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Long Form Content vs Series of Blog Posts

long-form-contentLast week I was involved in a number of conversations with readers about blog post length and whether it was better to write long posts or short ones.

My short answer to the question was to write ‘useful’ posts, and to use as many words as were necessary to do so.

Having said that, I have been experimenting over the last few months with the two extremes of short and long posts.

If you’ve been paying attention here on ProBlogger this year, you’ll have seen some of what our team have called ‘mega posts’.

For example here on ProBlogger we’ve published:

Over on dPS we also experimented with longer posts including on a post titled The Ultimate Guide to Learning How to Use Your First DSLR (4202 words).

These posts have all performed well above average compared with other posts on my sites over the last 12 months (in fact they feature pretty heavily in the most-read new posts on my blogs in 2013).

What About Series of Posts?

When I recounted the above examples in conversation this week the question that came each time was whether the same content could have been delivered as series of posts.

Wouldn’t it make sense to break a 7000-word post down into 10 700-word posts?

The answer, of course, is that a series of posts is definitely an option.

I’ve certainly created my fair share of series over the years, and will continue to do so, but I also think there is a place for longer-form content. In fact, I think good long-form content has some distinct advantages over series of posts.

For me, I think the main advantage of long form content is that its just more useful and convenient for readers to get it all in one go.

A series of blog posts is great for page views and helping you to fill a week’s editorial calendar, however if you put yourself in a reader’s shoes, it can also be a little (or a lot) painful.

Readers following the blog have to wait for new posts to be published before getting the full information in the series.

Readers who come across the series later have to follow links between posts to get each installment.

Neither of these problems are enough to stop me writing a series of posts, however, there are a couple of good reasons why I think long-form content is attractive to readers.

The other thing I’ve noticed about good quality and useful long-form content is that it gets shared – a lot.

While I’ve had great search traffic to each of the above posts this year, they have each been shared at a higher rate than the average post on my blogs in the same timeframe.

While I do find my series of posts can get shared around too, I’ve never seen a series that I’ve written shared as much as some of the long-form content I’ve created (the only exception might have been when I first ran 31 Days to Build a Better Blog as a series many years ago).

Choose the Best Length for the Topic At Hand

Let me finish by saying that I am not suggesting creating longer-form content just for the sake of publishing longer-form content.

The key is to choose the appropriate length and style of posts for the topic you’re covering.

Long form, short form, series of posts or other formats can all work.

Have you tried longer-form content?

I’ve love to hear about your experience of longer-form content. Have you tried it? How was it received?

Please share a link in comments below – I’d love to see your longer posts.

How to Generate Post Ideas, Understand Your Readership and Build Community On Your Blog

This week was a busy one for me in the lead up to our big Christmas promotion over at Digital Photography School, that we will kick off later in the week.

But in the middle of it all, I did something on the spur of the moment that I will definitely be doing again.

I created a quick Facebook post asking readers if they had questions that they’d like to see us write about on dPS.

You can see the thread here.

Questions facebook dps

I didn’t really know how the invitation to submit questions would go – but as you can see, it had a great response.

There were a few benefits from doing it:

  1. it gave us some great ideas for upcoming posts for the blog
  2. it gave us insight into our readership’s needs, but also the level they are at with their photography
  3. it gave our readers a chance to engage with us on a different level (and with each other)
  4. it showed our readers that we are genuinely interested in helping them improve their photography, and that we base our posts on their needs
  5. it highlighted some of the old posts in our archives (you’ll see that where we’d already covered a topic I linked to the older posts). This drove a little traffic.

The response was great both in the Facebook thread itself, but also in a couple of private messages of thanks that I received from readers afterward.

One recurring theme from these responses was that readers felt like we’d gone to the effort of giving them some individual attention.

This is really important – with a growing blog, it is easy for readers to feel a bit lost in the crowd. It is also easy as a blogger to let your ‘readership’ become a ‘thing’ and it was a good reminder to me this week that our readership is actually a group of very diverse individuals.

PS: I also asked a similar question on the ProBlogger Facebook Page this week. If you’ve got a question you’d like addressed in an upcoming post on ProBlogger – please feel free to ask it.

How to Build a Successful ‘White Hat’ Business on a ‘Black Hat’ Internet

White-HatOver on the ProBlogger Facebook page I was asked a great question by Aman Tandon, who asked for some tips on ‘how to stay alive using white hat techniques?’ when competitors in his niche were being ‘foxy’.

It’s a great question and one that I know many bloggers face in different ways.

The reality is that when you’re developing blogs or websites, there are many temptations that face us as bloggers. People make all kinds of choices about how to grow their businesses – choices that span the entire length of the ethical spectrum.

These choices impact the way that bloggers:

  • create content (eg. using others people’s words, images, and ideas)
  • optimise their sites for search engines (eg. buying links)
  • engage on social media sites (eg. buying followers)
  • monetise their sites (eg. selling links, disclaimers, promoting dodgy products)
  • grow readership (eg. personal attacks on others to create controversy)

The list could go on… and on.

