Close
Close

How to Handle Criticism: a Practical Guide

Image by Stuart Richards

As bloggers, each of us has to deal with criticism. Blogging is a very public activity—almost all of us has the goal of gaining readers to our blogs—and the more people you reach, the more likely it is that you’ll hear criticisms.

“You’re wrong…”

“How can you say that? You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“I couldn’t disagree more…”

“This is the last time I read this blog!”

These are just some of the criticisms bloggers regularly face—I’ve received versions of all of these many times over the years, and if you’ve been blogging for any length of time, they’re probably fairly familiar to you, too.

Criticism can be deeply painful. As I explained here, the difficulty in dealing with criticism caused Elizabeth Taylor to ignore everything the press said about her. The discomfort of being criticised has led more than one blogger to shut down their blog, so it’s an issue that bloggers really do need to think about.

How can we manage criticism, not get dragged down by it, and maybe even benefit from it?

Embrace criticism?!

That probably sounds a little odd, but the first thing you need to do is accept—even embrace—the fact that your blog has attracted criticism.

I know that can be difficult to do, but think of it this way: you’re a blogger, and you’re tackling the tough job of putting yourself, your work, and your opinions on the line every week.

Not everyone will agree with you all of the time, but negative feedback is a sign that you’re making people think. After all, that’s one of the most common reasons why many start blogging in the first place.

Certainly, few bloggers are ever going to gleefully greet negative emails and comments the way we do positive feedback, but the first step in using that information positively is to accept it as a natural part of blogging.

Don’t take it personally—everyone gets criticisms—from the longest-standing A-list bloggers to the newest blogger on the block. It’s not pretty, but it’s part of the job.

Consider the criticism

Some criticisms are better than others. Some negative commenters just want you to know that they feel this post’s no good, or they don’t like your logo. Others are more considerate—they’ll give you reasons for their negative feedback.

There are trolls out there—people who are just negative for the sake of it—but if you cultivate the right culture of comments on your site, you’ll likely receive more valuable criticisms than trolling. If your site is the victim of trolls, you might find this post, which explains a Buddhist monk’s philosophy of dealing with “haters”, helpful.

Be careful, too, not to discount a brief criticism that lacks detail as “just trolling.” Sometimes what appears to be a thoughtless negative comment from a troll can turn out to reflect an undercurrent that’s taken up later by more constructive commenters—and that can be extremely valuable to you and your blog.

Making use of criticism

I find it’s best, wherever possible, to take the emotion out of the criticism. So if you have more than one negative comment on a post, look first for those that are written reasonably and respectfully. These kinds of readers are advancing ideas for you to consider so you can better meet their needs. Have a read, but don’t take the feedback personally, or even on board, just yet.

Now look at the remaining criticism—the angry or otherwise emotional feedback. Think as objectively as possible about how that supports the other feedback. If you could boil down the feedback to one thing, what would it be? What was it that readers didn’t like about this post or product?

Criticism often falls into one of a few categories:

  • a difference of opinion
  • a lack of perceived value
  • a sense of frustration linked to an underlying problem the reader is struggling with.

If you can work out which of these problems is at the root of the criticism you’ve received, you can do something about it.

A difference of opinion may cause you to re-check your facts, do a little research, and respond to the criticism with evidence that supports your case—perhaps in a follow-up post.

A lack of perceived value may encourage you to tweak the way you present value through your blog. It might also prompt you to post on different topics or try different approaches to the topic in question. This may even open up your blog to a broader audience over time.

A sense of frustration among readers can give you real insight into deep audience needs, and what you can do to meet them.

Take it on board

Now’s the time to take the criticism on board—but not emotionally so much as practically.

Now you know what the real issue is, you can undoubtedly think of a few ways to try to tweak your work to try to cater to the needs your readers have flagged.

“Tweak” is usually the right word here. If you take the criticism personally, you’ll be more likely to make drastic changes that can end up undermining your blog and possibly disappointing the majority of readers who like what you do and how you do it. So act with caution—but do act.

On the other hand, if the negative feedback is overwhelming, you might do well to respond (not react!) with corresponding passion, showing your audience that you’re listening, and that their feedback is important to you.

After all, they took the time to tell you what they didn’t like, which means they do care about you and your blog. A criticism says, “I want your blog to be what I want.” It’s up to us as bloggers to decide if, and how, we want our blogs to be what those readers want.

How do you handle criticism on your blog? Share your tips with us in the comments—we could all use some help handling negative feedback.

An Easy Way to Decrease Your Unsubscribe Rate

This guest post is by Michael Alexis of WriterViews.

Frustrated with unsubscribes on your newsletter?

You aren’t alone. Most of the metrics associated with our newsletters are fun to watch.

  • Subscribe rate going up? Cool.
  • Open rate rising? Awesome.
  • Clickthrough rate skyrocketing? Yahoo!

Decrease your unsubscribes

Image by Bruce Berrien, licensed under Creative Commons

So, what is it about unsubscribe rates that is so darn frustrating? Maybe it’s the feeling of rejection that the reader no longer finds enough value in our work. Perhaps it’s the wondering whether they only ever signed up to get our download-bait. Or it could even just be the dissatisfaction of not knowing why all these people are unsubscribing.

