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

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

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

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

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

Isn’t that the dream of every blogger?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is one-title thinking.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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10 Ways to Switch Your Brain to Writing Mode When Working From Home

Immigration, Assimilation and the American DreamThis post is from ProBlogger Team member Stacey Roberts

Finding it hard to make time to blog? Me too. In fact, that’s one of the biggest issues people tell me they have when trying to write. Often we’re blogging from home alongside other work and family commitments, and it can be hard to switch between them when we need to. If you’ve only got 90 minutes in which to write that day, all the good intentions in the world don’t necessarily mean you can use every single one of those 90 minutes to their capacity, churning out a brilliantly-crafted blog post and three witty tweets to wow your readers.

I write from home with two toddlers, and juggle my own blog in addition to freelance writing and my  work here at ProBlogger. When I sit down to the computer after a morning of LEGO fights and snack time, I’m not always inspired and motivated to be productive. I have to make myself use my time to its potential, which is a heady mix of prior organisation and brute force. I’ve come up with a couple of ways to get my head in the game, when the game could be called off at any minute.

There’s nothing better than a physical distinction between one task and the next. For me, it is to make a cup of tea, which is leftover from my days as a journalist, and tells my head it’s writing time. You could make a cup of coffee, fill your water bottle, or put on the same playlist every day. Whatever helps your brain train get on a new track.

If you work at home, it can be tempting to work from the couch in your pajamas. And while that’s definitely one of the perks of the business, it doesn’t really help your productivity. Get dressed, walk around the block and pretend you’re walking to “work”. Grab a cup of coffee on the way into your office, sit down and start your day.

Sometimes a change of environment is just the kickstart you need to find your writing groove. Not feeling it at your desk? Get outside, sit at the kitchen table, go to a cafe – wipe the slate clean and start again. Don’t be afraid to move to find your groove!

Nothing blanks me out more than sitting down to an empty white screen. Where does one start? What if you can’t come up with a good headline, and then you can’t figure out what’s the most important thing to cover? Before you know it you’ve spent half an hour idling with nothing to show for it. I find I work best when I’ve taken a few minutes prior (even days prior) to roughly sketch out what I need to cover in my post. Then by the time I sit down, I’ve got anything from a couple of words to go on, to a whole skeleton outline I just need to flesh out. This helps enormously, as even when you type the first sentence, you can get into the flow.

We like to think that we are multi-tasking ninjas, but research has shown you really don’t get as much done as you think. So in order to train your brain to work to its potential, you have to be tough and shut down any distractions. If this is hard, then tell yourself you can sneak a peek every 15 minutes, but you need to get stuff done in that time. So much of writing is self-discipline, and when you don’t have time to waste it’s even worse when you waste it.

When you sit down to write, just take a few minutes to think about the tasks ahead. Don’t write anything down, don’t look at anything, just fill your mind with what you need to accomplish. This will help you stop thinking about distractions and get your mind in the groove of what lies ahead. It’s a great way of getting some demarcation between what you’ve been doing, and what you need to do, and also works as a bit of a brainstorm for today’s tasks.

Now spend a few minutes jotting down those thoughts. I often find it’s a mix of items for my to-do list, post ideas, something to share with my readers on Facebook, and points I want to cover in my posts. This also means I’m motivated and inspired to get to work on these items, and also ensures I’m not sitting down to the dreaded blinking cursor without anything to kickstart my creativity.

One of the best things I learned about writing novels is to stop when you’re inspired. It sounds counter-productive, but if you stop once your wave is over, you’re at a bit of a loss where to start when you pick it back up. This can mean you waste valuable time trying to come up with what to write about next. Picking up where you left off when you were in the groove means you can start with all cylinders firing, which does wonders for your productivity. There’s nothing better than starting off with a good chunk of work under your belt, it lessens the guilt you feel when you fritter your time reading eight Buzzfeed articles instead of getting stuck in. Or that might just be me.

I know I’m tempted to leave the hardest thing for last as I “warm up” with easier tasks, but I also then find I’m still dreading the job while I’m doing other things. And often my time gets cut short and I’ve got to find another time to get it done. I find I work best if I sit down and get the big job out of the way first, almost like ripping off a Band-Aid. Everything you do after that is gravy.

