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69 Questions to Ask to Review Your Blog

With the end of 2008 hurtling towards us many bloggers are beginning to cast our minds forward into the new year ahead to set goals, make resolutions and come up with strategies and plans to grow their blogs in 2009.

While looking forward and planning to improve your blog is something well worth putting time aside for – I’ve found that you can drastically enhance the forward thinking that you do by doing another step first – reflecting upon the past.

The mistake that many bloggers make in only looking forward is that they often fail to capitalize upon and build upon lessons that they’ve already learned.

An Example

I spoke with one blogger this morning who I think illustrates this perfectly. I won’t name him as I don’t want to cause embarrassment but he emailed me to tell me about how he was about to completely relaunch his blog in the coming days. He’d put up a holding page where his old blog had been, was going to launch a completely new design with new branding, he was changing the name and tag line of the blog, was going to change his posting frequency from 3 posts a day to 2-3 posts a week and most strikingly was changing the topic of his blog quite significantly.

When I emailed the blogger back to ask his reasoning for the drastic change of his blog he responded by saying that ‘it’s time for a change’. He reflected that he thought his readers might be bored and he himself wanted a change. His reasons didn’t go much beyond this.

Now don’t get me wrong – there’s nothing wrong with reinvention and changing course with your blog – what this blogger is doing could be a very smart move – but a smarter move would be to do a little reflection on how his blog had been going, identifying what was working and what wasn’t and building upon the good stuff – instead of effectively knocking it all down and rebuilding on the rubble.

How to Reflect on the Progress of your Blog

So how does one reflect upon the past experience of their blog in order to work out how to evolve it and build upon its strengths to go forward?

Below I’ve begun to develop a list of questions that a blogger wanting to do some reflection upon their blog might use to undertake such an exercise. By no means is this list exhaustive and by no means am I suggesting that bloggers ask each one – some will be more relevant than others depending upon the blog, its stage in the life cycle and the goals of the blogger.

I would recommend bloggers wanting to do this type of reflection set aside at least a few hours to do this exercise (or a series of hour long sessions over a few days). That might sound like a lot of time but the lessons that you learn by doing this could make any planning you might do for 2009 and beyond much more effective. For some of these questions you will probably need access to your blogs metrics/stats package but for many you might find it less distracting if you were offline with a pen and paper.

General Questions

  1. What goals (formal or informal) did you have for your blog in 2008?
  2. What goals did you meet?
  3. What successes did you have that you didn’t set goals for?
  4. Which goals didn’t you meet for your blog in 2008?
  5. What failed on your blog in 2008? What mistakes did you make?
  6. How have you innovated in 2008?
  7. How have you invested in your own learning as a blogger in 2008?
  8. What do you want readers of your blog to ‘DO’ after reading your blog?
  9. Do Your Readers actually Do what you want them to do?
  10. Would YOU read your blog?

Traffic

  1. How did your traffic change in 2008?
  2. What was the biggest source of traffic in 2008? Why was it big?
  3. What types of traffic didn’t grow in 2008?
  4. Take some time to analyze traffic sources including search engines, social bookmarking, other referring sites, direct traffic – are they trending up or down?
  5. Where did you promote your blog in 2008?
  6. Did the promotion pay off?
  7. What search terms are people typing into Google to arrive on your site?
  8. What seasonal traffic was their in 2008?
  9. How many pages were people viewing on your site per visit?
  10. How much time did you put into building traffic, promotion, marketing, SEO in 2008?

Content

  1. How many posts did you write over the year?
  2. Which months did you write the most posts and which did you write the least? Why the ups and downs?
  3. Which posts had the most traffic in 2009? Why do you think that was?
  4. Which posts got the most comments? Why might that have been?
  5. Which posts were linked to most by other sites?
  6. What topics most energized you in 2008?
  7. Which posts drained you most?
  8. What type of posts have you been writing lately (voice, style etc)? How long are they?
  9. How much time did you put into writing content in 2008?
  10. Are key pages (About page, Contact page, Advertise page etc) up to date?
  11. What calls to action did you have on your blog in 2008? Did they work?
  12. What ‘need’ does your content fulfill for readers? What problems does it solve?

Community

  1. What recurring questions did readers ask in 2008?
  2. How have your RSS subscriber numbers changed?
  3. If you have a newsletter – how are subscriber numbers to it changing?
  4. Are comment numbers from readers increasing or decreasing?
  5. How much personal interaction did you have with readers in 2008?
  6. What other ways are readers interacting with your blog? (polls, guest posts, forums etc)
  7. Have you kept up with moderating comment spam in 2008?

Your Niche

  1. Is your niche/topic/industry growing or shrinking?
  2. What topics within or around your niche are growing and gaining momentum?
  3. What are other blogs doing well in your niche?
  4. Are they growing or shrinking in terms of traffic and reader engagement?
  5. What are other blogs in your niche ignoring or doing badly?
  6. How were your interactions with other bloggers this year?
  7. What social media sites, forums or other types of sites are ‘hot’ in your niche?
  8. Does your niche/topic energize you?

