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Blogging On the Go: Are Mobile Apps Up To It?

This guest post is by Barry Cooke of QDOS.

With the rise of mobile technology and citizen journalism, being able to blog while on the move is increasingly important.

Unfortunately, many blogging apps are limited, clunky, and make updating from your mobile smartphone or tablet inefficient.

Here we take a look at the main direct blogging apps, as well as a few additional ones that can improve the process, to see if they’re up to the challenge.

Blogging software

Blogger

The interface and functionality of this app is very stripped down. Your main and most important features are still intact—you can upload photos and videos into your post, but they have to be saved on to your device prior to posting, which means you can’t upload from YouTube, Vimeo, or any other video hosting site.

blogger1blogger

Typing into this app is cramped but bearable, similar to sending a text or an email from your phone. If you’re using a tablet, then there’s obviously a lot more room for manoeuvre.

So, if your aim is just a simple, predominantly text-based post possibly involving a picture or linked video, then Blogger’s mobile app is perfectly adequate, however it’s not capable of posts that are much more complicated than that.

WordPress

One of the most proficient mobile blogging apps is available from one of the most proficient blogging platforms available.

The WordPress app is detailed, with a multitude of features including the accessible dashboard user interface, which gives you one-tap access to every blogging feature you need, from posting and creating new pages, to comments and checking statistics.

The quick action bar makes it easy to switch between which of your blogs you want to update, refresh the content, or return to the dashboard. Posting is a joy, with the formatting toolbar allowing you to perfect your text, post links, and embed photos and video. With the latter two, you can also change alignments and alter their sizes quickly and easily.

Tumblr

This micro-blogging site lends itself well to remote blogging on smaller handheld devices such as smartphones and tablets by its very nature. It’s fast and simple to post to, with a clean, minimal mobile interface, making it potentially the most attractive out of the major three blog platofrms.

The recently updated user interface makes it easy to check the other blogs you follow, update your own, and manage multiple posts on a range of blogs. The new and improved navigation bar is more intuitive than the 1.0 version, so bloggers can do more than just post from the dashboard—we can now reply to messages, switch between posts and imbed photos, videos and links with just a few taps.

Other helpful apps

There are also some fantastic third-party apps available that integrate with all the above platforms, as well as photo and video editing software. So if you’re often including rich media in your posts, these are essential additions.

Blogsy

This is, by far, one of the most capable blogging applications on the market. It integrates excellently with other third-party apps like YouTube, Vimeo, Flickr, and Picasa, meaning embedding photos and videos into your post is as easy as drag and drop.

It also supports Blogger, WordPress and Tumblr, so if you’ve got several blogs on different platforms, you can use Blogsy to update all of them, and switch between each with just a few taps of your touchscreen.

The integrated browser means linking out is also a seamless affair. The unfortunate thing is it’s only available on the iPad, so those with smartphones won’t be able to take advantage of its myriad features for blogging on the go.

However, if you’re frequently uploading videos, photos and other sticky media to your blog, then investing in an iPad should be considered as it makes the whole process and far enjoyable and rewarding experience. And at just £2.99, Blogsy is well worth the pennies.

Snapseed

Of the numerous photo editing apps available, Snapseed is the most capable and most user-friendly, with an accessible interface that’s easily navigable even for first timers.

It offers good colour control, allowing you to alter the hue and saturation of your photographs, as well as the standard cropping, image enhancement, and scaling options you would expect.

There are a variety of filters you can apply, with very similar aesthetic choices to Instagram, including vintage and black-and-white effects. It’s also possible to integrate it with Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Flickr so sharing your perfected photos is easy. Priced at £2.99, it won’t break the bank.

Pinnacle Studio

For video editing, this app is your best bet. Its clean navigation and easy drag-and-drop interaction makes splicing your video clips uncomplicated and a lot of fun. There are options to add text and titles to your finished videos if you want to give a little contextual explanation. And uploading it to YouTube can be done with a couple of taps.

Unfortunately the controls are quite small, so this application isn’t compatible with smartphones and even if it was, it would be impossible to use. If you’ve got an iPad then the interface isn’t so bad, but many bloggers recommend getting a touch pen or stylus if you do a lot of video editing on the move as it makes the process considerably easier.

Your picks

Which mobile blogging application you choose will largely depend on the nature of your blogging, how advanced your posts are, and which media you will be uploading.

What is undeniable is the fact that if you’re embedding a lot of photographic and video content, and you’re doing it frequently while on the move, then it’s well worth investing in a tablet. The simple fact that it’s bigger makes the blogging process more efficient and far more enjoyable.

What mobile blogging apps do you use? Share them with us in the comments.

This article was written by Barry Cooke. Barry is a respected mobile usability consultant who has been working in the mobile market for over 15 years in a number of different sectors from online dating apps to finance and travel.

5 Ways You Can Become A Blogging Philanthropist

This guest post is by Stephen Pepper of Youth Workin’ It

Why should Bill Gates have all the fun?—Al Andrews

There are all sorts of reasons you may own a blog—to enhance your business site, to share ideas, to earn an income, or perhaps you just enjoy writing.

Imagine the impact you could have, though, if you harnessed the power of your blog to make an even bigger difference to mankind by becoming a philanthropist.

This may sound far-fetched, but it’s not at all. Here are five ways you can become a blogging philanthropist.

1. Write a book

“How can I be a philanthropist if I have no money?”

This is the question Al Andrews asked himself. Instead of just giving up, he came up with a plan to make money. He’d write a book and donate the profits to projects around the world.

And thus, Improbable Philanthropy was born. His first book, The Boy, The Kite And The Wind, has already raised tens of thousands of dollars that he’s been able to donate to projects that benefit others.

What can you do?

You don’t have to write an illustrated children’s book. Many blogs sell ebooks, so why not write one whose profits you can donate to a charity that’s close to your heart? The readers of your blog will be more likely to buy the book if they know it’s going towards a good cause. And it means you’ll get your ideas out to more people, even if you’re not benefiting monetarily yourself.

2. Microfinance

Adam McLane and Rachel Rodgers are both bloggers who also own their own businesses. Adam owns McLane Creative, a web development and design company, while Rachel owns Rachel Rodgers Law, a virtual law office.

