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31 Days to Build a Better Blog – Delayed 1 Week

This is just a short post to let those waiting for the 31 Days to Build a Better Blog project to start tomorrow that I’ve had to delay it until next week.

This isn’t an April Fools prank (beware, some bloggers have started theirs early this year) but a genuine thing that has been the result in a number of unforeseen circumstances.

I probably could have launched it tomorrow but it wouldn’t have been at the standard I wanted to achieve. I’d rather launch it well late than poorly on time. My sincere apologies to those who this is inconvenient for!

While it doesn’t have the same ring to it as 1 April the new start date is 6 April (next Monday) and it’ll run through until early May (yes it’s still 31 days long).

I’ve emailed those who have registered for the challenge to let them know but wanted to spread the news here just in case any missed it.

PS: if you’re still not signed up you can read about and join the challenge here. We’ve now had over 6700 bloggers register so despite the delay it’s going to be an amazing journey of learning together.

Blogs and Email – How to Get the Best of Both Worlds

Today Hendry Lee from BlogBuildingU explores the power of combining blogging with email.

Most people think email is dead, at least for marketing. A few years ago when blogging was just reaching mainstream, some aggressive marketers claimed that blog would replace email in its marketing role.

But that never happens.

I don’t know what it is about such news, but every time someone claims that an older technology is about to descend in replacement of something shinier, people flock to it as if their businesses are going no where without it.

Regarding blog versus email, obviously the dust has settled down. Now it is time to look carefully what you could do with them to get the most out of your business.

It is true that email comes with its own problems. Bounce back, phishing, spam filters, authentication and reputation are just a small list of the issues.

Still the fact that email leads all other channels by a wide margin in terms of performance is something every blogger should not overlook. Just as a comparison, 80.4 percent of more than 3,000 survey participants chose email as a strong advertising performer, compared to 56.8 percent who chose search.

How Email Can Help

Consider this scenario. First time visitor arrives at your site. Usually she knows very little about you, if at all. The current page, or perhaps the homepage, is your chance to make the first impression. It is obvious that you should make every possible entry page counts.

Once she’s done with the first page, perhaps she is going to view a few others before quitting. Unless you find a way to keep in touch with her, most likely she is not going to come back.

Just face it. How many times do you come back to a site after visiting it once? For me, it happens rarely and I know I’m not the only one. Unless, of course, the site is extremely good.

Both RSS and email are tools to help you get those readers back to you. Although RSS is reaching the mainstream, email is still “the” communication channel. All Internet users are familiar with it.

There are always subscribers who prefer RSS to email, but others would like to receive updates via email only or both.

Don’t believe that email is still effective? Just ask Darren. He had passed 100,000 subscribers for the DPS weekly newsletter.

Here’s the rule of thumb. Reach your readers whenever they want and via content distribution channels and formats they prefer. There are other channels like audio podcast, video and so on, but let’s start with email because it is the most common one.

Whether you are just getting started or have been blogging for some time, you are leaving money on the table if you don’t integrate email into your marketing mix.

From Recognition to Interaction

Email allows you to get in touch with your subscribers and build awareness of your brand. In a nutshell, here’s the process:

  • Delivery of content on a regular basis promotes recognition. Each email is an opportunity to reach your subscribers with your message. Make sure the message brings an impact.
  • Content creates interest. It’s not just any content. Every message has to be particularly good for the readers to stay on the list. You can’t be boring with your content, although subscribers are also forgiving if you do it occasionally.
  • Interest encourages interaction. If the subscribers can relate to your content, sooner or later they will write back and start the interaction. It doesn’t matter if it is just a blog comment or email, what matters is your relationships with your audience. Email just makes it easier because this medium is designed for communication from the start.

At this stage, you may continue the nurturing process to build trust. Each of the process above moves a subscriber closer to the buying decision.

That certainly sounds pretty much like a blog or other marketing channels, because there is indeed a pattern. After all, the end goal is to turn strangers to prospects and prospects to customers.

