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Spend 10 Minutes Doing This Every Day and You Could Transform Your Blogging

Today I want to suggest an exercise that has the potential to improve your blogging profoundly if you build it into your daily routine.

Look at another blog

Image by zev

Image by zev

OK – this may not sound that profound – most of us read other blogs every day but it doesn’t revolutionise what we do – but stick with me for a second while I explain HOW to do it in a way that could have a big impact.

Here’s what I do every day

I choose a blog and then spend 5-10 minutes reviewing it. My aim is not to ‘consume’ it as a reader…. but rather to review it with the view of learning about blogging.

What I’ve found is that my spending 5-10 minutes every day looking at another blog in this way that I learn so much! In fact I’ve learned so much over the last few months that last week in my team meetings I’ve introduced the idea of us doing this as a group – each week we’ll review a blog to see what we can learn.

The objective is not to do these reviews to copy what others are doing – but rather I find in looking at other blogs I often find inspiration and insight for my own blogs. The learnings cover a wide range of areas – from design, to product ideas, to content, to increasing engagement, to use of social media, to marketing etc.

Let me dive a little deeper into how I do it:

Choosing a Blog to Review

I review a blog every week day so over a year I’m potentially reviewing 260 blogs so I don’t have a single criteria for choosing which blog I’ll review.

When I started doing this a few months ago I started doing it mainly with photography blogs (those in my own niche) but I’ve since moved outside my niche too. While it is great to know what competitors in your niche are doing there’s a much to learn by going beyond it too.

Not only do I mix up the niche but I’m also trying to mix up the size of the blog. There’s a lot to learn from the biggest blogs who have lots of readers, staff, developers, professional designs etc – but you can learn a lot from medium and smaller blogs too.

Also I like to keep my eye open for those blogs that are up and coming – those that seem to burst onto the scene quickly – because these blogs are often doing something new or innovative.

Lastly I like to try to mix up the style of blogs. While I mainly focus upon creating ‘how to’ content blogs I also regularly review blogs that focus more upon ‘news’, ‘reviews’, ‘personal’, ‘opinion’, ‘entertainment’ etc.

So if you’re just starting to do daily reviews – do start with blogs in your niche – but mix it up too, and you’ll discover a lot that you can apply in your own blogging.

Tips on Conducting Your Review

I don’t have a set routine for reviewing the blogs that I look at, but there are a number of things that I tend to do.

I usually start by viewing the blog on my desktop computer which has a nice, wide, 27-inch display. However I also try to view the blog on my iPad and phone which is often quite illuminating from a design viewpoint.

I generally will start by reviewing the front page of the blog and pay particular attention to my first impression and feelings about the site (first impressions are often lasting ones), but will always dig around deeper into the site and review ‘posts’ (both recent and those in the archives) and also any ‘pages’ (about page, advertising page, contact page, etc).

Questions to Ask As You Review

There are a variety of areas that you can review when looking at another blog. I tend to break things down into the following areas and find myself asking questions like those that follow.

Note: I don’t ask all of these questions every time I do a review – but I hope by presenting them you’ll get a feel for what directions you can explore.

Content

  • what voice/s are they writing in?
  • what is their posting frequency?
  • how long are the posts that they write?
  • what type of posts are they majoring on (information, inspiration, engagement, news, opinion, etc)?
  • what style and medium of posts are they using (lists, imagery, video, podcasts, etc)?
  • what blend of original vs curated content are they using?
  • what topics/categories are they majoring on?
  • what type of headlines/titles formulas do they use?
  • do they use multiple authors/guest posters or a single writer?

Community

  • how do they engage readers?
  • what calls to action do they use and what is being responded to?
  • what type of posts get the most comments, shares, likes?
  • do they use tools like polls, surveys, quizzes or other engagement triggers?
  • what social media sites are they using and how they using them for engagement/community building?
  • do they have a newsletter – how do they incentivise signups? What type of content do they send?
  • how much do the writers of the blog engage in comments?
  • do they have a dedicated community area? (forum, membership etc)?
  • do they have ‘discussion’ posts or ‘assignments’ or ‘projects/challenges’ that give readers something to DO?

Finding Readers

  • where do they seem to be putting most of their energy in terms of generating readership (social, guest posting, media etc)?
  • which social media sites are they primarily using for outreach and what are they doing their?
  • what type of content seems to be being shared the most on their site?
  • how do they try to ‘hook’ new readers once they’ve arrived (newsletter, social, RSS etc)?
  • what type of reader is this blog attracting?
  • how does the blog rank on Alexa? What does Alexa say about sources of traffic, type of reader that the blog has?

Monetization

  • how are they monetizing?
  • if advertising, what advertisers are they working with directly?
  • are they using an ad network like AdSense?
  • how many ads are they showing per page?
  • where are they positioning ads on their pages?
  • what size ads do they offer advertisers?
  • do they have an advertiser page? Do they publish their rates, traffic or other interesting information on it? Do they have a media kit? What is their main selling point to advertisers?
  • if selling products – what type of products seem tot be selling the most?
  • what can you learn from the way they market their products?
  • what affiliate programs/products are they promoting?
  • do they offer premium paid content or community areas on their blog?
  • do they have a disclaimer/privacy page? What can you learn from it about how they monetize?