Whatever the reason, wouldn’t it be nice if we could just put a stop to unsubscribes for good?

Ana Hoffman of Traffic Generation Cafe is pretty transparent about her blogging strategies. So, when earlier this year, I interviewed Ana, I wanted to find out how she builds and maintains her email list. This post is about the specific tactic Ana uses to drastically cut unsubscribe rates to her newsletter.

The problem isn’t what you are doing

Since you’re active in the world of blogging about blogging, you already know:

So you know all about how to get subscribers and engage your readers. And it’s a lot of work, right? But you are doing it. That’s why we have to look elsewhere for the underlying cause of email unsubscribes.

The problem isn’t what you are doing.

Read that again.

No. The problem is what you aren’t doing.

The problem is what you aren’t doing

The underlying cause of newsletter unsubscribes is that you aren’t building relationships with your readers. Sure, you’re writing content that is useful for them. Sure, you write with the voice you speak in. Sure, you share your strong opinions. Sure, you drop little snippets about your personal life. All of those things can help build relationships, but in the end they suffer from one fatal flaw: you’re broadcasting a message from one to many.

So, how often do you reach out to your subscribers, one by one?

Cut your unsubscribe rate

Hey, wow! Nobody ever did that, you are actually real and respond to your emails.
—Ana Hoffman

You will cut your newsletter unsubscribe rate by building relationships with your subscribers. You do that be reaching out to them one by one. By engaging subscribers in personal dialog, you show them you are a real person sitting behind a computer writing live emails. You show them that you aren’t just looking to flood their inbox with a series of canned autoresponses. And you show them that you actually care and appreciate having them around.

The key here is to change the perception of a one-to-many broadcast into a one-to-one conversation.

Sounds like the right approach doesn’t it?

How Ana does it

Ana uses a simple strategy to engage one-on-one with every subscriber to her newsletter.

She writes them an email.

Here’s her process. First, she sets aside 15 minutes at the end of the day to email her new subscribers.

Second, she opens up each of the “new subscriber notification” emails she gets from Aweber.

Third, she responds to that email (which goes to the subscriber) and changes the subject line to something like “good morning!” or “good afternoon!” Ana says this step gets her a lot of feedback like “Wow, either your responder is so good it knows the time, or you are actually there!”

Fourth, she writes the content of the email. Something like “Hello. Thanks for joining my list. Welcome. I’m here if you need help.”

Fifth, she customizes the email. If she notices someone’s email ends with “.au”, she’ll say “It’s evening my time, but afternoon in Australia, so good afternoon!” There is a free add-on to Gmail called Rapportive that shows you details of the person you are emailing, including their location.

Sixth, she presses send. And bam! With just a little bit of daily effort like this, you’ve built a relationship with every subscriber on your list!

How do you build relationships with your email subscribers?

Photo Credit: Bruce Berrien

Michael Alexis posts video interviews with the world’s top bloggers at WriterViews. The interviews cover strategy, tips and tactics for becoming a ProBlogger.

If I Were the Blogging Police…

This guest post is by Karol K of ThemeFuse.

Is it just me, or do you ever find yourself in a situation when you just want to lock someone up for the things they’re doing either on their own blog or while commenting on other people’s blogs?

You know, moments when you wish you were the blogging police … anyone?

I do. Quite often actually. And I am by no means perfect myself. But you don’t have to be perfect to have an opinion, just like you don’t have to be a musician to be able to tell that you don’t like a song.

So even though I am not perfect, I’ll tell you what I’d do if I were the blogging police. The list isn’t long, thankfully, just a handful of points. When I’m done, though, I want to hear what you’d do if you were on my blogging police taskforce.

1. Lock people up for publishing lame list posts

A lame list post in one that makes you immediately think “how obvious can you get?!” This doesn’t happen that often nowadays, but when it does it strikes hard, with no warning.

A lame list post is one where every single thing on the list—every piece of advice—is just so utterly obvious that the only possible reason for writing such a post is not to forget about all that stuff. You know, it’s the personal-reference-file kind of a post.

I’m sorry, but if you’re writing a list post on blogging and it includes “care about your readers”, you need to think your post trough one more time, for everyone’s sake. Which brings me to…

2. Lock people up for saying “you need to publish quality content”

Somewhere in the world a unicorn dies every time someone uses this phrase in a blog post. This one piece of advice has been around forever. Everyone knows this by now. You really don’t need to say it.

But I’m sure you did. I know I’m guilty of this too. Thankfully, there’s no blogging police. (Nor do any unicorns actually die.)

3. The rule of “3 strikes and you’re out” for spammers

“You’re out”?! Does that mean “no more internet for you”? Well, some people should really get a lifetime Internet-access ban for spamming in comments. You know—comments like this:

Great post!” … submitted along with an anchored name of “web design san diego” or something.

