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Jul

4

2017

How to Write Faster: 12 Unusual Hacks [Infographic]

Published by in category Blogging, Daily | Comments are closed

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Two weeks ago, when I sat down to write my first blog post at HubSpot, I was determined to make it shine. Perfection was the only option.

So I filtered each word through dozens of thesaurus searches, selecting only the most dazzling ones for my article. 

Six hours later, my blog post was gleaming. I felt great about it. But before I could close my laptop and pack up, a number at the bottom of my document jolted me sideways.

I had written 300 words. That’s only 50 words an hour.

I realized I barely bit into my post. How was I going to finish it on time?

I’m sure you’ve experienced similar days. Writing is hard. It takes time to craft compelling content. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to write faster.

This infographic from Enchanting Marketing will help you speed up your writing with 12 hacks you can use today, like the pomodoro technique or Ernest Hemingway’s “bridge to tomorrow”.

Henneke Duistermaat, who created this infographic, read countless productivity and writing books to learn these hacks, and she’s mastered each one to slash hours off the time spent on her own blog posts.

So if you want to learn the best habits and mindsets to adopt for cranking out quality copy, then check out the following infographic.

Happy (fast) writing!

12 Unusual Productivity Hacks: How to Write Faster

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Jun

15

2017

Does Influencer Marketing Actually Work? A HubSpot Blog Experiment

Published by in category Blogging, Daily, Social Media | Comments are closed

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I ran my first experiment in influencer marketing in middle school. My mom had bought me a pair of practical (her words) but hideous (my words) sneakers — and insisted I wear them to gym class.

Believing — maybe rightfully — that my reputation hinged on having cool footwear, I convinced my mom to buy a second pair as a gift for my friend Kelly’s birthday. Kelly was the coolest girl in sixth grade. Everything she did turned into a trend.

Kelly wore her sneakers to gym, probably at behest of her mom. Next thing I knew, everyone was rocking my ugly shoes. I was trendy, not lame. The experiment was a total success.

I didn’t think about influencer marketing again until I joined HubSpot. On the blog team, we’re always looking for ways to scale traffic — which gets continually harder as your audience grows. We’ve already captured much of the “low-hanging fruit.” Partnering with influencers could help us reach new readers while bringing our current ones fresh insights and promoting worthy thought leaders. Win-win-win.

When I started experimenting with influencer marketing strategies for the HubSpot Sales Blog seven months ago, I was operating under a few key assumptions:

  1. If one influencer is good, 23 is better.
  2. A huge name on a standard quality blog post is better than an unknown name on a great quality post.
  3. Partnering with influencers is an efficient and scalable way to grow traffic.

Turns out, those assumptions were mostly — even completely — false.

Experiment #1: Is Influencer Marketing a Silver Bullet?

Let’s go back to November 2016, when I set out to create a blog post that received 10,000 views or more in its first 30 days.

For context, average views per Sales Blog post for November was 3,180.

I decided to create an influencer round-up (a type of post gathers quotes from multiple influencers on a single theme or topic). Harnessing the reach of some of the biggest names in sales through their social shares would surely push the post over the 10K line.

Since there are relatively few sales influencers, and their expertise is pretty varied, I chose a broad theme for the round-up post: How to Have Your Best Sales Year Yet. Each month received its own section and covered a different aspect of selling, from qualifying to giving demos.

Then it was time to get the influencers on board. First, I identified 30 sales experts and thought leaders, and wrote a personalized email to each one.

Twenty-three influencers agreed to participate. That’s approximately 77% of the 30 I approached — a great response rate that was likely bolstered by the personalized emails.

Next, I wrote custom questions for each influencer based on their area of expertise. I collected their interview answers for the post through a combination of phone and email interviews. I also asked each influencer to commit to promoting the post on LinkedIn and Facebook, as well as their email newsletter if they had one.

After the post went live, I created custom tracking URLs for each influencer to use for their share(s). This step allowed me to see exactly how much traffic every individual was responsible for. I also created a custom image for social media each influencer with a quote from their interview:

influencer-experiment.png

From start to finish, the entire post took me roughly 18 hours. A standard, non-influencer post takes me 45 minutes to an hour. That’s a big difference in time.

The Results:

The post ended up getting around 9,100 views in the first 30 days. The influencers were responsible for 4,143 of those views — each sharing their link on Facebook and Twitter within three days of the launch date, with several sharing the link on LinkedIn as well.

Sounds like our influencer strategy worked, right? Well, not quite.

When I dug deeper, I discovered the influencer traffic wasn’t distributed evenly. In fact, one person was responsible for 77% of all influencer traffic.

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Some influencers drove less than 20 views each.

These results killed my first assumption: If one influencer is good, 23 is better.

Experiment #2: Is Targeted Influencer Marketing a Silver Bullet?

With this in mind, I had two goals for the next post in my influencer marketing experiment:

  • Feature as many “heavy hitters” as possible.
  • Feature the influencers’ products — giving them a clear incentive to promote the piece beyond being quoted as a thought leader.

I chose The 20 Most Highly-Rated Sales Books of All Time as the theme, since it would enable me to satisfy both criteria. I sent an email to each author with a custom URL and a polite request for them to share it.

The Results:

All in all, the influencers drove around 5,700 views. Guess who was responsible for 60% of those views? The same influencer who was responsible for 77% of the traffic for the first post.

It’s not surprising this influencer is such a reliable source of traffic. He has more than 1.7 million Facebook fans. A mere 0.002% of them clicked on the link to the HubSpot Sales Blog.

What is surprising is that the other influencers are driving such little traffic. It takes roughly the same amount of time to get a quote from the other influencers as this superstar one, but the results are completely disproportional.

Experiment #3: Looking for a Scalable Solution

Is the solution to concentrate solely on massive influencers? Unfortunately, there aren’t enough out there in the sales space.

What if we skipped the time-consuming process of picking a theme, finding experts, reaching out to them, developing questions, transcribing and editing their answers, and putting everything together into a post? What if I started with content that already existed, cutting out the creation process entirely?

I started handpicking influencers based on their network size and asking to publish their original content and/or repurpose some of their existing content — along with a social share, of course.

This strategy requires much less time. Each post would receive fewer page views, but I’d be able to produce more in the same amount of time — meaning we’d drive more overall traffic.

It’s also great for the influencers. They’ve already done the hard work of content creation; now they can sit back and enjoy its amplification. We send their posts out to our 50,000-plus email subscribers and give them the option of adding in-line links and a CTA to their website or virtual offers.

I started this experiment with an excerpt of a book from a well-known author, who has a sizable audience.

The Results:

The post got 2,143 views — and 1,200 of those came from the HubSpot Sales Blog email subscribers. Because the author didn’t use the tracking URL I sent her, I can’t say definitively how many views her Facebook and LinkedIn posts generated, although it’s likely around 300. Not that impressive.

We see similar results whenever we publish posts for “the name” versus the content. If the writing isn’t relevant, insightful, or helpful, it doesn’t seem to matter who’s got the byline — the post tends to strike out.

There goes my second assumption: A huge name on a standard quality blog post is better than an unknown name on a great quality post.

Experiment #4: Content First, Influencer Second

With that in mind, I decided to focus on content first, influencer second. I looked for sales experts with unique perspectives and ideas and largely ignored the size of their audience.

A sales leader I found on LinkedIn is a perfect example. He’s not a recognizable name, but he’s built a solid following (almost 10,000 followers) by consistently posting entertaining, helpful articles on LinkedIn.

His posts we’ve published get an average of 4,600 views.

Tom Niesen, CEO of Acuity Training, belongs in this category as well. He wrote a post about upfront contracts that generated roughly 6,000 views before Sandler Training shared it on social and drove 1,000 more.

These partnerships might not create one massive traffic spike, but they’re lightweight for me to manage, generate content I’d be happy to share with our readers no matter who wrote it, and are a scalable way to work with influencers to produce content that consistently performs above average.

My third assumption: Partnering with influencers is an efficient and scalable way to grow traffic — still true, if it’s the right influencer.

3 Influencer Marketing Takeaways

It turns out influencer marketing has gotten a bit more complex since middle school. After running these four experiments, here are my three main takeaways.

1) If you’re trying to drive traffic, use your time and energy to get one major influencer on board rather than five to 10 mid-level ones.

An influencer’s impact depends on both their audience size and engagement — you can get similar results from an influencer with tons of followers and low engagement and one with a medium following but crazy-high engagement.

I recommend looking at the influencer’s average Facebook post performance. If they’re receiving 600-1000+ reactions and 500+ shares on any given post, they’re probably a major influencer. Validate this by giving them a dedicated tracking URL to share and seeing how much traffic they drive.

2) That being said, quality still matters.

Weak content rarely performs well even with a “big name.”

When evaluating content for the Sales Blog, I ask myself these questions:

  • Are the ideas relevant?
  • Have we covered this material in other posts?
  • Does the author give enough explanation, detail, and instruction that the reader can immediately apply the concepts?
  • If they make a controversial argument, do they sufficiently back it up with research?
  • Is the post engaging from beginning to end?

If the answers aren’t all “yes,” then I’ll ask the author to edit the piece.

3) Prioritizing content leads to posts that get traffic on their own merits.

I’m proud of our readers. They’re not star-struck — if a post is great, they read it and share it, regardless of the byline.

Ultimately, our best “hack” for growing traffic? Publishing great content. That’s an assumption I’m happy to operate under.

How does your content team approach influencer marketing? Let us know in the comments.

Intro to Lead Gen

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Jun

2

2017

The Anatomy of a Perfect Blog Post

Published by in category Blogging, Content Marketing, Daily, featured-1 | Comments are closed

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Even though we all are crunched for time, spouting off a mediocre blog post for the sake of hitting a deadline isn’t worth it. Considering our audiences have access to countless other articles, it’s unlikely that they’d settle for a half-baked attempt.

New Call-to-action

We get it, though: It can be difficult to keep track of all the right blog components when you’ve got a full plate of projects. There’s a lot to remember when crafting a solid blog post — which means there’s also a lot to forget.

To make sure nothing slips through the cracks and every one of your blog posts is both comprehensive and useful to your readers, we’ve created a rundown of everything you need to remember when you start writing. Bookmark this blog post, and make sure you’ve completed this checklist the next time you press “publish.”

How to Write a Perfect Blog Post

1) Headline

Every great blog post starts with a headline that grabs the reader’s attention, and compels them to click and keep reading to learn more. Internet readers have very short attention spans — around eight seconds in length — and the headline is one of the critical first elements that help readers decide if they want to click and stay on your site. In fact, 60% of readers don’t read past the headline, which presents a big opportunity. Here’s how to write a great headline:

Brainstorm a Working Title

Start with a working title in mind and brainstorm how to make the angle as interesting as possible. This is the phase of blogging where you start with a general topic and narrow down exactly what you want to write about that topic.

For example, if I want to write about the topic of “blogging,” I need to come up with a more specific working title first. And those working titles depend on the format of my blog post. Whether you’re writing a listicle, an explainer article, or a how-to guide, brainstorm a few titles to guide your research. Here are a few ideas:

  • The Guide to Business Blogging
  • How to Get Started with Blogging
  • 10 B2B Blogging Strategies We Love (and Why)

Once you have an angle you want to pursue, it’s time for keyword research.

Conduct Keyword Research

Keyword research will help you create a headline that will perform well on search engine results pages (SERPs). Your headline is one of many factors Google considers when ranking results on SERPs, and an optimized title will help people find the information they need more easily.

Tools like Google’s Keyword Planner, SEMrush, and HubSpot’s keywords tool can help you determine exactly which terms people are searching for, and which will be easier or more difficult for your new blog post to rank for.

“Blogging” is a broad search term, and when I dropped it into SEMrush, more than 75,000 keyword results were returned. We recommend targeting long-tail keywords that are more specific to the exact audience you’re targeting — which you can learn more about by creating buyer personas.

When I searched for “business blogging,” on the other hand, I found keywords with lower search volume, but would be more specifically targeted to the audience I’m trying to reach.

Once you’ve nailed the keyword you’re targeting, you can create your final title, as well as your headers (more on that later). For the purposes of this example, I chose, “The Definitive Guide to Business Blogging.”

Craft a Title

When it comes to the art of the perfect blog post, we’ve done some analysis and looked at how our own titles have performed. Here are the consistent principles we found:

  • The ideal blog post title length is 60 characters.
  • Headlines between 8 and 12 words are shared most often on Twitter.
  • Headlines between 12 and 14 words are liked most often on Facebook.

