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5 Ways to Nail Social Media Branding

This is a guest contribution from Miranda Burford of Swiftly.

Social media marketing is one of the best ways to attract visitors to your blog. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and YouTube are among the hottest components in the modern marketer’s toolkit. But how do you make sure the branding you’ve built on your blog translates to all these other platforms? Here are five tips you can action right now to ensure you’re consistent across the board.

1. Develop a unique look and feel 

You always want to ensure that your social profiles are instantly recognizable as your own. Bring the logo, fonts, styles and imagery that define your brand (and your blog) to all of your communication outlets. Your profile pics and background images should be eye-catching and refreshed regularly — there’s really no option for staying stale on social media! If you’re not a designer, seek out some help. At Swiftly, for example, bloggers can quickly get a custom profile pic or background image for just $15.

2. Post fresh content regularly

Keep cranking out unique, engaging content on all of your social media channels by creating a varied publishing schedule and sticking to it. Posting regularly at peak times is extremely important (there are apps that can help pinpoint your audience’s best times), especially on Facebook and Twitter. Along with sharing your latest blog posts, try posting relevant news, photos, links and interviews you see around the web.

3. Be human to connect with your audience  

Blogs and social media outlets are not always the place for a hard sell. Be natural and have some fun. Create a consistent and well-defined voice that accurately reflects the tone on your blog. Don’t be afraid to poke fun at yourself! You’ll build a network by continually showing your personality to the world.

4. Engage with your community

Always focus on ways to develop an active online community. Encourage participation by fueling discussions, showcasing stories, sharing thoughts and running competitions. Remember to invite comments, questions, and suggestions from your audience, and be sure to reply to criticism right away. Being transparent will win over your audience.

5. Embrace your pro status

Be a top influencer in your industry by continuously sharing awesome content. It doesn’t all have to be original. Repurpose content whenever you can. Create partnerships with relevant businesses or other bloggers and work on a content sharing strategy together. Keep blogging and curating content to establish yourself as a thought leader in your industry.

Miranda Burford is the Marketing Manager for Swiftly. Swiftly, a new service by 99designs, can get your small design jobs done in under an hour for just $19.

How to Take a10-Day Vacation, a 5-Day Business Trip, Get Food Poisoning, and Still Be Able to Write 42 Posts In a Month

This is a guest contribution by Karol K of newInternetOrder.com

Just to set things straight… I’m not talking about writing 42 300-word posts. In September last year, I did write 42 web articles in total. Some of them were 2,800 words long. Some just 500. On the average, each article was about 1000 words. How do I know so precisely? Well, I keep a complete record of everything I write.

Having this little disclaimer out of the way, I can tell you the whole story of how I did it, why I’m so proud, and how you can do the same.

The story

Those 42 posts were meant for 3 clients and 2 blogs of my own. Regarding the work for my own blogs, I could just take it easy and not set any stone-written deadlines (I did anyway). On the other hand, the client work is always time-sensitive and needs to be delivered on a specific day no matter what.

There are some elements that add to the difficulty of this whole thing. You can see most of them in the title of this post, but here they are again:

  • 10-day vacation. I stayed in Barcelona for 6 weeks (whole August and half of September). And even though I did keep the normal work schedule, at some point, I decided to take a 10 day vacation and enjoy Barcelona to the fullest. In that time, I did no work whatsoever.

  • 5-day business trip to Turkey. This was another obstacle. Considering that it was a business trip, this meant that I had to take care of a lot of other things apart from writing articles. So, I needed to find a different approach to get it all done somehow.

  • Food poisoning. Oh yes, here’s what reminds me of Turkey the most. As it turns out, Turkish food isn’t good for me at all. That’s about 3-4 days (kind of) out of my schedule again. I’m saying kind of because I did manage to do some work then, but not much. Actually, even less than during my business trip.

So in total, this makes 10 days completely out of the calendar. Another 5 days of half-time working (or even 1/3), and the final 4 days of quarter-time (is that a phrase?) working. In total, 19 days.

But isn’t September just 30 days? Yes, it is.

Oh, and one more thing that’s not making my life easier, I’m a non-native English writer. This means that I have to proofread the hell out of my articles, which obviously takes a lot of additional time.

Here’s how I did it.

Plan first

Everything starts with a precise plan or at least, it should start with one. At the beginning of the month, I knew exactly how much time I will spend on vacation and on the business trip, the food poisoning was the only surprise.

I also knew how many posts I should write (roughly). Now, why is that number not exact? First of all, I had much freedom regarding my own blogs. Secondly, I told one of my clients that I will write around 20-25 posts for him.

Of course, you can’t always make that happen. But if you inform your clients that you’re going to be out on vacation, most of the time, it’s no problem as long as you can deliver the work shortly afterwards (it’s simple freelance marketing 101 if you’re into freelance blogging and not only publishing for yourself).

But let’s go back to the plan itself. So how was I able to create it and even make some room for any “unfortunate” event?

The way I do my planning when it comes to writing is something I’ve developed over time. I basically use one tool – a spreadsheet (a log) of my writing efficiency – fancy name, ain’t it? Every month, I jot down the exact number of words I’ve managed to write each day. So at the end of a given month, I have the total number of words written.

