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Join me in Blog Action Day – 15 October 2008


Blog Action Day 2008 Poverty from Blog Action Day on Vimeo.

I hope you’ll consider joining me in this year’s Blog Action Day – The topic This year is Poverty.

Intellectual Property Law Tips for Bloggers

Confused about Trademark, Copyright and other Intellectual Property Law issues as they pertain to your blog? Today Mark Patterson from Waddy & Patterson PC and the Tough Money Love Blog is going to explore some of these IP issues.

I am fully aware of the risks of publishing a post with advice on intellectual property law. The return fire could be overwhelming. After all, the blogosphere is supposed to be a place for open and unrestricted exchange of ideas and information, unhindered by rules and structures imposed by a legal system that can’t seem to keep up. On the other hand, blogging has become a business for many, providing substantial alternative or primary income streams for bloggers who work hard to research and publish original content. These tips, then, are intended for those bloggers who want to protect the business side of their blogging efforts, lest their hard-earned “blog assets” be snatched away by others who know how to use the legal system. So, please don’t flame me. Yes, I am an attorney but I’m a blogger too!

Protect Your Brand (and Domain Name Ownership Doesn’t Count!)

I won’t name names, but a quick check of the records of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO for short) tells me that there are some very successful (top 25) bloggers who have registered their blog title or domain as a trademark. If you blog with a plan to brand your site or yourself, and if you succeed, you now own substantial trademark rights. (Technically, publishing information online is a service, making it a “service mark” but the rules are the same.) Your domain name may or may not be the same as your blog title (or “brand” in marketing parlance). Even if the domain name and blog title are the same, owning the domain name does not protect your brand. That is the role of trademark law. To enhance and secure the valuable trademark rights arising from your blog publishing venture, your trademark should be registered.

Why do I recommend registration, particularly for heavily monetized blogs? There are many reasons but I want to mention two of the most important. First, registration puts everyone on notice of your rights. You do not want a business to accidentally adopt your blog title as the name for a book or other product or service. A trademark search performed by the lawyer for that business may include domain names but trust me, it probably will not be exhaustive enough to capture a blog title that is not identical to the domain name. If your blog title/brand is registered, a search will find it immediately. Even if no search is performed, your registration provides constructive notice to everyone. So if another blogger decides to use a blog title identical or similar to yours (even innocently), your registration is a powerful tool to shut that other blogger down – quickly.

A second important reason for registering your valuable blog title is that the registration becomes an important financial asset. If you ever wanted to sell your blog, the registration will add tremendous value. The same goes for licensing your brand for other products or services. A trademark registration provides a level of predictability and sophistication that is well understood by those in the corporate and financial worlds. If you want to play in those worlds someday, be prepared with the right tools.

If you want to register your blog title as service mark, you can do it yourself online at www.uspto.gov. I don’t recommend that because the risk-reward and cost-benefit ratios of DIY trademark work are decidedly against you. If you have a heavily monetized blog with great cash flow, let a pro do it right the first time.

Protect Your Content as if your Ad Revenue Depended on It

Unless you have the attitude that everything you write should be public domain immediately upon publication, you must pay some attention to the fundamentals of copyright law. What you call a “scraper” in the blog world, IP lawyers call “infringers.” This tip is for bloggers who don’t like scrapers and other copycat artists who are too lazy to write their own stuff or who are looking for shortcuts to page ranks and links.

Starting with the basics, I am amazed at the number of high traffic blogs I visit that do not display a proper (or any) copyright notice anywhere on the site. I won’t go into all of the legal benefits of using a copyright notice (of which there are many). Let’s just say that if you ever had to take legal action against someone who blatantly copied your content, your failure to use a copyright notice will substantially devalue your case. On a more practical side, there are lots of readers and bloggers who believe that if you don’t display a copyright notice, your content is public domain. This belief is wrong but it doesn’t help you if they don’t know it’s wrong and end up using your post in its entirety. So use a notice to at least discourage those who may not know any better.

While I am talking about copyright notices, let’s be clear about what this is. The notice must include “ © “ or the word “copyright”, your name, and the year of first publication of the content. For an established blog, that probably means using a range of years, reflecting that the content has regularly been updated.