Both Adam and Rachel offer microfinance loans through Kiva. These loans are used to help alleviate poverty and to enable entrepreneurs around the world to start up their own businesses.

Adam also makes a new loan for every new client he receives—check out some of the beneficiarieshere.

What can you do?

Although Adam and Rachel offer these loans as an extension of their businesses rather than their blogs, that doesn’t have to be the case. How about making a loan every time you receive x number of new email subscribers, or when you hit a benchmark of y extra monthly visitors?

3. Invest in others

At the 2012 World Domination Summit, Chris Guillebeau gave $100 to every single paid conference attendee.

Why? He was investing the money in the attendees so that they could in turn invest the money themselves, whether that was through community, adventure, or service.

As Chris said, “Freely receive, freely give.”

What can you do?

Don’t worry, I’m not saying you have to give $100 to each of your readers! Instead, you could set aside some money and have your readers decide on how it should be used.

Similarly, you could allocate a certain percentage of each ebook you sell to be donated to different charities. When selling the book, offer the buyers different purchasing links depending on which project they’d like to support.

4. Leverage your readership

You may not have any money, but chances are some of your readers do. On his Stuff Christians Like blog, Jon Acuff set out to leverage his readership by raising $30,000 to build a kindergarten in Vietnam. The only thing is, he didn’t raise $30,000.

He raised $60,000. So his readers were able to build two kindergartens!

What can you do?

Set up a fundraiser, ideally for a project that has some kind of link to your blogging niche. This will encourage your readers to support the initiative.

Also, be ambitious! Jon’s readers raised the original $30,000 in just 18 hours, which is why he set a second target that doubled the original amount. Even if you don’t meet your fundraising target, you’ll hopefully raise far more than if you’d set the bar too low.

5. Advertising and affiliate schemes

In addition to Youth Workin’ It, we own a number of other (non-blog) websites. These earn a somewhat modest income of a few hundred dollars a month through AdSense, Amazon Associates and similar affiliate schemes.

As my wife and I both have full-time jobs, this income is a bonus. It therefore means we’re able to use some of this extra money to bless individuals and organizations that we wouldn’t have been able to otherwise.

What can you do?

Do you earn any revenue through your blog via advertising or affiliate schemes? If so, why not use some or all of this income to make a difference in the lives of others?

How will you become a blogging philanthropist?

There are five ideas on this list. What others can you think of that can help other bloggers become philanthropists? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

Stephen Pepper is insurance administrator by day, youth worker & blogger by night. He and his wife run Youth Workin’ It which includes a youth work and youth ministry blog. They also produce their own youth work resources, the most recent of which is 52 Scavenger Hunt Ideas.

The Value of Comments to a Profit-making Blog

We’ve talked about the issues of blog comments before on Problogger.net, but never from a point of view of profit-making.

Coins

Image courtesy stock.xchng user lusi

But as I was looking at the stats on dPS last week, I found that this short, helpful opinion post from 2010 was still attracting a steady stream of readers—and comments. I explained on Google+ why I think that post’s still so popular, but today I wanted to look a bit more closely at how comments can help a profit-making blogger.

So let’s step through some of the ways blog comments can—directly and indirectly—add to your bottom line.

Increased ad revenue

Posts that engage readers are more likely to be shared, which draws more traffic back to those posts. Commenting is a very strong kind of engagement. That lenses post really does stimulate discussion, and at the same time it’s very helpful to those trying to work out which lenses to buy.

So if someone comments on that post, they may also be more likely to share it, which would boost traffic and ad impressions. And if your blog has a “most commented” or “most popular” list in the sidebar, an ongoing comment stream could push the post into that as well, drawing more attention to it from users on other pages of your blog.

Ongoing affiliate revenue

Imagine if this post had included affiliate links to actual products. So long as I’d kept the links up to date, I could still be making affiliate revenue from a post we’d published nearly three years ago. Not bad!

Potential sponsorship

This post obviously draws strong attention from my readers. It’s been shared on Facebook nearly 1,000 times, and pinned to Pinterest more than 17,000 times.

This could give me good reason to approach brands that make the types of lenses covered in that post, or mentioned by users in the comments themselves. I could contact them to see if they’re interested in buying paid sponsorship either for that post, or an updated version of it.

Audience research for new products

The comments on the post are really insightful. Have a read and you’ll get a feel for the experience levels of the users, what brands they prefer, what they’re shooting, how they use their equipment, and so on. They’re also tagged by date, so they provide some insight into the way my audience has evolved over time.

By spending a little time going through these comments, I might easily come up with a couple of ideas for new products to try with my readers.

Encourage first-timers to engage

There’s nothing worse than clicking through from a search result to find the article you’ve chosen is old and outdated.

Comments really do keep your evergreen content fresh and alive. This is a short post, but the scroll bar indicates there’s a lot more on the page. Any new visitor who scrolled down would likely be surprised by the number of comments, and the fact that the discussion is ongoing.

They might be encouraged to comment themselves, or at least to look around the site a bit more. Best-case scenario? They subscribe to the RSS feed or mailing list, prompted by the strong evidence of a passionate readership, as indicated by these comments!

In short, comments:

  • attract attention
  • keep the discussion growing
  • are helpful to other users
  • can solicit on-site engagement in a range of ways
  • can excite users to share, driving more traffic to the post.

But there’s a catch: not all comments are good comments—especially for those with a profit focus. So let’s look at the characteristics of comments that will help you achieve the goals we’ve just talked about.

Good comment, bad comment

The kinds of comments I want to keep on my posts are those that:

  • add to the discussion, rather than just repeating the article’s main points
  • contribute insight or personal experience
  • are clearly written
  • have a username, email address, website or avatar attached.

These are the kinds of comments that potential post-sponsors will want to see, as will any advertisers or others who are considering investing marketing budget into your blog.

The kinds of comments I try to catch before they’re published are those which:

  • criticize without contribution: I love respectful disagreements in comments, because often they’re a great way to learn. But criticism that doesn’t add value is usually pretty unhelpful.
  • aren’t clear, or don’t take the post or author seriously: Again, this doesn’t really add value to the discussion. it certainly won’t inspire potential ad-space buyers about your readership.
  • simply promote their own products: Sometimes, this can be a fine line, but if a commenter simply suggests readers look at his or her own site, and doesn’t add to the discussion in any other way, I tend to send their post to the trash.