After doing this for a while, I know exactly what’s the comfortable number of words for me per month (and therefore the number of articles as well). And once I have the per month value, I can easily tell the per day value.

So, when creating my plan for September, I made an educated guess about the number of days I’d be able to work and then set the maximum number of words I was capable of writing. As a result, I estimated that 40-45 is indeed a possible total number of articles.

In short, it’s pure math, nothing else. Here’s the action plan if you want to replicate this for yourself:

  1. Start a writing log and record each article/chapter/post you write. It’s best to focus on the number of words, rather than on the number of articles.

  2. Gather data for 2-3 months.

  3. Now you have your personal writing efficiency score, which lets you estimate your performance going forward.

Get the tools and the hardware

At home, I do most of my work on a standard desktop computer. I have a standing desk, and an environment I find really great for focusing my attention and maintaining my productivity.

However, working abroad requires some additional arrangements…

As for the computer, I use a standard laptop. I find working on it way easier than on an iPad, which I also took for other purposes. (iPads are still great for some situations, more on that in a minute).

When it comes to tools, I didn’t even install anything new on the laptop. Whenever I realized that I need a specific tool, I just downloaded it, so there was no extra hassle (most of the tools I use are either free or online).

The only app I made sure I had installed was SugarSync. This really is invaluable. (When I got back home, my work was already waiting for me on my desktop computer automatically.)

The most important point here is to make your work (your posts/content) available remotely. So, double check if everything you need is inside your SugarSync (or Dropbox) account. You can be in much trouble if you’ve forgotten something and don’t have a way to get it.

You probably know this already, but using Gmail is helpful here as well. Gmail allows you to hook up any other email account (even those based on external domains), so you can have everything managed in one remotely available place.

Finally, if you’re doing active marketing while being abroad, Bidsketch is a nice way of handling client proposals (wink!). The tool will help you craft those proposals and make sure that every prospective client receives an offer.

Set the habits

Everything is under control at home. But when you’re abroad, you tend to get easily distracted by all the stuff that’s going on around you.

If you want to remain focused, you have to set some habits and dedicate yourself to keeping them in mind.

For instance, the main habit I keep mentioning in many of my publications is writing first thing in the morning. There’s really no better way to start the day off than by having your work done by 11AM. With this habit alone, you’ll make massive progress no matter what emergency the rest of the day brings.

There’s a really good reason why this approach works. Our brain or our personal processing power, if you will, runs out during the day. We simply get tired quickly. So if you want to get anything important done in a given day, you must take care of it as early as possible. In a sentence, do the important stuff first.

Not surprisingly, for a blogger or a writer, the important stuff usually revolves around writing itself. Hence, write first thing in the morning and then use the rest of the day for other tasks.

The other habit is using your NET – No Extra Time. Your NET is every moment when you’re doing a specific thing, yet you can successfully do something else at the same time.

Now, the most important distinction is that NET does not equal multitasking! Multitasking is the biggest enemy of productivity!

Multitasking is where you devote yourself to doing a number of things at the same time consciously. For instance, when you’re trying to write, answer email, and listen to a podcast all at the same time.

Utilizing your NET is when you’re doing a number of things during a time that is already lost, or time when you can harness different areas of your brain to do the work.

Let me give you two examples of NET:

  • Example #1 (time already lost): You’re on an airplane or at the airport (this obviously goes for any other mean of transportation as well). You’re there anyway, so why not do some writing? This is where an iPad comes really handy.

  • Example #2 (harnessing different areas of your brain ): At the gym. You could listen to an audiobook or an interview, either as part of your research prior to writing an article or just for fun. In essence, when you’re working out, you’re not using the creative part of your brain. You’re just using the simple impulses that tell you to exercise, so there’s still room for some intellectual activity.

And again, because I really want to emphasize this, utilizing your NET is not multitasking. Don’t. Ever. Multitask. Human beings are not meant to multitask.

Noticing your NET throughout the day, on the other hand, and using it to your benefit will allow you to get significantly more things done. I estimate that around 1/3 of my work in September was done during my NET.

Use a project management system

A system sounds like a big deal, but I actually don’t have any better way to call it.

Of course, in some cases, especially if you’re doing a lot of work collaborating with other people, and have to take care of a number of clients, getting an account at Teambox or Basecamp might be a good idea. But just to manage your own work, you don’t need much.

What I use for my own project management is Google Drive (formally Google Docs) and Remember The Milk. I find these tools easy to use, not to mention that they have all the functionalities I require. For a blogger, there’s not much you need… just a way of recording every post you write, task management, keeping up with the deadlines and with the people you’re sending those posts to (e.g. guest posts, posts for your clients).

For some of you, this sounds really basic, but you’d be amazed at how many people manage their work through an email account/software (meaning, tagging certain emails, and then going back to them at random occasions).

The main lesson here is that any system is still better than no system at all. You should at least sign up to Google Drive (available through your standard Google account).

Create the mindset of a winner

This sounds corny, but please bear with me here. When you have difficulty meeting a deadline or some other emergency strikes (like the food poisoning) then the only thing that can save you is your mindset.

