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Getting Started with Webmaster Tools: Fixing 404 Errors

This guest post is by Dave Taylor of AskDaveTaylor.com.

Whether you’re writing about changing diapers, improving your bowling score, finding a job in the travel industry or how you get pictures off your cellphone, I think it’s a universal truth that if you’re writing online, you want better search engine results placement.

Most likely you’ve installed some SEO plugins that promise to improve your results and they might even be working, but if your site’s been up any length of time, it’s quite probable that things have started to break behind the scenes and hurt your results without you ever being notified. A scary prospect, really, and if it’s dramatic enough, you can start to really sink down the search results without any further explanation.

That’s why Google has its Webmaster Tools and while they’re primarily designed for people who have complete control over their Web site it can even be useful if you’re on blogger.com, wordpress.com or typepad.com. in fact, you don’t need to be a blogger to find it helpful: problems hurt any site, regardless of its structure.

Proving your own site

The first thing you need to do with Google’s Webmaster Tools is verify that the site you want to analyze is your own. This is typically done by adding a special line of HTML to the head of your home page, as I detail here.

If you can’t change your header, there are some alternatives that Google offers, but if you have zero administrative rights on the site, you might well be out of luck. If so, check with your hosting company to see if it offers alternative administrative tools that let you know about broken links, etc.

Key elements of a Webmaster Tools report

Once you have verified ownership of your site, you’ll see on the left side that the major areas are Site configuration, Your site on the web, +1 Metrics, Diagnostics, and Labs. Below it there’s some help that really highlights what you can glean from the Tools: Crawl errors, Search queries, Links to your site and Sitemaps. All good stuff.

Webmaster Tools report

Google Webmaster Tools overview for APparenting.com

There’s good analytic data that appears to be somewhat of an overlap with what you can get from Google Analytics (or your favorite analytics package if that’s not your particular cup of tea) and sometimes it reveals things that perhaps you didn’t want to know, like “sexy girls” is the #1 search for people who get to my Attachment Parenting Blog. Yikes. Not what I write about on my site nor anything I want people to be seeking when they arrive on my blog.

The heart of the Webmaster Tools, however, are the diagnostics because it’s the primary way we can learn what Google’s search spider finds broke on the site. Go to Diagnostics and it further breaks down into Malware, Crawl errors, Crawl stats, Fetch as Googlebot and HTML suggestions.

All good stuff, but let’s go into Crawl errors as it offers great bang for your proverbial buck.

Webmaster Tools crawl errors

Crawl errors Webmaster Tools reports for APparenting.com

Not too bad. This blog has a few hundred pages but I’m only seeing 36 of the hated 404 not found errors. Look closely and you’ll see that the format is bad link, error encountered, linked from and date detected. The first one is illustrative:

Link: http://www.apparenting.com/cosleeping-cpsc.html
Error: 404 (Not found)
Linked From: 10 pages
Detected: Jul 30, 2011

The real value is that if you click on the link that shows how many pages have a link to the bad URL, it’ll show you exactly what pages need to be fixed on your site and, sometimes, on other sites too. Here’s an example:

Webmaster Tools specific crawl errors

Specific crawl errors for APparenting.com

The first link is from another site called bubhub.com.au but all the other pages that link to this bad URL are on my own site. That’s something I can fix immediately.

Where to go from here

You can see we’ve just touched on the tip of the iceberg with the Google Webmaster Tools. It’s deep, it’s complicated, but even if you just poke around and look at the 404 errors generated for your own blog and fix as many as possible, you’ll be pleased to see how your ranking improves and, perhaps even more importantly, you’ll be happy to know that you’ve just improved your readers experience. And in the end, there’s nothing more important than happy readers, is there?

Dave Taylor has been blogging since the tools first appeared online. This is his 31st year online. His primary blog is the popular Ask Dave Taylor! offering up free tech support on a wide variety of topics including blogging and SEO. You can find him on all the major social networks through DaveTaylorOnline.com.

Don’t Let Your Blog Get Caught with its Pants Down

This guest post is by Joseph of Blog Tweaks.

I know a guy who went on a backpacking trip in Ghana.

One leg of his trip stood out—a five hour bus ride from Kumasi to Cape Coast. This particular ride started at 4:30 a.m.

Yes, that’s crazy early, but it wasn’t the worst part of the trip.

The worst part was the rolling bowel cramps that started from mile one and wouldn’t go away. They came back every ten minutes. One minute on, nine minutes off.

The blackness of the West African countryside lulled most of the passengers to sleep as the bus continued down the pock marked semblance of a highway, but not so for this guy. He could think of only one thing—this bus had to stop.

But where?

Looking out the window, all he saw were the pale outlines of mud huts and thatched roofs. Where would the bus stop? Did they have rest stops here?

Regardless, the bus had to stop. And it had to stop now.

Suddenly, out of the morning blackness, a small town appeared. As the bus rolled to a stop at an, my friend made his way to the front of the bus, explained the situation to the driver, and asked if he could get off to take care of the pain.

The driver obliged, pointing helpfully to the backside of a shed that was off the road and in front of a village home. It would have to do. It was the only option.

He quickly made his way behind the structure and … went about his business. Yes, out in the open, in the pre-dawn still of a beautiful African morning.

And then it happened.

As he was awkwardly crouched trying to get through the most surreal bathroom break of his life, the door of the home 25 feet directly in front of him opened. Out stepped a local Ghanaian who found himself face to face with my friend.

What a sight to behold—this man woke up in the home he had lived in for who knows how long, walked outside expecting to see the sunrise, and instead finds a white guy fifteen feet away with his pants around his ankles squatting down behind his shed.

