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Tricks to Creating Unique (and Beautiful) Imagery for Your Business

Just because something looks good does not mean it’s going to ultimately contribute to building a beautiful brand for your business.

In fact, you could spend (and I have spent) hours slaving away on a beautiful image for your blog or social media post and ultimately still not contribute anything to your brand. That’s tragic.

It’s possible to slip away and spent a lot of time and money on gorgeous designs that ultimately don’t accomplish what we really want.

As a business owner, the first thing that you want with any imagery for your business is to build a beautiful, strong brand. If your imagery and your graphic design don’t work in that direction, they are not accomplishing their purpose.

If you’re ready to cry right now, I’m with you. I look back on the many hours I’ve spent in Photoshop and various apps trying to make things for my business and it just breaks my heart.

I wasted so much time trying to come up with blog post images and social media images that were clever and creative and pretty and unique, but in the end they didn’t really build my brand.

Don’t get me wrong, each image, page, and post might look good on its own.

But they didn’t contribute to building a beautiful brand for Alana Le, the author, entrepreneur, and Army wife extraordinaire. 😉

So let me share with you some of the hacks that I have learned the hard way in the last 5 years as a solopreneur. These branding hacks are great ways to make sure that your brand imagery is actually beautiful AND that it’s building a brand for you.

My Best 6 Tricks to Creating Unique and Beautiful Imagery for Your Business

Visual branding hack #1: Relentless consistency

Is visual consistency a hack? I’d argue that it is. It’s easy to do, but most people shy away from it for fear of being boring. In fact, the more consistent you are with your brand imagery, the easier it’s going to be to create images for your brand. You don’t have to make any big decisions for each new image. You simply use your template or look at the images you created before and make something that matches those.

This means using the same filter again and again; choosing the same colors over and over; always going with the same fonts, the same font sizes, and the same types of images.

A lot of people are going to think that sounds boring. And yeah, it might feel boring – to create. But it won’t look boring. It will look professional, attractive, and it will look like you know what you’re doing. Here’s how I use consistency and templates to easily create blog post and social media images that go together:

Consistency – relentless consistency – is the key to beautiful brand imagery that all fits together in an attractive, seamless way.

Visual branding hack #2: Color overlays

So, consistency is great. But what does that mean practically? What are the actual things that you make consistent? That’s a great question, and consistency includes colors, fonts, font sizes, types of imagery (for example, all images of people or all images of fresh flowers), and image size/dimensions. But I’m going to give you my favorite hack for accomplishing consistency with minimal work: color overlays.

Color overlays are one of the most embarrassingly easiest ways to make your brand consistent. You can take a bunch of different photo with pretty much any content and any brightness level, and use color overlays to make them look like they all belong together.

(You should be able to create a cover color overlay in most photo editing apps but definitely in Photoshop and I recommend learning to use Photoshop if you’re going to be creating a lot of images for your business.)

Color overlays are way to put a transparent colored “screen” over any image.

This does two things really well:

1) It makes different images look like they go well together, so that if someone sees a bunch of your posts together in one place (say, on Pinterest), they will send a consistent, attractive, professional message.

2) It makes it easier to read any text that you put on top of the image. And that’s a big issue. Legibility is huge when it comes to good branding.

A note on the importance of legibility:

If you have a lot of beautiful images but then you clutter them up with unattractive text, too much text, or simply illegible text, it will look busy and will be hard to read the text. So basically you took a great image and then messed it up with too much text and it’s not legible anyway! Ouch.

So here’s what you do instead:

You look at your brand and come up with a set of colors to use for your imagery.

This is especially important when it comes to blog post featured images and social media images.

For example, my logo is plain black. But the accent color on my website is coral. So I use a coral overlay on most of my images.

It’s nothing fancy, and you might feel like “wow, that’s a lot of pink!” But if you know me, you would know that it definitely represents my personality and brand well. And the important thing is not that you find a lot of color everyone will love. All that matters is that you choose a color that people will begin to consistently associate with your brand.

Honestly, it doesn’t really matter what color you choose, as long as it’s not hideously ugly and as long as it’s a color that eventually becomes associated with your brand.

Let’s say you have a website that uses lot of light blues and greens. Choose an even lighter blue or light green shade for your overlay, and every time you make a blog post or social media image, add that color overlay to the image.

How do you do a color overlay?

(The following example uses my old blog graphics, but it’s such a perfect example of the power of a color overlay that I couldn’t resist!) In Photoshop open up the photo or copy it into your template and select the layer that the photo is on. In the example below, I’ve added the photo to a new layer in my template. As you can see, it’s a gorgeous photo but the template text – the blog post title, my website URL – are pretty much impossible to read.

Color overlay in Photoshop tutorial | Step 1 | Alana Le | Content Marketer + Blog Ghostwriter
Color overlay in Photoshop tutorial | Step 1

Then go to Layer Style, Color Overlay and then you’ll see a little color box.

Color overlay in Photoshop tutorial | Step 2 | Alana Le | Content Marketer + Blog Ghostwriter
Color overlay in Photoshop tutorial | Step 2

Select the little color box in order to choose the color you want. I usually paste in the hex number that’s that #down at the bottom with a six character code. You can copy the that text number from another of your brand related images – anything that has the colors that are typically used on your brands like for example your logo or you can even take a screenshot of your website and then copy the color from one of those.

Color overlay in Photoshop tutorial | Step 3 | Alana Le | Content Marketer + Blog Ghostwriter
Color overlay in Photoshop tutorial | Step 3

Then look at the opacity % and adjust it to something that looks good. You want it to be see-through enough that you can clearly see the photo behind the overlay, but opaque enough that you can see text easily when it’s overlaid on the photo. By the way, you can change that anytime so pick up number – for example, 60-something % – as a starting point and then press Okay.

Color overlay in Photoshop tutorial | Step 4 | Alana Le | Content Marketer + Blog Ghostwriter
Color overlay in Photoshop tutorial | Step 4

And we’re done! The text is visible and clearly legible, and the beautiful image shows up too – without overpowering the text.

Color overlay in Photoshop tutorial | Step 5 | Alana Le | Content Marketer + Blog Ghostwriter
Color overlay in Photoshop tutorial | Step 5

Visual branding hack #3: Styled stock photography

We’ve talked about consistency and we’ve talked about ways of color overlays to achieve it.

But what are you actually trying to be consistent with? What do you actually use those cover color overlays on?

It comes down to imagery, of course. That’s the title of the blog post. But where do you get all these images? And how do you know which ones to choose?

First things first: Try Unsplash. It is an amazing source of beautiful free images, and I don’t know what we all did without Unsplash. There are also other great free sites like Pixabay and others, and you can also pay for stock photography if you have a budget for it at sites like iStockPhoto.

But how do you take it to the next level?

Styled stock photography.

Write it down. Memorize it. Google it. This phrase will change your life.

“Styled stock photography” simply means that a photographer put together a bunch of different objects or maybe just one or two specifically to create photographs with a certain feel that you can use for your business.

If you run a business that has physical products, you probably already have styled photos for your products.

For example, if you make a lavender body scrub you might’ve hired a photographer to take pictures of your body scrub with little bits of fresh lavender on a nice white background to use in your shop images.

