118: 3 Writing Habits, Blogs, and Books You Need to Succeed as a Writer

Andrew Raynor

You will not become a successful writer accidentally. You will need to develop yourself as a writer and learn from others better than yourself if you want to succeed. So, where should you begin?

I’ve had the privilege of writing full time for over three years now. The work I get to do today isn’t something I take for granted. It took me several years, many sleepless nights and early mornings, and the guidance of trusted friends to help me along the way.

The opportunities I have today didn’t happen accidentally. Yes, I’ve had some unplanned breaks come my way that made a tremendous difference. But I wouldn’t have been in a position to take advantage of them if I wasn’t putting in the work ahead of time.

If you want to become a full-time writer, then you have to intentionally work toward becoming one. This involves developing great writing habits, learning from others, and becoming a voracious reader.

Over the years, I’ve read countless blogs and books, and I’ve developed writing habits that have helped me to become a full-time writer. To help you decrease your learning curve, I want to share with you some of the lessons and resources that have helped me develop myself as a writer.

So, this week on The Portfolio Life, Andy Traub and I discuss the three habits writers should build and the three blogs and three books every writer should read.

If you want to become a full-time writer, then I encourage you to listen in as Andy and I talk about the importance of developing writing habits, and the lessons you’ll learn from the different blogs and books I recommend.

Listen to the podcast

To listen to the show, click the player below. (If you’re reading this via email or RSS, please click here.)

Show highlights

In this episode, Andy and I discuss:

  • The three habits every writer should build to become a more productive writer.
  • The three parts of writing you need to master.
  • How to create a folder full of writing ideas and prompts.
  • Different tools you can use to capture ideas and write.
  • Why you need to learn from someone far better than yourself to improve as a writer.
  • Why most people struggle with writer’s block.
  • The three blogs writers should read.
  • One overlooked step to becoming a great writer.

Quotes and takeaways

  • You want to close the gap between thinking about what you’re going to write and actually writing it.
  • Give yourself time to think about what you’ve written. This will help you to review your work with a fresh set of eyes.
  • If you want to become a great writer, then you have to learn from someone far better than yourself.

Resources

What writing habit, blog, or book has helped you to become a better writer? Share in the comments.

Andrew Raynor

How to create the right meta description

Andrew Raynor

 

 

The meta description is a ~160 character snippet, a tag in HTML, that summarizes a page’s content. Search engines show the meta description in search results mostly when the searched for phrase is contained in the description. Optimizing the meta description is a very important aspect of on-page SEO.

The meta description is an HTML tag, which looks like this in the HTML:

<meta name="description" content="A page's description, 
  usually one or two sentences."/>

The function of a meta description for your page is simple: its main purpose is to get the visitor from Google to click your link. In other words, meta descriptions are there to generate clickthroughs from search engines.

Search engines say there is no direct ranking benefit from the meta description – they don’t use it in their ranking algorithm. There is an indirect benefit, though: Google uses click-through-rate (CTR) as a way of determining whether you’re a good result. If more people click your result then they’d expect based on your position, they move you up. This is why optimizing the meta description is so important, as is optimizing your titles.

Characteristics of a good meta description

I think every article on meta descriptions will tell you some of these, but I combined all that made sense to me and came up with this list.

  1. It should be around 135 to 160 characters.
    There is no ‘this number is right’ in this. It depends on what Google adds to your search result and how much they want to show. Google might, for instance, add the date to an article, and that will reduce the number of characters. We wrote about going back to 10 blue links. Bearing that in mind, the rule of thumb is that 135 characters is usually fine. Lately, we have even seen meta descriptions that contain over 250 characters.
  2. It should be actionable, in an active voice.
    Of course it should. If you consider the meta description the invitation to the page, you can’t just make it “A mixed metaphor describing a non-existent, yet implicitly high level of qualification.” That’s a dull description. I’ll explain using some examples later.
  3. It should include a call-to-action.
    “Hello, we have such and such new product, and you want it. Find out more!” This overlaps the active voice, but I wanted to emphasize it. It’s your sales text, where your product is the page that is linked, not the product on that page. Invitations like Learn more, Get it now, Try for free come to mind.
  4. It could contain structured content.
    If you have a product for f.i. the tech-savvy, focussing on technical specs of the product could be a good idea. Manufacturer, SKU, price, things like that. If the visitor is specifically looking for that product, chances are you don’t have to convince him. Things like a price will trigger the click. Note that you could, of course, use rich snippets for this as well.
  5. It should match the content.
    This is important. Google will find the meta descriptions that trick the visitor into clicking. It might even penalize the site that created the meta description. Next to that, it will probably increase bounce rate and is a bad idea just for that. You want the meta description to match the content on the page.
  6. It should contain the focus keyword.
    If the search keyword matches text in the meta description, Google will be more inclined to use that meta description and highlight it in the search results. That will make the link more related already.
  7. The meta description should be unique.
    If your meta description is a duplicate, the user experience in Google will be less. Although page titles might vary, all pages seem the same as all descriptions are equal. If you intentionally want / need / are enticed to create a duplicate meta description, you’d better leave the description empty and have Google pick a snippet from the page containing the keyword used in a search. Visit Google Webmaster Tools > HTML Improvements or use Screaming Frog SEO Spider to check for duplicate meta descriptions.

