The quicksand principle: 12 on-site strategies to draw people deeper into your blog

Quicksand! In cheezy action shows, it was the vilest of naturally occurring killers, slowly drawing people deeper and deeper to their own demise.

In the online world, YouTube is excellent brilliantly devious at applying the principle of quicksand. I’ll start watching one video and an hour later I’ll find myself watching crazy cat videos plumbing the weirdest depths of YouTube.

YouTube has perfected the art of quicksand: Of offering viewers quick and easy ways to access even more content that they might like.

If you own a blog, you should apply the same quicksand principle to your blog. After all, you worked hard to get readers to your website and you don’t want them to click away… you want to draw them deeper into your blog, encouraging them to read more posts. How do you do that?

I’m not talking about putting people onto your site (such as with marketing) or getting previous readers back to your site (such as with autoresponders)… I’m talking only about keeping eyeballs on your site when they land there.

TOOLS AND STRATEGIES TO DRAW PEOPLE IN

Quicksand strategy #1: Back/Forward buttons: Perhaps the most useful default quicksand method is to add a “previous post” and “next post” link on your site, especially if it displays the title of the blog post too. It’s interesting to me how I use this button: When I’m reading a post and get to the bottom, I can always tell how much I liked the post by whether I hit the “previous” button. There are a small handful of blogs that I do that almost always.

Quicksand strategy #2: Search: Adding a search bar on your blog is one way to get people deeper into your site. The assumption is that they go to your site and search for something they’re looking for. In my experience (based on the types of blogs I write for), this isn’t used very often because people usually get to a site for a reason and stay there for a reason… and searching seems to be something they’d likely go back to Google to do. But if someone really loves your content and wants to see what you’ve written about it, they may use your search line.

Quicksand strategy #3: Displaying more posts: This is another simple strategy that is usually cooked as a default into blog platforms: Quite simply, how many blog posts do you display on your blog? On the current version of AaronHoos.com, people see five post excerpts. Depending on the design of your blog, you might display 2-5 full blog posts or as many as a dozen excerpts (and some themes do a great job of encouraging this strategy with how they display blog posts and post excerpts).

Quicksand strategy #4: Categories: These are the high level key ideas in your blog. Mine, for example, are built around business, finance, and real estate — the three topics I write most about — plus a couple of other categories. Whatever you do, AVOID an uncategorized category because that kind of sucks.

Quicksand strategy #5: Tags/Topics/Labels: Tags are another way to label your blog posts (and, in fact, I think they’re sometimes called labels on some blogs). Categories are pretty important and I think WordPress requires all posts to be categories as something, tags are optional. But I like tags a lot. I think people have stopped using them as much but the use of hashtags in social media has a lot of similarity so maybe we’re using tags again. You can present your tags in a few ways — usually at the top or bottom of a post, embedded in your blog copy, and in a tag list or cloud. I’m a big fan of tag clouds — especially the ones that increase the size of the tag text based on the number of posts tagged with that word. Until recently, I used a tag cloud and would probably go back to one again except that I’m blogging a lot with a few tags that are disrupting the user-friendliness of the tag cloud.

Quicksand strategy #6: Date-based organization: You see this on some blogs. This is where the dates are listed down a blog’s sidebar and when you click on the date, it expands to reveals the blog posts for that date. On some blogs this is appropriate if you’ve been blogging for a while because it adds a layer of credibility to demonstrate how consistent you are. But I’m not convinced of its usefulness otherwise. In most cases, what are users there to do? Rarely will someone look for dated information; I think most readers are on your blog for topical information. Unless you write news or very date-centric content, this certainly is a way to draw people in but I’m not sure how effective it is.

Quicksand strategy #7: Recently posted/most popular/most commented: This is a power strategy that is really several strategies but I’m lumping them together because the functionality is the same and the user-experience is the same: These lists are derived from data gathered from the blog post (such as the date or how often it’s clicked) and displays it in a widget, usually on a sidebar list. I’ve listed three but there are way more… most shared and most mentioned are two more I’ve seen.