But if you don’t run a business with physical products, you probably don’t have images like that already. And if you’re like a lot of people, you probably assumed that service businesses don’t have any need for style photography. You couldn’t be more wrong.

Styled stock photography is simply about creating a super attractive, high-quality picture of your brand.

Let’s be real – if you buy that lavender body scrub, you’re probably not going to find sprigs of fresh lavender in your packaging. It’s not about a literal interpretation of the products and what you’re getting. That really would be boring, and people would scroll right past.

It’s about the feel of the product, of the brand. And that is certainly something that you can do even with the least visual business on the planet.

That said, doing custom styled photography shoots can be really expensive. If you’re trying to do everything yourself, you probably don’t have enough money to pay for your own custom photo shoot yet. After all, if you had that kind of money, you wouldn’t be doing all this yourself, would you?

And that’s where sites like Creative Market will be your best friend. Go to Creative Market, search for styled stock photography, and prepare to be amazed:

Creative Market Styled Stock Photography | Alana Le | Content Marketer + Blog Ghostwriter
Creative Market Styled Stock Photography, click image to visit site

Here are a few of my favorite styled stock photography shops on Creative Market:

White Hart Design Co | Best Styled Stock Photography Shops | Alana Le | Content Marketer + Blog Ghostwriter
White Hart Design Co Shop on Creative Market, click image to visit shop
Miss Ollie | Best Styled Stock Photography Shops | Alana Le | Content Marketer + Blog Ghostwriter
Miss Ollie Shop on Creative Market, click image to visit shop
Kristina and Co | Best Styled Stock Photography Shops | Alana Le | Content Marketer + Blog Ghostwriter
Kristina and Co Shop on Creative Market, click image to visit shop

There are so many beautiful photographs out there that you can buy to use for your brand, often in bundles that cost between $10 and $20 for a bunch of gorgeous photos along a consistent theme.

There’s also Shay Chochrane’s stock shop, which runs a little pricier but is always amazing:

Shay Chochrane Shop | Best Styled Stock Photography Shops | Alana Le | Content Marketer + Blog Ghostwriter
Shay Chochrane Shop, click image to visit shop

And finally, Wonderfelle recently launched her Styled Stock Society, which I am pretty excited about because it also offers some really beautiful options and gives members 30 new styled stock photos per month (!!):

Styled Stock Society | Best Styled Stock Photography Shops | Alana Le | Content Marketer + Blog Ghostwriter
Styled Stock Society, click image to visit shop

You can use them for blog post images, as the main image on your home page, or to share on social media. Of course, this requires you spending a little bit of money but it could be worth it, especially if you have more money than time right now.

But what if you have more time than money? (Been there!)

If you take a look at a lot of the stock style stock photography out there, and if you’re decent with a camera, you might be able to get some of the way there yourself.

Here’s what you do to make your own styled stock photography:

Go to the dollar store and buy a piece of plain white poster board. Go to the grocery store or Target and get a mix of small items that are connected to your brand feel – snacks, flowers, plants, stationary – or just “shop” around your house. Come home and set it all up in an area that receives a lot of natural light but not direct sunlight, to minimize shadows. Preferably set it somewhere out of the way that a toddler or pet won’t be able to reach (good luck with that).

Then play around with the placement of the objects on the poster board and take a bunch of pictures from an overhead angle. Take WAY more pictures than you need, because sometimes you might not realize something looks off until you are editing it in Photoshop or a photo editing app like VSCO.

(If you’d like a more in-depth tutorial, check out this one at PinkPot.)

The DIY method is a great way to get styled photos that are unique to your brand and look really good, but without spending a ton of money. But if you are not artistically inclined AT ALL, and/or if you are pressed for time, you might want to just go the ready-made route. Consider yourself warned. 😉

The moral the story: you need styled photography, whether for your social media or for your blog or website.

The question is just where are you going to get it.

Hire a pro to do a custom styled shoot for your brand, get pre-made photos from a source like Creative Market, or do it yourself. The choice is yours. And have fun with it!

Visual branding hack #4: Lots of white space

We’ve covered images; we’ve covered how to make them consistent; and my primary trick for doing that, which is using the same color overlay or filter every time.

But another trick to making sure your brand imagery always looks good is definitely just that – a trick.

A hack.

It’s ridiculously easy, it’s very counter-intuitive (if you’re not a visual person), and not many people will think to do it on their own; but it will make a massive difference in the visuals on your site and social media.

What’s the trick? White space.

This has got to be the most underutilized design tactic on the Internet.

This is a great way to make sure that the images and colors that you do have pop and look amazing, while making sure that your text is easy to read and clear as well.

Worried that it might feel boring?

That’s the last thing you should be worried about!

If your images look good and they’re consistent, and your copy is both high quality and easily legible, no one’s going to worry that there’s not enough content on the screen. They will be too busy focusing on the content itself, which is what you want.

But on the other hand, if the opposite is true – if your images look bad and there’s too much text and content on the screen at once – it will definitely be noticeable and distracting.

So this “hack” simply means to always err on the side of minimalism and make sure there’s plenty of white space around / in all of your content.

Oh, and if you’re not using a white background, that’s okay; you just need blank space of any muted color. That’s what matters.

Visual branding hack #5: short paragraphs

We’ve talked images; now let’s talk copy.

How can we apply the same principles to make sure that your copy looks good?

Because visual branding isn’t all about imagery.

After all, in today’s content-heavy Internet universe, a lot of what we see on the web is not just images but the text that accompanies them.

You might have to one to three images in a blog post, but 2000 words or more for the actual post.

That means the text itself – the way you present it – will have a huge impact on the visual experience of your content.

Here’s a simple hack that I’m shocked more people don’t use: Short paragraphs and short sentences.

This is the same idea of the “lots of white space” approach. Make your text appear simple, minimalist, and easy to read. Your audience can scan from short paragraph to short paragraph much more easily than they can navigate a solid block of text, and you better believe that will affect your dwell time.

Visual branding hack #6: Pull out quotes

Another great way to break up the copy and to make it more visually appealing and easier to comprehend is to pull out quotes and make them bold or italic, or even a larger size using the quote format that comes with your theme. My personal preference is to make them bold, since it’s easy to read and doesn’t require repeating a sentence.

Sprinkling a few important bold quotes throughout the text will draw that the eye and can make it easier to comprehend the content; but not only that, it will also make the page appear more visually balanced.

This is most important for blog posts. You can’t do this with most social media updates (using all caps for important sentences will come across as tacky most of the time), but you can do this with the images that you share on social media if you’re including text overlayed on the image – just use a different font, size, or weight for the most important word(s) on the image.

I hope these simple (but effective) tips for DIY branding and imagery are helpful to you. They are each concepts I have learned the hard way and wish I had known sooner. I wanted to pass on these lessons because I don’t want anyone else like me spending ages on visual branding only to find that the time was wasted!!

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Easy 30 Minute Content Marketing Projects

Is there anything more humbling that searching for your target keywords and discovering that your beautiful website ranks on the 10th page of search results?

How and where do you even begin to tackle this obstacle, especially in a crowded, noisy online world?

How do you claw your way up the rankings when you’re beginning so low, and there is so competition from the start?

What if I told you there is a way to tackle this problem without getting overwhelmed or discouraged, in just 30 minutes a day?

