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How to Write Smart Content on Days You’re Feeling Dumb & Distracted

This is a guest contribution from Pratik Dholakiya.

It’s Wednesday morning, you barely slept last night, missed your morning coffee because you were running late, and are now sat in front of your computer staring at a blank Word file wondering what on earth you’re going to write about. You know you should get on with the task but your hands don’t move and your brain refuses to boot up. You’re longing for Saturday already, but it’s only the middle of the week. 

Yeah, the world is a cruel place.

Especially for writers who need to hammer out reams of authentic material every single day of the week. 

The good news, however, is there are ways around even the worst of the situations. I should know, I write for a living. I must have written thousands of articles so far, many of which were produced on days I was struggling.

Along the way I have devised quite a few mind hacks to tackle the problem of focus and motivation. One of these always bails me out on the days focus is a scarce commodity.

Do Some Dumb Stuff

Well, you’re feeling dumb already, so this shouldn’t be a toughie!

Dumb isn’t always bad, especially if it’s the humorous kind of dumb. Humor is good. It cracks you up, brings you back into the moment, lightens the mood, and suddenly the morning doesn’t feel so bad anymore. 

When you loosen up and connect to the moment, ideas aren’t so hard to come by. 

The best part about this is that it helps you think out of the box.

So you have to write about synthetic carpets and you are bored as hell at the mere thought of it?

Your best bet is to let your imagination run wild. Think of everything one can do on carpets. Imagine a huge carpet flying up in the sky with Calvin and Hobbes sitting on it.

That’s your idea – best cartoon strips featuring carpets. 

Listen to Chants or Any Music That Helps You Focus

Here’s one brilliant suggestion, which really melts the distractions for me. 

Create a playlist for all moods. If you choose the right kind of music, you may find it easier to get your mind on the task.

Put on Earplugs

No, really. The kind that go in deep and drown out your surroundings. You will be surprised at how beautifully they work. 

This is a tried and tested measure which goes back to my university days. Any time I feel scatter-brained and unable to focus, I get out my earplugs (have gotten into the habit of carrying them with me). It’s eerily quiet when your ears are plugged. You don’t go deaf, but all noise loses its edge. Even the sound of your colleague on steroids jabbing away at his keyboard feels like it’s streaming in from somewhere far away. You can hear yourself breathing. You can also listen to your thoughts and follow them without any effort. The writing that this frame of mind produces, regardless of whether you have slept the night before or not, is surprisingly sharp.

I don’t exactly know why this works, but here’s my guess – shutting down one of the senses makes the rest perform even better. With earplugs on, the noise around you does not register, which means you automatically listen to yourself loud and clear. 

Unless you have tried this you will never guess just how much of our energy leaks to sounds and noisy distractions, even in seemingly quiet places. On days you are not feeling bright, this neat trick could make all the difference.

Watch a Stimulating TED Talk

One can feel distracted and foolish for a number of reasons. Sometimes it may have to do more with a lack of creativity than with your energy levels. If your enthusiasm for life is wavering or you need a dose of inspiration to fire up, a good TED talk may work better than coffee. For someone I know, watching old Seinfeld videos does the trick. It’s up to you to figure out what inspires you and refer to it when the need arises.

Create a Bank of Go-to Blogs 

Reading some brilliant writing (especially that which is full of play on words) gets me in the mood each time. My phone is loaded with apps that bring to me the choicest of writing from a variety of sources. You can create your own database of inspirational blogs (not necessarily the most popular blogs) and watch the magic rub off on you.

Pick Topics That You Can Write on in First Person

If you have the choice to pick your subjects, pick up the ones that present a greater scope for personalization.

It’s always easier to write something based on your experience, or even narrate a fictional episode, if you already love writing. That kind of stuff just flows because it comes from your heart, not your mind (which you don’t think is working), and before you realize it you have already put a few hundred words on the doc file.

Leave the research-heavy stuff for days you have slept well and are actually having a bearable morning.

Lay out a Structure for Your Posts

If you don’t have the luxury to choose your topics, and calling in sick is not an option, use your limited energy wisely.

Spend some of it in creating a solid structure for your post, something you can rely on to guide you through till the end. 

Let Things Come to You

Trying too hard is a recipe for failure. It’s worse on the days you are already suffering. Let go of laboring over ideas. Instead, take a 5-minute break to collect your thoughts. Just wait patiently, with a calm mind, no hurry at all. The ideas will come to you, and sooner than if you were to chase them. (If you make meditation a part of your life, it will prove priceless during such times.)

Get Moving

When the mind is stuck, moving your body can make it come unstuck. Go on a short walk and walk with a spring in your step. Tap dance in the bathroom for a couple of minutes. The mind-body connection is deep, and the rhythm of one rubs off on the other.

Create a Mind Map

Images come to rescue when words fail us. Take out a pen and paper, or your smartphone, and start drawing. For something related to home décor, draw a home, then a garden, the windows, and the like. 

Alternatively, create a mind map with a pen or a stylus in your hand; I find this works better than doing so on the computer. Both these methods will very likely give you a few breakthroughs, which will make your assignment easier for you.

Finally, get a perspective.

If nothing works, it’s all right. You are allowed to have a bad day.

Pratik Dholakiya is the Co-Founder & VP of Marketing of E2M, a digital marketing agency and OnlyDesign, a creative design firm. He’s passionate about start-up marketing, entrepreneurship & all things digital. You can find him on twitter @DholakiyaPratik to discuss on any of these topics.

How to Optimize Your Content for Authorship Success

Screen Shot 2014-08-22 at 11.35.19 amThis is a guest contribution from Jaclyn Freeman.

Who are you?

Don’t fret – this isn’t philosophy class and no, we’re not trying to steal your identity.

One of the most important things you can do in 2014 as a content creator, is identify who you are as a personal brand by monitoring how you come across online. As a writer, it is essential that you are taking advantage of every opportunity you have to turn yourself into a developed brand. 

Twitter, that always-on social network that is constantly abuzz, and Google+, a social network claimed to offer incredible SEO benefits, offer two incredible ways that complement each other to solidify your digital presence. But how, you ask?

Through digital authorship.

Introducing Your New Best Friend: Google Authorship

Everyone is talking Authorship, and with good reason. Google Authorship is a revolutionary function of Google that allows you to identify content you’ve produced, as well as the publishers you’ve produced content for.

The purpose of Google Authorship is to help segment out true quality content from the plethora of content living on the web. Executive chairman of Google Eric Schmidt wrote in “The New Digital Age” that the true cost of remaining anonymous may be detrimental one’s overall search position:

“Within search results, information tied to verified online profiles will be ranked higher than content without such verification, which will result in the in most users naturally clicking on the top (verified) results. The true cost of remaining anonymous, then, might be irrelevance.”

Google Authorship helps to further the notion that all content is not good content; rather, writers must have a) verified content and b) a solidified niche subject matter that they consistently produce original content about. Google Authorship helps to bridge the gap between the casual writer, and the professional content creator.

AuthorRank – Myth or Legend?

While AuthorRank is tough to concretely define, its origins can be traced back to 2005 (pre-historic in digital terms) and as Brian Clark puts it:

“Author Rank is the idea – supported by patents filed by Google – that who creates a page of content (and links out from that page), based on their historical reputation for creating content people actually like, would become one of the signals Google relies on when ranking relevant results of a particular topic.”

