Create a Powerful Pillar Post

Why should I visit your blog? What do you have to offer me that will make my life better, easier, brighter? We all fall in love with our blogs. We love the little space on the internet that we have created, we marvel at the coding we learned to change the background color from gray to a slightly darker gray. We are sure that others must appreciate this work, the thought and energy that went into it.

The truth is harsh. Most people will give your blog 2 seconds before moving on. There are a number of factors besides great content that go into a decision to stick around and dig further into a site, layout and design, calls to action, rhetorical questions, something unexpected to name just a few (we’ll explore these in later posts). However, content is the quickest aspect to identify, test and change if needed. You can tell very quickly how social media reacts towards it, how often it is shared, and how much traffic it brings to your blog.

What is a Pillar Post?

A Pillar Post is the best content you have that feeds the burning desires of your target audience. It is what ideally you would want every reader to see first, to hook them and get them interested in what you are writing, the ideas you are advancing. Over the course of the life of your blog you will write a lot of content, hundreds if not thousands of posts. Within this gold mine you need to have a few posts that orient the reader to what you are all about, that provides structure, answers questions and like a good pillar holds up the mine from collapsing.

6 Characteristics of a Powerful Pillar Post

1.       It should be evergreen content. This means that the information in it does not go out of date. It doesn’t matter if someone finds it today, tomorrow or in 1 year. The message will still be relevant, useful and shareable.

2.       It should be relevant to your site and reflect the core values of your story and mission. People might love a “best wordpress plugins for travelers” but if your main topic is Family Travel than it will confuse your readers and the message of your site. It will also lack the authority you have built up in your niche. A better use of your time would be something like “5 Tips to Travel with Kids” or “10 Reasons Children Make Travel Better.”

3.       It should be scanable (yes I just invented a word). Breaking up posts with headers and sections is good blogging practice in general, but with Pillar posts it’s even more important. Readers should be able to grasp the meaning, sections and how it will help then in just a few seconds. They are more likely to read or at least skip to the sections they are interested in if you make it easy on their weary internet eyes. List posts make very good pillar posts for this reason

4.       It should answer a question or a need. A post that provides value to a reader, or solves a problem will be one they are more likely to bookmark and share.

5.       It should be SEO (Search Engine Optimization) friendly. This goes hand in hand with points 3 and 4. Google loves lists and sections as it can determine what the post is about easier. If you are answering a question or a specific need (i.e. how do I travel with kids?) your post is more likely to come up higher in the rankings. You should have 2-3 keywords and phrases that you want your post to rank highly for (more on how to do this well in future posts). But lay the ground work now and your life will be much easier in the future when we discuss link building and SEO.

6.       It should be prominent. If you’ve followed 1-5 and you have a rocking post it would be a shame if no one ever saw it other than when you first posted it. Build internal links to it on your site. Promote it consistently throughout the life of your blog. Show it off on your home page with links to pages like “Get Started” “What We’re All About” or continuing with our example “Family Travel 101.”

Pillar Post Examples

I have created pillar posts for both Todd’s Wanderings and for the Travel Blog Challenge that reflect the different focus of each site. For Todd’s Wanderings I concentrated on how to build a lifestyle that allows you to travel the world and get paid for it.

I also experimented with a more visual appeal with The Happiness Chart as a way to spread my message further and easier.

With the TBC I focused on the two main themes of the site: Building Traffic and Earning Money. You might not have realized it at the time but the 2 pillar posts are:

The fact that I was able to attach so many popular bloggers to both of these posts lends them weight and authority. It also has the added bonus of being flattering to these bloggers so that they have an interest in seeing the posts become popular.

Today’s Homework

Write a Pillar Post

Today your homework is to create a Pillar Post that incorporates as many of the above characteristics as possible. Even if you already have a pillar post your blog can only be strengthened by adding another (or 2 or 3 if you’re feeling ambitious).