As my friend helplessly looked up, the owner of the house began to yell, “What are you doing! What are you doing!”

How do you respond?

All he could say was, “My bad.” Over and over again.

As the owner continued to yell in disbelief, the helpless traveller finally finished, buttoned up, mumbled “my bad” a couple more times, and then quickly walked back to the bus which couldn’t leave fast enough.

To this day, I’m not sure who has the better story. The one I’m telling here or the one told in the village later that day: “It was 5:30 a.m., and there was an obroni (white man) squatting behind my shed saying, ‘my bad’…” He’s probably still getting mileage from the tale.

Hopefully you’ve been entertained by this story, but what does it have to do with blogging?

The answer is everything.

You don’t ever want your blog to get caught with its pants down.

Here’s what I mean.

The blogging equivalent

For your blog to get caught with its pants down is for you to not be ready for traffic before it arrives.

If Darren Rowse at ProBlogger tweeted one of your posts today, would your blog be ready? Is there enough quality content on your site to convert visitors into subscribers? Does your site have a professional design, or does it look more like kindergartner art than a digital storefront? Do you have any way to make money from the traffic?

If not, you might get caught with your pants down.

The day my blog was caught

It happened to my first blog—www.JosephWesley.Wordpress.com.

It was an ordinary Saturday morning, and as I finished reading an interview with Warren Buffett in Forbes magazine, I typed up the most salient quotes, which I then published as a post titled “7 Priceless Business Quotes from Warren Buffett.”

Little did I know what would happen next.

I expected this post to be the same as all of my other posts, meaning nobody would notice, so I left the house and went about my ordinary day.

Unknown to me, my blog was not having an ordinary day. Somehow, Mark Cuban, the billionaire owner of the Dallas Mavericks, found and tweeted the post. Let me repeat—Mark Cuban, the billionaire owner of the NBA champion Dallas Mavericks, read and tweeted the post.

He also has 564,454 followers.

I had no idea.

Later that night, I came home and checked the stats. Then I did a double take. I thought my stat counter was broken.

There had been 3,000 visitors to a WordPress.com blog that I started three months earlier as an experiment. Until that time, the most visitors I’d in one day was twenty.

I had no idea what had happened, so I searched until I discovered Mr. Cuban’s tweet.

The end result was 7,000 people reading the post over the next month with over 400 re-tweeting. It’s still my most popular post of all time.

So what was the problem? Why wasn’t this an awesome day? How did my blog get caught with its pants down?

The problem was this—I wasn’t ready. I was as helpless the guy behind the shed.

Of the 7,000 people that visited, somewhere around ten subscribed by e-mail. I also didn’t have any kind of service or advertising, so there was no way to make money.

Yes, it was the biggest day in my blogging experience, but, unfortunately, I didn’t capitalize on the traffic.

What do do about it

So how do you get ready for traffic like that? How do you make sure your blog doesn’t get caught with its pants down?

Here’s how:

  1. Write quality content: If you write high quality content, people are more likely to subscribe for future posts. Nobody wants average posts taking up space in their inbox.
  2. Pick one topic: Focusing on one topic will convert more readers into subscribers. A marketing guy won’t subscribe to a blog about ten different topics; he’ll subscribe to a blog about marketing. Write for one topic and you’ll automatically convince more readers to subscribe.
  3. Focus on subscribers: There are a lot of things you can focus on for conversions, but until you have a better reason not to focus on subscribers, don’t. Those are the people that will consistently come back to read and will eventually buy. Make subscribing insanely easy by putting the opt-in box at the top of the sidebar. Don’t make people search for the subscription box underneath calendar and archive. Do yourself a favor: put it at the top.
  4. Improve your design: Appearance matters. In a job interview, you dress for success; with a blog, you design for it. The good news is that premium themes from sites like Studiopress make getting a great design easy and affordable. It’s the best blog investment you’ll ever make.
  5. Make an offer: One of the best ways to make money from a blog is to offer something for sale. If you don’t give visitors something to purchase, you have zero chance of making a sale. People can’t buy what you don’t offer to sell them. So what you can offer to sell your blog readers? An ebook? Consulting? Design services? Whatever you decide, make sure to make a clear offer on your site. (An example of this can be seen on the “Hire Me” page at Blog Tweaks.)

So there you have it: a story from Ghana, reasons why you don’t want your blog to get caught with its pants down, and five ways to get prepared so it won’t happen to you.

What do you think? Are you ready to cinch up your blog so it doesn’t get caught with its pants down?

Joseph has a marketing degree from UT Austin. He’s currently looking for a select number of companies interested in hiring a paid blogger to write their posts. If you’re interested, visit Blog Tweaks to find out more.

Have We Reached Blog Overload?

This guest post is by LA Juice, of www.la-juice.com.

Saturated, overloaded, “all full up.” These are the words and phrases I think of when I look at the blogging world. Especially in the context of gaining new followers when you aren’t teaching, selling, or giving valuable books and prizes away.

In my six months as a “humorist” blogger (someone who doesn’t teach, sell or give anything away), I have seen my initial traffic grow very well, only to absolutely stagnate over the past two months. And my commenters have all but disappeared. At this point the only people commenting are (and I am sure of this) blogger friends who feel bad for me.

You know, other bloggers who know “what’s what” (bloggers running sites where I have commented).

I’d love to tell you I’m not trying everything to grow my readership, but short of paying for advertising, I am doing all the things the bazillion SEO/SEM/marketing blogs tell you to do. Oh wait, I am paying for ads. Sure, they’re just cheapo Facebook PPC ads—but they’re ads nonetheless.