In this post I’m going to share a series of 30 minute content marketing projects you can tackle whenever you have a free half hour.

These projects are quick, NOT stressful, and will slowly and steadily help you to improve your site’s traffic as you tackle them one day at a time.

But first, a peek behind the curtain into something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately:

Control – or rather, the fact that I just don’t have it

There are a lot of things in life that I can’t control.

I can’t control the actions and opinions of others, my own past mistakes, the likelihood of future mistakes and regrets, sickness and suffering and obstacles that come along with everyday life.

But what can I control? I can control what I do right now, in the moment.

Or, more specifically, I can control what I do in the next 30 minutes.

I can’t change the fact that I have insomnia, but I can control what I think about for the next 30 minutes lying awake in bed. 

I can’t go back and undo that mistake, but I can spend the next 30 minutes writing down a list of lessons learned from it. 

I can’t control what other people think of me, but I can spend the next 30 minute working toward my goals and proving them wrong (even if I’m the only one who knows it). 

Sounds like a great self-help book, right? Why am I writing about this on a content marketing blog?!

Because I’ve realized that this concept is so applicable to content marketing.

And it all comes down to this:

The painful, overwhelming feeling that you are so far down in search results and your competitors are so much better equipped/funded that you may as well not even try.

It is so discouraging to know that you have a great business, and incredible value to offer customers, but to be utterly lost in the sea of noise online, even losing business to companies that you know aren’t offering as much value as you offer.

Now time for some tough love. Here’s the truth:

You can’t control what your competitors do, or technical issues that come up with your website, or the many problems and tasks that take time away from your content marketing every day, week, and month.

But that’s just part of the story, because…

You can control what you do right now, in the present.

You can control what you do in the next 30 minutes.

And when you’re facing the seemingly insurmountable challenge of content marketing in a noisy world, just taking it 30 minutes at a time might be the best – and only – way to move forward.

Think about it:

What is going to result in more progress as you tackle a mountain of content marketing that may very well take years to move?

Should you go down the rabbit hole, neglect your business as you blog and promote late into the night until your eyes bleed?

Or should you focus on running your business well, making money and making your customers happy, and breaking off pieces of content marketing one manageable, tasty bite at a time?

Let’s see. The first one is definitely my innate leaning, but it tends to result in burnout, bad decisions, frustration, and no near term sales growth. (Oh, and poor sleep, poor health, poor mood, and grumpiness – fun!)

But the second one, while counter-intuitive (aren’t entrepreneurs supposed to work all the time?) allows me to stay fresh, motivated, relaxed, and removes a ton of pressure from my day to day work.

Oh, and it actually gets results in the long term.

Why’s that?

Because effective, sustainable content marketing depends on two major things:

  1. Creating super high quality, engaging content
  2. Getting backlinks to said content

And the plain truth is, valuable content and valuable relationships simply can’t be wished into being.

You won’t manufacture them with a few all nighters in front of your laptop.

You can’t buckle down and become an authority online within 6 months of starting your business blog.

Content marketing is a marathon, not a sprint; so pace yourself and you’ll have a much better chance of finishing well.

So if all you have is 30 minutes today or this week (or this month), what can you do to advance your content marketing?

Create more content

Brainstorm blog post titles and topics

Sit down in a comfortable chair, open up a notebook or grab a piece of paper and pen, and brainstorm blog post titles. Throw in a blank _____ anytime you are stuck on a specific word or title.

Outline a blog post

You most likely can’t write a full blog post in 30 mins, but if you spend 30 straight minutes writing a killer, thorough outline, you’ll be able to actually write the blog post pretty quickly the next time you sit down to write. So spend 30 mins outlining a single blog post, beginning with your target audience and the ultimate value you want to offer that audience through your blog post. Or you can cheat by downloading some of my pre-made blog post outlines. 🙂

Search for and save links to blog posts other people have written in your niche that you can do better

What are some keywords you want to rank for? (Long tail is always better – for example, go for “affordable event planner in Seattle” instead of “event planner”.) Spend 30 minutes searching for those keywords and saving links to blog posts, articles, and pages other people have written that rank well for those keywords. Later on, when you’re thinking of blog post topics, you can revisit these articles and think of ways you can write a better version. Not copying their content but creating new content that does what their content fails to do – make a hard topic more accessible, or a watered-down topic more meaty, or an outdated topic more current.

Draft a blog post

Again, 30 mins isn’t really enough time to write a full length blog post, BUT you can write a solid draft in 30 mins if you put your mind to it. Here’s my approach: open up Word, turn your font color white so you won’t be tempted to stop and reread your draft, and then write down everything that pops into your head. Do it as quickly as possible without stopping to correct typos or fix weird phrasing. If you get stuck mid-sentence or mid-paragraph and can’t figure out what to say next, just write “…” or hit enter and start a completely new sentence. You’d be amazed at how quickly you can churn out a 1000+ word draft that way. You can always edit later!

Do something else while thinking about a blog post

This might be a little counter-intuitive, but science actually backs this up: sometimes the best way to make progress on your content marketing is to spend 30 minutes NOT doing it. Step back and do something relaxing and physical, like yoga or running. Think about your content, but let your mind wander, and don’t write down anything at all. Procrastination, when wielded properly, can actually be the key to greater creativity and higher quality content.

Promote your existing content

Make a list of blogs to contact

Spend 30 minutes making a list of links in Excel. Search for and save links to blogs that fall in one of these two categories: bloggers that have linked to posts similar to one of your posts, who might be interested in the better/newer/more thorough post you just created (do this by searching for the URL of a similar post in SEMrush); or bloggers who write about related topics and might want to share your post with their audience. If you have time/energy for guest blogging (and some real value to offer!) you can also make a list of blogs to contact to offer to write a guest post.

Send outreach / networking emails

If you have a list of blogs to contact, you can spend 30 minutes sending as many emails as you can to reach out to those bloggers. Use a CRM like Hubspot Sales to keep track of everything, or just use Excel.

Subscribe to / comment on / share content from the bloggers on your lists

Take that list of blogs and spend 30 minutes engaging with them. Subscribe to email lists, reply to a recent newsletter email you’ve gotten, comment on a recent blog post, share their content on your social media pages. If you’re like me (and many non-full time bloggers), you don’t have time to do things like this every day, but even spending 30 minutes on this every once in a while will show these bloggers that you are serious about supporting them and you care enough about their work to share it with other people.

Improve your existing content

Set up + explore Google Analytics

If you haven’t already done this, do it the next time you have a few minutes. It won’t take a full 30 minutes but depending on what website platform and theme you’re using, it might take a bit of time to figure out. If you already have Google Analytics set up and have a few weeks or months worth of data, simply spend 30 minutes poking around and exploring your site’s analytics. What pages do most visitors land on? Where does most of your traffic come from? How long do visitors stay? Where do they tend to go after landing on one of your pages? Take notes on anything that stands out to you.