And don’t get me wrong, I don’t think I’m any better than you. A mindset is not something we’re born with. It’s something we can learn with time.

For me, the things that work best is imagining the goals that are in front of me and the things I’m set out to achieve. In comparison to all this, a puny food poisoning is simply not enough to shoot me down.

Also, by having your goal in mind, you can get the job done even if you’re not at your full abilities for 19 days in a month.

So this is how I did it. I’m positive that you can achieve similar results, or be even better, especially if you’re a native English writer.

Just to summarize the advice here in 5 simple steps:

  1. Plan first.

  2. Get the tools and software in place.

  3. Set the habits.

  4. Use a project management system.

  5. Create the mindset!

What’s your take on this? What’s your secret of remaining productive even if you know that you won’t be available for a number of days? I’m really curious to get your input on this one.

Karol K. is founder of newInternetOrder.com and a team member at Bidsketch (proposal software). Whenever he’s not working, he likes to spend time training Capoeira and enjoying life.

Want to Market Better? Think Like a Consumer

Image via Newton Free Library on Flickr

Image via Newton Free Library on Flickr

This is a guest contribution from Moazzam Kamran.

Consumer centricity is a hot topic in marketing circles. Organizations across the globe are trying to “get in touch” with the consumer through multiple methodologies. We employ consumer audits, focus groups, in-house visits, in-depth interviews, and various other techniques to try and understand the consumer’s mind. But in doing all of that, we as organizations are dehumanizing ourselves. We focus so much on getting to know the customer that we slowly and surely distance ourselves away from him.

So where does this all come from? 

The problem actually lies with people being risk-averse. Why I say people and not marketers or organizations is again to humanize the problem. The issue is the word “failure”: we as humans have been taught that failure is the ultimate sin. This indoctrination has led to us becoming risk averse as individuals, which is very unhealthy. Think of any great mind – be it Edison, Ford, Jobs – they all embraced their failures and learned from them.

But how does failure relate to the consumer?

It is simple: when you are fearful of failure, you tend to anticipate it as well. Like a person drowning, we will grab at sticks. We will surround ourselves with insight now for the sake of knowledge but as a fall back option, blame it all on bad consumer insight. Soon research becomes a monotonous ritual that we do just for the sake of paperwork, our own belief for the product is replaced by an overwhelming urge to stick to routine and do as we are told.

How do we fix it?

Over the years, I have worked with phenomenal people on exceptional brands. My CEOs were insatiable people who exhibited a thirst for knowledge and always wanted to learn. That kept me on my toes. I would pore though books, articles, case studies, regardless of FMCG, appliances or technology background, it was all exposure for me. That gave me enough insight to understand that when you do the same thing over and over again you get stuck in a rut, and that’s the worst place to be for a brand.

Another thing I learned is to not be a slave to focus groups. Letting the customer guide your every move is a fool’s strategy. As Steve Jobs said: “customers don’t know what they want until we have shown them”.  

Consumer empathy = insight + intuition 

Consumer research does work but what is missing is realizing that there is an equation. Replacing consumer centricity with consumer empathy does not mean that you are removing the consumer from the mix; it means you are going one step deeper. Your consumer centricity is your consumer insight now.

By all means any organization or marketer should have access to their consumer on formal forums; but he or she should also be able to engage them through informal forums as well.

When was the last time any of us actually talked to the consumer, not via a requirement or a guided interview, but just genuinely talked to them? You will be surprised by how willing they are to talk, how in-depth they would like to go. The digital age has made this even easier; we now have multiple consumer and technology blogs where people discuss our brands on a daily basis. It is these online forums where you can really connect with the consumer share your thoughts with them and ask them truly; if they liked the recent Coke commercial, if they liked the new Dairy Milk and if the new Samsung appealed to them.

Now comes consumer intuition

As marketers we also have to realize that there are certain areas where our belief in the product allows us to take decisions regarding its outcome. As marketers, we need to communicate our brand intuition clearly. We need to balance the equation, build products that we would love to sell to our consumers.

Organizations also need to learn to tolerate failure, build a culture of experimentation. Nourish their people by providing them opportunities to learn from the consumer.

Consumer centricity isn’t dead

I read somewhere that consumer centricity is dead. That is not true; consumer centricity is still there and an active part of the marketing and organizational process. Its importance cannot be denied.

Once we get rid of this constant fear of failure we move towards greater consumer centricity; we also realize that our own opinions are important. They matter because they come from our intuition which is a combination of our years spent with the consumer and our love for our brand.

So to all those people who are part of the marketing process; let’s build dreams, bring people new and innovative products and technologies, shape lives. Honestly it’s all we ever talk about.

Moazzam Kamran is a brand professional with a leading ISP and Cloud service provider, and a ‘Marchitect (Marketing Architect)’ who has provided consultation to local and international brands on brand building & development. You can get in touch with him on Google+ or  LinkedIn.

Kick-Start Your Blog With These Engaging Content Suggestions

This is a guest contribution from Jonathan Long of Market Domination Media.

