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Has Blogging Lost Its Relational Focus?

Today I want to talk a little about bloggers working together – to talk about the importance of it and to reflect upon whether the blogosphere has become a less relational place.

“After years of being in an offline business I’ve recently decided to start an online business that will include a blog. However as I research the topic I notice something about bloggers and how they relate to one another that confuses me a little – they link to their ‘competitors’. I’ve always kept an eye on my competitors in the past so that I could gain an advantage over them but bloggers seem to be doing something that is counter-intuitive to me yet it seems to benefit them at the same time. I wonder if you could write something on this topic?” – question submitted by Gerald.

Thanks for the question Gerald – you’ve picked up on something about blogging that is actually very important and something that I’ve always enjoyed about the medium.

Rather that write a full post on the how and why of working with other bloggers today I’d like to simply point you to a series of posts that I wrote on the topic back in 2005. It all started with a post called – ‘Blogging in Formation – Lessons from a Goose‘. In it I share why Geese fly further in formation and how as bloggers we can achieve more with a similar approach. I then followed it up with a number of other posts on building blogging relationships.

I do think that being relational as a blogger is an important aspect of blogging successfully.

Have Things Changed? Are Bloggers Becoming More Selfish?

This is a question I’ve been asked a few times lately and one that I’ve been pondering quite a bit.

You see when I first started blogging (it’ll be six years ago later in the year) there was a real community spirit among bloggers and the idea of bloggers helping bloggers was something most people seemed to embrace.

The blogosphere is a different place now in many ways. For starters there are a lot more blogs. There is almost a bigger focus upon blogging as a business tool and the idea of making money online in general.

As a result I do think there’s probably been a shift (a smallish one) to some degree in the ways that bloggers look at and treat one another. For example I hear people talking about their ‘competition’ a lot more and see some bloggers link out to other blogs in their niches less. I also see bloggers developing relationships more out of strategy rather than just because they want to connect.

However if you scratch under the surface you do find many bloggers working together in mutually beneficial ways. Behind most successful blogs you find a network of relationships and stories of blogs getting their breaks out of such relationships.

I don’t think that relational blogging is dead at all, but perhaps it’s just a little harder to find? I suspect this is more the case in some niches than others as I do see some fantastic communities of bloggers in around some topics.

I’d be interested in your thoughts on this

Is connecting with other bloggers important to you? Do you think blogging has become more or less relational?

UpdateI’ve updated this post here.

iPhone Applications for Bloggers

I know quite a few ProBlogger readers are enjoying the iPhone App store – so I thought I’d ask the question:

What iPhone Applications are most useful for bloggers?

In addition to that – what iPhone apps would you like to see developed for bloggers?

PS: I’m yet to get an iPhone (although I have ordered one at last and it should be here 1 August) but one app I’d love would be one that interacts with Google Analytics or some other metrics program. I’d like something that would send me a message/email/sms which an ‘event’ happens on one of my blogs. Events could be spikes in traffic, server outages, spikes in comments on a post, rise in traffic from a social media source…. Knowing these things would help keep blogs up and running but also leverage unusual traffic trends. Just a pie in the sky wish.

The Wink Wink, Nudge Nudge Method, Or, Blogging Is Flirting

Oh blogger, are you a flirt? You should be. Sara Ost from EcoSalon explains more.

Successful blogging takes epic diligence. As a blog grows and brings in new readers, we all want to maintain what we’ve already built. No easy task! This sort of strategy calls for an effective tactic. And that tactic, my friends, is flirting. Though we can call it anything, My Super Official Blog Maintenance & Growth Tactic is pretty lame, so I prefer the operation name Wink Wink, Nudge Nudge.

The premise here is simple: flirt.

men-flirting.png

To grow your blog and maintain that growth, wink at your loyal readers, nudge the new ones. It’s akin to keeping the romance alive with a steady love and coming on a bit stronger with a potential new flame (hint: send a glass of wine, not a Chupa Cabre). Blogging is just people, flirting is just attention, and no person anywhere dislikes attention. I’m not talking about asking your reader out on a date. I’m talking about rewarding them for engaging with your words – with you. The trick with blogging, of course, is that you’ve got to flirt with everyone at once, the old and the new, without being insincere. No one likes a player…but everyone loves a flirt.

Wink, Wink

1. Wink with a link to a previous relevant post

Link up with a brief explanation and a bit of a tease that will help loyal readers anticipate what you’re talking about before they’ve even finished the sentence. I admit, this is the tactic I use most because it’s the easiest (“you regular readers will remember that I blogged about this last month in such and such post. I just know you remember.”) And flirting with your older readers by showing you trust they’ve kept up their end of the repartee just proves to your new readers that they’re on to something good. No reader is going to invest herself in a blog long term (visit more than once) if she doesn’t feel she is in for some appreciation. She’s flirting with you, with your blog, for only a moment – show her you’re attentive down the road.