Promote the heck out it and then promote it some more at least once a month. Find a place to link to it on your homepage, either from a Favorite Posts list or through a Popular Post link if it’s one of your most popular articles (if you did your homework well it will be!).

Share Your New Pillar Post

To make it easier to keep the conversation going and for new people to join in later I have decided to use the Forums as a way for us to share our work, get advice and hopefully help promote each other even more. Each blog homework will now have its own forum thread!

Join the discussion over at the forum and see what others have done. Share a link to your own post at Blog Homework 3: Create a Powerful Pillar Post. If you are not registered yet, click the link to the top right to get started.

I also love it when people leave comments here and share what they are working on. Or even their ideas on what makes a great pillar post. Please keep it up!

Running an Online Business: The Stuff They Didn’t Put in the Brochure

I’ve been running an online business for about 2.5 years now – not long enough to identify any serious trends, but long enough to have messed up plenty of things.  Thinking about the 1,000 Blog Challenge, I thought I’d share a few things I’ve found that weren’t in that “make money online” brochure.
 

Overnight Success?

Here’s the deal: blogs are just like any kind of business in that you don’t open the door and have people throwing fists full of bills at you.  Hard work results in that, but it takes time to get the traction and get the attention you need.

The latest buzzword on this topic has been the idea of overnight success.  Many of the world’s millionaires, such as Richard Branson, have noted that at one point in their career they were considered an overnight success.  That’s because you didn’t notice all the stuff they did to get there.

Someone mentioned this to me at a conference I was speaking at this year, and it was all I could do not to roll my eyes. I’d encourage you to read up on three gentlemen who certainly know a thing or two more about overnight success (and the lack thereof):

  • Chris Brogan: What it Takes to be an overnight success http://www.chrisbrogan.com/what-it-takes-to-be-an-overnight-success/
  • Seth Godin: Overnight Success?  http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2006/05/overnight_succe.html
  • Chris Guillebeau: 279 Days to Overnight Success http://chrisguillebeau.com/3×5/overnight-success/

[Todd here, couldn’t agree more with all these picks. A big thanks to Chris who also shared his ideas on the recent article here 16 Money Making Tips from Some of the World’s Most Popular Bloggers]

Most Important Skill to Running an Online Business?

This is a question I get a lot. What’s the key to success online?  It’s a loaded question, because you can’t succeed with just one skill – you need passion, blood, sweat, and probably a few tears as well.

I think the one skill, though, that everyone needs and that we all could do better is marketing.  You need marketing to know who your target audience is.  You need marketing to know what kind of website design will appeal to your target audience.  You need marketing to know what kinds of problems your target audience has, and how you can fix them.

If marketing is your weak point, go to the library.  Seth Godin is a personal favourite on marketing, as well as Dan Kennedy, but make sure you expand your scope to books that talk about persuasion, advertising, and psychology, not just books about Adwords and Facebook.

Old School Business Rules Apply?

Sometimes, us virtual folks start thinking that old school business rules don’t apply. There are lots of those, but the one I’d like to talk about is CASH.  You know, the stuff you use to pay your bills.

I don’t have the latest statistics handy, but pretty much the number one reason any business fails isn’t knowledge, or talent, or effort.  It is running out of money.No matter how good your stuff is, if you aren’t able to last long enough to get it in front of paying customers and convince enough of them to buy, you’re done.

There is lots of talk in the blogosphere about monetization and how you should monetize and when you should monetize.   Everyone’s situation is different so I’m not going to get into that here, but be sure that you do think about this from the beginning.  If it doesn’t make money, it’s not a business, it’s a hobby.

Get Some Fresh Air Sometimes

Lastly, I’d like to encourage you to shut that laptop lid, put away your smart phone, and go outside.  Get some fresh air.  I say this for two reasons:  one, because when you focus too hard sometimes it is easy to lose your focus on what’s important.  And two, because you need to go out and meet some people in the flesh.  Network with your peers.  Talk to people who would be ideal customers and find out their pains, their wants, their needs.  Life online is great, but the real world these days seems to be underrated.

