Merry Christmas

On December 23, 2010, in Content Creation, by lesley
A Danish Christmas tree illuminated with burni...

It’s that time of year again. I hope you’ve had a busy few weeks, with lots of sales, but I also hope you’re taking the time to wind down and enjoy the season with friends and family.

No sooner is it Christmas, than the New Year appears; it’s time to think about 2010 as a learning experience.

How To Get More WebSite Traffic?

If you made the leap of faith and started your internet store in 2010, congratulations. It’s a huge step.

You may be shaking your heads and wondering why you haven’t yet made the millions you expected. Next year the aim is to do better, but what does that mean?

In a very interesting article, Johnny B Truant, looks at our obsession with traffic and points out that it’s not necessarily the number of visitors a site receives that matters, it’s their value. If you get a small number of visitors but they all want to buy, take part, interact, then who would complain? Read the whole article here.

Speaking personally. I’d have no problem with only one visitor a day, if that visitor bought from me. Content may be king (or so everyone tells us) but if no one reads your content (on your webstore or your blog) or buys your product, then it’s kind of pointless. Pamela Wilson’s post on ways to get more people to read your content mostly talks about layout; there are tips there you can use in your blog, in your articles and even in your product descriptions.

How to Give Something Back

The internet makes some things really easy to do. Copyblogger have noticed this and brought out their own T shirts. 100% of the profits will be donated to child literacy organization Reading is Fundamental. So what should you do? Well you could hop over to copyblogger and grab a T shirt for a good cause, but why not think bigger?

There are all sorts of ways you can use your website’s power for good, instead of evil! It’s relatively easy to do the same sort of thing by opening a store with cafepress.com where you can have your own slogans and art work printed on a wide range of promotional items. Think of 2011 as a year when you can give as well as take. There’s an organization somewhere that would fit you stores demographic and be very grateful for your help, even if all you do is link to them and suggest that your visitors donate.

How to Do Everything

I read an interesting post this week talking about Donald Trump‘s ideas about dominating a niche. Please read the whole post, but let me point out one thing it said. ‘Be everywhere.’ Now that’s OK for Donald Trump because, and I’m just guessing here, he doesn’t have to make his own promotional videos, record his own podcasts, design and make his own ads or even write his won blog. Trump has staff, and he knows how to use them.

Most of us don’t have that luxury. Yet.

So trying to ‘Be everywhere’ just doesn’t really work. Or at least it doesn’t for me. I’ll give you an example. I had a chat at the weekend with someone who wanted my help with article marketing. He was convinced that the advice he’d been given was wrong, that article marketing as such didn’t work. Why? He’d written articles and had them published, at a rate of four per month. When I asked why not more he said something I’ll bet you’ve said sometime in the last month ‘I don’t have the time’.

Article Marketing is an effective and proven promotion stragey for websites of all kinds, incuding web stores, but four articles is just not enough. He didn’t need to abandon that channel, he needed to step it up. He couldn’t do that because he was doing too many other things at the same time.

Why not pick one or two channels of promotion for your store, define a goal (sales/visitors in a period of time or whatever you feel appropriate) and go for it. Pick something you can do, something you like doing and put all your effort into it, then if for some reason it doesnt work, you’ll know its not a result of lack of effort. When it comes to social media no one really knows what will work for your business, they only know what worked for them. All businesses are NOT the same.

If you find your efforts are working, look at how you can reduce the workload (usually by adding some automation) so you can add another channel, or use the income you’ve generated to get help you try another channel as well. If you spread yourself too thinly across social media you can get the impression that none are working, when that may be far from the truth.

If not everywhere, where?

Over the last year, I’ve come to love Twitter, so in 2010 it will be one of my promotional channels of choice. I’ve met some really interesting people on Twitter and made sales, but I think that’s because Twitter suits me in some way. That’s why I think it’s important to find something you actually enjoy as a way to promote your store, your enthusiasm will come across in what you write or say, and enthusiasm is infectious. Would you rather buy from someone who had enthusiasm for their product, or someone who seemed detached from it? If you can’t decide don’t agonize over the choice, sometimes it’s much more important to simple make a decision and then take action, than to spend lots of time worrying about the decision and taking no action at all.

If you’re looking to use social media more in 2011, and you should, check out a useful post on ProBlogger where Clare Lancaster describes the five most critical errors people make when they start using social media for business. She doesn’t mention my pet hate, so let me point out that if your first social media contact with me is to tell me what you want to sell me, I’m probably not going to hang around too long to find out what else you have to say. Social means social.

