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6 Killer Writing Tips from a Great-Grandmother of a Copy Editor

This guest post is by Aman Basanti of Ageofmarketing.com.

Meet Ailsa Campbell. Ailsa is a great grandmother of an editor (pun intended): she’s been teaching English longer than many of us have been alive. Needless to say she knows a thing or two about writing well.

Here are Ailsa’s top tips for becoming a better writer.

1. Get your homophones right

“Homophone” sounds like an alien word, but you use homophones every day, and often incorrectly.

Homophones are words that sound the same (homo—same, phone—speech sound) but have different meanings. Here are some common homophones that bloggers get wrong.

  • compliment—to praise (e.g. when you tell your partner that he or she looks great)
  • complement—to balance, set off or add to (red wine complements Italian food)
  • right—correct
  • right—the opposite of left
  • rite—ritual or ceremony
  • write—putting pen to paper
  • effect—(most commonly a noun) end result or consequence (the breakup of the marriage had the effect of driving him to drink)
  • affect—(most commonly a verb) impact (the drought affected local farmers)
  • descent—plunge, fall or ancestry (humans trace their descent from apes)
  • dissent—disagreement, opposition or dispute (some people express their dissent to the idea that humans descended from apes … and are quite right—humans and apes are descended from a common ancestor)
  • dependent—reliant on (the answer to the second question was highly dependent on the answer to the first)
  • dependant—a person who depends on others (the poor guy has 13 dependants). Note that this term is mainly used in British English; American English accepts “dependent” for both spellings.

Ensure that you are using the right homophone.

2. Know when to use a “c” and when to use an “s”

Is it practice or a practise? Is it advice or advise? Is it licence or license?

Answer: “c” is for nouns and “s” is for verbs. Remember “c” for “ice” and “s” for “see”.

When you play tennis, you practise your swing. When you run a social media business, you run a social media practice. Again, this is mainly a British English differentiation. In the US, it’s standard to use to use the “c” spelling in both cases.

When you guide someone to do something, you are advising them. When you receive instructions from your client, you receive advice.

Licence is permission to do something. Giving that permission to someone is licensing them to do it. Although in America, both usages use the “s” spelling, license.

Use “c” for naming words and “s” for doing words.

3. Understand terse phrases

Terse phrases are short punchy sentences to give your writing a sense of urgency. For example:

Favreau was blown away. How did this guy pull off such a feat? Was there anything this man couldn’t do?

“Using them in groups of three,” explains Ailsa, “as in the example above, gives a great sense of build–up.

“If you listen to Barack Obama, who is one of the greatest orators of the day, you will notice he often uses groups of three. This is not chance. He has studied it and worked at it.

“The use of three terse phrases was an oratorical trick taught by the Ancient Greeks, to capture the audience’s attention and reinforce a point without making it tedious. Apply it to writing too.”

4. Know how to use contractions to bring your writing to life

In the publishing world, using informal abbreviations and contractions (weren’t, aren’t, can’t, etc.) signifies a very informal type of writing. Contractions are not acceptable in, for example, a serious article about current affairs. They sound sloppy.

Even in less formal writing, they are better avoided unless you are very specifically wanting to sound “chatty.”

Where contractions are useful, however, is in quotes and dialogue or when you are giving someone’s thoughts. The use of contractions in dialogue allows the character’s voice to come through, which is a great way to bring your writing to life.

Consider the sentence, “They couldn’t put a finger on it but there was something about Mike.” The shortened form is very good here, because you are giving their thoughts—less formal language is right.

5. Do not put an “a” in front of numeric values

Do not say, “a 127 people chose option b,” or that “the suit cost a $100.” Just say, “127 people chose option b,” or “the suit cost $100.”

Also be mindful when writing monetary values. Do not write “$100 dollars,” just keep it to “$100.” You have already said “dollars” by using the sign $.

6. Know how to use apostrophes

What is wrong with the sentences below?

  • He was selling chocolates to the participant’s.
  • The Lindt’s were a better choice.
  • Vast majority of Australian residents already had HD TV’s and little content to view on them.
  • They were a well-known group in the 1960’s.

Answer: The apostrophe is incorrectly used in place of a plural. It should be participants, Lindts, TVs, and 1960s.

There are two uses for the apostrophe—in shortened forms, indicating a verb (it’s, couldn’t) and in possessives (Age of Marketing is Basanti’s brainchild).

What should we do when a possessive is also a plural?

The participants’ job was to choose between two options.

Here the participant is a plural and a possessive, so you place the apostrophe after the “s.” If the participant was singular, you would place it before the “s.”

Of all the mistakes, this one seems by far the most important to Ailsa, as is evidenced by her comment, “Dammit—if you don’t stop using apostrophes when you mean plurals, I shall murder you.” In her defense, I did get that wrong a lot.

Conclusion

It is these minor distinctions that, as Ailsa likes to say, “separate the sheep from the goats.” Get them right and your writing will be more fluent and engaging. Get them wrong and you will look silly, sloppy, and uneducated—not how you want your readers to see you.

Do you make any of these common mistakes in your writing?

