A Dead-Simple, 5 Step-Guide to Creating a Blog (That’s Free)

I was hanging out with some old college friends over the holidays.

In talking with my old buddy, he told me he had taken the time to read a few of my blog posts.

Startup Stock PhotoFunny, I thought, I have a reader. There’s one!

Anyway, he told me he and his wife were thinking about starting their own blog and enjoyed my post about free stuff you can use to make your blog post awesome. So through the course of this brief conversation I had gained a reader and proved myself to be an inspiration. What’s next?

They have a great idea too but had a bunch of questions about the process of bringing that idea to life. Where do you begin? How do you tell the story? How do you start your SEO work?

As it turns out, bringing a blog about is way, way easy. But the ease of bringing your story to life isn’t the best part. The best part is it’s all totally free. The only thing you have to spend on this project is time, which of course is very valuable.

So let’s not waste time.

Step One: Go Get a Free Blog Platform

First of all finding a free blogging platform is easy – just check Google. There’s plenty of free blogging platforms out there, the most popular being Blogger and WordPress.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with Blogger and WordPress as platforms. PostSecret – a viciously addictive blog composed of deep dark secrets sent anonymously via post cards – is a Blogger blog. WordPress itself is synonymous with blogging – the two just go hand in hand.

The number one problem I have with those two popular options is they are not beautiful by design. They allow for all kinds of customization from common users which leads to some pretty awful looking pages.

Also, they are fairly limited in way you can make the clunky formats look clean and professional. It becomes maddening the ways Blogger and WordPress are limited just when you become comfortable with the platforms and attempt to take them to the next level.

Startup Stock PhotosI realize the irony of this as I type this post into a WordPress window but still – even the steps you need to take with customizing the full version can be frustrating.

WordPress and Blogger are what happen when you try to take a customizable situation and open it up to the world. Nice try, good attempt but it’s a horror show sometimes in what people will produce given an empty slate and open microphone.

On the polar opposite of those guys is Medium.

Now, I‘ve written before about Medium and my thoughts haven’t changed in the slightest.

Medium is a drop-dead simple, minimal and beautiful blogging platform that is right on the edge of being amazing.

It’s straight structure, lack of sidebars or distractions, and ample styling within the framework of it’s form is a thing of beauty. Two quotes come to mind when looking at Medium:

Form follows function,” and “Beautiful things work better.” Medium is the combination of the simple meaning of the former and the minimalist nature of the later.

Additionally, Medium lets you submit and share articles within communities so it’s got a built-in social aspect which makes finding like-minded people easy. The communities I have right off the bat — Medium calls them channels — deal with technology, humor and design, so I think that’s a reflection of the types of writing going on here.

But a deeper search into Medium will reveal all sorts of interesting blogs brought together by writers on various subjects. Take Gardening Kicks Ass for example.

Garderning Kicks Ass is a pretty interesting collection of stories maintained by one of the writers at Medium. When writers pull together articles from other writers in collections like this it’s called a Publication. This kind of collaboration and user-centric content maintenance and organization is really cool.

So if you’re looking for a blogging platform – especially to try it out first – go with Medium. You won’t be disappointed.

Step Two: Figure Out What to Blog About

After you’ve got your platform figured out, now you have to figure out what you Startup Stock Photoswant to write about. Most of the time people think about stuff like music, politics, or film to pick as a topic and that’s perfectly fine.

If you’re thinking about blogging, you probably already have an idea of what you want to write about. But that’s not always the case.

Sometimes you just want to write and that’s a great thing. I want to take a second to talk about this with you.

If you want to write about several things you like or perhaps nothing at all, that’s ok.

Sometimes, people just want to write and they’re not sure what they want to write about. They just get the itch. There is something they want to shake loose. And that’s no problem – just start writing on a subject that you feel comfortable with at the time. When tomorrow roles around, write about something completely different.

Over the course of a month, bang out some quality draft posts that have absolutely nothing to do with each other. It’s your world. Go crazy.

Here’s something you’ll learn about writing that’s important:

Writing is a process – not a project.

The benefit of this kind of activity is eventually, as you keep your fingers skipping across the keys and pumping out content, you will find yourself naturally sliding onto a rail and moving in a direction. You’ll unconsciously find your voice and discover your passion without knowing it.

Without knowing, it you will tell yourself what you like. It’s awesome. Trust me.

In other cases, people know what their passions are and that’s a great thing. If you’re one of those people I salute you. It’s tough to find that.

Regardless, you’ll eventually find what you want to write about and settle on it. Then you’ll get to the fun part –  writing the damn thing.

genMegaPhoneStep Three – Blog with SEO in Mind

This is the part where you sit down and write. Just write it out. Come up with an outline and work from there or just bang out the words. Whatever you do write.

By this part, it should happen on its own as long as you stay focused and keep working at it. If you’re struggling at this point, get back to planning out your writing.

As you’re writing, though, there’s some simple things you can keep in mind that can help you make sure you’re optimizing your post for search engines. There’s an excellent plugin for WordPress called SEO by Yoast that scores your post automatically. That’s free too.

Here’s some simple tips for writing a strong, clear, search engine optimized post.

Organize Your Writing

Regardless of what you are writing about, you need to do you and your readers a favor and organize your work. A pretty simple way of doing this is here:

  1. Title
  2. Opening paragraphs to warm up the post
  3. Meat of the Post
    1. Section 1
    2. Section 2
    3. Section 3
  4. Closing paragraph

You don’t have to always write in a numbered format or be instructional to have a structured post. You could just as easily talk about what you learned doing something and organize the couple of key points into sections. It’s just easier on the reader.

To be clear, if you don’t have any subheadings in your post, it’s going to be difficult for humans to read your writing. And humans are your favorite people.

Use Your Keywords

Your blog posts are going to be about a specific things or keywords relating to your topic. These keywords are important because they’ll help keep you focused on what’s important and help you get found in search engines.

Use these keywords in all the right places like the title of your post, the section headings, and especially in your post itself. To be technical, use keywords in your H1, H2, H3, page title, meta description, and in the copy.

Now, you’ve probably heard somewhere along the line of terms like keyword density with respect to SEO. While it’s true keyword density plays a role in SEO, it shouldn’t be abused.

If you were doing an album review, you’d probably use the artist’s name and title of the record in the headline. Then you would list a bunch of reasons broken out into sections as to why you think it’s a great album or not. Those sections are probably going to include the artist’s name and album title again.

After a while, just by being human, you’re going to use keywords in the right way.

Here’s a major takeaway: If you find yourself trying to work the system, you’re doing it wrong. If you are doing things like a human being, you’re doing it right.

Think about this whenever you’re trying to optimize anything for search engines and you’ll never go wrong.

Make it Pretty and Keep it Simple

There’s a thing out there called the Flesch Reading Test which to be brief scores how easy copy if to read. A lot has been written about readability and it’s relationship to SEO and to be honest, I don’t know if it directly contributes one way.

I can tell you this though, easy copy is easy to read. Good for SEO or not, do t for your readers and let’s all be happy.

Startup Stock PhotoIf you have to check how your copy scores, you can quite easily copy and paste your draft into some online Flesch Reading Test engine like this one. I’ve got another suggestion.

Keep your copy simple. The measure of a good writer is one that can distill a complicated subject into some simple terms. Don’t go overboard – make your sentences simple. Jack Kerouac once famously said “One day I will find the right words, and they will be simple.”

And while you’re at it, dress up your copy. It’s great to see pictures in your blog posts, they are free, and good for SEO.

