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Blog Design for ROI Rule #6: KISS Headers, Navigation, and Sidebars

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

This post is the sixth in a series on blog design for ROI. Previous posts in the series were:

  1. Prioritize the Optin Form
  2. Highlight Your Key Content
  3. Show Love To Your Community
  4. Make Posts Easy To Read
  5. Engage Readers on Archive Pages Fast.

One area that blog designers regularly get wrong is the design of secondary elements, and I should know, since I made the error myself.

In this 2008 screenshot of my blog, the header, sidebar, and navigation are roughly as loud as a drunk protesting he shouldn’t be thrown out of the bar. Maybe louder!

SEOROI in 2008

The sidebar was screaming for attention, distracting people from reading the post content

Not only was my sidebar loud, but the ample whitespace in the header drew attention to my slogan. At the same time, the dark contrasting background I’d used for my main navigation and breadcrumb trail drew eyes there.

There was no clear focus to the design at all.

You might think that this was an accident, that I wouldn’t have made such a loud sidebar if I’d known better … I wish. Really, my idea was that having a prominent sidebar would allow me to periodically try different marketing messages there in order to gain more business. Similarly, I wanted people looking at and clicking on the navigation since the pages listed there were sales-oriented.

Considering the popularity of widgets (typically styled sidebar boxes like the one above) in the world of WordPress blog design, I’m probably not the only one prioritizing the sidebar over the main content.

So today’s rule really just has a simple message for myself and my fellow business bloggers.

Keep It Simple, Sam: the KISS rule applied to blog headers, navigation and sidebars

Simpler headers

Takeaway #1: Don’t distract visitors with big logos and branding. Either offer an opt-in form in that space or just tone down the branding and move your content up vertically.

Surprise! People’s top priority in visiting your blog is not to admire your logo and branding, nor the sidebar and your awards. It’s not even to click around your navigation.

Your visitors’ number one priority is to read your content.

What do many of us do? We load up large header graphics and massive logos, which not only push our content further down the page, but also distract the eye and brain from their goal:

Peter Shallard's blog

Peter Shallard’s blog features a very large header

MogulMom

A mega-sized logo takes pride of place at MogulMom – but she’d be even more successful than she is by scaling down her logo

Of course, this delaying and distracting of readers with large branding graphics is counter-productive. Why?

It’s a waste of space to use XXL branding, because we could instead prioritize the email signup form, which definitely feeds our long-term audience growth.

Another reason is that we want visitors to start reading fast, so we can maximize repeat visits and build our audience.

Simpler sidebars

Takeaway #2: Don’t distract visitors with long blogrolls, loads of award badges and other unruly sidebar features.

Keep the sidebar’s visual weight secondary, and minimize the clutter.

Chances are that your awards and reads you enjoy are not directly relevant to the specific post somebody has loaded or to the given archive page, let alone the About Us or Contact pages. So why not move the blogroll, category and tag links to their own separate pages?

Have a page with links to your favourite blogs. Add another page to serve as a general archive clearinghouse with links to each category and tag page.

What should you feature in your sidebar instead?

  1. Earlier in this series I discussed the importance of showing attention to your community. The sidebar is a good place to do that.
  2. You can have widgets that highlight related content (e.g. tag-based) as well as popular content from the same category the post is in. This personalizes or contextualizes the content suggestions, which most readers appreciate.
  3. 3. Write an About page summary in the sidebar.

And what about subscription calls to action?

As I mentioned earlier, it’s best to place these in visually prominent areas above and below the main column rather than in the sidebar. If that’s not possible, then the sidebar is the next best place.

Think of your sidebar as a complement to your post, and you’ll be more successful than if you see the sidebar and post as competing for attention.

Simpler navigation

Takeaway #3: Your primary menu has a place on every page … but a secondary place.

Remember how my blog’s menu drew attention to itself with rich colours, instead of helping eyes rest on my content?

Learn from my mistake and keep your navigation’s visual weight secondary. A light grey or white background will do, and the breadcrumb navigation really does not deserve to be at the center of things, much less to have a highlighted background.

For more on visual hierarchy, see this great post on Search Engine Land and this one on the 4 degrees of visual hierarchy in wireframing.

Keep it simple!

The massive header branding does far less for you than either getting the visitor to join your newsletter or read some content—so use your space accordingly.

To the same effect, reading post content is more important than clicking links in the main navigation, blogroll, or discovering the admiration some other group has for your blog. Making the sidebar visually loud makes it harder for people’s eyes to read the post normally.

Keep it simple and watch your readership grow!

Gab Goldenberg and Internet Marketing Ninjas are developing a book based on this series – get your free copy at http://seoroi.com/blog-design-for-roi/ . You can also get a free chapter of Goldenberg’s The Advanced SEO Book.

10 Essential WordPress Security Plugins For 2013

This guest post is by of The WordPress Security Checklist.

Now that we have left 2012 behind, we can start planning 2013. And there is no better time to review the security plugins you use on your WordPress site.