Design/Tech

  • what layout do they use?
  • what navigation/menu items do they have?
  • what first impressions does their design give? What is the first thing they seem to be calling people to DO when arriving?
  • have they used a designer or blog template for their blog?
  • how do they communicate what their blog is about (do they have a tag line)?
  • how are they using their front page? Is it a traditional blog format, portal or something else?
  • what do they have in their sidebar?
  • do they have a ‘hello bar’ at the top of their site? What are they using it for?
  • what do they put in ‘hot zones’ on the blog (above the fold), below posts, etc?
  • what type of blogging tool do they seem to use?
  • what can you observe about their approach to SEO?
  • what kind of commenting technology do they use?
  • what widgets and tools do they have that make the reader experience more interesting?
  • how do they use images in posts?
  • what’s their logo like?
  • what colours are they using in their design?
  • how do they highlight ‘social proof’ in their design?
  • do they have an app?
  • is their design responsive to mobile/tablets?
  • do they use any techniques to increase page views?

Email/Newsletter

  • do they have an email newsletter?
  • if so – how are they driving people to signup? Popups, forms, hello bar etc?
  • are they incentivising signups with something free?
  • signup for the newsletter and watch what kinds of emails they send. Is it an auto responder or more timely broadcasts?

Social Media

  • what social media accounts do they promote on their blog?
  • how are they promoting their social media accounts?
  • are there social media mediums that they are ignoring?
  • which type of social media seems most active/important to them?
  • where are they getting most engagement?
  • how often are they updating their accounts? what times of day seem to get most engagement?
  • what techniques are they using on social that seem to get most engagement and build community?
  • what techniques are they using on social to drive traffic?
  • what techniques are they using with social to monetize?
  • what feedback is this blog getting from readers on social? What are they known for (both positive and negative)?

Other Questions to Ponder

  • are there opportunities to network or partner with this blog/blogger?
  • do they accept guest posts – could you write with them?
  • do they have products that you could promote as an affiliate?
  • do you have a product that they could promote as an affiliate?
  • if they are in your niche – what ‘gaps’ in their content could you be filling in your own blog?
  • what are they doing poorly that might provide you with an opportunity to have a competitive advantage?
  • what are they doing well that you’re not doing to the best of your ability?

What would you add?

The above list is not something I systematically work through for every blog that I look at – rather it is the type of questions I find myself asking as I review a blog and might be useful as a starting point for you to work from.

I’m sure there are other areas you could dig into further and I’d love to hear your suggestions in comments below.

Learn From The Actions of Others

Let me finish by coming back to the motivation for doing blog reviews like this.

What I’m NOT suggesting is that you review other blogs to simply steal other peoples ideas and replicate what they do.

What I AM suggesting is that you will learn a heap by looking at how others blog.

It might sounds odd coming from a guy writing a blog about blogging but I think you’ll actually learn as much – if not more – by doing the above exercise each day than by filling your RSS reader full of blog tips blogs. There’s only so much theory you need to hear – much more can be learned by watching people practice their craft.

A side note about Blogs about Blogging: The reality is that most ‘blog tips blogs’ are written by bloggers whose most successful blog is a ‘blog tips blog’. While this doesn’t discount them as people to listen to, it’s worth keeping in mind as you ponder their teaching and calls to purchase what they sell.

It also strikes me that the vast majority of successful bloggers going around are quietly going about building amazing blogs and not broadcasting their tips and learnings. Their focus is building their blogs – not teaching others how to blog. While it’d be great to get inside their heads the great thing is that almost everything they do is live on their blogs for all to see – hence the opportunity in spending time learning by watching what they do.

My Challenge to You

For the next week, review a blog every day. It need not include every question above – but put aside 10 or so minutes each day over the next week to look at another blog and see what you can learn.

I dare you! It could just be the most valuable 70 minutes of blogging learning you ever have!

If you take the challenge, I’d love to hear in comments below what you learn!

Passion – Do You Have It?


Recently on Twitter I was asked for some tips on what sets ‘great’ blogs apart from the rest.

With millions of bloggers creating blog posts every day – how do you stand out?

It’s a big question, and the reality is that there are many ingredients to building a successful blog.

A variety of words came to mind as I struggled to come up with my 140-character guide to ‘standing out’.

I started to list them:

  • Credibility
  • Share Your Opinion
  • Great Writing
  • Ability to Connect
  • Understanding Readers
  • Injecting Personality

As I brainstormed, I realised 140 characters was not going to cut it:

  • Great blog design
  • Tell Stories
  • Use Great Visuals
  • Network with other bloggers
  • Be prolific
  • Be funny
  • Be smart
  • Be first
  • Write great headlines

I started to think of the blogs I love and what makes them stand out:

  • Be Useful
  • Be Entertaining
  • Take note of your readers
  • Have a different spin on things
  • Be Original

The list continued to grow and with it my heart sank a little.

“There’s no one way to stand out…”

But then I had two realizations:

Firstly – I love that there’s no one way to stand out! There are no rules. There is no blueprint – and that’s what is so simultaneously exciting and frustrating about blogging.

That’s why I love what I do. Constant experimentation, learning, testing and trying new things.

