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Why Do You Write?

Why Do You Write?
In this post Muhammad Saleem asks why do you write? Muhammad is a social media consultant and a top-ranked community member on many social sites. image by mezone

Why Do You Write?

Sounds like an odd question at first, doesn’t it? The reason why you write actually has a big impact on how you write and what you write about, and understand that identifying this reason can actually help you write better and work faster towards achieving that goal.

For example, when I first started writing online, I was writing a personal diary of sorts. Since I was writing it more as an outlet for self-expression and not as something for public consumption, the blog didn’t look very pretty, it was unstructured, and I didn’t care much about editing the content or writing regularly. However, when I started writing my first social media blog, I approached the matter very differently. What changed?

Why I Started and Continue to Write

1. Educating Others and Myself

I started writing my first social media blog about 8 months after I really got involved in the space. I was frequently reading other blogs and commenting on them and would often think to myself that my comments could be blog posts of their own (and would offer a worthy contrarian viewpoint to what I was reading). So I started my own social media blog with the intention of doing three things: a) Talking about my experiences in the social space and what others could learn from them, b) Discovering topics that I thought were important but were being undeserved and talking about them, and c) Providing a contrarian viewpoint (or my insight) on the meme of the day. I started blogging not just because I thought I had something to say but because I believed (and still do) that it would create value for people and help others.

2. Personal Branding

There has been a growing reciprocal relationship between my blog and my personal branding. Since I already had a presence in the social media sphere, it gave credibility to my blog, and since I was blogging about my experiences, my social media presence gained more exposure through it. When I say personal branding I don’t mean celebrity for the sake of celebrity. What I mean is establishing your brand as the [something] guy, and I was establishing myself as the social media guy, just as Darren has established himself as the ‘make money through blogging’ guy (unlike John Chow, whom I like to refer to as the ‘make money by bending the rules’ guy).

3. Networking

Through being active in the social media space, blogging was a natural progression for me. Social media is all about community, networking, and collaboration, and one of the best mediums to do that through is blogging. I started blogging not just because I wanted to establish myself as an authority on something and I wanted to help other people understand that niche, but because I also wanted and still want to network with other people in the space and hear what they have to say and learn from them. We all have unique perspectives on things and as much as we like to believe that we know it all, someone always comes along and enlightens us further. I can’t begin to tell you how much I have learned from people commenting on my blogs, or messaging me via email or instant messenger. After all, as John Donne wrote, “All mankind is of one author…No man is an island, entire of itself.”

I don’t think anyone said it better than Rollo May though,

“Communication leads to community, that is, to understanding, intimacy and mutual valuing.”

4. Escapism

I started writing seriously when I was in college, and I remember that I would write the most (and perhaps some of the most substantive stuff) when I was stressed about something or the other. The more I wrote, the more passionate I became about writing and it was an incredibly easy and enjoyable way to ‘get away from it all’. No more Econometrics or Statistics, I could spend hours just researching, writing, and commenting before I had to go back to the books. Similarly, many of the most unique blogs I see today (such as WebUrbanist and Deputy-Dog) are from people who hold regular jobs but use their blogs as their creative outlets.

5. Money

When I started to blog, I never dreamed of making money through blogging. Not only was I not aware that it was an option, but I was mentally trained and culturally brought up to want to be a financial consultant – it was set in stone. But the more I blogged, the more people started asking me to blog for them for money. While I never guest blogged for money (I think it defeats the purpose of ‘guest’ blogging), I did end up writing regularly for multiple sites on a per post basis and thought it was absolutely perfect. Think about it, getting paid to do what you’re passionate about – it’s not a job if you enjoy doing it!

Ultimately, whether it be out of a passion or to make some cash on the side as a Freelancer, we all have a unique voice and a unique reason for why we should be heard. The single reason why I wrote this post is because I am genuinely interested in hearing each and everyone’s story. Why do you write?

The Zen Of Blogging

Do you have a spare 10 minutes and want a thought provoking read on blogging?

Download The Zen of Blogging (pdf). It’s a free ebook by Hunter Nuttall – not your typical ebook about blogging but a simple guide with plenty of areas of blogging to chew over. Oh, and it can be read in 10 minutes!

Exploring Shopzilla [Interview]

In February I posted a first impression review of the Shopzilla Publisher Program.

Shopzilla

This CPC (cost per click) ad unit is similar to those used successfully by many with the Chitika program. There’s one live in action at the bottom of this post.

I’ve been getting some good feedback from quite a few ProBlogger readers who have tried the program and am consistently getting good results with them so I approached Shopzilla’s Senior Vice President of Operations and Business Development, David Weinrot, for an interview about the program. He kindly agreed. Here’s our chat about Shopzilla.