Examples of a good meta description

In the preparation for this post, I have checked some of the various articles that mention meta descriptions. I found a lot of wisdom, but almost no examples. I think actual examples will make it easier for you to construct a proper meta description for yourself. Taking the six bullet points above into account, let’s go over some examples.

The right length

This meta description has the right length

Personally, I like my meta descriptions like this. Dated and two lines of text.

Over 250 characters

Over 250 characters

Note that the actual meta description inserted in that page was only 76 characters and Google probably decided not to use it for that reason.

In an active voice

Get Yoast SEO for WordPress

Get Yoast SEO for WordPress training. Nuf said.

Including a call-to-action

Including a call-to-action

There’s two, actually. ‘Learn more now’ and the site link ‘Buy Now $ 399.00’. Both entice that click.

Including structured content

Including structured content

8 MP Camera, that’s what I wanted to know. I don’t need that sales text here; I just want that phone.

Containing the focus keyword

Including the focus keyword and variations

And variations. Note that Google highlights Academy Awards as well when searching for Oscars. This will make your search result stand out even more.

Where to start, I have so many pages?

Feel like changing all the meta descriptions after reading this? That might be a burden, with all the pages you have. And where would you find the time for that? Google actually answers this:

If you don’t have time to create a description for every single page, try to prioritize your content: At the very least, create a description for the critical URLs like your home page and popular pages.

Simply take it from there. And be sure to optimize all new meta descriptions from now on.

Troubleshooting meta descriptions

I’m sure you can come up with more, but I came up with two main issues:

  1. My meta description isn’t showing.
    Google probably made something up for you, as they feel the meta description you created isn’t representing the content of the page, or is duplicate, for instance. Another issue might be that Google prefers the DMOZ description of your site/page. Simply add <meta name="robots" content="NOODP"> to your <head> section. Or check the option in Yoast SEO > Titles & Metas, of course.
  2. I want to use another description for social sharing.
    Do you have Yoast SEO? In that case: check the social tab in the box on Edit Pages. In Yoast SEO Premium, you even have social previews! If not, add OpenGraph tags or Twitter Cards to your website and use any description you want.

Read more: ‘Stopwords in your focus keywords?’ »

SEO New Hampshire

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Tribe Building from The Trenches (Free eBook)

Andrew Raynor

Click here to download my new, free ebook, Tribe Building from the Trenches: 14 Tips from Those Who Have Done It.

Today, we live in a noisy world. Everyone is vying for everyone else’s attention. So, what are we to do?

Tribe Building from The Trenches (Free ebook)

There are, of course, only two options. One is to be quiet and let the talkers talk. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with this, but that’s not always the right choice.

Recently, I read an interview with John Grisham, in which he shared how it took him three years to write his first book. He was a busy lawyer and a new dad, arguably in the busiest season of his life.

While he was writing this book, he would occasionally go into a bookstore and look at the tens of thousands of books there, and wonder to himself, Who wants to hear from me?!

But the truth was lots of people did.

How to build your own tribe

The same is true for you. You have a tribe, an audience out there who is waiting for you to speak up. But if you just start talking, they won’t listen. You have to earn their attention, and that is a subtle art that takes practice.

When I decided to become a writer, I knew it would take work and that I’d have to build an audience. So I sought out people who were smarter than me. And I learned from them.

This is how we grow in our craft today: We surround ourselves with those who are wiser and more experienced than we are.

So, to help you build your own tribe, I’ve rounded up some of the smartest tribe-builders I know to offer some helpful advice on how to share your work with the world in a way that won’t be annoying or forgettable. These are authors, speakers, and entrepreneurs who you should listen to because they’ve actually taken the journey and found success.

I gathered their thoughts together to create a new, free eBook, Tribe Building from the Trenches: 14 Tips from Those Who Have Done It.

Read on at your own peril, though.