Design

  1. How does your blogs design look?
  2. Is it dated, confusing or ‘broken’ or is it attractive, functional and engaging?
  3. Is there clutter anywhere on your blog?
  4. Does your blog load fast?
  5. When a first time reader arrives on their blog what impression would they get?
  6. Would a first time visitor immediately know what it is about and how to use/navigate it?
  7. What complaints have you heard most about your design from readers this year?

Monetization (if this is a goal for you)

  1. How much did your blog earn in 2008?
  2. Are your earnings up or down on previous years?
  3. What sources of income does your blog have?
  4. How did your income change over the year? Why did it change?
  5. What lessons did you learn about what methods of making money works best on your blog?
  6. What didn’t work in 2008 when it comes to monetization?
  7. What are other blogs and sites in your niche using to monetize their blogs? What affiliate products are they promoting? What ad networks are they using?
  8. What advertisers are running campaigns in your niche?
  9. What type of affiliate programs have worked (and not worked) on your blog? What type of offers do you readers respond to?

Technical

  1. Is your blog platform up to date?
  2. What features/widgets/tools are readers using on your blog?
  3. What features/widgets/tools are readers not using on your blog?
  4. When was the last time you backed up your blog?
  5. Is your hosting sufficient for your blog? How much downtime did you have in 2008?
  6. What features do your readers ask for or complain about on your blog?

OK – as I say above – these questions just scratch the surface as to the type of reflections that a blogger might do on their blog. I’d love to hear other questions that you’d also ask.

Next week, after you’ve had a little time to do some of this reflecting, I want to follow this post up by outlining a process that I use for planning and coming up with strategies for a blog. Stay tuned to the ProBlogger RSS feed to get this update.

How to Write Fast

Alisa Bowman from projecthappilyeverafter.com shares some tips on writing fast.

So you haven’t quite monetized your blog. That means you’re still working 8 or so hours in the non-virtual world for that paycheck. You may also have many other time commitments. They are called marriage, parenthood, friendships and Twitter.

With all of these variables vying for the same 24 hours, how do you follow Darren’s advice and blog at least every day?

You have a few choices.

  1. You could stop sleeping.
  2. You could give up the family and friends.
  3. You could learn how to write really fast.

If you’re tempted by option #2, I can’t help you, but I wish you the best of luck with that. If you want to know more about option #3, keep reading.

I first learned how to write fast when I was on deadline as a newspaper reporter. I, at times, had just ten or so minutes to crank out at least 800 words. These days I blog 4 to 5 times a week at projecthappilyeverafter.com, twice a week at Capessa.com and two more times a week at savorthesuccess.com. I also write guest blogs and magazine articles, and I ghost and co-author books.

All told, I’m typing somewhere between 5,000 and 10,000 words a week. Yet, I spend only 6 to 7 daily hours in my desk chair. Over the years I’ve developed this 6-step system for writing fast.

Step 1: Know what you want to say before you sit down. As soon as you finish any blog, start thinking about your next one. Think it over as you walk the dog, while washing dishes, or even while staring at the ceiling at 3 a.m. What will it be about? What do you have to say? Go over lines in your head. For instance, at 3 a.m. last night, I heard the line, “Throw up on the screen.” You’ll hear it again, too. Real soon. Promise.

Step 2: Pick the basic format you will use to organize your blog. Most blogs fall into one of the following organizational templates:

  • Q & A – Someone poses a question and then you answer it.
  • Tips: You start with a couple paragraphs of explanation followed by a list of tips. This “how to write fast” blog follows this format, only the “tips” are “steps.”
  • Story: Once upon a time something happened to me, I learned someone from it, and now we’re at the end.
  • List: This might be a list of great websites, great books, or great people to follow on Twitter.
  • Quiz or Test: You pose a series of questions or offer a check off list that allows the reader to figure something out.

There are other formats, too, but the key to writing fast is knowing and perfecting a few. That way you can create them quickly and easily.

Step 3: Throw up on the screen. (Told you.) Start writing and don’t stop until there are no words left in your head. Don’t stop for typos. Don’t stop for grammar. Don’t stop because you lose your train of thought. Insert quick notes as you write, such as CHECK NAME SPELLING, FIND URL, or WHAT IS THE WORD I WANT HERE? I use that last one quite frequently.

Step 4: Read your blog from beginning to end. Fill in holes. Tinker. Replace your all caps notes with real text.

Step 5: Read out loud once or twice. This will help you catch typos, pinpoint really awkward writing, and help you tighten things up.

Step 6: You’re done. Post it.

I just followed these steps for this article. So far I’ve been writing for 10 minutes.

What’s your best advice for speeding up the writing process? Leave a comment.

Alisa Bowman writes about the ups and downs of marriage at projecthappilyeverafter.com. She’s also the relationships editor at Capessa.com. Follow her on Twitter @alisabow.

Get Inspiration from Blog Comments When Writing your Next Post

Today Marko shares a quick tip on how to generate post ideas from the comments left on previous posts.