On that basis, I don’t necessarily delete comments that:

  • include offsite links
  • talk about other (or the commenter’s own) products
  • criticize or disagree with the author
  • are short or informal.

If I did that, the comments could end up feeling fairly stilted and contrived—and that’s not going to encourage further comments over time. But also, the presence of any of those things doesn’t mean the comment’s no good. Each comment really does need to be judged on its own merits, and in the context of the post and other comments that haven been made.

Taken with the post itself, the comments should ideally provide real value that encourages sharing, bookmarking, repeat visits, and more commenting—that’s where the greatest profit potential for comments lies.

Do you treat comments as adding to the overall monetization potential of your blog? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

4 Simple Steps to Get Sponsorship from Media Agencies

This guest post is by John Kelly of www.company.com.au.

When bloggers think about monetising their content, most will turn to Google AdSense for advertising revenue, and some may think about releasing an ebook or enrolling in an affiliate program. 

While these channels work for a few blogs, most will realise that the returns are frustratingly small for the amount of effort they have invested in their content.

The real advertising money is spent by media agencies. According to the IAB, in Australia alone, over three billion dollars was spent last year on online advertising, with the vast majority traded through a handful of media agency groups.

This is a source of revenue most bloggers neglect. But, with a bit of research and persistence, you can start to capture a small part of this expenditure.

What does a media agency do?

The role of the media agency is to buy media space on behalf of advertisers.  They research the brand’s target audience and match this up with advertising placements.  At the same time, they will be trying to negotiate the best rates and positions for their clients.

Once the campaign is live, the agency will track results, and optimize creative and placements in order to achieve the campaign objectives.

4 simple steps to sell ad space to media agencies

How can the humble blogger sell his or her ad space to media agencies? Follow these four steps.

1. Do your homework

Life in an agency tends to pass at a frantic pace. Many agencies are understaffed and often, the detailed planning and buying work falls on a junior.  Getting through to the right person can be a challenge.

Firstly, you need to decide which brand you are targeting.  Determine which brands have products that they would like to sell to your audience.  Concentrate on brands that are actively advertising and have money to spend.

To work out which agency handles your target advertisers account, do some research online.  A search of the local ad industry trade sites will normally tell you which agency handles the account, and buying team members are often quoted in press releases. In Australia search the ad industry sites: www.mumbrella.com.au and www.adnews.com.au.

Call the agency reception and ask who manages the buying for the account.  While media planners are bombarded with cold calls and emails, if you have done your research and put together a compelling proposition, most planners will be willing to speak to you.  Don’t be discouraged if this takes a lot of calls. It’s not personal—that’s just the nature of the business.

2. Know the planning cycle

Each brand will have its own marketing calendar of activity, with the budgets normally planned two to three months before the live date. Seasonality is a good indication of planning times; many B2B advertisers will run tax time promotions, while consumer goods businesses typically spend heavily before major holidays and avoid the summer months.

You are far more likely to get on the schedule if you pitch your ideas during the times when the media is being planned.

If you are interested in the details of the planning and buying cycle, Ad School has excellent, detailed content available for free on their website.

3. Play to your strengths

Most blogs can’t compete on reach, and shouldn’t be competing on price with mainstream publishers.  Your strength lies in the engaged and passionate nature of your audience.  Emphasise that you are offering depth over breadth—and a depth that can’t be found elsewhere.

Put this together in a short proposal, clearly highlighting your audience, readership numbers and a breakdown of costs.  Keep it simple and compelling.

Also, be reassuringly expensive.

One of the biggest mistakes bloggers make is pricing their content and audience too low.  Media agencies typically deal with three kinds of digital buying models for advertising:

  • Performance-based: This is where they pay for each action taken, such as a click or a sale.
  • CPM: Cost per thousand impressions served.
  • Sponsorships: A fixed price is charged for integrating a brand into a website.

Unless you have a blog with very high traffic numbers, the first two buying models should be avoided. At a $15 CPM, 100,000 impressions would only generate $1,500. While that’s nice to have, it’s not enough if you’re to become a pro blogger. And the returns on performance-based agreements are typically a fraction of a CPM buy.

Brands will buy on a sponsorships basis when it allows them to use engaging ad units and to integrate their message into your content.  With major advertisers dealing with budgets in the millions, media planners often think any buy below $10k is not worth the effort.

You may be asked make some changes to your blog template to accommodate the creative.  Your answer should always be “yes.”  If you are not technically minded, you can hire a freelancer to do this for a nominal fee on one of the many outsourcing sites (such as www.freelancer.com).

Then, expect to be asked to aggressively discount your pricing.  Media agencies are evaluated by their clients on the savings they achieved.  Your initial price should be higher than the price you’re comfortable selling at.

4. Remember the three Ps

  1. Be professional. As a blogger, you own valuable content and access to an engaged audience that many brands will want to tap into.  Treat your site as a product and market it professionally.  Any hint that you run your site as a hobby will lead to failure.
  2. Be prepared: You need to be prepared to demonstrate why dealing with a relatively small site is worth the effort when media planners are used to six-figure buys with the likes of Google and Yahoo.  Know your key selling points at all times.
  3. Be persistent: Many bloggers quickly become frustrated with dealing with media agencies.  Phone calls go unanswered, emails are unreturned and initial interest often goes cold.  These are issues major publishers also face.  Resolve yourself to spending one hour a day researching agencies and contacting buyers.  The hard work will pay off over time and can lead to significant revenues.

Check out how professional blog sites market themselves. Kidspot is a great example of a once-small site that’s gone on to be acquired by News Corp. 

The blog Mendel.me also has some more tips on how to write a sales proposal for bloggers.

Have you sold ad space on your blog to a media agency? Tell us how you handled it in the comments.

John Kelly is the editor of www.company.com.au a blog that provides small business news, advice and resources.

Blog Design for ROI Rule #3: Shower Attention and Appreciation On Your Community

This guest post is by Gab Goldenberg, author of The Advanced SEO Book.

This is part 3 of Problogger’s Blog Design for ROI series. Today we’ll talk about integrating your community into your design. Since a blog is a form of social media, even if—or especially if—it’s a business blog, it only makes sense to design the blog in a way that will maximize interaction.

Let’s address the importance of interaction, though, before we delve into the details of design.

The skeptics amongst you may ask, “What are the benefits?” Heck, giving attention to others may attract trolls and other negative behaviour!

One of the great benefits is that an engaged community promotes your blog, providing word of mouth marketing. This includes social bookmarking and sharing, as well as regular links from your community members’ own sites. So you increase your social and SEO traffic. Plus building community is more enjoyable than manually requesting links and attention…

I could go on, but check out Richard’s post on techniques to measure online communities’ ROI in dollars, or my own on the intangible ROI of social media such as better hiring, partnerships, and more.

How do you show that you care about your community?

There are a number of ways to visually reinforce the importance of community on your blog, and they center around giving your community visual prominence and rewarding (“gamifying”) their behaviour.

Credit for the contribution: avatars

One easy way to do this is to use avatars—thumbnail pictures of your members that appear alongside their contributions.

If you accept guest posts, why make your guest authors anonymous? Instead, show their profile picture at the top of the posts they publish on your blog. (We’ll discuss this more in the next article in this series, on post design.) My friends at SEOmoz were some of the first people to do this:

Daily seo

Of course, this idea isn’t limited to post authors—most people comment and they are in fact the bulk of your community, so you should offer avatars to your commenters, as well.

Here’s what you want your blog comments area to look like:

Comments

What do you do for people who haven’t provided an avatar?

I’d suggest something generic that reflects your brand, perhaps with the text, “User hasn’t yet uploaded a profile picture.” The idea is that users will realize what they need to do to get the avatar to appear. (Note: avoid using the word “avatar” since not everyone knows what it means. “Profile picture” is clearer.)

Avatar

SEOmoz gets this partly right by using their logo’s starshape icon, but they omit to specify why that’s appearing instead of human picture like other people’s. It’s a missed opportunity.

It is nonetheless a step up from the generic-and-distracting images provided by certain blog commenting/avatar systems.

Distracting avatar

Why limit yourself to just showing a person’s photo and name, though?

Awards, badges, and recognition

Since you want to encourage high quality participation, as well as helping people understand why they should visit a particular member’s profile page instead of clicking elsewhere, give your members titles (or “badges”) and display these alongside members’ profiles.

When I was in high school and really into hiphop, I used to frequent a forum, NobodySmiling, that did a good job of this, placing badges (in the shape of various trophies) for various achievements alongside members’ posts. In the screenshot below, you can see an excellent example of a site that recognizes user contributions.

The moderator MetiphOracle has his title, Moderator, displayed as well as multiple stars indicating his veteran-contributor status. Additionally, his post count, win-loss record (in hiphop battles), “Vicious rating” (how frequently other members clicked his Praise or Smite links, a pre-Facebook Like function), and two microphone awards are shown.

Awards

It’s also worth highlighting that most of the awards were accessible on the basis of merit—win ten rap battles and you got a bronze mic, for example. This is important, because if the awards are only hierarchical—that is, only one person can hold an award—then it can reduce motivation for newer members.

The site admins realized that this was a very popular feature and quickly added other awards for a variety of achievements.

Awards list

That being said, being #1 (or in the top five or ten) is also very motivating to senior members—especially so if you make the achievement of that status a contest. That was the idea behind the belts, like the Vet Tourney award in the screenshot above.

You can take the idea even further though, and reward the best collaboration.

The crown award in the screenshot above went to the best crew—the group of rappers who beat other top crews in rap battles.

As someone who competed for (and won!) the crown, I can tell you that my friends and I spent hours talking on instant messenger about how we were going to do it. So the result of this kind of gamification of your community is that its members are no longer dependent on their interaction with you—they’re brought back to your blog repeatedly to interact amongst themselves, and the friendships they build.

You don’t specifically need different images for your reward badges though.

An easy way to start is to have some kind of general-purpose image on which you can overlay people’s titles. Below, SEOmoz have a gold-colour ribbon that appears below members’ answers in SEOmoz’s Q&A forum.

Displaying titles

A simple way to do this without a lot of up-front coding work—and to see if you have enough traction in your blog’s readership to warrant the coding work—is to begin with a monthly community contest.

Offer prizes for different forms of interaction—the most comments, the best comment, the best comment by someone who never won before, and so on. Then, you can have a monthly announcement for the winners, and a page where you list current and past winners.

Help and encourage members to interact between themselves

Another thing I recall being rather practical and popular on NobodySmiling—and which is now found everywhere from Skype and MSN messenger to Facebook (though not yet Twitter)—is the list of members online. Essentially, this is an invitation to members to chat or private message with each other.

Who's online

Where does the “members online now” block belong?

I’d venture to say that it’s becoming conventional to list a similar block—the Facebook Page Likers list—in the sidebar, so it’s probably a good idea to place this here. Using conventions on your blog requires less effort from your visitors.

Social seomoz

A further way to help encourage the contact via your blog’s design is to make member contact information readily accessible. You can see this done on SEOmoz member profiles:

Member profiles

Another tool that’s not pictured there is a button that lets members send each other private messages within SEOmoz, similar to the way forum software handles membership interaction.

An even better way to display this is to make the person’s contact information available at the end of all their posts and comments. You can see in the screenshot from NobodySmiling that MetiphOracle’s accounts—MSN and others—were all linked below his posts.

Accounts shown
The following excerpt from an Inc. magazine article discusses how popular review site Yelp made a point of inviting its top members to exclusive parties.

This achieved a few things: it rewarded high levels of participation, provided recognition, and helped the members meet each other and interact.

“Without the cash for a national rollout, [Yelp co-founder Jeremy] Stoppelman decided to focus on making Yelp famous locally. With the help of a buzz-marketing guru he hired on a whim, Stoppelman decided to select a few dozen people—the most active reviewers on the site—and throw them an open-bar party. As a joke, he called the group the Yelp Elite Squad.