Because once you hear this advice, you can’t un-hear it. You will be responsible for what you know and for what comes next. And you just might be called to act, speak up, and let your voice be heard.

Click here to download Tribe Building from the Trenches: 14 Tips from Those Who Have Done It.


What’s the great challenge you’re facing with building your own tribe? Share in the comments.

Andrew Raynor

Optimize product images for your online shop

Andrew Raynor

 

 

Product images can make or break your online shop’s success. You can hire the best designer in the world to create a killer design, but when images are bad, sales will be bad. It’s the first thing a customer will look at.

Even studies show that people that shop online value product images. The most important features of a product page when shopping online are:

  1. Quality of the product images
  2. View products in all available colors
  3. Alternate views of the selected item
  4. Ability to zoom into the details of the product
  5. Product guides

(Source: E-tailing Group via Pixelz.com)

That’s four out of five features that involve product images! In this post, we’ll go over a number of things you need to consider when adding product images to your online shop.

Product images set a mood

While I was (re)writing the article on the internal search for your online shop, I once again realized how big a role product images play in an online store. I was reviewing a site of a friend of mine and found that the images on his homepage just didn’t do justice to the products he sells. The images of his featured products simply didn’t ‘pop’. To demonstrate this, I replaced them with bright colored pictures and the website told a whole other story.

One of the things we tell our customers is to use photos of people using the product. Or the product in use. It doesn’t matter if you sell coffee machines or dresses. If you add people, your product will look friendlier and people will see themselves using your products.

Product image with the product in use - ikea bed frame

See the difference? That Ikea bed is much more appealing. Ikea does a awesome job in this, both in their magazines, on their website and in their stores. Product images like this are becoming more and more common, so be sure you’re not the last one to do this!

Using product images with the products in use works best, because people will be able to see themselves using that product. It’s as close as you can get to an in-store experience. People want to buy the product online, but an image will never replace picking a product up, looking at it from all angles or trying it on. We need to try to give our customers that same experience. For the same reason testimonials work so well, by the way.

Quality of your product images

It seems so obvious to use high quality images. But we have been telling you to reduce the file size for years, right. First of all, that doesn’t mean you have to use a crappy, blurred image of just a few kBs. The tools mentioned in our image SEO article don’t reduce the quality of an image, for instance. They remove meta / Exif data and things like that, but your image will still look awesome.

Secondly, internet connections are getting faster. We’re a lucky country, as in the Netherlands broadband internet is everywhere. There are just a few so-called white spots (locations with no internet at all), with a total size of a couple of baseball fields. That also means we’ll have less difficulties downloading your larger product image files. You’ll need larger images anyway, as that leads us to another necessary feature of online shops: ability to zoom product images.

Ability to zoom

Have you ever picked up a backpack or daypack to inspect the lining? Is it waterproof, does it protect your stuff well? You want to be able to take a closer look at details. That’s what zooming product images is for. My personal pet peeve when it comes to this, is when the zoomed image is exactly the same size (or even smaller) than the product image that was already shown. This still happens frequently! A lot of online shops simply import product images from manufacturers (or even download them from other shops that sell the same product) without testing the image first. This ruins user experience in my book.

If there is no proper product image available, create one. Even your iPhone’s camera can provide you with a decent, large image that can serve as a zoomable product image.

Shopify‘s guide on product images states:

Your product images can be any size up to 2048px by 2048px, or 4.2 megapixels. […] Higher resolution photos will look more polished and professional to your customers, and we typically suggest 1024px by 1024px as a guideline for square product images.

Woocommerce states that the minimum dimensions should be 800×800 pixels. That seems to make sense, as it will perfectly fit most tablets as well without any problem. Smaller will lead to distortion, and we have established you want quality images, right?

By the way, Pixelz has a nice guide for DIY images for your shop. Find that guide here.

Any color you want as long as it is black

Henry Ford wrote in his autobiography “Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants so long as it is black”. Times have changed. We at Yoast recently replaced all plastic water cups (at our water coolers) with personal Doppers and ordered these in green and purple for obvious reasons:

Yoast doppers

We switched some tops and bottoms, by the way.

Bottom line: if you want to buy a blue sweater, you want to be able to see that sweater in that color. I like the way blue-tomato.com does this, by not just showing colored squares, but a thumbnail of the product in another color:

Product image variations: not just colored squares

Especially for products that consist of one main and a few other colors, this works really well.

Alternate views or products

You want to be able to look at a product from all angles. Let’s look at that blue-tomato.com example again. It shows that sweater being used, from the back and front, plus some details. You can really check the sweater from multiple angles.

