Close
Close

The Casual Observer: Anatomy of a Multi-Author Blog

A Guest Post by Kosmo from The Casual Observer.

I am the founder and editor-in-chief of The Casual Observer, a site that has the goal of bringing an eclectic mix of fresh content to its readers every day.  We currently have ten authors contributing on a regular basis, with a handful of others writing an occasional article.  In a blogosphere dominated by niche-oriented, single author blogs, what makes The Casual Observer tick?

Why Multiple Authors?

When I started the site, I had no intention of involving multiple authors.  While I always intended for the site to contain an eclectic mix of content, I originally anticipated that I would write all the content.  The site took a slow turn toward being team written when a friend of mine mentioned that he was taking a trip to the 2009 Masters golf tournament.  I liked the idea of allowing the readers to see what goes on at Augusta, so I asked him to write a guest article.  I liked it so much that I asked him to come on board and write a weekly sports column.  This was in spite of the fact that I am a sports fanatic.  I liked what Johnny brought to the table in terms of writing talent, and his sports interests varied enough from mine to be complementary.

Over the course of the last year, I have approached other authors (or had them approach me) to write on various topics.  This has allowed me to move closer to my goal of provide diversity of content similar to that of a newspaper or magazine rather than the niche content that most blogs contain.  I knew from the start that this would be an uphill climb for readership, but my own varied interests made this more fun than a niche site.

Another reason for having multiple authors is the ability to produce more frequent content.  From day one, I have wanted to publish a new article every day, allowing readers to find a new edition of The Casual Observer at their virtual front door, much as they found the printed newspaper at their physical door.  With a full time job and two kids under the age of 3, this would be extremely difficult if I was the sole author.

How it Works

Very quickly, I laid out a document detailing the relationship between The Casual Observer and authors.  The basics were that the authors were considered independent contractors rather than employees (an important distinction in US tax law), that they retained copyright to their works, and that they should refrain from content that could be construed as defamation of character.

At the same time, I created a profit sharing agreement.  The gist of the profit sharing agreement is that after overhead costs (such as hosting) are deducted, advertising revenue would be shared proportionally, based on the number of articles an author wrote.

Am I putting the cart ahead of the horse by having a profit sharing agreement before there are actual profits?  My thought process was that it was better to have an agreement in place up front than to try to hammer one out three years down the road.  It’s much easier to get an agreement on how to split potential future income than actual current income.

Bumps in the Road

Has the path been smoothly paved and lined with fresh flowers?  Not always.  There are some problems that go along with multiple author blogs.

First and foremost, the other authors will miss deadlines.  It is a foregone conclusion that life events will sometimes prevent an author from getting an article submitted.  An author may even go on hiatus for a while when their life gets busier than usual.  When this happens, I try to put myself in the author’s shoes.  A non-paying writing gig is going to take a backseat at times.  It’s important to be able to fill these content voids when necessary.

Much more disturbing is the potential for plagiarism.  I was actually forced to sever the relationship with a former writer when I found evidence of plagiarism.  I was reviewing the current submission when I had a sudden case of déjà vu.  Where had I read this before?  Ah,yes.  CNN.  Multiple paragraphs had simply been copied and pasted.  A quick review of previous articles quickly found that they too had been copied from other sources.  At that point, I realized that I was probably a bit naïve to have complete trust in the honestly of my writers.  I now have a policy of randomly checking articles for originality – even when the author is a close friend.  I hate doing this, but it’s necessary to protect myself from copyright infringement claims.

What’s next?

I have been very pleased with the way The Casual Observer has progressed.  We currently have nearly 500 articles in our repository – ranging from sports to fiction to Middle East politics.  While I don’t anticipate a surge in the number of authors, I remain on the lookout for writers who could provide fresh content that would further enhance the reader’s enjoyment of the site.

Do you Disclose Affiliate Links?

One of the most common questions I’m asked since the new FTC regulations regarding bloggers came in is around disclosing affiliate links.

As an Australian I’m not directly impacted by the FTC and its regulations so I’ve not really had to change my own approach to disclosure – but I’d be interested to hear a bit of discussion on the topic – particularly around these questions:

  1. Do you disclose affiliate links on your blog in some way?
  2. If so – how do you do it (every time you use one, in the bottom of posts, site wide disclosures…. something else)?
  3. if so – has the FTC regulations impacted what you do?

My personal approach for the last couple of years has been to have a sitewide disclosure rather than a per post one (although here on ProBlogger I have been noting affiliate links in posts more often lately).

What about you – do you disclose affiliate links?

Tips for Doing the 31 Days to Build a Better Blog Challenge

A Guest Post by Elle from Couple Money.

I’ve been blogging for a couple years now and I’ve enjoyed it tremendously. Couple Money is not my first blog, but it is the first one I created with a specific goal in mind. I wanted to share how we’re building our net income while creating a mobile income from our passions and create a community of like minded couples.