Last year important new security plugins were released, and some of the existing plugins were updated.

The great challenge when it comes to WordPress Security Plugins is to find the magic combination which gives you optimal cover without conflicts or overlapping functionality.

Here we bring you the winning combination for a prosperous (and safe) 2013.

Let the party begin!

Make sure only invited guests pop in

When you throw a big party, you’d best think about who you let in. Otherwise the party might get out of hand.

These clever little plugins are your broad-shouldered bouncers. And they mean business!

WP Login Security 2

This is a personal favorite of mine. It’s very clever.

If an unknown guest arrives at your party your bouncer will ask for ID, but you can walk straight in.

Similarly, the plugin will send a verification email to the registered email address of the user if he tries to log in from an unknown IP address. Only if he validates the IP address by clicking on a link in the email will he be allowed in.

This is a very effective way of stopping brute force attacks. Even if someone does guess your userid and password, they still can’t get in.

If, on the other hand, you log in from a known IP address, you are let in straight away.

Resources:

Semisecure Login Reimagined

At your party, the bouncer will make sure no one eavesdrops when you whisper the secret password in his ear.

Ideally you would want to send your login information over SSL when you access your WordPress administration panel. However, there is a cost involved in obtaining a SSL certificate and if you are on a shared server you would also need a dedicated IP address.

This plugin is the next best thing for those of us who’d rather spend our money on party hats.

It will automatically encrypt your login information so it is much more difficult for an outsider to steal your credentials.

Resources:

Login Security Solution

This is the mother of all bouncers. He will only accept photo ID, he can check the expiry date and you can tell him that library cards are no longer accepted. He can even throw out people who fall asleep on the premises.

Or, in technical terms: with this plugin, password strength is enforced, password aging is an option, and password resets for all users can be forced. And you can even log out idle sessions automatically.

Another clever feature of this plugin: instead of locking out IP addresses of brute force attackers it will slow down the response times gradually. This means that you can get your own password wrong without being locked out, and it will still make brute force attacks almost impossible.

Resources:

WordPress Firewall 2

This is the wall around your house that makes sure no one sneaks in through your backdoor or a window, bypassing your bouncers. It’s very important.

Windows Firewall 2 inspects all incoming traffic to identify if anyone sends you malicious requests or tries to inject data into your database.

Resources:

Block Bad Queries

This plugin is like the barbed wire or the broken glass on top of the wall. Yes, the internet is really a bad neighborhood!

BBQ extends your firewall and helps filter incoming traffic to stop known bad guys.

Resources:

Keeping tabs on what goes on in your house

Once your party is going you want to keep an eye on what is happening. If someone breaks your TV you’d like to know who’s responsible and how much damage was caused.

These plugins are your eyes and your ears. And they are awake!

WordPress File Monitor Plus

This is like having surveillance cameras in every room of your house and taping all the action. If anything goes down you can see exactly what happened.

WordPress File Monitor Plus tracks changes to your file system. If any files are added, removed, or changed you will be notified by email. Neat. Could be an invaluable help in cleaning up after you have had visitors!

Resources:

WP Security Scan

Although you love opening up your house for the big party, there are still some rooms you do want to keep away from your guests. Locking a few doors will make sure the cats can only play where you want them to.

WP Security Scan checks your file and folder permissions and a few other things to make sure everything that should be locked down is locked down.

Resources:

Curing the hangover

Depending on the success of your party you might end up with a bit of a hangover the day after. But we’ve got the cure for you.

Update Notifications

This good old trick could save you from getting a hangover in the first place: take a couple of headache tablets before you go to bed.

By using Update Notifications you’re stopping the headaches before they begin. Keep your WordPress site updated at all times and you won’t see the bulk part of the threats circulating the net. This plugin automatically sends you an email when there is an update for your plugins, themes, or core WordPress files.

Resources:

Wordfence

If you are not feeling well, knowing why can make the difference between recovering quickly or suffering for a long time. If you know you are dehydrated you can drink some water. If you know you have got an infection, penicillin might be the remedy you need.

Wordfence is one of the newer security plugins. However it has matured very quickly. One of the great features of Wordfence is that it will compare the plugin, theme, and WordPress core files on your installation with the official version in the WordPress repository. If there are any discrepancies, the plugin will send you an email.

It will also scan your site for known malware, phishing, backdoors, and virus infections.

Resources:

Sucuri WordPress Security Plugin

If you are really out of luck, you might pick up some kind of disease at your party. This is the risk of mingling with many people. In this case, you might have to go to the doctor.

Sucuri is more than just a security plugin. In fact, their WordPress plugin is probably one of their least-known products.

Sucuri is a company that specializes in cleaning up infected websites. If your luck is out and your site is infected, they will clean it for less than it would cost you in coffee if you wanted to figure it out on your own—provided you know what you are doing. And they will keep your site clean for a year after that.

