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10 Tips on How to Edit a Manuscript

If you’ve got a knack for putting words and phrases together coherently, writing is pretty easy. Sure, it might be tough to get yourself into your writing chair to start doing the work, but most good writers are able to enter a “flow” once they begin to type or scrawl their ideas. The thing that’s most difficult about writing is revisiting it with an editor’s eye once the last word has been written.

If you’re a writer, but you’re stuck when it comes to the editing process, we have some great tips. Learning how to edit a manuscript properly might take some time, but it will improve your process and make your work more engaging. These tips don’t cover every detail about editing, but they’ll certainly help you feel more confident about your ability to deliver a polished product.

#1 – Rewrite and Rewrite Some More

Writing is really the process of rewriting. Before you don your editor’s hat, you should go over your manuscript several times in the interest of making each sentence, each phrase and each word better. You may even need to rearrange or delete whole sections. Simply put, you’re not ready to edit until you’re completely satisfied with what you’ve written.

Take a Break#2 – Take a Break

That’s right – I gave you permission to step away from your desk, watch some TV, go for a walk or catch up on some reading. One of the biggest mistakes writers make is to begin the editing process immediately after finishing a project. Taking a break gives you the chance to readjust your brain and your perspective so you can edit effectively.

#3 – Find a Distraction-Free Zone

This should go without saying, but many writers fail to heed this advice. Editing takes just as much concentration as writing, if not more. Therefore, you should perform your editing in a place where you can devote all of your attention to the job at hand.

#4 – Make Your Manuscript Available for Critique

This is tough for many writers, but it’s an essential part of the editing process. Few things are more valuable than another pair of eyes, which is why you should find other writers who will give you honest feedback about your work. If you don’t know anybody, check to see if there are writers’ groups in your area.

#5 – Look at Your Manuscript in Different Formats

If you’ve typed your manuscript using a word processor on your PC, print it out to perform the editing. If you wrote your manuscript on your laptop, take a look at it on your tablet. Changing the format will alert your brain that you’re examining something different. This will allow you to catch mistakes that you might miss otherwise.

Verify the Definitions of Tricky Words#6 – Verify the Definitions of Tricky Words

If you’re a writer, there’s little doubt that your mastery of language and vocabulary is sound. However, even the most intelligent writers make the mistake of misusing certain words. If you aren’t 100% certain about the meaning of a word in your work, look it up and replace the offending word if necessary.

#7 – Eliminate Redundancies

We all have pet words and phrases that show up frequently in our work. These bits of language can help you establish a singular identity as a writer, but they can also make readers wonder if you’re stuck on certain ways to phrase things. Use a critical eye and eliminate words and phrases that appear too often in your work (this is a great job for your critique group, as well).

#8 – That Thesaurus is There for a Reason

Even though overuse of your thesaurus can lead to disaster, there are few things worse (and more tiresome for your readers) than having the same word show up multiple times in the same paragraph. If you’re writing about mountain climbing, for example, it’s good to know that you can replace the word “climb” with “ascend,” “scale,” “mount,” “clamber up” or “gain.”

#9 – Reduce and Remove

Less is more, but writers will be writers. If you’re wondering how to edit a manuscript to ensure that your work achieves maximum clarity, you’re probably going to need to eliminate some passages – even if you’ve fallen in love with them. If any phrase, sentence or passage doesn’t fit, or if it could be made more concise, you should always err on the side of brevity. At first, this process might be difficult, but after a while, you’ll find that it’s liberating.Know When You’re Done Editing

#10 – Know When You’re Done Editing

Once you begin the editing process, it’s easy to keep searching for possible changes in your manuscript. However, you have to know when to stop editing if you want to have your work see the light of day. If you feel like making changes for the sake of making changes, it’s time to take a breath and congratulate yourself on completing the most difficult (and most important) part of the writing process – editing.

 

Do you have any additional tips on how to edit a manuscript? Let us know what you think by leaving a comment below.

Inbound Marketing: How to Create a Buyer Persona

Most of marketing is really communication. When you communicate with people in your life, you don’t do so the same way for every person. Your answer to questions or your opinions on certain subjects are quite different depending on who it is you are talking to. That’s because we have been conditioned since a young age that our messages are received differently by different people. So we do our best every day to carefully tailor our messages to the people we interact with.

The same is true for marketing a business and the messaging that we put out for our prospects. You will not have much success crafting effective marketing messages without first knowing who your target market is. One of the most effective ways to visualize a target market is by creating buyer personas.

What Are Buyer Personas?What Are Buyer Personas?

A buyer persona is a fictional character that represents a member of your target market and has real character attributes associated with them. Buyer personas are a great way to divide your market into groups that are easier to understand and design messaging for. Data for how to assign character attributes to a fictional buyer persona could come from anywhere including:

  • Information you already have gathered about prospects in databases
  • Market research
  • Common knowledge
  • Focus groups
  • Surveys
  • Customer feedback
  • The types of products/services you sell

Virtually any data you collect from any source about your target market is fair game. Be creative and think of unlikely places where you might find data about people interested in your products or services.

No One Cares About You

When you go to create your buyer personas, keep in mind that you should have a customer-centric focus. One of the biggest mistakes companies make in their marketing is talking about themselves and their products or services. When consumers see messaging like this, they couldn’t care less. Buyers only care about how their needs can be met or how a product or service can deliver results for them and nothing more.

When you develop your buyer personas, don’t think about what they can do for your company, but about what your company can do for them. A good value proposition will talk about the outcomes a product or service can provide for a consumer. In order to do that, you must approach this messaging in a way that shows consumers you want to help solve some type of pain or provide value.

Interview People Who Could Be Your CustomersInterview People Who Could Be Your Customers

A great way to get started creating buyer personas is to interview the people who could be your customers. You could pick current customers or people who are similar to your past customers who have not purchased from you. Once you have people like this picked out, ask them very broad and open-ended questions that relate to your business, but that are not directly related to the products and/or services that you offer. Ask them questions related to pain they may be having that your product or service might be able to help alleviate.

You can then take these answers and develop a profile of the different buyers that you are catering to. For instance, if you were running a company that offered auto detailing, you might find people who could potentially be your customers and ask them, “how often do you clean your car?” “Is having a clean car important to you?” “Are you always able to find the time to clean your car?” “What do you dislike about cleaning your own car?” If you plan on targeting multiple markets, you should find people to interview that fit each one.

