How To Create A More Interactive Site With Guest Interviews

The best thing about doing interviews is that you can achieve a double whammy with them on your site if they're done right.

Having interviews on your site can be a great way to increase your engagement with your web viewers and make your site more interactive. 

Not only can interviews help you market your product. They can also both inform and entertain your audience at the same time. Such content can also be valuable link bait if it's compelling enough.

Interviews can be done as live podcasts, recorded videos, phone interviews, or done via email. Your interview method will depend on the availability and comfort level of your interviewee for these different options, as well as your own preferences and skill level.

If you brainstorm around the things your target market would be interested in knowing about your niche, you can then identify experts in these areas. You can also select customers to interview who have received benefits from the products you promote.

By doing this, you can come up with a whole range of ideas on who and what to do your interviews about.

In this post, we're going to be going into a few tips on how to go about setting up your interview for success!

We'll look at what you need to prepare for, what to do during the interview, and what needs to happen afterwards.

Preparing For Your Interview

Being prepared for the interview ensures that you come across as professional to both your interviewee and your audience.

Taking a few simple steps will help you be prepared for an interview that works for everyone involved - you as an affiliate marketer, your interviewee, and your audience.

The sort of interviewee you're looking for is someone who can either inform or entertain your target audience. If you get both of these in the one person, you're really on to a winner!

Often the person you choose to interview will be flattered that you'd like to interview them, and be quite happy to accept your invitation. Let them know the reasons why you think your readers would be interested in an interview with them. This will give them an idea of the sorts of things your target audience will be most interested in hearing about.

The most important thing to do in this preparation phase is your homework!

Check out your potential interviewee's website and blog. If you can get hold of a press kit, that's even better. Going through these things will gain you good background knowledge of that person, and can also act as a point of reference.

You can get a lot of your background information from these sources, so that you're not covering basic questions, for example, where they live, or what the title of their book is.

Our own Allan Gardyne from Associate Programs used to be a journalist in his former life. When I was talking to Allan about writing this article for our readers, he told me that he often sees a classic mistake that newcomers make when interviewing someone.

This is what generally happens. People prepare a list of questions and then fire the same questions off to 20 people, instead of carefully tailoring the questions to suit the person they're interviewing. When you think about it, you're insulting a busy person if it's obvious you haven't even bothered reading their "About Us" page. If someone did this to you, you wouldn't be very impressed! 

Make sure you've done your homework on this one.

For example, if you were interviewing an author, it'd be important that you'd read their book, or at least a fair amount of it. In their book, you would mark any interesting subjects and possible questions with sticky notes. This would give you a number of questions you could ask about.

Or if you're talking to a software developer about their software, make sure you know how their product is used. You might like to check out online forums and see what you can glean from users about their experiences of it.

Doing these things means that you'll come across much more professionally, because you're subtly letting your interviewee know you value them enough to have done your research on them before you start the preparation for the actual interview itself.

This also helps reassure your interviewee that they're not signing up for "Groundhog Day" to be asked the same questions that they've probably been asked many times before.

For someone who's already done a number of interviews in the past, this is something that makes it much easier to say "yes" to an interview.

This clip is a classic example of what Allan was talking about earlier regarding how insulting it can be to someone when people don't bother to do their research.

If you ever needed any more reasons why it's so important to be prepared, check out this major stuff-up, and find out how NOT to start an interview:

Now that you've seen just how bad interviewing can be, let's make sure you're going to ask the right questions!

Think about the sorts of questions your target audience might have if they were having a conversation with this person. What would they want to know about their area of expertise? What might be they be curious about?

Make sure you don't choose obvious questions, or ones that are likely to have been asked many times before of this person. Try to bring out something new from the person you're interviewing.

If your affiliate site is a dog training site, for example, consider questions that build on dog training-related issues, so that your interviewee has the opportunity to add their perspective.

If you're interviewing for an article, if you decide on the article's title before the interview, this will help you decide what sorts of questions to ask. Brainstorm and come up with a list of possible questions.

Set up a time or place to meet with your interviewee, whether that's in person, or online. You'll need to be flexible when scheduling the interview. Because your interviewee is doing you the favor by meeting, make sure you work around them.

If you are meeting face to face, make sure it's in a place that's comfortable for the person you are interviewing.

It's best to choose a quiet location that allows you to talk without a lot of extra noise or distractions going on.

After your brainstorming, go through all the possible questions and prepare a reduced list of questions that you feel your target audience would be most interested in the answers to.

If you're doing your interview via email, send your questions to your interviewee with a brief and polite request for them to return their answers to you by a certain date.

As you prepare the actual content of your interview, if you come up with other questions or clarifications that you'd like answers to, send your interviewee a list of these so they can prepare themselves. Just make sure you don't overwhelm them with too many!