The WordPress plugin adds a web application firewall and malware file scanning. The web application firewall will communicate with Sucuri servers, so if one site is under attack from certain IP addresses they can be blocked across the network immediately.

Resources:

Enjoy 2013!

With a little bit of preparation, you will be able to throw fantastic parties in 2013, and you and your guests can amuse themselves without worrying about accidents or bad guys ruining everything.

Make sure your WordPress site is in good shape and ready to bring you a very prosperous 2013!

Check out ’s free WordPress Security Checklist, which is all about protecting your WordPress assets properly and sleeping well at night.

15 Bloggers to Watch in 2013

Welcome to the 2013 edition of Bloggers to Watch. My work has changed a lot over the past year—I’ve been focused a lot on the Australian blogger community, and on curators—so this post is very centered on those communities. This is the last time I’ll be writing this yearly round-up. It has been a blast exploring this project over the past four years.

So! Here are the 15 people that I’ll be keeping an eye on this year.

Tina Roth Eisenberg

Tina started swissmiss in 2005 as her “personal visual archive.” It eventually grew into a popular design journal with an average of 1 million unique visitors a month. I love that she was experimenting with visual curation before such a term even existed.

Many of you will argue that Tina shouldn´t be on such a list. She has been around for years and most of her projects don´t concern the blogging industry. Well, I disagree. I believe her archives have a lot to offer beginner bloggers. She is extremely talented at curation, and combines her community-building skills with a keen sense of strategy. She shows what you can achieve with your blog, and your life, if you step outside of the echo-chamber and pursue creative projects.

I also recommend that you check out Creative Mornings.

Jenny Lawson

This is the fourth year I have written this post. Every time, multiple people tell me that I should have included The Bloggess. I had read and devoured her blog, but didn´t know whether posts about taxidermied mice necessarily made someone worth watching. You guys would rather read about a hidden gem, right?

This year, after reading her book, I was able to realize why it is important that her blog gets acknowledged in this list. She helps normalize some of the icky stuff associated with mental illness. I have an anxiety disorder and, at times, it can consume my life. Jenny shows that brilliance can shine through, despite you feeling at your lowest. She shows that you can still leverage your power to amuse or help others despite feeling powerless.

We bloggers have a lot more power then we give ourselves credit for. Especially when convincing actors to post pictures of themselves holding cutlery and/or twine.

Gavin Aung Than

In early 2012, Gavin decided that he wanted to give cartooning a real chance. He quit his job, sold his house, and started “working on Zen Pencils to try to inspire myself and others.” (Source: The Viewspaper.)

Since then, he’s been able to attract the attention of many key influencers and mainstream media. I think he is really talented and that his story shows what you can achieve if you combine quality content with social media outreach.

I was at the ProBlogger Event when he told that story and I swear the room when silent. After six months, he reported that he was getting around 400,000 unique visitors a month, and had nearly 15,000 Facebook fans. I know so many people who would love those statistics. But few would sacrifice as much as Gavin has to achieve them.

Christina Butcher

Christina Butcher started Hair Romance as a side project but, in only 18 months, has turned her blog into her full-time job. She gets over 120, 000 visitors monthly and is very intuitive when it comes to trends. She has had a lot of success with the “31 days” ebook concept, tapping into the trend for her second ebook, too.

She is awesome because she serves as a guide to those who don´t understand the world of hairstyles. She is like a translator. She makes a complicated topic incredibly easy to understand and, frankly, is one of the nicest bloggers I´ve had the pleasure of talking to.

She has recently launched two new sites: Nail romance and Mr and Mrs Romance.

Jennifer Schmidt

Jennifer is another person whose blog started out as a personal project and has grown into a popular resource in her community. She is the blogger behind Beauty and Bedlam, which she describes as an authentic look at intentional living through strengthening family ties,  encouraging meal time memories,  food/meal planning, couponing, personal finance, home decor and frugal fashion. Late in 2012, she launched her food blog 10 Minute Dinners.

I believe that both sites have a lot of potential, and that her profile will be growing a lot in 2013.

Emily Winters

I discovered Emily thanks to a recommendation by Pete Fazio on the 2012 list. He said:

She is a DIY blogger who started a blog a year ago for family and friends, was discovered by DIYNetwork, and is now their featured blogger. Amazing stuff.

I thought it was an awesome suggestion and immediately decided that she would go on this year’s list.

Her blog, Merrypad, started as a personal project that evolved into a source of inspiration for those wanting to embrace a DIY lifestyle. It is another example of someone acting as a translator for a topic that could seem overwhelming. In this case, however, she is differentiating her site by targeting a gender that may not necessarily consider DIY projects.

It´s a really solid case study about how to make it easy for people to connect with your blog. Her before and after page is a really user-friendly way of taking the reader through her DIY journey without manually going through her archives.

If you want to learn more about Emily, I recommend you check out her BlogStar Interview.