My other sites started off as personal blogs and haphazardly morphed as I gained readers. Without a particular goal or process, the blogs’ growth tapered off. I wanted to change this with Couple Money and I knew I needed to get it done sooner rather than later.

I’ve been a reader of Problogger and after reading the 31 Day Challenge that Darren presented, I knew this is something I need to improve my site. I completed my Challenge last weekend and I wanted to share some tips I’ve done to maximize the Challenge for my blog.

Promoting Your Blog Post Effectively

One of the first tasks in the challenge is promoting a blog post. I’ve been guilty of promoting my blog posts to the annoyance of other readers and bloggers when I first started a couple of years ago. I had thought the best way was to keep posting updates on new posts. I learned the hard way that method does not work. When I receive constant direct messages on Twitter to promote posts, I feel less inclined to help, even if they’re good posts.

I was happy to see what I could do to promote my posts without seeming spammy. I tend to promote my posts through Twitter and I mixed them up with posts from other bloggers that I’ve found very informative. Since I work during the day, I try to batch my tweets as I review sites in the evening. While that’s great for me and my schedule, it wasn’t too effective.

I found that releasing them around the same time does no one any good. Not too many people clicked to read my posts or other people’s posts because they felt overwhelmed. I decided to make it a win-win situation. I now use Su.pr to schedule my tweets and spread out some community promotion through out the work day.

The Seesmic app is my buddy on my phone to keep in touch. I check replies and messages on my Samsung Moment during breaks and lunch during the day to communicate with my network. I also try and take the time to thank everyone who retweeted my posts. I think that appreciation and gratitude goes a long way with effective promotion.

Interlinking Old Posts Quickly and Easily

Writing posts that can grab readers’ attention is great, but it’s only part of getting a community started. I realized I needed to get my visitors to dig deep and become readers. The best way to help them is presenting them relevant links within the posts they’re interested in enough to read. In addition to helping readers, including relevant links can improve your site’s SEO strategy.

Darren suggests making interlinking a routine part if your blogging activities. To maximize my relevant links and minimize my time doing it, I use CrossLinker and Insight. These two plugins have helped me to quickly create links to my pillar posts and my best content. Crosslinker allows me to focus readers to my pillar posts and choose which keywords to link to it with. Insight is very helpful as I’m writing my post, as I can search for my posts and other blogs for helpful and resourceful links.

I’ve noticed that completing this task has improved my incoming search traffic for certain keywords. I’m starting to get on the first page of results for my relatively young blog. As I continue making interlinking to older posts a habit, I’m hoping to get even more improvement.

Find Some Blog Buddies to Turbo Charge Each Other

If you want to build a community, you have to be a part of one. Day 15′s task was to find a partner to help encourage each other to improve. I checked out some tips on finding blogging buddies and decided to join a small band of bloggers with the Yakezie Challenge. It’s the perfect combination of camaraderie and friendly competition that I needed. As a reader of Financial Samurai, I noticed his challenge to other bloggers to improve their sites by using Alexa as a gauge.

I compare it to someone who’s looking to get in shape by joining a neighbourhood sports team. You’re working hard to improve your game, but the teamwork makes it seem more like fun instead of just fitness.

So if you’re looking at finding a blogging buddy, my suggestion is to look around your niche and find some bloggers who are hungry and have a specific goal you share. Being a part of your niche’s forums is definitely important, but having a competition really focuses you on getting your work done.

Breathe Life Into an Old Post

As I noticed more search traffic for my blog (loving the results of this challenge!), I saw the need to follow Day 21′s task advice on going back and improving my old blog posts. My problem was that I didn’t have a large block of time to research what I needed to do to make it more resourceful and while still keeping up with current posts.

I decided to beef up posts based on my first time reader review (Day 17) and from analytic tools: Google Analytics and WebMaster Tools. My goal was to make sure older posts were providing information that my readers were looking for. I checked several statistics to see what I needed to focus my attention on:

  • Popular Posts: Since time was limited I focused on posts that were already getting some attention and just needed a bit more to help them stand out.
  • Search Terms Used: I wanted to see how readers were finding these posts and if there were any specific questions they were asking. I can either adjust a post with an answer to that question or write a new posts and link to my older posts.
  • Heat Map: On my homepage, I include links to some of my older posts. I look and see which ones are popular and try and figure out why.

I recommend doing this on a monthly basis with your older posts and just focus on what your readers want to read more of. After all, if you’re looking to build a community, it can’t always be about you. Looking at older posts can be a bit easier to see objectively and you can address your readers’ needs more effectively.

What’s The Plan Now?

I have to admit I was really sad to see the challenge over. It was really easy to follow along a daily blogging schedule and having a specific goal to achieve. Having a framework to write and work from helped me to be more productive.