Image via Flickr user mkhmarketing

Image via Flickr user mkhmarketing

There is not a specific content strategy that is set in stone for bloggers to follow. Every single blog has a specific target audience, requiring content that engages that blog’s particular audience. What works well for “Blog A” might not work as effectively for “Blog B,” requiring each blog owner to test different content approaches to determine what performs the best for his or her particular blog.

Here are some content suggestions that can be used to help spark some interest in your blog:

1. Free Giveaway

Want to build a loyal blog following quickly? Give something away for free! People love free giveaways, but don’t think that you will need to break the bank to attract attention to your giveaway.

Think of something that your target blog reader will see a value in, and this doesn’t mean monetary value. Sure, it could be a physical product such as a t-shirt or prize, but it can also be an eBook packed full of information that they will want to get their hands on.

Use your giveaway to gain an action such as an opt-in to your email list, a Facebook like, a follow on Twitter, or any other action that you deem to be beneficial for your blog’s growth (ensure it is done legally, however – you will find different states and countries require different specifications). You can create one-time giveaways or even weekly giveaways in order to gain traction.

When done successfully, it will snowball the blog’s growth. The first giveaway can be used to increase the blog’s social media following and subscriber list, making the audience for the second giveaway much larger. Now repeat this over and over and watch the growth occur.

Share Knowledge

Blogs are a great way to develop a special connection with your readers, and you will build up a loyal following if the audience feels that the information being shared with them is genuine. Use your knowledge and share it with your audience.

This applies to business blogs run by large corporations all the way to personal blogs started about a topic of interest. For example, if a super fan of the New York Yankees starts a baseball blog about the team then they should share as much knowledge about the team as possible. The readership and engagement will increase as the blogger presents knowledgeable information to the readers.

Avoid sounding like you are trying to sell them something. Your blog isn’t the place to pitch products or services. If the blog is an extension of a big brand, then post useful information. If the reader finds it valuable, they will naturally want to do business with the brand after making that connection.

Answer Common Questions Publicly

While this applies many to blogs run by a brand, this same approach can be used by virtually any blog out there. Keep track of customer service inquiries and develop a list of commonly-asked questions. Once it is determined that a particular question is asked frequently (like this one Darren spoke about recently), then address it via your blog.

There is a good chance that a large percentage of the audience has the very same questions but hasn’t taken the time to contact the blog with their question. You can even group these into your FAQ section and continue to add to it over time.

If you see an increase in a specific question due to a current event or something that is time-sensitive, then take a moment to address it on the blog. If you answer your readers’ questions before they have to ask, it makes your blog appear to be a great source of information in the eyes of the reader.

Data & Case Studies (Visual)

Many of us are visual learners by nature, hence why infographics have become such a popular and successful form of content marketing. If you have data that you feel your blog audience will enjoy and find useful, present in a visual manner and make sure you encourage them to share it.

The same applies to case studies; if you have interesting information, then share it. Virtually every blog out there, regardless of the topic, can gather some interesting data for their readers. Taking the same baseball blog we used as an example above, that blog could post interesting statistics about upcoming opponents, previous games, or stats in specific categories. Presenting them visually will attract more interest and result in more social sharing love.

“How-To” Posts

You will find “How-To” posts on almost every blog out there, and for a good reason: they are very well received. These types of informative posts are a great way to spark conversation and they do not necessarily have to be straight-up text posts. You can create “How To” posts using infographics, video, images, or even slide shows (or even a combination of these).

It all comes down to providing useful content that creates an action from the reader, whether that is a comment, a social share, a follow or like, or even an email list opt-in. Over time you will understand what types of content your audience responds to the best and can create informative “How-To” posts based around your most popular blog topics.

Are you currently utilizing a content engagement strategy that is producing amazing results for your blog? Feel free to share what is working for you in the comments below.

Jonathan Long is the President/CEO of Market Domination Media, a web design and online marketing firm that specializes in creative outside the box marketing with a focus on ROI.

How To: Customize HTML of New Getty Images for Your WordPress Blog

This is a guest contribution from Bhagwad Park of hostoople.com.

As we discussed last week, Getty Images recently opened up millions of its images for free usage. Coming from a professional stock photo website, this is a phenomenal step and one that will be greatly appreciated by thousands of bloggers all over the world. Most of us have been in the position where we have found a really appropriate picture to use only to find that it is copyrighted and requires a license fee to display. Now we can have access to the best photographs on a dazzling variety of subjects for free. By default, Getty Images provides you with a stock I-frame that displays the image as well as the credits link. What we want is to find a way to properly incorporate it into our WordPress post so that it fits in nicely with our theme and aligns properly.