Now what about guest posts, partial quotes from other posts, and comments? Generally, copyright ownership of a guest post is a matter of agreement between you and your guest poster. If nothing is said about that by either of you, then what you probably end up with is an implied license to publish the post on your blog and that’s it. The guest poster would retain copyright ownership and be free to use that same post as well. FYI – the same would apply to freelancers who write for you. You will need an assignment (in writing) of the copyright unless the freelance post meets the statutory definition of a work made for hire.

Quoting from other blogger’s posts is an established practice and fortunately copyright law supports it, typically under the fair use doctrine. There are no hard and fast rules in this area but be mindful of this one: Do not quote more than is necessary to make your own point about what was said by another blogger or author. If you follow this simple rule, no one will call you a scraper and everyone (including the lawyers) will be happy.

Finally, a word about the creative commons open source licensing scheme (www.creativecommons.org) If you want to use it for your content, that is fine, but make sure that you clearly notify readers of its application to your posts. If your content is copied for commercial use without your consent, for example, you cannot use the restrictions of the creative common license unless readers of your blog are told about it ahead of time. The creative commons license is fundamentally a contract, requiring an offer and acceptance on behalf of two parties, not just you. One way to invoke a creative commons license is to prominently reference it in your copyright notice and again in your site Terms of Use. (You do have Terms of Use, don’t you?)

Respect Third-Party Graphic Content

Most bloggers like to juice up their posts and pages with attractive graphics and photos. In my experience reading blogs, photos are used primarily for aesthetics and not for further educating the reader about the subject matter of the post. That immediately takes away the “fair use” argument. This means that if you import third-party photos or other graphics into your blog, be 100% sure that it is public domain material. If it is not, it may be available to you under a creative commons license, but you must use the material as specified in the license. Usually this means including an author attribution and a link back to the owner. Also, remember that just because a photo or graphic is published on the web without a copyright notice, it does not mean that it is public domain. Similarly, you cannot copy third-party material (graphics or text), modify it, then use it as if you owned it. That is called a derivative work and under the law, only the copyright owner has the right to do that.

Watch Your SEO Metadata

As metadata has become less important in search engine algorithms, IP lawyers are seeing fewer disputes over use of third-party trademarks in website metadata. Still, if you have a monetized blog that focuses on a hobby such as digital photography or collecting, do not plant company or product names in your keyword or heading metadata for the purpose of driving traffic to your site. The law is all over the place in this area but such usage creates legal risk. If you use third-party trademarks in your blog text, that generally will be OK, depending on the context.

Use these tips wisely (meaning get legal advice applicable to your specific situation) and if you have, or aspire to have, a money-making blog, your IP legal bases will be well covered.

10 Steps to the Perfect List Post

List-Post List Posts have always been a popular format of post for bloggers. Today Ali Hale examines how to write the perfect list post and gives some great examples along the way of list posts that have done well on blogs.

List posts are ubiquitous – and hugely popular – in the blogosphere. As bloggers, we love them because they’re fun and straight-forward to write, and they do well on social media. As readers, we love them because they’re easy to scan and to take one or two great points from. And both bloggers and readers love the fact that list posts are fun to comment on and link to.

They can be serious or fun:

List posts are often amongst a blog’s most popular posts. For example:

So list posts are definitely a power-keg with the potential to send a traffic explosion to your blog. But a badly-done list post will fizzle out with a lacklustre response. Throwing down a handful of disconnected ideas as “My Top Ten Ways to Succeed” won’t achieve anything.

Here’s 10 step-by-step, planning-to-publication ways to make your list posts as effective as possible:

1. Decide on the number of items in the list

The first step is to consider how many items you’re going to put in the list. Think about the reason you’re writing the post and the topic you’re covering. If you’re producing a huge resource list, go for as many items as you can (101 is a popular figure, but if you can’t manage that many, try 50 or 25).

