How I Tweaked My Blog’s Design and (Almost) Doubled Signups

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blog_designOne of the beautiful things about running your blog on a self-hosted WordPress setup is that you have complete control over its design and functionality. If you can think it, it’s probably possible.

Last month I decided to make a few changes to my WordPress theme in order to see if I could improve the reader experience at the same time as improving (or at least not hurting!) signup rates.

Today’s post goes over those tweaks and outlines a few lessons that I thought you might find interesting for you own blog’s design and operation.

Shall we take a look?

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Are These Invisible Forces Hurting Your Blog?

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blogging success

Every now and then I’ll wake up in the morning, check my stats and think, “Wait…what’s that?

It’s a weird feeling when something dramatically alters the life of your blog and you aren’t sure why.

Traffic, rankings, conversions… all these things can be affected by seemingly invisible forces.

Today I’m going to talk about a few puzzles I’ve encountered over the years on my own blogs and some of the client sites that I’ve worked on.

Hopefully it’ll help you if and when it happens.

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Blog Tyrant is Giving $500 and Free Hosting to Help Two New Bloggers Start a Blog

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Diploma-01UPDATE: Thank you for all your emails. I have chosen two winners (Janey and Sherri) and am in the process of replying to all the emails. I wish I could have picked more!

Have you ever wanted to start a blog but just can’t find the money to make it happen? Well, hopefully today’s post helps.

It seems like every few days I get an email from someone who has a really great idea for a blog but, for one reason or another, can’t get the initial funds needed for things like decent blog hosting, WordPress design and maybe some marketing.

The readership of this website has been so good to me over the years and every now and then I like to do a nice little “thanks!” to help someone kick-start their career online.

Let’s check out the details.

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The Great Big Blogging Q&A: Over 100 Common Questions Answered

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qandaMy goal for this blog is to help you guys as much as possible.

I write about tips and strategies that have worked for me over the past few years in the hope that they will save you time and money and give you new ideas.

Hopefully they also allow you to build a better blog that, in turn, grows and helps more and more people over in your neck of the woods.

But today (and for the next three days) I thought we might do something a little bit more involved and direct.

Curious? Read on.

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Quiz: Are You Really Ready to Start a Blog in 2016?

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start a blog 2016

For the last two years I’ve written prediction posts about what you’ll need to know before starting a blog. These have been really popular and helped a lot of new bloggers kick off their careers. This year I’m doing something a bit different.

You see, not everyone is ready to start a new blog. The truth is that starting a blog and running it in a professional and sustainable way is a lot of work.

So, to kick off 2016 I’m going to show you a few things that will help you determine whether or not you are ready to start a blog or whether you’ve still got some preparations to do.

Let’s do it.

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A Really Big Guide to Finding Images for Your Blog (and How to Use Them Like a Pro)

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where to find blog images

Knowing how to find images for your blog and use them properly is a massive task that a lot of bloggers really struggle with. So how do we do it effectively?

Well, there are a lot of things to think about.

Are the photos consistent with your website’s branding?

Have they been formatted and edited correctly for the web?

How about the file size and detailed information for SEO purposes?

Lastly, are you sure you have the legal rights to use that photo on your blog?

This topic could go on forever and ever so I’m going to try and condense as much of the useful stuff into one post as possible so that you can bookmark it and keep referring back to it when you need.

Let’s do this! tooltip

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Is Blogging Finally Dead?

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blogging dead

As someone who runs a blogging company I am always very curious about the trends that blogging itself is undergoing.

This is especially important to me as a lot of people look to this website for information about best practices when it comes to our much-loved medium.

And something that has been popping up more and more over the last few years is whether or not blogging is finally dead (or at least dying).

Today I want to show you some interesting data that might help you determine for yourself whether or not you want to keep putting time, money and effort into your blog.

Let’s take a look.