HubSpot wrote a really great checklist for blog SEO. Read it here. 

Step Four – Reread, Edit, and Rewrite

Simple stuff here. Use spell check and edit your copy with intensity. Get it right before you hit send.

Ask a buddy to edit your stuff. Better your friend find the mistakes before your 50,000 readers.

Step Five – Never Forget the Most Important Thing

As you’re going through the process, it’s worth worth remembering the single most important aspect of writing. It’s the whole reason you’re doing this.

Here it is:

Writing is all about solving problems. If you think writing is about anything else, you need to rethink your understanding of writing.

Put it on a T-shirt, write it in a letter, or whisper it to a friend – it’s a single solid truth. That statement  — or at least a flavor or variation on it  — comes from many different sources and it’s completely true.

Stick to solving problems with your writing and you’ll always be on the right track.  Now go be awesome.

Stuff I linked to:

How to Grow Your Small Business with Email Marketing in 2015

I’m a huge advocate for small businesses. I still firmly believe in Beaver County and its small business community and I know those that adopt digital marketing strategies can outpace their competitors.

But what’s the best channel for delivering your message?

Let’s back up. I was talking to a work buddy the other day and he posed this question:

If you had one and only one way to communicate a message with your audience – given the audience was already baked out — what would you choose?

Social media, direct mail, cold calling, SEO, all of these were on the table.

I used my “go-to” response in this situation: Never ignore a channel of communication and always focus on the most beneficial. It’s a pretty good sentence. You can steal it and tell folks you made it up. It’s cool.

“But, fine,” I said at last, “if I had to choose one and only one channel with what I know about the audience, I’d stick with an email blast.”

Me, When I Suggest Email Marketing as a Only Option

Me, When I Suggest Email Marketing as a Only Option

With that, my friend looked at me as if I had just burst into flames. It was as if I suggested to my friend we spread the word by stapling fliers to rattlesnakes and tossing them at people while we screamed the product name in a crowded mall.

The look in my friend’s eyes told me that in some course of the polite marketing discussion, I’d gone completely insane.

My friend looked me hard in the eye and asked, “Come on, does anybody really read email anymore? Isn’t email dead?”

Wow. I was indignant. I wanted to defend email marketing immediately, intelligently, and loudly.  But, I figured it’s a new year. It’s 2015. So it’s worth asking:

Can small businesses like the ones  all around the place I live still win the game with email marketing? Is email marketing still relevant for Beaver County small businesses?

Sure it is, here’s the proof.

Small Business Can Get Simple, Professional Email Marketing for Free

So let’s get this right out of the way, and it’s something I stress all the time when it comes to email marketing.

Email marketing can be totally free. Seriously. You can kick off your email marketing for 2015 without spending one dime. I promise. For small businesses with small budgets, free is a big plus.

And when it comes to email marketing options for small businesses, MailChimp is simply the best choice available, no question.

First of, MailChimp provides a free option for up to 2,000 subscribers and 12,000 emails a month. There’s no credit card to enter or contract to sign. If you have an email address and the will to accomplish this task, you can email up to 2,000 of your friends six times a month at maximum. Is that enough?

MailChimp is the Best Free Option to Kick off Email Marketing


Well, try this. Go to Google and try and get a consensus about how often you should email your audience and you probably won’t find one because it doesn’t exist.

The frequency with which you hit your audience should be determined by your audience’s opinion of how often they want to hear from you. It changes from audience to audience.

So, all that said, six emails a month is plenty of sending to drum up some business. You can do some serious damage with six emails a month.

The service also has tons of free templates and a dead simple, drag-and-drop editor to help you make your email blast, so there’s no designing involved or coding. You can also upload first and last names, numbers, addresses, all the good stuff you need to make sure you personalize your messages like a good email marketer.

Plus the templates produce responsive emails, which is way important considering people are reading emails on mobile devices more than desktops these days. Finally, and this is coming from a place of experience, MailChimp’s deliverability is every bit as good as its highly priced competitors. Paying a bunch of money to some email service provider will get you no closer to your subscriber’s inbox. In some cases, MailChimp’s deliverability is better than pay services.

So it’s free and only cost the time you put into it. It seems to me that if you have a story to tell and want to build a unique audience, email marketing is a no-brainer.

Small Businesses Can Get Personal with Email Marketing

When you head over to Google and do a search on the top trends for 2015, you’ll find one term popping probably get a bunch of insights. Still, one answer remains on every list:

Content marketing.

Everybody loves a story and every brand has a story. The companies that have the ability to synthesize their message and pull together great content are going to outpace the competition.

The days of selling on the Internet nearly over. Digital marketing is evolving into a practice of engaging and educating consumers. It’s a trust game, just as it always was. The difference is, now it’s all out in the open and transparency is real.

Telling that story is quickly becoming paramount for businesses across the country.

And this is where email marketing comes in. No other medium allows you to engage your audience directly in a one-on-one conversation like an email.

Facebook, Linkedin, and Twitter are communities with personal aspects in terms of follows, friends, and connections, but email is different. Email is a chance for you to tell your story in brief and invite the user to take the next step and continue the conversation.

With an opt-in subscriber, you have an active listener. With a story to tell, you have a chance to start a relationship with your subscriber.

Content marketing can be made personal with emails in ways social media channels simply can’t.

Now, I’m not one to bash a marketing channel. I like Facebook and Twitter, I use both. I’m not even making the case that Facebook or Twitter are worthless in selling products, though some certainly have.

I’m only saying Beaver County Small Businesses have a story to tell and that story can be told personally through email.

Small Businesses: Email Marketing is Better Than Facebook or Twitter for New Customers

Lucky for me, I stumbled upon a website that provided me with tons of content relevant to my conversation. It’s worthwhile fodder for having a conversation as to why email is not dead.

According to emailisnotdead.com, people prefer email for commercial communications. Here’s a few quick facts from the site:

  • Email marketing isn't dead to small business. Courtesy freeimages.com

    Email marketing isn’t dead to small business. Courtesy freeimages.com

    81% of US online shoppers are more likely to make additional purchases, either online or in a store, as a result of emails based on previous shopping behaviors and preferences. – Harris Interactive

  • 68% of consumers find email to be their #1 preferred channel for recieving commercial messages – CG Selections “Nationaal Email Onderzoek” (2013)
  • 66% of consumers have made a purchase online as a direct result of an email marketing message – Direct Marketing Association (2013)
  • One in five (19%) of consumers said they read every email newsletter they receive just to see if something’s on offer. – Forrester Research “North american technographics survey” (2014)
  • In 2014 consumers delete less promo emails without looking, down 25,4% relative to 2010. – Forrester Research “North american technographics survey” (2014)

Much of the above research points to fact that email is still a great vehicle for companies to tell consumers about products and services. It’s a way we expect to hear from companies. Even McKinsey & Company, a multinational management consulting company with nearly 100 years experience in driving success in business, says email marketing is far and away better at getting new customers than other forms of social media.

Email is almost 40x better at acquiring new customers than Facebook and Twitter – McKinsey & Company (2014)

So do you ignore other channels? Never. You need to tell your story in all ways possible. But email marketing is – and probably always will be – a viable option. Use it!

Stuff I Linked To:

4 Things I Learned in 2014 to Improve My 2015

I want to talk a little bit about inspiration. Like most people, I find inspiration in the normal places — art, acting, or story telling. You know, the normal stuff.