For posts such as “X ways to…” or “X reasons why…”, picking a figure between five and twenty-five usually works well. Be aware that different numbers have different effects:

  • Round numbers (eg. 5, 10, 20, 100) may give your readers a greater impression of authority. This gets used a lot in traditional media (eg. The Observer’s 100 Greatest Novels of All Time, or The Sunday Times’s Best 100 Companies to Work For).
  • Odd numbers (13, 17, 26) are sometimes thought to encourage additions. (For example, Zen Habit’s 17 Unbeatable Ways to Create a Peaceful, Relaxed Workday.) A good trick is to suggest “9 tips for …” or “19 tips for …” and ask your readers to submit a tenth in the comments.
  • Very low number (3 or 4) might suggest to readers that you don’t have many ideas on the topic.

2. Keep each item in the list similar

Whilst generating your ideas, keep them in the same structure. Your post might be a list of:

Avoid mixing the types of items in your list: a post which gives the “10 greatest ideas for writing” and jumps from tips to quotes to websites to instructions. This sort of list lacks cohesion, and is likely to lose readers part way.

3. Brainstorm more items than you need

Once you know how long your list is going to be, and what type of items you’ll be including, start brainstorming. Aim for at least an extra 10% more ideas than the number you picked in #1. (So, at least 11 items if you want to finish with 10, at least 112 items if you want 101 and so on…) This ensures you’ll get the strongest ideas, because you can cut the few which aren’t quite good enough.

Go through your list and scratch out anything which:

  • Doesn’t fit with the topic
  • Isn’t a full idea (sometimes you can merge these into other items on the list)
  • Might seem like “filler” to a reader – these often slip into long lists

For example, when I came up with 4 low-fat alternatives to ice-cream for Diet-Blog, I’d originally written five and included “sugar free jelly”. But all the others were frozen desserts, so I scrapped that one as it didn’t fully fit in.

4. Order the list Logically

Once you have all your items down, think about the sequence. You don’t want to post them in whatever order they happened to pop into your head: some readers might “cherry pick” items from the list (especially if it’s long), but others will read the whole thing, and it helps them if you’ve structured the post.

The way in which you order the list will depend on what it covers, but these all work:

  • From most to least popular for “Top ten/twenty/fifty…” lists, eg. Top Ten Blogs for Writers 2007 from Writing White Papers.
  • From least to most popular, usually for shortish lists. An example is Lifehacker’s Top 10 Smart and Lazy Ways to Save Your Workday. This can work for long lists, eg. TechCult’s Top 100 Web Celebrities.
  • Alphabetical order works well for lists of resources, especially glossaries or jargon definitions, such as The Blogger’s Glossary on Daily Blog Tips. (You could also try a spin on the list post and write the “A-Z of…” a topic.)
  • Chronological order is a great way to make your ideas flow naturally, if you can make your list follow the pattern of a day, week or year. I don’t see this done often, but it can be very effective. For example, Copyblogger’s Five Tips for a Successful Freelance Writing Career roughly follows goes from the start of the workday.
  • Step-by-step order works for posts such as this one and Dumb Little Man’s Five Steps to Planning an Effective Presentation, which take the reader through how to do something.

Also be aware when ordering your list that you should put your strongest items first, second and last. If you start with the most obvious or bland ideas, readers will switch straight off; ending well strikes the perfect note to encourage comments, click-throughs and new subscribers.

5. Break very long lists into sections

If your list is over about thirty items, it’s a good idea to split it up into sections. (You might even want to do this with as few as ten items.) A huge block of text on the page is intimidating, even when in the form of a list, and using subheadings also lets you provide a list of anchors at the top of the page to jump readers straight to the relevant section.

Try to find categories that the items can divide into. For example, Freelance Switch’s list of 101 Essential Freelancing Resources is broken down sections like:

  • Timing
  • Invoicing
  • Project Management and Organization
  • Stock Libraries

If you do split your list in this way, you can optionally start renumbering at each section (eg. a list of “50 great sites” could become ten sections of five, each numbered “1, 2, 3, 4, 5”.)

6. Consider making your list a series

Sometimes, your ideas are strong enough that using them all in one post is a waste. If you have quite broad items on your list, ones which need more than a paragraph or two of explanation, then it’s worth considering turning them into a series. This way, you can get five, ten, twenty or more posts for the price of one.

