look, though, you’ll find forums related to your niche. This is a fantastic way to find new readers for your blog and to make connections with other bloggers. Too few bloggers are using forums.

5. Our Google+ and LinkedIn connections would be crucial.

Every day, I see people ask for favors and make new connections on Twitter. It’s quick. It’s easy. Why not? Without this platform, we’d likely put a deeper emphasis on Google+ and LinkedIn instead.

Maybe we’re missing out, however, by not using these connections more. When you’re not limited to 140 characters, there’s so much more you can do and say. If you’re stuck in the routine of only checking Twitter, I highly recommend that you start using Google+ and LinkedIn as well. The relationships you can develop on these platforms are, in my opinion, much more meaningful.  Or at least, then can be.

This is especially true when you’re trying to get the attention of another popular blogger. On Twitter, it seems like everyone is trying to get a piece of these people. On Google+ and LinkedIn, it is often easier to build a relationship.

6. Headlines would be less important.

People send hundreds of dollars to learn how to write better headlines, and for good reason: when people share your links, the most enticing headlines get the most clicks.

On other social networks, there’s a little wiggle room to post some description with the title. With Twitter, you only have 140 characters, so the title is everything.

If Twitter did not exist, we wouldn’t care nearly as much about the titles of our posts. And maybe that would be a good thing.

I’m not suggesting that you don’t put any thought into the headlines your write. However, I do believe that some bloggers put the cart before the horse in this respect. The title of your post means nothing unless the post you’ve written is awesome. (Click to tweet.)

Most bloggers, myself included, are always looking for ways to improve traffic. It’s easy to get wrapped in what will give us that promotion edge, like writing better headlines. But it can be dangerous to spend more time on your promotion skills than on your writing skills. When’s the last time you looked at ways to improve your actual content, not just the way you promote your content?

7. Crowdsourcing content ideas wouldn’t be as easy.

Twitter is a really powerful platform for crowdsourcing ideas for your blog. Ask your community for tips to share. Brainstorm questions you can answer on your blog. Do an informal poll of your audience. Without Twitter, this kind of crowdsourcing wouldn’t be nearly as easy.

Yet, we don’t take advantage of this ability as often as we could.

My challenge to you is this: sometime in the next month, think about how you can use your Twitter following to crowdsource a blog post this week. Reach out to your followers and take advantage of this community you’ve built.

8. Email marketing would get more creative.

In my opinion, most (not all, but most) online marketing falls into one of three categories: social media, search engine optimization, and email marketing. Twitter obviously falls into the social media category and is even starting to play more into search engine optimization. Email marketing is a different beast completely. Even if you don’t spend much time online, if you’ve ever used the Internet, you probably have an email address.

Savvy marketers understand the power of email, but without social media, this way of contacting people would be even more important. The time you spend on Twitter now would have to be spent on something else, and I believe that “something else” would be email.

Maybe it would be a good thing for us to pretend Twitter didn’t exist so we actually did spend more time on email.

I’m subscribed to several so-called weekly newsletters. A very small percentage of those newsletters actually get sent every week, consistently. People get busy and the weekly obligation of producing an email for subscribers falls to the wayside.

In my opinion, this is a huge mistake. Even more than you social followers, people who have subscribed to your email list are your most engaged community members. They’re so involved that they’ve actually asked you to email content to their inbox, which is probably overflowing with junk, work emails, and communications from friends.

If you aren’t regularly emailing your subscribers, make a commitment to change this so that email becomes a priority. If you are one of the few bloggers who is very active with email, think about what you could be doing better and how you can build your list. Get creative and become an inbox standout. Email marketing deserves your attention!

9. “Engage” would have a different meaning.

I hate the term “engage.” I feel like most of the people who use it are being slimy. I guess that it’s such a sterile term that it makes me think anyone “engaging” me isn’t actually interested in me as a person, only how they can use me for their own benefit.

Twitter is place you’ll find the most “engagers” because it is easy. You don’t have to be thoughtful to engage on Twitter. You simply say thanks for retweets, promote links others have retweeted, and reply to people occasionally. Congratulations, you’ve successfully engaged people for another day. High five.

Of course, the people who really do understand how to use Twitter well know that successfully engaging means doing a lot more than the bare minimum. Still, without Twitter, I think “engage” would have a different meaning completely. It would mean thoughtful responses on other social networks, comments on other blog posts (like discussed above), emails, and maybe even handwritten cards. It would mean actually getting to know the people involved in your community.

This is what we should all be doing. You can still send short messages on Twitter, but instead of always thinking about what another person can do for you, stop engaging in order to get direct results. For example, don’t think, “if I retweet this person’s link, they’ll retweet mine.” Instead, think, “If I retweet awesome content on a regular basis, it will help my community and I’ll naturally get more followers, with some of those people retweeting my links too.” When you want engagement to give you direct results, it quickly turns into using people.

10. We’d have fewer distractions when writing.

I’m not going to tell you how many times I stopped writing this post to check or reply to someone on Twitter.