Where I diverge greatly from the rest is sometimes, in the right setting, when everything is set just right, the littlest things can spark a deluge of creativity.

For me, tiny moments played out in the purest spaces of life create a firestorm of creativity.

I remember years ago I was doing some reading when my eyes fell upon four words that arrested my gaze. The name of the book escapes me. Something in college I think – it doesn’t really matter. What’s clear is how I felt when I saw the worMalcolm X By Any Means Necessaryds in the light of my old cellphone. I recall mouthing the words to myself but I can’t remember for how long.

“…by any means necessary…”

Today I still can’t find a more intensely prodigious phrase.   I can’t for the life of me remember the rest of the sentence or even the context but, again, it’s secondary to the matter.

I found a whole world living in those few words, written originally by Jean Paul Sarte. To the right is a poster with the words appearing on the bottom. This clearly illustrates the gravity of the phrase.

The important thing is that powerful, weighty, simple phrase. By tacking the phrase on a sentence, someone is saying with four simple words they will use any tactics to achieve their goal.  Let me illustrate. Let’s imagine two guys decide they are traveling to Chipotle for dinner. Here’s how they might discuss the situation:

Guy 1: I’m going to Chipotle to get a burrito.

Guy 2: I’m going to Chipotle get a burrito, by any means necessary.

Now here’s the clear difference. The first guy is going to pull into the Chipotle parking lot, find a suitable spot, get out, and thumb through his phone while standing in line 45 minutes for his burrito. While this is happening, Guy No. 2 is going to throw open the doors to the Chipotle, loudly and violently announce his dinner intentions to the entire establishment, and clear a path towards the counter.

Guy No. 1 later upload to YouTube video of Guy No. 2 jumping over the counter and using his bare hands to make a burrito.

I think this illustrates how three simple words can turn one trip to dinner into a completely violent affair.

In 2014, I had a couple moments of great inspiration sparked from simple thoughts that I wanted to share with you. I hope you can find inspiration in these too. Maybe something to inspire your work in 2015.

Just as a note, the following phrases weren’t necessarily written in 2014. It’s just that I found them this year. Sometimes inspirational moments are timeless.

1. Work Your Face Off

Let’s start with two truths right off the bat.

One: The above phrase could inspire a snowman to be a glacier.

Two: No one works harder than Gary Vaynerchuk. But if we were half as passionate about our subject, might be able to.

I first read this phrase and learned about the sommelier and social media behemoth Gary Vaynerchuk in 2011 when I picked Trust Agents for the first time.  I remember being taken aback by the phrase “Work Your Face Off” back then but when I re-read the book this year, it hit me pretty hard. First about Gary Varnerchuk.

Gary is an explosive, high-energy wine expert, who built a social media empire from his self-produced wine video podcast taped in his father’s liquor store in Springfield, NJ. The 1000 episode of his video podcast, entitled Wine Library TV, has over 10,000 views on YouTube. He has written multiple books that have appeared on New York Times Best and is a renowned public speaker on social media, branding building, and e-commerce.

The secret to his success? An unwavering, diligent work ethic and passion for the subject he is addressing. Here’s a quote from Gary:

“Work 9-5, spend a couple hours with your family, 7 to 2 in the morning is plenty of time to do damage.”

There’s a ton of brilliance here. First, kill the distractions – the TV, Facebook, etc. Next, plan your time wisely. Segment your day to dedicate time to the important things like family, the job that keeps you going, and the job that will define you. It’s a simple idea. Those of us that are most successful are those that put the work in. It’s the folks that are working while the rest of us are sleeping.  

But what you begin to realize when you watch Gary’s videos is there’s no secret to his work ethic. He’s just talking about something he’s obviously passionate about so it’s easy. You can imagine Gary literally running to a microphone if it involved an audience and the chance to talk about wine. He loves the subject so it makes sense.

Take Away: Your happiness staying in line with your level of success is directly related to the work you put into your subject and the passion you have for it. If you’re passionate about what you’re doing, it’s easy to work your face off.

2. Be a Cyborg

In an earlier post, I talked a little about how I took a self-imposed break from social media. Ok, the break was more like seven years but hey, who’s counting?

The first thing I did was search out the people that could help me get up to speed. The great thing about the Internet is for every troll, there’s a well-meaning, just-plain-awesome person out there looking to help. The first one I landed on was Justin Wise.

Aside from being all-around awesome and remarkably inspirational, Justin Wise is a social media strategist from Des Moines, Iowa. Justin started a social media strategy and coaching company called Think Digital. His client list is pretty impressive.

Justin also hosts a regular podcast and one of the first episodes I stumbled upon was Episode 212: Be a Cyborg to Grow Your Audience, co-hosted by Erik Fisher, community manager at Social Media Examiner and all-around awesome guy in his own right.

The really inspiring thing — as relayed by the title — is you can be successful at automating processes as it relates to working smarter and not harder as long as you don’t come off as some kind of robot. The whole idea of using marketing automation tools, whether it be to social media marketing, email blasts, etc., is to make more time for other more important stuff like the big picture ideas or friends and family.

The danger you get into, though, when your automation becomes the conversation and you sound like you are using people to achieve a goal or being fake for the sake of conversation. If you automate too much without thinking it, you come off either sounding like a fake spam twitter account or a sales guy (which is arguably worse).

Take Away: You can make time for important things like friends, family, or big picture ideas by finding the middle ground between automating processes. The danger lies in automating so much you lose the human touch. 

3. Time is Running Out.

If there’s one thing I know is in great abundance, it’s people’s ability to make ridiculous excuses when it comes to doing things they were meant to do. I’m talking about your real path, just in case someone mistakes the previous statement as meaning something about chores or homework.

If there’s one thing I’m sure we’re good at as human beings, it’s that we can make up stupid reasons to get away from what we’re meant to do.

I’ve spent a considerable amount of time letting my goals and passions play the part of a ghost in the story of my life. My passion for writing sat with me when I was a reporter in Southern Maryland. I’m pretty sure he was proud of me then.

Then he followed me when I went to work in Washington DC. I could almost feel that ghost trapped outside the couple of office buildings I frequented, waiting to follow me back to the Metro. I wasn’t even really writing in DC — sometimes I was — but it was mostly technical stuff. Still, when that train care pulled away from town all packed with people, I could almost feel that ghost in the crowded car with me, haunting me with poetry, plot lines, and people’s stories.

To be clear, regret is a stone you carry with you that gets heavier as you get older. Especially with passions or the things you truly enjoy, if you’re not doing them, you’ll come to regret it. And for all the times I said there wasn’t time to accomplish what I feel I was really meant to do, there’s one and only one opinion held by some experts on the subject of regret to make you believe otherwise.

Bronnie Ware, Australian author, spent many years working in palliative care, which medical term for end-of-life care. In writing her book, “The Top Five Regrets of the Dying – A Life Transformed by the Dearly Departing,” Ware found the thing people regretted most was this:

“I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”

Nobody ever says to go quit your job – that’s insane. Nobody expects you to drop everything and start sword fighting because you saw it in a movie once and it looked cool.

The point is to take an honest stab at what you do. Or, more importantly, the point is to chip away at the stone of regret you’re carrying around before it’s dragged you down.

Takeaway: There’s no such thing as not having time. It’s not that there’s no time – it’s that time is running out.

4. Actively Pursue Your Goals

I think a lot of things in terms of how they relate to what I want to do and sure – it’s important to realize what you want out of life. I honestly think that admitting to yourself what you really want in life can be somewhat of a milestone in itself.