Aman Basanti writes about the psychology of buying and teaches you how you can use the principles of consumer psychology to boost your sales. Visit www.Ageofmarketing.com/free-ebook to get his new ebook—Marketing to the Pre-Historic Mind: How the Hot New Science of Behavioural Economics Can Help You Boost Your Sales—for FREE.

Don’t Drive Your Blog Distracted

This guest post is by Chris The Traffic Blogger.

I can tell you a thousand ideas I have on how to be creative and when/where to write, but I struggle to create a list of times when you shouldn’t write. Most authors advise that you create articles during the good times and the bad in order to do two things: Improve upon your writing skill and increase the diversity of your writing. With that being said, is there ever a bad time to write then?

Blogging while distracted

Copyright Sergiy Serdyuk - Fotolia.com

Here is the first thing that came to mind regarding a time when you shouldn’t be writing. Focus is a hard thing to come by these days, especially with the increased speed of technology. If you don’t turn off that smart phone, unplug from tweetdeck and mute the television, well you’re going to be interrupted quite a bit when you try to write.

Writing while distracted is a lot like texting while driving. It’s dangerous, your focus is split so your content is not optimal and there are far more chances for accidents than under normal writing conditions. Don’t blog while distracted. Take the time to apply focus and effort to your work.

When I created the post, Explosive Backlink Strategy, I wrote an entire draft of it without unplugging myself from all the previously mentioned distractions. I repeated sentences, created broken links, had grammatical errors galore and left many ideas unsupported. Worst of all however, was the fact that I had written far too much!

When you think about it, it’s a miracle that we accomplish anything at all with all the Facebook chimes going off on our phones and other mediums desperately calling for our attention. Instead of writing less in these conditions, I tend to write more! And we all know that online readers prefer concise, helpful information.

After unplugging myself, I was able to refine my article to the core ideas that mattered and scrubbed all the errors. That’s the difference between being focused on one thing and having your attention split amongst many things.

Keeping a schedule

The key to avoiding being distracted is to remove the distractions during the period of time you wish to write. This takes planning, since distractions are often unplanned issues which you need to deal with in a timely manner. If you plan ahead and schedule of block of time to write, you are far less likely to be interrupted, especially if you take care of anything that needs doing beforehand. Stay focused and you’ll write far better than you would while distracted or on a limited time budget.

For the blogs I run, I tend to keep a very strict schedule as to when I write every single day. The moment I have woken up and had some much needed java, I write at least a few ideas down for articles I’d like to flesh out later on. Sometimes I write whole posts, but usually just ideas. Then, throughout the day, I turn those ideas into main concepts and supportive ideas soon follow.

Sometimes I write five posts a day, other times I jot down just the ideas for several. The point isn’t to finish a post every day, but rather, to take the time to think and write at least something before I do anything else every single day.

Blogging while extreme

Once again, the root problem that I suggest avoiding while blogging is a lack of focus. When you are angry, emotional, and upset, you will tend to focus on the wrong feelings as you write. Perhaps you won’t have any focus, just a blind anger that directs your article for you and feeds your creative thinking. This is a bad thing. A very bad thing. Cooling down and getting the proper focus back is important to avoiding writing while angry.

Always remember to put your audience first and avoid the personal feelings you have towards comments, emails and other bloggers alike. Keep things professional and write when you can afford to be emotionally focused on the right goals for your blog.

I’ve had my scrapes with fellow bloggers in the past, particularly very jealous ones, and I must say that it is far wiser to ignore someone than it is to try to get into a mudslinging contest. Even if you are 100% right and the other person is completely wrong, everyone gets dirty when the mud starts flying.

My advice for anyone who has copycats and jerks following them around the way I do is to ignore them. Don’t publish their comments, don’t respond to their emails and don’t publish responses on your blog. Just act as if they do not exist and keep on doing things better than they do. For heaven’s sake, don’t write while angry at someone as it always ends poorly for you!

What about the reverse of anger… happiness? Should you write while extremely happy? I would suggest not simply because your focus is once again blurred or ultra-centered on the wrong thing. I’ve written some awful, assuming posts while very happy that came back to bite me in the past.

For example, I had to rewrite the first chapter of The Why People Course because I wrote it while extremely excited to be writing my first book. After reading it I came across as way to hopeful and impossibly optimistic, to the point that most people would probably read it and say “yeah right, that’s wishful thinking.” Even though the numbers and statistics were real for me, they might be impossible for others, so I ended up rewriting the chapter when my focus was more on my potential audience and less on myself.

Focus is the key in blogging without distraction, whether the distraction comes from external or internal forces. Write with focus and write well! And please, don’t blog while distracted!

Have you ever blogged while distracted? Tell us what happened in the comments.

Chris is a self proclaimed expert at showing bloggers how they can get traffic, build communities, make money online and be successful. You can find out more at The Traffic Blogger.

5 Brilliant Things You Can Do with an Inactive Blog

This guest post is by Tristan of Infographic Academy.

If you’ve been blogging for any length of time, the odds are good that you have an inactive blog or two (or *cough* a dozen *cough*) sitting around. Maybe you wrote only a few posts before you realized that your calling in life is not writing about animal husbandry or underwater basket weaving. But hey, I guess you can cross those of the list, right?

So what should you do with Underwater Basket Weaving Master Central Dot Net now that it’s defunct? Well, below I’ll explain five of your most viable options.