Not a day goes by when I don’t see some kind of black…. or at least murky grey…. hat strategy being employed in some of the niches that I operate in (particularly the ‘make money online’ space).

Note: it is probably worth saying that while there are plenty of examples of ‘black hat’ around, most bloggers I come into contact with are good people with great morals, integrity, and a genuine desire to build businesses that not only are profitable, but that serve and help others. It’s also worth saying that there’s lots of different shades of grey between the extremes!

I have always taken the stance that I want to approach what I do with high ethics, transparency and integrity. That doesn’t mean the temptations are not there. I, like everyone else, am human and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t face temptations to take shortcuts or get ahead.

However I’ve worked hard at keeping on the straight and narrow and operating at the ‘white hat’ end of the spectrum. This probably flows from a mixture of motivations – partly it’s just who I am and how I was raised, partly it’s because I get a lot of satisfaction from doing things well and without taking short cuts, and if I’m honest it probably is partly out of fear – I’d hate to lose what I’ve built as a result of making a dumb choice.

I’m not going to use this article to define what is a ‘white hat’ vs a ‘black hat’ approach to blogging (although that would certainly make for an interesting discussion), but let me make a few comments for those bloggers who do try to play by the rules and approach what they do with ethics – sometimes in the face of others in their space who don’t mind bending (or completely breaking) the rules in an attempt to get an advantage or take short cuts.

Play with a long-term vision in mind

The main message I have regarding this topic is to approach what you do online with a long-term vision in mind.

As I mentioned above, I’ve seen many examples over the years of people crossing over to the ‘dark side’ to grow their online businesses. It is frustrating to see it happen, but in each case I’ve reminded myself that I’m not looking for a quick buck, but am looking to build a business that sustains itself over the long haul.

Numerous examples come to mind of when I’ve seen people make decisions for short-term gain that have led to long-term hurt.

  • I think of one blogger, seven or so years ago, who went on a spree of personal attacks of other bloggers to grow traffic to his site. He got the traffic, but destroyed his own reputation in the process.
  • I think of another blogger who made the decision to promote a product he knew was dubious as an affiliate on his blog. He hyped it up and made a lot of promises the product couldn’t live up to. While he made some quick money, he lost his reputation and most of his readership.
  • I think of another blogger who tried to grow his blog with some prolific link-building schemes with a ‘blog network’ that promised he’d be #1 on Google overnight. He did get to #1… for a week, before disappearing from Google altogether at the last big Google algorithm update.

Of course there are good examples around of people who behaved in arguably unethical ways that ended up doing well (anyone who has seen the movie ‘The Social Network’ probably has a good example in mind – however in many (if not most) cases that I’ve come across, the people who decide to go to the ‘dark side’ to get a short cut often end up behind the pack as a consequence of their decisions.

Deliver value

Instead of looking for a short cut, look to deliver value and be useful.

Usefulness trumps pretty much anything else I can think of in the online (and offline) space.

  • The online businesses that I support by spending my money with, are the ones that solve a problem for me.
  • The blogs that I support by subscribing, reading, and interacting with, are the ones that make my life better in some way.
  • The people that I meet on social media that I retweet, link to and recommend to others to follow are the ones that add value in some tangible way to my life.

Conversely:

  • the website that is clever enough to get me to visit them by ranking #1 in Google but doesn’t serve any purpose when I get there doesn’t get me to come back.
  • the person on twitter who simply self-promotes, or spams out affiliate products gets unfollowed, blocked, or reported as spam.
  • the business that rips me off or tells untruths to get a sale gets their reputation left in tatters, as blog posts and tweets go out exposing what they’re really about.

My personal experience is that when you build value, you build something that is much more likely to last as a business.

Stay true to your values and build something that matters to you

Much of what I’ve written above probably sounds a little trite, and will probably be laughed at by those who take pride in their ‘black hat’ ways.

I’ve previously been linked to and ridiculed in a number of black hat forums for the stances I’ve taken, so as I’m writing this half-expecting that reaction again.

However, all I can really say is that you’ve got to be true to yourself and do something that matters to you.

Me donning a black hat and going to the dark side simply isn’t who I am. I get a lot more satisfaction in life in building something of value, serving others, and looking to build a business and become sustainable through a win/win exchange with those whom I interact.

I sleep easier at night living in that way.

Others seem to be comfortable living at other points along the spectrum, and sleep easy with the decisions that they make. At least to some point, I think we have to live knowing that we’re each different.

When I first started out in blogging, and I would see others doing things that I disagreed with, I would often get angry and outspoken about it. I guess in some ways I’ve come to peace with the fact that in most cases, as angry or outspoken as I get, it is unlikely to change the perspective and practice of the other person.

Instead, these days in most cases I choose to focus my energy less upon what others are doing that annoys me, and more upon doing something myself that matters to me and those who read my blogs.

One last note on taking a stand

A final thought – there does come a point when sometimes you do have to take a stand, and not ignore what others are doing in your niche.

