Hi again, readers of A Small Orange (or just “Hi” if you missed Part One). This is the second (and final) part of my “Beginner’s Guide to Blogging.” If you haven’t read Part One or you just need a refresher, you can access it here. It’s well worth going through before you start on Part Two – especially if you’re not already blogging. It’ll give you a framework for setting up your blog and will get you ready to write your first post. This includes:
- Choosing a CMS and a theme for your blog – your CMS should be easy to use, and your theme should be simple, look good, and boast an intuitive navigation.
- Naming your blog – you want something that’s memorable and impactful.
- Picking a niche – you should aim to cover a subject that’s popular but not saturated.
- Setting goals and devising a strategy – this will help focus your efforts and boost your ROI.
- Outsourcing content creation – this is important if you ever find yourself too busy to stick to your schedule.
Part One will also show you why you should be blogging -– whether you blog as a business or as yourself. In short, it’s about building brand awareness and authority, boosting traffic to your site, and increasing leads. It can also provide an extra, sometimes very lucrative, source of income. Of course, setting up a blog and writing your first post is only the start of the battle. If you want people to visit your blog and pay attention to what you’re posting, and you want it to drive a return on investment, you need to optimize it, you need to promote it, and you need to monetize it. So that’s what we’re going to talk about in Part Two.
Optimizing Your Blog (for search engines)
The key components of a properly-optimized blog post are:
- The URL
- The H1
- Title tags
- Meta descriptions
- Alt tags
Best practice in blog post URLs is to include either the title of your post or its primary keywords. What you do is entirely up to you. You’ll notice that the URLs on A Small Orange’s blog posts include the full title of the post. URLs on my own blog include primary keywords only.
Every page on your site – blog post or otherwise – should feature a single H1 tag (<h1>). Generally this will be the title of the blog post, which, if you’ve based the post around keyword research (see “Part One,” “Generating Ideas”), should naturally be optimized. You can read more about correct use of H1 - H6 elements here.
Title tags are widely accepted as one of the most important elements of on-page SEO. Standard practice when writing a title tag (<title>) for a blog post is to include the title of the post followed by the blog’s name. Your title tag will appear in the search results alongside the post’s URL and your meta description (which we will talk about next).
It’s important to remember that title tags top out at 512 pixels (about 70 characters). If you exceed this, they will be truncated, which will render them looking something like this:
Meta descriptions don’t play a part in Google’s algorithm, but they’re still crazy important. This is because they appear in the search results underneath your title tag and URL, and can play a crucial part in getting searchers to click through to your site. Think of the meta description as being an ad for your blog post. It should describe the content of the page in a way that persuades the searcher to want to know more, like in this example from Entrepreneur: Meta descriptions are limited to approximately 155 characters. You can read more about writing effective ones here.
Alt tags are used to explain the contents of an image to Google. They’re also used by screen reader software to describe images to the visually-impaired. Images can rank in Google’s Image Search and can be a really effective way of driving traffic to your site. This makes it worth getting the Alt tag right. That said, try not to overthink them. If you can include a keyword in your Alt tags, great, but the best way to think about writing them is to imagine how you would describe the image’s content to someone who couldn’t see it. You can read more about Alt tags and other ways to optimize images for SEO here.
Promoting Your Blog
Once you’ve written an article, published it, and have optimized the post for search, the next step is to promote it.
Your email list is an obvious place to promote blog content. It’s highly targeted, since we can safely assume that everyone on your email list chose to opt-in and receive communications from you. It’s also been repeatedly proven to be really effective.
If you’re already running an email marketing campaign, this one’s easy. Just start incorporating mentions of your content into your usual email shot. If you’re new to email marketing, you have two distinct tasks on your hands:
- Setting up a campaign
- Building an email list
To set up a campaign, you’re going to need to choose an email marketing platform. There’s no shortage of choices, but the most popular by far is Mailchimp. A good email marketing platform should guide you through the setup process and make it really easy to send your first email. What even the best email marketing platforms can’t do is design your email for you. If you have a design team in-house, talk to them. If not, outsourcing’s a good option. You can find a big list of freelancer services over here. Alternatively, you could use a tool like Canva. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s a no-experience-necessary design tool that will have you creating beautiful images in no time.