Set up + explore Google Webmaster Tools

Same deal with this one. Google Analytics tells you a lot, but it doesn’t tell you much about how you’re doing in search results. The important thing to note in Google Webmaster Tools is what position you rank in for different keywords and what your click through rate (CTR) is for that keyword. You may be surprised by how well you rank for one keyword or phrase, and conversely, how poorly you rank for another one. But you can use this to your advantage by creating more and better content for the keywords where you rank poorly, and enhancing content for the keywords where you’re doing well, including creating content upgrades for that content to take better advantage of the traffic you’re already getting. For now, just spend 30 minutes either setting up your Webmaster Tools or exploring the data and taking notes on what stands out.

Add internal links

Spend 30 minutes going back to older posts and adding relevant internal links to new posts you have written or relevant resources you have created.

Refine an older post

Pick a post you have already written and spend 30 minutes making as many improvements as possible. Correct grammar, improve the writing, break up overly long sentences and paragraphs, make it more easily skim-able by pulling out quotes and adding better headlines, etc. If you’re overwhelmed and not sure where to start, look at your analytics and pick one of your posts that receives the most traffic.

Enhance an older post with a new content upgrade

Spend 30 minutes creating a quick PDF download (checklists and worksheets are easy to make quickly) and add it as an opt-in lead magnet to one of your existing posts. Again, pick a post that is already getting more traffic if you aren’t sure where to start. Click here for some tips on how to create printables without design software.

Take it one step at a time

Listen – this is not a checklist.

You don’t have to do all of this (or any of this) to be successful.

If there are aspects of your content marketing that keep you up at night or make you cringe with embarrassment, please stop, take a deep breath, and relax. Content marketing is simply a tool to help you get more and happier customers. It doesn’t have to be perfect to be effective.

You can’t control where you are in your business right now, and you can’t control what your customers think and do or the resources your competitors have to invest in content marketing.

But you can control what you do in the next 30 minutes, so why not start with something on this list?

Content marketing – and successful entrepreneurship in general – is an epic long term play, with no true shortcuts. So consider the next 30 minutes a single step in a long journey with plenty of twists and turns. It doesn’t really matter how many steps you take this week or month, as long as you keep on moving – one single step at a time. 

Get all these 30 minute content marketing projects in a printable list

Keep it by your workspace and look to it whenever you have 30 minutes to spend.

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Infographic – Steps To A Great Blog Post

Blogging whimsically feels natural. It feels genuine. It feels easy, creative, and fun.

But after you’ve spent a few days, weeks, or months churning out amazing, whimsical blog posts that don’t get any traffic, you might start to feel a little (a lot) discouraged.

Here’s the thing – you need your unique insights and creative spirit to come up with solid blog post ideas; that’s what will set your blog apart from the rest of the noise out there. But there’s no reason you can’t also learn from successful bloggers to ensure you are making the most of all the content you work so hard to create.

The next time you sit down to write a blog post, plan to take a little more time and follow these steps to make it a truly great one. For example, if you usually spend a few hours on a single blog post, this time plan to spend a few hours every day for a week on a single post and complete every one of these steps. You are very likely to see a difference when you follow these techniques – I know I have!

Blogging Infographic – Steps To A Great Blog Post

Content Marketing Infographic - Steps To A Great Blog Post | Alana Le | Content Marketing For The Rest Of Us

 

Follow These 11 Steps To A Great Blog Post

Tired of creating amazing blog posts that don’t seem to go anywhere after you hit “Publish”? Follow these 11 steps that the pros use to create great blog posts that get real engagement and build your brand. Read on for more detail into each step.

I’ve also added some really great resources for each of these crucial steps. You don’t have to read all of the links – there’s plenty of overlap – but if there is a step where your knowledge is a little shaky or it’s outside your comfort zone, definitely take a look at some of the links I’ve added. I’m a researcher (is that a personality type? It should be!) and these are the resources that have taught me a lot about blogging and I wanted to share them with anyone else who wants to learn.

1 – Find Great Topic Ideas

Search for your target keywords, see what posts are out there already and identify what they’re missing. Or, think of a strong stance that you need to take about what’s happening in your field. This is where you need to apply your own unique crazy creative insights and combine them with a realistic look at the content that is already available.

Think about it not as mimicking other content or restricting your creativity to the mainstream, but more as leveraging your creativity by focusing on sharing insights that will have the greatest possible impact. The important thing is to remember that a great blog post is usually not created in a vacuum – it’s aware of its larger context, but brings something new and better to the table. Do your research, see what kind of content already ranks well for your keywords or is being shared by influencers, and build on that.

More tips on doing keyword research:

Help for coming up with blog post topics:

2 – Define Your Ideal Target Audience

Before you even start writing, it’s a good idea to have a single reader in mind – that way your tone will be more natural and your content more useful than if you wrote for the thousands of people you’d love to attract to your blog. So get in detail if you can.

I sometimes like to fill out a profile for my target as though I were creating a fictional character, imagining things like their personality type, hobbies, etc. But not everyone loves getting into all the imaginary details like I do. 🙂 The important thing is to just be as specific as you can. For example, instead of targeting “anyone who needs help with office organization”, you could target “working moms in their 30s who need help getting organized”, or even better – “bloggers who write about home organization for working moms in their 30s”. With the last group, you would be targeting influencers looking for content to share with their followers, rather than a general audience (who may not share your blog post no matter how good it is).

Also, try to be very clear from the get-go on what value your target reader will get from your post. What are you going to offer in this post that they can’t find elsewhere? How will you improve their lives with this post or make things easier for them?

Here are some of my favorite guides on creating a target audience profile for your blog:

3 – Write A Solid Outline

Posts that are more emotionally meaningful tend to get more engagement on social media, while posts that go deep into a single subject tend to rank better in search engines. Either way, your post should be well-organized and broken into clear, logical sections, with several practical examples.

The best way to make sure this happens is to start with a logical outline and then fill it in later. Check out these resources for outlining a great blog post:

4 – Write + Rewrite Your Post

Flesh out your outline, then edit, rewrite, and edit some more. It’s better to take more time and write an excellent post than to churn out a substandard post every day or week. You’re not looking for perfection by any means, but there’s really no way to fake or substitute the kind of polish and quality that shows in a post that has received a ton of TLC. The Elements of Style is the classic handbook on good writing, but my favorite resource right now is this amazing compilation of writing tips from famous writers: Tips From The Masters (Gotham Writers).

5 – Add Relevant Links

Now go through your post and add in relevant links, being sure to make the anchor text (the underlined text for the link) long and descriptive. Your post should include some of the following types of links: outbound links to quality, authoritative sites for reference and examples; internal links to related content on your own site; and links to other relevant blogs/sites that might be good promotional partners for you. (You can contact these sites later to let them know they were featured in your post.)