Naming Your Personas

After you have profiled your personas, you should apply a name to them as well as an image. This helps to make the entire process more realistic and visual. Keep in mind these are fictional characters and are only representative of people you have interviewed or information you have gathered. When you have a name and a face to associate your marketing activities with, you can create more customized messaging and better identify with your target audience.

Some companies have even been known to keep jelly bean charts or simple images of their buyer personas in work areas so that they keep these people in mind. In terms of your value proposition, you should be trying to figure out what results your personas want to hear about, and not what your company can offer.

The main goal in developing buyer personas should be to uncover what results your potential customers are looking for. Remember that people don’t really buy your products or services; they buy results. In line with that thought, people buy for their own reasons and not for yours. Remember also that people hate to be sold, yet everyone likes to buy stuff.

Creating a visual representation of the character attributes and desired results that our potential customers have is important to keep us on course. It is so easy in the process of trying to sell something to lose sight of who we are marketing to and slip into a process of talking about ourselves. Doing so adds no real value in our messaging.

 

How do you develop buyer personas? Have they helped you target a market more effectively? Join in the conversation by leaving a comment below.

Inbound Marketing: Value Proposition Template

ValueConsumers are bombarded by messages from companies in numerous channels all throughout the day. From television to radio to the Internet and now their cell phones and other mobile devices, people see all kinds of marketing and sales-related messaging coming at them. Many of these messages are value propositions or messages that promise some sort of result from a company and a promise that we can experience some kind of benefit. We have a template for writing a value proposition, but before we look at that, let’s explore some of the other elements you will need in order to write an effective proposition.

Develop Buyer Personas

A buyer persona is a fictional character that represents a member of your target market and that has real character attributes associated with them. Buyer personas are a great way to divide your market up into groups that are easier to understand and design messaging for. Data for how to assign character attributes to a fictional buyer persona could come from anywhere. You could look for information about your target customer in the following areas:

  • Databases that you or your company maintain about transactions (CRMs)
  • Market research data you have conducted
  • Metrics from social media accounts (Facebook insights)
  • Surveys of your current customers or lists you have purchased or built
Buyer Persona

Charles is 27. He’s single and has acquired a master’s degree in business administration. He is an entrepreneur and has started a handful of successful businesses already.
He craves a good work-life balance, and his largest challenge is finding a tool to help him manage his time.

Always keep your buyer personas handy because these are the people you will be writing your value proposition for. Think of the following elements when constructing your personas:

  • Who are your buyers?
  • What problem or pain do they have that your product/service will help solve?
  • What results are they looking for?
  • Why would they choose you to help them solve their problem?

Writing Your Value Propositions

Earlier, we mentioned that a value proposition should convey how a product or service can deliver results to a consumer. First, let’s take a look at what a value proposition is not:

A value proposition is not:

  • General information about a company’s products and services
  • Phrases or terms highlighting how great a company is in terms of technological advancements, innovative products, great customer service or similar attributes
  • Marketing language that is catchy or clever but that is not helpful or descriptive
  • Me-oriented or, in other words, language that only talks about the company, the company’s products or services or any other information related to the company

What is a value proposition, then?

  • A value proposition is a clear statement about the RESULTS a company, organization or individual can realize as an effect of using a product or service. That’s it.

The Value Proposition Template

If you’ve done any searching on this, you have found that there is tons of advice out there on how to write an effective value proposition. There isn’t really one good way to do this, and the way you pitch what you’re selling must necessarily depend on what it is that you have to offer. Below is a basic template that is very popular among the entrepreneur community. It provides a very good framework for building out your value proposition.

 

For  ____________ (Your target market or customer)

who ____________  (statement of the need or opportunity)

our (product/service name) is  ____________  (product category)

that (statement of result) ____________ .

 

To illustrate, let’s say you are selling book manufacturing services. Currently in this industry, publishers are feeling pain from electronic reading devices and (as a result) are printing more orders, but of small quantities of books. As a manufacturer of those books for publishers, you might fill in the template like this:

For [small to mid-size publishers in the adult trade market] (Your target market or customer)

Who [want to print small quantities of many different titles quickly to reduce inventory costs] (statement of the need or opportunity)

Our (product/service name) is [short-run, high quality digital printing] (product category)

That (statement of result) [eliminates obsolete inventory problems and increases speed to market].

You can have the best designs, the most well laid-out campaigns and even a really great product/service, but if your value proposition isn’t clear, people may not see the value in what you have to offer.

 

How do you write a value proposition? Do you know of any other good templates on the web for writing a value proposition? Join in the conversation by commenting below.

 

Are You Ready to Start Blogging?

We’ve spent a good bit of time discussing how to create a blog. By now, you know the importance of a good name, how to find a host and even how to optimize WordPress for blogging. Before we begin the fun stuff – figuring out how to get more eyes on your blog – it is important that we recap what we’ve done before before you actually start blogging. If nothing else, remember that blogging always relies on having a solid foundation. Working on the fundamentals is what will lead you to success every time.

Laying the FoundationLaying the Foundation

The foundational work of blogging is something that we have covered in-depth, but a refresher might be in order. Before you get down to work, take some time to:

  1. Come up with a great title
  2. Register your domain name
  3. Choose a host
  4. Install WordPress

Preparing the Space

We’ve already talked a fair bit about WordPress setup and configuration, but it’s still important to remember that this process is going to help to define your blog. Getting useful plug-ins is going to help to make your life as an editor and blogger easier, while also providing extra functionality to your users. Choosing between WordPress themes also can – and should – take a good bit of time, but it’s still an important part of the process. If books are judged by their covers, blogs are judged by their layout – so make sure that yours is as user-friendly as possible.

Creating a Plan of Action

If you have ever followed a great blog, you have noticed a certain type of flow in the content. Things might seem random at first, but those who look for patterns will see that everything really follows a pattern. The best blogs out there are planned down to the minutest of details, as this gives the individual running the blog a chance to really optimize his or her content and create a reader experience that far surpasses his or her competition. Your job as a blogger is to create a plan of action before you actually start blogging. For most, this comes in the form of a content calendar – a simple tool that tells you what you will post on each date. Others might want to set up schedules for other bloggers or create an overarching sort of theme for their blogs – whatever you choose, though, try to remember the importance of planning.

