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Copyright, Blogging and Content Theft

copyright.jpgToday Gary from DevOracles (follow him at @methode) shares some tips on copyright, blogging and content theft. Tomorrow Gary will return with a second post where he shares how he goes about getting copyrighted material used without permission by others removed.

First of all, who am I? I’m just another blogger, call me John Doe if you like, I’m nothing more than You or any other average blogger. I own a blog, I try to write on daily basis and always try to help others with reviews and IT&C related advice.

My experience with copyright started a few months ago, when I searched on Google to see what other bloggers are saying about a specific notebook. As most of the Google users, I clicked the top result and one of my articles showed up. But not on my blog. It was the exact copy of my article, the links, the images, the typos were all original, except the domain name.

Headed back to Google and started to search for full sentences from my posts and in no time I got more annoyed than I ever was: the search results showed me that dozens of my posts are copied as they are, without any modification, without a backlink to the original post and often these outranked my original posts.

I decided that I will not forgive this and will start a personal war against these websites. This is when I started to learn what is copyright, how can I copyright my content, to decide which license will best suit my needs, to write a proper Terms of Service and Fair Use Policy (TOS & FUP), register my work at a copyright office and lastly when all these were done, to force the infringes to remove my content from their websites.

First, what is copyright? Copyright is a form of protection –usually a document, — offered for the authors of intellectual work for example a blogger, which proves that the author is the real owner of the work and grants exclusive rights of selling and reproduction for the him or her. During the copyrighting process with the US Copyright Office, the author has to provide usually a “hard copy” of the work which is going to be copyrighted. This copy of the work can be for example a CD-ROM, a DVD or even a flash drive, which contains the work. If mailing these is complicated due to the big distance or other things, the copyright office offers FTP storage as well which simplifies the storing of the work. This copy will be deposited in a safe place and will be the evidence that the author is the real owner of the work and has all the necessary rights of reproduction or selling the work, and it can be used as evidence when copyright infringement occurs even in court.

That said, let’s see the Creative Commons Licenses. There’s a quite extraordinary fuss about Creative Commons, yet, I believe few of those who use the licenses issued by this non-profit organization effectively understand and realize what’s the license is about. It’s used on mammoth websites like Wikipedia, Flickr and even on the new US president’s blog (is that a blog?), Change.gov.

Types of the licenses vary depending on the needs of the author of the work, and they can be

  • Attribution – when the work can be used by others only if, for example the third party links back to the original work
  • Share-alike – if the work is reproduced by a 3rd party, it has to use the same license. For example a work copyrighted with this license, shall not be reproduced by a 3rd with Attribution license
  • No derivative – the work shall not be modified in any way, but may be reproduced in integrity
  • Non-commercial – the work shall not be used by a 3rd party for commercial purposes. For example, the 3rd party may not put your work on a CD-ROM and sell it on Wall Street

So far so good, I guess this was known by everyone. But did you know that even if you put all of these licenses on your website, the content will not be automatically copyrighted?

The Creative Common licenses are not meant to copyright the author’s content, but to grant or deny permissions regarding the use of his or her content by third parties. And that’s all. Nothing more, nothing less. Take these license as a few paragraphs of a properly written Terms of Service like CNN’s, it functions on top of an existent copyright but alone is just a nicely formed letter which covers what can and what can not be done with a specific intellectual work.

So, to be on point, if you use Creative Commons license on your website, that doesn’t mean that you’re safe and you can sue anyone who steals your work. You still have to copyright your work in a way which confers bulletproof protection, because if you have only a Creative Common license on your blog, you will much likely fail in front of a court.

Note that I said “much likely”. I said that because there was known case when a work which used Creative Common license and stolen by a 3rd party was defended in front of a court with success. But you should not rely on one single case.

But then how to copyright easily the content? And if possible, how to copyright your content for free? No need for Googleing and browsing 34 affiliate marketer’s website, I will answer. While content theft is sadly a concern for most of the bloggers and seemingly no country does anything to stop this, if you live in one of the countries which signed the Berne Copyright Convention you shouldn’t fear a second.

The explanation is fairly simple: in short, this treaty says that as soon as you publish an article on your blog, that’s automatically copyrighted, and yes, you are the copyright holder. You don’t have to provide anything fancy license or codes on your blog though those help if you arrive in court with a content thief.

As I said, it’s not needed but you should bring in everyone’s attention that the content they read IScopyrighted in the year when they read it and that YOU are the copyright holder. This compressed in one line should look like this:

© Gary Illyes – 2009

Of course even though I wrote that in this post, that doesn’t mean that, even though the article is written by me, the copyright is mine! It’s Darren’s because I transferred all my rights. (And now publicly stated this, too)

If you don’t want to use a Creative Common license on top of this copyright, you can spice the above line with the “All Rights Reserved” text. This way you expressed clearly that You have all the rights.

So, how do you know whether the country you are resident in signed the Berne Copyright Convention or not? I don’t know better location of this information, but this document, Circular 38a – International Copyright Relations of the United States which displays all the countries the United States signed this treaty with. If your country is in the list, you have automatic protection, provided by your own government who signed this treaty to protect Your rights.

