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Where to Connect with Darren

Every now and again I like to update new readers on where they can connect with me outside of this blog. We’re living in a time where there are increasing numbers of points/tools of ‘connection’ and I’m aware that each reader of this blog has their own preferred means of keeping in touch.

So here’s where I’m at when it comes to blogs, social networking sites etc. I’d love to connect with you in any way that suits you.

Social Networking (and more)

  • Twitter – probably where I’m most active outside my blogs
  • Facebook – somewhere that I want to get more active
  • ProBlogger Facebook Group – a good group of people waiting to interact
  • StumbleUpon – my favoriate social bookmarking tool
  • MyBlogLog – ProBlogger’s ‘community’ at MyBlogLog
  • BlogCatalog – pretty popular among bloggers and adding features fast
  • MySpace – I don’t remember the last time I used it, but some of you do like to connect there
  • FriendFeed – I’ve only just started experimenting with this one – looks cool
  • Flickr – the occasional picture from my crazy little life
  • Pownce – another one to explore on a rainy day
  • Bebo – inactive… but one day!
  • Youtube – I need to upload some of my old videos here but will put all new ones on.

Blogs

More Sightings of the ProBlogger T-Shirt

The ProBlogger T-Shirt has hit the slopes of Japan.

problogger-t-shirt.jpg

thanks to Neil Duckett.

It’s also been spotted over at 45n5 headquarters!

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SEO Tip: Almost 7 Ways To Re-Optimize Your Posts

re-optimize-blog-posts.jpgThe following SEO Optimization post was submitted by Linda Bustos fromElastic Path.

Smart bloggers often use keyword research tools to brainstorm “long tail” opportunities and keyword niches. These keywords are then worked into blog post titles, image attributes, headings and body copy as part of an SEO strategy, knowing that this “low hanging fruit” can drive some very valuable traffic.

While this is a great strategy, it’s not without its downsides. Keyword research tools are often expensive, the data can be unreliable or too general to reflect your readership. If you use Google Analytics, you’re sitting on a very valuable keyword research tool that’s free, accurate and can tell you so much about your readers.

I’d like to share a “hack” with you – how you can use Google Analytics to identify your most valuable keyword referrals, and how you can re-optimize your posts to raise your rank and drive more traffic for these keywords.

Using Google Analytics to Identify Hot Keywords

1. Log into Google Analytics, and select (from the left hand gray menu) “Traffic Sources” and then “Keywords”

trafficsources.jpg

2. Select “Non-Paid” to isolate organic traffic (if you’re using Google Adwords)

nonpaid.jpg

3. Select a generous date range (not just recent content, show trends over a few months to a year)

daterange.jpg

4. Scroll to the bottom of the page and select “500″ rows

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5. Now we’re ready to get our hands dirty. I’m going to use my own site as an example (because it’s the only blog for which I have analytics access!) from now on. The current goal of Get Elastic is to grow the subscriber base. So I’m interested in what keywords attract new visitors and have a low bounce rate, assuming these visitors like to check out other related content. For you, it might be which keyword referrals convert well. In that case, you’d want to flip your view to “Goal Conversion” and sort results by clicking on “Goal Conversion Rate” or “Per Visit Goal Value”:

goalconversion.jpg

Back to our example. Scanning my keyword referral list, I notice a couple stand out with lower bounce rates than average:
finding-keywords.jpg

6. Now I’m going to check out my current positions in Google to see if there’s room for improvement. I make sure I’ve signed out of any Google Accounts to avoid a personalized search skew, or even better – check in an alternate web browser while signed out of any Google Accounts.

Fair enough, rankings are nothing to obsess about. But we know the difference in click through above and below the fold!

Checking for “Facebook ecommerce,” Get Elastic is already number one. But “Twitter marketing” has room for improvement:

twittermarketing.jpg

Get Elastic’s positions 8 and 9 are sending traffic, could I triple that by cracking the top 3? Twitter marketing is currently a hot topic – many new blog posts about it every week and potentially more searches as awareness builds and people start taking it seriously. I should also be looking at protecting my post’s visibility as well.

“Almost” 7 Ways to Re-Optimize Your Posts

Now I take a look at my post that is ranking for “Twitter marketing”. I’m looking for non-spammy ways to beef up keywords in the Page Title, Title Tag, post tags, image attributes, H1, H2, H3 etc. Anywhere but changing the keywords in the URL. These SEO basics are usually considered when writing the post, but sometimes you discover “surprise winners” you never expected would send you such good traffic.

Then I start asking myself questions:

1. Are there other related posts on my blog that I can link back to the “Twitter marketing” post using keyword-rich anchor text? Can I tag them with this keyword phrase to make an indexable category page (even if it’s not one of the main sidebar categories)?