Here is my active blog promotion checklist:

  1. Twitter: active, with all appropriate feeds (bit.ly, comments etc.).
  2. Facebook: active, Networked blogs: active, PPC ads on Facebook, etc.
  3. Post no less than three times a week.
  4. Respond to all comments.
  5. Ask readers questions/trivia/etc.
  6. Write about controversial stuff hoping someone will engage.
  7. Held a couple contests, and gave prizes away.
  8. Regularly comment at between eight and 12 different blogs in the same genre as mine.
  9. Guest blog at three places.
  10. Create topical headlines (SEO/SEM within the confines of WordPress).

I even offered iTunes cards to the first five Facebook followers who got more than five of their friends to “follow this blog.” The silence was deafening. The WB frog would have sung louder at an American Idol audition.

I have first page Google rank for “LA Juice”—in fact, I hold first-page spots three to six, and seven on google for a very common search term, if you ask me, and I have made nice progress moving up the Technorati ranks, so I feel like I’m doing a lot of the right SEO things, too.

Yet, crickets! Pure crickets.

When I am not barraging Twitter with (hopefully) pithy jokes, not responding to people who do comment, not commenting at other sites, not guest blogging, and not offering fabulous prizes to my Facebook followers, I sit and wonder, “What happened to the days of people sending links out: “You have to read this blog, it’s hilarious.”

You know word of mouth? I’d even take hand to hand combat right now!

I fear such days are long gone. I can’t recall the last time anyone sent me an email with a link in it. And Twitter retweets, and #FFs? It’s more like white noise.

No one shares or promotes their favorite websites anymore. Except bloggers, to other bloggers, on Twitter.

In fact, my last (and first) six months of blogging have led me to the conclusion that the only people reading blogs are other bloggers. Is it possible that we bloggers have worn our welcome out? Even before I got into the game? Can it be true that either people no longer read blogs or everyone has become a blogger and so there are no more readers?

These are the questions that keep me awake in the middle of the night.

Of course, its possible I am just not funny, engaging or interesting, however:

  • That never stopped half the bloggers out there with bigger “followerships” and more daily comments than me.
  • People who think they are funny, but aren’t, will draw mean commentors—and I don’t even have any of those!
  • Plus, and most importantly, my mom told me I am the funniest and prettiest girl in the kindergarten class.

So, sure, it’s possible, but—let’s be frank—not likely.

Accordingly, we have to ask: is blogging dead?

It’s a tough suspicion for a new blogger who has no intention of giving up the fight. But it’s a truthiness I am beginning to believe with the sincerity of a guest on The Colbert Report.

That’s why I wrote this post: to find out if you agree and, if not, why not. If you do agree, what do you think we should do about it?

Oh, and if you don’t comment, you’re probably proving me right! …See what I did there?

Aspiring to be the funniest blogstress west of Rodeo, Juice currently writes your wrongs at her website: LA Juice. LA Juice is one escaped Detroiter’s unedited and often inappropriate perspective on all things pop culture, celebrity and LA .

5 Simple Font Changes to Boost Readers, Comments, and Shares on Your Blog

This guest post is by Bnonn of Attentionthievery.info.

You may not realize it, but the font settings on your blog can have a huge effect on how many people read your content.

And how many people read your content has a huge effect on whether a post goes viral.

How huge? Well, by some accounts I’ve read, just one common mistake with colors could reduce readership by a factor of five. And if you’re not making that mistake, you’re probably making at least one of four others. So in this article, I’ll give you the five most important best practices for presenting text to keep readers glued to your content, and away from the old back button.

Font size—16px minimum

At the very top of the the pile of legibility problems is font size. Back in 2005, Jakob Nielsen reported that in a survey of web design problems, bad fonts got nearly twice as many votes as the next contender—with two-thirds of voters complaining about small font sizes.

Sadly, nothing has changed since then. A random sampling of new blog designs at SiteInspire (a web design gallery showcasing the best of the best designs) shows that the average font size for body copy is 12 pixels. Some as low as ten pixels. None over 14 pixels. Similarly, if you randomly sample offerings from the popular Elegant Themes or ThemeForest, you’ll find that every single theme sets post content at 12 or 13 pixels.

And of course, other theme creators tend to follow the lead of the bigwigs.

But as usability and typography expert Oliver Reichenstein of Information Architects points out, 16 pixels is the font size that browsers were intended to display by default—and it is not big. 16px text on an average screen looks about the same size as 12-point text in print. That’s the default size for most magazines, as well as all word processors, because it’s the size people find most comfortable to read. Many people—especially those over 40—find it very difficult to read smaller text. As Reichenstein observes:

There is no reason for squeezing so much information onto the screen. It’s just a stupid collective mistake that dates back to a time when screens were really, really small … At first, you’ll be shocked how big the default text is. But after a day, you won’t want to see anything smaller than 100% font-size for the main text. It looks big at first, but once you use it you quickly realize why all browser makers chose this as the default text size.

Use dark on light text—reversed is no good

Fortunately we’ve pretty much moved past the days when content authors thought that fuchsia on blue text was cool. But white on black text, known as reversed type, is still pretty common. As are variants like white on some other dark color.

Reversed type reduces not only the number of people who’ll bother to read your content, but also their comprehension of it. This is because it strains the eyes. Staring at reversed text for an extended period tends to create a kind of “glare” effect, where you feel like the letters are too bright to look at. Depending on what research you consult, studies show that light on dark text reduces your readership between 50% and 400%.

Why risk losing so many readers? Black or very dark gray on white looks clean, and there are plenty of great themes that use those colors.

Line width—45 to 75 characters

Here’s another little-known rule that a lot of blogs break. In order for your eye to easily follow one line to the next, you want no more than 75 characters in each line. This is called the line measure. Beyond a measure of 75 characters, it’s hard to track the end of one line to the beginning of the next without getting lost.