Getting the Embed Code

The first step is to find an image that is embeddable. Getty Images hasn’t opened all of its pictures to the public – just a large fraction of them. So for example if I have initiated a search using the term “blogging”, I will get a number of results and I need to figure out which once I can use. To do this, hover your mouse over each of the icons and you will get a pop-up. The ones we’re looking for have an “embed” button along the bottom of the picture to the right of all the other icons as shown in the screenshot below.

embeddable

Clicking this icon will bring up the code to display it on your website. It takes the form of an I-frame that you need to insert into the HTML of your document. It comes with a default height and width and you will probably need to change to adjust it to fit your site. Below it, is a checkbox to toggle the image preview on and off. Enabling it will show you how the picture will look.

paste code

Aligning and Resizing the Image

Let’s say we want to embed this image in the top left corner of our post. Go to your WordPress visual editor, and enter the HTML editing mode by clicking the “Text” tab on the right-hand side. This will allow you to edit the raw HTML in your content. Paste the copied i-frame code right at the very top as shown in the screenshot below. If you preview your post now, you will see that the image is the very first thing displayed with all of the text underneath it.

code and preview

But what if we want it left aligned so that our text “flows” around the image? To do this, we need to add the following code to our I-frame as an attribute:

align=”left”

Place this immediately after the I-frame tag as shown below:

align left

Now when you preview the image, it will be left aligned with your text appearing to the right of it. But what if we need to reduce the width so that it more easily fits in with the dimensions of our blog post? Let’s say we want to reduce it to 300 pixels instead of the default 515. To do this, simply change the “width” attribute in the HTML to the pixel size you require. In our case, we change it to:

width=”300″

This reduces the width but leaves the height intact which is a problem. As shown in the screenshot below, reducing the width without changing the related height attribute will leave a lot of whitespace below the image.

whitespace problem

Changing the height is a matter of trial and error. The Chrome developer tools do a great job of allowing you to experiment with the right height. In my case, I found that 268 is the optimal height. So I changed the related attribute to:

height=”268″

This gives me a left aligned image with perfect dimensions on my blog. Using these simple instructions, you can have the very best pictures suited to your content for free – thank you Getty Images!

Bhagwad Park is a writer for hostoople.com, specializing in WordPress. You can follow him on Google+ here.

Five Quick Grammar Tips to Improve Your Writing – Plus Free Cheat Sheet

someecards.com - Punctuation is important. It is the difference between
This is a guest contribution from Jim Butcher of Mr and Mrs Romance.

There’s never really such a thing as a perfect blog post, is there? There’s always something else you could have done, something more you could have added. Another, better way you could have phrased a sentence.

And then there’s grammar and punctuation. I was never taught grammar at school further than ‘a verb is a doing word. A noun is a naming word, etc’. It’s no wonder native English speakers make so many simple mistakes.

Spotting these mistakes after you’ve hit ‘publish’ or – even worse – having a reader tell you about them, isn’t a nice thing. In fact it’s downright embarrassing.

The good news is these mistakes are pretty easy to avoid.

Here are my top five grammar focus points for mastering – or at least controlling – the written word!

Apostrophes.

These little things can turn a man’s hair white with fear, but they’re not that bad once you get to know them.

They have a couple of different uses: for contractions, and to show possession.

Contractions

These are the easier ones that most of us know pretty well. If you’re cutting down a word – like we are, you can just say we’re. Easy.

However, I did see this in an application letter for a job teaching English once: learn’t. This candidate was unsuccessful in their application. By the way, you can either use learned or learnt. It’s up to you – just be consistent. Choose one and stick to it.

More commonly, people get confused between you’re and your. And they’re, their and there, and things like that. Make sure you know the difference between these:

You’re = you are: You’re a wonderful person.

Your = something that belongs to someone: I want to hold your hand.

They’re = they are: They’re wonderful people.

Their = something that belongs to them: I want to meet their friends.

There = refers to a place: I dream about walking on the Moon but I don’t think I’ll ever get there.

We can also contract years with apostrophes. For the 1960s it’s always the ‘60s never the 60’s or the 60s.

The same goes for people’s ages. You don’t need an apostrophe to say someone is in his 20s.

Possessive apostrophes

These are the ones that get people confused, but once you get the hang of them, they’re actually quite satisfying to use.

Possessive apostrophes come in two types: singular and plural, but they both do the same thing; they tell the reader who or what owns the object.

Eg: This is Brian’s turkey sub. We know this turkey sub is owned by Brian. Lucky Brian.

So, the shop’s window displays – the window displays belongs to the shop.

In these instances, the apostrophe always goes before the s. That’s because there’s only one Brian and only one shop.

The confusion comes when there is more than one owner. Where does the apostrophe go?

If there are two or more shops, then the apostrophe goes after the s: the shops’ window displays.

These rules work on time periods too. I’ll still be working on my grammar in one year’s time. But I’ll be a grammar guru in two years’ time.

Notice the apostrophe moves to after the s when you’re talking about more than one year.

Sometimes the noun is automatically plural. Women for example already talks about more than one woman. The possessive apostrophe always goes before the s with this type of word. Women’s shoes, children’s books, mice’s food – they are all already plural.

The one exception is it. The only time we use an apostrophe with it is for contractions: it is or it has. It’s a bad day or it’s been a bad day. There is no plural form of it.

If we want to say this thing belongs to it, we simply write this is its thing. No apostrophe. I’ve seen this many times: its’. This makes my head ache trying to make sense of it but there’s no way this is ever possible.

My last point on misused apostrophes is with plurals of acronyms. For example, JB Hi-Fi regularly has signs advertising Cheap CD’s. This is wrong. Cheap CDs or DVDs or even CD-ROMs is what they’re looking for… unless they’re talking about a cheap CD’s case or if a cheap CD’s good.

