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Should I Publish Free Articles On My Blog?

Earlier today I was asked to take a look at a blog of a reader to give it a critique. On arriving on the blog I immediately noticed that at the top of every article on the front page of the blog there was a copyright notice which ascribed the copyright to a ‘free article’ website. On opening each post I saw that at the bottom of each post was a paragraph byline from an author with links back to their own websites. Classic ‘free article’ stuff.

The concept of ‘free article’ websites is simple. Authors wanting to build their web profile and incoming links to their sites write articles and submit them to a ‘free article’ website. The free article website then allows any website owner to republish those articles as long as they do so with the links that are in them in tact. In this way the author of the article gets links (which helps their search engine ranking), the article site also gets free links back to them and the person using the article gets free content.

Everyone wins right?

Wrong…..

I won’t unpack whether the article writer wins (that’s a whole other post) but as a blogger republishing free articles on your blog you could actually be doing more harm than good to your blog.

Let me illustrate this with a simple exercise:

On searching ArticlesBase.com (a free article site) for ‘blogging’ to see what articles they have there an article titled ’13 Steps to Successful Blogging’ comes up in the search results (as pictured below):

successful blogging.png

I highlighted a segment of the article and plugged it into Google within “quotes” to see how many exact matches I could get for it (to see how many times the article has been republished).

Here’s the search results on Google:

successful-blogging.jpg

Google sees that phrase ‘about’ 54,000 times!

There are three main reasons why I wouldn’t use ‘free articles’ on a blog:

1. A key to growing blogs is unique and useful information – if you want to grow a blog into a profitable and sustainable venture you need to provide your readers with useful and unique information. Post the above article and you’re 1 in 54,000 (and counting).

2. A key to growing blogs is personal voice and connection – if your blog is filled with free articles you’ll end up with a collection of content that is disjointed, that doesn’t personally connect with readers and is devoid of personality. Blog readers will subscribe and become loyal to a blog when they feel a personal connection and want to track with someone over the long haul. Not when they see a disjointed collecting of articles by a different person every day.

3. A key to ranking well in Search Engines is ‘Unique’ content – using an article that appears 54,000 times on the web almost guarantees that it’ll never be found by one of the biggest sources of traffic out there – Google. For starters you’re competing with 54,000 other versions of the same article, secondly you’re competing with the ‘free article’ sites you got the post off (remember they generate millions of links from their free articles) and on top of all that Google hates what it calls ‘duplicate content’ and works hard to not rank highly content that is republished over and over again. The article above does appear in the rankings for a search for ‘successful blogging’ in the #1 position – but the site that ranks for it is a free article site.

The long and short of it is that as a blogger you’re doing yourself and your readers a disservice by using ‘free articles’.

Web Video University Review

Webvideo-UniversityAround a month ago regular readers will know that I wrote that I was about to start an online video making course at WebVideoUniversity.

Around 10 other ProBlogger readers signed up with me and have been partaking in this four week course over the month of May. I said that I’d give a review of the course at the end of the month so wanted to give a little feedback for others considering signing up.

I should say up front that I’m behind in the course. I’m still getting through week 3′s content – the reason being that there’s just so much of it and I’m rather time poor at the moment. Luckily buying the course gives you 12 months of access to it, including any new content that is added in future weeks. So I’ve still got 11 months to get through weeks 3 and 4!

I wouldn’t normally review a course half completed but enrollments for the June course are open for a few more days and as there’s a baby about to arrive at the Rowse House I thought I’d better review what I’ve done as it could be another month til I get to complete it!

So how’s the course been?

Overall my experience so far has been positive.

Content

There is no shortage of information, it is clearly presented and of a high quality. The content is largely presented in video with lots of examples given.

As mentioned above – there’s lots of content given. Week 1 has 12 videos (around 50 minutes), week 2 has 24 videos (around 3 hours of content), week 3 has 24 videos (over 3 hours) and week 4 has 20 videos (around 2.5 hours). That’s around 10 hours of teaching in total.

Topics covered in videos include:

Week 1 – in this week it’s mainly introductory information around different concepts and tools. There’s an intro to video editing software, cameras, audio, video lighting, music and voice overs, using stock clips, making a teleprompter, green screens/backdrops and technical terms.

Week 2 – this week focuses upon introducing the idea of ‘videos that sell’ where there is teaching on the kinds of videos that work well in selling online. Then you get into video editing and learning how to do some of the basics like working with text, using transitions and effects and many other aspects of creating a video.