I decided I’m going to use the 31 Day Challenge as my guide for the rest of the year. Instead of going through the guide in the traditional 31 days, I’m going to focus each week on one of the daily tasks. I’ve seen how the guide has improved the quality of my content and the community so I want to really dig deep and focus on all the activities I can do with each task.

How about you? How have you maximized the 31 days to Build a Better Blog Challenge with your site?

Elle has been blogging over at Couple Money on how she and her family handles their finances. To follow Elle you can chat with her on twitter (@Elle_CM) or subscribe to her blog.

30 Valuable Lessons Learned Using Social Media for Small Business

In this post Mark Hayward shares some great tips on social media for small business.

social-media-small-business.jpg

Image by jn is not here

Do you own a small business? How long have you been using social media as a marketing tool and what have you learned?

In a little over a months time I will have owned my business for just about three years. When I began using social media some thirty six months ago, I had no real marketing background experience, and I certainly had never written a blog post, interacted in a forum, or sent a Tweet.

My social media evolution began with a simple foray into blogging as a way to try and rank well for some keywords related to my business. From there I expanded to niche forums, review sites, FLICKR, YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter.

Man! Just trying to keep up can be intimidating and overwhelming.

However, my number one goal has always been to create a distributed social media footprint with all of my online marketing activities pointing back towards my small business website.

After almost three years of working hard, learning continuously, making lots of mistakes, and monitoring successes, below are thirty valuable social media marketing lessons that I have learned through my experience. I hope they help you:

1. Location is dead. We have now fully entered into the Interaction Economy.

2. It does not pay to engage in ‘pissing contests’ on business review sites or in forums.

3. When used properly, a small video camera like a Flip and a standard digital camera (or just an iPhone), can be like having your own marketing department.

4. Instead of trying to be everywhere in the social media space, determine what online activities work best for your business and focus your attention there.

5. Search Engine Optimization(SEO) is important but it needs to be combined with a well distributed plan for Search Engine Visibility (SEV).

6. Conceptualizing and then defining your social media goals can help to keep you on track.

7. Social networking sites can be a tremendous time suck. Use a site like Egg Timer to help limit the time you spend interacting online.

8. Get to know the online influencers in your small business niche, as well as, the social media pros.

9. There is gold to be mined with Twitter Search if you are willing to use it to listen, engage, and provide value.

10. Uploading well titled and tagged videos to YouTube and photos to FLICKR can drastically improve your Search Engine Visibility.

11. Consistent small business blogging pays the greatest returns.

12. Technology changes daily. Read often.

13. You should not fear customer review social sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor. Rather, you should embrace them.

14. Helping people online when they least expect it can bring you great rewards.

15. Even on your worst day, you have to remember that every interaction counts.

16. Spamming and jamming your business down the throats of potential customers only drives business away.

17. Not everyone is going to like you, so be prepared to get flamed and read negative reviews.

18. Turn negative reviews into a positive by using them to help better define who your ideal customer is.

19. Your backstory matters and weaving it into your online business persona is important.

20. Social media is a lot like exercise. Doing a little bit consistently everyday will produce better results than one eight hour marathon session per month.

21. The people who criticize you the most for using social media to promote your small business are the one’s who are most afraid of embracing change.

22. One of the easiest ways for small business owners to measure social media ROI is to ask every customer how they heard about your business.

23. When starting your social media marketing efforts for your small business you will get frustrated. Try to keep a long term outlook like six months to a year.

24. Don’t discount the power of niche forums that are related to your small business.

25. Use Google Alerts to see who’s talking specifically about your business and anything related to your business.

26. If you are using social media as a customer service tool, when something goes wrong (and it always does!), being sincere, humble, and apologetic will be greatly appreciated by your future potential customers.

27. Utilizing free email lists like Help A Reporter Out (HARO) can help you find valuable public relations and news opportunities for your business.

28. Social media in the short term does not work. You must be in it for the long term and be persistent, consistent, and committed.

29. Anyone who owns a small business can ‘do’ social media, but NOT everyone ‘does’ it. (And that is your true competitive advantage.)

30. If you have a spare hour or two everyday to aimlessly surf the net, or sit and watch T.V., then you have more than enough time to commit to using social media for your small business.

How long have you been using social media for your small business? What have you found works best?

Mark Hayward hates the snow and cold! Luckily, he owns a small business in the Caribbean. Mark is passionate about helping other small business owners avoid the online mistakes he has made. You can follow Mark on Twitter @mark_hayward and you can subscribe to his RSS Feed for weekly small business social media marketing tips.

Updates from SXSW

Over the last few days I’ve been in Austin Texas attending the South by South West Interactive (#SXSWi) conferences. Sometimes known as ‘Spring Break for Geeks’ I try to get out to this gathering each years because there are so many of my colleagues in attendance and it is an opportunity to meet up with old friends, network, do a little business and a meet a few readers at the same time.

