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192: 3 Key Things Bloggers Do to Grow Their Blogs into Businesses

The Things Successful Bloggers Do to Build Their Blogs Into Businesses

In today’s lesson, I want to talk about some of the things that successful bloggers are doing to increase the conversions of their website.

This episode is inspired by a post we had on the ProBlogger blog this week from John Stevens who shared 9 conversion habits of the world’s most successful bloggers.

I want to pick up, highlight and expand upon 3 of the points John mentions but also want to share something I’ve noticed about many of the social media marketing bloggers that I follow that fascinates me.

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Good day there! My name is Darren Rowse and I’m the blogger behind problogger.com, a blog, podcast, event, job board and a series of ebooks, all designed to help you to start an amazing blog, to create content that will change people’s lives and to hopefully make some money from your blog as well. Learn more about ProBlogger over at problogger.com.

Today is episode 192. In today’s lesson, I want to talk about some of the things that successful bloggers are doing to increase the conversions on their website and to guarantee their success not only as bloggers to build an audience but also to help them to build a business and to make money from their blogs.

This episode is actually inspired by a post we had on ProBlogger, the blog this week, it was a post from John Stevens who shared Nine Conversion Habits of the World’s Most Successful Bloggers. It’s a post that I’m going to link to in today’s show notes because it’s essential reading for anyone who does want to monetize their blog and to learn this stuff.

In today’s episode, I want to pick up on three of the nine points that John mentioned. I want to highlight them, expand upon them a little bit, and talk about why I think they are so important. At the end of this episode, I also want to share something that I’ve noticed about many of the social media marketing bloggers that I follow, these people who are experts in their fields, who are doing something a little different to what John says in his post.

By no means am I saying John’s wrong, but there’s also something else that I’ve noticed about these other bloggers and I want to highlight that at the end of today’s show as well. You can see John’s post over in today’s show notes, there’s a full transcription of the show as well over at problogger.com/podcast/192. I’ll highlight John’s post there. Also, check out the Facebook group, the ProBlogger Community Facebook Group. You can go to problogger.com/group.

This week being the start of May, we’ve been talking in the group about our goals for the month. We’ve been doing some accountability there. I also share the new tool I’m using for live streaming on Facebook which is just blowing my mind, really affordable tool. We’ve had discussions on SEO, affiliate marketing, video and much more so we would love you to join the group at problogger.com/group. Let’s get into today’s show.

Last week on ProBlogger, we published a fantastic post by John Stevens, a guest post. It was titled, as I said in the top of the show, The Nine Conversion Habits of the World’s Most Successful Bloggers. In this post that John wrote, John analyzes how some very well-known bloggers have built successful businesses around their blogs. He talks about these nine habits that they’ve gotten into. These are things that have been around for a little while but have changed over the last few years.

As I think back to 2002 and look at how blogs are today, what he’s highlighted are really some of the key changes that have taken successful bloggers to be successful business people. There’s a rule distinction there. Just building a successful blog that’s well read is great and that could be just your goal, to have lots of readers but if you want to monetize your blog, if you want to build a business around your blog, there are certain things that you probably need to work on. John has highlighted some really good habits to build. There’s lots of good advice. I really do recommend you have a read of the post because it’s a great snapshot of some of the current trends in blogging and building an online business from a marketing perspective.

In today’s episode, I want to just pull out three of the things that John talks about and add some of my own thoughts. As I said at the top of the show, I want to add in something that isn’t really there in John’s article. I’m not saying he’s wrong, I’m just saying that this is something that I think is just as important, if not more important, than these other things to keep in mind. Because sometimes we can get a little bit distracted by the new things, and the trends, and these strategies, they’re important but there’s other stuff that we need to keep in mind and keep in balance.

The first thing that I want to talk about that John picks up and it’s his first point as well, is that the successful bloggers that he’s talking about use multiple opt-in boxes on their site. John correctly identifies in this article that email is so important in most of the most successful bloggers’ strategies. This is something that shouldn’t be new to you. I’ve been talking about emails since my very early episodes. If you go right back to the start, you’ll see there’s numerous episodes on how to build your email list.

Email is so important if you want to sell anything to your audience, if you want to build traffic to your blog, if you want to build community with your audience. It can help you in all of these different ways. It’s really important to build that list. I’ll link to some of the shows that we’ve had in the past on email on the show notes today.

But John here is really highlighting one strategy that will help you to build your list. That is that you shouldn’t just ask for people to opt-in to your email list once on your blog or even once on any one page. John identifies here that most of the key successful bloggers that he’s looking at have multiple calls to action to opt-in on every page on their blog. The reality is that people are becoming increasingly blind to our calls for them to opt-in to our email list.