On the other hand, if you have a measure of less than 45 characters your eye will get fatigued quickly, because you’ve barely started to read one line when you have to jump to the next. You feel like you never get a chance to rest.

For this reason, your ideal post content area will have lines of text about 60 characters long. Of course, you do also have to take aesthetics into account. On many blogs, the “ideal” measure leaves a huge gap on the right margin, or makes the text seem squished into a tiny area. I use a measure of around 70 characters on my own website for exactly that reason. But if you’re pushing past 80 characters, you’re reducing your readership—guaranteed.

Line height—130% or more

Fortunately this is a less common mistake. If you’re using a professional theme, you probably don’t need to worry.

To give you an example, I’ve set this paragraph at the default line height (also called leading, after the strips of lead used to separate lines of text on old printing presses). It feels cramped and uninviting to read, and it’s hard to follow the lines from one to the next because they blend into each other.

On the other hand, this paragraph is set with a line height of 200%—equivalent to double spacing in a word processor. I’m sure you’ll agree that the lines here feel way too disconnected from each other, and unless you’re submitting a research paper this is not the way to go.

Finally, this paragraph is set with a line height of 150%. That means that for every pixel of font size, there’s one and a half pixels of distance between the lines. This turns out to be pretty reliable sweet spot for most fonts you’re likely to use on a blog—but feel free to experiment between about 130% and 160% to see what works best for your own content.

The left margin—don’t break it

This last tip isn’t exactly a font issue. But it fits into the same general category. Bloggers routinely include images in their posts. Whether or not that’s really a good idea is a topic for another time—but for now, let me just give you one piece of advice.

The left margin is sacred. It’s how we track text down a page in the Western world. It’s the “ground” out of which the lines grow (often to quite different lengths), and it’s the foundation for our eyepath as we read down the page.

But if you break the left margin, that all goes to hell. Your eye has to scan around to try to pick up the new margin, so you can keep on reading.

In other words, every time you left-align an image, you put a speed-bump in your reader’s path. And you’re compounding the problem by dragging his attention away from the text with your visually dominant image. Needless to say, readers who keep being distracted and having to relocate the left margin often don’t read to the end of a post—so they often don’re share it or comment on it.

Bonus tip: drop caps increase readership

By “drop caps” I mean initial capitals, where the first letter of the first word of your post stands out much bigger than the rest. According to research conducted by Ogilvy & Mather, this increases readership of a piece by an average of 13%.

Drop caps aren’t built into most blog themes, and they can be tricky to do on the web, but if you’re up to a little coding, check out this tutorial on how to create them.

Five mistakes: which ones are you making?

Now is the time to head on back to your own blog and see which of these five important best practices you’re not practicing. Then, fixum! But don’t forget to share the changes you’ve made in the comments below!

Bnonn is the author of 25 free video lessons on how to turn visitors into customers—part of his conversion-optimization course ‘Attention-Thievery 101’. Known in the boroughs as the Information Highwayman, he helps small businesses sell more online by improving both their copy and design. When he’s not knee-deep in the guts of someone’s homepage, he is teaching his kids about steampunk, Nathan Fillion, and how to grapple a zombie without getting bit.

7 Lessons I Learned by Starting Over with Blogging

This guest post is by Jeff Goins of Goins, Writer

Six months ago, I was frustrated with my blog. I felt stuck and stymied. I had written on it for nearly five years and built a small, but steady, stream of traffic.

But there was just one problem: it wasn’t growing.

And I was tired of trying.

Held back

Copyright Vibe Images - Fotolia.com

My blog had reached the dreaded plateau.

So I decided to quit. Despite my better judgment, I chose to start over, to launch a brand-new blog. It was hard and scary leaving something that took so long to build, but I had to face the facts: My blog was never going to be epic. It was never going to be extraordinary. And I wanted it to be.

So I threw in the towel.

When to quit your blog

“Persistent people are able to visualize the idea of light at the end of the tunnel when other’s can’t see it. At the same time, the smartest people are realistic about not imagining light when there isn’t any.”

-Seth Godin, The Dip

We mistakenly vilify quitting. We believe ridiculous adages like, “Quitters never win…” And yet, most successful people are serial quitters. They are relentless experimenters, striving to find the one thing that they can champion. They set aside everything else, save that one special cause.

I knew my blog wasn’t headed anywhere. It was time for a change. Without knowing what I was doing, I quit. As much as it pained me, I started over.

And in six short months, I quadrupled the amount of traffic it took me half a decade to build.

How starting over changed everything

In the past six months, I’ve learned some valuable lessons about blogging and why quitting is sometimes necessary for a breakthrough.

Here they are:

1. Guest posting is essential

It’s never too early to guest post. If you have a few posts on your blog, I would begin offering to write for other blogs now.

Start small, but work your way up quickly. Give away your best content, and you’ll earn new readers quickly—in much less time than solely focusing on your own site.

2. Your content isn’t as good as you think

I was a good writer, and I thought that made me an excellent blogger. I secretly compared myself to other bloggers who were worse writers than me, and I enviously resented their traffic and engagement.

But to be honest, I didn’t know the first thing about blogging.

So I started studying some of the masters (e.g. Seth Godin, Chris Brogan, Copyblogger, Problogger, Zen Habits, and others) and emulated their best practices. I realized that high quality of content was a common denominator.

Instead of spending twenty minutes on a post, frantically trying to just publish something, I started putting in the time to create content I could be proud of.

3. Design matters

If content is king, design is His Majesty’s clothes. Nobody wants to look at a poorly-dressed sovereign. People perceive what you write through the lens of your website’s appearance.