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Survival Guide: What to Do When Your Blog Starts to Die

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blog starts to die

It’s a horrifying thought, isn’t it? All those hours spent writing blog posts, emailing subscribers and developing your blogging skills only to see your site start to die. So what do you do?

Unfortunately this is a really common event and can happen to any blog in any niche. It might be Google penalty or maybe the topic of your blog is no longer trendy.

In this post I’m going to fire up the defibrillator paddles and press them on to the chest of your dying blog! Or… something like that.

Let’s hope it helps someone out there.

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How to Write the Perfect Blog Post: A Complete Guide to Copy

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Want to learn how to write the perfect blog post? Of course you do! Let’s start with a graphic you can save for future reference.

The Perfect Blog Post

Feel free to share or use this graphic on your own blogs if you like. Please just link back to this post as a credit.

Now we can get into the bulk of the details that you might want to bookmark and follow along whenever you write a new article.

Okay, so what makes this the perfect blog post?

Okay, so let me do a bit of explaining.

I’m not saying that I know how to write the perfect blog post and that everything I do on my blog is perfect.

It’s not.

In fact, I really don’t like my writing that much at all. (Do all bloggers feel like that?)

But I have been blogging for quite a while now and in that time I’ve been able to hone my posts by looking at what has worked and what hasn’t over the years.

It’s basically a lot of trial and error.

Today all I am doing is sharing the elements, strategies and ideas that I have seen make a big difference to the stuff I write. I’m hoping that you might read something new, apply it to your own blog and see a big difference in your own results.

So it’s more like a quest for finding your own perfect blog post based on what has worked for me.

5 things to keep in mind before you start

Let’s start this post by talking about a few background idea that you kind of need to keep in mind while you are writing your posts. This is a bit like the instructions as opposed to the actual creation.

1. Ask yourself “…and then what?” before you start writing

One of the best lessons that I ever learned as a blogger is this:

All your blog posts should form one big beautiful picture as opposed to each being stand alone items. Tweet this.

What this means is that you need to sit down and carefully figure out what it is that you want your blog, and your blog posts, to achieve every single time.

The question “… and then what?” seems to help me the most.

I’ll sit down, log in, and fiddle around with a title and an idea. Once I’m pretty sure on the topic I’ll ask myself very deliberately what I want people to do before I write any words.

Make sure your post all work together as a team to achieve one or two very deliberate goals.

2. More is more

The next few items are really going to grate on a few people – the idea that more is more is kind of something we’ve all been trained to disbelieve.

But, in blogging at least, the longer posts with more perceived value seem to have some of the best results. This also counts for landing pages that are selling a product or service.

Of course, no one is going to read 5,000 words of rubbish. But in my experience, if you can write a hugely long post you are more likely to grab someone’s attention as they instantly associate the length or number of compiled items as being of high value.

As always, test it for yourself. But here on Blog Tyrant I rarely publish anything less than around 2,500 words.

3. The way it looks matters as much as what it says

When I’m drafting my posts (I always do that in WordPress) I’m constantly hitting “preview” in order to see how the post is looking from a visual point of view.

Many writers out there will hate this idea.

But the more I go on, and the more aware I become of my own blog-reading habits, the more I realize how important it is for the layout to be appealing, simple and easy to read.

That means making sure you have:

  • A nice large font-size
    I talked about this a little bit last week but you want to make sure your font is easy to read and matched to your brand.
  • Quality images
    Draw people in with high quality (but fast loading) photos and images that add value to the post and pull the eye down.
  • Small paragraphs
    Make sure you don’t waffle on for lines and lines of text. People are used to skimming so keep the paragraphs short.
  • Bold text and bullet points
    Whenever you can break up the text with burst of bold or bullet points you should do it. Just imagine this section as one big bulk paragraph vs how it is now.
  • A narrow-ish content width
    Don’t make people read your text over a hugh long line. You want your content area to be no more than around 700 pixels (mine is 650) because tired eyes will get lost.

