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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.

Statsdpb 1 2

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).

comparing-traffic.png

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.

Audience_Overview_-_Google_Analytics-5.png

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’.

Audience_Overview_-_Google_Analytics-7.png

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:

Audience_Overview_-_Google_Analytics-10.png

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:

Audience_Overview_-_Google_Analytics-16.png

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):

All_Traffic_-_Google_Analytics-2.png

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

All_Traffic_-_Google_Analytics-3.png

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!

The Ultimate Guide to Leaving Comments On Blogs

Comments icon

If you’ve ever read a post, book or eBook, or listened to a webinar or conference session on the topic of ‘finding readers for your blog’ you’ll have heard the advice:

Leave comments on other blogs

It was the first piece of advice I remember reading about building readership (from memory a 2002 book by Rebecca Blood was the first blog tips that I ever read) and it’s advice I’ve heard (and given) hundreds of times, since.

In fact this advice is Day 20 in our 31 Days to Build a Better Blog workbook.

7 Benefits of Leaving Comments on Other People’s Blogs

1. Building your own profile – leaving a comment gets you seen. Leaving a good comment can make people pay attention.

2. Showcasing your expertise – sharing what you know or the experiences that you have can help build your credibility.

3. Getting to know other bloggers – leaving a comment can often be a great way to get on the radar of another blogger.

4. Driving traffic to your blog – as a result of your engagement, you will often get people checking out your blog.

5. Idea generation – often, when you engage in conversation in other blogs comments, you get ideas for your own blog posts.

6. Staying sharp - I find that reading and commenting on other blogs  is a good daily discipline to help me keep abreast of what is happening in my industry and keep my brain engaged on the topics I write about. It’s also great writing practice!

7. Opportunities May Follow – just last week someone left a comment on my photography blog that I thought was so insightful that I asked them to write a guest post. In fact, now I think of it, one of our most successful eBook authors on dPS first made himself known to me through a great comment on the blog. You never know where a great comment might lead!

1 Problem with Leaving Comments on Other People’s Blogs

The problem with leaving comments on other blogs, as a technique to grow traffic, is that while it can have many benefits it can also end up hurting your blog’s brand and reputation – if you don’t do it the right way.

This post is an attempt to give you some advice on how to leave comments effectively and what to avoid.

4 Types of Commenters

Over the last 10 years I’ve seen a real spectrum of approaches to leaving comments on blogs. I suspect that most of us sit somewhere along this spectrum.

1. At one end of the spectrum we have the spammers

We’ve all see them – they leave comments on your post that are completely irrelevant and stuffed full of keyword rich links in an attempt to rank for those words in Google. Many times these are auto-generated spam systems that simply get caught in your spam filters and never work anyway.

There’s no real debate around the legitimacy of these comments – they are spam and any blogger in their right mind mark them as such.

2. Next we have the spammy self promoter

A little further along the spectrum we see commenters who usually at least go to the effort of manually leaving their comments and who sometimes even go to the effort of keeping comments slightly on topic…. (sometimes).

However, their comments are pretty obviously only about trying to get a link to help their search rankings or to get a few clicks back to their site.

This group use a variety of tell tale strategies that show what they’re really on about.

For one, they usually don’t leave comments with a personal name but their name is something like ‘Best Dog Biscuits’ or ‘Hawaii Accommodation’.

They also rarely say anything that builds on the conversation but leave empty ‘great post’ comments. Alternatively, sometimes this group will do something controversial to try to get some attention (attacking the writer or other comments) in the hope of people wanting to check them out.

They also will often leave links in their comments that have no relevance to the post.

In short – this group are impersonal, irrelevant, add no value and self promotional.

Sometimes these comments get through spam filters but most bloggers will delete them if they are spotted. It’s doubtful that the comments have any real benefit to the commenter as most blogs have nofollow links in comments which kill any search ranking benefits and nobody in their right mind will click their links as they’re so obviously spammy.

3. Next is Commenter who Builds their Profile by Delivering Value

Next on the spectrum for me is a commenter who is doing it right.

They have obviously read the post and have something of value to contribute. Their comments may not always be long or in-depth but they add to the conversation with something that is thoughtful and relevant.

This group might share a story, give an example, put another point of view, answer a question or do something else that provides value to the blogger and their readership.

This commenter is all about delivering value but in doing so builds their profile and credibility. They are after a win/win exchange where the blogger/readers get value from their comment but they also might get some traffic and kudos from the exchange.