2. Can I write a follow-up post on my blog? Can I seed it in any relevant social news sites (Digg clones) in my niche?

3. Can I build links to it by writing related posts on my other blogs?

4. Can I write guest articles for other sites that link back to it?

5. Do I have blogger friends who will link back to it?

6. Are there “Twitter marketing” resource (link) lists that I can get included on? Yep, this takes old fashioned networking to achieve. One way to get a webmaster’s attention is to run a link validation check on their website, and send them a kind email pointing out the broken link, and mentioning your post may also be of interest to their visitors. (Hint for finding these lists, type in {keyword} + “links,” “resources,” “top 10,” “articles” etc. into the search engine, and manually check the results. Or run backlink checks on the results above you.)

7. Can I buy links to the post? (Just kidding)

Measuring Impact

Unfortunately it’s difficult to attribute subscriber increases to this technique. But you can measure rankings and traffic. You’ll want to make note of your current Google ranking before your tweaks. And you can always measure if traffic has increased month by month by adjusting your date ranges in Google Analytics.

Of course, this is a time-consuming practice. But identifying “money keywords” for your site visitors using your own stats can be an effective tactic in reaching your blogging goals in 2008.

Linda Bustos is the Emerging Media Analyst for Elastic Path, an ecommerce software vendor. Linda blogs daily about Internet marketing (SEO, social media marketing, email marketing etc) with a special focus on ecommerce at Get Elastic.

10 Random Reflections on SXSWi 2008

I’ve been back from South by South West Interactive for a few days now and am slowly recovering from the jet lag. All in all it was a pretty amazing experience to attend SXSW – I had a lot of fun and learned a lot. As I didn’t get to live blog during the event I thought I’d sum up the week with 10 random reflections for those of you that have been asking how it went.

1. Meeting Other Bloggers is Good for the Soul – The thing that I enjoyed most about SXSW this year was the chance that it gave me to interact with other bloggers. The more I meet bloggers the more that I find that many of us are lonely souls (to some degree). We sit alone in our home offices/livingrooms/beds etc and often feel quite isolated and at times misunderstood. Coming together can be an experience that is quite wonderful and a reminder that we’re actually part of something larger than ourselves.

2. The Chitika/ProBlogger Beer Bus Rocked – My trip to SXSW was sponsored by Chitika who pulled together a private little party for 40 bloggers (minus a few who couldn’t make it at the last minute). The trip was a lot of fun and drew together a great bunch of people, many of whom I’ve been interacting with for years but have never met. Thanks to Chitika for getting me to Austin and for a fun afternoon. Ryan Travis from Chitika is already talking about a bigger gathering on a boat next year! (PS: Ryan, no pressure to do it with me again next year but I do have a couple of photos that could persuade you :-))

3. Some so called ‘A-list’ bloggers are incredibly…. snobby. I hesitate to include this point because I know it’s difficult for a popular blogger to be accessible to everyone – however I couldn’t help but feel at times that there was an inner and outer circle among top bloggers. Perhaps it comes from the opportunity that many of the top US bloggers have to interact with each other personally over time – but on numerous occasions I felt and saw others feel a little on the ‘outer’.

4. Networking Leads to Amazing Possibilities – I went to SXSW with no real agenda or outcomes that I wanted to achieve. While I think next time I’d be a little more intentional having an ‘open’ approach led to some amazing conversations and connections. Out of these emerged some great opportunities to work with some gifted people on many levels.

5. Sessions – Sessions on the whole were a little more ‘beginner’ than I was expecting. Perhaps it was those that I chose to attend but I would have liked to see more intermediate to advanced sessions for bloggers. Perhaps next year I should get my act together and run one myself.

6. Panels – I’ve never really been a huge fan of panels. The majority of sessions that I saw at SXSW were panels and perhaps this is where some of my frustration came from with the ‘beginner’ level stuff. I find that panels tend to easily become sidetracked and can end up being quite broad in terms of topics. An hour is a short time really and to get depth it needs to be focussed and well moderated (luckily the panel I was on had a good moderator).

7. Frank Warren Rocks – My Twitter Followers will know that a highlight of the conference for me was Frank Warren’s keynote. Frank from Post Secret basically filled his keynote with stories and reflections from his time editing the Post Secret blog. It was a session that aimed at the heart more than the head and which I think touched a lot of people. Inspirational session. I briefly met him at the end (tough as he was very popular) and hope to feature an interview with him on ProBlogger in the coming months.

8. The b5media team are Crazy! – the other main highlight from the trip for me was to spend a week living with a significant number of the b5media team. While I’d met most of them before it was great to spend extended time with this nutty group of people. I said at one point along the week to someone that we’ve hired a very eclectic team at b5 with a real mix of personalities. It was wild to almost a week with them. Once again – it’s good to spend time in person with people you spend with ‘virtually’ every day.