1. Sell it

Wouldn’t it be awesome to sell your inactive blog and make like a bajillion dollars? Maybe you could sell to AOL; I hear they’re always on the prowl.

There are two ways to go about selling a blog: actively and passively.

Actively selling a blog involves hustling around and playing matchmaker between you and potential buyers. This includes listing it for sale in online marketplaces like Flippa and shooting off emails to individuals or businesses that you think might be interested in your blog.

Passively selling a blog means that you write a final post that says, “Hey, this blog is for sale!” and hoping that a buyer will find you. You could include some ads on the blog announcing the fact, too. It might take time to sell this way—if it sells at all—but at least minimal work is required on your part.

2. Dismantle it

Maybe the bits and pieces of your blog are more valuable to you or someone else than the whole thing. For example, you could sell your blog posts to a small business to use on their own blog. Or you could package them up as an ebook and either sell the ebook yourself or sell the rights to it. Of course, you’d want to delete all of the content from the blog when you sell it.

Perhaps your domain name is worth some cash now that it’s aged, has PageRank, and/or gets traffic. GoDaddy Auctions and NamePros domain name forums are great places to sell domains, and I’ve also had some luck with eBay. In addition, you could try contacting potential buyers in the niche directly. If you go that route, be sure to list all of the benefits your domain name has and why they’d want it.

3. Merge it

Adding posts from an inactive blog to an active one is great because the more articles you’ve got on your blog, the more traffic you’ll get from search engines and other sources.

A couple months ago I merged two of my blogs together. I had a personal blog and a blog about rock climbing, but I realized that my personal blog was just about my rock climbing adventures. So I moved everything from my personal blog to my climbing blog. The result was more search traffic to my climbing blog. Sweet!

I had trouble finding good information on how to combine multiple WordPress blogs, so I wrote a step-by-step post if you’re interested.

4. Use it as a billboard

If you’ve got something else you’d like to promote (like another blog or product of yours), put links and ads everywhere on your inactive blog that point to that other blog or product.

Or if you don’t think people stumbling upon your inactive blog would be interested in anything else you’ve got going on, you could have affiliate links and ads to someone else’s more relevant product. There’s nothing wrong with making a sale here and there, eh?

4. Take it down

This one is simple enough. Just delete your blog. Wipe it clean from the face of the Earth. It will either be forgotten or become legend. Either way, you’re done with the thing and can move on.

5. Do nothing with it

Of course, you can always do nothing with your inactive blog. Maybe you’re just so sick of underwater basket weaving that you never want to dedicate a single additional brain neuron to it ever again. Or it’s possible that your time is so valuable that it’s simply better spent elsewhere.

And remember that if nothing else, you can always slap some AdSense on that puppy and let organic search traffic do its thing (you did optimize your content, right?).

If you do nothing with your inactive blog, realize that you’re either going to keep paying for hosting (if self-hosted), or it will eventually wander into the vast bone yard that is the world of abandoned WordPress.com and Blogger (or whatever blogging service you use) blogs.

Final words

Quitting any blog is often an at-least-slightly painful experience. It stings. You put all of this time, effort, and maybe even money into something and you hate to see it wasted.

But don’t worry about it. If for whatever reason you decide to abandon a blog, do what you need to do and then move on. Take what you learned and apply it to your next adventure. And what about Underwater Basket Weaving Master Central Dot Net? Well, as long as you steer clear of swimming pools and long strips of reed or cane, you should be okay.

What else can you do with an inactive blog? What have you done with your inactive or abandoned blogs? What has worked well for you and what hasn’t?

Tristan Higbee is a professional blogger. He teaches people how to create their own infographics at Infographic Academy and writes about blogging and internet business at Blogging Bookshelf.

Getting Un-Panda-lized: One Blog’s Response to Google’s Panda Update

This guest post is by Ethan of OneProjectCloser.com

When Google rolled out the first Panda update on 23 February 2011, we saw our site traffic plummet by 40%. I learned about this four hours after quitting my day job to become a full-time blogger. I don’t regret the decision for a second, but it presented some unique challenges for the days ahead.

Since then, we’ve employed several different strategies to reclaim our former glory. Research and site analysis led us to remove potentially low quality content. We’ve experimented with modifying and removing ads, all the while trying to better the user experience. It’s important to know that we haven’t seen a recovery … yet. None of what I’m about to share has made a significant improvement, but hopefully this article will provide insight for other publishers.

When Panda struck

Site analysis

“This update is designed to reduce rankings for low-quality sites”—Amit Singhal, Google Fellow

Google has mentioned time and again that the new Panda document classifier impacts the entire site. Before, you could have a handful of really good posts and the onus was on Google to find them. Now, webmasters shoulder the responsibility to carefully curate every shred of content.

Since the term low-quality is subject to some interpretation, we began our site analysis to identify the high-quality content. The goal was to improve our link profile and eliminate everything but our best content. Using data from Google Analytics, Webmaster Tools, and backlink analysis tools, we rated every single post. Specifically, we looked at top landing pages, content by number of links, content by number of linking domains and domain authority. Many of these factors correlate with AdSense earning so we also took that into account.

