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How to use PR People to Build Traffic for your Blog

There’s a lot of talk that goes around the blogosphere about how PR people try to USE bloggers to help their clients – but how can bloggers USE PR people (or at least make the relationship a little more mutually beneficial)? In this post Erik Sebellin-Ross from Ready Aim Reach shares some tips on how bloggers can use PR people to help grow their blogs.

In my last post here at ProBlogger, I tried to help bloggers understand how public relations (PR) people work so, when a flack comes calling, it’s not so much an intrusion as it is an opportunity. Today, I’m going to take that one step further and talk about how you can use PR people, or any of those marketing types, to help build traffic for your blog.

Small fry? How to increase your chance of success

Either the PR people are approaching you or they are not. If they are, then life is a whole lot easier. And I’ll talk about that in just a moment. But if they are not, then assuming your blog topic is not too esoteric, odds are you are just too small.

Well, good news! Good things can come in small packages. You just have to convince the marketing types of that. And this is how you do it.

Take your small package — your blog — and team up with other small packages — other bloggers who share your interests and subject matter — and approach the company as team.

Now you are not one small blog with a small group of visitors. You are one large team with a large group of visitors. And this works because, with marketers, the key is always to convince them that there is something in it for them. In this case, the something is a big group of visitors.

So how does this translate into reality? Well, for one example, you could approach the company with a proposal to run a joint contest. All of you would promote it. All of you would solicit visitors to enter. And all of you, jointly, would give away the prizes.

Which, in turn, exposes the visitors of multiple blogs to the company while it builds traffic to you.

Pretty good, eh?

(And, hey, if your blog is esoteric to the point where you are the only blogger on that topic, assuming the company you want to approach is related to your subject, then it matters less that you don’t have many visitors because you are the only game in town. See? Being different is good!)

Big fry? How to get beyond the press release

If your blog has been noticed by marketers, odds are good that you’ve received a few press releases or pitches asking you to write about a product or service. The trick now is to go beyond the press release and build some hefty traffic for your blog.

And here are a few ways to do just that.

1. Get free product or access to services
Publicists can often send you product (or give you access to a service) for free. They obviously don’t do this without expecting something in kind – a mention is good for starters, a review is better. But take this a step farther – rather than getting something just for yourself, ask for things you can give to your readers.

Because, when it comes to traffic, while original content is good, prizes are great.

2. Information, logos, and other visuals on tap
If you need information, logos, or other visuals from a company or government office, or about a person working at one, you can save yourself a lot of time by writing to the public relations (sometimes referred to as “corporate communications”, or even “public affairs” for government workers) department and asking for what you want.

Now, be prepared for a wait of at least a few days – PR people are gatekeepers, not librarians, which means they have to gather the information from others. You also have to be prepared for some sugary marketing fluff. Feel free to take that out. For example, feel free to change “Acme is a leading innovator of widgets” to “Acme manufactures widgets.”

3. Experts and researchers on tap, too
If you’ve ever wanted to interview an executive, engineer, or anyone else at a company, your best chances for success are to go through the PR person. They’ll be able to schedule meetings for you. But keep in mind that one rule – it has to be worth their while. These requests have a good chance of success when you’re writing big-picture posts — “state of the industry” types, for example.

4. Get them to link to you
Many companies have blogs now. Many have newsletters, and some are even creating social media news releases. Be it on the front page of their main Web site or some other client-facing digital medium, if you think the content of your blog is valuable to a company’s client base, consider asking them to include you on their blogroll, or offer to create guest posts. After all, everyone benefits from a little link love.

What about you?

Some of you have been at this for awhile. I’m curious to know about your experience in this area. Have you encountered a different way of working? Come up against a brick wall of some kind? Leave a comment or let me know. Or better yet, both!

Erik Sebellin-Ross is a social media strategist. His blog is ReadyAimReach.com and he can be reached directly at [email protected]

Does Twitter Distract From or Inspire Your Blogging?

Sarah from Blogversary emailed me earlier today with a question/observation about some people and their use of social messaging tools like Twitter and Plurk. Her email included:

Do think Twitter has had a negative impact on some folk’s blogs? As in, they are blogging less?

My initial reaction to her email was to think of a number of bloggers who’ve all but disappeared from their blogs since discovering Twitter. The ‘distraction’ element of Twitter has been profound for them.

But as I began to think about it I realized that there’s another group of social messenger users that have been energized in their blogging by Twitter and Plurk. I’d consider myself to be in this group.

I personally find that Twitter informs and inspires my blogging. The interactions that I have, the conversations that I see others having, the questions that I’m asked and the answers that other users of Twitter and Plurk give me are constantly feeding me with ideas to blog about.

So my question for those of you who are social messaging users is this:

Does social messaging distract or inspire your blogging?

If you’re one of those bloggers who is inspired by these mediums – I’d also love to hear your reflections on how you keep it from being a distraction and how you shape your use of the mediums to inform and inspire your blogging.

Interview with Kristopher B. Jones – PepperjamNETWORK

kris.jpgEarlier in the week I posted that PepperJam Network was giving all new publishers who signed up with their network a signup bonus of $10. Today I’ve managed to get a quick interview with Pepperjam Network’s CEO and President Kristopher B. Jones to ask him about the network, why he started it and what tips he could give us as publishers for using it in a way that earns us the most money.