If you are looking for furniture online, you want to check that chair from multiple angles as well. You want alternate views for the kitchen appliances, even though you’ll hide the dish washer behind a cabinet panel. And let’s take a closer look at the fabric of those drapes, or the back cover of that book. Again, it’s all about replacing the in-store experience.

Zappos does all that and adds a video of (in this case) an employee telling you more about the product itself:

Product video can add just that bit of extra to product images

The way that shoe is bent and rotated makes that you really ‘feel’ what kind of shoe that All Star is, so to say. I like that!

To wrap things up

If you have an online business selling actual products, you need to make sure to optimize your product images. Your customer will most definitely appreciate that. Make sure to:

  1. use high quality images;
  2. add an option for zoom;
  3. make sure to show the product in all available colors;
  4. provide alternate views of the product.

These are the main things to take into account when optimizing your shop’s images. I trust this article will make you rethink your own product images, or make you realize you are actually doing a pretty nice job!

Read more: ‘Optimizing images for SEO’ »

SEO New Hampshire

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117: How You Can Change the World in Your Sleep with Jeremy Cowart

Andrew Raynor

“I can’t do this.”

“I’m not good enough.”

“I’ll never be a success.”

These lies plagued Jeremy Cowart with hopelessness for years. Despite struggling in school, being fired from jobs, and even being told to pursue a different career, Jeremy continued to pursue his calling as an artist. So, how did he overcome these limiting beliefs to become a world-renowned photographer?

117: All Things Are Possible with Jeremy Cowart

Today, Jeremy is not only a photographer, but also an entrepreneur and humanitarian. From starting his own graphic design company and photographing world leaders, musicians, and actors, to spearheading several humanitarian projects, Jeremy has defied countless odds to use his art to serve a great purpose.

The lies Jeremy believed are things I’ve believed myself as a husband, father, and writer. And I’m not alone. These lies also find a welcome home among many writers and creatives I know.

Listening to the constant voice of these lies is crippling. They can lead us to inactivity in pursuing our calling and even hopelessness. But what I’ve learned over the years about these lies is that they only talk to those who listen.

This week on The Portfolio Life, Jeremy Cowart and I talk about how he overcome his initial struggles, and how he not only discovered his calling, but how he has also had the opportunity to influence thousands of lives through his humanitarian efforts.

Listen in as Jeremy and I discuss how he organically and accidentally discovered his life’s work, how to know if an idea is worth pursuing, and his plans for serving various causes around the world through The Purpose Hotel.

Listen to the podcast

To listen to the show, click the player below. (If you are reading this via email or RSS, please click here.)

Show highlights

In this episode, Jeremy and I discuss:

  • How he struggled with school and traditional education.
  • His short stint as a backup singer.
  • Discovering your calling through a series of moments versus one significant epiphany.
  • How Jeremy organically became a world-famous photographer.
  • Honing your craft by blending it with different disciplines.
  • The inspiration behind The Purpose Hotel.
  • The three steps Jeremy takes to test a new idea.
  • Jeremy’s focus on his magnum opus.

Quotes and takeaways

  • Listen to your life to help inform your future.
  • Don’t pursue personal greatness. Pursue great work for a great purpose.
  • Artists not only have to be creative, but they also have to show people they can deliver.

Resources

Are you limiting your potential? Have you let your dreams fade away? Share in the comments.

Andrew Raynor

The basics of email marketing

Andrew Raynor

 

 

Email marketing is a great tool to bind your audience to your website. It’s relatively easy to set up an email newsletter and send it to your audience. In this post, I’ll explain the basics of email marketing. Why is email marketing an important element of your growth and marketing strategy? Moreover, I’ll also give practical tips on how to set up an awesome newsletter.

The benefits of email marketing

People who sign up for a newsletter expect and want to receive your information. So this part of your audience is very committed. That’s the reason email marketing pays off. The people you’re sending your newsletters to actually want to read your stuff! As the costs of email marketing are very low, email marketing has a relatively high return-on-investment.

Email is a great way to increase your customers’ retention. What this means is that it will increase the amount of customers that purchase repeatedly, instead of just once. So this would help turn your clients into return customers. By emailing your customers on a regular basis, your brand will stay top of mind and they’ll return more quickly to buy something again. Of course, your emails would have to be interesting, enticing and engaging for this to really work.

A newsletter is relatively easy to set up through a service like MailChimp or TinyLetter. It’s also easy to target specific subgroups within your entire audience with a newsletter. It’s a great way to inform your readers that you have written new blogs and that they should come and visit your blog.