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We also found that headlines ending with a bracketed clarification — for example, “The Definitive Guide to Business Blogging [New Data]” — performed 38% better than titles without that clarification.

If you’re having trouble trimming down the length of a title, run it through SEOmofo and Twitter to see how the title will appear on SERPs and when it’s shared on social media.

2) Meta Description

The meta description doesn’t live on your blog post — it lives somewhere different that’s just as important.

The meta description refers to the HTML attribute that explains the contents of a given web page. Basically, it’s a short description you see on a SERP to “preview” what the page is about. Check it out below:

business blogging serp.png

The headline, URL, and meta description work together to convince searchers to click on a link to read the entire blog post, so you’ll want to put thought into what to write for this piece of your blog post, too.

In our analysis, we found the ideal meta description length is under 155 characters.

3) Featured Image

Featured images usually sit at the top of a blog post and are another element to draw readers in to learn more. The image should reflect what the story is about, intrigue readers, or provoke them. It shouldn’t be too literal or obvious, and it can simply be aesthetically pleasing, too.

Here’s an example of one of our featured images. It features a mobile phone and a bright yellow color — fitting, considering I was writing about Snapchat:

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Make sure you choose featured images that you’re legally able to edit and distribute. Here are some of our suggestions:

4) Introduction

The introduction needs to quickly hook your reader and convince her to read the rest of your blog post. It also has to let the reader know what your post is about, so she knows what she’s getting. Nobody likes clickbait, so you want to make sure your post is about what the headline says it is.

Whether your approach is humor, interesting and surprising facts, or asking a question, find a way to make the first lines of your blog posts as attention-grabbing as possible. Write an introduction that would make you want to keep reading an article — a quick few paragraphs to draw the reader in and let him know what he’s about to read.

Here’s an introduction my colleague, HubSpot Staff Writer Aja Frost, wrote that does this effectively:

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Frost uses a cliffhanger approach here — and now I want to read more to learn about how hard it is to be an entrepreneur. For more introduction inspiration outside of HubSpot Blogs, I recommend reading posts on Medium and Buffer.

5) Sub-Headers

Sub-headers are another on-page SEO element that helps your blog post to rank in Google Search. Sub-headers organize and break up your blog post into different sections to signal to Google (and your reader) what the post will cover.

Sub-headers should be written with H2 tags or smaller — never H1 tags, which signal a title. Use sub-headers to split up sections of your blog post — making sure to integrate the keywords you’re using this post to target.

In this particular post, I’m targeting the keywords “perfect blog post,” which I’ve used in my title and the first sub-header.

6) Body 

The meat of your blog post — separated by various sub-headers, of course — is where your readers will undoubtedly derive the most value. In our analysis, the ideal blog post length is roughly 2,100 words, but that will vary depending on your topic. Medium found that posts that took seven minutes to read earned the most engagement and attention, and serpIQ found that most of the top-10 Google results are between 2,032 and 2,416 words.

7) Data

Whenever it’s possible to use data and numbers, do so. Numbers written as numerals (23) instead of words (twenty-three) have been shown to attract reader attention when they quickly scan what they’re reading online. Additionally, numbers represent facts — which are unimpeachable and most trusted by your readers.

If you’re using numbers or data in your blog post, add [Data] or [Research] to your headline for additional impact, as we discussed earlier in the post.

8) Multimedia Elements

We’ve told you a few times that your reader is having trouble staying focused, so wherever it’s possible to use multimedia content to break up the blog post and re-engage your reader, add images, videos, audio recordings, and social media posts. Changing up the format of your blog post will provide additional value to your reader while making sure their eyes are focused on what they’re reading and seeing.

 

This pic sums up our #Mondaymood. What’s yours? 🗒🖊☕️

A post shared by HubSpot (@hubspot) on Mar 27, 2017 at 5:12am PDT

Works, huh? 

9) Conclusion

When you’re ready to wrap up and sign off, make sure to let your reader know the article is closing. Your conclusion doesn’t need to be lengthy, but it should serve to recap the blog post the reader just finished and provide more resources and guidance, if wanted. More on that next.

10) Call to Action

Finish your conclusion with a meaningful call to action (CTA) for your reader — whether it’s advice, a content offer, or a link to another related blog post. Use the last lines of your post to leave the reader feeling like he or she learned something from you — and like there’s even more to learn from you, creating the desire to click a link or CTA image and read more.

For more ideas on how to write a killer blog post, learn from our analysis of 175,000 B2B and B2C blog posts.

What’s your go-to blueprint for a blog post? Share with us in the comments below.

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Apr

26

2017

How We Grew Our Organic Traffic by 43% Without Publishing a Single New Blog Post

Published by in category Blogging, Daily, SEO | Comments are closed

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Today I’m going to show you how we boosted our organic traffic by 43% over a 3 month period.

The best part is, we did it without publishing any new content, spending any more money on marketing or adding any additional resources to our team.

We call the strategy, The Mission Week, and I will tell you exactly how we do it.

But First, a Little Story …

I am the founder of small business-focused job board called Proven.

In October of 2015, we made the difficult decision to completely forgo building a sales team and focus all our efforts instead on acquiring customers via content marketing and SEO.

We knew that given the price point of our product, it was not economically viable for us to have people make sales calls. We needed a lower cost solution to bringing in new customers.

This led us to seeking a content marketing and SEO strategy.

Like many companies new to blogging, we rushed into it full steam, cranking out tons of new posts. We started to realize that this was a doomed strategy. We had hundreds of posts, but were barely moving the needle on our overall traffic. We figured we could only get a traffic boost as long as we were creating new content.

In early 2016, we started to learn a lot more about content promotion and link building. This led to a number of content successes, like ranking in the top 5 on Google for the search term“job board”, but after a while, this growth started to tail off.

Our content promotion was unfocused, lacked clear goals, and as a result, great pieces of content were not ranking well.

Finally, this all changed when our amazing Director of Marketing, Caileen Kehayas, invented The Mission Week.

What is a Mission Week?

Our Mission Weeks consist of choosing one piece of content that’s under performing and everyone on the team focuses their promotional efforts only on this piece of content.

 We gamify the process by assigning points to different types of promotional activities.

 For example, sending an outreach email might get you 1 point, you can earn 2 points for broken link building and 5 points for writing a guest blog that links to the article. Each person must accumulate 20 points to complete their mission for the week.

Regardless of your role in our company, you can participate. If you aren’t comfortable writing articles, you can earn points through outreach emails, discovering linking opportunities or responding to relevant questions on Quora.

As part of the promotion, we will do minor content updates and perhaps update the title and meta tags of the article.

The weekly point goal is small enough that it doesn’t take up so much time that it becomes overwhelming. Team members can easily earn enough points without compromising their regular workloads. 

Involving everyone at Proven — even those outside of the marketing team — helps create more dynamic and diverse supporting content. We all have different backgrounds and skill sets, and everyone is focused on promoting the same piece of content. With everyone participating, it’s a great opportunity for team building across different departments.

A Mission Week Case Study

In January 2016 we published an article called How to Interview: The Definitive Guide. After being live for 10 months on our blog, it never cracked the top 10 for Google search results for any high value set of keywords.

We chose this article back in late October as our first Mission Week.

This article now ranks 5th on Google for “how to interview”, and has 49 backlinks from 27 domains.

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So, how did we do it?

Resource Link Building

Each participant was awarded 1 point for an outreach email sent to a site that was linking to similar content. Primarily, we use a resource link building strategy that I wrote about previously.

During this week, each person on the team sent an average of 18.5 outreach emails to sites linking to similar content.

To research 15 to 20 different possible sites and send them an email doesn’t take up too much of a person’s week. However, if someone was left doing all this outreach on their own, it becomes a huge tedious job that eats up a large portion of their week.

Guest Blogging

Each participant was awarded 5 points for writing an article that contained a link to this blog post.

During this week, our team produced 7 related articles that our Director of Marketing helped publish to different sites.

Again, writing one support piece is not too bad, but writing 7 is completely unreasonable for our small team.

Content Updates

We updated the title of the article to How to Interview Job Candidates (The Definitive Guide), because adding brackets to your title can help increase CTR on Google. We also updated the introduction and gave the design of the page a bit of a face lift.

All of these things help to improve CTR, bounce rate and dwell time, which are all ranking factors for Google.

Social Promotion

As part of the mission, we schedule promotion of the article on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and Google+. We typically schedule up to 8 tweets for a single article, changing up the text and hashtags we use. If one tweet is performing really well, we will re-use it again and again on different days and different times.

Quora Answers

Each participant was awarded 2 points for finding and answering a relevant Quora question. Although these are no-follow links, it does help to create brand awareness, referral traffic, and authority in the industry.

During the week, we had one team member answer 5 questions on Quora.

Results

As mentioned, this article now ranks 5th on Google and went from delivering close to zero organic traffic to now being one of our top performing pieces.

We’ve seen consistent movement in our Google rankings for every subject of a Mission Week thus far. Following the same process outlined above, we did a Mission Week for this article about job ads.

We now rank 2nd on Google for ”job advertisements” ahead of industry giants like Indeed and CareerBuilder.

Organizing Our Missions

Each week, our marketing director chooses the article with the most SEO potential that is under performing.

She puts together a document outlining the following:

  • Article title
  • Article URL
  • The keywords we are targeting
  • Current rankings for those keywords
  • Suggestions for supporting article topics
  • Search suggestions for finding sites that may link to us

Separately, we track in a shared spreadsheet all the outreach emails we send so that we don’t accidentally email the same person. This is also good for historical reference because it’s sometimes worth revisiting and following up with any outreach emails that get sent.

Transforming The Way We Promote Content

Mission Weeks have completely transformed the way we actively promote our content. Prior to having the Mission Weeks, we used a lot of the same promotional strategies, but it was not focused and many team members didn’t have clearly defined weekly goals to work towards.

Now, every week, everyone knows exactly what they need to accomplish. Marketing, engineering, customer support and the executives of Proven all participate, driving towards the same goal of accumulating 20 points. We brag to one another over Slack when we complete our missions or land a new link, which is typically followed by a barrage of GIFs.

Not only has The Mission Week process grown our organic traffic, it’s increased our new customers significantly in a short period of time.

I strongly encourage you to give it a try. You can play with the point system and weekly goal based on the needs and resources of your company.

Would you consider running a Mission Week at your company? Share your thoughts in the comments.

HubSpot Marketing Free

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Nov

22

2016

7 Blogging Bloopers Your Business Will Want to Avoid

ThinkstockPhotos-488406264-1-238055-edited.jpg

As content marketing continues to prove itself in the digital marketing realm, an increasing number of business owners find themselves balancing precariously at the edge of the blogosphere, building up courage to take the plunge.

But if you’re new to the practice, you need to be extra careful not to make any rookie errors. A few simple blogging mistakes can turn an otherwise stellar content marketing strategy into an embarrassing, sticky mess. Thankfully, these blunders are easy to avoid when you know exactly what you shouldn’t be doing.

Here are seven common blogging mistakes your business will want to stay away from…far, far away:

1) Typos, typos, typos

Typos are one of the biggest – and most unforgivable – blogging mistakes. They show a lack of attention to detail, imply sloppy work, and ultimately put off prospective customers. Would you really want to work with a business that lets mistakes slide on their own work? We didn’t think so.

2) No conversion points

Not having conversion points in your content undermines your entire digital marketing strategy. Readers who resonate with your blog will probably be interested in premium content like an ebook, which can further guide them along their buyer’s journey. Don’t miss out on this opportunity to convert them into a lead by not including a call to action within your blog.

3) No images

A blog without images is like a video without sound. And while an image might not always be essential to understand the point of your article, it will make the experience a lot more enjoyable. Inserting images into your blog will hold your audience’s attention for longer, add value to the content, and increase your chance of converting the reader into a lead.

4) Rambling on and on (and on)

We hate to break it to you, but unless someone is a hard-core fan of your content then they probably aren’t going to read your entire 800+ word blog. Writing unnecessarily long posts is a common blogging mistake, as writers confuse quality with quantity. Keep it short and sweet to around 500 words and you’ll be flying. Your reader’s time is valuable, and they’ll appreciate it being treated as such.

5) Sales-speak overload

Think about why your company has a blog in the first place – to attract potential clients with informative and intrinsically valuable content. Don’t undermine this strategy with transparent attempts to push your product on digital passers-by who’ve yet to indicate any interest.