Noteworthy, that this copyright expires 70 years after the author’s death, but if you don’t care about your great-grandson’s financial status, much likely this license is the best for you.

Now let’s see the Copyright issued by the US Copyright Office. And more importantly why do I mention this office and not the Zimbabwe Copyright Office, for the matter of the example.

Firstly, there are hundreds of thousands, or even millions of blogs on Blogger and WordPress.org. Most (if not all) of these organizations’ servers are situated in the United States thus when you publish a post, the place where it’s published is the United States. This applies to any blog which is served by servers located in the United States, not only the servers which are under the above mentioned organizations’ control.

Secondly, the United States joined two important copyright treaties which offers bilateral copyright protection for the author of the copyrighted work in most of the foreign countries. I say most, because there are countries which at the moment of this post didn’t join any of these treaties. To list some of the countries: Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Nepal, North Korea, etc. but there are only a few (see Circular 38a – International Copyright Relations of the United States for a complete list).

A huge difference between the Berne Convention and the US Copyright is, that during the registration process with the US Copyright Office, the author has to provide a copy of his work for the office which will be stored as evidence. This will come handy when the author has to prove its rights in a court, for example.

This governmental copyright protection was tested many times in US and international courts and since a governmental office watched the back of the author, the vast majority of these cases were won by the copyright owner.

Noteworthy, that this service offered by the US government is not free. There’s a price for the protection, but is fair and acceptable. At the moment of this post this fee is a stunning, one-time $35 (USD).

As a final paragraph, which shouldn’t be considered advice. I chose the service offered by the United States Copyright Office because I trust them more and I consider a very smart move that I have to provide the copy of my work. It’s up to you what will you going to use but be aware of the fact that when you or an attorney which acts on your behalf contacts the service provider of the copyright infringes, this may ask for evidence.

But this is something for the next part of this article (stay tuned for tomorrow) when I will talk in a less formal manner about the procedure of effectively fighting copyright infringes.

Note: Nothing in this article should be considered a legal advice. Problogger.net and its affiliates should not be held responsible for any loss caused by misuse of the information presented in this article. If you need copyright related legal advice, please consult a specialized attorney.

Learning From Free Content… And why it’s Not Always Enough

Recently Sheryl Schuff contacted me to thank me for referring her to a paid course here on ProBlogger. Her email came a few minutes after I read a comment from another reader saying that they’d ‘never pay for information online’ because ‘everything is available for free already’. I thought that the striking difference between the comment and the email called for a little unpacking so I emailed Sheryl back and asked if she’d be interested in writing about her decision of paying for the course and to talk about why she felt it was worthwhile. Here’s what she came back with.

I’m a big advocate of learning as much as you can from free content, especially when you venture into a new area, particularly in business. I say this both as a producer of free content (articles, reports, blog posts) who encourages entrepreneurs to bootstrap their businesses using free software and services and also as a consumer of free content.

I usually have three or four dozen library books checked out at any one time (almost entirely non-fiction) and I currently have 60 RSS feeds flowing into my Google Reader. I subscribe to (and regularly read) several dozen blogs and ezines.

Every year, I meet some of the continuing professional education requirements for my CPA license by attending free on-line seminars. As helpful as I have found all the varied sources of free information to be, they’re not always enough.

Most of the free on-line resources I’ve used have done a good job of discussing what needs to be done in a specific subject area. Many have also included explanations of why certain things need to be done.

But let’s face it. We can’t expect the authors and consultants to give away all the specific details of how to do things. For one thing, if technology is involved, the how changes pretty rapidly these days. The experts spend a lot of time on research to keep themselves current and competent. They explore the vast amount of information available in their topic area, aggregate it, evaluate it, filter it, and package it in ways that make it easy for others to actually use it. They transform raw data into knowledge.

I know firsthand how much effort is involved to keep current in my field (business startup and taxes), so I’m willing to pay other experts to bring me up to speed in their niches.

It was a no-brainer for me to join the Teaching Sells program when Darren emailed his list to tell them about the launch in October 2007. In 2008, I extended my charter membership and then jumped at the offer to turn it into a lifetime membership.

Brian Clark and Tony Clark developed some amazing courses to teach folks how to create interactive learning environments and membership sites. They shared philosophy, strategy, business models, and methods of content creation. They produced text, audio, and video showing their students in great detail how to use various software and services to develop their new sites.

I learned a lot about educational psychology and the tools available to me to build membership sites. And I also became part of the Teaching Sells community by participating in the forums that were part of the program. The information shared there and the other students I met were every bit as valuable as the course material.

Just to give you an example of how one thing leads to another (and another)…someone at Teaching Sells mentioned the forums at StartUpNation as a place for me to hang out to see what new entrepreneurs were talking about…which lead me to information about HARO…which led to my being interviewed by Donna Amos…which led to my being asked to participate as the tax expert for the International Association of Entrepreneurs…which led me back to Twitter and all sorts of new connections…and a reconnection with Darren…and, well, you get the idea.