More info on how a good relevant link strategy can improve your post:

6 – Create Accompanying Media & Call to Action (CTA)

Create a Pinterest-friendly featured image (longer than it is wide), plus any other images you’ll want for social media like quotes or images for Facebook etc. It’s also a really good idea to take a little extra time (okay, a LOT of extra time) and create a content upgrade like a downloadable worksheet, checklist, or ebook to go with your post. You can offer this in exchange for subscribing to your email list and allow readers to go deeper with your subject. Click here to get my tips on creating a good content upgrade without any special design software. Drawing a blank when it comes to making up a content upgrade and how to offer it? Here are some really good ideas for content upgrades plus tips on how to implement them:

7 – Run Through A Quick SEO Checklist

Here’s a quick SEO checklist I try to use before each post I publish:

  • Length – Your post length should be at least 1800 words. I know, that’s a lot. It’s okay if it’s not that long when you initially publish it, but take time to come back later on when you have time and add more content. And not just content for the sake of content – add better examples, more explanation, anecdotes, more helpful tips or links, etc.
  • Organization – Organization is crucial because if someone is in a hurry, they may only glance at your post for a few seconds to decide whether or not to read it. So to make it easier for a reader to know what your post contains in a single glance, be sure to include subheadings and lists to break up the content and organize it well; make the subheadings logical and descriptive; and make the paragraphs short and easy to skim.
  • Keywords – It’s also important that you incorporate your target keywords and variations on those keywords early in your post, in some of your link anchor text, in your post title and URL, in your meta description, and in the featured image title & alt tag.

Here are some other blog post SEO checklists that will take a little longer, but really help your post:

8 – Publish + Share

Publish! Nice job! Now share your new post on social media and/or with your email list. If applicable, include a special download to go with your post that is only available to your email list. In case you don’t normally send things to an email list, here are two good articles to check out:

9 – Find Promotional Opportunities (aka Link Building)

Find influencers who might share your post on their blog: people who have linked to similar posts, written about something tangentially related to yours, or whose readers might be very interested in your post. Backlinko has the most helpful post I’ve read on promotion (for steps 9 and 10) so be sure to read it here: Link Building Case Study: How I Increased My Search Traffic by 110% in 14 Days. If you have more time/interest, I also recommend his post on link building: Link Building: The Definitive Guide, which has a bunch of additional resources to check out.

10 – Promote Your Post

Send outreach emails to influencers and share the link to your post; explain why you thought they’d be interested and ask what they think of your post. Offer to write a guest post on the same topic for their blog. Again, check out the Backlinko post for more tips on this: Link Building Case Study: How I Increased My Search Traffic by 110% in 14 Days.

11 – Continually Improve

A truly great blog post is never complete, because the more feedback you get from readers & analytics, the better you can make it. One strategy I often use is to see what kinds of keywords are generating the most traffic for one of my existing pages, and then add more content around those keywords when I have time. I have seen this strategy significantly improve my search engine traffic for specific pages. And as you think more about your topic or learn from other sources, you can go back to add better examples, new stats & reference links, relevant new internal links, new content upgrades, and more. You can also submit your post to Google to be indexed again if you’ve changed it significantly, rather than waiting for Google to get around to crawling your site again.

Need Writing Prompts & Blog Post Outlines? Click Here To Download A Bundle of 5 Free Blog Post Templates

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Shareable Blog Post Ideas That Really Work

Lately it seems like all I hear about is the importance of high quality content that will naturally be shared and generate backlinks if it’s “good enough”. But as anyone who has tried content marketing knows, just writing great content and hoping for the best doesn’t always get real results. That’s because there’s a missing step that is probably equally important to writing good content: promoting it.

Ick. Promoting. No one likes that word! I’m sure we can all think of bad experiences from friends or pushy salespeople trying to promote things to you when you really weren’t interested.

But promoting your content – if it really is good content – doesn’t have to feel icky.

It can just be as simple as sending a message to someone who might be in a position to share your content and saying “Hey, I wrote this and thought you might find it interesting. What do you think?”.

If you’re willing to put in the work to promote your content on social media and in other ways, there’s another step you can take to make things a bit easier: focus on creating content that is highly shareable in the first place.

Here are three very effective ideas for creating highly shareable blog posts:

Improve the most popular posts already out there for your target keywords

This is so basic, but easy to overlook. Instead of just blogging about what is currently on your mind, search for your target keywords and see what blog posts rank the highest.

Evaluate those posts. How could they be better? Prettier graphics? More up-to-date? More statistics to bring the point home? Longer, more ideas, more options, more visuals? You get the idea.

Start by making what’s already out there even better, and that way you’ll know you are creating something that is more likely to be popular. Plus you can search for anyone who has linked to those popular posts using a tool like SEMrush and send them the link to your updated post. Brian Dean from Backlinko calls this the skyscraper technique and provides a ton of detail here.

Compile a list of statistics that convey current trends

Again, instead of focusing on what you want to write about today, start by looking at what other people are writing about in your industry. Do you see any trends that seem to be getting a lot of coverage by the most popular bloggers in your industry? Do your own research and write a post that compiles statistics and sources that support those trends. That way you’ve created a resource that other influencers will want to share (because it gives more support to what they’ve already been saying), rather than another competing trend piece. It’s also really helpful for readers to see all the latest statistics in one place.

Significantly improve and update your most popular old blog content

Take a look at your blog analytics. What blog posts are getting the most traffic (or have been in the past few months)?

Rather than write a new post, throw your energy into improving those posts that are already getting good traffic. Update your information, improve and expand your explanations, add length (if it’s helpful), and create a new downloadable resource to go along with your post so readers can get even more out of it.

Good content marketing takes time, so be patient!

If you start to attempt one of those ideas, you’ll probably realize very quickly that they will take a LOT of time to implement.

It’s true. Writing content that is going to really be worth sharing isn’t easy and it takes a ton of time. But rather than trying to churn out a new blog post every day or week, what if you spent 2-3 weeks just focused on making one really amazing blog post and promoting it well? That might actually do more for your marketing than keeping up your frequency at the expense of creating shareable content…

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Creative Ideas For Awesome Email Automation

If you’re a blogger or entrepreneur working on email marketing, you might have tried setting up a sequence for new subscribers, like Day 1 – helpful links, Day 2 – product benefits, Day 3 – soft sell, etc.

But just sticking to a generic series for all new subscribers can be limiting, especially because the sequence isn’t connected with the unique, individual reason they have for signing up for your list.

Email automation doesn’t have to be boring and sales-y!!

Here are 5 creative ways to use email automation to engage with your subscribers and provide greater real value for their unique needs:

How To Guides

Teach your subscribers a process or new skill or habit that is hard – “How To Become A More Efficient Cook” or “How to Start Doing Yoga When You Hate Yoga” (someone please create that course for me to take). Each email should provide a few paragraphs of helpful how-to info, followed by an exercise or response for them to take action and practice what they learned.

Exploration Series

Challenge subscribers to do something they won’t do on their own, such as explore outside their immediate area, or try new types of restaurants, or read books or blogs they wouldn’t normally read. In each email send them on a mission to step outside their comfort zone and try another new thing.

Daily/Weekly Challenge

This is probably one of the most common email automation tactics out there, and I love it because sometimes it really does help to have someone email you daily when you’re trying to do something more or make a change in your life. But here are some ideas to take this to the next level and stand out from similar challenges:

  • Include accountability with a link they can click to let you know they completed the day’s or week’s challenge – check out Whole30 for a great example of accountability links
  • Make it weekly with daily challenges in each email so the daily emails don’t stack up
  • Build in community by inviting people to subscribe along with a small group of friends who plan on doing the challenge at the same time

Discovery Guide

Walk subscribers through a process of figuring out what they enjoy or prefer in a field they don’t know much about. “Discover Your Home Decor Style”, “Discover Your Ideal Work Environment”, “Discover Your Unique Strengths As A ___”, etc. This could be broken down into multiple emails to give subscribers a chance to do an activity or exercise to learn more about themselves and what they enjoy or to contemplate some questions you’ve given them.