“[Yelp investor Max] Levchin thought the idea was crazy—”I was like, ‘Holy cr*p: We’re nowhere near profitability; this is ridiculous,’” he says—but 100 people showed up, and traffic to the site began to crawl up. Because the parties were reserved for prolific reviewers, they gave casual users a reason to use the site more and nonusers a reason to join Yelp.

By June 2005, Yelp had 12,000 reviewers, most of them in the Bay Area. In November, Stoppelman went back to the VCs and bagged $5 million from Bessemer Venture Partners. He used the money to throw more parties and to hire party planners—Yelp calls them community managers—in New York, Chicago, and Boston. The company now employs 40 of these people.”

Comments as forum posts—a way to encourage repeat and deeper interactions

Perhaps the most unique—and clever—form of tying a blog into a community that I’ve seen comes from the comic, Least I Could Do (NSFW Warning: sexual humour and scantily clad cartoon women).

Instead of using a common commenting system like Disqus, Least I Could Do (LICD) gets people to go to the forum to comment on blog posts.

The way the blog and forum are tied together is that blog posts are forum excerpts. In the screenshot below, you see that the Read More link (same as the Comments link) takes you to LICD’s forum.

Post excerpt

The advantage of this approach is that forums comfortably hold longer discussions that are typically uncommon on blogs. Also, many of the community-oriented details described in this posts exists by default with forums (including easy member registration, avatars, recognition, member praise and thanks, and contact info links).

The disadvantage is that you need custom code to get your members’ avatars and other details to appear alongside their guest post author credits if you publish guest posts.

How to shower attention on your community

    • Show avatars and usernames alongside contributions: Help people stand out as individuals. The more you do this, the more likely people will be to remember each other, and members will become friendly with one another faster.
    • Visually recognize members:When people achieve certain contribution plateaus, when they get acknowledged by other community members, when they gain seniority, and when they outperform others, let them brag with badges that are visible on their member profiles.Pro tip: Make these badges embeddable on other sites so that members who are proud of their achievements can link back to your site to show off their badges.
    • Encourage members to interact: Provide links to as many contact methods as they want to provide—Skype, MSN, social media profiles, personal sites, and so on. Also, show who’s online at the moment so it’s easy for people to draw their friends’ attention to particular discussions they want others to participate in.
      Pro tip: Offer a chat room. It’s old-fashioned, but it works! Before there were live webinars, people had live events in chat rooms.
    • Use forums for comments: Encourage a community to build around your posts by putting the spotlight on members, allowing longer discussions, and more.

What design techniques do you use to recognize and reward your blog’s loyal users? What other ideas have you seen on the web? Share your experiences with us in the comments, and check back next week for the next part in our series!

Gab Goldenberg wrote The Advanced SEO Book—and you can get a free chapter here. Gab and Internet Marketing Ninjas, the folks behind the Blog Design for ROI series here on Problogger, are offering to mail you a free print copy of the Blog Design for ROI guide as a small book. Get your free copy from seoroi.com/blog-design-for-roi/ .

Prepare Your Blog For the Festive Season: a Step-by-step Guide

Over the weekend, we ran a short series of interviews with bloggers of different types, to get a feel for how they’re preparing for the festive season.

Christmas

Image courtesy stock.xchng user danyba


We spoke to the owners of:

If that series made you realize how underprepared you are for the coming weeks, don’t worry. Today’s post is a checklist for getting ready.

1. Have you worked out when you’ll take a break?

The first thing to do is get out the calendar. Work out when you won’t want to be blogging, and block those days (or weeks!) out.

Now you know how much time you have to work with.

2. Do you know what you want to get out of this period?

The benefits of setting some goals up front are two-fold.

First, goals will help you set your priorities for the next few weeks. Second, they’ll help you assess your efforts when you come back to your blog in 2013. They might even help you improve on your work when the festive season rolls around again in a year’s time.

Set a few goals. They might be as simple as maintaining regular posting and social media schedules, or as detailed as setting expectations for sales and tracking the sources of traffic that converts.

3. Do you know what you need to do to get there?

List the tasks you’ll need to achieve your goals.

If you want to maintain a twice-a-week positing schedule, how much writing time will you need? How much editing time? Will you work any affiliate promotions into those posts? Which ones, and when will they run? When’s the best time to promote those posts?

Make a list of all the things you need to do. Then, schedule them. Think a long time in advance, and get right into the details. Don’t just make a note to curate ten tweets to autopublish over the festive period. Schedule the time you’ll need to find quality content to include in those tweets.

Without taking your plans to this level of granularity, you’ll run the risk of underestimating the time and energy you’ll need to do everything on your list. Which leads me to…

4. Have you prioritized your priorities?

This is an extra step, but one you may well end up doing. You may already have found that your eyes were bigger than your stomach, so to speak, when you set your goals for the period. If you can’t fit everything in, check your top priorities and consider whether you’d be happy if you just achieved those.

This should help you focus as the inevitable distractions and schedule-changes come up in the coming weeks … and you run out of time!

Tip: Consider making your own checklist for every one of the tasks you need to do, so that you can avoid waking up in a panic because you forgot to find images for a post, or to encode your affiliate links in that email you’re autosending.

5. Have you got things ready for your return in 2013?

Getting ready for the festive season isn’t just about getting through to January 1, 2013. It’s also about hitting the ground running when you get back to your desk.

The lead-up to the break, at a time when you’ve just set all these goals, is to write a to-do list for Day 1, 2013. Include:

  • checking emails, stats, and social listening to find out what you missed while you were offline (assuming you were offline!)
  • goal-setting for the new year (if you haven’t done that during the break)
  • reconnecting with others who you can help—and can be helped by—in the coming 12 months.

This is the basic checklist I use to make sure I’m on track through the festive season and beyond. What about you? Share your tips and advice for keeping your blog going through the silly season below.

Blogging the Festive Season: The Not-for-Profit Blog [Case Study]

Stephen Pepper is insurance administrator by day, youth worker and blogger by night. He and his wife run Youth Workin’ It, a not-for-profit site that provides consultancy and services for youth workers and organizations worldwide. This includes blogging 6 days a week about youth work.

As part of our Blogging the Festive Season series, we asked Stephen how he and his wife are preparing the blog for the festive season.

