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Killer Titles – Day 2 Reader Submissions

Just a quick note to say that I’ve added Day 2 submissions for the Killer Titles Group Writing Project submissions page.

Today there were another 92 Killer Titles Submitted. Check them out, surf them, bookmark them and enjoy seeing how other bloggers do their thing! Two days left to go – see how to participate here.

Google Launch Ad Manager (an Ad Server)

google-ad-manager.gifGoogle AdSense announced the beta launch of their Ad Manager Ad Server product back in March. At that time I heard from a number of publishers in the beta program that they were finding it to be an effective way of managing their ads.

Today on the AdSense blog they have announced that Ad Manager is now available to everyone. It’s still in beta but is obviously stable enough to be opened up to everyone.

If you’re an AdSense publisher already all you need to do is sign in here (no need to apply to join). If you’re not an AdSense publisher – you will need to sign up first.

What is Ad Manager?

I’m yet to test it (and have little need to as b5media have their own ad management tools to manage the ads on my blogs) but from reports of others and digging around Ad Manager today it’s a quite powerful tool that will help publishers to manage a number of aspects of the selling and displaying of ads on your blog.

Most larger websites will do this by having their own ad server – but what Google have done with Ad Manager is provide a product that they host and that is much more manageable for smaller to medium publishers.

You can see a full list of Ad Manager features here and can access their Help Center here.

infographic.jpg

What Does Ad Manager Cost?

This is the beauty of Ad Manager – it’s free.

Some publishers will no doubt worry about privacy as this is all hosted on Google’s servers but outside of that (and it doesn’t concern me) I’m not seeing too many negatives. Google don’t make any money from this unless you use AdSense to fill unsold inventory (something that it will easily do and that they are no doubt betting many publishers will do – note: it’s not compulsory to do this). You can also use other ad networks with it.

Ad Manager is going to be most useful to bloggers who have a decent amount of traffic and who are wanting to start selling ad placements directly to advertisers. If you’re still at the stage of just running AdSense on your blog then this will probably something you’ll want to grow into. It is reasonably easy to use and set up however unless you’re wanting to sell your own ads there isn’t much point.

Alternatives

If you’d like to check out the competition to AdSense Ad Manager you’ll probably want to check out OpenX which is a similar system.

Does Your Next Blog Post Matter?

Does-Your-Blog-Post-MatterIf your next blog post doesn’t matter – don’t publish it until it does.

In our series on How to Craft a Blog Post we’ve been talking about ‘points to pause’ while writing a blog post. So far we’ve looked at choosing a topic, titles and opening lines and today we’re going to get into the meat of your actual post.

Here’s the question that I think we should all be asking before we hit ‘publish’ on now blog posts:

“So What?”

This simple, yet profound, question was one that I heard a lot of bloggers emerging from SOBCon with earlier in the year. My co-author Chris Garrett is one speaker from that conference who I know used it as a central theme in his presentation.

Other similar questions might include:

  • What’s the Point?
  • What am I trying to communicate?
  • What impact do I want to have on my reader?
  • How will this benefit my reader?

All of your hard work in choosing topics, titles and opening lines will go to waste if the actual meat of your post has no real point to it, if it doesn’t communicate anything, if it doesn’t have any impact upon your readers, if it doesn’t really matter.

If you want a post to be more than just something that people flit past it needs to ‘matter’ to people on some level. Otherwise it will never get traction.

Why Many Blog Posts Don’t Have Points

The reality is that many blog posts that I read (and I’ll admit to writing a few) have no real points (or they are unclear).

There could be a variety of reasons for this including:

  • laziness – sometimes it is just easier not to really think through the direction of a post
  • busyness and distractions – life gets cluttered and many of us as bloggers have too many things on the go at once – leaving us unable to focus our attention fully upon the task at hand.
  • pressure of deadlines – feeling the need to have to post something every day can mean many posts get published that are not thought through

Three times to ask ‘so what’ as you’re crafting your next blog post:

1. Before You Start - I find that my blog posts are significantly better if I identify a goal that I want to achieve with the post before I start writing it. For me this usually happens during the topic selection process and leads me to write a simple sentence at the start of each draft (which I usually delete later, unless it becomes part of my introduction).

