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40% of Bloggers #!%@’ing Swear on their Blogs [POLL RESULTS]

Last week’s poll looked at swearing on blogs and asked readers whether they did it or not. 968 readers have voted so far.

Here’s how the results turned out:

swearing-bog.png

Total Yes to No vote – 40% to 60%.

Shopzilla Publisher Program – First Impression Review

Shopzilla

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been experimenting with a couple of new advertising networks and am really excited by the initial results that I’m seeing.

The first one that I want to introduce readers to is the Shopzilla Publisher Program. You won’t learn a lot about this program from it’s front page as they’re in beta and have been flying under the radar a little while they’ve developed it – but it’s a program that I think has real promise and that makes a good alternative to programs like Chitika’s eMiniMalls and WidgetBucks.

Shopzilla has been around since 1996 as a comparison shopping service. They’re a service that matches shoppers with online stores. Check out their Alexa ranking (around 2000 today) and you’ll see that they do some serious traffic. So Shopzilla has some serious experience and expertise in the online shopping space – so it makes sense that they branch out in the way that they have with their publisher program.

The best way to learn about Shopzilla is to register and to start experimenting with them but let me give you a few details so you know what you’re in for:

  • Shopzilla Publisher Program is a CPC (cost per click) model. You get paid when anyone clicks on one of the ads on your site.
  • It’s ideal for sites focussing upon products.
  • They offer a good range of ad unit sizes – although I’m hoping they expand this further.
  • They offer banner ads, ‘product pods’ (similar to Chitika eMiniMalls), custom text links (where you can link to categories, products or pages in Shopzilla), search boxes (search Shopzilla from your blog) and more.
  • Some of these ad types can be customized to different colors/design. Hopefully they’ll add this feature to all ad types soon.
  • They have a wide array of categories of products to target
  • They offer ad unit IDs to help you track each ad’s performance (think channels on AdSense)
  • They offer an API so that you can customize your ad units even further to your blog
  • They have a minimum payout of $50. Your monthly earnings will accumulate until you hit this level. Payment is via PayPal or check.

This is a beta program so it’s still having features added to it. Keep this in mind as you apply.

Also from my testing so far (and chatting to other publishers who use them) I’ve found that there is variance in payouts from category to category. Obviously these ads will perform best when you choose ads from a category that match your blog’s topic – however do experiment with different related categories to see what works best for you.

I was accepted into the program reasonably quickly (I think it took under 24 hours) however I’ve heard that at this point in their beta test that they don’t accept every application.

Let me show you some of the Shopzilla ad units (note: I’ve left them largely unaltered in terms of colors and design):

This first one is a ‘Top Search Results’ ad where I put the search term of ‘Canon Rebel’ in and used the Camera category. I was given 15 ad unit sizes and styles to choose from:

Here’s a ‘Product Pod’ – again I was given options to change the design and choose a few different ad unit sizes.

One thing you’ll notice with these ads is that the images are clickable. This is something that Chitika launched with but stopped doing (controversially) because it made the ads too clickable! This is one reason why I think Shopzilla might be a good alternative to check out.

Test it for yourself – Register for Shopzilla here.

Blog Design Competition Winners

Last week I ran a little competition here at ProBlogger asking readers to nominate their favorite blog designs to put them in the running to win one of five copies of Web Design for ROI: Turning Browsers into Buyers & Prospects into Leads.

This has been one of my favorite competitions to watch because the 113 entries unearthed some wonderfully designed blogs (if you’ve got a spare half an hour it’s worth reading through the comments).

I’ve picked the following five winners:

Adam Teece, JamieO, linkerjpatrick, UzBlogger and Jeremy Wilkins. I’ll pass your emails onto the suppliers of the books and they’ll be in touch to get your postal address.

Thanks to everyone for your entries – you’ve given me a great morning of discovering some great blogs.

The Road to ProBlogging is Not Always Obvious; Or, How I Came to Be Editor of a Top 1000 Blog

The following post is by Peter Clemens from Peter is the founder of Iwillchangeyourlife.com.

I still vividly remember being dazzled by the idea of making $1,000 a day from blogging. That was a little over 9 months ago, and the particular article I refer to is Steve Pavlina’s How to Make Money From Your Blog.

While I am nowhere near the figure just mentioned and cannot yet “take the plunge” by quitting my day job, I have traveled an interesting road in the last 9 months since founding my blog Iwillchangeyourlife.com. This path has brought me to a point where I am set to earn a very healthy income as an editor of a popular self improvement blog, PickTheBrain.com (11,000+ subscribers and Technorati Top 1000). What fascinates me, and which I think any blogger can learn from, is that my path to making money from blogging has been far from obvious.