For example: if I see another blogger blatantly copying and pasting my content onto their blogs without any attribution, or pretending it is they who wrote it – I act. I start with an email to them, and will escalate that to issuing DMCAs.

Another example that comes to mind is a time when I saw a lot of ProBlogger readers being ripped off by a certain blogging network/service that I felt was a scam. In this case I wrote about it as a service to my readers.

While I’d rather ignore the dodgy behaviour of others and focus upon building something of value, there are times when I think it is important to take a stand to either protect what you’ve built, or to stay true to your values.

What would you add?

These are just my thoughts on this topic – I’d love to hear yours.

How do you approach working on the web where there is such diversity in the approaches that people take on an ethical level?

What do you do when you see others in your niches taking different approaches to you?

How I Diversified My Blogging Income Beyond Having All My Eggs in the AdSense Basket

Last week I wrote about the experience of almost losing my online business as a result of having too many eggs in one basket and then followed up with a post on what I did to diversify the traffic sources coming into my blog to become less reliant upon Google.

Today I want to continue talking about diversification but to switch our attention to diversifying income streams.

Ways-to-Make-Money-Blogging1

Back in 2004 when I almost went under, I not only was too reliant upon traffic from the Google Search Engine – I was also very reliant upon Google’s AdSense Ad Network as the main source of income for my business.

AdSense had been very good to me up until that point (and it continued to be for years after), but by focusing so much of my efforts upon it I now see that it left me exposed and in a risky position.

As I suggested last week, a great question to ask is:

Is there a single thing that could kill my business right now?

At that time, AdSense accounted for 95% of my income – losing it would have had pretty devastating consequences.

I had already been experimenting with a few extra income streams in 2004 (including Amazon’s Affiliate program, some small time direct ad sales, and some other affiliate programs) but had become a little lazy in these experiments – mainly because Adsense was already doing so well (I was pretty much at a full time income from it).

As a result of almost losing it all in December 2004, I came to my senses and decided it was time to get my act together and to begin to grow some serious extra income streams.

How I Diversified My Blogging Income

Other Ad Networks

My first experiment was to try to find another advertising network that might work like AdSense. I tried a few (Yahoo had one at the time, for example) but none really converted as well as AdSense for me until I found Chitika (aft).

Chitika blew my mind. I remember the day I came across it and was impressed with it because, like AdSense, it was just a matter of copying and pasting code into my blog to show the ad – but unlike AdSense it showed ads with product images IN the ad unit. This was particularly good for me because my blog at the time was a camera review blog and I was talking about products every day.

I excitedly added an additional Chitika ad unit to every page on my photography blog at that time and the next day logged in to see how it had performed.

It did really well and that single ad unit made about 25% of what AdSense did every day.

Over the coming weeks I added more ad units and tested new positions of ads and grew that Chitika income to the point that some months in the year that followed saw it earn more than AdSense. Amazingly to me this increase in income from Chitika didn’t come at the expense of AdSense which continued to work well.

Note: Chitika ads don’t work perfectly on every blog. I myself noticed that they slowly slid back in what they earned over the next few years and today I don’t use them any more – mainly because we’ve moved to selling ads directly to advertisers (more on that below).

Making Money BECAUSE of my Blog

As my blogs and my own personal profile grew (particularly here at ProBlogger) I began to notice opportunities open up for me to generate an income by offering my services of creating other products to sell.

These largely fell into three categories – speaking, consulting and writing a book.

The speaking came first. I had already done a little speaking for free in my local area, but after launching ProBlogger I began to get paid opportunities to speak to groups about blogging.

These started off being local opportunities in my city but then grew to become interstate and international.

Similarly, as my readership on ProBlogger grew, I began to get emails from readers wanting to hire me to help them with their blogging.

I began to offer ‘blog consulting’ services where I would charge an hourly rate to advise bloggers. I didn’t stick at this for long as I didn’t find it as enjoyable as actually blogging – and I also thought I could probably help more bloggers by writing about blogging rather than working one on one with bloggers.

Also around this time I was approached by Wiley US to write the first edition of the ProBlogger book (a paper one). This book is now in its third edition.

While speaking, consulting, or the book never became million dollar income streams, they all did help me to diversify my income – they also all helped me to grow my audience and learn a lot!

Additional Onsite Income Streams

Over the years since numerous other income streams have emerged.

These have come to include the Job Board here on ProBlogger, the membership site at ProBlogger.com (stay tuned for some big news about this in the coming months) and what became my biggest income stream – selling eBooks that relate to my blogs topics.

Each of these streams started as a small experiment to see what I could learn and what I could grow.

The job board has been a slow burner income stream in many ways. It generally only sees 1-2 jobs added to it every day at $50 a pop, but over the years this has added up to bring in more than $100,000.

eBooks had a more spectacular impact on profit. Again, I started slow with a single eBook that I put together largely by myself and a little outsourcing. I didn’t know how it would go but after nervously launching it to the photography blog audience that I’d worked hard to build up, it generated over $70,000 in a week (important note: I had been blogging on that blog for years and had build a decent audience – it didn’t happen overnight)!

