How Do I Convert Blog Readers Into Customers?


via Giphy

via Giphy

ROI. Return on investment. Three magic letters that every executive has muttered. “What’s the ROI?” While they might not understand what it is you’re doing (Viral video?) they do understand black numbers on the balance sheet. So if you’re trying to get your boss to let you blog more (which we know can be a pain to justify), here are a few tactics you can use to convert blog readers into customers.

When I first started to really use a blog as a marketing tool (as opposed to a personal blog) I thought the funnel would go something like, Blog > Homepage > Sign Up. NOPE!

Wow. So naive. It is really rare for someone to land on your blog, navigate to your main marketing site, and ultimately sign up/download whatever it is your are selling. If that is the direct path someone takes, I’m sure they had several other pre-existing touch points with your company beforehand. Either way, turning a blog reader into a customer isn’t that easy. Your amazing blog post isn’t going to magically push a reader into a customer. If it did, I’d be a lot richer.

Blogging takes time, as does converting a blog reader into a customer takes time. Step back for a moment and think about the last five things you purchased (not food/drink). Can you remember how you learned about them? What kind of research did you do? How many times did you interact with the company before purchase? This quick exercise will give you a insight how a person makes a decision.

boombeach

For example, I just downloaded the game Boom Beach (don’t download this game if you have a lot on your to-do list). Why did I download this game? I’m not particularly into gaming, but the seed was planted months ago by a friend. We were at lunch and he was playing Boom Beach while we waited for our food. Then I was watching TV and saw a commercial for the game. Still no action. Then I watched a video ad from an app and I saw the ad for Boom Beach again. After seeing that ad three times, I decided to download it.

While this isn’t a perfect example, it does reinforce the notion that a potential customer has to go through multiple touch points before ultimately taking action. This idea has to be the foundation for all your efforts to converting a blog reader into a customer.

My experience has taught me that content (including your blog posts) + email = a winning combination. There are different types of content and different ways to use email marketing to convert a reader, but those two components will be extremely valuable to you in the long-run.

Great Content

via Infinite Web Designs

via Infinite Web Designs

Content is the centerpiece of this strategy. You’re looking to add value to readers through different types of content. Content can be any number of things. It starts with your consistent blog posts, that’s what brings people to your site regularly. But in addition to your blog posts, you can offer different content, like a guide, an eBook, case studies, or stock images to your readers. You don’t necessarily have to create every type of content, but whatever it is, it has to be something valuable enough that readers are willing to exchange their email address for the content.

I’m oversimplifying this right now, since content is so broad. But the point is, you need to be creating excellent and relevant content on a consistent basis. I’ll get into this more at a later date, with a separate blog post. eBooks and guides are more along the lines of content marketing, while case studies are more sales focused. Each type of content drives a different intent from the reader, so your following email marketing will be different.

Build an Email List 

This tactic is now ubiquitous among blogs. At some point, every blog will ask you to subscribe to a blog’s RSS and get the blog post in your inbox. As a reader, I love it. I only subscribe to a few blogs, but the ones I do get in my inbox, I read. Religiously. If you’re providing quality content that people want to read, they will trust you with their email address. Each time you email them with a new blog post, that’s another touch point, another chance to build on the trust you already have with the reader.

There are plenty of tools you can use to collect emails. You can see on this blog alone, we use three different options. At the top we have a HelloBar. On the side is a simple MailChimp widget. And you’ve probably encountered our SumoMe pop-up at some point. There are dozens of other tools out there that do the same thing. Exit Monitor, Bounce Exchange are two others that come to mind. A simple search will give you what you need.

Retargeting

retargeting

Retargeting or remarketing is a great tactic for your blogging purposes. I’ve found that many blog readers come from outside known channels. Known channels being things like RSS and social media. Organic search and forums are great ways to generate traffic. But users often don’t know about your company beforehand. Your content answers a question they have (or piques their interest). That’s what brings them to your blog. Then they forget about you, after they have the information they need.