If you’re anything like me, you will look at some notes you wrote three days ago and they make little sense. “Mirfin? what’s a mirfin? It looked important, too…”. So while it’s useful to jot down notes when inspiration strikes, it’s even more useful if those are recent notes and you can still recall what you need to do and when. I often email myself notes, or use the notes function on my phone and laptop. Sometimes I even go beta and use pencil and paper, hence the mirfin. But the shorter the timeframe, the better for you.

I’d love to hear what helps you get your head on track when working from home. Any tips you’d like to share?

Stacey Roberts is the content ninja at ProBlogger.net, and the blogger behind Veggie Mama. Can be found making play-dough, reading The Cat in the Hat for the eleventh time, and avoiding the laundry. See evidence on Instagram here, on Facebook here, and twitter @veggie_mama.

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What My Wife Has Taught Me About Blogging After Just 3 Months

Next week marks the 3 month anniversary of Vanessa (my wife) starting her first blog at Style and Shenanigans.

It’s been a fascinating process to watch her plan, launch and grow her blog.

Some might imagine that being married to ‘the ProBlogger’ means she’s constantly being told what to do and being given secret tips and advice – however I’ve been remarkably restrained in my involvement and very impressed by what she’s intuitively built already.

While she’s not got a huge readership – it continues to grow and it has already opened up some pretty cool opportunities for her.

In fact having watched her over these last 3 months I have been somewhat inspired and learned a lot and in this post want to share some of the things I think she’s done well that have helped her to grow her blog’s traffic and profile already.

My hope is that in doing so it’ll help others at the beginning of their blogging journey to get their blogs rolling.

Perhaps the #1 thing that I’ve been impressed with so far is Vanessa’s commitment to engaging with her readership.

This has shone through in a number of ways including:

writing in an engaging style – most of her posts end with a question that invites commentevery comment on the blog is responded toevery comment on her Facebook Page is responded toevery incoming Tweet to our Twitter account is responded to

This is partly just who Vanessa is (she’s very engaging and inclusive in real life) but was something that probably stretched her a little too. I remember in the early days when she would get comments from people she didn’t know for the first few times it was certainly a bizarre feeling for her to engage with them – but she’s fully into the swing of things now!

Interestingly she’s now well and truly passed the tipping point of having more ‘strangers’ reading her blog and following her on Facebook and Twitter than she has ‘real life’ friends.

Screen Shot 2013-11-14 at 8.15.43 pmI wrote a few weeks ago about Vanessa’s first foray into including a few ‘selfies’ on the blog. These more personal posts have continued and have been received well (they’ve been the most commented posts on the site).

Other experiments with a more personal style of content included a post about a dinner party we threw for a few friends and a couple of posts about a short trip we took.

And then there’s Facebook…. this for me has been one of the most fascinating parts of the journey because her blog Facebook Page has gone ‘off topic’ and into a more personal space than I would have predicted.

There are certainly the predictable updates that are links to new posts on the blog – but mixed in are plenty of slightly more personal updates. Photos from things she’s doing, questions, funny family moments, personal quick tips and random off topic humorous posts.

The result is that she’s got a page with pretty high engagement – in fact if I had the engagement she had on my pages relative to how many people were ‘liking’ my pages I’ve be over the moon!

The other key thing that I think is going to work in Vanessa’s favour is that the bulk of her content on the blog is ‘helpful’ and solves problems for readers.

V is what Malcom Gladwell would describe a ‘Maven’. She is a gatherer of information, a watcher of trends and LOVES sharing what she finds. She’s been doing this on the topic of style in her friendship circles since before I met her and her blog is an extension of that.

The bulk of her content reflects that and is basically her curated collections of different themes of fashion and home wares.

Her typical posts feature a collection of suggested products on a colour style or brand theme and the comments I see on them are often people saying thanks for the suggestions.

Also of interest to me is that I’m starting to see readers leave messages asking for advice on particular areas based upon her posts.

Her 7am post - got decent engagement. Her 7am post – got decent engagement.

This morning Vanessa was posting an update to Facebook at 7am and I suggested that it might be a bit too early in the morning for her readers to be checking Facebook.

She responded that it was one of her best times of day and that when she posted that early she often got a lot of responses by 8am as people checked their phones over breakfast.