The success of that eBook launch led me to publish more photography eBooks (15 so far) and ProBlogger eBooks.

Other Related Sites

As Digital Photography School has grown, there have been a number of opportunities to start new related ventures off the back of that original site.

The first of these was SnapnDeals – a deals site for photographers where we promote both our own eBooks that might be on special, but also other people’s products as an affiliate.

Similarly, we’ve also launched SnapnGuides – a photography mini-eBook site (we’ve published two eBooks there so far) that are smaller and cheaper eBooks/guides on niches of photography.

I have numerous ideas for other smaller ‘sister sites’ for the photography niche that I’d like to roll out in the coming years.

Events

Four years ago I had an impulsive idea to run an event for Aussie bloggers. Six weeks later we held our first ProBlogger Training Day for 100 bloggers in Melbourne.

We’ve held this event every year since, each each time growing not only attendance levels, but also the professionalism of the event.

We’ve also added a ‘virtual ticket’ for those unable to get to Australia for the event.

While not a huge money spinner, it is another income stream in the business and helps support other aspects of what I’ve built.

Direct Ad Sales

In the last few months I’ve circled back to one of the early income streams that I touched on above – direct sales of ads.

I’ve never really stopped doing this but last month have completely removed AdSense from my blogs for the first time since I started blogging and have engaged the services of a great little team of ad sales specialists to sell ads directly to advertisers.

The initial results have been very encouraging!

While I know some people have a lot of negative things to say about AdSense, I’ve never really written it off completely. It’s an ad network that has generated over a million dollars over the last nine or so years, and the people at Google have been nothing but helpful to us. But for now, we’re seeing more potential in working directly with brands.

The Current State of Play for Me

Here’s a breakdown of my own income streams in April of this year. While it doesn’t reflect the switching off of AdSense (Ad Networks) or the increased attention to direct ad sales, it shows you how I’ve become less reliant upon any one stream of income for my blogs.

NewImage

What is Your Income Split Like?

That’s my story – what about you?

Of course there are many many more potential income streams for a blog, but I’d love to hear your experience.

Have you got a variety of income streams? Or are you focusing pretty heavily upon a single one?

Good News for Publishers: Facebook Continues to Reward High Quality Content

Earlier this week Facebook published a FYI update about more updates that they’ve been making (and are about to make) to what will show in users news feeds (thanks to Jen at FBAdslab for the tipoff).

The information is particularly relevant to those of us with Facebook pages who are sharing links in the hope of driving traffic back to our blogs.

High Quality Content Will Appear More

The ultimate goal of the latest updates to News Feed rankings is to show more relevant news to Facebook users, and Facebook states that they’re continuing to focus their attention upon showing ‘high quality content’ to users.

It seems that they’re going to start giving links to articles a higher ranking than they have been previously – particularly to users using Facebook on mobile devices.

This is great to know as a Facebook Page owner. I’d previously spent more time sharing photos with links in the descriptions of the images but have always put a few direct links into my updates as well – of late I’ve noticed these links doing quite well and now we know why.

Also in Facebook’s FYI update this week is an indication that they’re also focusing their attention upon distinguishing between high quality content vs ‘meme photos’.

This focus upon delivering high quality content to your Facebook page rather than going for cheap comments or engagement talked about a few weeks ago – but it’s only going to become more important (and this is yet another signal from Facebook that you need to pay attention).

Facebook to Start Showing ‘Related Articles’

The next part of Facebook’s update this week is pretty interesting for us as publishers. If someone clicks a link that you share on your Facebook page they will then see up to three related articles directly below in the newsfeed. Here’s how they show it as looking:

facebook-related-articles.png

THIS is pretty cool and has potential to drive some decent traffic to publishers creating high quality content.

Keeping the Conversation Live Longer

Lastly, Facebook indicates that they are going to be bringing back older posts that people comment on in their new feed to lengthen the life of those conversations, which is pretty good if you’re using Facebook as a community engagement tool.

Read the full article on these recent changes over at the Facebook Newsroom and let us know what you think in comments below.

11 Ways I Diversified Traffic Sources for My Blogs to Become Less Reliant Upon Google [With a Surprising Twist]

Yesterday I shared the story of how back in 2004 I almost losing my business overnight. That big blip made me realise that I had too many eggs in one basket when it came to both traffic and income.

At that time the basket that all my eggs were in was ‘Google’.

I was reliant upon Google for most of my traffic and most of my income (by monetising purely through Google AdSense).

Over the next week, I want to suggest a number of ways I’ve tried to diversify my business since 2004, to build something that isn’t quite so reliant upon any one thing.

My hope was and is to build a business that could survive any one source of traffic, income stream, type of content or trend disappearing.

Today I want to start with the most obvious area and one that was a big problem for me….

Diversifying Sources of Traffic

Rather than a single stream of traffic I've been trying to grow multiple streams.

Rather than a single stream of traffic I’ve been trying to grow multiple streams.