Even if you’re writing a bottom of funnel blog that describes your offering in detail, try to frame it as a solution instead of a direct sales pitch. Your reader is smarter than you think, and will see straight through any attempt to underhandedly force your product on them.

6) Clickbait titles

Clickbait is the scourge of content. Even though shamelessly exploiting human curiosity might get you a few extra clicks and page views, it just isn’t worth it – your reader will lose respect for your company and brand. Your goal should be to build a following of readers who find value in your writing and content – not to become Buzzfeed Wannabe 2.0.

7) Unprofessional content

Your tone should always reflect that you’re writing on behalf of your company. If your culture allows for satirical posts and celebrity gossip, by all means go to town. Just be wary of being overly casual and driving away potential clients looking for serious solutions to their serious problems.

Most readers respond infinitely better to fact-driven blog posts that address their pain points effectively. And if you are overcome by the urge to Biebs it up do everyone a favour and confine it to a personal blog or Tumblr.

At the end of the day, avoiding blogging mistakes only addresses one part of an effective content marketing strategy and a successful business. If you’d like to learn more about content marketing strategy download our ‘5-step plan to generating leads from content marketing’ today!

Angelfish Marketing

Nov

22

2016

7 Blogging Bloopers Your Business Will Want to Avoid

ThinkstockPhotos-488406264-1-238055-edited.jpg

As content marketing continues to prove itself in the digital marketing realm, an increasing number of business owners find themselves balancing precariously at the edge of the blogosphere, building up courage to take the plunge.

But if you’re new to the practice, you need to be extra careful not to make any rookie errors. A few simple blogging mistakes can turn an otherwise stellar content marketing strategy into an embarrassing, sticky mess. Thankfully, these blunders are easy to avoid when you know exactly what you shouldn’t be doing.

Here are seven common blogging mistakes your business will want to stay away from…far, far away:

1) Typos, typos, typos

Typos are one of the biggest – and most unforgivable – blogging mistakes. They show a lack of attention to detail, imply sloppy work, and ultimately put off prospective customers. Would you really want to work with a business that lets mistakes slide on their own work? We didn’t think so.

2) No conversion points

Not having conversion points in your content undermines your entire digital marketing strategy. Readers who resonate with your blog will probably be interested in premium content like an ebook, which can further guide them along their buyer’s journey. Don’t miss out on this opportunity to convert them into a lead by not including a call to action within your blog.

3) No images

A blog without images is like a video without sound. And while an image might not always be essential to understand the point of your article, it will make the experience a lot more enjoyable. Inserting images into your blog will hold your audience’s attention for longer, add value to the content, and increase your chance of converting the reader into a lead.

4) Rambling on and on (and on)

We hate to break it to you, but unless someone is a hard-core fan of your content then they probably aren’t going to read your entire 800+ word blog. Writing unnecessarily long posts is a common blogging mistake, as writers confuse quality with quantity. Keep it short and sweet to around 500 words and you’ll be flying. Your reader’s time is valuable, and they’ll appreciate it being treated as such.

5) Sales-speak overload

Think about why your company has a blog in the first place – to attract potential clients with informative and intrinsically valuable content. Don’t undermine this strategy with transparent attempts to push your product on digital passers-by who’ve yet to indicate any interest.

Even if you’re writing a bottom of funnel blog that describes your offering in detail, try to frame it as a solution instead of a direct sales pitch. Your reader is smarter than you think, and will see straight through any attempt to underhandedly force your product on them.

6) Clickbait titles

Clickbait is the scourge of content. Even though shamelessly exploiting human curiosity might get you a few extra clicks and page views, it just isn’t worth it – your reader will lose respect for your company and brand. Your goal should be to build a following of readers who find value in your writing and content – not to become Buzzfeed Wannabe 2.0.

7) Unprofessional content

Your tone should always reflect that you’re writing on behalf of your company. If your culture allows for satirical posts and celebrity gossip, by all means go to town. Just be wary of being overly casual and driving away potential clients looking for serious solutions to their serious problems.

Most readers respond infinitely better to fact-driven blog posts that address their pain points effectively. And if you are overcome by the urge to Biebs it up do everyone a favour and confine it to a personal blog or Tumblr.

At the end of the day, avoiding blogging mistakes only addresses one part of an effective content marketing strategy and a successful business. If you’d like to learn more about content marketing strategy download our ‘5-step plan to generating leads from content marketing’ today!

Angelfish Marketing

Oct

13

2015

Submitting a Guest Post? Here Are 12 Things You Should Know About Editors

After having published quite a few guest blog posts, I’ve figured out a thing or two about editors.

While there are certain elements they love to see in a submission, there are also a number of factors that will land you a spot on their list of people they’d rather not work with. Knowing the difference between the two will make it easier for you to earn a spot on their blog. 

So if you want to experience the power of guest blogging, here’s what you need to know abotu working with editors. 

12 Things Guest Bloggers Should Know About Editors

1) They’re in a hurry.

Most people are in a rush, but it seems like editors are especially so. This isn’t to say that they do sloppy work. After all, an editor’s job demands that they be meticulous and detailed. 

In spite of their hawk-eye attention for the tiniest things, they sure can plow through things. They know when brevity is necessary, and they use it.

2) They want to trust you.

Most editors want to get into a trusting relationship with you. Why? Because reliable writers are hard to come by. It’s pretty easy to find someone who writes good copy. But to find someone who writes good copy and can produce on a consistent basis is very difficult.

If you’ve gotten an editor’s attention with a well-written piece of content, then you can be fairly certain that the editor wants to trust you to produce more.

3) They know their audience really well.

If there’s one thing that editors know really well, it’s their audience. A good editor can tell at glance if an article will be helpful for the site’s readers or a dud.

If you’re invited to produce more articles for a site, ask the editors if they have any advice about the kinds of content that their audience wants. Chances are, they’ll be happy to give you some insight and recommendations.

4) They don’t mind rejecting articles.

If your article gets rejected, don’t be offended. It’s all in a day’s work for an editor. Editors of prestigious websites may receive dozens of submissions a day. They simply can’t publish all of them.

Good editors must decide quickly whether they’re going to accept or reject an article. Often times, by necessity, they have to reject most new submissions.

5) They can spot weak articles in a flash.

I don’t have any official numbers, but I’d bet that an editor can tell if an article will work or not in ten seconds or less. Here’s what they might consider:

  • A great article starts with a killer headline. If the headline is no good, then the article is gone.
  • After the headline, the editor will read the lead sentence or paragraph. If the article doesn’t grab one’s attention from the very start, it’s a no-go.
  • Finally, the editor might skim the outline. Many times, a shaky outline means a weak article, and the article is a goner.


If you have a strong title, cogent opening sentence, and solid outline, then your article merits the editor’s attention.

6) They might check your article for plagiarism.

How can an editor tell if your article is copied or an original work? They can run it through a plagiarism checker such as Copyscape.

A Copyscape analysis determines if your content has been published elsewhere on the web.
If you are stealing content, you will get nailed.

7) They aren’t afraid to ask for massive revisions.

Editors have a tough job. They have to please their audience, serve their writers, and adhere to a set of editorial guidelines.

If your article doesn’t 1) meet the audience’s need, or 2) match the editorial standards, then the editor may ask you to revise it. Hopefully, these will just be quick and easy revisions. Sometimes, however, the revisions are extensive, involving removing or adding huge sections of your article.

8) They will ask you for more if your content is good enough.

If you deliver up a great article, then editors will ask you for more. Remember, they’re constantly looking for good, reliable writers.

Editors are tired of having to chase down good writers, respond to inane inquiries, and field poorly-written articles. They want to get the best of the best producing content on their site. A good first article will get you noticed and producing in no time. 

9) They have to respond to a lot of people.

Be patient.

It may take time to get a response from an editor. They get a lot of emails, and may not be able to respond to you right away.

10) They might ignore you.

Don’t take it personally. With the massive amount of content that editors are receiving, they simply can’t respond to everyone’s inquiries or submissions.

The editor isn’t ignoring you, as much as she is managing workflow strategically. The job of an editor involves selectively responding to the emails and submissions that will be best for the site.

If you don’t hear back from an editor in a week or two, it’s okay to be persistent. Just recognize that they’ve got a tough job that makes it difficult for them to email you back.

11) They’re going to hunt down and root out link building.

If you think that guest posting is a quick way to build links, think again. Editors don’t play that game.

Thousands of would-be guest bloggers have been blacklisted from writing for certain websites. Why? Because they tried to make a buck selling links or gaming the system for some easy backlinks to their website.

Editors are trained to sniff it down and cut it out. After all, their jobs are on the line. Besides, they are trying to protect the legitimacy of their brand.

12) They don’t want to proofread your articles. 

Some bigger websites have full-time proofreaders. Their job is to hunt down typos and fix them.
Other websites just have an editor. This person is typically responsible for getting the best content published at the right time, coordinating teams of writers, and ensuring that it all gets pulled off without a hitch. (Typically, such an editor will have the title “managing editor.”)

Because this is true, they want to see grammatically impeccable and stylistically flawless articles. Don’t send your articles in, expecting them to be copyedited and proofread. Sure, editors have the know-how to correct your silly spelling mistakes, but that’s your job … not theirs. 

That said, go the extra mile and proofread your own work before you submit it to a publication. The editors will respect you for it. 

Conclusion

The best way to work with someone is to understand where they’re coming from. It’s helpful for you to try to see their challenges and understand their role.

Editors are a critical part of the web publishing process. The best way to become a guest blogger is to create great content and become a helpful partner to the editors you work with.

Are you an editor? What’s your perspective on guest blogging and working with contributors?

free guide: how to be a better copywriter

Oct

7

2015

How to Effectively Crowdsource Content From Your Entire Organization

You’ve just written your fifth blog article of the week, you have twenty-something slots to fill with engaging Twitter content, and you’re coming to the realization that those emails you’ve been putting off aren’t going to write themselves.

The struggle is real.

While my team and I have found that crowdsourcing content is a great way to combat writer’s burnout, often times it’s easier said than done. 

In an effort to make actually doing it a bit easier, I’m going to dive in and share the details of my secrets to crowdsourcing content from your team in a way that’s actually enjoyable for everyone. 

4 Tips for Crowdsourcing Your Team for Content Creation

1) Explain why it’s important to the business. 

For crowdsourcing to work, you’ll need buy-in from the members of your team. You want to get them excited about their contributions, and you also want to ensure that they don’t feel as though you’re just trying to get them to pick up your slack. 

When it comes time to talk with them, carefully explain that while you’re heading up the content strategy, you’re not an expert at everything. Their expertise is exactly what your content needs to differentiate your company and stand out to potential customers.

Essentially, your goal should be to deliver the “why” behind your ask for help. Here are a few ways to approach key team members:

To your HR director:

“If we’re going to write about what makes our company culture unique and why we’re such a great place to work, we’re going to need your voice. You have valuable insight into what candidates think makes us different and why they’re interviewing here in the first place. We need that information to write awesome content that speaks to prospective employees and interns, attracts the best of the best, and ultimately makes your job easier.”

To your sales team:

“I can write marketing content all day, but because I’m not actually on the sales calls with clients, I can’t connect and engage them the way you do. I’d love to better understand what makes them excited about working with us and what their objections and pain points are. Getting your input on content ideas would help me create higher quality content you can send to prospects at different stages in the sales cycle and help you close more sales.”

To your developers:

“Our product has fantastic features, and the UX is second to none, but I can’t explain that to other developers who use our product in the same way you can. I’m not as familiar with the technical aspects of what makes our tech so great or why others love using our software. I need your help with communicating that information so we can really speak to our audience in a language they understand.”

2) Get your team members over their fear of writing.

After you’ve explained to your team why their help is crucial to your content creation efforts, you’ll most likely have to help them overcome their fears of actually writing content.

For anyone who doesn’t write content day in and day out, just the thought of sitting down to write a 1,000-word article about anything — even about what they do every day — can be incredibly intimidating.

Make it crystal clear that you don’t need them to be great writers. Explain that you need their expertise on the particular topic, not their perfect spelling, grammar, and sentence structure. You can craft and polish their thoughts into compelling, relevant content after they’ve communicated their expertise to you.

In fact, there are ways to crowdsource from your team members without them ever having to write a piece of content. Speaking up in meetings and conversations or sending you links to articles that inspire them can give you insight into their voices and expertise.

3) Make the process as easy as possible.

While relieving your team members of the responsibility of actually writing content is wonderful, it’s still important to make the process as simple and easy as possible. Here are a few tips and tools that our team at Influence & Co. uses to improve communication across departments:

Use 15Five to poll your team for content ideas.

