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Are Your Personal Stories Turning Readers Off?

This guest post is by Ali Luke of Aliventures.

You’ve probably heard that you should put some of your personality into your blogging. And you know that stories are a great way to engage readers—to capture not just their attention, but their hearts as well.

Perhaps some of your favorite bloggers are people like Naomi Dunford or Johnny B. Truant or Pace and Kyeli Smith—folks who write from the heart, who are open and honest, and who make you feel that you know them. You want your blog to be like that too.

The problem is, it’s easy to get personal stories wrong. And a blog that’s too “me me me” can be a total turn-off for readers. They might not even read a full post before getting bored and clicking away.

Copyright Anatoly Tiplyashin - Fotolia.com

Readers are put off by…

1. Stories that have no point

If you can’t think of what to post about, don’t just ramble about your life story or write about your day. Just as with any blog post—or any piece of writing—readers will expect some structure and a clear message from your post.

2. Badly-written stories

Of course, you don’t have to be the next Shakespeare in order to be a successful blogger—but you do need to be able to write. If your writing itself isn’t very good, then readers aren’t likely to stick around. Conversely, a brilliantly-written piece can be incredibly engaging, even if the subject matter doesn’t seem very promising.

3. Stories that leave no room for the reader

So often, bloggers write personal stories that seem to be nothing but a self-indulgent exercise. These stories might be of interest to the blogger’s own friends and family—but there’s no reason for anyone else to care. The reader feels ignored and sidelined: the story is “me me me” with no acknowledgement of the reader.

The biggest problem with your stories is that:

No-one cares about you … yet

When a new reader comes to your blog, they probably know very little about you. They might have clicked on a retweeted link, they might have found you via a search engine—chances are, they don’t even know your name.

Of course, personal stories are a great way to help readers start to care—but not if you hit them with too much, too fast. Your reader doesn’t just want to know about you: they want to feel a sense of connection. They want to know that you’re someone who they can like, or admire, or learn from.

How to use stories the right way

If you suspect that your own stories might be putting readers off rather than drawing them in, here’s how to turn things around.

1. Start with a mini-anecdote

A short anecdote can be a great way to grab attention at the beginning of a post—so long as you don’t drag it on for too long. You’ll ideally either want something so unusual that it grabs the reader’s interest, or so typical (for your audience) that the reader can feel “that’s me”.

(You might want to return to the story at the end of the post too.)

How to do it

Here’s an example:

“I wake up, hit snooze on my alarm clock, and lie in bed. The alarm goes off again—and now I know I absolutely have to get up.  I’m frazzled, and know I’m going to need to rush to make it to work on time.  I scarf down my breakfast and brush my teeth, trying to juggle priorities in my head because I don’t think I have time to look at my todo list—I know I’m already behind schedule.”

(From The 10 Minute Difference Between Stress and Happiness by Sid Savara.)

2. Break your story into chunks

In some types of blogging, you may have a long, in-depth story to tell. Perhaps you’re a mommy or daddy blogger writing about your kids’ early life, or you’re a personal development blogger telling the story of how you screwed things up in college.

Don’t try to tell your entire story as one epic post. Break it into a series – and make each part have a clear central point.

How to do it

On The Simple Dollar, a personal finance site, Trent tells his story in a series called “The Road to Financial Armageddon”:

“The best place to start is the beginning. I was born into poverty, a family in which both my mother and father had been raised in poverty, too. Both of my parents were used to the concept of living from payday to payday, never having enough saved for themselves to survive more than a week or two. To some degree, this was out of necessity; there was often not enough money to put food on the table.”

(From The Road to Financial Armageddon #1: The Earliest Mistakes by Trent Hamm.)

3. Put yourself on the reader’s side

(e.g. Writing about financial difficulties, early career problems: “I’ve been through it too.”)

As bloggers, we’re often writing about situations which we’ve been through or problems we’ve overcome. We may well have come by our knowledge the hard way. For instance:

  • If you’re blogging about parenting tips, you might have done a few things wrong with your own kids.
  • If you’re blogging about marketing, you might have had a disastrous launch or two in the past.
  • If you’re blogging about gardening, your early attempts may have made you seem a little less than green-fingered.

Your readers are coming to your blog to learn how to solve problems, yes—but if you present yourself as an all-knowing guru, people may be put off. Readers want to know that they’re not alone, so help them by sharing stories that say “I’ve been through this too.”

How to do it

Here’s how to share the less-happy bits of your story so readers can identify with your feelings:

“I had asked for feedback, and at the time, I sincerely meant it, or thought I did. The problem is, once I consider something finished, I can’t imagine anyone’s honest feedback being anything but “Stellar! Best thing I’ve ever read! I’ve been waiting for this all my life!” So this feedback, even though it was constructive and mostly positive, crushed me. As fried as I was by then, I couldn’t be see anything clearly. I was devastated, ready to quit writing and retreat to my cubicle.”

(From Writing an eBook: How to Get Started (and Finish!) by Cara Stein.)

4. Tell an embarrassing story

Sites like “Learn From My Fail” are popular for a reason: we like to read other people’s embarrassing stories. They give us a laugh—and often lift our mood (“at least I didn’t do that!”) They can even provide valuable learning experiences.

You don’t want to overdo it and come across as a bumbling idiot – but occasionally admitting to something embarrassing or talking about a failure can make you more human in your readers’ eyes. They can also gain sympathy.

(Just be careful not to write about any current failures. “My total business fail last week” isn’t likely to win you many new clients…)

How to do it

Here’s an example (with great use of dialogue, too):

“Hi, uh …. Mr. Bruise is it?” No. 1 said.

“Yes, it’s actually Bruce, but thank you, I …”

“All right, what do you have for us today?” No. 3 said.

He was looking down, rustling some outstandingly important paperwork into some sort of crucial order.

“Yes, thank you, I, I’ll be doing a short monologue from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night and another from Sean Penn’s turn in Carlito’s Way.”

I heard one of them groan under his breath.

(From Why Everyone Hopes You’ll Be the Hero by Robert Bruce.)

5. Make sure your story teaches the reader something

Funny or heartwarming or engaging stories are all well and good—but what readers really want is an “aha!” moment. They want your story to teach them something new, or to shed new light on something they already know.

How to do it

You don’t have to be explicit in spelling out “the moral of the story”, but if it works for Naomi Dunford…

Moral of the Story: Marketing Begins In Product Development.

When you are building your product, think about the stupidest person you’ve ever met. That person is your customer. Think about what problems they could have with your product.

When you are a wine producer, you want your customers to be well aware of how much wine they have on hand at all times. (Please pardon the pun.) You do not want them at home, trying to bust a move on their wife, setting up candles and massage oils and doing whatever people without kids do, just to find out they’re out of wine.”

(From Moral of the Story: Marketing to Alcoholics Edition.)

Are your stories working for you, or do you need to give more value to the reader? I’d love to hear about your experiences with telling stories, whether they worked or not—the comments are open!

Ali Luke is a writer and writing coach, specialising in helping bloggers to take their writing to the next level. Her ebook The Blogger’s Guide to Effective Writing was described by Colin Beveridge as “full of the tricks the pros use so that bloggers like me can put together posts and series that look halfway competent.” Read what other bloggers said about it here.

Why “International” Bloggers Have an Unfair Advantage

This guest post is by Lucas Kleinschmitt of German Efficiency.

If you’re in the blogging business, not being a native English speaker can be tough. The market in your home country will often be small, there may not be a culture of buying things online, and it can be difficult to find guest posting opportunities in your native language.

Image copyright NASA Goddard Photo and Video, licensed under Creative Commons

On the other hand, blogging in English seems like an equally bad idea at first glance: How are you supposed to compete with an army of bloggers whose command of the English language greatly exceeds your own? Even if your English is really good, you will probably need to pay a professional editor to avoid the occasional English-as-a-second-language errors.

I admit it: all that sounds rather intimidating. But don’t despair! Fortunately, we “internationals” enjoy one huge, unfair advantage for which every American, Australian, or British blogger should envy us. In fact, all the hurdles we must face shrink to nothing when compared to this major benefit that comes with being an international blogger:

We can leverage our home country’s brand

I’m a time management consultant from Germany. My surname is as German as it can get—Kleinschmitt—and my blog is called German Efficiency. I teach personal productivity, made in Germany, to people from all over the world.

Is my command of the English language as good as that of the American probloggers? Of course not. But can they teach German efficiency? Of course they can’t.

And that’s my point: As a German productivity coach, I have my unique selling proposition built right into my nationality.

Who would you rather have teaching you about vodka: an Australian or a Russian?

Who would you prefer to learn the Salsa from: a Canadian or a Cuban?

Whose romance blog would you prefer to read: the British banker’s or the Parisian artist’s?

Your country’s unique selling proposition

You might be the guy from Switzerland blogging about watches, or the lady from Holland writing about cheese. You could be the Brazilian martial artist teaching us Capoeira, or the Japanese comic book fan keeping us up-to-date on manga.

Every part of the world is renowned for something. The advantage we internationals have is that almost nobody from our home country is blogging about it in English.

Yet, the global community is the one that cares most. I’m far keener to learn about romance from a Parisian artist than another Parisian artist will ever be. To the latter, the former Parisian artist is just another guy teaching romance. To me, he’s a Parisian artist teaching romance! How could I not read his blog?

Indeed, opportunities for us internationals are endless. There’s a giant market gap, and our unique selling proposition is handed to us on a silver plate.

Time to step up, don’t you think?

Lucas Kleinschmitt teaches you personal productivity, made in Germany, at his blog German Efficiency.

How to Keep Your Blog Active While Traveling

This guest post is by Norbert Figueroa of GloboTreks.