Week 3 – this is what I’m working through at present and is focused upon more advanced video editing techniques, green screen video, whiteboard video, 3D compositing and other editing tricks.

Week 4 – is what I’m looking forward to more advice on and includes getting video on the web.

The focus of the course is ‘making videos that sell’ and as a result there’s an emphasis upon making ‘web commercials’ but I’m learning things that I think I’ll be able to apply in the making of the type of videos that I’m making here on ProBlogger (talking head ones) as many of the principles apply.

Each week not only has teaching but a ‘resource’ section which has lots of helpful links, examples and further learning suggestions.

Presentation

David Kaminski is the presenter in the videos and he’s done a really excellent job of pulling this course together. The quality of the videos are great. At times David is slightly dry in his presentation style (that could be extenuated by me doing this course late at night when I am also a little ‘dry’ myself) but he explains concepts so clearly and in a way that even I (a complete dunce technologically) can understand and his ‘dry’ approach actually grew on me the more I watched (after watching him for hours I feel like I see more of him than my best friends). I really appreciate the way that the course is broken down into bite sized videos – it means it’s not overwhelming and that you can actually do the course a little at a time in your own pace over time.

Support

One of the things that I’ve appreciated about the course is the support that David has given participants. He’s not only been helpful to me but in chatting to a few other participants they’ve also been impressed by his prompt replies to questions (usually well within 24 hours). He’s even added a section in the course’s home page which has video answers to some of the questions he’s been getting. It’s refreshing to find someone not only who knows what he’s talking about but who is genuinely interested in helping people apply it to their own situation.

Mac Users Should Note…

If you use a Mac then you need to note two things. Firstly there’s a bug that prevents you viewing the videos at present using Firefox unless you are using version 3. Safari is fine to watch it in though – no problems there.

The other thing to note is that David uses Sony Vegas as his video editing package of choice and illustrates editing using that. He is currently making tutorials for Mac users using Final Cut Express and says that these videos will be available within a month or so. I am a Mac user so found watching him edit on Sony Vegas a little frustrating at times but was amazed how much of what he showed was so easily transferable to my Mac software. Having the Mac focused tutorials will be fantastic though and I am glad I have access to them for another 11 months.

Overall – I’m impressed with WebVideoUniversity and am glad that I’ve invested in it. I know that there’s another 10 or so ProBlogger readers who did the course so I’d love to hear your opinions on it too if you’ve done it!

If you’re interested in joining in June’s run of WebVideoUniversity you can sign up for the next day or two here.

TypePad AntiSpam Launches

Typepad-AntispamAfter my post a few days back about my love hate relationship with Akismet I was pleased to see Six Apart announce another option for bloggers looking to stem the tide of comment spam – TypePad AntiSpam.

While I’m yet to try it the reports coming in about it are good so far. It’s free (Akismet costs for a commercial license, it has plugins for MovableType and WordPress, it’s open source, and it’s compatible with Akismet (so you can run them together).

What 28 of My Blogging Friends Say about How they Build Relationships with Bloggers

building-relationships-bloggers-3.jpgImage by Michael Sarver

Over the last two days I’ve been writing about building relationships with other bloggers including tools and techniques for building blogger relationships as well as general principles of building relationships.

Today I want to finish this series on building relationships with bloggers with some tips from some of my own network of blogging friends.

A few days back I mentioned on Twitter that I was writing this post and asked those who follow me there to submit their own tips. Here are some of the tips that they mentioned. By the way – my Twitter followers are fantastic and are some of my favorite people to interact with. If you’re looking for a place to start networking why not follow some of these people on Twitter – by responding to this question they’ve proven how willing they are to network – what a great starting place!