The best of these commenters in my experience tend to use a personal name (and where possible use a personal avatar). They tend to leave less comments than the above groups but the comments are more effective.

Note: on avatars, it can be worth registering for a Gravatar account as this is often used for avatars on many blogs.

4. Lastly is the Value Provider Who Gets No Value Back

At the other end of the spectrum are a rare bunch of commenters who are all about delivering value but for one reason or another don’t promote themselves.

There’s nothing wrong with this – but I have come across a few bloggers of late who are either so shy or so scared of being seen as a spammer that they don’t ever leave a link back to their own blog.

I do partly understand the ‘shy’ thing but my advice to this group would be to know that if you deliver value that most bloggers wouldn’t mind you leaving a link back to your blog – or they wouldn’t have a field in their comments section for you to share a link.

One blogger who I came across lately said that he never leaves links because he heard it can get him in trouble with Google.

I do know that Google look for unnatural links (so those in the first two spammers categories above should watch out) but that they don’t have a problem with genuine comments. In fact, Matt Cutts (from Google) made this video on that topic last week.

How to Effectively Leave Comments on Other Blogs

Several years ago here on ProBlogger I suggested 11 tips for getting the comments that you leave on other blogs to stand out.

I think most of the tips I gave are still relevant today:

  • Be the Early Bird – earlier commenters will have their comments seen more than later commenters. However, being first on every single post can be a bit annoying.
  • Share an Example – built upon the blog post with an example that illustrates what the blogger is saying.
  • Add a Point – if there’s a point the blogger has missed, politely suggest it.
  • Disagree – you may not want to do this on every comment you leave but courteously disagreeing and then adding constructive reasons why can make a good impression.
  • Write with conviction, passion and personality – these things stand out and show you care about your comment.
  • Use Humour – this can grab attention of those scanning through comments.
  • Ask a Question – I’ve long noticed that those who ask good questions often become the centre of conversations in comments.
  • Formatting Comments – be careful with this. Some commenting systems allow you to bold or italicise comments. But don’t go over the top here as it could looks spammy. Comments systems like Disqus allow you to add images – this can also work to draw attention to your comment.
  • Helpful Links – if you’re going to add a link make sure it is of high relevancy and value
  • Comment Length – Are all the comments on a post long? Leave a short one – it’ll stand out. Are all the other comments short? Leave a long one – again, it’ll stand out.
  • Lists/Break it down – think carefully about how your comment will look. Will it be just one big block of text? If so – consider breaking it into shorter paragraphs or even a list type format

One additional tip that I’ve used a number of times: when you leave a comment that you think adds a lot of value to a blog post – share a link to that post with your own social networks.

This shows the blogger that you’re not only willing to engage but promote their blog (which creates a great impression). It also has the side benefit of providing your followers with something useful to read (both the blog post and your comment) and shows them that you’re engaging beyond your blog which can only enhance your brand.

You can also take this a step further by blogging about the post you commented on. I’ve only done this on a few occasions and only when I think the blog post and the comment thread are of high value – but it can have a big impact.

Oh – and one more tip, regular commenting on the same blog can be worthwhile. A one great one off comment can have an impact – but this impact grows exponentially over time. Just don’t become an over contributor and dominate the blog (see below).

What to Avoid When Leaving Comments on Other Blogs

Also written several years ago is a post I wrote about how you can actually hurt your brand by commenting on other blogs. In it I listed 10 things to avoid (this did cause a little debate on a couple of them so there are different opinions):

  • Excessive use of Signatures – this practice was more common several years ago but it involves leaving a link to your blog IN your comment in addition to in the link field that bloggers allow you to link to your blog in.
  • Excessive Self Linking – only leave links that are relevant and not in every post you write.
  • One or Two word Comments – it’s ok to show some appreciation and say ‘great post’ – but more useful to the blogger is for you to tell them WHY you think it’s a great post. Add some value.
  • Not Reading Posts Before Commenting – this is pretty self explanatory. I would also advise reading through other comments already left!
  • Flaming and Personal Attack – not good form. If you disagree, be constructive.
  • ’Anonymous’ Flaming – if you have something to say, put your name to it.
  • Always Being First To Comment – I’ve seen a few people do this over the years and they’ve ended up annoying the blogger and other commenters. It’s not good manners to always be the one to say something… conversation is also about giving others room to speak.
  • Dominating Comment Threads – similar to #7, listen, allow others to contribute and let your comments bounce off them a little.
  • Keyword Stuffed Names – I know this one causes some debate but my personal preference is to know the name of a person that I’m speaking to rather than refer to them as their Business Name.
  • Not adding value to the Comments – Ultimately this one is what it is all about. If you’re adding value, you’ll get value back. If you add no value, you could be hurting your brand.

