This post was written by me through an activation with HireInfluence on behalf of Liquid Web. Although I received compensation for participating in the campaign, all thoughts and opinions are my own, as I’ve been a Liquid Web dedicated hosting customer since 2009.
When I started The Social Media Hat in 2012, it was a side-project with no budget and big aspirations. I wanted to build a site where I could write about the topics I enjoyed, and help tens of thousands of readers get the answers they needed.
While the project got off to a great start, I didn’t have the benefit of an angel investor or a viral piece of content. I had to slog my way through the cacophony of content and work for every share and click.
That meant that I had very little cash to invest back into the business, leaving me with very hard choices to make.
What kinds of tools and resources and upgrades would have the greatest impact? Where should I invest my money?
Well, fortunately for you, you get the benefit of my hindsight. I’m going to share with you three things I did to upgrade my site that resulted in significant milestones.
Each of these site upgrades resulted in saved time as well as improved site & business performance.
And unlike many of the other ideas or techniques I’ve tried over the years, these three all provided significant, measurable differences.
Brilliant Upgrade #1 – Smart Social Sharing
One of the first major upgrades that I implemented was to improve my social sharing buttons.
Back in 2012, when I first launched the site, I was using a module called Service Links. My site happens to be built on Drupal, and that was one of the available options.
It was nice, but lacked social proof (sharing numbers) as well as customization options. I went on to try ShareThis and AddToAny and several other widgets – all of which were lacking in some way.
And then I discovered Shareaholic.
Shareaholic is one of only two social sharing widgets that I can recommend. They’re completely focused on providing site owners with all of the customization options and features they need to optimize social sharing.
You may not realize it, but taking the time to present your readers with attractive, easy to use sharing buttons has a real, positive impact.
As you can see, my sharing buttons have been customized to fit my brand, are fully responsive, display the networks I’ve selected, and of course include that essential element of proof that does two things:
- Social Proof reinforces our decision to take the time to read a particular piece of content.
- Social Proof reminds us that we should share a piece of content to our own social networks.
The new buttons were implemented in 2013 and immediately saved me time and hassle, and began to help drive more social sharing of my content, which resulted in more referral traffic and increased readership.
That was a pivotal upgrade for my site. The only time I’ve considered changing was when I read about Social Warfare from Warfare Plugins.
Like Shareaholic, Social Warfare offers plenty of outstanding features to help website owners create the best possible social sharing experience. The tool also includes excellent Pinterest and Twitter integrations – but, sadly, is only available for WordPress.
If your site or that of your clients is on WordPress, I’d strongly recommend checking out Social Warfare!
Brilliant Upgrade #2 – Determined Email Collection
Virtually every website today includes a Contact form. That one page of the site where visitors can provide you with their name and email address and ask to be contacted.
The problem with the classical contact page and form is that it requires the site visitor to want to proactively communicate with you.
They have to need something or have a question about something that you offer.
Unfortunately, the vast majority of our site visitors aren’t ready to make that kind of commitment.
It’s the first date and we’re already down on one knee proposing ’til death do us part.
What your site needs is a somewhat less intrusive, less committed way for our readers and visitors to say, “Yeah, I’m kinda interested in hearing what you have to say, but I’m not interested in buying anything just yet, so hold the sales pitch.”
This is where our content and email marketing comes in.
Using combinations of open content, gated content, popups, signup forms, digital downloads and content upgrades, you give your readers opportunities and incentives to give you their email address in a non-committal way.
For instance, you may have noticed when you first clicked through to my website and this article the appearance of an invitation to receive a free ebook filled with 75+ Facebook tips & tricks.
That’s called a Welcome Mat, implemented using a service called SumoMe. I’m testing a couple different versions, but the plain-jane one looks like this:
While I don’t recommend the Welcome Mat technique for every website, in industries like mine, it’s extremely effective. My Welcome Mats tend to convert at 2 – 5%, which results in hundreds of new, targeted subscribers per week.
The underlying idea here is simple. I created a piece of content – the Facebook tips ebook – because I knew my audience would be interested in it. (Based on the performance of past pieces of content; looking at which articles are bringing in organic search traffic consistently.)
