How To Run Subscriber-Only Competitions on Your Blog

A Guest Post by David Cleland from TotalApps.

In 2006 I proudly started my first blog, DigMo! It was technology, it was creativity, it was music and it was education. Despite it being a bit of blog soup I was pleased at how quick the site grew but within a few years it reached a critical point beyond which I really couldn’t get the traffic to grow. The site was frankly far too general to appeal to a specific community.


The site had a massive 80% bounce rate and taking advice from reading the great advice on this site I decided to take stock and critically re-evaluate the future of DigMo!

As a result I decided to split the site and create two separate niche blogs, DigMo! To focus on educational technology and I launched a new site, TotalApps, to focus on Mac and iPhone App reviews. The thought of starting from zero scared me and I looked at ways to get the site up and running quickly.

I decided the best way to draw attention to the blog was to offer regular site competitions. Finding companies willing to sponsor prizes was actually much easier than I initially expected. I tend to target companies whose product I have reviewed and especially if the review has been popular with readers.

With blog authors being urged to declare any products they are able to keep once a review is published what better way to retain your creditability but by passing the review samples on to your readers as a competition prize ? It seems to me like a logical benefit that will add value to your site and grow the community.

The Mistakes

I think it is best to share my mistakes with the Problogger readers and the initial competitions I ran simply required visitors to leave a comment on a post. This didn’t grow the site and managed to result in a massive 70% bounce rate i.e. the users came, entered, and left knowing we would email them if they had won.

The Successes

I decided if I was going to make competitions really work they needed to be of benefit not only to the visitor but also the site and thus I needed to limit entry to RSS subscribers (both email and reader)

The solution was simple and surprisingly successful and will basically work for anyone running a WordPress blog even with a custom theme.

Setting the competition up takes a tiny bit of code adjusting but nothing too difficult.

The Concept

The competition works by placing a code at the bottom of blog posts that will only appear when the entry is read in an RSS reader, i.e. it does not appear on site.

To do this I used a known solution that was pointed out to me by fellow blogger Thaya Kareeson.

There are a few versions of this idea around but this solution works brilliantly on TotalApps. As I haven’t come across any plug-ins that can run competitions this bit of code fiddling is the ideal solution for now.

Getting Started

Open the functions.php file in your current theme folder (I would back this up before adding the code just to be on the safe side).

Paste the following code into the text :

function contest_post_filter($content) { if ( is_feed() ) return $content.'TotalApps Competition Code (Please note it is case sensitive) : a12221s'; else return $content; } add_filter('the_content','contest_post_filter'); function contest_comment_filter($comment_text) { return str_replace('a12221s', '[code hidden]', $comment_text); } add_filter('get_comment_text','contest_comment_filter');

There are two lines you need to change – 1. the line that says TotalApps Competition Code and 5 lines down the code is repeated (a1221s).

I recently ran a competition where visitors could win a copy of Screenflow 2.0. The following screenshot shows the bottom of the post as it appeared in the browser.


……. and this is how it looked in the RSS reader. You should note your RSS Feed must be the full article view (i.e. not just the abstract) for the code to appear.


When the competition closes as I generally ask the sponsor to select a number between 1 and the number of comments and then contact the lucky winners using the email address in the comment.

When a competition closes you can either comment out the code in functions.php by adding /* before the code and */ after or alternatively is simply change the text to “No competition at present”

Offering a reason to sign up to the RSS feed resulted in the number of TotalApps RSS subscribers growing in one month to double the number of readers DigMo! had after 3 years.

Tips :

  • Know what your readers want and try and target prizes appropriately.
  • Make sure you link to your RSS and RSS by Email Feeds in the post to make it as easy for visitors to subscribe as possible.
  • Make sure you make the rules clear and post the winner’s name publicly on site.
  • Where possible have the competition sponsors look after the postage. This not only saves you time and hassle but it is also assures the sponsor the competition is above board.
  • Don’t run competitions for more than a week as most of the comments tend to happen in the first week after that it dries up quickly.

I have to say I am certainly no expert in coding or blogging but am really excited to find a solution that really works for managing the competitions and I am equally as excited to see the number of subscribers grow.

There may even be better solutions out there and if you know of any I would be keen to hear them.

David Cleland is a teacher based in Ireland who runs three successful blogs (TotalApps, FlixelPix and

Why Nobody Cares About Your Blog

A Guest Post by David Risley

Except yours, of course. ;) However, there are a lot of bloggers who feel this way.

You write. You write some more. You don’t feel as if you’re getting the traction that you want. What’s going on?

There is plenty to be said about issues like proper market selection, search engine optimization and other tactical things, but let’s go deeper. In fact, let’s go deeper than most bloggers really think about when it comes to their blogging.