At the time of writing this, there has been 34 comments to my Create A Media Kit To Attract Advertisers To Your Blog guest post at ProBlogger.net. One of the good things about getting a guest post spot at a bigger blog is that the number of comments is larger as well.

Getting higher number of comments from your targeted audience allows you to learn more about them, what they think about your writing, what questions did you raise in their minds and what answers they are looking for. This can give you inspiration on what you can write about in your future blog posts.

Some of the comments on my guest post at ProBlogger give an idea on what readers are interested to learn about. I can see ideas for two new blog posts after reading the following comments:

When is my blog ready to start attracting advertisers?

1. “100% agree with you Darren, but the point when shall i create one? my blog is couple of days old yet, i think i need to raise it and then create a Media Kit & a Rate Card for it, right? what do you think?”

2. “I’m wondering what level of traffic should you have on a monthly visit before you attempt to sell advertising space?”

How do I know how much I should charge for my advertising space?

1. “It would be good to have some discussion about ad rates vs. traffic to help us neophytes figure out how much we can reasonably charge and yet not undercharge. For example, if you’re getting about 3,000 page visits a month, what is the market rate range for particular size ads?”

2. “Is there any place that one might find some practical amounts to charge per traffic rate? I know that is hard to answer with specifics, but ball park numbers are what I had in mind.”

3. “One thing that I’m quite confused is how to start the initial ad rates so that I can get more advertisers interested to put their ad in my blog?”

So the question is, do you have any knowledge on when it is a right time for a new blog to start contacting potential blog advertisers? Or how much should a blogger charge for the advertising space, how should the calculation be made so it doesn’t undersell nor oversell the blog?

Good thing about getting inspired for post topics with this method, is that you know that your audience is interested in learning more about it and you know that there is a demand for it. This will help you as there is a potential of your blog post to spread virally as readers will recommend you to others if you answer their questions and help them out.

Find questions that you target audience asks in your blog or in the similar blogs and start writing posts on topics inspired by reader comments. Do them as best as you can, publish them on your blog or try to get a guest post spot at a bigger blog in your field and see your blog traffic and RSS subscribers grow.

PS from Darren: for those interested in the above two topics there are a few posts in the ProBlogger archives that cover them. Check out:

How to Upgrade to WordPress 2.7 Safely and Ensure Compatibility

Many bloggers are upgrading versions in WordPress at the moment to 2.7 – so when Hendry Lee offered to write this guide to doing it I thought it’d be useful to many. Enjoy.

WordPress 2.7 codename “Coltrane” has been released earlier in December 2008, with the most significant change being the new Dashboard interface. A lot of people upgrade immediately, but a few others are still hesitant for one reason or another, as seen in the various blogging forums, including the WordPress Support Forums.

The rule of thumb is simple. You should upgrade as soon as time permits.

Not only because this version includes a bunch of new features and security updates, but also the fact that new versions will make future upgrades easier and painless with auto-upgrade and compatibility with newer versions of PHP and MySQL.

However, many people haven’t yet taken the time to upgrade because of a few concerns:

  1. Compatibility with installed theme and plugins. Most themes work out of the box with WordPress 2.7, with a few exception for themes that include custom queries to sticky posts and a few minor and easy-to-fix issue. (Well, if you are a theme developer who have access to a friend who are in the know, that would be quick to fix.)
  2. Lack of technical ability to upgrade. WordPress Codex includes a standard 3-step and extended upgrading processes. Even easier if your hosting includes cPanel, an upgrade is available through Fantastico — assuming that you install the previous version through it and your host has installed a new version of Fantastico.
  3. WordPress upgrades happen too often. Due to security issues and others, sometimes it is necessary to revise and update the code. If you resist upgrading to 2.7 because of this reason, there is a good news. This is perhaps the last upgrade you must do manually. The auto-upgrade feature makes the process easier after 2.7.

If you are more convenient with minor upgrade, you should at least make sure that you are running version 2.6.5 because it provides security updates for the latest release of WordPress.

However, it is important to remember that future upgrades will be harder if you are behind a few major releases. The development resources are now focusing on the 2.7 branch and future release (2.8), so if you want to enjoy new releases and features, upgrade is necessary.

How to Upgrade to WordPress 2.7 Directly

Upgrading a major release is better done through a step-by-step process. With a minor release, you can go from 2.6.2 to 2.6.5 without a problem, but with a major upgrade it is not recommended to go straight from 2.7 from 2.3, for example.

Most people upgraded from 2.6.x to WordPress 2.7 without a problem, but just to be on the safe side, you should check to make sure that your web hosting provider is compatible. As you notice, most popular hosting providers have already supported the new release.

Although it is worth mentioning that WordPress 2.7 still supports PHP4 at the moment, it may discontinue that at some point, mostly because PHP4 is no longer being updated.