2. Wink with a reference to a reader in a post

Readers love seeing their name in hypertext (who doesn’t?). Mentioning and discussing a comment from Susan is great, but if you can use a tip from her, all the better. Your readers will begin working hard to find good information for you to post about, saving you work. And all you had to do was wink! Remember to say “Reader Susan”, not just “a reader” or “this chick”.

3. Reference a past poll

“Hey, guys, remember that awful design we all voted against? Today’s new product is even stranger.” If you haven’t started using micropolls yet, do it. (Here’s one at Treehugger, and here’s an example from my own site, EcoSalon). Both micropoll.com and polldaddy.com are free and easy to use. Polling is also a great way to get new readers involved when they’re too shy to de-lurk and leave a comment.

4. Link love again and again…and again.

Good bloggers do it more than once.

You’re winking with reckless abandon – good for you. You’re clearly into meaningful community as opposed to grabbing few quick pageviews before moving on to other projects (people). This brings me to ye olde linky link. Doing it more than once shows you’re not just in it for the one-time Google boost. Create a genuine relationship by linking to a generous blogger again in the future – and when you do, reference the post with the original link and, if pertinent, explain the history to your readers. (Loyal readers who have already seen a previous link will feel smarter from the familiarity – people are encouraged by repetition, not put off by it.) Don’t link ‘em and leave ‘em.

Nudge, Nudge

1. Ask Them to Subscribe

Oh, the new reader. You get hundreds – or, if you’re lucky, thousands – every day. How many return? How many think you’re worth it?

Asking for something from a new reader is one of the best ways to get them to come back. Whatever we invest it becomes more valuable. But the challenge is creating a request that is compelling. A lot of bloggers make the mistake of only ever asking for comments. I don’t think this is necessarily the best tactic. Many will be shy until they’ve been reading you for a while – the infamous “lurkers”. So get them to read you for a while. Don’t write a bland post and add a worthless comment call to action; focus on quality content and go ahead and ask them to subscribe. (On WordPress? You might try out the nudge par excellence Seth Godin plugin). I am inclined to think many new readers are more likely to subscribe than they are to comment because they can maintain their anonymity until they’re a bit more comfortable. A subscription is ultimately far more valuable than a single comment, so ask them to subscribe. After all, a good flirt is bold but never fails to put the subject of affection at ease.

2. Ask Them to Comment

Maybe you should ask for a comment after all. This works well if the content is really inspiring, or if your blog is in a niche where the posts are typically considered starting points for content creation (read: politics, blogging, eye candy of the living or inanimate sort). As for me, I’m shameless, so I ask for everything: RSS subscription, newsletter, comment, sharing, firstborn – you know, the usual. This is technically more of a hug than a nudge, so if that’s not your personality, don’t do it. ;)

3. Ask Them to Share It!

If a post is good and there’s a big, easy social media button to push, I push it. (I can’t help it!) This is something I haven’t tried out much with my own readers, but I’m curious to know how well it works for you. Do you prefer to carefully prepare one special post, and make a special request of your best readers to Digg or Stumble or Reddit, or do you throw it all out there at everyone and wait to see what sticks? In other words, do you lavish your skillz on special, or do you flirt with everyone? Whatever you do, do something. Flirtation does not favor the wallflower.

4. Poll

I won’t belabor this point as it’s been covered. But bear in mind that if people are reading your blog, they want to spill their opinions. And they like to see the fruits of their efforts. But new readers need a little extra nudge to overcome the initial shyness hurdle, and leaving a comment can be intimidating for some newbies. There’s nothing like a good, juicy, or polarizing survey to get them to test the waters (or, in keeping with our theme, to take a sip of what you’re sending).

Once a Flirt, Always a Flirt

Don’t be afraid to repeat, repeat, repeat. Then go do it again. Be generous with your winks (references), and those new reader nudges (calls to action) won’t seem so annoying (utterly shameless).

Though I’ve outlined some specific ways to “wink” and “nudge”, what this is really all about is pretty basic and intuitive: it’s simply about responding, acknowledging, and inviting. No one wants to be ignored, most enjoy helping, everyone likes to feel smart, and people love attention. You can’t become a BFF with everyone, nor can you answer every email, but a wink and nudge are no trouble at all. In the blogitat, it just helps to be a flirt. ;)

This is a guest post from Sara Ost. Her new blog is EcoSalon.

7 More Techniques to Make Your Blog Sticky

In 21 Ways to Make Your Blog or Website Sticky I shared a long list of ways to help first time readers ‘stick’ to your site and become loyal readers. The comments on that post triggered a number of other ideas for making sticky sites that I want to add. Thanks to everyone who has contributed their experience – there’s some great conversation in the comments on the previous thread already.

I’m going to continue the numbering from the last post and so kick of this new list at #22.