Lots of very successful bloggers write series of linked posts that could have originated from a list. A couple of examples are the 5 barriers to success series on Skelliewag and the 7 essential WordPress hacks video series on TubeTutorial.

As Darren explained in 24 Things to do When Stuck for a Topic to Blog About:

I could have chosen to break this actual post down into 20 or so smaller posts – a series.

Another way to approach this is to split your list into sections (see #5) and use each section (rather than each individual item) for a separate post, creating a short series. This works well if you find the list too long for a single article, and if it has one or more natural breaks.

7. Be consistent in how you write each item

If you’re writing a list post, readers expect each item in the list to be structured in a similar way. I’ve seen list posts where bloggers used different styles (usually <h3> and <strong>) for different halves of the list, for no reason and this can be confusing: the reader wonders whether they’re encountering a new item, or a subsection of the previous one.

  • Either use bullets or don’t – Some lists are formatted as a numbered, bullet-pointed series (each list item is contained in an <li> tag), others are simply paragraphs. It doesn’t matter which you choose so long as you keep it up throughout the list. A good rule of thumb is to go with bullet points for lists with little text per item (see Copyblogger’s 10 Steps to Becoming a Better Writer or Zen Habit’s 31 Ways to Motivate Yourself to Exercise) and to use regular paragraphs for more wordy lists (like this post).
  • Use the same style for each item title – <h3> tags are good, both for search engines and to break up the list into easy chunks. But if the text for each item is short (one paragraph, or a couple of lines), too many <h3> sections will look odd: use <strong> instead. This also applies if you’re writing a list broken into multiple sections – you’ll probably be using <h3> tags for the section headers, so use <strong> for the titles of the items.
  • Have similar length titles for each item – Lists look neater when each item is a similar length. It’s a good idea to avoid letting titles run over the end of a line, if you can – try to keep them snappy. Steve Pavlina’s popular article 10 Stupid Mistakes Made by the Newly Self-Employed has between three and seven words for each item title.
  • Use a similar format for each item - Readers tend to want “more of the same”, and they like to know what’s coming next. Keep the length of the text for each item similar (don’t mix one-line and three-paragraph items). If you’re using an image for each item, do it consistently – for example, The 5 Worst Reassurances in Tech History has a chunk of text for each item accompanied by an image.

8. Always number the items

One thing that frustrates me as a reader is lists that promise “20 ways to grow the perfect strawberries” – then don’t number the items. I start to suspect I might be being cheated out of one of the ways – perhaps there’s only 19! – and I have to count how many items the list contains. This is made even harder when the titles of items aren’t distinguished either (eg. 5 Factors Guaranteed to Sabotage Your Writing Efforts.)

Even for people without my suspicious nature, un-numbered lists are a pain, because it’s hard to know how many items are left. Readers are more likely to keep going, rather than drifting elsewhere, if they know there’s only ten/five/two items until the end of the post.

Usually, I’d number a list #1, #2, #3 and so on – but in a few cases (such as a “top five” or “our three competition winners are” post), you might want to number your items #5, #4, #3, #2, #1.

If you used bullet points for your list, switch the <ul> and </ul> tags to <ol> and </ol> and each item will be numbered from #1, #2 etc.

9. Invite readers to add to the list

Once you’ve written all the items and numbered them, that’s your post finished, right? Almost! The one thing left to do is to add a few closing words below the very last item. (If you used a bullet point list with <ol> to do yours, make sure you put the closing tag </ol> before this line, otherwise it’ll look like part of the final item.)

Here’s the endings of a few list posts:

“So – what do you think? How have you increased the levels of comments on your blog (had to ask)?”10 Techniques to Get More Comments on Your Blog on Problogger

“So how do you find a good SEO? Well, leave some comments on what you think about this post, and let Skellie know you would like to hear more. If so desired, and accepted by Skellie, I’ll return with a post answering that question.”7 Signs of SEO Scams on Anywired

“What about you, did you come across any crazy registered domains in the past?”Who Spent $10 For These Domain Names? Seriously! (a list post of 8 items) on Daily Blog Tips

Ending with a question or an invitation for more items is a brilliant way to encourage comments, to get readers engaged and involved, and to help you find ideas for future blog posts.

