This is a guest post by Gregory Ciotti of Sparring Mind.
As 2011 comes to a close, now is a better time than ever to evaluate your blog, its performance, and most importantly, what you can do to improve your blog in 2012!
A point I always like to drive home is that you will never find blogging success by turning into an “eternal student”, one who always consumes information but never creates or takes action.As I am in the process of taking a step back from my own blog to reevaluate what things I could do better, I wanted to present Problogger readers a list of actionable tips that they could act on right now to improve their blog for the new year.
So check this list out, bookmark it for later (or tweet it out to your fellow bloggers), and make sure you go through and see what quick actions you can take to improve your blog!
1. Optimize (or start) your email list
Had you email list become stagnant, with a slow trickle of subscribers rather than a huge flow of new signups? Have you not even started building a list yet?
Now is the time to take action, because your mailing list is the most important aspect of your blog’s long term success. So if you haven’t already, create one now.
If you have a list, let’s think of a few ways to optimize it…
- Make sure sign-up forms are in the best locations (sidebar, feature box, at the end of posts).
- Create a “toolbox” of freebies that only subscribers get access to (think of it like the free ebook strategy, only kicked up a notch).
- Create newsletter only content just for subscribers (makes the newsletter more worthwhile for them).
Last but not least, make sure there is an option to subscribe on the pages of your site with the most traffic. I’m talking about your intro/about page, your resource pages, and any other pages that visitors often visit from your homepage.
Start building your list now the right way. You won’t regret it in 2012!
2. Make a list of every blogger (who writes quality content) in your niche
You might be wondering why bother to do this. Certainly if you at the intermediate stage of blogging, you already know about the power of guest blogging and the kind of traffic and subscribers it can bring you.
The thing you have to realize though is that as powerful as guest blogging is, it is only one part of being good at networking in your chosen niche.
In order to truly succeed as a blogger, you are going to need important people who are truly rooting for you. The best way to do that? Network.
Most bloggers are afraid to start, so by creating a list like this, you are already on your way, and it takes far less time than you might think. Simply use sites like AllTop and Technorati, along with the blogs that you regularly read, and create a comprehensive list of the best ones in your niche.
Plan on emailing each one, maybe breaking the ice with a completed (and awesome) guest post. From there, stay in touch, actively support the other bloggers in your niche, and in time, you’ll find yourself getting links naturally, it won’t take a guest post for your fellow bloggers to mention you…
They’ll be doing it because they support you. And that is an essential ingredient to growing a popular blog.
3. Re-evaluate your blog’s unique offering to readers
What about your blog makes it distinct? What are readers getting there that they simply cannot get on the hundreds to thousands of other blogs in the same niche?
For 2012, you should take a look at your blog, and really evaluate what you are adding to the web that nobody out there is doing exactly the same.
The key word there is “exactly”, because your blog doesn’t have to be a totally unique experience that is doesn’t compare to anything else, it just has to be a twist on existing topics.
For instance, there are a lot of blogs for people who love blogging, but how about people who love Tumblr? Heck, your twist can just be what medium you use to create content.
For instance, there are a lot of personal fitness blogs that use video, that makes sense. But what about a finance blog that uses a lot of video? What about craft blog that uses a lot of video? How about a marketing blog that focuses on podcasts? How about a personal development blog that utilizes SlideShare?
The point is: it’s not too hard for you to put a “twist” on your niche, making it something that adds value and that also helps you stand out from the sea of others.
4. Try new content types to keep your blog fresh
Speaking of different content media, a lot of bloggers get so overwhelmed with different traffic methods and writing techniques that they fail to realize that they could be putting their efforts to a medium they might be better (or more comfortable) at.
Maybe writing posts really is the thing you feel most comfortable at, but I’d definitely suggest giving a few other mediums a try. They can bring extra traffic from being hosted on the parent site (like YouTube videos) and can give your blog a appeal by creating content in an unusual form.
Here are some great content types you can try:
- video (on YouTube or Vimeo)
- audio on SoundCloud (or by starting a podcast)
- slideshows on SlideShare
See if some of these suit you better from time to time, and you’ll likely be one of few blogs in your industry doing them!