22. Monitor Your Stats

Alex – made the observation in his comment that a key to site stickiness is monitoring your blog’s stats to see when spikes of traffic are occurring.

This is right on the money. A spike in traffic coming in from another blog or social media site can come and go in hours and unless you’re aware it is happening you’re not able to optimize the post and capture some of the traffic. Some of the general principles of good design, invitations to subscribe will capture some of it but you’ll not be able to tailor the post.

While you can’t be awake 24/7 it can be worthwhile to check in to your blog’s metrics quickly throughout the day to see if there’s any unusual activity.

23. Use Video

A number of readers (like Claudine) suggested using video as a technique to keep people on your blog for longer (and thereby increase their engagement with your site. This is very true.

I find that since adding video posts to my blog’s front page here at ProBlogger the ‘time on site’ statistic for my blog has increased by about 10-20%. This is not a massive increase and it goes up higher on days that I post new videos but it is significants because it not only means people are on your site longer it means that they are exposed to your branding, voice, ideas, advertisers, links to other content and invitations to subscribe for longer (most of which increase the chance of them remembering your blog and coming back).

24. Membership

Raag commented that he offers his readers an option to become members of his site and gives them free downloads when they do.

Membership isn’t something that I’ve experimented on my blogs (although as mentioned in the previous post I do have a ‘forum’ which has membership) but it makes sense that membership would increase reader engagement – or at least it would for those who actually join.

The only danger that I see with ‘membership’ is that if you require it to make comments or use basic features of your blog (like voting in polls or contacting you for example) then it puts a barrier between people lurking and participating in your site. While it’s good when people make the leap to ‘join’ it could also isolate and put off some readers.

Having said this – I think an option for membership for those who want more could really help a lot.

25. WP Sticky

I have not tested this one but 1 HappyBlogger suggestss that the WP Sticky plugin can be used to make a post into an announcement that stays at the top of your page.

This post could be some kind of an invitation to subscribe, list of top posts, welcome etc.

I’ve not used this type of thing and probably would prefer to target specific users with announcements but it could be something to try.

26. Niche Blogging – Staying On Topic

Jayaprakash makes a good point in comments about ‘specific content’ and reminded me that one of the benefits of building a blog focused upon a ‘niche’ topic is that it becomes a selling point for people to keep coming back for more.

When you have a blog that is unashamedly focused upon a particular topic you’ll attract people who share that same passion and interest in that topic.

As a result – staying on topic and promoting the fact that you’re focussed on a niche becomes important.

27. Create a Debate

One other technique that I should have included yesterday is that of ‘debates’.

I mentioned yesterday that interactive sites were ‘sticky’ but to extend that idea – creating areas for users to debate controversial topics can also be very sticky sections of a blog.

When you pick a topic that people feel passionate about and then invite them to have their say you’ll find that readers not only have their say once – but will quite often come back again to read what others have to say and then respond to that.

While you should be a little careful about creating debates that get too heated and personal (you can create a culture on your blog where this can hurt your community) a well managed debate can go for weeks and create a real interest for readers on both sides.

28. Write a Reference Page

Lastly – in my last post I observed a recurring comment from readers that went like these:

  • “I’ve bookmarked this and plan to go back through this content with a checklist.” – Adam
  • “I will be referring to this often for reminders.” – Bsigirho
  • “I think I’ll be returning to this post again and again.” – SystemsThinker

It struck me as I read these comments that one of the best ways to build a sticky BLOG is to build a sticky POST – or a ‘reference post’ that people will come back to again and again over time.

When you build a comprehensive post that summarizes a lot of tips in the one place and that makes an impression you’ll find readers keep coming back to it because it is useful to them over time.

A brilliant example of this for me is Brian Clark’s 10 Sure-Fire Headline Formulas That Work which is a collection of 10 great templates for blog titles that I know many bloggers return to on a regular basis because it’s so useful to them on a daily basis. Create these kinds of evergreen posts that contain a lot of useful and applicable information and you’ll create a page that people just can’t stop visiting.

Thesis – a WordPress Theme Design Worth Considering

Thesis.pngWhat do you get when you take one great blog designer and match him with a fantastic blogger with superb writing ability and marketing skills?

Not it’s not the start to a bad joke and yes the answer could be many things – but today I’m excited because one of my favorite blog designers, Chris Pearson has teamed up with one of my favorite bloggers, Brian Clark from CopyBlogger to put together a fantastic Premium WordPress theme called Thesis.