Guide to Overcoming

What is a struggle your subscribers have? Poor budgeting habits? Not having enough energy to work out regularly? Afraid to market themselves because they feel self conscious? Create an email series to help them overcome this struggle. This works because something like this will take more than a single day or decision to fix – but if you walk them through the process with regular emails containing the info and encouragement they need, the will be able to take the time they need to change.

Looking for examples of email automation?

Try out my 21 Day Blogging Challenge or my free 6 day course Create Your Own Content Marketing Plan, and let me know what you think!

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21 Blog Post Writing Prompts Editable Word Doc

Earlier this year I launched my 21 Day Blogging Challenge, an email course where I emailed subscribers a new blog post writing prompt (and an example to go with it) every day for 3 straight weeks.

I took the challenge myself first and I loved it. It forced me to step outside my comfort zone, publish things that made me a little nervous, get more organized, get more creative, and just become a better blogger overall.

But not everyone has time to blog every day, including me. So I put all the writing prompts from my 21 Day Blogging Challenge and put them into an editable Word doc for you.

That way you can go through it and write down any topics that come to mind, draft some outlines, etc. and save it in the document for yourself. Whenever you have time to publish a post, your notes will be right there waiting for you.

Use this form to download your writing prompts:

Happy blogging!

PS. Curious about what kinds of prompts are included? Here are some of the posts I wrote during this challenge:

Why You Should Keep Blogging (Even If No One Is Reading)

Be A Better Writer With This Surprising Tip

5 Things My Husband’s Deployment Taught Me About Entrepreneurship

Why You Need To Be Ahead Of Schedule

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Content Marketing For The Rest Of Us

There’s a cruel deception lurking in dark corners of the small business marketing world.

It goes something like this:

You can’t do it. You aren’t professional enough. You don’t know enough. Your designs aren’t pretty enough; clever enough; fancy enough.

You won’t make it.

You need to hire someone smarter than you or you’ll never get through this.

In fact, maybe you should just give up now.

As small business owners we are constantly under pressure to “do it all” and to just give up when we can’t take it anymore.

But wait a second – being perfect and doing it all are NOT the goals here!

I started this business 3.5 years ago because I realized that small business owners can do so much more than they realize, and I wanted to help close the gap between what small business owners are doing and what they could be doing with today’s technology. But in the last 3.5 years my passion for closing that gap has only increased. In fact, every time I hear an influential entrepreneur say you have do X or Y if you want to be “successful”, I get mad all over again.

Here’s why: what works for professional bloggers or consultants is not what works for traditional physical businesses.

What works for entrepreneurs who have become professional “influencers” and speakers is not what works for the average solo entrepreneur just starting out.

If your business consists of sitting in front of a computer and work on your content marketing most of the day, I bet there’s a very good reason for that: your primary income stream comes from advertising partners or affiliate links (bloggers) or info products like courses or books (consultants), or you are a speaker or consultant who is able to charge a whole lot of money for a little bit of your time. That’s great – for you.

But here’s where I see a problem: most of the cutting edge content marketing advice out there is coming from those full time marketers, and seems to be primarily for other full time marketers just like them.

But what about the rest of us?

If the bulk of your work day is spent doing things other than marketing – things like making products, or performing services for clients – these marketing strategies just don’t work for you.

As much as you want to be, you aren’t available to reply immediately anytime someone comments on your social media posts, and in fact you aren’t in front of a computer so you can’t be constantly posting about the latest industry news.

You can’t spend all day engaging your community in Facebook groups or sharing live videos on Periscope or posting about your day to day life “behind the scenes” on Instagram.

The way I see it, today’s content marketing world is divided sharply in two categories: the people for whom content marketing is their full time job, and the people for whom content marketing must get done in the narrow margins of their “free time”.

This is a very, very big divide!

Spending 40 hours a week on something and you’re bound to make improvements.

Spend 40 minutes a week on something and you’re definitely going to struggle.

It’s a plain fact that content marketing from those two different groups will not look and feel the same, and I think it’s time we did a better job of acknowledging that.

I don’t have any solutions for you. In fact, since I’m a mom and military spouse and most of my time is spent on client work, I fall into the second camp myself.

But I do want to say that if you feel like you’re always behind and your content marketing is never “good enough”, it’s time to go a little easier on yourself. You are comparing yourself with people for whom content marketing – blogging, posting on social media, etc. – is literally their full time, all day long occupation.

So take a deep breath and relax. You don’t have to be perfect to be successful. Make your customers happy and make money; don’t worry so much about how you look online. You’re going to be fine.

And I also want to say that my business is dedicated to helping small business owners like you and me who fall into the second camp, not the first.

I’m not going to give you tips and recommendations that will require you to work late into the night and fiddle with WordPress until your eyes bleed.

I’m going to do whatever it takes to provide practical, actionable advice and strategies for small business owners who need to get their content marketing done in the margins, not during their entire workday. In other words, I’m all about content marketing for the rest of us.

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How To Create Gorgeous Printables Without Special Design Software

Photoshop is great. Illustrator? Love it.

But guess what – you can create great printable downloads with Word instead of InDesign, Illustrator, or Photoshop, if you do two things – invest in your content, and keep the design polished and professional.

Here are my tips:

How to create beautiful downloadable printables for your website without paying for design software

First, what is a “printable”?

Well, it’s a document that your website visitor can download and print for their own use. Printables are part of a larger umbrella category of “content upgrades” that you can offer to visitors to your website that give them a chance to engage with you more deeply and benefit from your expertise beyond just what is offered on your blog.

This is a big part of content marketing – demonstrating your expertise and commitment to helping other people succeed by “giving away” some of your knowledge and insight.

Worried that you will give away so much they won’t need you anymore? This is of course a delicate balance but in my experience it’s a whole lot easier than most people think.

Giving away helpful insight to potential customers shows that you know what you’re doing, you’re confident in what you can offer, and you are committed to helping, not just selling. These three factors are an important part of small business marketing today.

Printables, in particular, are helpful because they are designed so your reader or website visitor can print them out and mark them up for their own use.

I’ve seen everything from printable family calendars and birthday invitations to printable business planning worksheets and social media action plans offered as content upgrades.

I love this marketing trend because, if done correctly, it allows a small business to provide some serious value for their potential customer, without any additional marginal cost per user.

In other words, you (the small business owner) only need to create your printable once, but a million people could download it and each one would get the same amount of value from it. Everybody wins.

What do you really need to create a great printable download for your website?

A lot of small business owners go so far as to hire designers and create fancy graphics for printables, but unless you are offering something like party decorations or invitations, I don’t think that’s necessary.

In fact, from the customer’s point of view, the less ink and color your printable requires, the better. Remember, the goal with the printable is to build your brand and simultaneously provide value for your website visitor. If you do the first at the expense of the second by create a colorful, logo-packed printable that can’t actually be printed, mission not accomplished.

You can actually create a beautiful and useful printable on your computer without using any fancy design tool – just fire up good ol’ Microsoft Word, as I mentioned above.