Every day or everyday?

One of the most common mistakes I see is the confusion between every day and everyday. And I have an internal dialogue every time. It goes like this:

I read: I eat vegetables everyday. 

I mutter like a crazy person: No. No, you don’t. You eat vegetables every day. 

Everyday comes before the noun, and is used to describe something that is commonplace. These are my everyday clothes. I save my best outfits for weddings and funerals.

Every day comes after the noun, is much more common and describes how often you do something. I wear these clothes every day. Yes, I probably should expand my wardrobe.

Everyday comes before the noun you’re describing, every day comes after.

And if you’re still not sure which you should use, try replacing every with each. It’s pretty much the same meaning (though technically each is for two or more items, every is for three or more!).

If each fits just as well as every, you should use two words: every day.

Amazingly, companies have made this mistake. Big companies. Glad’s slogan on their Glad Wrap is ‘Seals in Freshness. Everyday.’ They’ve even trademarked it! The same goes with Officeworks. ‘Lowest prices everyday’ – and they’ve had huge signs with this on.

It’s an easy mistake to make, but it shouldn’t really happen.

Using that, which, and who

We use these words all the time (they’re called relative pronouns, by the way) and they’re very handy. But there are finer points that can make your writing more readable.

We know that which and that are used to talk about things – this is an apple tree, which my grandfather planted. Or, this is the apple tree that my grandfather planted.

If you are using ‘which’, it should come after a comma. You do not need a comma if you are using ‘that’.

When do you use ‘which’? – when you are including extra information. It becomes a non-restrictive clause, because you can leave it out and the sentence will still make sense (“This is an apple tree”). “Which my grandfather planted” is interesting extra information you’re adding, but not vital to the sentence.

You will also use ‘which’ when the clause is descriptive: “an apple tree”.

When do you use ‘that’? – when your piece of information is vital to the sentence. “This is the apple tree that my grandfather planted”. The fact your grandfather planted the tree is the most important part. The clause is also now defining: “the apple tree”, not just any old apple tree.

So who and that are used to talk about people – this is my brother who/that lives in Zimbabwe.

But sometimes, we only want to use these parts of a sentence as an aside – I passed my driving test first time, which was a relief. Or My other brother, who lives in a commune, is a bit strange.

Notice the comma in these last two sentences. They separate the sections that the which and the who command. Notice also that we can’t use that in these types of sentence. It’s just a grammar rule.

How do you know whether to use a comma or not? Read the sentence aloud. If you pause when you come to the which or who, you need commas.

The commas will give your sentence a rhythm that makes it that much friendlier to read.

Commas

When you’re writing directly to someone, don’t forget the commas. Compare these two sentences:

I know Mum. = I know and am aware of this person called Mum and I’m telling someone else this information.

I know, Mum. = I agree with you, my mother. I understand what you’re saying.

While we’re on commas, let’s talk about if sentences – also known as conditional sentences.

You need to separate conditional sentences with a comma if your sentence begins with if or whether or unless or when. Conditional sentences show a cause and an effect. The comma shows where these two elements are in a sentence.

If you don’t use a comma in a conditional sentence, I will release the hounds.

Unless you use a comma here, I’ll start crying.

When I see a conditional sentence without a comma, I dream of owning a nuclear warhead.

However, if you have the if, whether, unless or when words in the middle of the sentence, you don’t need a comma:

I’m so happy when I see a correct sentence like this one.

Capitalisation

In English, we use a capital letter for proper names. Like English. Surprisingly, mum can also be a proper name. This is my mum doesn’t need a capital m. How are you today, Mum? does need a capital.

This is because – in the second sentence – Mum becomes that person’s title. It’s that person’s name now. The first sentence is talking about mums in general. Notice it says my mum.

This rule also applies for things like university. If you’re just talking about studying at university, no capitals required. If you are talking about a specific uni by name, you need a capital letter.

I went to university when I was 14… I’m not a genius I just got lost.

I went to Cambridge University – dressed as Harry Potter. Security didn’t see the funny side of it. Expecto patronum!!

It’s amazing the difference in intimation a little comma can make, isn’t it?

Most of these grammar points will be picked up by Word’s grammar check – the blue squiggly lines. Pay attention to them – they’re not always exactly right, but sometimes they are.

If you’re interested in this sort of thing and want more information on it, I can’t recommend highly enough the book Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynn Truss. It’s quite sardonic at times but it’s a fun way to learn about punctuation and grammar.

To make it simple for you, I’ve also created a downloadable Grammar Cheat Sheet. Get yours: Grammar Cheat Sheet for ProBlogger.net.

Do you have any handy tips for getting tricky grammar points right? Are you a grammar pedant? What mistakes make you cranky?

Jim Butcher runs the lifestyle blog Mr and Mrs Romance with his wife, Christina (of Hair Romance fame). Jim is also an author, freelance journalist and copywriter, and an avid grammar enthusiast.

9 Crucial Tips for Self-Editing Your Blog Posts (That Every Blogger Can Use)

This is a guest contribution from Ali Luke of Zen Optimise.