So let’s say you’ve figured out what you want to do that really matters. Now the fun begins.

You probably know a good number of people that have set goals and failed. I know I do. I have – so many times I can’t count.

That’s because putting the work in is absolutely difficult – especially when it’s not tied to something that directly impacts your life like a job or relationship. That’s why it’s important to remember the first word of that phrase up there. Don’t miss the word “Actively”.

Everyone knows the phrase “Hope is not a strategy,” but if you don’t, you’re welcome. It’s one of the most important things I ever learned and now it’s yours. Tell your friends you discovered it on your own. It’s cool.

The mere hope of achieving something isn’t going to have that goal happen. You need to plan that out. You need to have a strategy. This applies to everything, even things you don’t think about.

I must have heard this phrase a million times from hockey coaches, parents, teachers, everyone. And it didn’t hit me until I read it in a Jeff Haden post on Inc. this year. Sometimes, the simple act of restating a solid truth is enough to get you moving in the right direction.

Do what I’m going to do in 2015. Take a note from Jeff’s book.

Takeaway: Make a plan, get after your goals, enjoy every little victory, and never stop.



Here’s a Thought: Twitter Favorites are Kind of Worthless

The other day I started noticing that one of my blog posts was getting favorited on Twitter a lot. Like everyday a lot. By the same couple of people over and over.

I’ll be honest, this was the first time a post got favorited.

Not going to lie: How I felt getting favorited four days in a row for the same post.

Me, doing Twitter. Courtesy: http://helentrue.com/

I thought to myself, “Huh, Awesome. Someone liked what I did. I’m doing Twitter!”

In hindsight I was 100% right with my unintended Facebook reference of being “liked” and didn’t know it.

The next day the same post got favorited again by the same people. And it happened again the next day. And again. And again. Same people, same post.

It was really their favorite thing and every time I posted it to Twitter, they would remind me how super it was. I began to imagine I — actually my post — was their whole world.

In all seriousness I started to ask – what’s a Twitter favorite really worth? Those favorites I get throughout the day, where’s the value? Is there value?

A ton of way smarter people than me have written about this but I’ve got a blog and time to kill so here we go.

Is There SEO Value in Twitter Favorites?

It’s worth getting out of the way first and foremost that no one can say with 100% certainty what does and does not impact a page’s position in Google.

(Except for Google’s Matt Cutts, who says Twitter Favorites don’t matter in a video at the end of this section. I’m funny.)

Google’s search algorithms are not public knowledge. You can’t just download Google’s code base. You can’t force Google to give up it’s secrets – folks have tried. Man, even Germany tried. And failed.

Even when Google makes updates to its algorithm — Panda, Penguin, most importantly Hummingbird — we only see the effects and make inferences based on how things change. By the way, to read an excellent article about the previous Google updates, head over to this article at Moz.

All that said, it’s hard to imagine favorites having any impact on SEO. Favorites are just like “Likes” on Facebook – it’s someone saying they saw value in what you posted.

They click favorite, you get the notification, and that’s pretty much the end of it. It’s a one-on-one interaction on a network built on interaction with a wide audience. In other words, its kind of weird to begin with.

When someone retweets you, on the other hand, that’s like sharing it with their entire audience. A retweet from a respected authority on Twitter is a big deal. It’s an endorsement. They are sharing your content with all of their followers. That’s the new SEO strategy for sure.

The quote you’ll hear most SEOs use when talking about retweets comes from a 2010 article from Danny Sullivan over at Search Engine Land called “What Social Signals Do Google & Bing Really Count?” It goes like this:

“Retweets serve as a new form of link building. Get your page mentioned in tweets by authoritative people, and that can help your ranking in regular search results, to a degree.” – Sullivan.

Dr. Peter J. Meyers, a Marketing Scientist at Moz, talked about this too on Moz’s blog.

Meyers on retweets vs. favorites:

“[Retweets] are generally more advantageous indirectly. They expose more people to your tweet, and those people will click through, drive up engagement, and potentially link to you. Eventually, this can have an indirect but very real impact on SEO. It’s unlikely that favoriting has much impact even indirectly, IMO.”

(Find the conversation here).

Here’s Google’s Matt Cutts:

Is There Any Other Value in Twitter Favorites?

In researching this I happened upon an article written by Rebecca Greenfield over at The Atlantic’s Wire (thewire.com) entitled A Complete Guide to the Art of Twitter Favorites. Greenfield’s article delves into such various kinds of favorites like:

  • The Practical Favorite: Some people use the favorite for its most practical purpose — to bookmark tweets for later.
  • The “Fist Bump” or Thank You Favorite: Earlier this year, Twitter noted a rise in favorites on tweets only meant for one other person (i.e., a conversation).
  • The Hate-Fave: On the other, meaner end of the spectrum, we have the “hate-fave,” which The Awl’s Choire Sicha calls “the most perverse thing you can do” to someone totally awful, as he told The Journal‘s Rosman.
  • The Practical Hate-Fave: “I fave to remember to make fun of something later,” explains The Atlantic Wire’s Elspeth Reeve, who uses this hybrid of both the practical and hate-fave methods.

The list goes on. Important note, the above stuff is her words, not mine. I, nor even the Onion, could come up with this kind of stuff.

definition of favoriteI’m just going to go out on a limb and say this is reading way, way too much into something that means just about nothing at all. A Twitter favorite makes sense to two people: The person who favorited the tweet and the person who received the favorite. You’d literally have to let a third person know the incident happened and at that point, you should probably just go ahead and retweet it.

I like the idea of keeping Twitter Favorites special – like a high-five. When Twitter redesigned it’s profile, Kevan Lee over at BufferSocial wrote a 5 Tips to Optimize Your New Twitter Profile. It’s a pretty great read. Check out No.5 on the post for more on making Twitter favorites special.

Still, on a social network where the point is to engage your audience, build a network, learn, teach, and connect it seems kind of silly to favorite something.imgres

Plus, and now I’m just being cranky, the word favorite by it’s very definition lends itself to either describing something (adjective) or identify a person, place or thing (noun) that is singular. It’s one thing. Your favorite car, sports team, bubble gum. Not a wide array of things.

You just can’t have more than one favorite thing in a class of things – constant bickering with childhood friends over who was the favorite Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle taught me that. You could have one favorite and one favorite alone.

If you can have favorites, well that’s confusing. I don’t see much social value past the value you put into it but even then, it’s just marking tweets to help you keep organized.

Spammers Use Favorites to Gain Followers

To make matters worse, Twitter spammers favorite tweets just to gain followers with no intention of following you back. Read more about that here. Careful who you follow.

, owner of Bossa Nova Interactive, a digital marketing, web design and local seo company in Hampton Roads, VA., wrote a really great blog post about “auto-favoriting” as a strategy and how it’s… not great.

The story goes like this: Malcom posted the following tweet:

Tweet example from Bossanovainteractive

Exhibit A

And minutes later, the tweet was favorited by four people Malcom didn’t know.

Huh? Wait, in what world does that happen? Anywhere?

Let’s imagine you’re at a bar and randomly say to absolutely no one, “Man, sure is hot in here.”

Immediately after, four or five people you’ve never met in your life walk up to you, pat you on the back, and compliment you on your impromptu climate assessment. You’d think you were the subject of a hidden camera show, right?

Let’s also point out here as he did in his original blog post that this is all going down around 9PM. I know a ton of folks that work late into the night but four people favoriting a post right in a row?

