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How To Take Gorgeous, Sale-Making Product Photos

This guest post comes to us via Jessica Hammond, a photographer, writer, and lifelong equestrian. She loves demystifying photography, reading CanLit, and steeped tea with lavender honey. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook!

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I’m an avid tea drinker. Prairie Berry loose leaf oolong, caramel roobios, blueberry pomegranate white, run-of-the-mill orange pekoe … You name it, I steep it with lavender honey. Being a photographer and a self-proclaimed tea geek, I’m easily enchanted by mugs, teacups, and ceramics to host my delicious nectar into a personalized drinking device. Sure, I own several plain white mugs, but I enjoy my tea the most when it’s steeping in something handcrafted and special. 

I’m not the only one who loves handmade cups and mugs. While I haven’t got a clue how to make them, I can spot a good one a mile away. As most Etsy shop owners know, that first impression is a key indicator on your sales, engagement, and overall shop’s success. For folks who are looking to amp up their game and reel in the real tea geeks, I’ve got 3 easy steps to achieve great product photography in your Etsy store!  

 1. Know your product, know your message
For now, we’ll stick with the tea drinker’s wet dream: the perfect ceramic. These are handmade items (a huge genre of shops on Etsy distinguish themselves as handcrafted or homemade) that have their own message. Photography is, whether we like to admit it or not, an artistic expression. Photography is also one of the biggest ways in which Etsy shop owners have to show off their impressive work. Poor photographs reflect poorly on the product, as well as the effort that has gone into them.

As the maker of mugs, you know your product like the back of your hand. Tea and coffee and the people who drink them are looking for warmth, looking for taste, and they’re looking for an addition to their interior style. They want to display their mugs proudly, along with their stash of looseleaf and herbal teas. They want to be photographed sipping away on their winter chai as its steam curls in the air. The message your photos need to convey, then, are something like warmth, and taste, and style. Things like comfort and intimacy could also play into your message.

2. Build your space
Not many of us have home studios, large umbrellas, and a range of external flashes. That’s okay. You’re a handcrafted tea cup creator, not a photo studio! Whether you’ve got a dSLR, a point-and-shoot, or an iPhone, couple that with your kitchen counter, floor, and a big window? You’re ready to take some photos, my friend.

One of the most important points to remember about product photography is to make it intentional. Whether you want your product to be isolated and on display, or surrounded by complimentary items, images, and symbols, is entirely up to you. But either way, you have to make that decision.

Start with a few test shots, focusing in on your product. Review the photos and see what’s distracting your eye — are there odd shapes or out-of-place colours in the background? Does the isolated tea cup look lonely and dejected all by itself, or regal and stylish? There’s no requirement stating you need to take The Perfect Shot the first time you do. Mug maker, remember?

 3. Set your scene
Don’t be afraid to get stylish. You don’t sell cookies and sugar cubes? That doesn’t mean you can’t include them in your photo! What goes better with tea than sugar, or honey from a label-free jar on a comb, or a splash of milk, or cookies?

Carefully placed piles of loose leaf tea would also compliment your tea cup nicely! When you figure out your message, and you decide what sort of space you need to build, pull together your elements. Maybe you want a collection of wildflowers in a clear jar on the table. Whatever you deem fit, make sure it adds to the scene. Great inspiration for setting the scene would be magazines like Kinfolk, stylist and blogger Beth Kirby, blogger Kelsey Brown, and blogger Sarah Kieffer.

If you’re an Etsy shop owner, you know that first impressions are a key indicator on your sales, engagement, and overall shop’s success. Because of this, you want to make sure you:

 1. Know your product and know your message. Picking keywords to describe your product will help you understand your message!

2. Build your space. Whatever you do, make your space intentional!

3. Set your scene. Once you know your message and you’ve built your space, set up your scene using the appropriate style!

Do any of you guys sell physical products?  How do you photograph them?  Share any tips in the comments!

How To Create Link Posts That Lead To Connections + Sales + Traffic

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Wouldn’t it be lovely to network with talented people, bond with your readers, and create content that people look forward to?

