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.

Case study: Revamping a sales funnel incrementally

When your business is struggling with making profitable sales, sometimes what you need to do is revamp the sales funnel — basically take everything apart and rebuild your business from the sales funnel, up.

The benefit of doing this is that (if you plan correctly) you can do it fairly quickly, without a lot of disruption. However, it can be costly and it can be potentially disruptive… especially if you rely on the income you generate week-to-week. So the other option is to rebuild your sales funnel incrementally: To identify all the areas of your business that need to change and then to develop a plan to slowly switch over to a new sales funnel in a way that doesn’t diminish your ability to market and sell to the people in your existing sales funnel. It’s more time consuming and potentially more costly, and sometimes it can feel like you’re juggling A LOT of balls at once, but the benefit is that you don’t cut out a week or month of sales.

One of my clients, a real estate investor, was facing this very dilemma. His business was suffering because of a change in the economy and he needed to make some dramatic changes in his sales funnel. However, he didn’t want to be too disruptive to the people who were in his existing sales funnel. So we put together a plan to switch him over slowly. (Actually, he came to me with part of a plan in place already, as well as a website redesign already underway).

We laid out the plan step-by-step:

  1. First we would create content for his new website.
  2. Then we would create an autoresponder series.
  3. Then we would offer a free report to entice subscribers.
  4. Then we would start creating passive income products to extend his income-earning opportunities.
  5. After that, we would look at additional marketing plans to boost his marketing, once he had a more automated marketing/selling system in place.

As I write this, we haven’t finished yet. We’ve implemented someone of these things and the rollout is going smoothly. However, we haven’t finished creating and implementing everything just yet. As I said, it’s a long-term plan so it takes some commitment but building your sales funnel incrementally can keep your business running while you transition.

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.

Copying, plagiarism, and how to avoid duplication and copyright infringement

I recently had a prospective customer contact me and ask about my writing services. His organization wants to create some content and they have a few pieces from competitors that they really like. This prospect wondered if I could do something similar for his company but was quick to clarify that he didn’t want me copying the competitor’s work.

This is a common request among people hiring writers and copying/duplication/copyright is also a huge issue in the writing and marketing industry. And it’s not just an issue for legal (i.e. copyright infringement) reasons but also for search engine optimization reasons — search engines prefer original content to duplicate content.

In this blog post, I’m going to give you my thoughts and ideas but let me just make this disclaimer up-front: This blog post does not constitute legal advice. If you have any concerns about copyright and copyright infringement, you should talk to an attorney. This is by no means comprehensive or exhaustively authoritative. Instead, I’m simply writing about some of my observations and rules of thumb I’ve developed over the years, and I’m trying to portray the spectrum of the issue — both good and bad. I do not endorse all of the information I am writing about here!

Let’s start with a scenario: A customer has a document (we’ll call it a “source document”) and they want their own document (an “end document”). That document could be an ebook or a website or an article or whatever. It doesn’t matter. And they may do the work themselves or with a staff writer or a freelancer or whatever. Again, that doesn’t matter. The key point I want to cover in this scenario is how the source document influences the end document.

When you think of a document, it’s not just a collection of words. It has scope, tone, appearance, a message, and it is written for a specific audience. The more of those qualities that your source document and your end document share, the more likely you are that you are risking duplicate content and copyright infringement. (Again, that is just my own opinion, drawn from nearly 20 years as a writer, but the word choice, scope, tone, appearance, message, and audience characteristics have served me well as markers of content originality).

So let’s look at the ways that the source document could possibly influence the end document…

WORD-FOR-WORD COPY

This is where someone basically opens the source document, clicks Control+A to highlight all of text, then copies the text and pastes it in the end document. Then they sign their own name as the author.

This is plagiarism and it’s illegal. There is very little argument here. The word choice, scope, tone, appearance, message, and audience are identical.

Unfortunately, it happens a lot because businesses produce so much content and it can be hard to police the issue (or, once you’ve found a culprit, to do anything about it). Trying to put myself in the shoes of a plagiarizer for a moment, I’m sure it’s tempting to copy and paste when you find something great, and especially when you compare the price of hiring a writer to write something original versus just spending 30 seconds to grab the content yourself. Plus, we live in an era where there is a lot of free stuff online anyway so the rules can seem a little blurry. I’m definitely not condoning it as a practice!

You can use tools like Copyscape to help you identify some of the times when it happens but no solution is perfect.