What does preparing the Youth Workin’ It blog for the festive season mean?

Over the last year or so, we’ve realized that we need to be well-prepared when it comes to writing posts about particular times of the year. We posted an idea for a Valentine’s Day fundraiser on February 13th, but this meant youth workers didn’t have any time to use the idea this year.

So we started publishing our Christmas posts a couple of months early, like a youth work session to include young people when planning Christmas activities and ideas for organizing a Christmas card fundraiser.

This will be your second festive season on the blog. What did you learn last year? What will you do differently this time?

Last year, we stole an idea from Jon Acuff. He wanted to take time off over the Christmas period but didn’t want to neglect his blog, so he re-posted his his most trafficked posts from the prior 12 months. This meant new visitors read material they might not have come across otherwise, while loyal readers were reminded of some of his best writing.

On our blog, we did something similar. This was based on the 12 Days Of Christmas, where we re-posted our most highly trafficked 12 posts since we started the blog on 1 September 2011. It probably wasn’t wise from an SEO standpoint, as we were effectively re-posting duplicate material. However, we’d moved into a new apartment at the beginning of December, so not having to write new posts for two weeks meant we were able to get settled in far more quickly.

Last year, we also found that our Christmas scavenger hunt ideas proved to be popular. We therefore started posting similar ideas throughout the year, which in turn also received a lot of traffic. Having identified the popularity of these activities, we published our second book, 52 Scavenger Hunt Ideas.

Youth Workin’ It has a global audience. What usually happens to readership and traffic on your site over the festive season?

As our blog was only a couple of months old in late 2011, we had very low levels of traffic in comparison to today, making it hard to identify any kind of trend. Our average number of daily visitors has grown approximately 3,000% since December 2011, so it’s hard to estimate what our traffic levels will be like this festive season in comparison, as we started from such a low base point last year.

Having said that, I’m anticipating that in the run up to the festive season we’ll see a bump in Christmas-themed search traffic. In the first two weeks of November 2012 we had close to 300 people find our site through Christmas-themed search terms, suggesting this trend will continue.

We’ve been seeing good growth all year, but I think that overall traffic will drop off over the Christmas period. Visits to Youth Workin’ It continued increasing throughout November, until two days before Thanksgiving when it dropped off for a few days while Americans celebrated this holiday, so I’m assuming the same will happen at Christmas too.

In January, though, I think we’ll receive a lot more traffic as youth workers will be looking for new youth work and youth ministry ideas for the coming year.

Do you think that having a “cause” blog provides you with different opportunities or challenges around this time of year than bloggers with more commercial blogs face?

For commercial blogs, I’d imagine Christmas is one of the best opportunities for generating revenue, particularly by driving sales through affiliate schemes.

Although we have the odd affiliate link on our site (mainly using Amazon Associates) and produce our own youth work resources, we’re not a commercial blog.

This means we can focus on writing material that we think youth workers will find helpful, rather than feeling like we have to focus on writing about topics or products that will earn us an income. That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with commercial blogs—I’m simply not a salesman, so am glad I don’t have that pressure when I write.

This also helps ensure that most of our content is evergreen, rather than becoming dated quickly. If you’re trying to drive sales of the latest phone, or camera, in six months those products will be old news, and your blog post could equally become old news.

We therefore try as best as we can to take the opportunity to provide youth work ideas and principles that will be equally as valid in five years as they are today.

How else does the festive season affect your blog and blogging schedule?

I have a full-time day job and will only be taking a couple of days off over Christmas—I contract for an insurance company so if I don’t work, I don’t get paid! My blogging schedule therefore won’t change much, as I’ll be maintaining the same daily routine.

Our engagement with subscribers and social media followers won’t change much either, but that’s because we don’t have a large focus on those channels at the moment. Both my wife and I have full-time jobs, do volunteer youth work in our spare time, and blog six days a week. Unfortunately, we’ve therefore been unable to focus any time and energy on engaging with readers and followers on a consistent basis.

What’s the start of the New Year got in store for Youth Workin’ It?

Although we’re not taking any time off around New Year, the start of 2013 is going to be very busy. My wife Shae is going to be a speaker at Open Boston—a new youth ministry event—so she’ll be planning her talk for that. She also runs three girl scout troops in low-income housing areas that rely on fundraising in order to organize activities, which means she’ll also be focused on selling Girl Scout cookies.

The result of this is that I’ll be taking over more of the blogging responsibilities. I’ll therefore try to get ahead on my blogging schedule, particularly at weekends.

And what will you be most heavily focused on?

In addition to our regular blogging, we’re aiming to publish at least two new youth work resources again this coming year. That’s an area I’ll be focusing on, along with writing guest posts for other blogs. I’ve also been approached about another blogging project which looks set to be an amazing and fun opportunity.

On top of all this, I’ve recently set up a separate scavenger hunt blog. As mentioned earlier, these activities were popular on Youth Workin’ It, but we didn’t want them to be our primary focus. I’ve therefore set up this separate niche site so that I can keep publishing these ideas, which will also hopefully drive a few more sales of our scavenger hunt book.

Shae’s focus will be on getting more speaking and consulting opportunities. We’re also planning on setting up a non-profit that will work with young people in our local low-income communities, so we’re definitely going to be busy!

We’re not planning on making any changes to the general design or layout of our site, but are seriously considering signing up with AWeber instead of relying on Feedburner to deliver our daily emails.

One of the reasons for this is that we’re considering experimenting with popovers to gain even more email subscribers, especially having seen how much success Darren had with this technique.

As we’re not a commercial blog, we’d be paying for the service out of our own pocket without expecting to earn any revenue from email subscribers, which is why we’ve held off on doing this so far. The increase in subscribers should be a good longer term investment though, as it’ll help get the Youth Workin’ It name out more widely and will hopefully result in further speaking and consultancy opportunities for Shae.

What’s your advice to other not-for-profit bloggers to make the most of the festive season—both on their blogs, and in their personal lives?

Depending on the nature of your blog, prepare for the festive season well in advance. As I mentioned earlier, we’re already receiving hundreds of visitors to our posts relating to the festive season. As always, Google’s keyword tool is an invaluable resource for finding out what people in your niche are searching for when it comes to Christmas, the New Year, and other religious holidays.

