For two and a half years, every two weeks I sifted through over 140 blog posts and podcasts that talk about how to build successful online businesses. I found the best content, summarized it, added a bit of my commentary, and delivered it to the inboxes of entrepreneurs around the world…for free. I’m no longer writing Signals in the Noise issues (because my business partners and I are focusing on other parts of Clarity Lab), but please enjoy these archived issues. There’s a ton of useful information in them!
1. A picture is worth a 1,000 nerds.
“In that same study, the folks in the white lab coats showed study participants 30 ‘viral’ images. After showing each image, they asked the participant to state their top two emotions. Here’s what they found: viral images tend to not only elicit happy-spectrum emotions – they also elicit contrasting emotions. Like ‘amused’ and ‘irritated.’ The images that elicited the most contrasting emotions tended to be the most emotionally impactful.” That’s Nichole Elizabeth DeMeré, on CopyHacker, with a deep dive into the psychology of images, and a dozen or so practical tips on how to use them to grow your business. There’s a fascinating discussion about the results of a study that revealed that for certain types of content, putting a picture of a brain in an article can increase your conversion rates and raise your perceived IQ by 15 points.
“Folks like Tyler are able to move around and progress more quickly within the organisation, new teams are able to be spun up more quickly, and while I’m sure not 100% of it can be attributed to holacracy, we posted record profit numbers in 2015.” That’s Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, on what’s happening a year after they banished all the bosses and installed a new operating system for the entire company, called Holacracy. This is a fascinating story playing out on a big stage (Zappos is one of the most successful companies in the world, and they’re yooooge, at 1500 employees.) So far, their grand experiment with this non-traditional, non-hierarchical company structure (their org chart is more of a series of circles than a pyramid) is going well. We’re trying it out in our home as well. My son recently went from the laundry folding department to the lead of the Minecraft research team.
3. Lean, mean, writing machine.
“The root of the problem lies in our desire to impress. Thesaurus carpet-bombings and long-winded sentences are commonly mistaken for fine writing because they feel authoritative and intellectual. But they’re just masks; effective writing is lean, clean, and easy to read.” That’s Gregory Ciotti, from the Help Scout team, on why easy reading is hard writing (and how to improve your writing style.) The skill of creating well-written prose forms the foundation of every successful online lifestyle business I’ve seen. Sales pages, about pages, blog posts, lesson pages, autoresponder emails, customer support emails, ebooks, paper books, social media updates, podcast scripts, video scripts, and on and on. The written word is everywhere in online businesses.
Fail to learn the craft of wordsmithing and you will find the path always tilting uphill. But learn to write well and you’ll jump from cliffs, spread your wings, and fly across valleys and peaks with ease (like this eagle with a GoPro on his back)
4. Ready. Aim. Buyer!
“But there has been one major weakness with Website Custom Audiences: Not all website visitors are created equal. Of the people who visit your website every month, how many of them only visited once? How many visited 20 times or more? How many bounced after three seconds? How many spent an hour on your website?” Jon Loomer, with the latest on the recent updates Facebook made to their ad manager, which now allows you to perform a marvelous level of targeting for your ads. At the rate they’re innovating the targeting abilities of their ad platform, in about three years we’ll be able to target ads based on people’s thoughts.
Podcasting is going through a massive explosion in popularity right now. It’s a perfect combination of an ancient approach to sharing ideas (telling stories), with a new technology to deliver it all (broadcasting mp3 files that automatically show up on people’s mobile devices.) As Ira Glass, creator of the podcast This American Life, said in this recent video interview, “It’s really the wild west out there right now in the podcast world.”
Serial, the most popular podcast show in the world, gets an average of 11 million downloads per episode. 11 million people listening to each episode. Those are insane numbers. For direct response marketers, shows like that represent an enormous marketing opportunity. For smaller businesses that can’t afford to buy ads in big shows like that, there is still a giant opportunity to create compelling podcast shows that draw large audiences of enthusiastic listeners to your website.
It’s a three-win: the creators of the show win with a large audience that can bring in money from paid ads in the show, they can build an enormous email list, and they have an audience that knows, likes, and trusts them. The companies who buy the ad slots in a show win because podcast listeners often listen to the ads, unlike all other forms of advertising, which most people ignore. And the listeners win because they get free, entertaining, interesting, or useful content, sometimes delivered in the form of stories. Win, win, win.
Here’s the catch though: while it’s relatively easy to invite an expert to a Skype call interview, record your conversation, do a minimal amount of editing, and publish it as a podcast episode, those kind of “two people talking” podcasts don’t tend to be the ones that get the big numbers of listeners (podcasts like the Tim Ferris Show are an exception to that generalization.)
As Ira Glass mentioned in the video above, it’s the shows that tell compelling, engaging, and interesting STORIES that get the big audiences. People love a good story, especially gripping, long-form, episodic stories told week by week, like Serial.