This applies as well to bloggers who only generate revenue from selling ad spaces. You need to build relationships to get more traffic and convert visitors to advertisers. Repeat readers also mean more pageviews. Best of all, this interaction may lead you to more opportunities.

Again when it comes to a reader’s favorite content consumption channel, you just can’t shove one thing or another down anyone’s throat.

Either you also communicate via email or you miss a segment of your audience.

Email Marketing for Bloggers

Without a doubt, the most obvious application of email marketing for bloggers is an e-newsletter.

With an email newsletter, not only you can drive traffic back to your blog, but also generate more advertising revenue through pageviews, increase sales and do virtually anything that is possible with communication. The latter means almost every marketing activity, right?

If you are interested about starting an email newsletter, Darren has written a few interesting articles in the past. You can also find a few tips for bloggers here.

Email newsletter is just one example though. The following are a few other ideas. With emails, you can do the following in additional to the benefits you get through your blog:

  • Create a series of lessons for an e-course. Queue those lessons in a sequence autoresponder. It will follows up with your subscribers on your behalf. You can create content-laden articles and deliver them one at a time at a predetermined interval. It is like relationship building on autopilot.
  • Use email as customer retention tool. Reduce chargeback by reminding customers about their purchase. Offer additional bonuses. Suggest a few ways to use your product. This is where email is still the most appropriate communication tool.
  • Recover abandoned shopping carts. It is possible to follow up 24 hours after someone abandons your shopping cart to recover sales. Such emails have higher open and click-through rate and may reclaim back your otherwise lost revenue.
  • Generate sales and extras. This is not just for e-commerce sites. Email can help close deals for a consulting work, among others.
  • Build buzz. You can see this example in most product launch emails. Using email and blog, the product owners build buzz around the product so even before launch date, the subscribers are already anticipating it.

Especially for service professionals, a lead can potentially worth a few thousand dollars. Using email to follow up with them, even if it is to a few people at a time, is a strategy worth considering.

Email follow up and broadcast technology is now very affordable. At $20 or less per month, there’s no reason you can’t start today. Have fun reclaiming the otherwise lost traffic and revenues back.

Hendry Lee helps people overcome strategic and technological challenges in starting and growing their web businesses.

Visit Blog Building University if you need more ideas for blog promotion. While you are there, download your free blogging eBook and subscribe to his blogging e-course where he reveals his secrets about blogging and content writing!

Building an Empire around Your Blog

This is a guest post on growing your blog into a full blow website by Robby G from Shite I Like.com.

When many people get into blogging, they usually, not always, but more often than not, start by blogging about their daily life’s activities. When they see that not too many people are interested in knowing what they’re doing on a daily basis, they figure out that they need to offer some sort of incentive in order to get visitors. The incentive usually comes in some sort of advice in things they have much knowledge in. Then as they do more research on their subject and offer what they learn to their readers, their traffic grows. Now once they market some more and occasionally guest post on other blogs, many stop at just that and their blog stops growing. They make a few dollars here and there from selling ad space and from Google AdSense, but they miss the big picture.

Bigger Readership Equals More Opportunity

When you have a high number of returning visitors, you most likely have a high number of comments as well, and in effect, a high number of interested people who trust your judgement. This is what every product marketer looks to accomplish with his product. They try to get their company name to have a following of people that stick to the company’s latest products. So now that you have that, what should you do with it? You need to expand. You must constantly be looking to innovate your blog. For example, as my blog grew, I incorporated a new way to get my readers to feel more connected with me. I have created a ‘Question’ section in my blog, which allows readers to directly ask me questions on dating advice, which I answer in post format. This lures more readers because it shows that there is a growing trust in my judgement. And there’s money to be made from that trust. I’m not saying that you should try to exploit your readers, but just the opposite, give them what they want.