Of course, being able to design and send an email is only half the battle. You also need some people to send it to.
Building an email list
There are tons of ways to build an email list. The most obvious one is to include an email signup form on your site and blog. The best email signup forms are persuasive (i.e., they give visitors a great reason to sign up) and short (which means they feature as few fields as possible). For example, this is a great signup form:
If you want to supercharge your email signups, I recommend taking a look at Brian Dean’s “content upgrade” method. Other strategies for building an email list include running a competition, creating free content (like an ebook) that you offer in exchange for an email address, and utilizing paid promotional tools (more on these shortly) to boost awareness of your freebie. For more ways to build your email list, take a look at this post by HubSpot’s Andy Pitre.
I love guest blogging and I do a lot of it, primarily as a personal brand-building tool. I do, however, use it as a way to promote my blog and other content I’ve written, too. I do this primarily in two ways:
- I link to my site from within a byline at the end of an article.
- I include in-content links to other articles I’ve written, if and when it’s appropriate.
This strategy can, has, and does drive significant traffic to my site – around a quarter of my blog’s total traffic, to be precise. This amounts to around 12-15,000 visits a month. But it’s the quality of the traffic guest blogging drives that really speaks volumes. It drives about 25% of my blog’s traffic, but it’s responsible for about 85% of my leads and ebook downloads. Of course, there’s a knack to this guest blogging thing. I don’t just write posts for anyone. I want to contribute to sites I like and respect, that have an audience which aligns with mine, and that I can expect to drive referrals to my own content. Let’s talk about how to find these sites. The first step is to identify quality sites in your niche. You’ll probably already know of a few. Put them at the top of your list – chances are they’re a safe bet. Next stop – Google. Begin by searching for your industry or the subject you want to write about.
You might also want to look for lists of top industry blogs.
You can use advanced search operators to narrow your results down to sites that willingly accept guest posts. For instance, “growth hacking inurl:write for us.” This will help you identify sites with writer’s pages.
“Growth hacking inurl:guest post” will help you find sites that have published other guest posts.
You can also use tools like Buzzsumo to identify influencers in your niche.
It’s worth noting however, that the best sites rarely shout about accepting guest posts. That’s because they’re picky. Most sites will accept a guest post, if it’s the right topic written by the right person. They just won’t advertise it.
Identifying quality sites
If you’re not familiar with a site, there are a number of tricks you can use that will help you ascertain whether or not it’s worth your time.
This stands for Domain Authority. It’s a metric from Moz that’s designed to indicate the overall authority of every site on the web. Sites are scored from 0 to 100, with 100 being the top possible score. The quickest way to find out a site’s DA is to install the free Moz SEO toolbar. Don’t let DA influence you too much. There are more important metrics – especially when your goal is promoting your own blog. However, if a site scores, say, 50 or above, you can generally put it in the “safe bet” pile without doing too much other research. Sites that score less might require a little further digging before you decide whether or not they’re right for you.
The first metric you’re interested in is number of followers. The second (and arguably more important) is how engaged those followers are. The fact is that anyone can buy followers. That part’s easy to fake. The real test is in whether their following actually converses with them. If they’re getting lots of engagement on their social posts, pop them onto your shortlist. Alternatively, you can use tools like Twitter Audit and InstaCheck to find out what percentage of a user’s followers are fake.
Treat this tactic with respect, and it can drive heaps of targeted traffic to your blog. I personally used it to drive leads for my tool Content Marketer (513 of them) but there’s no reason you can’t comment your way to blog visitors and subscribers. The trick is to find relevant posts on quality sites that are seeing lots of activity in the comments section. You then need to comment in a way that adds genuine value. This means saying much more than “Great post” or “Great post, you might like this one too (links to own post).” You have to join in the conversation. You need to add your own views to the dialogue – whether you agree or disagree with what else is being said.
This should be easy if you’re commenting on the right posts. You should be looking for posts that cover topics that are similar to topics you’ve covered in posts of your own. Get that part right, and not only will you be able to lift ideas from your own content to include in your comment, but it will come naturally for you to link back to your post, too.