Or:

I find your opinion quite interesting but the other day I stumbled upon a completely different advice from another blogger, I need to think that one through, thanks for posting.” … with a similarly search-optimized name. This is actually a clever piece of spam because it seems legitimate, but you can actually submit it below every blog post in the world, and it would sound equally relevant.

Imagine how much better the world would be if every spammer had only three chances, after which they’re gone forever.

4. Lock people up for saying that “doing what you love is the only way”

No, it’s not, and it shouldn’t be. I love sleeping, for example. Is anyone gonna pay me for that?

Okay, I don’t want to be that harsh, but just bear with me, and try to think of all the possible professions in the world—everything that needs to be done to make the world go round, including things like moving out the trash, cattle breeding, and being a politician.

The reality is that “doing what you love” is only one of many possible scenarios. You can create equally successful career out of “doing what you should do,” “doing what you’ve been taught to do,” and “doing what needs to be done.”

5. Lock people up for publishing “sorry I’ve been away” posts

This is what happens: someone hasn’t been blogging for a while, say a month or two. And then they come back and publish a “sorry I’ve been away” post.

The usual construction of such a post is a short explanation of why the person was away, and then there’s a promise that now everything will change and the person will be posting like there’s no tomorrow.

First of all, this never happens. Chances are that the person will forget about the blog again very soon.

Secondly, no one cares.

6. Lock up everybody who’s just too much of a nice guy

Does everyone has to act like such a nice guy? The blogging world goes deep here. For some reason, many people believe that you have to be nice to everybody all the time. Well, you don’t.

If you’re nice to everybody, how are you going to distinguish someone who you really feel you should be nice to—someone who’s really special? If you’re nice to everybody, then your being nice simply means nothing. Besides, people who are nice to everybody are boring! Lock ‘em up!

7. Give tickets for using clichés or words that are just too big

I love blogging. SkyrocketEngage your readers. You need to be an authority in your niche…

The list of clichés and needlessly big words used by bloggers every day has no end.

Clichés are just annoying. And using big words to emphasize your point is just stupid.

Do you really love blogging? Would you sit in your room and cry if you couldn’t blog anymore? Would you be depressed for a month if blogging had been taken away from you? Do you wake up every day imagining how happy you are with your blog, and then go to sleep in the evening dreaming all the nice things you’re going to do with your blog the next day?

If there’s at least one “no” in your answers to those questions, then you don’t love blogging, so don’t say you do. If you have all “yeses” … touché.

This concludes my blogging police wishes and dreams. What are yours? I’m sure there are some, if you take a minute to think about it. Of course, don’t treat this whole thing too seriously … but I would love to hear what you’d do if you were part of my blogging police taskforce. Share your pet hates in the comments!

Karol K. is a 20-something year old web 2.0 entrepreneur from Poland and a writer at ThemeFuse.com, where he shares various WordPress advice. Don’t forget to visit ThemeFuse to get your hands on some original WordPress themes (warning: no boring stuff like everyone else offers).

From Small-time Blogger to Professional Paid Speaker: My Journey

This guest post is by Marcus Sheridan of The Sale Lion.

We’re all communicators. That’s what we do. Some of us love the feel of pen in hand. Others find joy as the fingers hit the key pad. But for me, the magic is in the communion that occurs in front of a live audience, a place where I feel more at home than any other.

Like you, I’m a blogger. I’m also a business owner. In fact, I own a swimming pool company. Ten years ago, I started the business with my two partners. The challenges of entrepreneurship were satisfying for the first seven years, but three years ago I knew my time of being a “pool guy” was coming to an end and the next phase of my life would soon begin.

Although I wasn’t exactly clear where I was headed, I knew I wanted to be a professional speaker, and I also knew I wanted to help as many people and businesses as possible to reach their potential.

But to be a professional speaker, it has to start somewhere. You can’t just say, “I’m a speaker” and then boom!—all of the sudden you’re booked up for months and months.

So that’s what I want to talk about today. I want to share my journey and it is my hope that you’ll find some lessons here that you might also apply to your life, and ultimately reach the goals you currently envision.

Phase 1: Kicking down the first door

Often times, the hardest step in professional speaking is getting the initial opportunity. In my case, being in the swimming pool industry, there was one main event held each year at the National Pool/Spa Convention in Las Vegas. But to speak there, I had a few cards stacked against me. The first of which was the fact that I was only 30 years old (meaning I’d be far and away the youngest speaker). The second was the fact that I had very few connections in the industry.

Notwithstanding my low chances of entry, I decided to find out who the head of the event was, and soon learned it was a lady named Tracy. Therefore, when the show came around a little over three years ago and I attended, I found out where Tracy’s office was and, tossing all fear aside, I decided to approach her. Walking straight into her office at the show, I had the following conversation with her:

Me: Hello, you must be Tracy.
Tracy: Yes, that’d be me. And who are you?
Me: My name is Marcus Sheridan, and I’m the best speaker you’ve never had. (With a big, big smile.)
Tracy: (laughing) Really now? And tell me Marcus, what can you speak about?
Me: I’ll speak on anything you want—Sales, Marketing, I’m ready.
Tracy: How about a hot tub sales class?
Me: I’ll give the best Hot tub sales class you’ve ever had. (Again, with a big smile.)
Tracy: Hmmm, and how can I be sure you’re good?
Me: I’ve got a DVD of some videos I’ve made for my company in the past. (I hand it to her.) I think if you watch them, you’ll see I’ll be a good fit.
Tracy: What’s your price?
Me: I’m just asking for a chance. That’s all. If I’m good, then we’ll talk price for next year when you bring me back. (Again, with a big smile.)
Tracy: Okay, I’ll let you know, Marcus.