If you think back to 2004, 2005 on the Internet, the big cool thing back then was banner advertising. I remember seeing my first banner ads and I was fascinated by them, “Oh, what are these things?” Google AdSense was starting to put all these text ads around the internet. People were clicking those links and those ads like crazy back then because they were new.

Then couple of years later, people in the advertising industry began to write articles about how people were suffering from ad blindness. This is a thing that we all know today because we all know there are ads on most websites on the internet but very few of us even see the ads anymore because we’ve become blind to that marketing technique.

This is something that is happening in most marketing techniques today and one of them is opt-in blindness. People are becoming increasingly blind to our calls to action to subscribe, whether that be by us offering them a free guide to something, or a free video, or a free report, or a free resource, download these calls to subscribe to my list and get a free stuff, people are increasingly ignoring them and that’s because they’re seeing them so often.

I don’t believe that we should stop doing opt-ins on our site but we need to get a little bit smarter about how we call people to get those opt-ins. One of the ways that we can do that is to have multiple opt-ins on our page. The key with this and John talks about this in the article, is to find balance. We’ve all been to sites that constantly interrupt us, asking us for an opt-in.

You arrive on the site and there’s a pop-up before you can see anything and then 30 seconds later after you’ve closed that pop-up and you scroll down, there’s a little slide in box that comes on. Then before you visit the second post that you want to visit on the site, there’s another interruption. Then as you’re leaving the site, there’s another interruption. All over the site there are calls to action. I’m not talking about that.

I don’t want you to annoy your readers to the point where they either leave your site or give you their email address. But I do think we can be slightly more aggressive than just having one call to action. This is something that I’ve experimented with both of my sites Digital Photography School and ProBlogger.

On Digital Photography School at the moment, if you’ll arrive on that site, you’ll be greeted if you’re on a desktop computer with a welcome mat and it’s a big slide in from the top. It’s fairly aggressive and that works really well. If you come back again, you won’t see that. We don’t want every visitor every time they visit to see that so the first time they’ll come they’ll see that.

Then there are a couple of more subtle calls to action on the site. In the sidebar, there’s a really subtle call to action. In some articles, we also have at the bottom of the article we might have a call to action. Also, if you view a few pages while you’re on the site, you’ll see an exit pop-up as well. This is where you go to leave the site and there’ll be a little box come up and ask you to subscribe then if you haven’t already subscribe that is.

It’s tracking whether people take action on the first few times and if they have, they won’t see, the second recall to action. What we found is that by adding that last exit pop-up, we’ve increased our sign-ups quite considerably. I think it went up 30% or 40%.

Having more than one opt-in on your site is something that a lot of bloggers now are doing. As I said before, you got to get the balance right. There’s a couple of bloggers that I have been to their sites recently where I’m just like, “This is just too much. I’m just being bombarded.” In some cases, there are bloggers that have already subscribed to their email list and it’s even more annoying because I know they produce good stuff but I just don’t want to keep seeing those messages.

There’s a variety of ways to do that. I’m going to link in the show notes to a few episodes that I’ve had in the past on email and how to get those subscribes. But do experiment with the different technologies that are around at the moment.

The second thing that John highlights in the article is to use the space above the fold on your website really well. Good use above the fold. If you’re new to blogging, if you’re new to the internet, you’re probably going, “What in the world is Darren talking about?” Above the fold is a term that’s a bit geeky. It basically means if you go to a website, what you see above the fold is everything that you can see before you start to scroll. If you go to a website on your desktop, you will see the top part of the website and then you begin to scroll. Everything that you see as you begin to scroll is technically called below the fold.

Really want to think about what can people see when they arrive on your site because what they see without having to scroll, they’re much more likely to take notice of and they’re much more likely to take action on. It’s significantly high. What is above the fold on your site is really important.

John shares some examples of what people do on the front pages of their blogs above the fold and talks about particularly on the front page of your site, including things like benefit statements, social proof, your opt-in calls so getting that email address, proof of authority. These are some of the things that John talks about as being important. He does give you some really good examples of what bloggers do above the fold there.

The other thing I want to encourage you to think about above the fold is what’s happening on your blog post pages. The reality is that most people will be arriving on your blog not to your front page but to a blog post. What happens above the fold on your blog post is really important as well.

One of the things I’ve noticed happening increasingly over the last few months is bloggers putting so much stuff above the fold on their blog post that you can’t actually see the content when you first arrive on their site. Whilst I can understand why they might do that, they might want to have a big email opt-in at the top of their blog post because that’s the most important thing to them, the reality is that if someone arrives on your site expecting to read an article on a particular topic and they can’t see it then that creates an impression upon them.