This sentence is usually something like ‘this post will teach readers how to hold a digital camera‘ or ‘this post will answer the question of “What is a Blog?”‘.

Important Note: I write blogs with a ‘how to’ type form so my goal sentences reflect this – however this same thing can apply to other types of blogs. The answer to the ‘so what’ question can be to teach, inform, entertain, inspire, build community etc. It need not be to ‘teach’.

2. While You Write - with the post goal statement at the top of your draft it is important to keep it in the forefront of your mind as you develop your blog post.

I attempt to include a statement of what the post will achieve within the post (so the reader sees it) but constantly attempt to remind myself what I’m trying to achieve with the post. This is not always easy (and sometimes my posts do evolve beyond my original goal – read on for more on this) but I find that unless I do it I can end up with posts that have a wishy washy point.

3. Before You Finish – if you’re anything like me, your blog posts ‘evolve’. I often start out with a goal statement and then proceed to go ahead and write a post that ignores the statement. Don’t beat yourself up about that – but DO ask yourself the question of ‘so what’ again at the end of your post.

Have you written something that will matter to your readers? Have you written something that meets a need that they might have? Have you fully explored the topic? OR…. Have you written something just for the sake of writing something? Does what you’ve written have a point?

Don’t Try To Achieve Too Much in a Single Post

A trap that I used to fall into regularly with my blogging was to try to do too much in every post that I wrote. I’d try to write posts that explored lots of themes, that tried to inform, entertain and inspire, that tried to get readers to have a sense of belonging…. etc

The reality was that the posts ended up being ‘epics’ and didn’t really achieve anything.

If you find yourself with lots of goals for a post – why not split them into multiple posts.

This is what I did earlier in this series when writing about crafting blog titles. I originally has this post on Crafting Titles and this post inviting readers to improve titles as one single post but before hitting publish I asked myself what my goal was with the post and realized that I was trying to do too much and that could better achieve my goals of ‘teaching’ and ‘involving readers’ in two separate posts.

What’s the Point of This?

The take home message of this post is to take your time in identifying goals for each post.

This exercise need not take a great deal of time or even be something that you formally set time aside to do for each post (for me it’s become a natural part of my blogging) but it is something that will help to lift the quality of your blogging significantly.

The benefit of identifying a point to your posts will especially help you in the next two steps in this process of crafting a blog post – ‘calls to action’ and ‘adding depth’ (things we’ll explore in coming days).

Read the Full Series

This post is part of a series on how to craft blog posts. It will be all the more powerful if taken in context of the full series which looks at 10 points in the posting process to pause and put extra effort. Start reading this series here.

Killer Titles Group Writing Project Reader Submissions – Day 1

This week I’m running a project here on ProBlogger called ‘Killer Titles‘ where readers are invited to write posts with great titles and showcase them here on Problogger.

Day 1 has come to an end and I’ve just posted the first 71 submissions here. You still have a few days to submit your own posts tot he project (find out how here) – but in the mean time, why not head by the ones that have already been submitted and start surfing, commenting on, bookmarking and subscribing to those blogs on the list that you resonate most with.

If you’ve made a submission and don’t see it here it will probably be in the list for Day 2.

Killer Titles – Group Writing Project [WIN A PRIZE]

titles-group-writing-project.pngThis week I’m running a ‘Group Writing Project’ here at ProBlogger where you have the chance to win a $2000 identity design (logo) from logo designer David Airey. You can see a portfolio of the graphics and logo design that David has previously done. Thanks to David for this fantastic prize.

Please read the instructions below carefully to enter.

What is a Group Writing Project

In brief (I outline it fully below) – these projects are where I name a theme or topic and where readers all go away and write posts on their blogs that fit with that theme. They then submit their post here at ProBlogger and I post a list of all entries at the end of the week. I then randomly select one entry to win a prize.