Would you stop someone in the street and say

‘Hi! Want to buy some great nightgowns?’

You would?

You’re creepy.

Can You Help?

One of my aims in 2011 is to build a list of the most useful tools for those us who own web stores. I’d like to start with the free tools. Can you give that some thought and let me know of products or services you’ve used over the last year that are free (even of they have some sort of ‘pro’ service). I think it’s something we would all find useful, and I’m including wordpress plugins.

Which brings me to my last topic, the next WordSmith’s Workshop. The workshop will be held on Tuesday 11th January 2011 at 9pm when I’ll be talking about blogging. I’m going to start right at the beginning with what a blog is, what your choices are and how to set one up. FROM SCRATCH. It will be very practical and I’ll have some videos to show  as well as the normal slides.

Finally – Merry Christmas. 2010 has been a very big year for me and for my family, our first full year in a new home in a new country.

My year has had it’s challenges, I’m sure yours has too. For me, some of the best features of the year have been the establishment of this blog, becoming a real part of the Chris Malta Forum, rediscovering my love of writing and working with Brendan on EasyContentBlueprints

Thank you all for reading, for commenting on posts, and for coming along to the workshops.

Merry Christmas – and may 2011 be everything you want it to be.

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My Week On The Web

On December 5, 2010, in Content Creation, by lesley
Diary
Image by Barnaby via Flickr
My husband had a few days off this week , so he’s been spending some time on his own Internet project because the idea of casting off the nine to five is very, very popular in this house.
The only thing is, he keeps asking me stuff, and that isn’t good when I’m trying to get peace and quiet to write. After the fourth or fifth interruption I said something grumpy and told him maybe he should spend more time looking for the information himself.
I’d like to point out that’s normal my normal response, but it was one of those days when the writing was working really well and I really really, didn’t want to stop again.
Of course what he pointed out to me was that since he has a ‘proper‘ job, he doesn’t have nearly as much time to spend on the web as I do.

And that gave me an idea.  So here’s a post for him and for you, with all the useful stuff I’ve found during my week on the web. If it’s useful, let me know and I’ll make it a regular ‘thing’.

Here We Go.

Monday

is one of the highlights of my week because there’s always a really useful blog post at SteveScottsite.com. This week Steve was talking about affiliate marketing and giving some really good, specific information about how makes money through affiliate marketing emails.

Monday evenings I always look forward to Brendan’s mastermind Group which meets at 8pm Eastern. The last couple of weeks we’ve been talking about google analytics and pay-per-click, and Brendan has been guiding us through that particular minefield. I tried it on my own last year, this year I’ve learned a lot more and spent a lot less. I recommend the mastermind group!

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Duplicate Content

On October 29, 2010, in Article Marketing, Content Creation, by lesley
CGrose
Image via Wikipedia

There’s a lot of rubbish talked about the problems of duplicate content and whether Google penalizes for it. The real concern is that most article directories, or other sources of backlinks (such as hubpages, squidoo etc), demand that you produce original content, so when you think about all the different pieces you have to produce, the list looks endless. But is that the actual problem?

When you get right down to it, what’s the most difficult thing to do, find an idea to write about, or actually do the writing? Now I know a lot of people will say ‘both’ but sit and think a minute. Isn’t it really finding something to write about that is the biggest challenge?

But that’s not a problem for you, because you have a future features calendar and you have a number of topics all mapped out. If not, you know what you have to do! Once you have those topics you can work in many different ways. Here’s just one.

Let’s say your topic is something you don’t know too much about right now. All you have a is a short piece of advice. For a hypothetical example lets say you have a shop selling silk flowers. You want to write about those flowers to promote your shop, so you sit down and come up with some topics. One is that it’s a good idea to choose flowers to suit your personality, or if you’re giving them as a gift, to suit the personality of the person you are giving them to.

There’s not much in that is contentious, it’s just another way of saying ‘Choose flowers you like’, so what could you do with something like that?

First of all you could simply enlarge on the point. Write a paragraph about it, just 250 words, and you have a (short) ezine article. Now you’ve started to write, you’ll find you actually do have a view. There are some flowers you don’t like much and others you don’t think would look very good in your room. Think about that a while. Is there a way you can predict what sort of flowers someone likes? Does it have something to do with their personality? Take a look at some other websites and see how they categorise the flowers. You’ll see bowls of bright daisies which look like fun. You’ll see expensive tropical flowers which are very bright, colorful and dramatic. You’ll see bouquets of white flowers which looks fabulous in any setting and of course red roses for the romantics. And that’s just at first glance.