The second thing I realised is that there actually was a common feature about all of the blogs that came to mind as ‘stand out’ blogs.

Passion

There are plenty of bloggers that do the things in the lists above. There are bloggers sharing opinions, writing well, with a heart to connect, with great personalities…. bloggers who are smart, funny, prolific, original, entertaining and bundles of wonderful!

But something that seems present and that shines through in the blogs that I read and love is passion.

They are created by people with passion for the topics being covered, passion for the process of creating content, passion for their readers, passion for learning, and passion for pushing the boundaries of thinking and creating.

They love… they enthuse… they delight in what they do. By doing so they somehow draw others into their passion too, which is where the real magic seems to happen.

This isn’t to say that passion is the only ingredient needed for success – but maybe… just perhaps… it’s what binds it all together and helps a blog just click.

Are you passionate about your blog?

Happy Valentine’s Day.

The 3 Ingredients in Our Best Selling eBook Titles


Over the last few days in Facebook groups I participate in, I’ve seen a number of people ask for advice on coming up with titles for new eBooks, courses and books.

Below is a combination of a few pieces of advice I gave in response to the topic:

Coming up with titles for our eBooks on Digital Photography School is always something that takes our team considerable time and debate.

There’s no right way to to create a title and many factors come into play but there are generally three main ingredients that I try to include in titles of eBooks:

1. Clearly Communicate What the Book is About

This is pretty obvious, but it can be tempting at times to come up with a title that is a little more cryptic. I’ve found that the clearer you are about the topic, the better (this also helps with after-sale customer service – you’ll get a lot less complaints if people know exactly what they’re buying).

2. Include a Tangible Benefit

I didn’t always do this but have noticed that our best selling eBooks tend to have one. A good example of this is the ProBlogger eBook – 31 Days to Build a Better Blog.

Do this, and you’ll get this – show the people who are pondering whether they will buy your product what they’ll get as a result of doing so. What’s in it for them?

Sometimes putting the benefit in the title is tricky, particularly if you’re looking to create a short title. In this case, we would usually create a sub-title that we prominently display.

For example, our landscape Photography eBook is ‘Living Landscapes: A Guide to Stunning Landscape Photography‘. The benefit or result is (stunning landscape photography).

So as you’re creating your product, make a list of the needs/problems/challenges that your readers face that your product solves. You may come up with multiple benefits but choose the biggest one (one that readers have at the top of their minds and that the product solves), and use that in the title.

Keep the other benefits that you’ve brainstormed handy because they will be very useful when you’re writing your sales material for the eBook.

3. If Possible Say Something Aspirational that Touches Emotion

This is not something we always do, but particularly for our Photography eBooks, we know that as we’re talking about photography (which is an aspirational topic), that when we use words that evoke some kind of emotion that we generally get a better response from readers.

Note: there’s a fine line here between manipulation and hype, and doing this well.

The example of our ‘Living Landscapes’ eBook mentioned above is a good one. ‘Living Landscapes’ communicates something about what we’re trying to do with the eBook – i.e. help readers to bring the landscapes that they photography to life.

Also in the sub-title we use ‘Stunning Landscape Photography’ rather than just ‘Landscape Photography’. The addition of an adjective not only communicates our objective with the eBook to readers, but also gets them dreaming a little about the things that our eBook will help them to unlock.

You’ll also see if you dig into the sales copy on dPS eBooks, that many of our sales pages also use this more aspirational language in how we sell our products.

Another example of this is Transcending Travel: A Guide to Captivating Travel Photography which at the time we published it was our fastest selling eBook.

You can see in the title alone the same kind of formula. You can tell what it is about (Travel Photography), there’s a clear tangible benefit and words like ‘Transcending’ and ‘Captivating’ are aspirational.

Look at the sales page and again you can see that the copy starts by aiming to touch the ‘heart’ – getting readers to think about the feeling that we all know of getting home from a trip to find that the images we’ve taken don’t capture the true spirit of our time away.

Two Last Tips on Creating Great Titles for Products:

While the above three ingredients are things that we try to get into our eBook titles, it is important to re-emphasise that there is no right way to do this.

Our approach has worked for us with our readership, but I know others take different approaches (and I’d love to hear yours below).

The two last tips I’d give also come out of our experience:

1. Test and Watch How Your Readers Respond

Not all of our titles have worked, and there have been times when we’ve used titles that I had doubts about that worked surprisingly well!

The key is to experiment and see how your readers respond. There are a variety of ways of doing this including:

  • watching how readers respond to titles of blog posts – over time you’ll see some posts get read more than others and that certain words/topics/title formulas seem to resonate more than others
  • test how people respond to social media updates – tweet a link to a blog post you’ve written with two alternative titles for the link and see which works best
  • watching open rates of emails that you send your email subscribers – in the lead up to a product launch send an email to your list pointing them to a blog post on the topic and test different subject lines
  • As your readers which title they’d be most interested in reading – we’ve done this a couple of times on Facebook with readers, showing them two covers of eBooks and asking which they like more

2. Involve Others in the Process

I learned with my very first photography eBook how powerful it was to involve others in the coming up with titles and sales copy.