10. Choose a great title

One more thing to do before you hit “Publish” – choose a catchy title. There’s already loads of great advice around about writing great headlines so I’ll stick to a few points specific to list posts:

  • Include the number. You can use words (“Sixteen ways to…”) or numerals (“5 great tips…”). Try to be consistent with other posts on your site, though. You might want to decide on a style rule for yourself such as:
    • Always spell out numbers in list post titles
    • Always use numerals in list post titles
    • Spell out numbers below ten, use numerals for numbers 11 and over
  • Use some “hype” words – but only if your post can live up to it. Posts like “The 10 ultimate ways to make the best chocolate cookies ever” inevitably disappoint slightly – be careful that you don’t overdo it. Equally, “10 chocolate chip cookie recipes” is a bit too bland. How about “10 favourite chocolate chip cookie recipes tried and tested”?

And, even though I’ve already explained this technique to you, I’m going to close shamelessly in asking for your comments. Do you have a great tip for writing list posts? Have you had any hugely successful lists on your blog?

Ali Hale is a freelance writer and website creator (see www.aliventures.com). She also has a blog on healthy living for busy people at www.theofficediet.com.

Comment Moderation – How Do You Do It?

Today I came across a post on one of the NYT blogs on how the blogger there, Marci Alboher, moderates comments on her blog – via Steve Rubel.

In the post Marci shares a few reasons why she doesn’t allow comments to go up:

1. It is too long (even though it might be well-written and make interesting points).

2. It is nasty, impolite or uses language that is unprintable in The New York Times.

3. It includes a a link that has a typo or is broken in some other way (again, even though it may be well-written and make interesting points).

4. It should have been sent as an e-mail since it is clearly addressed to me and does not appear to have been intended for other readers.

5. It is pandering to me (like visiting the blog to tell me that I’m brilliant and have my finger on the pulse of something) or blatantly self-promotional.

I’m fascinated by this list on a number of fronts.

  1. I think it’s great that Marci (and the NYT) has thought through which comments she’ll allow up on her blog. I suspect that many bloggers don’t have any kind of policy on comment moderation (formal or informal) and have not communicated to their readers what they accept or don’t accept. I think that such a policy would be helpful for both readers and bloggers.
  2. My personal opinion on comment policies is that what the blogger (or the blog owner) says goes. We all have different opinions, values and approaches but in the same way that I decide what I want to happen inside my home I decide that boundaries of behavior on my blog. While a few of the things that Marci said do make me raise my eyebrows (moderating comments based upon length even if they are well written and interesting for example) it’s her (and the NYT) prerogative to set the boundaries where she sets them.
  3. Having said that – I find it interesting to see where bloggers do draw the line. Perhaps it’s partly to do with writing a blog for the NYT who would have strong guidelines on such matters – but I get the feeling that Marci moderates comments a lot more tightly and in areas that most bloggers wouldn’t even consider moderating comments on. Most bloggers do have concerns of self promotion (particularly when it borders on spam) and many would edit based upon unacceptable language or personal attack but the idea of moderating based upon length or comments with typos in links goes to a place that I’ve not seen many bloggers go.

I don’t really want to create a discussion based around debating whether Marci’s approach is ‘right or wrong’ (I think it’s really up to her to make those decisions for her blog) but I would love to hear readers opinions and experiences is setting boundaries in their own blog’s comment sections.

  • Do you have a comments policy on your blog (written or unwritten)?
  • When do you moderate comments? What triggers you to moderate certain comments?

PS: My answers to these questions are in my comment policy. It’s a little dated (written in 2005) but it still largely fits with my approach.

Split Testing: How To Increase Your Adsense Earnings 94% Overnight

In this post Brian Armstrong from StartBreakingFree.com shares some tips on using Split Testing to increase his AdSense earnings.

Long time readers of ProBlogger know that Darren is a big fan of split testing ads to improve your earnings. I took this advice to heart, and wanted to show you some real world results that I got on my own blog.