Pitfalls of email marketing

Creating content for a newsletter can be a lot of work. Work on top of writing those posts for your blog. And if you want to send out a newsletter on a regular basis, you’ll have to fill it with content that’s useful to your audience. That can be a challenge.

People won’t open your email or will unsubscribe from your newsletter if they don’t like your content. It’s important not to annoy people with content they don’t want, or have already seen.

How to set up a newsletter?

1 Start with something important

Most people won’t read your entire newsletter. That’s why it’s crucial to start with the thing you really want people to know about. You could also choose something that people would like to read, something that will draw their attention and make them read the rest of your newsletter.

2 Make sure to choose a good subject line

Whether people actually open your newsletter depends on the subject of your newsletter. MailChimp makes it really easy to test open rates of newsletters with different subject lines and it really pays off to think about and test which subject lines work for your audience.

3 Clarity and focus

Make sure the layout of your newsletter is good and looks appealing, and that people are able to read your newsletter on mobile devices. Make sure you have clear calls-to-action, things you want people to do after they’ve read (part of) your newsletter. Give them enough opportunities to click through to your website (and buy your stuff or read your posts).

4 Tone of voice

The people who have signed up to receive your newsletter like your products, your blog or your company. So your tone of voice should be friendly and enthusiastic, not too aggressive or salesy. Your newsletter should make your audience even more fond of you and your products. You’re telling them something other people won’t hear. Make them feel special.

5 Make it visual

If a newsletter is just a wall of text it could become a bit boring. Illustrations and pictures can make the newsletter look much more attractive and pleasant to read.

Tips on making your newsletter that much more awesome!

1 MailChimp

There are a number of helpful tools that make sending out emails that much easier. At Yoast, we love MailChimp. MailChimp allows you to send out emails to 2,000 subscribers for free and has a great interface to write content and manage your subscriptions.

2 Test!

You should test which topics convert best into sales or new readers.  To do this you have to make sure that when people sign up for your newsletter, the thank-you page is hosted on your own site and has your Google Analytics code. Otherwise tracking the sign up is going to be hard. You should also look into the time and day of the week you’re sending your newsletter. For some blogs, the weekend could be a time to draw people to your site while for other (more company related or professional blogs) a weekday and an office hour would be most profitable.

3 Getting people to subscribe

In order to send people your newsletter, you have to convince them to subscribe to this newsletter first. Make sure you offer a subscribe field beneath your posts and on other visible places on your website. You can also use a pop-up to invite people to subscribe. At Yoast, we used to use OptinMonster for this.

4 Make sure your newsletter is mobile friendly

Many people check their email on their phone. You should really make sure your newsletter is as mobile-friendly as possible. A lot of the mailing services offer default templates that are mobile friendly and will scale down nicely. If you don’t want to spend too much time or money on your newsletter, this is a good option.

Another thing to consider for mobile is your subject line. Since mobile screens are obviously not as wide as desktop screens, your subject lines might not fit the screen. Perhaps this won’t be a problem at all, but it’s a good one to keep in mind, or even test.

Conclusion about email marketing

Email marketing is a great way to reach your audience. You can communicate with those clients that really want to be informed about your products, your website or your company. It’s relatively cheap and contributes to keep your audience coming back to your site. So get those subscriptions and make sure you create a newsletter with interesting content and an appealing design that works on mobile as well!

Read more: ‘Social Media Strategy: where to begin’ »

SEO New Hampshire

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What’s Really Happening When You Get Writer’s Block (and How to Overcome It)

Andrew Raynor

Writer’s block isn’t what you think. It’s not a medical condition afflicting writers everywhere. It’s not a disease preventing you from doing your best work. And it’s not a virus that takes control of the creative process, rendering you useless.

What’s Really Happening When You Get Writer’s Block (and How to Overcome It)

What writer’s block is, then, is an excuse.

Nothing more.

Ever wonder why other people in less creative careers don’t experience blocks the way we writers do?

Cubicle dwellers may lament the Monday Blues or the 3PM Slump, but in no other industry do professionals speak of being prevented from their work by an invisible and all-powerful force beyond their control.

As Liz Gilbert says, there are no engineers suffering from engineer’s block.

Why is that?

Few professions require the honesty and self-reflection that writing does. Few vocations demand the constant mining of one’s life experiences, and even fewer allow you to spin this information into beautiful prose for public consumption.

In that respect, writer’s block makes sense. It is a creative person’s pre-emptive defense against judgment. It is a wall between ourselves and the public. It’s what we say when we don’t want to answer any more questions about that book we haven’t written. We’ve got writer’s block.