If you’re unfamiliar with retargeting, it serves ads to a visitor of your website, AFTER they’ve visited. These ads can be on a search engine like Google, or social media like Facebook. So if you visit this blog, afterwards you might be searching for mac and cheese recipes online. When you visit Auntie May’s recipe blog, you might see a banner ad for Prepare.io. We didn’t pay Auntie May to advertise on her blog, that’s retargeting. It’s like a company following you on the internet (for better or for worse).

Retargeting is useful because it reminds you of the company whose website you just visited. Maybe you got distracted and just left. Or maybe it didn’t resonate what company wrote that blog post you just read. Either way, retargeting can get readers back to your site, giving you an other opportunity to turn them into a subscriber.

If you want a primer on how to get started with retargeting, read this article I wrote for Examiner.com on retargeting.

Drip Marketing

via Salesforce Pardot

via Salesforce Pardot

Drip marketing is really what nurtures your leads. Drip marketing is a series of emails that are sent to subscribers, intended to eventually get the reader to take action. Most every email service, like Mailchimp offers some sort of automation for a drip marketing campaign. Or you can use a specialized service like Drip that automates the process for you.  Guys like Patrick McKenzie can really teach you a lot about what you need to know. But what you’re doing is taking all the emails you’ve collected from your blog and guiding them to the sale.

Drip marketing is a pretty complicated process, one that will take time to refine. You can’t just set up a series of emails as a catch all. What type of content the reader downloaded plays a role. Did they open the first email? What if they didn’t? How many emails does it take for your reader to make a purchase? All these variables (and more) play a role in your drip marketing. I’ll go into more details at a later date, since this post is already 1200 words long. But here are two resources (along with Patrick McKenzie) that can help you get set up.

Zapier – What is Drip Marketing?

Pardot – Drip Marketing Infographic

As you can tell, converting a blog reader into a customer is not an easy task. It takes more than one blog post. Often it takes more than two or three. I read Kissmetrics blog for more than two years before I paid to use them. But when I was ready, it was an easy sell. Don’t get discouraged. Blogging is valuable to your bottomline, it just takes some time.

Writing Never Gets Easier


“The scariest moment is always just before you start.”  – Stephen King

Prepare.io‘s mission is to make blogging easier. But one thing we can’t actually do it making writing itself easier. Yes, we can improve your communication and planning, but the actual writing never gets any easier.

writing is hard

GIF courtesy of Iced-Gif

Why does writing never get easier? Surely it has to after the magical 10,000 hours rule? If you write long enough, eventually you’ll develop your skills to the point where it’s easier to write than when you first time attempted?

Getting words on paper gets easier. Writing does not.

Writing is a process. Everyone has their own process. Some map out an outline and fill in the blanks, others just write. Maybe you’re like Hemingway and you write drunk, edit sober. There is no right way to write. But writing isn’t merely getting words on paper.

“I hate writing, I love having written.”  – Dorothy Parker

Writing is expression. How you express yourself is unique. So while there are proper grammar rule to abide by, writing is an individual journey that must be discovered solely by the author. It’s the author’s unique voice that draws us to the writing. Individually the words are the same. They have the same meaning. But how an author paints the canvas with words, eliciting meaning and emotion from words, is the real art. And that never gets easier.

new-girl-writing

GIF Courtesy of Tumblr

Ask any writer and they’ll tell you the same thing. There is always something they would change with what they’ve written. Writing is a never-ending process. Writing will improve, become more refined…distinct to an individual writer, but it never gets easier.

Remember this as you write your blog. You may struggle with an entire post, a section, or just a sentence, but the struggle is real. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad writer, it just means you’re writing. Fight through it, because I’m sure you have something amazing to say.

What Wisconsin Basketball Teaches Us About Growth Hacking


via UW Badgers Instagram

via UW Badgers Instagram

The University of Wisconsin-Madison’s mens basketball team just advanced to its second Final Four in the past two years (Go Badgers!). They have been a model of success in college basketball since Bo Ryan took over 13 years ago. So how can a basketball program teach us about growth hacking?