Bringing in the Readers

Bringing in the ReadersAll the planning in the world will bring you only to a spectacularly blank page, so you have to finish out the process by providing something that your readers are actually going to want – useful, evergreen content. I truly consider this to be the fun part of blogging, no matter if you are running your blog for personal or business reasons. Creating content allows you to engage with people who might live on the other side of the world, giving you a chance to connect with others that you might never meet. Creating great content also gives you a chance to really stretch your creative muscles. No matter if you are creating simple copy to inform others about your business or you a crafting a long-term story, you are going to engage in a marvelously creative process.

Great content alone is not enough. You also have to find a way to bring in new readers – and this is where inbound marketing becomes a necessity. We are going to spend a great deal of time talking about SEO and other forms of inbound marketing, because that’s how you get eyes on your blog. Growing your readership through careful inbound marketing is as much a part of the blogging process as crafting content, and it is certainly the process by which all of your other work is given a chance to really shine.

You have all the tools that you need to start blogging. Now all you have to do is use them. We are going to focus on how to grow your blog readership over the next few weeks, no matter if you are solo blogger working to expand his or her audience or a business looking to bring in new traffic. Running a successful blog can be a terrifically rewarding experience, and I’m going to make sure that you have the tools that you need to embrace that success.

 

Do you have any additional ideas related to getting your blog off to a great start? Let us know what you think by leaving a comment below.

95 Ways to Generate Social Media Content Ideas

You’ve probably heard that content is the lifeblood of your website, blog, and social feeds. While that’s certainly true, the real question is whether you’re capable of creating enough content to keep your channels alive with compelling updates that foster engagement.

Even the best social media managers experience idea droughts from time to time, so you shouldn’t kick yourself if the content well has run dry. To ensure you’re never short on new concepts for linkable and shareable assets again, we’ve listed 95 ways to generate social media content ideas when you’re in a bind.

social media content ideas

#1 – Define the key problems your target buyers face and then solve them in a series of Tweets or Facebook posts.

#2 – Use the Google AdWords tool to drill down into your keyword research results. You may surface some valuable social media content ideas you’d never thought of before.

#3 – Ask your online communities to submit their most pressing questions. Filter out the best ones and then use the answer to each as a new idea for a blog post you can share with your social media followers.

#4 – Capitalize on Twitter’s trending topics when you have something worthy to add to the conversation.

#5 – Monitor your LinkedIn Groups to determine what your peers currently find useful and interesting. Expand on that information with some unique insight of your own.

#6 – Create a weekly round up of must-read articles your community members shouldn’t miss.

#7 – Meet ups, conferences, and other industry events offer a great source of information. Share tips, advice, interesting news, facts, figures, and other data you gather.

#8 – Leverage your Facebook Insights data to uncover patterns of increased interaction. Figuring out which types of content garner the most engagement may trigger a few new ideas.

#9 – Review your case studies and search for creative ways to repurpose them for your social media channels. Perhaps you’re able to create several visual presentations rather than simply sharing a link to a text-intensive blog post or document.

#10 – If you’ve written an eBook, whitepaper, or guide, share some of your key pieces of advice in bite-size snippets along with a download link to the full document.

#11 – Sift through the latest industry-related books you’ve read to create reading lists you can publish to your feeds.

#12 – Get your key employees or colleagues involved by featuring them in weekly posts that introduce them to your followers. This is a great way to show prospects and buyers the unique personalities behind your brand.

#13 – Develop step-by-step tutorials and then map out creative ways you can share them through your networking channels. Whether you use a series of images, video, or text posts, you may be able to string each tutorial out over the span of several days.

#14 – Search Google News to find targeted news listings based on your area of expertise. You can then use the information you find to update your followers on the latest changes and happenings in the industry.

online newspapers and magazines

Online newspaper and magazine generators allow you to curate timely content for social media followers in a matter of minutes.

#15 – Sites like Flipboard and Paper.li allow you to create your own online magazines or newspapers in minutes. Fill yours with the things your audience cares about and then share it with them via your preferred platforms.

#16 – Question and Answer sites like Quora are goldmines for social media marketers on the lookout for topics where demand for information already exists. Simply search for questions on a relevant subject and then harvest them for your social media and blog marketing efforts.

#17 – Curate content using the top blogs in your industry and then repackage the information with your own valuable input.

#18 – Are there any new stats or research findings you can share? Plump up your post with a little background info on why the research was conducted, as well as the methods used.

#19 – If you have the budget, hire a freelance social media content and branding strategist. A professional will ask the right questions to help you develop powerful ideas your networks will love.

#20 – There’s a reason so many people get their best ideas in the shower. The white noise created by the rushing water improves concentration and stimulates creativity. Thanks to online white noise generators, you don’t have to get wet the next time you need a social media content idea.

#21 – Sometimes your audience needs reminders even if they’ve heard it all before. Recycle old content that’s still as relevant today as it was when you originally published it.

Social media video content#22 – Since most social media sites now allow users to watch video content directly in their feeds, rummage through Youtube, Vimeo, or Vine to find entertaining, informative, or interesting footage your community members might enjoy.

#23 – Speaking of video content, consider ways you can create original videos for your followers. Give them a virtual tour of your office or live event, show them new ways to use your product, or develop a collection of stop-motion instructional videos. Better yet, create a contest that requires fans to send in their own footage.

#24 – Conduct a 30-minute Q&A session through each of your social media profiles. Be sure to set it up when your audience engagement levels are generally high.

#25 – Use social media monitoring tools to tap into conversations. You’re certain to pick up a few things you can address in your own posts.

#26 – If you have a brand calendar, newsletter, or hidden content you believe your social media fans will appreciate, write a short snippet explaining the benefits of subscribing to your content and provide a relevant link.

#27 – Decide on a theme for each day of the week and then create social media content around those ideas. For example, an interior design firm might post a before and after picture of their latest project, adding #MakeoverMondays to their snippet.