A lot of this is not based on any data I have from my blogs, but more based on how I go about reading blogs, and how I used to design websites for clients. Readability is very important, and you want to develop a level of consistency so that all of these things add up to a blog post that “looks” like one of yours.

The reason I say that this stuff matters as much as what the post actually says is because I firmly believe that a lot of people just won’t read even brilliant text on a super-ugly blog.

4. Adding something for everyone helps uptake

It’s very difficult to please everyone, but one thing you can try to do is cater to as many “groups” of people as possible.

For example, when writing my post about blogging in 2015 I noticed something interesting: the people who shared the post on Twitter weren’t the same people who shared it on Pinterest.

What this means is that people consume things in different ways. Some people like technical explanations, others like a big old infographic and a quick skim.

If you can create a blog post that covers all of these things you are on to a real winner because you are going to touch a lot of different groups of people who will hopefully want to pass on the element of your post that they found compelling.

This also has the dual benefit of being excellent for SEO – Google is constantly looking for websites that have different formats and features in order to provide a more varied front page of results.

5. Each headline/post should address a single evergreen problem

Something that we’ve talked about a few times is the idea of “breaking down” your blog posts and just focusing in on one smaller topic.

For example, a post about How to Be Awesome at Karate might actually be better of as a dozen posts made up of smaller topics like How to Throw the Perfect Karate Punch or How to Make a Fist in Karate.

Dudes like Mehdi from Strong Lifts have absolutely killed it by focusing in on topics like how to bench press.

Over the years I’ve noticed that articles that focus in on one problem such as how to sell a blog or how to start a fashion blog seem to do the best because they solve very narrow problems and these problems never really go out of fashion.

A guide to writing the perfect blog post

Okay, so, with all those things in mind, here is the way I go about writing my perfect blog post. I hope these steps might be useful to you as well.

  1. Generate your idea
    Idea should be distinctive in the market. Try to base the post on reader feedback, a known problem in the industry or competition analysis. Research the front page of Google and your main competitors at this stage to see how you can improve on what’s out there. If you can’t, don’t bother.
  2. Develop headline
    Address problem in the headline using fear, scarcity or intrigue/questions. Keep under 65 characters long. Ensure SEO key phrase is in title. Constantly refer back to headline as you write. Use websites like ViperChill, Boost Blog Traffic and Viral Nova as a guide for headline generation.
  3. Write introduction
    First line of post should re-address your problem, headline and key phrase. Rest of introduction aimed at drawing eye down towards main points. Tell people what you’re going to do with the rest of the post, what they’ll learn, etc.
  4. List out the main points
    Rattle out your main points of the blog post so you can see the shape of the article and what you’re going to be covering. This helps to avoid double-ups and omissions.
  5. Open up tabs
    At this point I open up dozens of tabs relating to research, competition and topics that I want to cover. I then link to them as I go and if I get stuck I re-read information and try to improve on it.
  6. Write a base of 2,000 to 2,500 words
    I have a little personal rule that if I’m not hitting at least 2,000 words I’m not covering the topic deeply enough. I write out my main points to at least 2,000 words addressing the main keyword.
  7. Add bonus material
    At this point I’ll add extra paragraphs, tips, quotes, videos, photos, click to tweets, references, etc. in order to take the main content to the next level. This might take the article up another 1,500 to 2,500 words. Try to link to influencers who have written extensively or well on the same topic. Make sure you link to your own posts extensively.
  8. Don’t finish topic/pose question
    Don’t quite complete the topic. Leave room for discussion. Pose a question at the end of the article to encourage discussion.
  9. Select main photo
    I spend quite a lot of time looking for a good photo. I want it to be curious, involving a human being and something that fits with my brand. I use a lossless smusher to keep the size down but the quality high, and always make sure they are the same size and format.
  10. Publish at a peak time
    Do a quick read over for spelling and formatting but don’t waste too much time. Hit publish at a peak time. For me that is between 8am and 10am on Monday, Wednesday or Friday on East Coast USA time.