16 Money Making Tips from Some of the World’s Most Popular Bloggers

I asked some of the internet’s top bloggers to share their most creative tips for making money through blogging. While I knew some of them already, I was blown away by their willingness to help out and share their experiences. Some of these folks get over 100,000 unique visitors a month. And Gary from Everything Everywhere was one of Time Magazine’s Top 25 Blogs of 2010. These are people you want to listen to. Stay tuned for the next post in this series where they also share tips on building traffic.

1. Travel bloggers often have a hard time monetizing their blogs because they haven’t figured out what problem they can provide a solution for. There’s nothing wrong with roaming the world and writing about it (I do that too), but ultimately, you won’t get paid for that. So instead of thinking about the travel, think about problem-solving. If you orient your perspective — and your blog — around that, monetization becomes much easier.

2. Monetization is putting the cart before the horse. You don’t monetize a blog, you monetize an audience and a following. If you don’t have that, you will pretty much just be selling links.

3. By far, the easiest and most useful way to start monetizing a website is through affiliate marketing. That simply means selling other people’s products (that will be useful to your audience) in exchange for a commission. This is how I recommend people start because you can learn what your audience wants and how to sell things to them without having to create and support a full product.

4. I don’t think that bloggers should try to be too creative in their monetization methods – especially at first. There is no reason to reinvent the wheel.

The first and easiest way to monetize is by offering services. Find something you are good at and learn how to offer it in a way where it is a valuable investment to others. Coaching, consulting, editing, copywriting, etc… – this is by far the fastest source of income.

But my favorite – and more long-term strategy – is to create premium products based on your expertise, journey, or travels. I build a community by giving away valuable free content and primarily provide for my family by spending months crafting even more impactful products that I sell.

Both of these are extremely common – and there’s good reason for that!  🙂

5. Build your own products sooner rather than later

My most regular and instant income is from my own product. It is an eBook with cycling routes. The book took nearly a month to put together but since then I’ve sat back and watched the cash roll in every day. Your audience is building up trust with you and they want to see your own personal products more than something from someone else. Take the plunge and start writing your own eBook or creating your own product now. You won’t regret it.

6. A creative and unique way? Well, I don’t think there is one special way.

Simply provide products and services that match your niche. If you give the people what they want, they will buy it. If you want to make money right away, the simplest and easiest way is to sell a bunch of text link ads.

7. I think being unique is very, very difficult and perhaps a little stupid. The best thing to do is look at sites that are making money and follow their example. In travel, take a look at Lonely Planet and Rough Guides for information sites; take a look at Digital Photography School for your photo posts; look at niche sites like Art of Solo Travel where they sell digital resources based around a theme. Have a look at successful online publishing businesses and model yourself after them.

8. In order to monetize your blog, you’re going to have tobuild a following – a community of loyal fans. Worry about providing tremendous value to your readers first, and monetization will happen naturally later. Then and only then will you have the ability to create something that you know your audience wants and needs (instead of guessing what they want beforehand), and at that point no selling will be necessary, because they’ll be eager to pay you back by purchasing the products you create and/or the affiliate products you recommend.

9. Sell products (e.g. ebooks, consulting, etc.) that solve problems your readers are likely to come across. Be useful and make their lives easier.

10.  It depends upon what kind of stuff you blog about, but I’d really like to see a move towards paying for valuable content that only travel/lifestyle bloggers can provide. For example, foodie travel bloggers provide really useful information when they review restaurants & places to eat in specific destinations which can save other travelers the cost (and unpleasant experience) of going to the wrong places…wouldn’t it be cool if they got paid to provide that information in some kind of format?