#28 – Create themed albums on Facebook and upload any photos you capture at networking events, seminars, and company get-togethers. You can then share the albums or single images across your social media properties.

#29 – Think about things your followers aren’t privy to, but that may interest them. For example, several brands excel at posting fun and themed behind-the-scenes images on Pinterest and Instagram.

#30 – Repost your most engaging and successful pieces of content when appropriate. While networking platforms are a powerful tool, the lifespan of social content is incredibly short. There’s no reason you can’t share something more than once without being seen as a spammer.

#31 – Change your routine to stimulate a different way of thinking. Monotony can hinder your creativity so it might be time to shift your brain into a new gear.

create dialogue using social media tools#32 – Creating fresh content can be as easy as establishing and nurturing dialogue. Host a Google+ Hangout, Twitter chat, or Facebook chat to get the conversation going.

#33 – Collect information and stats around a specific topic and then turn the data into an interesting and visually appealing infographic.

#34 – Positive reviews, quotes, and mentions provide a great source of social proof for your brand. Reward advocates by posting a word of thanks to your stream when appropriate.

#35 – Find humorous content that speaks to your brand’s personality. A funny meme or gif can liven things up while providing you with a way to remain in front of your audience.

#36 – Look for thought-provoking or inspiring quotes. Your followers could do with a little encouragement occasionally.

#37 – When you require feedback, opinions, or information from your target market, polls are a great way to gather data while creating and publishing new content to your social feeds. You may not be able to create polls on Facebook anymore, but companies like Opinion Stage offer an alternative solution.

#38 – Tap into your collection of user-generated content for fresh ideas directly from your audience members.

#39 – Think about generating the type of content that serves to enhance your customer service. Whether you’re addressing complaints, answering questions, or providing advice, you’re shaping the perception of your brand while ensuring your stream remains active.

#40 – Use your social feeds to promote the causes your brand supports. Again, use this as an opportunity to influence the perception of your business in a positive way.

#41 – Publish a series of “image of the day” posts. If you want to make it intriguing, manipulate the image and ask your followers to guess what it is.

#42 – Keep track of company milestones and then be sure to create content that celebrates them across all of your networks.

#43 – Test your audience with a series of trivia questions.

top 10 on green chalkboard#44 – Put together top 10 lists based on topics that interest your prospects and customers. You might even consider posting top 10 moments of the week, month, or year at relevant intervals.

#45 – If it’s within your budget, leverage giveaways to boost your brand’s awareness with creative promotional posts.

#46 – Conduct an interview with an industry expert. Besides giving social media users an opportunity to follow along and add their own input as the interview happens, it also gives you fresh content for a new blog post. Make certain you promote the interview ahead of time.

#47 – Get your fans ready for the weekend with a custom Spotify playlist. Be sure to keep your brand’s reputation in mind when choosing your music selection.

#48 – If you have a graphic designer or illustrator on your team, think about creating a regular company comic strip depicting funny situations in which your customers or employees might find themselves. Alternatively, you can use it to provide serious commentary on common industry problems or changes.

#49 – Spark conversation by selecting two competing products or services, and then ask your fans which they prefer and why. This simple idea can be adapted to any industry. For example, travel agents can pit two destinations against each other.

#50 – When you’re struggling to generate social media content ideas, publish valuable tips and tricks relevant to your target audience.

#51 – Use social media monitoring tools to unearth shareable ideas and trending topics in real-time. These tools are excellent resources when you’re searching for content ideas in a pinch.

#52 – Think of ways to tie in pop culture with a popular topic in your industry. You’ll find this tactic is perfect for spicing up an otherwise dull subject. After all, who wouldn’t want to know what modern marketers can learn from Mad Men or what celebs can teach brands about online community building?

#53 – Use your social profiles to host an online reunion with followers, influencers, and other connections you may have attended an event with in the last few months. This is a great way to provide follow-up content, as well as establish common ground on which to build solid business relationships. Besides assigning a Twitter hashtag, consider developing a Facebook Page or microsite if the size of the online reunion warrants it.

#54 – Ask for help or input on appropriate issues. By showing a little vulnerability, you’re making yourself more relatable as a person and not just a business brand.

#55 – Jump on the debate bandwagon and have your say. Social media sites are rife with industry experts going head-to-head on various topics. Leverage their debates as a way for you to fill your feed with your own opinion on the matter.

#56 – Set up a brainstorming session with your team and focus solely on idea generation for social media content.

#57 – When you have some exciting news to share, run a series of entertaining countdown posts to build anticipation.

#58 – Write reviews for complementary products and services on sites like Yelp and then post the link to your feeds. If your audience sees you as a trusted source, your recommendation is just as powerful as if they were receiving it from a close friend.

#59 – Think about creating “a day in the life of” diary style Facebook posts. There may be interesting characters or jobs around the office you can use as inspiration.

#60 – Special holidays offer plenty of fodder for imaginative and themed pieces of social media content. Mark important dates on your social media editorial calendar and then be sure to post fun and relevant updates.

#61 – If you’re able to develop profiles of industry pioneers that won’t affect your business’s image as an innovator, then consider key people you can profile. You may even have a few of them in your own company.

#62 – Use Google’s predictive search feature to uncover related queries based on a particular keyword or phrase. This is a convenient way to gain content ideas that will also boost your social SEO efforts.

#63 – Explore hot searches, user behavior, and other patterns you can take advantage of with Google Trends. A topic doesn’t have to be trending on Twitter for it to be relevant to a particular community.

#64 – Start collecting content for an inspiration board. Don’t let an overflow of ideas now stop you from creating resources you may need to dig into later.

#65 – As far as online idea boards go, few sites can rival Pinterest. This platform can be a great resource for imagery and inspiration even if you don’t own an account.

Fill-in-the-blank social media content

According to Buddy Media, research shows that fill-in-the-blank posts were nine times more likely to receive comments than other types of posts in 2011. Although it’s two years later, they’re still highly effective for driving fan engagement.

#66Use various aspects of your product, service, or industry to develop fill-in-the-blank posts. If you’re savvy, you’ll create concepts that contribute to your market research efforts.

#67 – Slideshare presentations continue to be incredibly popular, so whether you’re sharing your own or someone else’s, you’re likely to be appreciated by your social media followers.