This theme is already getting some great reviews around the blogosphere (you can see some testimonials here) and it is no wonder – because it’s got some great things going for it including:

  • SEO – WP is generally pretty well optimized to start with but Thesis takes it a step further and gives you every chance of ranking well in Google.
  • Accessibility – this theme will be able to be accessed by those using all kinds of browsers, mobile browsing and those with special needs
  • Customizable – you don’t want a design that looks exactly the same as everyone else’s – Chris has put together a theme that can have different backgrounds, has support for custom CSS and more. You can have rotating images to make your design even more unique. Alternatively you can use this multimedia box show six 125×125 ads, a video or even disable it. All this is done from within WP’s admin (see picture below) – very cool. Check out the ‘showcase‘ page on the Thesis site to see how others have been using the theme already.
  • Feature Rich – it plays nicely with Google Analytics and Mint, manages your RSS feed for you, separates comments and trackbacks, gives you lots of control over whether to show dates and author bylines on posts and much more.
  • Well Laid Out Design – Thesis is easy to get around and quite intuitive for those arriving on your site of all levels of web experience
  • Simple to Use – Thesis is easy to use and while I’m sure Chris will continue to add features and ways to use the theme it’s quite intuitive to get up and running and looking the way you want it.
  • Support - one thing that I love about Thesis is the support forum that Chris has built for those who invests in this theme. It’s already pretty active and covers a lot of the questions that you’d have as someone using it.
  • Free Upgrades - Chris has already released an update to Thesis which gives an indication that he’s still

You’ll want to check out Thesis for yourself – a good place to start is on it’s About Page.

Thesis comes with two license options. The personal license is $87 and the developer’s license is $164. The main difference is that the dev license allows you unlimited use of the theme across as many sites as you like.

If I were starting out today with a new blog and didn’t have the budget to get a custom design or the ability to design my own – Thesis would be something I’d serious look at investing in. In fact if I were starting a blog network today it’d be an ideal investment to grab the dev license as it is a great way to have a variety of blogs that share a similar look yet are customizable.

PS: here’s a look at the fantastic options panel that gives you control over many aspects of this theme (click to enlarge).

thesis-options.png

21 Ways to Make Your Blog or Website Sticky

Does the traffic coming to your site come in a Yo-Yo like cycle of ups and downs that never really seems to go anywhere in the long run?Glue

Yesterday I wrote about a common problem that many bloggers face – spikes of traffic followed by flat-lines and promised a follow up post today on how to break this cycle by building ‘sticky’ sites.

My point yesterday was to encourage readers not to see spikes in traffic as the ultimate goal but as a stepping stone to ongoing growth.

What is a ‘Sticky’ Site?

A sticky website is one where a first time reader arrives and finds it difficult to leave.

Not because the site owner captures them in a ‘RickRoll’ or a series of windows asking them if they REALLY want to leave – but because something about the site motivates them to explore it further – and more importantly to make a decision to (and takes some steps to ensure that they) return again to it.

21 Techniques to Make Your Site Sticky

The following 21 techniques are ways that you can make your blog or website more sticky. They come from my own experience of blogging over the last 5 years. As a result of basing this on personal experience I’m going to show you quite a few examples of what I’ve done (after all i know my own sites best). I’d love you to add your tips and show examples of what you’ve done in comments below to make it a more useful resource for readers.

1. Make Your Invitations to Subscribe to your blog Prominent

One of the most important things to do is to have a prominent call to action for readers coming to your blog to subscribe to it.

In fact I’d recommend having more than one invitation – one prominent one above the fold and prominent in your sidebar or navigation area and then a second one below your post. This means that people are triggered to subscribe whether they have just arrived on your blog or if they’ve just finished reading a post (a ‘pause point‘).

This is what I do on my blogs and my tracking shows that both get a fairly even number of people using the two options.

prominent-invitations-to-subscribe.jpg

By the way – if you’re not already subscribed to ProBlogger’s RSS feed – here it is!

2. Educate Readers about Your Subscription Methods

One of the most read posts here on ProBlogger is my ‘what is RSS‘ post which I have below my Subscription link. It’s there simply to educate readers on what RSS is and in doing so sell them a way to connect with my blog. Interestingly enough – quite a few other bloggers around the web now link to the page to educate their readers too.

Similarly – I occasionally will write a post on my blogs that invites new readers to subscribe. Sometimes I think we mistakenly assume that all of our readers have been with us for a long time and all know how to use our site – however many of your newer readers might not know the full story.

Here’s one of these posts that I ran on DPS last year. The day after I did this my RSS subscribers jumped considerably. It was just a matter of educating my newer readers of the blog on how they could connect better with it. You’ll also note that at the end of the post I asked readers to let me know how they follow the blog. This was for two reasons:

  • Firstly I wanted to involve older readers who already knew all the information in the post. It somehow seemed to make the post more relevant for them as it invited them to participate.
  • Secondly it was about social proof and showing newer readers how others used the site. I think the comments section reflected some of this.

3. Good Blog Design

I’ve always believed that a good blog design is an important part of helping readers to decide whether they’re going to hang around and track with your site over the long haul.

Readers make judgements about your site within seconds of arriving at it – if they see something cluttered and confusing they’ll be less likely to want to return.

Good design highlights your content, helps people navigate your site well and creates a good impression – and first impressions matter!