Transforming Your Blog into a Website

Many bloggers get stuck on just offering their readers posts when they could expand into offering them products as well. I offer my readers a free ebook, but that’s just the beginning. If they find my ebook interesting, I plan to create a soft-cover book, which I will obviously sell for a certain price. Also, I have plans to offer them products that closely tie-in to my blog, such as custom made shirts, baseball caps, belt-buckles, etc. Making sure your blog has a designed logo is very important in growing your blog into a product line, because as you grow your blog into an empire of a website, you want your logo to be known and, in turn, be worth money. That is only one of many ways you can push the focus of your blog to something greater. There are many different goods and services you can offer your readers. For example, Chris Garrett offers consulting services for bloggers, some offer spots in dating bootcamps, others offer anything from clothes to wristwatches. It is important to produce and sell goods and services that are relevant to your niche and sell things that your readers will fully believe that you yourself are either a professional in, or if it’s a product, they must believe that you in fact use the very product you are advertising.

The Importance of a Logo

I’ve seen thousands of blogs out there, some successful, others not so much, and what I was shocked to see was that many bloggers didn’t even have a proper looking logo. They either kept the ones that came with their free WordPress theme or they just had some bold and boring looking block letters representing their blog title. You have to view your logo as the face of your blog. It’s not only important in making your blog look professional and presentable, but if you ever develop a product-line as I’ve outlined above, you will need to stamp it with a logo that people would want to see on their product. It’s best to create a logo that is simple, very easy to remember, while having an original design that is relevant to your blog topic.

Sky’s the Limit

When I analyze my blog, I constantly try to develop new ways I can monetize it that goes past just the basic ways of pay-per-click advertisements and even past selling affiliate products. I attempt to figure out ways not to sell someone else’s product, but instead create enough buzz around my blog’s name to eventually make it something known by people from around the world that is not only mentioned within the blogosphere but by everyone everywhere. This includes many difficult tasks, but since starting and maintaining a blog doesn’t cost as much money as to develop a new product and blindly throw it out there for the public, you have the ability, through perseverance and hard work, to create a market for your product from nothing but your blog. Then once that market is there, all you need to do is invest some money into the product, but the return is guaranteed, because you already have yourself that developed fanbase.

In conclusion, you shouldn’t view your blog as just a little journal you keep on a daily basis, but you must look at it as an empire that you must continue expanding and building. Once that readership is there, you should keep innovating and offering your readers newly developed products that are consistent with your niche.

How Sports Teach me to be a Better Blogger

This post was written by Seth Waite, an avid blogger who currently writes for Blogging Agenda.

It’s my favorite month of the year as college basketball is in full swing and “March Madness” has got me thinking. I love sports and many of my best experiences have come from what I learn playing them. Realizing the many lessons I have learned from participating in sporting events I recently asked myself, “How has sports taught me to be a better blogger?”

sports-blogging.jpg

I will answer this question with the 4 most important elements of successful championship teams. I know every team is different and provides a unique way of accomplishing their goals, but each I feel do so by following these 4 simple elements of success.

Teamwork

Sports teach valuable lessons about working together to accomplish a goal. Teams meet daily to learn to play together, trust each other and win. All of us have probably seen a sporting event where no one worked together and the team, although talented, lost the game. Just like sports, blogging successfully requires teamwork.

Bloggers develop teamwork through inviting their readers to participate and work with them to develop targeted content relating to their topic. Teamwork also increases from networking with other bloggers on forums, leaving comments and visiting other blogs in your niche. You can also develop trust by agreeing to help or collaborate with other bloggers on your same niche. Teamwork will help to decrease the competitiveness of your niche and allow you to both succeed. Working together, bloggers can achieve more than they ever thought possible on their own. So, be open to building a team of bloggers who work and succeed online together.

Everyone has a position

In context of the team it is important to understand everyone has a position. In basketball there are guards, forwards and centers. Each position requires different skills and attributes. The blogosphere is the exact same way. Your niche competition should be viewed more as a team of bloggers looking to succeed online. So play your position. Use your unique skills and attributes to play your niche role. To do this, stick to your topic and emphasize your strengths. When you play your position well, competing with the top blogs in your topic becomes much easier.