An RSS feed allows readers to subscribe to your blog and read your content in places other than your site – usually in a feed reader, like Feedly. It’s important that you offer readers this option, even if you’re only just starting to blog. It means that if someone lands on your blog, likes what they see, and wants to see more, they can add your blog to a single location that holds all of their online reading material. You might wonder why someone who wants to read more couldn’t just sign up to your mailing list. Well, an email can easily get lost in a busy inbox. Not to mention there’s a really good chance it will reach your readers at the wrong time. Readers that are subscribed to your RSS feed, however, have it made. They can dip in and out of your content as and when it suits them. It’s by far the most convenient way of keeping up-to-date with content online.
Content Sharing Networks
A content sharing network is essentially a community of people who join together to share each other’s content. Probably the best known example is Viral Content Buzz. The site’s premise is pretty simple: when you share someone else’s content, you gain points. Those points are then redeemed in exchange for shares of your content. It’s a good concept, but despite the fact that the site vets the social profiles of all new members, not everyone who shares your content will be particularly “influential.” Still, for a free service that only asks you to get involved in the community, it’s well worth trying out – especially in the early days of building an audience for your blog. I’m also a big fan of Quuu.co.
Quuu is a service that curates and shares content to your social profiles, on your behalf. It’s a huge timesaver and can lift a big weight off the shoulders of anyone who regularly finds themselves too busy to keep their social profiles up-to-date. Since Quuu is in the business of posting content to people’s social profiles, it can also promote your content for you. Unlike Viral Content Buzz, this service comes at a cost – but it’s minimal. Depending on the niche your content fits into, you’ll pay between $5 and $25 a month for one month’s exposure for a single piece of content.
Paid promotional tools are a great way to supplement your organic blog promotion. As a general rule, they’re affordable and effective. You also have more choice of platforms today than ever before. I’m going to talk about four of the most popular platforms: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Outbrain. Before I go on, you might want to take a look at this data gathered by Bryan Eisenberg. It’s from 2014, so the landscape might have changed, but it should give you a pretty solid idea of the costs and expected ROI for each of the following sites.
Despite being a social media platform, Facebook is a hugely versatile advertising tool. As well as being able to promote your Facebook page or boost the visibility of a Facebook post, Facebook Ads let you drive visitors directly to your website, increase installs of your app, promote an event, and much more.
The type of ad you choose to run will be dictated by your goals. Since you’re trying to promote your blog, you’ll probably want to choose “Send people to your website.” Alternatively, you could post an update to Facebook about your latest blog post and promote it using “Boost your posts.” Facebook Ads are also really affordable – you can run ads for as little as $1 a day. To get the most out of the platform, you should familiarize yourself with the available targeting options. You can narrow your target audience according to age, location, and gender, in addition to a multitude of more detailed targeting options including various demographics, interests, and behaviors. You can also exclude people based on this same criteria.
Twitter’s advertising platform has slowly but surely taken on a form that’s quite uncannily like Facebook’s. That’s not to say it’s a problem. It’s great for advertisers who can benefit from Facebook-esque ad types which span beyond promoting a tweet or growing a following. You can also use the platform to promote videos, collect emails, drive app installs, and send people to your website (or blog).
Twitter Ads also offer a seriously low minimum bid price (literally $0.01 – but don’t ask me how much visibility that will get you!) and plenty of targeting options – including a few really interesting ones. Reach users with similar interests to followers of a particular account or accounts:
Target users based on keywords contained in their tweets:
And, target viewers of particular TV shows – at any time, or specifically while the show is being aired:
Needless to say, LinkedIn’s advertising platform should only be used by B2B bloggers. While it’s ideal for promoting B2B blog content, the platform has more limitations than the options above. You can target people according to job title and function, industry, company size, and seniority, and the minimum budget needed to run an ad is $10 a day. You also have two primary options in terms of ad types: ads that run in LinkedIn’s newsfeed (known as Sponsored Updates) and “Text Ads” that appear on the right hand side of the page.