Feel free to take these results and apply them to your own site. Or better yet, do some of our own testing and improve on them even more!

I split tested 3 separate regions of my site and looked mostly at eCPM to compare them. If you aren’t sure what eCPM is click here. I think it’s better to use eCPM than click through rate (CTR) because it incorporates not just how often it’s clicked, but also how much you make per click.

Right Aligned vs. Left Aligned Ad In Post Body

post_body.png

This ad region makes the most money for me, and was smack dab at the top of each individual post page (but not on the homepage).

  • The right aligned ad got a 0.78% CTR and $1.41 eCPM
  • The left aligned ad got a 1.30% CTR and $5.31 eCPM

Clear winner: left aligned (276% improvement)

It’s hard to say why this is exactly. Maybe the left aligned ad looks more like it’s actual content instead of an ad. Whatever the reason, the difference was substantial.

Top Right: image vs. text

top.png

This ad resides at the very top right of every page. I had been running it with image ads for a while and decided to test it against text ads (with some appropriate color choices).

  • The image ads got a 0.35% CTR and $1.74 eCPM
  • The text ads got a 0.33% CTR and $2.15 eCPM

Interesting to note here that although the CTR went down slightly, the eCPM went up. This seems to indicate that the text ads were paying more per click. So even though it was clicked slightly less often it still made more money overall.

Winner: text ads (narrowly)

Under Posts: image vs. text

bottom.png

This ad was placed at the bottom of each post page and also on the homepage under the excerpts. I again decided to test some text ads against the incumbent image ads.

  • The image ads got a 0.58% CTR and $1.86 eCPM
  • The text ads got a 0.43% CTR and $2.27 eCPM

Again here the CTR went down and the eCPM went up. Also worth noting is that the color scheme I used on the text ad block is consistent with my site. “Blockquote” tags on my site use a similar color scheme.

Winner: text ads

Conclusions & Next Steps

For those who are curious, here is the actual data from an excel spreadsheet. You can pull this out of Adsense under the “reports” tab if you use different channels to compare different ads.

data.png

Overall these results were impressive. The site-wide eCPM from these three ads went up overall from $5.01 to $9.73 which is a 94% improvement.

I could just convert all ads to the better performing version and call it a day, but what I’ll do instead is continue testing….forever.

There are plenty of other things to test, such as…

  • Trying text ads in the post body (since they performed better elsewhere)
  • Left aligning ads under the posts
  • Trying different color schemes
  • Trying other types of ads (Amazon, Performancing Ads, Text-Link-Ads, etc)

Most people focus on growing their blog’s readership to boost earnings. This is a critical component, but don’t forget about the other major tool in your arsenal: split testing.

What ad formats and placements have worked best for you? Leave us a comment below.

To get more tips like these, check out my blog at StartBreakingFree.com. It’s is a blog for people who’d like to quit their 9-to-5 jobs, start their own business, and achieve financial freedom. I’ll even give you 3 of the top 10 books on building wealth for FREE when you subscribe, instantly delivered to your inbox! Check it out.

Using AideRSS to Help Identify Hot Topics to Cover On Your Blog

View the full sized version of this video at Blip, YouTube or Viddler (you’ll probably want to to see the text of what I’m talking about).

Yesterday I wrote about how to choose a topic to write about for blog posts and today in this video post I want to follow up this topic with a video demonstration of how I use a great service called AideRSS to analyze previous posts on my blog and observe trends in both the topics and styles of writing that can help to decide upon future topics to cover.

You won’t simply want to repeat past topics that have done well but will probably do better to extend upon them.

AideRSS can be used in lots of ways to track other blogs and help find great content on other blogs but for me this analysis of my own posts has become a valuable tool. I hope you enjoy this screen cast.

Movable Type launch Version 4.2 and Movable Type Pro

Today SixApart have launched Movable Type 4.2 and Movable Type Pro.

MT was the first blogging platform that I experienced (after a brief stint with blogger.com) and for a long while it had everything that I needed – however in time it became a little slow and problematic and with the surge in popularity around WordPress among bloggers I switched platforms.