#68 – Get your team to develop an app related to your business offerings and then promote it to your community.

#69 – For that matter, share your favorite app of the week. It’s all about making the lives of your audience as convenient, easy, and entertaining as possible.

#70 – Ask your PPC manager for additional feedback regarding search queries and click data. Fully understanding what type of content attracts your prospects might conjure up an idea or two.

#71 – Thanks to targeting options on many social platforms, there’s an opportunity to provide additional pieces of content to certain segments of your market. Keep each segment in mind when searching for content ideas because there may be times when you’re able to capitalize on events taking place within certain locations.

#73 – Since we’re talking about market segments, give some thought to exclusive offers or content you can provide to each group. It may be as simple as offering an eBook aimed at individuals within a certain job position.

#74 – Social media users love contests, sweepstakes, and games that allow them to compete for a prize. Besides keeping your social channels active, this type of content generally spreads like wildfire across the net, building brand awareness and growing your community.

#75 – Think of ways you can make a prize or giveaway just as rewarding for you as it is for the winner. For example, you might send your audience on a treasure hunt, posting a series of clues over the course of a week. The more clues you post, the more content you create. To maintain interest, create a mixed bag of clues that include maps, riddles, images, quotes, and more.

#76 – There’s something about stress that can make the brain cloud over at the worst of times. If you’re not someone who thrives under pressure, take time to relax. When you’re able to calm yourself down and clear your mind of unwanted thoughts, you’ll open doors for creative thinking and logical thought processing.

#77 – Visit your favorite industry forums to gain a new perspective from individuals in the same field as you. A little back and forth banter is likely to shake loose a fresh idea.

#78 – Post a link to a relevant TED Talks video along with your own commentary. After all, TED speakers have ideas worth spreading.

#79 – Get out and explore your city. You can look at all the keyword data, trending topic information, and analytics in the world and still generate stale ideas. Sometimes you just need to invigorate your mind, body, and soul with fresh air and reality.

#80 – Ask your audience to help caption humorous photos. Not only is this a great way to keep your feed fresh, but it’s also great way to boost engagement.

#81 – Conduct the occasional observation session. There’s a chance you’ll find unique connections between the people or objects you’re watching and what your business does. These observations often make for interesting blog and social media content.

conversations that spark social media content ideas#82 – Engage in stimulating conversation with someone who may trigger a spark or two in that cranium of yours. We all have people who challenge us intellectually, so give yours a call and set up a coffee date.

#83 – You can often boost your creativity by simply looking at the creativity of others. While you should never steal ideas, assess what other brands—both in and out of your industry—are doing to harness the power of their social platforms.

#84 – Hijack viral content like memes and insert a brand message of your own. This can be a little risky, so make sure you choose the visual content and message carefully. Also, make certain you’re not violating any copyright laws.

#85 – While we’ve mainly focused on searching for questions to answer, you should also ask them. Don’t be afraid to publish tough ones that get your fans thinking about their values, morals, and life in general.

#86 – A huge part of your focus should be about telling your brand’s story. Whenever you’re gearing up for a product launch, emphasizing your brand’s mission, getting behind a cause, starting a new marketing initiative, or doing something amazing, create a storytelling concept board. You can then create and publish content to your social streams as the story unfolds, or once you have a clear idea of the process and outcome.

#87 – Social media marketing isn’t about telling your story alone. Once you’ve built solid relationships with clients, followers, and suppliers, ask to tell their stories, too. Not only will you be creating new social media content, but their anecdotes or narratives will also stand as a testimony to what your business can do.

#88 – Speculate on the future of your niche. In addition to showing brand followers that you’re not scared to make bold predictions based on your extensive knowledge and experience, thinking several years ahead could stimulate new ideas for social media content that’s never been done before.

#89 – Get to know the psychology behind creative thinking and then try different techniques that may work for you. Re-conceptualizing the problem, embracing absurdity, and imposing restrictions are just a few of the methods experts suggest. A few psychological exercises may just be the key to unleashing your internal idea-generator.

Social media content for brands#90 Start looking at your product or service in a completely different light. Oreo excels at showing off one of the world’s most beloved cookies in inventive ways. The company generates likes, shares, and comments by adding #OreoGooglyEyes to random objects, as well as demonstrating new ways to enjoy their product.

#91 – Get to the gym for a workout. Exercise boosts endorphins and increases blood flow to your brain. Besides benefiting from the physical exertion, you might find a happy high and improved mood releases a flood of social media content ideas.

#92 – Don’t forget audio. Too often we limit ourselves to what we see, forgetting that social media allows for audio content without visual elements. Start recording educational podcasts your audience can listen to directly from their feeds.

#93 – Set up Google Alerts to monitor what the search giant sees as being the most valuable and relevant content on a specific keyword. Whether you curate that content into a blog of your own, or simply advertise the link on social media, the news Google delivers right to your inbox can a fantastic source for new ideas.

#94 – Check out the blog comments on compelling posts. You’ll often find differing opinions or snippets of information you can leverage for your own content. You may even be able to spark a debate or discussion of your own if it’s particularly controversial.

#95 – Crowdsource ideas. Yep, it’s as simple as soliciting ideas from your online community or hiring a few freelancers to pitch some unique concepts.

The key is to keep the momentum going. If you’re like most brands, you can’t afford to fall off the social media grid—even if it’s only for a day or two. Hopefully, these suggestions for generating social media content ideas will make your job a little easier than it was before.

Are there any tools or methods you’d suggest for developing new social media content ideas? Add your strategies and tips to the conversation below.

SEO Trends for 2013 and Beyond

It’s fun to sit back from time to time and take a look at how things on the web are changing. Like the hardware we use every day, the software changes very quickly. As it relates to SEO, Google is leading the way in finding new strategies for delivering relevant content to its users. The following are some SEO trends for 2013 I’ve noticed, and where I think webmasters should be focusing their efforts.

Graphical representation of how strategy is an important trend for seo in 2013Long Term Strategies vs Short Term Tasks

When search first started becoming very popular, and even up until a few years ago, there were a handful of simple tactics that you could use to get a page to rank well in search. First it was jamming the right keywords on the page and then it was about having any kind of inbound link. Even recently, performing on-page tactics and submitting your site to WMT was a good start. I think in the near future, however, webmasters will have to rely on a holistic approach and a plan to deliver high quality content in order to show up on the radar.