Are You Talking At Or Talking To Your Readers?

If I walked into a crowded mall, went into the food court, stood there in the middle of it and just started talking, what do you think would happen?

Most people wouldn’t see me. Then, a few would and they would probably think I was crazy. At the end of the day, I’ll just be that crazy guy they saw at the mall.

Now, imagine if 90% of the people in the food court did that. They just got up and started talking into space. It would be one big din of noise. Now, all of those people want to feel as if they are famous, so they start competing and trying to out-talk the other people. The volume increases, but few are being listened to. The ones who are listened to are the ones at least saying something useful.

And that is the blogosphere.

Most new bloggers go out there and start talking, then hope somebody notices and listens. Chances are, it won’t happen that way.

What is True Communication?

I’m married and that leads to some minor adventure from time to time. ;) One of them is being accused of not listening to her. She will tell me something I need to do and I have literally no memory of her saying it. Well, that was because I was doing something when she said it. When she told me what I needed to do, she spoke AT me and not TO me.

In other words, she just threw out the words with no intention of them really GETTING to me. It put the responsibility on me to be paying close attention first. She was right, I wasn’t listening. She was just talking at me.

Now, I love my wife to death, but she was doing what a lot of bloggers do.

What is TRUE communication?

Well, it isn’t communication unless the idea being said fully ARRIVES on the other end and is understood. To complete this process, an acknowledgement of some kind would need to take place to show that the information was indeed received and understood.

Underlying all of this is, of course, the importance of saying something that people want and doing it in a likable way. When you combine being likable, speaking within a reality that your audience will click with, along with actual communication where your thought actually gets to your reader, that’s when people will most definitely care about your blog.

Then you have readers, fans and more traffic that you’ll know what to do with. If you want to make money with your blog, that becomes really easy.

Applying This To Blogging

Blogging is a communications platform. Personal human relations still apply. If you just talk to yourself on your blog and hope people listen, it won’t work very well. That’s not communication.

In other words, talk TO your audience. Your job is to have something worth saying, then communicate that in a fashion which works for THEM. Do it in a reality which works for them. Make sure the idea arrives in their head by getting them to talk back to you. Without some acknowledgement from the audience, you don’t have true communication taking place. The cycle will be incomplete.

Your job with your blog is to create a relationship with your audience. You want them to know, like and trust you. That is done by forming true understanding between yourself and each of your readers. You want them to see you as an authority in your market, but also a trusted friend. The key to do that will be what I said above.

Blogging isn’t all about yourself. It isn’t about just blurting words into WordPress and hoping people listen. It is about talking TO them and having them talk back.

If you are new to blogging and hardly have any audience yet, the same principles apply. You want to have these interactions with other people. So, you go out onto social media and you do exactly the same thing. In other words, go where the people are and strike up a conversation. Then, with some form of understanding formed, you direct them to your blog.

Build a tribe of people who know, like and trust you… who you routinely talk to (in both directions), then you’ve made it. The rest of your goals as a blogger become a piece of cake.

So, in a spirit of communication, let me know what you think. Post a comment. Let’s talk!

By David Risley, a 6-figure professional blogger who got his start as a tech blogger. His blog David Risley dot com is a pull-no-punches account of the business of pro blogging and what it takes to earn a living as a blogger.

Speech Recognition for Bloggers – The Ultimate Guide

Speech recognition technology has come a long way in the last few years – in this in depth, informative and inspiring video which Jon Morrow (Associate Editor of Copyblogger and Co-founder of Partnering Profits) shares his first hand insights into speech recognition for bloggers.

Jon does all of his blogging via speech recognition so he seemed like the logical guy to ask to cover the topic – in the video (I’m glad he agreed). In the video Jon makes recommendations of software, hardware (the hardware is key) and even demonstrates how he uses them in his everyday blogging.

The video itself is also a great illustration of using video to communicate.

Speech Recognition for Bloggers — The Ultimate Guide from Jon Morrow on Vimeo.

Recommended in the video by Jon are a number of technologies including:

Bookmark this video today as it’ll be something you want to come back to again.

Jon Morrow is Associate Editor of Copyblogger and Cofounder of Partnering Profits. Get more from Jon on twitter.

Review This Blog – Man vs Debt

Last month here on ProBlogger we ran a community review on a reader’s blog. I posted a link to a blog with some comments from the blogger and then opened it up for readers of ProBlogger to review it.

The response from the post was great. 120+ comments were left including some great advice. I also had a lot of emails from readers saying that they learned a lot by reading the suggestions of others – many wanted to see these reviews done regularly.