One last thing to avoid – don’t comment just for the sake of commenting.

While leaving comments does have many benefits I think that most people get into trouble with commenting when they are just going through the motions of leaving comments as a ‘strategy’ rather than leaving comments because they genuinely want to engage.

What Did I Miss? (your chance to practice)

I’d love to get your input on this topic.

What commenting practices have you used or seen others use that either are effective or annoying?

I’m looking forward to some good comments on this post!

What My Wife Has Taught Me About Blogging After Just 3 Months

Next week marks the 3 month anniversary of Vanessa (my wife) starting her first blog at Style and Shenanigans.

It’s been a fascinating process to watch her plan, launch and grow her blog.

Some might imagine that being married to ‘the ProBlogger’ means she’s constantly being told what to do and being given secret tips and advice – however I’ve been remarkably restrained in my involvement and very impressed by what she’s intuitively built already.

While she’s not got a huge readership – it continues to grow and it has already opened up some pretty cool opportunities for her.

In fact having watched her over these last 3 months I have been somewhat inspired and learned a lot and in this post want to share some of the things I think she’s done well that have helped her to grow her blog’s traffic and profile already.

My hope is that in doing so it’ll help others at the beginning of their blogging journey to get their blogs rolling.

1. Focus Upon Community Management

Perhaps the #1 thing that I’ve been impressed with so far is Vanessa’s commitment to engaging with her readership.

This has shone through in a number of ways including:

  • writing in an engaging style – most of her posts end with a question that invites comment
  • every comment on the blog is responded to
  • every comment on her Facebook Page is responded to
  • every incoming Tweet to our Twitter account is responded to

This is partly just who Vanessa is (she’s very engaging and inclusive in real life) but was something that probably stretched her a little too. I remember in the early days when she would get comments from people she didn’t know for the first few times it was certainly a bizarre feeling for her to engage with them – but she’s fully into the swing of things now!

Interestingly she’s now well and truly passed the tipping point of having more ‘strangers’ reading her blog and following her on Facebook and Twitter than she has ‘real life’ friends.

2. Personal/Personality Driven Content

Screen Shot 2013-11-14 at 8.15.43 pmI wrote a few weeks ago about Vanessa’s first foray into including a few ‘selfies’ on the blog. These more personal ‘Everyday Style’ posts have continued and have been received well (they’ve been the most commented posts on the site). In fact her ‘Everyday Style’ series of posts have become something she’s become well known for of late.

Other experiments with a more personal style of content included a post about a dinner party we threw for a few friends and a couple of posts about a short trip we took.

And then there’s Facebook…. this for me has been one of the most fascinating parts of the journey because her blog Facebook Page has gone ‘off topic’ and into a more personal space than I would have predicted.

There are certainly the predictable updates that are links to new posts on the blog – but mixed in are plenty of slightly more personal updates. Photos from things she’s doing, questions, funny family moments, personal quick tips and random off topic humorous posts.

The result is that she’s got a page with pretty high engagement – in fact if I had the engagement she had on my pages relative to how many people were ‘liking’ my pages I’ve be over the moon!

3. Helpful Content

The other key thing that I think is going to work in Vanessa’s favour is that the bulk of her content on the blog is ‘helpful’ and solves problems for readers.

V is what Malcom Gladwell would describe a ‘Maven’. She is a gatherer of information, a watcher of trends and LOVES sharing what she finds. She’s been doing this on the topic of style in her friendship circles since before I met her and her blog is an extension of that.

The bulk of her content reflects that and is basically her curated collections of different themes of fashion and home wares.

Her typical posts feature a collection of suggested products on a colour style or brand theme and the comments I see on them are often people saying thanks for the suggestions.

Update: She’s also experimented with seasonal posts – for example Kris Kringle Ideas for Christmas.

Also of interest to me is that I’m starting to see readers leave messages asking for advice on particular areas based upon her posts.

4. Understanding the Audience

Her 7am post - got decent engagement.

Her 7am post – got decent engagement.

This morning Vanessa was posting an update to Facebook at 7am and I suggested that it might be a bit too early in the morning for her readers to be checking Facebook.

She responded that it was one of her best times of day and that when she posted that early she often got a lot of responses by 8am as people checked their phones over breakfast.