In the New Year, people will be looking for a new start and fresh ideas. What can you offer them to make their lives better?

As for your personal lives, make sure that you have some balance. Answering these questions has made me realize how much I want to achieve for 2013, but this could easily result in working too hard and getting burned out. I therefore need to make sure that I intentionally carve out time—even if it’s just for one weekend in December—where I don’t touch blogging at all.

I’ve found this leaves me feeling incredibly refreshed, so this will set me up well to launch into 2013.

Huge thanks to Stephen for taking the time for this interview. If you run a not-for-profit or cause blog, what are you doing to prepare for the festive season? Share your plans in the comments!

Blogging the Festive Season: The Digital Publisher [Case Study]

Kimberly Gauthier has been running online pet magazine Keep the Tail Wagging for just on a year. As part of our Blogging the Festive Season series, we asked a few questions about how she’s squaring up for her first festive season on the blog.

You started Keep the Tail Wagging on January 1, 2012, so this will be your first festive season on the blog. Can you tell us what your goals are over the coming month to six weeks?

Keep the Tail Wagging is scheduled out almost through December 31st and I will be sprinkling extra holiday wish-list posts through that period as well.  I went back and forth a little on how I would handle the Holiday Season and decided to keep my blog on track (sharing tips on dog care) while adding extra posts for fun.

I’m working with several brands to promote Holiday Wish Lists that dog lovers will be interested in.  The brands are sending me their holiday look books and I’m choosing the times I want to promote—items that I would buy for our home and dogs.  I think these posts will come across with a genuine feel for my readers.

What does preparing Keep the Tail Wagging for the festive season mean?

This season, I’m working on building relationships with brands and small pet businesses, while helping my readers save time and money.

One thing that I promote on Keep the Tail Wagging is the ability to save money on quality dog food and products. Preparing for the season for me means networking with my favorite pet brands (for quality images and Black Friday sneak peeks) and making lists of items that I would purchase.

My goal is to be realistic about what my readers will buy and what’s safe for dogs.  I now have a rule that I won’t promote a product that I won’t buy for our dogs.  One vendor approached me about rope toys, which I find hazardous, because our dogs shred them and I worry about them swallowing the string (big vet bill).  I explained my thoughts and policy, and the vendor was able to share a different (very cool) product to promote instead.

I notice that you’ve already published a seasonal post from Petsmart. Is this a sponsored post, or a guest post? Does the festive season give you different opportunities to generate revenue than the other months of the year?

This is a press release that I agreed to publish on my site, because I’m a Petsmart customer.  I usually pass on press releases, preferring to post guest post (or my own post) instead.  In the upcoming weeks, you’ll see posts that I’ve written for Target and Petco.

These posts are generating revenue, but I am building a solid relationship with these brands.  A fellow blogger suggested that I hold out for money, because they’re taking advantage of me, but I disagree.  My logic is that I’ll be shopping at these stores and talking about it anyway. So why not work with the brands, get quality images and access to the stores (I spent the morning taking pictures at Petco with their permission), and build those relationships?

I’m excited about a recent job that I landed after working for free with a brand.  The PR group who represents the brand appreciated my work and is now paying me for a job this season.

That post’s archived in a category called “Happy Holidays”. Why create a separate category for festive season posts?

I wanted my readers to be able to quickly call up the holiday posts for when they’re ready to do their shopping.  I also want to be able to quickly call them up for repeated promotion over the next six weeks.

I’ll also be creating a button for my site that links to the Happy Holidays posts.  I’m all about making it easy for my readers to find things; plus, I want them to stick around on my site longer, which they’ll do if they’re not frustrated with my organization.

I’ll also be putting these posts in a “Gifts for Dog Lovers” category for the rest of the year.

How’s your blogging schedule looking for the festive season?

One of the bonuses of scheduling out my posts so far in advance is that it allows me to place more focus on other tasks.  Right now, I can focus on writing, promoting my Holiday Wish Lists, blog commenting, and sharing.

What I am going to start doing is spending more time on promoting images.  I’ve been uploading images to Flickr, Pinterest, and creating photo albums on Facebook and Google Plus.  I created a Fur-Holidays board on Pinterest where I’m storing all of my Wish List items.

Are you taking time off around New Year? How are you preparing Keep the Tail Wagging for that time?

I will be taking a break for New Year.  I will be writing a Year in Review post and a One Year Anniversary post to schedule around the New Year.

We stick close to home on New Year’s Eve so I can do some social networking, but I made a commitment that I will take a break during that time.  It’ll make it easier if I can schedule posts and only respond to emails and messages for a brief period (an hour) each day.  I receive over 100 emails a day (I know a blogger who receives nearly 1000) and taking the time to respond to, file, and delete emails each day will make my return to the blogging world much less stressful.

When you do return to the blogging world in 2013, what will you be most heavily focused on?

Content, building traffic, and affiliate marketing.

In 2012, I identified what I want to write about (dog training, behavior, nutrition, health, safety, pet products) and that I wanted to write in my voice, sharing my experience with my readers.

In 2013, I want to continue with this trend and connect with guest bloggers who have a similar writing style.

Building traffic is something we’re all working on and I will continue to do this through networking and PR, both locally and online.

I want to do a better job promoting affiliates through my writing.  I don’t want my site to come across as an online catalog, but it’s important that I remember to place those links and banners effectively throughout my blog posts and pages.

Sounds good! What’s your advice to other digital publishers who want to make the most of the festive season?

My advice is…

  • Be genuine. Don’t accept a check to promote something you don’t believe in, because your followers will notice and call you on it.  My goal is to build Keep the Tail Wagging into an authority that people will respect; they won’t respect me if I make choices that paint me as a hypocrite.
  • Set office hours.  The longer I work, the more work that comes my way.  I’ve accepted that I will never get to the bottom of my To Do List, so I created a working schedule and try my hardest to adhere to it.  This allows me a much-needed break and gives me time to spend with my family and friends.
  • Have fun.  If it’s not fun, then it’ll show through in my writing.  If I’m not into doing something, then I won’t do it.   I apply this to brands, guest contributions, and my own writing.  What’s the point in putting in the work to write, edit, and promote a post that no one will like, because you didn’t like it?  I’d rather spend that time walking the dogs; which is what I do when I find myself grappling with my blog.  Take a break, come back with a better approach later.