This means more than just having long blog posts or interesting and well-designed web pages. I’m talking about in-depth, well researched and incredibly useful content of the caliber found on professional media company websites and mainstream channels. As Google seeks to use human signals as its ranking method, webmasters will have to work harder and longer to delight people.

Google Plus LogoSocial Signals (Google Plus)

Web site owners, brands and individuals that want to get found in search would do well to set up a profile on Google Plus and start being active on it. Google isn’t just a search company anymore, and many of their products are tied into it. When logged in, at least a few search results being shown to me are from people in my network who have interacted with content that is similar to what I’m looking for.

These are results that may not have otherwise shown up in search but they did because Google thinks if people I know thought something was relevant enough to interact with, I might too. If you aren’t active on Google Plus, you would do well to start, as it will greatly increase your visibility in search to people who may be logged into one or more of Google’s services.

A recent post from Moz  shows striking correlations between interaction with content on Google Plus and high rankings in search.

importance of backlinksMore Creative Linking

It used to be that creating a bunch of web 2.0 blogs, submitting URLs to bookmarking sites and creating business listings among other tactics were all that was needed for a sound linking strategy. With each new Google Algorithm update, these tactics are becoming less and less effective, if not obsolete. I think linking will remain a part of what search engines use to gauge the popularity of a website, but the links will be more closely scrutinized. Webmasters will have to come up with more creative ways to make inbound links so that their overall profile looks natural.

For example, guest posting will have to be much higher quality than just using a service or exchanging some links with passive acquaintances. For that strategy to work well, SEOs will have to develop actual business relationships with the people who they want linking to them and vise versa. I don’t think people will get penalized for doing less often, but it will definitely be a waste of time.

Greater Attention to Detail

I love the saying “the devil is in the details” because it’s so true. The smallest things that are overlooked tend to be the things that make problems in the future. There are webmaster videos being produced by Google talking about simple things like canonicalization, the rel=”nofollow” tag and when to use it, file extensions on images and pages and other small factors like that.

As professionals, we are always looking for the big thing that is going to produce results for clients. That one strategy where lead generation will explode or conversions will go through the roof.  It’s always a good idea to look for those things, but we can’t forget the basics. Forgetting a little thing here or there probably won’t matter much, but if webmasters are ignoring the details in total, their sites will suffer.

 

What SEO trends for 2013 do you see affecting your business and your marketing efforts as we approach the end of the year and move into 2014? Let us know by dropping a line or leaving a comment below.

How Can Webmasters Leverage Personalized Search?

Google Search HistorySince 2005, Google has taken steps to deliver search results based on other signals besides inbound links and keyword placement. Personalized search was rolled out back in 2005. It was designed to give people better results based on search results they found useful and based on historical searches, whether they were logged into a Google account or not. Although on the surface it seems like the feature locks out some potential for optimization, there are still some ways webmasters can leverage personalized search to their advantage.

Marketing in SERPs

The basic underlying idea of personalized search is that people are more likely to find results they’ve found useful in the past relevant the next time they use the same query. Assuming your page already ranks well, there is another reason someone clicked through to your website, and that’s usually what they saw in the content that Google choose to show to them in SERPs.

Writing Compelling Meta Descriptions and Titles

Meta descriptions and titles are typically the data that Google shows to users from a web page. Granted, they don’t have to show these things; however, most of the time they do. Sometimes these elements aren’t given the proper attention, or they are not configured at all. This is a big mistake. When configuring these, remember to:

  • Use sales language for your meta description; this is your one chance to market to a user
  • Front-load your primary keyword phrase (at the beginning of titles and meta descriptions). People see these bolded in SERPs and are more likely to click when they see them
  • Remember to use proper length (around 72 characters for titles and 160 for meta descriptions)

A meta Description for the content authority

These are all very basic SEO concepts, but the devil is in the details. Think of the last time you searched for something online. Did you click because something was the first result, or did you click because you thought you saw what you were looking for?

Rich Snippets and Structured Data

Making it easy for Google to understand the data on your page is another step webmasters can take to ensure that content they want appearing in SERPs does. Using the microdata format and a little knowledge of HTML, you can markup content in your web pages so it is much more easily seen and understood by Googlebot.

Microdata

Microdata is the recommended method for marking up content, but webmasters can also use other methods. For every page of your website, you should apply markup code to data you want showing up for the target keyword phrase. This could be address information, a person’s name, a business name or a product description. You can learn more about the Microdata markup format here.

Examples of Rich Snippets

Focus on Quality Content

Quality contentPerhaps the best method that a website owner has for leveraging personalized search is the caliber of his or her content. Personalized search works best for sites where people want to come back again and again. These might be pages that work well as references, tutorial information, instructions or other useful formats.

Your content should be well-researched and authoritative. It should be something that people want to share and want to bookmark. It should be highly useful, unique and one of the best resources on the web for its particular niche. This is the content that does well in personalized search, and you may find that it shows up frequently at the top of search results for people, even if it isn’t optimized for search.

When personalized search first debuted, it may have scared a lot of SEOs because it would be that much more complicated to make sure content ranked well. It wasn’t just about placing elements in the right spots anymore, but about impressing users; a task that’s much more difficult and elusive. There are some things you can do, though, to make sure you put your best foot forward. Write compelling language in content that shows up in SERPs, make sure Google can easily see that content and focus on writing for real people and not for search engines.

 

Have you been able to leverage personalized search? How has it impacted your website. Let us know by dropping us a line or leaving a comment below.

How to Start a Blog – Domain Names, Content Creation and More

Are you wondering how to start a blog? Well, it’s a lot like building a house. You have to build it from the ground up, following each step in turn. We’re going to discuss the basics of building that house today – clearing space, building a foundation, putting up the frame and working on the finishing touches on the space that will house your content.

 

Build a House

Finding a Place to Live: Domain Name 101

 

If you are starting a blog, you have to begin with a domain name. A domain name, for those who are unfamiliar with online jargon, is your website address – that lovely string of text up top that starts with http://. This is your storefront, your address and your front door all rolled into one. This is the address that brings people to your blog, so it has to make a great first impression.