People nod understandingly, almost empathetically. Oh, yes. I’m so sorry. That must be hard. I hope you get well soon.

Here’s the truth: writer’s block doesn’t exist. Not really. It’s a condition that exists entirely in your head. That wall you’re building is made of air, not bricks. But when we believe this lie we tell ourselves, it becomes real.

When we think we are blocked, we become blocked.

The concept of writer’s block has so infiltrated our daily lives that it gets a pass in nearly every creative conversation. We do not hold ourselves to a standard of daily discipline, and therefore, neither do others.

But this is a problem. When a toxin to our productivity gets into the creative bloodstream, it must be flushed out. The way we do this is not by treating the symptom, but by acknowledging the real disease.

The real cause of writer’s block

If you’ve ever felt like you have writer’s block, here’s what you actually have:

  • Fear
  • Exhaustion
  • High standards (which is basically fear of failure)
  • Imposter Syndrome (fear of rejection)
  • Perfectionism (fear of not being good enough)
  • Busyness (fear of not having enough time)
  • Laziness (or is it really fear?)
  • Lack of structure (fear of not knowing how to start)

Look: I don’t mean to impose my reality on you because every writer is different. But, for me, what almost always prevents me from writing is fear.

To help me understand what’s going inside of me when I feel blocked, I take the following three steps:

1. Acknowledge the resistance

First, I acknowledge the resistance I feel as a sign that I’m doing something right. I must be doing something important if an unseen force is trying to stop me from finishing, even if that unseen force is myself.

Subconsciously, I must recognize that this is important work, hence the need to self-sabotage. So, when I realize this, I am encouraged. Excited, even. Because it means I’m doing something that matters.

2. Identify the root problem

Second, I ask myself what’s really going on. Not, what’s preventing me from finishing? But rather: why do I feel stuck?

Am I afraid of failure? Of rejection? Of not being good enough?

Do I feel like I don’t have enough time? Enough talent? Enough grit?

Or, am I just tired?

Depending on the situation, my step three varies. But unless I’m tired, in which case I take nap or do some exercise, it’s most likely fear that I’m having to overcome.

I’m scared to publish because I feel like my best work is behind me or that I’ll never finish it. I’m scared of what people might think, or that I’ll somehow get pigeonholed into some role I don’t want for myself. I’m scared it’ll fail, and therefore I will be a failure.

So, it’s just easier to stare at the screen or procrastinate and find something else seemingly more important to do. Then, when the writing time is over, I play the martyr, pretending like I didn’t have “enough time.”

3. Ask what’s the worst that can happen

Three, once I’ve determined what’s actually wrong, I do a worst-case scenario. Could I fail? Sure. Would that destroy my career in a single stroke? Not at all.

It would take multiple failures all in a row to take me out of the game. That’s not impossible, of course, but it’s certainly not likely. And that takes away the pressure of this one creative act, which frees me up to do what is mine to do, today.

We must acknowledge the true cause of our writer’s block. Then, we must find a practical solution so we have a shot at getting back to work.

Start with structure

A quick word on writing structure: If you’ve balked before at structure as something that would limit your creativity or even induce writer’s block, that’s fear talking.

Your output depends on having a system in place that makes productivity not just probable, but inevitable.

That’s why my friend Tim Grahl and I recently worked together to develop The Productive Writer course. We designed this course to help you find the time to write, overcome your fears, and finish your book in the next 90 days.

You are not merely a vehicle through which writing flows (or doesn’t) despite you, which means that the thing you’re perceiving as a creative block is just you getting in your own way. This is why it’s important for you to use proven strategies to help you remove the obstacles that stand in the way of your writing.

Step aside, define the thing you’re actually experiencing, and try out this proven system to get real traction as a writer.

Register today for The Productive Writer course before it closes on Friday, August 26.


What’s happening in your mind when you’re facing writer’s block? Share in the comments.

Andrew Raynor

Internal search for online shops: an essential asset

Andrew Raynor

 

 

Internal search is a valuable asset for any informational website containing over 20 pages. That value is probably double or more when it comes to internal search for online shops. The easier a visitor gets to the desired product, the more likely he or she will buy it. Following my post on internal search for informational websites, I’d like to elaborate a bit more on internal search for eCommerce shops in this post.

Internal search for online shops

There is a reason the larger online shops add so much focus on their internal search: you will buy their stuff if you can easily find the product you are looking for. It’s as simple as that.

The number of products in an online shop varies from dozens to thousands. As soon as your online shop has more than 20 items, you need to start thinking about alternative ways to get to these products. They can’t all be in a submenu, right?