Whilst a percentage of people might give you their email address before they read the article, I think that it’s smarter to show the article first and then try to get the email address or give them a chance to start reading it and then interrupt them in some way as well. Really think about above the fold, it is very important. But on blog posts it’s really important to make sure your content is viewable immediately when people arrive on your site so that they don’t have to start scrolling to read anything and to get some value. You want to start delivering value right up top on your site.

Pay attention to what’s happening on your front page obviously, I’m going to talk about that in the next point as well. Above the fold, there is a different kettle of fish. You want to be doing some different things on that front page but in the blog post itself, make sure there’s content above the fold as well.

The third thing I want to pick up from John’s article and there’s lots more in it than just these three things is he talks about the use of the home page. He talks a little bit about how that has changed in blogs over the years. The successful bloggers that John’s talking about, he talks about how they use static home pages to funnel additional leads. This is been a massive shift over the last few years of blogging.

If I think back to my first blog in 2002 and my blog back then was pretty much the same as 99% of blogs back in 2002. If you went to the front page of that blog or any other blog, you would see the last 5 to 10 blog posts on the front page of the blog in their entirety. You would go to my blog and it was a very long page, you would see the whole latest article that I’ve write. Even if it was a 5000-word article, it would all be on the front page and then you’d scroll below there and there’d be the next article in its entirety. Then it would be the next article in its entirety.

I did that, I went back and had a look at my first blog in an internet archive version of it.  This is what happened. It was a very long page. There were 10 articles in their entirety and this is what bloggers did back then. It’s just what happened. It’s just the way that the things were.

Then things began to change a little bit. We began to see in probably 2004 or 2005, people began to just show excerpts of their articles. It would just be down the page, it would be the most recent article at top and then the next one, then the next one. It’d be 5 to 10 articles, the title and then excerpt, might be the first couple of paragraphs.

There was massive debate about this when it first started and people first started to do it. People are like, “I don’t want to have to click.” They were complaining about having to click to read more and yet people did it. They realized it was a better user experience for people. People would be able to scan from page to find the article that they wanted to read. It would be a shorter front page as well, takes less time to load all of that type of thing.

We began to see other changes. A few years ago, we began to see front pages of blogs that look more like magazines. They were more of a grid-like layer. You still see a lot of these today that would show their latest posts but usually they’ll be an image for the post because the way they become more visual by this point, it would have the title. Many times it didn’t even have anything else, just the title and the image. Sometimes it would have a little excerpt. Sometimes there’d be a big slider at the top with a featured post but it was all about the content. It was all still about the content on the front page of the blog.

In many ways, they began to look a little bit more like portals or magazines. These magazines has worked a lot of them were called on. This is what I began to experiment with on my blogs. For me on ProBlogger, I began to realize that I didn’t want to just show the latest content. I wanted to show other things that were happening on the site. Really, the next stage that some bloggers went to is to really change things more into a portal on their front page.

Previous to my current design on ProBlogger, some of you will remember that we had my latest video on the front page. I had my latest blog post. I had the latest jobs on the job board. When I started the podcast, I pulled in the latest podcast and so it became more of a portal to the different things that were going on as well as some featured content as well. I realized around this time that it wasn’t just my latest content that I wanted to highlight but other key posts on the side.

This is where the changes has been coming, people began to realize that it’s not just about the latest, it’s about getting people to the right content. This is really what John is picking up on in this article. He highlights a few examples of it. More recently we’re seeing people create front pages that don’t really look like blogs at all. In fact, some of them don’t even have any content on their front page. They’re more like landing pages that funnel their readers to do certain things. John picks up in the article about how many of them are funnelling people to subscribe to their email list.

For example, if you go to the front page of Michael Hyatt’s blog or site I would call it now. You get taken to his welcome page. This welcome page is all about building credibility. It’s about telling you what he does and then getting your email address. That’s really what it is. If you got to have a look at his pages, very cleverly designed, the only thing you can really do on that page is to put in your email address unless you scroll right to the bottom of the page and that’s the only place that you can find a link to any other part of his site.

Everything on that front page is about trying to get the email. He does that with a series of download opt-in offers. He doesn’t just have one. He has a number of different offers on that page. It’s all about trying to get people to give the email address. It’s not until you get to the footer, the very bottom of that front page that he has links to his blog to the content itself. The other way to get to the blog is to scroll pass all the opt-ins to that. Michael is a fairly extreme example of that. There are others that are certainly trying to get the email but also try and do other things.