9. Party Party Party – before I left for SXSW I knew that the parties in the evenings were going to be good, however I totally underestimated them. Each night there were 5-10 parties around Austin, some were official and others were not. With 8000 people attending the Interactive part of SXSW there was plenty of people to meet. I only wish we’d been staying closer in to downtown so that we’d have been able to get to more of them.

10. Twitter – I’ve been using Twitter more consistently in the last couple of months realize over the week at SXSW just how much potential it has when you’re in a place with thousands of others using it. Both in sessions (where it seemed every second person in some rooms was twittering/backchatting about the session) as well as in the evenings when reports streamed in about the parties and where everyone was. My only problem was that I could only twitter from my laptop.

Notes to self for next time:

  • brush up on bowling skills before SXSW next year (geek bowling party was fun)
  • take DSLR not point and shoot – it’ll be worth the extra weight
  • pack less shirts and more t-shirts (it’s the most casual conference I’ve been to)
  • take video camera and produce a series of video interviews – so many amazing people to tap into the minds of!
  • get phone that I can twitter from next time
  • take more healthy snacks – while we ate some great meals while away the serving size and amount of fat in so many options was overwhelming.
  • break up the trip on the way home – spend a couple of nights in LA instead of going straight through to Austin – 24 hours on a plane and in airports is too much.

PS: I’ve uploaded a handful of photos from SXSW here – although didn’t take a lot of shots over the week. Instead I’m relying more upon the images that others took over the week to document it visually this time around.

How to have a Constant Stream of Blogging Ideas

This post on generating blogging ideas was contributed by Graham Jones from grahamjones.co.uk.

Most bloggers give up after a short while; even though there are millions of blogs online, few are updated regularly and most have been abandoned. The difference between success and failure in blogging is often down to persistence. But, when I speak at meetings about blogging, people often come up to me afterwards and say “Ah, yes, that’s all very well, but I run out of ideas after a while, so I can’t blog regularly”. So, how can you be sure of coming up with a constant stream of blogging ideas? How can you be certain that when you open your blogging software you will always have something to write?

If you think about your daily newspaper it does not have a choice. The number of pages is set by the amount of advertising space they sell. Each day, though, has varying amounts of news – some days, very little happens. But it would be no good the journalists filling up the first few pages and then printing a notice on all the others saying “if we’d been able to think of anything to write we would have put it here”. No matter how little is going on around them and no matter how much space they have to fill, newspapers simply have to fill the space allocated to them – plus they simply MUST do it before a specified time. The only way they can achieve this is to have a system.

Develop a blogging planning system

The first step in a journalistic system for blogging is having a plan for each month. Set up a spreadsheet, a table in a word processor, or a calendar on your desk – it doesn’t matter how you do this, but you need a monthly plan. On that plan you need to mark out the days you will definitely blog. This might be every day, just the weekdays, the weekends, every Wednesday – whatever works for you and your audience. Now you have a visual plan of what’s needed you can start filling in the blanks.

Journalists have two kinds of stories – diary stories and “off-diary” stories. Diary stories are those things you know will definitely happen – such as events, meetings, press conferences and so on. There are endless directories of events online and you will know of specific events on particular days in your industry. Mark your diary with these events as “diary items” you know you can write about. Also, look for anniversaries and specific days that could trigger a blog – this might be Thanksgiving Day, or Mother’s Day, or whatever can provide you with something to write about.

Diary stories should give you a reasonable number of days with topics already allocated to them over the coming weeks and months. Now you need to fill in the gaps. The way journalists do this is to have regular “slots”. So Monday might be health stories, Tuesdays could be business, Wednesdays are for politics -and so on. For your specialism, you need to come up with several general topic headings that you could write about. All you then do is slot these into the gaps between the diary stories.

Filling in your blogging plan

Once you have allocated particular diary stories to specific days and topic ideas to the other days, now you have to start being more specific about those “off diary” stories. All you have in your planning diary for these at the moment is the title of a topic. You could still be facing a blank screen if you don’t do any more planning. Here’s what to do.

Get a folder that has as many sections in it as you have topics. Now, subscribe to RSS feeds on those topics, or printed magazines, newsletters – anything that has info on those subjects. When you see something interesting – at any time – simply print it out, or tear it from the magazine and slot it into the appropriate section of your folder. Then forget it.

Writing your blog without having to think

You will now be in a position to always be able to write something for your blog. Simply look at your planning calendar and see the topic or diary item you need to write about. If it’s a diary item, you will already have a good idea as to what you are going to be saying or commenting on. If it’s an “off diary” topic, simply open your folder at the appropriate section, pull out all the papers in there and you will have a load of ideas that will trigger what you want to say.