Using our weekly 15Five reports to crowdsource content ideas has proven especially beneficial for our marketing team. We’ve gone as transparent as including questions that directly ask, “What should we write about on our blog?” to as inconspicuous as, “What are you struggling wit this week?”

Use Slack to collect content ideas.

We have a Slack channel called #article-topics. This space serves as a great way to encourage our team to share articles they find interesting or topics they think we (or our clients) should be writing about. Because it’s a public channel, anyone on our team can add to it, and the marketing team can skim through it every week for article ideas.

Collect information from team members in interviews.

The members of your team who are actually working with your customers every day are usually the ones who will have stronger content ideas because they know exactly what your customers are asking, what problems they’re facing, and how your company is alleviating pain points.

Our marketing team started conducting interviews with our client service pods, which are teams of account strategists, content strategists, and editors who work on content for our clients. The marketing team asks questions about what the pods’ clients are struggling with and what content could be helpful to them. Then, they develop article topics based on answers from the interviews.

Use a knowledge bank to store and organize collective information.

Once you have a lot of great content ideas and full answers to specific questions from the different members of your team, you need a place to store, tag, organize, and reference this content for the future.

Our team at Influence & Co. built a knowledge bank, and we’ve created a free knowledge management template you can use, too. Next time you’re crafting a piece of content and need input from a team member or a quote on a specific topic, you can reference the knowledge bank first and save yourself and your team members plenty of time.

Use project management software (or even Google Docs) to collaborate on articles.

Our team has created proprietary project management software that enables us to collaborate on content production, editing, and publication opportunities. The software also sends email notifications on content progress to keep involved team members updated.

However, if you don’t have access to software that’s specifically tailored for you organization’s process, something general like Google Docs is a great start. This allows multiple people to add, edit, and make comments on articles so you end up with the best content possible. 

4) Give credit to your team members for their help.

You’ve finally finished an article that has utilized the collective knowledge and skill sets of dozens of your team members. Rather than take all the credit for yourself, consider these strategies for spreading the love: 

Co-author the article.

Rather than giving the byline to only one of the article’s contributors, list co-authors. It’s perfectly fine to publish a piece of content with more than one author.

Credit the byline to the biggest contributor. 

While it took several people to make this piece of content a reality, it’s not practical to list nine authors. Instead, determine who contributed the most to the article and give that person the byline.

Give credit within the article.

When you include a piece of information in your content that a member of your team shared with you, quote them. 

Give credit via social media.

When you share your content online, give a special shout-out to each member of the team who contributed skills or expertise to make the piece a success.

Getting Started

If you can explain why their help is important, get them over their fear of writing, make it easy, and give them credit, crowdsourcing content from your team members will be simple. Next time you’re sitting at your computer with writer’s block, remember: you don’t need to have all of the answers because, lucky for you, your team likely does.

how to make a marketing content machine ebook   

Oct

6

2015

How to Write High-Level Blog Posts That Don’t Overwhelm Your Readers

Many bloggers face a common problem: How do you make an article really informative, but at the same time really easy to read?

In my areas of expertise — marketing, entrepreneurship, SaaS — the topics can get really complicated. If I’m not careful, my articles can be complex, jargony, and really boring. So how do I avoid this?

Here are some of the techniques I use to make ultra-readable articles that are still intelligent and engaging. 

5 Tips for Writing High-Level Blog Posts That Aren’t Overwhelming 

1) Write short sentences.

Every article is made up of paragraphs, which are made out of sentences. Every sentence forms a complete thought. The shorter and simpler this thought, the easier it is to read. Makes sense, right?

You can write on any topic, no matter how technical, and still sound highly intelligent and readable. The key? Sentence length. Here’s some food for thought:

  • The average sentence length in peer-reviewed journals is 60 words.
  • The average sentence length in the Harry Potter series is 12 words.

Now let’s look at an example of a sentence from a peer-reviewed journal. It clocks in at 39 words:

It classically presents with a preceding history of blunt or penetrating ocular trauma, or it may be associated with other ocular disorders such as congenital glaucoma and aniridia, or concomitant hereditary systemic diseases such as Marfan syndrome and homocystinuria.”

And here’s an example of a sentence from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Filch was looking triumphant.”

Which one would you rather read? You’re probably not writing the next Harry Potter or producing a peer-reviewed journal article. That said, your writing may fall somewhere between the two.

So how long should your sentences be? 10-20 words. Here’s what the research says:

  • 8 word sentences: 100% comprehension
  • 14 word sentences: 90% comprehension
  • 43 word sentences: 10% comprehension

15-20 words is the average length for most sentences. So how can you write shorter sentences? Here are three tips:

  1. Fewer words. If the sentence doesn’t need a word, drop it.
  2. Fewer expressions. Sentences often get cluttered with wordy expressions. These expressions get in the way. Drop them.
  3. Fewer ideas. Just as important as sentence length is the sentences complexity. Use one sentence for one idea. That’s all.

You can vary your sentence length. But generally speaking, shorter is better.

2) Ask questions, then answer them.

I want people to follow my thoughts in an article. How do I do this? I ask questions, and then I answer them. I did it in the paragraph above. A question followed by an answer.

Every sentence in an article answers some question. In fact, the question that inspired this article was: How can I write smart articles, but keep them easy for people to read?

If you can anticipate your reader’s questions, then you can simply state the question and answer the question. Here are some of the questions I ask in this article:

  • How long should your sentences be?
  • How can you write shorter sentences?
  • How do I do this?

What does a question do? A question forces the reader to think. The reader may not be trying to answer it, but they’re thinking about it. That’s good enough. That means they’re at least following along with my thought. Now, I can answer the question while I have their attention.

3) Summarize research.

One easy way to sound smart and build a stronger argument is to cite research. In this article, I cite a really boring book published by the International Reading Association. I didn’t have to tell you about the authors. I didn’t even mention the name of the book. I just wrote “according to research,” and linked to the article. As a result, here’s what happened:

  • You, the reader, got the knowledge of good research.
  • I, the writer, got the credibility of citing good research.

Citing and summarizing research is an easy and straightforward way to add impact. It’s also a good way to establish credibility. Most importantly, readers get the benefit of reliable information.

4) Use the right word.

Some writers tell you to use the simplest word possible. According to research, using short and common words is the second most effective way of improving readability. For example:

  • Instead of adjust use change.
  • Instead of accommodate use hold.
  • Instead of substantiate use confirm.
  • Instead of subsequently use afterward.
  • Instead of remunerate use pay.
  • Instead of expedite use speed up.
  • Instead of implement use do.
  • Instead of facilitate use help.

Generally, this is good advice. Of course you want to make your article easy to understand, but you also want to be as accurate as possible. Sometimes, you may need to use a bigger word. 

For some technical articles, using long or technical words is okay. How do you know when to pull out a big word and when to use a short one? Here are the ideas that I suggest for selecting the right word.

  • Use words that are easy to understand in the context. Even if a reader can’t tell you the definition of a word, they can use context clues to understand its meaning. Here’s an example: “Make sure that you backup your WordPress files before updating in order to mitigate the risk of a crash.” Mitigate is not a common word, however the sentence provides enough context to give the reader a general idea of its meaning. 
  • Use words that your audience will understand. Take your cues from your audience, as they’re the ones you’re ultimately writing for. For example, the word pasquinade is not common, but a Hellenistic historian would know exactly what I’m talking about. 
  • Use the word that is most precise. Simpler words often have more general meanings. If I need to describe something that is detailed, I may have to use a detailed word.
  • Use the shorter and easier word if you have to choose between two. Finally, if you’re facing a decision between two words, pick the easiest one. You don’t have to use the word salubrious; you can just say healthy.

When it comes to choosing words, use the right word for the situation. Big words might make you sound smart, but they don’t always communicate well.

5) Break some grammar rules.

Did you notice that I broke a few grammar rules in this article?

  • I wrote some incomplete sentences.
  • I started a sentence or two with a conjunction. (For some reason, some people think that’s wrong.)
  • I probably committed some other grammatical violations.

I know about grammar, and I hire a copyeditor and proofreader to check my work. But I also know that effective communication is better than always following rules. If I need to break a rule or two to make my writing clear, I’m going to do it.

This isn’t to say you should riddle your writing with mistakes or overlook the importance of editing, but don’t be afraid to leverage something simple like a slang word that you know your audience can relate to.

Conclusion

Making an article readable is more important than making yourself sound smart. The goal of writing is to communicate an idea to others. If you can’t do that simply and successfully, then you need to try to write simpler.

Your topics may be technical and your subject matter may be esoteric. And that’s okay. As long as you can communicate those ideas to the right people, you’ve succeeded. 

What tips do you follow to make your writing smart and readable? Share them with us in the comments section below. 

free guide to writing well

Oct

2

2015

Love ‘Em or Hate ‘Em: 9 Interesting Facts About List Posts

You see them everywhere. You read them daily. You’ve probably written a few yourself. You’ve also probably gotten tired of them.

What are these ubiquitous rulers of the internet content world?

List posts.

List posts or listicles are articles that are organized around a numbered list. Let me give you a few examples.

  • 4 Ways Animation Can Actually Improve User Experience (ConversionXL) 
  • 11 Great Landing Page Examples You’ll Want to Copy (HubSpot)
  • 50 Split Testing Ideas (You Can Run Today!) (me)
  • 5 Things to Take Advantage of When You’re Starting Something New (Copyblogger) 
  • 12 Really Important Reasons You Are Running Late (BuzzFeed)

You get the idea. These bad boys are everywhere. List posts are a fixture of content marketing.

But rather than merely accept them as being, we should understand them. More importantly, we need to know if they’re effective or simply a tacky way to push content online.

So, here’s a list post that will give you everything you need to know about list posts.

1) List posts get results.

Here’s the bottom line. If you want to stop reading this article at this point, fine. You will have gotten the main point.

The fact is, list posts get results. Heck, even Google (basically) says so!

(Screenshot taken on August 25, 2015; not photoshopped.)

What kind of results? True to my promise, I’ll tell you what you need to know in the rest of this article, but for now, let’s do a flyover of these benefits:

  • More clickthroughs
  • More engagement
  • More social sharing
  • More dwell time
  • More organic traffic
  • More conversions
  • More comments
  • Less bounce rate

See what I mean? List posts work. Let’s get to why.

2) List posts provide a specific number, and the brain loves specificity.

The whole organization of the list post is around a number. The list post, as Copyblogger explains it “makes a very specific promise of what’s in store for the reader.”

The brain loves that.

Why? Psychologists surmise that it’s a result of cognitive functional specialization. What’s cognitive functional specialization? It’s the idea that different areas in the brain are specialized for different functions.

Image Credit: Wikimedia

One reinforcing theory is known as modularity, which states the following:

There are functionally specialized regions in the brain that are domain specific for different cognitive processes … One of the fundamental beliefs of domain specificity and the theory of modularity suggests that it is a consequence of natural selection and is a feature of our cognitive architecture. 

Because our brains are organized in function-specific ways, our cognitive and neuropsychological preference for ordered lists is simply one of the results of this organization.

You know how some people just love to make lists for everything? They are responding to the well-ordered intentionality in their brains. Every human has an innate desire for order and organization. Numbered lists speak to that innate desire.

As a result, we click faster, dwell longer, and anticipate being satisfied with what we view.

Jacob Millen, who contributed to CrazyEgg, said it really well. Advising on the power of specificity, he writes this:

Get super specific … Headlines aren’t the place for ambiguity. Get specific. Get REALLY SPECIFIC.

I think you get the point. The best list posters in the world make super specific list posts. I mean, how specific can you get?

3) People prefer numbered list headlines over any other type of headline.

There’s a simple headline formula to making ultra-clickable headlines: Throw a number in there.

Seriously, it’s that easy. Obviously, you want to do a bunch of other smart things with your headline, but numbers are clutch.

Data proves it. A few years ago, Conductor performed a survey of headline preferences, and, no surprise, numbered headlines came out on top — way on top, smashing the next-best contestant with a 71% increase.

4) Women tend to prefer list posts more than men.

The data tells it like it is: People like lists posts. Yet for some reason — I’m not venturing into the why — women prefer list posts more than men.

Here’s the data:

5) People prefer list posts because the list post is clear.

Conductor’s data gets even better.

It’s great if you enjoy list posts, but why are they so appealing? Answer: Because they are insanely clear.