Quicksand strategy #8: See also: This often appears at the bottom of a blog post and lists similar articles (usually based on information drawn from categories or tags). I like using this tool when I’m on other people’s blogs, except I don’t like that this functionality is now often being co-opted for click-through advertising, which I think diminishes the value of the blog.

Quicksand strategy #9: In-text links: This is where you write a blog post and then link to previous blog posts whenever you mention something relevant in the copy (as I did earlier when I talked about avoiding the miscellaneous category and then I linked to a previous post about that topic). This needs to be done intentionally and it can be quite effective.

Quicksand strategy #10: View all posts by: This is usually used when you have a blog that hosts numerous authors, so each author’s name is clickable, giving readers the ability to view all posts by a specific author.

Quicksand strategy #11: Your own groupings: This is a strategy I need to do more with. I really like it and I think it’s effectively. Basically, you group together similar blog posts and link to each of them from a single landing page. Then this landing page gets a link in different places (such as your sidebar or your menus or whatever). Think of it as a table of contents built around a series of blog posts that may or may not have been intentionally related when you first wrote them. It’s a great way to quickly pull together content that might not immediately seem related, or to pull together content into a strategic topic. For example, I might do that about sales funnels on my website. (I fully intend to, just haven’t got around to it yet). I like this strategy because it creates so much control over what you present (plus you can add more text on the landing page, which can add further context for the links). And as an added bonus, this method can become a powerful tool in search engines to help attract readers.

Quicksand strategy #12: Link lists in popular posts: In some ways, this is a mash-up of two of the strategies above — see also strategy plus the your own groupings strategy. Start with some of your most popular blog posts and then add a list of related content to the bottom of that post. That way, people who land on that post will see the list and may be drawn deeper into your site.

HOW TO USE THESE STRATEGIES TO PULL PEOPLE DEEPER

These are tools and strategies to add some eyeball glue to your website. Although they won’t all work in every situation, the more you use, the better. People will have different experiences on your blog and they’ll pay attention to different things. One person might click through a link embedded in a sentence, another person might click through a “See more” link, and another person might click a tag. Each user users these tools/strategies because they want something specific from your site.

And one more key point: I wish it goes without saying but I’m going to say it anyway: you need to make sure you post great content on your site! As you build a library of great content, link back to it regularly from your future content to encourage people to read more.

Television networks are overlooking the opportunity for shorter television shows

When I was a kid, Thursday night was our family’s “TV night”. My dad would come home from work with chips and pop tucked under his arm, my sister and I would need to get our homework finished right after supper, and then at 7PM we’d all squeeze onto our couch and watch TV for a couple of hours. If I recall correctly, it was probably a couple of half-hour comedies followed by a one-hour drama.

Then PVRs changed how we view television: It gave us an opportunity to record shows and watch them when we wanted, while fast-forwarding through commercials. Netflix broadened our options and provided a similar benefit of watching shows we wanted without commercials.

Another benefit, not always considered, is the reduction of the episodic timeframe: A show that once took 30 minutes to watch (with commercials) now takes 22 minutes, and a show that once took 60 minutes to watch (with commercials) now takes 44 minutes. I think people want shorter entertainment, if only to give them the option of more stories in the same amount of time.

I think we see this in YouTube. How often do people find themselves sucked into the blackhole of YouTube, watching short videos… for hours on end? (Guilty!!!) The entertainment draws us in but it’s the shortness of the entertainment that keeps us there. We think “oh, it’s only a 2-minute show” or “oh, it’s only a 5-minute show” so we watch 10 of them in row!

I’m reminded of a friend in college who showed up to class looking very rough. I asked him why he was in such bad shape and he told me that he spent the entire night playing Minesweeper. Each game was only seconds long so “just one more game” of a few seconds lasted the entire night.