Yesterdays story is the perfect example of why this is important. I was reliant upon Google for around 80% of my traffic so when that traffic all but disappeared – so did my income.

If I’m honest with myself I think I had become a little complacent about traffic in 2004.

Two years earlier I had worked hard to grow my readership. Every day I networked with other bloggers, submitted content to other blogs, engaged in forums on my topics, commented on other blogs, learned about SEO and much more. The result was growth in profile and traffic. All of the above also contributed to a growth in search engine rankings.

So in 2004, when I was getting decent traffic from Google and was making a decent income, rather than pushing to grow my blogs through every avenue available, I’d allowed myself to become reliant upon search traffic and stopped pushing as hard.

That traffic disappearing was a wake up call that I needed. I’m actually grateful for it because it started a sequence of events that led to much faster growth of my blogs.

At the time I decided to do a number of things to grow new traffic streams to my blogs including:

1. Identifying WHO I Wanted to Read my Blogs

Part of this process was paying more attention to thinking about what type of reader I wanted to attract to my blog. This thinking later led me to create reader profiles for my blogs.

Action Item: spend some time working on reader profiles for your blog.

2. A Renewed Focus Upon Creating Great Content

It dawned on me that I’d not only become a little complacent with growing my readership but I’d probably also become complacent about creating compelling and useful content for my blogs.

This wakeup call changed all of that. I began to identify my readers’ problems and needs, and write content that served my readers rather than content that I thought might rank well in Google. In doing so I created content that made a big impression upon the readers I did have – and they did the next step, sharing it with their friends!

Action Item: spend a little time each day dedicated to trying to understand your readers needs. This might be by creating a survey for your readers, engaging with readers on social media, running a poll or discussion oriented post or perhaps even shooting some emails out to those who’ve left comments on your blog to try to get to know them.

3. Writing Content on Other Blogs as a Guest Author

At the time the term ‘guest posting’ wasn’t that common but people did feature content from other bloggers from time to time. I sought out a number of these opportunities and they drew new traffic to my blog but they also helped me get ranking again through new incoming links to my site.

Action Item: identify a few other blogs in your niche that accept guest posts and try to come up with some ideas to pitch them for posts.

4. Starting a Newsletter

At the time I didn’t realise how important this would end up being but I started a free newsletter for readers of my site.

I offered to email monthly updates to anyone who signed up with the best content from the blog. It started very slow and initially only sent a trickle of traffic to my blogs each week but today we now have over 1,000,000 subscribers and each week when I send these emails the result is great waves of traffic.

Action Item: if you’ve not got a newsletter already, set one up today!

5. Promoting Other Subscription Methods

At the same time I began to realise that I should be working hard to promote other ways to subscribe to my blogs. I began to promote our RSS feed more prominently both in navigation areas but also occasionally in blog posts.

Action Item: when was the last time you mentioned your RSS feed on your blog? Perhaps it is time to incorporate a Call to Action to subscribe to it?

6. Social Bookmarking

Back in 2004/5 social bookmarking sites were just starting to hit the scene. Over the next few years we saw sites like Digg, StumbleUpon, Delicious and Reddit rise in popularity. I didn’t spend a heap of time on them but certainly began to create occasional content that I thought might have a ‘shareable’ appeal to it which led to some great spikes in traffic when that content did hit the mark and get shared around.

Action Item: spend a little time on sites like StumbleUpon or Reddit to research the kind of content that gets shared around on the topics that you write about.

7. Social Networking

At the time there wasn’t a lot of social networks around but in the years that followed I certainly began to jump onto networks like Twitter, Facebook and Google+ as a way to engage with readers but also drive traffic.

Action Item: another thing to spend some time researching is what social networks your readers are on. You can find this out with a survey or poll – but also check out what other blogs in your niche are focusing their energies upon.

8. Networking

I also spent more time getting to know other bloggers at this time. At the time as there were so few social networks this was largely done through commenting on other people’s blogs and email.

At one point in my early years I made a point of emailing one other blogger in my niche (or related niches) every week. This led to some great friendships and a few profitable partnerships in time too.

Action Item: Set a little time aside this week to reach out to another blogger in your niche. You never know where it might lead!

9. Events

2005 saw me make a decision to start finding readers to my blogs through attending and running events. It started very humbly by me running some free workshops in my local library to 20-30 people at a time but in time I saved enough money to attend some conferences relevant to my content – and eventually even got invited to speak at a couple. All of this helped grow traffic, little by little.

Action Item: is there a meetup or event that is running in the coming months in your local area that relates to your niche? If not – why not try pulling one together? It need not be anything major – even a small gathering could lead to some interesting opportunities.

10. Personal Interactions with Readers

At this time I also realised that while all my Google traffic had vanished, I still had something pretty powerful – I had regular readers. The people who had already subscribed via RSS or had bookmarked the site in their browser were real people and they were connected with a lot of other people.