There’s also another great post idea I want to discuss…
5. Interview someone influential in your niche
Interviews are a blog kickstart technique that seriously work for any niche—at least, I’ve yet to encounter one in which they don’t work well!
Interviews are great for a few reasons:
- The person you are interviewing will notify their following of the interview, bringing you traffic.
- People will respect you more for getting the thoughts from an influential person, and be more inclined to check out your self-made content.
- Interviews add instant social proof to what you are saying, and if you can even add small parts of an interview to back up your own claims, readers will appreciate it.
Scared to ask someone for an interview? Don’t be! Research has shown that people are more likely to help you out than you think.
They key: keep your emails short and your requests reasonable. Also, never send the questions in the first email, ask for permission first!
And this is on entirely new blogs!
Trust me, finding a good person to interview (an interesting or unusual expert is always good) and creating great questions for the interview will likely be a huge benefit for your blog. It’s a must-try technique in 2012.
6. Clean up your sidebar: show what matters
If there is one part of a blog that typically turns into a complete mess, it’s the sidebar in the typical content/sidebar blog layout.
Bloggers (especially newer bloggers) are tend to add way too many widgets and sections on their sidebar, and instead of making their site better, they end up making it far worse!
How? The first thing is site speed. I’ve written about how to speed up WordPress before, and the conclusions you can draw from other website owners and SEO experts is this:
- People won’t wait for slow loading sites, general wait time is as little as a few seconds (that’s single digits).
- Site speed has an impact on SEO, affecting your rankings.
- A fast-loading site is apart of a great user experience, and users appreciate fast page loads far more than you realize.
Those are some pretty important reasons to be concerned about your site speed… But there are even bigger concerns that you should be worried about!
In addition to slowing your site down,have shown that too many choices can actually decrease conversions!
What that means is that a cluttered sidebar is likely to decrease your conversion rates on new subscribers! This is bad, bad news for your blogs potential success.
Fortunately, this can be fixed quickly, by scrapping all of the junk in your sidebar and including only the essentials, which are:
- sidebar opt-in (must be at the top!)
- list of popular posts (shows readers your best content, right away!)
- resource sections (these sections showcase a lot of info on a single topic, or including things like what blogging tools you are partial to using)
- …nothing else!
Honestly, having only these three items in this list might make you think I’m crazy, but hear me out: those really are the only essentials!
Of course, if you blog offers a product, service, or advertising, these need to be included, but for most people, the three I mentioned will increase your conversion rates after you get rid of the junk.
Unless your blog as 1000+ posts, you don’t need a search bar, categories—none of that stuff. What you do need is a fast loading site that converts well, so make it happen.
7. Improve your knowledge of SEO and SEO copywriting
If you are running a WordPress blog, understanding the fundamentals of WordPress SEO is essential to succeeding as a blogger (I’d highly recommend starting with SEOMoz’s Beginner’s Guide to SEO, it’s a great read that’s highly detailed and includes great visuals).
More importantly though (and non-platform-specific), you need to learn more about SEO copywriting if you don’t know about it already.
The process of effective SEO copywriting is far less confusing than you think. In fact, even if you just learn the basics of good interlinking habits (linking to old posts of yours in new posts, naturally) you’ll already be more skilled than most bloggers in your niche.
It is essential to understand good SEO copywriting as a blogger because it allows your site to do better in search rankings, offers a better user experience for readers by involving your old content in a natural way, and adds a new skillset to your blogging knowledge—one of great importance.
8. Add social proof where it matters
Bloggers sometimes get too caught up in social networking proof, rather than what social proof really means (and when it’s actually useful).
Social proof can be as simple as quote from one of your readers/fans on what a great blog you are running, how you helped them, or how your content has benefited them in some way. This type of social proof is often as powerful as a big Facebook following, and it’s much easier to get legitimately!
Here are a few easy ways to get a powerful statement for your blog:
- Ask! Ask one of your readers if they’d mind giving you a quote to use on your blog as social proof. Most people will be glad to provide one!
- Use a comment. Take a comment from a reader on your site that states something positive, and use it as social proof.
- Quote someone else. Has anybody else mentioned your blog or writing before? Quote them, whether it’s from Twitter or their own site, people will usually have no problem with you quoting them for social proof.