I was close to launching my first eBook with the simple title ‘Portrait Photography’ when I shot Brian Clark from CopyBlogger an email asking his advice. He came back with the title ‘The Essential Guide to Portrait Photography’.

The title was much stronger and the eBook sold very well.

While not everyone might have access to email one of the best blogging copywriters around (Brian is brilliant) even tossing a title around with friends, family, colleagues and other bloggers will help you to hone your title.

These days we spend days tossing around title ideas as a team before deciding upon one and I think doing so has helped a lot. You’ll also find that as you talk it through the marketing of the product will also become easier as you’ll get more clarity about the benefits of your product and how it will help readers.

Tapping into Joy and Disappointment: Lessons from Our Biggest eBook Launch Ever

Over on dPS last week we launched an eBook on Posing Portraits that has sold faster than any other eBook launch I’ve been a part of.

While talking with a friend about the success of the launch, he asked why I thought it had done so well. I thought I’d share my response here as I think there’s a couple of good lessons to take away from it.

There are certainly a number of factors at play that helped with our launch today including:

  • almost eight years of daily posting and building up a readership – this of course is the foundation for all we do and cannot be overstated.
  • a repeat author for the eBook - Gina, who wrote this eBook, has written two previous Portrait and Portrait Lighting eBooks and has contributed on our blog over the last couple of years. As a result she’s familiar to many of our readers.
  • a popular topic – portraits is a topic that many of our readers are interested in – in fact it’s the number-one type of photography that they do
  • a well-honed sales page – we worked hard on our sales copy for both the sales page and emails that we sent our subscriber list
  • a beautiful book – the cover and sample pages we showed of this eBook are beautifully illustrated and designed – it’s certainly easier to sell something with visual appeal
  • readers trust our products – this is our 16th dPS eBook. We pride ourselves on producing quality and useful eBooks and this builds trust/credibility over time.

But Perhaps the Biggest Reason Is…

As I was pondering our launch today a reader left this comment on our Facebook page:

Posing feedback

Then I spotted this comment just now on the blog post announcing the eBook:

Posing ebook feedback

When I saw this feedback I realised that probably the biggest reason that this eBook has been so popular with our readers is that it fulfils a felt need that many people have.

As that last comment says – most people know the feeling of seeing a photo of themselves (or others) that is awkward or stiff. This is a disappointment that we can all relate to as we realise that the image taken doesn’t really reflect the person in the shot.

On the flip side are those times when you see a shot of someone which captures their true spirit – feelings of joy accompany these moments!

At dPS we see both the joy and disappointment that many experience when shooting portraits and it was this very reason that we wanted to publish this eBook.

While at the time I don’t think we realised just how much it would connect with readers, now with hindsight we should have expected it.

Take-Home Lesson

Do everything you can to get in touch with the challenges that your blog’s readers face. What problems do they struggle with? What disappointments do they encounter? What moments of joy are they chasing?

Tapping into disappointment and joy is a powerful thing.

I think creating products (and for that matter writing blog posts) that respond to those things is a great recipe for success.

On a practical level this can mean manny things including:

  • identifying your own challenges, disappointments, joys (past and present)
  • watching the comments on the posts you (and other bloggers) write
  • asking readers to submit questions or identify problems that they face (further reading on one way I do this)
  • watching what search terms people are searching for to land on your blog
  • running focus groups with readers to ask them about their needs
  • running polls and using surveys to tap into reader needs (learn more on how I’ve done this here)
  • share your own needs/challenges/disappointments as stories on your blog (this often unearths other peoples)

The main thing is to keep putting yourself in the shoes of readers and let that experience inform your blogging direction.

PS: a Word About Manipulation

It is worth noting that tapping into the disappointments of readers is something that can at times lead to manipulation.

Playing on fears and problems and promising solutions is something that can definitely drive sales, but unless you’re backing it up with a solid product that actually solves those problems, you’re running the risk of manipulating your reader. Apart from helping you make a quick buck, it’s a ploy that doesn’t help anyone in the long run.

Instead of letting your readers disappointments inform empty marketing spin, let it inform the actual products you create to increase their actual value to those who buy them.

Content Week: How to Deal with Your Blogging ‘Inner Critic’

Theme WeekDo you have an inner critic? That little voice in your head that whispers in your ear as you write… chipping away at your confidence… making you second guess yourself… scattering seeds of doubt and fear through every paragraph you write… resulting in the ‘delete’ key being the most used key on your keyboard!

Or maybe that’s just me???

NewImage

It is content week here on ProBlogger this week and while we want most of our posts to inspire and equip you to create great content on your blog, it would be remiss of us to ignore one of the biggest challenges that many bloggers face – dealing with their inner critic.

I asked readers about their inner critic and how they deal with it on the ProBlogger Twitter account and Facebook page earlier in the week, and it was fascinating to see people’s reactions.

For starters it seems most bloggers have an inner critic – the response on that front was quite overwhelming!

How to Deal with the Inner Critic

There are no right or wrong ways to deal with your inner critic, and depending on the situation, you might want to take a number of approaches.

Ignore or Banish It

It is easier said than done, but when your inner critic has nothing constructive to say and is stopping the creative process, banishing it can be one of the most useful things you can do.