Removing low-quality content

“…is blocked from crawling and indexing, so that search engines can focus on what makes your site unique and valuable…” – John Mu, Google Employee

We decided which articles needed to go and which would stay. It was painful to think about deleting about 75% of our archives, so it was a relief to find alternative ways of “removing” content. By blocking crawling, we would be able to keep informative posts that didn’t make the cut, and preserve link juice.

In another forum, John Mu stated that you should use a 404 or 410 error code for pages that are not worth salvaging, 301 redirect items that can be merged, and a “noindex” meta tag for content that you plan to rewrite. Matt Cutts did a live webcast on May 25 in which he verified that noindexing is a good solution for removing low-quality content. Blocking content in robots.txt prevents Googlebots from crawling whereas noindexing allows crawling and following links.

Ads and affiliate links

“While it’s exciting to maximize your ad performance with AdSense, it’s also important to consider the user experience…” – Best Practices Guidelines, Google AdSense

It seemed very telling that the AdSense team released new guidelines for ad placement about two months after Panda hit. A lot of publishers felt slighted because AdSense optimization specialists have always pushed for more ad blocks and more aggressive placements. Now it seemed there was a threshold for ads that pushed content below the fold. This isn’t a stretch, as Google already renders each page for the preview they provide alongside search results. They know where the ad blocks fall.

I’ll admit we were being aggressive with our ad placement. We took the plunge and removed AdSense for over a month, through the Panda 2.2 update, but saw no improvement. Since, we’ve only replaced AdSense on a handful of articles.

We suspect that Google views affiliate links much like ads, especially as it may bias the publisher toward a specific product. Eliminating the majority of our affiliate links was easy as only a few ever converted. But needless to say, overall these changes have really hit us where it hurts.

Duplicate content

“The Panda Technology appears to have helped some scraper sites” – Michael Martinez, SEO Theory

Michael shares that he had a hard time finding examples of scrapers outranking the original authors, but he hits the nail on the head in the last line of the section. If Panda isn’t demoting your site, you’ll still outrank the scrapers. Our site doesn’t.

I’ve submitted a lot of takedown notices since Panda hit, but that isn’t the only duplicate content we’ve been reviewing. A lot of our articles overlap because of similar (but distinct) topics. We began working to make sure each article could stand on its own merit with unique ideas and fresh perspective. This was no easy task, and is still a work in progress.

The end-user experience

“The +1 button is shorthand for ‘this is pretty cool’ or ‘you should check this out.’ Click +1 to publicly give something your stamp of approval.” – Google +1

Bloggers have known that social marketing (a good metric for user experience) is an important part of your online identity and a great way to build readership. With moves like the +1 button, Google shifts some of the power from site owners to the everyday web surfer. Before, we would build relationships and advocate for links from webmasters, but that system was easily gamed. Now, the end user experience and how they interact on your site matters more than ever.

We’ve made a lot of improvements, and in some ways I’m glad Panda has had such a dramatic impact. Nothing else would have spurred on many of the changes we’ve made. Our site will be refined by fire with the end result that will be much better than before. Sometimes webmasters are too close to their own products.

If you have ideas about overcoming the Panda demotion, or suggestions for how we can improve, I’d love to hear them.

Ethan is 28 years old, and loves construction and home improvement. He co-founded OneProjectCloser.com in 2008 where he shares how-to projects, tool reviews and more. To stay connected, follow One Project Closer on Twitter and their new Facebook page.

The Secret to Feeding Your Family with a Blog

This guest post is by Russ Henneberry of Tiny Business, Mighty Profits.

It’s every blogger’s dream: to take something you created and generate enough money to take care of your obligations.

But time is running out. The time bomb is ticking. Generate sales, or die.

With each second that ticks by, the pressure mounts. And it becomes tough to know where to spend your time as a blogger.

Should you study methods for getting more comments? Should you become an SEO ninja and analyze your traffic data on Google Analytics? Should you master the art of getting retweets or Facebook “likes?”

The answer? Yes and no.

Allow me to explain with a quick story about how I defused my own time bomb.

The time bomb starts ticking

image is author's own

I wasn’t ready for her, but she came anyway. She weighed 6 lbs 10ozs, and she was beautiful. She looked like a peanut and the name stuck.

Five weeks prior to her birth, I left my job with a pink slip and a prayer, laid off with little or no sympathy from my employer. Those five weeks went by in a blur:

  • Contracts were created.
  • Business cards were printed.
  • A stapler and sticky notes were purchased.

And … I launched my blog.

The day Peanut came home from the hospital, we settled her into her crib. I tore open a pack of note cards. With a thick, black Sharpie, I wrote what would become my new mantra and pinned it to my office wall. It said:

“FEED THE PEANUT”

Then, I went to work defusing the time bomb.

I cut the red wire

For you, Feeding the Peanut may mean paying medical bills or mounting credit card debt. Or perhaps recovering from a bad stock or real estate investment. Maybe you need to supplement your retirement to lead the lifestyle you want.

Feed Your Family With A BlogFor me, Feeding the Peanut is taking care of those that I love, including my newborn daughter. And I didn’t have much time, so I searched for shortcuts.

I worked 12-hour days while my wife took care of the kids. I toiled and toiled for more comments, more visits, and more social media connections. I spent my days (and nights):

  • marketing my products and services to the masses using social media and email blasts
  • writing blog post after blog post that I optimized for Google but not my readers
  • checking my Google Analytics twice a day
  • using tricks to get thousands of Twitter followers
  • automating my Twitter and Facebook streams
  • submitting articles full of keywords and gibberish to thousands of article directories
  • using tools to bookmark articles on dozens of sites.

Wrong answer. The time bomb clock sped up. I was seeing no results.

Meanwhile, the Peanut was going through a pack of diapers and two cans of formula a week! Feeding the Peanut was becoming increasingly expensive. I wasn’t sleeping, and not just because we had a newborn. With each passing night, I felt like less and less oxygen was in my bedroom.

One day, however, I stopped and did a 180-degree turn because of something my four-year-old son said to me.

I cut the green wire

Ever had one of those head-smacking moments when someone simplifies something you have complicated?

Late one night my son came down to kiss me goodnight and he asked me what I was doing.
“I’m working on getting more people to read what Daddy is writing.” I said.
“Why do you want to do that?” he asked.
I nearly spit coffee on my keyboard.

Why did I want more traffic? Traffic isn’t sales. Google rankings, Facebook Likes, and Twitter retweets aren’t sales either.

Sales are sales.

So, I tried cutting the green wire. I began spending my days (and nights):

  • selling my products and services one person at a time, meeting one on one
  • going to in-person networking events
  • meeting one on one with people that would be a good fit for my services
  • listening
  • shaking hands
  • creating products and services that were laser-focused on the individuals I was meeting on and off-line
  • handing out business cards
  • having real conversations with people via social media
  • posting answers to people’s questions on my blog
  • burning educational video content to DVD and personally delivering it to people
  • ignoring my Google Analytics.

Getting closer. The bomb clock slowed down, but it didn’t stop. I was landing sales and my savings account was not hemorrhaging like it was when I was using Red Wire tactics. Meanwhile, the Peanut started walking. Day care costs doubled as my wife went back to her teaching job and both my son and daughter needed care.

I was extremely busy, but I could see that I wasn’t going to make it. I was at my breaking point. I couldn’t possibly work any harder, yet I was merely delaying the inevitable. Until something happened.

I crossed the red wire with the green wire

Using only Green Wire tactics, I would die a slow death. Using only Red Wire tactics, my demise would be swift. So, I took the most effective Red Wire tactics and combined them with the best Green Wire tactics.

I spend my time today:

  • selling high-dollar products and services in a personal one-on-one environment and low-dollar products via email and social media blasts
  • writing high-quality, search engine optimized content
  • working hard to increase my Twitter and Facebook connections by connecting with influential people and providing them value
  • using data in my Google Analytics to make better decisions about my marketing, once per week
  • attending off-line networking events that are consistent with my business objectives
  • scheduling some of my Twitter and Facebook stream but always participating in conversations with others as well.

This combination of Red Wire and Green Wire tactics stopped the clock.

Today, I sleep through the night and work hard during the day. It’s not easy but I am able to Feed the Peanut better than I ever was working for someone else.

You can defuse your time bomb!

The time bomb is a morbid but accurate metaphor. The truth is that it is hard. The pressure can feel like it will crush you at times. After all, this is real life, not a game.

But don’t panic. You can do this! Remember that blogging is just like any other business. It’s about making sales. It’s about making enough money to stop the time bomb.

Marketing your products and services through your blog is about both volume (Red Wire tactics) and quality of interaction (Green Wire tactics). But either one alone is likely to explode in your face.

In hindsight, I could have avoided a lot of pain by beginning with Green Wire tactics and adding Red Wire tactics as my blog grew. Lesson learned: blog comments, traffic, retweets and Facebook Likes will feed your ego, but they won’t Feed the Peanut.

So get out there and make sales. Your Peanut is counting on you.

Russ Henneberry is the founder of the #1 resource for tiny business owners in the galaxy, Tiny Business, Mighty Profits. Find out how Russ learned to Feed the Peanut with his blog by watching these 10 free Internet marketing videos.

Six Proven Secrets to Blogging Success

This guest post is by Abby Larson of Style Me Pretty: The Ultimate Wedding Blog.

I write a wedding blog. Before you start running for the hills, now that you know I focus only on girly things, know that I also happen to have a smarty pants husband who is joining me here to spread some of his crazy blogging wisdom. I started Style Me Pretty about four years ago, after I sold a wedding invitation business that I developed. My husband and I were living in Palo Alto and he had just finished up his Master’s program at Stanford in Computer Science. He was busy with his new start-up gig and I was simply bored, so I decided to take a seminar on blogging, something the rest of the creative community seemed to already know so much about.

While I don’t remember much from that seminar, one thing the lecturer said stayed with me. It changed my life. “You will most likely never make money writing a blog.” While he was right that most people don’t end up making a killing writing a blog, I took his words as a personal challenge and made the decision to prove him wrong.

Fast forward four years and here we are with Style Me Pretty. We get about 10 million pageviews a month, 680,000 unique visitors and about 35,000 RSS subscribers. We have 45,000 fans on Facebook and 35,000 on Twitter. And recently, we were featured in a CBS Sunday Morning segment about bloggers and their influence on the media and publication industries.

We’re proud to be living proof that you can make a living blogging about what you love. And although we’ve made plenty of mistakes along the way, we’re hoping that we can share some of our blogging know-how and help you avoid those same pitfalls.

Below are some of the blogging best practices we’ve honed over the years. They may seem simple but take them to heart. Follow these practices and you’ll have a much better chance of becoming a successful blogger.

1. Set yourself up right … from the beginning

This is really a two-part tip about branding and technology. Your brand and your blogging platform are hard to change later on, so get them right the first time.

First, give careful consideration to your blog name and domain. You don’t want to get two years into a blog, and then decide that the name doesn’t reflect what you do or the domain is hard to spell and should be changed. Launch your blog on a domain you own, not a subdomain of WordPress or Blogger.

Second, choose a common blogging platform. This is one decision where it’s okay to copy your friends. You want a platform that has a significant mindshare and therefore lots of plugins, themes, and competent developers that can help you. Whatever platform you start with, you’ll most likely be stuck with for a while.

Style Me Pretty was initially hosted on Typepad and moved to WordPress. While both of these platforms are popular, we felt that WordPress was easier to host ourselves, easier to customize and had more freely available plugins, so we switched. And it was painful. Migrating images, coming up with a new theme and making sure links did not break was not as straightforward as we had hoped.

2. Fill a void

Timing and topic are everything in the world of blogging. You need to either see a space for a new voice or you need to be better than the voices already out there.

When we started SMP, there wasn’t a good online source for edited, magazine-style wedding content. There were informative sites focused on the practical elements of planning a wedding, but these sites lacked inspiring wedding photography and creative event design. We saw an opportunity to do something different from our established competitors.

3. Speed is key to blogging sustainability

If your posts take hours and hours to write, edit, re-write and re-edit, you’ve got yourself a bit of a blogging problem. The faster you can get good content up, the better. Our advice? Post three hundred words of text at minimum, offer beautiful imagery if appropriate, and provide great links for readers to discover.

The majority of Style Me Pretty posts follow the same format: an edited intro, tons of gorgeous photographs, with a link to view more and a write-up from the bride. The wedding vendors provide the images. Often the bride develops those 300 words of text that we want, which saves us time on doing all the writing. By approaching content in this speedy, streamlined manner, we are able to push more out the door each day and open up new streams of content as we grow.

4. Know your audience

And know them well. Understand that as your blog evolves, so do your readers. Often times, we reach out to those readers who are totally committed, asking them for advice, for tips on how to improve, for thoughts on what their experience with SMP is, and even for initial reactions to new ideas. Even if their feedback stings, it’s a critical component to understanding how our blog is being consumed and how we can better improve.

We’ve used Facebook discussions as a means to solicit feedback, and we also recommend hosting surveys on Google Docs or Survey Monkey to help gain these valuable insights.

5. Reach out to other bloggers

When we look at blogs nowadays, we very rarely see comprehensive blogrolls. And yet the blogroll was one of the blogosphere’s features that drove our early growth. 

When Style Me Pretty was just a few months old, we’d contact other bloggers, introduce ourselves and ask if we could be included on their blogroll. It generally worked and we were instantly introduced to new crops of readers. However, we don’t suggest sending out automated emails asking for a link. This lacks a personal touch and can make a blogger distrustful of you and your site.

Email a select list of bloggers with similar sites and ask to get added to their blogroll. Blogrolls are perused by people looking for something “more” to read about. These are the very people who you want stopping by your site.

6. Involve your readers

The best part about writing a blog, rather than writing a column in a magazine, is that your readers become a part of your journey. They get their hands dirty with you and thus they become far more invested in your growth.

In our early days, we crafted inspiration boards for specific reader dilemmas, held Wedding DIY project competitions, and did periodic Q&As. These opportunities for involvement turned casual readers into loyal followers as they saw their work being incorporated into the content of our site. These readers also felt more comfortable leaving comments on posts and participating in the SMP conversation. All this contributed to making Style Me Pretty a thriving, yet intimate, online community.

What blogging success tips can you add from your own experience? We’d love to hear them!

Abby Larson is the editor of Style Me Pretty: The Ultimate Wedding Blog. Abby launched the site in January 2007 after selling her wedding invitation business as a way to stay close to the wedding industry. Today, Style Me Pretty receives over 10 million page views per month and employs six full-time writers. Abby and husband Tait also write about their lives running a blog at their behind-the-scenes blog, Backstage.

Think Twice Before You Use News as Inspiration

This guest post is by Greg McFarlane.

If there are already 100,000 posts out there that express a particular viewpoint, what’s the point of adding a 100,001st?

Look for a different angle. If you can’t find one, then resist the temptation to rehash conventional wisdom, and go unearth yourself some unrelated subject matter.

When you’re desperate for ideas, the default method for finding something to blog about is, of course, to read the news. It’s not the most organic way to inspire a post, but sometimes it’s necessary—especially if you’re on a deadline. The problem is that hundreds of other bloggers with writer’s block are doing the same thing. Follow everyone else’s lead, and by definition your blog will become correspondingly less fresh and readable. Or as legendary baseball player Yogi Berra put it, “No one goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.”