Okay, so we have some ways to get social proof that’s outside of a big social networking following…
Where should we put it? Here are the two best spots to put social proof:
- anywhere there is an “opt-in” form
- anywhere you ask users to purchase something.
Simple, clear use of social proof boils down to this: any time you need someone to trust you (to opt-in to your list or to buy something from you), social proof is king, and those are the locations in which you should use it.
9. Start a “post ideas” journal
I’ve discussed the importance of using journals (or some storage device) in order to break through writer’s block, as they can serve as a growing list of ideas (that may come at any moment) you can access when you need to write a new post.
Writing down great posts ideas as they come in your head will not only benefit your own blog, it will help with writing all of those guest posts to get your name out there!
The thing is, great posts ideas could come to you at any moment. The problem? You are not always in a position to expand on those ideas or to see if they’d really make for a great post. The solution? Write any decent ideas down, and save them for another time.
This way you can keep any ideas that you might have lost if you relied on your memory, and you also get to work on great ideas later that might turn into dynamite posts.
10. Guest blog using the “funnel” technique
If you are going to utilize guest blogging to build your blog (and you definitely should be), you should start approaching your guest posts with an actual strategy, rather than relying on blind writing.
The best (and easiest!) strategy to try is the “funnel” technique of guest posting. The funnel method involves writing a guest post that has to do with one of three big aspects of your blog:
- your blog’s unique offering (discussed above)
- a free ebook/guide you’re giving away
- an opt-in webinar or course you’re offering.
How and why does this work so well? Simple: you are priming readers with a post about a specific topic. Then, you offer them additional content (via your email list) by offering one of the three options listed above.
In case you still don’t get it, think of it like this: I’m a personal fitness style blogger, but I only focus on writing about high-intensity interval training (HIIT for those familiar with the acronym).
So, it would make sense for me to post on fitness blogs, but to focus on writing an article like “5 Reasons Why HIIT is the Best Form of Cardio.” The reason this makes sense is that anybody interested in Fitness and HIIT would go to check out my blog, where they would be greeted with more content on the subject. This would make them more likely to subscribe.
This also works with the other two methods: offering a freebie such as an ebook or Webinar on the topic that my guest post was about. Try this and I guarantee your blog will see maximized conversions for all of your blog posts in 2012!
11. Evaluate your social media buttons
What do I mean “evaluate” your social media buttons? Simply put, you need to take a step back from your blog and look at the buttons that you are using on your site.
Many bloggers just plaster up whichever buttons they can without really evaluating what’s been working in their niche. The key point here is that you most likely don’t need all of those buttons! It’s been proven time and time that too many options can decrease conversions, and this applies to social sharing too.
The reason bloggers get misled is because they see big sites like Mashable using every button under the sun, but what they don’t seem to get is that Mashable is about social media, so a majority of their traffic and “subscribers” are social media users.
It makes sense for them to have tons of social media buttons, but for a blog like yours, which is most likely concerned with growing a stable and profitable email list, you need to evaluate which buttons work best for your audience.
For instance over on my electronic music blog, I immediately removed the LinkedIn and Google+ buttons when I found out that they weren’t being used. It made sense, but I wanted to test things out first.
The thing was, my audience was younger, and not interested in tech or business aspects as much as most LinkedIn and Google+ users are. Generally, they stuck to Facebook, and used Twitter slightly less.
So I updated the social sharing buttons to include only those two, and guess what? My traffic didn’t drop by a single visitor. In fact it increased, all while I was speeding my site up!
Make sure your social buttons are actually being used by your readers.
12. Utilize the most powerful social network of all
When most people think about networking these days, they tend to think about social networks.
While social networks (especially those like Twitter) are indeed extremely useful for establishing connections, in reality they better serve as icebreakers for real planning on the most powerful social network of all…
That’s right. All of your guest post submissions, all of your interview requests, collaborations, joint ventures, product launches, everything will be happening behind the scenes through email (or at least the important stuff!).
What else will you be doing to revitalize your blog in 2012? Share your plans in the comments.
If you are a blogger who wants to tap into the psychology of successful content marketing, you need to check out Sparring Mind, where Greg prefers to write about what works (backed with research and data) and avoids the fluff. Find out more here and start marketing your blog the right way.