There are a range of ways of doing this, as illustrated in these responses on our Facebook page:

Screen Shot 2014 02 03 at 11 20 37 am

This simple technique of redirecting your brain when you notice negativity is something that works for a lot of people. It aims to break the moment of negativity and then allows you to move on. You can try a word, like Karen does, or you can try to force your brain to think of something else to crowd out your inner critic – long enough for you to move on and be unaffected.

Then there’s the ‘willpower’ approach which some seem to favour:

Screen Shot 2014 02 03 at 11 26 32 am

Screen Shot 2014 02 03 at 11 27 18 am

I find this willpower approach tougher and generally like to try to find a way to work with my inner critic.

Partner With It

I love this response from Erin White:

Screen Shot 2014 02 03 at 2 25 19 pm

This rings true for me and has become my default position for dealing with my inner critic. You see ‘critique’ is actually a useful thing. When used at the right time and in a constructive way, it actually makes us better.

I’ve come to peace with the fact that my inner critic is often actually my inner quality control inspector.

The key is to keep it in its place and only allow it to do its thing when the time is right.

So for me, when I begin to hear the whispers of doubt as I’m writing, I don’t ignore them, rather, I defer them until later – at which point they can go to town with their critical thinking. I also work the same way when I’m finding new content – first, brainstorm, then critique.

Note: This doesn’t mean I never allow myself to be critical of what I’m doing until I’ve finished. Sometimes some critical thinking is useful earlier in the writing process and idea generation stage.

It just means that there are times to bring critical thought to bear, and other times to suspend it and let one’s creativity flow.

So for me, I have a time for writing and creating, and a time for critiquing and judging what I’ve written.

If the doubts get loud to the point that they’re crowding out my creativity, I often find it worthwhile to jot down the nagging feelings I have on a piece of paper next to my keyboard before getting back to writing. I tell myself that I’ll pay attention to that doubt I have later… but now is a time to create.

It’s not always easy to take this approach but I’ve found that the more I do it the better I get at putting off and then, at the appropriate time, embracing the inner critic.

A few Questions to Ask When Working with Your Inner Critic

Working with your inner critic as a parter takes a little practice and is something you need to balance.

Without them, your work can be shoddy and of a low quality. But let them have too much influence, and you may not actually produce anything! If you let your inner critic overrule all the content ideas you come up with, it can be hard to keep producing them, and you might find you’re writing about the same old thing and never stepping out into new territory.

As a result I think it’s important to learn to ask yourself a couple of questions to help get the balance right (note: these are the same questions I recommend asking when another person is being critical of what you’re doing):

1. Is their truth in the words of my inner critic? - sometimes the whispers contain no truth and are just holding you back – but sometimes they have truth in them and are signals that you could improve what you’re doing.

2. What can I do to improve? – If there is truth in what you’re hearing – what do you need to do to improve what you’re doing? Turn the critic’s words into a constructive direction and use them to help you improve what you’re working on.

This second question is really important for many of us to do as often we let the inner critic paralyse us and stop us in our tracks. Rather than getting wrapped up in the turmoil of the critique – let it be the launching pad to better things!

Lastly, try to decide upon an action you can take that will move you on from your critical thinking. It is easy to get bogged down at this stage so I find it is important to move back into ‘action’ and ‘creation’ after having a critical review of what I’m doing. This gets the momentum going again and me back into a more positive frame of mind.

A Word About Fear

The other inner turmoil that many of us face as bloggers is fear. While some of the above probably applies I have previously outlined 3 quick questions to ask when you’re paralysed by fear. If fear is crippling you (as it has me at times) – I hope those questions help get things in perspective.

4 Key Areas to Focus Your Time Upon to Grow Profitable Blogs [And How Much of Your Time to Spend On Them]

A regular question I’m asked by bloggers at different stages of their blogging is how much time they should allocate to different aspects of blogging.

Should you spend more time writing blog posts, promoting the posts, networking, responding to readers, working on social media etc?

Answer this question is tricky as there are numerous factors to consider including the topic of your blog, the type of content you’re creating, the type of audience you’re wanting to attract, your own passions and style as a blogger and the stage of your blog (i.e. if it is new or more established).

I’ll share some suggested splits of time that I think are good starting points for how to use your time below but before I do I want to share the four main areas that I have allocated time to over the last 11 and a half years of blogging.

I cannot imagine being able to grow my blogs to the point that they are at today without any one of these areas.

Priority One – Creating Content

Without a doubt this has always been my number-one priority.

In the lead-up to launching a new blog this is something that I would often put almost 100% of my time into (although you do need to put some time and resources into getting the blog designed and hosted). Once the blog is launched I decrease this to include some of the other activities below, but later on it would never dip below 40-50% of my time and effort.

Without great content on your blog (whether it be written, video, audio, imagery or something else) you’ll never really be able to grow your blog. While it takes time to create quality content I see this time as an investment that has a long term impact upon my blogs. For example the posts I wrote when I first launched dPS have continued to generate traffic and income for years to come.

My focus over the years has always been upon producing ‘how-to’ style content but of course there are other styles of blogs too (entertainment, opinion, news, personal, etc).