About a week later, Tracy emailed me and let me know that she was inviting me to speak at the convention. Needless to say, I was thrilled. Since that time, I’ve spoken at all the events for the National Pool/Spa Conference, and I get paid well to do so.

Lesson one: Getting in your first door sometime takes guts. I approached Tracy the way I did because I knew the cards were stacked against me. So dare to be different. Be original. By so doing, you may be very surprised to hear that magic phrase: “You’re in!”

Phase 2: Pushing harder, building momentum

Just a little over two years ago, I started blogging about content and inbound marketing for business, as well as personal development principles on my blog, The Sales Lion. Knowing that I wanted to again break into the speaking realm of my new industry, I did two key things:

  1. I produced helpful and powerful content at least two times a week, without fail, for over a year.
  2. I took the video recordings of the events I’d done in the swimming pool industry and placed them on my site so others could see me in action.

Upon doing this, slowly folks in the blogging and marketing realm started seeing me as a fresh voice and also noticed from the videos that speaking was my passion.

Wanting badly to speak at an industry event, in January of last year, I submitted a speaking application to Blog World to speak at their New York event. As many of you might know, they get hundreds upon hundreds of applications, and have to turn away a very high majority of these applicants.

In my case, it was no different: Blog World turned me down. Instead of speaking, I hopped in the plane and went to listen instead.

Like everything in life, though, things happen for a reason, and I didn’t allow the rejection of my proposal to deter the enjoyment I had for the event, and my continued vision of what was still possible.

In March of last year, I finally got my first break. Within the course of two weeks, I was asked to speak at two industry events.

The first was the MarketingSherpa SEO conference in Atlanta, Georgia. They had heard my success story of using content marketing with my pool company and asked if I’d be willing to share my message. Just as had happened two years before, they could not pay me for the event, nor could they pay my plane ticket, but it was an opportunity, and I took it.

The other invitation was from another person who had noticed my blog and read about my success as a “pool guy.” His name was Joe Pulizzi, the founder of Junta42, and he was gathering speakers for his inaugural event—Content Marketing World.

Never having seen me speak, Joe told me he could give me 25 minutes to share my message. I knew it wasn’t much time, but it was better than nothing. Once again, I had to pay my way and all of my expenses.

Lesson two: Sometimes you’ve just got to get your foot in the door, even if it costs you money. If you’re good at speaking, it will be more than worth the time and investment, as you’ll now see.

Phase 3: The moment of truth

To make a long story short, the event at MarketingSherpa was a hit. My unique story and presentation style made quite an impression, and a few weeks later the event coordinator asked me to speak at their 2012 Email Marketing Summit in Las Vegas. This time, though, I would be paid, and would also be one of the keynotes, along with Brian Solis.

Although the Sherpa conference was great, Content Marketing World was even better. The event was this past September and I knew going in that many folks I highly, highly respect in the industry would be in attendance.

Just as with the MarketingSherpa presentation, my session went very, very well. In fact, as soon as I was done with speaking, I was immediately approached by Deb Ng, who coordinates all the speakers for Blog World. On the spot, she asked me if I’d be willing to present at their Los Angeles event this past November. As you might imagine, I happily accepted, and was speaking in LA a couple of months later.

But Deb wasn’t the only one who was in the audience listening. That same day, the founder of Social Media Examiner, Michael Stelzner, asked me to speak at his online small business summit in February of 2012. This also led to guest posts on his incredible site and loads of exposure I otherwise never would have received.

Furthermore, another gentleman in the audience who was listening asked me to speak at the MeshMarketing conference in Toronto a few months later, which wound up being the first time I’d ever done an event outside of the United States.

Literally, with these two events alone, my entire career started to snowball. Now, as I look ahead to all the events planned for 2012, I can only smile.

Lesson three: Carpe diem! When the moment arrives, seize it.

Endless possibilities

This year I’ll be speaking at both Blog Worlds, and Content Marketing World as a keynote, as well as multiple other summits and conventions.

That’s the thing about speaking—once the snowball gets rolling, it will roll very, very fast, as one event will open up the door to three or four others. Unfortunately, most folks simply don’t hang around long enough to watch this snowball grow and pick up speed.

I’m not here to say that becoming a professional speaker from your blog is easy. Without question, it’s going to require guts, persistence, and an iron will. But it is possible.

So if this is a dream you have, my suggestion is you go out there and get it. Don’t wait for it to pass on by. Will your future. Walk into the office of your target event and tell the person you’re awesome.

And then, when the moment of truth comes, give the best dang presentation you’ve ever given.