Growth hacking is about using different marketing techniques, creativity, analytics, and technical skills to create a repeatable process to fuel growth. It’s the repeatable process that’s the most important part of that sentence and that’s what Bo Ryan and Wisconsin basketball can teach us about growth hacking.

If you examine the Badger basketball program, you’re going to see an anomaly within the greater college basketball landscape. Wisconsin is a program that has had sustained success, not just at the Big Ten level, but at the national level. All while bucking the trend of “one and dones” and by recruiting student-athletes that buy into the program and stay for four years.

Wisconsin players are usually less athletic players, who aren’t blue-chip recruits. You won’t see a John Wall, Derrick Rose, or Jabari Parker-type player come to Madison for one season and then bolt for the NBA. Even though Wisconsin has become a nationally recognized program, our success is predicated on the players that fit within the system, not the next Lebron James.

via UW Badgers Instagram

via UW Badgers Instagram

Wisconsin has built a process of repeatable success by having a distinct style. Badgers play tough defense. They play a controlled offense. They don’t turn the ball over and they don’t foul their opponents. Badgers don’t win because of their athleticism, they win because they’re smarter and more disciplined than their opponents. That’s the Wisconsin way.

It’s hard to argue with the results. Since Bo Ryan took over the Badger’s program in 2001, the Badgers have won 342 games (.742 winning percentage). They’ve won four Big Ten season championships, and three tournament championships. Include the back-to-back Final Four appearances, it’s a resume that few can match.

Growth hacking is like the wild west. There is no ONE right way to do anything. Growth marketers are always trying new experiments, with new tools, trying to find a new method of growth. Go visit GrowthHackers.com and you’ll see a community of growth hackers discussing the latest techniques they’ve learned. But one constant in the discussion is the pursuit to find a repeatable process. A spike of a thousand new customers today is great, but five hundred new customers everyday is even more exciting. Once you find your process, stick with it and turn on the gas.

Any basketball team can catch lightening in a bottle and have a Cinderella season. But sustaining that level of success over a decade is not easy. The Wisconsin Badgers have largely ignored the greater trends and focused on the fundamentals. They recruit the right players that fit the program and plug them in. That’s why the Badgers have had repeated success and that’s what the Badgers can teach you about growth hacking. Find what works for you, be consistent, and ignore anything that can take away from your one goal: success.

 

When To Use an Ellipses?


ellipsisI will admit it, I’m a chronic abuser of the ellipses. Whether it’s in a blog post, a tweet, or a text…I use an ellipse a lot.

But am I using it correctly? Grammatically, yes I am. But it’s probably uncouth how often I use them, which is an entirely different discussion.

Let’s look at two scenarios when to use an ellipses and why you would use them.

1. Hesitation 

This is the primary reason why I use an ellipse. Usually it’s for some type of “dramatic” effect (but that’s just me). You can use an ellipse like this in formal writing, but it’s typically used in more informal settings. Like email or chat.

You can use an ellipse to indicate a pause in dialog, passing of time, insecurity in the speaker’s voice, to demonstrate an unfinished list, or denote a speaker trailing off mid-sentence/thought.

The killer was…Robert Durst! 

I remember playing in the field behind the school growing up. It’s the happiest…I can remember being as a child. 

2. Omission 

Using an ellipse as form of omission in formal writing and is the most common use case. You can use an ellipse to indicate that you have omitted words. This is popular to do with long quotes. (But you MUST be careful not to alter the meaning of the quote). If you’re on a word count or if the long quote is a bit redundant, then you can use an ellipses.

The king was used to overeating hamburgers, pizza, and cake all the time and that’s how he ended up overweight.

The king was used to overeating…that’s how he ended up overweight.

Using an ellipse in your writing is perfectly acceptable. It’s even preferable in certain situations. It can be very effective to demonstrate certain thoughts and feelings, but you must be careful not to abuse it. Otherwise you might become a little annoying…like me.