As someone who writes for clients for a living, and adheres to strict standards of originality, it drives me absolutely nuts that plagiarism is even an issue. I hate looking at requests for proposals from prospective clients and seeing “we will check your work against Copyscape”. I understand why they put that in their RFP and I hate that they have to do it. And I hate that there are people out there who call themselves writers but really only know how to press Control+A, Control+C, and Control+V. (Rant over)

WRAPPERS AND QUOTATIONS

This one has some good qualities to it and some bad qualities to it. So first I’ll describe it and then tell you waht I think about it: Let’s consider our original scenario again — a business that has a source document and wants an end document. One way they can draw from the source document for their end document is to copy some of the source document content, paste it into their end document, and then “wrap” that content with original content.

If you ever wrote a paper in school, you probably did just that: You wrote your own content and then backed it up with research that you quoted from others. In essence, your content copying was “wrapped” with your own original content. But it happens outside of academia as well. I see it in blogs a lot — where a business will use some info grabbed from somewhere else and then write their own introduction and conclusion.

Whether this is a good practice or a bad practice depends on a couple of things:

  • Attribution: When I was studying for my MBA, we had to review the papers of one of our classmates and noticed that the tone and word choice in the paper switched back and forth a lot. So I did a bit of research and found that his source document was written by someone else… unfortunately, instead of quoting from the source document and attributing it appropriately, he tried to pass it off as his own work. (I reported him and he vanished from class — no big loss.)
  • Amount of content: In the copyright and disclaimer sections of some books, they will sometimes list the amount of content you can copy and if they do that, they’ll often give you the reasons when you’re allowed to copy. When it’s not clear how much content you’re allowed to copy, there may very well be laws that dictate but I’ve never known what they are. In general, though, it’s hard to go wrong with some smallish quotes that, again, are properly attributed.
  • Access: This one gets overlooked a lot but I think it’s important. I think the amount of access that people have to a specific piece of content can also determine how much you can copy. If you are quoting from a book that is for sale, you shouldn’t use too much of it. If you are quoting from a popular article that is posted online, you may be able to use more. (Again, always attribute appropriately and check copyright restrictions).

The word choice, scope, tone, appearance, message, and audience are going to be mostly different for your original content and obviously the same for the copied content.

I think the key idea here is whether or not you are passing stuff off as your own or revealing a ton of stuff contained in a source document that most people have to pay for.

IDEA-FOR-IDEA COPY

Word-for-word copy is bad. No question. One way to circumvent the copyright problem is the slightly cloudier method of copying idea-for-idea. I see this in a lot of requests for proposal by people who want a end document that is almost identical to the source document but want to avoid the legal hassles of copyright infringement because you can’t copyright ideas, you can only copyright how those ideas are expressed (i.e. the words).

Idea-for-idea copy is where you simply restate the idea of the source document so that the information remains almost exactly the same but the words are different. This can be done at various levels — you can do it at the word level, at the sentence level, at the paragraph level, or at the section level.

At the word level: Let’s say your source document has a sentence like “financial representative” and you just search and replace any mention of financial representative with “investment advisor”. You find all the keywords and simply swap them out for synonyms.

At the sentence level: You just rewrite a sentence so the same information is communicated with different words. For example: “Buying your first home can be hard” can be switched to “It can be difficult to purchase a home if you have never done so before.”

… it’s the same no matter what “granularity” you use — whether restating sentences, paragraphs, or entire sections of a document.

Is this plagiarism? Well now it’s getting murky. Swapping out a couple of words for other words really is plagiarism even with the minor changes (and even if you don’t use all of the content). Remember: Word choice, scope, tone, appearance, message, and audience are going to be very similar.

It gets more complicated the more you change. At some point (and frankly I’m not sure what that point is), you move out of the realm of plagiarism and into the point where it is legal.

But is it ethical?

I’m not convinced.

Sure, your appearance might be slightly different (since you’re using different words and perhaps using different graphics and images) but everything else is nearly the same. Swapping out ideas for synonymous ideas doesn’t automatically change the scope or the tone. The message doesn’t change. And the audience hasn’t changed either.

The more granular your synonym swapping, the easier it is to spot. For example, if you are only swapping out the keywords for synonyms, it’s much easier to spot because many of the connecting words will still be original. If you are restating larger portions (like paragraphs), it’s harder to use technology to find it but someone can probably do a visual side-by-side comparison. It’s still plagiarism because you are still stealing the fundamental concepts of the original document even if you are changing the text.