Design can either help or hurt your content.

Choosing a premium WordPress theme or investing in a good designer can go a long way. These days, quality doesn’t cost much.

4. A change of scenery can make you more creative

I changed domains, branding, and platforms just to get a fresh start.

As a result, I woke up every morning, excited to write. With my old blog, I often dreaded it. Not so this time.

I treasured my new blog. It inspired fresh ideas. It spurred on my creativity and innovation. It made me bolder and more imaginative. There is natural momentum to anything new. You can use this to take your blog to new heights.

5. You don’t have to be the expert

I was an arrogant blogger. Any time someone would challenge me, I would vehemently defend my argument, belittling them in the comments.

However, from people like Darren, I learned that it was okay to learn as you go. You didn’t have to be an instant guru. This was somewhat refreshing for me.

In fact, I learned that most people prefer being a part of community in which they’re invited into a shared learning experience, not a didactic monologue.

6. People don’t care that much about you

When I realized that blogging was mostly about other people (and not about me), everything changed. At first, it was a hit to my ego, but eventually I learned to embrace the opportunity.

I stopped making myself the center of attention and instead strove to make my readers feel like they were being heard and served.

Now, my blog is about helping others, not getting pats on the back for being a brilliant writer.

7. Focus is crucial

My old blog didn’t have a theme or a voice or any kind of central idea. It was just a hodge-podge of random thoughts.

Daily, I wrestled with what to write about. I also struggled to retain a dedicated readership.

By focusing on a particular subject, I’m able to more consistently deliver content that already has a built-in niche, ready to listen.

What this means for you

The past six months have been incredible. I’m back to where I left off with my old blog, times four.

All because I chose to quit.

If you’re feeling stuck with your blog, it may be time to start over. My journey isn’t a formula, but it’s not a bad place to start. Following these seven steps will get you started on the right track—they’ll help you develop the momentum you need to get to a new level.

It won’t be easy, and you’ll have to hustle. But it’s doable. And worth it.

Have you thought about starting over with a new blog, but not sure if you should make the leap? Maybe it’s time.

Jeff Goins is a writer, innovator, and marketing guy. He works at Adventures in Missions and blogs at Goins, Writer. You can connect with him on Twitter or Facebook.

Writing for Mobile Blog Readers

This guest post is by Brian Milne of the BlogHyped Blog Promotion Community.

As far as you know, your blog is mobile friendly.

You’ve optimized the design for mobile devices using plugins such as WPtouch. You’ve started serving Google mobile ads. Heck, you even have your own mobile app.

Mobile user

Copyright Aaron Amat - Fotolia.com

But are you turning away mobile readers with your content? Are your 2,000-word posts, bogged down with 200-DPI images and run-on sentences, negating all your other efforts?

Possibly. But with mobile users making up between 5% (global) and 8.2% (U.S.) of overall traffic, you’re probably wondering if it’s worth tailoring content for mobile users.

Well, like any form of writing, you can’t satisfy every audience, but here are some reasons to consider mobile when producing content for your blog:

  1. The iPhone/iTouch combo was the fastest-growing consumer electronics line of all time (before the addition of the iPad and the dozens of ensuing anti-Apple tablets).
  2. The line between entertainment and the web has blurred thanks to today’s multi-use devices (desktops, laptops, phones, readers, iPods, TVs, kiosks, gaming consoles).
  3. And most importantly, many mobile writing tips will improve your content on the traditional Web as well.

Shorter (and smaller) is better

A wise old newspaper editor once gave me some great advice, even though I didn’t want to hear it as a reporter: “When you’re done with your story, cut out 100 words before you file it. Then it’s done.”

Hacking 100 words from a blog post is pretty extreme, but it can’t hurt to trim 25 to 50 words. Cut out content that’s irrelevant, or acts as a speed bump in your post. Your content should flow from beginning to end, without any bumps or potholes that’ll bounce your readers off the site.

Cutting down content also carries over to the images and media that complement your post. Whether they’re reading on a desktop or a tablet, users bail when page-load time becomes a problem. The W3C recommends pages be no more than 10KB, and total page weight shouldn’t exceed 20KB (images included). Using a mobile theme or skin will help shed that weight, but using a content delivery network (CDN) and making sure your images and other assets are “web ready” will speed things up across all devices and platforms.

Break it up

Along with tightening up your writing and getting to the point early in posts (getting a keyword phrase in the first couple sentences is a best practice across the board), it’s always a good idea to break up the main body text with subtitles and bullets.

Subtitles not only break up your post into digestible pieces, but they’re an ideal place to inject keyword phrases as H2 tags, further improving your SEO efforts.

Bulleted lists such as Top 10s are another popular approach, not only because they’re interesting and generate traffic in a hurry, but because they’re easier to read on both the traditional and mobile web.

Provide utility

If you’re writing about a subject readers on the move could benefit from (restaurant reviews, event information, etc.), give your mobile readers the details they’re searching for.

As with the traditional Web, a large portion of mobile users stumble upon blogs via search (Google reported mobile searches quadrupled in 2010, with one in seven searches coming from a mobile device), so don’t hesitate to include mobile-critical details such as phone numbers, addresses, websites and directions. Keeping your traditional Web readers in mind, you can avoid bogging down your body copy by offsetting those additional “mobile” details in parentheses, taglines, captions or callouts.

Get engaged

The key to a successful blog or online community is user engagement, no matter the device at the reader’s fingertips.

The easiest way to encourage interaction is through comments. But on a mobile device, with fat fingers and tiny keyboards, commenting can be a challenge. Unless, of course, your blog integrates smoothly with quick-hit services such as Twitter and Facebook—communities that thrive in the mobile realm because they’re easy to use on the fly.