If running particular theme and plugins are compulsory, check the 2.7 Plugin Compatibility and 2.7 Theme Compatibility

Finally, once you are ready, follow the steps in the WordPress Codex, either in the standard or extended upgrade page to proceed. The latter is preferable if you have used plugins beyond the ones that come with WordPress installation.

What If You’re Still Unsure

For bloggers and web publishers who use WordPress in busy sites, it is understandable when they hesitate to perform an upgrade because just a minor glitch usually means frustrating their users and losing revenue.

Certainly this is not desirable.

For people who customize WordPress heavily, the thought of losing all the hard work or have to do it all over again certainly hold them back.

If you can relate to one of the above situations, there are still ways you can upgrade confidently. The answer lies is testing.

While it involves more work, it also gives you peace of mind during the whole upgrade process. Remember as said earlier, this may be the last time you have to go through this process manually.

After you’ve gone through the whole thing, you may realize that even with the manual process, it is not as hard as you might imagine.

If nothing else, these upgrades allow you to create a testing platform for experimenting. If you are a theme developer or tester, or if you are developing WordPress plugins, you will be able to test them with a production-like environment with real data, complete plugins and your own theme.

Finally, in the worst case, you have to migrate your plugins or existing theme to make them compatible with WordPress 2.7 or disable the plugins until upgraded versions are available. But of course, you can choose to not upgrade if you want to make sure everything runs smoothly in 2.7 before you upgrade.

You can even speed up the process plugin migration process — but avoid pushing as the authors may do this for free — by encouraging the plugin developers to update their plugins. If enough people want the support, most likely it will happen, unless the developers don’t plan to continue the development again, for which you should start seeking an alternative or even take over the project.

Migrating to WordPress 2.7 Safely — The Plan

So, what’s the alternative plan(s) I am talking about?

It is a safe way to migrate your WordPress installation by making sure all of your plugins and installed theme work.

This method involves installing a separate copy of WordPress 2.7 in a test environment, load all the plugins and theme, including your blog posts and comments into it. Before you actually decide that the new version of WordPress works flawlessly for your site, you attempt your best to break it.

After all, it is better to find out if something breaks first during testing rather than having your visitors fall into it unintentionally.

Once you are happy with it, make the transition quickly. It is possible to do it without any down time at all. Well, perhaps a few seconds at most.

If that sounds too techie, perhaps you are true. I can’t change your perception but practically it is not hard at all. As long as you follow the steps below carefully, and you execute the plan only after you understand the whole process, you’d be surprised that you could do that too.

With a bit of background prepared, now it’s time for the exciting part.

1. Create a Copy of Your WordPress Installation

The good thing about open source software is that it is free. You can create a new WordPress blog in a few minutes, whenever and wherever you want it, with one of these scenarios:

  1. Install WordPress 2.7 in a directory under your existing blog. If your blog is hosted under example.com, it is possible to create another directory such as example.com/wp27 and make it as if it is another copy of example.com.
  2. Install WordPress 2.7 in a new domain. Just like the above scenario, but you can replicate the whole structure, even the directory under the domain, to match the main blog. Of course, the only difference in this backup blog is the domain name.
  3. Install WordPress 2.7 locally. There are a few ways to do this, either install it as a service running under your desktop operating system (Windows) using Apache or various alternative and lightweight web servers like nginx or lighttpd.

I’ve created an experimental WordPress virtual appliance called WP-Sandbox. It allows you to run a web server on a virtual machine quickly, using VMware Player. It is still in a very early stage of development. Currently, as of this writing, I have already spotted a few bugs so expect an upgrade soon.

Important: Rather than pointing the backup WordPress 2.7 installation to use existing database, you should backup your database and import it to a newly created database. If you have limited number of allowed database in your web hosting account, either install it locally or modify it to install in the same database but with a different prefix.

This upgrade of WordPress requires you to upgrade the database. By pointing it to a new / backup database, you avoid modifying the production data.

Don’t worry if you don’t understand what I’m talking about above. Just pick one that fits you well and go with it.

WP-DB-Backup is an excellent plugin for backing up a database. Follow the instructions at WordPress Codex for more alternatives, including using phpMyAdmin and straight MySQL commands.

Once you have the WordPress 2.7 code ready in the new location — including the edited configuration file (wp-config.php), export your existing data and import / restore it to the new database, you are ready for the next step.

I almost forget. Add the following lines to wp-config.php:

define('WP_HOME', 'http://example.com/wp27');
define('WP_SITEURL', 'http://example.com/wp27');

This saves you from modifying the database options.

2. Copy All Plugins and Active Theme

In this step, you are going to prepare the new WordPress 2.7 installation to resemble your existing blog as close as possible, but the most important things are plugins and theme. Copy the whole wp-content/plugins directory and your activated theme in wp-content/themes to the new WordPress directories, except that you don’t want to overwrite akismet and hello.php (the latter is just an example WordPress plugin showing random line of lyric from the song Hello, Dolly).

WordPress centralizes content in the wp-content directory. Unless you change the uploaded media to another place, it should be in wp-content/uploads. Duplicate the whole directory and sub-directories to your new WordPress if you can afford the disk space.