While AuthorRank hasn’t officially been implemented by Google as a ranking factor, the idea behind it has already been implemented across digital marketing platforms universally. How do we know? One such sign that has the digital world up in arms is the removable of the pictures next to bylines with Authorship correctly set-up. Some are foolishly associating this cosmetic tweak with the demise of Google Authorship – which couldn’t be farther than the truth. It actually represents the opposite! Google is continuing to acknowledge content produced with semantic markup as higher quality content than content without Authorship, pictures or not. Change isn’t always a bad thing.

Even if AuthorRank never officially occurs, it really doesn’t matter in terms of SEO. Why? Because quality content will continue to reign supreme, and those with their authorship set up, who continuously produce content in their particular field will become obvious authorities. We don’t need AuthorRank to tell us that.   

While Authorship may have lost that visual touch, this minor change was done in an effort to improve mobile search results. Your authorship markup still lives, even without a face, and still has a heavy role in distinguishing you as a credible author on the web, so take advantage.

Set Up Your Authorship

Setting up your authorship is relatively easy, and requires a few lines of code in the backend of your posts, as well as a link to the publication on your Google+ profile. Google provides a step-by-step guide to authenticating your authorship here and as outlined below:

You can link content you publish on a specific domain to your Google+ profile.

  1. Make sure you have a profile photo with a recognizable headshot.

  2. Make sure a byline containing your name appears on each page of your content

  3. Make sure your byline name matches the name on your Google+ profile.

  4. Verify you have an email address on the same domain as your content. (Don’t have an email address on the same domain? Use this method to link your content to your Google+ profile)

  5. Submitting this form will add your email address to the Work section of your profile, which by default is viewable only by your circles. You can keep your email private if you wish. It will also add a public link to the domain of the email address to the Contributor to section of your profile.

  6. Sign up for Authorship.

Cross-Checking Your Google Authorship Code

Once you have your authorship set up, you’ll want to ensure:

  • Your content has true semantic Google authorship <a href=”https://plus.google.com/G+ID? rel=author”>Google</a>

  • Your content’s  @href contains a G+ profile link and @rel=”author” or @rel=”me”

  • Your content’s @href contains a G+ profile link with the [?&]rel=author query parameter and @rel DOES NOT contain nofollow.

  • Your readable author bio pages inlcude<a href=”[profile_url]?rel=author”>Joe Smith</a>

While you’ve likely heard more than enough about how to optimize your Google+ profile, have you given any consideration to your Twitter account for personal branding and authorship success? If not, you should.

Twitter for Authorship? YES!

In the same way that Google+ and authorship serve as an indicator of your online brand, Twitter works as a constant source of credibility via conversations.

Appearance: Twitter recently unveiled a new design that is big on content and visuals. Much like the Facebook design, the new Twitter profile boosts a larger header image and profile photo. In order to have a uniform appearance across the Internet, make sure you choose a profile photo that displays your face clearly, looks professional, and is used across your various personal social properties.

The new Twitter layout also highlights your tweets that get the most engagement, which brings me to our next point…

Verbiage:First, create a Twitter bio that is filled with your subject matter expertise — and hashtag them to create added virality in your profile. Next, add your website, LinkedIn profile, personal blog, and tag any publications that you frequently contribute to.

Beyond the content you post, your website is the only direct lead-generation tool that exists on Twitter profiles. Leave that field blank, and those viewing your page will not have an easy way to learn more about you and your content.

Another great new feature is the ability to pin tweets to the top of your page. Choose a pin that not only received a good amount of engagement, but that personifies you as a brand. Keep it fresh by switching up your pinned tweets every few days!

Sharing is Caring

Who you follow is almost as important as what you post. Find people that are influential to your particular field, as well as publications or companies that you admire, to follow. Engage with the people you follow by commenting and retweeting, in addition to posting relevant, new information.

Convince and Convert suggests that the sweet spot of curation (non self-promotional) vs. self-promotional linking to your site 25-50% of the time generates the best results. Always socialize the content you produce, but make sure to include a healthy mix of re-Tweets of informative, inspiring, and relevant content.

Metadata on Twitter

Twitter Cards enable you to attach media to Tweets that link your content: It’s social’s all-important metadata. Whether that be a summary, a summary with a photo, gallery card, app card, player card, a product card, lead generation card, or website card – Twitter cards enhance the appearance of your Tweets and add to your overall prominence on social.

To set up your Twitter card, add a few lines of HTML to the backend of your site, and voila! Popular content management systems like Hubspot and WordPress offer social plugins, making this step even easier.

Users who share your content will have a “card” automatically added to said Tweet, that will be visible to all of their followers.

Twitter offers more information on how to set up your very own Twitter card here:

  1. Review the documentation for the type of card you want to implement.

  2. Add the pertinent meta tags to your page.

  3. Run your URLs against the validator tool to be approved.

  4. After approval, tweet the URL and see the Card appear below your tweet.

  5. Use Twitter Card analytics to measure your results.

Content Attribution

Lastly, you’ll want to look for the following metadata on each piece of content you produce to make sure it’s properly attributed to you:

  • Authorship is valid if: meta[@name='twitter:creator'] tag (@content is a valid twitter handle [0-9A-Za-z_]{1,15}).

  • Authorship is valid if: <a> tag @href is a Twitter profile URL and @rel is “author” or @rel is “me”.

  • Your readable author bio page on Twitter includes an on-site rel=”author” link in your author bio.

Why Social Optimization Matters for Writers

So, why am I yelling at you about everything from your philosophical identity to coding? Well, because, as a writer, this stuff matters.

Establishing credibility as a content curator in an aggressively digital age is tough, and while you may have your authorship and Twitter perfectly optimized, there is no sure-fire way to know that you are an influential writer to your particular niche… Or, is there?

Recently launched, ClearVoice is a new metric for your voice. It acts as a representative of your content’s authority and showcases your publication’s power. By using a first-of-its-kind algorithm, Clearvoice generates a score for writers based on:

  • Your Twitter and Google authorship markup

  • Where your content lives

  • How many articles you’ve published

  • How many domains you’ve contributed to

  • The social virality of your content

Beyond the funky look and ease of use, ClearVoice offers the ability for writers to claim their profile. Once claimed, writers will have a unique URL that will act as a constantly updating portfolio, chronicling not only all the content you’ve produced, but how well it performed socially. In addition, authors can cross-check proper authorship implementation and troubleshoot with engineers if there are any issues.

ClearVoice can also organically help you score jobs, as publishers can search the platform to discover writer’s who are qualified in a particular field.The ClearVoice score offers an unique view into individual writers influence, as well as offers an unprecedented way for writers to be discovered.

Jaclyn Freedman is the Community Manager for ClearVoice. She promotes and market brands by identifying and representing their unique voices across digital platforms.

10 Vital WordPress Security Tips

This is a guest contribution from John Philips.

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10 Vital WordPress Security Tips

Security should be of paramount concern to any blogger or website owner. It may seem like a tedious task, but it could protect your website from becoming a hacker’s playground. If your site has a revenue stream, then some time invested into security could also protect your livelihood. This article overviews a few key security tips for WordPress blogs. There’s an ever growing collection of useful plugins, but it’s dangerous to think that there is a single solution to website security. It’s important to maintain an ongoing interest in security to provide a reliable defence against hackers.