So this is obviously some automatic favoriting mechanism built to target certain tweets. The process gets kicked off anytime someone uses a hashtag or string of words. It’s dishonest stuff.

Now, I’m all for marketing automation. We need to get more done in a short amount of time so we can do the important stuff like figure out how a Raspberry Pi works or play with your kids. I use Buffer, for example, to automate tweets on a schedule. It’s awesome.

But there’s a clear difference between marketing automation and building an inflated Twitter following through sleazy, fake tactics like spam-favoriting. And it’s quite another thing all together to pay someone to favorite-spam people.

For a one-hour conversation on this that is totally worthwhile, check out Justin Wise’s podcast and listen to show #212 BE A CYBORG TO GROW YOUR AUDIENCE.

Like Malcom points out, spam-favoriting is a play on people’s ego. It’s meant to make you feel good about your work, and convince you to follow them. The follow is rarely reciprocated and it’s probably for the better. These accounts often try to do a good job looking human by posting inspirational quotes and such but end up just trying to sell you something.

Social media is a tough business – it takes a good long while to build a worthwhile following. If you gain a ton of followers in a short term, it’s unlikely you did it the right way and extremely unlikely it will result in success. This kind of black-hat tactic is right up there with buying lists for email marketing.

By the way, there’s an awesome book called Trust Agents: Using the Web to Build Influence, Improve Reputation, and Earn Trust that spends a bunch of time talking about why this kind of stuff is bad news. Check it out. I found it on Half.com a while ago for 65 cents.

In short, favorites aren’t all that useful. If someone favorites your post, you almost have to ask why they didn’t just really show how much they liked it by sharing it with their followers. If it was a favorite tweet, doesn’t it deserve a follow or at least a retweet? Kind of devalues the word favorite, right?

Twitter favorites are just a social courtesy nod – no more, no less. Instead of focusing on favorites — or even retweets — just do your best to create compelling, creative, relevant content.

As always, if you’re trying to game the system, you’re doing it wrong.

Just as a P.S., for an exhaustive read on how Twitter, Facebook, and other social interactions impact SEO, check out Your Guide to Social Signals for SEO

Stuff I Linked To:

So Let’s Talk About These New Exit Intent Popups

I’m a funny T-shirt guy. I know, not directly related to exit intent popups but stick with me.

I have probably a half-dozen T-shirts for bands nobody has ever heard. I’ve got another seven or eight for movies or obscure pop culture references.

You know how Judah Friedlander from 30 Rock has a revolving cache of pop-culture reference trucker hats?

That’s me. I’m that guy.

And when you’re that guy, people hold you to it so you have to keep a regular rotation of shirts. You can’t just go repeating shirts throughout the week – they need to be varied, topical, and in perfect condition.

This became an issue the other day when I was was forced to pull my “More Cowbell” shirt out of the rotation. The reference was getting a bit tired and I had discovered a pretty significant rip in the underarm.

So up came the browser and off I went to my favorite T-shirt site, BustedTees.com, which I haven’t visited in quite a while.  In case you didn’t know, BustedTees.com is the place to find awesome T-shirts with wickedly funny pop culture references. They just do it right. I wasn’t on their site for more than a few seconds when I was interrupted aggressively with the exit intent popup below.



Now, I know I caught a glimpse of at least two funny shirts before the ad but those ideas quickly left my mind. Instead, I was trying to process the incept facing me.

Without taking any steps toward it, I was presented with a strong call to action I wasn’t prepared for. This is some pretty aggressive salesmanship, something I haven’t experience at this site. (Like I said, it’s been a while since I needed a funny shirt).

That’s not all. Right below the button that screams about “CRAZY DEALS” I saw this peculiar sentence.

“No thanks, I like paying full price.”

I literally tilted my head to the right slightly, squinted as if to try and find something I was missing, and whispered, “Huh?”

What does that even mean? Who likes paying full price? What’s going on here? Oh, I get it.

As I processed the sentence, I realized I was insulted by it because that was the very point. It was built to make me feel inferior for not accepting the offer above, which, in turn, would bully me into taking the call to action.

Here’s way of stating the bullying sentence: What, you don’t like crazy deals? Wow, you must be the kind of idiot that likes paying full price. What a moron. 

To me, this whole experience is like walking into a store, having someone put something — anything — inches from your nose, and screaming over the product, “HEY, WANNA BUY THIS?”.

Then, when you politely decline, the person looks at you with disgust, and says, “Wow, I guess you’re the kind of scumbag that likes to pay full price.” Then, the last thing you see is their face disappearing over the product as they raise it violently to eye level, obscuring everything else.

I think I got my point across, I regard this a pretty intrusive experience.

Now, these popups aren’t exactly breaking news. Popups never really died, they just went out of style — slightly — and improved dramatically.  What’s kind of new is these exit intent popups are an extreme hard sale. These ones  forcibly wrestle away the user experience. Think Alec Baldwin from Glengarry, Glen Ross.

It’s only now that they are infecting my user experience dramatically so I figured I would share my opinion.

So What Are These New Exit Intent Popups? wonipod

Back in the day, when the Internet was fairly young and Netscape was still a thing, pop-up ads were disruptive, annoying, and everywhere.

And then there was the war on popups, fought mainly by software that valiantly blocked the frustrating and resource-killing advertisements. Then they just kind of… went away.

Now they’re back, and they’re popping up on sites all around. (There, I got my pun out of the way).

So are the new breed of exit intent popups any different? In some ways yes, but in many ways no.

Exit Intent Popups are Pretty Annoying

Today’s exit intent popups are still just as disruptive as the old guys. They literally interrupt your reading, sometimes with irritating frequency.

Back in February 2014, SEO expert Dan Petrovic called out search engine heavy weight Neil Patel for using popups on his blog. (This kind of thing only happens on the Internet). The issue was with the frequency of the popups and sure, they do come up a lot on Neil’s blog. More on Neil in a second.

Exit Intent Popups Hijack the User Experience

I don’t pretend to know everything about user experience but since I’m part of the internet community, I think my opinion is at least representative.  For me, it’s all about the fact that popups wrestle control away and take over the user experience.

I can’t imagine I’m the only one thinking this because the very existence of technology to kill popups proves people needed to automate their removal.

It all comes back to control. When people use the Internet, they like to think they are in charge of the experience. They navigate where they want, read what the like, and are plugged in enough to know when something is wrong. When you interrupt the experience with an exit intent popup, people notice the disconnect and ask “What Happened?”

The next natural question is, “Why did it happen?”

In the past few years, I’ve become accustomed to the natural progression of reading content, commenting on it, learning, doing, and finally interacting with a call to action when I’m ready based on my actions up to that point.  It’s my call on my time.

So if one second I’m reading about email marketing tips and the next I’m presented with a call to action, the disruption at the very least elicits a response.

Having control wrestled away and being presented with an experience you didn’t request is jarring because it jumps the gun on a process I thought I understood. The contract I had with websites – I’ll ask you for help when I’m ready but not before — has been broken.

popups haven’t changed in the way they present you with a call to action despite your level of comfort with seeing it.

Exit Intent Popups are Cleaner and More Targeted

One big now-and-then change is today’s popups are quite a bit cleaner.

Let’s use this example from Nikki, in Stitches.


I didn’t know about Nikki McGonigal’s craft blog until I started researching exit intent popups. I’ve since read some of her stuff and she’s obviously great at what she does. She has a great following and awesome attitude that comes through in her passionate writing.