Practice

Running track and field taught me valuable lessons about discipline and determination. It required daily efforts to improve my endurance and speed. Basketball also required constant practice to perfect my shooting and dribbling. This simple concept of practicing is essential to becoming a better athlete or blogger. Constant practice through writing content, developing relationships and customizing your blog’s design will train you to better your blogging skills and find your unique talents.

The 4 keys to practicing effectively are:

  1. Practice regularly
  2. Evaluate your performance often
  3. Set measurable goals
  4. Experiment with new techniques

Everyone needs a Coach

Along with practicing, effective progression and eventual success comes from proper coaching. Great teams are prepared by great coaches, so find a mentor in your niche or topic. For me, I look to blogs like Problogger to teach me great skills, help me evaluate my performance and increase my motivation to continue blogging.

To find a good coach, I look for a few important traits:

  1. Knowledge – The most important factor is whether they know what they are talking about. Authority and credibility are important in finding a mentor that really can help you. So, look for expertise in choosing a mentor.
  2. Access – Ask yourself “How much time do they have to help me perfect my blogging?” I feel it is sometimes better to work with a mentor who has the time to give me precise coaching then a busy expert. This being said, I think coaching can come from multiple sources to more effectively train you. I have also found most bloggers to be extremely accessible and always willing to share their knowledge. Each coach you find will bring unique strengths and encourage important growth if you are willing to learn.

Once you have found great mentors, subscribe to their feeds or get their newsletter. You will find invaluable information from their subscriptions. Don’t be afraid to follow it. Also, do not be afraid to contact them with questions through email or other social networking platforms. Avoid being pesky, but do not avoid asking others for help. If they do not have the time to address your questions, they are generally courteous enough to tell you so and then just ask someone else.

Remember, championship teams all possess the 4 attributes we have discussed in their formula for success. Your blogging will be greatly increased by following these factors too. Champions work together, know their positions, practice hard and get great coaching.

Would you Like Forums With that? [31 Days to Build a Better Blog]

31-days-build-better-blog.pngI’m starting to get really excited about the 31 Days to Build a Better Blog Challenge that starts next week here on ProBlogger.

I’ve been busily writing a lot of the teaching and assignments for it already and am excited to see that well over 4300 people have signed up as registered participants (I suspect we’ll get well over 5000 before it launches next week).

I’m also pretty excited to announce that those who register will be given access to a special forum discussion area just for those participating. We’re still setting it up and it will be a no frills area (light on design and features) – but it will enable those participating in the challenge to interact with others on the journey.

While it’s been a lot of work to pull together I’m pretty pumped about the forum element of the 31 Day Challenge because it means that the project becomes less individual and more communal.

When I started blogging the main reason that I improved both in terms of skills, knowledge, traffic and quality of posts was due to the interactions I had with other bloggers. While blogging is still a very relational medium – back then the blogosphere was a lot smaller and there was a real vibe of cooperation, generosity, working together and helping each other grow.

While those things still exist in the blogosphere of 2009, sometimes it can be a little difficult to find. My hope is that the forum area of the 31 Day Challenge will recapture some of that spirit as 3000 bloggers, all with a commitment to grow their blogs, discover the power of working together.

Anyway – just wanted to update you on my preparations for the challenge next week.

It isn’t too late to join up – you can learn more about what’s involved with it here or just pop your name and email address in the field below and you’ll be included in both the emails of new teaching and assignments as well as get an invitation to the forum.

Looking forward to sharing a few more updates on what we’re planning in the days ahead.

Six Very Official Ways to Improve Your Writing

shannon.jpgLooking to improve your blog writing? Today Shannon Paul ( @shannonpaul) from Very Official Blog gives her very official tips on the topic.

I love blogs. Before I started blogging seriously, I read a lot of other blogs and was very engaged as a reader. I commented a lot and began honing my ability to craft a statement quickly in response the ideas presented in the post. I’m still very engaged with other blogs in this way. However, if I’m being totally honest, most blogs I encounter are downright unreadable.

Now, I’m not going to run down the usual list of rules and grammar, but rather a list of things I think make me a decent writer.