Well, dur. Do cats like treats served on chopsticks?

Last week we talked about the oddly powerful link roundup post (networks in a non-gross way! introduces your readers to helpful things! reinforces your brand!) This week we’re talking about some best practices to create link posts that your readers will really, really love.

1. Find good links
Obviously, right? If you read blogs in an RSS feed (which I so, so highly recommend) it’s super easy to create tags and star the posts you’ll link to. If you read blogs the old fashioned way, you can simply save good posts to your favorites folder.  If you blog about something incredibly specific (bikes, vegan food, toddlers) you can use a service like Curata to help you find and curate links that are helpful to your niche audience.

2. Use affiliate links carefully and judiciously
Link posts are a great place to use affiliate links in a non-hit-you-over-the-head-with-it manner. Of course, make sure you’re linking to products you actually stand behind and companies whose policies you support. You’re legally required to include a disclaimer that outgoing links may lead to commissions for you. My disclaimer is in the footer of my blog, next to my copyright info.

3. When you link to people, @mention them on social media
If you’re including someone in a link post, @mention them so they know you’re talking about them!  They’ll appreciate the publicity and it could be the first step in a great relationship. True story: I landed one of my biggest on-retainer clients by linking to her. Once.

4. @mention the writer, not the publication
If you’re linking to a post on a big website (Salon, HuffPo, etc) @mention the writer, rather than the site. Most big news sites have hundreds of thousands of followers and they won’t even notice your tweet. But if that writer has 500 followers, she’ll totally notice (and appreciate) that you linked to her and introduced her to your followers.

5. Personalize + individualize your tweets
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See the difference?  The former is waaaaay better because
a) It shows the people you’re linking to which post you’re talking about
b) It gives a sneak peak into the content so your Twitter followers will want to click that link
c) It caters to the ego, showing the people you’re linking to that you think they’re special (Awwww!)

6. When necessary/possible include quotes
I pretty frequently link to ‘long reads’ on obtuse topics – like this post on TED’s slow deterioration. I could just type “Do you think TED is going down the tubes?” but for longer, more complex articles, I like to include a pull quote. Like this:
I was at a presentation that a friend, an astrophysicist, gave to a potential donor. I thought the presentation was lucid and compelling (and I’m a professor of visual arts here at UC San Diego so at the end of the day, I know really nothing about astrophysics). After the talk the sponsor said to him, “you know what, I’m gonna pass because I just don’t feel inspired …you should be more like Malcolm Gladwell.”
At this point I kind of lost it. Can you imagine?
Think about it: an actual scientist who produces actual knowledge should be more like a journalist who recycles fake insights! This is beyond popularisation.

7. Get all design-y (if you want to)
I keep my link posts quite spare but there are several bloggers who do pretty, design-y link posts. Particularly Design Crush and Coco + Kelley

8. Use this as an opportunity to link to some of your archived posts
I like to close out my link posts with ‘Some Yes and Yes posts you might have missed’ and link to three or four of my favorite old posts. This is also a great time to improve those old posts before you send them new traffic – swap in new, Creative Commons images, add text to the photo, SEO-ify the title, and format them to be more readable.

9. Link to your other social media accounts
I post my ‘fave read of the day’ each day on Twitter (handily organized under the #yandy hashtag) so I make sure to tell my readers that if they appreciate my taste in links, I share more every night on Twitter. It’s another way I can promote good content and befriend some fantastic writers.

Whew!  That was awkwardly exhaustive. Do you guys have any other questions about link posts? Or tips of your own to share?

The Easiest, Most Oddly Effective Content You Can Create

linegraphThree years ago, while sitting on a bed in Malaysia, I inadvertently created one of my most popular post series.

I’d been traveling for six months and was working eight hours a day for one of Malaysia’s leading women’s magazines.  Between all that writing and my very busy schedule of drinking Pimm’s by the pool, I didn’t have much time or creative energy to devote to high-quality posts.  I was concerned that readers would leave my blog if I didn’t post regularly, so I assembled a post that consisted of links to cool things I found around the internet.