Purchasing your domain name is the easy part – services like GoDaddy will usually sell you a domain name for a dollar a year. The hard part is figuring out the name that you want to use. If you read the last article in the series, you already know that you need a unique blog name to stay competitive. Your domain name needs to match that blog name as closely as possible – your would-be readers are going to assume that the two names are the same, and thus might forget any additional words added on to the title.

 

The Foundation: Hosting – Free or Paid?

 

If you’re just learning how to start a blog, It might surprise you to find out that getting a domain name is not all there is to creating a place for your site online. While that lovely .com (or .org, or .biz or…well, you get the point) address gives you a place to park your site, it does not actually host the bones of the website for you. Your next step is to find an appropriate hosting service for your site, which is going to require you to make your first major choice as a blogger – do you go with a free host, or put money down for a paid service? It might be easier to compare the two side by side when you want to make a choice.

Free
Paid

Example
Web Address
www.yoursite.tumblr.com
www.yoursite.com
Cost
Nothing
Around $4/mon. for the first year
Advertising
Ads placed on your site by the host
Ads that make you money on site
Level of Control
Site has to conform to host TOS
Site has to conform to host TOS, though less strict
Provided Tools
Host provides basic tools for free
Host provides cPanel
Support
Basic
Depends on choice of hosting service

As you can tell from the chart, the free option looks like a good choice for a beginner – it doesn’t cost anything, and it provides a lot of the basics. However, it’s a far less professional product. Everything from the on-site advertising to the URL screams “amateur,” which is not a great look for any site. You can split the difference, of course – you can always have a blog hosted by a free site like Tumblr, but have it redirected to your own URL. This is a great way to test the waters if you are unsure about a personal blog, but might still put you in hot water if you are expecting something that looks professional.

 

The Frame: Basic Setup

 

The Frame Basic Setup

There’s no doubt that there are a ton of hosting tools out there, each with their own strengths and weaknesses, but one statistic really stands out for bloggers:

48% of the Top 100 blogs use WordPress.

That’s just shy of half, and those are people who know what they are doing. Don’t try to reinvent the wheel on this one, just go with what already works. We’ll discuss WordPress in depth later on, but the real point here is to remember to get your content management system set up as early on as possible. As a word to those of your who chose the free hosting option – you might be able to skip this step. One of the easiest parts about using a free host is its suite of easy-to-use tools. These tools aren’t always the best, but they will let you get your content up quickly. If you are still a bit nervous about posting your own content to the web, a free CMS can be your training wheels.

 

The Finishing Touches: Creating Content

 

Create Content

Content is key. Your blog needs it, and it needs it regularly. Fortunately, creating content is something that you can start doing even if you have never touched a computer before. You just have to make sure that the content is good.

Good content is…

  • Always relevant (evergreen)
  • Easy to read
  • Useful – either for expanding knowledge or entertainment
  • Original

We’ll talk about content more as we continue the series, but it is something you need to start thinking about today. Content is the soul of blogging, so go ahead and get your imagination moving. Your particular niche is full of potential topics, and you might be that breakout star who sees things with a unique perspective. Take some time to enjoy this part, because it really is quite fun. Your blog is going to be a great platform for your ideas, so get ready to embrace the steps necessary to make it shine.

 

Learning how to start a blog is easy with the right advice. What are your thoughts about the tips we’ve listed here? Do you have any other pieces of wisdom to share? Let us know by leaving a comment below.

Interpreting Funnels in Google Analytics

Funnels are visual representations of the path visitors took through a process on your website. Instead of looking at text, you can see images of exactly what happened on a visitor’s path to completing a goal that you’ve configured in your Analytics account.

Finding Funnel Reports in Google Analytics

You must have a goal configured, running and collecting data in order to see that data in a funnel visualization. Funnel reports can be found under Conversions -> Goals -> Funnel Visualization. You can also view multi channel funnels under conversions.

Configuring Funnel Reports in Google Analytics

At the time of this writing, the detail of your funnel report and how it will look is directly related to goals in Google Analytics and how you configure them. With the old interface, this was sort of ambiguous, but Google’s new interface has a button that you can click to turn on the funnel option.

turning on funnels in google analytics

Once this has been enabled, you can enter steps for your goal. The data that you enter into the steps of your goal (i.e. name and URL) is that which will appear on funnel visualization reports. Note that if you name your step something and later on in the report you don’t like the way it looks, you can always rename it, and it will dynamically change on the report itself.

Be careful which steps you label as required. Labeling a step as required means that it has to happen or Analytics will not record the goal, and it will not be included in your funnel visualization report.

Interpreting Funnel Reports in Google Analytics

Funnel visualizations show you a lot of data in a condensed image. Along with the conversion rate and overall visitors that completed the funnel, you can also see:

  • The number of visitors who entered the funnel on the page where the funnel began
  • The other pages that a visitor came from to start the funnel
  • The number of visitors that did not complete the funnel
  • The point in the funnel where various visitors may have abandoned the process
  • Segmented groups of visitors and the pages they traveled to after abandoning the funnel
  • The number of visitors who successfully completed the funnel

You can view all of this data for either a specified time period or for the entire duration of time that the goal has been active and running.

Funnel Visualization

Useful Data

Funnel Abandonment

Buildings symbolizing abandoned funnels in google analyticsGoals and funnel visualizations are so useful in Google Analytics because they give us a way to see if our online processes are working or not. Every funnel has some kind of abandonment rate, whether it’s a transaction funnel, a signup process, an account-creation process, etc.  At some point, a visitor either decides they don’t want to or cannot complete a process, or there is some technical issue that does not let them complete the process.

With a funnel visualization, you can see areas of concern in multi step funnels. For instance, maybe a lot of people abandon the funnel at the very beginning of the process. Common reasons for this are long or ambiguous forms, confusing checkout processes, bad page design or slow load times, among other issues.

Perhaps you see that visitors are abandoning ecommerce transactions just before they are complete. Maybe your process is seamless, but visitors don’t feel your site is secure. Or maybe there is some technical issue with that part of the process.

Looking at pages that visitors diverted to after abandoning a funnel can also give you some clues as to what they are doing. Maybe you see visitors going to a help page or an FAQ page from the funnel; signs that they could be looking for guidance on how to complete a process.