Rather than spending all my efforts looking for new readers, I decided to spend some serious time looking after the ones I already had. So spending more time in comments on my blog, emailing readers to thank them for contributions, linking to their blogs, running site challenges and engaging with them on social media all helped to build relationships which led to readers telling others about the site.

Action Item: look through the last comments left on your blog and choose one reader to give some personal attention to. Shoot them an email, visit their blog, follow them on Twitter – get to know them!

11. Pitching Other Blogs

Another technique that helped grow my blog a lot at this time was promoting the content I was writing to other bloggers in the hope that they might link up. I didn’t do this for every post but when I’d written something that related to the topics of other blogs I would email those bloggers suggesting that they take a look.

Back in 2004, this would often lead to those other bloggers blogging about it. Things have changed a little and I find that most times these days when you pitch other bloggers they share the posts on Twitter or Facebook – perhaps not quite as good as a link on a blog but still a great way to grow your traffic.

Action Item: Choose the best post you’ve written in the last few weeks and find a blogger to shoot the link to. Before you do – check out my post on How to Pitch Bloggers which is written for PR people but is also relevant to us sharing our content too.

The Twist: An Unintended Impact of Doing All of the Above

My intent with engaging in the above strategies was to diversify the sources of traffic coming into my blog and become less reliant upon search engines.

I’m glad to report that the strategy worked and traffic from other places did increase, however the unintended implication of doing all of the above was that my traffic from Google actually increased too!

While I’d previously done some SEO on my blogs with limited success this intentional effort to grow my readership from other sources than Google actually increased my search rankings higher than they’d ever been before.

The satisfying thing is that while I’d hate to fall out of Google again my business today wouldn’t but sunk by that happening. It’d hurt – but the blow wouldn’t be fatal any more.

Further Teaching on Finding Readers for Your Blog

Looking for more teaching on the topic of growing your readership? Check out my free webinar on the topic here (it’s completely free without any need to register).

You might also like to read my recent post that analyses 5 posts from the first year of my main blogDigital Photography School – and how they led to 6 million views since publishing.

PS: in the coming days I want to turn my attention to other areas that I think it might be wise to diversify in as a blogger.

The Day I Almost Lost My Blogging Business By Having Too Many Eggs in the One Basket

It was 17 December 2004 and my dream was falling apart, right before my eyes.

I had just celebrated the 2nd anniversary since I started to blog and I was on the tipping point of my part-time earnings becoming a full-time income.

I’d quit my only other employment to devote 100% of my time to blogging and had recently started ProBlogger to share what I knew about blogging for money. I had just been interviewed in a national paper about my business and all in all, I was pretty happy with how my dreams were progressing.

Then it happened. Most of my traffic disappeared, almost overnight.

I had been averaging 12,000 visitors per day to my main blog (a camera review blog that no longer exists) – around 80% of which came from great Google Search Engine rankings.

That level of traffic was enough to make a living from using the Google AdSense program (which accounted for 95% of my income).

I woke up on the morning of the 17th December 2004 to discover that my blog’s healthy Google rankings had disappeared overnight.

The result was that I was dropped to 2000 visitors a day (from nearly 14000) on my main blog and my other blogs lost even larger amounts of traffic.

Here’s how my traffic looked on my main blog at that time.

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Of course, with only a sixth of the traffic I previously had I also saw my income from AdSense take a similar tumble. Rather than a full time income, I was looking at earning enough money to call it a 1 day per week job.

I was devastated.

I was confused.

I was angry.

I was also deeply embarrassed.

Not only did my friends and family know that I’d quit my job to become a blogger… so did the world because I’d talked about it here on ProBlogger.

Falling from the rankings in Google was the single biggest challenge I faced as a blogger. I didn’t understand why it had happened and I came very close to giving up blogging altogether.

Thankfully I didn’t give up.

I’m glad I hung in there because just under 2 months later I began to rank in Google again and saw most of the traffic that I’d lost return. I’m also glad because that that really tough period taught me a lot about blogging, and about business.

The Biggest Lesson Learned: Diversification

That experience taught me many things but one of the biggest lessons was about diversification and becoming too dependant on any one area of a business.

Thankfully I learned this lesson very quickly. In this post (which I wrote 3 days after falling out of Google) I wrote about my mistake of having too many eggs in the one basket.

I was too reliant upon Google for traffic and too reliant upon AdSense for income.

Rather than see this challenge as something to stop me I decided to see it as a hurdle – something to get over that would make me stronger in the process.

I decided that I would not only keep blogging but that I was going to work hard to rebuild my blogging in a way that was less reliant upon any one source of traffic or income stream.

This mind-shift led to a range of decisions to diversify in the coming months and years.

It also led me to regularly ask a simple question that helps me avoid this problem again…

Is there a single thing that could kill my business right now?

I regularly ask myself this question (in fact our team discussed it the other day). By asking it on a regular basis I get a good sense for whether the balance in my business it out and whether I need to adjust my approach to spread the risk a little.

In a series of posts in the coming days, I’ll talk more about some of the areas I’ve diversified what I do to help with this but in the mean time, I’d love to hear your own reflections upon this.