Keep your design simple, familiar and obvious and you’ll be on the road to a sticky site.

PS: A common mistake that I see bloggers making is to crowd out their content with too many ads above the fold. If a reader arrives at your site and has to scroll to see the content you’ll increase the numbers of people who simply hit the ‘back’ button on their browser.

4. On Site Branding

Work hard at building a brand that is attractive and draws people in.

First time readers should know what your blog is about at a first glance. Use your blog’s title, it’s design, taglines, post titles, about pages, logo and navigational elements to communicate what your blog is about.

Also – do something to differentiate the brand of your blog. It could be a logo, image, color scheme, blog name….

5. Make Your Blog Personal

One thing that I’ve seen a number of bloggers do really well over the last year or two is brand themselves well on their blog. While it’s not essential to have a blog that is centered around your personal brand I find that when you do add a personal touch to your blog that it can connect with readers in a powerful way.

personalize.jpg

The fact is that some readers are more interested in connecting with a person than a collection of content.

Adding your photo, writing in a personal tone, using video/audio and including personal details and stories of how you engage with your topic can give your blog personality which will draw some of your readers into a relationship with you.

6. When you get a rush of traffic to one particular post….

When the spikes in traffic come along you need to be ready to act (and act fast – because they can be momentary).

  • Add invitations to subscribe to your feed within your post. Something along the lines of ‘enjoy this post? Get more like it by subscribing to….’ can work really well.
  • It can also be worthwhile adding links at the end of your post to ‘further reading’ on posts that are getting lots of reader to them.
  • Sometimes when you get a spike it can even be worth writing a ‘welcome’ post. For example if I get a mention in a mainstream media publication that sends significant traffic I’ll often do a post that welcomes people but also gives them a ‘tour’ of the site (example).
  • Another clever move is to quickly write up a followup article to the one that is getting all the traffic. For example – if this post suddenly got a burst of traffic I could quickly write a post ’10 more ways to make your blog sticky’ and then add a link to that post at the end of this one (update: actually I wrote one called 7 more ways to make your blog sticky). This shows readers that you’ve got more to say on your topic than just one post. Every extra page view is a step closer to them subscribing (if the pages they view are good quality).

These ‘hot posts’ are really important to optimize (learn how to optimize popular posts).

7. Get Interactive

Getting someone to DO something on your blog means that they’ve invested something into your blog and increases the likelihood that they’ll return.

Interactive blogs are often also sticky ones. Interaction could include

  • Comments
  • Competitions
  • Polls
  • Projects and Memes

As a result it’s worth spending some time Learning how to get readers to comment on your blog – and exploring other ways to make your blog more interactive. Get your readers involved as much as you can!

The other bonus for ‘giveaways’, ‘special offers’ and ‘competitions’ is that when you do them regularly some readers will subscribe because they don’t want to miss out on future giveaways. The current competition might not interest them but they sure want to know when you do one in future.

8. Add a ‘subscribe to comments’ feature to your blog

This draws those who comment back to continue the conversation and increases the chances of them becoming loyal readers.

You’ll find that only some readers will ever use this – but even if just a few do you’ve had a win.

subscribe-comments.jpg

I have this enabled here at ProBlogger (I don’t have it on by default – those leaving comments have to choose to subscribe because I don’t want to inundate them with comments) and at any given time there are several hundred people subscribed to comments on posts. I use this subscribe to comments plugin to run mine.

PS: just be aware that if you get a lot of unmoderated comment spam it can be a little embarrassing to have this feature – I learned the hard way.

9. Respond to Comments

This is a particularly effective way to draw readers back to your blog – particularly in the early days when you don’t have a lot of readers commenting to follow up.

There are two main ways you can do this:

  • respond to comments with comments
  • respond to comments with emails to the comment leaver

Showing those that comment on your blog that you’re interacting with them can make a real impression and will often draw them back time and time again.

10. Offer alternative ways to subscribe

subscription-alternativesSome readers will respond well to your prominent invitation to subscribe via RSS (see #1 above) but others will be more open to connecting in other ways.

I generally offer three subscription methods:

  • RSS
  • Daily email updates (RSS to Email)
  • Weekly newsletter (summary of the blog from the last week plus some exclusive content)

More recently I’ve also been offering readers the ability to track with my blogs via Twitter and send my latest posts to my Twitter account via TweetBurner.

Why so many options? The answer is simply that each reader has their own systems in place to consume content and connect with websites – so offering a variety of methods increases the chances that you’ll be doing something that they are familiar with.

11. Promote social media connecting points

Similarly – some of your readers will respond very well to your invitations to connect on other social media sites.

For example I have some readers on DPS who are Facebook junkies. They refuse to subscribe via RSS or email but religiously read my blog by following my Facebook profile which pulls in my latest posts.