Pat Flynn is a great example of that. If you go to the front page of Smart Passive income, Pat’s blog and I’ll link to all these in the show notes today, you’ll see there that he, Pat also has a very strong call to action to subscribe. It’s right front and center. In fact, pretty much takes up most of the above the fold space. But then if you scroll down a little further, he begins to highlight his most recent content. He highlights his latest blog posts, his latest podcasts and also highlights some of his recommended affiliate products. Pat has a slightly different approach to his front page. It’s not just about getting the email. He wants to highlight his content. He wants to highlight some of his affiliate products.

ProBlogger’s front page is more similar to Pat’s. We certainly call for a subscribe on the front page, in fact we do it twice. We do it at the top and we do it down the bottom, there’s also another call to action to subscribe there. I’ve found that that bottom subscription works quite well. But then between those calls to subscribe, we highlight our content, we highlight our recent blog posts, we highlight our recent podcasts, we highlight some of the information about our events.

The key for me is to get to subscribe but I know from my experience, that people are much more likely to subscribe to my list if I give them some of my content first. If they get a taste for what I do, they’re much more likely to subscribe. For me, that’s the approach I’ve taken.

There’s no right or wrong in designing your homepage but you’ll see from the examples that a lot of the blogs that John’s talking about in his article don’t look like blogs anymore, in the traditional sense. What I would encourage you to do is to think about what’s your number one goal and to do that above the fold on your homepage and make some really strong calls to action on your homepage. You don’t just have to show your latest content there. You can show something else as well.

The other thing that you’ll see in the article that John wrote is that he highlights that we do something else on the front page of ProBlogger. That is to show something different to a new visitor to a returning visitor. If you come to ProBlogger for the very first time and if you’ve been there before, you won’t see this so you might want to open up an incognito browser and go to problogger.com. New visitors see something different to returning visitors. New visitors get an explanation of what the site is about and a prominent link to our start key page and a strong call to subscribe.

Returning visitors don’t see that introduction to the site, the big button to the start key page. They get shown new content since the last time they visited. We can actually track how many posts you’ve missed and we highlight that as well. This is another creative thing that we’ve been trying out on ProBlogger and it’s worked quite well.

There are three things that I think are really worth highlighting in John’s article. Let me just recap them. The successful bloggers use multiple opt-in calls to action on their blogs, sometimes more than one on a page. They use the space above the fold really well. I would really encourage you think about that for your front page but also for your blog post as well, making sure that there’s content above the fold particularly on blog post. The third thing that I highlight is the static home page and really thinking about what your goals and objectives are for the front page of your blog.

There are lots more in the article that John talks about. He talks about making your content easy to share. He talks about using overlays to capture additional emails. He talks about using social proof. He talks about the use of the start key page which I think are really worth highlighting. I would’ve talked more about that but over he talked about start key pages in episode 111 so go listen to that one if that’s something you need to do. It is very powerful to start a key page, more powerful in my opinion than an about page. He also talks about the better use of the footer and also using prominent calls to action.

I reckon this article from John really nails it but I don’t really highlight too many articles on ProBlogger in this podcast. But I really do want you to go and read it. But I want to add a little bit more to it.

John’s spot on with his observations but one of the things I’ve noticed recently as I was preparing for my talk at Social Media Marketing World in March. I was asked to talk about the future of blogging, in which I did cover some of the stuff that John talked about in his article. But in preparation for my talk I decided I wanted to do some research on the blogs of the speakers of Social Media Marketing World.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Social Media Marketing World, it’s a conference attended by 3,000 or so social media marketers in San Diego. It’s run by Michael Stelzner from Social Media Examiner. He brings on hundreds of social media marketing experts from around the globe to speak at this event. Amazing people like Justin Brown and Peg Fitzpatrick, who you would’ve heard in previous interviews over the last few weeks. He brings in people like Pat Flynn, Mari Smith, Michael Hyatt who I just talked about, Chris Tucker, Amy Porterfield and some of these gurus in social media marketing.

I decided in preparation for my talk on the future of blogging to do some analysis of the blogs of the speakers of Social Media Marketing World. Firstly, I wanted to work at how many of them were blogging today. They were experts. They were talking about all kinds of things from Instagram to Pinterest to Facebook advertising, all that type of stuff. I wanted to work at how many of them were using blogs but also what innovative stuff were they doing on their blogs, what I found was really interesting.

It took me about 3 days to go through about 200 speakers so it’s a lot of time really digging into their blogs. What I found is that almost all of them were blogging in some fashion. If you have a very broad definition of blogging, if you include video blogging and podcasting and even Instagramming, creating regular content as I talked about a few episodes ago, most of them are blogging on that type of scale. But only about half of them had what I would consider to be traditional blog and mainly written content. About half of them were doing that type of blogging. Most of those bloggers were updating their blogs at least once a week, they were regularly blogging. It was a fairly central part of their business.