The time we spend on a show has shortened, which is not a huge surprise in our tweet-sized, sound-bite, fast-food world. Marketers will tell you that attention spans are diminishing as we’re inundated with content. In spite of this, television shows persist as 22 minute or 44 minute segments. Even Netflix-only shows are about that same standard duration, regardless of the fact that they aren’t burdened with a specific scheduled run-time.

I think the opportunity is ripe for shorter television entertainment. Specifically, we need more 10-15 minute shows.

I’m not presenting an entirely new concept — there are online shows already, whose episodes (often called “webisodes”) are in shorter formats:

  • Of course there are many online-only shows (series and one-off shows) that are well-crafted and entertaining but only a few minutes long.
  • TV shows will do promos, special bonuses, or off-season teasers in the form of webisodes. For exampe: The Office offered a short series of off-season webisodes with regular cast members, and The Walking Dead gave us webisodes with non-cast members that existed in the same universe but outside of the main storyline.
  • BMW entertained us with a few short adventure-style stories in which their cars were featured prominently.
  • A show like Saturday Night Live hints at the opportunity for shorter entertainment, not just because of how the show is presented on TV but also proven by the extended life that some skits get on YouTube.

I think this same short-show concept should be applied to television: Shorter shows in shorter seasons. For example, why not have a 4-episode season, with each show only 15 minutes long? This could work in both comedic formats and dramatic formats. As I write this, I’m reminded of the 6-episode series of shows, each 5 minutes long, on Acorn TV for a show called Girl Number 9.

This will shorten the story cycle, turn shows into one-camera shows, and will also change the cost structure of shows and how shows are monetized.

But this could be a great way to attract audiences looking for shorter entertainment, who will be more willing to watch something if it’s only 15 minutes long. This might also be a great way to test audience reception of a show on a smaller scale (i.e., a network might buy a 4-episode series of 12-minute shows before investing more heavily into a larger season of 22-minute or 44-minute of the same show).

For networks struggling to keep viewers, I think this has a powerful opportunity for the network that does it right.

Ideas to generate passive income with content

Running a business — one in which you provide services to your clients — sometimes ties you to the clock: You can only perform so many services in a day and that puts a cap on your income. As a copywriter, this is a frustration I face.

Yes, you can become more efficient, yes you can raise your prices, yes you can work longer hours, yes you can outsource some of your work. I do those things and I know other people who do those things too. But if you’re THE person who delivers value as a service, you will face the simple reality that there are only 24 hours in a day and at some point you have to stop working so you can eat a carrot or watch an episode of House of Cards.

Don’t get me wrong, I love service businesses and I think if you want to start a business, you should start by offering a service. But there comes a point when you want to grow your business but you can’t squeeze more productivity into your day.

Expanding your business to create income that isn’t chained to the clock is a great way to help you make more money without having to invent a time machine. This is sometimes called passive income.

One way to create passive income is to create content that you monetize. Here are the 3 steps to do that…

1. IDENTIFY THE BURNING NEED

You’ll only attract eyeballs to your content if you give people a reason to view it. And the best reason to get someone to view your content is if you solve a pressing problem or alleviate a burning need.

I’m not going to go into more detail about that here. It will be different for everyone and if you’re not sure what your audience’s biggest problems (that you solve) are then that should be your homework.

So, I’ll assume that you know what the problem (it’s got to be a BIG problem) and how you solve it.

Okay? Let’s continue…

2. FIGURE OUT HOW YOU’LL COMMUNICATE YOUR SOLUTION

There are many ways to deliver content that earns passive income.

Here is a non-exhaustive list:

  • Print book
  • Ebook
  • Report
  • Ecourse
  • Articles
  • Blog posts
  • Video
  • Social media post
  • Email
  • Toolkit
  • Swipe file
  • Webinars
  • Seminars
  • Podcasts

I’ve mixed offline and online content deployment channels together, and as you read this you can probably identify a handful of options I didn’t include.

