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Top 5 Ways to Improve Your Blog’s Usability

Skellie is a regular writer for ProBlogger. Check out her new blog Anywired if you’re interested in earning an income online.

Usability.

Yaaawn, right?

Think of it like this: the art of making it as easy as possible for your blog’s visitors to do exactly what you want them to do.

That simple, super-effective tip on putting your feed icon high up in your sidebar is usability at work. So is putting social media buttons at the bottom of your posts. So is putting popular posts in your sidebar. In fact, some of the coolest, simplest things you can do to get more subscribers, links and loyal readers come from usability.

Setting aside an hour or two to re-arrange your layout with usability in mind will pay long-term dividends for your blog’s growth. Here are my top 5 tips to help you get started.

#1 — Be predictable

When we want to know what a site is about, the first thing we look for is an ‘About’ page.

When we want to contact the owner of a site, the first thing we look for is a ‘Contact’ page.

When we want to leave a comment, we usually look to the bottom of a post.

When we want to subscribe to a blog, we look for the subscribe button at the top of its sidebar.

These things are so common that they’ve become standards — things we expect. When we can’t find the standard, we look for the next most similar thing.

By adhering to these predictable standards you’re actually making it as easy as possible for your blog’s visitors to do exactly what you want them to do. Sometimes being predictable is not a bad thing!

#2 — Be obvious

Look down at your keyboard and you’ll probably be able to spot at least one key that you’ve never noticed before, either because you have no need for it or you don’t know what it does. It could be the most useful key ever, but our hesitation when confronted with the unknown has probably stopped you ever pressing it before. What if it deletes everything you just wrote?

We don’t like not knowing what the result of our actions will be, and so it goes with your blog. Non-obvious links and buttons will very rarely be clicked. In my experiments with private advertising, there can be as much as an 800% difference in click-through rates between ambiguous banners and ones which make it obvious where the reader will be taken when they click on it. Scour your blog and ask this question of every element: would a new visitor know what this does, or where it leads?


Photo by Davichi

#3 — Subtract the unimportant

By hiding important elements (your most popular posts, your feed icon, your comment button) amongst a dozen other unimportant things (widgets and recent comments) you’re making it harder for readers to do what is truly important to you.

#4 — Limit options

A category list with 10 categories is a lot more usable than a list with 50 categories. Too many options creates overload which leads to deferral: a visitor will not engage with that element at all. Your list of 5 most popular posts will get clicked more than your list of 20, and so on. Simplified options make it easier for the visitor to decide where they want to place their attention. Too much choice will actually hurt your blog’s usability.

#5 — Do the little things

A usable blog, aside from the above, is also made-up of many little touches that make your visitor’s browsing experience easier.

  1. Does your header image link back to your main page?
  2. Does your blog have an about page?
  3. Does your blog have a contact page?
  4. Do your headlines match with your content?
  5. Is it clear where your links will lead?
  6. Do you use frequent paragraphs in your posts?
  7. Do you have comment links at the bottom of your post?
  8. Do you use sub-headings?
  9. Are your posts less than 2/3 screen length wide?
  10. Are you making your best posts easily accessible?
  11. Are your links easy to pick out?

Points to review

  • Predictability is a good thing for usability.
  • Be creative with your posts, but obvious in your layout elements.
  • Subtract obstacles to your most wanted actions.
  • Simplify options to make your elements easier to use.
  • Pay attention to little touches that your visitors will find useful.

The Sky Is Purple and the Dirt Is Red

The following post was submitted by Cindy Szponder.

purple-sky-blogging.jpgimage by miyukiutada

What the heck does that statement have to do with making money from blogging? Loads.

Having just moved to Colorado, one of the first things I noticed is that the sky is often purple over the mountains toward evening, and in many places here the earth is red. I can honestly say that I’ve never been anyplace like this before. Can your readers say the same thing about your blog?

What Makes Your Blog Stand Out from the Crowd?

Many things can make a blog outstanding in its field: voice, content, approach, design, photos, ability to entertain, ability to inform, creativity, passion, attitude, and more. Think about the blogs that you enjoy reading. What clicks for you? What makes them unique? What keeps you coming back? If you haven’t thought of those things before, visit your favorite blogs with pen and paper in hand. Make notes, make comparisons, and keep this formula in mind:

Blog Traffic + Loyal Readers = Your Blog’s Monetization Potential

Now visit your own blog. What makes it stand out, makes it unique, makes it interesting? Well, if you can’t find anything, don’t despair–repair. Think purple skies and red dirt.