I had my doubts but as I ate my porridge I watched the comments come in on Facebook and the blog and realised she had her finger on the rhythms of her readership perfectly.

Also of interest is that she’s already noticed that some days of the week seem to get more comments on posts than others and that certain types of Facebook updates at certain times of the day get more interaction.

This is golden information!

5. Getting OFF her Blog

I’m always talking here on ProBlogger about how important it is to ‘get off your blog’ if you want to grow traffic and to monetise your blog.

Vanessa has intuitively started to do this without much prompting at all.

It is a challenge – she’s a busy person with 3 active boys (two home during the day), working a day a week, involved in a variety of community activities etc – but she’s going beyond just writing content and responding to comments.

This has happened in a variety of ways including:

  • when she’s mentioned brands or other sites in her posts she lets them know (this has already led to one brand suggesting that they might like to work with her and others linking up to her blog!)
  • reading and engaging on other relevant sites/Facebook pages
  • involvement in a small Facebook group for other bloggers in her niche
  • responding to opportunities that other bloggers and media have already offered her to guest post on them

By no means is it easy to get everything done (and there will always be more that you can do) but I’m always amazed at what happens when you push open doors and get active about engaging off your blog with others.

The key lesson here is to not just build a great blog and expect good things to happen to you. You need to take some initiative and get off your blog to see those good things come into being!

6. Involving Others

Screen Shot 2013-11-14 at 8.22.52 pmIt was several years after I started blogging that I even considered the possibility of other people writing content on my blogs. That’s not the case for Vanessa.

Just 3 months in she’s already had two guest posts. Both have been submitted by the one person – a good family friend – but both posts have added something to the blog that V couldn’t have written herself.

The key is that she’s found someone who writes in a similar voice and that the posts have complemented existing content on the blog (for example this post from Mandy on toys for Girls was a follow up to one V wrote on toys for boys).

7. Visuals and Creating Content for Social

CR-CollageA couple of weeks ago I shared some great image creation tools that I use to create visual content for my blogs. Vanessa is also a convert to PicMonkey and Canva and a regular feature of her posts are collages of the products that she’s talking about.

I suspect that the visual element of her blogging will only evolve in time but these simple collages have been really popular with readers and I think are a big part of the reason that her Facebook Page has had great engagement.

Visual content is gold – particularly on social!!!

Lots More to Learn

By no means am I suggesting that Vanessa has arrived or is a poster child of blogging. She has a lot more to learn (as do I). I just have loved watching her growth and development in these early months.

What did you learn about blogging in the first few months that has stuck with you ever since?

Get to Know Your Readers: An Example of When It Counts

Over on dPS today we launched a brand new photography eBook about buying the right camera gear. As I was writing a blog post to announce the new eBook I was looking for an opening to the blog post that might capture our readers attention.

Then it struck me – we had recently done a survey of our readers that contained the golden information.

A couple of months ago we ran a survey with a segment of our readership to gather some information to help us put together a media kit to approach advertisers.

One of the questions in the survey asked our readers about what photography gear they were planning to purchase in the coming 12 months.

The results of that question were fascinating both for us to give advertisers but also as we thought about what content we could publish on the site.

Screen Shot 2013 11 13 at 1 51 10 pm

Today I also realised that the stats gave me the perfect lead in for a blog post about the eBook.

Over 85% of our readers indicated that they were looking to purchase a camera or significant camera gear (a lens, bag, flash etc).

While we hadn’t decided to write the eBook on purchasing gear based upon these stats – we realised we were onto something!

The opening to the blog post became quite clear:

Screen Shot 2013 11 13 at 4 28 24 pm

Understanding Your Readership is So Important

The more you know about your readers the better position you’ll be in to serve them with great content, to find new readers, to build community with them and to monetise your blog.

Further reading on getting to know your readers:

Disillusioned with Facebook: Here’s a Way Forward

facebook-frustration_full

Are you disillusioned or frustrated with Facebook?

I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve heard bloggers say that they are unhappy with the changes Facebook have made to their algorithm in the last 12 months – changes that make it harder for those who ‘like’ your page to actually see your updates.

I admit to this frustration too.

12 months ago on a webinar I declared I was considering switching most of my social media efforts away from Facebook to other social networks because I was so frustrated. I’d put years of effort into building my Facebook following only to see the company make changes to show fewer and fewer of my updates to followers.

It hurt to see all that effort seemingly go to waste.

However it wasn’t wasted and rather than giving up I decided to try to understand and work within the changes Facebook had made.