I set up a new group within my MailChimp list as well as an autoresponder that would email new group subscribers the book and other resources.
And then I started to promote the offer throughout my site.
- I published a blog post about it.
- I tested Welcome Mats, Exit Intents, Smart Bars and other popups.
- I tested sidebar and footer banner ads.
- I promoted on social media and utilized paid ads.
This wasn’t the first digital download or content upgrade I’d created, but so far it’s been the most effective, resulting in approximately 1500 new subscribers per month since launching in May.
The point though is that my site readers are offered something of real value and interest. It wasn’t until I started to create those offers and opportunities that my email list really started to grow.
And that’s where the real revenue can be found.
That growing list of subscribers isn’t just a number… it’s a community of targeted, interested readers who have begun to see me as a trusted authority in this space. They continue to read my latest articles and, when I have specific recommendations or even products to sell, they’re intrigued and want to hear what I have to say.
Which means that every time I send out emails, more and more readers are clicking through back to my website, which leads me to my third and final upgrade…
Brilliant Upgrade #3 – Managed Hosting
When I first started building websites, I explored a variety of hosting options. They tended to range from bad to worse to horrific.
Every time I dealt with technical incompatibilities, significant downtime, and poor performance, and there’s nothing more depressing than to create a piece of content that goes viral, only to watch it crash your website. I didn’t realize how important it was for me to research hosting options for great speed.
For a while I even worked with a guy named “Pete” who ran his own data center and leased out a server to me. While I found the arrangement to be mutually beneficial, ongoing technical issues forced me to continue to pursue alternatives.
That’s when I found Liquid Web™, and I was immediately impressed.
I happened to be handling websites for a variety of clients at the time, so I ordered a Managed Dedicated Server – that’s a server that physically resides within Liquid Web’s data center, but I’m the only business that gets to use it.
The amazing support techs at Liquid Web handled the entire migration smoothly and, as soon as everything was live, the performance boost was immediately apparent.
Over the years the server has had its share of issues – usually due to a client allowing their PC to get hacked and start spewing spam email – and every time the support has been amazing.
They’re referred to as The Most Helpful Humans In Hosting™ for good reason. As a result of their commitment to customer satisfaction, they have the highest Net Promoter Score in the industry.
While it’s unlikely that you’ll need an entire dedicated server all to yourself, the real point and benefit here is the “Managed” part.
Managed means that someone other than you is responsible for network infrastructure and hardware; having Level 3 technicians on site; system level health monitoring and graphing; monitoring alerts and notifications, updates and patches, security enhancements, and full support.
In fact, you’re probably on WordPress which means you can benefit from Managed WordPress Hosting which essentially installs a partner into your business to facilitate WordPress-specific upgrades and security. Cloud or VPS hosting are also options that you can take a closer look at and consider.
Agencies representing multiple businesses, much like I was, can reap tremendous benefits right away.
I went from monthly downtime resulting in dozens of upset customers calling, to virtually no downtime and a bunch of raving fans.
If this is the kind of upgrade your website could use, I strongly recommend getting in touch with Liquid Web for a consultation. They’ll be able to help you understand the differences between Dedicated and VPS hosting, managed or not, as well as budgetary concerns.
Now, I don’t know whether you, personally, need or might benefit from all or even any of these website upgrades. Hopefully at least one or two of these ideas from my own experiences will prove helpful.
If nothing else, these stories should get you thinking about what you might do to make a dramatic difference in your business. Too often we get so caught up in the day-to-day management of projects and customers that we forget to inject new energy and ideas into what we’re doing.
One new idea or direction can change a business… a life… forever.
This is why all the best personal development books and most successful people in history have stressed two critical elements to a happy, successful life:
Weaving those two essential activities into the fabric of your day-to-day life will open your eyes to new experiences and ideas. As a writer who needs to relate abstract ideas to real-world concepts, I couldn’t recommend this approach more.
We need the same injection of new ideas as businesses, so I’d like to invite you to share some of your major changes or upgrades from the past. What you have done for your website or business that’s made an impact and helped you to keep building brilliant?