Based on the study, numbered articles are preferred because they are so clear.

There are two popular models of headline creation: The suspenseful curious headlines, and the ones we’re talking about — list posts.

The curiosity kinds are common on sites like ViralNova.

(Oh geez, now I have to watch the video of the magpie on the dog!)

That kind of headline really works to pull people in. People love to satisfy their curiosity. But clarity is even more effective.

6) Longer lists make people feel like they’re getting more.

Numbered lists in general are great, but really long numbered lists are even better.

Why is this the case? Because people have a sense of greater benefit from bigger numbers. What’s going on is known as numerosity — an unconscious cognitive response to seemingly larger numbers.  

The Atlantic describes this preference:

The basic finding in numbers research is called numerosity, and it refers to people’s tendency to infer larger sizes or “more” of something from larger numbers.

Numbered lists into the 100s are hard to write. (They take a long time.) But the benefits are worth it.

7) Odd numbered lists perform better than even numbers.

In a far-ranging and deeply researched article on Medium, Gilad Lotan explains that odd numbered lists are superior to even numbered ones.

Lotan dove into BuzzFeed’s love for lists, crunched the numbers, and came up with an unstoppable truth:  “Using data, we’ve found statistically significant difference between performance of odd vs. even numbers.”

Image Credit: Betaworks

Other research, thankfully not just from BuzzFeed, confirms the same theory. Steve Davis of Baker Marketing explains, “grouping information in parcels of three or five can help people absorb information better.”

Maybe it’s because we have an easier time processing it. Maybe it’s because we’re just odd. Whatever the case, odd numbers perform better.

8) 25 is the best number for your numbered list.

Back to that BuzzFeed study for a second.

Those researchers, that curious lot, figured out that 25 was the best number for a list post.

At this point, we feel confident about the number 25 being the top performer in “best of” lists. While we can’t guarantee a million views each time you include 25 in the title, we can say that it consistently performs better than any other number.

So if you’re wanting me to just give you the best number for a list post, there it is: 25.

9) Numbered lists might make you unhappy.

Behind every silver lining is a dark cloud. Some people aren’t so happy about list posts. In fact, they declare that list posts can make you unhappy.

Why? Because three reasons, according to Right Life Project:  

  1. They feed your craving for instant gratification.
  2. They give you tunnel vision.
  3. They leave you up to your ears in clutter.

Honestly, I’m not sure that these sad facts are unique to list posts. List posts, after all, aren’t in such a powerful position of clutter-creation, tunnel-visioning, and instant gratification over some other article type.

Whether or not you’ve felt sad after reading a list post, I don’t know. But I do know that I wanted to add another number to my own list post, and this seemed like a good point to add.

Besides, now I have an odd number. 😉

Conclusion

The internet is a place for all things listed. Sure, listicles have been a bit overused perhaps. But they still work.

They are a content marketer’s go-to technique, a masterful method for accomplishing anything meaningful, and an effective technique for organizing your thoughts and message.

So, go ahead and give the listicle a try.

Do you like list posts or loathe them? Why?

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Sep

30

2015

The Science of Creating Highly Shareable Infographics [Infographic]

Cool topic? Check. Compelling research? Check. Accurate data? Check, check.

When you’re sitting down create an infographic, it’s never a good idea to just jump in, translate all that research into bite-sized pieces one after the other, and hope people like it. Infographics don’t just randomly become popular — there’s a science to it.

So, what’s the secret? Thanks to the folks at Siege Media, we have a much better idea. Using BuzzSumo, they analyzed the 1,000 most-shared infographics in the past year to weed out the common characteristics of the most popular ones.

Their analysis covered color scheme, word count, length (in pixels), and other cool findings — like the social networks on which infographics about certain topics perform best. They found that infographics on the topic of health performed best on Facebook and Pinterest, while infographics about social media and business performed best on Twitter and LinkedIn.

To learn more about the science of the most popular infographics, check out the infographic below from Siege Media. You can refer to these results to create a data-driven strategy for your own infographics. (For even more inspiration, check out this list of the best infographics of the year.)

10 free infographic templates in powerpoint

Sep

30

2015

Why Blog? The Benefits of Blogging for Business and Marketing

blog-benefits

I had a co-worker email me the other day asking for a blog post about the benefits of business blogging.

“It’s for a friend,” she said.

Sure it was.

I told her I’d shoot over one of our up-to-date blog posts about why businesses should blog and … I couldn’t find one. Whoops. Quite the meta mistake.

So I’m doing it now. If you’re trying to explain one of the core tenets of inbound — business blogging — to your boss, a coworker, your mom at Thanksgiving, whomever, then send them this post. I hope it helps.

For even more reasons why you should blog for business and marketing — and how to get started — download our free ebook here.

The Benefits of Business Blogs for Marketing

First, if you don’t know what a business blog is, this post, “What Is Business Blogging? [FAQs]” should get you up-to-date.

On the same page? Cool. Let’s move on to why you should use blogging as a marketing tactic.

1) It helps drive traffic to your website.

Raise your hand if you want more website visitors. Yeah, me too.

Now think about the ways people find your website:

  • They could type your name right in to their browser, but that’s an audience you already have. They know who you are, you’re on their radar, and that doesn’t help you get more traffic on top of what you’re already getting.
  • You could pay for traffic by buying an email list (don’t you dare!), blasting them, and hoping some people open and click through on the emails. But that’s expensive and, you know, illegal.
  • You could pay for traffic by placing tons of paid ads, which isn’t illegal, but still quite expensive. And the second you run out of money, your traffic stops coming, too.

So, how can you drive any traffic? In short: blogging, social media, and search engines. Here’s how it works.

Think about how many pages there are on your website. Probably not a ton, right? And think about how often you update those pages. Probably not that often, right? (How often can you really update your About Us page, you know?)

Well, blogging helps solve both of those problems.

Every time you write a blog post, it’s one more indexed page on your website, which means it’s one more opportunity for you to show up in search engines and drive traffic to your website in organic search. We’ll get into more of the benefits of blogging on your SEO a bit later, but it’s also one more cue to Google and other search engines that your website is active and they should be checking in frequently to see what new content to surface.

Blogging also helps you get discovered via social media. Every time you write a blog post, you’re creating content that people can share on social networks — Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Pinterest — which helps expose your business to a new audience that may not know you yet.

Blog content also helps keep your social media presence going — instead of asking your social media manager to come up with brand new original content for social media (or creating that content yourself), your blog can serve as that repository of content. You’re strengthening your social reach with blog content and driving new website visitors to your blog via your social channels. Quite a symbiotic relationship, if I do say so myself.

So, the first benefit of blogging? It helps drive new traffic to your website and works closely with search engines and social media to do that.

blogging-inbound

2) It helps convert that traffic into leads.

Now that you have traffic coming to your website through your blog, you have an opportunity to convert that traffic into leads.

Just like every blog post you write is another indexed page, each post is a new opportunity to generate new leads. The way this works is really simple: Just add a lead-generating call-to-action to every blog post.

Often, these calls-to-action lead to things like free ebooks, free whitepapers, free fact sheets, free webinars, free trials … basically, any content asset for which someone would be willing to exchange their information. To be super clear for anyone unfamiliar with how traffic-to-lead conversions work, it’s as simple as this:

  • Visitor comes to website
  • Visitor sees call-to-action for a free offer
  • Visitor clicks call-to-action and gets to a landing page, which contains a form for them to fill in with their information
  • Visitor fills out form, submits information, and receives the free offer

If you scroll down in this blog post, you’ll see a call-to-action button. In fact, 99.9% of the blog posts we publish have call-to-action buttons … and yours should, too. That is how you turn that traffic coming to your blog into leads for your sales team.

blogging-inbound-image

Note: Not every reader of your blog will become a lead. That’s okay. No one converts 100% of the people who read their blog into leads. Just get blogging, put calls-to-action on every blog post, set a visitor-to-lead conversion rate benchmark for yourself, and strive to improve that each month.

3) It helps establish authority.

The best business blogs answer common questions their leads and customers have. If you’re consistently creating content that’s helpful for your target customer, it’ll help establish you as an authority in their eyes. This is a particularly handy tool for Sales and Service professionals.

Can you imagine the impact of sending an educational blog post you wrote to clear things up for a confused customer? Or how many more deals a salesperson could close if their leads discovered blog content written by their salesperson?

“Establishing authority” is a fluffy metric — certainly not as concrete as traffic and leads, but it’s pretty powerful stuff. And if you need to tie the impact of blogging to a less fluffy metric, consider measuring it the same way you measure sales enablement. Because at the end of the day, that’s what many of your blog posts are. Think about the sales enablement opportunities blogging presents:

  • If prospects find answers to their common questions via blog posts written by people at your company, they’re much more likely to come into the sales process trusting what you have to say because you’ve helped them in the past — even before they were interested in purchasing anything from you.
  • Prospects that have been reading your blog posts will typically enter the sales process more educated on your place in the market, your industry, and what you have to offer. That makes for a far more productive sales conversation than one held between two relative strangers.
  • Salespeople who encounter specific questions that require in-depth explanation or a documented answer can pull from an archive of blog posts. Not only do these blog posts help move the sales process along more swiftly than if a sales rep had to create the assets from scratch, but the salesperson is further positioned as a helpful resource to their prospect.

4) It drives long-term results.

You know what would be cool? If any of the following things helped you drive site traffic and generate new leads:

  • Trip to Hawaii
  • Going to the gym
  • Sleeping

Good news, though! That’s what blogging does — largely through search engines. Here’s what I mean:

Let’s say you sit down for an hour and write and publish a blog post today. Let’s say that blog post gets you 100 views and 10 leads. You get another 50 views and 5 leads tomorrow as a few more people find it on social media and some of your subscribers get caught up on their email and RSS. But after a couple days, most of the fanfare from that post dies down and you’ve netted 150 views and 15 leads.

It’s not done.

That blog post is now ranking in search engines. That means for days, weeks, months, and years to come, you can continue to get traffic and leads from that blog post. So while it may feel like day one or bust, in reality, blogging acts more like this:

blogging_compounding_returns-1-1

So while you’re hitting your snooze alarm, surfing in Hawaii, and pumping iron, you’re also driving traffic and leads. The effort you put in yesterday can turn into hundreds of thousands of views and leads in the future.

In fact, about 70% of the traffic each month on this very blog comes from posts that weren’t published in the current month. They come from old posts. Same goes for the leads generated in a current month — about 90% of the leads we generate every month come from blog posts that were published in previous months. Sometimes years ago.

We call these types of blog posts “compounding” posts. Not every blog post will fit into this category, but the more evergreen blog posts you write, the more likely it is that you’ll land on one of those compounding blog posts. In our own research, we’ve found that about 1 in every 10 blog posts end up being compounding blog posts.

Screen_Shot_2015-09-22_at_11.57.42_AM

To me (and hopefully to you), this demonstrates the scalability of business blogging. While you might not see immediate results, over time, you’ll be able to count on a predictable amount of traffic and leads for your business without any additional resource investment — the work to generate that traffic and those leads is already done.

If you’d like to learn more about the long-term impact of blogging and how to reap even more benefits from the blog posts that are ranking in organic search for your business, check out this blog post, “The Blogging Tactic No One Is Talking About: Optimizing the Past”

Secondary Benefits of Business Blogging

There are other reasons businesses might want to blog, but I think they’re smaller and stray from the core benefits of blogging.

For instance, I love to use our blog to test out big campaigns on the cheap — before we invest a lot of money and time into their creation. I also love to use our blog to help understand our persona better. And while this shouldn’t be their primary use, blogs also become great outlets through with marketers can communicate other PR-type important information — things like product releases or event information. It’s certainly easier to get attention for more company-focused initiatives if you’ve built up your own audience on your own property, as opposed to pitching your story to journalists and hoping one of them bites.

These are all great side effects or uses of a business blog, but they’re secondary benefits to me.

If you’re looking to start a business blog or get more investment for one you’ve already started, the reasons above are a great place to start arguing your case.

Are you already well underway when it comes to business blogging? Just starting out? Share your thoughts on business blogging below and what you’re looking to get out of it.

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in November 2013 and has been updated for freshness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness.

free business blogging guide

 
free business blogging guide

Sep

28

2015

From HBR to Mashable: How to Be a Guest Writer on 11 Popular Sites

blog-brick

Guest blogging is a wonderful and mutually beneficial relationship between writer and publication.

It’s great for the writer, of course, who might be looking to get her name out there as a thought leader and industry expert while also helping grow her own readership.