Here’s how to create a gorgeous printable download for your website visitors using Microsoft Word:

Outline some truly amazing content

Please don’t overlook this one. I’ve been guilty of that before, and I’ve regretted it. Yes, there are some very popular and successful full time bloggers who offer PDF downloads that are basically useless content regurgitated from their blog, but that really, really isn’t the right way to go about it.

And as a small business owner just getting started with content marketing, you don’t have the SEO pull or the brand recognition to produce silly downloads and still have people like you. Straight talk, people.

So before you get started on actually creating your printable, outline some really good content that your target audience will love.

This content should fit the following guidelines:

  1. Not already available on your blog
  2. Not already available on someone else’s blog
  3. On a topic that requires significant time to reflect on and work through OR will take some significant time if they have to create it themselves. In other words, your printable will save them time, energy, and frustration.

Drawing a blank? Start with one of your most popular blog posts and generate ideas for how to take your audience a little deeper in that subject.

For example, one of my most popular blog posts last month was 5 Ridiculously Easy Branding Tricks For Small Businesses. In that post, I give 5 ideas for small businesses to improve their brand without a ton of extra work.

One of my recommendations was to create a brand alter ego and always make sure to use that alter ego when using social media or creating content. But how do you create a brand alter ego? It’s easy for me but might be confusing for a small business owner who doesn’t spend a whole lot of time thinking about the magic of good marketing.

I could create a printable worksheet to walk small business owners through my typical process for creating a brand alter ego for my clients. This worksheet would contain examples and places for them to write their own alter ego for their business. (Fun fact – I actually already created something like that and it’s available in my free 6 day course “Create Your Own Killer Content Marketing Plan”).

What about you? What is one of your most popular blog posts these days and how can you help readers learn more or apply that topic in their own lives?

Try using that approach to create content for your printable.

Find the RGB for your website or logo accent colors

Now onto design. My personal opinion is that not everything you do needs to have your logo, especially if it’s meant to be printed out, but there are subtle ways you can brand it by using your colors.

The first thing you need to do is make sure you have the RGB numbers for the main colors on your website or logo so you are ready to use them in your template. In my case, my logo is black but the main accent color on my website is coral (R: 240, G: 101, B: 82) so I use that in any printable worksheets or other text documents I create.

I highly recommend picking only one (max two) accent colors, then using a dark, easy-to-read color like black or charcoal grey for most of the font on your printable and a plain white background for everything. Fancy backgrounds and colors might look amazing on your computer but could get funky when your customer prints it out. Remember, your #1 goal is usefulness, not fanciness!

Find attractive fonts that convey your brand

A really important step in creating a gorgeous printable download is going beyond the default fonts you would normally use. I don’t want to see any Calibri, Times New Roman, or Arial in your printable. This might sound like a small thing, but to me using default fonts basically says that you put no effort into making your printable unique and attractive, and if you didn’t do that, how do I know you put any effort into creating good content?

On the other hand, going crazy with “fun” and “quirky” fonts can backfire and make your printable look really unprofessional or unattractive.

I recommend finding a middle ground by choosing just two fonts for your document: one eye-catching font for big headings or special emphasized words/phrases and one simple, professional, easy-to-read font for body text.

But within those guidelines, there is still a lot you can do to make your printable look unique. Instead of going with whatever originally came on your computer, try looking for free fonts on Font Squirrel or DaFont. Just make sure the fonts you pick are ok for commercial use – and that they match your brand. If you’re a financial adviser, you need fonts that are straightforward and polished; if you’re a piano teacher for kids, pick something a little more fun and different.

In my case, I want to convey a brand that matches the quality of tradition with modern polish. I picked an old fashioned serif font called Alegreya for body text and headings and a rustic script called Landliebe for emphasized words and phrases. You can see an example of how that works in the image in the next section.

Use Styles and Formatting to incorporate your special font and colors in Word

Modify the standard styles for heading 1, heading 2, etc. and paragraph text to match your special fonts and colors. If you’ve never done it before, this is easier than you think. Check out this quick tutorial on styles and headings in Word. This will save you a lot of time in the future!

Remember to save your fancy font for only “special” text like emphasized words or top level headings. Too much fancy in your printable template will overpower your content. In my case, I only use my fancy font for special emphasized words, like this – another example from my Killer Content Marketing Plan course:

Printable formatting example | How To Create Gorgeous Printables Without Special Design Software | Alana Le | Content Marketing For The Rest Of Us

 

Add your content

Now take the content you’ve outlined and add it to your Word document, applying your special headings and formatting as appropriate.

Add a footer with your printable title, copyright, link to your site, and page number if applicable. I usually skip the logo because I want things to look as clean and simple as possible and because I always include my name and a link to my website at the bottom anyway. But if you need a logo, by all means add one in now.

Save it as a PDF and upload it to your website

Save your Word doc as a PDF and then make it available to download by uploading it to your website.

Here’s how you do that in WordPress – it’s probably similar with most other similar platforms:

  1. Go to media
  2. Click add new
  3. Upload your PDF file
  4. Click edit once your file is uploaded
  5. Copy the link to the file
  6. Now place that link anywhere you want people to be able to access that file. For example, in the welcome email to new subscribers to your email list.

And that’s how you do it! Got questions or comments? Drop me a line – I’d love to hear from you.

Curious and Want An Example?

Enter your email here to download a printable I created in Word with the approach I mentioned above for my recent post How To Survive A Hard Life Season As An Entrepreneur:

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5 Minute Hacks For A Prettier Website

Do you sometimes find yourself wondering why everyone else’s website always seems prettier than yours?

That is a common refrain with my clients and entrepreneurs I know. I hear a lot of things like “my website just seems to lack…polish…” or “it doesn’t look right to me but I’m not sure why”.

First, can I just say something?

Pretty websites are great, but a little overrated.

Chances are the most beautiful websites you’ve seen belong to full time bloggers who are also designers. So it makes sense that they would have both the time and the talent to make something Internet-gorgeous.

But if you’re a small business owner, only two things really matter:

  1. Professional polish
  2. Great content

If your website contains compelling content displayed in a way that shows you are really professional and not messing around, you’re fine. 

Ok, pep talk over. 🙂

If you STILL want to find a way to attain the special polish that your favorite websites have, I’ve got some ideas for you.

Each of these “hacks” will only take you a few minutes but will improve – sometimes dramatically – the attractiveness of your website.

I came up with these tricks by reviewing all of my favorite blogs and websites, including those by full time designers, and realizing there was a certain pattern that they all had in common.

Here goes – 5 minutes hacks for a prettier website today:

Make your background white

This probably feels boring and bland. Plus I feel a little silly writing it because my website doesn’t have a white background (and personally I think it looks good as is, but I’m biased….).

But this is probably the number one easiest trick and the most commonly deployed by great websites out there.

Go to your theme’s settings and switch your background to white, and your site will instantly appear cleaner, less cluttered, and more professional.

Remember, the 90s are over and the days of consumers expecting a business to have a “fun” website are long gone.

Potential customers don’t want to (and won’t) be impressed with your quirky animations or your fake brick background. They just want to know who you are and why they should hire or buy from you. Or, as I have said a couple times in various blog posts, they want you to answer two questions: Can I trust you? and Do I respect you?

Forget about fancy and fun and quirky. Make your background simple and white and focus on creating great content that answers those two questions instead.