There’s a ton of things you can do to make the route to the desired product as short as possible for your visitor.

Location of your search bar

There is no default best spot for the search bar on your website. We think the location of a search bar largely depends on the type of page (or homepage) you have and the importance of that search bar for your audience. Rule of thumb is that you can’t ignore the search option when you are sitting down with your designer. It has to have a prominent spot on pretty much every page.

Most common spots are in or below the header, where a visitor will expect that search bar to be. A nice example is Cabela’s search option:

Internal search for online shops - Cabela's

You can see it doesn’t have to be a large, obtrusive search option. The position of that search bar makes it so that any visitor will be able to find it in a heartbeat.

There are a number of other positions that you can choose, but these two are the most common ones. Other options include in the hero image, like on Etsy.com, or as a part of the menu, like on Staples.com.

The main thing to keep in mind is that (in most cases) your search option should be one of the most prominent elements of your homepage. And probably of a number of other pages as well. That doesn’t go for product pages, as that would be the end result for a query. But please add it in a less prominent way to these pages, so people can continue shopping at all times. It wouldn’t hurt to test variations of that search bar location and see what works best for your audience.

Internal search result pages for online shops

There are two kinds of internal search result pages in online shops:

  • Actual internal search result pages, found by adding a search query to the search option on a website, and
  • your product category pages, that can be found by clicking a link to that category.

Both basically look the same, right? The main difference is that the category pages are presented after clicking a link, most probably in the menu, and the search result pages are presented after an actual search query. Think about an online fashion shop that gives you the choice between the main categories Men and Women. The search query is predefined.

These search result pages should have the following characteristics:

  • Highlighted search keywords
  • Add excerpts of your product description containing the keyword
  • Rank results by relevance
  • Make sure internal search results are not indexed by Google

There is one extra characteristic I’d like to add here. No matter what the product is you are selling, make sure a product image is shown in your internal search results. This makes searching a lot easier. For instance, with books (and even eBooks), I’d rather pick the one with a nice cover than the boring alternative. Make sure there is an image available. We’d be happy to check this and much more for you in our site reviews.

One more addition to this. And this is just me thinking out loud. If a visitor clicks a search result in your webshop, and lands on your product page, prevent the need to click back to the internal search results. That can be easily done by adding a related products section to the product page.

Filter options after an internal search

I already mentioned the importance of providing filter options for your internal search for online shops. The main reason is that on most larger eCommerce shops, the visitor is still left in the dark when doing that initial internal search. The number of results is overwhelming. The easier it is to narrow this down, the happier you will make your potential customer.

In this section, I’d like to go over a number of best practices. First, I’d like to mention the filter options in the mother of all online shops: Amazon.com. Here’s a screenshot:

Internal Search for Webshops: Amazon filter options

This is all in one large sidebar on the left-hand side of your Amazon page (not per se in this order by the way). What I think is especially nice in these filter options, is the option to filter on Average Customer Review. It emphasizes the Amazon community and in the very general search I did, this is a welcome filter option.

Zalando.de is one of the larger European online clothing shops. Always on the lookout for new, cheap t-shirts, I found these filter options:

Note that the global filter on the left has already disabled the filter options that don’t apply to this search, which is nice, and that it gives me the opportunity to filter for sale items only (I’m a cheapskate when it comes to t-shirts).

The most important filter options are right above the search results: Brand, Color, Price, Size, etcetera with a select option in the dropdown:

One could argue whether that brand list should instead be a long list right below the global search options. Zalando has most probably tested this a lot, and so should you. Test, or ask, what your visitors prefer.

The third and last case that I’d like to mention in this post is LEGO.com:

Internal Search for Webshops: LEGO.com filter options

Ow, what a teaser. “Coming Soon: 5”. And why can I filter retired products? So I can go on eBay and buy these for a lot more than the initial price:

Internal Search for Webshops: LEGO Retired Product

So that “hard to find” statement might not be entirely accurate, but I can see this pushing experience and price 🙂 LEGO does a very nice job on these filter options, by the way. Especially the Age and Pieces options come in handy for most visitors, I imagine. Note that where Amazon starts with the Rating filter, LEGO concludes the list of filters with that option. Perhaps Amazon users are looking for a type of book rather than a specific book, where LEGO.com users are looking for that one box to complete their collections. But that’s just me guessing.

You can see how filter options help you get to the desired product a lot faster than just entering more search terms in an internal search field in an online shop.

Read more: ‘Internal search: why and how’ »

Conclusion

Where a search option on an informational site is very much like your basic Google search, the internal search for eCommerce shops is a bit more complicated. You really want to add a second step to that: filter options. Together these make for a very good user experience, as long as your filter options are logical and are tailored to your target audience.