Using a system like this enables newspapers and magazines to guarantee they will fill all their pages. You can adopt a similar system so that you will always have something to write about and will never face a blank screen wondering what on earth to say.

Read more of Graham’s work at grahamjones.co.uk

If YOU Were Starting Out in Blogging from Scratch – How Would You Promote Your Blog?

Blog-Promotion StrategiesOver the past week I’ve shared five strategies that I’d use to promote my blog if I were starting from scratch again today.

We started off by looking at how the majority of your efforts need to be focused upon Readers You Don’t Already Have (obvious but important) and then looked at the five strategies of:

  1. Guest Posting
  2. Networking
  3. Advertising
  4. Social Media
  5. Viral Content

Together I believe that these five strategies pursued together would give a new blog a good start (note: pursuing just one of them might have some impact but together they are more effective).

These are five main areas that I’d focus upon if I were starting out again today – but the comments on each post in this series have revealed a lot more wisdom in the ProBlogger community on the topic and so I thought I’d open it up for your thoughts.

If you were starting out again – how would you promote your blog?

The Top 5 Recommendations for Vista Rewired

It’s time to summarize over 40 reviews of Vista Rewired as part of our ProBlogger community consultation.

Before we begin, congratulations must first go to our three winners!

  • First-place reviewer Troy has won our 1,700 visitor prize, plus a one-month featured link at Vista Rewired.
  • Second-place reviewer Jacob Share has won the runner-up 500 visitor prize, plus a one-month featured link at Vista Rewired.
  • Third-place reviewer TzuVelli has won a one-month featured link at Vista Rewired.

Here were the top 5 recommendations made by the ProBlogger readers who critiqued Vista Rewired:

1. Monetizing without overwhelming

Because the blog is well-targeted to a niche, ProBlogger reviewers were able to come up with some stellar monetization ideas, including:

  • Blending AdSense units to make them the same color as links, which will decrease ad-blindness and increase click-throughs.
  • Sell private sponsorships through an ‘advertise here’ page.
  • Review Vista-related software and sell these products through in-post affiliate links.
  • Sell Windows Vista! At least some of your search traffic will be from prospective buyers looking for more info on the OS.
  • Add an eBay or Amazon affiliate store selling related products.

Readers were divided on whether to place AdSense units on the left or the right of the content — the argument for the left being that people start reading from the left, the argument for the right being that people will ‘read into’ the right.

Lastly, one easy way to get away with more advertising without making the site looks spammy is to remove Kontera from within content. It might convert OK, but does it really convert well enough to be worth making your blog look spammy?

2. Which design?

Many of the design critiques from the ProBlogger community won’t be relevant in this summary because the blog was redesigned during the course of the review. The eagerness to make changes is understandable, but it does present the problem that reviews directed at the previous version of the blog no longer make sense.

One reservation I have about the new design is that there is no way to access a traditional blog-style layout, and without images and excerpts of posts on the main page, it’s a lot more difficult for visitors to become gripped by a particular article. It also means headlines are very small, and lose much of their impact.

3. Taking content to the next level

One very good suggestion from a reader was to differentiate content on the basis of difficulty in application. At first glance, a particular visitor might assume that all the tips are beginner level, or if they’re very new to Vista, that the tips are too tricky for them. Marking each tip or tutorial as beginner, intermediate or advanced will help to communicate that the blog caters to all levels of Vista users.

Another practical tip was to include more images earlier on in the post to attract the attention of social media visitors. It was also suggested that Albert (the blog’s owner) mix-up the how-to articles with list style posts and collections of resources and relevant links. If Albert can provide a unique tip for the Vista community, he may be able to get a link from Lifehacker. Unique or unconventional tips and tutorials would be the smartest way to attract the attention of services like Digg.

4. Boosting traffic and subscribers

My favorite tip in this area was the suggestion to guest-post on MakeUseOf.com. The content is largely driven by guest-authors and OS related resource lists and tutorials are popular. Exposure to 13,000+ subscribers wouldn’t hurt, either! In my experience, guest-posting yields some of the most highly targeted traffic you’ll find, and it’s ideal for boosting your subscriber count. Other than guest-posting, writing for Digg or StumbleUpon at least once a week is the best way to grow both your traffic and your subscriber count.

Another simple, practical tip is to add an email subscription option alongside the RSS subscription option.

5. Search Engine Optimization

ProBlogger readers provided two key tips for SEO at Vista Rewired:

  • Use the All-in-One SEO Pack to generate unique meta descriptions for each post, rather than one generic meta description for the entire blog.
  • Work ‘Vista’ or ‘Windows Vista’ into blog post titles as much as possible (where appropriate) to increase your search rankings for Vista-related keyword strings.