Another small group of readers here at ProBlogger follow this blog through Technorati’s favorites feature. While I prefer to read blogs using an rss reader like Google Reader – their rhythm of reading content revolves around Technorati. As a result I’m happy that I promoted my Technorati profile (you can favorite ProBlogger here).

While you might not see the sense in people following your blog in some of these social media sites others do and at the very least promoting them can potentially reinforce your brand.

Social-Media-1

12. Highlight Your Best Content

A great way to convince readers to become loyal is to get them reading more than one of your posts (especially if they are your best posts). You can do this by linking to other posts within your content but also suggesting further reading and ‘best of’ posts around your blog.

For example – here at ProBlogger on my front page the ‘best of ProBlogger’ section is one of the most clicked upon parts of my site. This small section of the site sends people deep within the blog to some of my best work – hopefully resulting in quite a few new loyal readers.
Best-Of-Pb
At DPS I have a small section on my sidebar called ‘Digital Photography Tips’ which is a list of ‘sneeze pages‘ (or compilation pages of my best posts in certain categories). Again – these are there simply to draw people deep into the site and get them viewing some of the best the site has to offer (and hopefully to convince them to subscribe).

Best-Of-Dps

13. Create Momentum With Your Content

AnticipationWhen you give readers a sense that you’re creating more content that they’ll want to read you give them a reason to subscribe.

For example when a reader reads the first part of a series of posts on a topic that they find useful you can count on them wanting to read the rest.

I wrote about this in a post on creating a sense of anticipation on your blog.

14. Consider Removing Dates on Old Posts

This one could be a little controversial but I find that when old posts are not dated that it doesn’t create a ‘oh this is old’ type reaction in your readers.

I’ve seen this numerous times here on ProBlogger where posts written back in 2005 have attracted comments like ‘this is old’ or ‘out of date tips’ – even when the content has been of a ‘timeless’ or evergreen nature.

Personally I think that you should consider the type of blog you have before doing this. For me it works on DPS where I’ve never had dates on posts – but not here at ProBlogger where I have a topic that is more time specific (I’ll write more on this topic in coming days).

15. Give Incentive to Subscribe

 IncentiveOver the last few days I’ve had a small competition going on Digital Photography School where I’m giving 3 subscribers to my newsletter there a copy of a great photography book.

1500 new subscribers later (and counting that small incentive is one of the best $50 I’ve ever spent.

Give away a book, free ebook or report, download or some other incentive to those subscribing to your blog’s feed or newsletter and you could give some readers the little extra incentive to connect that they needed.

It need not be anything expensive (or that costs you anything at all) – just make it a small bonus and see what impact that might have.

16. Keep Posting Frequency Up

One thing that I do as a blog reader deciding whether I’ll subscribe to a blog or not is to head to the home page and see how often they’ve updated recently.

There’s nothing more frustrating as a reader than to find some great content and be hungry for more only to find that the blogger hasn’t update in 3 months.

I don’t think you need to update every day – but something in the last week shows that your blog is up to date. You can also highlight this by showing your most recent posts somewhere in your sidebar.

17. Create an Engaging About Page

About-PageAnother thing that I often do when I go to a new blog is to look at it’s ‘about page‘.

I like to know who is behind a blog, what their goals for it are, how it started and other information about what the blogger is on about.

This is an opportunity to sell your blog to and make a connection with prospective readers who are going out of their way to find out more about you – so use it to tell your story and draw readers in to journey with you.

PS: whatever you do – don’t let your about page be the default about page that comes with your blog.

18. Add a Community Area or Forum

One of the best things that I ever did with my photography site was to add a forum.

I cannot express to you just how sticky that area of DPS is!

While readers come to the blog once a day to read new content – some of them come to the forum ALL DAY – racking up literally hundreds of page views a week.

Forums won’t attract all of your readers (I suspect they attract some personality types and not others) – but they will connect with some and help make your site a lot stickier.

19. Social Proof

Feedburner-Subscription-Conters-2Does your blog have readers already? If so (and even if it’s just a few) highlight this in any way that you can and you’ll show other first timers that they’re not the only one reading your blog.

People attract people and a site that is obviously being read by others will draw others into it.

This can be difficult in the early days of a blog when you don’t have a lot of activity – but as it builds show it off.

Highlight new comments, show subscriber numbers when you have them, quote readers comments, find a way to slip your stats into a post occassionally etc.

It’s a bit of a snowball effect – once you have readers they’ll bring others in.

One thing that I occassionally do at DPS on my subscribe page (a page dedicated to talking readers through 3 subscription options) is to not only highlight the options but to tell people how many people are using them. In this way those considering subscribing get a sense that they’re actually becoming a part of something that has momentum and thousands of others joining.

20. Target Readers with Specific Messages

Here are a few tools and plugins out there that enable you to present specific messages to certain readers coming to your blog based upon where they’ve arrived from and if they’ve been to your blog before.