Even if mobile users aren’t commenting on your blog in a traditional sense, give them plenty of other options to talk about your site, and, more importantly, link to you from the social mediasphere.

Remain balanced

Unless you have a website geared specifically toward mobile readers, it would be foolish to abandon traditional blogging and web writing best practices for mobile-only content. Even the most popular blogs out there—problogger.net, for example—see an average of only 5-8% of overall traffic coming from mobile devices.

Rather than focusing exclusively on that small slice of readers, consider the entire audience with your content development efforts—all while keeping in mind the smartphone market is projected to grow by 49.2% this year, according to the IDC.

Take advantage of this opportunity to not only better your content overall, but prepare for the mobile takeover. Absorb valuable online resources like ProBlogger, and consider offline resources like community college writing courses and those dusty old journalism books filled with priceless tips about writing for busy newspaper readers.

It might sound funny, but those age-old writing techniques carry right over to today’s hurried mobile readers. (Think of bus or subway commuters who replaced their morning newspaper with smartphones and tablets.) Now is the time to work those suggestions into your blog. Get the nutgraph (keyword phrase) of your story in your lead (first 140 characters). Write short paragraphs, and use bullets (lists) and subheads (H2 tags) to improve readability.

You’ll be surprised at how well those old-school, JOURN-101 tips can tighten up your content and enhance the user experience for your blog readers—whether they’re surfing via the traditional web or their mobile devices.

Follow those tips and it’s only a matter of time before your blog is truly mobile friendly.

What tips do you have for improving content for both mobile and traditional web audiences? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

A former senior writer and editor for McClatchy Newspapers, Brian Milne founded the BlogHyped.com and BallHyped.com social voting communities, where bloggers can share their posts, get followed links and additional blogging resources. Connect and share your blogging tips with Brian via Twitter @BMilneSLO.

Let Twitter Improve Your Copy Editing

This guest post is by Jason of FindingMyFitness.com.

You know that one of the “tricks” to writing great posts is to keeping the content short, crisp, and clear.

So why is that so hard to do?

Adopting the Twitter method

Ever write a great tweet and have to shorten it because it doesn’t fit? You tweak and edit until you get your point across in 140 characters or fewer. I noticed my tweets were snappier when I edited them down.

I get wordy in my posts, so I wanted to practice writing more succinctly. I began playing a game with myself by putting my wordy sections in Tweetdeck and crafting them to fit. Long sentences get shortened to 140 characters. Sometimes, even whole paragraphs.

Twitter can help improve your writing in different ways:

  • You have to craft sentences instead of write them, so your command of the language improves.
  • It helps you to communicate more clearly, specifically, and directly.
  • If you tweet parts of your posts (I have), you’ll see immediately how readers react and even generate interest in your next blog.

A practical example

I didn’t edit while I wrote this post. I knew I wanted it to be short, but I didn’t specifically try to make it tiny.

By using the Twitter method to edit, I shortened it by 20%.

I’ve noticed that my shorter posts get retweeted more often than my longer posts. When you make your point and get off your box, people react. You haven’t given them time to be bored.

You can take it too far

This method won’t work for all posts in all situations. Sometimes you’ll just need to use more words. Just a few tweaks can completely change the meaning of what you wrote, and that is something you don’t necessarily want.

Short and crisp works great for inspirational posts. For explanations and how-tos, clarity might require more words. Don’t let your long posts be boring, though: break them apart with short, concise paragraphs.

Eventually, you’ll be concise without thinking about it. Your sentences will be snappier; paragraphs, clearer; readers, happier; wallet, fuller. Nothing but wins!

What techniques do you use to make your posts as tight and clear as possible?

One day Jason got tired of being fat, so he created FindingMyFitness.com to help him get skinny. Follow him there or on Twitter at @fmfblogger.

Interview: Benny Lewis of FluentIn3Months

This guest post is by Kevin Muldoon of KevinMuldoon.com.

Recently, I interviewed Benny Lewis, the man behind the successful blog Fluent In 3 Months.

Over the last month or so I have been organising everything for my move to South America. Since reading The Motorcycle Diaries at University in my late teens I had thought about travelling South America and learning Spanish. I was all set to go four years ago when I was living in New Zealand, but decided to head back to the UK to save more money so that I didn’t have any financial difficulties. Weeks turned into months and months turned into years—until I finally took the plunge this year and made the decision to go.

While looking for help and advice about the quickest way to learn Spanish I came across the fantastic blog, Fluent In 3 Months. It’s run by self-titled “Irish Polyglot” Benny Lewis, who has managed to become fluent in around ten languages (and several dialects too) in just eight years. Don’t believe me? Check out this video.

Fluent In 3 Months is a fantastic example of how sharing a passion for a subject through your blog can be profitable. By regularly adding great content and taking the time to connect with readers every day he has managed to create a blog with over 100,000 monthly visitors in just two years.

The main source of his income comes from sales of his Language Hacking Guide. This multi-format guide is available in dozens of languages and includes a 32,000-word ebook, worksheets, and three hours of audio interviews with well-known language specialists.

Benny kindly took some time out of his busy schedule to answer some questions for ProBlogger readers.

You travelled for a number of years before launching your own blog. What was the motivation behind launching Fluent In 3 Months?

How I finally learned how to get along with ParisiansFor the first six years of non-stop travel, I had been moving to new countries and challenged myself to learn their languages quickly. It was fun, but I noticed that I got a lot further when I was more public in announcing my project to as many people as possible, for some accountability.

So when I decided to speak fluent Czech in three months, I registered the domain and started blogging about the journey! I had no intention to monetize on the site; it was just to document my mission and share my tips.