I had my doubts but as I ate my porridge I watched the comments come in on Facebook and the blog and realised she had her finger on the rhythms of her readership perfectly.

Also of interest is that she’s already noticed that some days of the week seem to get more comments on posts than others and that certain types of Facebook updates at certain times of the day get more interaction.

This is golden information!

I’m always talking here on ProBlogger about how important it is to ‘get off your blog’ if you want to grow traffic and to monetise your blog.

Vanessa has intuitively started to do this without much prompting at all.

It is a challenge – she’s a busy person with 3 active boys (two home during the day), working a day a week, involved in a variety of community activities etc – but she’s going beyond just writing content and responding to comments.

This has happened in a variety of ways including:

when she’s mentioned brands or other sites in her posts she lets them know (this has already led to one brand suggesting that they might like to work with her and others linking up to her blog!)reading and engaging on other relevant sites/Facebook pagesinvolvement in a small Facebook group for other bloggers in her nicheresponding to opportunities that other bloggers and media have already offered her to guest post on them

By no means is it easy to get everything done (and there will always be more that you can do) but I’m always amazed at what happens when you push open doors and get active about engaging off your blog with others.

The key lesson here is to not just build a great blog and expect good things to happen to you. You need to take some initiative and get off your blog to see those good things come into being!

Screen Shot 2013-11-14 at 8.22.52 pmIt was several years after I started blogging that I even considered the possibility of other people writing content on my blogs. That’s not the case for Vanessa.

Just 3 months in she’s already had two guest posts. Both have been submitted by the one person – a good family friend – but both posts have added something to the blog that V couldn’t have written herself.

The key is that she’s found someone who writes in a similar voice and that the posts have complemented existing content on the blog (for example this post from Mandy on toys for Girls was a follow up to one V wrote on toys for boys).

CR-CollageA couple of weeks ago I shared some great image creation tools that I use to create visual content for my blogs. Vanessa is also a convert to PicMonkey and Canva and a regular feature of her posts are collages of the products that she’s talking about.

I suspect that the visual element of her blogging will only evolve in time but these simple collages have been really popular with readers and I think are a big part of the reason that her Facebook Page has had great engagement.

Visual content is gold – particularly on social!!!

By no means am I suggesting that Vanessa has arrived or is a poster child of blogging. She has a lot more to learn (as do I). I just have loved watching her growth and development in these early months.

What did you learn about blogging in the first few months that has stuck with you ever since?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Statsdpb 1 2

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

I was devastated.

I was confused.

I was angry.

I was also deeply embarrassed.

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

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

Thankfully I didn’t give up.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At the time I didn’t realise how important this would end up being but I started a free newsletter for readers of my site. I offered to email monthly updates to anyone who signed up with the best content from the blog. It started very slow and initially only sent a trickle of traffic to my blogs each week but today we now have over 1,000,000 subscribers and each week when I send these emails the result is great waves of traffic.

At the same time I began to realise that I should be working hard to promote other ways to subscribe to my blogs. I began to promote our RSS feed more prominently.

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

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

I also spent more time getting to know other bloggers at this time. At the time as there were so few social networks this was largely done through commenting on other people’s blogs and email. This led to some great friendships and a few profitable partnerships in time too.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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5 Reasons Why Blogging is Not Working for Your Business

This is a guest contribution from freelance writer, Jawad.

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Over the last few years, the significance of high value content, in generating qualified sales leads, has increased tremendously for businesses.

More than ever before, businesses are now focusing on generating regular content for their target markets to keep a steady inflow of customers.

This, of course, cannot be done without a well-managed and regularly updated business blog.

However, over the last few months I have come across a number of business owners who have not managed to get a single client despite regularly updating their blogs with useful content.

At first, their arguments about the ineffectiveness of blogging seemed to carry weight. But a closer look revealed certain patterns behind the failure of all those business blogs.

In this post I’ll try to sum up the reasons why some businesses find it hard to achieve success through blogging.

This post assumes that,

Your business takes blogging seriously and has either hired permanent blogger or contracted a professional freelance blogger to manage your blog.You follow a fixed posting schedule and update your blog regularly.

This, in my opinion, is the biggest reason why a number of business blogs fail to make an impact.

They seem to lack focus. There’s no set pattern to their content and it is difficult to understand what they’re trying to achieve through it.