The following is my story, told within what are my 5 best pieces of advice for anyone looking to follow a similar path.

Focus on Creating Quality Content

In my first few days of blogging I went crazy with Adsense and Amazon affiliate links. It wasn’t long, however, before I was in for what Darren recently called a “reality check“. I scrapped the advertising and instead decided to focus on creating great content. In the end, I didn’t revisit Adsense and Amazon (or indeed any other forms of advertising) until I had been blogging for 6 months. Now I am not saying that a new blogger should wait this long to monetize their site, but I strongly suggest you focus as much attention as possible (particularly in the early stages) on creating great content.

Network With Other Bloggers

I’m sure every new blogger at some point has the thought: “I just wrote a fantastic article, now what?” I asked myself this question many a time before finally I took the plunge and started emailing fellow bloggers in my particular niche. This made all the difference. As I began to build relationships with people online, the comments after my posts quickly grew and I started to have some major successes with the social media (eg front page of Digg and numerous articles that have gone viral on Stumble Upon). This obviously caught the attention of John Wesley (founder of PickTheBrain.com) as he approached me to write a guest post for his site.

Always Offer Your Best Material For Guest Posts

So how did I make the jump from an initial guest post to staff writer to eventually being asked to become editor? There are many reasons, but I strongly believe one of the main ones was because I always submitted my best work to John. I occasionally read guest posts on other sites where I know, from being familiar with that author’s writing, that it is well short of their best. So my advice is always offer your best material for guest posts, because you never know where it will take you.

Share the Vision

Being offered a staff writing for a blog is one thing. Being trusted to become an editor is obviously a much larger proposition. I believe there are many reasons why John has shown this trust in me, but one I would like to highlight is the importance of sharing a common vision. John and I created two very different self improvement blogs, but I demonstrated to John through my writing style, my formatting and our private conversations that I truly understood his vision for PickTheBrain.com.

Grab Opportunities When They Come Your Way

When I was first offered a weekly spot as a staff writer for PickTheBrain.com, and again when I was offered the role of editor, I initially could not imagine how I would be able to cope with the extra commitment. Working full-time, being a father, and maintaining my own blog initially seemed to leave little room for anything else. Thankfully I pushed this fear aside and quickly accepted the invitations. I believe that if you want something bad enough you find a way to do it. Two examples of what I did were to start posting less on my own blog and to invite other bloggers to write guest posts for me. So grab opportunities when they come your way, because they might not come around again anytime soon.

Peter is the founder of Iwillchangeyourlife.com (subscribe), and newly appointed editor of PickTheBrain.com (subscribe).

Top 5 Recommendations for Retireat21.com

It’s time to summarize and consolidate over 14,500 words worth of advice and suggestions given to Retireat21.com as part of our community consultation program. While there’s a great depth of knowledge to be mined from the comments on the launch post, I want to highlight the top five most common recommendations here.

Before we start, I’d like to congratulate Easton Ellsworth for winning our 5,000 StumbleUpon visitor prize for the best review. I can only hope that will be a proper reward for Easton’s work. Congratulations!

Here were the top 5 recommendations made by the ProBlogger readers who critiqued Retireat21.com:

1. Too much hard sell

A number of commenters felt the free eBook was over-sold as it appears on almost every page. It was suggested that it be moved out of the center of the homepage, or displayed only on the homepage and not elsewhere on the site. What I’d also suggest doing is creating a ‘sales page’ for the eBook which explains what’s inside and how the newsletter works. Before giving away their email address people want to know 1) what the eBook contains — is it even something they want? and 2) how their email address will be used, i.e. how many emails are you going to send them and what will they’re going to contain.

I found it illuminating that while a lot of ProBlogger readers noticed the eBook, none of them seemed to have taken the next step and downloaded it. I think this is because too much emphasis has been put on diverting attention to the eBook without any accompanying persuasion, which is probably why a few people found it annoying.

Other readers were bothered by the gaudy, animated 125 x 125 banner ads and felt that they, coupled with the insistence on the eBook, made the site look spammy. Replacing them with non-animated versions or trying different advertisers could be one solution.

2. Proofreading needed

ProBlogger readers noticed a lot of spelling and grammar errors on the page. While the content can still be easily comprehended, these kinds of errors do make the content seem a little unpolished and unprofessional. My suggestion to Michael would be that if it’s personally difficult to spot and correct these errors, it’s probably worth hiring a VA to proof-read new blog posts or new copy you want to put on the site.

3. Content could be more valuable

In a few words, I’d describe the problem like this: aside from the interviews, which are quite valuable and seemed to be enjoyed by reviewers, the rest of the site wants to take a lot without giving much back. The blog content is quite one-dimensional, as are the entrepreneur ‘Answers’ on the main page. I didn’t see much information that the target audience was unlikely to have seen before. You’ll get more links, traffic and search engine love if your content is packed with value. Here are some questions to ask as guiding principles for content creation:

  • What information do young make money online entrepreneurs need to know?
  • What kind of tips might they not be aware of?
  • How can I be as useful as possible to my target audience?

There were some great viral article ideas shared in the comments on the launch post and I’d suggest Michael jot those down and act on at least a few.

4. Usability and readability issues

Sponsors do take into account subscriber numbers when determining how much an ad spot on your site is worth. The total subscriber count will also be an important factor in deciding how much the blog is worth if it’s ever sold. Aside from the money making stuff, subscribers will help your blog thrive. I’d strongly suggest adding a ‘Subscribe to feed’ icon near the email subscription form, rather than just showing the feed count. This simple tip has seen many bloggers boost their subscriber count.

A few readers also cited that the links at the top of the page are too small and close together to be interacted with. I also found the blog and ‘Make Money Online’ sections were too wide without enough whitespace on either side to separate the text from its surroundings. The line-spacing between paragraphs is also very narrow and makes the text seem jumbled together.

5. Greater emphasis on the blog

While the main page does an excellent job diverting attention to the interviews, the blog is strongly down-played and a new visitor might miss it completely if they didn’t read the small links at the top of the page. A simple fix I’d suggest would be to add a big ‘Visit our blog for more tips’ link above the featured article on the main page.

Thanks again to Michael for participating and best of luck with the site!

You can send an application to Darren if you’d like your blog featured and reviewed at ProBlogger for $250. Click to get more information on our community blog consulting services.

Why Do You Blog?

It’s time for another poll – this one gets at your motivations for blogging.

Why do you blog?

Why do you Blog?
View Results


I’m not asking why you started blogging – but what keeps you blogging – what are your motivations?

Obviously I’ve only chosen a few reasons for blogging and there could be many more. If you’ve got another one feel free to add it in comments below.

Thanks to Dr Mani for his idea for this poll via Twitter.

7 Dark Truths: Why Readers Really Become Subscribers

This post was submitted by Nick Cernis – the author of Put Things Off, the laid-back productivity blog.

Think you’ve heard it all before?

It’s true – if you want more subscribers, write great content and target a specific niche. It’s a lovely idea, and guess what? It really works.

But to understand why your readers subscribe (and how to hook more in), it helps to use some fun psychology. Read on and find out who’s really subscribing to your blog.

7 Dark Truths About Your Subscribers

If you’ve got subscribers, it’s likely that they belong in at least one of these categories:

1) They want to be you
If you subscribe to Problogger, the chances are high that you want what Darren’s got: a great full-time blogging job. There’s no shame in it, but before you move to Australia and buy black specs, consider this: your individuality is what makes you worth reading. (Besides, sheep look ridiculous wearing glasses.)

2) They want to be with you
There’s a well-known blog that became one of the most-read UK sites overnight due to the author’s profession: she was a London call girl. Thousands of viewers checked in to read about her candid antics. She never named names, but it still made for titillating reading.

3) They want your brain
Are your readers zombies? If you’re an expert in your niche, the chances are high that you’ve got subscribers for one reason: they’re marching to your beat and they want your brain. It’s a scary thought, isn’t it?

4) They want your goodies
Is your blog like Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory? Are you always giving away prizes and links to free stuff? It’s a universally accepted truth: free sweeties equals followers.

5) They want your wit
Laughter is a powerful thing. Whenever a blogger makes me giggle again and again, I look for the subscribe button. Partly it’s because I like being drip-fed humour every day, but in truth I’m just jealous: I want their wit.

6) They want to stay ahead
Do you subscribe to your competitors’ blogs? You should do—it’s the best way to stay ahead. Chances are, a lot of your readers are your competitors. It’s how they keep abreast of what you’re planning and try to stay in front.

7) They want to check up on you

Last month my Mum told me that she’d subscribed to my blog. I had no idea! It didn’t worry me, but it certainly made me think. Suddenly you become very selective about what you say, and which life experiences you share. (Don’t worry – secretly they’ve done all the crazy things you have too.)

How To Get More Subscribers With The 7 Dark Truths

If you want more subscribers, just flip the 7 Dark Truths on their heads:

1) Become a superstar
If you work hard at becoming well-known in a certain field, people will want to be you and read you.

2) Become a heart-throb
If you write openly in a way that tugs on people’s heart strings, chances are they’ll want to hear from you again. It’s rare to find bloggers who spill their soul in a mature way that you can learn and grow from.

3) Become an expert
Seth Godin has the world’s most popular business blog for a reason: he’s the best in his niche. He’s also a superstar and he’s witty, so he attracts some of the other groups. If you can become a funny expert superstar too, your subscriber count will thank you.

4) Become generous
Think differently: as well as giving away prizes or links to free sites, what could you offer your readers for free that would be invaluable to them? Free website advice? Free marketing help? A free eBook? Whatever it is, make sure they have to subscribe to get it. Use the Feed Footer plugin for WordPress to add the details at the end of your feeds.

5) Become funny
There’s a famous saying: you’re either runny or you’re snot. If you can make people laugh, they’ll be more inclined to grab your feed once they’ve dribbled giggled their way to the foot of your post.

6) Become a market-leader
The 37 Signals blog is one of the most popular in their niche. If you can make something that’s truly remarkable, there’s a good chance your competition will subscribe to see what you’re up to. Competitors equal subscribers. Having lots of both never sounded so good!

7) Tell your Mum
Tell your friends and family too. They’ll want to check up on you, and will become subscribers long before you’ve had the chance to delete your post about that “incident” with the hay barn and the matches.

Go forth and use your new knowledge to gain the subscribers you deserve!

Nick Cernis is the author of Put Things Off, the laid-back productivity blog that teaches freelancers, entrepreneurs and bloggers how to live the lives they love. Subscribe to his feed or visit PTO now.

Using Humor on Your Blog to Bring About Change

HumorImage by Carf

A month ago today I got the news that AdSense was making changes to their referrals program that would (in my opinion) be unfair to publishers living outside of some parts of the world. My reaction to this news was one of anger and disappointment – my post that day reflected this with the closest thing I’ve written to a rant for a long time.

A week later I was still disappointed in the decision that AdSense had made and couldn’t see the sense in why they’d made it – I felt they’d made a mistake. My anger had dissipated a little but I still felt strongly about it. I felt my rant had fallen on deaf ears and was ready to give up and accept the decision.

But a small voice in my head told me that there must be a way to make my point and I set myself a task to come up with a post that would have more impact than an angry rant.

I decided to take my own advice and to brainstorm ideas for a post using Mind Mapping. Initially I thought I’d write an open letter to AdSense outlining my logical reasons for them to change their mind. But my ideas progressed….

I won’t take you through the full process that day but after 15 or so minutes of brainstorming I decided to write AdSense a love letter, to declare my love for them but also to share my ‘broken heart’.

The result was:

Dear AdSense, You Broke My Heart – An Open Letter to AdSense

My attempt with the letter was to do quite the opposite of my first angry rant. It was to attempt to use humor to highlight my points.

The impact was swift. I’m sure it wasn’t completely as a result from my letter but within hours of it going live I’d heard from two contacts at AdSense that it had been passed on to the team that makes these kinds of decisions. A couple of days later word came through that there were changes to the policy being pondered. Then I heard that they were about to be made public. I drafted a second Love Letter in response.

I share this story not to big note myself – while I know my letter was read and had some sort of impact I know that other bloggers had their say and fed back their thoughts to AdSense also. No, the reason I share this is because it taught me a great lesson about the power of humor.

What I realized is that my rant didn’t leave much room for a reaction from AdSense. When you communicate something in anger or aggression it makes it difficult for the party that you’re directing your message to react in any other way (this is something I learned in conflict resolution training). In many cases all a rant really does is get something off your chest – but it puts things on someone else’s chest which can lead to them either to escalate the conflict or ignore you.

However when you communicate the same points with humor it is less likely to put the other person on the back foot and it gives them room to react in a more constructive way. Humor can still be used to make a point – but it’s more subtle and less confronting.

I still do think that there’s a place for a rant – but I think in future I’ll consider pulling a humorous post out of the tool belt before I got for the rant option.

How do You Find Private Advertisers for Your Blog?

Daniel Scocco from Daily Blog Tips has kindly agreed to help tackle some of the questions in the ProBlogger Question Box over the coming weeks. Here’s his first reply:

Dustin Brewer asks:

How do you work advertising on your site when it comes to the 125×125 banners? Do most of the advertisers just come to you and negotiate advertising or do you pro-actively go and find advertisers for the blog?

How would you recommend getting more advertising such as this, is it advisable to “look” for advertisers or will they just come with the traffic?

Direct advertising deals represent one of the most efficient ways to monetize a blog or website. They enable you to cut out the middleman, to determine your own rates, and to have more control regarding where and how the ads will be displayed.