As a result I’m going to try to do these reviews on a weekly (ish) basis – today we have another one. As a little bonus to members I’m going to choose the blogs being reviewed from members blogs (with their permission of course).

This month’s Review – Man vs Debt.

What follows is some information from the blogger behind Man vs Debt – Adam Baker.

Before you give your review in comments below please read through this information as it’ll give you context for your review as well as some of what Adam is hoping to pick your brains about.

Please also note that while you’re welcome to give your honest feedback on the blog that we’d love for this to be a constructive experience for everyone. Don’t just tell us what you don’t like – share what you’d do to improve it.

I started Man Vs Debt. in the last week of March 2009 (this year). I originally started it to chronicle Courtney and my journey to get out of debt. We were in the final stages of selling all of our possessions, paying down our consumer debt, and relocating to what we thought was going to be Australia (ended up being Australia -> New Zealand and soon Thailand).

Screen shot 2009-11-19 at 10.40.08 AM.png

It’s been amazing so far. When I got started I knew absolutely zero about blogging, just that I liked reading them. I didn’t know how WordPress worked or even what SEO stood for. But I was quickly amazed at how strong the blogging community was (and still is). This is especially true of the personal finance niche. I received an overwhelming amount of help early on from many experience bloggers, whom I would have never guessed would have taken the time to help.

Over the last 7 months or so, I’ve decided to concentrate almost all my effort on building a community. As I’ve been traveling, I’ve found a home sort of between the personal finance niche and the life design/travel niche. The blog has become even more transparent than I originally designed (which is fine by me) with us sharing our list of possessions, finances, and ups and downs of traveling.

Early on, I decided to not feature advertising on the site. Recently, I’ve picked up a small group of affiliates that I either use everyday or that I’m a hardcore fan of. I still haven’t moved promoting these to the front page, but did set up an ‘ Endorsed‘ page (pictured in part below) where I list them.

Screen shot 2009-11-19 at 10.43.23 AM.png

Current goals:

My largest goal right now is to increase my monetization. I’ve decided to focus this into product creation. I’m working a my first eBook (a joint venture), which will be a cheaper price point and will be the start of several products over the next 2-6 months. I’m trying to plan where to put this design wise on the blog, too. I’m torn between putting it in the top position in my sidebar as I’ve had a lot of success prioritizing this space with RSS, Twitter, and e-mail subscriptions.

I’ve also thought about moving some affiliates to the main page. I’ve avoided this so far, as to keep my main sidebar as clean and simple as possible. I’ve decided to focus attention onto my subscription and highlighting my most popular content.

Screen shot 2009-11-19 at 10.42.35 AM.png
Besides increasing monetization a bit, I want to continue to increase the ‘community’ factor of my blog. I’m proud of the amount of comments and want to continue to find ways to encourage people to comment. I want to feature my
twitter account and facebook account(facebook currently not featured) to connect deeper. I’d also like to focus on having people use StumbleUpon, Twitter, and E-mail to spread articles they enjoy. I think focusing in on these 3 platforms only would provide a way for different audiences to spread, but not confuse with 100 different options. I like simplicity (aka, I’m torn on whether to use the ShareThis plugin, etc…).

Also, I’d like to drive more people to convert to my e-mail list, called the Militia. I need to allow people to sign up from the main page (right now they have to click through to separate page). I run product giveaways exclusively to the list and give out special information on upcoming features, events, etc… I know I could do this a lot better. And because I will be monetizing primarily off my own information products, I need to improve sooner rather than later! :-)

Screen shot 2009-11-19 at 10.44.54 AM.png

Lastly, I want to continue to promote transparency on the blog. Courtney and I keep an up-to-date list of all our possessions ( Our Stuff page) and also track all our expenses and budgeting on a daily basis (Our Financespage). While not everyone may care for this, the majority of e-mail I get from new visitors is about these sections. It really helps establish a connection and I’m not sure I’m doing enough to promote these pages.

What Advice Would You Give on How to Improve this Blog?

OK – there’s Adam’s story and some of what he’s trying to achieve with his blog. I hope that it not only provides you with some context for commenting on his blog but gives some insight into the life, goals and approach of one blogger which may help inform your own blogging.

Adam has agreed not to make any changes to his blog over the next week (except for new content) so that we can all see the same thing and have plenty of opportunity to look his blog over and comment on it.

Over to you – what constructive advice do you have for Adam? What do you like about what he’s doing on his blog? What could he improve upon? I’m looking forward to hearing what the community comes up with and to seeing how this impacts Adam’s blog.

Warning: Watching This Video May Lead to Work! [But It’ll Also Improve Your Blog]

What’s your blogging Vice?