I’ve used what I learned at Teaching Sells to develop a couple of membership programs, the first of which I’ll be launching very soon. I’m also discussing two other possibilities with two different potential partners. And late last year I joined Brian Clark & Jon Morrow’s Partnering Profits program, an investment that I know will help take my business to the next level.

As you plan for your personal and professional development this year, I encourage you to think about what motivates you to take action and stay focused.

Are you the type that pays more attention to something you’ve paid for than something that’s given to you for free? Do you stick to your fitness resolutions better when you prepay for ten sessions with a personal trainer than when you try to do it alone? I know I concentrate more on the material in tax training courses that I pay several hundred dollars for than the ones I get for free.

Do you understand how much time you save when you invest in training courses from experts in their fields? And how much more likely you are to get current, credible information from paid programs than from free sources?

Someone who wrote a free report last year on how to use WordPress, for example, doesn’t have much incentive to update the report every time a new WordPress upgrade comes out. Premium content producers like Brian Clark and Tony Clark listen to feedback from their students and spend months revising and reorganizing their courses to keep current and provide superior customer satisfaction.

Read their free report. If you’re interested in creating information products or any type of continuity program, consider joining Teaching Sells when it reopens (update: it just has reopened for the next day or two to take new members).

How To Sleep Better After an Upgrade – Blog Unit Testing

Upgrading your blog platform? This guest post from Sid Savara, who writes about personal development and personal productivity is for you.

blog-upgrade-testing.png

If you’re a Thesis user (like me) you may have had some issues recently when upgrading to version 1.4. The issues affected a minority of Thesis users, and required reverting to an old version of Thesis for the sites to function while Chris Pearson troubleshot the issue – on his customer’s servers, free of charge. Chris was very responsive and issued a patch the same day (1.4.1), followed by another patch over the weekend (1.4.2). My hat’s off to Chris for providing what can only be called unparalleled customer support in a difficult situation.

This experience brings me to the larger issue – how do you ensure everything on your blog still works after an upgrade? This isn’t the first time I’ve had an issue upgrading – and I’m certainly not the first WordPress user to experience hiccups during the upgrade process either. We all occasionally have issues when we upgrade plugins, install a new plugin or upgrade WordPress itself.

Perhaps the most sinister are those issues where everything looks like it’s working fine. Sometimes after an upgrade I won’t even notice an issue until days later, and I’ll have to go back through my plugins one at a time to see what originally caused the problem.

Until recently, I checked for problems after an upgrade with the old blogger favorite “randomly click around and see if anything looks broken” strategy. The weakness of this strategy is the propensity to miss errors. I decided I needed a way to be more certain that everything went smoothly, and borrowed a couple concepts from my background in software engineering to help: Unit Tests and Regression Testing.

Unit Tests and Regression Testing

Units tests are simple, single function tests done to ensure every part of the software does what it is supposed to. If the test fails, you know exactly where the problem is and can fix it. Likewise, for my blog, each unit test checks for a specific piece of blog functionality.

In software development, a test might work at the time I first run it – but down the road I may change something that causes the test to fail. Repeating the tests whenever any change is made is called regression testing. In my years of software development, I’ve learned that a new change can cause software to react in ways we may not expect. Upgrading a plugin may cause another plugin to fail, or perhaps cause errors in your RSS subscriptions (which happened to me). For this reason, whenever I upgrade or install anything new to my blog, it is important I retest everything, every time – even if the change appears unrelated.

Blog Unit Tests

With that background, here is a handy checklist to review every time you install new plugins or themes, or upgrade any part of your blog. Some tests are especially relevant when installing a new theme, while some should be reviewed carefully in cases of plugin installs and upgrades. Since you won’t know exactly what is affected by each change, it’s important to go through the entire list every time. This list gives you specific checks you can run through in 15-30 minutes and know that your installation is successful. I use WordPress – but this list should apply regardless of your blog or CMS platform.

Note: When running these tests, be sure to force a refresh and clear your browser cache before beginning so you are seeing the current version of your site. If this sounds like Greek to you, here’s a brief explanation of forcing refreshes.

  1. Index page
    1. Title of the page. Is it what you want it to be? Are site name and tag line in the order you desire?
    2. Site name. Is it present? Is it clickable (if you want it to be)?
    3. Description/tag line. Is it present? Is it clickable (if you want it to be)?
    4. Header image. Does clicking on it return you to the home page? Do you want it to?
    5. Favicon. Is your favicon still present? This is a sinister one, as browsers sometimes cache these even if you are forcing a refresh.
    6. Excerpts, Thumbnails and Full Posts. Is the index showing excerpts or full posts the way you want it to? If applicable, are thumbnails and featured posts where they should be?
    7. Post Titles/Permalinks. Does clicking on a post title take you to the blog post?
    8. Comment links. Are the correct comment counts displayed? Does clicking the link take you to the appropriate comment form?
    9. Categories/Tags. Are category and tag links displayed? Do you want them to be?
    10. Meta description. View your page source. Look for <meta name=”description” content=”[...]” />. Is the value in the [...] what you expect it to be? See SEO Tips for Blogs for a detailed discussion of why this is important. You may, optionally, want to repeat this test on single post pages.
  2. Index sidebar (s), navigation links and footer
    1. Widget enabled theme. Are all the widgets present?
    2. Widget order. Are the widgets in the order they should be?
    3. Links in widgets the sidebar. Does clicking a link take you where you expect it to? Appropriate pages, external sites, etc? Do the links open in a new window, or the current window?
    4. Site wide navigation (if applicable). Are all the links present? Are they in the order desired? Click a couple. Do the links work? Do the links open in a new window, or the current window?
  3. Archive pages – tags, categories, sitemap, and date based