Learn more about Creating Great Blog Content: How to Write Great Blog Content

Three Other Key Priorities

While creating content for my blogs is #1 in my mind in terms of where I allocate my time and resources, there are three other areas that have been absolute priorities for me over the last decade or so.

All are essential to me but depending upon the life stage of my blogs each have grown and shrunk in terms of where I’d rank them in importance (I’ll explain more on this below). So I’ll share them in no particular order and give them equal weight:

Promoting Content

Having great content on your blog is great but unless you put effort into promoting that content it can often go unread. While later in the life cycle of a blog your readers can share your content for you in the early days it is largely up to you to grow your traffic – and this takes considerable work.

Once a blog is launched, this area becomes a fairly major focus for me.

For example when I launched Digital Photography School, I’d estimate that I spent about 40% of my time in the first few months promoting my content by engaging in forums, guest posting, networking with and pitching other bloggers, leaving comments on other blogs, engaging on social media and looking for mainstream media coverage.

I also spent a bit of time in this early phase thinking about optimising the site for search engines. I did more ‘on-page optimisation’ than building links – although some of the results of guest posting and networking of course did help with off page techniques too.

Learn More about Growing Traffic: How to Find Readers for Your Blog (recording of a 1.20 hour webinar in which I share everything I know on the topic).

Building Community

Once traffic begins to grow on my blog, I begin to switch some of my time away from promoting into building community and engagement.

It is all well and good to drive ‘traffic’, but I find that a blog really begins to come alive when you have a more loyal and engaged readership.

I know some bloggers are less worried about this than others but I personally find that it is much more satisfying to have readers that come back again and again than just people who come once and never return. I also find this makes monetizing easier too (see below).

In the very early days of a blog there may not be too many readers to build community with so you might not dedicate too much time to this, but as readers grow there will be opportunity to build engagement. Responding to comments, emailing readers, creating more discussion-related content, engaging on social media, etc all can help in this area.

Learn More about Building Community on blogs:

Monetization and Business Development

Not all bloggers want to monetize their blogs and so this area may not be a priority for all, but after a year of blogging I realised it was something I had a passion for and needed to be able to monetize in order to be able to sustain.

There are, of course, many ways to monetise a blog (and I won’t go into specifics here), but one thing I have learned over the years is that monetization is not a passive thing when it comes to blogging.

If you want your blog to be profitable, you need to build the foundations mentioned above (content, traffic and community) but you also need to be intentional about building a business model and creating income streams.

You might get lucky and find a lucrative opportunity lands in your lap, but for most full-time bloggers I know, monetization is a long and slow journey that takes work.

When starting a new blog I am generally thinking about monetisation from day one – however, when it comes to where I put my time, it is usually not until I’ve been blogging for a year or two that I put a lot of effort into this area.

So when I started Digital Photography School, I spend the first two years putting 95% of my time into content, traffic and community. While I did have a few low-level ads and did do a few lower-level affiliate promotions in those first two years, it wasn’t my main focus.

Instead, I worked those first two years on building up my archives of content and building up readership and engagement. With that foundation in place I was ready to start monetizing much more effectively firstly by doing some bigger affiliate promotions of other people’s photography eBooks, and then by creating my own.

In 2009 – three years after launching dPS – I launched our first eBook and wrote about how it generated $72,000 in sales in a week. While some people read that post and then wrote about how I made a stack of money overnight, it is important to realise that it only happened based upon the three years of foundations already built.

Learn More about Monetizing Blogs: Recording of ‘Monetizing Blogs’ Webinar (1.2 hours of everything I know on the topic).

A Word About Maintenance/Tech

The area that I’ve not addressed in the above four foundations of profitable blogs is anything about the tech side of things.

Of course blogs need to be hosted, designed, and have their blog platforms maintained. For me, this has always been something that I have outsourced in different ways (with friends initially, later on through contracting the services of others and more recently through developing a team).

So for me this has not been something I’ve allocated a great deal of ‘time’ to – but rather have allocated resources/money to.

Having said that – it is still really important and not to be ignored!

Life Stages of a Blog and How to Spend Your Time

You can already see above how the life stage of your blog helps to determine how much time to spend upon different activities.

While there are other factors at play also in general, here’s what I’d recommend as a starting point (and I’ll talk in percentages rather than hours as I know not everyone is full time and many have limited time to blog):

Pre Launch of a New Blog

  • 90% of your time on creating content
  • 10% of your time on design, SEO and other technical aspects of getting the blog ready to launch

Of course you’ll probably want to have thought about how you might like to monetize and be thinking about how to build engagement on your blog – but in terms of implementing these there’s not a lot to do in the prelaunch phase.

Launch of a New Blog – 0-3 Months

Depending how much content you have ready to publish from your pre-launch work, you’ll need to keep creating content in the launch phase. It is really important that you have regular and high-quality content going up on your blog.

But at the same time you should be putting considerable time into promoting your posts and blog.

  • 50% of your time on creating content
  • 40-45% of your time on promoting your blog
  • 5-10% of your time on building engagement with the few new readers that might come

Building Foundations

This phase will vary a little depending upon how fast your blog grows and the opportunities that arise but in general I would think you’d be allocating more time to engaging with readers as you get more traffic.