A pattern begins to emerge, so you can reuse the idea to write something a little longer for a squidoo lens where you can talk about different flower personalities and add pictures of some of the items you sell.

But writing isn’t just about articles. Using the same idea you can write an introduction and create a quiz using hubpages where readers can answer questions to find out what their ‘flower personality’ is. End by recommending a flower or set of flowers for each personality type.

So far, one idea has generated one article, one lens and one hub. But we’re not done yet. You’ve got a lot more material now and it’s time to write up something for your blog. Here you can reuse the words if you like, simply take the blog article and pop it in your newsletter (or have software like aweber or mad mimi do it for you.) You developed a quiz, so turn the questions into a survey and add this to your newsletter. Your readers will love something interactive and their answers will give you useful information. Once again, there’s more.

Takes the results of your survey and publish it. It’s news, so now you have a press release. You could even write it up as for ezinearticles.com

Remember how this started? With a simple 250 word article. Well now you’ve had a chance to explore the topic, you even know how your customers feel about it. Now it’s time to write your list article. How many flower personalities did you find? There must be at least five, probably more. Then you have at least ‘Silk Flowers: Five ways to find the perfect arrangement’  You might even be able to enlarge it to ten, ‘Silk Flowers and You, Ten Questions to Help You Find Your Flower Personality’ Once you’ve written that article (around 600 words) take each point separately and turn it into one shorter article, for example ‘Silk Flowers: Choosing Flowers with Drama’ or Silk Flowers: Classic flowers for Classic Rooms’.

List articles make great power point presentations, so create your power point slides and add pictures of your products. Then turn the powerpoint into a video and add it to youtube.  If you’re happy to appear on camera you can record yourself talking to the camera. Why make one video when you could make two, or even more?

Now you’ve had lots of time to think and write about the subject, it’s time to write THE blog post, the one blogs all over the net will want to refer to. One thousand, fifteen hundred words or even more. But that’s not a problem because by now you’re an expert in the subject and you’ve got a lot to say. Remember this is a blog post, it should have personality. If some of the answers to your survey have you mystified, if you don’t understand why some people like A while others like B, then say so. The comments which result may provide an education!

So a few days down the line we have 6-12 ezinearticles, one press release, one hub, one newsletter, one lens, at least one youtube video and two blog posts, one of which is a major work.  Store them all away, because in a couple of months you can reuse them. Not, not on your blog; if you choose your topics carefully you can build your content into an e-book or other info product, and since you’ve already created a survey and a quiz, you’ve had feedback from your customers which will help you hone that product and make it something they want, whether you intend to sell it for profit or make it a give away incentive to join your email list.

Content isn’t the problem, getting ideas for content is the problem. The rest is just time and words.

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Window to Dreams

Image by gaspi *yg via Flickr

I think I am guilty of hypocrisy. Which makes me unhappy, because as a general rule hypocrisy is one of the  things I hate most.

The fact is that I’ve been telling clients they need to do something – but I don’t practice what I preach. My only defense is that I don’t do it because I can’t.  It doesn’t work for me and no matter how many times I try, I come up with nothing. So since it doesn’t help me, I don’t do it. But I still tell clients that they should.

What am I talking about? Free Writing. I’ll get to the details in a minute.

Most people find the blank page or screen very intimidating, and it’s not just a writer thing. Artists, apparently, have the same problem. My good friend Linda who, amongst her many other talents, teaches art, tells me the blank canvas is just as bad, so she developed her own way of dealing with it in art classes for children; she drove up and down over the blank pages leaving tire tracks behind. (Happy Birthday Linda, by the way)

And that is really the point. It doesn’t matter what sort of mark you make on the page, just that you do something. Whether you’re trying to write a blog post or an article, the same technique can work. You’ve got to break the ‘spell’ – sometimes even a scribble can do it.

But that’s not what Free Writing is. Free Writing is not a tool for gathering or organizing your thoughts. That’s what mind maps and out-liners and talking to someone else is for. Free Writing is a technique where you write for a set time without correction and you write just what comes into your head. If nothing comes into your head then you say so. If necessary, over and over again. Many writing courses (including some I’ve given) suggest you do this every day for ten or even fifteen minutes and of course they say you can’t fail at it, which is what makes the technique so powerful. Let’s have a go.