By the way – the $10 Signup Bonus runs through until the end of the month but to get it you need to sign up through this link - Pepperjam Network

Could you start by explaining to ProBlogger readers what the Pepperjam Network actually is?

The easiest way to describe Pepperjam Network is that we help affiliates and bloggers monetize Web traffic (aka, make money) by partnering with well-known advertisers on a pay-for-performance basis. The affiliate or blogger promotes the advertiser through links (banners, text links, pepperjamADS Widget, etc.) provided through Pepperjam Network – when a referral is made, the affiliate or blogger gets paid either a percentage of the sale or a flat fee on a lead. Affiliate marketing is really easy to get started with and we are finding that some of our top performers are bloggers just like your readers!

There are quite a few other affiliate marketing networks around – why did you start another one? What differentiates you from the rest? Why should bloggers consider joining pepperjamNETWORK?

I can’t disagree with you – there sure are a lot of affiliate networks out there!

However, most of the other affiliate networks either run off of the same technology platform (Direct Track, for instance) and / or are small operations with minimal reach and little to no access to top tier publishers and advertisers.

Unlike many of the “start-up” affiliate networks, Pepperjam is no stranger to affiliate marketing. I started out as an affiliate marketer myself in 1999 (see below). By 2002 I became (so I’m told) one of the most successful affiliate marketers in the business and had already started working as a consultant on the advertiser side of the business.

Before we launched our affiliate network in January of this year we had already established our company as one of the industry leaders in search maketing, affiliate marketing, and online media planning & managment – we already had a client roster that included some of the leading brands across all areas of business and we brought over 8 years of experience to the table!

In short, the above makes us different! But here’s how we executed….

Pepperjam Network is a “next generation” affiliate marketing network. It took us about two years to build and we incorporated the input of over 100 top advertisers and affiliates. In addition to being a network built with Web 2.0 technologies like AJAX, which dramatically improved user experience (aka, usability), Pepperjam Network addresses the two most prominent shortcomings of other networks, namely (1) poor communication tools, and (2) lack of affiliate transparency. Among other tools, Pepperjam Network empowers affiliates and advertisers to communicate more effectively through an internal, real-time chat solution called Pepperjam Chat – with PJ Chat affiliates and advertisers can negotiate private offers, discuss promotional strategies, request coupon codes, and talk about anything they want to improve the relationship. On the side of improving affiliate transparency, Pepperjam Network “ranks” all affiliates on a 5 point scale based on their willingness to disclose promotional methods, Web site(s) used for purposes of affiliate marketing, and accurate, verifiable contact information. In short, the more “transparent” the affiliate is within the network the more likelihood they will get approved to a program, qualify for higher payouts, and be eligible for special incentives.

The goal with Pepperjam Network was to provide a next generation solution that both advertisers and affiliates could build long-term profitable relationships.

From what we are being told by our advertisers and affiliates we have advanced the affiliate marketing industry further in a shorter period of time than anyone before us. :)

One of the concepts that you talk a lot about in your promotion is ‘affiliate transparency’. What is it and why is it so important to you as a network?

l talk about this a bit above. For purposes of Pepperjam Network, “Affiliate Transparency” is a relative measure of any given affiliate’s willingness to disclose and share important information to PJN advertisers. For instance, we ask affiliates upon signing-up for PJN to disclose basic promotional methods (i.e. search, direct linking, loyalty, software, etc.), all Web site(s) used for purposes of promoting PJN advertisers, and to provide accurate, verifiable contact information. Based on this transparency data, along with an analysis of marketing potential, the affiliate is given a score from 0 to 5. While the affiliate may start out with a low transparency score…the good news is that the score is dynamic. This means that if the affiliate really wants to be transparent with the advertiser than they can log back in to their PJN account and become more transparent!

Transparency scores can have a significant effect on how affiliates are viewed by Pepperjam Network advertisers. On the one hand, some PJN advertisers (not all) see low affiliate transparency scores as representing a higher level of “risk” or overall lower level of potential. On the other hand, if an affiliate has a transparency score of 3, 4, or 5 they may automatically qualify for special commission payouts and incentives from select PJN advertisers. In addition, some PJN advertisers automatically approve affiliates with a high transparency rating – this means that an affiliate stands a considerable advantage to other affiliates if they have a high transparency rating. Another benefit of a high transparency rating is that the affiliate is more likely to have access to higher commission payouts.

At the same time, just because an affiliate has a 1 or 2 transparency rating doesn’t mean they can’t get accepted to Pepperjam Network affiliate programs or can’t get higher payouts – however, it does mean that they become a more transparent affiliate.

BTW – let me address a concern that some of your readers may automatically (and rightfully!!!) have regarding “transparency.” “Being transparent” on PJN does not mean that we will disclose confidential or proprietary affiliate information to advertisers. In fact, Pepperjan Network is absolutely committed to maintaining the confidentiality of important affiliate information and data – we will never share that data (i.e., SSN, reerring URL’s, etc.) with advertisers without legal intervention. However, we strongly believe that it is very important to provide enough basic, verifiable information to advertisers so that they are in the best possible position to build an open, honest relationship with the affiliate and pay the absolute highest commissions!

Many ProBlogger readers are new to affiliate marketing or have had limited success with it – what tips would you give them to lift their performance?