You’ll also want to start being more intentional about monetizing (or at least getting ready to monetize) your blog. This might mean starting to reach out to and network with advertisers, or starting to create a product to sell.

  • 50% of your time on creating content
  • 25-30% of your time on promoting your blog
  • 15-20% of your time on building community
  • 5-10% of your time on monetization

Maturity/Profit/Sustainability

It is hard to describe this stage, as blogs can look very different from one another in how they become profitable. Also at this point many bloggers begin to build teams or outsource different aspects of their blogging.

For example I now have a team of 5-6 people all working part time on my blogs, and also engage the services of 20 or so writers each month for dPS, so my own time is spent more on management and business development rather than upon the above activities.

Having said that, each of the people that work with me put their focus upon one or more of the above four areas and each is a key priority.

Merry Christmas from ProBlogger HQ

It’s just ticked over to the early hours of Christmas Day here at ProBlogger HQ in Melbourne Australia, so I wanted to pause the blog tips today to wish you and yours a happy holiday season.

Here in Australia we’re expecting a pretty warm Christmas – around 30 degrees celcius – and will no doubt celebrate the day in shorts and t-shirts and eating our BBQ’d Christmas lunch outside by the pool (we really do throw shrimps on the BBQ).

Beach-Santa_729-620x349

I’ll be celebrating with Vanessa, our three boys, and extended family and feeling very grateful for another healthy and happy year.

I’m also particularly grateful to you as readers of ProBlogger and hope that whatever you find yourself doing as the end of the year approaches that it’ll be safe, fun and meaningful to you and those you love.

PS: things will be slightly quieter here than normal this next week as we’re in Summer mode but we’ll be firing up again in the new year and will have some exciting things to announce as we progress into 2014. Stay tuned – things are about to get pretty interesting here at ProBlogger!

Start 2014 with a bang! 50% of all ProBlogger eBooks

Every year over at Digital Photography School we have a massive 12 Days of Christmas sale in which we put our photography eBooks (and a few from friends) on sale in the lead up to Christmas.

I’ve had a few ProBlogger readers asking me on Twitter if there will be a similar sale on ProBlogger eBooks so decided to put them on sale for a few days too.

So for the next 7 days you can save 50% on any of the 6 ProBlogger eBooks in our library.

Or – if you’re serious about taking your blog to the next level next year and you don’t have them yet – you can get all 6 for $75 (they’re normally $200) and save 63%.

What Can You Pick Up?

We’ve designed our eBooks to meet the needs of bloggers at different stages of their blogging journey – there’s something for everyone.

31 Days To Build A Better Blog just $14.99!

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31 Days to Build a Better Blog is a downloadable ebook designed to help you revitalize your blog. One step at a time, it will transform your blog into the page view powerhouse you’ve always dreamed of — because we all love seven digit numbers on google analytics!

This has been our biggest selling eBook ever, thousands of bloggers have used it to build better blogs.

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The Bloggers Guide To Online Marketing now $24.99.

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A comprehensive, 31 chapter blueprint for your blog’s ongoing profitability – right from the ground up (AKA more cash!). Backed by an extensive library of practical templates, printable worksheets, and in-practice example documents, this kit delivers all you need to make your blog turn a profit now, and over the long term.

So if you’re wanting to make your blog more profitable in 2014 – this one is for you.

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Blog Wise: How to do more with less – $9.99 – a bargain!

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One of the most common obstacles to successful blogging among our readers is simply finding time – so we sat down with 9 prolific and successful bloggers to find out how they not only blog successfully – but balance that with busy work, family and social lives.

Overwhelmed? Too Busy to Blog? Don’t have Enough Time? This one is for you!

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First Week Of Blogging – just $9.99!

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Making great early choices is vital to the long-term success of your blog. This ebook guides you, day by day, through your first week of blogging so you can make the most of those critical first few days. It will ensure you’re blog is build on a rock solid foundation.

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Blogging For your Business – only $24.99

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This guide is for those working in or owning a business that wants to get into blogging. It takes you step by step through how to set up a blog, thinking through goals for a blog, developing a content strategy, finding readers and growing traffic, establishing and growing a social media footprint and much more.

If you have or work in a business that is looking to get serious about blogging – this one is perfect for you.

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The Copywriting Scorecard – $14.99 all yours!

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Our blog posts are the cornerstone of your blog and will be the difference between you reaching your goals or not. This scorecard resource is designed to help you analyze the most important elements of your content to make sure they’re engaging, readable, professional and optimized for search engines.

If you’re looking to optimise your blog better for search engines (and readers) in 2014, get this one to help you on your way.

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Get One or Get the Bundle Today

Don’t forget – you can also grab all 6 eBooks as a bundle for $75 (normally $200).

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This offer ends in just 7 days time so don’t delay. Make your purchase or find our more about each eBook here.

Case Study: An Experiment with Short Form Content

Two days ago I wrote about the power of longer-form content on a blog, and gave a few examples of some posts that I’ve published this year that have been between 4000-7500 words that have done really well.

Today I’d like to talk about an experiment that I’ve been doing in the last week on Digital Photography School with short-form content.

The experiment started as an accident (as many of my better ideas do). I was surfing through some of my favourite Flickr photographers when I came across an image that grabbed my attention.