I think free writing is a waste of time because actually id rather be writing something with some point to it, probably because i get paid to write and time is money. maybe its becasue im not iontrospective enough but this does strike me as a scoollosal waste it is not useful in any way i suppose im feeling abit hungry now in wonder if the postman has come and what are we having for tea tonight its not necessary to keep on one topic that g is lookign a bit funny today and the keyboardn seems a bit sticky I wonder whay.

Note the spelling mistakes. One of the biggest problems many people have with writing is that it can be slow because they need to make frequent corrections. Writing without correction is useful because corrections are interruptions, just like self censorship. Free writing is all about letting go.

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The New York Sun
Image via Wikipedia

There’s a lot of rubbish on the web.
Some of it stems from mistakes.
Some of it comes from bad writing and inadequate research.
Some of it is a collection of outright lies.
Which means the web is no different to the real world. One of my College text books was called ‘How to Lie With Statistics’ and I remember how, after reading it, I found every survey or news report a source of fascination.

Over 40% of readers say this is the best thing since sliced bread’ sounds good until you realize it means most people don’t.

Psychologists have shown that we search for and retain more information that confirms our existing view. One result of this is that we hold on to our cherished beliefs even after they have been discredited.

So my question – and it is a question because I don’t know the answer, is how important is the truth? If you are starting a web based business, is it OK to lie to bring customers to your site?

How do you interpret those  ‘standard’ calls to action and ideal headlines – the ones that promise  the universe in exchange for your email address? Has anyone ever really given you the ONE THING you need to know to make money online? Or told you the Seven Secrets of Successful Blogging?

So, why am I writing about this today? Believe it or not there is a reason. On August 25th 1835, the Sun, the a recently opened New York newspaper,  published a series of articles detailing discoveries made by the eminent astronomer Sir John Herschel.  Over the next few days the articles, taken from the ‘Supplement to the Edinburgh Journal of Science’,  described the discovery of a civilization on the moon, complete with buildings, animals and finally, people. Not people like you and me, people with wings and fur, a bit like bats.

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31 Reasons You Need a Grandpa

On August 24, 2010, in Content Creation, by lesley

My Grandfather, James Alexander Ogilvie

Today, August 24th, is my Grandfathers birthday. We won’t be celebrating because he’s dead.

I was going to write one of those terribly earnest and useful posts about using the active voice or common grammatical errors when, as often happens, I could hear him telling me it was the wrong thing to do.

So this post is for my Grandpa who taught me many useful things, but mainly that people like him are incredibly important.

I know that sounds incredibly obvious, but I think writers/bloggers in particular forget that in the people around them they have a huge resource, and here’s an example.  Yesterday I read a very interesting well written post about how to find ideas to write about and deal with writers block. It covered all sorts of techniques, but not the most simple one of all.

Ask someone.

If you run an internet business you need to look at things from your customer point of view. How can you do that? Ask. The people around you want to help and they don’t know the technicalities you’re dealing with. This often gives them a clearer, more straightforward point of view. What’s the essence of the internet? Dialogue with customers. I wish I had a dollar for every time my grandpa looked at me and said ‘ If you want to know – ask.’

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Cover of 'A Woman Without A Man' by Corinne Edwards

Big trouble.

I hired an editor to work on one of my books.

Unfortunately, she was not only a retired English professor –but a nun.  What a combination for someone who writes the way I do.

Her rules.  Every sentence must have a noun, a verb and an objective.

She nearly went nuts with my draft.

Why?  Because I write the way I talk.  Even “spell check” objects.  It keeps telling me my copy has “fragments.”

But my copy reads like someone is talking to you.  Like I am now.  (That’s a fragment!)

Are you revealing who you are in your writing?  Are you talking to your readers?

If you are afraid to do that because you were trained as an English major by someone like my nun –

STOP IT.

Start being yourself.   People will love you for it.

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Great White Shark, South Africa
Image by doobybrain via Flickr

or should I say – ‘The Seven Secrets of Singing Sharks?’

OK. I’ll come clean. That was a pitiful way of trying to grab your attention. What I’m really talking about is ‘Seven Secrets’ articles, and why, given half a chance, you shouldn’t write one.  The reasons are simple.

  • The web is full of seven, three, five, etc secrets articles.
  • If you write the same things as everyone else, you won’t stand out, and it’s a crowded web.
  • I don’t want seven bits, I want THE secret.
  • Isn’t a secret supposed to be something you only tell one person at a time?