Image via Flickr user Dan Patterson

Image via Flickr user Dan Patterson

Have you ever glanced at a post the day after publishing it … only to notice a glaring error?

In an ideal world, you’d have a professional editor helping with your posts, making careful adjustments and double-checking things with you until your post is the polished masterpiece it deserves to be.

In the real world, chances are you’re on your own. If your post is going to be edited, it’s up to you to do it.

Whether you’re a highly experienced writer or a new blogger who’s very unconfident about their writing, spending some time editing (and doing it right) will result in dramatically better posts.

Here’s how:

9 Tips for Editing Your Own Blog Posts

#1: Plan Before You Write

One of the best editing tricks takes place before you even write your post.

By spending five to ten minutes creating a plan, you can save yourself hours of frustration trying to whip your post into shape later.

Your plan needn’t be complicated: a list of your subheadings is enough. My plan for this post began like this:

Introduction

1. Plan before you write

2. Avoid editing while writing (link Daniel’s post)

3. Don’t go straight from writing into editing

#2: Avoid Editing While Writing

Have you ever started a blog post, got a paragraph or two in, scrapped your introduction, started again… and then ended up bogged down mid-way?

A good plan will help a lot here, but you also need to get out of the habit of trying to perfect every sentence while you’re working on the first draft. It’s an inefficient and often frustrating way to work.

I wouldn’t go quite so far as Daniel Scocco, who suggests you should never hit backspace when you’re writing – personally, I think it’s no big deal if you quickly correct a typo or occasionally restart a sentence. But at least 90% of the time, you should be making forward progress with your first draft, not going back and rewriting.

#3: Don’t Go Straight from Writing into Editing

If you’re in a hurry to get a post out, or simply in a blogging mood, you might finish drafting your post and immediately start editing.

While this is OK once in a while, it’s definitely better to allow your post to rest a bit before you start editing.

This has a couple of benefits:

You won’t be so close to the material, so you’ll see where you might want to add something in, take something out, or rearrange paragraphs. (You’ll also be more likely to spot all the good bits!)

You’ll hopefully come back feeling refreshed, so you’ll be in a better position to spot typos, grammatical errors, and other tiny but distracting mistakes.

How long should you stay away? If you can leave your post overnight, that’s perfect; otherwise, a lunch break or even a coffee break can be enough.

#4: Edit the Big Picture First

When you hear the word “editing,” you probably think about fixing spelling mistakes and debating over word choices. That’s definitely a big part of editing … but before you get into the details, you need to take a look at the big picture of your post.

Think of it this way: you don’t want to spend ages getting a paragraph just right, only to later realize it doesn’t belong in your post at all.

So spend at least a few minutes reading through your post and deciding whether you should:

Cut out information that might not be relevant (or that’s repetitive).

Add in information that readers may need in order to understand the post.

Move around paragraphs or subsections that aren’t currently in the best order.

At this stage, you’re focusing on paragraphs and perhaps sentences, rather than individual words.

#5: Cut Down Your Introduction

Most blog posts benefit from some cutting … and introductions are a great place to begin. 

The first few lines of your post need to hook the reader and encourage them to read on. If you spend several paragraphs explaining the inspiration behind the post, or if you start to repeat yourself, readers may well switch off and click away.

One handy trick here is to delete your first paragraph and see whether the post works without it. If not, just add it back in.

If you’re stuck, try How to Write Irresistible Blog Intros for some great tips.

#6: Add a Call to Action

If you included a call to action during your first draft, good for you! Missing calls to action are one of the biggest mistakes I see when I’m editing guest posts or training bloggers.

A call to action, in case you’ve not come across the term before, is a clear prompt to the reader to do something. It could be “click here to buy my ebook” or “tell us what you think in the comments” or “if you enjoyed this post, please share it on Facebook” … or almost anything else.

The best place for a call to action is right at the end of your post, because that’s the point at which readers will be deciding what to do next. If you’re not sure what to write or want to see how other bloggers do it, check out 6 Action-Inspiring Ways to End Your Blog Post (and 12 Examples).

#7: Don’t Let Spellcheck Do Your Proofreading

Although it’s definitely a good idea to run a spellcheck on your post, you shouldn’t trust spellcheck to catch everything.

When you proofread, look out for:

Inconsistencies in how you write a word or phrase (e.g. “e-book”, “eBook”, “e-Book” or “ebook” – pick one and stick with it throughout).

Missing punctuation marks – I sometimes find I’m missing the period at the end of a paragraph, and it’s also easy to forget to close your parentheses.

Missing words, especially small ones like “a”. Sometimes, these errors creep in when you edit a sentence and don’t change everything you should.

Spelling mistakes, especially with words that sound alike – e.g. “you’re” vs “your”.

One good trick you can use here is to read your post out loud. This forces you to slow down, and often means you’re more likely to notice mistakes. (Alternatively, you could print your post and read it on paper, with a red pen in hand.)

#8: Don’t Agonize Over Making it Perfect

One of the great things about blog posts is that you can edit them after publishing them. (Obviously that’s a fair bit harder if you print a set of business cards … or 500 copies of a book.) While it’s definitely important to have a well-written, polished post, if a typo remains, it’s not going to kill your chances of blogging success.