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Here in the United States, our latest political scandal featured a narcissistic, libidinous, and ridiculously aptly named politician who thought that he could send erotic self-portraits to minors on Twitter and not have to deal with any ramifications.

A good number of bloggers felt obligated to discuss Representative Weiner’s indiscretions. Understandably, most of those bloggers felt that the kind of person who tries to get with women half his age while embarrassing his semi-prominent wife on the national stage isn’t fit for office. Others added that anyone who would initially claim that his Twitter account “was hacked into” should lose his job for showing so little respect for his constituents’ intelligence.

On the other side, the minority (mercifully) opinion was that this was a distraction and we should all just move on and concern ourselves with bigger, more prominent things.* But regardless of how you felt about how suitable Weiner was for his job, the very act of expressing an opinion on his peccadilloes lumped you in with the unimaginative blogging masses.

That’s the downside to blogging about an ephemeral news story, especially one that inspires such strong opinions. The story surfaces, then it quickly gets picked clean, leaving a meatless skeleton. There was little that was truly insightful to say about the scandal, and few arguments pro or con to make that weren’t obvious.

Worse yet, bloggers who wrote exclusively on their non-political subjects of choice tried to shoehorn the scandal into their efforts in an attempt to seem relevant.

Like everyone else, I wondered what I could do to gain attention and capitalize on the moment. A story that was so absurd on so many levels doesn’t come around every day, and you can’t exactly predict when the next one will appear.

My blog is about personal finance, the second-most unsexy topic in all of human endeavor (quilting remains #1). Was there a way to tie the biggest national news story of the day into something Control Your Cash subscribers could get value out of, without forcing it?

Absolutely there was, and it was seamless. I studied Weiner’s list of financial assets and liabilities—which America’s federal elected officials are required to disclose some of the details of—and found dirt far more ignominious than anything in his sex life (at least to an audience of personal finance enthusiasts).

Weiner’s credit card balance equaled about 10% of his annual salary, and was growing faster than he was paying it off. He’d spent years amassing and failing to pay parking tickets throughout Washington. He owned more cars than there were people in his household, and committed the minor fraud of putting the registration sticker for his cheapest car on his most expensive car to save himself a few dollars. On top of that, he was paying monthly processing fees on the credit card balance, which my blog’s readers understand is something of a mortal fiscal sin.

In short, he was yet another in the endless series of bad examples that we could poke fun at on Control Your Cash. But unlike the welfare mother with nine kids from seven fathers, or the lottery winner who celebrated his fortune by spending it all and then some, Weiner held the distinction of being partially responsible for taxing my readers and spending their money. That gave the post a potency that the bloggers who wrote merely “Should Weiner resign?” couldn’t hope for.

I blogged about the scandal only because the opportunity presented itself. Granted, I had to look for a way to fit it into my narrowly topical blog, but it didn’t take much effort to find one. Had there been no angle, or only an awkward one, I wouldn’t have. A far more famous politician found himself in far greater trouble a couple of weeks earlier, but Arnold Schwarzenegger doesn’t have any money problems that I could write about (forthcoming retroactive child support payments notwithstanding).

When everyone else is zigging, that doesn’t necessarily mean you should zag. It might be your cue to find your own unique tangent—to para-zig, if you will. Even the road less traveled can get congested at times.

*Oh, grow up.

Greg McFarlane is an advertising copywriter who lives in Las Vegas. He recently wrote Control Your Cash: Making Money Make Sense, a financial primer for people in their 20s and 30s who know nothing about money. You can buy the book here (physical) or here (Kindle) and reach Greg at [email protected]

WordPress Plugins that Make Your Blog Comments Social

This guest post was written by Neil Matthews of WPDude.

Have you noticed a decrease in the number of blog comments you get and an increase in Facebook likes and Twitter tweets about your posts?

Are you worried that you are loosing social proof about the validity of your posts to the social media conversation, rather than as direct comment on your site?

There is a way to get the best of both worlds and aggregate comments and social media responses on your site.

The problem

People are building social media presences, and part of that is sharing great blog content and their opinions on those posts.  It’s more public and gives better results to share on Twitter or Facebook than it is leave a comment.

Curating is the new black at the moment. Adding links to your own social media conversation adds great value to your followers, while leaving a comment on a blog where no-one but the avid readers will see it does not add any value to your social media stream.

Fewer comments seems provide less social proof that people like your content, but this is not necessarily true. People stil love your stuff, it’s just that they’re expressing their emotions in different places.

What’s the solution?

Th solution is to bring the comments made on social media into your comment stream so you can maintain all of that social proof in one place.

There are a number of plugins that will aggregate social media and traditional blog comments into one stream on your site. This post will focus on these plugins—specifically I will be focusing on WordPress plugins (sorry Joomla, Drupal and Tumblr people! Some of these pugins will work with your platform but I’m focusing on WordPress today).

Disqus

This is a cloud-hosted comment system, wich means that your comments are hosted on the Disqus platform, and by adding a plugin to WordPress you can show those comments alongside your posts.

Disqus is a complete commenting system that offers a number of social media functions including authentication using your Facebook and Twitter accounts, and the ability for people to add a comment to your post and their social media profile of choice. But more importantly it has a Reactions feature, which will search for and aggregate into your comment stream off-site comments from social media conversations about your post.