1. Secure Hosting

If you unknowingly opt for a provider which is infamous for its hosting vulnerabilities, you’ll be cursing your decision at a later date. Research is the key, so allocate some time to find a reputable company with a strong security strategy. Price is likely to be the main comparison point between providers, but sometimes paying slightly more can prove to be a sensible long-term decision. 

2. Work on a Secure Network with a Clean PC

One of the joys of web-based software is ease of access. It might be seriously tempting to amend a blog post when you’re enjoying a coffee in your local café, but accessing WordPress on an unsecure network could seriously compromise your security. At home, where you probably have a more robust network, you should also be sure that your machine is free of malware, spyware and viruses. A sneaky key logger could undo all of your other security measures.

3. Keep Updated

Ensure that your themes, plugins and WordPress itself are all updated regularly. There are developers out there working to protect your site, so don’t miss out on crucial updates that patch the latest security vulnerabilities.

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4. Strong Passwords

Passwords consisting of mainly names and correctly spelt words are extremely susceptible to brute-force attacks. Use characters, randomly mix up your capitalisation and avoid names and words. If ‘petname1’ is memorable for you, why not use ‘P@naMe01!’ – it might seem silly, but having some kind of association in your mind will enable you to remember it. Alternatively there are software solutions that store and encrypt your passwords; Roboform and LastPass are both great options.

5. Enable Secure SSL Login Pages

Logging into WordPress through an encrypted channel will provide another layer of protection. Be sure to check with your hosting provider to see if you have an SSL certificate, or are utilising Shared SSL. Then add this line of code to your wp-config.php file:

define(’FORCE_SSL_ADMIN’, true);

If you want an easier option, then there is a plugin that allows SSL control of your site: WordPress HTTPS (SSL)

6. Don’t Use ‘Admin’ as a Username

From version 3.0 onwards you have been able to update your WordPress username, so you’re no longer limited to using the default of ‘admin’. There have been widespread attacks in the past, which have exploited the fact that millions of users still have ‘admin’ as their username. The easiest way to do this is to create a new user account in WordPress and give it admin access, you can then simply delete the old account.

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7. Hide Your Login from the Author Archive

It’s possible to find out a WordPress user’s login, simply by viewing the author archive page’s permalink – i.e. http://www.example.com/author/username/

However, it’s fairly straightforward to remove this. The simple solution is to use the WP Author Slug plugin. 

8. Limit Login Attempts

Limiting the number of login attempts from a single IP address can thwart some hackers, especially if your site has been targeted by a brute-force attack. Thankfully there’s a handy plugin – Limit Login Attempts.

9. Disable File Editing

It can be really useful to edit your theme’s files within the dashboard. However, once you’re happy that you no longer need to edit these files, then it’s sensible to remove this functionality. This will prevent hackers from changing these files. All you need to do is access your wp-config.php file and add the following line of code:

define( ‘DISALLOW_FILE_EDIT’, true );

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10. Create Regular Backups

It’s a mundane task, and one that is often neglected. Backing up could potentially save your site from the website graveyard, it’s a vital step even if you’ve taken all the appropriate security measures. Thankfully, there’s a fantastic plugin that automates the task and removes the mundaneness – BackUpWordPress. It’s a very popular plugin that’s famed amongst the WordPress community for its simplicity and ease of use.

Summary & Other Security Plugins

No single plugin will completely protect your site, therefore the above steps shouldn’t be ignored. It’s also important not to have plugins installed that you don’t use. Feel free to try out some of the plugins below, but if you’re not using them it’s best to uninstall them. Some of the multi-purpose plugins are fantastic, but they might aim to correct certain things you may have already fixed, so assess their features to decide if it’s worth installing.

Login Lockdown – blocks IP addresses for a given time after repeated failed login attempts.

Lockdown WP Admin – hides WordPress Admin (/wp-admin/) when a user isn’t logged in.

Sucuri Security – checks your site for malware, spam, blacklisting and other security issues.

Acunetix WP Security – checks your WordPress website/blog for security vulnerabilities and suggests corrective actions.

iThemes Security – Formerly Better WP Security, this plugin offers over 30 ways to secure and protect your WordPress site. 

Still want to know more about WordPress security? If so then check out: http://codex.wordpress.org/Hardening_WordPress 

John Philips is from SSLs.com. SLLs.com resells SSL certificates from the likes of Comodo, GeoTrust, and VeriSign. 

How to Use Content Themes to Make Blogging a Snap

This is a guest contribution from Sonja Jobson.

This might sound familiar: you’re staring at a blank screen, panic slowly rising, headache setting in, mind blank. You’re due to publish a blog post but you have absolutely no idea what to write about. Again.

The “writers block” cycle can put a serious cramp in your blogging style, but contrary to popular opinion, it’s not a mysterious ailment with no known cure. In most cases, writers block is a direct result of poor planning.

This is good news, because it means that with correct planning, you can skip right over the blank screen and save loads of time and sanity when blogging.

First Things First: Your Editorial Calendar

Before we dig into using content themes, you need to have some tools in place to hold the whole process together.

The editorial calendar is like a blogging secret weapon – except, it’s not so secret. Most successful blogs – across all sorts of niches and industries – use editorial calendars to give structure and consistency to their blogging.

If you’re not already on the editorial calendar bandwagon, now’s the time to jump on. 

If you’ve been putting off starting an editorial calendar because it sounds too time consuming, complicated, or technical, don’t worry about it. Starting an editorial calendar can be as simple as grabbing a cheap wall calendar from the store and penciling in blog posts on the appropriate dates. Or, you could go digital and use an app like Google Calendar or start a simple spreadsheet.

What are Content Themes?

Coming up with an endless stream of fresh blog post ideas can be exhausting. But, like most tasks, it can be made simpler by building on your momentum instead of approaching it in a scattered, ununiformed way.

Say you get an intriguing question from a reader that sparks some inspiration, and you spend some time figuring out how to transform that idea into solid blog post. It takes a bit of time, but you finally find a good angle and the perfect way to tie the topic into your overall blog theme. Next week’s blog topic: check.

Now you go back to square one and begin coming up with an entirely new blog topic to add to your editorial calendar.

Starting the idea process at square one over and over again is time consuming. There is a simpler process that requires you to complete step one just once, and then build on that same foundation to create weeks or months’ worth of content ideas all at once.

That’s where content themes come in: it allows you to pick a broad topic and build off of it with a bunch of hyper-focused topics, making the planning process quicker and more organized.

For example, take a look at ProBlogger’s product creation theme week

 Screen Shot 2014-08-12 at 2.50.30 pm

For an entire week, each post focused on creating products, diving into sub-topics like what to do before you create a product, what type of product to create, and launching a product.

How to Create and Plan Content Themes

You can structure content themes in several different ways.

Some bloggers find that themes save them so much time and hassle that they use them on an ongoing basis for content planning (each theme beginning right after the other one ends).

You can also use themes for a set period of time (say, one week or one month) scattered throughout your editorial calendar whenever you want to create a focused burst of content on a specific topic.

Regardless of whether you choose to use themes on an ongoing or selective basis, the steps for creating and planning your theme will be the same.