This is not, however, one of those ‚Äúonly my mother read it first‚Äù stories. I had definite intentions for the blog’s readership to grow as I knew that I was giving unique advice and stories that people would appreciate.

The blog grew quicker than I could have imagined so I went on to document other missions, changing every few months and constantly giving all the advice I could for others who wanted to learn languages quickly and travel easier.

Your blog launched with a consistent flow of high quality articles right from the start. Did you find it difficult to update your blog with such regularity when travelling?

Although I have technically been “on the road” for over eight years, it’s actually been a string of two- to three-month stays where I rent an apartment with Internet. So travel only slows me down for the couple of days that I transition between places.

Ever since the blog started I’ve remained pretty consistent in updating very regularly, with the exception of two separate months when my financial situation was in tatters (credit card debt) and I had to focus on my previous job as a freelance translator, accepting overtime work to compensate.

Since I started earning full-time from the blog a year ago, there have always been about two in-depth posts (two to five thousand words) per week without fail.

Is it better to travel to villages for language/cultural immersion?

How much research and planning did you do before launching Fluent In 3 Months?

None. Came up with the summer project idea and the blog name one morning, registered the domain name, bought the ticket and started blogging all just one week before moving to Prague.

Even though it was my first time ever blogging, I had been reading other (travel) blogs for many years and already had a popular multilingual Youtube channel, so I had a vague idea of what would work for promotion and keeping readers’ interest.

Had you always envisioned using the blog as a platform to sell a digital product or had you considered monetizing the blog in other ways?

I had no experience in online monetization—my previous understanding was that it involved covering your website with irrelevant and noisy advertising, which as a long-term online reader I always find irritating. So I never ran a single advertisement on my site, in order to maintain the kind of user experience I myself appreciate.

With this in mind, I simply accepted that I’d never make money from the site. I had a donation button, but in the first year of its use I managed to get 50 Euros, total, and most of that was from just one enthusiastic reader. Not enough to do anything more than cover hosting costs!

Then when I was in Thailand I met some interesting people like Chris Guillebeau, Adam Baker, Sean Ogle, Cody McKibben, and more. They gave me some encouragement that with my traffic I could market a product specifically outlining how I learn languages, and advice about how to approach doing it.

First impressions of Thailand

With no time to waste, as soon as I got to Germany I took six weeks off my work as a translator and focused on writing the Language Hacking Guide. One of my greatest talents in language learning, traveling, and many other things has been to ditch perfectionism and (as Seth Gothin always says) ship. No excuses, no time-wasting, no waiting until everything is “just right.” I applies this to creating the product too. Six weeks after I started writing I put the product on the site, and interest in it was tremendous!

I managed to cancel the debt that had been haunting me for years, and even build up a nest-egg. From this I could add more to the product, improve the look, add more content etc. (always a free update for those who already had it). Enthusiastic readers offered to translate it and the full version download now includes 23 native written translations.

I created another product about Why German is Easy, but only got a burst of sales from it initially. Basically in the entire last year I have been funding my travels and entire lifestyle from one product! Sales have been consistent for over 14 months now!

This has meant that I haven’t had to force myself to create new stuff just for the sake of making money, or spam my readers. I continue to focus on the content, and the site’s traffic grows naturally enough to ensure every day I make the sales I need!

In a recent complete redesign of the site, I even went as far as to take all visual banners to my product off! The whole site looks so much better now. It’s kind of hard at a glance to even see that I have anything to sell on the site, and despite that I’m still earning what I need!

I also offer Skype based consultation, but earnings don’t compare to sales of my product. Soon I’ll finally start developing my second product, which will be entirely video based.

Getting rid of your English accent when speaking a foreign language

You promote your newsletter “The Language Hacking League” using Aweber. How important has email marketing been in promoting your blog and promoting your hacking guide?

It’s been quite important—when I had a major update to the product I would increase the price, and give people a few days to get it at the old price. The vast majority of those sales were from the email list, and these have given me incredible boost to help me cover travel and other expenses, especially to allow me to go to conferences to spread my message more.

But I would only make those pitches once every few months. To make it worth their while I send very regular pure content (no pitches) to email subscribers. It’s almost as much work as the blog! I want to make sure people enjoy and open them. Even though I have a decent sized list, my open rates are still hovering around 65% so I must be doing something right!

I could get more people onboard with plugins that black out the screen and force an email signup form on you, but I think too many bloggers get greedy about the numbers and come across as too pushy—this is especially true for international readers who find American sales/closing tactics frustrating.

My email list has been important also in that I focus on it way more than RSS subscriber numbers. I realised very quickly that monitoring my Feedburner count was stressful because a) it jumps around too much and thus isn’t even accurate and b) it’s irrelevant for non-techie blogs.

The Many Benefits of Engaging People‚Äôs Curiosity in Your EmailsSo many of my readers have told me that I’m one of five or so blogs that they have bookmarked in Internet Explorer, so expecting them to subscribe by RSS is silly. So I decided a year ago to never log back into feedburner and don’t care what it says my subscriber numbers are. The RSS subscription logo is on my site for whoever wants it, but I focus on getting people subscribed by email—this is something all of my readers can understand.

In each email I link to recent blog posts, so they get updates and move back to the site from that!

I get a surge of sign-ups as I build up suspense about what my next language and destination will be, announcing it first in the email list, and my suggestions for that were so unique that Aweber themselves invited me to guest post on their blog about it.

Free Hug For All ProBlogger Readers!

What lessons have you learned from blogging over the last two years?

That focusing on the numbers rather than content is a terrible idea. Since I ditched checking my RSS subscriber numbers and only logging into Google Analytics every few weeks max (mostly only to follow up on incoming links), it’s been way more enjoyable! As long as you get positive comments directly on the site, by email or via social networking, then you know you are on the right track!