  • LandingSites is a WP plugin that shows readers arriving from search engines related posts on the search term that they’ve searched for.
  • What Would Seth Godin Do is a plugin that welcomes new readers to your blog with a special message and invitation to subcribe.

Got any other plugins and tools for targeting readers with specific messages? Feel free to share them in comments below.

21. Sticky Content

Lastly (and most importantly in my mind) – the key to sticky sites is sticky content.

You can have the best designed site in the world with lots of the above features – but unless readers who come to it find something that connects and brings them life in some way – you’re unlikely to get them back tomorrow.

Writing engaging content needs to be your number one Priority.

What Have I Missed?

As I wrote this list the ideas just kept coming (I originally set out to write a list of 10 points… then 20…. then I just had to slip in one more) – but I’m sure there is more to say on the topic of sticky sites.

What would you add? What have you done on your site to add stickiness?

Looking forward to hearing your ideas in comments below.

PS: Welcome to StumbleUpon readers

This post has gone crazy on StumbleUpon today. If you’ve surfed in from there thanks for dropping by. If you’ve found this post helpful I’d appreciate you stumbling it. You might also find future posts on ProBlogger helpful – so don’t forget to subscribe (you know I had to do that on a post like this!)

Lastly – this post has led to some great conversation in comments below which has triggered a lot of other ideas for creating sticky blogs in my mind – so I’ve written a followup post – 7 More ways to make your blog sticky.

You’ll Never Know Unless You Ask

Growing up I was a very shy little guy. I was so shy that I rarely put myself out there in situations that I was unfamiliar with and never asked other people for favors unless I was either in desperate need or very familiar with the other person.

I remember my mum telling me on numerous occassions when I was too shy to ask people things – ‘you’ll never know unless you ask’.

It struck me today that while I’m still pretty shy that I wouldn’t be where I am today if I’d not overcome my inability to put myself ‘out there’ and had I not learned to ‘ask’ others for help.

The reason it struck me today is that I’d emailed a couple of well known photographers asking them if they’d be interested in writing a guest post for me at Digital Photography School. I’d never had any contact with them before and they had no knowledge of me or my site.

A couple of hours later I had two of the three replying back saying yes (the other said no).

My natural inclination when thinking about these photographers is to avoid contact them.

  • I don’t want to put them out
  • I don’t want to risk the feeling of rejection of them saying no
  • I don’t want to look foolish in front of these people who are famous in their niche.

My list of reasons NOT to contact them could be long – I’m good at making excuses for myself – however over the last 5 years of blogging I’ve discovered that stepping outside of my comfort zone is something that more often than not pays off – both for me and the person that I step towards.

A few examples come to mind:

  • Emailing my hero Seth Godin and asking for an interview (and another time suggesting a a post he might like to link to) – both times he responded in the affirmative
  • Emailing national and international mainstream media outlets with ideas for stories that they could write that would feature me – this has paid off numerous times.
  • Emailing blog designers and asking for help with my blog’s design (I did this in the early days of my blogging and Rachel from Cre8d did some wonderful work for me very reasonably).
  • Sending countless links to countless bloggers (many of them so called ‘A-listers’) when I thought the links related to their content and having them link up

Again the list could go on.

Of course for every ‘success’ I’ve had like these I could tell you stories of rejection. Seth said no to writing a foreword for my book (understandably), countless bloggers ignored my emails, media outlets did stories on the topics I suggested without featuring me…. the list could go on!

The key to what I’ve learned is the same thing that my mum taught me as a shy little guy – ‘you’ll never really know unless you ask.’

When you ask things of other people the chances are good that they’ll come back with a no – but you’ll never really know until you ask – and the thing is that when you do ask you are a step closer to them saying yes than if you’d not asked at all.

The Key to Asking is Win Win Interactions

This post might make it sound like I never do any work for myself and am constantly living off the generosity of others – but this isn’t the case. The key that I’ve found with ‘getting’ things off other bloggers is to ‘give’ them something in return. Win/Win interactions are key.

If you can find a way that doing you a favor helps the other person as much or more than it helps you then everyone comes away a winner.

So in asking the photographers if they’d be interested in guest posting for DPS today I made it clear that it’d be very helpful for me but that it’d also bring them exposure to their own projects as the site was being widely read.

While not everyone can offer lots of exposure – I guess the key is to find some way that you can help the person that you’re asking a favor from so that they benefit in some way.

For example – instead of sending someone a generic email asking if they’d link to you – why not send them a high quality guest post that they can’t resist posting?

Do Your Visitor Numbers Look Like This?

Visitor-Numbers-1

“Darren, I have been blogging for 6 months and have tried to build traffic through social media, networking and buying reviews. I have attached a screen capture of the last 2 months of traffic (above) where you will see I have some good days in traffic, but it always flat lines days later.

The spikes all come from social bookmarking campaigns, links from other blogs or paid reviews – but my normal days of traffic are no higher than months ago. Help!?”