Increase blank space

Along those lines, having a website with more blank space, especially on the sides, will contribute to an overall cleaner, simpler, more attractive feeling.

Remember this: Clutter is bad. Simple is pretty. Clutter has actually been associated with higher cortisol (stress hormone) levels in women, so I’m not being too dramatic when I say that your potential customers really will not enjoy your clutter-happy, overly-informative-in-all-the-wrong-places website.

Besides, did you know that “negative space” (empty areas, also known as white space) is actually an important aspect of design?

Use a blog post image template

This is such an easy trick and it will make a huge difference in the polish and attractiveness of your website.

Uniformity in your blog post featured images will send the message that you are professional and together, and you will have confidence that every image looks great, without having to “design” something special for every post.

Create a simple, attractive blog post featured image template and use it for all of your future blog posts. Make sure that the template includes the same size and orientation for every image, the same font, font color, size, and location for overlayed text, and the same type of background, whether it’s a color block or image.

Related: Do These 6 Things Immediately After Setting Up Your WordPress Blog

Remove or condense menu buttons

So simple, so effective.

As the content on your website grows and you add more and more pages and blog categories, chances are your menu bar has gotten a little out of control.

Since the menu bar is pretty much the first thing someone sees upon opening your website, a sloppy, over-crowded menu bar will give your visitor a cluttered and unattractive first impression.

Fix this in five minutes (or more like two minutes) by removing any non-essential menu buttons.

“But they’re all essential!” I hear ya. Try this instead: group them into high level categories and collapse them into submenu buttons. For example, if you have “About Me” “My Story” “Contact Me” and “Testimonials”, why not group them all under a top level menu button called “About”? The content will still be easily accessible but the menu will look a lot cleaner to visitors.

Increase font size

I don’t know why small business websites always seem to use extra small font. I really don’t.

It’s like a big sign that says “DON’T READ THIS! IT’S NOT IMPORTANT!” covering up all of your blog posts and content.

Why?!

Simple, easy fix: Go to your theme settings and increase the body or paragraph font size. Just use trial and error until you find something that is easy to read and skim in a quick glance and doesn’t require your website visitor to squint, scowl, and get 3″ away from their monitor to read it.

While you’re at it, break up your long paragraphs into short, skimmable chunks. No more than 3-4 lines max per paragraph. It will make your website look much cleaner and easier to read, AND prettier too.

All of these hacks will only take a few minutes and can be done for free, without buying a new theme, hiring a developer, or any other fancy schmancy stuff.

But they will go a long way toward making your website attractive, polished, and easy to use. Win!

Are you a small business owner doing your own content marketing?

Take my intensive 6 day email course and create your own killer content marketing plan. This course will walk you through my own personal process for helping small business clients streamline their marketing, focusing on what’s really working and what will make the most impact within their target budget and time constraints.

Click here to learn more about the course or just enter your email below to enroll for free and get started:

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How To Quickly And Easily Grow Your Email List

Two weeks ago, I launched my 21 Day Blogging Challenge and within about 7 days I had tripled my list of email subscribers.

I was a bit shocked because I didn’t start out with that intention; I just did my own personal 21 day challenge and I loved it so much I wanted to get other people to try it too. Maybe I was hoping it would generate a little buzz, or at least inspire my blogger friends…but triple my email list in just a few days? No way.

Over the course of setting up my blogging challenge, I had to learn how to use email automation so I could send new subscribers a new blog post writing prompt every day for 21 days.

Figuring out email automation was one of the best things I have done in months, because all that research and trial and error showed me something major: email courses are the next big thing in content marketing.

Many popular and successful bloggers are already using email courses, and many companies send you a series of educational emails when you first purchase a product or service, so I wasn’t a complete stranger to email courses.

But what I didn’t realize was 1) They are SO easy for the average small business owner to set up; and 2) They are SO valuable to your audience.

If you have been looking for the perfect incentive to offer new subscribers to your email list – drafting checklists, ebooks, videos, printables, and more – let me tell you to PLEASE stop right there and consider offering an email course instead.

You will have to sign up for a premium plan in order to do automatic emails, but it will be worth it! And not too expensive (I’m now paying $29 a month for ConvertKit; Mailchimp starts at $10 a month).

Here’s how you can quickly and easily grow your email list, even if there’s no one on it yet:

Write your course content

What can you teach your audience that takes some time to learn? What does your audience really want to know more about? My first course challenged people to blog every single day for 3 weeks, and I’m planning my next course to teach business owners how to create their own content marketing plan. The days of sleazy internet marketing and useless PDF downloads are over. Come up with something truly valuable to offer in this course.

Here are some ideas for getting started:

  • Pick one of your most popular blog posts; could you add more to that post and teach people something deeper with that subject?
  • What is a new thing that your target audience could learn from you? For example, how to use a WordPress blog, or how to set up advertisements on your blog, or how to ____…anything that you know how to do from personal experience that your audience wants to learn. Break it down into a series of “classes” that you could send via email.
  • What is something that your target audience needs to do or a change they need to make? You could create an email course that encourages them to make that change gradually, walking them through the process with each email.

Set up an email marketing account with automation

There are a ton of options out there for you. I’m not going to give them to you because you can just Google “email marketing automation” and find a bunch of options. But I will tell you the two that I’ve tried (and the one that I picked): Mailchimp and ConvertKit, respectively. Mailchimp automation starts at $10 per month (for up to 2,000 subscribers); ConvertKit starts at $29 per month (for up to 1,000 subscribers). ConvertKit is more expensive but I believe the course interface is more user friendly, and they only count subscribers once no matter how many times they’ve subscribed to a list, so in the long run it will probably be cheaper than Mailchimp. I ended up switching to ConvertKit for those reasons, but Mailchimp is great though and has very good customer service.

Create the emails for your course

Copy in your course content from step 1 for each email. Don’t forget a welcome email to start off, and a follow up email after your course ends to point subscribers in the direction of any next steps or additional resources you offer.

Don’t worry too much about making those emails pretty. Emails are notoriously difficult to format consistently given the many different email clients out there that your audience will be using, and the fact that images don’t always load automatically. Just focus on writing really great content – high quality, clear, organized, very helpful – and forget about pretty designs. IF you really want pretty, you can make some great PDF downloads to go with each email. But your top priority should be truly excellent email text.

Create an opt-in form and put it on a new page on your website

Use your email marketing service to create a subscription form for your course. Tweak the language on the form and make sure that the colors match the colors on your website. Once you’re done with your form, you should see an option to “embed” where you can copy code for your form and paste it on to a page on your website. Create a new page for your email course. Write a good, compelling, detailed description of your course, and use descriptive headings and subheadings so search engines know what your page and course are about.

Promote your course on social media

If you are starting without much of an email list, this is the best way to make things happen quickly. Share the link to your landing page on your business Facebook page and then “boost” the post for at least $20. Expect to pay around $0.01 per impression, so plan your budget accordingly.

Boom, done!

This is a very quick and easy way to grow your email list when you are starting from scratch, but it will require you to offer something of genuine value to your audience with this course. Don’t be afraid to “give away too much”. This is all about demonstrating your true expertise in your field and showing that you care about the well-being of your audience.