The rub is that those shows take an enormous amount of time, effort, and people to create. Serial, for example, employs a team of close to 30 people, and they work full-time for several weeks on each episode.
When I made five narrative style episodes for a product launch we did for our Art of Money business, I found out quickly how much time narrative episodes take to create. For me, working alone, it takes 40 to 50 hours per episode…and the shows I made are nowhere near the quality level of This American Life or Serial.
Even so, people went nuts over those five episodes. Some were binge listening to them and then writing in asking for more. Sadly, we realized that we’ll need a team of at least three people to continue the show, and we have too much on our plate this year to do that. We saw some great numbers and fantastic feedback from the show, though, so it’s on deck for 2017 to start back up.
From my small lab of experimental content marketing, though, I can tell you that using narrative podcast episodes as free launch content for a product launch works extremely well. We had our biggest launch ever of the Art of Money program, and many people said they joined because of those podcast episodes. These narrative shows aren’t easy to make, but they’re well worth it in the end. Good, old-fashioned storytelling for the win.
6. The Chockness monster.
“Then, with almost six years of content created, I hit a major downturn I didn’t foresee: for every new member who joined, a renewing member canceled. New subscribers commented that they didn’t know where to start. Non-renewing members told me they couldn’t find time to make use of their memberships. My big, evergreen content library was transforming from an asset into an intimidating beast that was turning people off.” That’s Debbie Hodge, creator of the Get It Scrapped online program, on how to make your paid training content library an easy-to-use tool (rather than an overwhelming monster that drives people away.) Great organization of the materials and a way to check a box to indicate that you’ve completed a lesson are great, but I often wonder if free ice cream at the end of each lesson would work better.
“Look, Google knows how to do mail. You don’t need a Mac client to make it smarter, because Gmail’s smart enough already. That’s why I use Mailplane.” Thomas Ricker, from The Verge, on why he loves using the minimalist Mac email software, Mailplane. I’ve used Gmail in a web browser for so long, I can’t even remember a time when I used another email app.
Recently, out of a simple desire to look at a different user interface, I started testing Polymail. There are many things I like about it, and a few things that had me missing my Gmail inbox. After a week of Polymail, I went back home to my vanilla Gmail inbox. Polymail is worth keeping an eye on, though. They’re on to something, and I have a feeling that in half a year, with some new features they’ll add, it may swoon me back into its arms yet again. Okay…that was weird. I’m using a romantic metaphor to talk about email software, which set off an alarm on my phone. My Work/Life Balance app just told me I need to close the laptop and go cuddle with my wife.
8. You can’t judge a book by its lover.
“After years of helping authors build their platforms, and then use those platforms to launch top bestsellers, I’ve put together this checklist of proven book marketing methods to help you create your book marketing plan.” That’s Tim Grahl, with the best checklist I’ve seen about how to market your book. If you’re thinking of writing a book, or have written one, read this post, even if you already have a publisher with a marketing team.
We’re about to launch my wife’s first book, The Art of Money, on June 14th, 2016, and we’re doing everything on Tim’s list (plus a few extra things). Our wonderful publisher, Parallax Press, suggested many of them, but a handful came from our marketing ideas. Teamwork is the way, but to play your part, you have to spend more time in the dojo practicing your marketing fu.
9. Jumpin’ Jack Smash.
“Flash’s death has been slow and painful, and now Google is planning to deal it another blow. Google has detailed plans to start blocking most Flash content with Chrome, with the change targeted toward the end of this year.” Jacob Kastrenakes, from The Verge, with news of Google’s tightening death grip on the outdated Adobe Flash technology. “Why does this matter to me?” you ask. Well, if your site uses any Flash technology, later this year, people who come to your site using the Chrome browser will have your Flash powered bits blocked from their view. In related news, Google is working on new technology that will block the private bits of public flashers.
10. A deeper shade of soul.
After working on Mac computers for years, sometimes late at night, I finally had the thought last week: “Hey…I wonder if there’s an app that will dim the screen more than I can dim it by default?” The dimmest setting on Macbooks that you can get before the screen goes black is still a bit bright on my eyes when working at night in a dimly lit room. If your eyes hurt like mine from screens that are too bright, check out Shady, a tiny little Mac app that lets you dim the screen far below the factory settings. Since I started using it, I can now work on my laptop at night without wearing sunglasses. I’ve lost the cool R&B singer look, but my eyes are happier.
Thanks a heap ton for spending some time with me today in this newsletter. If you enjoyed this issue, I’d super big love it if you share it with your friends. Here’s a couple links to make that easy (and if social media isn’t your thing, you can always just forward this email, or link to this page if you’re reading it on my site, to a friend.)
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Here’s to a kick ass week for you and your business.
Until next time,
Signals in the Noise
Founder @ Clarity Lab
p.s. You can find the archives of past issues of Signals in the Noise right here.