Today is the last day of SXSW (I return home tomorrow) and despite some late nights I woke up this morning with a start on the dot of 5am (jet lag sucks). As I lay in bed reflecting upon the days I’ve just had I just started to feel very very grateful for this opportunity and especially the chance I’ve had this week to interact with some very special people.

A few highlights come to mind:

People Practicing the Art of Saying Hi

Lets start with what has happened constantly, day and night, since arriving. The people who come up and introduce themselves are amazing. Whether they be past or present readers of ProBlogger (or one of my other blogs), members at Third Tribe, previous bloggers from b5media….. the amount of people who have come up to say hi has been amazing.
I think what I enjoy so much about these real time and face to face interactions is that it makes me realize in a more tangible way that what I do as a blogger impacts ‘real people’. I find it very inspiring and a great reminder to keep building a blog here that helps such people to take their blogs to the next level. If you are one of the people who stepped up (sometimes a little out of your comfort zone) to say hi – thank you.

Salaam Garage

One project I came across on day 1 was Salaam Garage – founded by Amanda Koster (a photographer, author, speaker… and great person) – Salaam Garage brings together a variety of things I am interested in and passionate about – storytelling (with writing, video and image), humanitarianism (partnering with international NGOs) and traveling in teams. You can read more here.

Book Reading

On Friday at 5pm (day 1) I had the opportunity to do a book reading to promote the upcoming 2nd edition of ProBlogger the book (I’ll talk more about this in coming weeks as its launching late April). In the 20 minute session I planned to share what was new in the 2nd edition and run through a case study on my photography site (which is a new chapter in the book).

The session was 20 minutes but 10 minutes in a siren began to sound and an announcement came over the speaker system saying that an emergency had just taken place in the building and that everyone should evacuate. Wow – talk about a mood killer :-) Everyone calmly filed out (literally thousands of people in the building at all of the different sessions taking place at that time).

My stomach sunk a little as I realized how far I’d travelled for this 20 minute session that was now potentially just 10 minutes but even as I traveled down the escalators people were very kind and I met some amazing people. Luckily we were let back in the room 10 minutes later and I was given 10 minutes to finish my presentation.

About half those who had been there returned which was great. The other half of those who were there for the 2nd half were there for a completely different book which was strange but it seemed to go ok!

I’ll turn the presentation into a video in the coming weeks but in the mean time if you’d like to see what the reading was like you can read the notes of one person in attendance here and here and see some visual notes on it here.

Photo Shoot – Meeting Jasmine

BlogDarrenRowse0010.jpgAs I was leaving the book reading (the first time…. during the ‘emergency’) a number of people said hi – one of whom was an amazing photographer by the name of Jasmine Star. I’ve long admired Jasmine’s photography and have particularly enjoyed watching her blog develop over the years (she is someone who uses her blog VERY well to build her business – a great case study). Jasmine is a photographer who many of my dPS readers LOVE too.

We only met fleetingly on the elevator but later that evening Jasmine emailed me to ask if she could photograph me. I’d only been telling someone earlier that day that I needed to get some new headshots taken and so when the opportunity came to have someone of Jasmine’s calliber take them I leapt at the opportunity.

The shoot was fun and it was interesting to watch how Jasmine approached it – but even better as the opportunity to hang and connect with someone like Jasmine who is a very genuine person. You can see some of the results of the shoot at her blog (tell me which shots you like best as I’ve got to choose some).

Other Stuff

There are numerous other great things that have happened at SXSW this year. We had a great meetup for Third Tribe (at a pretty wacky bar), I spent a great relaxing afternoon with a smaller group of bloggers at a house party, there have been some fun larger parties in the evenings, I’ve done a number of fun interviews with both bloggers, media and for the promotion of the book and have had opportunity to catch up with some good friends who I’ve not seen for a while.

All in all I’m feeling very very grateful and lucky to be in the position I’m in. I’m also feeling pretty inspired to keep at what I do and to be as useful as possible.

7 Ways to End a Blog

Yesterday I wrote a post about some of the factors that bloggers might consider when deciding whether to end a blog or not.

Today I want to continue the theme and look at some options available to bloggers who have decided to end their blog but who don’t quite know how to do it.

Here are some of the most common ways that I’ve seen people end blogs:

1. Sell It

Before you decide to delete your blog, or simply decide to stop writing – consider whether it might have some commercial worth. This might not be appropriate for all blogs (for example if you have a more personal blog you might not want to give it over to someone else) but if your blog is more commercial/entrepreneurial in nature you’ll probably find that it has some value to somebody else.

There are a variety of places where you can sell blogs and websites online but one of the best that I’ve had a little to do with is Flippa which has regular auctions of blogs and sites running. A quick survey of blogs listed there over the past few months has seen blogs sell for anything from two digit numbers right through to some pretty large sales (I just saw one that went for $60,000).

Obviously the more traffic and income your blog has the better but you might be surprised what people are willing to pay even for smaller blogs that have been around for a while and which have some page rank and incoming links.

Another option if you’re not willing to give away your content but still have a domain with some commercial value is to simply sell the domain without the content. Again – if you have a more established domain with lots f incoming links pointing at it you’ll find that some will be willing to give you something for it.

2. Hire a Blogger or Take On a Partner

If you’ve lost your passion for the topic of your blog but it still has potential to generate traffic and income you might want to consider hiring another blogger/bloggers to write for your blog (or even the run the whole thing).

There would be a variety of levels that you could do this on – from hiring a blogger to write a certain amount of posts per week which you edit, to hiring someone to write and do all the editing, to hiring someone to take on everything (including managing ad sales, maintaining the blog’s platform etc).

The model for this might be to pay a per post rate or you might choose to make it more of a partnership where you share ownership and income with the other blogger.

3. Transition it to a Community Blog

This is similar to the last option but if you have a blog that does have a group of loyal readers it could be worth handing the blog over to volunteers from your community to help you keep it running. In a sense it will become a blog which is largely made up of guest posts from readers.

This approach will only really work if you have an established readership who feels strongly that the blog is something that they believe in and want to keep running – even if it costs them some time to contribute to.

4. Relaunch

One option that I’ve not seen done many times but which could be considered is to refocus or relaunch your blog. This will probably only work if you have a domain name that is suited to more than one niche but instead of completely scrapping your site and starting again from scratch on a new domain perhaps you could build upon the Google rank that your blog has and start a new one on the same domain.

Again – there would be some branding considerations to keep in mind here and it work work best with a small shift in topic, but it could work in some situations.

5. Stop Writing But Let the Blog Sit as an Archive

I’ve done this a number of times – instead of just deleting my blogs I generally will just stop writing and then let them sit on the web in archive mode.

The benefit of this over completely deleting your blog or letting your domain name lapse and someone else grabbing it is that you keep the option open of using it again later and if you are monetizing it you have the opportunity to keep earning a little money from it in the mean time.

The other benefit is that you still are making your content available to readers who might be loyal to your blog and who want to keep referencing what you’ve written previously.

I’ve seen a number of people take this approach and also take up a more aggressive monetization of the site, do some link building to it and treat it virtually like a more static website that targets search traffic.

6. Redirect Links to a New Project

Another approach to consider if you’re starting a new blog on a similar topic is to set up your old blog and get it redirecting its permalinks over to your new project to help that new project get established with a little extra SEO juice and forwarded readers.

This is something I’ve seen a few SEO types do quite successfully and could be well worth doing instead of deleting your blog and not building upon what you’ve already done.

7. Delete it

This would be my last preference for most blogs but could be an option if you don’t want to keep paying for a domain/hosting and don’t care if your content disappears for ever.

I would probably sell my blog before doing this (or at least sell the domain) but I suspect that this is probably the most common approach among bloggers who simply let their domain names lapse and/or switch off their hosting.

What Have You Done with Old/Dead Blogs?

I’d love to hear what approaches you have taken with your old/dead blogs? Have you done some of the above or have you tried something else. Please share your experiences of ending blogs in comments below.

When Should You Quit a Blog and Move On?

Over on Twitter last week @ChrisGuthrie asked me – ‘At what point should you quit a blog and move onto the next project?’

It is a good question and one that I’m not sure that there is any single answer for – however I can certainly talk about what has led me to quit some of my previous blogs. There have been a variety of reasons – in fact in most cases it was more than one reason that led me to quit a blog. The reasons included:

  1. Lack of Passion/Interest in the Topic – I went through a phase where I decided to choose topics to blog about that I thought would be profitable – rather than choosing things I had an actual interest in. After a few months of blogging on these topics I soon realize that I simply could not sustain them.
  2. Lack of Traffic – there have been a few instances where I started blogging on certain topics that I did have some interest in – but which didn’t attract traffic. In one case I think it was because the niche was too narrow and people just were not searching for the topic, in another instance there was so much competition in the niche it was difficult to break into but in other instances I think it was probably more to do with my lack of passion for the topic shining through (people can tell if your heart isn’t really in it.
  3. Lack of Profit – this one tends to flow out of a lack of traffic (which can flow out of a lack of passion….. see how they’re all linked?) but at times I’ve quit a blog simply because I couldn’t justify keeping it running for the amount of time I was putting into it.
  4. Lack of Engagement/Lack of Personal Satisfaction – one of the blogs that I quit a couple of years ago actually got quite good traffic (mainly from search engines) and actually was quite profitable – however I found the idea of developing a blog purely for search traffic to be quite un-stimulating and unsatisfying. The lack of reader engagement and the fleeting visits from visitors didn’t really leave me feeling I was doing much that was worthwhile – I so I let the blog die to create blogs that were not only profitable but also hopefully more engaging.
  5. Running out of Things to Say – this one relates to a few of the other reasons however is worth saying. I can recall one blog which I started which I simply couldn’t think of more than a handful of posts to write about. The niche was too narrow to really sustain it over the long haul.
  6. The life of the Niche Ends – one of the first profitable blogs that I developed (in partnership with another blogger) was one on the Athens Olympic games. While it was an amazing experience to blog about it and it was a very profitable time in the lead up to and during the games – the niche simply ended. We could have possibly extended it with blogs on future Olympics but in the end we felt we could do better by concentrating on different niches.

I’m certain that other bloggers will have quit blogs for other reasons (please share yours below).

Two Extra Thoughts

There’s two more things I want to throw into this discussion:

Don’t Quit Too Early – One thing I do want to emphasize is that I think many bloggers quit blogs too quickly. Not every blog will be hugely profitably or get loads of traffic – however those that do often take quite a few months (if not a year or two) to start reaching their potential.

In having talked to thousands of bloggers over the last 6 or so years I’ve found that most bloggers who quit blogs tend to do it in the first 2-3 months. While you can get a bit of an indication on some factors in this time (factors like your own passion for the topic, whether there’s much to say about the topic etc) it is certainly not long enough time to expect your blog to have reached its traffic potential.

It takes time to build a profile, to get ranked by search engines and to develop an archive of useful content. In my experience 3 months is just the tip of the iceberg of a blogs potential. My own blogs have not really ‘taken off’ for at least a year to 18 months after launch.

It is OK to Quit – The other balancing factor that I’d throw into the mix is that it is ok to quit a blog. I’ve talked to a number of bloggers over the years who ended up feeling trapped by their blogs. They realized early on that the blog wasn’t getting traction and that they might not have had a real passion in their topic – but because they’d been writing content every day for it for a period of time they felt guilty in giving up on it. As a result they continued to blog for years to come despite knowing that it probably wasn’t worth doing.

Hanging in there an giving a blog time to grow is one thing – but continuing to blog on a blog that you know deep down isn’t really going anywhere it probably not a wise thing. In this case I’d be encouraging a blogger to consider either ending their blog, hiring or partnering with someone to help them blog or even selling their blog – all of these things will enable you to move onto something else that perhaps is a better fit for where you are.

Tomorrow: How to Quit Your Blog

In my next post I’m going to continue this train of thought and share a few options from my experience on HOW to quit a blog.

Navigating the Middle of Your Post – Without Getting Lost

A Guest Post from Ali Hale from The Blogger’s Guide to Effective Writing.

You know how to hook the reader at the start of a post. You know how to end on an strong note. But somewhere between that gripping first sentence and that finish-with-a-bang last sentence comes … the middle.

I’ve just released an ebook, The Blogger’s Guide to Effective Writing, and while I found plenty of great advice about beginnings and endings of posts, I found surprisingly little about the middle. And yet, the middle of your post:

  • Is where most of the content lies – this isn’t an intriguing anecdote or a punchy call to action, it’s the meat of what you want to say.
  • Can easily lose the reader – have you ever started reading a post only to end up skimming within the first few paragraphs?
  • Often loses us as writers – have you ever begun writing only to get bogged down somewhere part way?

The middle of your blog post doesn’t need to be a hard slog through an uncertain wilderness. You – and your readers – can get from start to end without getting lost along the way. Here’s how.

1. Know Where You’re Going

Firstly, you need to know what journey you’re on. Although some bloggers can pull off a rambling, digressive style, most of us can’t. Having a clear title or topic in mind (even if you revise it later) helps. Be clear – in your own mind, and in your post’s introduction – what ground you’re going to cover.

Is your post going to be a step-by-step walkthrough of a particular topic?

Is it a quick tip about some aspect of your field?

Is it an update about your life, or about your blog?

This is also a good time to start thinking about your call to action. You don’t just have to bring this in at the end – you can hint at it throughout. For example, if your post is aimed at selling your product, you might want to make it clear during the post that this is an introduction to a topic which you’ve written more about.

2. Get Yourself a Map

Some people like to travel without a map and to let their mood take them where it will. I’m not one of them. The last time my fiancé and I went on a journey without a map, we ended up wandering around near Lake Windermere (in England’s Lake District) for five hours…

You don’t want that to happen with your post.

With a blog post, having a map means creating a structure. I write a lot of blog posts for various sites, and I always have a template structure in my head: whether it’s a how-to post, a list post, or just a generic one. With this post, for instance, I wrote out all the subheadings at the start, to form a very simple template.

Having some guidelines in place doesn’t mean that your journey is dull and uninteresting: you can still change your mind or take diversions. It does, though, mean you’re much more likely to finish!

When I showed a draft version of my ebook to some reviewers, Dave Rowley commented that the bonus pack of templates alone would have been worth the price for him, because they provided a structure for getting him through the long middle of a post to the finished product:

They clarified things for me and made the idea of writing blog posts a lot less daunting. I have a lot of half written blog posts, most of them are pretty good content, the difficulty I’ve been having is in organizing that content into readable posts that get the point across as clearly as possible.

Just going through the templates, I started to see where I could address some of those problems. I’ve already started using them to shape some drafts and can see solid content shaping up nicely with much less effort.

Having a map lets you know what type of journey you’re on. Are you writing a how-to post, a comprehensive guide to one area? Are you writing a list post, a whistle-stop tour of lots of points of interest? Or are you writing an essay-like post which helps the reader explore?

3. Put Up Big Signposts

When my fiancé and I got lost on our epic walk, we were very relieved to stumble out of the forest onto a road which had a sign pointing us to the nearest town!

Your post has signposts too, which help break up the journey and which tell readers what’s coming next. These are your subheaders, which split your post into convenient sections. In very long posts, readers might choose to bookmark the whole thing and read one section at a time.

Signposts also help you when you’re writing: if you list your subheaders before you start, you’ll know what you need to cover in each section – which helps ensure that you say enough and not too much.

To make your subheaders into effective signposts, you need to:

  • Ensure that they make sense to someone skimming
  • Make them Google-friendly – use keywords (this helps readers find your post in the first place)
  • Use a large enough font to make them stand out. Some bloggers use bold type for subheaders – make sure you’re using header tags instead. Depending on your blog set-up, you’ll either want Header 2 or Header 3 tags
  • Make sure your signposts really do what they say! If the material under your subheading wanders far off topic, readers will be even more confused than they would’ve been without a signpost.

4. Point Out Any Dangers

Sometimes, you will want to go off on a tangent in the middle of a post – or mention something that may lose your readers.

To minimize the risk of a reader twisting a metaphorical ankle and dropping out altogether, signal any potential dangers before you reach them. Just as road signs warn about difficult stretches of road, you can alert readers to difficulties that they might be about to have.

This could mean:

  • Warning readers that the next bit of your post is quite specialized or technical, and that they can skip it. This reassures readers that the section after that is going to be comprehensible again!
  • Explaining that you’re about to go on a digression – this could mean putting a section in brackets or italics, or just saying something like “slight digression here” or “tangent coming up”
  • Pointing readers towards a blog post which explains something more fully – for example, if you’re touching on a topic you’ve covered extensively in the past, you might write, “To read more on this, check out my post…” or “If you’re not sure what RSS means, you can find out about it here.”

Here’s an example of making sure that a digression is clearly signaled and doesn’t confuse readers: the section in italics starts “Sidebar” and isn’t on the main topic of the post:

Proactive actions aren’t nearly this structured. Often times, we don’t know what it is we’re creating, let alone what effect it’ll have on the world. Nothing about being a creative is a sure bet except the consequences of not doing your thing. (Sidebar: I’ve worked with people who were physically, emotionally, and mentally sick because they weren’t doing the creative thing that would make them come alive; the fix wasn’t therapy, medication, exercise, or vacations – the fix was them doing their thing, and the rest started to fall in place.) (Charlie Gilkey, How to Lose An Hour’s Creative Mojo in Two Minutes, Productive Flourishing)

5. Make the Route Interesting

Would you last long on a walk which involved nothing but a long, grey, empty stretch of road? Probably not – unless you’re walking purely for exercise’s sake, you want some variation in the scenery.

Most of your readers are not reading your blog because they just want information. They want at least some level of entertainment and interest. Long, dreary blocks of grey text are offputting – however gripping your introduction is.

Making the route interesting means adding some visual elements to your post. This includes:
Formatting
You can do a lot to spice up a post without having to do more than press a few buttons in WordPress. Try using:

  • Lists, which are easier to take in than long sentences split with commas or semi-colons
  • Bold text to draw the reader’s eye to key points in your post
  • Blockquotes to offer interest in the form of a different voice (someone else’s words) and an inset piece of text
  • Italic text to emphasize a key word and suggest tone of voice
  • Subheadings, and nested subheadings where appropriate – just like I’ve done in this section with the smaller headings “Formatting” and “Images”

Images

A lot of bloggers just use images to catch attention at the start of a post. Getting graphical can vastly improve the middle of your post, too. Don’t use pictures just for the sake of it, but try:

  • Screenshots to enhance a technical how-to
  • Using images in keeping with the brand and voice of your blog
  • Graphics to visually show statistics or figures which you’re using in the post
  • Adding product images for a review post or a recommendation within a post

The middle of your post can easily form 80% of the content. However great your gripping introduction, readers will never reach that killer of an ending unless you get them safely through the middle first. Are your middles up to scratch – or are they losing readers?

Ali Hale has just launched “The Blogger’s Guide to Effective Writing” – normally priced at $29, ProBlogger readers can get a $5 discount by entering the code “ProBlogger”

Why Your Business Needs Friends

A Guest Post by Johnny B. Truant from The Charlie and Johnny Jam Sessions.

I got an email the other day from a man who was at his wit’s end.

The email explained that in this man’s business, he was doing many of the same basic things that I was doing, but with much less success. He had been building websites for years. He had refined his craft. He felt that the sites he built were better, more complete, and had more features and better support than mine. He had more experience than I had. He even said that he was probably smarter than I was.

Yet I was doing really well and he was not. So what was the problem?

I replied that he was looking at the situation incorrectly. Generating the business I have — over 70 current active leads at last count — has nothing to do with making better websites, or being faster, or being cheaper. And it certainly has nothing to do with being smarter. (Besides, I graduated first in my class, ahem.)

There are a million people out there who do what I do. A million people putting up WordPress sites and making them sing. Plenty of these people are better, faster, and cheaper than I am.

So I told him: People don’t come to me because I create the best WordPress websites in the world, because I don’t. The people who come to me do so because we’re friends.

This is the Third Tribe

I’m not going to argue that relationship-based marketing is better than bulk-traffic based marketing, because I know that many incomes have been built on attracting a ton of people who you don’t know and who don’t know you. However, I will say that if you’ve never truly tried to get to know your readers, followers, commenters, and casual online acquaintances, you may really be cutting off your profits at the knees.

In case you missed the memo, Darren is one of the principals of the Third Tribe — a group and a philosophy with its roots in building businesses and audiences based on interpersonal connections. If you’re operating with a Third Tribe mentality, the sheer number of people who visit your site or read your blog matters far less than the number of people you exchange a few words with, or who you help without asking for pay, or who like you enough that they’ll retweet everything you post or buy everything you put out.

A Third Tribe business is about getting as many people to like you as possible. I tell my consulting clients that my job is to teach people to make friends.

And yes, I know how naïve that sounds. But hear me out.

Most people in my shoes, looking to sell WordPress website setups by leveraging social media, would get on Twitter and announce their service’s features and low prices. They’d blast their specials and sales out to Twitter and Facebook. Maybe they’d create a fan page so that people could be “fans” of their business — because, you know, it’s really natural to be a fan of a business. They’d optimize sales pages and plan careful upsells, and they’d massage prospects through their product funnel.

By contrast, here’s how I use social media:

  • On my Facebook profile, I have photos of Robert Goulet Photoshopped into ridiculous scenes from my “travels.” (I used to use Robert Goulet as my avatar.)
  • Most of what I put out on Twitter are dumb jokes: “I’ll bet zombie dinner parties are really awkward” or “They say that true beauty is on the inside. The problem is that nobody can see it in there, so you’re still going to look ugly.”
  • A lot of my own blog posts have nothing at all to do with my business, like “I want to join Fight Club” and “Why I’m exactly like Morpheus.”

That all looks really backward, until you realize that my goal isn’t to create customers, but instead to make friends.

If you’re funny, people tend to like you. (I’m not saying you should be funny if you’re not, but if you’ve got it, flaunt it.)

If you write and talk about yourself as a whole person, rather than a one-dimensional business drone, people tend to be interested in you.

If you answer tweets and emails in a somewhat chatty, personal way instead of going for the sale when it’s not obviously warranted, people tend to enjoy talking to you.

And when all of those friends — and friends of those friends — one day have a need that you are able to fill, they won’t go to Google and look for the first search result or for the guy with the cheapest price. It’s human nature that they’ll come to you — their friend — first.

This really can be as simple as I’m making it sound. If you have an easily consumable product or service that a lot of people need and can afford, then all you really need to do is to get out there and make online friends. And they don’t even have to be friends-friends, if you know what I’m saying. They can be people who have read what you wrote somewhere and liked it. I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard something like, “I read something you wrote on IttyBiz about kung fu, and would like you to build me a website.”

I’m so not kidding.

The beauty of this approach is that it’s easy and natural if you can just unlearn some of the ingrained habits you’ve gotten used to, like a feeling that a businessperson should be “professional,” or that a fashion blogger should, you know, always talk about fashion and nothing else.

The web has magnified our interpersonal connections and the ability to meet new folks in new ways, but it hasn’t changed the fundamental nature of relationships. If we like people, then we want to hang out with them more, and do more with them. It’s that simple.

Now get out there and make some new friends.

Johnny B. Truant writes about Fight Club, tweets about zombies, and is one of the two extremely personable guys behind The Charlie and Johnny Jam Sessions. If you want to build a cool business while being a real person instead of a boring business drone, you should definitely get in on those.