In short, I couldn’t care less about crafts but enjoy her blog because of her passion for the subject. She’s just a great writer.

The blog makes use of popups right from the get-go. Just navigate to the blog’s home page, wait two or three seconds, and you’ll see this. From what I’ve learned, there’s some logic behind this but I was presented the popup in three different browsers, each on the first go, so I’m basing my writing on that.

This is a clean, professional, branded popup with a strong, clear call to action. Sign up and stay in touch, simple as that.

It’s also appropriate, or at least, far and away more appropriate than pop ads in the past that would advertise everything under the sun on any kind of page.

If you happened upon a craft blog, whether directly or from a search, you probably did so with interest in crafts. So you should expect to be asked to continue hearing about crafts. Though the popup is presented to anyone and everyone, it’s at least somewhat appropriate because if you’re at this site, you probably would want more.

Exit Intent Popups are Getting Way More Aggressive

In the great before, popups were annoying and resource intensive for sure but in the end, most were also pretty harmless. They advertised stuff you didn’t want and were a nuanced nuisance in the infancy of the internet.

That’s not even close to the case now. Today’s popups use extremely pushy and seem to have an overly determined goal of keeping your attention.  Animations, images, and leading language in the popup combine to make a case for keeping you on the page you are viewing.

If I haven’t yet made it clear, these simple lightboxes triggered by mouse movements embody a determination and resolve better suited for hanging on for dear life.

Take this one for example, this is from OilPrice.com. To draw this popup reaction, check out one of the site’s articles and just casually mouse away from the page toward the URL.


Before talking about what this means, it’s important to talk about what it took to get here.

To invoke this popup, all you need to do is move your cursor to an area outside the content area, like, say, the top left where your “back” button resides. Basically, if you try to leave the page, this is what you get.

So imagine you’ve decided to navigate away. The page reacts by presenting your with a timed offer. This particular intercept features an infomercial-style limited time pitch for a free piece of content called the Insider. Act now because this limited time offer will end in five minutes and the clock is ticking. (The counter actually works, a pretty cool effect.)

I didn’t stay to see what happened when the clock runs out but you get the idea.

Check out this one here from BounceExchange.com.


Check it out here. Neat how the “Yes” button kind of flaps suggestively.

Here’s another one, kind of in the same vein.



There’s a heavy dose of crawling-into-your-brain psychology going on here. These ads aren’t just designed to keep you around, they’re designed to invoke emotion, change your opinion, and force you to act. And everything is happening for a reason.

The reddish orange around the “Yes” because it invokes emotional feelings of energy and emotion. The color of the box surrounding the “Yes” matches the color of the words “Market Insights”, which is meant to create a connection between the affirmative and the word. But that’s not the best part.

What really grabs my attention here is the sentences that support each option. It’s no longer just a Yes or No question – the website wants you to believe that there’s so much more at stake. Each option has an implied reinforcement the consequences of each option.

In the above option, you pick “Yes” and you’ll get the market edge – you’ll outpace the competition. With the “Yes”, you’re a winner.

But if you pick “No”, you’re the kind of person who would “rather be the last to hear.” Say no to this offer and you’re someone who is losing the game. Someone who is less than others. You’re the last, which by its very definition, means everyone is ahead of you.   There’s at least two things you will always see with “No” supporting sentence.

First, it’s utterly ridiculous.  Tying a negative response with thoughts like “I like when visitors bounce,” or “I’d rather be the last to hear,” is just plain crazy. Nobody would ever enjoy visitors bouncing from their site. Nobody wants to be the last to hear anything – even bad news.

Look at this example below. Would any business owner actually say with a straight face that they have enough customers?


In addition to being ridiculous, it’s incredibly insulting. You are meant to see this sentence and feel some level of shame for picking “No”. It’s hard to read the words “No, I have enough traffic,” and not hear it in the voice of a smart-ass, condescending teenager.

To be clear, the above examples and the copy below are in no way different.


So there’s obviously a bunch of work that goes into making sure you not only stay on site but also act in a certain way. But is is worth it?

But are These Exit Intent Popups Effective?

Yes. All negative feelings aside, everything said, these are incredibly effective.

Remember the Nikki, in Stitches, example above? Well it turns out it’s excellence proof as to why using popups works.

Nikki’s use of popups resulted in “1375% more subscribers.”

Darren Rowse’s photography blog at one time was locked at 40 subscribers but after instituting popups, he started receiving 350 subscribers a day. 

Another recipe website experienced 10x improvement in sign ups. The list goes on.

There’s plenty of other examples of popups working to the advantage of the site, at the cost of irking some people. To be clear, it’s beneficial despite the negative feelings some (including me) have about them.

3 Free Resources You Can Use to Make Your Blog Look Awesome

For a bunch of reasons that don’t really matter, I’m currently recovering from a seven-year social media and blogging hiatus.

As far hiatuses go, I wouldn’t recommend one from the social scene. I watched a lot of things happen around me, missed out on some great conversations, and lost valuable time I could’ve spent meeting great people.

My skills went pretty soft too. That’s perhaps the worst part.

So when I decided to jump back into the mix, I did what most anybody would do if they were coming back to something after a long while.

I made a list of the resources I would. In this case, it was a list of stuff I would need to start telling my story on a blog. After some thought, I soon discovered one awesome thing from this exercise that I want to share with you.

Everything you need to tell your story on the web is free. 

And that’s what this post is all about. It’s about free stuff to put enhance your writing from stock photos, to tools and even the platform to host your blog.

This isn’t about how to form your blog post because other people a ton smarter than me have already done that. (Read: 5 Elements of a “Perfect” Blog Post) This isn’t even about inspiration because I’m willing to bet you’re already inspired.

Everything below is free and can be used today to get started telling your amazing story. Let’s go.

1. There’s Free Stock Photos to Make Your Blog Look Awesome

Let’s start with explaining why you need pictures to accompany your story.

Imagery is a vital part of blogging because it helps illustrate your tale and anyway, people relate to pictures. If you need more convincing, go read what the experts say about using images in your blog posts.

First off, there’s a bunch of sites with free stock photography on the web. You probably already knew that.

Here’s something you didn’t know: Some of them actually have awesome stuff.

The good folks over at BufferSocial complied a pretty decent list of over 50 sites to get you started. (53+ Free Image Sources For Your Blog and Social Media Posts)

As an aside, if you haven’t already, you need to check out the Buffer. It’s amazing.

Now, the list is pretty long and some of the sites aren’t the greatest thing ever. Some of the suggested sources are just plain difficult to navigate from a user experience perspective. Other sites have photos that are just plain bad.

But there’s some awesome stuff and here’s two right off the bat (plus one I like):


From FreeImages.com

Free Images www.freeimages.com

I’ve personally used this site so many times for countless varied projects.

The site offers high-res, user-contributed photos that can be used for personal blogs or corporate campaigns. Polished isn’t exactly the word I’d use for this images – this is all about utility.

It just gets the job done consistently and that’s why I recommend it a lot.

If you’re a small business and you’re looking to start content marketing, the stunning amount of vertical-specific art on Freeimages.com makes it a must-have resource.

The account is free (that’s 100%, no future payment) so get after it.

IM Free

From IM Free

IM Free (www.imcreator.com/free)

I want you to take a good hard look at the image to the right.

That’s a beautiful picture from the site above.

It’s inspirational. They say “When it’s beautiful you don’t have to force it, it works on it’s own.” That’s what we have here.

This is the kind of work you build a site around. If you’re starting a gym geared toward kick-ass women, this is the picture you use.