Step #1: choose your topic

You always build a theme on a base topic. For example, a health blog might create a theme based on the topic of ‘eating raw foods for weight loss’. Or, an entertainment blog might create a theme around the topic of ‘80’s movies that are still going strong’. 

The two keys to coming up with theme topics are 1) choosing a topic that is broad enough to support several sub-topics (in other words, you shouldn’t be able to sum it up it just one blog post) and 2) the topic needs to be something your audience cares about.

Step #2: choose your timeframe

After you know your topic, you’ll need to decide how long you want your theme to run. A week? A month? Several months? There is no hard and fast rule on how long a theme should run, so make the decision based on how much content you think you’ll need to create to cover the topic, or simply how long feel like talking about the same thing.

Step #3: Choose and schedule your sub-topics

Now that you know your main topic and the amount of blog post slots you want to fill, it’s time to sit down and plan your individual blog posts. Coming up with a calendar full of ideas should be much easier now that you have a base topic to work off of. A great way to get started is by asking yourself “what are the most pressing questions my audience has about this topic?”

As you decide on individual blog post topics, schedule them into your editorial calendar.

And that’s it! You now have an organized group of blog posts and, for the duration of your theme, you’ll never have to wonder “what should I write about?”

Bonus: Use Your Blogging Themes to Simplify Your Other Marketing Outlets

Saving all that time when planning out your blog content was pretty good, but it gets even better.

You can use the themes you create for your blog to streamline all your other content marketing efforts as well.

Use your theme to help you come up with social media updates, live event (like webinars, live steams, or Q&A sessions) topics, email marketing or newsletter content, or whatever types content you create to market your blog or business.

Using one theme across all of your online platforms will help you to create consistency, structure, and a lot more free time.

Your turn:

How will you use themes to simplify your blogging life? Or, if you’ve already used themes, what were your results? Share it with us in the comments below!

Sonja Jobson helps entrepreneurs grow their audience online in a way that fits their schedule, style, and personality. Want even more advice on simplifying your marketing life? Take her FREE 5-Day Marketing Dare.

Why You Have a Better Chance of Landing a Guest Post Than You Think (and How to Do It)

Image via Flickr user Freddie Peña.

Image via Flickr user Freddie Peña.

This is a guest contribution from writer Ali Luke.

Do you ever think about guest posting but worry you’re not ready?

You probably already know that guest posting is one of the most effective ways to build relationships in the blogging world, get writing credits, and grow your audience … 

… yet you might worry that no-one will take your posts, because you’re too new to blogging, your own audience is too small, or you’re not (yet) a great writer.

Maybe you’ve heard bloggers say that they get dozens, even hundreds, of guest post pitches each week, and you feel certain that the numbers will be against you. 

It’s true that a lot of people are pitching guest posts: as Editor of DailyBlogTips (Sept 2013 – July2014), I got a huge number of pitches.

The truth is, though, that many of these pitches are just awful. And you could easily do much, much better.

Here’s an all-too-representative sample:

Hi 

I am [name removed]. I wanted to guest blog on your esteemed site under SEO section. Here by i  am sending doc conatining article named ” Secrets to improve your page rank” .

Kindly do the needful action

Thanks & Regards

Dear Webmaster,

I have come across your website and found it very informative.

I am currently the webmaster of (a specialist Email Marketing Company). We are interested in writing a “guest blog” for your website.

Please kindly let me know if this is of interest to you, with any terms/conditions of posts. I will then send over some fresh and inspiring content for you to review.

On another note, please could you also give details of any link exchange opportunities?

Looking forward to your positive response.

Yes, in that second example, they really did write “(a specialist Email Marketing Company)”.

Drowning in emails, I soon started deleting pitches straight away if the would-be guest poster didn’t even bother using my name.

I sent brief “no thanks” emails to anyone who pitched something clearly off-topic, or whose email suggested they had a poor grasp of spelling and grammar.

(Yes, that might seem a little elitist, but when I’m offered one nearly-perfect guest post and one that’s going to take hours of my time, it’s an easy choice to make.)

Even the slightly better pitches made some annoying mistakes, like:

  • Telling me they wanted to write a guest post, but not suggesting topics.
  • Acting as though their post was sure to be accepted (e.g. “Tell me when it will be live on the blog.”)
  • Getting my name wrong and starting “Dear Luke”. (Ali is my first name, short for Alison; Luke’s my surname. I know it’s weird!)

I agreed with Daniel (who owns DailyBlogTips) that I’d publish one guest post every two weeks – we wanted the blog to be mainly our own content – and I rarely had much difficulty deciding who to accept. It was rare that I got more than one decent pitch in a two week period.

So you probably have a far higher chance of success than you think. You don’t need to be the world’s greatest writer, and you definitely don’t need a big audience. In fact, I gladly published guest posts from people who were just starting out. All that mattered to me was that they could deliver useful content.

Here’s how to maximise the chances of your guest post being accepted:

Read plenty of posts on the blog before you begin: at least five. You need a clear sense of what’s on topic, and what the audience is like. One of my biggest reasons for rejecting reasonably good pitches was because they weren’t on topic enough (e.g. pitches about running an “ecommerce website” when DBT focuses on beginner bloggers).

Offer a topic or perspective that the host blogger can’t easily provide. I’m definitely no expert on SEO or blog security, for instance, and I was always particularly interested in posts on those subjects. I’d also have been interested to hear from bloggers at a very different stage of life from me (e.g. teen bloggers, people in their 70s, or bloggers with six kids…)

Plan out your post before you start writing. Some of the posts I saw had decent information, but they rambled all over the place. I did accept one or two that needed quite extensive editing, but there’s no guarantee an editor will do this. Having a good plan, and thinking through your post structure, makes it much easier to create a strong piece.

Don’t make obvious, generic points. I saw a few posts that weren’t badly written, but that didn’t say anything much. They gave very obvious advice, and didn’t offer examples, quotes, screenshots, or anything similar. There wasn’t anything new or interesting there for readers.

Edit your post carefully before sending it. I strongly suggest you look at the “big picture” first – do you need to cut any paragraphs, or add in anything new? Once you’re happy with the post overall, do a close edit to make sure your sentences all read smoothly, and to fix any typos.

Get to grips with formatting a blog post well. I loved having guest posts with subheadings, bold text for key sentences, lists in bullet point form, images, and so on. Too often, though, I had to add these things myself when editing. No-one wants to wade through a mass of long, dense paragraphs … and that includes blog editors.

Follow the guest post guidelines. I bet you’ve heard that before! I know it sounds obvious, but so many bloggers ignore guidelines – and that’s often enough to get your post rejected (or at least send it to the end of the queue). If you can’t find any guidelines, take a close look at recent posts to at least get a sense of how long yours should be and what sort of style it should be in.

Include links to posts on your target blog. Some guidelines ask for this, but even if they don’t, it’s good practice. It shows you wrote the post specifically for that blog, and it adds extra value for the host. If you include plenty of links like this, you can usually get away with one or two to your own website as well (so long as they’re relevant).

There aren’t any guarantees in blogging – but if you can write an interesting, well put together post that’s on-topic for a large blog in your niche, there’s a pretty good chance it will be accepted.

(But if you never even try – it definitely won’t!)

I know that pitching a guest post can be daunting, but the worst that can happen is the host blog says “no thanks” – and you can always rewrite the post a little and approach someone else instead.