1. Stop Trying to Sound Intelligent

You already are smart so stop trying to sound smart. So many people craft elaborate sentences with bigger words than they would ever use in conversation. If you have to use a lot of flower language, jargon or adjectives, you’re trying too hard. Choose your big words wisely. Blogs are not publications, they are conversations. Good writing is simple, but it’s hardly simple to write simply. Unlike speech and other forms of non-verbal communication, writing is a wholly unnatural activity unnecessary to human development or evolution. Give yourself a break and know that good writing is a process that must be practiced to be mastered.

2. Give yourself permission to write garbage

Do what you need to do to get your thoughts out — lead with some insipid quote from Albert Einstein, use a definition or some other tired cliche to get the words flowing and then take great pleasure in hitting delete or crossing it out when the time is right. Learn to let go…

3. Be a Ruthless Editor

Even the best ideas don’t always serve the overarching goal of the piece — get it out of there and save it for later if it’s really that good. Nine times out of ten, words like that and which can be crossed out without altering the meaning of the sentence one bit. By hacking away the extra, you’re making it much easier on the reader. Stop thinking of writing as putting words down on a page… writing is editing.

4. Use MIGHTY verbs

My journalism teacher would scream and writhe in agony in the classroom when we used what he called, “plankton verbs”, also known as “bottom-of-the-food-chain verbs”. Plankton verbs include: is, was, are and were. He would go so far as to restrict us from ever using these in an article and I don’t recommend you take such drastic measures when you’re writing, but it’s definitely something to keep in mind. Writing that lacks strong verbs gets boring fast.

5. Read aloud before posting

Another easy trick is to read what you write out loud. Things may seem self-explanatory in our head, but these are your words. If you find yourself stumbling over the words you just wrote, chances are you’re demanding too much work from your readers. Pare your sentences down.

6. Do what works for you

Everyone has his or her own process. I know a lot has been written about writing killer headlines and choosing keywords, but good content is at the soul of any great blog. Killer headlines may get the click, but good content will get people to stay awhile and maybe even choose to come back without the assistance of future keyword shenanigans.

Your Turn

By sharing these tips I thought I could clarify some of my own writing process and help others along the way. Since writing remains at the core of generating content, how do you hone your skills in a way that helps you clarify your voice for an online audience?

84% of People Would Prefer More Blog Readers than Twitter Followers

Over the last 10 days I’ve been running twin polls on two of my blogs – ProBlogger and TwiTip – asking readers whether they’d prefer more Twitter Followers or Blog Readers.

The overall results were fairly clear – 84% of those who responded people would prefer more Blog Readers.

blog-readers-twitter-followers-overall.png

I expected this result but was curious when starting the poll to see if there’d be a difference in the responses by ProBlogger readers to TwiTip readers (given the topics of the blogs). Here are the results as they happened on each blog (at the point of writing this the ProBlogger poll has had over 1230 responses and the TwiTip one has had just over 700):

blog-readers-twitter-followers-compared.jpg

Again – the results are fairly clear on each blog although there is some unsurprising skewing towards Twitter on TwiTip.

The comments section on each of the poll pages (ProBlogger and TwiTip) really illustrates the Pros and Cons of each option quite well and is a fascinating read (at least I enjoyed it). People argued strongly for one or the other (although there were a lot more for ‘Blog Readers’ of course. Let me highlight some of the comments that caught my eye:

Arguments for Blog Readers:

“I chose blog readers. Twitter, for me, is like melted butter and the blog is the lobster. They can compliment each other very nicely, but if I have to choose one I want the one that provides the most meat and satisfies the hunger.” – Howard Hopkins

“People follow too much with the hope of a follow-back and don’t pay attention as much on Twitter. If they are subscribing to your blog, it usually means that at least one point they were engaged with your content enough to take action, they didn’t just go down a list of people and click a button. I’d trade every Twitter follower I have right now for a blog subscriber.” – Andrew

“The viral power of Twitter is amazing, but if it doesn’t convert to more blog readers, it’s just an ego trip.” – Janet Barclay

“Capturing and retaining a small percentage of faithful blog readers is more difficult and time consuming than acquiring and keeping Twitter followers. Blog readers are not easily replaced, whereas lost Twitter follower counts can generally be recouped within a day or so with little or no effort. Therefore, I would much rather have more blog readers than Twitter followers. There’s more of an investment and sense of loyalty.” – Snow Vandermore

“Definitely blog readers! I can’t type huge articles in Twitter, and plus the posts on Twitter scrolls so fast that most people will miss what you have to say.” – Kai Lo

“That’s like asking a newspaper: Would you rather have someone read your headlines or your stories?” – Jamie Littlefield

Arguments for Twitter Followers:

“I do think you have more ‘power’ with a large follow count on Twitter (and make of that statement what you will), but a large subscriber count on a blog monetizes significantly better.” – Sheamus

“With that said, as time goes by, I’m beginning to value Twitter followers just as much as my blog readers. While it’s harder to promote and convert Twitter followers using 140 characters than it is with full blog posts, the relationships that can be created on Twitter are very valuable.” – Jamie Harrop

“Depends on what business you’re in. If you have a media business model, a blog post offers more engagement (which translates into revenue via ads or some other kind of media-based monetization). But if you’re marketing physical goods, Twitter can spark a more immediate call to action (that is, it can drive demand and generate sales through other channels). ” – Jonz

Some Wise Words to End On

I think Monologue Blogger had some good thoughts:

“Both serve a specific purpose and yet both complement one another as well. I think first and foremost, it depend on the nature of your usage of both media and the goals you have in place regarding that media.”

Personally I would prefer Blog Readers to Twitter Followers (as I wrote a few weeks back here) however I don’t believe that there’s a right or wrong answer with this poll. Rather it needs to come back to your goals for using these mediums. It probably also has a fair bit to do with your personality, style, skills and the topics that you’re writing about.

31 Days to Build a Better Blog – Sign Up Here

31-days-build-better-blog.pngStarting on 1 April (Update: this is now starting on 6th April) I am planning on launching another ‘31 Days to a Better Blog‘ project.

I’ve run this twice previously (once in 2005 and once in 2007) so thought that I should continue the biennial nature of it.

This year I’m going to run it slightly differently so if you’re interested in participating please read on carefully.

Of particular note – this year I’m asking those participating to sign up as registered participants. You don’t have to do it – but to get the full benefits from it I ask that you do. I’ll explain more on why I’m doing this below.

You can register here:

Here are the details of the challenge this year:

The Idea

The idea behind this is simply to have a group of bloggers setting aside a month of their time to work at improving their blogs. While we all want to have better blogs sometimes it becomes one of those things that we’re going to do…. one day.

I personally find that I improve (in all areas of my life) when I’m more intentional and set aside a specific time to make the improvements. That’s what this project is about.

Yesterday on Twitter I mentioned that I was thinking of running this again and had 50 people express interest in 5 minutes. I quickly set up a sign up page just for my Twitter users and within 24 hours had well over 1000 registered participants. I guess people want to do it.

Interested in joining us? If so, read on…

How it Works

Each day from 6th April until early May I will make a post here on ProBlogger that is part of the challenge.

Posts will be designed to each have two aspects to them:

  1. A teaching component (theory)
  2. A practical component (a task/homework)

The idea is that often teaching remains in the realm of theory and doesn’t actually prompt those digesting it to DO something. This project is more about DOING than learning. I hope you will learn, but to be honest if you’ve been blogging for a while some of what we’ll cover many will have heard before – but this project will give you a framework and hopefully some inspiration to put what you know into action.

Some of the tasks will be similar to previous years tasks and some will be new (some things never change so there will always be some overlap). Some tasks will be more relevant to some bloggers than others so you may not choose to do all of them but they will be on a variety of areas of blogging including writing content, interacting with readers, finding new readers, design, tools etc.

This 31 days are designed for beginner and newer bloggers but many of the tasks will be relevant to intermediate and more advanced bloggers also.

To Participate

As mentioned above – this year I’m asking those who want to do the challenge to register their email addresses. You will receive one email per day over the 31 days notifying you that a new post is up, giving you the link to it as well as a little extra information for registered participants.

You don’t have to do this and can follow the posts via our RSS feed – but I’m asking for you to register for a few reasons:

  1. Sometimes signing up for something is important in making us accountable to do what we say we’ll do.
  2. It will enable me to give a little extra information than the posts contain themselves. On the blog the posts will be written in a way that anyone will hopefully benefit whether they do the full challenge or not – but in the emails that I send each day pointing you to the post I will include a little extra information just relevant to those doing the challenge.
  3. My hope this time is to let the 31 Day Challenge live on way beyond the first 31 days. People will be able to signup and do the challenge at any point as the emails will be sent via an auto responder.
  4. It will give me a little more insight into who is doing the challenge which will hopefully means I can tailor it a bit better to peoples needs.
  5. Lastly – there’s a couple of things I’m working on as a bonus for those who register. I’ll write more of these as they firm up.

If you signup for the 31 days you’re more than welcome to unsubscribe at any point if you feel it is not helpful or not quite where you’re at.

At the end of the 31 days I’m not planning on sending too many more emails. I may add a few more tasks over time but the daily emails will stop. If I do keep sending a few emails, again you’re welcome to unsubscribe if it isn’t meeting your needs.

Sign Up to participate in the Challenge Here

I’m looking forward to the 31 Day Challenge this year and hope that you’ll join me.

Lastly – a special thanks to @Mark_MacDonald who put together the logo above and thanks also to the 15 other friends on Twitter who put together logos – I appreciate them all.

Using ‘Canned Responses’ to Save Time While Helping Readers (and how I’d improve Canned Responses)

The amount of emails hitting my Inbox makes me feel physically ill. I just checked my ‘All Mail’ inbox in Gmail and in the last 30 minutes I’ve had 100 emails…. and it is the weekend as I write this (off peak).

On a single day last week I had 8987 emails – it was a fairly ‘normal’ day.

How does one manage this volume of ‘communication’ (I use the word loosely)?

Luckily the vast majority of those emails are things I never need to read. Some are emails notifying me of new subscribers to newsletters, updates or invitations from social media sites etc. I’ve previously talked about how I use Gmail Labels and Filters to filter many of these. Filtering like this gets the emails in my inbox down to several hundred a day.

Many of the emails that do make it into my inbox are from readers asking for help. Their requests are varied and include:

  • questions about the topics I’m writing about
  • requests to do consulting work
  • ‘pitches’ asking me to feature products or link to posts
  • enquiries from advertisers
  • submissions by potential guest posters
  • questions about how to use features on the site
  • reports of ‘issues’ or ‘problems’ that readers are having with some aspect of the site
  • complaints about something that has been written
  • emails of thanks and encouragement from readers who appreciate the sites
  • emails from other bloggers wanting to work together

I’d estimate that these kinds of emails number anywhere from 50-200 per day.

A number of months ago I realized that I spent much of time each day answering virtually the same questions over and over again. Email was taking me hours each day.

I began to use a Mac tool called Text Expander which allowed me to compose responses to my most Frequently Asked Questions and insert it into any document or text input field with a keystroke. When I got an email that I had a response for I then would simply insert it into Gmail, personalize it a little and then send it to the person asking the question.

canned-responses.jpgGmail’s Canned Responses: More recently Gmail added a feature called ‘Canned Responses’ into their Labs section. Other email clients have had this type of thing for years so it was an overdue feature (and it still needs some work in my humble opinion) but I’m sure glad that they added it.

In short – Canned Responses lets you compose an email, save it as a canned response and then select that response when replying to someone.

For virtually each one of the above types of questions that I get I now have a ‘canned responses’ in Gmail that I’m able to quickly reply with. In most cases I do take a few seconds to add something to one of the canned responses (usually the person’s name and comments where the canned response doesn’t quite fit with their question) but in many cases the pre-written answer fits the question pretty well and provides an answer to the person that answers their question. I’d say that I’m sending 30-40 of these a day. If each one saves me writing a 2-3 minute email it is saving me 1-2 hours a day.

Isn’t it Impersonal?

One of the hesitations that I had in starting to use this type of response with readers is that it felt a little impersonal. In some ways it is – but in other ways I think it has actually allowed me to be more helpful to readers.

For example - previously when I got 10 emails a day from people asking the same question the temptation was to answer in quite a blunt and brief way. It’s not that I didn’t care about their question – just that it’s not easy responding to the same thing over and over. With a Canned Response however you can write a comprehensive, polite, helpful response that has a bigger chance of actually helping the person.

Another thing that I’ve noticed about Canned Responses is that I’m actually responding to more emails these days.

For example – I get a lot of emails from readers that simply say ‘thanks for writing your blog’ (10+ a day). While these emails are great they don’t really ‘need’ a response. I did try to respond with a ‘thanks for the feedback’ type email but to be honest on days where I was extra busy I didn’t even manage that.

Using ‘Canned Responses’ I now have a way to not only thank the person for their email but to make an impression upon them with an extended response. The email that I send thanks the person for their feedback, tells them that I appreciate their involvement in my site and suggests 1-2 ways that they can become more involved (including encouraging them to tell a friend about the site).

Over a year if I send 10 of these a day I’ve had the opportunity to deepen relationships with 3650 readers and potentially have them tell a friend about the site. It might not seem like a big deal but these are the small things that can make a difference to a blog.

Automating Canned Responses

At this point my use of Canned Responses is manual. I still am reading each email to work out which (if any) canned response I use however Gmail allows you to use ‘Canned Responses’ in a more automated way by using their filters to look for keywords or the email address that emails are coming from and then send a response to those emails that fit a certain criteria.

This could be very useful and cut down on further work. I wouldn’t want to do it for each and every email that was sent to me – but I can certainly see how it’d be useful for some types of emails. I suspect a contact form that allowed those using it to select a certain category for their question could be useful in triggering these types of canned responses.

How I’d Improve Canned Responses

I mentioned above that I thought Canned Responses could be improved. There are a few improvements that I’d like to see:

1. Managing Canned Responses – I currently have about 13 Canned Responses set up in my Gmail account. The way that these responses are ‘managed’ is via a drop down menu on the page where you compose emails. The problem I am having is that when I open this drop down menu on my laptop (15 inch screen) the menu now extends down further than my screen allows meaning that I can now only delete the first three of my Canned Responses.

Another ‘management’ problem is that because all actions (selecting a response, saving a response and deleting a response) all happen from the one drop down menu – it’s not hard to select the wrong response when quickly using the menu. On a number of occasions I’ve hit ‘save’ instead of ‘insert’ and then saved a blank message as a response (meaning I have to rewrite it and save it again).

2. Replying to Messages – When you’re in the reply window and want to use a canned response to reply to someone there is no way to include that persons email to you in the canned response – at present inserting the canned response replaces the whole email rather than inserting it at the cursor point in your reply.

I like to include the original emails as it gives context to your response (it also helps you later if the person responds to your canned response). The only way to include the previous email from the person is to copy the persons email to you, then select the canned response, then scroll to the end of the response and then paste the person’s original email to you. Only a couple of extra clicks but annoying none the less.

3. Shortcuts to trigger Canned Responses – I’d love to see the option to eliminate the option to have to go through the drop down menu at all and to use shortcuts to trigger the insertion of canned responses. Better still – it’d be great to even be able to send a canned response without opening the email but to be able to select it from your inbox window and send a response to all selected items quickly.

4. Subject Lines – In some of my canned responses I’d love the option of being able to insert the same subject line over and over again rather than having to manually change it.

All in all it’s a useful feature but now that I’ve got more than a handful of Canned Responses I’m hoping that Gmail makes some improvements soon as managing them all is getting more difficult.

Do you use Canned Response (or some other type of process that is similar?).