Thankfully that approach has paid off.

As regular readers of ProBlogger know – of late I’ve been investing even more time into Facebook as a place to share the content published on dPS and to build community with our readers.

I wrote about this a few weeks ago in a post titled How I Increased Facebook Reach and Engagement by 200-300% this Week.

I’ve continued to experiment with and evolve the strategies mentioned in the above post on the dPS Facebook page but today wanted to point readers to Facebook’s own words on the changes they’ve made over the last few months – words that I think give some hints as to how a blogger should approach building their page on Facebook.

Towards the end of August Facebook published a post on their Business Blog titled News Feed FYI: Showing More High Quality Content which spoke of the changes that they’d made.

While it didn’t give specific information on exactly how their algorithm decides what updates to show it does give some good hints that I think are worth pondering as a Facebook page owner.

What to Focus Your Efforts On with Facebook

The post indicates there are thousands of factors that determine if someone who has liked your page will actually see your content but that really it boils down to a few main things. Here they are in the words of Facebook itslef:

  • Make your posts timely and relevant
  • Build credibility and trust with your audience
  • Ask yourself, “Would people share this with their friends or recommend it to others?”
  • Think about, “Would my audience want to see this in their News Feeds?”

The concepts here that stand out to me are that for a post to show up in news feeds it needs to be timely, relevant, trustworthy and shareable. Ultimately I think they’re talking about delivering high ‘value’ to those who like your page.

This is common sense on many levels and is similar to the advice I’ve given here on ProBlogger on building an audience of a blog.

High quality, high value content and building trust with your audience.

So what can you do to deliver this?

Ultimately it will different from niche to niche but what I’m attempting to do on the dPS Facebook page is this.

1. Understand My Readers Needs and Deliver Content that Meets Them – Relevancy

My followers want to improve their photography – so the bulk of what I share aims to help with this. Regular content that solves problems is what my main focus is – this is ‘relevancy’. I avoid fluffy and general questions to get cheap comments – but rather keep on topic and focus upon the topic I know those who’ve liked my page want to see.

2. Understand What My Readers Like to Share – Shareable

My followers love to share great images, cool and geeky tips and humorous content. As a result I try to make as many of the updates that I do as shareable as possible.

Posts that link back to my blog always have shareable images in them and I will often put together collages of great images because I know those also trigger shares with our audience.

3. Understand the ‘Rhythms’ of your Readers – Timely

My niche being photography I know that many of our followers are most active in taking photos on the weekend. So we’ve started doing ‘share your photo’ posts on our Facebook page at the end of the weekend (see the latest one here).

I’ve done these the last 3 weeks and already our readers are starting to look forward to them and anticipate us doing them. This ‘timely’ content seems to be driving some great engagement.

I suspect that doing different types of posts regularly would be a good way forward and I’d like to do more of this.

4. Produce Quality Content – Value and Trust

The quality of updates is paramount. Publishing low quality content could at the worst cause followers to react negatively (hiding your posts, marking you as spam etc) or simply make them ignore you (not commenting, liking sharing).

This not only impact whether that post might be seen but goes toward decreasing the trust and credibility of your page!

What to Avoid Doing on Facebook

Also in Facebook’s post there’s reference to negative factors that could harm a status update ranking well. Facebook recommends asking yourself these questions:

  • Is the content genuinely interesting to you or is it trying to game News Feed distribution? (e.g., asking for people to like the content)
  • Would you call this a low quality post or meme?
  • Would you complain about seeing this content in your News Feed?

These points are well worth considering. I see a lot of bloggers who seem to be posting ‘like my stuff’ type updates or sharing fluffy/cheap quotes and graphics that don’t have a lot of value in them.

If my reading of the Facebook advice is correct – it is this type of update that Facebook is focused upon removing from news feeds and that could impact the trust/credibility of your page.

Perhaps a good question to ask before publishing an update to Facebook is ‘does this update run the risk of annoying my followers?

If you are posting updates that primarily ask for likes or that are after cheap shares or comments (which also have a high annoyance factor) then you might want to rethink your strategy.

Not only will these posts go unseen – they’ll impact the overall trust and credibility of your page which will impact whether ALL of your updates are seen!

I suspect also that the frequency of your updates could come into play with ‘annoying’ readers (and causing people to ‘hide’ your content).

The hard part about all of this is that there is sometimes a fine line between creating updates that are liked/shared/commented upon and tipping into annoying your readers. Really I guess it comes down to monitoring how your readers are responding and tweaking your approach.