Like everything else in business, you need to have a clear objective that you want to achieve through your blog. You can’t expect a blog to get you customers if it is only updated with your latest corporate event pictures and news.

Your blog should be a part of your greater business strategy. You should be clear about the objectives you want to achieve through it.

Are you looking to attract customers? Or are you focused on creating awareness about your product?

Whatever the objective is, you need to be clear about it. Because your objective will ultimately give direction to the type of content you post on your blog and the type of marketing channels you choose for promoting your content.

Blogging alone is not going to get you customers. You need to have a broader strategy and use blogging as a key component of that strategy.

Your strategy should not only include the type of content you’re going to create for your target market, but it should also include a comprehensive plan to promote your content so that it reaches the right audience at the right time.

The same goes for your social media strategy. Blogging, content promotion, social media etc. are all connected with each other and cannot be used in isolation.

Each of these components has a unique role in achieving your objectives and they should complement each other in your overall content marketing strategy.

What I see with many business blogs is a random set of posts that does not contribute to any particular direction.

Develop a sequence in your content and connect it with the greater strategy. That is the only way to move forward

One of the most obvious, yet common, reasons for ineffective business blogging is the lack of focus on your target market.

You don’t want irrelevant people to come to your blog. Traffic alone is useless if it is not converting into regular visitors.

For example, if you are a blogging agency or a freelance writer, why would you want to write about freelance writing on your blog if your objective is to get clients? The only people who are going to read such content are freelance writers themselves. And they are certainly not your customers.

Identify your customers and write content that provides solutions to their most common problems.

That is the only way to not only get their attention but also to convert them into regular visitors and, eventually, loyal customers.

If you’re trying to make sales through every post on your blog, then you’re probably better off without any blog at all.

Nothing damages the credibility of a business in the eyes of potential clients more than hard sales pitches. It simply shows that you’re not concerned with the problems of your target market.

Blogging is NOT a direct sales channel.

By its very nature, blogging should be focused on developing a credible image of your brand as a company that cares about its customers and offers solutions to complex problems.

Once you establish this image, getting sales is not an issue.

Look, customers are not afraid to spend money on the right solutions. Your job is to convince them, through your content, that you indeed ARE the right solution.

And that can never be done through hard sales pitch content.

Offer solutions, the clients will come themselves.

You might not be making any of the mistakes I’ve listed above.

You have a great plan for your blog, you have a great strategy that compliments your business goals and you realize that hard sales pitches never work.

Then why is your blog still not bringing results?

Chances are that you’re being just a bit too neutral in your content.

It’s obviously recommended not to push sales pitches in every blog post, but that does not mean that you leave your readers with no clue about your services.

At the end of the day, your blog is a part of your business strategy and businesses need sales.

Make sure every post on your business blog makes your readers take action. For example, if have a product that can genuinely solve the problems of your readers, then there’s no harm in adding a link to the product page at the end of your post.

Similarly, never forget to drop hints to your readers within your content about how you can solve their problems.

Like your overall blogging strategy, have an objective for every blog post as well.

You’ll be amazed how small signals within your content can help your readers take the actions you want.

There’s absolutely no question that the significance of blogging for businesses is only going to increase in the coming days.

However, unlike the old days, blogging is much more about long term planning than short term gains.

Get your strategic hat on and develop a plan around your blog. If done correctly, it will be the perfect catalyst for achieving your business goals.

If you are a business, online or offline, that is using blogging to drive sales, I would love to hear your comments about the strategies that work for you.

Jawad is a freelance writer and professional blogger with a keen interest in content marketing, blogging and wordpress. With professional experience in Web Project Management, he also provides content and design consultancy to a number of tech companies. He blogs at WritingMyDestiny.com

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5 Fundamentals That Determine How Fast Your Blog Grows

This is a guest contribution from Tim Soulo.

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

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

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

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

Writer's warm-ups Image copyright Robert Kneschke – Fotolia.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SEO flow chart SML

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

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

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

So what are the basics to get you started?

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

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

But what they don’t understand is:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

50 Brilliant Photo Sites of Professional Photographers50 Awesomely Inspiring Tumblr Blogs for Photographers100 Incredibly Tasty Instagram Accounts for Foodies to Follow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m talking about:

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

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

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

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

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

That’s all Folks!

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

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

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

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

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