Concluding thoughts

Overall, ProBlogger readers were impressed with Vista Rewired’s design and content, but felt the blog was not making the most of all the monetization and growth opportunities available to it. One thing we also learned: it’s a lot easier to think of ways to monetize a niche blog than it is to monetize a blog dealing with several broad topics!

Create a Video Tutorial and Help Others

video-blogging.jpgThis post on video tutorials was submitted by Lori from bloggingcents.com.

Video blogging has taken the blogosphere by storm and rightfully so. It surrounds the reader with a more personal atmosphere and provides a visual, which is always popular. Different from video blogging though, tutorials actually show you a demostration for a particular project. I receive tons of emails daily, many of which start with, “how to” and for this reason, I will be adding more video tutorials to my blog in hopes of helping others easily accomplish their projects.

Video tutorials can be created simply with screen recorder software. This will only record your screen and your voice. I recommend 2 programs to get you started:

  1. Camstudio Free Version
  2. Camtasia Free trial download

Whichever you choose, you will have the option to record the entire screen or partial screen. With Camstudio, it’s as easy as deciding what part of your screen you want to record and then pressing the button. Editing and outputting are just as simple; in fact, if you get stuck, Camstudio provides a video tutorial with step-by-step instructions on how to use their software.

Some things to remember when recording your video:

  • Always do a sound check. There’s nothing worse than getting through your tutorial only to realize there is no sound, not to mention the self humiliation from lack of preparation.
  • Speak a tick slower than you normally would and be sure to avoid the “erms, uhs, and dead silences”. Keep your distance from the mic and avoid heavy breathing! You’re teaching, not stalking.
  • Speak as if you are teaching someone sitting right beside you. By doing this, you are creating a one on one feel with your reader/student.
  • 5 frames per second will produce a fine quality video. The default is usually anywhere between 15 to 30 frames but this is not necessary, of course, this is just a personal preference.

UPLOADING YOUR VIDEO

The recommended format when outputting and uploading is SWF (Shockwave Video). You get clear video and smaller file size, which makes for faster uploading time. FLV (Flash video format) can be used as well, however, the file size increases and the picture quality worsens in most instances.

Uploading your video to Youtube is great for the beginner. Your video has the advantage of reaching a wider audience which is a result we all sought after.

Tagging your tutorial is an important step and shouldn’t be ignored. Sometimes placing your video tutorial in a category is not enough so adding tag specifics will help people find it easier.

For example:

My first tutorial was “Organizing Your Inbox“. After browsing the various categories, I chose to place it in education. Education is a very general topic so I needed to classify it with tags. I tagged my tutorial with organization, Outlook Express, how-to, video tutorial, and a couple of others. By doing this, I’m giving my video a better chance at being seen when someone does a search for those specific terms.

In conclusion, video tutorials can be a welcomed attraction to readers, especially those needing their hand held due to lack of experience. It’s also a great way to give your visitor a break from reading and let them sit back, watch and learn.

I’m Lori, a SAHM, who loves to share blog tips and tutorials in hopes of helping others. If you enjoyed this post, please visit my blog and consider subscribing to my feed.

Image by Montrasio International

One Animal Trait That Will Keep Your Blog From Extinction – Mimicry

This post on mimicry as a blogging strategy is by Aseem Kishore from Online-Tech-Tips.com.

First, to set the tone for the rest of this post, I would like to start with a definition of mimicry from AccessExcellence.org that I want the reader to keep in mind as they read on:

Mimicry is one of several anti-predatory devices found in nature. Specifically it is a situation in which one species called the mimic resembles in color, form, and/or behavior another species called the model. In so doing, the mimic acquires some survival advantage.

mimicry.jpgThere are many examples in nature where you will see mimicry, one notable example being the Monarch and Viceroy butterflies, where one mimics the looks of the other butterfly because it is known to taste horrible and therefore avoids being eaten by predators.

image by pieceoflace

So what does this have to do with blogging, you may be wondering?

The Natural Selection Phenomenon in Blogging

According to Wikipedia,

Natural selection is the process by which favorable heritable traits become more common in successive generations of a population of reproducing organisms, and unfavorable heritable traits become less common.

Blogging and their associated authors, the bloggers, also fit into the cycle of natural selection, albeit in a completely different manner. Problogger is an example of a blog with highly favorable traits that allow it to prosper, but there are many blogs out there in the blogosphere that end up having the same fate as the unfavorable species: extinction.

This may sound harsh, but it’s simply a truth. With over 120,000 weblogs created worldwide each day, according to Technorati, many will fall prey to behaviors and actions (or inactions) that eventually lead to the death of their blog. However, having started a technology blog only a year back with absolutely no knowledge of blogging and in a already highly competitive niche, I have managed to increase my traffic to over 10,000 visitors and 15,000 page views a day from Google alone and earn over $100 a day from AdSense.

I am by no means saying this to show off, but to let every reader and blogger know that it is COMPLETELY possible to start from scratch and become a respected, well-trafficked blog, my case being one example. From my own experience, I have learned that there are a couple of things in the last year that made the difference between my blog becoming a success or becoming just another statistic.

Mimicry – What about it?

So let me go ahead and tie up my metaphor before I go into hard and fast ideas that you can use to enhance your blog’s reach. One thing that I noticed myself doing just recently and over the last year after reflecting on it, is the fact that most of my actions surrounding my blog (finding ideas for content, writing, site optimizing, marketing, guest posting) were already done by others and I simply read about it and followed suite.

A good deal of the success of the blog has to do with the fact it simply mimics many of the “traits” of other successful bloggers. Note that in the definition of mimic above, it does not mean copying. When you mimic, you begin to understand the characteristics that a blog needs in order to survive like what kind of audience you are catering to, what kind of content will people find interesting, how to effectively market your blog, how much time you should be spending on specific tasks, etc that enable you to compete with bigger blogs. It does not mean you plagiarize or spin the same content, spam social media sites, or engage in other nefarious behavior.

Traits To Mimic

So what are the actual traits then that a successful blogger has whether they know it or not? The next part of my post will focus on explaining the traits and giving concrete examples of steps you can take to make your blog more successful. It is not necessary to have all of these traits, but the more traits you can internalize, the better your chances are at surviving. So let’s get down to the details.

Passion and Motivation
The first thing I realized about every successful blogger that I read about online was that they were very passionate. Passionate about their content, passionate about their readers, passionate about their work. It is the passion that gets you through the tough times when you don’t feel like writing or when Google drops your traffic every once in a while for no reason. It is the passion that makes you read more about how to optimize your site, on how to write better content, and on how to market your blog. It is passion that makes you reach out to other bloggers for guidance and help and that conveys a sense of excitement and genuineness in your posts.

Without passion, it is hard to motivate yourself. Yes, there is always money, but money cannot be the main reason for blogging, at least in the beginning. If you find yourself writing about topics that don’t truly make you excited or interested, then you are missing an important trait of success. Whatever topic wakes you up when you’re sleepy or brings a smile to your face when you think about it, should be the topic you create a blog about. I have seen successful blogs on esoteric topics like IKEA furniture and nursing homes. If you have a passion, write about it and readers will come.

When I sit down to write a post, I usually already have 30 to 40 topics that I can choose from. Why? Because while I’m not writing, I’m constantly browsing around finding new computer tips or cool websites to write about. It’s just part of my daily routine and not a forced activity. If I didn’t enjoy looking for cool new technology on the web, I would have a hard time writing a computer tips blog!

Remember your topic does not have to be completely new or have to be very popular, it just has to be done in an interesting way. For me, it’s very tough to write about anything other than computers because I don’t really have the knowledge nor the insight to write in-depth and useful content. Notice that none of the “traits” are called “Writing Content” or “Content Creation”, etc because when you have a passion, the content is already taken care of.

QUESTIONS TO ASK:

  • What topics do I never get tired of reading, listening to, or watching?
  • If I’ve already started a blog, do I enjoy writing the material or am I feeling obligated?
  • Does my blog have a clear focus or am I writing about a wide variety of topics?

Goal Setting
During my first two months blogging, I wrote almost 180 posts. Did I get a lot of traffic? No. Actually, close to zero. I was quite dismayed by this, but since I really enjoyed writing about technology, I kept going. However, I needed to do something differently or this was going to end up more like a personal journal than a professional blog.

That’s when I read somewhere about blogging goals. For some reason, this had never occurred to me nor did it seem like it was going to help much. But I decided to go ahead and give it a shot anyway. This was probably the best thing I had ever done. Setting goals is a trait that you want to learn very fast. If you don’t have goals, you can’t really judge your success or failure. Being in limbo brings more frustration and eventual resignation.

Here are the goals that I had set for myself after those first two months:

In 3 months time, try to get more than 250 unique visitors a day and at least 50 subscribers.

Simple enough goal, right? Well, after setting the goal, I asked myself why are these 180 posts not getting me very much traffic? I sat down and read over my old posts as if I was a casual reader of my blog. This was an eye opener. For one thing, my posts were simply boring. I mostly wrote about stuff I found funny, such as a comic strip making fun of Microsoft or a video with Conan O’Brien in India! Something to look at once, but not the kind of material that most people would care about (except my dear wife who visited nonetheless).