At the same time, it’s great for the folks at media outlets. It’s a good look for them to publish a diversity of voices and opinions on their site — not to mention more articles means more indexed pages, which can be a boon for a site’s SEO.

Most media outlets allow people to submit authentic, original articles on topics that are relevant to their readership. But each one has different requirements and submission instructions. While some require you to submit full articles, others accept topic pitches and are willing to work with you on an outline. Some will get back to you in a few days if they like your post, while for others, it could be a good few weeks if at all.

When you’re trying to submit a guest post, it can be confusing to sort through all these different requirements. That’s why we’ve scoured the websites of top media outlets for their submission guidelines and instructions. From HBR.org to The New York Times to Business Insider and more, check out the list below of top media outlets and their guest blogging guidelines.

Before you submit anything, remember to spend time reading through the site to get a good idea of the topics and formats they like to publish. (For more tips, read about the 12 essential elements of a guest blog post.)

Guest Blogging Instructions & Guidelines for 11 Top Media Outlets

1) Entrepreneur.com

Entrepreneur.com is geared toward business owners who are starting and/or growing their own businesses. Their writers cover “actionable information and practical inspiration for business owners.”

To Contribute:

Here’s their “Become an Entrepreneur Contributor” page.

  • To become a contributor, go to their “Become an Entrepreneur Contributor” page and fill out the form.
  • Along with your basic information, it’ll ask for links to your LinkedIn and Twitter profiles, themes or story ideas you’d cover, why you’re an expert on the topic, and links to samples of your work.

Do you create video content? If so, they also offer the opportunity to apply to become a part of their growing video network. Read more about that here.

2) HBR.org

HBR.org is Harvard Business Review‘s online publication, which covers a wide range of topics including strategy, leadership, organizational change, negotiations, operations, innovation, decision making, marketing, finance, work-life balance, and managing teams.

The content is original and sometimes even disruptive — if it’s about a well-worn topic, they’ll be looking for a unique argument or insight. ““HBR readers are smart and skeptical and busy,” they write. “If you don’t capture their interest right away, they will move on to something else.”

They publish articles written by subject matter experts. Ideas and arguements should be backed up by evidence, whether it’s in the form of supporting research, relevant examples, or interesting data.

To Contribute:

Here’s their “Guidelines for Contributors” page.

  • Send a short pitch to web submissions@HBR.org.
  • They prefer you send them a short pitch instead of a full article so they can give early feedback. However, they do need to see a full draft before officially accepting your piece, even if they’ve asked you to write it.
  • You may be asked to do multiple rounds of revisions, as they have a very thorough editorial process.
  • If they’ve passed on something you’ve submitted, they encourage you to try again with another idea. If their editors have said no multiple times, it may mean your work isn’t a good fit for their audience.
  • Article length can vary. They also publish graphics, podcasts, videos, slide presentations, and just about any other media that might help us share an idea effectively.
  • They retain final decision rights over headlines.
  • The piece must be original and exclusive to HBR.org. They don’t publish pieces that have appeared elsewhere, that come across as promotional, or that do not include rigorous citations (though these may not appear in the finished piece).

3) The New York Times’ Op-Ed Section

The folks over at The New York Times allow submissions to their Op-Ed section only. What does that cover? Op-Ed and Sunday Review Editor Trish Hall explains: “Anything can be an Op-Ed. We’re not only interested in policy, politics or government. We’re interested in everything, if it’s opinionated and we believe our readers will find it worth reading.”

In particular, Hall says they’re partiucularly interested in publishing points of view different from those expressed in Times editorials, which tend to be pretty liberal. They’re interested in presenting the points of view that are to the left or right of those positions.

To Contribute:

Here’s their “How to Submit an Op-Ed Article” page.

  • Submit a finished op-ed article to opinion@nytimes.com
  • Alternatively, you can fax it to +1(212) 556-4100 or send it by mail to the following address:

The Op-Ed Page
620 Eighth Avenue
New York, NY 10018

  • Articles tend to be 400–1,200 words long, but they’ll consider submissions of any length.
  • The piece must be original and exclusive to The Times. They won’t consider articles that have already been published either in print or online.
  • They like writing that’s in “conversational English that pulls us along. That means that if an article is written with lots of jargon, we probably won’t like it.”
  • You can also submit an opinion video. Read more about that here.

4) Inc.com

Inc.com is an online publication that publishes articles with advice, tools, and services to help small businesses grow. You’ll find their contribution guidelines are fairly short.

To Contribute:

Here’s their “Contact Us” page.

We recommend keeping your email pitch as simple and straightforward as possible.

5) Business Insider

Business Insider is an American business, celebrity, and technology news website. Most of their contributors are experts on one or more of the wide range of topics they cover. Contributors include professors, investors, venture capitalists, entrepreneurs, executives, attorneys, consultants, authors, professional service providers, journalists, technologists, and engineers.

To Contribute:

Here’s their “How to contribute to Business Insider” page.

  • Send the final draft of your piece, a proposed headline, brief bio, and links to any other pieces you’ve published to contributors@businessinsider.com.
  • Their syndication team will review your submission and get back to you if it’s something they’re interested in posting. They can’t make publishing guarantees.

6) Fast Company

Fast Company is an online business publication that covers topics in technology, business, and design. They publish leadership-related topics like productivity, creativity, career development, culture, strategy, and innovation.

What type of articles do they like? Ones that “introduce new ideas and advance conversation around topics and trends that engage our readers — think op-ed rather than marketing,” they write. “We appreciate lively, polished writing that balances research or news with fun and memorable anecdotes or examples that help illustrate your point of view.”

To get a better idea of the types of pieces Fast Company likes to publish, read their post, “How To Write Thought-Leadership Pieces That Get Published And Don’t Make Editors Want To Die.” 

To Contribute:

Here’s their Guidelines for Submission page.

  • Send completed articles to Leadership Editor Kathleen Davis at kdavis@fastcompany.com.
  • If you think your article would be better suited for one of Fast Company’s sub-publication Co.Design, Co.Exist, Co.Create, or Co.Labs, then consult their masthead and send your idea or completed article to the appropriate editor for consideration.
  • Article length is typically 1,000 words or fewer.
  • They request that guest posts are exclusive to Fast Company‘s site for 24 hours, after which time they can be reprinted in part or full on other sites, with a link back to the original article on Fast Company. (They’ll syndicate articles that have already run on another website occasionally, but typically would rather print original and exclusive content.)
  • If they like your article, they’ll likely get back to you within a few days. They review submissions about once a week and aren’t able to respond to all submissions. They’re cool with you sending one follow-up email to check in, but after that, you can assume it wasn’t a fit.
  • Contributed articles run online only. The print magazine is almost exclusively written by staff or by professional journalists who contribute regularly to the magazine.

7) Mashable

Mashable is a social networking and web news blog. While they do write a lot about technology, it’s not their core focus — so they’re not necessarily interested in online tools, software, and similar topics.

To get a better idea of what the folks at Mashable are looking to publish, read their posts “12 Tips for Getting Your Startup Featured on Mashable” and “12 Things Not to Do When Pitching a Story to Mashable.”

To Contribute:

Here’s their “Submit News” page.

  • Submit a pitch, tip, or full article by filling out the form on their “Submit News” page.
  • The form asks for the topic of submission, asks “What’s the scoop?”, allows you to attach up to two files, and asks you to check off whether it’s an exclusive story, a news update, a hot tip, an editorial suggestion, or something else.

Want them to write about your startup or business? You can also submit to their Startup Review series by sending an email to news@mashable.com.

8) Forbes’ Opinion Section

Forbes publishes content on business and financial news, covering topics like business, technology, stock markets, personal finance, and lifestyle. They allow guest contributions to their opinion section on any topic related to public policy, politics, arts, and culture.

To Contribute:

Here’s their “Submitting an Article to Forbes Opinion” page.

  • Submit your completed article to opinion@forbes.com.
  • The article can be any length.
  • The piece must be original and exclusive to Forbes. They won’t consider articles that have already been published either in print or online.
  • They ask that you allow five business days (i.e. excluding weekends and holidays) for them to review your article. If you haven’t heard from them after five business days, you can submit your article elsewhere.
  • No follow-up emails.

Want to become a regular contributor to Forbes?

  • To become a contributor, fill out this Google Form.
  • It’ll ask you for links to your LinkedIn and Twitter profiles, the concept for your Forbes page (an overall theme and a few story ideas), why you’re an expert on the topic, and links to samples of your work.

9) TechCrunch

TechCrunch is an online publication that covers the current and future state of technology, entrepreneurialism, and investment. Any of these topics are great for guest submissions — they say they’re “always willing to give every good piece a read, so no matter the topic, keep the words coming.”

If you’re looking for ideas, they explore a different, specific theme each month — everything from health and religion to robotics and education. Here’s the full list by month.

To Contribute:

Here’s their “Got a Tip?” page.

  • Send a tip, pitch, or full article by visiting their “Got a Tip?” page and filling out the form.
  • The form asks for your name, headline, and the tip or pitch.

Want to become a regular contributor to TechCrunch? 

10) Moz

The Moz blog publishes content from the SEO and online marketing industry’s “top wizards, doctors, and other experts.” They look for content with in-depth and actionable information.

What’s a good fit? “Actionable, detailed content with references tends to do the best on YouMoz, and case studies or examples are particularly popular,” they write. “Think about the readers of this post, and try to make it so this is something that the reader could take to their boss and say, ‘Let’s give this a try. Here’s a post where this person tried it, they got good results, and they explain how to implement it.'”

For a much more detailed description of what they’re looking for, read their “How to Guest Blog for Moz” post.

To Contribute:

Here’s their “YouMoz Guidelines” page.

  • Read all the information on the YouMoz Guidelines page. Then, scroll to the bottom, check the box to accept their terms, and press the “Submit a YouMoz Post” button. You’ll have to log in or create a Moz account if you don’t have one already. From there, you’ll be taken to a form where you can submit your full article text.
  • Must be original and exclusive to Moz. They won’t consider content that’s been published elsewhere.
  • Article length is generally 1,000–3,000 words, but they don’t have a minimum or maximum word count.
  • Relevant links are encouraged, but affiliate links aren’t allowed.
  • It can take up to several weeks to review your post. They’ll contact you at the email listed on your profile. You can check the status of your post at https://moz.com/posts/manage.
  • They ask that you resize images to a maximum of 738 pixels wide. Observe any copyright or usage restrictions regarding images, obtain permission for use, and cite the source of your image.
  • Send any questions to editor@moz.com.

11) Medium

Unlike the first ten media outlets in this post, Medium is a blogging platform where anyone can create an account and publish a blog post without having to submit it for approval. It was created so people could publish their thoughts, tips, and learnings and then share them with a built-in audience.

Through a combination of algorithmic and editorial curation, posts on Medium get spread around based on interest and engagement. You can learn more about posting on Medium here.

To Contribute:

  • First, sign in to Medium or create an account. Once you’re signed in, click “Write a Story” on the top righthand side of the homepage.
  • Consult their Help Center page for writing for tips on titles, formatting, images, publishing, and more.
  • If you want, you can request notes from other Medium users before you publish. Any collaborators or editors you invite to add notes can do so throughout the article, kind of like a collaborative document in Google Drive.
  • Article length can be whatever you want, but some of the best advice on length, timing, etc. with Medium posts comes from Medium’s data team. They’ve reported there’s a direct correlation for how long people spend on their posts and how well the posts perform.
  • You’re free to repost content from your blog or website on Medium to expose it to a new audience.
  • You can add any links you want back to your own website, or add any type of call-to-action you want, whether it’s to a piece of long-form content, a subscribe page, or something else.

Want to contribute to HubSpot’s blog? Check out our Guest Blogging Guidelines.

free guide to writing well

Sep

24

2015

Your Blog Posts Are Boring: 9 Tips for Making Your Writing More Interesting

If you’re a boring writer, you’ve got a tough road ahead. I hate to break it to you, but in today’s content-saturated world, people don’t have time to spend on content they don’t enjoy reading.

Thankfully, there are some powerful antidotes to boring content. In this article, I’m dishing up some of my favorite.

After you read this article, go write one of your own. If you follow these tips, you’re article will be at least 817% more interesting.

That percentage was totally made up. But still, this stuff works.

1) Tell a story.

I have science on my side for this one.

Stories produce instant brain activation. When the brain hears a story, it engages in neural coupling, a phenomenon that makes the brain actually experience the ideas being set forth in the story. Even the motor cortex, the part of the brain responsible for voluntary muscular motion, is activated by a story.