When you're choosing your interview topic, think about how this could relate to a particular sub-topic of your niche, or how one of your customers has found the experience of using the product you promote.

For example, if we were to choose dog-training again for an example, you might interview a well-known local dog-trainer on how to stop your dog barking, assuming Caesar Milan was busy that day!

Or you could interview someone who had many problems with their dog barking, and tried all sorts of things to sort the problem. You could ask them what they tried in the past that didn't work, what their initial impressions were of your product, and what benefits they've found through it.

Bear in mind that if you have a number of interviews on your site you want to balance out any commercially focused segments with those that are pure valuable content. You don't want to risk looking like an infommercial channel!

In our dog training niche example, you might also balance your product interviews with an interview with someone who trains German shepherd puppies for police work. If German shepherd owners are one of your target markets, an insightful segment on such a topic could be of great interest to them, and improve your site "stickiness".

Prepare the questions you want to ask, and have an idea of what you'd like to cover.  However, don't get married to these ideas. Be ready to make some changes as you need to.

You may find your interview changes to go in a completely different direction to the one you'd intended - and this happens to the best of interviewers!

It's interesting that the famous talk show host Michael Parkinson once described the TV interview as "an unnatural act between consenting adults in public".

And here's what he had to say in a recent newspaper interview about the art of interviewing:

"A talk show is not an inquisition. It has to be a collaboration between two people. If one person ain't playing, as with my interview with Meg Ryan, then the interview falls apart. The trick to a good interview is to rapidly establish some mutual trust. If you don't, you're screwed. Really, it's a very peculiar situation. What you're saying is: let's pretend it's just me and you. Forget the other 500 people in the studio. Forget the lights and the cameras. Forget that there are 10 million people watching at home. It's just me and you. Now, that's a con job, really, isn't it? It's an illusion, but you have to create that illusion if it's going to work."

Here's the interview between Parkinson and Meg Ryan that he mentions above. It got a lot of publicity for all the wrong reasons. In fact, it attracted a huge amount of criticism for each of them for different reasons. See if you can work out why it starts to unravel:

You can see it's not just amateur interviewers who can be challenged by the interview process! So, now we've seen that even the pros can let things get pear shaped, you can relax and get back to preparing for your interview.

Do A Pre-Interview Interview

It's a good idea to a pre-interview before either you or your interviewee commit to doing a live one.

Why? While this does take a little extra time, this way you'll quickly get a feel for where things are likely to go in an interview. You'll find out whether this person can give you the easy flow you want for an interview, or whether you could be stuck with someone who can only give you "yes" and "no" answers. It'll also give you some idea on what directions you can lead things. (I wonder if Michael Parkinson did this for his Meg Ryan interview?!)

While a good interviewee has the ability to take a good question and go with it, sometimes you can ask a question the interviewee may fail to expand on.

For example, "Do you feel that German shepherds are the dogs best suited to early police training?" and then getting the answer: "Yes," followed by only deathly silence is likely to result in a very short interview.

While you want to make sure you're asking open ended questions (we'll touch on these again later on), it makes sense to be prepared with some extra questions in case you end up with long pauses you hadn't intended.

In a live interview situation, having extra questions also gives you the freedom to be able to jump from one topic to another if one line of questions isn't going the way you want it to.

During your pre-interview, let your potential interviewee know what the information they answer will be used for, and where and when it is to be published. In whatever way you can, make your potential interviewee's involvement with you create as much of a win-win situation as you can.

Make sure they have your contact details in case they have any questions, or want to get in touch.

During Your Interview

The idea here is to start a conversation, rather than hold an interview as such. Have a general chat with your interviewee about things before you get started, because you want them to be comfortable with you, as well as what they're going to be talking about.

You can stop your interviewee from getting nervous or drying up by talking around the subject to start with.  If possible, make a note of their interests, or life situation. Maybe they've just had their first child, or just recently started jumping out of parachutes. Chat to them briefly about what's been happening for them recently. You can also use humor to help warm them up.

The more comfortable your subject is, the better the interview will be.

Be Flexible With Your Line Of Questioning

It's understandable you'll want to cover all the necessary questions you need answered during the interview. However, if your interviewee takes things off in another direction, just tag along. Come up with questions as you go, and see where things take you. You can end up some unexpected and great material this way!

Gear Your Questions To Your Target Audience

If most of your target audience is likely to be unfamiliar with your interviewee and/or the reason you're interested in interviewing them in the first place, this is what you focus on. It's a good idea to ask questions that let them talk about their conceptual idea, book, key points, or research findings, or whatever their "interest factor" is.