    1. Index page tests. Repeat all the same tests as the index page. Spot check one category, one tag and one month archive as applicable. If you have a sitemap, check that as well.
  4. Single Post pages
    1. Title bar. Is the post title and site name in the order desired? Does it show everything you want? Post Title, Category, Site Name, Tag Line?
    2. Post Title. Is the post title present? Is it clickable (or not) depending on what you want?
    3. Comment links. Do you want a link to the comment form displayed near the post title? Are the correct comment counts displayed? Does clicking that link take you to the appropriate comment form?
    4. Next/Previous post links. Are they displayed? Before, after, or both? Are they nofollowed or dofollow based on your preference?
    5. Page layout. Are sidebars, navigation links and footer present? Repeat the checks described under #2 above, Index sidebar (s), navigation links and footer .
    6. Categories and tags. Are categories displayed (or hidden) as desired? How about tags? Are they clickable? Are they nofollow or follow based on your preference?
    7. Breadcrumbs. If you have breadcrumbs, are they present and appropriate for the navigation you desire?
    8. Comment and Trackbacks: run through the list below.
  5. Comment and Trackbacks
    1. Comment form. Is your comment form present?
    2. Comments. Are comments displayed? Are the comment counts accurate? Do the gravatars work, if desired?
    3. Trackbacks. Is the trackback link present? Do you want it to be? Are your trackbacks listed?
    4. Test comment. Submit a test comment. Does your comment submit? Is it held in a moderation queue?
    5. Comment subscriptions. Subscribe to comments option
      1. Comment feed. Subscribe to a comment feed – do you see all the comments? When you submit/approve a new comment, does it update?
      2. Subscribe by email. If applicable, try subscribing by email and then submitting another comment – are you notified via email?
  6. Regular pages
    1. Comments on pages. Do you have comments enabled? Do you want them to be? Trackbacks?
    2. Sidebars. Are sidebars present? Do you want them to be?
    3. Page hierarchy. Is the hierarchy displayed the way you want it to be? How about your permalink?
    4. Repeat all the tests for the single post pages.
  7. Images and image links
    1. Images. Navigate to a page or blog post with images hosted on your blog. Do your images load? Check the alt text and title text on the images – are they what you want them to be?
    2. Larger image. Does clicking the image bring up the large version (if applicable)? Is the link nofollow or follow based on your preference?
  8. RSS feed
    1. New post. Publish a test post – does it appear in your feed? (You are subscribed to your own feed, right?)
    2. RSS Link. Double check the RSS link – is it pointing to your feed?
  9. Errors and Redirects
    1. 404 page. Type in an address that does not exist. Review the 404 page. Is it the way you want it to be?
    2. Redirects. Have you redirected posts or pages in the past? Spot check a few. A couple internal posts, a couple internal pages, and a couple external links.
  10. Contact form (if applicable)
    1. Send a test email. Send yourself a test email to ensure your contact form still works. Do you receive the email? Are all the fields present?
    2. Confirmation. Do you see an appropriate confirmation shown to the user on the site after submission? If applicable, is a confirmation email sent to the submitter?

This is only a partial list – but it’s a great starting point. If you have specific plugins installed such as CommentLuv, or various search plugins, be sure to check all of them individually as well. If you have a plugin that generates your sitemap, and you upgrade it – that’s a good time to go and double check that your sitemap page still loads appropriately.

What do you think? What tips do you have for ensuring upgrades go smoothly?

This is a guest post from Sid Savara, who writes about personal development and personal productivity at SidSavara.com. If you’re struggling to get through everything in your RSS reader and inbox, you should definitely click through to learn How to Effectively Read 12,853 Articles, Forum Topics & Blog Posts a Week.

13 Quick tips to Make Your Blog STAND OUT from the Crowd

With a new blog being started every second it can be hard to stand out from the crowd. Following are some tips on how to differentiate your blog from the millions of others out there.

stand-out-from-crowd-blog.pngImage by c.a. muller

1. Pick a unique topic – it is easier said than done to choose a topic that is unique from everyone else today in a blogosphere as crowded as we’re currently in – however opportunities do arise to start blogs on topics that are new trends, products or ideas. Being first doesn’t guarantee success – but it can help.

2. Develop a Unique Voice – while it may not always be possible to choose a unique topic it can sometimes be easier to cover that topic in a way that others do not. Whether it be by using humor, blogging as a character (think Fake Steve Jobs blog), blogging in the 3rd Person (Manolo the Shoe Blogger) or some other way – finding a unique voice or style can set you apart from the rest.