The goals of ‘Group Writing Projects’ are to have fun, give you an opportunity to hone your skills as a blogger and to give you an opportunity to highlight your blog. The last few times we’ve done these we’ve had hundreds of participants.

The Topic

Over the last week we’ve been talking about how to craft great blog post titles – so for this project the theme is ‘titles’. Rather than giving you a ‘theme’ to write about I’m inviting you to go away and write a blog post and to really focus upon writing a killer post title. Of course you’ll want to work on the best possible post too – but this project is all about titles so make sure they are spot on.

How to Enter

Please take your time in entering – previously people have not followed the guidelines and have disqualified themselves from the prize. Especially note that there is only one entry per person and posts submitted must be new posts (not your best ones from your archives).

Here’s how to enter:

1. Write a Post with a Killer Title

  • Be as creative as you like. Make the post relevant to your blog.
  • Feel free to write posts in your own first language (although you might want to give us a translation on the title when you enter)
  • Please consider putting a link back to this post on your post so that your readers know you’re participating. You don’t have to do this (it is not a condition of entry) – but it’d be appreaciated to help grow the project.

2. Let us Know about Your Post

  • Once you’ve posted your post let me know about it by filling in this form (update: this link is now removed as submissions have now closed).
  • Please fill the form in accurately as the way you enter it is the way it’ll appear and due to the numbers participating I can’t edit it for everyone! The detail that you add will appear in the post (although I’ll be moderating out spam/offensive stuff).
  • Include your post title as you wish it to appear, the post’s URL (not your blog’s front page) and your name (or alias). All of this will be published.
  • To be eligible for the prize I need a valid email address – this will be kept secure and private ad will not be published.
  • Submissions must be received by me the the end of Thursday 28 August (as long as it’s still Thursday where you send it from I’ll accept it). If they come in after Thursday they won’t be included in the list and will not be in the running for the prize.

3. I will Post a List of all Submissions Create a List of all Submisssions

  • I will create a list of all submissions. It will be updated once per day. The final update to the list will be posted on Friday.
  • This differs a little from last time where I posted all entries for a day here on the blog each day of the week. This took over the blog a little so it will just be one central list of submissions.

4. Surf Surf Surf

  • This is where you take over. Surf the submissions received. Leave comments, make connections with other ProBlogger readers, bookmark them and enjoy reading what others have to say. This is the real beauty of this project and your opportunity not only to find new readers but to learn from each other’s blogging.

5. Link Link Link

  • There is no formal ‘judging’ as this is not a competition. Instead – I encourage you to surf through the submissions at the end of the week and announce your own winners on your own blog. Name a top 5 or so and share the link love.
  • Probably the best part of the last group project was the amount of inter-linking I see happening between participating bloggers as a result of their posts. It’s obvious that people found new blogs through it and that the benefits of participating was way beyond getting a link from me but flowed on to a lot of new connections and links between other bloggers.

6. Prize

  • On Friday I’ll randomly select the participant to win the $2000 logo design from David Airey and will post the winner at this point.

The Real Reason to Participate

Prizes are great – but the real reason to get involved in this type of project is that it has the potential to find you some new readers, make some new blogging friends and put your blog out there.

Every time I run these projects I get emails from bloggers telling me that they:

  • had big traffic days
  • found new blogs that they just love
  • had their posts get to the top of digg and other bookmarking sites

Of course this doesn’t happen to everyone – it depends upon your post and title – but it always happens to some.

These projects work best when those participating don’t only submit posts of their own but when they read and interact with others who submit posts. Here’s how you can do this:

  • Read the submissions of others
  • Make friends with those you like the submissions of (comment, email – get to know them)
  • Link up to those who you resonate with (some bloggers write a top 5 or 10 list each day of the submissions that they like the best)
  • Bookmark, Stumble and Vote for those you resonate with

The people who get the most out of these projects are those who throw themselves deeply into them.