The Sky Is Purple: Find Your Own Voice

Think of the sky. It’s wide-open, it’s free, it has its own voice.

Sometimes it whispers, sometimes it howls, but it’s always itself. You’ll never see the sky trying to be like a tree, or water, or fire.

Take a lesson from the sky and just be yourself. Find your own writing voice. Face it, it’s impossible to be anyone else or to sound like them, either. Finding and using your own voice is vital for building blog traffic and maintaining loyal readers. (Remember the formula above?) After all, blogging is supposed to be a conversation. People want to converse with someone real, not pretend. Using your own voice builds trust with your readers. Your voice is what breathes life, interest, and ultimately money, into your blog. Get it right and you’ve won a major battle.

The Dirt Is Red: Create Excellent Content

This time think of the dirt. It’s solid, substantial, nourishing, nurturing. You can build on it without fear. Your content should be the same. Excellent content makes a major contribution toward blog traffic and keeps people coming back. (Remember the formula?) It’s what makes readers sign up for your feed or your e-mail. It’s what makes them purchase your products or trust your recommendations. What is your purpose for blogging? Is it to inform, entertain, campaign for a cause, express yourself? Make sure your content meshes with your purpose. Keep it focused on your niche and on the information your readers expect given the purpose of your blog. Concentrate on quality rather than quantity. Build from a foundation of excellent content, and your blog can grow and prosper to any heights you desire.

Read more of Cindy’s work at cindyszponder.com.

Which AdSense Rectangle Ad Performs Best?

Here’s a quick AdSense tip that could make you some good money.

AdSense offers two rectangle ad unit sizes – 300×250 pixels and 336×280 pixels.

inline_rectangle.gif 336x280.gif

These are both great ad units to use on your blog because they are not only available as text based ads but also image and video ones. Setting your ad units to show all formats of ads increases the potential number of advertisers that will ‘bid’ for your ad unit which drives up the potential CPM of the unit.

So which is best – 300×250 or 336×280?

One might think that the larger the ad the better it’s earnings will be – I mean having more of your screen real-estate dedicated to an ad increases the chances of it being clicked doesn’t it?As a result many bloggers go for the 336×280 ad.

However it can be well worth your while to test both ad unit sizes because there’s a good reason why the smaller ad unit can perform better for you – it’s more popular with advertisers.

336×280 might be bigger and increase the chances of being noticed – but 300×250 pixel ad units are more popular with advertisers wanting to run image/banner ads. It’s a standard size that many of them (particularly larger advertisers) produce (along with 728×90 sized ads) for online advertising. I spoke to one advertising agency representative recently who says that they’ve never made a 336×280 ad for any of their mainstream advertisers.

Split Test Your Ad Units

Of course it’s worth keeping in mind my regular advice of ‘ever blog is different’. I do have one blog where the larger rectangle ad unit out performs the smaller one. This blog doesn’t attract many image ads for some reason (I think it’s because it has a more local market with less advertisers) and the larger format works better for it with text ads. The moral to the story is to test both ad units and go with the best performing one.

8 Lessons Bloggers Can Learn From Sony

In this post Evan Carmichael shares a few lessons that bloggers can learn from Sony.

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Since Darren is a fan of digital photography and the Sony Cybershot DSC-H5 made his top 10 list of point and shoot digital cameras, I thought it would be fun and valuable to see what lessons bloggers could take from one of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs: Sony’s Akio Morita.

1) Believe in yourself. Akio Morita’s family had been in the sake brewing business for 15 generations and he was expected to continue the tradition. Instead, he decided to go out on his own and build what would become of the world’s most recognizable brands. Don’t let people hold you back with their expectations of what you should be. Believe in yourself and create your own Sony.

2) Start small. Great businesses and blogs are built one step at a time. Morita started Sony with only $350 and worked in a bombed out building that had been abandoned after the Second World War. Keep building your blog momentum every day. Even though you may be facing terrible odds and are running out of money, find a way to continue and don’t abandon your dream.

3) Pick a good name. Morita originally called his company the Tokyo Tsushin Kogyo Kabushiki Kaisha (Tokyo Telecommunications Engineering Corporation). He later realized that to reach the American market he would need a better name. Sony was a combination of sonus – the Latin word for ‘sound’ – and Sonny – a mainstream American nickname. Does your blog have a name and domain that will help you gain recognition and credibility or are you being passed over?