  1. meanttolive – I’m part of one blog network. I follow bloggers on Twitter. And I read and comment on lots of blogs.
  2. galadarling – Be personal, complimentary, offer something, get their attention, be different. Works a charm ;D
  3. mattwardman – Ask them questions so they think they can help me … seriously.
  4. robbyg – I start with blog comments, move to twitter second, and finish off with regular emails if the relationship is strong.
  5. travelrants – networking: commenting on blogs, twitter, blog forums, email / MSN communication, blogger summits, conferences etc.
  6. bkajino – I read blogs I like & participate in conversation when I have input
  7. miguelpineiro – building relationships, selfish promotion and genuine interest in their success.
  8. DebNg – Twitter and Skype mostly though I do belong to a couple of forums as well.
  9. profwebs – Leave meaningful comments on their blogs, become active in their “community” when relevant, “reach out and make new friends”
  10. StuartL – email, twitter and the phone seem to be working for me at the moment
  11. RossMaguire – I have to agree with Stuart about twitter, it is very effective
  12. Telemill – simple, social networking sites: twitter, linkedin, mybloglog and blogcatalog.
  13. sharrypdx – among other things, I have very few close relationships with a couple of other bloggers. We share insights, leads, tips, etc.
  14. shawnfarner – Lately, Twitter :)
  15. jakebouma – interact w/comments, establish a relationship, send articles of interest to them via email, connect on other social sites
  16. auer1816 – email tends to work well.
  17. theotherdrummer – Comments, e-mail and/or Twitter.
  18. chrisguillebeau – everything all the others have said is good, but for me i think the slow building of personal relationship is most important
  19. rahsheen – Twitter and FriendFeed primarily…in regards to connecting to other bloggers
  20. inkedmn – comment on their blogs to start, then casual emailing
  21. davidcubed – Twitter, IM, Private Forums, and Blog Comments are my biggest ways of connecting with other bloggers
  22. kristarella – Comments are the best networking, subscribe, comment, email. Networking sites are tools: useful, but often fickle, short-liv …
  23. genuinechris – It depends on if we’re in sync. I often link first to show up in their dashboard, and then if it’s apropo, exchange guest posts
  24. AGoodHusband – I comment on blogs I like, link to blogs that I love, and find something useful for bloggers I admire.
  25. jimgoldstein – good old fashion flattery via any communication medium ther person uses regularly. Email is a great standby.
  26. briancarter – Twitter with them and help them write their blog posts by answering twitter questions… ;-)
  27. davenavarro – Comment on their blog, start conversations that lead to more comments, get noticed :-) Looking fwd to your book va SF
  28. jonathanfields – Twitter is a great tool for casual banter/fun, for more important/detailed contact, I still lean on e-mail

Shopzilla Publishing Program – Showing Very Promising Results

Shopzilla

I’ve been playing around with Shopzilla publishers network for a few months now but it’s only been in the last week that I’ve had time to take it for a full run on my blogs.

Today I checked my stats and am kicking myself that I didn’t take this program more seriously sooner!

You can read my first impression review of Shopzilla here from when I first started to play with the ad network.

This last week I’ve experimented with some more aggressive positioning of the ads and I’m very impressed with the conversions. You can see one such campaign operating on single posts right at the base of Digital Photography School Posts (like at the bottom of this one).

Now the positioning of the ad unit on that page is far from prominent (it’s so far below the fold that it’s not funny) but my initial testing is that while the CTR isn’t high, it is higher than the ad unit that I previously had in that position. What makes Shopzilla attractive however is that while CTR isn’t massive the ads are paying a significantly higher amount per click (I’m talking a 500% increase).

As usual with this type of ad unit, they work best on product related sites and where the products featured relates strongly to content (I suspect that the higher value the products the better for click value) – but it’s a great program that I have a new found excitement for and plan to start using more and more.

Check out the Shopzilla Publisher Program here.

Offline Blog Promotion Techniques

In my weekly column over at ScribeFire this week I started a series on Offline Blog Promotion (ie promoting your blog through means that have nothing to do with the internet).

You can read part 1 (it’s a 3 part series) here. In this post I introduce why offline blog promotion is worth considering and 4 techniques to get the word out about your blog. Over the coming two weeks I’ll be sharing another 9 techniques.

Got some offline blog promotion techniques to share? I’d love to hear about your own experience of how you’ve done it in the comments on that post.

Web Warrior Tools Launches

Web-Warrior-ToolsToday I was chatting to Leo from Zen Habits who told me that he’s just launched a new site.

When Leo tells me he’s starting something new I always take notice – he’s got a habit of making things work and has built his blog from 0 to over 50,000 subscribers in under a year, has written an excellent ebook – Zen to Done (the ultimate simple productivity system) and has been a prolific guest blogger.

Leo’s new project called Web Warrior Tools and is a partnership with fellow blogger Glen Stansberry from LifeDev.

They’re promoting it as ‘ridiculously useful ebook guides to everything’ and are launching with 4 ebooks:

1. Beginners Guide to Podcasting – an introduction to expanding into the medium of podcasting.

2. Email Zen - efficient email management

3. The Get Rich Slowly Guide to Roth IRAs – retirement planning resource

4. Healthy Life Secrets – a guide for those who want to break out of an unhealthy lifestyle

These four are just the beginning of what looks like being a fairly extensive library of ebooks. What I like about it is that the ebooks are cheap ($6-$9), they’re beautifully designed (as is everything Leo does) and well written. You can preview them on the site to get a taste before buying.

Leo and Glen have shown another way that bloggers can make money with Web Warrior Tools. They’ve both built a large following of readers on their blogs and now are joining together to leverage that profile to release products that relate to the blogs that they’ve built.

17 Principles of Building Good Relationships With Bloggers

building-relationships-bloggers-2.jpgImage by Michael Sarver

Yesterday we looked at 12 techniques and tools for networking with other bloggers. Today I want to move on to look at some general principles of building relationships with bloggers that I think are important. I’ve covered these previously here on the blog but have updated the following from last time I covered this.

1. Be Generous

A lot of the networking that I see going on between bloggers is fairly much about ‘taking’ rather than ‘giving’. One way to make a real impression on another person is to be generous with them. Help THEM achieve THEIR goals – highlight their best work – encourage them – go out of your way to work on their terms. While you do need to have good boundaries (otherwise people will abuse your generosity) a spirit of generosity is the right attitude to go into networking with. Whatever you do don’t start your interaction with another blogger asking them to link to you, add you to their blogroll etc – start with something that helps them.

2. Don’t Expect too much too Quick

The most fruitful relationships that I’ve been a part of in blogging have emerged over time. Let the relationship grow naturally as you build trust and a mutual understanding of who the other person is and how you can work together. It is like real life relationships, if you rush in you could scare the other person off.

3. Be Transparent

Don’t attempt to pull the wool over the eyes of those you’re wanting to network with. If you want something out of the relationship – be up front about it. DO show what the other bloggers gets (mutually beneficial interactions are best) but don’t hide the fact that you benefit also.

4. Work with Bloggers on Your ‘Level’

Many so called ‘A-lister’ bloggers are approached all day long with requests to connect. While you might get lucky – I’ve found that approaching slightly less know blogs can have more chance of working out (and they can still drive a lot of traffic and over time you can help each other grow into the next wave of A-listers).

5. Prove Yourself First

If you’re brand new to your niche it can take time to make an impression. This isn’t necessarily because people are being cliquey – it’s often because they’re waiting to see if you’re going to stick with it and if you know what you’re talking about. There’s nothing more frustrating that networking with someone who disappears a couple of weeks later. Show you’re in it for the long haul and that your blog is making a contribution to the niche and you’ll find people more willing to connect.

6. Persist But Don’t Annoy

Some bloggers will take a few emails or conversations before they’ll warm up to you. There’s a lot of noise around the blogosphere so don’t be offended if people don’t respond – try again in a little while – but don’t stalk them!

7. Look in Neighboring Niches

It is important with blog networking to interact with other bloggers in your own niche – however don’t close yourself to relationships with bloggers outside of your niche – particularly in those that neighbor yours. When you limit yourself just to other bloggers exactly like yours you will end up dealing mainly with people who could see you as a direct competitor. While some will be open to interacting with you I’ve found networking with people outside my niche can be fruitful. Another way to be strategic is to not look for networking opportunities just with other bloggers on your topic – but with bloggers who share a similar demographic of reader.

8. Ask Questions

One key that I’ve found to work in networking is to ask a lot of questions of those around you. Some bloggers go into networking with obvious agendas and goals but fail to listen to the other party. When you become a person who asks others about their goals and objectives, where you know what their strengths and weaknesses are and where you know their dreams you not only create a good impression on them but you’ll be in a great position to know where your situation aligns with another person’s – this is where networking becomes most effective to both parties.

9. Become a Go-To Person and a Connector

As you network with others don’t just focus upon you and the other person – but attempt to draw others into the relationships you have. I find that people are particularly grateful to me when I can’t help them but point them to someone else who can. This creates a good impression upon both of the parties that you connect which can lead them to come to you again with opportunities (ie you become the ‘go to’ person because they know you’ll either help them personally or point them to someone who can).

10. Have an Elevator Pitch

Much has been written about business people being able to articulate what they do in a concise statement (having your elevator pitch). I think being able to do this is important with blog networking too. I get many emails every day from people wanting tow work together in some way and in many cases it’s a few minutes into an email that I even work out who they are and what they are on about. Develop a few key sentences that describe who you are, what you do and what you offer others. Another good elevator pitch is on what your blog is about. Having thought through these things will help others understand what you can bring to a relationship – but they will also help you understand that too.

11. Look for Points of Synergy

Perhaps this says more about my personality type, but I’ve found the most profitable relationships to be ones where there was a ‘spark’ or ‘energy’ around our interaction – particularly where there was some sort of synergy around goals and objectives but also some sort of a connection when it comes to personality. My style has always been to look for points of ‘energy’ or ‘synergy’ and going with them. Perhaps someone else has a more technical description of this but it’s worked well for me.

12. Break out of the ‘Virtual’

Today I checked my PO Box and found three items there that were from other bloggers. One was a birthday card, another a T-Shirt and another a book. I didn’t ask for any of them and didn’t know of any of the bloggers previously – but I now do. Sometimes the physical act of sending something to another blogger can break the ‘virtual’ feel of relationships

13. Don’t Spread Yourself too Thin

I’ve shared a dozen techniques on how to network with bloggers above. These activities alone could fill up your day completely and leave you no time to actually blog. It’s important not to spread yourself too thinly. I’d recommend using just a few of the techniques that apply best to your personality and niche – and to start with just a few other bloggers. While the temptation is to interact with hundreds of bloggers, you’ll make a much better impression if you’re able to interact fully with just a few.

14. Batch Social Networking

A lot of bloggers are familiar with ‘batch writing’ (or writing a lot of posts all at once in a single session to free up the rest of their time for other activities) but it can also be useful to set aside specific time for networking. I tend to set aside my mornings for writing content for my blog and then late morning and late evenings switch to ‘networking’ mode. This is when I tend to use Twitter most, check emails, get on IM etc. Otherwise networking spills out into everything you do – which can be fun but not very effective.

15. Make Invitations for Networking

It is highly likely that there are already other bloggers in your niche that are within your sphere of influence without you knowing about it. I learned this a few years back on my photography blog when on the spur of the moment one day I made a post inviting other bloggers to leave the URL of their blog in the comments of that post. Later that day I logged onto my blog to find 12 bloggers had left links to their blogs. I emailed each one personally to thank them and see if there was any way that I could assist them in their blogging – quite a few of those bloggers became good friends. I’d never have known of most of them unless I’d invited them to connect on my blog.

16. Go Beyond the One-On-One Interactions

Here’s another idea that is still forming in my mind (feel free to develop it further). What I’m beginning to notice is that my own networking is more effective when it isn’t just a one on one thing. Sometimes there’s more energy and a faster development of relationships when a group of bloggers begin to interact with one another. This happens on social sites/services (like Twitter) but also in forums, networking events and even comments sections of blogs. Perhaps approaching two or three bloggers at a time would be more effective than approaching just one.

17. Make Deposits in the Relationship Bank

In relationship counseling I often used a ‘bank’ analogy with couples. To get money out of your savings bank account you first need to deposit money in. If all you do is make withdrawals you’ll end up going into overdraft and will hurt your relationship with your bank. The same is true with relationships of all kinds. They need to be give and take but in the early days I think there’s a special need for ‘deposits’. This comes back to the ‘generosity’ tips I started this section with – well worth repeating as it’s so important in the development of any relationship.

Tomorrow I will conclude this series of tips on building relationships with bloggers with some tips on the topic from some of my blogging friends (I thought it was only appropriate for a topic like this to involve my own network). In the mean time – I’d love to hear your thoughts on the topic.

What Do YOU Think?

What part does networking with other bloggers play in your blogging? How do you go about it? What principles would you add to the list above? Which principles that I’ve mentioned apply or don’t apply to you?

ProBlogger on the News

As mentioned in my last post – today saw Karen, Neerav and myself featured in an Aussie national news story on channel TEN.

Many international readers have asked to see the story so Neerav has posted it on Google Video for you. If you’d like to see the full sized version of the story you can do so here.

If you’re new to ProBlogger and have arrived after seeing the story please check out my last post – a welcome to you which has some introductory information for you on where to start with blogging.