Does this mean you should avoid list articles? No, absolutely not. List articles are great because

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Peter Mark Roget (Roget's Thesaurus)
Image by dullhunk via Flickr

Tip: Write in your own voice. If you’re whipping out a thesaurus for every other word, your reader will reject your competency. Tweeted by ezinearticles.com

I spotted that tweet yesterday and I haven’t been able to get it out of my head since because I do have a thesaurus, it sits here on my desk and I use it every day. But I don’t think you should reject my ‘competency’ as a result.

I use a thesaurus because I don’t like to use the same word too often and when I find I have, I look for a synonym.

I use a thesaurus because I like to play with words. Repetition is a powerful way to get a point across.

And I use a thesaurus because I want to be good at my job.

Does that make me incompetent?

I don’t use it to show off, or to find grand multi-syllable words, or to write something no-one will understand, but just to help me do the best I can at what people pay me to do, and I have a hard time working out what’s wrong with that.

Words are important. They’re not the most important thing in the world, but for the moment they are our only way to communicate. A thesaurus is designed to help you find the right word. It’s a tool. It can’t steal your voice or make what you write less authentically yours.

So back off ezinearticles.com. My thesaurus is staying on my desk. Words are your business, just as much as they are mine. Why not enjoy them?

What do you think?  Would you reject the competency of an author who uses a thesaurus? I’d really like to know.

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Article Summaries – How To Write One

On August 10, 2010, in Article Marketing, by lesley
A photo of a cup of coffee.
Image via Wikipedia

Do you find that the article summary is something you write last, just as you’re about to submit the article? Do you put much thought into it? Believe it or not this ‘afterthought’ paragraph is pretty important and can make a dig difference to the success of your article marketing campaign, so grab a cup of coffee and I’ll give you my ideas on the subject, I hope you’ll add yours as comments to this post.

Most article directories require writers to submit something called a summary with their article. It is this ‘summary’, which shows up in searches of the directory when publishers are looking for articles to use. A well-crafted summary is essential if you want your article to be picked up by blogs and e-zine’s across the Web.

One word of warning. An article summary is not a summary in the true sense of the word. A true summary or précis is a brief statement of all the information in the article. In the article marketing world this would be counterproductive; a summary which contains all the information in the article, however brief, would be a good substitute for the article, not a good reason to publish it.

So what should your ‘summary’ look like?

Most article directories have strict rules, so in some ways it’s easier to say what an article summary should not contain

  • A restatement of the article title. This is just a waste of words.
  • A true summary of the article. Then there will be no need to publish the article.
  • Less than three sentences. If your summary is too short some directories ignore it and publish your first paragraph instead.
  • More than 100 words. If you go beyond the word limit your summary will be truncated.
  • The authors name. Sadly most article directories do not allow you to include your name – in any search it is probably also on the screen as author anme.
  • HTML. No html is allowed.
  • ‘How’ information. Save that for the article itself.

The summary should be devoted to promoting the article. Not you, not your business. It’s sole purpose is to get people to read or publish the main article.

Be sure to include

  • Keywords – to make sure your article is found.
  • Reasons to read more. Tell the reader or publisher what’s in it for them if they read more or publish your article. What will they learn?

Once successful strategy is to pose a question your reader wants to have answered and indicate that the article contains that answer. Of course if you do, you have to deliver on your promise.

The article summary is very like a movie trailer. It’s not there to summarize the article, it’s there to whet the appetite and build anticipation for the main event, the article itself. You can develop the summary and the article independently, you can even have them written by different people.
Many article directories like Ezeinarticles.com take a very strict view of the article summary. If the summary you submit doesn’t meet their guidelines they will use the first paragraph of your article instead. So don’t loose control over this very valuable piece of directory real estate. Make sure your summary fits their guidelines. I found this out from bitter experience. I put some summaries together only to have them ignored, ezine didnt use them because they were too short. The result – my carefully considered words junked and replaced by my first paragraph, and most interesting of all, they didn’t tell me.

Prospective publishers see the headline and the summary and will often choose to publish an article on that basis alone. Your article summary is not an after thought. It’s worthy of your time and consideration.  Just as a bad movie trailer can result in a good movie being released to a silent cinema and deserted box office, a bad summary wont do justice to the effort you put into your article. Once you’ve spent the time writing you want to get the best return you can for that time, so go just a bit further, don’t throw the summary together at the end, craft it carefully so all your efforts will be read.

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