The above excerpt came from an email from a ProBlogger reader recently who is faced with a problem that many bloggers struggle with.

It’s literally a roller coaster ride – both in terms of traffic numbers but also emotions as you watch with hope your traffic rising on a good day only to see it flatline the next.

Like the blogger above mentions (he wished to remain anonymous) the spikes in traffic can come from any number of sources including:

  • a post being featured on a social bookmarking site
  • a paid review on another blog
  • organic links from other sites
  • being mentioned in mainstream media
  • a seasonal burst of traffic from search engines

Tomorrow I’m going to write a post that gives 20 practical tips on how to combat this spike/flatline trend but today I want to start with one ‘lesson’ for those of you who have traffic charts like the one above. It’s a lesson that our blogging friend above has already learnt.

Getting a Spike in Traffic is only Half the Strategy

If there’s only one thing that I’d like to get across in this post it is that we need stop seeing the sudden burst in traffic as the ultimate goal and to start seeing it as a stepping stone to sustained blog growth.

This is a lesson that some bloggers never seem to learn – so recognizing the problem is actually a breakthrough.

I know the temptation to see the spike as the end result and have fallen for that temptation myself on numerous occasions – however to pop open the champagne to celebrate your good fortune at this point is to miss an incredible opportunity – the opportunity of recruiting a percentage of the readers coming into your blog as regular readers.

How to Build a Sticky Blog

With our first lesson in mind tomorrow I want to move us forward by looking at the concept of making our blogs ‘sticky’ (you can read the next post in this series here).

The word ‘sticky’ might be a strange one to associate with a blog but it’s a good one because it describes the idea of making readers ‘stick’ to your blog beyond their first visit. It’s all about making spikes in traffic have a lasting impact rather than give cause for momentary celebration.

I hope you’ll join me tomorrow when I propose 20 techniques for building a sticky blog.

update – read the next post at 21 Ways to Make Your Blog or Website Sticky (I thought of an extra one to take it to a list of 21 instead of 20).

When Should You Add a Newsletter to Your Blog?

Over on Plurk HCI Blogger asked me – “How do you decide when to start publishing a newsletter?”

I’m sure other bloggers with newsletters will have different opinions to me on this one but if I were starting a new blog today I’d start a newsletter to go with it on the very same day.

I won’t rehash all of the reasons why a newsletter can improve your blog but will give a couple of reasons why starting one at the launch date of your blog can be a good idea.

3 Reasons Why You Should Consider Starting a Newsletter in the Early Days of Your Blog

1. ‘Capture’ Early Readers – while some would argue that when you don’t have many readers it can be more effort than it’s worth to start a newsletter I have found that it’s not the case. When I started Digital Photography School I started a newsletter very quickly after launch and found that it was a great way of convincing those first time readers to come back to the blog for a second look.

Your blog might only have 10 readers a day – but if you can send those 10 readers an email once a week that reminds them to check out a new post on your blog then over a year you’ve effectively created 500 new visits to your blog from just 10 readers. Recruit 10 new readers a week to subscribe to your blog and by the end of the year you’ve got 500 subscribers.

In short – it’s never too early to start creating loyal readers on your blog.

2. Use Subscribers to Sneeze Your Blog to Others – in the early days of my DPS blog I would give my subscribers regular updates on how many people subscribed and how the blog was developing. My motivation was to show them that they were a part of something that was growing. What I found in doing this was that it was my newsletter subscribers who promoted my blog and newsletter to their friends.

A newsletter is great at drawing people back to your site but it’s also great at creating momentum and giving readers a sense of ownership of your blog. Get them involved in promoting you and you could find that these first subscribers really take your blog to the next level for you.

3. Develop Routine – creating a newsletter each week takes time and effort (I spend 1-2 hours each week on creating each of my newsletters). While you could put off this effort until your blog has a regular readership, doing it in the early days helps you to create a weekly rhythm for your blog that helps you keep things going. It also helps you get used to the newsletter tool that you’ve chosen so that when your audience is bigger you’ve already got a great template and handle on how to use it effectively.

A Last Tip – Start Small

OK – I’ve probably just freaked a few of you out with the information that it takes me 1-2 hours a week to make a newsletter. Most people don’t have that kind of time!

Don’t stress – I would highly recommend that you start smaller than that in two ways:

  • Less Regularity – there’s no need to start with a weekly email if your list is small. You might like to start with an email that goes out every 2nd week or even monthly in the early days.
  • Simple Emails – the emails that I send are html emails that do take a little extra work. I insert pictures and get emails looking as good as possible. However you can always start out with a simple html template or even just with a text based email. Both of these will take less time (I find that I can put together a good text email in half an hour).

Having said this – newsletters do take time and effort to produce. They have many benefits but they don’t just happen by themselves.

What do you think?

Do you have a newsletter attached to your blog? Why or Why not?