Referring Pages

You can also see the pages that sent traffic to the start of your funnel process in your funnel visualization report. This data can indicate that calls to action on certain pages, internal ads, links or other sources are doing their job. It could also indicate that one page is better suited to help assist in completing conversions for whatever reason.

Goals and funnel visualizations give you data that you wouldn’t otherwise have and make it easy to read. They help you identify problems with processes on your website, and they also give you visual proof of techniques that might be working out well.

 

Do you use funnels in Google Analytics? In what ways do they help you measure conversions? Let us know by dropping a line or leaving a comment below.

Are You Starting a Blog? Begin Here

Congratulations, you’re ready to start a blog! Like millions of others before, you have something to say and you know the perfect platform for saying it. While the process is certainly exciting, there are steps that you need to follow to make sure that you are successful. Below are six steps to starting a blog – each of which we will cover in-depth over the next few weeks. These simple actions can serve to elevate your blog above the masses, giving you a real chance to shine online.

 

Step One: Choosing Your Content and Title

 

Choosing Your Content and TitleYour blog is going to help define who you are in the virtual realm, so you should start by figuring out what you have to offer the world at large. If you look at the really successful blogs out there – blogs like Business Insider or Techcrunch – it becomes apparent that a major success factor is how a blog fills a particular niche. Whether you are looking to create a blog to get your voice heard or to help push your brand identity forward, your first goal has to be to figure out exactly what you want to say.

Your blog’s topic should be expressed in the title. Take a few moments to look at some of the biggest blogs on the planet – they definitely have names that stand out. Gawker, for example, is short and catchy while still giving you a hint that the site is a gossip blog. On the other end of the spectrum is The Huffington Post – a simple name that speaks both to the site’s ownership and to its legitimacy. At the same time, you should remember that your blog’s title is also likely going to be your domain name, so make sure that you pick out something that is a) not already taken and b) relatively easy for users to remember. The perfect title can guide your content, and it is a great way to get off on the right foot with readers.

 

Step Two: Hosting and Domain Names

 

Hosting and Domain NameOnce you have your blog titled and you’ve figured out what it is about, you have to decide on how you want it hosted. Having a site hosted really comes down to a question of how much flexibility you want. If you are creating a blog for your friends, you can always consider free hosting – sites like Tumblr and Blogger can easily accommodate a small blog, though it will face stiff competition from the other blogs on the service. If you want your blog to stand out, though, you’ll probably want to take the time to look into a paid hosting service like Bluehost.

Your domain name is somewhat like the storefront of a business – a sign that tells passersby about what is going on inside. The vast majority of blogs choose a domain name that is identical to the blog title, so you certainly want to spend a bit of time making sure that your blog’s title is not currently claimed. A popular domain option like GoDaddy is your best bet for finding a domain name quickly and easily, and most of the major registering services will cut you a deal for the first year or two of your site’s existence.

 

Step Three: Content Management

 

Once you’ve chosen your hosting platform, you can move on to your content management system. For those not already in the know, the content management system is the system by which you actually deliver and update your blog content. While there are certainly several good alternatives out there, WordPress is still the go-to method of updating content on the web, especially if you’re in the initial stages of starting a blog. Content ManagementNot only is it easier for a novice to install the program and use it to create a new blog, but the wealth of information out there on WordPress will make any management tasks far easier for any user. Without a good content management system, your blog is going to be forgotten as a lonely text file – so this step is a very real necessity.

 

Step Four: Choosing a Theme

 

Looks matter, especially online. Your blog needs to be clean and easy to read, while still providing something substantially more than a blank page. WordPress offers hundreds of great themes, but it might be wise for you to try to stick with something relatively simple that still fits with the content of your blog.

A good theme will influence everything from readability to content layout, so choose wisely. For those who are looking for something that is absolutely minimal, a theme like Manifest is a great way to stick to the basics. If you want something with a little more flair, a theme like Magazeen or The Morning After can help you to vary your layouts without sacrificing simplicity. No matter what, though, your theme has to work with your content instead of against it.

 

Step Five: Create Content

 

Create ContentCreating content is likely the first thing you thought about when the idea for a blog struck you. Once you dedicate the resources to getting your blog hosted and running, it’s time to create content that people want to consume. Your content can fall anywhere from clever observations to how-to videos, but the content absolutely must help you to bring in readers.

While your readers might think your content is randomly posted, you must rely on careful planning to figure out what makes the front page. Your content needs to have eye-catching titles, must be visually interesting and it has to serve a purpose. Every word needs to help you bring in new visitors and keep current visitors on your page. Your content plan should be in-depth enough to allow you to plan strategies for not only the subjects you wish to cover, but also the images and videos that can make those posts pop.

Also (and this is important, folks), you need to set aside a minute to take a deep breath during this part. This is the fun part of blogging! Even if you are putting together this blog solely for marketing reasons, there’s no reason to branch out and include a little bit of life and personality in your content. Not only will this make life easier on the individual updating the blog, but it is going to make the blog more relatable for the average reader.

 

Step Six: Market Your Blog

 

Finally, you have to find ways to bring in more readers. Many of the same SEO techniques that you might use on a business or personal website can be adapted to your website. Using relevant images, careful use of keywords and other SEO mainstays can help you to keep your blog in the public eye.Market Your Blog

At the same time, you have to work as your own PR department. Open up the social media floodgates to put you in contact with readers when you can, and make sure that you are willing to use resources like Pinterest or Twitter to add more to your content. You should also spend some time networking with other bloggers to help you gain exposure and to build valuable backlinks. Consistent promotion is the key to marketing a blog, and thus the key to running a successful blog.

As you can see, starting a blog is really a matter of following six simple steps. Each one of those steps has its own pitfalls and problems, of course, and each can deliver its own challenges. Over the next several weeks, we are going to address each of these steps in-depth. By the time we’re done, you’ll have all the tools that you need not only to create a blog, but to stand out in a constantly growing market. You might not believe it today, but getting these six steps down is going to be the key to creating a blog that you can be proud of in the future.

 

Have you been thinking of starting a blog? What are some of your concerns as you prepare yourself for blogging success? Let us know what you think by contacting us or by leaving a comment below.