One More Tip: Variety is a Factor

A factor that I’m increasingly convinced is important to consider when thinking about your updates in Facebook is to mix up the types of posts that you do.

Here’s why:

A factor that Facebook seems to consider when determining if it should show your update to someone who has liked your page is whether it is the type of content that they’ve interacted with in the past.

For example: if a follower has a history of engaging with images and your update is an image, they’re more likely to see it.

On the other hand if the follower has a history with engaging more with ‘link’ updates on the pages that they follow and all you post is images – then they may not see many of them.

So mixing up the type of updates that you post will mean you are reaching a larger number of your followers.

Typically I try to post at least one image/s post per day, one link post per day and one discussion type post per day.

My hope is that by doing this I’ll be producing content that different types of followers are going to respond to – which increases their engagement and trust with the page (which can only have a positive flow on impact).

I also hope that by mixing up the type of content that readers will be less likely to become bored with the same approach and stay engaged.

Don’t Give Up – Evolve Your Approach

Let me finish with an encouragement to those of you who are disillusioned with Facebook.

I understand your frustration – really I do.

However when faced with any obstacle in life or business we have the choice in how to move forward. We can walk away – or attempt to hurdle it. I think this one is well worth attempting to hurdle and encourage you to spend some time thinking about how to evolve your approach to work with the changes Facebook has made.

While I know some are skeptical about Facebook’s changes and think they are more about trying to force pages to advertise (and there may be some truth in this) I do believe that for Facebook to continue to be sustainable and successful that they need to provide those who use the site with the best experience possible.

Facebook will only continue to be a viable proposition if they deliver value to those who use the social network.

As a result what I see them doing is making changes to their algorithm to ensure that those who use Facebook see high quality content.

This is an opportunity for bloggers who are producing great content!

With almost 1.2 billion active monthly users I think to ignore this opportunity would be crazy!

5 Affordable Image Creation Tools that I use In My Blogging

Earlier in the year I published a post where I shared links to 13 tools and services that I use every day in my blogging business.

Today I wanted to add a four – particularly ones that relate to creating images for my blogs.

NewImage

PicMonkey

I use PicMonkey every day to help me create images for sharing on social media.

If you head to the Photos on the dPS Facebook page you’ll notice that most days we share at least one or two ‘collages’ of images from posts on the blog. Almost all of these were created with PicMonkey.

It’s a free web based tool (although there is an upgrade option that I’ve not used myself) and is really easy to use.

It also has some image editing tools that you might find useful for editing single images.

NewImage

Canva

I’m newer to Canva… because it is a newer tool but I’m using it more and more. It’s currently in beta but if you use this link you can get a VIP account (that’s just for ProBlogger readers).

Canva is similar to PicMonkey in some ways in that you can pull in images and text to create great visuals – but it comes with a lot of cool templates for different types of documents to get you going. It’s free to use but if you choose to use some of their images in your designs you will pay $1 per image for their use (I have only ever paid once and use my own images the bulk of the time).

It is all drag and drop and while it probably has a slightly steeper learning curve than Pic Monkey I think it’s definitely one to check out.

ZZ5B097521

Skitch (by Evernote)

I used to use Skitch a lot but for one reason or another stopped – until recently. A couple of my team members use Skitch a lot, particularly when we’ve been doing the redesign of dPS to communicate with each other. It’s great for creating screen captures and then adding notes with arrows or highlighting particular areas that we want our developers to work with.

I don’t tend to use the images Skitch creates too much publicly but it’s a handy tool for our internal communications.

It’s got a cool smartphone app too for doing these things on the run too!

NewImage

MindNode

This is a tool for creating mind maps. I use both an iPad and desktop app and it is how I created the ProBlogger Money Map that outlines how bloggers make money.

I use mind maps more for internal planning and communication than for creating images to share publicly. Having said that – I also have seen a number of people use mind maps like this for diagrams in blog posts as well as for powerpoint presentations.

MindNode is easy to use and creates lovely looking mindmaps.

Imagewell

ImageWell

I’ve mentioned this a few times in the past but continue to use it.

It’s a light weight mac image editing tool that I use mainly for resizing images and a little editing.

You can add borders, text etc. I will say I’ve used it less since discovering the two tools above but for quick edits when I am not actually online it is handy.

What Would You Add?

What other image creation and editing tools do you use in your blogging? I’m sure I’m just scratching the surface here – looking forward to seeing your suggestions!