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Starting a New Blog? Start With a Mind Map

Yesterday we covered how to use mind mapping to come up with topics to post about.

As I was writing that post I was reminded of a very similar process that I went through when planning my last new blog – Digital Photography School.

I wish I could find the notebook that I did the exercise in (I’ve still got boxes to unpack from our move) but it was very similar to some of the mindmaps that I shared yesterday.

  • The idea is to start with your over all blog’s topic/niche.
  • Then to brainstorm categories
  • Then to begin to brainstorm post and series topics

Here’s how it’d look:

New-Blog-Brainstorming

The beauty of doing this exercise before you start a new blog is that you think a little strategically about the bones of your blog (categories) and before you even start blogging you have a road map of the posts that you want to write in the first weeks and months.

If I were starting a new blog tomorrow I’d spend considerable time mapping it out in this way.

How to Develop the Habit of Writing Posts in Advance

Keeping You Posted by Skellie.Do you write and publish your posts in one sitting? Many bloggers do. Unfortunately, this kind of posting habit presents a number of problems. For example:

  • You won’t be able to develop a consistent posting rhythm. Your publish times will vary depending on whether you’re inspired, whether you have writer’s block, or whether you have time to write.
  • It’s difficult to be relaxed as you write when you need to publish your post quickly.
  • You’ll find yourself forced to publish what is really still a rough draft when your post takes longer than expected and you need to go somewhere, meet someone, or do something.

Writing hand-to-mouth can also hurt your blog’s traffic. If your posts appear whenever you’re able to write them, your readers will never be sure when to check your blog for an update. They’ll find it difficult to develop the habit of checking, and those that haven’t subscribed might start to forget you.

In this post, I want to outline a few methods you can use to develop the habit of writing posts in advance. It’s a habit that will save you a lot of stress in the long-run.

Write this week’s posts in one sitting

Instead of writing posts just before you publish them, try setting aside one day to write your posts for the rest of the week. It could be a few hours where the rest of the family is busy and you’re not, or the time and day when you tend to feel most creative.

Once you’ve written one post, you’ll find yourself able to write more smoothly as you tackle the next one. Your writing muscles are already warmed up. As you tick off posts, you’ll grow more confident in your abilities to produce good content, making each post easier to finish than the last.

Writing without the pressure of immediately having to publish what you’ve just written will also help you to be more relaxed as you write.

Once you’ve finished your posts for the week, you don’t have to think about producing content for seven days (unless you want to write for other blogs). You can publish your posts at the same time/day each week, meaning your readers will soon start to develop their own habit of checking your site for updates on those days when you regularly publish a new post.

Write one extra post per week

If writing a bunch of posts in one sitting is something you can’t imagine doing, I’d suggest developing the habit gradually by writing one surplus post each week. If you usually publish 4-5 times a week, you’ll be one week’s worth of posts ahead after a month.

You can use the head-start to write next week’s posts the week before, at whatever time suits you — whether you want to do them all at once or write a post every few days. Once again, you’ll be able to publish your posts in a consistent rhythm when it’s time to debut them for your readership.

Finish your drafts and half-written posts

Another quick way to get a head-start with your content is to finish off all those drafts and half-written posts saved inside your blogging software. If you’ve started them, and you have an idea of what you want to write, the hardest work is already done. You might find it takes very little time to finish off a number of posts that have been sitting in your drafts bin for weeks or months.

A ticking alarm clock.
Photo by Mike9Alive.

Start posting like clockwork

Once you have a week’s worth of posts written in advance, you can publish your posts at the same time and same day each week. Your readers will start to know when to look for an update at your blog, meaning you can expect to receive nice spike of traffic at that time.

How to set your posts for timed release with WordPress

Check to see if your blog software allows you to set posts to future-publish. If you use WordPress, you can auto-post via the ‘Write Post’ screen of the article you want to set for timed release. Expand the ‘Post Timestamp’ sidebar heading, tick the ‘Edit timestamp’ box (important!) and set the time and date for when you want the post to appear on your blog. Then hit ‘Publish’.

Don’t worry — it won’t actually be published until your WordPress account’s clock reaches the time and date you’ve set for it.

A note: make sure your WordPress account’s time is the same as your own. From your Dashboard, go to Options –> General. You can change the settings under the ‘Time & Date’ subheading.

Use the habit to build a safety net

Once you’ve developed the habit of writing in advance, you can use it to start building a safety net of content to use when you’d like to take some time off blogging (or if something keeps you from blogging).

Very few bloggers have a team of guest-posters just rearing to write something as soon as we need them to. If we want to take time away from our blogs — or are forced to — many of us will have to earn it.

I strongly recommend that you have at least one week’s worth of posts saved in case of a blogging emergency. This will allow you to keep your blog running like clockwork for a week, even if things are a little chaotic for you during that time.

Food for thought: if you post four times a week and you write one extra post per week for three months, you’ll have enough content saved up to run your blog on autopilot for three weeks!

If you feel like a blogging holiday would help refresh and inspire you, you can use the habit of writing in advance to earn one. Why not start today?

Skellie is a regular writer for ProBlogger. Subscribe to her feed for more useful blogging advice.