I’m really looking forward to seeing everyone’s entries.

update – submissions are now closed – you can see all final entries here.

The Power of Story on Blogs

The-Story-FactorOne book that I find myself delving into every six months or so is The Story Factor by Annette Simmonds.

She writes about a topic that is close to my heart – the power of storytelling as a way to be influential.

One of the points Annette makes early in her book that resonates with me most is that:

people don’t need more information – they need ‘faith’ and that stories have the power to birth faith and trust

Of course faith and trust are essential items of you want to be influential in your relationships with others.

We live in a world where we’re literally bombarded with information all day every day. There’s nothing wrong with information, or having a blog that is ‘informational’ in nature – but if you want to make an impression on people, be the type of blog that people tell their friends about, that people want to ‘journey’ with – you need something more and ‘story’ is one element that can bring this.

I won’t regurgitate Annette Simmonds whole book here but what she writes makes sense in a lot of settings – particularly for bloggers.

In her introduction Annette introduces six types of stories that help if you want to influence others:

  • “Who I Am” Stories
  • “Why I Am Here” Stories
  • “The Vision” Story
  • “Teaching” Stories
  • “Values-in-Action” Stories
  • “I Know What You Are Thinking” Stories

As I was rereading the book again today I realized that story is important on a blog in two ways. For starters there are ‘single stories’ and then there is ‘the story’ of a blog.

‘Single Stories’ are when you tell a story in a blog post – it might be the full post or part of it. I have written a little more about using stories in this way previously.

‘The Story’ of a blog goes beyond any single post and is where readers catch a glimpse behind the blog, see it’s development, feel drawn into some kind of relationship with it or ownership of it.

Single stories in posts can be great but it is the story of a blog that draws readers into a loyal relationship with it – it’s a powerful thing.

Do you use Story in your blog? How and when have you used it and what impact has it had?

Show Off Your Title Creation Skills – Rework These Post Headlines

In the last few days we’ve been talking about how to write good blog post titles here at ProBlogger.

We’ve talked about the theory of it – so now it’s time to get a little more practical.

In the next couple of days I’m going to launch a group writing project that picks up the topic of blog titles – but before that (and to help us ‘warm up’ for the project) I thought it might be interesting to workshop a few reader posts as a community.

I just asked my Twitter followers if they had any old blog posts that they feel had good content but poor titles that we could do a community workshop on.

Here are five of the posts submitted:

  1. My Sister Who Died at 10; Losing a Sibling
  2. 45 Ways to Exploit Bored Teens for Online Marketing Good
  3. Black Women and Preeclampsia
  4. Poorer Individuals Less Likely to Survive
  5. IM Charity & the Children’s Hospital

I had quite a few more posts submitted but decided to use these five randomly (although there are a few themes!) so that we could focus our energy on just five titles.

So what I’d like to invite you to do is to come up with alternate titles for these posts. Don’t just rush it – ‘craft’ the titles using some of the principles we discussed in the theory we discussed earlier. Feel free to come up with titles for each one or just one of them – but please say which one you’re reworking (use the numbers).

Looking forward to seeing what you come up with.

11 SpeedLinks for Professional Bloggers and Web Workers

I’ve been doing most of my ‘speed linking’ on Twitter lately – but here’s a collection of links from around the web for bloggers and web workers that got my attention today:

  1. Screen Casts Rock – Here’s Who’s Rocking Them Now – RRW showcases great Screen Casters
  2. 7 Tips for New Twitter Users – From Shel (don’t forget my Twitter tips for Beginners)
  3. Why a Footer in 43 Folders Feed Items? – Merlin Mann shares why he added a footer in his feeds to combat scrapers
  4. Spam Blogs Republish Your RSS Feeds? Use this to your Advantage – on a similar theme to Merlin’s post – Amit Agarwal shares how to make sure you get some Google Juice if someone scrapes your feed
  5. AdSense Click Tracking Data in Google Analytics Is Coming Soon – Amit also picks up this story which will be music to many AdSense publishers ears!
  6. On Domain Names, Size and Quality DOES Matter! – Daniel releases some research that he’s done into domain names.
  7. Blogger Sued for $20 Million for Calling Company a Scammer – Watch what you post!
  8. Examining The Internet’s Top Blogs: What We Can Learn From their Success - SEOMoz does some great research into different aspects of 100 top blogs – even though they did say that I don’t own my own blog or register it as Australian :-)
  9. 5 Easy ways to Start a Productive Day – ever have those days where you get nothing done? Here’s some hints on how to start them better.
  10. No Idea Left Behind: 25 Tool for Capturing Ideas Anywhere – LifeDev has written a post here that many bloggers will find useful. I’m enjoying Evernote these days.
  11. Vote for my Proposed Panel at SXSW here – it’s on Responsible Blogger/Public Relations Interaction

11 Ways to Open a Post and Get Reader Engagement

‘Hi Michael, it’s nice to meet you’

These were the first words my wife spoke to me.

Not the most spectacular start to a relationship…. considering my name is Darren.

Opening lines matter – particularly when it comes to blogging. If you don’t get them right your posts will go largely unread.

Do you want to discover how to make opening lines effective?

In my last post in this ‘how to craft a blog post’ series I identified your blog’s title/headline as the most important words that you’ll write in a blog post and I said that the purpose of the title is to get people to read your opening line.

The second most important words in your blog post are those that follow the title – your opening line. Their purpose is to get people to read the next line – to draw people deep within your post.

11 Techniques for Opening Lines

So how does one craft an opening line to a post that effectively engages readers and stimulates enough interest to get them to read your blog post? Here are a few tips that I’ve found helpful.

1. Identify a Need

Sound familiar? It should – I’ve talked about reader needs and problems in my post about choosing a topic and crafting your post title.

If you haven’t got it by now you should be starting to see that I place a lot of importance on identifying a reader’s need and solving it as a key to writing successful blog posts. You don’t have to solve the need or problem in the opening line but an effective way to get readers to read deep into your post where you do solve it is to tell them that you will in the opening line.

2. Ask a Question With Only One Answer

This is a technique that copywriters have been using for a long time and it works. To do it, ask a question in the opening of your post which leaves your reader little room to answer anything but ‘yes’. I did it in line three of this post (‘Do you want to discover how to make opening lines effective’) but it could also effectively be used as the very opening to this post.

Asking this type of question does a couple of things. For starters you’re communicating what the post is about and the need that it will fulfill in the reader – but secondly (and more importantly) you’re drawing out a response in your reader and one which puts the need that your post will solve squarely in their mind. Anyone reading and answering ‘yes’ to my question above enters into this post having just said that they want to discover how to write engaging opening lines – this ‘buy in’ helps in the communication process that follows.

Asking ‘yes’ questions can actually be something you use more than once in a post. Ask a series of them scattered through your post and you can actually take your reader on a journey that leads them to your call to action.

3. Ask an Intriguing Question

Another type of question that is effective at getting readers interested in reading further into a post is one that leaves them hanging and wanting to know the answer.

‘What does Bill Gates and Martha Stewart have in common?’ – ‘How did I take my RSS subscriber numbers from 0 to 51,346?’ – ‘Is the Nikon D700 the best Digital SLR Camera Ever Invented?’

All of these questions will appeal differently to different audiences – but all leave readers wondering what the answer will be and give them a reason to read on further into a post.

4. Say Something Unexpected

The opening line of this post (where I tell about my wife getting my name wrong when we first met) breaks most of the techniques that I’ve stated above – but attempts to do something a little ‘different’ or ‘surprising’ to grab readers attention by sharing something personal and at a first glance ‘off topic’.

I don’t talk about my family often on ProBlogger – so this opening line is designed to break the pattern and encourage readers to take a second look.

I find that when I do this it seems to ‘snap’ readers out of the way that they normally approach your blog and take a little extra notice for a moment or two (which can be enough to hook them into reading your post).