The brain also releases dopamine, the “happy chemical,” at emotional high points in the story.

Clearly, telling a story is a great way to be more interesting. Short, simple stories can be included in any article to up the interest factor.

2) Write in the first person.

Writing is the first person is natural. It’s the way that you talk.

If you and I were going to go to lunch, I would say something like, “I know of a really good sushi place about five minutes away. I’ve eaten there a couple times, and they have great service. Want to go with me?”

I used the first-person voice — the words I, I’ve, and me. It would sound really weird if I said to you, “Neil is aware of a good sushi place. He has eaten there a couple times with optimal results. He is inviting you to go with him.”

Don’t be afraid of writing in the first person. The third person voice, in which you refer to “the author” or avoid all references to the self, is dry and awkward.

3) Foreshadow.

Good writers use a literary device known as “foreshadowing” to hint at what’s coming ahead in a story. They’re not giving away the plot. Instead, they’re setting the reader up for what’s going to come.

Foreshadowing helps increase the excitement and anticipation in a story. In The Lord of the Rings, Gandalf foreshadows Gollum’s role in the narrative when he says, “My heart tells me that he has some part to play yet, for good or ill, before the end.”

Readers will notice Gandalf’s prediction and think, “What’s going to happen? Will Gollum do good or will he do ill?” And so they keep turning the pages.

I often foreshadow in my articles by previewing what I want to communicate and the outcome of the article. I foreshadowed the content to this article when I wrote “There are some powerful antidotes to boring content. In this article, I’m dishing up some of my favorite.”

I even promised a benefit for good measure:  “After you read this article, go write one of your own. If you follow these tips, you’re article will be at least 817% more interesting.”

Foreshadowing is nothing more complicated than pointing in the direction you’re taking your article. It helps to prevent boredom by promising the direction of the article.

4) Transition.

A transition is a signal that you’re about to switch directions.

Sometimes, writers abruptly veer from one topic straight to another. The reader, unprepared for the transition, mentally falls off.

Transitions keep this from happening.

The easiest way to create a transition is through visual cues — big headlines, numbered lists, that sort of thing. My best transitions are created through header tags. However, you should also create some transitions in the copy itself, especially if you’re gearing up to make a new point.

It can be as simple as something like this:

We’ve dealt with the importance of transitions. Now, let me show you how clarity can also make you interesting.”

Some publications don’t use headings. Writers for The Atlantic, for example, must use transitions in order to maintain the flow of their articles.

The image below shows a transition paragraph in an article.

Transitions are simple, easy, and a quick way to keep your readers interested and engaged throughout the course of the article.

6) Be really, really clear.

If I had to distill this entire article to one powerful point it would be this: Be clear.

Many times, when writers try to “be more interesting,” they consider techniques like active verbs or sparkling vocabulary. I have nothing against active verbs or cool words, but that’s not the main way to become more interesting.

You become interesting by being clear. Clarity is saying what you need to say — nothing less, nothing more. It’s about using the right words in the right place. It’s about cutting out stuff that distracts. It’s about being plain, not fancy.

If you can be clear, you will be more interesting. It’s that simple.

7) Don’t be longer than you need to be.

Some people get way too worried about word count.

Word count doesn’t matter as much as you think it does. The only people truly worried about word counts are people who get paid per word and some editors.

You’re probably not going to copy/paste this article in wordcounter.net to find out how many words I wrote. Why would you care?

You care whether or not this article is helpful. If it’s helpful, you’ll spend the seven or eight minutes reading it.

If I needlessly make this article long, you’ll lose patience. I only need to make my point and stop in order to be interesting.

Extra verbiage is boring. If you don’t need to say it, don’t.

8) Don’t be shorter than you should.

Content length is a two-edged sword. No, you shouldn’t be too long. But yes, you need to say enough.

Brevity is a virtue in writing, but you still need some flow in your narrative. If you pare down the article to its bare bones, it becomes an outline, not an article.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t find that outlines are particularly powerful reading material.

9) Write short sentences.

I try to write short sentences. Why? Because people get lost in long sentences. Try this one:

Knowing that millions of people around the world would be watching in person and on television and expecting great things from him — at least one more gold medal for America, if not another world record — during this, his fourth and surely his last appearance in the World Olympics, and realizing that his legs could no longer carry him down the runway with the same blazing speed and confidence in making a huge, eye-popping leap that they were capable of a few years ago when he set world records in the 100-meter dash and in the 400-meter relay and won a silver medal in the long jump, the renowned sprinter and track-and-field personality Carl Lewis, who had known pressure from fans and media before but never, even as a professional runner, this kind of pressure, made only a few appearances in races during the few months before the Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia, partly because he was afraid of raising expectations even higher and he did not want to be distracted by interviews and adoring fans who would follow him into stores and restaurants demanding autographs and photo-opportunities, but mostly because he wanted to conserve his energies and concentrate, like a martial arts expert, on the job at hand: winning his favorite competition, the long jump, and bringing home another Gold Medal for the United States, the most fitting conclusion to his brilliant career in track and field.

Did you get that? Sure you did. You probably remember the name of the runner — Carl Lewis. You probably got the idea that he competed in the Olympics.

But what a sentence! After you read it, you find yourself panting with mental exhaustion.

Reading a sentence is like holding your mental breath. You can only last so long before you start to pass out.

Shorter sentences help readers take lots of breaths — and that keeps them interested.

9) Break it up.

Ever heard of the wall of text?

If you’ve read this far, you’ve definitely seen one. Just look at that pull-quote above. Not only is it impossible to read, but it’s also immediately intimidating to look at just because of how many lines it occupies on this page.

Don’t use a wall of text.

You can write the most fascinating content on the planet, but if you don’t break it up into chunks, people will think it’s boring.

Why? Because visual presentation matters. The brain process written information visually and spatially, not just textually.

Font, kerning, line spacing, paragraphs, heading, numbers, bullets — all of these are part of being interesting. They help a user to absorb the information and stay connected.

Conclusion

Great writing isn’t as much about your sizzling hot style as it is about simple technique and a natural approach.

When you go to write your next article, just be natural. You’re not writing for your English teacher. You’re writing for me, for your user, for normal people who just want to read simple stuff.

Don’t try to impress us. Just try to get your message across clearly.

What do you do to create interesting blog articles?

free guide to writing well

Sep

23

2015

Is This Copyright Infringement? What Images You Can & Can’t Share [Infographic]

Sharing is caring, right?

Well, yes … but when it comes to sharing other people’s images, there are a few restrictions. 

When someone creates an original image, they automatically own rights to that image. And when one of the rights to that image is used without the creator’s consent, that’s called copyright infringement — and it’s a big deal.

On the other hand, there are certain circumstances under which you can share images on your blog without asking permission under what’s called the Fair Use Doctrine.

… So what does that all mean? What exactly are the rights people have to the images they create? When is it okay and not okay to use other people’s images without permission? And where are good places to look for pre-approved images?

To learn the answers to these questions and more, check out the infographic below from Vound and Intella in partnership with Ghergich & Co.

This blog post has provided information about the law designed to help our readers better understand the legal issues surrounding internet marketing. But legal information is not the same as legal advice — the application of law to an individual’s specific circumstances. Although we have conducted research to better ensure that our information is accurate and useful, we insist that you consult a lawyer if you want professional assurance that our information, and your interpretation of it, is accurate. To clarify further, you may not rely upon this information as legal advice, nor as a recommendation or endorsement of any particular legal understanding, and you should instead regard this article as intended for entertainment purposes only.

80 royalty-free stock photos

Sep

17

2015

Want to Attract Links to Your Website? Try These 8 Data-Driven Tips [Infographic]

In the seemingly eternal struggle to keep up with Google’s algorithm updates, savvy marketers are always looking for ways to increase the authority of their content. One of the ways to boost your blog posts in search? Increase the number of quality inbound links from other people’s websites to your own website.

While link building is critical to your SEO strategy, it’s not something you have complete control over. At the end of the day, it’s all about creating awesome content that people can find easily and then want to link to.

Don’t worry, there are strategies for creating content that attracts people to link to your site. For example, did you know that data-driven content generates 283% more backlinks than content that isn’t data-driven? It makes sense: Citing data makes people look smart, and people like looking smart. Original data and research is even better.

Another one: infographics. Neil Patel found that infographics generate 37.5% more backlinks than a standard blog post. Again, not surprising: If you create an awesome infographic that people want to share on their website, they’ll (hopefully) cite the original source (you).

Check out the infographic below from Engagebit to learn more data-driven strategies for creating content that’ll attract more inbound links.

The-anatomy-of-a-perfect-link-magnet-min.jpeg

free report: secrets behind top business blogs

Sep

16

2015

5 Blogs With Comments You’ll Actually Want to Read

Copyblogger rocked the blogging world when they stopped facilitating comments on their blog and instead encouraged people to take the comments to social or to their own blogs. Thing is, this “we know what’s good for you” approach failed to take into account what their readers want – which is, to comment when they want, where they want.

Lucky for us, there are still a multitude of great marketing blogs that welcome our comments. If you’re looking for a blog where the comments are as good as the articles, you’ve come to the right place.

1) Grow – Mark Schaefer

Many marketers (including me) love him for his forward thinking, his approachability, his no-nonsense advice, and his entertaining podcast with cohost and voiceover genius Tom Webster. Have you heard about the concept of “Content Shock”? You know that because of Mark’s post Content Shock: Why content marketing is not a sustainable strategy published in the beginning of 2014.

That one blog post has 392 comments on it. Not painful, “great post” comments either. Mark’s ideas ignite debate, foster creativity and provide a fantastic exchange of ideas that are as valuable as the posts themselves. And even on an article with nearly four hundred comments, he replies to nearly every one of them. Having written for his blog before, I also know he asks contributing writers to respond as well.

Check it out if: you want to be on the leading edge of marketing trends and get the inside scoop on how industry experts are reacting to and implementing them.

2) Web Search Social

Ralph and Carol Lynn Rivera have created something of a cult following for their podcast. The show notes are the place to continue the conversation you’ve been having with them in your head as you listen.

One of the draws for the comments section is that Melanie Kissell nearly always writes a poem for each episode. Clever and fun, these really add to the program.

Not ones to shy away from controversy, Ralph and Carol Lynn have taken on some common marketing practices and even specific tools on their show. This episode with the founder of Snip.ly lead to some interesting back and forth, including one comment which likens anyone wishing to protect their intellectual property to a whiny two-year old. The intelligent responses from hosts and guests and continuing dialogue never fail to get the creative juices flowing.

Check it out if: you enjoy marketing smarts with a hefty dose of witty banter.

3) Neil Patel

Neil loves data. He’s a tester, an analyst, and he shares generously, including printscreens from his Google analytics and tons of numbers to back up his findings. He often presents his “how-tos” in a step-by-step format, which is especially helpful on his typically very long posts.

What is great about some of the commenters here (and you do have to wade through quite a few “you are the best!” comments) is that they ask really personal questions that some of us might not feel comfortable asking. “How did you create that opt-in?” “How do you find time to write so much?” And Neil answers all questions graciously. Seriously, this guy is on top of it and is a real gentleman. You’ll also notice that commenters add in their own A/B results, link to other related articles, etc. So, you’re really getting double the content!

Check it out: if you want to get the inside scoop on Neil’s considerable marketing success and a well-rounded look at what’s working for many companies.

4) Seriously Social Iag.me with Ian Anderson Gray

Ian’s blog is the go-to blog for real tech and marketing geeks – and I mean that lovingly! He enjoys writing about tools and programs for marketers in a way that I quite appreciate. He’ll share his findings, pros, cons, setup instructions, etc. Seriously useful.

The comments section often attracts the founders or representatives of the companies creating the tools he reviews, meaning commenters can get their own questions answered from Ian AND from the companies themselves. In Ian’s more technical posts, you will notice he addresses each commenter, helping to debug where necessary, even years after the post goes live.

Ian said about his “7 Reasons NOT to use Hootsuite” article “It’s turned into a mini community (which I always strive to make my articles into). It’s been a place for people to ask questions, ask advice, share frustrations and give feedback.” Indeed it has – with nearly 500 comments and counting.

Check it out if: you enjoy an objective look at tools and programs and want to engage with company representatives.

5) Adrienne Smith

Adrienne claims her business is about “Showing Bloggers How to Grow a Blog One Relationship at a Time.” She delivers.