The key is to find something that works, replicate it, and scale it. This is the formula I used back in 1999 when I started out as an affiliate and in my prime (I’m now an old man at 32 years old) I was making enough money to do just about anything I wanted. Instead of buying a big house (my current house is modest) or a $200K car (disclosure – I do drive a Cadilac Escalade in the winter and a BMW Z4 in the summer :)) I took all the money I generated as an affiliate and helped build the fastest growing full-service internet marketing agency and affiliate network in the United States. So the moral of the story is that my simple formula works!

Again, here is my three step process to affiliate marketing riches. (1) Find something that works. (2) Replicate it. (3) Scale it.

For instance, I shared this formula last year during the A4U Expo to an audience of about 400 attendees and I even gave a specific example of how it can potentially work, which I will now share with your readers.

I said…while I never personally tried it, that bidding on high traffic typos on pay-per-click engines was something that I knew would work, was easily replicated, and highly scalable. Typos are common misspellings of words that people might use when looking for a specific product or service. Anyway, the idea was that an affiliate could easily and most likely make money by bidding on a typo such as cheeze or Pollo Shirt and sending the traffic through a landing page with an affiliate offer or directly to an advertiser selling cheeses (i.e., igourmet.com) or Polo Shirts (i.e. bluefly.com). I also argued that since there are literally thousands upon thousands of affiliate programs across multiple networks my “typo” affiliate marketing strategy was both easily replicated (think about it…offfice supplies, Nick sneakers, Blueflie, etc.) and easily scalable (Amazon, eBay, Pepperjam Network, Tradedoubler, Linkshare, Google Affiliate Network, etc.).

A few months later I spoke at a conference and asked if anyone in the audience if they had ever heard me speak before and learned enough to make a lot of money. The good news is that a few dozen people raised their hand, including the TYPO GUY!!! The “typo guy” heard me speak at A4U Expo, took my advice, and said he was poised to make 6 figures in 2008 based on that strategy. True story.

The simple formula works, but it is worth spending as much time at step one (1) as necessary since it is the most difficult, challenging, and critical step in the process!

What are pepperjamADS?

pepperjamADS is an affiliate marketing widget that an affiliate can use to serve customized contextual ads from one or multiple Pepperjam Network advertisers at the same time. The ad units come in various shapes and sizes. The affiliate can mix and mash ads from any of their merchant partners. For instance, the affiliate can create a fashion widget by selecting various ads from multiple fashion merchants. Likewise, the affiliate can create a specific widget with ads from any one merchant.

We find that pepperjamADS converts almost five times as well as normal banner ads and about three times as well as normal text ads. In addition, we find that pepperjamADS works especially well with blogger affiliates since pepperjamADS looks a lot like Google AdSense units, which are very easily integrated into existing content / posts. Also, since you can choose the ads you want within the widget, and can change the look and feel (i.e. color, size) to fit the theme of your site, pepperjamADS are worth testing if you are a blogger.

Click Here for a Video Tutorial of pepperjamADS.

Could you talk us through the blogger incentive program that you’re running this month?

Since we launched Pepperjam Network we have had a very successful publisher referral program that paid out up to $7 flat for any new affiliate referral.

For the month of July we decided to increase the payout to ALL Pepperjam Network Publisher Referral Program affiliates to $7 flat…but that’s not all.

We also decided to give our affiliates the ability to give away $10 for free to help them sign-up new affiliates…but that’s not all.

Finally, we decided to launch the affiliate marketing industry’s first ever Blogger Incentive Program!

There is no doubt about the fact that Bloggers are the lifeblood of the PJN Publisher Referral program and tend to be our biggest supporters and closest friends.

As a result, we created a sort of “Pay Per Post” incentive program where any PJN publisher / blogger receives $10 for each post they make (up to 5 per month) that promotes Pepperjam Network or any Pepperjam Network tool.

The cool thing about the PJN Blogger Incentive Program is that not only can the blogger make $10 for each post, but they can give away $10 to new affiliates, and make an additional $7 for each new affiliate they refer to Pepperjam Network.

BTW – if any of your readers are interested in signing up for the PJN Blogger Incentive Program they first need to be accepted as a Pepperjam Network publisher / affiliate. Then they have to apply to the Pepperam Network Publisher Referral Program, which is found under the “Find Partners” tab once they log-in to their account for the first time. Once approved for the referral progam they should read the rules to participate in the program, which includes sending a topic proposal and blog URL to the PJN Blogger Incentive Program management team for approval, along with a few requirements to reduce spam and maximize quality. While this is an easy way for bloggers to make money we are absolutely committed to making sure the program is of the highest quality!

BTW – for those Problogger readers looking to learn more about Pepperjam Network and to look for blog ideas they can visit the Pepperjam Network blog – www.pepperjamnetwork.com/blog.

Explore the Pepperjam Network for yourself by signing up here

What are the Benefits of Adding Video to your Blog?

A number of weeks ago skinner (from Twitter) asked me:

what are the benefits of adding video to your blog?”

I thought it’d make an interesting reader question. How would you answer it?

Do you use video on your blog? Why (or why not)? What do you like and dislike about video on other people’s blogs?

A Blogger’s Guide to Branding with Social Media

This is a guest post from Steven Snell. Steven writes about social media marketing at Traffikd.

As the number of blogs online continues to grow rapidly every day, the need for effective branding is also constantly increasing. Branding allows you to stand out from others in your niche and show your readers what you’re all about and why they should pay attention to you. There are any number of different methods that you can take for branding yourself and your blog, and social media is one of them.

Why is Social Media Marketing and Excellent Opportunity for Branding?

It’s Free

Social media marketing doesn’t require any financial investment, something that most bloggers are concerned about. Of course, there are plenty of consultants and marketers that are willing to do much of the work for you if you’re willing to pay, and if you have the money it may be worth considering. However, anyone can be effective with social media, it just takes some time and effort. When you consider the impact that social media can have for a blog, it’s incredible that you can create those kinds of results without spending any money.

Unlimited Potential

The impact that social media can have on your blog and how you are branded is just about endless. Some very successful blogs have been built primarily on posts that have taken off with social media. It’s not the shortcut that many bloggers think it is, but there is plenty of potential if you’re willing to use it effectively.

Large Audience

Each of the major social media sites has an incredibly large audience on its own. Small sites may not have the same impact individually, but the social media audience as a whole makes up a large, and growing population of internet users. Niche sites are even contributing to creating a more diverse audience of social media users. Any blogger could find a way to benefit by reaching this audience.

Success Can Be Achieved Quickly

Branding yourself through social media will not happen by getting one post to the front page of Digg, but it can happen relatively quickly, especially when compared to other more traditional marketing methods. Even new blogs can achieve a strong level of branding through social media in just a few short months.

Other Perks

With social media marketing there are plenty of other good things happening while you’re branding your blog, including lots of new visitors, building links, gaining subscribers, and developing content that will draw search engine traffic for years to come.

Why is Branding Important for Bloggers?

Well, in the first paragraph I mentioned that branding is critical for blogging success, so let’s take a look at some of the specifics.

Too Much Competition

Although other bloggers in your niche are not really competition, if they’re getting all the attention from readers and you’re getting none, they basically are competition until you can start to make some progress. Simply put, there are too many blogs in most niches these days to get noticed and retain loyal readers without branding your blog. Those who are able to stand out from the pack in one way or another will excel, and those that don’t give any thought to branding will be held back.

The Personal Nature of Blogging

Because blogging is so personal, effective branding can help readers to connect to you and understand where you’re coming from and what you’re trying to do through the blog. When readers are able to develop a strong connection to you, you’re on your way to success.

Long-Term Readers

Blogs that are branded effectively will be much more likely to retain loyal readers indefinitely. Readers are not going to give up on you because of a few sub-par posts if the know what to expect from you in the future.

Security

Long-term, loyal readers give you a certain level of security as a blogger. When you have an established audience you don’t have to worry about your blog experiencing big ups and downs. Well-branded blogs are seen by readers as being valuable for a specific reason, and that helps to make you a bit more secure as long as you can hold that reputation.

Action Steps for Using Social Media to Brand Your Blog

1. Know How You Want to Be Seen by Readers

The critical first step of branding is to know how you want to be branded. What do you want to be known for? Without having a clear goal you will just be using social media to pad your stats with very little long-term relevance. It’s possible that your branding will change with time, but for now you need to decide how you want to be seen.

2. Develop Posts with this in Mind

Now that you know how you want others to see you and your blog, you can work backwards and develop posts that will put you closer to making it happen. Write on topics that will build your brand, and use a style and an approach that will work with your goals. Of course, since you’re trying to use social media for the branding, you’ll also need to consider the social media audience when you’re developing content (not every post, but some). Ideally, you’ll come up with some ideas for posts that social media users will like that will also help to establish your image.

3. Focus on Specific, Well-Targeted Social Media Sites

In order to have the best results with social media you should be focusing on a few specific sites, rather than spending a small amount of time trying to use a hundred different sites. A few months ago I wrote a post here at ProBlogger about targeting the right social media sites. You can refer to that post if you’re unsure of how to find the right sites for you.

Focusing on just a few specific social media sites doesn’t mean that you’ll only be able to have success with those sites, actually it can work the opposite way. By spreading yourself to thin and taking an unplanned approach you’ll have a low chance of success with any social media site. By focusing on getting to know the audience of a specific site and creating content accordingly, you’ll have a good chance for success, and the traffic from that social media site can result in even more votes at other social media sites.

4. Be an Active User of Social Media

It’s hard to effectively optimize and market your blog through social media if you rarely use it yourself. By staying active you’ll learn all about your target audience and how you can create content that they’ll appreciate. You don’t need to be active at a large number of sites, just those that you are targeting.

5. Network with Others in Your Niche

By being active at your targeted social media sites, you can build strong connections to other social media users and bloggers that may benefit you in terms of getting your content noticed. Getting to know others in your niche (for mutual gain, not just for your own) is one of the best things you can do to help your chances with social media. People tend to vote for others that they like, not just for content that they like.

6. Prioritize Branding Over Traffic

Social media marketing can be difficult because the numbers and the potential for traffic can lead you to make decisions that aren’t in the best interest for your long-term blogging growth. Many times you may have an idea for a post or a method of marketing that can generate some impressive numbers, but it may not be a good fit with your overall branding goals. If you’re concerned with branding your blog through social media, drawing the most visitors shouldn’t always be the priority.

7. Repeat Topics and Cover Them In-Depth

When you’re trying to develop your brand and position yourself as a leader or an expert on a certain subject, you need to be willing to go beyond the scope that any other bloggers are covering that particular subject. I’m not suggesting that you duplicate content or post the same thoughts repeatedly using different words, but make sure that you are covering every aspect of the subject as thoroughly as you can.

A good example of this is Courtney Tuttle. Court’s goal with his blog is to be the top source of internet marketing content. Several months ago he published a post on what he calls keyword sniping that drew loads of interest from readers. Since them he has covered the subject extensively through a series of posts where he completely walked readers through his process. He didn’t unnecessarily repeat the same thoughts, but he covered on aspect of internet marketing in-depth and it has had significant impacts on the branding of his blog.

8. Focus on Building Links

Referrals from other bloggers are extremely valuable for branding, and of course this usually comes in the way of a link. When other bloggers link to you, mention one of your posts, or recommend you to their readers, they are endorsing you and the work that you’re doing on your blog. Ultimately, the opinions of readers and other bloggers will determine how well you are branded. Social media has been used for link building for several years, and that’s because it can be very effective.

9. Pay Attention to What Others are Saying About You

Because the opinions of others are so influential to your branding success, knowing what is being said about you can be very important. Last year Darren wrote a post about why you need to have a vanity folder in your RSS reader to keep an eye on your reputation. The vanity folder isn’t just to make yourself feel good, it’s also to spot situations where others may be writing something that could be potentially damaging to your brand. Staying on top of the issue will keep you in tune with what is going on around you and it will give you a chance to put out fires that may arise from time-to-time.

10. Build Your Profiles

The majority of this post has addressed social media by referring to social news and bookmarking sites like Digg, Reddit, StumbleUpon and Delicious. However, social networking sites like Facebook and LinkedIn can be extremely valuable as well. There are also niche specific sites like Virb where you can connect with others that may have similar interests. These sites won’t send you a huge amount of traffic like Digg would, but they can be useful for gaining some exposure outside of your blog and creating the image that you’re after.

What’s Your Experience?

Have you consider branding in your approach to blogging and social media? How do you approach the subject and what have you found to work well?

Steven Snell covers a variety of topics related to social media at Traffikd. You can subscribe to his feed for more on these topics.

SparkplugU – Training for Work at Home Workers

Learn how to use today’s technology to create work that matters to you.Wendy at SparkPlugging (formally e-Moms At Home) is today launching a new learning area called SparkPlugU.

Drawing on the expert writers that write for the Sparkplugging blog network they have put together a variety of short courses on different aspects of working at home such as business and productivity.

Courses will be available in a variety of formats including live classes and self paced classes and will be repeated at different times of the years.

What immediately stands out to me about SparkPlugU is the affordability of the courses on offer.
While many such sites charge hundreds (and thousands) of dollars for this type of information Wendy has worked hard to keep the prices of courses down.

Courses are also more bite sized than others out there with some as short as a 1.5 hour session and the longest extending over 4 sessions (1 hour each).

The price and bite sized modules makes a lot of sense to me as they mean you’re not committing yourself to months of ongoing training with a ‘mega-course’ but can pick and choose modules that you need and fit them into your busy schedule.

The quality of teachers is excellent and I’m thinking of signing up for two of them myself (I’ve put a * beside them below).
Courses that are Currently Enrolling include:

* these are the two that I’m most looking forward to

Wendy tells me that more courses will be added in coming months. The best way to be notified of when they are added is to sign up for their newsletter (you get a bonus Internet Business Guide – outlining 18 internet business models – when you sign up to this).

Having taught with Wendy on panels at conferences previously I am excited by what she and her team are building at SparkPlugU – hope to see some of you in class!

Australians Getting Raw Deal iPhone 3G Plans

apple-iphone-3g-australia-price.jpg
I don’t usually go off topic here at ProBlogger but just having seen the Telstra Plans for the iPhone 3G (a device I was excited to be able to use in my blogging) I’m incredibly frustrated.

If you’re sick of iPhone blog posts today – feel free to skip this little rant – but I needed to get it off my chest.

Having had to wait until tomorrow to officially be able to buy an iPhone in Australia (I resisted the urge to import one and hack it like 60,000 other Australians did) I was excited that Apple were going global with the iPhone 3G. I was also excited to hear Steve Jobs talk about its affordability.

3 carriers are selling the iPhone tomorrow here in Australia – Telstra (the only one who can deliver full speed pretty much nationally), Optus and Vodaphone. All have been quite secretive about their plans – particularly the cost of data (important as the iPhone is going to be used for data quite a bit – particularly for me as a blogger).

I understand the secrecy to a degree – but with less than 12 hours before some of them open their stores to customers wanting to buy the phone to have not released all information on their plans is not really helping customers make an informed choice. Telstra’s website encourages people to go to their stores for more information – I’ve been to two and staff knew next to nothing except for the release date.

I travel around Australia quite a bit so ideally want to stay with Telstra (my current carrier). They have always been quite expensive but for the coverage I’ve been willing to stick with them in the past and have bought myself a wireless modem for on the road blogging – ie I’ve never used data with Telstra as last time I checked it cost $5 for 5MB!).

Forums are going crazy here in Australia today as Telstra’s iPhone plans (pdf) have been leaked by Telstra employees.

I won’t go through all of the plan options here (you can download it yourself if you care to do so) but the plans are ridiculous – laughably so. They don’t include all details (like excess data costs, call rates, connection costs etc).

The Plans

A $35 per month plan on the 8GB iPhone will get you the iPhone for $279, $25 of calls per month (note: we don’t know the call rate but they are normally about 30-40c per 30 seconds with Telstra 3G so this is 60-80 minutes a month) and 5MB of data (that’s enough to download 1 iPhone Ap and then be over your limit). This is a 24 month plan.

To get anything approaching the kind of data you need you need to go up to an $89 plan:

An $89 plan will get you the 8GB iPhone for $279, $25 of calls and 200MB of data.

I’m not sure how much data I’ll need but I’m suspecting 200MB will not really be enough. I’d probably need a minimum of 500MB but 1GB would be good for when on the road. $25 of calls isn’t enough either!

In terms of my data and call requirements I think I’d need to go to a plan costing $169 a month which would get me the phone for free, 1GB of data and $70 of calls. If I wanted a 16GB iPhone the same plan would cost me $189 and include $90 of calls).

$189 per month for 24 months?

I could switch to another carrier for cheaper options (Optus seems to have the best on offer – but are still much more expensive than what I’ve seen elsewhere in the world) but would lose coverage and speed when outside major cities.

The 1GB plan with Optus is $99 a month with $94 of calls and a free handset over 12 months. With Vodaphone it’s $169 a month for 1GB but you get $1200 of calls.

I currently have a phone that costs me around $40 a month (I got a free Nokia phone with that) for calls and mobile broadband with ’3′ that costs me $29 per month and gives me 2GB of data. I’ve got me a slightly dated iPod that does the job too if I need a music and photo player.

So today when Apple sent me an email reminding me that the ‘affordable’ iPhone is being released tomorrow and that I should go out and pick one up I replied to the email with an ‘expression of disappointment’ in their partners and the comment that I think I’ll go and get me a new Nokia. I think I might go and find me a new carrier too!

PS: Just got an email from Telstra telling me where I can pick up an iPhone. They have them at 15 stores in the whole of Australia! That’s like 1 store for every 1.42 million Australians! Way to go Telstra!

Update: for a good round up of the Australian Blogosphere’s reaction to the iPhone and pricing of plans see AcidLabs.

Nine Signs of an Effective Blog Post

Effective-Blog-Posts-Sign
In this post Dustin M. Wax explores what it takes to write an effective blog post. Learn more about Dustin at the conclusion of this post. Image by B Tal.

You sweat blood all night, hunched over your keyboard, typing away at your blog’s next masterpiece. Finally, you click “Publish”, the post flies into the ether, and then, you wait. You refresh the page, over and over, waiting for that first comment to appear. Drat, a splog trackback! Refresh, refresh…. You check your stats, you search Digg and StumbleUpon for any mention of your post, you sit and fret, wondering if your post was good enough, whether people will like it or even read it, whether you might — just might — make a few bucks or change a few minds or get a few votes of sympathy or whatever else it is you secretly hope will be the outcome of people reading your post.

If only there were some way to tell if your post was going to be effective.

Writing is writing

There are as many styles of blog posts as there are bloggers (more, even). Some are frivolous and care-free, others are serious and business-like. Some are concerned, others apathetic. Some are long, detailed reports about the minutiae of their topic, others are impressionistic sketches offering inspiration rather than instruction.

What they all ultimately share is the desire to get their reader to do something — to feel or act a certain way, to buy a product, to think a thought, to answer a question, to leave a comment, or even just to respect the author. Bloggers imagine some outcome, and trust to their writing skill to get their readers there.

I was thinking about this as I read Bob Bly’s Copywriter’s Handbook recently. Although we’re not all explicitly trying to sell something with our blogs, the rules that apply to good sales copy apply just as well to good blogging. Good writing is, in the end, good writing. Like an advertisement, an effective blog post leads the reader to take action.

Maybe a reader will make a duct-tape wallet after reading a post on a craft blog, or set up a computer backup system after reading a tutorial on a tech blog. They might write better because of a post on ProBlogger, or make more money, or launch a new site, or create better headlines. They may feel sorry for a blogger who recounts her awful day at work, or thrilled by the announcement of a child’s birth on their favorite daddy-blogger’s site. They might buy a product, or not buy a product, because of a review they read on your blog.

With that in mind, I’ve adapted the following tips from Bly’s “How to Write a Good Advertisement” (in Chapter 6 for those playing along at home). Here, then, are nine criteria a blog post must satisfy if it is to be a successful post:

1. The headline draws the reader in.

The importance of a good headline has been emphasized repeatedly here at ProBlogger (for example, here and here and here) and elsewhere, and for good reason. Few readers will read a post whose headline doesn’t entice them in some way, either by promising them a benefit for themselves (“How Blogging Makes You Sexier” — the reader wants to know how they can be sexier), arousing their curiosity (“The 10 Mistakes You Make that Are Costing You Money” — the reader wants to know what those 10 mistakes are), or promising a reward (“Earn $5,000 in an Hour!” — the reader would like to make $5,000). A post that doesn’t get read in the first place is obviously not an effective post, so a compelling headline is essential.

2. A concrete detail or visual illustrates the benefit promised in the headline.

Not all blogs use images, for any number of reasons, but if you don’t, your first paragraph or two should concretely illustrate the benefit your headline promises. If your headline is “Earn $5000 in an Hour” then the post should open with the story of someone — you or someone else — who did just that — who they are, what they did with the money, something the reader can picture that lends credibility to the title and draws them further into the post.

3. The lead expands the theme of the heading

The opening of a blog post should not just be concrete but it should expand on and deepen the promise made in the headline (this applies to leads after subheads, too). To take one of the examples above, “How Blogging Makes You Sexier”, the first few paragraphs should not only offer the reader something concrete to “hook into”, but should explain what exactly the post is promising. Maybe you’ll say what you mean by sexier: “OK, blogging won’t give you those 6-pack abs you’ve dreamed of, but by putting yourself out in the open, blogging can put both your intelligence and your confidence on display. And studies show that women [or men] find intelligence and confidence 62% sexier than physical attractiveness”.

(Note: all figures made up for purposes of illustration. Please consult your beautician before putting this advice into practice.)

4. The layout is clear and skimmable.

The perils of presenting text on the computer screen are, by now, fairly well-established. Readers have little patience for electronic text, blogs included. They are far more likely to skim through your post — pausing for a moment here and there to read a snippet of text that catches their eye — than to read it straight through from start to finish.

Having a strong layout and design is crucial to the success of a blog post. Sub-heads, bullet points, short paragraphs, bold-faced text — all of these give the eye something to “catch on” as the reader skims through your post. Take advantage of whatever tools are at your disposal to help make key points stand out, without cluttering your post to the point that nothing stands out.

5. The post covers the topic in a logical sequence.

To make $5,000 in an hour, first you need to insert your affiliate link prominently in the post. No, wait, you should already have built a blog. Install WordPress on your webhost. If you need to register a domain name, use DustinHost. Now, in the second part of your post, you need to persuade the reader that the product will make them rich. Having a really strong headline will help get people to read the post.

If you bothered to read that paragraph, you’re probably hopelessly confused. It might have everything you need to know to make $5,000 in an hour (which, needless to say, I don’t actually know how to do). But if a post presents information in a scattershot way, no one will ever be able to put all the pieces together.

Most topics will suggest their own structure. A how-to post is best structured in steps, one after the other. A historical event is usually best presented chronologically. An idea an usually be broken down into clear parts. A post on turtles will probably be organized by different kinds of turtles (sea vs. fresh-water, for instance, or by species). And so on. There isn’t necessarily only one way to present whatever information you’re presenting, but however you choose to write the post, the parts should flow, one into the other, to create a coherent whole.

6. The post is persuasive.

The most effective posts lay out an argument in a way that leads the reader to agreement of sympathy with the author’s position. They may not agree 100%, but they can see the reason in it, and are forced to make their disagreements explicit (which is why really strong posts tend to have really intense debates in their comments; weak posts don’t, because they’re easily dismissed).

Being persuasive depends on a lot of different things:

  • Knowledge of your audience: You have to know enough about your audience to know what matters most to them, and appeal to those values. Arguments that depend on a close reading of the Bible, for instance, probably aren’t going to be much use on a science blog, or a blog dedicated to secular humanism.
  • A logical structure: See above. One point leads naturally and effortlessly into the other.
  • Concrete detail: Most of the time, people need to see an idea in action to really get it, and the more concrete detail you can offer the easier it is for them to “see” it.
  • Evidence: Statistics, interviews, quotes from respected works — these support your argument and make it more likely your reader will find it persuasive.
  • Narrative: Stories resonate strongly with people, because they combine concrete detail with a structure that’s intuitively familiar to us: this happened, then this happened, then this happened.
  • Emotion: When it comes down to it, people respond most strongly when their emotions are called into play. The promise of a gain or the fear of a loss can be very persuasive, if you can make it real enough. This isn’t carte blanche to blatantly manipulate your audience, which is as likely to backfire as to succeed — you can appeal to emotion without being over-the-top.

7. The post is interesting to read.

Hard to believe, isn’t it? But if your post is boring, chances are it will be skipped. Remember, there are lots of other blogs in the RSS sea!

This doesn’t mean you have to be sensational or play down to the lowest common denominator. If you have a passion for what you’re writing, respect for your audience’s intelligence, and you have a strong command of language and style, you should find it quite easy to write a clear, engaging post on whatever your topic is, whether it’s tax law or lingerie of the stars.

8. The post is believable.

So I’m hanging out with Tom Waits and Keith Richards the other night, and who should walk in but Johnny Depp. “Johnny, old boy!” I cry out, over the din of the bar. “Good to see ya!”

Yeah, right.

To be effective, a post needs to be not only persuasive but believable. You made a promise in your headline; if your reader doesn’t feel like you’re being straight with her in the post, you’ll lose her — probably for good. I can’t tell you how many “make money online” blogs I’ve clicked through to from another site, read through a post or two, and never visited again because I felt like I was being scammed somehow. “$5,000 in an hour? No way!”

What establishes credibility? Different people are going to be swayed by different things, but a few essentials are:

  • An about page: The absence of an about page is usually enough for me not to trust a writer. Who are they? Why should I believe them? What are they hiding?
  • Your background: Do you have a degree in the topic you write about? A string of publications? 20 years in the industry? I know you’d like to think your writing stands on its own merits, but for many readers, knowing you write from experience matters.
  • Endorsements: Testimonials from clients, positive press, reviews from major figures in your field, word of mouth from other bloggers, and links from well-regarded sites all help you to convey your credibility. It means more when someone else says they trust you than when you say I should trust you.
  • Professionalism: You don’t need to blog in a jacket and tie (though you might change those jammies once in a while!), but attention to little details like spelling, grammar, site design and usability, language appropriate to your audience, and so on matter to your audience. The best content in a site that looks amateurish and immature isn’t going to be nearly as effective as weaker copy presented in a professional way.

9. The post asks for some action.

This is probably the most overlooked part of writing an effective post. Of course, it’s not always clear what the “action” is — if you’ve just written a thousand words about what a jerk your boss is, you might not have any particular action in mind, at least not consciously. But just think: if you don’t know what the action you expect of your reader is, how much less will they know?

Because you do have an action in mind, even if you’re not making it explicit. You want your reader to subscribe to your RSS feed, to come back and read the next chapter in your adventures in corporate hell, to click on ads, to share your story with their Twitter pals, to digg or Stumble or bookmark it, to link to it on their blog. You want them to feel sorry for you, to laugh with you, to write a letter to their Congressperson, to boycott company X, to patronize company Y, to write better or to start a blog or to have a better relationship or bake better cookies or ace that interview or get a job or install Linux on their toaster oven, to buy a product or subscribe to a magazine or download a program or…

The more explicit you are about the outcome you have in mind, and the more forthright you are about asking for that outcome, the more likely it is that that action will happen. Seems like common sense, yet a surprising number of writers skip that part. Even in advertising, there are writers who are great at capturing attention and building interest, who get their reader all keyed up to buy the product, and fail to ask for the sale.

Your next blog post

Obviously these guidelines don’t apply to every possible post. If you post haikus, short stories, or other creative writing at your blog, then they might not apply at all (though there are other standards of writing within your genre that do apply). But for most “non-fiction” blog posts — tutorials and how-tos, political commentary, even journal entries — these points are a pretty good standard to measure your posts by.

Next time you sit down to write a post, keep these points in mind. Decide what the goal of your post is and write towards that goal. When you review your post — you do review your post before you publish it, right? — ask yourself how well you satisfy each point, and whether your post might be more effective if you paid more attention to one or more of these signs of an effective blog post.

Maybe it won’t. Maybe you’ll find that one or more of these points don’t really apply to the kind of writing you do. That’s fine — at least you’ll know, rather than lucking out. Chances are, though, that you’ll find in each at least some kind of idea about how your posts can be improved. And better, more effective posts means more traffic, lower bounce rates, more word of mouth, more of everything you’re blogging for.

Dustin M. Wax is a freelance writer whose work can be seen at Lifehack and The Writer’s Technology Companion. To find out more about his work or to contact him, please visit his website.

How to Grow Search Engine Traffic to Your Blog

I was chatting with a blogger yesterday about search engine traffic. They asked me how much traffic I got to my blogs from Search Engines each day and when I told them that it was between 6000-8000 unique visitors a day (to Digital Photography School) their reaction was:

‘Can you tell me how to get that much traffic to my blog from Google?’

Today I emailed them this screen shot from Google Analytics of the DPS blog (click to enlarge – note, this doesn’t include DPS forum traffic).

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The chart above shows 18 months of search engine traffic to DPS. I can’t go back any further than this because I wasn’t using Google Analytics before January 2007 – but the if you imagine the line goes back on the same trajectory for a further 8 or so months you’ll have a fairly accurate graph in your mind.

The reason that I sent this chart was to highlight the gradual and steady growth of search engine traffic to the blog.

Apart from two spikes in traffic (can anyone guess what they were for?) the traffic growth has been incredibly steady and fairly predictable.

While some SEO types will promise you overnight traffic from Google if you let them build links for you – my experience of search engine traffic on quality blogs has been much more along the lines of what you see illustrated here.

Don’t Get Frustrated – Look at the Big Picture

It is easy to look at statistics of a blog and grow frustrated. For example lets look at my Search Engine Traffic to the DPS blog for the month of January this year:

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Doesn’t look like much improvement (if any) does there? The fact is that when I do a ‘monthly view’ of any month since I started the graph always looks much the same – small rises and falls – but none of them seem to show much growth.

However when you look at them over time the trend is a gradual growth.

Why does Search Engine Traffic grow so steadily over time?

There are two main factors that contribute to the stead growth in search engine traffic that you see illustrated here:

1. Steady Addition of Content – every day I add a new post to DPS. This means that the archives are slowly growing over time with each post being a new potential pages for people to find when they search Google. There are currently just over 600 posts on the blog – if you were to chart their addition to the blog I suspect it’d be a very similar graph to the one you see above.

2. Gradual Growth in Incoming Links – over time DPS has gradually grown in it’s profile and popularity with other bloggers. While there are some posts that attract more incoming links than others – the growth in external links pointing at the blog has been something that has happened steadily over time. As a result the blog has growth in authority in the eyes of Google.

Other factors are also no doubt at play. The age of the domain, the interlinking of posts (internal links count for link building too), improvements in SEO etc all have played a part in the growth of search engine traffic. However it is interesting to note that despite me making a variety of SEO tweaks along the way that none of them have brought a marked increase in traffic to the blog.

While there’s a lot of strategies that you can employ to grow search engine traffic to your blog – the take home lesson is to keep adding quality content (the kind that people will want to share with others) to your blog. If you do this steadily over time you put yourself in a position to capitalize on that work.