Ramit Sethi

Ramit Sethi is one of my favourite people to learn from. He runs the site I Will Teach You To Be Rich and has written a bestselling book of the same name. He is incredibly strategic and practical. I´ve spent hours going through his archives and consistently return for inspiration. I love how usable his site is—look at how his blog headings lead to landing pages instead of categories.

Ramit shows what you can achieve as a result of in-depth research. He doesn´t write posts with the aim to go viral. He researches the heck out of his target audience and writes posts that answer their problems.

Rachel MacDonald

In Spaces Between is a shiny online space for bright sparks seeking inspiration and words on living a big, beautiful life. In little over a year, In Spaces Between has become the go-to blog for juicy inspiration, confidence building, fear fighting, and mindset shifting.

I think Rachel’s blog is pretty cool. What really intrigues me, though, is her attention to detail. Look at this custom graphic that was created for her interview with Nikki Parkinson. Her free ebook,
20 Ways to Create Your Best Life Ever

Antonia Murphy

I’d read anything she writes. She’s hilarious and very, very honest. She has a son who may have global developmental delay. She refers to him as a “tard” and an “alien,” which sounds harsh, but she does it in a way that works. I believe she’s taking the taboo away from these words; she’s making them powerless. She’s what I’d call a fearless writer.

I’ve fallen in love with her writing. She blogged about her sailing adventures at s/v Sereia and now writes about her land-based adventures in New Zealand at AntoniaMurphy.com. Hopefully we’ll see more writing from her in 2013.

Eden Riley

Eden is one of the coolest bloggers that I´ve had the pleasure of reading. She is tenacious and brilliant. Best of all, her logo is based on the mural in her office. She writes at Edenland.com

I admire her because she is a person that has gone through a lot of negative stuff—especially in the past year.  Despite her personal challenges, she continues to try and leverage her blog for good. This has included two overseas trips where she blogged about the food crisis in Niger and the slums of India. She also tries to challenge our perceptions—check out Ladies, It’s Time We Got Real About Being Beautiful.

Jen Gresham

Jen writes about career design at Everyday Bright. She encourages her readers to dare to shine:

…to define success on your own terms, to muster the courage to pursue your happiness, to create a life you love.

I love her blog because she sees career design as a process rather then something that can be solved with a quick fix. She follows the A-listers but doesn’t use the “trendy” techniques unless they are right for her blog. She is incredibly strategic and someone I think will be around for a long time in this community.

Tom Ewer

Tom Ewer got a lot of attention in early 2012 with his article, The 100 Blogs You Need In Your Life. He was able to leverage the momentum to grow Leaving Work Behind to the point where he was making a decent income from freelance writing and ebook sales.

Now, I´m not putting Tom on here because of his list post efforts. I try not to focus on the blogging/marketing niche anymore as it can be incredibly formulaic. I think Tom is worth watching purely because of his networking and outreach efforts. He is incredibly skilled, and I’d love to see what he could accomplish in a different niche or platform.

Alex Beadon

 I discovered Alex Beadon Photography when pinning images for the Digital Photography School Pinterest account. I fell in love with the Pinterest-friendly graphics she had created to promote her post and lost myself for hours checking out her archives.

I love the attention she has put into the branding and design of her blog. Look at the images she created to promote her FAQ page. It´s a great example of how you can infuse your personality into what might otherwise be a boring subject.

Tip: Look at the graphics in the sidebar that link to the categories of her blog. Could you create something like that to spice up your design?

Cheryl Lin

Cheryl runs Business Chic, a fashion blog featuring photos of professionals and their workwear style in Melbourne, Australia. She is a great example of how you can create a quality local niche blog.

I´ve been watching Cheryl grow Business Chic over the past three years. It has been in the past 12 months that she has really hit her stride. She strives to go beyond a fashion/streetstyle blog. In 2012, she experimented with a year-long little black dress project. This year, she´ll be turning that project into a book and an exhibition at a popular fashion festival.

She is an extremely hard worker and attends a lot of events, despite her day job. I know that her dedication will really pay off this year and that it will be an enjoyable journey to watch.  I think that she´ll be enjoying a lot of momentum in 2013.

Sarah Von Bargen

Sarah runs the lifestyle blog Yes and Yes. She couldn’t find a blog “that addressed the many, many aspects of modern life and didn’t pigeon-hole women into different camps” so she created one herself. It’s a really fun blog and one that I enjoy reading.

I’ve become captivated by her recently launched small business blog and I believe that she will make a real impact in her community.

Over to you

I’ve had a lot of fun with this blogging series and always enjoy reading about who you guys are watching. Who do you think is worth watching over the coming you? Who knows—the people you recommend just may get featured on here in the future!

What Every Successful Blogger Should Do Before Breakfast

This guest post is by Julie Carr of Plagtracker.com.

Most people think that breakfast should be the first thing a person does in the morning, but the savvy minorities know that the time prior to breakfast can be the most productive.

This is because it is when a person may focus, because they have not yet encountered the worries and distractions that haunt the honest citizen’s day.

