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Write Less, Say More

This is a guest contribution from Brooke McAlary, founder of Slow Your Home.

You’ve heard of slow food, perhaps even slow travel or slow homes. But slow…blogging? Really?

Isn’t the point of blogging to be topical, with our fingers on the pulse of global trends? Don’t we, as bloggers, pride ourselves on being the gatekeepers of information, upcoming releases and Game of Thrones memes?

Each day we feel pressured to uncover and share the next Big Thing – the app of the year, the design trend of the season, the life-hack no-one has ever shared before.

By adopting the slow blogging approach, however, you can walk away from that pressure. You intentionally choose to pull back, to put your hands up and say, “Hey, TechCrunch, you can have your 15 posts a day. I’m going to run my own race instead, thanks.”

But Why?

Aside from the obvious and very attractive point of not trying to compete with the BoingBoings, the Huffington Posts and the Apartment Therapies of the internet, slow blogging also allows you to say more while writing less.

But let’s back-track a moment.

What is Slow Blogging?

The term Slow Blogging was coined by Todd Sieling in his 2006 manifesto. Essentially Sieling outlined the movement as a rejection of immediacy and embracing the intrinsic value of our words.

In other words, wait until you have something interesting to say before hitting Publish.

What slow blogging isn’t, is lazy, ignorant or careless. It’s the exact opposite. It means you value both your time and that of your readers so much that you refuse to waste it. What you create is of value instead of simply adding to the noise.

A Slow Blogger:

  • Gives his ideas time and space to fully form. He doesn’t rush them out into the world simply to fill the silence.
  • Writes for people, not search engines.
  • Doesn’t focus on her analytics figures, subscriber count or Twitter followers. She sees the value, rather, in her tribe, her community, her people.
  • Has a simplified workflow. His days are not filled with productivity apps and curation tools. A notepad, some Post-Its or Evernote will suffice.
  • Is authentic, intentional and mindful in her writing. Honesty and transparency result from spending more time thinking and questioning.
  • Understands she cannot be everywhere. 

Why is Slow Blogging a Good Thing?

I’ve been writing about simple living for over two years, but it wasn’t until I started applying the elements of slow blogging that I saw vast improvement in my work, my community and my readership.

Slowing down, posting less frequently, spending more time thinking, studying and writing my posts, has ultimately led me to attract a much bigger audience. My readers now are engaged, inspired and my greatest champions, and I put much of that down to my decision to go Slow.

I’ll say that part again, because it bears repeating.

My readership has grown as I’ve posted less.

In addition to a more engaged audience, most bloggers who adopt all (or parts) of the slow blogging movement to their work will see the following advantages:

  • Your content will have greater depth and clarity.
  • The quality of your work will go up as your output goes down.
  • You will spend less time writing, giving you more time to spend on your life, business, work, family or cocktails in the sun.
  • You will experience less stress and less pressure as you stop focusing on traffic numbers, subscriber counts and comments.
  • You will focus more on delivering real value to the people in your audience, and therefore create a much more loyal community.
  • Yes, growth may be slower to begin with, but as you develop your voice and a reputation for depth, your audience will grow in both size and loyalty.

5 Action Steps to Slow Down Your Blogging

Does this slow blogging thing sound attractive to you? Would you like to dip your toe in the proverbial water?

Here’s 5 action steps you can take:

1. Commit to posting less frequently. If you currently post every day, try cutting back to 2-3 days a week. Less, if you feel brave. Then give it a month and judge your community’s reaction.

2. Limit social media to 10 minutes per outlet per day. Use programs like HootSuite or Buffer to automate some of your output. And only get online if you would like to, not out of obligation. The world will keep turning if you avoid Twitter for a day.

3. Simplify your writing process. Be it with a pen and paper or a simple writing app, commit to keeping your notes, outlines and drafts in one place. Keep it simple.

4. Commit to writing one longer, well-thought out piece per week/fortnight/month. Depending on your topic, this could mean spending 5-15 hours on one post. Publish and promote it, then judge the reaction of your readers.

5. Ask yourself before hitting Publish, “Is this truly helpful to my readers? Will they care? Do I care?” In other words, only post when you have something real to say.

While the Slow Blogging movement has its foundation in the minimalism and simple living niches, it can apply to a huge range of topics.

The following sites all apply elements of slow blogging, and all are very successful:

So before you cast this movement aside as not being for you, simply ask yourself if you’d benefit from a more engaged community, more readers and more popular content. Then see if there are elements of slow blogging you could incorporate into your work.

Do you already incorporate some of the elements of slow blogging to your work? Would you like to? Share with us in the comments below.

Brooke McAlary is the founder of Slow Your Home and the creator of the insanely helpful Slow Home BootCamp - where she helps you create the simpler life you want. She is also a passionate writer, blissful gardener and siesta advocate. 

Ask the ProBlogger Team any Question: Register for Our Next Free Webinar

Just a short post today to let readers know that next wee we’ll be holding a ProBlogger Webinar.

You can register for it here.

It has been a while since we’ve had a webinar here on ProBlogger so we’re going to make this one a Q&A session where you can ask any question that you might have that relates to blogging.

To help me answer your questions I’m bringing a couple of members of my team here at ProBlogger onto the webinar with me. They are:

  • Jasmin Tragas – Jasmin is our ‘producer’ works with me to produce the eBooks that we release (mainly dPS eBooks but also ProBlogger eBooks) but also our live ProBlogger Event here in Australia. In her role as an eBook producer Jasmin coordinates between our eBook authors, designers, editors and marketing team. So if you’ve got questions on that front – she’ll be the person to direct your questions to.
  • Shayne Tilley – Shayne has been working with me for several years in helping with Marketing our eBooks and events but has recently also been helping to coordinate the redesign of dPS (which is almost ready to launch) and also has been helping to get some new plugins coded that operate behind the scenes here on ProBlogger and on dPS. Shayne also wrote our Guide to Online Marketing eBook. So he’s going to be useful to ask anything about marketing but also is great on some of the more technical aspects of blogging.
  • And then there’s me – I’m happy to take questions on anything and if I (or one of my team) can’t answer your question we’ll point you to someone who can.

You can ask questions on any aspect of blogging including:

  • Finding Readers
  • Monetization
  • Content Creation
  • Building Reader Engagement
  • Time Management
  • eBook Creations
  • Live Events
  • Marketing etc

This free ‘no pitch’ webinar will run for 60-90 minutes from 8pm Eastern US time next Tuesday night (23rd July) – if you’re in other parts of the world the international times and dates are listed on the registration page.

We will attempt to record this webinar and will email anyone who registers for it with a link to the recording in the days after it is run. So to get the recording please register.

Please note that this webinar is filling up fast. On the day we can only fit 1000 people on the live webinar so apologies if we can’t squeeze everyone in. To avoid disappointment please arrive a little early to get your spot. If you miss out you’ll get access to the recording if you’ve registered.

Register today here for this webinar and we’ll see you on the call next week.

Don’t Quit Your Job To Chase Your Dreams… Until You’ve Read This

“I’m quitting my job to chase my dreams!”

When I hear someone say those words I experience two feelings simultaneously.

1. Excitement. You can’t help but admire someone with that kind of passion. Exciting things often happen when people step out of their comfort zone and make space to go for their dreams!

2. Fear. What if their dreams are not realistic? How will they pay their bills? What impact might that decision have upon their family?

I never know what to say (and doubt there is any right thing as each situation is so different) but as someone who has quit jobs to chase dreams I thought I’d jot down a few thoughts.

Warning: my thoughts don’t all mount a single argument to either quit your job or stay in it. They’re some things to ponder when you’re making the decision.

1. Chase Your Dreams

First and foremost – chase your dream.

So many people stop chasing dreams. They end up looking back on missed opportunities with a sense of regret.

If you have a dream that won’t go away I think you owe it to yourself – and the world around you – to pursue it.

2. Be Responsible

Don’t chase your dreams in a way that leaves a trail of ruin behind you.

You owe it to yourself to chase your dream – but not at the expense of those around you.

Too many times have I seen men and women chase dreams in ways that put their family in the way of harm. I can recount a number of new bloggers who quit their jobs to become full time bloggers only to find that their family no longer had an income stream or health care. I’ve seen marriages break down and tragedy strike as a result of chasing dreams without a safety net or backup plan.

I know ‘be responsible‘ doesn’t sound as sexy as ‘chase your dreams‘ – but it’s important.

I think a lot of it comes back to your life stage and situation. When I started blogging, I was engaged to be married and we had no kids. I was still conservative with my decision-making and always had a part time job until I was sure blogging would pay our bills. If I were starting out again today, as a husband and father of 3 kids, I’d certainly take things even slower than I did.

I personally set up the move between employment and chasing my dreams as a something of a transition.

I started out studying part-time and working one main job and a number of part time jobs. As my dream of becoming a full-time blogger became more of a reality (i.e. as I began to earn more from my blogging) I was able to give up some of the part-time work.

This transition took over a year to complete and even then, at one point I got a part time job when my blogging income dipped for a time. I didn’t want to put my family in harm’s way so I always had a backup plan.

3. Take a Run Up…

Long Jump

My part-time work and study allowed me to transition in this way. I understand that this won’t always be possible for others. That doesn’t mean you have to quit your job immediately in order to follow your dreams.

There will almost always be a way to get your dream started – even while you work a job. Think about how you can get momentum up and to position yourself to make that eventual leap.

When I was in high school I used to compete as a long jumper in athletics. I wasn’t particularly good at it but had a great coach who showed me the basics. Interestingly, a lot of the work he did with me was focused not upon my jumping technique but my running and timing.

He told me that the key to a good jump was getting good momentum going in the run up, and then timing the jump and positioning to perfection.

Yes ‘jumping’ was something I needed to get right but without a good run up the eventual leap (and landing) was never going to be successful.

What can you do – in your current situation – to create momentum and to position yourself well for that time when you might actually make the leap into giving up employment to chase your dreams?

Answering this question might result in any number of things. It could lead you to part-time study. It could lead you to more intentional networking. It could lead you to working in the evenings on your project. It might lead you to creating a business plan. There are many small and achievable things that you can do today – even while working a job – that will put you in a better position to chase your dreams.

4. You May Never Need to Leave Your Job

I can think of many people who actively pursue their dreams while also working full-time and part-time in ‘real jobs’.

  • I know a full time accountant who has set up a charity and who supports orphanages in Africa by using his evenings and annual leave to travel and fundraise
  • I know a lawyer who is writing a novel in the evenings and on weekends
  • I know a teacher who started a craft business and makes her products in the evenings and sells them online and at markets on weekends
  • I know a woman who is a stay at home mother with 5 kids, who also cares for her mother who lives with Alzheimer’s, who has built a blog that generates the equivalent of a 3 day a week job

None of these people wants to give up their work but each is also living their dreams – fairly significant dreams at that.

The reality is that not everyone’s dream is of doing something that requires you to leave employment for it to be achieved. The hard reality is that some people’s dreams don’t end up coming true (at least not in the way that they imagine that they will).

Also, keep the possibility open in your mind that perhaps a part-time job will be enough to sustain you so that you can pursue your dreams. I know that this isn’t always feasible in every industry but I know a number of people who found part-time work and simplified their lifestyle in order to sustain themselves while they also worked on making their passions and dreams a reality.

5. A Job Can = A Dream Coming True

Similarly, I can think of many people whose dreams have come true through employment.

Sometimes I wonder if we put working for yourself on a pedestal as being the only truly fulfilling end result. Why is this?

Some people are just not wired to work for themselves and do their best work when working within a team of people under the leadership of someone else. Some people’s dreams fit very comfortably into that scenario.

I think of a friend of mine whose dream was to have an impact upon global poverty. She used to think that to follow that dream meant having to charity of her own. She tried that and quickly found that it wasn’t for her. This ‘failure’ could have been the end of her dream but she decided to find another way and ended up taking a job working for not for profit organisation. After 10 years of service in that organisation, she’s risen through the ranks and looks like becoming the next CEO of it. Her dream has come true – through her employment.

I know of another friend who took a similar path. He dreamed of starting a business that developed iPhone apps in a particular field but ended up joining another company who did that and working for someone else. Interestingly by taking that job he learned the skills he needed to also pursue some personal projects and ended up starting his own company on the side.

This is a path that many people would do well to consider. It may mean re-skilling and switching the fields in which you work in (and perhaps taking a pay cut to get in at the ground level) but could be a way of following your dream and keeping a steady stream of income.

6. Sometimes You Do Need to Jump

pular...

Sometimes, there comes a time to make the leap. It’s not for everyone and not something to rush a decision into but there comes a point where you’ve created enough momentum and you hit a ceiling of how much you can pursue your dreams while having a job.

Sometimes you also come to a point where you are just too comfortable with a ‘good life’ to do what it takes to create a ‘great life’. You need to put yourself into an uncomfortable position to make yourself fight for your dreams!

Make sure you wrestle with this decision a little. Listen to the ‘fear’ (fear is actually a good thing – it keeps us alive but also is often a precursor to doing something significant!) and involve others who care for you (and who you care for) in the decision and then make the move.

Sometimes you just need to jump and put yourself in a place where you’ve got no other option but to work your butt off to make your dream come true.

What would you add?

I’m sure I’m not the only one who hears people saying that they’re quitting jobs to chase dreams. What do you say to them?

And to those of you who’ve made the leap (or attempted it) – what do you wish people would have said to you?

How to Make the Switch Between Monetizing with Ad Network to Selling Ads Directly on Your Blog

Over on Reddit today someone asked for some advice on switching from monetizing a blog using just ad networks (like AdSense) to selling advertising directly to advertisers. I found myself writing a rather long response and thought it might also be of some use to readers here.

Here’s the question:

I was reading a post about blogging and money and was wondering when in a bloggers career do the emails start coming in where companies are trying to advertise on your website? I am curious because when first starting out you don’t have a lot of traffic so no proof of presence so companies don’t really care to be shown for long periods of time on those blogs. So people get adsense or amazon ads up. Then at a certain point there are a ton of people coming in and people now want to throw ads up. This is a great point to just take down the automatic ads and go with the ad management setup.

When did you realize your traffic was high enough to switch over?

And my response (which wasn’t really written as a blog post – so I hope it is helpful):

This is a question I hear fairly regularly and I wish there was a magical number that applied for all blogs. The reality is that I’ve seen bloggers sell ads directly to advertisers before they launched and to bloggers who couldn’t sell ads directly, even with tens of thousands of visitors a day.

As with most things in blogging – there is no formula.

My own experience is that I have monetized my blogs in a variety of ways from day #1 and  that as my blogs grow this has not changed. What has changed is the type of monetization.

As your traffic and brand develops, new opportunities will open up for different types of monetization.

So for me, in the early days, I started with AdSense and a little affiliate marketing (Amazon’s program). This generated a few cents a day – but they were a few cents more than I had when I started! More importantly, I learned a lot about ad placement and design, and what type of ads worked best on my sites.

As my traffic grew, I began to realize that I might one day be able to sell ads directly to advertisers. However, these advertisers didn’t magically appear. I had to go and chase them.

While I had an ‘advertise with us’ page on the site, the only ads I was able to sell were small ads with small advertisers. I had a camera review blog and my first advertisers were small local camera stores who paid $20-$30 for a month of advertising (discounted for 12 months). It wasn’t much – but it was $20-$30 a month more than I had… and again I learned a lot from selling those ads!

As traffic and brand grows, you can command more for ads but you shouldn’t just rely upon advertisers coming to you.

Ask yourself a few questions to identify potential advertisers:

  • What is my readers intent? Why are they coming to my blog? If you can nail what this is you might just find an advertiser who matches that intent. For my camera review blog, I realized my readers were researching before they purchased a camera, so pitching to camera stores was a smart move.
  • Who are my readers? What are their demographics? Knowing who is reading your blog is golden information when finding advertisers. Surveys and polls of your readership can help work this out. Once you know that, ask ‘who is trying to reach this type of person?’
  • Who is actively advertising on my niche? Look on other blogs/sites/forums to see who is advertising. Look to see what advertisers ads are appearing on your site through the Ad Networks you use. Look to see who is advertising on Google when you type in key words related to your niche. These advertisers are in the market for readers in your niche and should be places you go to pitch your site as a place to buy ads.

As you approach advertisers you’ll see that they want certain information that you can begin to pull together into a media kit.

Information about your readers is important to include (readership numbers, demographics, reader intent etc) as well as the opportunities and costs associated with advertising.

Include what type of ads you can run (ad size and placement).

Also think about how you can offer bundles of ads. For example, you might offer ads in your newsletter, on social media or to do a giveaway to your readers. These extras could be offered either as incentives to advertisers (buy some ads and we’ll throw in XXXX) or you could use them as up-sells.

In time, you’ll see what kind of information that advertisers want. Smaller advertisers often won’t need as much but as you approach bigger advertisers (usually you need to do this through their agencies) they’ll ask for more and more information and make more demands in terms of paperwork and your pitch.

Even when your site is big, you’ll still find that you need to pitch TO advertisers more often than not. Some will come knocking but I find that these are more likely to be PR people wanting you to write about their products for little or no money or in return for product (it’s hard to live off free products).

Having said that – this depends a little on your niche and traffic. If you’re writing about something very specialized and in demand, advertisers are going to be more keen and will seek you out, even if your traffic is small.

Lastly – I’ve done many direct ad deals over the years but even though they are regular I still run some ad network ads on my blogs to fill the gaps.

I’ve also found that as your traffic, brand and reader engagement grows there are other ways to monetize by developing your own products (eBooks, courses or even physical products) as well as doing some affiliate marketing. But that’s probably another story :-)

Hope something in that helps!

How to Make Your Blogging Dreams Come True [Part 2]

Choose one small thing to start with that will move you toward your dream and do it to the best of your ability (tweet this).

I issued that challenge in a post How to Make Your Blogging Dreams Come True just over a month ago. Since publishing that post, I’ve had literally hundreds of readers email me to let me know that they’ve been using the mantra to move them toward their blogging (and non blogging) dreams.

As a result, I thought I’d circle back to it today to check in with how people are going as well as suggesting another strategy for helping you to move toward your dreams.

Last week, I spoke at the World Domination Summit about ‘getting dreams out of your head’. I finished my talk by suggesting those in the audience take a moment to tell the person next to them a dream they wanted to chase.

What I’ve discovered, over the years, is that when I share my dreams the chances of them happening increases. I think this is for three reasons:

Sharing Dreams Creates Accountability

Firstly, it creates a little accountability. When I share a dream I have (whether it be a big dream or a small one) I find it opens a conversation that becomes ongoing. The other person then has permission to followup and ask how the dream chasing is going and even if they don’t ask, I know they know… so I am motivated to pursue it!

Sharing Dreams Helps You Recruit Dream Collaborators

Secondly, I find that by sharing a dream with another person you often find collaborators who can help you make it happen. Just last week I told a friend a dream of mine and two days later I received an email telling me that they’d been thinking about what I’d told them and that they:

  • knew someone that I should talk to that had experience in that area
  • had just read an article that I should read that touched on my dream
  • wanted to offer to help with one aspect of making the dream a reality

Sharing your dream might just unearth the keys to make that dream happen.

Sharing Dreams Makes Them More Robust

Lastly, I find that verbalising a dream helps the dream to find shape. My dreams usually start off just living in my mind. But once I share it, verbally, I begin to hear the strengths and weaknesses of what I’m saying. By putting words to your dream, you begin to test it and shape it. When others ask you questions about it you’re forced to look at it in a more realistic way – something that helps to make it a more robust idea!

Who to Share Your Dream With?

So at WDS last week I asked people in the audience to share a dream with the person next to them. This took a few people out of their comfort zone but in the days that have followed, I’ve had emails from a number of people who took the challenge who have already seen their dreams becoming a reality. And it all started when they shared a sentence or two about their dreams.

Sharing your dreams with random people is certainly something that can have a big impact but you might want to be a little more selective than that, particularly if your dream is more personal or in its very early stages.

Sometimes you want to be a little careful about who you want to share a dream with because some people will bring their critical thought processes to the dream before it is ready to be critiqued. There’s certainly nothing wrong with having a dream ‘tested’ by such people but I tend to do this once a dream has been developed and becomes a little emote robust!

I have a small group of friends and team members who I know are great for listening to my dreams and ambitions. They are people who care for me, who I trust and who I know will encourage and give energy towards making dreams come true. They are also people who can tell me if an idea isn’t so great when required – without crushing my spirt :-)

Challenge: Share a Dream

So here’s my challenge to you. Share a dream!

Do you have a dream that you’ve been struggling to get out of your head? It may or may not relate to blogging – either way, I encourage you to share it with someone.

You may choose to do this by sharing it with a trusted friend as suggested above.

Or if your dream isn’t so personal or you’re ready to put it out there more publicly you might choose to do it in comments below or you might even write a blog post about that dream.

But don’t keep it to yourself!

Magic 5-Step Plan To Writing a Post That Will Easily Win Pulitzer Prize

This is a guest contribution by Tim Soulo.

I bet the next sentence will totally blow your mind!

Ready?

Though… I think a bit of preparation wouldn’t hurt. No really, when I told this to my friend the other day he had a heart attack and I had to drive him to the hospital (he’s ok now btw).

But you just have to know that! This is probably the most important piece of advice in your whole career.

So read along…

1. The Power of The Post Opener

Ok. I was bluffing, I’m sorry. I don’t have a “sentence that will blow your mind”. But did you even notice how easily you got involved into reading this post and how intrigued you were to know what’s going to happen next?

If you look at the very first sentence of this post, it’s sole purpose is to make you read the next one. But the next one doesn’t answer the question I’ve planted in your head (“what will blow my mind?”), it just adds more drama to keep you intrigued and make you read even further.

This kind of “post opener” follows the well known AIDA formula: Attention, Interest, Desire, Action.

  • My first sentence got your Attention.
  • The story about a friend that got heart attack got you Interested.
  • The statement “you have to know that” played with your Desire.
  • And I invited you to take Action by offering to “read along”.

But what’s the point of going an extra mile to make your post opener intriguing and catchy? Actually there are quite enough reasons for that:

  • If a person opens your post, this doesn’t mean he will read it. Your post opener helps him to make the decision if he wants to read this post or not;
  • Generally people don’t want to read, they just want to consume some valuable information. If you fail to present it in an entertaining and engaging way someone else might win their attention;
  • We’re easily distracted: an email or tweet or maybe a phone call can easily steal our attention and make us forget about the post we were reading. So your opener should be good enough to make people ignore everything else until they finish it.

2. Who Needs An Opener When The Headline is Poor?

You have the best opener in the world, but what if noone will ever see it? Why?

Because your headline isn’t good enough!

My RSS reader pretty much illustrates the point:

Tim Soulo's google reader screen of headlines

Same thing with updates on Twitter or Facebook or search listings in Google ­ in every case the headline is what you see first.

Headline is the most important part of your post. Literally. So make sure it’s compelling enough to steal person’s attention.

There are plenty of good tips and techniques to writing powerful headlines, but I think if you master this single document ­ “Headline Hacks” ­ your headlines will rock!

3. Subheadings are Headline’s Best Friends

Subheadings are not only used to improve the structure of your post, but they actually improve the chances of the post to actually get read.

And here’s how.

Many of us (including myself) will always skim through the post quickly in order to determine how big it is, how much time it will take to read it and how valuable it is for us. In case your post is just a since chunk of text and there’s nothing that catches the eye and gives you an idea of what the post is about ­ most people won’t risk their time to read it.

By using interesting and compelling subheadings you’re drastically increasing the chances of your post to be read.

4. Your Post Structure And Styling May Cost You Readers Too

Let’s keep talking about the “phenomenon” of skimming the post before reading it. What else might catch the eye?

  • Pictures? ­Absolutely!
  • Numbered (or unnumbered) lists? ­Definitely!
  • Text in bold or italic? ­Pretty much.
  • Quotations? ­Yeah, why not.

Everything that’s different from the common paragraph of text might get person’s attention and make him quickly read this part. Don’t be afraid to use photos, graphics, videos or anything else along these lines.

Take a look at my post and see which of these things I’ve already used and if they fit naturally and really help you (as a reader) to consume information.

And by the way, make sure your paragraphs of text are not bigger than 3-­4 sentences, because most people have have some hidden psychological fear of huge chunks of text and they just won’t read them.

All in all, usage of all these things inevitably leads to improving the logical structure of your post. Subheadings alone mean that the article is not just a random flow of thought, but it’s actually structured into certain logical parts, which makes it a lot easier to comprehend it.

BONUS TIP: Try to always add captions for the images. Studies show that 80% of people who are skimming through the post will read the image captions.

5. All of The Above Is Useless Without Research

We love to think that we have enough knowledge in our heads to produce compelling content which others will find interesting and valuable. Yet quite often we’re awfully wrong.

To prove my point I invite you to google the hell out of the next topic that you’re going to write about and see yourself if there’s anything you didn’t know. And besides, if it so happens that there are tons of posts on the topic already listing the same thoughts and ideas you were about to write… ­ maybe the world doesn’t need yet another one?

But if you’re confident that you can do a much better post than any of those already there ­ go for it, my friend! And make sure you send me the link once it’s published for I want to read that!

One last thing I love about a thorough research ­ it makes your brain work! I don’t remember where I heard this advice first, yet it works for me so damn good:

When you need to generate some fresh ideas or uncanny solutions ­ go read all you can on the topic and then do something else and let your brain rest and slowly digest all the information you’ve just consumed. Sooner or later a great idea will strike you out of nowhere! Believe me, this really works!

The Topic Is Exhausted? Talk To Your Readers!

Don’t know about you, but I write articles with a sole purpose of communicating to people. And I love when the communication goes both ways for otherwise I might as well just bury the article on my hard drive once I’m done writing it.

I’m sure you guys have something to say about this very post. So speak out! I’ll be glad to continue the conversation in comments.

Tim Soulo is a blogging experimenter and conversion junkie. He is passionate about discovering new marketing ideas and sharing them with his readers. Why don’t you visit his personal blog at BloggerJet.com and take his free email course on boosting your traffic.

Help! My Baby is Sick and Someone is Stealing My Money!

This is a guest contribution from Andrew Grant, owner and author of The Freedom Blog.

Two weeks ago I made a shocking discovery.

I found out that my youngest child, barely out of nappies, has been infected by a terrible virus with the sinister name of SASS.

SASS spreads at an alarming rate and is highly contagious. Prevalence has doubled in the last year alone and the most frightening thing is that SASS is propagated by one of our favourite modern technologies; the smartphone!

OK, don’t worry; I’m not talking about real children. You don’t have to hygienically dispose of your iPhone, just yet.  SASS stands for Short Attention Span Surfing and I just made it up. But this fictional disease does represent a very real threat to something very precious to me; my young, fresh-faced blog.

If you are a fellow blogger, you’ll know exactly how I feel. Just like a real baby the birth of a blog is often protracted and painful, yet at the same time, strangely moving. Once mine entered the world, I was anxious to show it off, but also curiously shy in case people thought it was ugly.  I dressed it in a pretty theme, fed it with the freshest content and showered it with unnecessary plugins on the slightest pretence.

At the same time, I anxiously monitored its vital signs, reacting to every burp and hiccup; even getting up in the middle of the night just to make sure it was still breathing.

Heart beat vital signs

Image courtesy of jscreationzs FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The Danger Signs

It was during one of my nocturnal check-ups that I noticed something was wrong.

At first everything appeared normal. I noted, as usual that mobile visitors represented about twenty percent of my overall traffic, split roughly 50/50 between tablets and smart-phones, which is exactly what I would expect from reading the latest tech news headlines. Mobile is growing like crazy.

The latest report from Monetate for example, shows that mobile share of web traffic has doubled in the last year alone from 10 to 20% (in line with my stats) and businesses with retail sites now get a better conversion from their tablet users than they do from desktops. It seems we’re happier to buy on our iPads than our Dells, these days. Smart-phone users aren’t quite so keen to buy stuff, yet.  But that will change as web designers catch up with the opportunity.

Therefore, it seems perfectly feasible, as Morgan Stanley have predicted, that in less than two years, more than half the people who visit my site, or yours, will be on some sort of mobile device. So, what’s the problem? Mobile users are as good as any others, aren’t they?

Well, yes, but also a big, No.

Like most blog-parents I had been careful to choose a nice warm, mobile-responsive theme, so that my baby would look his best on any browser, but I was beginning to suspect that it wasn’t enough. When I started looking at my analytics for visitor engagement, I found a disturbing dark shadow on the X-Ray.

Although my desktop stats were holding steady, mobile user-engagement was significantly lower. In fact, the figures were remarkably symmetrical.  Twenty percent of my visitors were reading twenty percent fewer pages and leaving twenty percent sooner than everybody else.

Except for one visitor, who spent 25 minutes browsing my blog on a Motorola phone. But I don’t think he counts. I think he was asleep!

Why don’t they like my baby?

I wanted to figure out why my content wasn’t working for mobile users, so I took a critical look using my own smartphone. I could see the problem straight away. Even though my nice, responsive theme was doing its best to optimise the presentation, there were bigger issues.

The site took too long to load, the font was difficult to read indoors and impossible in daylight, the graphics were too big and the layout looked uninviting.  Clearly, my mobile readers were receiving a second rate experience. It was no surprise they were bouncing off to go and play Angry Birds.

I could see it was time for a change, but the real tipping point came when I read this piece by Amy Mischler at mobithinking.com

“Building a dotMobi site means that your URL will automatically feature on the ‘zone files’ that we maintain for ICANN, which are regularly requested by mobile search engines, directories and other sites as ‘seed lists’ for the indexing of mobile-centric web sites.

 In other words, the use of a dotMobi domain will automate the beginnings of your search engine and directory submission process – in fact each month these log files are requested by around 5,000 interested parties.”

Does that smell like free traffic to you?  Bear in mind that was written in 2008, so imagine how much opportunity there is now!

Note: Dot mobi is a top level domain (TLD), just like dot com or dot org, which was introduced in 2006. It is intended to allow sites to differentiate themselves from their desktop counterparts and indicate that they are focused on a mobile audience.  You can register a dot mobi domain with any of the usual domain name providers.

Can Anybody Help Me?

So I began looking around for advice on how to ‘go mobile’. Surely, I thought, there must be plenty of other bloggers who are way ahead of me on this one. Mustn’t there? Well, as it turned out, there weren’t. What I found was lots of advice in two areas. Neither of which was much help.

Firstly, there were dozens of articles advising the use of responsive themes and secondly, I found plenty of suggestions for apps allowing me to post on the move. Since I already had a responsive theme and no desire to write my articles from the inside of a whale’s belly, I was disappointed.

Nowhere could I find anybody talking about things like user engagement, mobile content optimisation or multi-media repurposing, except as a means of building backlinks. It seemed I was on my own.

But then I discovered something even more shocking.

Someone is stealing my money!

Image courtesy of chanpipat FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Let’s see if you can spot it too. Here’s a little challenge for you. If you have a responsive theme on your blog, take look at it on your smartphone. Looks nice doesn’t it?

All your posts neatly lined up, one on top of the other.  Lovely, slidey, scrolly action.   See those front-page extracts whizzing past your fingers.  Wheee!

Now look a little closer. Notice anything missing?  No? Are you sure?

OK, I’ll give you a clue. Think of the word ‘sidebar’. Are you getting it now? Where is your sidebar? Not there is it? I don’t know which responsive theme you’re using, but every single one I’ve tried has dumped my sidebars like a cheap date, as soon as it spots a hot, new smart-phone.

And what are the three most important things that most bloggers keep in their sidebars?

  • Recent posts widgets
  • Opt-in forms
  • AdSense ads and banners

Those clever boffins who designed your, oh-so-elegant, responsive theme have completely forgotten to include the three most important elements of your blog; the elements responsible for reader engagement, visitor retention and monetization.

Programmers are pilfering our pocket money! Of course, it’s not deliberate. I hope. But it is bad design. It solves one problem but creates a bigger one.

Really! Can Anyone Help Me?

Once again, I turned to the heavy hitters to find some answers. Surely, the big bloggers are not so dumb as to let 20% of their readers go by without showing them a single ad? They must be doing something really creative to get round this problem. Mustn’t they?

Well, once again, not exactly. Out of five big names chosen at random and viewed on my smartphone, three showed less than ten percent of their normal number of ads and two of them had no ads at all!  Sorry, Problogger, I’m afraid you are one of the latter. The ones who did manage to squeeze some in, were usually settling for a single banner at the top of the front page and maybe a box ad at the bottom of each post.

The most effective solution I came across was to make the advert into a post. That way it would appear as part of the front page scroll and carry the same visual weight as a post I’ve since discovered this is called ‘native advertising’, though I’m not sure why.

Despite these small pockets of advancement, it was clear that the mobile interface is a problem that we’re all wrestling with. What we need is an action plan to inoculate our babies against SASS.  Since no one else seems to have got round to it yet, here’s mine.

Mobile Action Plan – Mark 1

Speed

Optimise everything; mobile users may have slow, 3G connections

  • Cut down the number of images
  • Compress the ones you keep
  • Install a caching plugin and learn how to configure it
  • Compress your CSS and JS code by installing Minify and Gzip .  Don’t worry.  I know that sounds like a technical nightmare, but it is really easily achieved with a couple of plugins

Content

You probably don’t want to write two sets of content, so use the same posts as on your main site, but mobile-ise them, like this:

  • Write a three bullet summary at the top of each post in a larger font.  This will appear in the post extract, so mobile users can see immediately what they’re getting
  • Offer them different ways to consume the post
  • How about a recorded version so they can listen while they drive?
  • Give them the option to email the post to themselves and read it later – that way they can sign up to your email list at the same time
  • Or turn the post into slides or a video, upload it to Slideshare or YouTube and embed the player on your blog – that way you get a couple of backlinks into the bargain

Monetization

Get clever with your adverts

  • Find out if you can configure your theme to display sidebar content to mobile users
  • If not work out ways to embed ads into the body of your posts
  • Turn the ads into posts ; advertorial style is great for product reviews or A vs B, type content. That way they will have the same visual weight as any other post and show up in the middle of the front-page scroll
  • Find smart ways to integrate your money links into the body of your content – it’s more compelling that way anyway and you may well find that click-through rates increase.

Visitor retention and list building

  • Buy some low-cost PLR ebooks and offer a new one every week or month, as an opt-in gift.  Then you can write a review post of each book, with your opt-in box in the middle of the text.  (PLR stands for Private Label Rights and basically means you buy a licence to do what you want with the book – sell it, give it away or even pretend you wrote it.)
  • Try embedding your opt-in form into other posts as well, so that it shows up a couple of times a week

Access

Ultimately, mobile users should really have their own gateway

  • At the very least you should install a responsive theme and test it on a smart-phone
  • Think seriously about building a satellite blog on a dot mobi domain, with an auto-switching plugin that detects the visitor’s device and serves up the most appropriate version.
  • Consider building an app as well as, or even instead of, your blog.  This has cost implications, but also advantages.  An app is a walled garden that engenders loyalty and push notification blows email out of the water, when it comes to open rates (up to 60% for push vs around 20% for email).

Once you put your mind to it, the mobile challenge starts to throw up all sorts of new opportunities and new ways to deliver good content.  In fact some of those ideas might work well on your main site too.

Cured?

The real question is; will doing all this cure our babies and let them grow big and strong again? The simple answer is, I don’t know. But we have to try something, or blogging as we know it, is in danger of disappearing.

Maybe the future blogging model is virtual and distributed, rather than site-centric. Imagine that your content is everywhere and readers simply access it via an app which draws in articles, slides, videos and audio files from all the different places you uploaded them.

Rather than getting hung up on the framework of our site, we should be focused on creating multi-purpose content, ready to be delivered, via whatever medium comes along. Right now we’re thinking about mobile. Next year it might be a wristwatch, or Google’s Glasses or a flexible screen sewn into your jacket.

Ultimately, the biggest lesson for content providers is that we need to separate the intellectual property from the real estate. Whatever it looks like, people will still want content and we need to be ready to give it to them.  Or someone else will. For a list of useful test sites, plugins and tools to help you go mobile, you’ll find a page called ‘Mobile Resources’ on my blog.

Let us know what you think.  What steps have you taken to mobile-ise?  What solutions have you come up with to monetise on smartphones?

Andrew Grant is the owner and author of The Freedom Blog a site where aspiring bloggers and internet marketer can find inspiration, practical advice and food for thought.

How to Deal with a Firestorm of Controversy on Your Blog (Before it Suffocates You)

This is a guest contribution from Sherice Jacob.

You’ve just hit Publish. You don’t know what will happen from here, but at the moment, you feel relieved. You’ve just written one of the most controversial, eye-opening, highly-polarizing posts on your blog. You know it’s ripe for debate and there are going to be readers who take your perspective personally – as if you secretly wrote it for – and about – them.

Some bloggers will tell you that controversy is one of the best possible angles you can take on your blog. And for some people, it is. For others, it can be a disastrous downward spiral – but one thing is certain, people will love it, either way.

Case in point, the social meltdown that occurred on the Amy’s Bakery Facebook page after the company was featured on chef Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares. Chef Ramsay actually quit the episode because the proprietors refused to listen to him. That, coupled with thousands of comments from users on Reddit and Yelp added fuel to the fire. The husband-and-wife team leapt into the fray, alternating between defending themselves and cursing out the posters.

It was the perfect example of how NOT to handle controversy and criticism. 

It’s also worth mentioning that consequently, their page went from 2,500 likes on Facebook, to over 50,000. It’s doubtful that people liked the company as much as they liked the drama.

Why We Secretly Both Love and Hate Controversy

On the whole, we like to play it safe. Even as young children, we’re taught not to “ruffle any feathers” and to use our “indoor voices”.

But a good controversy demands that we draw a line in the sand and dare others to cross it. If you’ve got a topic so heartfelt and genuine that you just have to share it – do it. One post that’s near and dear to you will be worth more to your readers than ten “safe” posts.

The fact is, no one knows the topic like you do. Considering that you’re not riling up readers just to touch a nerve, and that you truly do value and believe in what you have to share – then you’ve already laid the groundwork for a good controversial post that makes a point while remaining open to discussion.

You Don’t Need to Seek Out Their Approval

While it’s nice to have readers in your corner vouching for your perspective – you don’t need to actively seek out their approval.

Nothing makes a blogger look weaker than stating their point and then chasing it up with “Am I right, guys? Am I right?” By the same token, don’t do a complete 180 degree shift and play the victim card. Hand-wringing and taking everything personally just gives the criticizers more reason to keep attacking you and your post.  Sadly, some people do this as a form of entertainment.

Know when to respond, when to walk away, and when to learn from your actions (and yes, you can do all three of these based on the comments in your post!)

  • If you’ve made your point as clearly and accurately as possible, you’ve done what you set out to do.
  • If you’ve made some mistakes, take a step back, acknowledge the errors and make corrections

Above all, don’t attack the commenters for posting their point of view, like the bakery company did. They simultaneously managed to proclaim their goodness, lash out at posters and play the victim card all at once.

Don’t Turn Your Audience into Mashed Potatoes

Know what bloggers and mashed potatoes tend to have in common? Lumps.

In that, as bloggers, we’ve been preached to so much about personas and demographics that we tend to lump all our readers together in terms of likes/dislikes/interests/lifestyles. Like MMO computer games?  Then you must be a level 60 basement-dwelling, cheeto-stained neckbeard!

Wrong.

Resist the urge to lump your audience together into neatly organized stereotypes and they’ll be a lot more forgiving of your observations (even if they disagree with them). Every user has a unique perspective, so making generalized statements toward a group, a product or a person is sure to inflame the others who don’t match that generalization, and resent being pigeon-holed into that group.

Agree to Disagree

Remember above all, that this is your blog. You can answer questions, post responses and make corrections on your own terms. Keep the discussion on track and resist the urge to give in to commenters who interrupt or veer off topic.  Stay focused and agree to disagree.  Who knows? Maybe after making your first controversial post, you can follow up with a “What I’ve Learned” lesson.

Above all, resist the urge to delete the post and censor the comments. Blogs are not a one-way street.

Your true readers will follow you to the ends of the earth and back, even if they don’t agree with you. And that’s what makes a controversial post so rewarding.

Want to improve your blog, but don’t know where to start?  Sherice Jacob offers comprehensive blog reviews with an emphasis on getting you more subscribers, more traffic and more sales. Learn more at iElectrify.com

7 Surprising Skills Blogging is Teaching You

This is a guest contribution from Kelly Teng, Digital Outreach Specialist at Switched on Media.

Blogging can take you on a whirlwind journey. It can have you running around at events, losing sleep, and sitting in front of your computer for hours and hours (and hours…). The end result is a great blog with stellar posts, and a myriad of experiences that you get to embark on and incredible people you get to meet.

However, your experiences and the amount of time you invest don’t just make for a great blog – in fact, your blogging benefits you in ways that you may not even realise.

Here are a few surprising skills that you acquire as a byproduct of blogging. You may discover some hidden talents you never thought you had (party tricks not included).

The gift of words

All right, perhaps this isn’t a surprising skill: blogging has you writing almost every day, so it’s almost a no-brainer that you’ll become proficient at it over time!

When you blog, you have to think up creative and interesting ways to convey your content to your readers, and also you have to articulate your thoughts clearly and express yourself well. Although you may not notice it, your writing has improved. Don’t believe me? Take a look at your first few posts and compare them to what you are writing now.

Blogging is also useful to help you find and establish your own personal tone of voice and style of writing. Whether your words are motivational, inspirational, dry and sarcastic, funny, or apathetic, you’ll slowly uncover a style that will stick with you and your blog for years to come.

Time management

Us humans are notorious for complaining about having so much to do in so little time. We struggle to find time for work and looking after our families, let alone looking after ourselves and doing the things we want to do.

Blogging is almost like a crash-course in time management. You have to manage your regular job (if you have one), your family, writing, answering emails, scheduling posts, and formatting and designing your blog. You have to coordinate taking photos for a post with making lunch or dinner for your kids. You have to be as punctual as possible with your posts and comment responses; if you don’t, your readership stays stagnant or falters. You have to check and reply to emails quickly as well, because often opportunity can come knocking, get impatient, and leave.

It starts to get overwhelming, but then you adjust and figure out better ways to manage your time. Your blog is teaching you how to be more efficient and effective, and to get as much out of every day as you can.

A little bit of design

When you started out, you probably selected a default Blogspot, WordPress or Tumblr theme for your blog. However, you have probably found that as your readership grows, you begin looking for a new theme or revamp your site with a customised feel (maybe it’s even in alignment to your tone of voice). You also have probably jazzed up your photos with text, borders, and colour balanced them on Photoshop to make them look better as well.

Without even realising it, your blog has helped turn you into a bit of a designer. From choosing a colour palette to redesigning your layout and editing your images, you now have more design experience than much of the adult population – without even trying.

Relationship creation and maintenance

Brands and bloggers are working together more now than ever. Many bloggers get approached by brands on a daily basis for reviews, giveaways, advertisements and guest posts; for those that haven’t yet, it’s only a matter of time.

The more you interact with brands and advertisers, the more adept you become at creating and maintaining business relationships. You learn how to reach diplomatic solutions and establish partnerships with stakeholders, and to work in a way that is mutually beneficial for you, your readers, and your stakeholders (be it a brand, client, or customer).

Through working with brands, you can also learn how to become a brand storyteller and a creative as well, by talking about products or companies in a new and exciting way that fits your audience.

Diplomacy to rival U.N. delegates

…and speaking of diplomatic solutions, blogging also helps you build your diplomacy skills.

There are always going to be readers who will be unhappy when you change something, or trolls who have nothing better to do but to try and upset people. Unfortunately, these are a byproduct of sharing a piece of your life with the world; however, another byproduct is the chance to build your diplomacy and establish best business practices.

Every unhappy reader you manage to quell and every troll you manage effectively contributes to your ability to diffuse a situation well – and this will come in handy often in day-to-day life, as well as in business. For extra tips to enhance your skills, have a read of Dale Carnegie’s How to win friends and influence people.

Content creation and management

The key to a successful blog is content – there’s no getting around it. As a blogger, you become a curator of content much like an editor of a magazine or newspaper. You plan and schedule posts, and must think about newsworthy and unique content that is relevant to your readership demographics. If your blog accepts sponsored posts, you often have to carefully plan it so it is spaced out along with regular content.

You learn how to create useful and original content, and how to create a balance of editorial and sponsorship. In essence, you have the skills of an editor, which makes sense – after all, you are the editor of your own publication.

Social media strategy and community management

This is perhaps one of the most coveted skills in today’s technologically saturated environment. With more and more businesses and people going online, experience with social media strategy and community management is a vital asset to have on your side.

As a blogger, you talk to your readership base through social media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter, and you engage with them and share your life through Instagram and Pinterest. You plan content in advance sometimes, and learn how to acquire more followers and post content that is relevant, informative, and interesting.

Through blogging, you have acquired the skills needed to manage a community online and strategies to foster stronger engagement and create effective content on social channels.

Did you ever realise you were becoming so talented? What other skills do you think your blogging has taught you?

Kelly Teng is a Digital Outreach Specialist at Switched on Media with a penchant for all things internet-related. Check out her other insights and musings here, or follow her on Twitter at @tellykeng.