Today’s Movable Type Pro launch marks another important step in the evolution of MT as a platform. I’m yet to test it but from what I see it’s continuing to develop MT in a direction that I’m certain will be attractive to many bloggers – at least on a feature level.

You can read about it’s new features in Anil’s announcement post but in short it’s taking blogs powered with MT Pro in a more ‘social’ direction and makes MT no longer just a blogging platform but one that gives readers of MT Pro blogs the power to become members, set up profiles, rating of content, forums etc.

More and more bloggers are looking to find ways to integrate social networking within their communities and to this point most are having to settle for marrying two platforms together (one blogging platform and one social networking platform). Movable Type now offer a solution for an all in one package – something that will be very tempting for some bloggers.

Authentic Blogging

Ever had a ‘defining moment’ that changed the direction of your blog? A moment of realization that makes you stop in your tracks and reinvent your approach?

Maria Gajewski from Never The Same River Twice emailed me today to tell me about her recent defining moment which she calls her Authentic Blogging Manifesto in which she describes her quest to grow her blog by writing for social media (she describes herself getting to the point of being a “StumbleUpon Slave”) instead of her readers.

The story is honestly written and I’m sure will resonate with many of you (as it’s a tale that I’ve heard many bloggers share their versions of).

Maria also outlines her 4 point plan for moving forward:

  • Step 1: Stop Pretending That I Know Everything
  • Step 2: Talk to People Who Know More Than Me
  • Step 3: Share What I Learn With People Who Know Less Than Me
  • Step 4: Put My Energy Into Communication, Not Traffic

Maria’s story and lessons are not new. Many bloggers have come to similar realizations and decisions in their blogging – however I wanted to post it as a reminder of two things that I’ve found to be important in building a successful blog:

1. Balance is Important – Most bloggers go through times when they become obsessed with one aspect of blogging (be it SEO, writing for social media, experimenting with a new tool or medium, getting links from other bloggers, tweaking their design etc) and where their blogging becomes unbalanced. In Maria’s case it seems that she became out of balance with writing for social media. While there’s nothing wrong with list posts or getting traffic from these sources – a blogger needs to keep some perspective and not become side tracked by the lure of big traffic from these kinds of sites. Read more about blogging balance.

2. Write For People – Perhaps the most obvious blogging tip that anyone could give is to keep your reader firmly in mind as you write and to aim to write something meaningful (both to them and you) that really communicates to them and enhances their lives in some way. It’s a pretty simple tip and one that we all know – yet it is amazing how many of us become distracted from this truth and need to be reminded of what it’s all about.

Have you ever had a ‘defining moment’ in your blogging? What did you learn? What decisions did you make? How have you gone since changing your approach?

How to Choose a Topic for Your Next Blog Post

Today I’d like to talk about choosing topics for blog posts as part of our series on how to craft a blog post.

choose-topic-blog-post.jpgImage by devorocks81

Choosing the right topic to write about on your blog is vital if you want to write a post that engages your reader.

Rushing the choice of topic can set you off in the wrong direction and end up wasting both your time and that of your reader.

While sometimes the idea for a post hits you and needs little adaption – I find that many (if not most) times the first idea that comes to me for a post needs a little molding (or marinating) before it’s just right. I will often come up with a post idea and end up evolving it into something that is quite different – but which is much richer in terms of how interesting it is.

Here’s how choosing a blog post title often works for me:

  • I’ll jot down an idea for a post topic in a text document on my desktop (this usually happens while I’m doing something else).
  • Once a day I scan my ‘idea’ text documents and look for a topic that connects with me for that day (I like to work on things that give me energy).
  • With that document open I’ll begin to brainstorm points that I could write about, title ideas and think particularly about reader needs that the post might overcome). I often use a mind mapping technique to do this brainstorming – it can actually lead to hundreds of post ideas.
  • As I brainstorm a post begins to take shape and more importantly the topic emerges. While I have points and title ideas jotted down it is the ‘topic’ that I’m particularly trying to nail down at this point. Anything else is a bonus and will help cut down work later – but it’s the topic I’m attempting to identify.
  • Quite often as I engage in this process I’ll end up with more than one topic – many of these i’ll put aside for another day but some will emerge into a series of posts.