Most bloggers that I know have at least one – whether it be compulsively checking blog stats, constantly tweaking template designs, obsessing over plugins and widgets, spending hour after hour ‘networking’ on Twitter, becoming preoccupied with SEO and… even allowing ourselves to become consumed by learning about blogging…. and not doing much of it.

The reality is that as bloggers there are many tasks that compete for our attention. Many of them are important and can bring a lot of life to our blogs but most of them can also become distractions and counter productive to our blogging if we allow them.
[Read more…]

13 Ways I Get Back into Blogging after a Vacation

Yesterday was my first day back at blogging after a 10 day vacation with my family and on Twitter I commented that I was finding it a little hard to get my brain back into blogging mode. @Mikeachim responded by suggesting I write a post on the daily rituals that I use to get my mind into gear.

I thought I’d take his suggestion and jot down a few notes – both as a way of getting my head back into blogging but also because looking at the tweets I received this morning it’s a problem many bloggers face.

As my head is a little scattered today (as I readjust) I’m going to tackle this as a list post – here’s a few thoughts:

1. Coffee

2 lattes with a sugar in each is a fairly essential part of my blogging routine.

2. Cafes

More important than the fact that I get caffeine into my bloodstream each morning is the fact that I do it in one of 2-3 local cafes each day. I find getting out of the house (I usually walk to them so get a 10 minute walk in too) helps me to snap myself out of ‘home mode’ and into ‘working/blogging mode’. I also find that blogging in public is stimulating too – sitting in the middle of a cafe is noisy and some might find it distracting but for me I find it actually helps me generate ideas and takes me into a slightly more social space than sitting alone at home in my front room.

3. Planning

I’m a fairly impulsive guy and like to go with inspiration when it hits – but I also find it helpful to spend time thinking ahead and planning posts in advance so that I have some places to start when I have a tough day where inspiration is not coming. On my laptop’s desktop I have a number of text files which are full of topic ideas, titles of posts and even half written ideas that I pull out when I’m stuck for ideas.

4. Series of Posts

Similarly I like to have a series of posts on the go at any time so that I can always write a post that adds to something I’ve written previously. For example I’m currently working on a series of posts on Principles of Successful Blogging which I add to 1-2 times a week and will keep running over a number of months.

5. Twitter

This post is an illustration of the power of having a network of people to help you generate ideas. I didn’t ask for ideas for posts but out of a conversation I was having on Twitter someone made a suggestion that helped generate an idea for a post. While Twitter can be a distraction – it can also be an idea goldmine if you use it well.

6. Face to Face

I won’t do this today as I’m manically trying to catch up on email as well as write new posts – but I do try to schedule in face time with other bloggers, twitterers and entrepreneurs ever week or two. This is partly just because I’m an introvert and could quite easily work alone for weeks on end (and need to force myself into some social interaction) but it’s also about putting yourself into places where your ideas connect with other people’s ideas – that’s often where the magic happens.

7. Capture Ideas

Another strategy that I use is to capture as many ideas as I come AS they come into my brain. I returned home from my vacation with a notes documents on my iphone that has 6-7 post ideas that came to me over the last 10 days. Some I may never use but there are a couple that will be great posts that I’d have forgotten if I didn’t immediately capture them in some way. I used to carry a notebook for this but my iPhone now does the job.

8. Exercise

I mention that I walk to the main cafe that I work out of – in addition to that I try to walk each day for at least 15 minutes. I find that this gets the blood pumping and often gives me a burst of energy to help me through the afternoons.


This might seem like pure self promotion but I’ve found the ProBlogger community to be a goldmine of ideas and inspiration. I’m increasingly finding that I come away from the forums having seen what someone else is trying with inspiration to see how their approach will work on my blogs. Whether it’s the ProBlogger forums or another one – I think putting time aside to interact with and collaborate with other bloggers is something well worth doing.

10. Mind Mapping

I’ve outlined how I do this previously in the 31 Days to Build a Better Blog workbook but using mind mapping is something I do on a weekly basis to come up with post ideas.

11. Manage Distractions

I read many articles on this type of topic that tell you to eliminate distractions. They say to get offline completely, don’t check your email, turn off Twitter etc. I’ve written about doing this previously but am starting to wonder if completely eliminating these ‘distractions’ is always a good thing. For me it’s more about ‘managing’ the distractions and setting aside time to do them rather than just ending up with a confused jumble of tasks. Instead of flipping between writing a post, email, twitter and Facebook – give yourself set times for each task. For example – in the writing of this post I’ve stopped 2 times when I’ve begun to feel my energy for the post decreasing a little. The first time I jumped on Twitter for 5 minutes, the 2nd time I cleared a few emails. Each time I gave myself 5 minutes for the other thing and was disciplined about jumping back into writing for another 10-15 minutes. Perhaps this is just my impulsive nature Attention Deficit Disorder but sometimes I find eliminating distractions can actually make it harder to work as you’re wondering about the things you’re trying to ignore.