Can you describe Shopzilla to us in a few sentences?

Shopzilla.com, which operates both the Shopzilla.com and BizRate.com websites, is consistently ranked (by comScore) as the number 1 or 2 most visited comparison shopping site in the US. In addition, Shopzilla operates comparison shopping websites in the UK, France and Germany under the same brand names. Our comparison shopper features enable online buyers to compare prices on millions of different product offers from thousands of retailers. The comparison pricing information is complemented with detailed customer ratings of online retailers, which help buyers identify vendors with high reliability scores along dimensions that are important to them.

Shopzilla, Inc. is wholly owned by the E.W. Scripps Company.

Why did you start the Shopzilla Publisher Program?

Recognizing that the Internet allows all manner of content developers to publish their content and achieve broad market reach, Shopzilla introduced the Publisher Program as a way for those publishers to complement their content with our vast inventory of monetized product listings. In other words, we believe there is a market need to make our “where to buy” listings available to shoppers at any point of presence in their buying & purchase flow.

What does Shopzilla offer that other ad networks don’t that makes it attractive to bloggers?

One of the Publisher Program’s most distinguishing features relative to ad networks is that it is a “direct program” and is thus likely to result in higher monetization yields for publishers. Many of the popular ad networks actually utilize the Shopzilla Publisher Program as an underlying source of content for their own ad programs. As a result, publishers that use alternate ad programs generate only a portion of what they would otherwise generate if they used Shopzilla Publisher Program for the same set of monetized product listings.

Other meaningful features include the program’s link and ad building flexibility. In addition to having access to customizable, standard display ad units, publishers can create custom text links that point to any page on Shopzilla.com, and subsequently integrate them into editorial content. Most ad network programs do not offer the flexibility to link to specific and precisely targeted pages on the advertiser site nor do they enable publishers to tailor the ads in a way that make them most relevant to the page content.

We also think bloggers will appreciate our newly launched referral program, which allows participants in our publisher program to earn $25 for each account that they refer to the Shopzilla Publisher Program.

Do you accept all publishers into your program? If not – why not and how do you make decisions on who is accepted?

Shopzilla does not accept all publishers. Every application is manually accepted into the program by our dedicated Account Management team, led by Rex Roberts and Talia Drake, who you will find are incredibly accessibly and highly responsive to publisher support inquiries. While we do not disclose our approval guidelines, though we typically accept all bona fide US sites and select international sites that tailor to a US shopping market, subject them meeting our decency guidelines.

Do you have any restrictions on the location of publishers or on international traffic?

We do not have any specific restriction on where a publisher is domiciled. However, as previously mentioned, we approve sites that are tailored to the US market.

You’ve obviously seen a lot of publishers using your program – what type of publishers are doing best with it in terms of topics?

Without question, the most successful sites in our publisher program are those that produce editorial content around specific product categories. Niche and specialty retailers are consistently the highest yielding participants of our program; these publishers can command effective CPMs of up to $45. Sites that cover GPS, Digital Cameras, Televisions, MP3 Players, Fashion & Apparel, and Fitness & Athletics all seem to enjoy good success with our program. In addition, at the far end of the integration spectrum, there are content producers who utilize Shopzilla’s commercial API to build full-featured, stand-alone comparison shopping sites and shopping mash-ups. It’s really exciting to see what the publishing community is doing with our openly available content. Examples include ShoppingBounce.com who have built a comparison shopping mash-up as well as yourminis.com, which utilizes our API to publish facebook, typepad, and google widgets/gadgets.

What are the most successful publishers in your program doing well that makes them top earners (ie any practical tips that you have)

If I had to pin this down to two points, it would be: contextual relevance and deep integration. This doesn’t mean publishers have to use the API to accomplish this level of integration, but it certainly helps.

What plans do you have for the future of Shopzilla Publisher Program?

We’ve got big plans! We intend to launch this program to our international sites as well as release various reporting enhancements.

Here’s an example of a Shopzilla Ad

Jokes on Blogs – Proceed With Caution

We all like a joke on 1 April (and it can even be good for your blog) but some good advice to remember when playing such ‘pranks’ is that jokes that impact others should seriously be considered.

My mum used to say – ‘it’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt’ and ‘the problem with practical jokes is that some people don’t know when to stop’. Wise words mum.

On April Fools day this year a post was written on another blog that declared that I’d gone bankrupt and had never earned more than $1000 a month from blogging. I’m not going to link to it because I’d rather not have the post rank well for my name – you’ll understand why after reading on.

The post was a joke. It was in a series of posts by the blogger that were jokes. Another in the series was that Shoemoney was arrested for riding a bike while drunk.

OK – so the jokes amused some and when I first saw the one about me I didn’t really think twice about it assuming that people would work out that it was posted on 1 April (update: it was posted on 31 March) and have a giggle and then move on.

That was until I started getting emails from people about the post.

  • Some of the emails were people pointing out the joke because they thought it was funny. Most of these had found it either on Digg or Sphinn where the the post had been submitted.
  • Some of the emails were from people unsure if it was a joke or not
  • Some of the emails were from people who believed it to be true (I got six of these). One of these was from someone who I pay each month to do some writing for me on DPS who was concerned about getting paid and another was from someone that I’m in business with. These were the emails that concerned me the most.

Today I got an email telling me that a page on Wikipedia about me now had the information that I was bankrupt and had never earned more than $1000 a month. Firstly I was surprised anyone even looked at that page on Wikipedia… but then I quickly edited the page and stated my reason for doing so.

OK – so here’s some thoughts on this mini-saga.

Firstly – I’m not posting this to single out the person who played the joke. I don’t think it was done with any malicious intent and I don’t really want this post to be about him or the incident itself (in fact he today changed the post to make it very obvious that it’s a joke, something I appreciate) – but rather I hope it’s lesson is one that informs others as they think about how they blog.

Secondly – my advice when it comes to April Fools day posts (or playing any sort of jokes on readers) is to consider the ramifications of your post – particularly when you use another person (or their name) in your joke. While it might be blatantly obvious to you and 99% of your readers that you’re not serious – you will fool someone. Perhaps they just read the title, perhaps the skim the post and don’t see the clues or perhaps they just believe it without question. As a result I tend to only play jokes that use my own name or reputation – or would advise that if you’re going to involve someone else that you might want to check with them first.

Thirdly – consider the legal ramifications of your post. When you post untrue information online about another person that damages their reputation or that leads to them to suffer financially my understanding of the law is that you put yourself in a position where that person can take legal action against you. Luckily in this case it seems that I’ve managed to contain any damage that may have been done – however as a comment on this post says, if I’d been in the middle of a deal that someone pulled out of as a result of this then I (or someone much less forgiving than me) could have had reason to explore their legal position. I’m sure some of our legally trained readers will be able to give us good advice on this.

Once again – this isn’t about the post itself but rather I post it (hesitantly) as a warning for a few things to consider the next time you consider pranking your readers. By all means have fun with your blog – just be careful.

From 10000 to 0 Emails in an Inbox in 24 Hours

Over the weekend I decided to get serious about my email situation. I’d been sitting on an inbox with close to 10,000 items in it for months and was feeling more and more stressed by the day.

I posted on Twitter that I needed to do something about it and then decided to take action. Within 24 hours I had an inbox with no items in it (well momentarily) and have been able to maintain that ever since (OK, so it’s only three days, but it’s been a very busy three days).

A number of people asked me to give an update on what I did – here’s a very quick summary (by the way – thanks to the many Twitter followers who offered advice):

I moved all my email activity to Gmail

To do this I forwarded all of my previous email addresses and contact forms so that they now arrive in my Gmail inbox. Previously I’d use Mail.app (mac) to fetch email from 5 different email addresses and synced it with Mac.com using IMAP so I could retrieve it from two computers. Now I’m using Gmail online rather than a client to sort them all. It does mean I can only access email while online – but I think this in itself will be helpful as it decreases the time I am using email.

Merciless Unsubscribing

Email 101 lessons always say that you should unsubscribe to as many newsletters as you can. I was getting about 50 a week, most of which I didn’t EVER read. The first thing I did on Sunday was to unsubscribe from most of them and delete the majority of past ones that I’d put in my ‘read one day’ folder.

I’m using Gmail’s ‘filtering’ and ‘labels heavily

I’d heard for some time now how good Gmail was at filtering but until the weekend I’d not investigated it. I so wish someone had sat me down earlier and forced me to do it. On Sunday I sat down for an hour and went through every email that I’d received for the last week. I didn’t do this to catch up on email but to get a filtering system in place.

The problem that I faced previously is that I get close to 1000 emails a day. Some of them are comments from my blogs, some are social media friend requests, some are reader questions, some are metrics reports, some of them are newsletters, some are from b5 colleagues…. the list goes on. The issue I had was that there’s so much clutter that I was spending an hour or so each day just filtering through them all. I did have Mail.app filter out some of them but only had about 6 ‘rules’ set up.

Now I have over 50 ‘filters’ in my Gmail account (and I continue to add more as more emails come in). I’m using filters in two ways:

1. Stopping myself from ever seeing unnecessary email – so much of the email that I get is just not important at all – or at the least it’s email that I might want to keep but don’t need to read immediately (if at all). For example, so much of the social media site email that I get from ‘friends’ is superfluous. While I’d like to occasionally check friend requests on facebook I don’t need to see them as they come in. I could switch off notifications altogether but as I do like to quickly scan them each day I now filter any with a command to ‘skip my inbox’ (so they are archived but never seen in my inbox) and ‘labled’ as ‘social media’. This means that I can quickly scan them all (along with hundreds of less important other social media requests and messages) quickly once or twice a week.

I do the same now with notifications from Aweber when someone subscribes to a newsletter, notifications from the DPS forum which tell me when a new thread is started and the same with blog comments (although I scan this more regularly.

In this way I still have an record of each of these emails archived so that I can access them – but they never hit my inbox.

2. Labeling other Semi Important Email for Quick Archiving – not all email can be archived quite so quickly. There are other types of emails that I like to see, even though I don’t need to respond to them. What I’ve done with this is to filter them differently. I still label them automatically as they come in – but let them hit my inbox. The advantage of this is that they’re already labeled so that once I’ve read them all I have to do is quickly read them when they arrive and then do a one click on ‘archive’ to have them put in the right label area so that I can access them quickly later. When I get a notification that someone has put a new ad on my Job Board (an email that I never have to respond to but like to know about) I get the notification but can have it archived within half a second rather than having to manually label it. It only saves a second or two but when you do it hundreds of times a day it counts!

Identify the Important Stuff

I have some emails that I consider extra specially important. Email from my wife, boss (at b5), email from my contact forms on my blogs, any email with the words ‘I hate you’….. You know the kind.

With this type of email I again use filtering but instead of hiding it I highlight it. So any email coming from my wife’s email address, or with certain words in it, or a certain subject line (eg my contact form’s) I can set up with a label like ‘important’. I could also assign it with a ‘star’ (like a flag in many email clients). Even more ‘attention grabbing’ is the ability to assign labels with colors. So for example I’ve assigned the label ‘ProBlogger Email’ (all email from my contact form) as having a bright ORANGE label to catch my attention so that I can quickly see them in my inbox when i wake up in the morning.

Aggressive ‘Archiving’

I mentioned earlier that my inbox had 10,000 items in it. How was I going to get that number down? Well the cool thing about filtering is that it can be retrospective. I was able to get the numbers in my inbox down by well over half by just applying all my filters for non important items to all my old emails too.

I also was able to identify the important ones and clear a lot of them. This left a few thousand…. which…. well…. I ‘archived’. Yep, it’s cheating a little but here’s the thing. Those emails went back for a year. If I hadn’t dealt with an email from someone that’s a year old then it’s too late. I did keep them all in case I need to do a search – but sometimes a guy needs to draw a line in the sand and my line was on Sunday evening at 11pm!

If you sent me an email prior to that and you have not got a reply to it – my sincere apologies but it got caught in the great email culling of 2008 and I’d invite you to try again – it’s much more likely to be read now… I promise… at least for the next few days.

Other Stuff I love about Gmail:

  • One click ‘report spam’ that actually learns
  • Threaded viewing of related emails (conversations) – Mail.app has it but Gmails is so intuitive and useable
  • Search that works… fast
  • Chat – I’ve only used it once but it was handy. First impressions of it are that it’s useful but that it’ll need further refinement
  • Shortcuts – I’m learning one a day – I figure in a month I’ll know most of them off by heart

I’ve got a long way to go with Gmail but after a few days of using it it’s saving me hours each day. I’m also not completely satisfied with the way I’m managing my email and think I’ll probably add some new labels to help me manage emails that I still need to deal with less urgently (perhaps a ‘ToDo’ label) – but one step at a time!

Feel free to add your own email tips in comments below – teach me friends!

PS: also check out Leo’s post with 12 rules for getting a grip on massive email.

Have AdSense Sliding/Scrolling Text Ads Changed Your eCPM?

Just under a week ago AdSense rolled out their new Sliding/Scrolling feature on Text Ads. The response from ProBlogger readers was mixed to say the least and included:

“They’re interesting. I like that the arrows are pretty small, yet visible to those who are paying attention to the ads.” Stephanie

“What a waste – do they really think that people looking at Adsense will take the time find a couple of tiny arrows to look at more ads?” – Blogthority

“I’m not a big fan of bells and whistles, so it annoys me a little bit to see more moving parts on a website. On the other hand, if it offers more-relevant ads and gets more clicking for the bloggers, then I’m all for it!” – Jeff

“This seems counterintuitive. People don’t like ads anyway, why would they actively scroll to see more ads?” – Lulu

“I think it will help people get more targeted ads” – Alex

“I am definitely wanting the option to turn it off.”- Prince John

OK – so there are a lot of opinions – but one of the questions that I’m left with today is – have the addition of the ability to see more ads in AdSense units led to any changes in your actual earnings?

Does the ability for people to see more ads increase the chance of them clicking more and you being paid more? Does it lead to a higher eCPM (amount earned per 1000 page views)?

At this stage it’s too early to be conclusive but in spending some time today checking over my own stats I’m not sure there’s much of a difference. In fact if anything some of my AdSense channels have had a decrease in CTR over the past week.

I’m hesitant to draw too many conclusions but here is a graph (without any figures) of the CTR and eCPM of one blog with AdSense on it at the moment. The 3 April was the day that the scrolling ads went live on most people’s ads.

CTR.png

eCPM.png

As I say – it’s too early for conclusions – particularly with just sampling one blog. There’s many explanations for differences in CTR and eCPM however I’d be interested to hear if anyone else has noticed any changes in your AdSense performance over the last week?

ProBlogger T-Shirt Models

Got this picture of some of the team at MarketLeverage wearing the ProBlogger T-shirt today. These guys have been pretty impressive with T-shirt-Bait lately – congrats!

image001.jpg

On Being a Healthy Blogger

Today in the NYT there’s a piece about bloggers blogging til they drop and the impact of blogging on health. I’ve been asked numerous times since the article came out for comment and I’ve had a few random thoughts. Let me post them as a stream of consciousness type post:

  • For starters I think people in all occupations can get stressed and suffer from ill health. I’ve had friends pass away from and survive heart attacks who work in numerous fields – including blogging. I’m a little skeptical that blogging is any more stressful than other professions – yes it can be a pressure cooker of a job – but I wonder if it’s more about the person, the way they deal with pressure, the choices that they make and the boundaries that they put around themselves etc than the occupation itself.
  • Having said that – I’ve had my own little health scare of late with diagnosis of high blood pressure which my doctor thinks could partly be a stress related thing and perhaps related to work. It’s too early to tell and tests go on but it’s becoming clear that I need to make a few more changes in my life in addition to my own increased attempts to eat healthy and exercise more (something I’ve done since late last year). Tomorrow I’m wearing a blood pressure monitor for 24 hours – I’ll be interested to see if it rises or falls when I’m blogging!
  • I can see how bloggers might suffer from the impact of a lack of exercise and poor diet. Blogging can be highly addictive and the temptation to blog through meal breaks, skip opportunities to exercise and to eat poorly is no doubt there for most of us. I know until late last year my exercise routines all went completely out the window and I began to put on weight.
  • Lack of sleep is another common thing that many of us as bloggers fall into the trap of. I know of quite a few others who suffer from insomnia as a result of blogging right up until bed time and then not being able to ‘switch off’.
  • Another health related aspect of blogging is that I’ve come across a large number of bloggers lately who suffer from the effects of sitting on poor chairs all day every day. I know for the first few years of my own blogging ‘career’ that I had this problem from sitting on a kitchen chair and then a poor office chair all day. More recently with an investment in a ergonomic chair my back’s been a lot better.

Further Reading:

Let me leave you with three posts on ‘healthy blogging’ – all from Lea Woodward.

You’ve Read ProBlogger the Blog – Now Buy the Book

ProBlogger-Book.jpgI’m excited to announce today one of the worst kept secrets in my life – over the last year (longer actually) I’ve been writing a book with Chris Garrett. Today we’re Pre-Launching it as we’re just weeks from the book becoming available for purchase. The book is published by Wiley and is titled:

ProBlogger Book — Secrets for Blogging Your Way to a Six-Figure Income

I’ll speak more over the coming weeks about the writing process – but today we just wanted to let you know about the upcoming launch, to point you to a site we’ve put together for the book and to invite you to sign up for a newsletter that will give you access to a sample chapter as well as a series of weekly blogging tips for a whole year.

Pre-Order and Save

The book is available for pre-ordering already at both Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Amazon has an extra 5% discount currently running for it as a pre-order (for the next two weeks – it will be available on 28 April).

What’s the Book About?

Well the title really says it all – it’s about Chris and my experience as bloggers making a living from our blogging. You can read more of the outline and topics covered here.

Get on the Email List

As mentioned above – we’re offering everyone the opportunity of joining an email list that will give you access to a free taster chapter of the book as well as free weekly blog tips. You can sign up for this here.

PS: see Chris’s announcement of the book here.