Okay so that’s the main formula that I follow every time I sit down to write. Of course, sometimes it varies based on the topic or strategy that I’m following but for the most part that’s how it goes.

How to ensure your perfect post gets results

Once you’ve written your post there are a few follow up things that you’ll want to take care of.

1. Email the people included

If I know the people well I’ll shoot them an email and let them know that I’ve included their website/post in my own article. I usually don’t ask them to share it because I don’t like putting the pressure on, I just let them know and that’s it. If your article is good enough they’ll usually give it a tweet.

2. Mail your list

I always mail my list to let them know that a new post has gone live. I send these out at peak times when the most people are online and I follow a very simple template of plain text with one link to the post. These emails are a great way to test your short-form copywriting which is aimed at getting people to open emails and click links week in, week out.

3. Test regularly

The perfect blog post will only be revealed through testing. You might hit a winner and go viral and never be able to repeat that success because you aren’t actually sure what made it stick. Split testing titles, formats, length, timing, etc. are all very valuable things to do.

4. Throw $20 at it

Sometimes it takes me a whole week to write a post, especially if it’s 9,000 words like my guide on how to start a blog. And if I’m spending that much time working on an article I want to give it the best chance of success. A quick $20 on Facebook Ads or Twitter Ads can really help to give it a boost.

5. Tweak it regularly based on feedback

As a blogger you get feedback from both human and non-human sources. It’s very important to keep posts “alive” by tweaking them based on things you hear and see. For example, if someone tells you that you’ve missed something, add it in. If Google Webmaster Tools tells you that your title isn’t getting a good CTR then change it and monitor.

Examples of some perfect blog posts

It wouldn’t be right to finish this post without showing you some of the most perfect blog posts that I’ve seen out there in the wild.

  • The Beginner’s Guide to the Paleo Diet
    Steve Kamb’s post over at Nerd Fitness has had over 2,000 comments and 45,000 likes on Facebook. It’s a massively detailed article with photos, videos and even it’s own app! Incredible value for anyone searching the topic.
  • Northern India: the Good, the Great and the Ugly
    I only found Legal Nomads recently but have been blown away by the quality of the articles that Jodi puts up. This one on India took my 20 minutes to get through and is filled with the most wonderful photos – a blog post made only after actually visiting the place!
  • How to Start a Podcast
    This tutorial from Pat Flynn is absolutely massive and contains the most complete instructions you’ll find on the topic. It includes a complete walk through and then a bunch of high res videos that take you through each step. This isn’t ranking number one on Google yet but it will be soon.
  • A Long, Ugly Year of Depression that’s Finally Fading
    One of the most heartfelt and comprehensive posts you’ll ever read from a CEO. Rand completely laid out his story of depression but also included emails, screenshots, slides, etc. about how and why it all happened. Fascinating read that touched a lot of people.
  • The Advanced Guide to SEO
    These guides that Neil Patel puts together are absolutely outrageous. Different design and content features and often longer than an actual book. They cost a lot to put together but they really cut through. This is the type of value we should be aiming for.

Do you have a perfect blog post?

Have you ever written a blog post that went viral or brought you a heaps of awesome results? I’d be really keen to hear about it. Please leave a comment below and feel free to leave your links as long as they are appropriate and on topic. Oh, and as always, let me know if I’ve missed anything!

Top photo: Ryan McGuire.


Blogging Skills Checklist: How Do You Measure Up?

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blogging skills checklist

We often look at “external” metrics like email subscribers and traffic levels, but should we also occasionally look at our own blogging skills to see whether they are developing nicely?

This idea has been floating around in my brain for a while now, and so I decided to do a type of audit to see what skills I had and what skills I wanted.

In the end I decided to put together a basic blogging skills checklist that you can use as an audit or guidepost to see where your skills are and what you might want to develop. Hopefully it helps bloggers who aren’t sure what is the most important area to be working on.

Let’s take a look.

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