 

 

How Much Does It Cost to Run a Successful Blog?


via Business2Community

via Business2Community

At its core, blogging is free. You can sign up for a free blog via WordPress.com, Tumblr, or Blogger in just a few minutes. You don’t even need to buy a custom URL. You can just use a generic one. Then you just write some words and push enter. Boom! Free. But the best blogs on the internet cost money, lots of money.

So what are bloggers spending money on each month? And how much? Blogging is a relatively low cost endeavor. I’ve built blogs in the tens of thousands of visitors for less than $1,000 a month. But some of the top bloggers have been known to spend tens of thousands of dollars a month. That’s a lot of moolah. When you’re so used blogging for free, it’s hard to imagine a $20,000 monthly bill for your blog. So here’s what two bloggers are spending on their blog.

Let’s start with Jason Lemkin. Jason is a venture capitalist at Storm Ventures. He previously started and sold several companies, including Echo Sign to Adobe. His blog, Saastr is one the most highly read blogs regarding SaaS businesses. I’ve read many of his blog posts and Quora answers and learned a great deal.

Here’s a tweet he sent out the other week, shedding some light on his blog numbers.

I was unable to get any follow up information from Jason regarding the breakdown of his costs. I’d speculate that the brunt of his costs revolve around two things, hosting and email delivery. He’s not creating fancy infographics or guides. It seems like it’s just keeping up the infrastructure for the 1 million visitors.

Neil Patel is another blogger that I admire and read religiously. Neil has been an entrepreneur since he was 16 and has started two successful SaaS companies, CrazyEgg and Kissmetrics. A catalyst to both companies’ success has been the blog.

via Kissmetrics

Neil Patel via Kissmetrics

Neil is very transparent and has been gracious enough to share his costs openly on his blog. According to Neil, his blog generates over 700,000 visits a month. Here’s a breakdown of some of his costs (according to his blog):

Guides

Creating a guide is great marketing collateral for your company. Easily one of the top pieces companies use to entice visitors to give them their email address. But a guide is not cheap. According to Patel, he pays $4,000 to a writer, $20,000 for design, $2,500 for coding the design, and $700 convert interactive design into PDF. In total, that’s $27,200 for one guide! Sure, you can do it for much less, but you will still run into costs similar to these.

Here’s what one of Neil’s finished guides look like. You can tell he didn’t hire someone off Fiverr to complete this.

Writers

Neil doesn’t typically pay writers, simply because a guest post on one of his blogs is great exposure for your personal brand. But does state that they will pay writers who have strong networks for sharing purposes. These posts range from $150-$400 a post.

I have been paid $75-$125 a post (minimal distribution expectations). But I also have friends that command anywhere from $500-$1,000 a post. A variable that drives up cost (aside from distribution) is expertise. Like in any other industry, expertise comes at a cost.

Marketing Automation

Getting visitors to your blog is just half the battle. Converting them to customers is the other half. That doesn’t happen overnight. Once you get someone’s email address, like with a guide, then you can set up a drip marketing campaign (marketing automation) to send that person automatic messages to nurture the lead into a conversion. Neil’s company, Kissmetrics, uses Pardot, which costs them $2,000 a month. There are plenty of other options, like MailChimp, if you can’t afford $2,000 a month. Marketing automation in itself is a complex topic. It’s something that I’ll tackle on its own at a later date.

On average, Neil Patel states that he spends about $5,000-$6,000 a month on the Kissmetrics blog. This results in over 770,000 visitors and just over 5,000 leads. Let’s speculate that they only convert 2% of those 5,000 leads. If the average price of Kissmetrics software is $200 a month, that’s $20,000 a month in sales coming from the blog, or 4x what was invested. Granted, these revenue dollar figures are purely speculative (and I’d guess they’re low). But it’s clear that a blog can be expensive, but also pay off.

What does all this tell us? For one, top-notch content is not cheap. Second, it takes a solid infrastructure to handle a large scale blog. But most importantly, it’s clear that blogs are a great lead generator. That’s for sure. But that you also have to have a solid plan as to how you’re going to get a return on your money.