3. Design – having a unique blog design doesn’t mean you need to pay big dollars for a custom design – start with a default one (or a premium design like Thesis) and tweak it with a unique logo, colors and layout. Visual first impressions count and can be the deciding factor as to whether people subscribe to your blog or not.

4. Useful Content – perhaps the best way to stand out from the crowd and make an impression upon people is to produce content that impacts them in some way. Write something that matters, that helps people, that solves a problem, that enhances people’s lives and you drastically increase the chances of them coming back and bringing a friend with them.

5. Be Prolific – something that can make a real impression on people is when they keep ‘bumping into you’. Predict where your potential readers will be going online and position yourself there as a prolific contributor. It might be social media sites, it might be the comments section of another blog or it could be a forum on your topic – wherever it is – make sure you have an active presence there. If people keep seeing you in the places that they hang out they’ll eventually take note and want to know more about you.

6. Love Your Readers to Death – this is key in the early days of a blog when readers seem scarce. The reality is that the 10 readers that you DO have already are a powerful resource – focuse upon them rather than the thousands of readers that you DON’T have. Love them – thank them for their comments – involve them in your blogging – promote them and the sites that they have and in doing so you’ll be building loyalty, trust and relationship that one day will pay off. Each reader you have has their own network and can open up new audiences to you.

7. Be Original – there’s nothing more dry than coming to a blog that has much the same content as every other blog that you’ve already read that day. Don’t just rehash news and talk about things in the same way that others are – dare to be different, play devils advocate, look for new angles in stories, translate the news for your readers and help them to work out how it impacts them etc

8. Express an Opinion – people who express opinions seem to get more attention than those who simply report news. Tell people what YOU think and you’re bound to get discussion between those who agree with you and those who do not.

9. Get Visual – whether it be by using eye catching pictures, diagrams and charts or even using video – when you add a visual element to your posts you will grab the attention of those who are more visually oriented. Images draw the eye, illustrate points and add new dimension to what is largely a text based medium.

10. Use Titles with Bling – post titles that draw people to read your post are essential and can be the difference between someone visiting your blog from a search engine, social media site or another blog and visiting someone else’s blog that has a more intriguing title.

11. Longevity Counts – many blog readers are looking to journey with someone and can be a little suspicious of new blogs and wonder how long they’ll last. Blog consistently for the long term and you build credibility, trust and profile in your industry.

12. Build Momentum – one mistake that many blogs make is that there is a sense that the blog is not really going anywhere. Posts appear on the blog that rarely relate to one another. I find that when I’m in the middle of a series or writing content that builds upon something that I’ve written before that readers really respond well. Its also this momentum that builds a sense of anticipation on a blog – which in turn builds subscriber numbers.

13. Drive People to Your Archives – one of the weaknesses of blogs as a medium is that in they often hide their best content. The content that gets most attention is the latest post – whether it is good or not. Blogs that not only highly what is NEW but find ways to highlight what is BEST in their archives draw readers to the content that is most likely to convince them to stay around for more.

Alone the 13 points above will have some impact upon helping your blog to stand out from the crowd – however the key is to work on more than one because together they make a significant difference.

Use Niche Social Networking Sites to Gain Readers

Many bloggers attempt to use social networking sites to gain new readers for their blog. In this post Kevin Palmer of Social Media Answers shares some tips on how to do it.

One of the most undervalued places to find readers is a niche social networking site. Right now there are niche sites for just about every subject imaginable. Would you like to share your love of old cars? Not a problem. Want to connect to other mothers? There are tons of sites. Do you want to reach out to other people that pose as vampires? Believe it or not there is a site for you.

Here are some of the benefits of joining a niche social network:

You know other members share the same interests.

Instead of having to hunt through groups on larger sites or looking for people through keywords in their “about me” section you know right off the bat you share the same interests. Just by participating on the social network you are going to be connecting with people that may be interested in reading your blog. It is a targeted and focused environment for you.

Tip: Try spending 10-15 minutes a day just adding friends and interacting. Not only will people find your blog but also you will discover loads of others.

Smaller community but a larger voice.

Sure the pool is smaller compared to larger sites but you can be a big fish in a small pond quickly. You can quickly obtain an authoritative voice in a niche social network by listening, participating, and sharing.

Tip: Participate in forums or large groups to establish your voice and become a go to source of information. Sharing your knowledge and helping others out has lasting benefits.

Most of these sites link to your blog, pass on page rank, and bring a flow of traffic just from filling out your profile.

I have registered on over 700 social networking sites in the past few months and I was shocked to see the sheer number that pass on page rank when I link to my blog within my profile. Additionally by just setting up profiles and including my blog information I was getting a steady flow of traffic to my site even though I hadn’t “officially” launched yet.

Tip: Take time to actually fill out your profile. Have a document that already has your about me, favorites, and other typical topics you find on social networking sites ready to go so you can cut and paste your info from it.