Have you ever realised that you’re too reliant upon any one form of traffic or income stream? What have you done to diversify what you do?

Stay tuned for some suggestions on how to diversify your blogging to avoid having too many eggs in the one basket by subscribing to our RSS feed or to the ProBloggerPLUS newsletter below:

UPDATE: I’ve since followed this post up with a post looking at how I diversified traffic to my blog but do plan another couple of articles in this series in the coming weeks.

How to Speed Up the Blog Writing Process [My Method]

Image by Jonathan Cohen

Image by Jonathan Cohen

Earlier today I was asked for tips on how to speed up the writing process when writing longer posts.

I don’t know that I have an answer that will help everyone with that one as I think it partly comes down to personal style, experience level and skill – but two thoughts did come to mind based upon my own experience.

And before I share them – one quick note/disclaimer…. sometimes slow is best.

While I will talk about my process for writing that has helped me get a little quicker as a writer I do think that it is important not to rush your posts. Slow blogging can lead to posts which have more depth and that are more useful to your readers.

Having said that – I think there are times where bloggers spend so long on tweaking and perfecting their posts that perhaps they could do with some speeding up.

OK – enough disclaimers – here are my two tips!

1. It takes Practice

I remember in my early days when I’d spend hours writing even the shortest of posts. While there are still some posts that are more of a grind to write and can take time (for example three days ago I spent most of the day working on the Ultimate Guide to Writing Comments on Blogs) I do think that my writing has sped up when I compare it to how I used to write.

Related to this idea of practice is that when I write regularly I find that I write faster. If I write every day I get into a groove but if I take a couple of weeks off for a vacation I often find it really difficult to get going again.

While I don’t think every blog needs to publish a post every day – I do see this as a good argument for bloggers to write something every day – just to keep your writing flowing.

2. Break it Down: How I do It

The second thing that comes to mind is that when I approach a larger topic and sit down to write what I think will be a longer post I tend write in a different way to when I write shorter posts.

Knowing that the topic is big I will often try to come up with an outline for the post before I start.

Start with a List

For me this means I almost always create a bullet point list before I start writing a longer post.

The list simply contains the main points or sub topics that I want to touch on in the post. Each point might simply be a word or two but as I create the list I begin to look at the post not as a massive overwhelming job but as a series of smaller tasks that I need to work through to write the post.

Expand Each Point

With the list in hand I will generally try to start writing a paragraph or two on each point.

Of course as I write inspiration might come and I might add in points or change their order – but with the list to work through I quite often find that the post is written before I realise it.

Introductions, Conclusions and Titles

Once I’ve worked through all the points I will usually go back to to the beginning and work on my post title, write an introduction (or tweak what I’ve already written) and will then work on a conclusion and call to action.

I know some people like to write their introduction first but I find my introductions flow a lot better if I know what I’ve written rather than writing an introduction to something I’m not completely sure of how it will end.

Make it Flow and Consider Format

Sometimes I might also need to work a little on tying points together to make the post flow but as I tend to write articles in a single sitting I will often have naturally done this as I’ve written.

The other thing to consider at this point is how I’ll format the post. Because I’ve started with a list might mean that the post ends up looking like a list. A good example of this is my recent post ‘7 Ways to Stay Inspired and Avoid Bloggers Burn Out‘ in which I followed this exact process and then number each of the points in the post.

Your post need not be numbered or look like a list though. Alternatively you might just use headings to start each point without any numbers (as I did recently in my post on on my Facebook experiments) or you might even choose to present the post as an article/essay without any headings.

My personal preference is to break a post down with headings, steps or into a list – mainly because I think it makes my posts easier to read (see below on this).

Edit and Polish

Last of all comes a once over to Edit and Polish the post.

I personally find that this stage works best for me if I have a break from writing – even an hour or two away from the post gives a little perspective and can help make final edits that take the post up a notch.

Good for the Writer and Good for the Reader

The other thing worth mentioning is that this style of writing (starting with a list) can end up producing articles that are not only easier to write – but easier to read.

I find that my readers often give more positive affirmations on a post if its broken down into a well organised flow and smaller sections.

This doesn’t mean you can’t go deep into a topic – but just think about how you can get to that deeper destination by breaking it down and ordering your points to get them to the place you want to take them.

How Do You Tackle the Writing Process?

Do you write outlines for posts or are you someone who prefers just to sit and write?

I’d love to hear a little about how you tackle the task of writing in comments below.

Further Reading:

If you’d like to learn a little more about my writing process check out my series – How to Craft a Blog Post which explores 10 points to pause in the writing of a post to make it a better post.

How I use Google Analytics ‘Compare’ Feature to Motivate Me to Grow My Blog

This morning, a reader asked me this question:

“How do you motivate yourself to grow your blog traffic from day to day?”

We’ve covered a whole heap of techniques for growing the amount of traffic you attract to your blog in our Blog Promotion category (also check out this ‘how to find readers page‘ and listen to my recent finding reader webinar) but one thing that has helped me on the ‘motivation’ front lately is the report below in Google Analytics (click to enlarge).