IM Free is packed with this kind of quality photography and it’s free for you to use. This site has a personal feeling unlike any other I’ve seen out there. You can find inspiration for just about any project just by perusing the site.

Startup Stock Photos (startupstockphotos.com)

Startup Stock Photos

From Startup Stock

When I think of Startup Stock Photos, it reminds me of the good people on the Internet and how fortunate we are to have them.

The site’s creators obviously know how difficult it can be to work for a startup. Making this kind of high quality stock photography seems to be their way of giving back.

It’s all there in the site’s tag line:

“Take ’em, these things are free. Go. Make something.”

Startup Stock Photos is packed with professional, ultra-clean, modern, art.  And the best part is they are high-res, highly versatile, and above all, free.

Takeaway: There’s a bunch of free stock photography out there but a small percentage of it is awesome.  When you find something you like that inspires you — and it’s free — be polite and attribute the author.

When using this stuff, think about the time and effort the people put into what you are using for no charge. Take five seconds to give the author some credit. It’s the least you can do.

2. There’s Free Software to Make Your Blog Awesome

As you can probably guess,  one of my favorite things about the web is you don’t have to look far to find the free version of what others pay so much for.

Now, don’t get me wrong when I go into this because I firmly believe Adobe’s Creative Cloud is solidly amazing. Every part of it offers features to make your creative job easier.

Photoshop is here, it will be here tomorrow, and it’ll be here 100 years from now. It’s like A Christmas Story 24 hours a day on December 25. It will always be.

However, if you don’t have Photoshop, and tons of people probably don’t, here’s two options.

If You’re Confident in Your Internet Connection, Go With Pixlr

I was in a pretty tight spot for a few months. I was working on a big project but my Adobe license became an issue for me. And I needed to work on several different machines but always take my work with me. imgres

In other words, I needed to be awesome with a 16 gig USB and nothing else but my talent.  Enter Pixlr.

Pixlr is a browser-based image editor that just rocks.

From the layout to actual existence of layers, features and filters, color control and file formats, Pixlr is everything you’d need if you didn’t have the real thing, and you can access it anywhere without even signing up for an account.

A special bonus is you can save to the editor’s layed file format just like a PSD and return back to your work later.

Pixlr is your answer for free art creation if you have an internet connection that is steady. Plus it won’t cost you a dime.

If Your Internet Connection is a Question, Go with GIMP

Wait, hold on. Do this first: Download GIMP anyway, just to have it around.

Seriously, if you’re ever in a tight spot and say to yourself, “Wow, I have no Internet, it’s the Zombie Apocalypse, and I need to color correct this picture of a pancake on my cat’s head,” you’ll be glad you have GIMP.search

Here’s the deal. You can download GIMP for absolutely nothing and have a surprisingly powerful photo editing suite that rivals photoshop. (There, I said it.)

GIMP has been around since 1996 so it’s been through the motions. It’s baked out.

Aside from it’s long list of features, GIMP has an intuitive, easy to grasp interface, which helps if you need to hit the ground running. Plus it’s totally free.

And what are you going to use for a word processor? You could wait until the next day and pound out a couple hundred words on your company computer in Word but who wants to wait? I have two options, both of which I use often.

If You Can Jump Online, Use Google Docs

Everyone has a Google account these days but Google Docs is still somewhat unknown as far as the search engine behemoth’s other branded material goes.

In short, Google Docs takes everything useful about Microsoft Office and makes it free.

Google Docs has three features:

  • Slides: a fairly decent presentation editor for slide decks
  • Sheets: a spreadsheet tool
  • Docs: an online word processor

Docs is everything you are used to with Microsoft Word except it’s free and it’s online. Everything you need to fire up a blog posting and make sure it’s spelled correctly is in Docs.

It’s a beautiful thing.

If Your Internet Connection is Shaky, You Need OpenOffice orb

Again, I’m going to make a suggestion. Just download OpenOffice, even if just to have it around.

Every time I get a new machine, I download it as a safety net because it’s free and incredibly powerful.

OpenOffice has all the elements of Google Docs with the addition of a 3D Illustration editor, database administration tool, and mathematical equation editor. It really has that last part, I’m not kidding.

OpenOffice’s word processor, Writer, is a sleek, modern writing tool that — believe me when I say this — gets more powerful as you use it. It’s a smart tool that makes writing easier.

If you’re looking for a program to write without distraction you need to check out OpenOffice. It’s amazingly free.

3. There’s Plenty of Free Places to Host Your Blog

As far as actually getting your content out there, you have two pretty solid options — Blogger and WordPress.

The Google-owned Blogger has been around since 1999.

It’s quite simply the easiest site to use if you’re going to start up a blog and see if you can stick with it. It’s fairly customizable — you can change some HTML / CSS — and its easy to add video and images.

Given, there’s only so much you can do as far as customization goes but that’s the tradeoff for a free product.

WordPress is another big-name option that lets you blog for free. It’s great too and has just as many features as Blogger.  There’s some customization and features. Like Blogger, WordPress is super simple to use and pretty much gets out of your way.

To be clear, the only real reason I’ve heard anyone prefer the free versions of WordPress over Blogger is the former just looks cleaner.

Blogger’s user interface is in sore need of a overhaul. WordPress looks bright and simple. Both are, but WordPress just is.

And then there’s Medium.

I love this site because it’s not about flash or even features – it’s about writing.

Medium features both distraction-free writing and presentation.  It’s remarkably modern, clean, and above all – free.

If Medium was a design element, it would be the white space used to enhance art.

Mashable writer Grace Smith did an awesome job pulling together 16 Blogging Platforms for Distraction Free Writing. Read up on that for more.

But, if you have a few bucks, host your own.

Now, I admit it, I feel way more comfortable with a platform that I can manipulate, right down to the bits.

So, I pay for hosting. By the way, if you’re looks for hosting with awesome customer service, go check out InMotion Hosting  (inmotionhosting.com).

Anyway, I pay for hosting because I like to know that I can customize my site and when I’m done, good or bad, it’s my design. Plus its my content.

That’s the whole reason I use WordPress on a hosted site. It’s free to download and install and considerably easy to use and customize. Also I don’t have to pay to add certain themes, styles, and I don’t have copyright issues to deal with. It’s my content.


4 Content Marketing Tips for Awesome Live Events

There’s no doubt about it – live events are tough to pull off. Months of preparation going into an event that lasts just a few days — maybe even only a few hours. One of the biggest hurdles to overcome with pulling off a successful event is actually getting people in the door.generalAudience

These days, there’s so much working against you.

There’s the ever present (and growing) list of competing voices for your audience.

There’s so many choices and some of them are online. Why leave your desk and put up money for conference registration and hotel fee if you can learn it in a webinar during lunch?

Then there’s the tightening on travel that have become popular at the corporate level. And travel budgets are getting slashed. And your competitors.

Let’s say you get passed strict restrictions and dwindling resources. Then you have to prove your event is even worth the valuable time someone will be missing at work.

In short, there’s a lot you need to do to convince people to click the “Register” button.

Here’s four ways to use the content you already have to pack the seats and make your event a success.

1. Create a Content Marketing Schedule

generalScheduleNow, you’re a confident, awesome, marketing guru so you’ve got the essentials covered.

You’ve secured the location. The date is set. The agenda worked out.

Now you need to start getting people signed up. You know content marketing is the way to go. The best way to pull it off, though, is to create a content marketing plan that will hit all your target audiences.