Additional features like social news voting and forums are a great way to gain readers.

I found multiple sites ranging from sports to art that had their own social news section that was active. In testing a few of these out for a client I realized that the conversion from visitor to subscriber was high. Compared to traditional social news sites where it is very low.

Tip: The traffic from here can also lead to voting on traditional social news sites as well. Use these features to drive people to posts you really want to push on Digg, Reddit, or other sites. Make sure you embed buttons on the post to give them a cue.

Now don’t just run out there and register for every niche that might apply to your blog. There are a couple of things to watch out for:

  • Is the network active? Make sure you check out the forums or any place that shares content from other users that has a date. Check to see if there is a constant and recent flow, it is a good measuring stick to show you how active the site is.
  • What is the target country for the site? – If your site has a regional appeal you may want to check to see where the site is based out of and where the users are from.

I highly recommend picking out a site or two and experiment with it. Investing a little amount of time per day or even week can go a long way on these sites. On my blog I have a pretty comprehensive list of niche social networking sites, which is always evolving and growing, hope this helps as a starting out point.

How to Stand Out as a Blogger [VIDEO INTERVIEW]

interview.pngYesterday I did a video interview with Eric Hamm at Blogopolis Blueprint on the topic of standing out from the crowd as a blogger. It goes for around 15 minutes and in it I talk about a number of techniques that bloggers can consider to find their own unique voice as a blogger and differentiate themselves.

I’m going to post a post in the next few days with a similar focus to this interview – expanding upon some of what I covered.

In chatting with Eric and his co-blogger Sean Platt I found that they’ve just released an useful resource for new bloggers called the Blogopolis Blueprint. I asked Eric if i could get a copy of it for review and he was kind enough to give me access.

The Blogopolis Blueprint is designed for those who are either about to start a blog or who have recently started one. It doesn’t pretend to be for anyone with advanced knowledge of blogging but rather Sean and Eric have put it out there with the Pre-Blogger and New-Blogger in mind.bpkit340.jpg

It focuses upon a variety of topics of interest to these new bloggers including:

  • A history of blogging – short but good background
  • Features of Blogs – some qualities that blogs have
  • Getting Started – some general tips on getting going with blogging
  • Comments – tips on leaving them on other blogs and hosting them on your own
  • Blogging with a Buddy/Collaborative blogging (something Eric and Sean are great at)
  • Guest Posting – as a way to grow your blog
  • Planning for successful blogging – some things to add into your plan as you move forward
  • Secrets of Success – keys to remember as you blog

This e-book teaching component is 46 pages long and a good solid introduction to blogging.

Also bundled with the teaching are two other components.

1. WordPress Quick Start Guide – which is a more practical 24 page guide to getting going with an introduction to platforms, suggestions on finding a niche, hosting and domains, a guide to selecting a blog platforms, some suggestions on getting the perfect theme for your blog and some suggestions on essential plugins.

2. The Blueprint Workbook – this is designed to help you take what you’ve learned from the other components of this Blueprint kit and to apply it. So often these online teaching resources share great principles but don’t actually give you a way forward. This workbook gives you a variety of practical ways to bed down what you’re learning as you read the ebook. It gives questions to ask yourself corresponding with each chapter in the ebook.

My Verdict on Blogopolis Blueprint

Let me say it again – Blogopolis Blueprint is a resource for beginners. If you’ve been blogging a year or more and have a handle on the basics you probably won’t find this as useful as some of the other resources on the market which help you take your blog to the next level (Blog Mastermind would be a better place to start if that’s you).

However if you’re starting or about to start blogging and have no idea where to start then this is worth considering. Unlike some other resources on the market this is not a membership site where you get ongoing interaction and teaching – however it also is a one off payment rather than a monthly one so cheaper than membership sites.

One of the things I like about this resource is that it has both the more general teaching about principles of good blogging as well as some practical tips and then the questions for helping you to unpack it. The only thing I’d like to see added would be some ‘homework’ or takeaway ‘tasks’ for each chapter. The ‘workbook’ does give some steps to get started – but perhaps some further exercises for each chapter would be helpful. Other than that I think it’s a good investment for new bloggers.

7 Ways to Turn a Blog Post Upside Down and Get More Comments

In the early days of a new blog it can be frustrating to put a lot of time and energy into the writing of posts only to find that it seems as though no one is listening. While you feel you’ve said something worthy of some discussion the comments section of your post resembles a ghost town with tumbleweed blowing around.

I’ve previously written a post with 10 techniques to get more comments on your blog (one of the most commented upon posts I’ve ever written) so I won’t go over all of that again – however I wanted to share one simple technique that I’ve always found to be effective at getting readers interacting. It is obvious and very basic – but so many bloggers don’t do it.

The technique is simply to turn a post upside down and make the comments the primary focus of the post rather than what you have to say.

Here are a number of ways of doing this with some links to examples of where I’ve done it:

Do feel free to add to the list in comments!

Have You Ever Guest Posted on Someone Else’s Blog? [POLL]

As a followup to yesterdays post on Guest Posting as a method to promote your blog I thought I’d ask how many readers have tried the technique?