If you liked this article, you’ll love Marcus Sheridan’s site, The Sale Lion. And while there, don’t miss the opportunity to download his FREE, 230-page eBook: Inbound and Content Marketing Made Easy.

How to Create and Host a Blog Carnival

This guest post is by Greg McFarlane of Control Your Cash.

Everyone has them, except possibly R.L. Stine. I’m referring to those days when you’re lacking either the inspiration or the energy to write something fresh and/or inventive.

If you can somehow get those days to occur on a regular schedule, say weekly, there’s a solution. Outsourcing.

I’m not talking about running guest posts, nor contributions from freelance or staff writers. I mean leveraging the work of dozens of other bloggers in your genre, for your mutual benefit.

Host a blog carnival: a roundup of timely posts from other bloggers, concentrating on a particular area of interest. Your colleagues write the posts, then you assemble, fold, collate, and link to them for presentation to your regular audience.

My blog, Control Your Cash, hosts the weekly Carnival of Wealth. As you can probably deduce, the carnival is germane to my blog’s focus on personal finance. The Carnival of Wealth goes live at around 2pm GMT every Monday and features bloggers from, at last count, four continents.

Every week I receive dozens of submissions, which means that my biggest challenge is getting each week’s edition of the carnival down to a workable size. The carnival posts frequently receive the most comments and trackbacks of any posts on my site. In other words, hosting a carnival means something for everyone. In descending order of importance, that’s:

  • interesting content for my readers and my contributors’ readers
  • an increase in legitimate visitors for my site
  • an increase in legitimate visitors for the contributors’ sites
  • a respite from research for me
  • inbound and outgoing links aplenty for everyone.

Where it all began

I’d love to take credit for creating my carnival from scratch, but the truth is that I picked it up secondhand. It’s the brainchild of Shailesh Kumar at Value Stock Guide, who started the carnival a year and a half after he began blogging about personal finance. During that period, while he got to know similar bloggers, his own blog found its voice—a fusion of personal finance and lifestyle, vaguely similar to what I do at Control Your Cash.

As a submitter to other carnivals, Shailesh had trouble finding ones whose area of interest overlapped his own. His posts were too personal finance for the lifestyle carnivals, too lifestyle for the personal finance carnivals. So he created his own, an amalgam of the two. As Shailesh puts it, “There was no one carnival that addressed this super-genre.”

Leveraging the goodwill and/or notoriety that come with commenting on other sites, the Carnival of Wealth’s founder received 20-odd submissions for each of the first few editions. Most of those were via invitation, rather than from bloggers who read the announcement of the carnival and then decided to submit.

As a carnival builds, a combination of momentum and prodding helps it grow. It requires haranguing your submitters to tweet about the carnival, and to share it on social networks, which they’ll probably be happy to do anyway. Simple courtesy dictates that anyone who submits to a carnival should offer a reciprocal link, but even the promise of a unilateral link is enough to attract other bloggers and help a carnival grow.

(If you’re wondering, I had originally offered to host the Carnival of Wealth once a month. And did so. Then, after a few months, I got the opportunity to take it over permanently and jumped at the chance.)

How it works

The mechanics of hosting a carnival are straightforward. To keep the submitters happy, I’ve made it easy for them to submit their posts. My carnival has a dedicated page at BlogCarnival.com, with rules for submitting and a firm deadline. Each submitter includes a summary of her post, and if it fits (many of them don’t come close), I run it.

BlogCarnival.com sends me the submissions as they’re received, which I then hold onto and leave unopened until I’m ready to begin assembling. One thing I’ve learned is that it’s inefficient to deal with each submission as it arrives, and then add it to the carnival if it passes muster. Better to let the submissions collect until the deadline, then address them en masse in one concentrated writing session.

Hosting other people’s work in a carnival doesn’t have to mean surrendering the tone that distinguishes your blog. Far from it. I make it a point to showcase every edition of the Carnival of Wealth in the same style that my site is infamous for.

The best part of hosting a carnival is that it guarantees me a slew of readers who wouldn’t normally visit my site. Fans of the submitters who make the cut will leave comments on Control Your Cash, and hopefully bookmark it.

The Carnival of Wealth is anomalous in that the same blog hosts it every week. Most carnivals rotate among a series of bloggers, each of whom gets penciled into the schedule months in advance, whereas I seldom incorporate guest hosts. (In fact, I only do so when the Carnival of Wealth conflicts with my spot in the rotation for someone else’s carnival.)

I’d rather have people visit my site. And I’d rather have my readers know they can find the Carnival of Wealth as a regularly scheduled feature on Control Your Cash, as opposed to anywhere else. Plus the carnival roundups are just plain fun to write, and doing so gives me the opportunity to read some brilliant posts that I’d never have discovered otherwise.

Hosting a carnival can be a lot of work in the initial stages. But it’s work with a huge capacity for leverage. When you host a carnival, it fosters relationships with like-minded bloggers and readers. Done correctly, it can’t help but make your blog grow.