At this stage, you’ve already created an exact same copy of your WordPress blog, except that the backup blog is run under the shiny new version 2.7.

Unless you have other directories or files hosted under the domain in other directories, you are done with this step. It is recommended that you copy those complete directory structures over to the new blog. In the process, make sure you don’t overwrite any new WordPress core files.

You may also use your web hosting control panel to perform the duplication. FTP (or SFTP – secure ftp) is also common if you want to transfer files from remote (server) to local and vice versa. If you know basic Linux command line, you should be able to duplicate your data very quickly.

Note: Don’t forget the .htaccess, robots.txt, sitemap.xml, favicon.ico and other files as well.

3. Test, test and test

Now that you’ve created a complete backup of your blog in WordPress 2.7, now is the time to break it. I mean, do what you can to explore your blog just like a visitor would do. Pay attention to details and see if something breaks in 2.7 but not in the previous version of WordPress.

Ask a friend or colleague to test it for you, as others will often spot things that you fail to notice.

If you install various plug-ins that inject codes into your themes but are not visible on the screen, such as the meta keyword and description tags plugin, check to make sure they are all working properly.

Don’t rush through this process. Just because it looks well doesn’t mean there is no problem. Remember that at first most people didn’t want to upgrade because of the concern that it may not work for their blogs, so be a bit paranoid and test thoroughly.

4. Finalize installation on production server

After you’re satisfied with it, and most likely you will, you may want to do the upgrade process once again, but now targeting the production blog.

Here are some tips that let you minimize the down time. This method may not be suitable for everyone especially if your blog hosts a huge number of huge files but at the very least you can take some ideas and use them to make the migration process as smooth as possible.

  1. Extract or upload a copy of WordPress 2.7 to a new directory at the same level as the production blog. For instance, if your blog is at example.com/blog, extract a copy of WordPress 2.7 to example.com/wp27.
  2. Duplicate the whole data just like what you do in step 2 above. Use your favorite tool to do that, as long as it works for you. Most importantly, retain all the permissions of the files and directories so everything works after the migration process. Note that you don’t have to change the wp-config.php configuration variables like above because you want to upgrade your production database now. (You already have a backup copy of the database, right?)
  3. Double check if everything is already in place.
  4. Copy the directory of the production blog to something else, such as blog-2.6, and immediately after that, copy the wp27 directory to blog. If you are on Linux command line, you may do this on one line so it happens in a fraction of a second.
  5. Run the upgrade script, which is example.com/blog/wp-admin/upgrade.php, to continue with the above example. Follow the instructions on the screen and you are done.

Now perform extensive tests again on your production blog to make sure everything go smoothly.

If you have huge files that you don’t copy over from the old blog, now move them from the blog-2.6 directory to blog, which is now your WordPress 2.7 blog. WordPress 2.7 introduces a new contant NONCE_KEY in wp-config.php. For added security, you should complete all those keys if you haven’t. Replace the wp-config-sample.php to reflect your blog database and other parameters, and overwrite wp-config.php (backup first).

With the above method, notice that I didn’t take down the blog, put up maintenance message or use any plugin of that kind. Also if you have extra space to play with, this method is actually faster than replacing the WordPress files manually.

The second thing I want to bring up is that I didn’t deactivate any plugin at all. That process above works for me. If you want to ensure the process goes smoothly, follow the WordPress upgrade process (in the Codex, links above) to the letter and deactivate your plugins first before you upgrade. Note that you are responsible for your blog upgrade, even if you follow the steps above.

As of this writing, I just upgraded my blog at Blog Building University using this method. At the moment, I have 22 WordPress plugins installed on my blog. Not too many compared to others, but I’m impressed it works flawlessly.

The WordPress team is doing an awesome job there.

Enjoy your brand new WordPress 2.7!

(I remember a colleague from my last job seven years ago complained that I always leaved old files scattered. Perhaps he was right. You should clean up the old directory if you don’t need that anymore and delete the test database you’ve installed during the test.)

Hendry Lee helps bloggers overcome strategic and technological challenges in starting and growing their blogs. He is also an enthusiast about how to make money blogging and actively blogs in different niches. While you are there, download your free eBook and subscribe to the blogging e-course!

Follow Hendry on Twitter (@hendrylee).

How to Restart a Dead or Dormant Blog

Got an old dead blog that you want to restart? In this guest post David Peralty of College Crunch shares some tips on how to get it going again!

Over the course of time, you might have left one of your blogs, or maybe your only blog to die off. You stopped posting, thought you would come back to it and never did. Days, weeks, months and maybe even years have since passed with no new content added to the site. It still gets a little bit of traffic, one or two visitors here or there, and might even have a few RSS subscribers.

You have recently decided to start posting once again, but do you restart the blog you let lay dormant for so long, or start new and fresh, either on the same domain or a new one? There are many questions, problems and issues to be worked out before re-launching, or restarting writing about your passion. Some people just charge in without planning, only to realize later on that they’ve done things the wrong way, and end up leaving the blog dormant once again.