Other tips on choosing a topic for your next blog post

  • Identify a Need - As mentioned above – I’m particularly trying to name a need or problem that my reader has. I find that if I can have this in my mind as I write a post that it not only ends up being a well focused post – it ends up being useful to readers. So as you choose a topic to write about – identify concrete needs that you’re aiming for the post to fulfil and questions that you want the post to answer.
  • Picture a ReaderChris Garrett often talks about how he has a number of readers in mind as he blogs – he keeps their situation, needs, questions and challenges in front of him as he writes and even pictures them in his mind as he chooses topics and writes them. In this way he doesn’t just end up theoretical or abstract topics – but is closer to writing concrete and applicable posts that will connect with readers.
  • Break out of the Echo chamber – one trap that many bloggers fall into is producing blogs posts that simply regurgitate what others are writing on their blogs. If the topic I’m wanting to write about is one that others are also covering one of the things that I attempt to do in this phase of choosing topics is to find a new angle. How can you bring your own spin to the topic? How can you give your readers something unique to ponder? Read more about breaking out of the echo chamber (and also here).
  • Write Something that Matters to You - I find that when i write a post that matters to me (as opposed to one that is merely reporting news or tapping into a popular topic) that it tends to connect on a deeper level with readers. I guess it is logical really – when something matters to you it shines through in the way you communicate about it and this has a way of engaging others who also think it matters. Another way to say this is to ‘let your topics choose you’ rather than you choosing what topics you want to write about.
  • Write Something Topical - Writing on a topic that is currently popular or that people are searching for information on is defitely something to keep in mind as you select a topic to post on. Use a tool like Google Trends to watch trends of what people are searching Google for, keep an eye on social media sites to see what people are voting for there – these topics can be well worth tapping into – particularly if you find a fresh way to explore them (see above point on breaking out of the echo chamber).
  • One Topic per Post – this will vary a little from blog to blog depending upon your niche and style of writing but I find that posts that really hone in on one particular topic and communicate one main idea tend to do best. There is nothing wrong with writing long sweeping posts that cover many things, but do keep in mind that most people’s reading style on line is to scan content, flip between pages and not to dwell on any one thing for too long. So refine the topic for your next blog post down to one simple idea. If you have more than one write a series of posts or put those that you’re not going to focus upon into your ideas journal for another day. After all, you’re writing a blog and can expand upon your other ideas every day for the rest of your blogs life!
  • Plan Ahead – one thing that has helped me a lot in my blogging when it comes to choosing topics to cover is to think ahead about my blogging and develop an editorial calendar. I do this in my computer’s calendar program (I use iCal) where I have a calendar dedicated to each of my blogs. I don’t use this all of the time but find it particularly useful when I know I’m going to have a busy week or two (or when I’m traveling) as it helps me to think clearly and plan ahead for my blogging. Chris G has a nice post on planning blog post topics with an editorial calender.
  • Looking for more ideas? – also on the theme of choosing a topic to blog is my recent post 24 Things to Do When Stuck for a Topic to Blog About – In it you’ll find quite a few other ideas for coming up with post ideas.

Not every post that you write will be able to do all of the above things.

There are times where in most niches you’ll need to cover a story that doesn’t really ‘matter’ to you so much – or where you write about something that does matter that is not topical – however somewhere in the mix of all of these things a post’s topic will emerge.

Take Your Time With Topic Choice

The point of this current series is to challenge us as bloggers to take a little extra time at different points in the process of crafting blog posts.

So main point today is simply to do that when it comes to choosing a topic. Don’t fall into the temptation of always writing about the first thing that comes into your mind. Instead, take those ideas and mold and shape them into something special – something that will engage both you and your reader.

One More Tip on Selecting Topics for blog posts

Looking for a little more inspiration and teaching on how to select topics for your blog posts?

Here’s a video that I made a few months back that shows you how to find blog post topics by analyzing your blogs statistics.


Got some tips of your own on choosing topics to post on? Add them in comments below – looking forward to hearing how you do it.

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.