Intensedebate

Intensedebate is another hosted comment platform brought to you by the people behind WordPress Automattic.

Intensedebate has something it calls Social Commenting features.  Using these, users can log in with their Twitter or Facebook IDs, and post comments that are synced to their social media profiles.

LiveFyre

LiveFyre is another fully featured and hosted commenting system. Please note that this is a premium solution with  a free option for less than 20,000 page impressions per month.

This  plugin has the ability to post the comment onto your site and the social media platform of your site user’s choice.  It also has a neat function that lets them tag their social media friends in your comments.

Check out the social media options for more information.

A note on hosted comment systems

When you host your comments on a third-party site, you’ll need to export your comments into that service’s car. If you breach the service’s terms and conditions, there’s a chance you could be kicked off the platform and loose your comments.

I’ve not heard of this happening but it is a possibility, so think long and hard before you chose to have someone host part of your site.  I wrote about the same concept in my last post here at Problogger when I talked about loosing your email addresses in Are You Protecting Your Blog’s Most Valuable Asset?.

Facebook Comments for WordPress

If you want a solution that replaces your traditional blog commenting system with Facebook-only comments, then this plugin is for you.

It is a self-hosted solution that replaces traditional blog comments with something akin to a Facebook wall. People log in to Facebook, leave their comments on Facebook, and they’re replicated back on your site.

Twitter Mentions as Comments

This final plugin is again a self-hosted extension of WordPress. What is does is scan Twitter for any mentions of your posts, and pulls those tweets into your existing comment stream as if they were additional comments on your posts.

Other options

These are just some of the options available to you—there are many others. Check out the plugins under the Social Media tag on the WordPress plugin repository to see how vast your options are.

Make your comments social

Don’t worry that you’re losing blog comments to social media. Using these handy plugins, you can bring the conversation back from the social platforms, and retain social proof on your blog.

How is your blog faring with comments and social media? Could these plugins be helpful to you?

Neil Is  a WordPress coach and consultant, see his work at WPDude. He has also created a WordPress group coaching program called the WP Owners Club.

An Interesting Blog Business Model

This guest post is by Kevin Muldoon of WordPress Mods.

Most of you will be aware of the most popular business models for blogs. A large majority of blogs rely on revenue from advertising such as banner ads and paid reviews. Once a blog is very successful, its owners usually branch out and sell physical and digital products too such as books, membership courses, and premium content. Many successful bloggers simply use their blog as a platform to promote their own consulting services.

It’s important to do a little research into what business model suits you and your blog, as it’s going to be the way you make money through blogging. When I launched my WordPress blog a year or so ago I decided to adopt a magazine model and make money through banner advertisements, adding paid reviews once the site is more successful.

Once the site is established I will be in a good position to sell products through it, too, in the same way that Darren has launched his fantastic blogging workbooks through ProBlogger and the hugely popular ProBlogger book.

A business model with a twist?

The majority of blogs fall into the 10 Blog Business Models that Skellie spoke about a few years ago, however there is nothing stopping you doing something a little different.

A great example of this is WP Candy (one of my favourite blogs about WordPress). Well designed and updated regularly with great content, its owner Ryan Imel adopted the magazine model for WP Candy, though he did things a little differently. Instead of selling banner ads, WP Candy has managed to stay ad-free by using a so-called “Powered By” system.

The “Powered By” system is quite straightforward. Every blog post has a small link at the bottom stating who “Powered” the post. It is very similar to those who allow advertisers to sponsor a post, though there’s one main difference: instead of the link going to the sponsor’s website, it goes to a thank you page on WP Candy that tells you more about the website and lists the number of posts the sponsoring company has sponsored (Have a look at the biggest contributor for an example).

Advertisers have a number of ways in which they can gain exposure on the site. Just $5 a month will get you a link in a thank-you post every month, while a one-off payment of $50 will give you a permanent “Powered By” link on a post and a thank you in the weekly podcast.

Skeptics may look at the business model WP Candy has adopted and say that all they are doing is selling text links instead of banner ads. Perhaps this is the case, though they haven’t broken any rules—they are simply linking to a dedicated page for sponsors and the links on that page are coded “nofollow”.

So what they have managed to achieve is provide a unique way for advertisers to promote their products and services whilst removing all banner ads from the site, making the reading experience more enjoyable for the reader (something that Leo Babauta also did with Zen Habits).

Think outside the box

I’m not encouraging you to adopt the “Powered By” system that WP Candy has created. What I do encourage you to do is be more creative with the way you make money through your blog.

  • Build a more personal relationship with your advertisers and encourage your readers to interact with them.
  • Develop high-quality products and services that are related to your blog.
  • Grow your newsletter subscriber base so that you can interact with your readers more.
  • Do something interesting—something that no other blog in your niche is doing.

I’d love to hear of the interesting ways you generate income for your blog. Have you grown beyond the magazine business model and developed alternative ways to make money through your site?

Kevin Muldoon is a webmaster and blogger who lives in Central Scotland. His current project is WordPress Mods; a blog which focuses on WordPress Themes, Plugins, Tutorials, News and Modifications.