One of the things I noticed as I was working through the speakers and I was particularly looking for what they were doing that was innovative. One of the new sexy things that people are doing, some of the things were just talked about. I wanted to find some examples of that.

Whilst there were a few people doing that type of thing, what I noticed is that the vast majority of bloggers who were speakers at Social Media Marketing World were not doing really anything that I would consider to be sexy. They weren’t doing the new innovative stuff. Most of them had front pages on their blogs for example that looked like blogs from 2010 or even before. Most of them had just one call to action to subscribe in their list. Most of them weren’t doing anything that I would consider particularly innovative with their design or user interface.

I didn’t know what to do with this at first. Part of me was a bit surprise and was like, “Do these people know what’s going on?” But then, I realized that maybe they were doing something right after all because as I dug into their blogs, I realized that they were getting a lot of comments on their blogs. As I began to look at their social media accounts I was like, “These people have a lot of people following them. They have a lot of people sharing content on their blogs as well.”

Whilst their blogs maybe looked a little dated and maybe they weren’t doing the most sexy stuff, they were doing something right. Still, they had quite large and engaged audiences. It really struck me that whilst some of us get really into all the latest technologies and some of us get right into tweaking the plugins and the tools, and tweaking user interface and watching whether our page views go up, when we make a little change onto a button here and there. Whilst we’re spending a lot of time tweaking all these stuff, there’s these other set of bloggers who were doing amazing things who are focusing on other stuff, maybe the non-sexy stuff.

What I realized as I dug into these blogs is that they were doing three things brilliantly. They were prolific at these three things. It was a good reminder for me as I begin thinking about all the innovations and all the cool stuff that you can do. Don’t thrill at these other three things that these amazing bloggers are doing.

Firstly, they’re prolifically and consistently creating meaningful and useful content that answers questions and solves problems of the people who follow them. They know the needs of their audience and they create content regularly to meet those needs. That is what they’re spending most of their time doing. It is very evident as you look at these blogs. They may not look the coolest blogs but they’ve got amazing content, really deep, useful, life changing content in many ways. Spend time prolifically, consistently creating meaningful and useful content.

Number two thing that they’re obsessed with and that is engaging with their audience. If you dig into their social media accounts, you’ll see them there present answering questions, getting to know their audience, serving those who follow them.

It was amazing to see the speakers of Social Media Marketing World this year, so many of them would sit outside their sessions after they were finished for an hour, two hours, three hours answering questions, serving their audience. They realized that more important than how their blogs particularly looked and the user interface on them was the fact that their readers knew that they cared about them and that they wanted to serve them. Number two are serving their audience, engaging with their audience.

Number three they’re prolifically promoting what they do. They’re networking, they’re guest posting, they’re attending conferences, they’re spending time getting to know other key influencers and they’re doing whatever they can to get themselves in front of the type of readers that they want to have read their blogs.

It struck me as I was looking at these 100 or so bloggers that whilst a lot of the design and user interface and site optimization, things that John talks about in his article are really interesting, they really are cool things to be talking about and they can have some really positive impacts upon your blog. It’s actually the relentless pursuit of creating great content, being highly engaging and promoting yourself is what really going to be the key to your success. I’m not saying that design and sexy interface are not worth doing, but don’t do it at the expense of the quality of your content and the serving of your community.

I’m personally investing time and money into the stuff I’ve already talked about in this episode. I’m spending time and money investing into design on my blogs and to user interface and to testing some of these new cool things that you can do on your site. But what I found is that every time I do a site redesign, every time I do this type of stuff I see 1% increases in conversions. I see very small increases in conversions. They’re the cream on top.

The real substance comes from what you do around your content, around the community that you build in, the engagement that you build and the promotion of your content. Yes, investing all this new cool stuff really tweak and test and give them all a go but don’t do it at the expense of the other key elements of building a successful blog: great content, engagement with your audience and promoting what you do.

I hope you found that helpful. I would love your feedback on this. Are you someone who has a tendency to spend a lot of time on the cool stuff or do you spend more time on the content and the community and the engagement? Love to hear what you think. I actually think it’s when these two sides of the equation come together, the real magic happens. I hope that somewhere in the midst of that you feel a little bit challenged to work on the areas that perhaps you’re neglecting and find that balance.

You can let us know what you think about today’s episode over on the show notes at problogger.com/podcast/192 or over on the Facebook group, problogger.com/group where I love to have a chat with you this week. Thanks for listening, chat with you next week on the 193rd episode of the ProBlogger podcast.

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