The platforms we’ve discussed so far are all contained within social media sites. This means the audiences you can reach by using them are limited to users of those sites. Outbrain is a little different. Instead of promoting your content to a subset of a social site’s users, Outbrain promotes it across a huge network of some of the web’s biggest sites including CNN, The Washington Post, and The Huffington Post. In short, Outbrain is one of the sites responsible for those “You may also like” sections of websites. The other main site that does this is Taboola. Outbrain (and Taboola) offer effective ways of driving traffic to a blog. For starters, you’re targeting users that are in a “content consumption” mindset. Conversely, users on social media sites might not be so welcoming of native advertising. One point for Outbrain. It’s also – according to Outbrain –more effective at driving multiple page views than its competitors.
On the downside, the platform has the same minimum budget as LinkedIn ($10 daily) and limited targeting options (understandably, since Outbrain can’t collect information on users in the way a social network can). Before we continue, it’s worth noting that you will get far more out of all the above tools if you split test the layout, wording, and imagery used in your ads.
Outreach entails contacting other publishers about your content in the hopes that they will share it, and, if you’re really lucky, link to it. The most common means of performing outreach is via email. It’s not uncommon to reach out to other publishers via social media, however. This can work well, especially if you’re simply hoping for a retweet, for example, rather than a link. As a general rule, I will reserve a full-on outreach strategy for especially link-worthy content. By that I mean things like ebooks, whitepapers, and infographics. By “full-on outreach strategy,” I mean emailing a big list of potential contacts who I think might have an interest in said content. The reason for this is that it’s tough to get publishers excited about a regular article. You should save that level of effort for content that’s really special. What I will do for every piece of content I create is to mention, quote, and link to a number of influencers within it. I then contact each and every one of them to let them know I featured them. This tactic massively ups the odds of getting positive results. Not only do you have a very good reason for contacting these people, but you’ve stroked their ego a bit by including them in your post. In general, you’ll find they will be happy to share your content.
Monetizing Your Blog
I want to introduce this section with a word of caution. There are a lot of bloggers out there who will make grand claims about the amount of money they – and in turn, you – can make from blogging. Now, I’m not saying they’re lying. I know very well that there are bloggers making huge sums of money through ads and affiliate marketing. Six figure sums. And I don’t doubt some are making much more. The problem is that very few bloggers are entirely upfront about the work involved in getting to that stage. “If you’re new to the blogging and social media scene, I’d say give yourself at least 3-6 months before you start pulling in an income. And even then, it’ll most likely be coffee money. The idea that you can start a blog today and make a full-time income within a few months is, for most of us, simply not realistic.” – Amy Lynn Andrews, for her blog Very few of us will ever “make it big” with blogging – that’s the reality. Work hard enough, and you might be able to make blogging your full-time job, but understand that getting to that point won’t be easy. The majority of bloggers actually make very modest incomes.
Which means that, for most of us, the lifestyle promised by images like these...
...is just a dream. That said, while working on a beach with the sun’s glare on your laptop is definitely just a dream (at least for now), monetizing your blog most certainly isn’t.
AdSense is Google’s ad network. Advertisers can use the service to get their ads displayed on contextually-relevant websites, while site owners (known as Publishers) get paid to display them. The amount of money you can expect to earn from AdSense is dictated by many factors – not least of which is how much traffic your blog gets. However, earnings are paid only when a visitor clicks on an ad. No clicks, no cash. What’s more, the price of an AdSense ad is set via auction. This means that everything from your niche, to your location, to simply how “good” your site is, will impact your earnings from the platform. That said, reports from Publishers state that earnings per 1000 visitors tend to fall between $1 and $10. Interested? Getting started with AdSense is free, and pretty easy.
AdSense isn’t the only way to sell ad space on a blog – it’s just the best-known. There are tons of ad networks to choose from (and many pay more than AdSense). You can read about 15 of them here. Alternatively, you could bring the whole operation in-house by selling and managing ads yourself. You’ll need a decent following for this one to work – direct advertisers are generally pickier about who they team up with than ad networks. It can be well worth it if you can pull it off, though. You’ll cut out the middle man, which means full editorial control over the ads that appear on your site and more cash in your pocket. To sell your own ads, you’ll need to create an advertiser’s page and potentially, a “media kit” – something like this.