Start with the Basics

Start by creating a skeleton outline of key campaigns to your audience. Get the obvious ones out of the way first:

  • The Save the Date
  • Registration is Open
  • Main Event highlight
  • Registration Close Date Nears

Don’t forget to build in reminders to send detailed event instructions, directions, etc., to attendees — especially as the event date nears.

A good milestone to use when building each individual campaign is the is the “send” date, or the day you’ll pull the trigger on your social media push or email marketing campaign.

Make sure to give yourself a few buffer days around the send date. You’ll need a bunch of time on the front end to make sure your creative is baked out.  Also, make sure you save time after the send to followup and track response. Track your progress and duplicate your wins.

It may sound really obvious but it’s worth mentioning: whether you’re working on paper or on a spreadsheet,  it’s helpful to start with the last campaign first  and work your way back.

This way you’ll avoid pushing the entire calendar back when you get ideas.

Highlight What Sets You Apart

generalBulbAs you build your content marketing plan, the best thing you can do is identify what makes event unique and convey that to your (appropriate) audience.

Find the standout sessions or big issues in your event and build campaigns around them.

Anybody can send out a boring email with the event date, time, and a registration link – people do it everyday.

If you take a good hard look at your event and find the things that make it special, you can craft messages around the strongest  portions of your event that potential attendees with find interesting. Whether you’re doing a full-week conference or one-night speaker event, challenge yourself to find a couple of unique aspects of the event and highlight them in separate campaigns.

In short, take the time to give your audience a compelling reason to attend your event. It’s worth it.

Paying attention to the elements of the event that make you different is what is going to get people to commit.

Never assume your audience knows everything about the event just because you sent our an invite. Don’t assume your prospective attendees scoured the agenda.

Build in as many campaigns as possible to tell your audience what you want them to know.

2. Use All Channels — Appropriately

Now, I’m obviously a huge fan of email marketing. I’ve been using it for a better part of my professional career. It’s my got-to for getting things done for a simple reason: it works.

So here’s some great news.

If you have a decent opt-in house list, loyal Twitter or Facebook following, or a bunch of quality connections on Linkedin, you’re off to a great start.

genMegaPhoneThat’s going to be your number one source of attendees.

This is critical because events – especially new events – thrive on existing contacts. In fact, most of your attendees – I’m betting 75% or more — are going to be people you know.

The point here is use every channel possible. Announce your event on every platform you have a voice. Don’t get caught up in the game of ignoring this platform or that platform.

But Do It Appropriately

Just for fun, let’s say you’re running a blogging conference. It’s going to have four tracks on all types of blogging including Tech, Sports, Music, and…. Stamp Collecting.

(I know, just hang with me)

Let’s say you find an awesome session featuring a red-hot Stamp Collecting blogger and you’re going to build a campaign around it.

So you blast your email audience with news of the Stamp session. That’s your entire email list, by the way. Then you post it to Twitter and alert your Facebook following. Your Linkedin folks get a message. Everybody.

Suddenly, your loyal Sports blogger following is getting bombarded with Stamp Collecting emails. Huh? What’s this about?

At the very least, they’re going to be confused. “Why would I care about stamp blogging?” More than likely, they’ll think something went wrong with the marketing folks.

The point is, if you don’t segment you audience and target appropriately, you’re pretty much saying that you don’t care about the relationship you’ve worked so hard to cultivate.

In other words, to gain the trust of the audience you’re trying to convince to attend your event, give them something they want (and nothing they don’t.)

With email marketing, this is especially vital. Modern CRMs and email marketing providers give you the ability to tag your contact with metadata.

Use this. Segment your audience and segment again. It’s not creepy – you’ll be doing them a favor by not sending them something they don’t need.

Try this exercise before you ever send a campaign: Think about the message and why it should resonate with the list you’re sending it to.

And never, ever, buy an email list. If you still need convincing, read this.

3. Convey the Value of Your Event in Your Content Marketing Plan

My first paying gig out of college was writing for a twice-weekly community newspaper in Southern Maryland.

I learned some really important stuff there. Many of the lessons still echo into the present.

I remember early in the game I was typing up a 500-word quick hit on a speaker that breezed through the area. I don’t remember the guy’s name or the content of his speech.

I do remember quickly banging out the space-filler and it ended up being a little more than boiler-plate meaninglessness. Something to the effect of “Minor Celebrity X Spoke Last Thursday at the Knights of Columbus”.heroChairs

My editor knew what I knew – it was just space filler and I treated it as such.

Still, I didn’t get a pass. I got the copy back in an attachment with the following short but brilliant sentence.

“Nobody cares that someone spoke. The interesting thing is what they said and what it meant.”

If you’re working to convince others to attend a live event you can learn a lot from that sentence.

These days, more than ever perhaps, people are awful busy. Life moves at a rapid pace and everyone is competing for your audience’s attention. It’s your job to earn that attention.

If you are going to convince people to spend an hour, afternoon, or even a couple of days at your event, you need to make it clearly worthwhile.

Here’s some key questions you can ask to unlock the value in your event:

  • If I was a prospective attendee, what would it take to convince me to attend this event?”
  • What will my attendees learn from this event?
  • What are we teaching at this event that will make attendees better at their jobs?
  • What are we offering at this event that attendees won’t get anywhere else?

Never pull the trigger on a campaign unless it has some value. Remember, you’re nudging the user toward that Call to Action.

Takeaway: Convey the value in your event clearly and people will register

4. Creating Landing Pages for Each Campaign

Now, I’m going to guarantee you’ve seen this scenario before. I know I have, I saw it twice in the last month.

You get an email with some pretty compelling copy and nice design. You’re interested. You click the link to learn more.

Then you’re dumped onto the event’s main page. Huh? Wait a minute…

It almost feels like something went wrong or the sender pushed out the email with a wrong link. And that’s nearly correct.

generalChainHere’s the deal:  When you put that link out there, be it an email newsletter or on Twitter, you’re in a way creating a contract with the user.

A link is another way of saying, “If you click this, you and I are going to continue the conversation.” Don’t drop the conversation.

The next step continues — more importantly, builds — the experience. You need a page built specifically for the campaign. A thoroughly planned next step. You need a well-formed landing page.

Landing pages are the critical proving grounds for your copy. It’s the logical continuation from your email marketing message or social media post.

There are people out there a ton smarter than me doing an amazing job with landing pages. Oli Gardner is one of them – he wrote The Smart Marketer’s Landing Page Conversion Course. Read it, embrace it, love it.

Right there on the first page in block letters is the largest mistake event marketers make; shoving a marketing campaign out the door without a dedicated landing page.

And you know how experts agree that you need to cut down the copy in your email to create a compelling message?  This is where dedicated landing pages work to the advantage of event marketers.

Let’s say you have a good bit of compelling content in targeted marketing campaign you’re pulling off. Maybe three or four long paragraphs on a keynote speaker.

Maybe you also have a video montage of the speaker at the last event. You’ve also got a bunch of pictures in a slideshow. Just a bunch of great content.

The last thing you want to do is bog down your email message with all that copy.

Create a succinct mailer – don’t try to tell the entire story right off the bat. Then fill a dedicated landing page with copy and use the video to drive conversions (it’s proven to work). Just don’t forget a strong Call to Action.

One last thing. Make sure your design hangs together. Your email should look like your landing page and the landing page should mirror your site design.

But don’t forget:

Never, ever pull the trigger on a marketing campaign for your event without creating a dedicated landing page.

Get in touch with me.