Keep the Domain

My first word of advice would be to keep the domain you started writing on. If your topic is going to be the same, then you have many advantages here. Firstly is domain age, as a domain gets older it is inherently more trusted by search engines. This isn’t always the case though as massive additions of new content quickly can lead to a site getting a temporary negative effect on its search engine results.

The second advantage is back links. Previously, if people linked to your site, those links would still be relevant, could lead to traffic, and are also great for search engine rankings. Getting new links on a new domain might be more difficult, and so being able to keep the ones you’ve already secured is always advantageous.

The last reason, I’ll put forth is branding. No doubt there will be people that will recognize the brand, and have a more instant attachment to you, your site and what you are doing. Branding online is only getting more difficult as the number of blogs online increases and everyone competes for attention.

Note: If there is too much baggage related to the domain, and you just don’t feel motivated to revamp and refocus on an old site, then sometimes moving as far away from the “failed” project as possible is the best solution. I wouldn’t recommend leaving the domain behind unless you come to this point emotionally though.

Start Fresh But…

As for content concerns, I have always been one to start fresh as I feel the baggage of the past weighing down on my current pursuits. I also think it looks odd when a blog has an archive with a big blank period where there was no posting. This might not matter to you, and if not, then carry on as normal, ignore the break, and get back into the swing of things as quickly as possible.

For those of you that don’t want to show off a huge break in content, export your old content, archive your favourite posts, or those posts that were most commented on and repost them on the refreshed blog as new content. If you keep the same permalink structure, or know how to edit htaccess files like a ninja, you can make sure that anyone that had linked to specific articles can still find them.

This method also brings content to the attention of your new audience that you are building up, as people rarely dig through the archives of blogs, unless they are truly interested and invested in what the author had to say.

Find the Joy and Consistency

Usually people quit blogging on a site because they stop enjoying it or because they fall out of the habit. Set a publishing schedule that isn’t too taxing, and find ways to enjoy writing on your re-launched blog.

Take some small comfort in knowing that we have all been there, and that life can get in the way of building a successful blog. Remember that you can always re-launch, restart, and refocus your efforts as time allows.

Restarting a blog can seem daunting, difficult or frustrating, but the excitement in doing it successfully and watching it blossom is exhilarating.

Why Your Blog Should Do Community Service Work

In this guest post Debbie Dubrow from DeliciousBaby.com looks at the idea of using a blog to do community service work.

For most of us, our blogs are a place to share our passions, engage with new people, and hopefully make a little money. I want to share with you why I think it’s also important for every blogger to occasionally use their blog to help support a charitable cause. Giving through your blog is not only emotionally rewarding, but it also makes good business sense.

You Are An Influencer
Even if your blog has a very small following, your readers come to you because they enjoy your “voice” and trust what you have to say. That’s no secret to PR professionals, many of whom seem desperate to get us to write about their product or service. But why use your voice and the platform you have built up exclusively to help promote someone else’s business? Posting about a relevant charity or cause you care about is an easy and effective way to lend your support without writing a big check or giving up much of your time.

Be creative, and make sure that what you write about is relevant to your audience. For example, on my travel blog I posted pictures of pre-cyclone Myanmar in an effort to help readers understand the country better and hopefully donate money to support rescue and recovery efforts. Sharing my personal experience and my viewpoint helped my readers better connect with the disaster in Myanmar, and was an effective way to help increase donations.

Real World Results are Rewarding
As bloggers many of the ways we measure our success are esoteric: bounce rates, page views and comments per post have little meaning in the real world. It can be incredibly rewarding to do something that has a measurable real world impact, whether it is fundraising, a toy drive, or hearing from readers that your words motivated them to volunteer.

A Great Way To Build Relationships
Blogging can sometimes be isolating, and it is incredibly satisfying to work together with other bloggers to promote a common cause. Working together is also a great way to build relationships, and to establish yourself as a leader in your niche. As bloggers, we spend a lot of time asking other bloggers to link to us, stumble our posts, and promote us using other social media tools. Sending email on behalf of a charity or cause that really needs it instead of for yourself is a way to connect without being self-promoting.

As a case in point, this winter three other leading travel bloggers (Pam Mandel, Beth Whitman and Michelle Duffy) and I have organized PassportsWithPurpose, a fundraiser for Heifer International. The effort has built bonds between us that will last throughout the year, and I have grown to know more about each blogger, their strengths, and their backgrounds through the effort. The goodwill does not stop there, though. I was amazed and touched at how quickly over 50 other travel bloggers were able to round up prizes for the raffle, each one developing a relationship with a sponsor in order to make it happen. The outpouring of support from those 50 bloggers and countless others in promoting the effort has been truly heartwarming. I expect that the relationships and goodwill forged during this time will last through the year and payoff in countless other ways for each of the participants. We will also raise thousands of dollars to give people on the edge of starvation the means to feed and support themselves.