4) Trust your gut. Morita did not believe in doing market research. His advice was to “Carefully watch how people live, get an intuitive sense as to what they might want and then go with it. Don’t do market research.” As an example, his team wanted to change the name of the Sony Walkman to Soundabout but Morita refused. He trusted his gut that Walkman was a better name. Today the word “Walkman” is in almost every major dictionary. Part of being a successful blogger is trusting your gut and going with what you think will work despite what the data and “experts” are telling you.

5) Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. According to Morita, “Don’t be afraid to make a mistake. But make sure you don’t make the same mistake twice.” When you are blogging you are going to make mistakes. It is part of being a risk taking and developing new frontiers. If you are afraid of making, you will miss countless opportunities before you. The more mistakes you make the wiser you will become and the more successful you will be.

6) Build a quality product. Morita once commented that “Advertising and promotion alone will not sustain a bad product or a product that is not right for the times.”Darren has blogged at length about the importance of having quality content if you want to stand out as a successful blogger. Quite simply, if you aren’t writing material that is new, different, and offers an interesting perspective, you won’t get readers, sponsors, or links to your blog.

7) Be different. When Morita opened the first Sony store in America he hung a huge Japanese flag above the entrance. World War II had just ended so it got people talking. Journalists and hundreds of consumers came to see what the story was behind the flag. Is your blog different and standing out or are you using the same tactics as every other blogger? Can you answer the statement: My blog is different and unique because _____________ ?

8 ) Create the market. Morita knew that his success would come where there was no established competition. He created products for markets that did not yet exist and as a result received tremendous recognition. For example, in 1972, Morita was awarded the fist ever Emmy by the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences for a product – the Trinitron. Is your market filled with too many bloggers already? Can you create a new market and dominate it? Become the expert for your niche and get known as the leading figure in your field.

Akio Morita had no money, no experience, no external support when he started his business. He worked out of a bombed out building and the only asset he had was the passion to build his company. His passion and perseverance paid off and in 1998, a Harris survey revealed that Sony was ranked the number one brand name by American consumers, ahead of Coca-Cola and General Electric.

By following the 8 lessons from Sony (and by continuing to read ProBlogger!) you can also take your blog from a startup idea into a successful, internationally recognized, award-winning enterprise.

Happy building!

Evan Carmichael is the owner of www.EvanCarmichael.com, the Internet’s #1 resource for small business motivation and strategies.

Five Blogging Rules to Make a Great First Impression

Guest Post: Andy Beal is co-author of Radically Transparent: Monitoring and Managing Reputations Online and a recognized expert in online reputation management.

When someone first discovers your blog, it’s much like that awkward first date. Will they like your appearance, do they find you interesting, and did you remember to brush your teeth? As a blogger, your goal is to demonstrate that you’re worthy of a second date and perhaps even marriage–or at least worth subscribing to your RSS feed.

To convince your readers that you’re worth their effort, you need to make a great first impression. Your blogging reputation may not proceed you, but there are five rules that every blogger should follow–if you want to make a great first impression and grow your audience.

Rule 1: Dress Your Blog to Impress

That free WordPress theme you’re using on your blog might be enough to impress a few readers, but if it’s the same theme used by dozens of other blogs, you’ll blend into the crowd. Just as you’d consider a new suit a great investment for impressing your date, you should consider a custom design a great investment for your blog.

When I first started MarketingPilgrim.com, I used a really bad off-the-shelf theme. Two years ago, I invested in a custom designed WordPress theme. Did it help me dress to impress? Within one month of launching the new design I doubled the number of RSS subscribers and attracted new advertisers–which more than paid for the cost of the theme.

Rule 2: Mind Your Blog Language

Blogging lends itself well to a casual attitude. What does it matter if you don’t spell-check your post? Why worry if you happen to insert an expletive here or there? Well, if you were to turn-up to your first date and subsequently cuss throughout dinner, or utter sentences such as “I is very smart,” what do you think you chances would be of getting a second date?

You should understand that the voice and style you use in your blog posts, reflects on your blogging reputation. Whether you’re hoping to land that new job, attract new advertisers, or just want to increase the number of people that link to you posts, you’ll be judged by what you say in your blog posts.