Greg McFarlane is an advertising copywriter who lives in Las Vegas. He recently wrote Control Your Cash: Making Money Make Sense, a financial primer for people in their 20s and 30s who know nothing about money. You can buy the book here (physical) or here (Kindle) and reach Greg at [email protected].

What 60% of ProBlogger Readers Don’t Do that’s Central to My Blogging Success

A couple of weeks ago I ran a census of ProBlogger readers to help us work out how to serve you better in 2012. Thousands of people participated (thanks to everyone!), so I thought I’d share a few of the results that stood out to me. Some of them are based upon comparisons we made to last time we ran a similar survey, around two years ago.

  • How many active blogs? 45.2% of ProBlogger readers have one active blog, 24.3% of you have two, and 11.6% of you have three blogs. Interestingly 8.7% of ProBlogger readers don’t yet have a blog and 1.6% have more than 10!
  • How long have you been blogging? There’s a real spread here. The most common response was 1-2 years (17% of responses) with the next most common responses being 2-3 years (15%), and over 5 years (15%). As you’d expect, the numbers of people who’ve been at it a while have increased as ProBlogger has been going longer.
  • How old are you? The most common age range of ProBlogger readers is 31-40 years of age (29%). Next most common was 41-50 (24%), and 21-30 (19%). I hear a lot of people say that blogging is a young person’s thing. Not necessarily: among our readers, only 2.5% of respondents indicated that they are 20 or under.
  • Gender. We’ve seen a shift here. While previously just over half of readers were male, this time we saw 56% of readers indicating that they were female. What I did find particularly interesting was that we were able to track responses based on where people were referred to the survey from (email, Twitter, G+, etc.). G+ referrers were almost 70% men and blog readers were 60% men. All other referrals were 60-70% women so there were some real discrepancies there in terms of gender.
  • Blog platforms you use. Just over half of those surveyed use WordPress.org. 21% use WordPress.com and 17% use Blogger. The other 12 or so percent were spread out considerably. Interestingly both MovableType and TypePad usage had declined since the last survey.
  • Challenges and problems faced. The biggest challenges readers identified as having were finding readers, monetization, and finding time to blog. Not a lot of change here from last time although the “finding time” response was a bit higher.
  • Monetization methods. 65% of respondents are trying to monetize their blog (a little lower than last time). Interestingly, the methods of monetization have changed a little. More people are selling their own products, more are doing paid reviews, and less are using ad networks and affiliate marketing, and selling ads directly to sponsors. The most common form of monetization, though, was affiliate marketing (35% of responses).
  • Blog design. There was a real spread of types of blog designs being used by ProBlogger readers – but the most common type was buying premium templates. This was one of the big shifts from the last survey to this one—with more and more quality services now existing to design and sell you a great blog template (like my friends at Studio Press, who do all my own blog design) I guess it’s an option that will only grow over time.
  • Email marketing. Perhaps the most surprising result for me in this census were the responses to a question asking readers if they have an email newsletter or do any type of email marketing. Around 60% of you don’t collect any email addresses from readers, or do anything with email. As I’ve written on many occasions, email and newsletters are central to my own approach. Email not only drives traffic to my blogs, it helps me make money. I cannot imagine my own blogs without email. If there was one tip I’d give on how to grow a blog it’d be to get serious about this in 2012!

Thanks to everyone for participating in this year’s census. The above info, plus your thousands of suggestions, have given me (and the team behind ProBlogger) a lot of great ideas.

In fact in the coming months, you’ll see a shift in how we run ProBlogger that’s based upon what we heard in this survey. It will impact the topics of posts you’ll see here on ProBlogger, as well as our approach on numerous other levels. Thanks for making ProBlogger more useful!

Why Kissing a Digital Baby is Better than Back-scratching a Super-famous Blogger

 This guest post is by  Shamelle Perera of Better Blogging Ways.

By now, it’s been engraved into every bloggers mind that relationships are the foundation of building a successful blog.

Then, there is this “hush hush” unwritten law, “You should build strong relationships with established pro bloggers or blogosphere influences! Their links are like gold; a tweet or Facebook like will bring you a tsunami of visitors to your blog.”

(Don’t get me wrong. This post is not a rebel rant against pro bloggers. I respect them dearly, and the work they’ve done to rise up to that level.)

Yes, it’s true that one tweet or Facebook Like from these super famous bloggers can flood your blog with visitors. However,  there are so many newbie bloggers trying to get the attention of such bloggers. It can be a difficult, if not an impossible endeavor to get on their radars. Even if you get an ounce of their attention, it might still be short-lived.

So, forget the pros (for a moment!)

Kiss plenty of digital babies

I first heard about the term, “kissing digital babies” from Stanford over at PushingSocial. For the benefit of those of you who go astray when you see the word “kissing,” Digital Babies = newbie bloggers.

Srini from BlogCastFM, goes on to say, “Emerging talent is the most undervalued asset in the blogosphere”. I couldn’t agree more.  There are really good undiscovered digital babies out there.

Whenever I see a newbie blogger who offers a different perspective (unlike the same rehashed content we see everywhere!), I don’t hesitate to promote that blog/blogger. I don’t expect anything in return. It’s just my way of saying, “Thank you”.