Connect With Your Readers
We all become one-sided on our blogs, focusing on a particular aspect of our personalities, and often a single passion. For me, blogging about family travel is rewarding, but sometimes feels superficial. Each time I’ve taken time on my blog to advance a (related) cause that I am passionate about, I’ve noticed that every measure of “reader engagement” has gone up. From comments, to subscriber-ship, to tweets and inbound links, my readers do more for me when I express my passion for giving. I think readers enjoy the opportunity to see us as fuller human beings, beyond just the one interest that we’ve chosen to reveal on our blogs.

Connect With Sponsors
Online Advertising is tricky for potential sponsors because it is hard to identify which blogs can drive real world results (like purchases) based solely on traffic numbers. Having a concrete measure of success (for example raising money for charity) can help build your credibility with a potential sponsor.

Bio: Debbie Dubrow is a mother of two living in Seattle, WA. Together with Beth Whitman, Michelle Duffy and Pam Mandel she founded PassportsWithPurpose, a fundraiser for Heifer International where a $10 donation to Heifer enters you to win one of many fabulous prizes. Her own blog, DeliciousBaby.com is packed with helpful advice about traveling with babies, toddlers and kids.

Seasons Greetings and Why I’m Thankful

christmas.jpgIt’s just ticked over to Christmas Day here in Australia and I wanted to take a moment from the normal rhythm of this blog to stop and wish you all a Merry Christmas.

Here in Australia we don’t do ‘Thanksgiving’ as a holiday and so in our house Christmas is a day where we not only reflect on our Spirituality, spend time with family and friends, exchange gifts and eat too much food – it’s also a day that we try to stop and give thanks for the good things in our lives.

One of those good things in my life is blogging – an in particularly ProBlogger.

It seems like yesterday (it was actually September 2004) when the first posts went live on this blog. When I hit publish on those first posts (mainly posts that I’d imported from my previous personal blog) I had no idea what was to come.

I knew that I wanted to connect with other bloggers who were looking to take their blogs in a more professional direction – but had no idea how blogging would continue explode and expand as a medium in the years that followed. I also had no idea how many amazing people I’d ‘meet’ through this blog.

4,782 posts and 125,995 comments later I can safely say that this blog and its readers have changed my life. The changes have been both big and small.

This blog has opened up some amazing friendships and business partnerships, it has supported my family financially, it has taught me so much about communication, community and emerging technologies, it has been responsible for bringing about some wonderful opportunities to travel, teach, write for and connect with many millions of people…. and it has been a lot of fun.

Much of this is simply a result of people like yourself – for that I’m thankful.

I know not all of you celebrate this day but do want to take a moment to acknowledge the part that many of you have played in this blog and in my life and wish you a happy holiday period.

PS – My Aussie Christmas

I am always asked how an Aussie celebrates Christmas so here’s a quick synopsis of the day that we’ve planned ahead.

For starters the weather will be warm. Last time I checked the forecast is for 28 degrees (Celsius – which is 82 degrees Fahrenheit). So it’ll be a shorts and tshirts kind of day with quite a bit of time outside.

We start the day with our little family exchanging gifts (probably in bed). Our eldest is two and a half so is just starting to get into parties, presents, Santa etc. He doesn’t quote get what is about to happen but he’s excited anyway.

We’ll then have breakfast together (probably french toast) and then head to church. After that we’ll head to V’s (my wife) family for Christmas lunch. This will be outside by the pool and we’ll probably do a little swimming and playing of cricket in the backyard (a great Aussie tradition). I think the menu includes a roast (pork I think), lobster, prawns (BBQ’d) lots of vegetables, salads – followed by Plum Pudding (it’s a feast).

After lunch we’ll swim, sleep, play, exchange gifts and have a nice time. We’ll then head to my parents for dinner. The menu will be lighter – probably a selection of cold meats and salads. We’ll attempt to get the kids to sleep there and will hang out with my family until into the evening before heading home. Luckily we live 5 minutes from each of our families so there won’t be much driving.

That’s our day. What are you up to?

Image by Chris J

How to Secure an Advertiser for Your Blog

How do I sell advertising on my blog? It is a question that I’m asked a lot so when Brandon J. Mendelson asked if he could write a post on this topic as someone who has sold a lot of advertising online and in TV I thought it’d make a great guest post.

Putting together a media kit for your blog is an excellent start; However, unless you know how to navigate the competitive waters of advertising, the media kit will be useless.

What’s Your Story?

Everyone has one. Do you know what it is? Can you describe your blog in under a paragraph? Two sentences? Seven words? If you cannot, you are not ready to sell advertising.

Take a few moments and condense your blog’s description into:

-A paragraph, which you can use in your media kit

-Two sentences, which you will use in your pitch email

-Seven words, which you will use for your pitch’s email headline

Wait, Email? Shouldn’t I Call?

Here you need to figure out what sector of the market you are looking for and what level the company finds itself at (local, regional, or national).The size of the company will determine the method of contact.

First: Think of natural fits between what your blog is about and what product might best serve your audience. Today, it is not about advertising but adding value to your user’s experience. Advertisements are a reflection on you as much as they are on the advertiser, so choose wisely.