Special thanks to Kimberly for sharing her plans with us. Are you a digital publisher? How do your festive season blogging plans compare? What ideas can you share? Tell us in the comments!

Coming up next, Blogging the Festive Season: The Not-for-Profit Blog

Blogging the Festive Season: The Blogger-Consultant-Speaker [Case Study]

Tara Gentile is a blogger and business strategist whose online presence underpins her thriving consulting business at taragentile.com.

As part of our Blogging the Festive Season series, we asked her how the festive season affects her business and blog.

What does preparing for the festive season mean for your business?

For me, preparing my blog and business for the holidays means preparing for time off. I try to produce extra content to fill blog posts and email updates for sporadic publication but I go easy on myself. If I don’t get the content created, I still rest.

My goal for this season is to clear the way for momentum and inspiration in the New Year. This year, I’ll be taking stock of a few new ventures, including my microbusiness accelerator Kick Start Labs, and setting the stage to hit the ground running with a few new projects which include beta testing a mastermind program and beginning serious work on my book.

I also launched a complete redesign (and refocusing) of the site. Since the holidays are a slow time for me, that gives me leeway in discovering any flaws or missed opportunities.

What usually happens to readership and traffic on your blog over the festive season, and what happens to your consulting and speaking schedules?

Readership and traffic tend to be low during the festive season. That said, sales are often brisk at the end of the year with people making last-minute business expenses before the US accounting year closes. However, the real work doesn’t need to be done till January or February, so I make a point to take about four weeks off between December and January. Why work for work’s sake?

I’ll write, think, and read. But I don’t answer much email, execute programs, or do calls during that time. It’s a chance to recharge my personal and business batteries.

I’ve found that it doesn’t pay to try to change sales trends. Instead, I try to amplify sales trends. If it’s normally dead, then I take time off, regroup, and enjoy the downtime. If it’s a busy time of year, I ramp up my activities and do the work that allows me to take advantage of buying seasons. For this year, that will mean taking lots of time off, but providing a few key offers right at the end of the year.

Plenty of solo operators would be worried about being away from their businesses for so long. Are you worried about missing opportunities in that time?

My customers are doing exactly the same—or at least, I hope they are. I’m not going to send out a lot of content they can’t use at this time of year so what work I do is focused on the future—both mine and theirs.

Future-focused work includes doing research or reading that inspires me to create the kind of work that will serve my customers well in the next year. I’ve noticed that when I take time off at the same time my customers are taking time off, no one really notices my absence!

Sure—consulting and speaking aren’t exactly seasonal purchases. You mentioned key end-of-year offers. Is that how you keep revenue coming in the door during the festive season?

Aside from providing a compelling offer or two at the end of the year for those who are looking for add-on business expenses at the end of the year, I don’t worry about keeping revenue coming in the door.

Just as a family plans big purchases or budgets for daily expenses, it’s important for entrepreneurs to plan their revenue. When you plan for the natural ups and downs, you can feel good about letting your revenue flow naturally instead of trying to force sales when they are difficult to come by.

So, even now, I have a good idea of what my revenue plan for 2013 is. I know what’s launching when and about how much I can expect. Of course, that plan will change and evolve as the year goes. But this way, I know I can feel comfortable about taking the summer off or taking family time in December.

Your site at taragentile.com has been has been going for a while now. How has your approach to preparing for the festive season changed in that time?

I’d say I used to approach each month of the year as if it were the same as any other month. Now, I try to be keenly aware of how each month is different, bringing with it its own challenges and opportunities.

As the years went by and I started noting trends, I could predict what would be important each month: more content vs. less content, more offers vs. less offers, more events vs. less events, and so on. Now I can use that information to effortlessly create a plan for the season months in advance.

Are there any special preparations you’re making for the time you take off?

December 16-January 10 are marked off for family and fun time on my calendar. During that time, I’ll work if inspiration strikes me and I’ll certainly be making reflections on the year past and journalling on the year to come, but I don’t worry too much about making sure my blog keeps going.

There’s little reward in expending energy just for the sake of continuity, especially if no one is paying attention.

My readers have their own work to do and their own families to attend to. I don’t worry that they’ll forget about my site or that the dip in traffic will last forever. We’ll all find our way back into the groove in mid-January.

My only goal is to have great content, new ideas, and a compelling offer waiting for them when they return.

And when you do return in the New Year, what will you be focusing on?

For early 2013, my attention will be split three ways.

First, I’ll be continuing to up the value at Kick Start Labs, a microbusiness accelerator community for entrepreneurs making difference through commerce. We’ll be releasing a new series of practical business learning resources.

Second, I’ll be beginning the next serious stage of work on my book. That means lots of research, interviews, and writing. My favorite things! Finding the time and energy for this project has been difficult to say the least, but it’s work that I enjoy immensely and I’m very excited about who the book will reach and how it will encourage them to take action in the You Economy.

Third, I’ll be beta testing a mastermind program. I’ve spent the last two years really getting clear on my process and how I work with clients. It’s time to put it to the test. The goal of the program is to free business owners from the day-to-day execution of their businesses and create the space that’s necessary to see their businesses from 10,000 feet up.

I’ll first be rolling it out to those who have worked closely with me already and then later in the year, I’ll roll it out publicly.

Sounds interesting! So what’s your advice to other bloggers who sell consulting services alongside their blogs to make the most of the festive season?

Take time off! Recharge! Unless you are coaching or consulting in the wellness industry (the classic New Year’s products), this is an off time of year. Make the most of it. Don’t make appointments with others, only yourself. Mark your calendar with appointments to address difficulties in your business, plans for the new year, or loose ends that need tied. Set aside time for writing, thinking, and research.

But set aside the most time for family fun, quiet evenings, and personal introspection.

Sound advice! Thanks so much to Tara for giving us her insights. If you run a consulting or contracting business that’s supported by your blog, let us know what your festive season plans are in the comment!

Next in the series, we hear the festive season plans of a digital publisher.