Here’s a way we bloggers can use this precious snippet of time in the most productive and efficient way.

The night before

We all have to-do lists, but the most effective to-do lists are written the night before.

Bullet point all the tasks you need to do before you have breakfast the next day. When the morning comes, you must go down the list, one bullet point at a time, until you reach the bullet point that says “breakfast.”

The trick is to single-mindedly complete each bullet point in turn. Do not try to do two at the same time, or try to change the order. Take on one task until it is done, then move onto the next.

Add to your ideas journal

This is a file into which you put all the ideas that come to you during the day. It contains notes and things to research that relate to your ideas.

How you make this file is up to you; you can create a list, or create a folder and put different folders inside for ideas, notes, research, questions, and so on.

If you have a smartphone or tablet, then create an ideas journal on there so that you can add to it during your day.

Check your mail

Once you have added any of your early morning ideas to your ideas journal, you should check your mail.

This is going to alert you to anything that may disrupt your day. It also keeps you up to date on what has been happening while you were asleep.

Plan your day

Spend a few minutes coming up with five tasks that you must complete today.

If you have the time free, then come up with a detailed plan, but just keep an eye on the time. You don’t want your breakfast to turn into lunch.

Create a comment answering window

If you have a successful blog, then you are going to get comments 24/7. These could take you forever to answer, but regularly replying to your comments is a very good way to keep the conversations alive on your blog.

So you need to section off a part of your morning to answer comments. Dedicate ten minutes to non-stop comment answering. You won’t get them all, but you will get enough so that you keep the online conversation moving (poke the fire a little).

You can do more commenting and give fuller answers to people’s comments later in the day, if and when you have the time.

Check for updates

We all hate updating Java, iTunes, WordPress plugins, and so on, but it must be done. So do it in the morning.

Pick something to update (you are often prompted by your computer) and set it in motion while you cook and eat your breakfast. By the time you have finished eating your breakfast it should be done.

If you keep your software updated, it’s less likely to be hacked, to run slowly, or to crash. This way, you are using your “down time” (while you’re eating) in a very efficient way.

What’s your morning routine?

How do you use the time before breakfast to set yourself up fro a full day (or less if you’re juggling other commitments) of blogging? Share your secrets with us in the comments.

This guest post is by Julie Carr of Plagtracker.com. Julie J Carr is a freelance writer. She writes for new free-to -use plagiarism checker - Plagtracker. She is keen on new technologies, adores flavoured coffee and books, and likes to visit places where she can enjoy the latter two at the same time. You can mail her at [email protected]

23 Top Tips to Make Your Blog Posts More Conversational

This guest post is by Marya Jan of Writing Happiness.

Let’s face it; most blog posts that are currently being put out are simply b-o-r-i-n-g.

Dull. Unexciting. A big fail when it comes to keeping our attention.

The blogger is writing about a worthwhile topic no doubt, but the writing does nothing for the reader. It fails to engage, or draw you in. Even when you are supposed to be paying attention, you really aren’t. You keep on thinking about what else is out there. Your mind is wandering.

The writer is unable to form a connection and you end up clicking away. Hardly surprising, is it?

A tiny number of people are getting it right, though. They open their posts with a bang. They are spot on with their calls to action. Before you know it, you have read every single word and you wonder what happened to logging off for the day.

People like Jon Morrow, and Sonia Simone, and Darren himself. They are masters of engagement. They are talking directly to you. Only you.

How on earth do they do it? How do they make you stay put even though your pots are boiling over and your kids are screaming for dinner? Turns out they have quite a few tricks up their sleeves.

Let’s take a look, shall we?

Write like you talk—only better

You have probably heard this advice before, but we will take it up a notch here. Dig a little deeper. What does exactly it mean to write like you talk?

1. The most important word in blogging is “you”

Address you audience. Imagine you are sitting across the table from a really close friend, and write your post for them. You are allowed ask rhetorical questions, but cut down on ums and ahs. It makes for poor talking and appalling writing.

2. Mirror their responses

Say things like, “so you feel like nobody’s paying attention …” or “I know crafting effective calls to action can be really hard.”

What have your readers been telling you? Use some of their language to reflect that you are paying attention.

3. Use contractions

Some people hardly ever use any. They stay proper, but that’s not how you talk to a friend. Use don’t, isn’t, it’s. Make it less stilted. Make it flow better and sound like human speech.

4. Be bold with exclamatory phrases

By this, I mean things like “Oh no!” and “Holy cow!”

Psst! Watch some reality TV or reporting shows. See how they keep you glued to the set with exclamations.

5. Ignore your high school English teacher—within reason

Your old English teacher was right when she told you to choose the right word, make it vivid and interesting and add adjectives to your prose.

This is not something you should mess with. You can, however, get away with breaking some rules of grammar. You just need to know which.

5. Use fragments

Like this one. Believe it or not, it is fine to use them even if you are not actually saying them out loud.

6. Start your sentences with a conjunction

But that is not grammatically correct, you say. Well, this is one of those rules.

7. Stay away from adverbs

On most occasions that add nothing to your writing. Most of them are redundant like scream loudly, sigh sadly. Use sparingly.

8. Don’t be afraid to use a bit of slang, but don’t go overboard

Dig?

9. Use exclamation points when necessary

Cut back on the usage though. Dramatically.

10. Write at an eighth-grade reading level

Reader’s Digest does it. So can you. Keep it simple.

11. Avoid being formal

Instead of saying however, moreover, or furthermore, say but, so, or then. We are aiming for conversational here. Get a dialogue going.

12. Avoid jargon

Corporate lingo, marketing speak, gobbledygook. Call it what you want, if it is unintelligible, it has no business being there.

13. Use short words

Leave the thesaurus alone. Stephen King suggests picking the first word that comes to mind (in most cases). That’s gold.

14. Don’t be wordy

Notice how eyes begin to glaze over when it happens in face-to-face conversations?

Same is the case in the virtual world. Keep it tight; nobody likes people who ramble.

15. Don’t use the passive voice

Consider these options:

  • A decision was made vs. I decided.
  • Your email has been received vs. we have received your email.
  • Your response is appreciated vs. we appreciate your response.

Which sounds better? You decide (or, it has to be decided by you)!

16. Avoid monologue (keep paragraphs short)

You are not really having a conversation, we get it, but does it have to come across like a lecture? Keep your paragraphs short. Talk to readers, not at them. Don’t preach.

17. Forget about being politically correct

“He or she” is fine. Nobody will say anything, I promise.

18. Show off your personality

Pretend you are writing an email to a close friend. What’s different about this writing? It’s more authentic, more genuine, more you.

19. Don’t use words that you won’t use while talking

Is it something you’d say to somebody’s face? If not, it might be a good idea to skip it.

20. Use phrases that only you would use

Put your unique stamp on all your writing.

21. Ask hard-to-answer questions

Exercise tough love. Make their brains hurt!

22.  Watch your tone

Snarky, inspirational, flippant, self-deprecating, tough … how do you want to come across? Carry it throughout your piece. Be consistent.

23. Take a stand

Say what you mean. What’s the point otherwise?

You are writing for the most important person there is—your reader. Do you want to be clever or engaging? The choice is yours.

Marya Jan is a blogging coach for solopreneurs, small business owners and start-ups. Find more of her stuff at Writing Happiness. Don’t forget to grab her free ebook ‘9 NEW RULES OF BLOGGING – How to Grow Your Business with Little traffic, No connections & Limited hours’.

Blitz Your Next Blogger’s Conference: The Ultimate Guide to Getting More Bang for Your Buck

This guest post is by Ben Liau of Digital Online Strategy.

Blogger conferences are a great way to find out more about how to become a better blogger. You learn from successful bloggers who have already made it big, and who are willing to share their knowledge and success stories of how they reached their goals.

But blogger conference tickets aren’t cheap—these events can be quite costly to attend. The ticket price for good blogger conferences start from around $100 and go up to about $300 of more for the larger events.

If you are going to spend that much money to attend a conference, you’d best get your money’s worth. I can help with that. In this post, I will go over eight tips that any blogger can follow to make the most out of paying for and attending a blogger conference.

Do your research

When attending a blogger conference, it’s always important to do your homework.

Some blogger conferences have speaker sessions that run concurrently, so it’s important to research and work out which presentations you would most like to attend.

It is also important to research the actual speakers to make sure they are the ones who can answer all the questions you have.

Have a plan

Planning is essential to getting the most out of a blogger conference. You will want to be able to meet the right people and ask the right questions. Here’s how you should plan:

Make a list

There will be many bloggers attending the event, and there will also be many brands and PR agencies looking to build relationships with bloggers. So make a list of the bloggers you would like to meet at the event, and try your best to touch base with them and spark a relationship.

Make a list of which brands you would like to be associated with and approach them during the conference to introduce yourself. Also make sure you have a media kit prepared, just in case they are interested in your rates and charges.

Pre-conference preparation

Before the conference, drop a message to anyone you would like to meet in person. This breaks the ice, and it makes it easier for you to approach them at the event.

If you are travelling interstate or overseas make sure you plan your time correctly, because missing the start of a conference could leave you quite clueless.

Finally, dress to impress. This will boost your confidence when talking to people, and you will also feel very good about yourself.

Take the right tools

Most conferences will provide you with a notepad and pen to take notes, but that’s definitely not enough for you to be highly effective.

Make sure you bring along your favorite device for taking notes, whether it be your mini laptop or your iPad. Use what you are most comfortable with. An iPad is great because you can also take a video of the event, or showcase your blog on your iPad to others.

The golden rule to going to conferences is bringing a lot of business cards. The worst position you could be in, is to not have a business card when you’re asked for one.

A business card will show you are professional and organized, and is easy to distribute. You never know who might end up with it—and contact you at the end of the week for sponsorship!

Network like a rock star!

Blogger conferences don’t happen every other day, and when they do happen, they cost money.

So make the most of the opportunity by networking and chatting with everyone and anyone you meet. Preparing for the conference by dropping messages to other bloggers beforehand, as I mentioned earlier, will make it easier for you to approach and chat with people—and once you get going it gets much easier.

Always be yourself. Don’t try to be someone you are not. Be humble and ask for advice if you need it, and try to be up-to-date with current news, so there will be plenty to talk about.

Don’t just stick with the people you already know, go and meet new people. And never, ever get drunk at a blogger networking event. Most, if not all the bloggers will be blogging about the event, and the last thing you want is to be mentioned in their post about your disorderly behavior.

Get on social media and start buzzin’

Before the conference, make sure you join the conference’s Facebook page and engage in conversations with other bloggers to make initial contacts.

Tell your own followers that you are going to the event—you never know who might be able to help you with introductions!

At the event, hop on Twitter and comment about the conference, using the conference’s hashtag. This works as a great ice breaker for networking with other people who are tweeting.

Be proactive, and ask questions during speaker sessions

This is where a lot of the value of attending a conference lies.

It’s important to take notes during the session, but it also very important to write questions to ask the speakers during the Q&A time. If you’re shy, you can always go to the speaker after the session, to privately discuss you questions.

Also, at some blogger conferences, the speakers asks questions after the session and those who answer stand a chance of winning something, so it’s always good to be on your toes.

Get as many freebies as you can

Every blog conference will have sponsors that will contribute to a conference goodie bag full of awesome product samples and promotional items. Make sure you get your hands on one of these conferences bags and visit the sponsor booths to see if you can get anything extra.

Also, some booths will also run competitions, so make sure you have your business card handy so you can enter that competition to win the prize.

After the conference

After many conferences there are “after-conference” networking events. Keep your ears open for any of those events, because they’re another great opportunity for networking.

Once the conference is totally wrapped up, it’s always good to review your notes and start taking action.

Lastly, take that list of the contacts you have made at the conference, and follow them on social media. This will establish a connection and solidify your relationship.

Tell us your tips, too

These are my tips, from going to numerous blogger conferences, and speaking at a couple of digital marketing conferences.

I hope you can use this guide to get the absolute best value out of your next conference. But if you have any more tips to add—or questions to ask—please feel free to do so in the comments.

Ben Liau is a veteran digital marketing strategist and is a regular speaker at online marketing conferences. He regularly blogs about all digital marketing channels including seo, sem, email, social media marketing, and web analytics at Digital Online Strategy. You can follow him on Twitter @benliau.

How Embedded Social News Grew My Content, Traffic, and Engagement, and Saves Me Time [Case Study]

This guest post is by Brian Lippey of Guitar Shop TV.

Every blogger wants to offer the best content to his or her audience.

With Guitar Shop TV (GSTV), I set out to create an online community for passionate guitar fans and music lovers around the world.  My goal was to offer the best guitar-related content to my audience.

To achieve this, the GSTV team has filmed over 200 hours of original online TV content. We update our blog regularly—with everything from live performances and backstage interviews, to commentary on upcoming album releases and the latest guitar gear. We tweet. We post on Facebook. We even have an on-site guitar shop.

But audiences today have a large appetite for content! With over 100 million guitarists and countless guitar music fans in the world, it’s important that our content’s fresh, entertaining and timely. Guitar news happens fast, making it difficult to churn out blog posts on everything out there.

Our audience is also very vocal about guitar-related content, as is evident on our Facebook page.

As creator of GSTV, I was looking for a social news platform that could deliver top guitar content from across the Web directly to our blog and allow users to participate on a social level. We want to engage music enthusiasts, not talk at them.

Our research led us to new social platform, ROCKZi.

A social news platform

ROCKZi is a social news platform that helps us deliver a fun community experience and share relevant content with our users. Unlike other social platforms that draw your readers to their networks, with this one, the traffic is directed to my blog, which gave me increased opportunities to attract more music fans and expand our community.

The platform lets you customize the content so that it really speaks to your blog’s audience. It let us pick a news category that was relevant specifically to our blog. For most websites, a category probably already exists, but if not, you can create one yourself.

Easy to install

We literally embedded the platform on our News page in three easy steps.

I was relived I didn’t need a developer to completely redesign our website—we had it up and running on our blog in about five minutes. The platform allowed us to alter the appearance of the content, so it fit nicely on our news page and matched our web design.

The platform in action

Since embedding the platform in August, we have seen traffic to the site increase by 25%. The average time spent on the page has also increased by four minutes.

Our readers started to come back to our site more often to educate themselves on guitar-related news that had been shared by otehrs in our community. And when they are on our site scanning the headlines, they do more than just read.

The platform comes pre-loaded with social tools that let readers post comments on stories, vote the best stories to the top, or submit their own stories they’ve discovered on the Web about the latest musicians or guitar gear.

So you can see what I mean when I say that this tool gives our site more than just good content.

It’s adding a social experience to the site that is bringing readers back more often to engage with other readers around content our audience cares most about.

We’re getting more traffic than Sturgis in August! And readers can pin, post, Facebook or tweet stories right from the page on our site, allowing them to feel more like a part of the community.

All the interactions between your users and the content that’s shared on your site (votes, shares, comments, etc.) will generate direct links through their social networks that will point directly back to your blog.

Do you use a social news tool on your blog? Have you tried ROCKZi? Share your experiences with us in the comments.

Founder Brian Lippey has a background that combines music and business. In Guitar Shop TV, Brian combines his passion for and knowledge of guitars with his strong business acumen.

Keep Your New Year’s Resolution: Set up a Social, Search-optimized WordPress Blog … Today

This guest post is by Marcela De Vivo of Gryffin.co.

Recently ProBlogger discussed how to brand your blog, how to find your voice, and how to build your authority.

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Image courtesy stock.xchng user panoramadi

These articles are powerful, but often I find myself speaking with people who don’t have a blog yet, or are using Blogger or custom made, cumbersome platforms. Just this week alone I went through these steps with four different people who want to jump on the blogging bandwagon.

In this article we will go back to basics for those who haven’t started their blog yet, or who are on platforms that are hindering their progress.

If one of your New Year’s Resolutions was to improve your blogging presence—or start a new one—read on!

We’ll go through a step-by-step process, including tools and resources for each step, to set up a WordPress blog that is optimized for social and search marketing success.

Setting up your WordPress blog

WordPress is currently the most popular content management platform.  It can be used for static pages or as a blog.  You can add plugins for a shopping cart, image galleries, and much more.

Here’s how to set it up.

  1. Register your domain with sites like Register.com, Godaddy.com, or Enom.com
  2. Create a hosting account with sites like BlueHost.com, WPEngine, or HostGator.  If you would like to do more research on hosting companies, check out WhoIsHostingThis.
  3. Select a WordPress theme. I personally love using StudioPress as the themes are clean, functional, and easy to work with. Search for a responsive theme so your blog will be accessible to mobile users.
  4. Is your site running on a different CMS or platform? Consider using a blog migration service, such as BlogWranglers, to move your current site over to WordPress. Hundreds of thousands have done it, with no regrets.
  5. Upload WordPress to your hosting account, and customize with your relevant theme.  If you are not a techie, this is the part where you’ll need some help.  Check out Elance.com, Freelancer.com, or a site like Craiglist.org to find someone who can help you set up and customize your template.
  6. Install WordPress plugins.

Let’s take a deeper look at the plugins you’ll need.

Setting up your plugins

Social media

These are the social media plugins I recommend you consider.

SEO plugins

My favorite SEO plugins include these ones.

Usability

Usability plugins can be a huge help. Consider these:

Doing keyword research

To gain exposure from search engines, you need to have your blog focused on a theme. Select a primary keyword within this general theme for each page of the site.  You can read more about keyword research in this ProBlogger article.

Select keywords by identifying low-competition and high-search terms for your industry from Google’s Keyword tool.

Other tools you can use include:

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Prepare content for your static pages and images

While a designer/programmer is working on setting up your site, you can start by writing and preparing content for your site.

A well-optimized page includes the primary keywords in the Title of the page, Meta Description tag, H1 tag, once or twice in the body, and in an outbound link.

As you’re preparing your content, remember these elements of an excellent blog post:

        • Post title: creative and compelling
        • Social share icons: make sharing your content easy
        • Image: an image speaks louder than words
        • Opening paragraph: include keywords in a teaser into the introduction
        • Body copy: use headers and bold words
        • Lists: make your content easy to scan
        • Conclusion: include a teaser for your next article
        • Related posts: give them more content to consume
        • Comment section: Always respond to comments

Read Darren’s compilation from earlier this year for more information on each element in The Anatomy of a Better Blog Post.

Connect your site for optimum findability

By this point you should have a WordPress blog with a range of enhancements made possible by plugins and other customizations.  You will have SEO plugins to improve your on-page SEO, page load times, keyword density, site maps, and other relevant SEO features.

You will also have a selection of social plugins so that you can encourage social shares from your site. You will have other features such as contact forms, tracking, reporting, and an email signup box to build your email list.

Incorporating keyword research will help you to deliver the content that people are looking for in a way that lets it be found.  You can write articles based on long-tail terms, answer questions that your audience may have, and target hundreds of keywords by writing articles specific to each one.

So what are you waiting for? Make your New Year’s Resolution a reality and start your new blog today. And if you have any suggestions of plugins, tools, or services to add to this list, please do share!

Marcela De Vivo is a freelance writer who writes about blogging, SEO and social media at Gryffin.co/blog.