I cobbled it together, titled it ‘Web Time Wasters’, and posted it – expecting little traffic and not much response.

And the opposite happened.

Oddly, people loved it!  I could see that it got a lot of traffic and a surprising number of comments. Since I posted it on Sunday (a traditionally ‘slow’ day on the internet) my readers were thrilled to have an hour’s worth of fun, curated reads for their Sunday morning. And I’ve been posting ‘Web Time Wasters’ each Sunday since then.

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Readers regularly tell me that my link roundups are their favorite on the internet (thanks?) and that those posts are their internet equivalent to reading the Sunday paper. Which is so nice! Occasionally, I find the whole thing a bit demoralizing. I write a post about working in a refugee camp that gets five comments, but a roundup of 15 links to funny cat videos and travel tips gets 12 comments.  Ah, well!

But it’s hard to argue with traffic and results. For me, these link posts have resulted in:
* Two big-deal on-retainer clients
* New sponsors
* Thousands of dollars in affiliate sales
* New internet friendships with heaps of cool people
* Introducing my readers to talented bloggers + helpful products I think they should know about

Why should you be creating link roundups?

1. They’re a great, non-sleazy way to network
I’m not particularly ‘strategic’ about who I link to.  When I find something I like, I link to it – regardless of the site’s size. But! If there’s a blogger or company you’d really like to partner with, including them in your link roundup is a great way to (begin to) get on their radar.

2. It’s good karma
If you’ve got traffic, it’s nice to send it someone’s way. It’s also a great way to ‘be the change you want to see in the internet’ (to paraphrase Gandhi.) When you link to and promote thoughtful, kind content you’re reinforcing what you think is important and the kind of content you want out in the world.

3. It’s a non-annoying way to incorporate affiliate links
I, like most bloggers, am part of an affiliate network – you can see the disclaimer in the footer on Yes and Yes. But because I don’t write much about fashion or beauty products (the items most commonly sold through affiliate links) there aren’t many opportunities for me to make money that way. My link roundups are a genuine, non-annoying way for me to link to cute dresses and good books in a way makes sense – and make an extra $150 a month.

4. Link roundups ‘reinforce your brand’
This is something I didn’t realize I was doing until a client pointed it out to me. “You like fun, silly things but you’re also interested in current events, literature, feminism, and cultural stuff – and that’s obvious from the links you choose.”  Well, thanks!  While it certainly wasn’t my intent to do this, I can see what she’s saying. Looking through the links I choose is an easy way to see what’s important to me – and if you’re someone who’s interested in those things too we’re better, closer internet friends.

5. It establishes you as an expert and a curator of awesome stuff
If you write about a specific topic (healthy living, homeschooling, living in small spaces) link roundups are a great way to introduce your readers to helpful, useful information. And every time you do that, they appreciate it and (maybe) think “Why, that Sheryl sure knows a thing or two about green juices!” or “Dana knows where all the good stuff is! If she’s this knowledgeable, I should probably hire her!”

Crazy, right? All benefits from a post full of stuff that YOU DIDN’T EVEN WRITE. Stay tuned next week for some link roundup best practices!

Do you ever do link posts? How do you feel about them?

P.S. if you’d like more of this type of instantly implementable, traffic-boosting advice you might like my Clever Sessions!

A Free 56-page Ebook + 10 Ridiculously Helpful Links For Bloggers & Businesses

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Want your own (free) copy of this book? Sign up for my newsletter and I’ll send it along as a thank you!

Remember how I wrote about why having a personality on the internet is good for business? Well, it was in support of an awesome ecourse and the creators were kind enough to gather all the related posts into a beautifully designed free ebook!  And if you’d like to sign up for my small business newsletter, I’d love to share a copy with you.

Some of the things covered in Inside Secrets For New Coaches + Creatives?

  • How to jump into business even if you don’t feel ‘ready’
  • 4 creative ways to stand out
  • How to discover your passion and earn more than money
  • 5 actions you can take today today to start having more fun and get more done
  • Brand consistency lessons from the school of hard knocks
  • How to stand by your rates

Also! I’ve been hoarding sooooo many good links for you guys.  As much as it pains me to admit it, there are people all over the internet who are just as (re: more) clever and helpful than I am.  Here are some of their posts.

I never thought I’d like a book that uses a boxing metaphor for a title, but here we are. Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook is an insanely helpful book and you can get lots of insight into the ideas behind it and its author in this podcast.

If you’re a maker/designer/crafter/etc, I’d be remiss in my duty as your internet friend if I didn’t tell you about Designed To Sell.  Of course, I love everything Chris Guillebeau does (who doesn’t?) and this course isn’t any different. It helps you figure out what products to create, how to connect with the right people, and how to sell your work and make it sustainable.  Good stuff!

What’s user-generated content?  It’s photos of customers using your products (which you should be putting in Facebook photo albums) USG will be hot this year – particularly on Instagram.

Why successful habits are about structure not habit:
The idea is to start with something really, really small and let it grow into a bigger habit or routine. You could write your goal as “go the the gym.” Not “stay at the gym for an hour,” but just “get to the gym.” Put on your workout clothes. It’s not that you have to run five miles; what matters is that you just get your running shoes on three times a week. In a month or two months, you’ll be running as far as you want to run. That consistency ends up trumping everything else that you can do with goal setting.
The structure matters. People put all of this effort into optimization and research, but honestly everything we see about success rate says that the most important thing is to structure your goals so you can be consistent.

Yessss!  The art of the email subject line

Not sure if you should post that thing to social media? Here are five questions to ask yourself before you do.

Well, this is fancy.  Slide.es is a beautifully designed alternative to Powerpoint.

I really appreciated Grace’s take on the changes in the blogging world in her State of the Blog Union post.
* With shorter reader attention spans, we can post smaller-scale updates that allow us to be more informal and operate in a more real-time world.
* Without the structure of planning content and ad campaigns a year ahead of time, we were now free to test out new columns, pursue content only when it interested us and try things out for short periods of time.
* With reader engagement spread across different platforms it means each of our team members can find a way to connect with our community in a way that suits them best.
* With all of these new makers and voices popping up left and right, we’re able to discover more inspiring people and content- and start new collaborations- on a daily basis.

This is a great pep talk to give yourself or a friend when you’re feeling tired, rundown, or about to flake out.

A very, very good reminder: 19 hard things you need to do to be successful.

What amazing things have you read recently?  Leave links in the comments!

4 Tips To Deal With The Fact That The Internet Is Always Changing

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When Facebook changed its algorithm (so it sucks even more than usual) I was so, so angry. Incensed! I’d spent four years building up a Facebook page with almost 4,000 followers and now Mr. Zuckerberg was telling me I’d have to pay to access the people who actively opted to follow my blog.  I maaaay have tweeted some cuss words about it.

I can swear about it all I want, but that won’t change Facebook’s new policies and it won’t change the fact that blogging, social media, and the internet in general, change at the speed of light. It can be totally overwhelming to try to stay on top of the internet as is currently exists.  New developments?  Forget it.

But there’s a reason we have all those sayings about ‘evolving or getting left behind’.  And it really is possible to evolve along with the internet, without losing your mind to overwhelm.

Here are four ways to deal with the fact that internet is always changing – and some tips about how you can change along with it.

1. Before you dive into a new social media platform, really think about if it works for your business
There are new social media platforms popping up left and right and it can be really beneficial to be an early adoptor.  But if you want to use a platform really effectively, you should be creating content that’s specific to that platform – don’t just push your Instagram photos onto Facebook or your Facebook status updates onto Twitter. It’s lazy and it looks unprofessional.  And creating that custom content is time consuming, so make sure the platform is a good fit for your business before you hire someone to manage your account.

You’re a local bike shop that specializes in mountain bikes and 90% of your customers are men? Maybe don’t devote 10 hours a week to Pinterest.
You’re a travel concierge who creates custom trips for high-end clients?  You’re obviously taking gorgeous photos of all your adventures and posting them on Instagram, right?

2. Stay on top of changes by listening to podcasts
I’d be remiss in my duties as your internet BFF if I didn’t tell you to read Copyblogger, Problogger, and Mashable. But even I don’t have time to read everything they write – and I’m on the internet for a living!

So here’s what I’d suggest instead: listening to small business/entrepreneur/social media podcasts. You can listen in your car or while you putter around the house and even if you don’t absorb 100% of that information you’ll be better off than you were before. Podcasts to check out: Fizzle // Suitcase Entrepreneur // Smart Passive Income // The Unmistakable Creative

3. Change your offerings to reflect changes in the market
Did you start your career helping people making Myspace pages? If you did, you’ve probably altered your offerings a bit, yeah?  My Solution Session offering includes a plan for Facebook + Twitter domination – but I’m thinking of scrapping the Facebook portion of that and including something else.  I fancified and updated my free ebook to reflect Twitter’s new in-stream photo option and using Twitter lists. Changes in the market create opportunities for you to help people in totally new ways!

4. Know that you can also be successful by doing the opposite of what everyone else is doing
We’ve all heard that blogging is dead because people only have the attention span to look through Instagram photos.  Or that the only blog posts that matter at gif-riddled listicles.  And there’s probably a grain of truth in there.  But you know which blogs I love these days?  The ones that publish long, well-written personal essays.

There are well-known bloggers who don’t have Facebook pages (I’m looking at you, Alex).  Print media is allegedly dying and Danielle Laporte is launching her own printed magazine.  You can opt out of new things that don’t resonate with you try something completely off the wall – an actual, print mailing list!  Where you send your readers postcards! Taking photos with a film camera! Writing long form pieces! Creating and printing a newspaper!

There are certain non-negotiables in business. Customer service, taking pride in your products and services, talking about what you do in some form – print advertising, Instagram, billboards, giving your customers a good product for their money.

The rest is up to you.

How do you stay on top of changes online?  What changes have you made recently?

P.S. If you’d like help mastering the internet in the least overwhelming way possible, I can help! I’ve been blogging 5+ days a week (even while traveling internationally!) without losing my mind, so I know a thing or two about creating an online presence in a doable way.

photo by jurvetson // cc

How To Win Friends + Influence Buyers On Instagram

This guest post comes to us via Tara Swiger, Instagram-enthusiast.  She guides creative biz ladies to explore a sustainable business with workshops like Pay Yourself. She leads a Starship full of explorers + a Solo Mission for the brave. You can become an explorer of your own business with her (free) mini-course here. 

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A quick definition: Instagram is a free photo-sharing app for your phone. It allows you to share photos with your Instagram followers and post them on your other social networks (Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Flickr and more). It’s kinda like Twitter, but with photos instead of words.

So why all the fuss? And can this fuss be useful, to you, a savvy (but busy!) business owner?

The magic of Instagram is that it feels personal. It allows you a peek into my world, through my eyes. Instead of approximating the beauty (or quirkiness) of what I’m looking at with words, I can quickly show you.

Is it for you?

If you answer yes to any of these questions, then it might be worth your time to start using Instagram:

  • Do you work with or create physical products? (a maker, crafter, or artist, or an online or local seller-of-goods)

  • Are you based in a location that clients and customers visit? (A shop, studio, spa, classroom)

  • Is travel a part of your brand or service?

  • Do you want to develop a personal relationship with your customers and clients, and give them a “behind-the-scenes” look into your life?

If you choose to use Instagram to reach your customers, remember to:

Be a person. Instagram is a personal medium, so unless you’re Macy’s or Starbucks, it makes sense to use it as a person, with a single point-of-view. (This doesn’t mean you have to share personal photos of kids or cats, but do use your name + photo.) Include your company name (and what it does!) in your profile + include a link to your website.

Take photos of the new. When new items come into your shop, take a picture to share. When you create a new product, take a picture of it. And when you go new places, take a picture.

Show the process. A stream that only shares finished products will get old fast, but your customers will love to see how you create what you sell. Show the successes, the failures, the drafts. Take photos of your workspace during every part of the process. Even if you don’t make a physical product, something about your day has a process (your 10th cup of coffee?) so share it!

Share the useful, entertaining, and educational.  Think about your role in your customers’ lives. Are you inspiring, educating or entertaining them? Use your Instagram feed to continue this message in photos, whether it’s images of your work, a great book, or the best local cupcake shop.

Make your client the star. With their permission, share photos of your happy customers – wearing your dresses, knitting with your yarn, or decorating with your pillows. Even if you don’t sell physical items, you can snap a photo of your thrilled client.

Do you use Instagram for your business? Share your best tips in the comments!

Internet Stalking Your Way To Success

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We’ve all got professional heros, right?
 That roster of people whose books you devour, whose videos you watch, and who you’d pay to see in person.  I mean, I certainly do.  (I love you, Anne Lamott, Cheryl Strayed, Bill Bryson, David Sedaris).

Let’s say – for the sake of argument – that your professional idols made their names through the internet.  Maybe you love Marie Forleo or Jenna Marbles or Ramit Sethi or Matthew Inman.  They’re so awesome!  Everything they do is amazing and gilded in gold and met with praise and adulation!  It’s really easy to imagine that
a) they are a completely different species and meant for success in a way that the rest of us aren’t
b) they never filmed a bad video, launched a product that failed, were ever anything other than hugely successful

You guys?  That’s simply not true.  No matter how awesome our heros currently are, they were newbies once, too.
And do you want to know something really amazing? If you want to see exactly how they got where they are today, all you have to do is click the ‘older posts’ button.

Some people call it ‘creating a case study’ but I’m calling it what it really is: internet stalking.
When the internet is your medium (and your professional heros’ medium) it’s incredibly easy to see how/when/why they’ve made a name for themselves.

Here are some things to look for when you’re stalking your heros

Blogging
How often do they blog now?  How often did they blog when they started out?  How long are their blog posts? How are their blog posts formatted? Are they essays? Filled with tips and actionable items? Do they include photos? Do they include outgoing links? How often do they link to their own products?  Do they host guest posts? Do they interview other people? Do they use images in their posts?  Do they have on-going post series?

Social media
Which platforms do they use?  How do they use them?  How do they promote their own work on those platforms? Do they promote others’ work on those platforms? Did they join, then abandon, any social media platforms – and if they did – why? How often do they link to their social media accounts in their blog posts?  How much personal information do they share on social media?

Email list
How do they get people to sign up for their email list? How frequently do they promote it? Do they have different opt ins for different people? How often do they send it out? Is it unique content or is it the same as what’s on their blog? How is their newsletter laid out?

Community
Do they interact with their readers and respond to comments on their blog and on social media?  Do they end blog posts with a question? Do they link to other people? Do they provide their readers with freebies? What sorts of freebies? Do they answer readers’ and clients’ questions in blog posts or videos?

Professional trajectory
Who do they write guest posts for? Who has interviewed them? What sorts of products did they launch? How was the launch structured? Which products were successful? Which ones weren’t? Do they mention having a team that helps them? Who have they collaborated with? Did they mention any trainings or workshops that they went to? Did they mention the books that they’ve been reading?  How do they stand out from their competition?  What are they doing differently?

There are two reasons why this internet stalking is insanely useful
1. It will provide you with heaps of insight into success and tons of ideas you can implement yourself
2. It will remind you that everyone – even rich internet celebrities – started with five Twitter followers and poorly filmed Youtube videos.

There’s absolutely no reason you can’t be just as amazing and successful as they are.

Who’s your favorite internet celebrity?  Whose career are you going to stalk?

7 Posts That Will Make Your Business Better + Your Blog Bigger

Wait! Before you get to those awesome links!  

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Last year my friend Rachel finished her degree, continued to be the only person I know who can pull off her hair color, and had a freak accident in a mosh pit that left her with thousands and thousands of dollars in medical bills. I wanted to do my part to help out so over on Facebook, I’m running a little silent auction for four hours of my time – even copywriting! Which I don’t offer anymore!  If you’ve interested, pop over and leave a comment on the picture with your bid; auction ends February 28th at 6 pm CST.