It’s fun to say you have a blog that has hundreds of thousands of readers, but what good does that do you if you lose $250,000 a year? There needs to be some return. If you plan on using your blog to generate leads, make sure you calculate potentially high monthly costs that go along with a successful blog.

[Featured Image Courtesy of Business2Community]

New Blog Topic: Growth Hacking


Growth-Hacking

via kasperrisbjerg.com

 

While this blog is still in its infancy, most of the content has been about writing, blogging, and marketing. Starting today, I’m going to add another vertical to the blog. Growth hacking. Based on feedback from tweets I send out, it’s something that more and more marketings are becoming aware of.

Growth hacking is one of those buzzwords that people are tossing around these days. It feels like how people were talking about “social media” in 2008. Buzzwords aside, growth hacking is very important to your business. It’s important to know because it’s what will ultimately help drive revenues.

I’ve been learning it for months and I feel like I learn something new everyday. Along the way, I’m going to share with you what I’ve learned.  Like when I first started B2B marketing for SaaS, I thought a funnel that went from the blog, to the website, to sign up would be easy. Ha! That’s not typical user behavior. It’s just wishful thinking.

When I was running my marketing agency, I learned a lot about generating top-level traffic for your funnel. But, I was never in charge of moving visitors through the funnel. My job always ended with visits to the site. That’s probably why I love growth marketing. There are so many new problems to solve!

Growth marketing involves so many moving pieces. It’s so data driven. It’s experimental. It’s awesome!

I can’t wait to share the different lessons I’ve learned and the tactics I’ve tried. It’s going to be a great learning experience for everyone. If you have any questions, feel free to ask me now or at any point down the line. Either comment below, hit me up on Twitter, or email me (jesse at prepare dot io).

[Image Courtesy of Kasper Risbjerg]

 

Interview with Gerald Tang


Have you ever wanted to write a book? I have. It’s not easy. The process is similar to writing a blog post. A really long blog post. Many people try, but few succeed. One of the few that succeeded was my friend, Gerald Tang.

Gerald used to be an old neighbor of mine. We were in our mid-twenties and both starting out in our careers. We shared a great many experiences together, both drunk and sober, trying to find our footing in the world. Since then, Gerald has published a book about life in your twenties.

His book, Tangalang: Your 20s Focused Through a Lens of Erratic Rationality is a humorous and pragmatic take on your twenties. It’s a great read with many laughs. Gerald’s seemingly hyperbolic stories (I can assure you they’re not) make for great story telling. I will bet you that you will laugh out loud within the first 100 words.

I highly recommend you read Gerald’s book. If you’re not convinced, listen to the TalkAnything podcast I recorded with Gerald and discover what it’s like to write a 57,000 word book.

The Idea For Prepare.io


DSC_0643

I consider myself a late bloomer. I didn’t catch the entrepreneurial bug early like some. Sure I had a lemonade stand in first grade. But it was terrible and never lead to anything else. (I remember when the trash collector bought two glasses and paid with a 50 cent piece. I thought it was the greatest thing in the world).

In middle school I remember my mother telling me she thought I’d be an entrepreneur, but I always brushed it off. Perhaps because at that age, you hate to agree with your parents.

Fast forward to college. I was at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, just coasting. I had no real direction. I hated my major and hated the classes. But not getting a college degree wasn’t an option for me. So I kept showing up and doing just enough to pass.

Around my junior year, my friends were thinking about their summer internships. Being the jackass I was, an internship wasn’t on my radar. After hearing enough about it, I figured I should create a resume and try and get me one of these internship things. I made my first resume, using Microsoft Word’s Resume Wizard. It basically had my name and address on it. My first resume made a business card look cluttered.

To beef up my resume, I joined a bunch of clubs. One was Students in Free Enterprise (SIFE). That’s where, for the first time I can recall,  I was surrounded by like-minded students and things felt right. Because of SIFE, I knew I wanted to get into business and I wanted to start my own company.

I know this is a long walk for a drink of water, but I’m actually going somewhere with this.