Have You Ever Guest Posted on Someone Else's Blog?
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Feel free to add a comment below to tells us more about your answer – I’m particularly interested to hear from those who have guest posted about how you found the experience.

PS: thanks to all my Twitter followers for suggesting poll topics and for @rustylshelton who inspired this one.

How to Guest Post to Promote Your Blog

Are you guest posting to grow your blog? In this guest post, Josh Klein shares some insights on guest posting and the 5 steps to make it work for you. I (Darren) have added a few comments throughout this post also to add to the conversation. I’ll highlight/introduce these comments with a ‘From Darren:’ and in italics.

You’ve heard the blogger cliché “content is king”. It’s a lot like the real estate industry’s “location, location, location.” It turns out blogging and real estate have something in common: for both, you need content and location.

When it comes to pro blogging, thinking about location matters. There is no “build it and they will come”, and only 20% of your work is publishing posts.

By making strategic partnerships with other bloggers, you can produce content and put it in a great location, or you can get great content for the location you own, depending on which side of the partnership you are on.

Strategic partnerships can take a lot of different forms, but guest posting is the most obvious because it’s a one-off deal. There isn’t a need for a complex relationship or terms and conditions of the partnership.

In December, I wrote a guest post here at Problogger about how you need a blog strategy. Darren got a piece of unique content without having to write it (not to mention a post that now hovers between the #1 and #2 rank in Google for “blog strategy”), and I got the authority of having shared my insights, high quality links to my blog, and 200 new subscribers in a day. My earlier guest post about Digg had a similar effect.

The purpose of today’s guest post is to help you grow your blog, add to the Problogger content library, and continue to build my blog’s audience. To work, guest posting has to be beneficial for everybody involved.

From Darren: I can’t emphasize this enough. Many guest post submissions that I receive (and reject) are little more than self promotion of the guest poster filled with links to their own blog and little actual value to readers. These give me little motivation to use them and so end up in the ‘sorry I can’t use this’ basket.

The best way to make a guest post pay off for YOU is to make it pay off for the reader. Write something that makes readers think – ‘I really want to read more from this person’ and they’ll check you out in droves.

You see the value in guest posting, but how do you make it all happen? It takes 5 steps:

1) Be a reader

It’s important you be familiar with the blog you approach for a guest post. At the basic level, you need to know what the blogger writes about and what kind of guest posts usually get published. More importantly, you need to look at the most successful posts of that blog, looking for hints.

I look at the format other guest posters use and which has attracted the most comments. For Problogger, the “Best of Problogger” widget on the front page gave me some key insights.

I noticed that “how to” posts dominated the all time list and list of Darren’s favorites. After a search for “how to guest post” on Problogger and Google, the topic of this guest post began to form in my head.

I visited the Guest Blogging 101 section and read Darren’s How to be a Good Guest Blogger. I saw a different angle to approach from — namely, guest posting in order to promote your blog.

I also saw something useful about a guest post about guest posting describing the self-aware process of being published. Woah, that was a mouthful.

The point is: if I wasn’t familiar with the Problogger style and audience, I wouldn’t have been able to write this post.

From Darren: The main thing I’d add to this is to consider whether the topic that you’re writing about has been covered before – or at least covered recently. This is another reason that I often reject guest posts – simply because the topic would be repeating advice given in the recent memory of readers.

I personally don’t mind topics being repeated as long as they have fresh ideas and a new perspective – but too much on the one topic can frustrate readers. To be honest when I first saw this post from Josh I almost said no for this reason as this is a topic we’ve covered a few times before – however he has covered the topic a with some fresh ideas which won me over.

2) Write the guest post

I won’t belabor the point, but it should go without saying that your guest post be worth caring about. Duh.

The interesting part about this step is where in the process it comes; before you contact the blogger.

For most of you — assuming you take the “pro” part of blogging to heart — the places you want to guest post treat their blogs as businesses. You can reach out to these blogs pitching an idea, but that just gives them an opportunity to reject you.

When you really wanted something as a kid, did you ask your parents for permission or forgiveness?

If you contact a blogger in order to guest post, send your post with the email. Don’t ask for permission, just do it. If they don’t want to publish it, you can make some modifications and send it to another blog (or publish at your own).

I finished writing this post before Darren even knew it existed.

From Darren: This is one point I differ on a little from Josh. While I do publish quality posts that are submitted before I know they’re being written – a guest poster will have an increased likelihood of success if they contact me BEFORE writing the post.

The reason for this is partly connect with point #2 above – that being that if you’re going to write a post I want it to be on a topic that has not been covered recently and that is covering a topic in a new way. My preference is to know what topics you’re working on so that I can help shape those topics to make them more useful – and also so I’m aware of how many guest posts are coming in. Quite often when someone submits a topic I’ll brainstorm with a guest poster and together we make the topic more useful, engaging and helpful to readers.

This isn’t to say that I won’t publish posts that come to me complete – however it’s not my preference.