“Why?” you ask.

Even digital babies can teach you a thing or two

In my post, How Blogging Daddies Got Blogging Advice From Their Adorable Toddlers it was quite evident that even pro bloggers still learn from their kids.

Did you ever think that a pro blogger such as Darren Rowse could learn about blogging from his adorable toddler?

The same principal applies here. A newbie blogger may offer some new inspiration, or maybe you’ll learn a small thing which you had no idea about before. So don’t dismiss a newbie blogger easily.

“Build baby build!”

Seth Godin said, “Build baby build!” In his book Tribes, Seth encourages you to create your own tribe and look for people to join your tribe, rather than trying to join other established tribes.

Be on the lookout for digital babies who are searching for new tribes to join. With every digital baby kissed, there is potential of finding a new reader—a new member for your tribe.

Digital babies can form your new loyal audience

Digital babies will have more time on their hands to engage with you than will a super-busy famous blogger. This will mean that a digital baby will read more of your blog posts and see the value you offer. Who knows—they might even buy one of your products!

On helping…

Having said all this, I need to mention that you shouldn’t help someone with the intention of getting something in return. Help because you think it’s the right thing to do; help because you want to genuinely see the newbie blogger progress further; help because you can use your influence and pay it forward. Surely someone helped you be where you are today?

Hopefully this post inspired you to you to do something nice for a newbie blogger. Before you walk away just take five minutes to find a digital baby you can kiss. Look through your blog comments, RSS reader, guest posts, and backlinks.

See what you can do to help, and how much time you can spend. For example, perhaps you can allocate five minutes each week for a comment, retweet, etc. over the next month. Or perhaps there’s a post that resonated with you, and which deserves a backlink from your blog?

Are you convinced? Is kissing a digital baby better than back scratching a super famous blogger? When developing relationships with other bloggers, what has been your strategy?

Shamelle Perera is a full-time search engine mechanic and a part time blogger. If you are looking for thoughtful, actionable blogging tips with a fresh perspective checkout her blog, Better Blogging Ways Follow her on Twitter @BetterBloggingW, you won’t be bored!

Develop Irresistible Content with this 4-Point Formula

This guest post is by Neil Patel of KISSmetrics.

If you want to create blog posts, white papers, and even ebooks that clearly communicate your idea and compel your readers to do whatever you ask,  you need to use this little formula.

It deals with the four different learning abilities people have, but it’s also based in a rock-solid copywriting technique I’ll tell you about in a minute.

Let’s take a look.

Learning styles and decision-making

There are basically four learning styles:

  • Analytic: These learners like facts and will evaluate how your information compares to other facts and competing claims. About 20% of people are analytic.
  • Commonsense: These learners are practical and want to know how things work. About 20% of people are commonsense learners.
  • Dynamic: These learners look for interesting information, but are more gut learners and teachers. They want this information for themselves and for others. Approximately 25% of people are dynamic learners.
  • Innovative: These learners demand reasons why they should learn something. They look for the personal benefit in content. Innovative learners make up the most of people at 35%.

This analysis may seem a little too scientific for writing blog content, but it’s not. It’s really relevant to another common formula known as AIDA, which says that each of us moves through four stages in the decision-making process: attention, interest, desire, and action.

As I’ll show here, you’ll gain attention when you approach the beginning of a post with the innovative learner in mind. You’ll stoke interest as you make the analytic learner happy. When you give the commonsense learner what she wants, you’ll build desire. And finally, as you create your call to action, you’ll get the dynamic learner involved, too.

Let’s see what this approach to writing looks like.

Grabbing the attention of the innovative learner

Every good writer knows that it’s the headline that attracts attention, and explains why you should read the article. It gives a compelling reason, something the innovative learner demands.

Great headlines have four qualities. They are:

  • Unique: A unique headline is one that nobody else can use because of its unique selling proposition. If 40 other blog posts could use it, then it is too general.
  • Useful: The reason why “how-to” guides are popular is because you get answers to your problems, which, as you can imagine, the innovative learner loves.
  • Ultra-specific: My post, 10 SEO Trends You Can’t Ignore If You Want High Rankings is a good example of ultra-specific since I used both a number and isolated this post to SEOs.
  • Urgent: By putting a deadline into your headline you create urgency. For example, “30 Days until the Price Doubles” or “Last Chance: Registration Closes at Midnight” are urgent headlines.

After you’ve grabbed the attention of readers with your headline, hook them by writing a great opening paragraph, which starts with a great first sentence. Here are some examples from Huffington Post:

  • “It was a pleasure to burn.” Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
  • “I write this sitting in the kitchen sink.” I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
  • “We were just outside of Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold.” Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson

Asking questions and using statistics and quotes are also great ways to attract the attention of the innovate learner in the first sentence. So does making a crazy statement that simply can’t be true, but then promising to show your reader that it is.

Building interest for the analytic learner

Your next step in writing irresistible content is to build interest through the presentation of cold, hard facts—something the analytic learner needs. In other words, you provide proof of your claims.