Is it time for you to write your first guest post? Choose a blog today to target, dig into some of their posts, and brainstorm some topics you could write about. If you get stuck or have a question, just pop a comment below. Good luck!

Ali Luke’s ecourse On Track is a free seven-week program for bloggers and writers, designed to help you get motivated and moving again on your blog (or ebook, or any other big writing project). It’s packed with practical tips to help you move forward week by week, and comes with a free ebook, Seven Pillars of Great Writing. Find out more and join here.

Stop Writing for Free and Launch Your Own Profitable Blog

You’ve spent countless hours crafting article after article. Your articles have generated thousands of page views. You feel pretty successful in terms of exposure, but large media companies are not knocking down your door to hire you. That paying gig you have been dreaming of still seems just as far away as it always has. Your writing hasn’t earned you a dime, and your exposure hasn’t done anything but bring you momentary comfort. Sound familiar?

There has been a long-raging debating about the merits of writing for free. Some have spoken out heavily in opposition of doing so, saying it devalues the writer’s work. Others have supported it on the condition that the writer is either getting somewhere or is comfortable writing as nothing more than a hobby. In reality, a writer must make the decision that best fits her circumstances. Does she have time to write for free in addition to her paying job? Does she have a clear goal in mind and a path toward a full-time, or part-time employment in the writing field? These are all tough questions, but the decision to write is often one made from passion as opposed to logic. Passion is funny like that, driving us to do things that often don’t make sense.

There’s a way to have the best of both worlds, though. While there is no shortage of sites that will give a blogger the potential for exposure, not many offer pay. Even if some do offer pay, the money is insignificant. The allure of being read is strong, but writers can get the same (or similar) exposure while generating far more income. All they have to do is launch their own site.

Simple, right? Set up an account with Blogger or WordPress, throw up some ads, and start making some money. Not quite. Launching a blog, whether it be in sports, fashion, technology, or any field is difficult. You have to have a clear understanding of the market, of the steps necessary for success, and of the resources at your disposal. In my guide to launching a profitable sports blog, the focus is clearly on sports, but the steps to go from unpaid writer to founder of a site generating a profit can be applied for just about any other topic.

To see the traffic and the success necessary to justify launching your own site, you’ll need to focus on a few key areas:

  • Content Quality
  • Costs
  • Promotion
  • Quantity

Each area, if handled properly will ultimately lead to a blog that generates enough traffic to make a good amount of money. The sites I launched using these strategies have generated thousands of dollars. So, let’s get into it.

Content Quality

The most common pitfall in blogging is poor quality. For some reason, this is overlooked by those just starting out. It may be the rush to get thoughts out in the form of a blog, or it could be a lack of education in proper grammar and style, or it could be any number of things driving the quality of the content down the drain. If that’s happening with your blog, you’ll never build up a traffic base that will sustain any sort of revenue stream. Focus on quality first.

You can do so by taking your time. Read your articles out loud. Have others read them. Read them again yourself. Only after multiple reviews should you hit the publish button. But what if you don’t feel like you have the writing background or skills to ensure top-notch quality. Don’t worry, there are plenty of resources at your disposal. Some will cost you a bit of money (like Coursera’s class on Crafting Effective Writers), but others are completely free (a Google search will yield plenty of free results). If you struggle with your writing quality but want to run an effective blog, you should seriously consider classes. The improvement in your writing will pay dividends in the long run.

When you are launching your blog, trying to attract readers, and trying to get people to share your content, the quality of your blog will set you apart. Invest in that quality, and you won’t be disappointed. Ignore quality, and you’ll be just like the vast majority of blogs out there – ignored.

Costs

Blogging can be very inexpensive, but the costs can rack up fast depending on what you’re looking for. The most likely cost you will incur is hosting. If you use Blogger, you will not have to worry about hosting. All you’ll pay is your domain registration costs. Those are generally inconsequential. However, if you decide to use a content management system (CMS) that requires you to pay for third party hosting – WordPress, Drupal, and Joomla are good examples – you’ll want to make sure you monitor your costs closely.

Hosting providers will generally offer three types of hosting; Shared Hosting, Virtual Private Servers, and Dedicated Servers. Each comes with an increasing monthly cost. Let’s start with Shared Hosting.

Shared Hosting simply means you will be sharing a server with numerous other websites. If your blog is not attracting a ton of traffic this should be a perfectly acceptable option. In fact, if you are just launching, I highly recommend starting with a Shared Hosting plan. If you end up needing to upgrade, that should be easy. However, if you spend more money up front, you can never get back those wasted expenses.

A Virtual Private Server is similar to Shared Hosting in the fact that you will still be using the same server that other websites are using. However, unlike Shared Hosting, your site will be given a partitioned section of that server which helps improve performance. That improved performance means your blog can handle more traffic and will likely be more secure. This service will come with a steeper cost than Shared Hosting, so upgrade wisely.

A Dedicated Server should only be considered once your blog has reached the big time. If you are doing millions of unique visitors per month, you may need to look into a Dedicated Server. This set-up is exactly as it sounds. Your site will have its own server to itself. No sharing, no partitioning just to get a little privacy. A Dedicated Server will also offer the most security since you won’t be as vulnerable to attacks on other websites that may share a server with the other plans. The cost for a Dedicated Server is hefty, so make sure you truly need it before going this route.

Managing the costs of hosting is just one part of managing your blog’s overall costs. Running your site should be inexpensive, but you can gradually scale spending up as you’re generating more and more revenue. I would not recommend immediately going out and paying for advertising on social media or any other channel. Keep costs down to improve profits early. Reinvests those profits for future expenditures.

Promotion

Speaking of future expenditures, you may want to spend a little money on promoting your site once you’ve laid the early groundwork. While Google AdWords is the go-to method for advertising other types of websites, your site will be generating revenue from ads. Spending money on normal pay per click advertising just to generate traffic that may or may not stick doesn’t make much sense. If you decide to spend money on promotion, social media advertising may be your best option.

With the sites I launched, Twitter was my best friend. Twitter referral traffic often ranked in the top-three of all traffic sources. It can be difficult to build a following, but it’s possible to do so without spending money. First though, I’ll explain the paid route. By paying for promotion on Twitter (or Facebook for that matter), your site’s account will show up in the feeds of those who do not follow you. This can generate some quick follows, and those follows are likely to stick. However, beware of non-Twitter services. There are sites out there offering to get you thousands of followers for just a few dollars. Those followers will be robots and they will do nothing to help drive traffic to your site.

If you decide not to spend money on social media advertising, that’s perfectly fine. You can do so pretty easily with Twitter. In order to build a following without spending money, you’ll have to give up the notion of “being cool” on Twitter. If you look at most brands and plenty of individuals, they will have thousands of followers but will be following very few. Don’t worry about being cool. Connect with your potential readers. Follow back anyone who follows you. Seek out those who might be interested in your content, and follow them. Most people are willing to follow back, but be careful how often you do it. Twitter has a policy against “aggressive” following. They don’t explicitly define this, but if you are not following hundreds of people per day, you should be fine. This process takes commitment, and it takes time, but it pays off. The Twitter accounts for the sites I launched now have over 70,000 followers combined. That was the result of almost exclusively non-paid promotion.