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What you’re looking at is the traffic so far today (the blue line) on Digital Photography School compared to the traffic on the site one week ago (the orange line) – arranged by the hour.

I’ll tell you how to get this report below but first, the reason I love this report is that it tells me whether I’m on track to get as much traffic to my site today as I had this time last week.

Having something to compare traffic keeps me motivated to better the previous week’s result.

Note: I always choose to compare traffic from exactly 1 week previous because on our site we see quite distinct rises and falls in traffic on different days of the week.

In the chart above you can see the day’s traffic started well, with the first 4 hours between 1.7% and 18.1% higher than the previous week.

This all happened while I was asleep so when I checked in at 9am I was pleased! However, I also saw that from 6am-8am that we were beginning to slip behind.

Knowing this gave me a little bit of motivation to find some ways to drive more traffic to the site today.

I took a look at the schedule of Facebook updates that I had planned for the day and decided to move a status update I thought would drive some traffic to be earlier in the day.

That status update went live at 9am and resulted in a nice bump in traffic to get the blue line trending up above the orange again.

I also identified some older posts from my archives that I then scheduled to be tweeted throughout the next 24 hours (based upon my advice from last month to promote old content), which I thought would help us to keep nudging the traffic up higher for the rest of the day.

Having this report open is a great little source of motivation to keep working not only at writing great content but also driving traffic to it.

I also find that having this comparison open during the day (and watching ‘real time’ stats) helps me to spot anomalies in traffic. It helps me to quickly spot if there’s a problem (server issues) or on the flip side it shows me when a post might have been shared on a big blog or social media account.

Knowing this information helps me to react quickly to fix a problem or leverage a traffic event.

UPDATE: here’s how the traffic looked at the end of the day in the comparison view:

Screen Shot 2013-11-21 at 8.56.20 am.png

Things slipped for the last hour or two but over the full day visitor numbers were up by 4.22%.

While a 4% increase in traffic isn’t the most spectacular result I see it is a small step in a larger race I’m running. I know if I can see even a 1% increase in traffic each week that over a year or longer that it’ll significantly grow the site over time.

How to Get This Report

For those of you new to Google Analytics here’s the easy process to get this report (it will only take you a couple of minutes).

1. Login to your Google Analytics Account

2. In the menu click on the ‘Overview’ link under ‘Audience’

Audience_Overview_-_Google_Analytics.png

3. By default you’ll be looking at the last months traffic. You want to drill down now to today so in the top right corner click on the date range and a calendar will open up like this:

Audience_Overview_-_Google_Analytics-6.png

4. Select today’s date.

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5. Check the ‘compare to’ box and then in the new date field that opens up underneath you can put in last weeks date by clicking on the day you want to compare it to. Once you have – click ‘Apply’.

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6. You’re almost done now. You should be looking at a report that compares the two days but by default it’ll be showing you the total of the days in the chart as two dots. You want to view this now as ‘hourly’ so hit the ‘hourly’ tab.

Audience_Overview_-_Google_Analytics-8.png

You now should be looking at the comparison of today’s traffic with the same day last week (note: your current days report won’t yet be complete unless the day is almost over and it does run an hour behind).

Variations on this report to check out

This comparison tool is really useful for a while heap of reports.

For example you can choose to compare one week with another:

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In fact, any period of time can be compared with any other period.

Also, with a date range locked in you can drill down into many other metrics.

For example, earlier today I was doing some analysis comparing this last week with the corresponding week in September, which was just before we did our new redesign on Digital Photography School.

A day by day comparison showed a great improvement in overall traffic.

Audience_Overview_-_Google_Analytics-11.png

Drilling down further, and viewing the two weeks by the hour, was also fascinating and showed that the two weeks had remarkably similar patterns in traffic from hour to hour – so the increase in traffic was very even across the week.

Audience_Overview_-_Google_Analytics-12.png

Under that chart was some interesting data:

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Not only were Visits and Page views well up – but being able to see that bounce rate was slightly down and that average visitor duration was up was encouraging. Seeing Pages Viewed Per Visit was down showed we have an area to improve on (we’re already working on this) and seeing that we had a good rise in ‘new’ visitors was something that should be investigated further.

To investigate the rise in ‘new’ visitors I moved into the ‘Acquisition’ menu on Google analytics. The same date range and comparison is still selected so now I’m able to compare the two periods when it comes to different sources of traffic and see why we’ve had rises in traffic:

It turns out we’ve seen increases in a few area:

Search Traffic is up:

All_Traffic_-_Google_Analytics_and_Preview_of_“Untitled”.png

Facebook Traffic is up (due to my recent experiments):

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But interestingly Feed traffic is down (giving us something to investigate).

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There are many other areas you can drill down into with the comparison tool – almost anything that Google Analytics has a report for you can compare from period to period and get a great overview of how that stat compares very quickly.

Have a go yourself – do some comparisons and let me know what you find in comments below!