Google Analytics Add New Comparison Graphing Tools

Those of you who use Google Analytics might be interested to see that they’ve announced a new graphing tool – ie that you can now compare not only time periods but different stats.

For example you can view your page views vs bounce rate for a given period:

Vistis Vs Bounce Rate

Or you might want to track how the amount of time people spend on a particular page compares to the site average:

Time On Page

Handy stats to have.

Learn more at Google Analytics Blog: Announcing new graphing tools.

AdSense Launch Ad Review Center – Review Ads Targeted at Your Blog

AdSense has just announced a fairly significant new feature that will help publishers to monitor what ads are being targeted on their blogs to see if they are relevant and appropriate for that site.

I complained in a number of recent posts that I didn’t really have any idea what ads were appearing on my blogs in other parts of the world – so you can imagine that I’m pretty happy with this development.

It’s called the Ad Review Center and AdSense say that it will roll out to publishers ‘over the next few months’ (they are rolling it out with publishers slowly over time). It will be something that you need to check regularly as you will have 24 hours to review ads before they are automatically allowed to run on the site.

There are two options with reviewing ads – ‘auto allow’ which lets all ads run as soon as they are set up by an advertiser and ‘manual review’ which means ads don’t appear on your site until either you approve them or until the 24 hour waiting period is over.

It only allows you to see what ads are being specifically targeted to your blog (ie not normal contextual ads) but this is important as advertisers are increasingly using the targeting feature and at times what they’ve done with the ads have been inappropriate to the sites that they’re advertising on.

The new feature allows you to view the ads and block those that are inappropriate. You’re asked to share a reason why you’ve blocked it (this is shared with advertisers).

Inappropriate ads might include:

  • competitors ads
  • ads from companies that you don’t want to be associated with
  • ads that are visually inappropriate
  • ads that attack you as a publisher in some way (I’ve seen more and more of these lately)

I’m not yet activated for this new feature – but from what it sounds like – it’s a good move from AdSense.

Full details at Inside AdSense: Introducing the Ad Review Center

Google Release Zeitgeist 2007 Report

Google Zeitgeist 2007One of the things that I enjoy about this time of year is that the search engines release reports on what the most searched for words were during the past 12 months. Google just released their Google Zeitgeist 2007 Report (Yahoo did their one last week).

At Google the fastest growing terms globally were:

1. iphone

2. badoo

3. facebook

4. dailymotion

5. webkinz

6. youtube

7. ebuddy

8. second life

9. hi5

10. club penguin

There’s plenty more in the report though – food for thought as you’re looking at popular topics to write about.

Discover Hundreds of Post Ideas for Your Blog with Mind Mapping

MindmappingYesterday I wrote a post on keeping the momentum going on your blog by building on previous posts.

Today I want to extend that post (you knew I would) with a practical exercise that any blogger with a blog can do. It’s something that can take as little as 10 minutes (or that you could do more comprehensively) and something that I do on those days when I’m struggling to come up with something to write about (we all have them).

It’s an exercise in mind mapping – here’s what you do:

Get a whiteboard, piece of paper, note book, tablet pc or something else to write on (there are also various mind mapping tools and software options out there – but I find a pen and paper can work just fine) and draw five circles across the middle of the page. In each circle write the titles of the last five posts on your blog (if you want to do this more comprehensively go back further and do it with more posts).

mind mapping-1

Now take each post in turn and spend a few minutes brainstorming on ways that the post could be extended. For each idea draw a line out from the circle, draw a square (or use a different color) and write the idea inside of it.

Remember last post where I suggested how you could extend a post in numerous ways including by answering a question that a reader asked about it in comments, taking an opposite view point, writing an opinion piece, doing a followup ‘how to’ etc.

The key at this point is to let yourself be as creative and outside the box as you want. Any idea is allowed at this point.

Let me take a recent post of mine (why you should use AdSense on Your Blog) and show you how it might work:

mind mapping-2

At this point I’ve got 7 potential new posts to write that extend upon my original one – coming up with them took me 2-3 minutes – if I were doing this seriously I’d give it more time and come up with 20 or so posts.

These ideas are logical next steps for readers wanting to explore this topic – some of them based upon actual questions by readers. Do this with the other four posts you’ve written and you’ll have plenty of ideas for new posts to cover in the coming week or two.

You might want to stop this exercise at this point if you feel you’ve got enough topics to keep you going – however while you’re in a brainstorming frame of mind – why not take it a step further and think about how you might extend the topics you’ve come up with. The beauty of thinking forward even further is that you could quickly come up with a further 10 or so posts and be able to map out the next few weeks of blogging.

Lets do it now with the post above – just for fun (click to enlarge).

mind mapping-3

You can see that I found some posts easier to extend than others. This is OK as not every post is in need of a follow up one – while others will have multiple next steps (some will even have a longer series of posts that you could run).

You can take this exercise as far as you’d like into the future (you get the idea I’m sure so I won’t keep going).

You can see that I’ve come up with 15 ideas above (not bad for 5 minutes of brainstorming) – some of them for multiple posts (series and ongoing weekly columns). Do it with more than one post and you will find that you’ll often come up with more posts than you can actually use on your blog.

The key when you do it is to let your creativity run wild (because it can take you in some wonderful directions) but then to be ruthless in culling ideas that don’t actually add anything to your blog. Remember – everything that you post on your blog either adds to or takes away from your blog’s perceived value – so not everything that you come up with should make it through to the front page of your blog.

How to Keep Momentum Going By Building on Previous Posts

You slave over the writing of a great new post for your blog, you’ve researched, hypothesized, edited, spell checked, polished and made it look all pretty….

You Hit Publish….

What happens now? Are you done? Do you move on and push the post idea from your mind – searching for your next killer post?

I’d like to suggest that rather than hitting publish and moving onto your next topic – that a smarter thing to do is to think about how the post you’ve just written might be useful in creating some momentum on your blog.

The problem with many blogs is that they are filled up with posts on similar topics (all within a wider niche) but without any real connection between them. The bloggers feel the pressure to keep producing good content – and in doing so don’t think about the journey that they’re leading readers on.

Here’s my suggestion:

Treat every post you write as an introduction to the next one

What if instead of hitting publish, pushing the post from your mind and then searching for your next post topic – you stopped and asked yourself how that last post you wrote could be extended?

Extend The Life Of An Idea

Here’s a few ways to do it:

  • Take the Opposite Point of View (like I did earlier in the week with my post on why you should use AdSense and why you shouldn’t)
  • Pick up on a Comment left by a reader (answer a question, respond to an idea etc)
  • Write an opinion piece on a previous news piece (if a big story breaks and you write about it – follow the post up with a post on what you think about it, how the news might effect you or your readers etc)
  • Write a followup ‘how to’ post after writing a more theoretical one
  • Explore Alternatives to an idea that you’ve written (for example, next week I’m planning a post following up on the AdSense ones from the last few days that explores alternative networks to AdSense).

I’m sure that there’s a lot more ways to do it – but the key is to look at each post you’ve written as an opportunity to write a stream of posts that build on one another.

Not every post that you write will be suited to this (and that’s OK) and the posts that build upon one another don’t have to be formally tied as a series one after another – but over time if you build upon the things that you’ve previously written you’ll find that readers pick up on the threads that you’re exploring and will feel as though they’ve been taken on a journey with you.

update: I’ve extended this post with a practical example of how I do it using Mind Mapping.

How Dial Up Made Me a More Productive Blogger

ProductivityThis week I’ve been without a permanent broadband connection – but I’ve become a more productive blogger.

While I wait for my ISP to transfer my broadband connection from our old home to our new one I’ve been relying upon a mobile broadband connection (with limited monthly bandwidth) and dialup (my goodness how I’ve come to take broadband for granted).

While this initially seemed like a problem it’s actually made me a more productive blogger as it has forced me to become more focused and to prioritize my tasks each day.

Here’s what I’m doing less of:

  • Checking stats less – checking blog metrics can be useful – but it can also be a waste of time when you do it all day.
  • Reading other blogs less – the unread items in my RSS feed have mounted up this week – but I’ve continued to read those blogs that I truly value and it’s the less useful ones that I’ve seen less of.
  • Checking email less often – instead of checking email every 15 minutes I’m now doing it every 5 or so hours. This means less interruptions during other work.
  • Less time on IM - similarly there have been less interruptions with IM (although this has been challenging in connecting with b5 work mates).

The lesson that I’ve learned is that while I normally spend a lot of time on these activities – the world hasn’t come crashing down when I’ve done them less. In fact my world has probably improved as I’ve made room for other things.

Here’s what I’m doing more of:

  • More time off line writing – with less interruptions and time wasted doing tasks that are not as important – I’ve freed up more time to actually write content. I also suspect it’s a higher quality content as I’m more focused.
  • More strategic thinking – it’s amazing how little I’d been thinking about my blog’s directions and strategy as a result of the ‘busyness’ I’d created for myself with a lot of ultimately unimportant things. This week has enabled me to step back a little and think about 2008 and beyond.
  • More time with family – this has been the big winner this week – and it needed to be. With moving house, a sick wife and an unsettled little one there have been a few more personal demands in the last few weeks than normal and I’m glad to be able to spend more time focusing upon them.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m looking forward to getting a permanent broadband connection – but this out of the ordinary week has taught me a thing or two (or at least has helped me to relearn a lesson or two that I’ve already been taught) which I hope will help when life returns a little more to normal.

Image by Shadphotos

AdSense Testing New ‘Slider’ Ads

I’ve just had emails from a number of readers who are reporting seeing a new type of AdSense ad appearing on their blogs – ads with little arrow buttons on them which rotate ads.

Here’s how they look (buttons circled):

Adsense-Slider-Ads

When you click the button the ad ‘slides’ up and down. I’ve also seen some where the ads slide sideways back and forwards.

Thanks to Alex and Collin who were the first to alert me.

Update – see them in action with the following video screen cast of the ads:

Lastly – they seem to be split testing on some blogs between this type of slider ad and a ‘show more’ link at the bottom of ad units. Both effectively do the same thing – ie show your readers more ads.