However, if your interviewee and/or their material are likely to be familiar subjects with your target audience, it's best to  get more into stuff that goes beyond these things.

Go into topics with great depth, explore new ones, or debate a contrasting point of view on these.

Avoid Yes/No Questions

Whenever possible, avoid questions that receive either a "yes" or "no" response. 

The key to doing this is to ask open-ended questions. This helps stop the one-word answers, and gives your interviewee a chance to elaborate. You can also end up getting extra info you may not have gotten otherwise.

Here's how the difference between a close-ended question and an open-ended question might work with our dog-training example:

A closed ended question would be: "Do you think that German shepherds make the best police dogs?"

An open ended question would be: "What are the qualities that make German shepherds such good police dogs?

If you need to draw your interviewer out a little and get them to expand on an answer, a gentle prompt of something like "Why do you think that is the case?" or "What else?" can help encourage a fuller answer.

Take Good Notes

Depending on how you'll use the interview content (whether that's as an article, live webcast, or transcript), it's worth looking out for an unusual fact or quote that you can use. These are particularly good for opening or closing articles.

If you're going to be doing an article, keep an ear out for quotes you can use - a phrase or short sentence that would make a good heading or sub-heading.

These can help give you an angle or hook that can make your content that much more inviting. 

To get good quotes, you can ask your interviewer questions that put the concept you're talking about in a nutshell. Check in with your interviewee on whether you're on track with what they're saying, and then check whether you can use it.  If they agree, you can then use this quote as either a headline for your article post or sub-heading.

For example, you could say something like: "So is it fair to say that online video has the biggest overall increase in advertising spending in recent history?" Hopefully, you'll get a "yes" from them on this, or whatever the question is you've asked them. You then ask "May I use that?", and can then use this as a quote in what you produce.

When you're recording an interview, make sure you write down in a notebook some of the main points your interviewee makes. Take lots of notes, and ask questions when you need clarification.

You can also write down the time certain things were said by watching the timer on your recording device. This can help you find things when it comes time to edit.


Don't interrupt your interviewee, even if they go off on a tangent. You can always bring them back to a point during a natural pause in the conversation.

If you're there with them in person, make sure you maintain eye contact and use your body language to show that you are following them as they speak - just as you would do in a "normal" conversation. The more natural and easy you can make things for your interviewee, the more effective your interview will be.

Let the conversation steer your line of questioning. It's good to go into the interview with an idea of what you want to ask, although you may find you can also ask questions in response to what your subject has said on a topic.

If your interviewee has made it clear that you have limited time for the interview, it's important to keep an eye on the time so that this doesn't take any longer than promised.

However, if time is not a real issue for either of you, let the interview go as long as it needs to. Don't limit your time or your interviewee's time in what they've got to share with you. This means you'll get the most complete interview possible.

When everything's completed and wrapped up, make sure you don't forget to thank your interviewee for taking time out to talk with you!

And as you happily sign off from doing your interview, remember to make sure it really is "in the can"! Associate Program's own Allan Gardyne has a word of caution at this point from a lesson he learned the hard way. Here's something you might want to think about in terms of being prepared for anything:

Take it away Allan:

"I'm still embarrassed when I think of an email interview I did years ago. I asked a heap of questions and received useful replies. Then my hard drive crashed and - you've guessed it - I hadn't done a backup.

Website interview not backed up

"When I contacted Mr Really Busy Marketer, humbly apologized and asked him if he'd mind awfully sending me his replies again, he didn't reply. Sometimes you get only one chance. Don't throw it away!"

A painful lesson learned a really hard way - don't make the same mistake!

After Your Interview

Once your interview is finished, it's important to stay in connection with your interviewee. You may need to ask them some additional questions that come to you later.

Make sure they have still your contact details in case they have any questions, or want to get in touch.

It's also a nice idea to contact them when you (or someone else wants to) publish the material, and send either the link or the downloadable product to them.

Make sure if you get any media coverage with what you produce, whether it's online or offline, that you contact the media organization concerned, and ask if they'd mind if you put it on your site as well.

Having this sort of third party publicity can help increase loyalty from existing customers, because their good judgement in you is confirmed by a perceived authority. It can also generate increased interest from prospective customers.

So there you have some tips on what goes into a successful interview! As you can see, a lot of the time is in the preparation of the interview, rather than the interview itself.

Spend your time in getting this part of it right, be sensitive to your interviewee, and you can't go too far wrong.

Having interviews on your website can go a long way to creating more engagement with your web users. It provides entertainment, and information that helps build a better relationship with your site users.

Now's the time to start thinking about someone you could interview in relation to your niche - let us know how you get on!

Photo Credit: Lunchbox Photography

UPDATED: October 19, 2011
November 30, 2009

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