Lastly – one of the things that many good guest posters do is to cross link within a post to previous posts on the blog you’re writing for. For example you’ll see in the section ‘be a reader’ above that Josh links to a couple of previous posts on ProBlogger. This shows he’s familiar with previously written posts on this site, adds value to the post and helps promote previously written work from this site. Some bloggers only link to their own previously written work in a post – this can be valuable to readers if on topic but more often than not a blog that you’re writing for will have great posts in its own archives that can add depth to your post.

3) Send the guest post to the blogger

Your guest post is going to be enough of a headache to read, so don’t bother writing an essay introducing yourself. The biggest concern I have with allowing guest posters for my own blog is not how nice they are, but whether or not their post is going to be kick ass. There’s only one way to find that out.

The first time I contacted Problogger I said the following:

“Hi Darren. I’d like to publish this guest post on Problogger, because I think I have a message that is both valuable to your readers and different than what they’ve been hearing elsewhere:”

Then came the guest post. Darren wrote back to say when he was publishing, and that was that. And the next guest post?

“Hi Darren – thought I’d send another guest post your way since the last one went so well. I think your readers should get something out of this one.”

Networking can be important, but don’t be shy about letting your guest post do the talking. How did I set up this one?

“Hi Darren – Here comes another guest post. You should get a kick out of this one :) Could be interesting for readers if you added your own comments, or even wrote a post from the other side of the conversation.”

A new twist; let’s see what happens.

From Darren: The idea that I add some comments was actually one that I’ve taken up and is a new twist on guest posts here at ProBlogger. I have actually considered doing it in previous posts but never did – I’d be interested to hear people’s reflections – do you like me chiming in like this?

One extra tidbit that I’ll throw in here on the topic of sending guest posts in. It can be really worthwhile asking the blogger what format that they’d like a post to be submitted in.

Josh sent this post to me in the body of an email with the post formatted with headings and links. This is good as it shows me how he’d intended the post to be seen. However an even more helpful way is to send me a text file with the html already set out in it so that I simply need to copy and paste the post into the backend of my blog. This saves me 5-10 minutes of reformatting the post.

Different bloggers will have different preferences with this.

Also – another bonus for me is when I get a guest post with an image in it. I love visuals and do try to add them to many guest posts that come my way but this can be time consuming. Adding an image of your own or finding a high quality Creative Commons image on Flickr and giving the link as a suggested image can really help to lift a guest post to the next level.

4) Promote the guest post

You didn’t think your job was done, did you? One of the great things about guest posts is the cross-promotion gained by leveraging both bloggers’ social networks.

The last thing you want is your guest post to be a flop, especially if it’s the first time you’ve written for the blog. Anyway, guest posting is a perfect opportunity to promote someone else and demonstrate your willingness to leave your blogging bubble. You can’t go wrong with good karma.

It bears mentioning that spam is not welcome! Promote your guest post with the same care and thoughtfulness that you would your own blog. Whenever I guest post, I make sure to tell my “regulars” through Twitter, because I know they’ll want to hear about it.

From Darren: This is an area that many guest posters don’t even think to do but which can pay off big time for both the blog you’re submitting to but also to you.

I have had a few guest posters on ProBlogger who have done some amazing things with promoting their own content. They’ve done so on sites like StumbleUpon and Digg as well as by Tweeting it, by emailing other blogs to tell them about it etc.

The beauty of doing this is that if you’re writing a guest post on a larger blog than your own that it can many times be easier to get a post to go viral on that blog as they already have social media credibility. For example here on ProBlogger most of my posts get 5-10 stumbles on StumbleUpon simply because of the numbers of readers of this site. However as a guest poster you promote the post more this number could tip the post into being promoted to the popular section of SU. This of course has a flow on effect for you as the guest poster as more and more people will be eyeballing your writing.

Of course if your post does well and the blogger you’re submitting to sees you promote your own work they’re more likely to want more content from you!

5) Stalk the comment section

Just as you should promote your guest post the way you would a post on your own blog, treat every comment on the guest post as if it were on your blog.

Every commenter took the time to read your post, and is a potential subscriber for you to win over. Respond directly and personally to the thoughtful posts, and as early and often as you can. The bigger and faster the comment section grows, the happier the blogger.

When a commenter is particularly insightful and engaging with your content, shoot him or her an email with a detailed response (or rebuttal).

As usual, put yourself in a reader’s shoes. What would most impress you in a guest poster? Now go do that.

I’ll see you in the comments below.

From Darren: Another great sign of a quality guest poster is that they’ll engage readers. On DPS we see a lot of our guest posters really engage readers by doing this and it brings the blog alive.

What do you think of guest posting?

Have you had success guest blogging? What’s your biggest concern about it? Share your best guest posting story in the comments, whether it’s an impressive chance you got at a big blog or a horror story of ruined opportunity.

From Darren: Looking forward to reading your comments also. Do also let me know about this idea of me adding to posts – does it disrupt the flow too much or add to the depth of the post by getting a 2nd perspective?

Josh Klein advises Fortune 500 companies on their web strategies and writes a web strategy blog about making websites that matter to human beings.