12. Play

Related to the idea of managing distractions I recently have been rediscovering the power of letting myself ‘play’ a little each day. While many productivity experts talk about eliminating ‘playful’ activity I think it’s actually important to spend time each day doing activity that is a little mindless and fun. I can’t explain why – but often after a 10 minute burst of playing a tower defense game on my iPhone or reading a post but funny article on a humor blog I often come back to my ‘work’ feeling a little fresh and with good ideas for my blog. There’s something powerful about letting your brain relax every now and again – the key is to manage it and not let your whole day become one big playful experience.

13. Golden Hours are…. Gold!

My ‘golden hours’ are 9-11am. This is when I do my best creative work and as a result it’s when I do most of my writing. Admin tasks, Emails and other tasks can usually wait a couple of hours until I’ve cranked out a post or two!

A lot more could be said on this topic. In fact I asked my Twitter followers how they get their brains into gear after a holiday and they came up with some great suggestions too. You can read them here.

What would you add?

How do you get your brain into ‘blogging mode’ after some time away from blogging (or first thing in the morning)?

Email Marketing is Not Dead

While at Blog World Expo recently I recorded this video interview with Abby Johnson from Web Pro News. We covered a variety of topics including why email marketing is not dead – internet marketing for smart people – the new FTC regulations and touched on a new project I’m working on with Brian Clark and Chris Brogan.

Read other recent email marketing posts on ProBlogger:

Your Final Chance to Get Membership for Just $1.95 – 3 Hours to Go

This is just a short last warning that we’re about to increase the price of our ProBlogger Community Forums.

We posted a week ago that we’re doing this but wanted to give a final opportunity. In 3 hours from now (1pm Easter US time) the price goes up from $1.95 USD a month to $5.95 USD a month. If you get in before the cut off you’re locked into the lower price forever.

Update: The introductory offer is now over.

Does Your Blog Look Like NASCAR?

In this post, Jack Gamble from Babeled talks about ad placement and the risk of overdoing it.

nascarAre you responsible for a website that has so many ads that it looks like Dale Earnhardt Jr. should be driving it in circles at high speed with a strange aversion to right turns?

That is because your advertisements are out of control.

Like all things in life, with advertising you need to know when to stop. If there is one thing that drives me crazy, it’s arriving at a blog and being bombarded by a mess of Goggle Adsense, pop-ups, and 125×125 banner ads. All of these are ways to bring in some cash for your hard work, but at what point does it become counterproductive?

Here’s a hint: if I need to scroll down to get to your content because you have nothing but ads above the fold, then I am never coming back to your site. I will not click your ads. I will not subscribe to your feed. I will not download your e-book. I will not tell my friends about you. Are you getting the point? Too much advertising on your blog is simply insulting to your readers.

You need to come up with some simple guidelines for your ad campaign and stick to your guns. I’m not going to tell you that this ad is good and that one is bad. But I will tell you that there is certainly a point where the next ad you put up will cost you money.

Try testing yourself. Click on any post in your blog and scroll down to an arbitrary point in the post. Now take stock in what you see. What percentage of the screen is dedicated to advertisement? If the number is too high, then you’re readers are not happy (if you have any left).

So what percent of space should you dedicate to displaying ads?

Let’s look at the other popular media outlets our there. In television for example, the average 1 hour show has about 44 minutes of programming and 16 minutes of commercials. That is an ad/content ratio of just over 26%.

Print magazines are far worse. The average magazine has an ad/content ratio on the order of 40%! This doesn’t exactly demonstrate a devotion to reader satisfaction. Could this be part of the reason that print magazine circulation has fallen more than 10% since 2008?

So what can we take away from these numbers? For starters, you need to get your ratio down as low as possible. Certainly the 40% magazine standard is a failing number, and in my opinion, the 26% TV figure is not much better.

All the ads in the world won’t do you any good if there is nobody there to see them. If your blog has been sitting idle with no growth in earnings, subscribers, or traffic then try removing some of the ads. You will find that a user friendly site with solid content and a few small ads will consistently outperform a confusing cluster of banners.

So unless your blog has a world class pit crew and can do more than 200 miles per hour, you better do something about your ad/content ratio. My challenge to you is get your ratio down to 20% or less. Your readers (and your revenue) will thank you.

Image: aarmono