Turn it off. Write, and don’t turn it back on until your post draft is done. ‘Nuff said.

11. Guest posting would be more important.

Twitter is an amazing platform for building your audience. More so than any other social network, when someone shares one of your links or retweets something you say, it introduces you and your content to an entirely new audience.

If Twitter didn’t exist, we’d work a little harder at finding new audiences a different way. Namely, I think more bloggers would be writing guests posts. I also believe that guest blogging strategies would be tweaked a bit. It would be more important to step outside your comfort zone and write posts for completely new audiences on blogs outside your niche.

Let’s say you write food blog, for example. It is extremely beneficial for you post on other food blogs. However, those are people who may be reading your blog already, or who could come across your blog because they’re searching for that kind of information. What if you instead posted a kid-friend recipe on a popular parenting blog or a great take-along roadtrip recipe for a travel blog?

The key is to post on blogs that have audiences who would be interested in your content, but who might not otherwise find your blog.

Read more about guest posting here.

12. Content sharing would be more meaningful.

Lastly, without Twitter, it would be much more meaningful whenever someone shared content. Twitter makes it almost too easy to share links, and they have a tendency to fall into the abyss, never to be seen again. Twitter just isn’t a very effective content curation tool, and there’s not a lot of effort required to share a link on this platform.

When someone shares your content elsewhere, it’s a much bigger deal. On networks like Pinterest, that content is going to have a much longer life, because the focus is on categorizing awesome content over time instead of just blasting out links that never again see the light of day. On sites like Facebook and Google+, the person sharing your link is more likely to actually write some meaningful commentary to go along with the link, which starts conversations with their followers. And if someone emails a link to a friend? Well, that’s a huge deal. It’s more than a personal recommendation – it’s a “YOU HAVE TO READ THIS” recommendation.

Think about how you’re sharing content you love. Are you just tweeting it and calling it a day? If you actually want to support bloggers you love (and get others’ support in return), think about curating your content and going that extra mile when sharing. People gravitate toward those who share awesome content (a great example of this is George Takei on Facebook), so by putting a little more effort in how you share great content you find, you can build followers who want to read your content as well.

So there’s my list. How do you think blogging would be different without Twitter?

*Study data is available here.

Image Credit: Altered, from Bigstock

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


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.

The Single Most Important Step to Getting Good Conversion from your Visitors


I have for the past couple of months been posting here about an ongoing MBA class on content marketing called Marketing with Social Media. The class is being taught by me, Bill Belew, at a university in San Jose (Yes, I know the way).

I don’t know of anybody who has been able to gather a lot (73 MBA students) of bloggers and put them in a controlled setting (controlled inasmuch as they do what I tell them to, which they don’t always) in an academic environment. The students pass or fail based on whether they do the work or not. It is an international university and many of the students’ immigration status is dependent on their final grade. In other words, they are motivated. If they fail, they literally get deported.

The class is a marketing class. The end result of the blogging, aka content marketing, aka inbound marketing is not just traffic. It’s conversions. Business. Clients. Paying customers or in some cases, leads are just enough.

conversion The Single Most Important Step to Getting Good Conversion From Your Visitors

Not the only step mind you. But the most important step.

By chance–I didn’t plan it this way–this past week I attended a Conversion Conference in San Francisco, right up the street from me. We get a lot of that sort of thing in my area. Search Engine Marketing, adTech and and and …

The Conversion Conference was all about, well, converting visitors to web sites to paying customers. Analyzing the people who show up at your site and how they got there from whence they came (I am reading a book that currently has me in the middle ages) and turning them into buyers. Finding the leak in the funnel. That sort of thing.

Before I tell you the first let me tell you the second most important thing I took away from the Conversion Conference: Most, can you say nearly all, marketers, market analysts don’t know what they are talking about.

One of the keynote speakers quite aggressively asked all the attendees by show of hands to answer three marketing questions. Is A better than B, type questions. Out of the 200+ people in the room, only 6, count ’em, got all three questions right. And, I was one of the 6! So, make that 5!

These are the, um, marketing analyst experts! And they barely get 1 or 2 out of 3 options right. Whoa!

But that’s not the most important.

First you have to get people to your web site in the first place. And get the right people to your web site. Driving traffic is no good. That equals pushing people to a site whether they might want to go there or not.

A good site pulls people in. In Europe it is called pull marketing versus push marketing. And pull wins hands down.

Social networking is push marketing.

Sites built on solid search engine  optimization principles is pull marketing. Search engine optimized is content that is appealing to real people (first) and search engines (second) but definitely to both.

My students have been working the SEO principles of good titling, images, captions and descriptions, plus linking and so on.

After 8 weeks, three of them are already over 10,000 page views! And the top 10 students are averaging over 5,000 page views … that have been generated by pull marketing. Guess who gets to stay in the US!

So, tell me … which converts better for you, people you asked to come to your site, people who have been sent to your site by hook or by crook or people who have come looking and found that you have what they want?

I know the answer. Do you?

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