3. DECIDE HOW YOU WILL MONETIZE

There aren’t that many ways, actually. Only two. Here they are at a high level:

  1. You can sell the content (actually, you’re just renting access to the information because you continue to own the information). It might include permanent access or temporary access. Examples: selling a book or ebook, selling tickets to a seminar.
  2. You can run ads or affiliate offers on or near the content so that you earn money as people view or click. Examples: An ad enabled video or an email with an affiliate link it.

You can also combine these together. I frequently write for clients who offer sold content that also has affiliate links inside of it.

For more info on monetizing your content, check out this blog post: 5 levels of content monetization.

There are many ways to put these pieces together and have them offered regularly through your sales funnel. So if you want to grow your business and start earning a bit more passive income to help bump up your income without working longer hours, start creating and deploying monetized content.

(Hey, want to see a case study of this very thing in action? Check out this passive income case study).

Aaron Hoos’ weekly reading list: ‘Content marketing, WordPress security, and content tools’ edition

Aaron Hoos: Weekly reading list

Here’s a selection of stuff I’ve been reading this week:

  • The SEO’s dilemma: Link-building versus content marketing: The article itself was from a couple of weeks ago but I’m just getting to it now. What I liked about this article is that it highlighted a disparity I barely knew existed. But as soon as I read it, I realized that definitely trend toward one side versus the other. As a writer, I frequently default to the content marketing side and just assumed that there was a lot of overlap between link building and content marketing. But this article opened my eyes and helped me to realize just how strategic you need to be, and that you really should consider doing both. And I love that it really comes back to goals and metrics.
  • WordPress security tips: Marketing and PR pro Karen Swim had her website hacked a couple of months ago. I only noticed it because some links I had previously posted to her site from my blog were suddenly showing up as Not Found. I visited her site and saw a post that she was frustrated by a recent hacking. Then she linked to a list of resources she has collected to help WordPress owners keep their websites more secure. This is a good read and if you have a WordPress website, make sure you start implementing these things!
  • Content tools to boost your search performance: In this article over at the Content Marketing Institute, they share some really useful tools you can use to help you discover keywords, research your competition, optimize your content, and more. Good stuff.

Aaron Hoos’ weekly reading list: ‘Local search, press releases, and the future of content’ edition

Aaron Hoos: Weekly reading list

Here are some of the things I’ve been reading this week:

  • Local search ranking factors: There’s a big push back to the local market and I’ve been watching it increase in importance over the past couple of years. Well, the good folks at Moz have surveyed and analyzed the factors that influence local search ranking. There is really good stuff here and, like a lot of stuff that comes out of Moz, this should go into your to-do list for your website if you are targeting a local market.
  • Google’s new SEO rules for news releases: I’ve been relying on press releases releases for a long time — to help me build awareness and quality links for my business and my clients’ businesses. Recently, Google announced that it was changing the way it would pay attention to news releases backlinks. Jayme Soulati discussed this on her site and she also linked to a blog post at PRnewswire. If you write news releases, be sure to read them both. The best quote is: “We believe the value press releases provide is in discovery, not links.” This won’t change how I write press releases but it will change why I write press releases.
  • How to make yourself a marketing Einstein. This is a humorous article that builds off of a quote loosely attributed to Einstein. The premise is: If you invest 15 minutes a day studying something, you’ll end up a year later having spend the equivalent of a year in college. So this blogger is spending a full hour a day studying a topic (marketing). In his first post he mentions 2 excellent resources — The massive guide to getting traffic and How to increase website traffic. Great stuff at both sites… and I love the hour-a-day for a college-education-in-a-year approach!
  • The insider’s guide to the future of content: The folks over at Steamfeed wrote a great article about how content is changing and what we can expect it to be like in the future. As a writer, I’m mindful that the content I create may not always be consumed as text (I also write audio and video scripts for businesses and I’m increasingly asked to do so). Smart content creators will pay attention to these predictions and adjust their businesses accordingly.