You want real, engaged followers. You want those followers to click on links to your articles. Use a service like TwitterFeed or Dlvr.it or something similar to automatically post your content to Twitter as soon as you publish. If you build up a solid following and automate the delivery of your article links to your social media profiles, you’ll see social media suddenly become one of your top traffic referral sources.

While social media traffic is a great source of readers for your site, it’s not the only option. Perhaps the topic you’re covering has a network you can join. For example, in the sports blogging world there are networks like Bloguin and Yardbarker. By joining, you carry some of their approved ads and split revenue with them, but you more than make up for the revenue split with increased traffic viewing your non-network ads (think Google AdSense ads). If your topic of interest does not have a network like this, fear not. You can network on your own. Reach out to similar sites. Share links, offer to share their links, build a connection. While it all seems minute initially, these types of connections build up over time.

Finally, running contests and forging partnerships is a great way to promote your site and see an increase in traffic. With the sports sites I launched, I reached out to other sites who were not direct competitors that I knew I could drive traffic to. We arranged simple link deals where I would put a call to action at the end of each article sending traffic their way, and they would either do the same or promote my site on social media. Contests worked even better, though. If you can afford the cost of a giveaway prize, you’ll be amazed at how much interaction you’ll get with a giveaway. Make those who want to participate share your site’s link, follow you on Twitter or Facebook or do something else that helps build a long-term following. Then, you can randomly select a winner. As long as it’s fair, people will love it, and you’ll see a spike in traffic.

Quantity

We already discussed the importance of quality, but another driving force for your blog’s traffic will be quantity. Quality is far more important that quantity, but the amount of content you produce can usually be directly correlated to the volume of traffic your site sees on a daily basis. The articles all still need to be of a high quality, but you should strive to produce as much content as you possibly can.

Think of it this way, if each article maxes out at 500 views and you produce one article per day. That equates to 182,500 page views in a year. If you double that production to two articles per day, you might see a leap to 365,000 page views in a year. What happens if you produce 10 articles per day or more?

10 per day = 1,825,000 page views in a year

15 per day = 2,737,500 page views in a year

20 per day = 3,650,000 page views in a year

Obviously, there is no guaranteeing you’ll hit 500 views or more for each article, but it seems like a reasonable goal, doesn’t it? When you break it down by views per article, you can focus at a granular level that should help keep you motivated. But wait, you can’t possibly write that much, can you? It depends on the topic you are covering. If each of your articles is a 2,000 word in-depth analysis of something, you’re probably not going to hit 20 articles per day no matter how much help you have. However, if your articles are more quick-hit, you can certainly recruit a staff of writers to help you and easily hit 20 articles per day.

With my sites, we routinely hit 20 to 30 articles per day. It wasn’t always like that, of course. My co-founder and I were originally the only ones writing. We didn’t want to recruit a staff until we could pay them something. We were able to pump out quite a few articles per day, but it wasn’t until we brought on additional writers that we started really producing a lot.

If you choose to bring on a staff, just keep in mind the reason you started this blog in the first place. You were tired of writing for free. Don’t make your writers writer for free. Even if you can’t pay them much, pay them. It will help you build long-lasting relationships, and you’ll be able to bring on quality writers that will help you maintain the quality you worked so hard to enforce early on.

Conclusion

Launching a blog is easy. Launching a profitable blog is hard. If you follow the guidelines above, you won’t be guaranteed success, but you’ll certainly have a leg up on most other people launching new blogs in the area in which you’ll be focusing. The key to making sure your site is profitable is making sure you dedicate yourself. This is not going to be passive income. You’ll have to write, promote, recruit, promote, write some more, and hustle all around. If you do, you’ll love the results.

 

Justin Hunter co-founded Sports Injury Alert and Sports Rumor Alert. He is also co-authoring The Guide to Launching a Profitable Sports Blog. If you enjoyed this article, the guide will provide far more information and go into far more detail.

 

How to Make Friends and Influence People at the ProBlogger Event

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This is a guest contribution by blogger Johanna Castro.

Day one of the ProBlogger conference dawns, and butterflies are probably winging around your stomach as if making a bid for freedom.

For many of us this day has been eagerly anticipated for about 6 months, and it represents one of two days in which you’ll meet some of the biggest names in blogging: Presenters, bloggers, media celebrities and a heap of new friends.

But first. You walk in, you register at the front desk, and then you face a sea of people. That sea of people seems to be undulating like a wave mingling effortlessly with yet another wave of people and the worst thing is that they all seem to know each other.

Crikey!

While you, on the other hand, are standing there on your own without a friend in sight.

I know. Because I’ve been there done that, and at my first ProBlogger event in 2011 I cringed with embarrassment and wondered how I’d dared to bring me and my little blog out into the open to such a huge conference.

After registration I clung to the nearest wall like a boggle-eyed wallflower and actually shook to the souls of my pink suede boots.

Added on to the anxiety of meeting people I had little idea about What to expect at a Problogger training event.

You might also like: Problogger Event 2013 and The Meaning of Life

Be Prepared

Forearmed is forewarned as they say, and since then, and after many brazen ‘fake it till you make it’ occasions, I’ve been continually reminding myself that a conference is not just a fabulous place to learn (Problogger Perth), it’s also a great way of networking in real life with others from the online world.

So it’s a really good idea to be armed with some strategies to put yourself ‘out there’ in order to meet new friends and influence people.

This year I decided I’d up the ante with my networking, and at my local library I found a book called “How to Start a Conversation and Make Friends” by Don Gabor (Simon & Schuster) which gave me the idea for this post, as well as some prompts for conversation openers. I’d like to reference it because it incorporates a lot of great advice and echoes many of the thoughts I’d been having about making the most of a Problogger event and getting to know as many people as possible.

Help I don’t know Anyone!

So you’re standing there hoping that your make-up isn’t smudged and you haven’t got lipstick on your teeth, or as a bloke maybe you’re hoping that in this meadow of mostly women you might find a friendly male face.

You look around the room, feel slightly overwhelmed, and don’t know where to start.

How to introduce yourself

Relax. Have a walk around. Smile, and look for smiling faces. Also keep an eye out for small groups of people. You might think that these people know each other already and are chatting about old times, but in reality you’ll probably find that they’ve only just met.

Hover close by (keep smiling won’t you) and when there’s a gap in the conversation, take a deep breath and say: “Hi, I’m … this is my first ProBlogger event. May I join in?”

Tip: Don’t leave it too long to introduce yourself in a group situation, because if you do it could make the other people feel uncomfortable.

Better still look out for anyone standing alone. They’re probably in the same boat as you and longing to chat with someone, but they don’t know who to approach for fear of butting in on a group of friends.

Perhaps you could say, “Hi my name is … I’ve never been to a ProBlogger event before. Have you?” and if they say “Yes,” then follow with something like, “How does this one compare to previous years?”

Getting a conversation going

Keep a look out for bloggers that you’ve met online. Smile, make eye contact and say something like, “Hi, I’m … and I’ve been longing to meet you.” If they’ve given a presentation you could add, “That was an awesome presentation you gave and I really related to X or Y comment you made.”

Remember that what you say doesn’t have to be clever or witty. As long as you come across as smiling and friendly you’ll be surprised how willing other people will be to talk to you. They’ll also probably be sighing with relief that someone has approached them. A simple, “Hello, my name’s …” offered with a smile and a handshake and followed with, “Nice to meet you,” should do the trick to get a conversation flowing.