Rule 3: Always Bring a Gift

If you want to make a great first impression, bring a gift on your date. Likewise, if you want to build your reputation as blogger, you should shower your readers with gifts. Now, I don’t mean you have to give away an iPod every week–although I’ve certainly gained readers with such promotions–but you can give them ideas, tips, and insight that they can’t find anywhere else.

While it might feel unnatural to be so giving, you need look no further than ProBlogger as a great example of giving away the farm, in order to build your blogging reputation. Have you ever known Darren to hold back? Do you ever get the sense he’s not spilling all the beans? Nope, me neither. Darren’s tens of thousands of daily readers proves that having a reputation as a “giving” blogger will make you the hottest date in town!

Rule 4: Listen as Much as You Talk

Do you know what happens if you spend your entire date talking about yourself? You don’t get a second date! The same is true with your blog. Sure, your readers want to hear your advice, thoughts, and opinions, but you’ll build your reputation as a blogger by learning to listen to them.

I know what you’re thinking: “readers are free to leave their comments.” Whoopdedo! Do you actually read their comments? How about responding to them? I make a point of reading every comment left on my blog. If a reader has taken the time to share their thoughts, you might just learn something from them. Go one step further and engage them in a conversation, and you’ll build a reputation of being a fantastic blogger.

Rule 5: Don’t Let the Flame Burn Out

What do you think would happen if you went on a dozen great dates, then didn’t phone the object of your affection for two months? Do you think they’d readily come back to you? So why would you blog consistently for a month, then not update you blog for 8 weeks?

You don’t have to be as prolific in your posting as Darren–who can?–but you should be consistent in your posting. You readers will become comfortable with the frequency of your posting. If you post once a day–or once a month–they’ll get used to that schedule. Stick to it! Nothing kills a romance faster than ignoring your amore’s phone calls, and nothing kills your blogging reputation faster than going quiet without an explanation.

Of course, like a romantic relationship, blog relationships take more than just making a great first impression. In Radically Transparent, we discuss how you can use a blog to build a stellar reputation and my sincere thanks to Darren for his generosity in sharing his advice for the book. Such benevolence is part of the reason ProBlogger is the most eligible bachelor in the blogosphere!

Speedlinking – While I was Gone….

Over the past ten days I’ve been ‘on the road’ with my family taking a vacation. We traveled west of Melbourne to the wine regions of South Australia (and bought WAY too much wine). After 11 hours drive home (how many times can a guy listen to the Wiggles!) I’m home again for a few days before taking off to SXSW.

While I was gone a number of stories, links and posts came around that I thought I’d catch up everyone on:

  • AdSense updated it’s Terms and Conditions – most of it is simply tweaks to accommodate for new products (their video product particularly) however there is one important thing to note – all publishers are now expected to ‘abide by a transparent privacy policy that users see. According to this policy, publishers must notify their users of the use of cookies and/or web beacons to collect data in the ad serving process.’ Jen has more on this and the other changes here.
  • Domain Name Tool – just before I went away I found this great little tool call MakeWords for helping to find domain names. Warning – it’s addictive and potentially expensive.
  • Freelance Blogging for Side Income – Skellie has a helpful post on how to make a few extra dollars as a freelance blogger.

The Next Two Weeks at ProBlogger

I hope you’ve been enjoying the guest posts that I’ve been publishing this past couple of weeks. In the two weeks ahead while I’m in SXSW (I’m leaving for Austin today) expect to see a mixture of posts – more guest appearances, a series of posts from me on blog promotion (next week) and hopefully a few posts live from sessions at SXSW.

And lastly a quick video (and a good example of linkbait from banner blindness I guess):

Beware of possible ‘Nigerian*’ Online Advertising Fraud

Tony Hung has a post that is worth keeping in mind if you are approached by someone wanting to place display or text advertising on your blog – it looks like Nigerian Email Scammers are targeting site owners with offers to buy advertising. They send them a check (a bad one) as payment that is for an amount higher than the agreed value of the deal and when they ask for a refund the site owner is left out of pocket. Tony has the full details.

* just an apology to our Nigerian friends, some of whom have been hurt by this post. I bounced this post off another blogger’s use of the term – I don’t believe that Tony did so with any racist intent (nor did I) but used it as a descriptive term that would mean something to many about the type of fraud described rather than who was behind it. As a result I’ve changed the title of this post to include ‘Nigerian’ in quotes which I hope helps some. I’ve written a little more in comments below. – Note, this changes the URL of this post.