SEO New Hampshire

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116: Why Writers Need to Build a Professional Network to Succeed

Andrew Raynor

Your success as a writer is not solely dependent upon your ability to write. If you believe this, then you might be missing out on one of the most important pieces to your success: Your professional network.

No matter how much we want to believe that successful men and women are self-made, it’s just not true. At times in your life and career, you will need the help, support, and guidance from someone else.

Someone who will pick you up when you fall down. Someone who can teach you important lessons and even speak hard truths into your life. And someone who will walk alongside you in support as you take steps toward pursuing your calling.

Like most writers, I’m a little shy and found building a community really difficult to do at first. But I learned that this type of network and support I needed couldn’t be developed behind the comfort of my computer. It wasn’t until I stepped away from my writing and into a community when I not only began to forge key friendships, but began to improve as a writer and professional.

This week on The Portfolio Life, Andy Traub and I talk about the importance of building a community for your development and success as a writer. We also share some good and bad examples of building community, and practical steps you can take today to expand your professional network.

Listen in as Andy and I share my personal experiences and awkward moments in building my network and what I’ve learned along the way.

Listen to the podcast

To listen to the show, click the player below. (If you are reading this via email or RSS, please click here.)

Show highlights

In this episode, Andy and I discuss:

  • Being intentional about creating community.
  • How stepping away from my writing and joining a community changed everything.
  • Finding and creating a community where you live.
  • Connecting with like-minded people.
  • Why real success comes from finding people who are as ambitious as you are.
  • Networking with people who are ahead of you and similar to you professionally.
  • What to do when you lack self-confidence in approaching others.
  • How to develop and maintain relationships after forming them.

Quotes and takeaways

  • Close your laptop. Put away your work. And step out into your community.
  • Wherever you are, there is some kind of opportunity to network.
  • Identify and network with people who are ahead of you and similar to you professionally.
  • Don’t worry about your perceived level of success. That’s not the point. The point is to connect with someone at your level.
  • A network is a relationship of people working together to give and receive.

Resources

What steps can you take today to connect with people who are ahead of you and similar to you professionally? Share in the comments.

Andrew Raynor

To blog or not to blog?

Andrew Raynor

 

 

To blog or not to blog? That’s the question. Or, at least, that will be the main question of this blog post. The answer to the question is pretty simple: yes, you should blog. In this post, I’ll explain why you should blog. I’ll also explain some of the challenges that you’ll face as a blogger, and how to cope with them.

Blogging is great for SEO

Adding content on a regular basis should be part of every sustainable SEO strategy. It allows you to rank for new keywords and to keep ranking on those you’re already found for. If you blog regularly, Google will ‘see’ your site as active, alive and relevant. This will definitely help your rankings.

One of the reasons WordPress websites usually are able to rank relatively high in Google is all because of the blogging structure of WordPress. A blogging structure makes it easy for website owners to create new content. The threshold to write is very low! And if you’re writing more often, you will have a higher chance to conquer the competition in Google. Blogging therefore is a very good way to keep creating content and to start ranking in the search engines.

Read more: ‘Blog or vlog?’ »

Blogging is a great marketing tool

A blog will be a great marketing tool for every website. In your blog, you can tell readers about your brand, your products and perhaps also about yourself.

Maintaining a blog will allow you to give readers to get more acquainted with your brand and your products. It is a great way to let your audience in on new ideas or plans you might have.  A blog can be a reason for people to come back to your website. You can interact with your audience in the comments of your blog.

Keep reading: ‘How to handle comments on your blog’ »

Blogging will be a challenge

Publishing content is rather easy with a content management system like WordPress. Writing a great story, unfortunately, is as hard as it was in the Middle Ages. Writing remains a skill. It requires skills from its performer, it requires some basic understanding of language and spelling, it requires some creativity, it requires some thinking and reflecting. And, writing web texts requires some basic knowledge about the internet, SEO and user experience as well. The pitfall of blogging is that people quickly create a lot of crappy content. And in the end, that is not a very good SEO strategy at all.

In order to blog, you need to be able to write a decent text. Check out our SEO copywriting course, one of our eBooks, or our SEO copywriting: the Ultimate guide  if you need some help.

Conclusion: to blog or not to blog?

If you have a website, you should blog. At least every now and then. Blogging is great for SEO and it is an important marketing tool. Above that, it can be great fun!

Read on: ‘6 tips for coming up with blog ideas’ »

SEO New Hampshire

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