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Listening – Principles of Successful Blogging #1

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Last week I shared a set of slides from a presentation I recently gave which outlines a variety of lessons that I’ve learned as a blogger over the last 7 years. Over the coming months I intend to expand upon many of the points in that presentation – starting today with ‘Listening’.

When I began blogging in 2002 I made a lot of mistakes and had a lot of false assumptions about blogging. One of the things I quickly found out didn’t work when trying to grow a blog was to use it purely as a broadcast tool.

In the first few weeks of blogging it was almost as though I was using the blog as a platform or a stage where I stood with a megaphone in hand blasting out my message for anyone who might happen to be passing by to hear. It’s no wonder that only my wife read my blog that first week (and even she never really came back).

Nobody likes a loud mouth. Nobody wants to be on the receiving end of someone talking AT them.

The people we tend to be drawn to in real life are people who pause in conversation to let you have a say, people who ask questions about you, people who have a genuine interest in what you’ve got to say.

The same is true (in most cases) when it comes to blogging.

Of course there are cases where blogs are successfully used as broadcast tools with little interaction between blogger and reader – however in most cases there is at least some element of ‘listening’ going on by the blogger. Let me explore a few ways that a blogger should consider ‘listening’:

Listen to the culture of the blogosphere

This is one for those yet to start blogging (and it should also be applied to those getting into new social media tools like Twitter, Facebook etc).

I was chatting with a new blogger recently who described her first week of blogging as being similar to travelling to a new country and having to adjust to a new language, climate, etiquette and customs as an outsider.

When travelling overseas for an extended stay (perhaps for a new job) most travellers know that one of their first tasks as a new resident is to make some cultural adjustments.

  • learning some basic words in the local language
  • finding a local who can talk them through the etiquette
  • getting a map so that they can find their way around
  • learning to use systems like public transport…. etc

In a similar way – when you’re new to the blogosphere (or any new part of the social media-sphere) it’s important to pause, take stock, learn about the culture, learn to use the tools, discover what is acceptable (and not acceptable), learn the rhythms etc

The danger in not learning the culture of the blogosphere is doing something that not only doesn’t work but that offends ‘the locals’ and hurts your reputation.

Listen for where your potential readers are gathering

One of the key tasks that any new blogger who wants to grow their readership should do is identify where their potential readers are already gathering online.

As I mentioned a couple of weeks back – it’s not enough just to build a good blog with great content in order to find readers for your blog. If you want people to know about your blog you need to ‘get out there’ and interact with them and develop a presence in the places that your potential readers are already gathering.

Of course before you can find these places you need to have an understanding of who you’re trying to attract – so do a little work on defining who you want to read your blog and then begin to look for where that type of person is already gathering (I talk more about how I did this in this recent video on how I use promote my blog).

Listen to what others in your niche are saying

One of the most powerful things that I did which helped take my early blogs to the next level was to begin to monitor what others in my niche/industry were talking about.

I discovered the power of this accidentally one day when I just happened to be surfing on another small blog that broke news of a big story. I picked up the story on my own blog (linking to the first) and then my post got picked up by a massive blog which drew in a lot of new readers. Knowing what was happening in the niche helped to break stories but also build relationships with other bloggers in the niche.

Back then the tools for monitoring other blogs and topics were primitive and meant some manual hunting around (I remember in the very early days having to manually bookmark the blogs I wanted to track and visit them each every day to see if they’d posted anything new) but these days it is a lot easier to set up and automate.

My own monitoring of my niches generally happens in two ways:

  1. Subscribing to Feeds of Key Sources of Information – these days most sites have some way of subscribing to them, usually via an RSS feed. I have a folder in my feed reader for each of my main topics which contains a number of key blogs and news sites in that niche. I used to follow close to a thousand blogs to do this – but these days have refined the list to much less for each topic.
  2. 2. Keyword Alerts – using Google’s news and blog alerts I have a number of alerts set up so that if any news site or blog uses a keyword that I’m interested in I know about it. Choosing keywords that are specific enough can take a little time (some words just generate too many alerts) but on almost a daily basis these alerts identify important posts in my niches.
  3. Recommendation Sites – the other listening tool that I use to help me know what’s going on in my niches is to subscribe to sites that are in the business of looking for popular content in my niches. These sites can be a little hard to find depending upon your niche but because I’m largely working in the Tech space there are a few including TechMeme and Delicious. TechMeme looks at what content key blogs are linking to in the tech space and Delicious is a bookmarking site that produces a list of popular content being bookmarked at any point in time (it’s not purely tech related but does consistently produce good results for me). Both of these sites have RSS feeds you can subscribe to to monitor what’s hot.
  4. Twitter – I also find that being active on Twitter and developing a Twitter account that has a niche focus can also help you listen to what people are saying about your niche. This partly happens naturally (those you follow in your niche will share links) but there are also great tools including Tweetmeme (which shows you what is being retweeted in different categories) and other monitoring/search tools such as Twitter search (you can set up an RSS feed for different search terms) and tools built into Twitter clients (like TweetDeck which allows you to set up a column specifically for alerts). More and more useful tools are being set up for Twitter to help monitor what people are saying about your industry.

Listen to what is being said about you

The other use for some of the tools mentioned above (keyword alerts and the Twitter keyword monitoring) is that you can use them to alert you when someone is talking about you, your business, your blog or your brand specifically.

I’ve talked previously about setting up a vanity folder in your feed reader to help you do this so won’t go into great detail about it here – however it’s something that I’ve found particularly useful for a couple of reasons:

  1. Building Relationships – when another blogger links to you it is useful to know about it so you can go and build a relationship with that blogger and their readers.
  2. Reputation Management – from time to time you might also be mentioned on another site/blog/press in a more negative way. Knowing quickly about this is also important as it enables you to respond (if necessarily) or at least monitor developments.

Create Listening Spaces on Your Blog

Have you ever had a ‘conversation’ with someone where you simply could not get a word in edgeways? The person talked so fast and without taking a breath – to the point where there simply wasn’t space for you to be listened to.

Sometimes I get that same feeling while on blogs. It’s not that the blogger isn’t interested in their reader – it’s just that they get so excited about what they’re blogging about that they just don’t stop long enough to let others have a say.

One of the simplest ways to create these ‘listening spaces’ on a blog is to ask questions. Ask them at the end of your posts, ask them half way through the and even write posts that are nothing but questions.

Listen to the Questions Your Readers are Asking

One of the most important things to be on the listen out for is questions.

I remember one of my first teachers drumming into the class I was in that there was no such thing as a dumb question and that if one person asked a question it usually meant that others also had the same question going around in their minds.

As a result – when a reader asks you a question, you can bet that they’re not the only one thinking it.

Questions reveal potential topics to write about, problems with your site and opportunities to expand what you’re doing on your blog. Pay careful attention to them in the following areas:

  1. comments section – this is the most obvious place for your readers to ask questions
  2. your inbox – what questions are you getting from readers via your blog’s contact form?
  3. search engine referral terms – often people arrive on your site having plugged a specific question into Google. Most stats packages will reveal these terms and phrases – keep on the look out specifically for questions – also check out 103bees – a tool that specifically monitors and collates questions being asked in your search stats.
  4. questions typed into onsite search boxes – this is a goldmine of information, monitoring what people are searching for when they’re actually on your site will show you all kinds of needs, problems and challenges that your readers want to learn more about. Lijit is one tool that helps you track these questions.
  5. ask readers for questions – from time to time it can be worth writing a post on your blog that specifically invites readers to ask a question.

Listen to what is working (and what isn’t)

The last thing I’ll add on the topic of listening before I open this topic up to others to share their thoughts is to listen by tracking what is and isn’t working on your blog.

This means setting up your blog with a good metrics tool (I use Google Analytics but there are other great ones out there) and regularly using it to work out what is readers are responding to on your blog.

Some places to start include:

  • What posts are being read most?
  • What posts are generating good conversation/comments?
  • What posts are being linked to by others most?
  • How are readers using your design? (use a tool like CrazyEgg to create a heatmap)
  • What days of the week are people reading your site most on? What times of the day?
  • What pages are people ‘bouncing’ from your site on (bounce rate shows how many people arrive on your blog and immediately leave)
  • What posts are people spending most (and least) time on?
  • What posts are you getting most negative feedback on?

It is easy to obsess on some of these stats – but it’s also easy to ignore the useful stuff in them that could help you improve your blog.

How else do you Listen in your blogging?

I’ve talked for way too long on a post about listening – so now it’s over to you.

What would you add? Do you use some of the above techniques? What has worked well for you? I’m all ears!

Books – How to Expand your Blog #2

See the full sized version of this video at YouTubeExpand Your Blog By Adding a Book.

A couple of weeks back I introduced a brainstorming exercise that gets bloggers to think about how to expand their blog. I followed that post up with an exploration of adding a forum to a blog as one good way to expand your blog.

Today In this video I continue this exploration of how to expand a blog by looking at adding a book to a blog. In it we look at the example of PostSecret and their new book PostSecret: Confessions on Life, Death and God.

[Read more...]

Top 10 Posts on ProBlogger Q3 2009

Over the last three months on ProBlogger it’s been a pretty busy time – here are the most popular posts – judged by mixture of factors including traffic and comments.

  1. 9 Things to Do To Make Sure Your Next Blog Post is Read by More than Your Mom
  2. 8 First Step SEO Tips for Bloggers
  3. Forums – How to Expand Your Blog #1
  4. 6 Reasons Your Blog Traffic Might Be Declining [And What to Do About It]
  5. How to Use Google’s Wonder Wheel to Find Topics to Write about
  6. How to Build a Successful Blog
  7. 11 Lessons I Learned Earning $119,725.45 from Amazon Associates Program
  8. 9 First Step Goals for New Bloggers
  9. How to Make Money (Passively) With Your Blog
  10. Want a Crash-Proof Site? A Paint-by-Numbers Guide to Using (and Surviving) Amazon S3

I hope that catches you up on some of what you may have missed this last quarter.

Blogging Tips in 140 Characters or Less

A couple of days back I tweeted this question:

“Question: what’s your #1 blog tip in 140 characters or less? GO!’”

Over the next hour or two a lot of great responses came in – so I thought I’d post a link to them today because I think in the midst of them is a lot of wisdom. Below is a screen shot of the first 11 responses – but for the full thread of all replies to that original tweet check out the thread on twitoaster.

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What would you add? What’s your #1 blog tip (keep it short).

How to Create Reader Profiles/Personas to Inspire and Inform Your Blogging

gareth.pngOne of the techniques that I’ve employed in my blogging over the last 6 months behind the scenes is to create Reader Profiles (or Personas).

The technique is simply – open up a word document and begin to describe a type of reader that you’re either attempting to write for or who is already reading your blog. I’ll show you some examples of reader profiles that I have created below – but in short the task is to describe who they are, what their interests are, why they might be reading your blog and what their needs are.

The idea is that you end up with a picture of who you’re writing for that you can then use to inspire and inform you in your blogging.

Before I talk about the benefits of doing this and give a few thoughts on how to do one for your own blog – let me show you one that I created a while back for my photography site (click to enlarge).

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The profile above describes one of the types of readers that we have on DPS – people who largely use their cameras to photograph their kids.

The profile describes why she reads DPS, some of her dreams, the type of photography she’s into, how else she uses the web, a little about her demographics, the level she’s at etc.

Here’s another one from a different type of reader at DPS:

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Again – I’ve described another type of reader in a similar way to the first.

In each of these cases the reader profile is based upon a reader group already within the community – however this same exercise could be done with potential readers – or the type of person you want to read your blog if you’re just starting up a blog and don’t yet have readers.

Why Do I Create Reader Profiles?

Hopefully you can already see some of the benefits of these kinds of reader profiles – but let me list a few of the things I’ve enjoyed about having done this exercise:

  • It Personalises the blogging experience – I find that having a person (real or pretend) in mind as I write reminds me that there are real people on the other end of my posts. There are people with faces, names and needs – I find it inspiring to visualise them as they read what I’m writing – it also helps me to write in a more personal tone.
  • It informs my writing – having these kinds of personas before me and in mind as I write reminds me of some of the needs, problems and questions that readers might have. As a result I tend to write more practical posts that are written with real reader needs in mind. Often as I write I visualise the questions and reactions that these different readers might have to my posts and then try to build answers into what I’m writing based upon these questions and reactions.
  • It identifies opportunities – I remember writing the first profile above (Grace) and having the realisation that quite a few of my readers have mentioned that they have dreams of one day making some money from their photography. This triggered me to start a section in our forum on making money with photography which has been really popular.
  • It can be helpful for recruiting advertisers – often when talking with potential advertisers the question you’re asked is ‘what type of reader do you have’. Having these pre prepared personas can be really useful in answering that question. It also shows that you’ve thought about your readers and run a professional site.
  • It identifies ways to connect with your readership - you’ll notice I’ve included details in the profiles on how the reader uses the web. It’s really useful to know what other sites your reader uses and what places of presence that they have as this can identify opportunities to identify places where people like the readers you already have (or those that you want) hang out.
  • It will identify opportunities to monetize your blog – knowing information like what your readers currently spend money on, what their needs are, what kind of income they have at their disposal will give you all kinds of ideas for the types of advertisers you should find, the type of affiliate promotions you coudl do and the type of products you could develop.

How to Create a Reader Profile?

There are no real rules – you can see I’ve developed a certain style in my personas above. I added a picture to each of the type of person in the profile to further personalise it. I also tried to include information on these kinds of areas:

  • Demographics
  • Financial Situation
  • Needs/Challenges
  • How they use the Web
  • Motivations for Reading DPS
  • Experience with the topic – Level
  • Dreams

I’m sure that others would include other types of information – if you’ve done this type of thing before please feel free to share your suggestions and tips in comments below.

Let me finish this post off with one last persona – again for DPS.

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Don’t Be a Greedy Blogger

This is another guest post from Robby G at Shite I Like.com where he gives expert dating advice for both men and women, amongst other advice.

I’ve only recently realized the benefits of good Karma. Greed and blogging doesn’t go well together at all. Right off the bat I wanted to say that if you’re thinking of starting a blog strictly for money and your heart isn’t in the blog topic, you will not only fail but you will lose all that time you’ll spend creating the blog and writing content that will be extremely difficult to produce just because it’s not something you believe in but just something you think has a high monetary rate of return. There are two ways to looking at blogging: 1. Every other blogger is your competition, or 2. Every other blog out there is an opportunity.

Though other blogs, particularly that write about a topic similar to yours, are your competition, they are also your ticket to success. Now allow me to explain.

Opportunity in the Blogosphere

Think about this, if you were the only person on earth with a blog and no one would have caught on to this wonderful innovation then your blog would quickly die because there wouldn’t be enough demand for blogs, blogging, or bloggers. Since there is a blogosphere and people are enjoying each others’ blogs, that means that there is room for you to grow and create a leading blog in your niche. But what if there are already tens or hundreds of blogs writing about the same topic as you are? Well, use that in your advantage. I’ve noticed over the years that mostbloggers are quite good people (nevertheless I have run into one or two a**holes) and they don’t mind to share their knowledge, their friendship, and most importantly their love for blogging. There is opportunity in your competition because if you are a good-hearted individual and aren’t greedy about attracting all the traffic to yourself, there is room for you to grow. Now what are the ways to attract Brownie Points with Karma? There is a list of ways that you may think do not help your blog, but in fact they eventually attract much more people to come to your blog overtime than you would have if you did not take part in them. Here’s the list:

  • Provide useful comments on other blogs: By doing this I did not only get lots of traffic from people clicking on my link, but I also received emails from the authors of the posts asking me if I could broaden my comment into a full post and submit it to them as a guest article. This doesn’t happen for every comment, but there’s that chance people will really want you to share your knowledge as a guest post without you even asking for it.
  • Link to other blogs in your posts:Linking to other blogs may seem like a sure way to lose readers because they will simply jump ship and start reading your competitor’s posts. But that’s a mistake many bloggers have in mind. By providing readers with relevant links, they see that you know what you’re talking about and you want to help your readers with the most informative links.
  • Blogroll: I personally do not have a blogroll on my blog, but what I do have is a post with my favourite blogs that I follow daily. Since only recently I have been getting out there and making lots of friends in the blogging community, I have decided to create a full-blown blogroll linking to the blogs of my friends, which is in the works. I do not ask anything in return from the blogs I link to, because I leave it all to Karma, and more often than not the people I link to end up linking back to me.
  • Attract guest posts: Guest posting attracts you links and new traffic, but when you allow other bloggers to guest post, you attract bloggers, sometimes a link from their blog, and again a wave of good Karma. When someone guest posts on your blog they right away feel a certain companionship with you and that can last for a very long time. From simply allowing and attracting guest posts, you open yourself to an opportunity of new friends and new openings for yourself to maybe one day create a certain campaign with that friend that will attract a much wider audience than your current one. If you think you have ideas for a guest post relevant to my blog topic, feel free to contact me.
  • Get expert opinions: If you’re not too sure about something, go ahead and ask an expert. People love to be praised and a great way to do that is to ask an expert what they would do in a certain situation. For example, my blog is based on giving dating advice, so if I was to be stumped on a reader’s dating question, I would ask a fellow expert on their opinion and I would throw in some of my ideas to complete the most perfect advice I could possibly provide for my reader. This way I am showing my reader that I care about their issue and want to provide them with the most help I can, and it also allows me to get in touch with interesting people who may eventually want to conduct some sort of business later on, seeing that I cared enough to reach out to them for their expert advice.
  • Interview and help promote others:Interviewing others gives your readers fresh new content. It also gives the person being interviewed exposure of their product or website. And what about you, the blogger? Well, it gives you the opportunity to grow. After interviewing an expert in my field, I did not only get to give my readers new content, but I also received an advertising offer from the person. It builds your credentials, authority, and broadens your circle of friends.
  • Fill your ad-space. Once in a while when you don’t have advertisers waiting to fill up the empty space-ad you have on your blog, contact someone that may be interested and give it out for free for a month or so. This is an act of goodness, plus it gives more exposure to your advertising services, and maybe some day that person you gave away an ad-space for free to will help you out some way or even pay for some ad-space in the future.

These are just some of the ways you can use to help other bloggers and get good Karma. It all usually comes back to help you out somehow or someway. As long as you find ways to share the love and don’t feel the need to be greedy, good things will always come your way.

Do you have any ideas for ways to share the love and still reap the benefits? Leave your thoughts in the comment section. Cheers!

ProBlogger Birthday Sale – For 24 Hours Only Get 50% off the 31DBBB Workbook

31dbbb2.pngUpdate: This sale is now over – thanks everyone for participating. The ebook is still available at $19.95, an affordable price considering it’s 31 days of content about improving your blog!

I just realized that yesterday was ProBlogger’s 5th birthday (I imported a lot of previously written posts onto the ProBlogger.net domain on 23 September 2004 and started adding new content that day).

I had been planning on doing a big birthday post but with events of the last couple of weeks it slipped off my radar.

So so that the day doesn’t go completely by without any celebration (and because it’s still 23 Sept in some parts of the world as I write this) I thought I’d offer a 24 hour 50% discount on the 31 Days to Build a Better Blog workbook. If you don’t yet have a copy of this ebook you can read about what it is here or purchase it directly here.

To get the discount you need to use this coupon code – ‘probloggeris5′ when prompted to add a code during the buying process.

This sale ends at 8pm MST (US Mountain Time) on 24th September.

Principles of Successful Blogging – Confessions of a ProBlogger

This post is a collection point of links in a long series that I’m writing on principles of successful blogging. It was originally stimulated by a presentation that I gave at the MarketingNow conference here in Melbourne. I shared my story of blogging and then explore 25 or so lessons that I’d learned as a blogger in the 7 years since I started.

Following is the slide deck from the presentation. It might not make a lot of sense without the commentary (the presentation went for an hour and a half and the slides are not that detailed) but I had quite a few people asking to see it and wanted to share what I’d put together.

Over the coming months I’ll take each of the lessons and put them into a series of posts fleshing them out – but in the mean time – I hope you find the slide deck to give a little inspiration.

Here are the posts exploring these principles of successful blogging so far:

A quick explanation – slides 1-22 go with the telling of my story of blogging and slides 23-51 each go with the ‘lessons’.

Leo Babauta from Zen Habits Shares a Popular Post Case Study

Leo-Babauta-Case-StudyThis week I’m featuring a short series of interviews with successful bloggers looking at a popular post on their blog and why they think it went viral. Today Leo Babauta from Zen Habits has agreed to dissect the popularity of one of his site’s most popular posts.

1. What is the post on your blog that has had the most traffic in the last 12 months?

I would never have guessed this until I looked it up in Analytics, but the top post in the last year is “10 Tasty, Easy and Healthy Breakfast Ideas“.

2. Where did the traffic mainly come from?

The page had nearly 500K pageviews in the last year, almost all from Google searches. A small amount came from Yahoo (#2), direct traffic, MSN, and other search engines.

3. Did you do anything extra to market or promote this post or did it just happen organically?

No, I didn’t promote this post any more than other posts. It did well in delicious.com the first day, without my help, and quickly found its way to the #1 spot in Google searches for “healthy breakfasts” and related search terms. I don’t do SEO at all (I don’t believe in it), so this happened totally organically.

4. What can we as bloggers learn from the success of this post?

Google can bring tons of traffic, but the way to get there is not through SEO or overly promotional techniques. It’s by creating useful content that people will want to bookmark, link to, and find in searches, solving problems that many people have.

So:

  1. Figure out what problems a lot of people have.
  2. Create really useful content to solve those problems.
  3. Write a good headline to help the post get spread more widely.