SOURCE DOCUMENTS AS RESEARCH

Another way that you can use source documents is to use them as research. That is, you review the content from your source document, along with other content, and you create something original. Yes, your end document probably covers some of the similar pieces that your source document covered but the information is yours.

When you use source documents as research, you have control over the word choice scope, tone, appearance, message, and audience and you can make adjustments to those things as you go.

In my opinion, this is the very best way to create content and it is the way that I am paid by my clients to draw from source material. (Occasionally I will use wrappers and especially quotations but that’s really not how I get paid). It’s the way that causes the least number of headaches and worries — you won’t be kept up at night wondering if an angry attorney will waiting to slap a lawsuit on you.

As much as possible, I urge you to use your source documents in this way.

SOME FINAL THOUGHTS

Want to know why Biblical quotes in television shows or movies are almost always from the (very dated) King James Version of the Bible? It’s because that document is copyright free while most other Bibles are copyrighted translations owned by a publisher who will require permission before it can be used. So copyright free documents (and a relatively new concept of “uncopyrighted” documents) make this even more challenging. There is also a “Creative Commons” licensing movement that is growing to create new guidelines around how to use different kinds of content. The issue gets even trickier when you consider PLR (Private Label Rights) content that you can purchase that allows you to use the source material straight-up or with a specified amount of changes. It’s so complicated!

This is a spectrum — on the one side you have blatant copying; on the other side you have pure, original work. One is clearly wrong; the other is clearly right. But those aren’t your only two options. In the middle, it’s harder to navigate the murky waters. In my opinion, you can’t go wrong creating your own content and, when appropriate, quoting your source document and accurately attributing the quotes.

What the Squidoo?

Squidoo is a content publishing site founded by Seth Godin. Users build “lenses” that share their view on a certain topic.

I’ve been a Squidoo proponent and user: I’ve built lenses for my own business and for clients; I’ve often advised that lenses can be part of an internet marketing plan.

But the truth is: I’ve struggled to love Squidoo. That was true back in 2010 when I critiqued Squidoo’s strategy and ranted a bit about why I didn’t like them. Since then, I’ve built some lenses now and then.

One lens that I built a year or so ago was a lens about financial fiction — a genre of fiction about money and the stock market (including movies like Wall Street and Boiler Room). Of all the lenses I built, that one was the post popular, ranking well in search engines. Additionally, it was probably the most fun for me to create, since I would add a review every time I read a financial fiction book.

But then I got an email from Squidoo that changed everything. Their email — sent out to many users at once — essentially said “there are problems with your lens and if you don’t fix those problems, we’re going to ‘lock’ your lens until those problems are fixed.”

I clicked over the Squidoo to find out what the problems are (the email hinted at several possible problems and their goal was to reduce spammy lenses — fair enough). I signed into Squidoo and learned that the complaint about my lens was: “You have too many nofollow links pointing to your lens.”

Then they explained the way to fix it (which I’m paraphrasing): “Avoid posting nofollow links to your lens from forums and blog comments”.

I was puzzled because I have never posted a nofollow link to my lens. In fact, the only places I’ve posted about my lens at all have been here on my blog and over at my Google+ page. Any other links — whether follow or nofollow — were posted by someone else (I have no idea who or where).

Are you seeing the problem here? They have a problem with my lens and are going to shut it down unless I fix it — but the problem they have isn’t something that I control, so their solution is inadequate.

That’s like me telling my friend whose car was wrecked because someone ran a red light: “You can avoid collisions in the future by driving more carefully”. It is A solution to a related problem but it’s not an effective solution to the current problem.

Squidoo runs a forum for its users and numerous threads about this problem have been created, including this thread and this thread and this thread, as well as others that are less specific to this problem. Yet as I write this, Squidoo has yet to respond to the problem on any of the threads.

The moral of the story: I have a decent quality lens that has actually won me back to Squidoo that they now want to shut down because someone else has posted nofollow links to it.

This is an excellent lesson in the realities of posting on media that you do not pay for.

For that reason, I’m shutting down my financial fiction site and posting it here on an upcoming blog post.

And if you’re from Squidoo and you’re reading this (which is highly unlikely: Hey, you have a site that has an active and avid userbase and you are pissing a lot of them off. Your value proposition to some of us (especially B2B publishers) is a little fuzzy and could use some cleaning up but there was so much promise. I respect your desire to reduce the spamminess of the site (and some of the other problems you are addressing in this same sweep are legitimate spamminess issues) but nofollow links are links that your users have little control over and cannot easily correct.

Sincerely,
A former user