If you’re spending so much time editing and proofreading that you’re struggling to actually write enough for your blog, or if you’re losing your enthusiasm for blogging, cut back.

And don’t feel that you have to use every single tip on this list on every single post you write – though it’s definitely worth checking off each point if you’re editing something really important, like a guest post or a piece of flagship content.

#9: Preview Your Post and Check the Formatting

Get in the habit of previewing your posts – sometimes, a problem that’s not obvious in the text editor will stand out sharply in the preview. 

Even if there aren’t any problems, you may find yourself spotting typos, or simply seeing things that you decide to tweak to make your post more visually attractive. This could mean:

Adding in formatting … or taking some out if you’ve gone over the top with the bold text!

Editing the title or subheading to avoid one word wrapping onto the next line.

Changing a link so that it doesn’t wrap across two lines.

Putting in extra space, perhaps after a list (some blog themes tend to squish lists and the subsequent paragraph together).

Of course, all of this is very nit-picky – but if you do spot something that’s quick and easy to change, this is a good opportunity to make your post even better.

So, those are my nine best tips. Which ones(s) will you be putting into practice this week? And do you have a tenth to add? Let us know in the comments…

You can find Ali Luke over at Zen Optimise, where she blogs about content marketing, social media, and more. For help with planning and writing, as well as editing, take her free video training (45 minutes) on The Writing Process for Bloggers.

Canvassing ProBlogger Readers: How Have You Built Your Readership?

As you might be aware, each month this year we are running a themed week – delving in deep the topics that are of the most interest to you.

We started with creating content, moved on to resources for newbie bloggers just starting out, and this month we had an epic drilldown into creating products to sell.

Our next themed week is all about building readership and creating community on blogs. We are looking for people with success stories in different niches – have you build a great readership? Or know of someone who has?

If you are interested in sharing your story here on ProBlogger.net, we’d love to hear from you. Please head here and fill out the form – we’ll be in touch.

If you’re interested in how to build your readership base, you might like these posts on ProBlogger.net:

 

When Journalism and Blogging Collide: 7 Reporters’ Tactics to Make You a Better Blogger

Image via Flickr user Binuri Ranasinghe.

Image via Flickr user Binuri Ranasinghe.

This is a guest contribution from journalist and blogger Christian Toto.

Journalism appears to be a dirty word in 2014. Some people blast reporters for their perceived biases. Others say journalists simply protect the status quo rather than speaking truth to power. Everyone else is is fed up by reporters paying more attention to a twerking Miley Cyrus than the deficit or health care.

None of this means journalism skills aren’t a great way to separate your blog from the competition. In fact, blogging with Cronkite-colored glasses can help your site gain both trust and readers.

Here are seven ways bloggers can rely on journalistic tenets to enhance their brand:

1. Be Transparent

When you make an argument, link to reputable sources to support your case. If you make a factual error, own up to it in a clear manner like a newspaper correction. Readers forgive mistakes, but they’re less willing to trust a blogger who traffics in stealth edits.

2. Flash Your Expertise

Once upon a time – before the Internet upended journalism in toto – media outlets hired reporters with specific skill sets to cover topics like business, health and entertainment. Now, general assignment reporters work overtime to replicate the expertise these areas demand. Chances are you bring plenty of knowledge to your niche. That’s why you’re blogging about it in the first place. Don’t be bashful … show it off.

3. Sexy Ledes, Compelling Headlines

Readers have very short attention spans, and your best chance at grabbing them comes down to the headline and opening sentence (the “lede”). Make that headline sizzle without forgetting essential keywords. Better still, craft a killer first sentence that makes readers eager to keep reading.

4. Less Is (Much) More

When in doubt … cut. Edit extraneous words from every post. Rely on short sentences to break up a paragraph’s rhythm. Pluck out adjectives that aren’t mandatory. Your writing will be more powerful and readers will appreciate that you aren’t wasting their time.

5. Step Away from the Laptop

Bloggers were once dismissed as pajamas-wearing amateurs. We’ve come a long way since then, but a good blogger must put on a tie or business skirt now and then. Journalists attend rallies, cover protests and interview people in their niche. Do as they do. Writing a political blog? Sit in on a meeting of the local GOP party or capture a day in the life of a rising Democrat star. Blog about cooking? Attend a chef’s class and spot the way he holds a knife when cutting vegetables. Your writing will come alive, and you’ll pick up valuable sources along the way.

6. Don’t Trust Your Biases

Sometimes we want a story to be true so badly our inner skeptic takes a coffee break. Consider how many people share those faux Daily Currant headlines on Facebook. If a story feels too good to believe, double check it. As the saying goes, if your mother says she loves you, check it out.

7. Unearth Those Buried Ledes

A great way to generate story ideas is to read newspaper articles and find the missing angles or juicy nuggets buried after the jump. News judgment is subjective, and even ace reporters give short shrift to vital information now and again. When they do … pounce.

Christian Toto is an award-winning journalist, film critic and blogger. He offers tips and tactics to his fellow fathers at http://daddylibrium.com.