As with all good comment sections, Adrienne’s loyal readers add in great tools and success stories that add to the already useful content Adrienne supplies. But what really stands out is the way the commenters all seem to know and support each other, with Adrienne facilitating. This is not done in a way that makes new readers feel they are late to the party (I just started commenting today), rather it leaves one feeling as if they’ve stumbled upon a very safe place to ask questions and express concerns.

Check it out if: you are looking for a supportive community as you grow your business.

Blog commenting is a great way to get to know people, to get your questions answered, and to express your opinions. Which blogs do you follow for the comments?

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Sep

15

2015

How to Crowdsource a Blog Post Using Google Docs [Quick Tip]

running-from-car

When I’m walking around the city and I have to cross the street, I do this thing where I start looking both ways before I’ve reached the intersection. If there are no cars coming at that moment, I like to run across the street immediately instead of waiting to reach the intersection — otherwise a bunch of cars will probably be there by the time I get to the crossing signal.

Some people call that jaywalking. Law enforcement, for instance.

I call it efficiency.

The same can be said for a method of blogging my team has adopted: the crowdsourced Google Docs post. It’s an efficient way to curate the contents of a list post, drawing on the knowledge of many to fill in the knowledge gaps of the one.

Check out how it works — it’s quite simple — and try it with your team. You’ll shave off a significant portion of research time that goes into curation (more time than my jaywalking frees up), and make the process of writing list posts far more efficient.

Step 1: Figure out what you want to write about.

First, figure out the post you want to write — something that’s conducive to a group brainstorm. Usually these are list posts with an angle everyone can contribute to from their own experience.

For example, “X Shows You Should Be Watching on Netflix” would be a good post to brainstorm with my coworkers because I know a lot of them like to binge-watch Netflix shows, and they could contribute good ideas to the Doc that I wouldn’t have thought of. What’s not a great post for that group is “X Ways to Wean Yourself Off a Netflix Addiction” because, well, I don’t think any of us could profess experience to that.

Step 2: Set up your Google Doc.

Next, set up your Google Doc so it’s ready for people to brainstorm and plop down ideas. Keep it simple — providing just a couple informal columns to fill out will yield a wider breadth of results than several columns with very specific requests. The latter setup tends to seem daunting, and an incredible level of specificity makes ideas that fit the bill harder to conjure. 

Google doc screenshot

Step 3: Invite a bunch of people to it.

Once your document is set up, get the invites out. The more people you invite, the better — more points of view will make your curated list cover more manner of sin. Just go to the blue “Share” button in the top-right corner of your Google Doc, and put in the email addresses of people you want to include in your brainstorm. It’s also useful to include some context in the message box so people know why they’re receiving an invite and what they need to do.

Screen_Shot_2015-09-04_at_1.25.55_PM

Step 4: Get the ball rolling.

Now, get started. Some people will jump in with ideas immediately, others may ponder for a bit. It helps to get the ball rolling by adding ideas in yourself — the more items you add to the brainstorm Doc, the more it’ll spur new ideas for other people. 

While you’re brainstorming, don’t worry about crafting your sentences perfectly, making spelling and grammar errors, or even adding duplicate ideas. Whoever writes the piece will edit for all these things later. Just think of this time as a brain dump.

Step 5: Curate the best ideas from the Google Doc.

After everyone seems to have exhausted their ideas and people start to leave the Google Doc, you should be left with a big collection of ides. Now it’s time to edit down your list. Delete the duplicate ideas, combine ideas that are dancing around the same themes, and come up with a list of the best stuff for your blog post.

Once you have that list, simply add the list items to your blog post — typically these are the headers in your post — and fill in the rest with prose.

And voila, you’ve found a way to crowdsource curation and minimize your overall blog-writing time. 

live webinar: INBOUND 2015 HubSpot product launches

Sep

10

2015

The Ultimate List of Websites Every Blogger Should Bookmark

All bloggers have a number of websites that they visit every single day. Aside from the obvious ones (like email and Twitter), your favorites might be anything from your blog’s publishing calendar, to your online to-do list, to all your favorite social media button generators.

Wouldn’t it be great if all of those helpful resources were just a mouse click away?

That’s exactly what bookmarks are for. In your web browser, bookmarks are links to specific websites that show up as buttons at the top of your web browser — making it easy to visit your favorite websites.

How to bookmark websites will depend on the browser you’re using. But trust me, it’s easy. Here are links to instructions for how to add a bookmark for four popular web browsers:

Now, let’s get bookmarking. What are some of the best websites that all bloggers should add to their bookmark bar? Check out 22 of the HubSpot blogging team’s favorites below. (And be sure to share your own favorites in the comment section.)

22 Websites Every Blogger Should Bookmark

For Keeping Organized

1) Waterfall Graphs

We use waterfall graphs to keep track of daily progress on our traffic and leads goals on the blog. If you’re a HubSpot customer, your marketing software has a built-in waterfall chart template that will generate these graphs for you — so you might want to bookmark that page in HubSpot. If you’re not a HubSpot customer, you can create a waterfall graph yourself in Google Spreadsheets and bookmark that.

2) Publishing Calendar

Figuring out when you should publish which blog posts is time-consuming enough, right? Bookmark your publishing calendar so it’s only a click away at any given time. You can use it to keep your topics and authors organized, track keyword and call-to-action usage, and make sure all your blog posts are written on-time.

(Are you also responsible for running your company’s social media accounts? Then you might want to bookmark your social media publishing calendar as well.)

3) Trello

Trello is a really simple collaboration platform you can use to brainstorm and organize your blog post and project ideas. Bookmark it so you can easily add new blog post ideas as you think of them, manage your own post-writing to-do list, and see what the rest of your team is working on.

4) Evernote

While you can install Evernote as an app on your computer and any device, you may also want to make the website a bookmark on your web browser. Even more specifically, you can make specific notes within your Evernote into separate bookmarks: one for your to-do list, one where you store useful snippets of HTML, one where you store inspiring articles or ebooks, and so on. 

For Data Analysis

5) Percent Change Calculator

I can’t even begin to tell you how useful this little calculator is when looking for and analyzing data. Ever want to know the percentage change of two values without have to remember the formula? Simply enter the two values into this calculator, and it’ll spit out the percentage change. 

6) Atlas (by Quartz)

Atlas is Quartz’s slickly designed command center for all its charts. There are all kinds of cool, useful data in there — everything from Prada’s share price over time to the highest CEO-to-worker pay ratios in the U.S. You can download, embed, or grab the data. It’s open source so you can create your own versions, too. One of the best ways to build credibility on your blog is to back up your claims with data and evidence, so bookmark resources like Atlas so you can easily search for and grab the data and charts you’re looking for.

For Writing

7) Style Guide

When you’re blogging, posting on social media, and creating other types of marketing content regularly, it’s important to have a written style guide to ensure your writing style is consistent across different marketing channels. But it can take a long time to learn all the nuances of your brand’s style guide, so have it bookmarked for easy reference while you’re writing. (And if you don’t have a style guide yet, learn how to create one here.)

8) Keyword Tools

Keyword research comes in handy when you’re brainstorming, writing, editing, and creating headlines for your blog posts. That said, keep your favorite keyword tool bookmarked. Here are a few of our favorites:

Want to learn more about how to do keyword research for SEO? Check out this blog post.

9) WordCounter

Although there’s no “right answer” for how long a blog post should be, sometimes word count can come in handy. Bookmark WordCounter so you can quickly paste in your content to see how many words you’ve written.

For Editing

10) Pre-Publish Checklist

It can be pretty hard to remember every little thing you should check on a blog post before hitting “Publish.” That’s why we bookmark this pre-publish checklist, which is a complete list of everything you should do when editing and proofreading your blog content. It covers everything from ensuring all your sources are properly attributed to double-checking all your links work.

11) Hemingway App

Have you ever been in the middle of writing a blog post and realized your writing felt a little … convoluted? Bookmark the free Hemingway App for moments like these. All you have to do is paste your content into it, and it’ll assess your writing and identify opportunities to make it simpler. For example, it’ll point out instances of passive voice and hard-to-read sentences.

12) Tone Analyzer

In the same vein as analyzing readability, what about analyzing tone? Sometimes, you might be reading over a blog post and feel like it comes off as a little too negative or a little too excited. Tone Analyzer is a free tool that uses linguistic analysis to detect the tone of a piece — and then offers helpful tips on how to improve and strengthen the tone.

13) HTML Elements

If you edit a lot of blog posts, chances are you’ll be working with HTML on a regular basis. I like to keep this list of HTML elements handy so I can easily make changes to HTML when needed. From there, I can use CTRL + F to jump right to the HTML element I’m looking for.

14) HTML Score

Speaking of HTML, here’s another great HTML resource to bookmark. It’s a long list of special characters that HTML 4.0 processors should support, like the copyright symbol ©, currency symbols € ¥ ¢, and so on.

Image Credit: HTML Score

15) HTML Cleaner

Source codes can sometimes seem to take on a personality of their own and pull in crazy HTML snippets — especially if you’re copying and pasting from an external file, like Google Docs. If you find yourself having that problem regularly, bookmark a tool like HTML Cleaner so you can quickly remove any superfluous code from your content.

16) & 17) Grammarly & Correctica

Before you can officially say you’re done editing a blog post, you should run it through an editing tool like Grammarly or Correctica to triple-check there are no grammatical errors. (Bonus: Grammarly even checks for plagiarism.)

18) Headline Analyzer

You’ve written and edited your blog post. At this point, the only thing standing between your cursor and the “Publish” button is an eye-catching headline. Once you have a few ideas in mind, head to your bookmark bar and open up the Headline Analyzer, a free tool that scores your headline quality and rates its ability to drive social shares, traffic, and SEO value. It also shows you how it will appear in search results.

For Social

19) ClickToTweet

Creating a tweetable link is a lot easier than learning custom code. Bookmark ClickToTweet so you can create basic tweetable links to accompany cool quotes in your blog posts at a moment’s notice. (Learn how it works here.)

20) Pinterest’s “Pin It” Button Generator

Ever seen those “Pin it” buttons that let you pin an image to your Pinterest board? We use Pinterest’s “Pin it” button widget builder all the time to create those buttons for images we post on our blog. Bookmark that page so you can create and place these buttons next to images, infographics, and other visual content on your blog. (And scroll to the bottom of this blog post for instructions on how to build your own.)

21) Social Media Button Cheat Sheet

While we recommend bookmarking some of your favorite social media button widget builders (like the “Pin it” button builder above), you may want to go ahead and bookmark this cheat sheet as a handy reference. It has links to all the widget builders for share and follow buttons for Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and Google+. It also includes step-by-step instructions for how to create them and implement them on your website and blog.

22) Embed Code Generator

Do you create original pieces of visual content (like infographics) and post them on your blog or website? Then you’ll want to provide embed codes alongside them so it’s easy for your readers to share them on their own blogs. (Plus, it’ll help you generate some inbound links because the embedded image will automatically link back to your website.) Bookmark the embed code generator so you can easily create these HTML snippets. (And read this post for instructions on how to use it.)

Here’s an example of what an embed code looks like (taken from this blog post):

Share This Image on Your Site

<p><strong>Please include attribution to Blog.HubSpot.com with this graphic.</strong><br /><br /><a href=’http://blog.hubspot.com/marketing/productivity-diet’><img src=’http://cdn2.hubspot.net/hub/53/hubfs/00-Blog-Related_Images/The_Productivity_Diet-_What_to_Eat_to_Get_More_Done_in_the_Day_FINAL.jpg?t=1434740339844&width=669′ alt=’the productivity diet’ width=’540px’ border=’0′ /></a></p>

What are your favorite websites to bookmark that help you be a more efficient blogger? Share them with us in the comments.

live webinar: INBOUND 2015 HubSpot product launches  

Sep

7

2015

How to Optimize Your Welcome Emails to Increase Opens & Clickthroughs [Infographic]

This post originally appeared on HubSpot’s Agency Post. To read more content like this, subscribe to Agency Post.

First impressions are powerful — and they’re not just limited to face-to-face interactions. These days, many people are judging companies based on their email efforts before they even start a conversation with an actual person. 

Needless to say, this change in behavior has upped the importance of ensuring that your email communications are optimized to the fullest. 

This means you need you to pay attention to every small detail — from the subject line to the time sent to the reply-to email address.

Check out this infographic from Easy SMTP to get a better feel for what steps you can take to better engage your email subscribers as soon as they sign up. 

Optimize_Welcome_Emails

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