11. It all starts with your reader.  Who is that ideal reader? You need to understand them and then decide what things you can offer them of a premium value.  There are a number of different web monetization models out there (advertising, affiliate marketing, etc.) but none of them work if you’re pitching things your audience doesn’t need, doesn’t want or isn’t interested in.  Once you figure out things that would help them, then work on your approach.  Website design is important, but classic marketing advice still applies here – the web may have changed the medium, but the foundations are the same, so if marketing is your weak point, go to your library and start reading.

12. Yes, blogs can get by with selling text link ads but these should be a supplement to an additional revenue stream. Google is fickle. What will you do if you get de-indexed or you are stripped of your page rank?

You’ll notice a growing trend in professional travel bloggers offering products and services. I am not saying go write an ebook for the sake of it, there are quite a few weak ones out there. If you look at the most successful bloggers you will notice one thing; unique selling point. You’ve also got to think of first mover advantage, some topics have just been done to death. If I asked you about how to monetize a travel blog you’d direct me to Nomadic Matt. Frequent Flier Miles? Chris Guillebeau, of course. You need a specialism.

Now this isn’t restricted to ebooks. For example, Hop and Jaunt are a successful graphic design duo. Christine Gilbert and Nomadic Matt recently set up a consulting service. Do you have a unique skill set or knowledge others don’t? Is this widely available on the net? Can you successfully develop and distribute a product or service at a profit?

My final tip: Strongly consider iPhones applications. The explosion in sales and growth in the market is a strong contender for monetization possibilities.

13. The best advice, and it’s the advice I followed from my mentor, is to not worry about the money. The first thing you need to focus on is design and content. If you nail this, then the traffic will come and when the traffic comes the money opportunities will start opening up. From the moment you start your blog, you need to be focused on building your brand, and your authoritative voice, and you must start building relationships with people. It is from these things that opportunities will arise, such as partnerships with travel companies, which you never would have thought of in the beginning.

14. Content is king.I think the first thing to start monetizing is to write a lot and give it a creative spin. Do some research and see what sort of sites are in the market and which ones are doing well. Steer clear from convention and find a particular style or market you like – specialize in a country or a field of travel/lifestyle that not many engage in.

15. This may sound superfluous but the first step to monetizing your blog is to treat your blog like a business. This entails thinking about:
A)  A blog name and getting your own domain name (if you haven’t done so already).

B) The brand you’d like to create – from your writing style to topics and the look-and-feel of your blog. Think about what would differentiate your blog from the rest.

C)  A business plan – your objective(s) with the blog, target audience and how to reach them, traffic-building and monetizing strategies, identifying your peers, medium- to long-term goals, etc…

D) Products and pricing – be it ads, ebooks or services, define your products and your rates.

E) Networking – join discussion forums, network via Twitter or facebook and attend blog events. Invest time in building your network as this will be your source of inspiration, information and opportunities. Have your business card ready at events!

:-)

Then pour your ‘heart and soul’ into your blog (by this, I mean dedication and discipline) without any high, short-term expectations. Last but not least, don’t forget to have FUN blogging! 

16. Travel and lifestyle blogs are in a great position to take advantage of affiliate marketing, because there are so many travel affiliate programs like Expedia or Travelocity as well as niche affiliate programs that could fit into any type of lifestyle blog. Consider something like a Top 10 Extreme Travel Challenge Contest if there were 10 bloggers involved.

You could have each travel writer put together their most extreme travel itinerary and post about it, and then you could have a contest for readers to vote on the best trip, and this contest could be posted across all of the different blogs involved, with links back to each others extreme travel itinerary.

Each reader votes and maybe one reader is chosen for a special prize, like a weekend getaway or something, or even the actual winning itinerary, if that could be afforded. The trick is then that for each itinerary, you incorporate travel affiliate programs to market airline tickets, hotels, car rentals, or whatever other types of travel services you use along the way to save money.

It would probably create good SEO for everybody around the terms Extreme Travel or whatever else you wanted to use, plus everybody would benefit from the affiliate marketing because of the extra traffic driven by reader exposure from each others blog.

What are your strategies for making money with your blog? Looking for more advice? Post comments, questions below.