The image was of a portrait of little girl and it grabbed my attention partly because it was a beautiful shot, but also partly because it perfectly illustrated a post that I’d published on dPS recently on how sometimes NOT waiting for your subject to smile is the best time to photograph them.

The image was a creative commons licensed photo, and I toyed with the idea of adding the photo to the original post as an update – but as I pondered it, I wondered if maybe it was an opportunity to do something a little different.

On the spur of the moment I decided to set up a ‘page’ in the back end of WordPress to showcase the image. I added a link to the previously published article and then added a few more links to other portrait photography tips below the image.

Also because the content related to one of our eBooks, I put an ad for one of our eBooks in under the links too.

I also added a Facebook ‘like’ button to the page, and added a Pinterest ‘hover’ button to the image in the hope people might share it.

Here’s how the page looked:

Screen Shot 2013 12 19 at 2 53 04 pm

Why I Published it as a Page rather than a Post

You’ll notice that I mention above that I published this image not as a blog post but as a ‘page’ in WordPress.

I did this for a couple of reasons:

Firstly we had already published three posts for the day on the blog and I didn’t want to overwhelm my readers with too much content on the same day.

Secondly this was an experiment – a new type of post that I’ve not done before that was a simple image with a few links. I wanted to test it before rolling this type of post out onto the blog.

How the Content Was Received

I shared the post with our Facebook audience and tweeted the link to it to. As you can see in the screenshot – the post was fairly quickly ‘liked’ on Facebook over 400 times.

The post was liked on the Facebook share a further 300 or so times and was ‘shared’ there a further 36 times.

Traffic to the page was decent. The day I published it on our Facebook page, it received around 4000 visitors. Yesterday it had 250 more. Tonight it will be linked to in our weekly newsletter which should drive some decent traffic to it.

The above stats are pretty spot on average for a typical post on dPS – but what I did notice that was interesting about this piece was that visitors to it went on to view more pages on the site than a typical post.

Hence – the bounce rate on this post was pretty good. A typical post on dPS has a bounce rate of around 70% – but this particle piece of content had a bounce rate of 57%.

The shortness of the post and the fact that it was simply an image, a couple of sentences and some links for further reading meant a lot of people clicked those links and went on to read another 1, 2 or 3 posts on the site.

What I’d inadvertently done with this piece of content was to create a mini-sneeze page (a type of page that propels people deeper into the blog).

I found this fascinating and decided to keep experimenting with this type of post.

Evolving the Experiment

One of the things I immediately wanted to play around with was to change how the post looked.

You can see in the screenshot above that the image itself could only be shown at a relatively narrow size. The content area of our page template on dPS allows for a 600-pixel-wide image.

While this is big enough to illustrate an idea or show a picture in reasonable detail, it lacks punch. I also noticed that the content looks very short against the long sidebar that we had showing on that initial post.

Our sidebar was set up to show subscription options, a poll, ads, recent posts, etc, and while all this looked good on a typical post on the site – on this short piece of content it was two and a half times longer than the content!

Even as the post was going live on Facebook, I had already begun to talk to our developers to give them instruction on how I’d like to see a new ‘page template’ developed.

I wanted the sidebar removed and also wanted to add built in sharing buttons to replace the little Facebook button that I’d manually added.

Here’s the rough Skitch screenshot that I sent them:

Don t smile

You can see from this that I was already thinking about other possibilities for this type of content. Not only could I use these types of posts to showcase further reading and promote eBooks, but potentially they could be used as pages to get new subscribers to the blog.

While our developer got to work, I began to hunt for a few more ways to use this concept to see if we could test it further.

I rolled out my next test piece with a similar format of post – a great image that underneath had a strong call to read a single related post. Here’s how it looked:

Screen Shot 2013 12 19 at 3 00 22 pm

This one went up a notch in terms of reader response.

Facebook likes were quickly up over 1000 on the button on the page, the Facebook status update generated over 800 additional likes, 74 shares, and some great comments (including readers submitting their own images), and the page was visited by over 5500 people in the first 24 hours.

While the post only had one link in it to further reading, the bounce rate was down even further to under 50%.

It was around this point that my developers got the page template updated to remove the sidebars and add social sharing buttons.

The result of doing so was visually fantastic. Here are the two pages as they look now:

Screen Shot 2013 12 19 at 3 06 04 pm

Screen Shot 2013 12 19 at 3 05 43 pm

You can see them here and here.

The only pity in the change was that we lost the social sharing numbers that has already been counted with the old Facebook button – but in the scheme of things this was a small price to pay.

Since implementing these changes I’ve created three more of these pages:

It is too early to do proper analysis on these posts as tonight we send our weekly newsletter which drives a lot of traffic, but the initial results are promising and in the next couple of days I have a couple more experiments to try using this new approach.

To this point, my initial learnings are that this type of content is great for:

  • increasing page views per visit
  • showcasing older posts in your archives while still adding new content so that people who’ve seen the old stuff are not just being hit with the same old posts
  • creating shareable content (readers seem to be sharing these posts at pretty high rates)

I’ll update you on my next experiments with this type of content in the weeks ahead. To get updated when I do make sure you’re subscribed to our newsletter below: