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Welcome to TEN News Viewers

Just a short note to welcome viewers from Australia’s TEN News. A story just aired on the TEN network that featured three bloggers – Karen Cheng, Neerav Bhatt and myself (I’m told it will also be on the PM editions of the news in some cities tonight). For international readers – you can now see the report here.

If this is your first time at ProBlogger – let me give you a quick ‘tour’.

ProBlogger is a blog about blogging – more particularly it’s a blog about making money from blogging. Millions of blogs have sprung up on the web over the last 5 years and many of those bloggers are now looking to take their blogs from something that is purely a hobby into something that earns them a little money to supplement their income. For most this is simply a way to pay for their coffee habit or to save up for that new gadget that they’ve been eyeing off – but for some blogging has become a significant source of income. By the way – my name is Darren Rowse not Darren Dowse (as the caption said in the story).

About Me

Darren RowseI’ve been deriving a full time income from blogging for around 3 years on blogs like ProBlogger and Digital Photography School (a blog about helping digital camera owners improve their photography). A couple of years back I co-founded a company called b5media which is a blog network based in Toronto which has around 350 blogs in it – employing 200+ bloggers. I’ve also recently written a book about blogging (see below). I live in Melbourne with my wife and son and am expecting a new baby any day now. If you’d like to read about my story of becoming a full time blogger – check out this post called ‘Becoming a ProBlogger’.

About ProBlogger the Blog

As mentioned above – this blog is a blog about blogging. I’ve been running this blog for 3 years and in that time have published over 4000 tips on the topic – everything that I know about blogging. Want to know where to start? Let me suggest a few articles that I’ve written that will give you an understanding of what this is all about.

Subscribe to ProBlogger for Free – If you’re interested in keeping in touch with me and the new articles that go up on ProBlogger I’d like ti invite you to subscribe to this blog.

There are two main ways you can do this:

1. RSS Feed – if you’re familiar with RSS feeds you can subscribe to ours here (learn what RSS is here)

2. Daily Email Updates – every day I send out an email update with our latest posts. To sign up for this for free simply add your email address to the mini form right below this:

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About My Book

Problogger-BookAs mentioned in the story today on TEN I’ve just written a book on the topic of making money with blogs. I write it with another blogger (Chris Garrett) and it’s only been released in the last few weeks. It’s so new that it’s not even in stores in Australia yet (they are due here in about a month). If you’d like a copy there are two ways you can get one:

Amazon – the US Amazon bookstore has copies and they ship them to Australia. They are currently on sale there for $16.49 USD. With postage and a favorable exchange rate the price is pretty similar to what they’ll sell for here. Shipping takes around a week.

Pre-Order – head to your local bookstore and put one on order. As mentioned above – they are expected to hit our shores late in June.

Lastly – thanks for stopping by. If you’d like to get in touch feel free to shoot me an email via my Contact form.

6 Tips for Promoting Your Consulting Services on a Blog

Last week Wellington Grey from Silver Clipboard asked me about how best to advertise his own services as a consultant/coach on his blog. His question was:

“How should a blogger incorporate non-blogging services into his website? Here’s my situation, several months ago I started a website about getting organized. I would like the site to attract people who may, ultimately, be interested in hiring my services as a productivity coach. How should I best promote my services on the blog? I don’t exactly want to end every article with …and HIRE ME! as that would seem tacky and needy. Any suggestions?”

My response to Wellington went something like this):

I think that you’re wise to avoid the continual self promotion. Sometimes less can be more when it comes to promoting yourself. Here’s a few thoughts that come to mind (you may not do all of these things on the one blog):

1. Develop a Prominent About Page – have a page dedicated to explaining who you are and what you do. If you do consulting on the topic of your blog make sure you spell this out clearly. Also on your about page include a strong call to action and have a clear way for potential clients to contact you.

2. Advertise Yourself – I would avoid selling advertising on a blog that’s primary goal is to sell YOU as a consultant (or at the very least I would not use AdSense which might allow your competitors to advertise on your blog). Instead I would put prominent ads for your services pominently on your blog. Place one on your sidebar and perhaps another underneath posts (above comments).

3. Navigation Links – another tactic to consider is to have a ‘consulting’ or ‘services’ tab or ‘hire me’ link in your main navigation areas. For example if I were to take on consulting work I would have a ‘blog consulting’ link in my top horizontal menu (up near the ‘Job Board’ link).

4. In Post Plugs – from time to time mention what services that you offer in your posts. Avoid doing this in every post but if you can include it in a ‘by the way’ type way it just reinforces in your readers mind that you do what you’re writing about for a living. Attempt to do it in a way that is subtle and on topic. For example if you’re writing on a topic that you’ve helped someone else in recently get permission from your client to share that experience (either with their name or anonymously).

5. Case Studies – taking the last point of sharing your experiences of working with clients a step further – doing an occasional ‘case study’ is probably one of the best ways to highlight the services that you offer. You can do these with actual clients (with permission of course) or can offer to do it for free for one of your readers. Alternatively if appropriate it might even be worth picking another blogger to do a case study on. For example back in 2005 I did a case study on how prominent blogger Jeff Jarvis could optimize his AdSense ads better. I did this because Jeff had started using AdSense and had written about it publicly. I didn’t ask permission to do it – but hoped that he’d take the advice and that it’d highlight my ability with AdSense. The day after I published the post Jeff linked up and I had 5-6 people email me willing to pay me to do a similar thing on their blogs privately.

6. Recommendations and Testimonials – another effective way to sell your services is to give your previous clients a way to recommend you. This might be by having a testimonials page on your blog that are real comments from previous clients – or it could even be for you to negotiate as part of your services for them to link to you from their site or blog to you. This is most common in web design with most designers asking for a link giving them credit for their blog’s design – but could be extended to most industries where clients have websites. The beauty of engaging your previous clients in this way is that you are not the one doing the ‘selling’ of your services – others are.

What other advice would you give on promoting your consulting services on a blog?

PS: all of the above counts on your having something worthwhile to sell as a consultant on your blog. Developing your consulting repertoire and growing it into a business is a whole other post.

12 Tools and Techniques for Building Relationships with Other Bloggers

building-relationships-bloggers.jpgImage by Michael Sarver

A recent question asked in the Q&A widget was from a reader asking me to write about:

“How to go about building relationships with other bloggers?”

Building relationships with other bloggers is an important aspect of blogging. I see it as crucial for a number of reasons:

  • Finding Readers – one of the best ways to grow your readership is to have another blogger recommend that their readers check out something that you’ve written.
  • Learning Your Craft - as I look back on what I’ve learned about blogging over the last five years I would credit other bloggers as teaching me a good proportion of it. The more you interact with bloggers the more you’ll learn about building a better blog.
  • Accountability and Advice – at times blogging can be a fairly isolating task and it’s easy to get off track or become deluded (either by your ego getting out of control or by becoming depressed about some aspect of what you do). Having other bloggers around you that you give permission to keep you grounded and to lift you up when you’re despondent is important at keeping yourself balanced.
  • Friendship – blogging can be a lonely business. Having other bloggers around you who know the ins and outs, the pressures and the quirks and the highs and the lows makes the whole thing a lot more enjoyable.
  • Sharing of Skills – I’ve never met a blogger who knows everything about their niche or about how to blog (I’ve met a couple who think they do) – the reality is that we all have gaps in our knowledge and skills so to have others around us that might complement what we have can add a new dimension to a blog. As I remember the early years of my own blogging I’m struck by how much ‘trading’ of skills we all did for one another. One blogger would do a design for another one, in return they’d get some guest posts or advice on ad optimization etc.

So HOW should a blogger approach this important task of building relationships with other bloggers?

There are a large number of tasks that networking and building relationships with other bloggers can involve. I’ll list some of them below but before I do I think it’s worth saying that some will fit with some bloggers more than others.

We all make friends differently in ‘real life’ and I suspect will do best when we approach blogger networking in our own way and bringing our own personality to the task.

12 Blogger Networking Techniques and Tools:

  1. Commenting on Other’s Blogs – basic but effective, but only when you add value with your comments.
  2. Emailing Other Bloggers – once again, this works best if you add value in some way. Don’t just email to say hi, email to contribute something, give some advice, offer to help etc
  3. Guest Posts – one way that can make an impression on another blogger is to offer to make a post. This particularly makes an impression when they need it most (when they are sick, have a vacation coming up, have some crisis). Keep an eye out for these times and be prepared to do what you can to assist.
  4. Story Tips – if a story breaks in your niche – email other bloggers to let them know.
  5. Link Out - linking to a competitors blog could seem like a crazy thing to do but it can make a real impression and show other bloggers your willingness to interact.
  6. Instant Messaging - interaction via IM can really take a relationship to a new level as it’s real time and personal.
  7. Social Networking – this should be a no brainer – social networking tools are exist with the purpose of connecting people. The key is to pick social networking tools that fit for you and your niche and focus on those. For example if other bloggers in your niche are interacting on Twitter – join it, if there’s a lot of activity on Facebook, go there – if LinkedIn is more relevant to your niche interact there!
  8. Social Bookmarking – one of the best ways to get on the radar of another blogger is to be responsible for sending them a huge wave of traffic. While most of us can’t do this from our small blogs – we can submit other bloggers sites to social media sites like Digg and StumbleUpon. Instead of spending your day working on campaigns to build your own votes on these sites why not do it for another blogger?
  9. Interviews – there’s nothing more flattering than having someone email you with a request to interview you and then to have them go to the trouble of thinking up interesting questions that show they’ve taken time to research the interview. Interviews can be good content for your blog but I think the real benefit of them is that they put you into a conversation with the person you’re interviewing and can be a springboard into relationship!
  10. Forums and Discussion Groups – forums are one place that a lot of niche bloggers lurk. Engage genuinely in these spaces and you never know who you’ll end up connecting with. The building of relationships is one thing that I see emerging in the ProBlogger Room on FriendFeed.
  11. Pick up the Phone/Skype it – while IM can be good at making your interactions more conversation like – voice to voice interactions take it a step further. Of course be a little careful with a cold-call – I’d recommend working up to a voice call with some emails etc as some are better on the phone than others with strangers.
  12. Real Life Networking Events – one of the best ways of building relationships with bloggers is to meet face to face. A lot can be achieved without actually meeting (at b5media none of the founders had met until a year into our business and after we’d secured VC funding) but meeting another blogger has a way of cementing a relationship that is quite special.

WARNING!

Knowing about and using the above tools and techniques are not enough on their own. Each of them can be used both to build fruitful relationships with other bloggers and to hurt your relationships. Many of the above techniques when used in an overbearing way can come across as spam – proceed with caution!

Tomorrow I want to expand upon this topic and share with you 17 principles of building relationships with bloggers that I think will put these tools and techniques into a context where they can be used well.

My Love Hate Relationship with Akismet

AkismetI love Akismet – it’s a WordPress tool that has literally saved me months of work. It has blocked 4,059,113 comment spams on ProBlogger alone over the last year or two – something that I will be forever grateful for!

However every day or two I get an email like this:

“I have been trying to leave comments on your blog but they never appear! Did I say something wrong?”

Now when a blog gets as many comment spams as I do in a day there are bound to be some false positives – but over the last couple of months these emails are getting more and more frequent. The problem concerns me for two reasons. Firstly I want everyone who wants to comment on my posts to be able to. Secondly many of those whose comments are falsely blocked think that I’m the one behind their comment being blocked. I’ve had angry comments from readers as well as bloggers blogging about me censoring them. The reality is that unless a comment is explicit, spammy or defamatory I don’t delete comments.

I’m not sure what the reason is for these false positives it but it’s becoming apparent that quite a few legitimate blog readers are getting on Akimset’s blacklist falsely. It’s also seems to me that when I mark a comment as ‘not spam’ that Akismet isn’t ‘learning’ of it’s mistake because quite a few people’s comments seem to still be filtered as spam. Akismet says that it can take a couple of days to fix these but I’ve had a few people not be able to comment for weeks now. My approach is generally to ask them to contact Akismet directly. Quite often these people are unable to comment on other blogs also.

Perhaps Akismet could provide us with some way for us as bloggers to add to a whitelist of commenters. I’d love to simply take the emails of those who have problems and add them to such a list that automatically lets people comment. I’m also wondering if there’s some way of notifying commenters that are filtered as spam that this is what has happened and to point them into the direction of some sort of procedure to rectify it if they feel that their comment isn’t spam?

How to Get The Readers You Want

In this post JEMI from InMyHeels.com explores the age old challenge of bloggers – finding readers for your blog.

I’ve been trying to ‘hack’ the secret that the big bloggers clearly utilize to charm new readers in by the hundreds on a daily basis.

  • Great content? Got it.
  • Social Media, yup – I already know this.
  • User friendly blog, great About page, plugins that you plug in – check check check.

The tips are out there and I scarf them up and wash them down with Entrecard drops.

Taking a good look at my site, InMyHeels.com, there are certain differences between my site and the other self improvement sites out there. For instance, I partially keep my URL out of a grand stubbornness as I am tickled pink by it and therefore make no apologies. My writing style isn’t leaving either because it is greatly infused with my personality; just thinking about deserting it in favor of “The Big Blog Picture” sends me back into life offline.

:: shudders ::

Can you imagine? (I’m kidding.)

What I CAN imagine are the bloggers out there who are just like me. You love your blog as is.

But what do you do when you can’t help but worry that:

  • You haven’t a clue where to find your readers let alone get them to find a new home on your blog?
  • You’re different and maybe that’s why people aren’t reading your blog

Well I may be a newbie but here are a couple of tips based on what I’ve discovered so far;

Reader Hunting: Where to Find Them

It’s Ok to Steal Borrow:

You go and you hang out on other sites in your niche and you read comments. Some people are clear about what they are all about with their names, the length and depth of their comment, and the frequency of their visits. You know what THAT means? They just might like your blog – if they ever hear about it. Hey – if, for instance, he/she is hanging out on those bigger blogs to find Tips for Life, Love, You ( ), he/she just may like my site too!

So what do you do?

You head on over to their site. Maybe they’re in your niche. Maybe not. Leave real comments that elicit the urge to click and see who left it. Sometimes that’s all it takes. If you can’t leave a comment, perhaps shooting an email would work too. Don’t think “Oh but that’s for the Little Leagues”. Everyone counts. People talk. People share great sites with their friends. People rave about great finds. So BE that great find. Social media is excellent because the very basics – being social – work like a charm every single time. Who doesn’t like a little attention?

And of course, you do all this while you whip up the best proposal you can think of to ask Big Blogger if you may whip up a guest post. “No” isn’t the end of your blogging world. And besides. Some of their readers may have started to love you too anyway. Big Blogger just might change his/her mind later on!

Lay on the Link Love:

One thing I do on my blog is link to highly relevant blog posts and articles that other bloggers create. I do this for several reasons.

  • Since I’m in the business of helping and informing my readers, I generally won’t send them to something only mildly useful for the sake of linkage within the main body of a post.
  • When your readers can count on the quality of your links, they will be good for happily clicking away in the future.
  • Some of those trackbacks include a few words that precede or follow said link. The strategically written sentence that sent your readers over to the other blogger’s page may be the same one that attracts the commentators on the other blog to come over to your side. This is, of course, granted that the blogger’s trackbacks are set up that way.
  • What blogger wouldn’t notice the incoming traffic of great readers? Where are they coming from? Not only can it lead to the discovery of your site (Big Bloggers check the incoming linkage too!), they may reciprocate in the future. It’s a beautiful thing.

Non-Bloggers Count!

All that being said, I love other bloggers. I do. It really feels great when other bloggers come around and say “Hey – JEMi is it? Awesome blog!”. However, I am greedy and want Non-Bloggers to come too. Yes, the people who haven’t heard about RSS yet. I welcome them! So I head over to the forums and I mingle. People really click your link on those signatures – my stats told me so. I try to make my blog Non-Blogger friendly by keeping things simple because, believe it or not, many people don’t know what a blog is. The blogosphere is huge, yes, but then there is the rest of the world. Non-Blogger finds your site, loves the information, and emails it to someone and/or bookmarks it (before he/she learns about RSS). It’s a beautiful thing watching your readership grow with all types of readers.

Keeping Them Interested

Painfully Obvious Does the Trick:

As clever as we know you are, web surfers are quick to sail right past your page if it isn’t clear what your blog is about. So I say we club them with the obvious and enjoy their company as we drag pull them in with our brilliance. Make it clear what the mission of your blog is. Right up there in the header, your slogan, your artwork – anything that you can plug purpose into.

  • Your first impression with your design
  • Your bold print “THIS BLOG IS ABOUT LOVE” … (or ok…work on that)
  • Your consistent writing style
  • Your suggested reading, Amazon carousel, reviews, and the other ads on your site

The point here is make it plain and simple to see what you are all about:

These things let someone know he’s found something worth reading and bravo – a delighted new reader.

Different is Good…As Long as it’s Relevant:

Your Make Money Online Blog doesn’t need to look like everyone else’s. Most likely everyone else is trying to copy THE Make Money Online Blog anyway. If this doesn’t suit your taste, then why force it? Dare to be different. You style or perspective may be unique. The key here is drawn from Tip #1: Painfully Obvious Does the Trick. Do your headlines inform your readers what you’re trying to say at a glance? If not, what’s your way of drawing them in? How have you managed to tie your Red Dancing Monkey to the wicked world of finance? Or ok – you’re all about controversy. Can you hold your own and make some food for thought that irk people just the right way and get them to comment? The unique nature of your blog may be the very thing that brings its popularity. Don’t allow the Analysis Paralysis (Oh you know – when you get a crick in your virtual neck because you stare at the other great blogs for so long, you’ve lost sight of yours) to set in and take you off course. Focus on your point, stick with it – then being as different as you wanna be is A OK.

The Readers Tell You What They Want:

Of course you know you can’t please everyone BUT (!) you read those comments and you see what sends ‘em into a frenzy. Which topics get those Digg buttons going? If you pay attention, you can soon realize what type of posts are golden – or CAN be with just little tweaking. Lack of traffic isn’t a reflection of you. SOMETHING needs to tell these readers “Hey! I’m worth reading”. It’s the goods that you offer. You’ll soon notice them trickle (or surge!) in and do trust - there are plenty more where they came from.

So pay attention- the comments say more than a piece of their mind!

You Want Rich Connections:

When you’ve found your groove and are comfortable cranking out the content that lull those readers to your side of the blogosphere, remember to connect with your readers by staying on course, acknowledging them through comments and/or emails, and reflecting your dedication to them by sticking around for the long run. When a new reader comes to your blog, a strong sense of community may just be the breaking bough that sends them falling in love with your blog. People like to feel included. With such high quality content being provided AND a connection with the author – the word will spread that your site’s the place to be. Those words count whether they come in the form of link love or kudos.

You Want to Leave a Mark:

Since the internet is so condensed with information, something about you is going to have to shine in order to be desirable to the reader. With choosing your niche comes the responsibility of doing it justice. Since I am inquisitive by nature, I try to think “What would I ask if I knew NOTHING about this topic?” It’s a great starting point because the answers to those questions would automatically give you less fluff and a lot more of that QUALITY CONTENT you hear so much about. And you know – people like that.

The mark that you leave with that quality content would be your personal style – your writing voice so to speak. You want it to show in this post, the next, and the next. Readers start to expect more of that great stuff they sensed LAST time they read something from you.

<quote>Wait – what happened? Who is this boring person?! – Displeased New Reader</quote>

You don’t want that. So speak with confidence and speak in your own voice on a consistent basis. When they want more, guess who they come back to?

Exactly.

If you want the world to read your words and I daresay – long for more, put your best out there each and every time. You grow as a writer with such consistent conscious attention to detail and your readership will grow right along with you. I can attest to this truth – as a new blogger, I am experiencing this growth right now and boy does it feel good!

So go ahead you. Reel them in! :-)

Bloggers are like Pawns on a Chessboard

Today Nadeesha Cabral from Rockfuse tells us why Bloggers are like Pawns on a Chessboard! – Image by All glass no class.

Pawn-1Well, you have to give it up for the title, don’t you think? Probably one of the weirdest blog post titles that you’ve ever seen on Problogger right? Well anyway, by the time you’ve finished reading this post, I can guarantee you that you will know just where on the chessboard (blogosphere) you are. I can not expect all of you to know your chess, and knowledge on the game will only matter less. Most of you are bloggers and my only hope is that you will find this article useful.

For those of you who are less familiar with the games of chess, let me tell you what a pawn is. There are 8 pawns per player on a chess bard. Pawns are the weakest of all the pieces and the lowest ranked. They can only move forward – two squares at the first move and one square per turn thereafter and can capture any other piece on the board moving one square diagonally.

So what blogger-like qualities do I see in pawns?

In the beginning there are plenty of them – and it makes them virtually worthless

In the beginning of the game, there are so many pawns at the same level. And too much of one thing will seriously undervalue it all.

Just like that, when you’re starting off as a blogger, it’s pretty hard to place some value on yourself since there will be so many bloggers at the same level as you are. You just have to accept the fact and work your way through it just like the entire platoon of pawns do. The more you progress in the right track at the right time will make you last long in the game.

Almost every time, a pawn takes the start.

A knight (the horsey figure) on the chess board can jump over all the other pieces on the board at a time, while moving. So, at the start, if you’re not starting the game with your knights, you will have to move your pawn.

If you are a well known personality, like a celebrity, you probably don’t have to take the game’s start as a pawn. Do you think Darren would have to start from scratch, and wait for a few months till his subscriber count hits 100, if he launches a new blog tomorrow? He can use his star power to probably jump over a few obstacles he’d otherwise encounter. It might not be the best thing, but it will be a head start. If not, you should start your game with a pawn, as a pawn. It’s just the way it is. Most of us will start from that zero point, and build on it thereafter.

At the very start, they will move two squares each

On a chessboard, a pawn can only move one square at a time except for the very first move of that pawn. If the player wishes, the pawn can move two squares when it has not been moved before. (When it is at its first move)

Remember that time you started to blog? You were so into making it happen that you used to commit so many hours into you blog? Instead of moving one square at a time, you were a bit impatient so you thought you should move two at a time. You soon learnt that running on full throttle is not something you can do all the time. So, you HAD to slow down and realize your blog doesn’t deserve all of your attention.

Most of them fall off

Pawns are often ignored in the middle game of chess and when in the end game, most of the pawns would’ve been captured (or sacrificed) by the two players. When the going gets rough, I guess some pawns fall off. It’s inevitable.

Similarly, when time goes by, most of the bloggers would just quit on their blogs or ignore them. It’s just a part of the cycle I guess. At a certain level, some people won’t find it worthwhile committing to something that is demanding constant attention. It’s like kids falling off when the class moves up the grades I guess. It just happens that way.

A few makes it to the end and becomes powerful

Do you know what happens to a pawn that defies all the odds and make it to the other end of the chessboard? To the 8th row of the chess board? The pawn, the lowest ranked piece of the chessboard becomes the most powerful piece on the chessboard. At that moment, a player can trade that pawn to any other piece that he/she wants that had been captured by the other side.

Well, I guess you know what that means. A blogger who has got a lot of persistence and survives till the end will undoubtedly find it worthwhile to have made it that far through all the turmoil. That blogger will be recognized as someone who made it to the ‘top’. And that blogger would not be a pawn anymore.

Before you become powerful, people will start attacking you

When pawns make it nearly to the end of the ‘other side’, to become the most powerful piece on the board, the other pieces will start attacking the pawns to make sure that they don’t make it through. It’s a battle, what do you think?

People will sometimes be envious towards what you have achieved for little or no reason and will start attacking you. If they don’t have any valid point for their attack, know that those are the other pieces on this chessboard that do not want you to make it big. Do not let them succeed. You didn’t make 6 rows on your own to be thrown out of the game on the 7th row!

But, do you really want to be just a pawn..?

So did I make all of these analogies to tell you you’re not a pawn? Well, let me put it this way. As I’ve put out here, you can clearly see how the life-span of a blogger can coincide with a life-span of the pawn of chess. But, there’s one last thing I want to tell you.

On the chessboard, a pawn is a pawn. It has no control of its existence. But, you can think and make decisions for yourself. You are not a pawn. You can choose to be successful. You can choose to fail. You might only move one square at a time. But you are in control of your journey. If you want to make it to the end, keep that in mind.

So, Good Luck! See you on the 8th row.

Write Reviews that Add Value and Solve Readers’ Problems

Today Dustin M. Wax writes about how to write Review Post on your blog.

Reviews are one of the mainstays of blogs. By now, everyone in the world is familiar with Problogger’s own Darren Rowse’s accidental transformation into a professional blogger following the success of his camera reviews. (Been off-world for the last two months and don’t know the story? Read the book!)

Bloggers write reviews for a number of reasons. First of all, and most importantly, reviews of products you love (or hate) are one of the ways we provide value to our readers. By sharing our experiences with our audience, we save them the time, expense, and hassle of trying out products that might well not meet their needs.

Second, reviews are a form of “evergreen” content that stay relevant long after their initial post date. I don’t know how many times I’ve Googled “[Product name] review” before making a purchase. Amazon knows this; their “tipping point” came when they started adding user reviews to their product listings. As a general rule, I say “Do what Amazon does”.

Finally, some bloggers make money by writing reviews. Companies know the value of good reviews for generating PR buzz, arousing interest, and ultimately driving traffic and sales. And so a number of services have emerged to solicit paid reviews, which have become a major profit center for bloggers like John Chow.

How to write a valuable review

A good review ultimately answers one crucial question: should I, the reader, use this product? Of course, that’s not a simple question. On the way to answering that Big Question a good review has to answer a bunch of little questions:

  1. Who is this product for? Except for the very worst products, every product offers some value to someone. The question is, is that someone a reader of your blog? For example, ProTools is a great audio editing program for professional sound engineers, but I’d hardly recommend it as a tool for beginning podcasters. If your readers are more likely to be beginning podcasters than professional sound engineers, then, your readers should probably not use ProTools, which means you need to give a negative review to a great product.
  2. What are the features and benefits of using this product? I can’t tell you how sick I am of reviews that simply parrot a product’s specifications, as if that mattered. I don’t need to know what the manufacturer or publisher says the product should do, I need to know what it does do and, more importantly, how well it does it. And I need to know what I’ll get out of using it, what problem it solves. Consider cameras: we’ve all learned that knowing how many megapixels a camera can produce tells us very little about how well the pictures I take with it will come out. Your readers need to know the equivalent of how good the pictures are, not how many megapixels the product offers.
  3. How do you use it? A review doesn’t need to offer a full-blown tutorial, but it should offer some basic indication of how a product is used (or, in the case of books, how the information within might be applied). Do you turn it on and let it do it’s thing? Does it require a lot of attention from the user? Knowing how a product is used helps readers determine whether the product under review is, in fact, the product that might solve their own specific problems.
  4. What are the pros and cons of this product? A great product might well be too expensive, too difficult to learn, too poorly documented, too resource-hungry, or too buggy to recommend, depending on your audience. Most products are a mixed bag of plusses and minuses — they work great but are too expensive, they have a great idea but need a bit of polishing to be ready for casual users, they are well-written but ultimately offer poor advice, and so on. Since you can’t predict the needs of every person who might read your review, you need to be clear about the criteria you’re using and the positive and negative aspects of the product; there’s every chance that somebody will come across your review for whom your cons are irrelevant (for example, it’s too expensive for your college-student audience, but not for the IT manager of a big corporation who comes across your review via Google).
  5. How does it compare to similar products? Most of your readers already have some way to deal with the situation the product you’re reviewing promises to solve — they use another product, they have cobbled together a bunch of ill-equipped tools to form their own system, or maybe they have decided just to live with it. In many cases, there’s already a standard solution, like using MS Word for the creation of documents. Your review needs to tell people why they should (or shouldn’t) keep on doing whatever they’re doing, and why they should use this product rather than some other –which generally means comparing and contrasting the product with the other solutions already available. If you were reviewing a new word processor, for example, you’d want to explain why it should (or shouldn’t) replace MS Word — is it cheaper, easier to use, better at certain kinds of tasks?

If your review answers all these questions, then it’s easy for your readers to answer the Big Question: Should I use this product? Instead of a flat “yes’ or “no” (or “3 1/2 stars” or “two thumbs up” or whatever), you’ve given your readers enough information to determine whether or not it meets their needs. You can then give your qualified, personal, subjective take on the product knowing you’re not leading your readers astray.

And that is an incredibly valuable review.

Dustin M. Wax is the project manager and contributing editor at Lifehack and also writes The Writer’s Technology Companion. To find out more or to contact him, please visit his website.

What Was Your Blog’s Tipping Point?

Over the last ten or so days I’ve been asking a series of successful bloggers what their ‘tipping point’ is. We’ve heard some great stories from a variety of bloggers including:

So there’s the responses of 10 bloggers (plenty to chew on) but I’m interested to hear what YOUR blog’s tipping point/s have been?

Some of you might be thinking that your blog hasn’t had one yet – but a tipping point need not just be those moments when you hit the BIG TIME. As a few of our respondents have said in this series – most blogs have a series of tipping points along the way.

What significant or defining moments have you had in your blogging so far?

Come Join us in the ProBlogger Room on FriendFeed

Most regular readers of ProBlogger will know that I’ve been playing quite heavily with Twitter over the last few months. I’ve found it to be a very fruitful exercise.

Over the last month or two FriendFeed has been another tool that many bloggers are also playing with. I’ve dabbled with it (my FriendFeed Account is here) bot to this point am still trying to get my head around it (would love to see some good tutorials on how others are using it).

In the last 24 hours FriendFeed have added a new feature – Rooms. Most people that I see are still trying to work out what to do with rooms but from what I can see they could be useful – so I’ve started a ProBlogger Room to see what we can do with it. If you’re on FriendFeed and want to ‘play’ in our room – come join us.

If all we discover together is that rooms don’t work – we’ll learn something – but hopefully in the process we’ll get to know each other a little more and learn more about FriendFeed.