Body Language

Body language is also important. I try not to cross my arms when I’m chatting and even if the conversation veers away from my own interests I think it’s important to keep engaged – so I nod and maintain eye contact – because soon you will hit common touch-points or shared interests, and it’s important not to have turned the other person off by then due to bad body language.

Influence

Influence begins by being noticed.

To be noticed you need to make new friends and acquaintances. Just as you might comment on other people’s blogs in the online world, you need to carve out a ‘belonging’ in the real life world too.

In time you’ll be noticed as ‘one of the in-crowd’ or ‘one of those in the know’ and bit by bit you’ll become viewed as someone with influence rather than an unknown newbie who needs befriending.

So make a point to meet, introduce yourself and chat to as many new people as you can because these are the relationships which are likely to continue online as well as offline.

It’s this connectivity which leads to influence.

And ultimately, influence leads to making money blogging.

Remember people’s names.

You’ll meet tons of people at ProBlogger and Don Gabor says that five seconds is all the time it takes to make a good first impression. Remembering a person’s name makes them feel important and adds warmth to the conversation as well as helping to build rapport.

Author and public speaker Dale Carnegie said, “The sweetest sound in any language is a person’s name.”

Darren Rowse is very good at names, and I’m sure he employs lots of useful strategies.

5 name remembering tricks

  1. When you’ve been introduced to someone, try to repeat their name back to them in the conversation.
  2. Focus when you’re introduced to people. Don’t think about what you’re going to say, and don’t worry about what people are thinking of you, or if your clothes are ok … just focus.
  3. If someone has an unusual name, mention that it’s unusual or unique and ask them to spell it.
  4. Don Gabor suggests trying to use a person’s name at the end of your conversation so you’ll better remember them next time you meet. “Ronelle, it’s been lovely chatting to you. Here’s my card, it would be great to keep in touch.”
  5. If you’ve forgotten someone’s name, don’t fudge over it! Just be honest and say something like, “I do remember you, and we’ve been introduced. But I’m so sorry your name has suddenly escaped me.” We’re all human after all ;)

Other conversation openers

At coffee or lunch breaks – where the food is likely to be awesome :) you could start with an opening gambit of, “Wow, doesn’t the food look fantastic! What would you recommend trying first?”

Or … “Hi, my name’s … Isn’t this a great event? What’s been the best bit of the conference so far for you?”

Most people like being asked for advice or information, so if there’s someone you admire then ask them something. “Excuse me. My name’s … and I love your blog/I loved your presentation … may I ask you a question?”

Be interested in others – remember people like to talk about themselves. “May I ask you what your blog’s about?”

If you’re sitting next to someone you don’t know then don’t just stare ahead. Strike up a conversation. Ask them something like, “Which speaker have you enjoyed most so far?”

Tricks to keep conversations going

  1. In group situations keep your ears open and listen to what other people are talking about, then respond with a positive comment that shows you’ve been listening. Note: “Negative comments are conversation stoppers,” says Don Gabor.
  2. Don’t give unsolicited advice unless you are expressly asked for it. It’s always better to ask questions and respond accordingly.
  3. Remember that most people like talking about themselves and bloggers like to talk about blogging.
  4. Have an opinion but don’t be overtly opinionated.

Compliments

Sincere compliments make people feel good. Notice something interesting about the person you are talking with, and then weave your compliment into a question which will ease any embarrassment. “You’re always dressed so stylishly. I love the dress/shoes/top you’re wearing – may I ask where you got them?”

If you’re given a compliment then smile and say thank you. Don’t dismiss it, belittle it or make light of it in any way.

Mrs Woog (Woogsworld) and Liz Lennon (Life Dreaming) taught me a lesson quite recently on Twitter about receiving compliments gracefully, when inadvertently I’d made light of one.

“I’ve worked with 1000′s of people and one thing I say is ‘just say thanks’ to the gift of compliments,” said Liz.

“I learnt years ago from someone who took compliments well. It is grand,” added Mrs Woog.

Okay. QED!

And I was grateful for being pulled up on that one.

So … Thank you for reading to the end of my post today :) Any compliments will be received most graciously ;)

I really hope if you’re attending ProBlogger Event that you’ll use one of the techniques I’ve written about and pop over for a chat with me. I’ll probably nervously be wondering a) if anyone will come and speak to me or b) who I could approach to engage in conversation!

Anyway, it’s your conference. Make friends and start influencing people. You deserve it.

Do you have any tips to add for attending a blogging or social media conference?

Jo Castro is freelance writer who also facilitates blogging and writing workshops. She’s the founder of two blogs: Lifestyle Fifty, an inspirational blog empowering women to live life to the full as they get older, and ZigaZag a Travel and Leisure blog. A gypsy heart and geologist husband keep her in search of utopia – a tropical beach, a simple shack, and a fridge filled with chilled champagne would do nicely.

 

How to Build a Blog Worth Monetizing

Earlier in the week I co-hosted the popular #BlogChat Twitter chat. The topic was ‘How to Build a Blog Worth Monetizing’ – a massive topic.

The hour-long Twitter chat was one of the fastest moving Twitter chats I’ve been involved in (and the biggest BlogChat ever according to it’s founder Mack Collier). We covered heaps of ground but I thought I’d pull out some of my most RT’d and commented upon tweets from the hour here as a blog post.

I hope you find these helpful!

Foundational Advice

I was asked to prepare some advice for those about to start a blog (although much of this can be applied by more established bloggers too).

On getting to know your readers through creating reader profiles (sometimes called personas):

On identifying how your readers will ‘change’ as a result of reading your blog:

The Four main areas to work on to build a profitable blog:

On Creating Compelling Content for Your Blog:

On Finding Readers for Your Blog:

On Building Community on Your Blog:

On Monetizing Blogs:

Phew – all of those tweets happened in about 40 minutes. Afterwards we continued to discuss the topic with lots of back and forth. You can read the full transcript including some great advice from other bloggers who participated here.

Lastly – I’ve since had a number of people ask me about the graphics and slides included in the tweets above and if there’s a ‘deck’ they can get them from.

The above all comes from a big workshop that I occasionally run for small groups of bloggers that walks bloggers through how to build profitable blogs. The workshop goes for a full day (last time I did it it took 7 hours!) and there’s no single deck that I’m comfy to share as a lot of the slides in it really need me there to explain what I’m showing.

Having said that – two of the webinars mentioned above cover some of the same ground so they’d be a good place to start out!

5 Tips From a Bestselling Author (and Former Luddite) on Overcoming Blog Phobia

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This is a guest contribution from author Eileen Goudge.

There’s no such term as “blog phobia” as far as I know, but the condition is very real, I assure you. I know authors who quake at the mention of blogging, as I once did before I got a handle on it. My professional writing career began in an era when authors were expected to do only one thing: write a kickass book. And maybe go on tour if there was a marketing budget for said book. My first novel, Garden of Lies, was a New York Times bestseller and my publisher sent me on a cross-country tour that was a blur of TV appearances, print and radio interviews, and book signings.  

All of which seems like a dream, looking back. 