Anyway. Here are some of the best, brightest things I’ve found online recently!

This is insaaaaanely helpful, no matter what time of year you read it. Finding inspiration and motivation to blog better this year.
New Stimuli - one of the best ways to get your creativity levels up is to expose yourself to new stuff. Buy a book, watch a movie, meet someone new, go for a walk, spend time with your family, listen to some music – get out of your normal daily rhythm and expose yourself to some new sights, sounds, tastes, touches and smells. Remember that what you put into your life has a direct baring on what comes out.

Related: if you’re feeling uninspired, think about why you follow your favorite bloggers.

This is a long read that’ll inspire you to take a lot of action when you’re finished: how to optimize your hottest posts.

Reminder: it’s totally possible to work on projects you’re excited about.  AND ACTUALLY MAKE MONEY WHILE DOING SO.  And you don’t have to get an accounting degree if you don’t want to. When everyone is making the same bet, there’s more competition. And when there’s more competition, there’s fewer winners. Those winners range from soul-sucking middle-management at T-Mobile to soul sucking stockbroker at Goldman Sachs.The money’s different, but the sad man in the uniform is the same.

Yes!  I struggle with this soooo much: when to do something important (but not urgent.)

If you have a physical product that you regularly pitch to magazine editors, you probably need this.

Almost every women I know (myself veeeeery much included) would benefit from watching this: five tips to start negotiating like a badass.

What posts have you loved as of late?  Leave ‘em in the comments!

How To Use Google Webmaster Tools In A Non-Overwhelming Way

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This guest post is from Olivia of Early Bird Strategy. She helps small businesses, entrepreneurs, and bloggers create and grow their online presence. She digs process, content strategy, SEO, A/B testing, Oregon IPA and email marketing. You can sign up for her free resources newsletter here – don’t worry, you can sleep in.

Google judges you based on your technical issues. Even though you have awesome content – sometimes the Googlebots can’t find you (which means awesome customers and potential Internet-besties can’t either).

Thankfully, you can play by Google’s rules, using one of their free tools. After plugging in your site, you can find any errors or areas for improvement and get back to focusing on the fun stuff like cat videos and writing.

In this post, I’m going to show you three smart ways you can use Google’s free tool Google Webmaster Tools to learn about – and fix up – your blog, to ultimately improve your SEO. When you’re a blogger, it can feel like you spend all your time writing and connecting. So more “technical” things might sound like a terrible way to spend a Sunday afternoon, but putting in a little effort can get big results.

1. Find out how people are finding your blog and what searches you’re showing up for but people aren’t clicking on

Sure you might know what some people searched for to arrive at your site from using Google Analytics, but do you know what people are searching for when your blog comes up in a search on Google, but they DON’T click on you? Would you believe me if I told you this was something you can find out?

1-GWT-queries 1-GWT-queries

If your mind just exploded from the above image, here’s what’s happening… This part of Google Webmaster Tools takes a look at some of your top posts, tells you about how many people saw it on Google (Impressions), how many of them clicked on it (Clicks), what that click through rate was (CTR is clicks divided by impressions), and what the average position on Google was (for example #1, would be the very first result).

As you can see in the above image, even though I only wrote the post on editorial calendars a couple weeks ago, I’m already getting Google traffic from it. It’s still pretty far back (#28, which would be the 3rd page) on Google results, but it included a free download of an editorial calendar template and was something I spent a lot of time on, so I expect it to continue bringing me traffic, potential customers, and connections.

Actionable homework #1: In Google Webmaster Tools, navigate to the Search Traffic>Search Queries area, and click on the Top Pages tab. Then, sort your list from largest to smallest, by Impressions. Make a note of the three pages with the highest CTR, and the three pages with the lowest CTR. What can we learn from this? The higher your CTR the higher relevance (or perceived relevance) someone searching on Google thought you had on those search terms. What a great way to know what your first impression is on what people are finding useful!

What else you could write about similar to those topics. For the low CTR pages, take a look at the post. Is there something in the post title or meta description that people aren’t finding your little preview snippet compelling enough to click on? (how rude!) What can you learn or change about this?

2. Use Google Authorship to have your profile show up in search results

Have you noticed sometimes when you’re searching on Google that you see a little picture of the author in the results, like this:

2-Google-Auth
Did you think it was only for massive sites like Mashable and Gawker etc.? It’s not! You can show up here too. One of the most overlooked areas of Google Webmaster tools is bloggers passing up this great opportunity to have your Google+ profile linked to your content, and more often than not have your profile picture in the results! Hello higher click through rate!

One of the Google Webmaster Tools Labs features is showing you statistics for your verified author posts.

3-GWT-author-stats

Actionable Homework #2: Get the ball rolling for Google Authorship, whether that’s first signing up for a Google+ account or verifying your email address. Here’s Google’s Guide for linking your content to your Google+ profile (2 options).

3. Fix those crawl errors

This section of Google Webmaster Tools can feel like homework. {Hey, where did everybody go?!} While it can be tedious to clean up some of the broken stuff on your site (especially if you’ve been around a while), it can also make a big difference in traffic. Think of it as spring cleaning and from a reader’s perspective how frustrating is it to click a broken link!?

4-GWT-crawl-error
With one of my clients, I found thousands of crawl errors that instead of fixing one by one, we were able to fix in one go, during my Website Audit and Action Plan, by adding an automatic redirect! This tiny change resulted in a significant increase in organic traffic that previously had just been landing on a broken page – while a few people had managed to find their way to the homepage, most had just abandoned ship.

Actionable Homework #3: Navigate to the Crawl>Crawl Errors area in Google Webmaster Tools. Click on the “Not found” tab. Clean up a few of these by click on the line item, which opens a little popup window with more info. The “not found” url at the top is the link that is broken. By clicking on the “linked from” tab you’ll find where this traffic is coming from. For example, if you’d mistyped when linking up this on another post, you could go in and correct it.

If you log in and find that you have a lot of crawl errors, try not to feel too overwhelmed. Instead, fix a few to get an idea of how it works, and then set a reminder to come back and do recurring maintenance in this area.

To wrap things up, even if people are finding you via social channels, overlooking organic search is like pulling a humble brag trick on your content. “No thanks, you don’t need to look over here, I just spent tons of time creating all this. Look away, I don’t want to be found!”. With a few small tweaks you can set yourself up to be found.

To learn how to add and validate your site in Google Webmaster Tools, here’s an in-depth post with additional advanced things you can learn.

Have you tried Google Webmaster Tools?

Stop Reading This Blog Post. Go Do Stuff.

instructions
I spend huge amounts of time either:
a) telling people how to do things (use Twitter lists! find ideal clients! roadtrip solo!)
b) learning how to do things (why are fishtail braids so haaaaaard!?)
c) reading lady magazines and throwing themed dinner parties 

I also spend a lot of time Googling how to do things.  When people ask me if I know how to do something I usually say “No. But I just figured we could Google it.”

But here’s the thing about all those how-tos and tutorials and Google searches:
That information is worth exactly nothing unless you do something with it.

It’s incredibly easy to load up your RSS feed with blogs that teach you how to do things
to assemble link round ups of helpful posts
to retweet “5 Ways To Revolutionize Your Blahblahblah” links
But at some point?  You actually need to do that stuff. 

You need to read the whole article – not just the bolded headings.
You need to spend the hour installing that complicated-but-super-useful plugin.
You need to carve out a few hours to nail down your About page.
You need make your first video – even if it’s bad.

And this blog post is just as much a note-to-self as a call-to-action.
I’m just as guilty as the next person of reading headlines, scanning chapters, and having to encounter something 45 times before it sinks in that, yes, Sarah, you do need a newsletter.

So let’s make a pact, shall we?
Let’s read less and do more.
Let’s close all those tabs and start writing.
Let’s stop skimming and start implementing.

Great things are coming for us.  We just have to make an actual effort. 

P.S. Did this get you all fired up?  Want some help actually making things happen for your business online?  I can help!