Go read my post “Prepare.io: Lightbulb Moment” over on my Medium channel, Building the Dream. There I explain how a college kid with the worst resume in the world eventually ended up getting the idea for Prepare.io.

[Featured Image Courtesy of eren]

Blogging Success Takes Time


Screen Shot 2015-02-10 at 11.30.13 PM

Early blog traffic.

 

We’re in the midst of a boom…the on-demand economy boom. We live in a society where we need want immediate results. Therefore we now have everything you can possibly imagine at our finger tips with the press of a button. Uber, Instacart, Postmates, Eat24, the list of on-demand app goes on for miles. When we want it, we want it now! No time for waiting. But even in this age of immediacy, there are not shortcuts with blogging. Blogging success takes time.

There is no “Blooger,” an  on-demand blogging service. If you want to blog (and successfully) you have no choice but to roll up your sleeves and get a little dirty.

If you look at the top screenshot, you see traffic numbers of an actual blog I managed. Look at how many months that line was near zero? That’s not because there wasn’t content. That’s what a normal blog looks like in its infancy.

Screen Shot 2015-02-10 at 11.42.15 PM

When the blog starts to gain traction with readers.

 

Now let’s take a look at traffic on that same blog roughly a month later. You start to see more consistent traffic that adds up over time. Traffic to your blog doesn’t happen overnight. It takes months of blogging, even when it seems like you’re writing for no one. So don’t get discouraged.

I would suggest that for the first two months (maybe three), don’t worry about your traffic. This might seem illogical, but I’ve done this four times (and eventually went on to five figure monthly blog traffic). Just work on getting into a rhythm of producing consistent content. Start with one post a week. Then two. Up to as many as you plan on posting on a regular basis.

Use this time to find your voice. Yes, it’s harder with no readers, but just writing will start to iron out your writing style. Also use this time to determine your blogging guidelines and workflow. What’s your process from idea to publishing? What’s the editorial process? Get these questions answered while you’re in the beginning phases of your blog.

After this period of pure content creation, you’ll start on your blog distribution. We’ll get into blog distribution in a later post. But the focus of this post is understanding patience when it comes to the blogging process.

Odds are, you’re not going to write one blog post and your blog becomes a viral sensation. It’s nice to think like that, but that’s not the reality. Blogging takes months to gain steam. Often with seemingly no benefits. Constant output with no return. But your patience will eventually be rewarded. Keep your head up and keep blogging.

Building the Dream: The Story of Prepare.io


Screen Shot 2015-02-07 at 8.37.56 AM

For the few people who have kept tabs on Prepare.io, it’s been a long time coming. Since the idea was first conceived, to our first launch last year…it’s been a long, uphill battle. As we approach the re-launch of the new and improved Prepare.io, I’d like to share the story behind Prepare.io.

I am an outsider in the tech industry. I came from the agency services side and I’m not highly technical. I don’t have a deep understanding of backend infrastructure, and I have limited front end skills. I don’t relate to mega-billionaires like Mark Zuckerberg or Larry Ellison, who have highly technical minds and skills. Yet, here I am learning and building a software company.

I’m building Prepare.io because I want to make blogging easier. I think blogging has tremendous potential for individuals and businesses and I believe that many neglect to do so because they find it difficult. I’d like to make this process easier and encourage more people to write. That’s why I keep plugging away at Prepare.io.

To get to the point where I’m at today, I’ve gone through many trials and tribulations. Some of which my peers would never want to go through. It’s a fascinating story (if I don’t say so myself). That’s why I want to share it with everyone. Learn from my mistakes and know that you can do it too.

I started a new blog on Medium, dedicated to tell the honest truth about building Prepare.io. I don’t want to gloss over the bad times and only focus on the good. I want you to know what it took to get here. Along the way, I’ll share stories of other entrepreneurs who gutted through the journey to entrepreneurial success.

I’ll always share my Medium posts on this blog, but if you’d like to get notices of new posts directly, I encourage you to go follow my Medium production.

Read about my journey at Building the Dream on Medium.