Flash forward to present day. In traditional publishing, marketing and publicity budgets for all but a handful of top tier authors are practically nonexistent. For indie authors it’s DIY all the way. This puts enormous pressure on the author to produce more than just the requisite book a year. We not only have to write the books, we have to spread the word in a crowded market when we have something to offer. Mainly this is done through blogging and social media, which go hand in hand. Back when I was a Luddite and proud of it, I would reason that I didn’t have time for all that nonsense. Also, it goes against our nature. We writers tend to be loners. Who else would spend most of his or her waking hours holed up alone, toiling away? Finally I wised up and got with the program. I realized if you don’t make the time, you might as well not bother writing the book in the first place. Few people will read it because they won’t know it’s there.

“To blog or not to blog,” is no longer the question. It’s a matter of how often and how best to target your audience. A blog is an essential tool in every author’s tool kit.  It’s the best way I know to introduce new readers to your unique voice and engage with existing fans so they don’t forget about you or think you died. So you find the time, even if you have to pull it out of thin air.

The challenge then becomes getting those all-important views and click-throughs. 

Not long ago, I read a blog post by an author who compared her site when she first started out to a “dusty billboard on a back-roads highway.” Traffic was so thin, why bother? she bemoaned.  Her posts became more and more infrequent and traffic to her site dwindled further, a vicious cycle that had her feeling utterly defeated.  I know the feeling! I used to think it was enough just to throw a blog post into the Vast Unknown and simply hope for the best. Search Engine Optimization? I didn’t know what it meant much less what it could do for me. I still wonder sometimes if the time and effort I put into blogging is worth it, given that I don’t have millions of subscribers and I’m competing with a gazillion other author-bloggers. Then I tell myself, “One step at a time. Rome wasn’t built in a day.” 

My own page stats were downright embarrassing when I first started blogging. So I read up on what other, more successful bloggers had to say on the subject. I consulted with marketing experts. I learned some tricks that helped increase traffic to my site and learned a little about creating keyword-rich content, inbound and outbound links and search engines. My blog still isn’t where I’d like it to be, but at least it’s no longer a “dusty billboard on a back-roads highway.” 

Here are my top 5 tips to developing a successful author blog: 

Direct traffic to your site by making it a fun destination

As the author with the “dusty billboard on a back-roads highway” learned, you can’t expect to see much traffic to your site if a) people don’t know it’s there or b) it’s a snooze-fest. She solved her dilemma on both counts by making it fun for herself. She’s a history buff and she wrote historical novels, so she started doing blog posts about cool historical stuff along the lines of “Did you know…?” She built a following by reaching out to other history geeks and playing to her audience. And her specialized or themed posts also helped people more easily discover her site when searching for related keywords in Google.

For me the ticket was to write about my life experiences, which are the stuff of my novels. I come from a big, contentious Irish Catholic family in which addiction runs rampant. I was a single mom, on welfare at one point. I’ve been divorced a few times. I found my “Prince  Charming,” and present husband, Sandy Kenyon, while on book tour, fittingly enough, when he interviewed me on the radio talk show he hosted at the time. My son, Michael, is schizoaffective. The list goes on and on. If I had to sum up my life in a sentence it would be, “Never a dull moment.” From the comments I’ve gotten on my blog confidentials, it would seem viewers respond to candor, even when it portrays you in a less than flattering light or reveals a skeleton in the closet. The more approachable you seem, the more followers you’ll attract, which leads to more clicks of those all-important “buy” buttons. 

Come up with provocative blog headings

You have all of a nanosecond to grab someone’s interest. Use it wisely. Ann R. Allen, in her successful blog, named by Writer’s Digest as one of the top 101 most influential blogs, uses “Is Your Office Cubicle Haunted?” as one example of a provocative blog heading that poses a question. Providing answers is another way to go. “Spend Ten Minutes Doing This Every Day And You Could Transform Your Blogging” is the title of a recent post on this site. That is definitely one I want to read!

The heading of my most recent blog post is “The Nitty Gritty on Beach Reads, in which I tell of the life-altering, real-life stories behind my women’s fiction novels that are often billed as “beach reads.” I got close to a thousand Facebook views and a flurry of retweets on that one. I think the title had something to do with it. 

Choose headings with social media in mind. I was recently hooked by the heading of a post written by bestselling author Claire Cook for the popular Jane Friedman site.Why I Left My Mighty Agency and New York Publishers (for now),” not only sparked my interest, it generated over a hundred comments and a gazillion retweets as well as posts on Google Plus and Facebook. 

Don’t neglect to add links

I used to think—naively—that since any information relevant to my books was easily obtainable on my website, two or three clicks away, why bother adding links to my blog posts? Well, guess what? Two clicks is one too many for the majority of people reading your blog. In today’s digital-driven world I’m amazed by the number of authors whose blog posts contain not one single link, much less a buy button or clickable book cover image! Why bother if you don’t make it easy—as in a single mouse click—for a potential customer to sample your wares? Be sure to include the link to your website, and whenever you mention a particular title, link to that title’s book page on your site or, better yet, directly to a retailer page. I also recommend incorporating outbound links and linking to the sites of other authors mentioned in your blog post. The same goes for major products, places, or attractions related to your subject matter. I find that this is helpful for my readers and easily provides them with a richer experience when reading my story. 

Keep it fast-paced

Studies show the average blog viewer tends to skim rather than read every word. A snappy hook, short sentences, short paragraphs, bullets, and images are your best defense against short attention spans. Luckily I learned this early on in my career when I wrote for tabloids (anything for a buck!). If I didn’t keep it short and punchy, I didn’t make the sale. This doesn’t mean you can’t write a lengthy post. As long as it’s engaging and easy to understand (as in not wordy or too many big words) it will hold the reader’s interest.

Comment on other blogs and offer to do guest blog posts

I’m not ashamed to admit it: I’m a mere piker compared to veteran bloggers like Anne R. Allen, Jane Friedman, and my friend and fellow author, Julie Valerie. They have huge subscriber lists that dwarf my own. And rightfully so—they offer good content, and I always learn something from reading their posts. I make a habit of always commenting on the blogs I follow. Oftentimes this sparks a dialogue. The blogger remembers and appreciates your participation, and some of his or her fans may trickle over to your site. Once I get to know a blogger, I offer to do a guest blog post. Usually they take me up on it. Content is king, and when the burden is on the blogger to keep up a steady supply, it’s nice to take a break once in a while.

These are just a few basic guidelines. If you’re smart you won’t make the same mistake I did, which was to blunder through initially without doing my homework. Better to learn from other people’s mistakes. (Lucky for you there’s a ton of information on the Internet on how to do it right.) Pay attention. Revisit the resources here on Problogger, such as this useful round-up of tips and tutorials for beginners 7 Strategies for Growing Community on Your Blog. Bone up on the use of SEO keywords and the like. Be smart. Don’t be a dusty billboard on a back-roads highway. Be the neon sign that beckons from the four-lane freeway.   

New York Times bestselling novelist Eileen Goudge wrote her first mystery, Secret of the Mossy Cave, at he age of eleven, and went on to pen the perennially popular Garden of Lies, which was published in 22 languages around the world, and numerous other women’s fiction tiles. Bones and Roses is the first book in her Cypress Bay Mysteries series. She lives in New York City with her husband, television film critic and entertainment reporter Sandy Kenyon. Keep connected with Eileen at her website, www.eileengoudge.com