Here’s an example of proof gone wrong from the copywriter Robert Bly:

A motivational speaker just sent me a free review copy of his new book, published earlier this month.

A banner on the front cover proclaims the book is an “international best-seller.”

Yet when I check it online, the book is ranked #292,514 on Amazon.

Surely, if this just-published book were in fact an international bestseller, it would be at least in the top 100,000 on Amazon right now, no?

Does the author realize how silly, or at least unbelievable, his claim to bestsellerdom looks to the intelligent reader who bothers to check?

Or is his assumption that people today are so naive they will believe anything correct?

My experience, by the way, is the opposite: people are more skeptical than ever today, and their B.S. detectors have never been more accurate.

The moral of the story is if you’re going to make a claim, back it up. Link to your sources, provide graphs and statistics. Most people are not going to believe what you say unless you have proof. So give it to them.

By the way, don’t make a claim and then search for data to back it up. The analytic will see right through that. Instead, you should start with the data and then your insight or idea will develop from it.

For example, you can tell the author behind this Social Media Examiner article started with the data first, writing a very insightful article from his findings.

Show the analytic that you’re an authority

Further proof for the analytic learner is authority. You need to prove any claims you make and then you need to show why they should believe you.

One way I show that I have the authority to speak on the subject of writing popular blog posts is by mentioning my blog that was named among the Technorati Top 100. It shows that someone else with lots of credibility recognized me as an expert.

You’ll see blogs with “As Seen In” sections with the logos of important companies and media sources, like the Wall Street Journal, underneath. This is an endorsement and it’s another way of showing you have authority.

Here’s what WordStream’s footer looks like:

If sources like Entrepreneur and CNN back you, then people feel they can trust you.

Testimonials from readers and clients are also a form of authority, so don’t forget to include one or two when appropriate.

Teasing the commonsense learner with desire

The next step in writing irresistible content is to develop desire for your claims. You’ve attracted readers’ attention, built their interest … now you please the commonsense learner who wants to know how something works.

How do you do this?

Simple. Explain what it is that your offer will do for them. Maybe you’ll show them how to pick stocks, lose weight, or grow an organic garden.

But don’t give away the farm. What do I mean by that? Here are some examples I’ve seen where writers give away the farm:

  • a blog post that explains explicitly what a guy needs to do to pick up hot women
  • a sales letter that unpacks the secret to save money for your child’s college education right in the letter
  • a video sleeve copy that demonstrates the best ways to run a marathon
  • a movie trailer that spills all the funniest jokes and the most exciting plot twists.

Don’t get me wrong: I appreciated the information. The problem is I didn’t buy any of the products or act on any of the advice. Why should I? Everything I needed to know is right in there. No wonder their conversion rate stinks.

Don’t over-educate. Tease the commonsense reader into action like this:

  • Does your audience want to overcome depression? Then tell them you have a five-step program that will transform them into a happy and productive person … but don’t give away the steps free.
  • Does your audience want to retire at 21? Then tell them how you’ve helped hundreds of people build wealth using an ebook marketing strategy … a strategy they can get their hands on once they go through a rigorous application process.
  • Does your audience want to lose weight? Then tell them you’ve figured out how exactly to do just that with the right combination of exercise, food, and vitamins. But don’t tell them what that combination is. Just tell them how these will make them live healthier and longer.

See how that works?

It tells the commonsense learner what something can do for them, but not how. It doesn’t give away the specifics.

Sometimes you can let them peek behind the curtains, like giving them just one of the steps in a six-part process, but not so much that the commonsense learner has everything she needs. Leave something juicy off, dangle it in front of their faces, and promise you will give it to them when they act.

Pushing the dynamic learner to act

Now that you’ve attracted attention, built interest and developed desire, your audience, namely your dynamic learners, should be primed to pounce on your offer. So, tell them what to do.

There are five characteristics to a good call to action:

  • Specific: Tell your reader exactly what you want them to do. “Please enter your name and email address to download a free copy of the ebook,” for example.
  • Meaningful: Readers are more likely to act if you tell them the reason why you want them to act. “Register for the event now. We only have ten seats left.”
  • Repetitive: A good call to action is repeated at least three times in your copy. Each time should be slightly different, but it should always be clear what you want the reader to do. And it should be the same thing each time.
  • Smooth: A good call to action is natural to what you are writing. It feels like it ties all your copy together neatly. And it should never scream or be full of hype.
  • Polite: It always works bests to ask your reader to do something rather than command them. For example, “Why not subscribe right now before the offer ends at midnight?” works much better than “Subscribe right now before the offer ends at midnight.”

Conclusion

Once you’ve worked your way through the AIDA formula in your copy, you’ve naturally given each learning style what they want, and in the meantime, written some pretty compelling content a large audience can’t resist.

Furthermore, the great thing about this approach is that you could break a topic up into four different posts for each learning style. Or you could do a longer post, including the above approach for all of them. Either way, you’ll create content that people find irresistible.

What other formulas do you use to create irresistible content?

Neil Patel is the co-founder of KISSmetrics and blogs at Quick Sprout.