Second: How big is the company?

Emailing a local store for advertising is a waste. You need to go in person or make a phone call. Small business owners do not have time to wade through sales emails; They need convincing when it comes to using their limited marketing dollars.

A regional company may be more open to email, but most regionals started small and likely still posses a small business mindset of wanting to meet people first to gauge interest.

A national corporation or international corporation? Don’t bother walking through the front door or making a phone call. Locate the marketing department’s email, which can usually be found by making a subtle, non-sales query to corporate communications, requesting that information.

How Much Information Is Too Much?

You want to use as little information as possible in an initial sales inquiry. This is who you are, this is what you do, this is what you are looking for. Are you interested? Include your contact information and move on to the next pitch.

Volume is key, but automation will kill you since each letter must be personalized. You need to master the ability to effectively communicate with a minimal amount of effort and do it often to increase your odds of making a sale.

The same goes for phone conversations and stopping in person. You need to see if there is interest in what you are selling before proceeding.

In person or on the phone, you want to follow-up on interest by scheduling an appointment at a time that is convenient for the store owner. Call first, stop in second (if the store is local or regional), and email third.

Once you know someone is interested, then you can send your sales kit and other collateral. All of which should be kept brief. The odds are, if a party is interested they have already googled you and visited your website.

Make sure your sales information is available on your website.

Wait, Won’t My Competitors See?

Yes, but if your competitor is any good, they will already know what you are charging. Charge what you think your services are worth, the only time your competitor’s rates matter is when you are first starting out. When starting out, you should see what your competition is charging and offer your services at a discounted rate. This will allow you to break into tight markets and get your name out there.

How Do I Know What To Charge?

Only you can decide how much your time is worth. Do not rely on Google Adsense or other online forms of measurement. Look at what the competition charges, ask yourself what an acceptable rate would be for your time and stick with it. Make sure to stay competitive by using stealth, but legal, methods to find out what your competition is charging.

Think of it like this: There are no rules about sending a sales inquiry to your competitor or calling them to see what their rates are.

When Can I Start?

Advertisers will come to you when you average 30,000 unique visitors a month without much drop off Until then you should factor:

How many subscribers do you have for your RSS feed? How many people follow you on Twitter? What is your Google, not Alexa, page rank? How often do you come up for key search terms for your niche? What your unique web traffic is?

You can go into the market and start charging for a new product at any time, but unless you have some sort of cross media access, it is best to firm up these numbers first.

Contracts And References

It is important to develop strong relationships with smaller advertisers who can vouch for: 1) Your character and 2) Your ability to deliver.

Character is key. If you are not trusted, kiss access to bigger paydays goodbye.

Get everything down on a sheet of paper that explains who gets what, when, and for how much. Deliver on what you promise, and serve as a resource for your advertisers.

By serving as a resource, you build credibility and positive relationships. These relationships are critical when it comes time to chase corporate sponsorship and they ask you to provide references from previous advertisers.

Be prepared to be open as your business’s financial success to larger prospective advertisers. The more money on the line means more scrutiny.

Demographics

Who uses your website? When do they access it? How long are they on? What else do you know about your users? Marketing and demographic data is the linchpin of your entire sales kit.

Corporations operate using systems such as Six Sigma to track department results in terms of their performance in utilizing resources (re: money).

The demographic and marketing information alleviates any concerns and allows for your advertising pitch to advance because marketing can show their superiors the resources are being allocated according to the corporate mission.

How do you do this? Surveys, soliciting feedback, conducting online focus groups are some examples to help compile this information. Read up on different qualitative and quantitative analysis methods to show that you know how to interpret the information.You do not need a consultant to do this for you.

Even the simplest survey can tell you critical information as long as you know how to analyze it. This may sound daunting, but trust me, you will pick it up fast.

Deliver

How do you know when to start advertising? When you are confident in your ability to deliver an acceptable amount of business to justify what you are charging.

Test ads on your site before you sell them, ask for reader and user feedback on how to best implement them, see if you can get a high click through ratio or high awareness of imaginary post sponsors first.

Use this information in your demographic data to share with advertisers and show them you can hold up your end of things.

If you are going to put up an advertisement when you say you are, do it. You are now responsible for someone’s money, and if you cannot hold up your end for just one client, you can expect others to find out quickly.

Good luck, tread carefully, and be nice to everyone as you go through this process. It is easy to lose allies and resources than it is to make money.

Brandon J. Mendelson is a graduate student attending UAlbany and a published American humorist. You can follow him on Twitter and help him kick breast cancer’s butt at The Brandon Show

What to Do With Your Blog Over the Holidays

Blog-Vacation
Image by SummachPhoto

Today I had a good discussion with my Twitter followers about what they were doing with their blogs over the Christmas break later this week.

Most of the answers came down to the strategies that I mention in this old post here at ProBlogger – 7 Things to Do with Your Blog when you take a Vacation.

What are you doing with your blog these holidays?