For most bloggers, AdSense and other ad networks offer hassle-free ways to generate some pocket money. That’s a pretty sweet deal. But few of us are going to be able to retire on AdSense income. I’m guessing if you’re still with me, it’s because you’re dreaming of the “big bucks.” You want to quit your day job and work when you want, where you want (and ideally, not that much). As I’ve already discussed, that sort of lifestyle doesn’t come easy. You have to work for it. And you have to work hard. At affiliate marketing. Yep, most bloggers that boast envy-inducing lifestyles are funding them using affiliate marketing. For those of you that don’t know, affiliate marketing involves promoting specific products or services on your website. You do this by including special tagged links from your site to the product or service you're promoting. If someone follows that link and subsequently makes a purchase, you earn commission. Depending on the amount of the sale and the percentage of commission you earn, you could net yourself a healthy little profit. Here’s a screenshot of Stealth Secret’s Frank’s earnings for one month from a single affiliate network.
Not bad, right? Of course, it takes work – a lot of work – to make that sort of money:
- You have to keep building your blog
- You need to keep creating quality content that’s optimized for search and entices visitors to buy
- You need to be consistently aware of product developments and trends in the niches you’re promoting
- And you need to keep building your traffic
Neil Patel set himself a challenge of taking a site from nothing to making $100,000 a month. He did it, but even he felt the rewards weren’t worth the work: “The $100,000 challenge was fun, but I wouldn’t do it again. It’s just too much work with everything I have going on. One thing I realized is how much harder it is to rank on Google today compared to 5 years ago.” So sure, if you can build a really successful blog, it will start generating money on its own. At that point, you can strive to earn more money, or you can sit back and just maintain your site (bearing in mind that if you do nothing, your traffic, and earnings, are slowly going to go down). But getting there won’t be easy. “Will you get rich with affiliate marketing? Let’s rephrase: Will your new business be successful? That sounds much better. Don’t get caught up in the hype, hard work pays off, and there is no substitute. Affiliate marketing is just like any business. You will get out what you put in!” – Ryan Gray, NameHero For a detailed guide on making money with affiliate marketing, head over here.
Sponsored Posts and Advertorials
A sponsored post is simply a guest post, except the guest poster pays for the piece to be published. An advertorial is an advert that’s disguised as a piece of editorial content. It differs from a guest post primarily in the fact that its purpose is to sell. They’re not a new concept – they’ve always been a big feature of hard copy magazines. Both types of content can be great money-spinners for bloggers. Unfortunately, this is dependent on the authority of your blog and the size of your audience. It makes sense that marketers are only going to pay for exposure on your blog if you have the authority and audience to make it worth their while. It also makes sense that the more authority you have, and the bigger your audience, the more money you can command for space on your blog. For that reason, it probably makes sense to leave this strategy until your blog is somewhat established. If, or when, you choose to monetize your blog in this way, it’s good practice to create a page that details your rates and what marketers can expect in return for working with you. It’s also a wise idea to include a disclaimer and add the “nofollow” attribute to any links to your advertiser’s site.
Calculating Your ROI
Maintaining a blog isn’t free. Even if you don’t dip directly into your pockets, you still need to take into account the cost of your own, or your staff’s, time. Do this, and you’ll gain a better understanding of how blogging affects (or doesn’t affect) your bottom line, and you’ll be in a better position to allocate resources effectively. When calculating your ROI, you’ll want to find out:
- How many hours of your own or your staff’s time it takes to manage every aspect of the blog, and what this costs in salary.
- The total cost of any work you outsource.
- What you spend on design, development, hosting, and any other technology fees.
- Anything you spend on promoting your blog (Facebook Ads, etc.).
- How much revenue the blog generates. This might include exact figures – advertising revenue for instance, or customers who have found you via the blog and gone on to make a purchase. It might also include goal completions or leads. In this case, you will have to assign a value to each of those actions.
You then simply subtract your investment from your revenue and divide the resulting sum by your investment. For example, if your monthly investment is $3000 and the revenue generated is $5000, your profit is $2000 and your ROI is 66%. So now that you know how to optimize your posts, how to promote them, and how to monetize your blog, all that’s left is to actually go and do it! I always love to hear how people do, so come back here and let me know – comments are below. Better yet, drop me a message through my site.
Don't Forget to check out Pt. 1 to the Beginner's Guide to Blogging here.