Getting started selling your own advertising space is not an easy task though, and the question of whether one should wait for the advertisers to come or pro-actively seek them is a very common one on this subject.

The simple answer is: if your blog is relatively small or new, you will need to pro-actively seek advertisers, while if you already have a significant audience and credibility, you will find that you won’t need to spend much time seeking sponsors (i.e., they will come to you).

Dustin asked specifically about 125×125 banners, but the answer applies to virtually any banner format and direct advertising deal.

Is it always worth?

It is important to notice that until you reach a certain traffic level, though, the time spent searching for advertisers might not be worth it. For instance, if you are getting just 100 uniques per day you will need to spend a lot of time to find a sponsor willing to give your a site a try. Secondly, you will not be able to charge much, and the advertiser will probably cancel it after the first month.

Overall you might end up wasting a lot of time on the process, and the returns will be below your expectations.

Until you feel confident that you can deliver value to potential advertisers (e.g., clicks and leads) you should wait or experiment with advertising networks (e.g., Google AdSense, Chitika and so on).

What is the minimum size to start seeking direct advertisers?

There is no right number of unique visitors, page views or RSS subscribers that you need to have before you can start selling your ads directly. It obviously depends on several factors.

A blog focused on a small niche (e.g., reviews of horror movies or pet food) might be able to sell banners directly even with a relatively small audience, say 500 daily unique visitors. That is because advertisers with products or websites relevant to these small niches do not have many places to go, and they also know that the traffic that they will get from such a sharp focused blog will be very targeted.

A blog covering a broader a more popular niche (e.g., technology or productivity), on the other hand, will need to achieve a higher traffic level to be able to sell direct ads efficiently, say 2000 daily unique visitors. That is because advertisers have more choice now regarding where to place their ads, and because the traffic coming a blog that covers a broad niche has less quality.

Other factors that might influence the traffic levels that you will need to achieve before being able to successfully sell direct ads include the quality of the content, the design of the blog, the credibility of the authors and so on.

All right, I think I have enough traffic to start selling my ads, what should I do?

As mentioned before, if you are just starting out with direct ads, you will inevitable need to pro-actively seek sponsors.

Before proceeding, though, make sure that you have the requirements in place. At the very minimum you need a clean design and reserved spots for the advertisers. The first impression that they will get from your blog or website will influence heavily their decision of whether to sponsor you or not.

Secondly, you need to have some statistics at hand. The number of daily (or monthly) unique visitors and page views are the two most used metrics. Do not try to pump these numbers up, because the advertiser will be able to track how many visitors you will send his way, and if he feels that you lied to begin with it will hurt your credibility.

Got these, now what?

Once you have these requirements in place you are ready to start your search. Remember that this is a maths game: the higher the number of potential advertisers that you approach, the higher the chances of getting a deal.

By that I don’t mean that should start spamming people over email like there is no tomorrow. But expect to contact a dozen of potential advertisers (or more) before someone actually get back to you with a sign of interest.

The most important factor here is to filter down the potential advertisers that are relevant to your niche and audience. If your blog is focused on pet food, it would be very hard to convince an SEO company to advertise there, and even if you accomplished that the results would be poor. Poor for the company because it would receive small and unqualified traffic, and poor for you because you could end up annoying your readers.

Here are some places where you can go to find relevant advertisers:

1. Blogs on the same niche. Visit blogs that cover your niche and see who is sponsoring them or advertising there. These companies already have banners ready to go, and they understand the whole direct advertising process, so it should be easy to approach them.

2. AdWords advertisers. Do a quick search on Google for your related keywords, and see what sponsored links will appear. If a company is already spending money on PPC networks, they have a higher chance of being interested in direct adverting deals as well.

3. Forums and marketplaces. You can post about your available advertising space on online forums like Digital Point and marketplaces like Sitepoint. If your rates are good you might get a good response from these sources.

4. Readers of your own blog. Pay attention to who is leaving comments on your blog or sending you emails to comment on your work. Once you in while you might get a manager or executive from an online company that is relevant to your niche. Needless to say that it is much easier to sign an advertising deal with someone that already knows and respects your work.

Finally, do not forget to create an “Advertise Here” page on your site. While initially you will need to hunt down advertisers, you also want to make sure that interested people will be able to contact you easily.

Over the time your traffic will grow and you will start to get approached by potential advertisers regularly. That is when you can sit back and focus on the other sides of the business.

Good luck with your search!

Note from Darren – a couple of other links come to mind that might help:

Got a Question about Blogging that You’d like asked? Ask it here