Of course – the unexpected opening line should relate to your post’s topic on some level.

5. Tell a Story or Share an Analogy

Building on my last point – I find that telling ‘stories’ to open posts can be one way of snapping people out of their ‘ho hum’, ‘eyes glazed over’ state that many of us have while surfing the web. This is particularly true on a blog that is more serious or formal in nature – to share a story means you’re switching genre’s for a moment or two which can be enough to grab your readers attention for at least a moment or two.

Stories can be short (a one liner like I did above) or longer (although you probably won’t want to go too long). They can be your own personal stories or stories of someone else. They can be true or even fiction.

I’ve often open posts here on ProBlogger with ‘tangents’ – analogies or stories from my life that are a little off topic – but which go on to help illustrate a principle. I find that these types of openings often draw in a new type of reader and get more reader engagement with others. Perhaps it’s just a refreshing change from the normal type of posts or perhaps it shows a more personal side that appeals to some.

For example (titles and opening lines):

6. Make a Claim or Promise

Sometimes a simple but bold claim is the most effective way to get people to read deeper into a post.

‘Today I will teach you how to give up smoking.’ – ‘In this post you’ll discover the secrets to taking the perfect portrait.’

These sorts of openings simply tell your reader what they’ll get if they read on. They are short, sharp, to the point and effective.

Alternatively you can make a claim about your own achievement. I still remember the impact that this post had on establishing ProBlogger as an authority site. The opening line was:

‘It just hit me – like a truck – that I’ve just become six figure blogger.’

The only thing I’d say is that you better be able to back up the claim or promise in the post itself or you could have some angry readers on your hands.

7. Make a Controversial Statement

There’s nothing like the hint of controversy to grab people’s attention and cause them to stop in their tracks and take note of what’s going on.

Strongly state your opinion on a company, product or even another person and you’ll find people will want to read on to see why you’ve said it and to let you know if they agree.

8. Paint a Picture

This is a technique that I’ve used a few times in public speaking that I think can translate across into writing effective blog posts. The basics of it are to get your reader using their imagination to picture some kind of scenario.

This can be used in both positive or negative ways:

Positive – get them to imagine a scenario when they achieve some success or overcome some problem.
Negative – alternatively get them to picture the consequences of a problem left unsolved or a failure that they might fear.

Engaging the imagination of your reader is a powerful thing which can evoke emotion, help them to get in touch with fear and feel needs but also give them real motivation to make change.

9. Use Statistics

Using a statistic that packs a punch can effectively communicate a need and grab attention.

Example10 Techniques to Get More Comments on Your Blog – Opening Line – “Only 1 out of every 100 Readers Comment on your Blog”

10. Start with a Quote

This is one that I occasionally do that can be quite effective – if you use the right quote of course.

Using the words of some one other than yourself can bring authority and credibility to your post. It can also grab attention if you choose the right person.

Examples with opening lines:

11. Use an Image

Your opening line need not be a textual one.

‘A picture is worth a thousand words’ and used effectively at the opening of your blog posts a compelling image can be instrumental in drawing readers to read your posts.

I have been using images combined with words on almost every post in my photography site for some time now and have long noticed that when I open with an image it tends to draw more readers into a post and can lead to more comments. I’ve even had readers tell me that they only reason they read a post was as a result of seeing the image in their RSS reader.

The key is to find an image that is on topic, that is striking and that readers find compelling or intriguing.

Will You Share Your Best Opening Lines With Us?

The above 10 techniques for opening lines of blog posts are just scratching the surface of the ways that you can grab attention and draw readers into your blog posts. You’re unlikely to use more than two or three of them in any given post and will most likely want to not use the same one in every post that you write (loyal readers ted to become numb to them if you do).

What other techniques do you use to open blog posts?

Read the Full Series

This post is part of a series on how to craft blog posts. It will be all the more powerful if taken in context of the full series which looks at 10 points in the posting process to pause and put extra effort. Start reading this series here.