This brought me to the thought of trying to find out which material is actually being read online in the technology niche. Searching for technology blogs eventually led me to some of people I now look up to, such as Amit Agrawal of DigitalInspiration. Reading his blog made me understand the type of content that makes people want to read more. It had tons of very useful, practical, and easily digestible computer tips! I think I spent a good 4 to 5 hours on his blog the first time I visited it. Impressive.

This made me ask myself what kind of audience am I catering too? Currently, it was really no one. I hadn’t thought about it before. But after reviewing my previous work and that of others, I knew I needed to change the type of content on the site and the style of writing. My goal now was to write content that was interesting and yet still enjoyable for me.

One lesson I have learned over the last year has been to create goals that I can control directly in terms of “reachability”. Many bloggers suggest creating goals that have specific numbers, like 1000 readers by December, or 500 unique visitors in three months, but these are not within DIRECT control. You want to create goals that are direct like “Work one hour each day on blog optimization” or “Spend two hours at the beginning of the week finding ideas for content“. Now instead of sitting down and trying to find something to write about quickly and then coming up with a mediocre post, I have topics ready to go before writing that I know about, understand and can explain in a friendly manner.

Goals helps give your blog focus and a unique style. It helps you define your audience and helps you find out what you write about best. Once you have your own style, there will be an audience out there who will be interested.

ACTION ITEMS:

  • Look at other blogs in your niche and see what is working and why. Mimic those characteristics.
  • Find the audience your blog is targeting and focus on that audience.
  • Create hard and fast goals that are within your control.

Consistency & Persistence
During my first two months of blogging, I wrote 180 posts as I mentioned before. But if you browse my archives, you’ll notice that I sometimes wrote 10 posts in one day and other days I wrote nothing. This type of posting causes two problems. First, it’s very annoying for readers because one day they have to browse 10 articles (which they may not have time for) and another day there’s nothing new to read. Secondly, posting so many in one day reduced the quality of the posts dramatically and also tired me out. The next day I didn’t have the energy to write.

As you’ve probably heard a hundred times “Content is King”! I personally believe that this is true. Yes you have to do marketing, but in the end, if you have really good content, your blog will be read because others will market it for you. Eventually, I settled at two posts a day, which allows me to write a good quantity of posts, but at the same time maintain my standard of quality for each post.

For me, posting less often and writing more per post helped me greatly because I could cover topics in depth, giving detailed computer tips with pictures and even videos, if necessary. My posts eventually became longer and run anywhere in length from 500 to 1000 words. There is no hard and fast rule when it comes to length and adding fluff just for quantity’s sake will actually hurt you more in the end. Write however much it takes to cover a topic thoroughly.

Also, in terms of consistency, tighten up the topics that you write about. Even though my blog is about computer tips, that can span a large range of topics including Windows tips, software tips, etc. Yet I also write about cool websites on my blog, which could be considered off topic. However, every time I write about a cool website, I always make sure that it is a website that provides something beneficial as to be considered a personal computing tip. I would, for example, write about a website that allows you to backup your computer online for free, but I would not write about a website that helps you find contribution amounts to political candidates from your area, as it in no way relates to computer tips.

In summary, find the ideal number of posts for yourself that gives your site the best quality posts you can write. Even if it means once a week, you’ll find your traffic will increase more with better content and consistency.

Lastly, consistency also could be interpreted as persistence, another trait that will take you a LONG way as a blogger. I feel that if I had not been persistent, I would have definitely failed. Why? Let me list of the obstacles and failures that occurred over the last year:

  1. Less than 100 visitors a day after writing 180 posts (demoralizing)
  2. Left town during which hosting site crashed and blog was down for 3 days. Took more than a month to recover back to original traffic levels.
  3. After successfully being Dugg twice on Digg, I was blackmailed by some creeps and banned from Digg.

Several times I had considered giving up to be honest, but the enjoyment I got from writing kept me going. I persisted on and kept posting daily. It was hard, but it has paid off nicely.

Summary:

  • Find a good posting routine that allows you to write high quality posts
  • Don’t focus on quantity over quality
  • Focus on a core topic and don’t stray very much or, if you do, relate back to your main topic
  • When things go wrong or don’t look that great, just keep going and they will get better.

Marketing

Marketing, whether done for you by readers because your content is simply irrestible or done by yourself, is probably just as important as your content. I have read many bloggers state that they have not used the conventional methods to promote their blogs like being Dugg or Stumbled and yet have attained high traffic levels. However, I would have to disagree. They may not actively engage in marketing the blog themselves, but their readers definitely are and that’s why they have so many RSS readers and links back. Someone is doing the marketing. Effective marketing is a trait that you will find in every successful blog.

There’s really no such thing as “Write great content and you’ll somehow start getting lots of traffic from search engines”. Either you actively promote your site and get traffic or the small number of people who do find your site from the search engines in the beginning get the word out for you. The Google bot does not analyze your new blog post and say “This is fabulous content, people will love it!” It only looks at links, keywords, and other technical data, it cannot actually “understand” your post. Hence why spam blogs are able to rank well with ridiculous content posted.

If you can market your blog effectively and eventually have it done for you by your readers, you’ve done what Problogger has been able to do. So enough talk, what are some practical steps you can take to market your blog effectively?

  • If you’re just starting off, what helped me get my blog off the ground was writing high quality posts for article directories. The key thing here is to write only for one or two of the top directories (EZine, SiteProNews, etc) and never post the same content on your blog nor in multiple directories, just pick one directory for each article. This helped my blog get some initial readers and links.
  • I also submitted my blog URL to several high quality blog directories, most of which didn’t help THAT MUCH except for DMOZ and Yahoo Directory, however they still helped get me above 1,000 visitors a day. Be very careful when choosing directories as you do not want spammy incoming links. Once you are accepted into DMOZ, which can take up to 6 months+, traffic increases quite a bit.
  • One major reason for the increase in traffic to my blog has been because Google simply trusts it more due to the links I have from other trusted niche sites. I have been able to get these links by writing quality guest posts on several different blogs, including a few that are in the Technorati Top 100. I never thought that would be possible, but if you really sit down and spend time analyzing a blog and their content, you will be surprised how many large established blogs are willing to accept guest posts from new voices. Of course, do this once your blog has been up for quite a bit of time and your traffic is decent.
  • One strategy that also brought me some extra traffic and made me some new friends was to link out to other blogs. I am always watching which sites link to my blog and usually end up visiting just to see what the site is about. If I end up really liking it, I might decide to link to one of their posts that I found interesting, and vice versa. It’s also a great way to network with other bloggers and help each other out. It’s amazing what I’ve learned just by shooting an email to someone telling them that I admire their blog (honestly) and how many have responded saying that if I had any questions, they would be glad to help. Social networking sites like FaceBook are also are a great way to meet other bloggers, share ideas, and promote each other.
  • Share your post with others using social bookmarking sites like SU and Mixx to get the word out. You’ve probably read so much about marketing on social media sites that it’s really not necessary to mention it more, but it’s something to take advantage of, just remember to be subtle. Use the services as a normal user instead of as a self-promoting mad person (there is no need to send a shout to everyone and their mothers for EVERY article you submit). I have found that plain old email, chatting with friends, and word of mouth are also very effective.
  • Marketing also includes other critical elements of a blog, including the design and SEO optimization. I think it is a key trait of major blogs to have an excellent and appealing design. A clear and minimalist layout seems to work best, but there are lots of exceptions. In the end, you just want something that does not look like MySpace. When I moved from Blogger to WordPress, I received several comments from readers blessing the change and actually enjoying the site more simply because it looked better (though it needs a major change now). Your blog is a reflection of you, so if you like looking nice in front of humans, your site should look good too!
  • SEO optimization has also played a key role in the marketing of my blog. It’s not marketing to humans, it’s marketing to search engine bots! There are several practical steps you can take to make your site more SEO friendly. I’ll go through these quickly. First, optimize blog post titles by either moving your blog name to the back end of the title or not using your blog name at all. Secondly, use permalinks for your blog posts. Thirdly, use the Meta Description tag in all of your posts and make sure to put the major keywords in the first sentence or first paragraph. I also use Meta Keywords, but that’s a personal choice. Fourthly, submit a Sitemap to Google Webmaster Tools. Fifthly, add related posts to the bottom of each post. Lastly, use Google Adwords External Keyword Tool before writing EACH post to find the best keywords to use in your title and post body.

Concluding Thoughts

Even though blogging is not a full-time job for me yet, I feel that it has been the most rewarding out of all the activities I have done till now. Becoming a full-time blogger will give me freedom and the chance to do something that I truly enjoy.

This, I believe, can be accomplished by anyone if I can do it. I’m not brilliant nor talented and not even that great of a writer, but I slowly learned from the real pioneers like Darren, Amit and many others that all it takes is a deep interest, persistence, consistency, and action to do well as a blogger.

As a bonus, there is one final trait that can make or break your blogging career and that is Well-Roundedness. I’m not sure if that’s a word, but it is exactly what I needed. After reading this thesis I just wrote, go spend time with your wife or kids, go out to dinner, watch a movie, spend time with friends, etc! Don’t become a blog addict as that will surely lead to blogger burnout!

I wish everyone the best of luck and know that it can be done even if you know NOTHING about blogging! Best of luck!

About Aseem – Get personal computing tips, tech news, software reviews and more sent twice a day by subscribing to my blog at Online-Tech-Tips.com. Read more about me here.