What I focus on is to make it more personal. For example, I’m one of the only bloggers who has a photo of himself in every post (apart from occasional guest posts on my site), and I share both tips and personal stories. I also answer almost every single comment directly.

This level of personalisation means that people really see who I am and that I’m not in this for the money, so they share my site passionately, knowing that I’ll treat new readers well.

Describe a typical day in the life of a travelling blogger.

I wrote a blog post about one such day in Colombia, with video to document it. It involved getting up early, working very efficiently and dancing salsa with cute girls.

Here in Istanbul I’m getting up late and being quite lazy. In Rio I worked most of the day from a penthouse apartment with a breathtaking panoramic view of the city and in India I had a hut with no hot water or kitchen where the power would go out several times a day. There is no typical for a travelling blogger!!

What’s would be your advice to someone who is learning another language for the first time?

Many people will have learned a language in school and failed and believe it proves that they don’t have the right genes or whatever. The problem was that it was a totally unnatural way to learn something that is actually a means of communication. You can’t teach that in the same style as you would mathematics!

My advice is to speak from day one. Learn a few phrases, flick through a cheap book course and then just find a native and speak to them. Yes, what you have won’t be award winning stuff, but you will certainly be able to get by if you try hard enough. Through lots and lots of practice and exposure you will improve quickly.

Real use and not over-studying dusty books (or even pointlessly expensive new software or audio courses) is how people genuinely end up speaking a language. Use it or lose it!

As well as this, being public about your “mission” is important. Either blog about it, or start a thread on my site’s very active language learning forum for encouragement and to set solid end-goals.

Why I love Brazilians

What plans do you have for yourself and your blog over the next 12 months?

I really enjoyed my experience speaking at TBEX (both as a main speaker about language learning and as a panelist about branding and growing website traffic). I’ve applied to speak at larger events and hope that they will accept me, as I feel this is the next step to getting my message out to more people. I’d like to use my blog as a stepping stone to other media; my goal is to convince the entire world that language talent is irrelevant, and that anyone can become fluent in a second language.

Otherwise, every few months I will go to a new destination and learn a new language, and write about it in detail as always. The completely new story in the blog so frequently always brings in a fresh wave of new readers and new opportunities!

While I know where I’m going for the next few months, I don’t know where I’ll be next year at all. If you’d like to find out, just come on over and subscribe!
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A huge thank you to Benny for taking part in this interview. You can find out more about Benny, his views on language and his latest travels through his website at Fluent In 3 Months or via RSS, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Google+.

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.

3 Questions to Ask Before You Publish Your Next Blog Post

This guest post is by Eric Transue of erictransue.net.

“Warning: this post may cause dizziness.”

This is not a warning you want to put at the top of a blog post. But guess what? Many should.

Why? Because some blog posts leave visitors feeling dizzy and confused.

They come in with the intention of either being entertained or learning something. But they leave saying, “What the heck was that?”

Part of the reason readers feel this way is because the author has “Lost syndrome.” What is it exactly?

Well if you watched the series Lost, you probably felt exactly that at the end of many episodes. Lost. Why? Well I have a few theories. But the top one is this. I think the writers were creating the story as they went along. That may or may not have worked for them, depending on who you ask.

But for bloggers, this is not a good idea.

You want to have a focused message that you can deliver to the focused eyeballs on your site.

Focused eyes on an unfocused message? Not only will your readers feel confused, they’ll possibly be a bit dizzy from trying to piece together your message. That is, if you even have a message.

So before you hit Publish on your next blog post, here are some questions you can ask yourself to increase the chances of getting your message across.

Question 1: Who is the target audience for this post?

Knowing your target audience will help you create a clear message that directly addresses them.

It’s far better for a few targeted readers to read your content and take action than it is for many un-targeted readers to read it and do nothing.

Fix your sights on your desired audience and speak directly to them. Address the emotions they are feeling and the questions they have on the subject you’re writing about.

Build a bond with them. Put yourself in their shoes and then speak to them directly. Address the emotions they have towards your subject. And answer the questions that are burning inside of them.

When you can bond with a person to the point that they say, “This person actually gets me,” you have taken a huge step towards getting that person to trust you and listen to what you have to say.

Question 2: Why am I writing this post?

In order for your readers to clearly understand your content, you should clearly understand why you’re writing it.

It’s great to do a brain dump into your notebook or journal, but that’s probably best kept for your eyes. Remember, just because something you write makes sense to you, it won’t necessarily make sense to your reader.

Understand why you are writing the post. Then, as clearly as possible, present the content to your readers.

If you aren’t sure why you are writing your post and want to do it anyway, it might be a good idea to let your readers know beforehand. That way, they aren’t left scratching their heads when they get to the last word of what you have to say.

Question 3: What action do I want my readers to take?

Your readers shouldn’t need a secret decoder ring to decipher what you want them to do after reading your content. Clearly state the action you want them to take. If you leave it up to them to figure out, they probably won’t.

What do you want them to do? Click a link? Buy something? Leave a comment? Share your post?

Let them know in simple terms. People are much more likely to take action when they know exactly what to do and how to do it.

By asking yourself the three questions above you’ll deliver a clear message that your readers can understand and take action on. This will help separate you from the pack of blogs that leave people scratching their heads and wondering what just happened.

How does your most recent post perform in light of these three questions? Let us know in the comments.

Eric Transue is a part-time blogger and product creator focused on showing you how to succeed online without all the BS. Download his free ebook on How To Create Your First Product Online and visit his blog at EricTransue.com to learn more about him.