Learn How To Make Money Blogging – Six Figure Blogging 2.0

six-figure-blogging.jpg“I’ve read your archives and have learned a lot about making money blogging but I want to go deeper!”

“Do you offer any service that helps bloggers apply the principles that you teach on ProBlogger? – I need some more hand holding.”

“I find ‘reading’ about blogging doesn’t click with me – I like your videos because I learn better from hearing and watching”

These are just three of the comments in my inbox today from ProBlogger readers. They’re typical of what many bloggers say to me. They enjoy the free information on ProBlogger but want more.

Two years ago Andy Wibbels and I put together a 6 week course on making money from blogging called Six Figure Blogging. The course was the first of it’s kind and took participants through six hour long lessons in entrepreneurial blogging. We came up with the idea shortly after I had the realization that I’d earned over six figures in a year for the first time. We ran it as a live course for the first batch of participants (I think there were about 60 in the first ‘class’ and have since offered it as a ‘study at home at your own pace’ type deal.

Six Figure Blogging is Back

Since our first version of the course Andy and I have talked of doing another one many times and about a year ago added a ‘bonus lesson’ to update the course – but with the birth of babies (mine), new jobs (Andy) and life we never quite got around to it – until now.

Before our second child is born (due in June) Andy and I have decided to run a second live version of Six Figure Blogging.

It starts with a free preview call on 2nd April and then launches for real on 9th April. Each week will include a hour hour call (minimum, we regularly went over last time) which you can either listen into live on Wednesday nights (US time) or download later to listen to at your own convenience, a transcript of the call, class notes and the opportunity in each call to ask questions. We’re also planning on bringing in a number of ProBloggers (one per week) for short casestudies/interviews.

The Cost is $325 USD. This is an early bird rate and will be increased closer to the launch.

Some argued last time around that this was too much and asked why anyone would pay for it when they can read so much for free here at ProBlogger (and on other blogs). I argued last time that what you get in this course is a more personal interaction with myself and Andy, two expert voices instead of just one, other guest voices, interaction with other participants and a more focused experience (ProBlogger.net now has thousands of posts on it – this lasers in on what we believe are key subjects). Ultimately this course is not for everyone – it’s aimed at those who want to go deeper.

I’ll let you look over the sales page for more information. You can either enroll directly on the page or register for the free preview call on 2 April (this will be available for download for those unable to make the live call).

Another Chance to Win 1,700 Visitors: Review Furniture Fashion

This week’s community consultation of Furniture Fashion offers you the chance to win a 1,700 visitor StumbleUpon campaign for your blog. Leave a helpful review with some non-intuitive points in your comment and you’ll be in the running to win. If your content is good, those 1,700 visitors could grow into a much bigger traffic snowball as votes for your content pile up.

What we’re looking for: a thorough review of the blog answering one/some/all of the questions below and containing some non-intuitive advice. That’s all you’ve got to do to be in the running. There will be only one winner.

The blog’s owner, John, describes the blog like this:

Furniture Fashion is an interior design blog with a large focus on furniture. Our mission is to provide articles and pictures to readers to give them ideas for their own homes as well as follow design trends. This site was created by John Cavers and Will Maack. Our goal is to make this blog a full-time business with six figure revenue. We hope that the readers of Problogger can share their experiences in the form of constructive criticism to help us accomplish our revenue objectives.

John has asked for feedback on the following areas, but you do not necessarily have to cover all of them in your review. You might even choose to focus in detail on one particular point –it’s up to you.

a) Ideas on how to make more revenue
b) Ideas on how to diversify revenue sources – are there other monetization products that would fit this blog?
c) Ideas on growing traffic
d) Ideas on building more of a community
e) Ideas on growing RSS subscribers
f) Analysis of blog layout – strengths & weaknesses; let us know how we can improve and in effect improve monetization
g) Analysis on writing style, length of articles, and sustenance of article content
h) How to increase page views per unique and average time on site – currently at 2.1 page views and 1:35 minutes.
i) Do we need meta description and meta keywords? We seem to be doing well without them. Movable Type does not automatically create them like WordPress. I am doing well in Google, but wonder if I could do better in MSN, Live, and Yahoo. Further, if I make that switch, will that penalize me in Google?
j) How do we improve? (any general ideas)
l) Ideas to create more international readers/visitors
m) Do we need a clearer tag line or some description at the top of the site? (to let readers know what this website is about) (mission statement)

We look forward to your helpful and respectful advice. Good luck!