For many, keeping a blog is a full-time commitment, especially if you want to keep your readers active and engaged with what you have to say.  This often means spending long hours day after day creating content, commenting, promoting, and networking with other bloggers.

vacation

Copyright Ilja Mašík - Fotolia.com

Then the time comes when you need a small break to step back and relax.  A vacation sounds nice, right?  But, will taking that time off have a negative effect on your blog?  Will you lose your readers or will your traffic die during your trip?  Will it set you a few steps back on all the work you’ve achieved so far?

The answer is, not necessarily; and the key is preparation. Since you won’t want to spend your entire trip keeping up with the blog, or since there’s a chance you might travel somewhere with unreliable internet connection or no internet at all, you have to know how to prepare beforehand in order to keep your blog as active as possible.

1. Write and schedule your posts in advance

Before leaving on your trip, write and schedule all the posts you would like to have published while you’re away.  Also, try to write an extra post or two so that you can have a cushion after your trip, in case you return too tired to write a new post right away.

2. Bring guest bloggers

If you’re open to having guest posts, this is a great way to feature new content that will spark activity in you blog.  Ask guest bloggers to submit their content beforehand so you can schedule it before leaving.  Ask each of them to respond to comments in their post, and even in Facebook (if you promote there).  Just be sure that they are approved to comment, or else their comments will not go live until you moderate them.

3. Schedule or syndicate your social networks

Use tools like Hootsuite or su.pr to schedule tweets and Facebook status of your scheduled content. Personalize your tweets or Facebook posts with a sentence or question that sparks interaction that goes beyond just clicking and reading the promoted content.  Alternatively, you can syndicate your RSS content with RSS graffiti and Hootsuite so that it is promoted immediately after publishing.  The only down side of this method is the lack of personalization.

4. Promote others through your social networks

Your blog can be active even if you don’t produce new content.  Use tools like Hootsuite to schedule tweets and Facebook status of valuable content you’ve read on other sites.  This is to keep your profiles interactive because once you go dormant people will forget you easily.  In addition, it is always good to promote others; not only because it helps them, but it can also help you attract new readers to your blog.

5. Don’t be afraid to look back (promote old posts)

Schedule to promote some of your best “old” content through Twitter and Facebook.  There’s a high chance many of your readers haven’t read it yet, especially if you’ve grown your following consistently.

6. Keep an eye on your comments and status every once in a while

It helps if you travel with a smartphone, iPhone, iPad or computer, but almost everywhere you will be able to find an internet café where you could spend an hour every day or so to moderate comments, input your comments, and schedule a few tweets or posts if needed.

7. Know your peak times

Promote your content and post your new articles during your peak times to get better results from your efforts.  Use Timely (previously featured here on ProBlogger) to learn your best times to publish your tweets.  Likewise, use Clicky to know your blog’s peak traffic hours and su.pr to know your best times to promote your content through Stumbleupon.  If you’re going to spend time online while traveling, try to do it at the time you have the maximum impact.

8. Optimize your blogging time on the road

If you decide to blog during your trip, do it in a way that doesn’t take much time of your vacation.  Write your post during your down time, like when traveling on a bus, plane, or just sitting around.  Choose all your pictures, resize them, and write your excerpt, tags, and description before time.  The point is to have everything ready to just copy and paste at the time of scheduling, thus reducing your online time to the bare minimum.  This is essential if your destination has bad internet service.

9. Last but not least, enjoy your vacation!

Enjoy your time off and relax!  That’s why you’re traveling, right?!  It will give you a fresh energy that will be reflected in your blog, one way or another.

As you can see, it is extremely important to keep the traffic coming, even while you’re traveling, since you don’t want to make it easy for your readers to lose the attention and forget you.  But keeping your readers engaged and in the loop by staying active and visible through your blog and various social media sites will help keep their attention and promote interaction.

Do you have other ways to keep your blog active while traveling? Or ways to save time while blogging on the road?

Norbert Figueroa is an architect who shares his process of achieving a location independent and adventurous lifestyle through his travel blog, GloboTreks.  Follow him through his facebook fan page or subscribe to the RSS feed to inspire your wanderlust.

Top 20 iPhone Apps for Bloggers

This guest post is by Daniel Scocco of Next iPhone News.

The Internet changes pretty fast, and if you want to have a popular blog, you must keep up with it. What if you get an awesome idea for a new post while at dinner? What if an important news breaks while you are at a birthday party? The bottom line is: you should be able to work on your blog all day long, even if you are not sitting in front of your computer.

How do you do that? With an iPhone! The 20 apps below will help you blog on the go, find ideas and images for your posts, track your analytics, promote your posts on social media and so on. Enjoy!

1. WordPress

If you are reading this blog I am guessing you use WordPress, right? The WordPress app for iPhone gives you everything you need to make a quick post, edit previous posts, edit pages, reply to comments and the like. In other words, it lets you manage your blog even while you’re commuting on a train or taking a break from driving on a highway. Just recently, the app was updated to version 8, bringing one essential feature suited for mobile bloggers: the ability to post photos that you’ve taken using your iPhone’s camera. Perfect!

2. Evernote

Literature on being a successful blogger will always tell you to be organized with your thoughts and to keep notes for your ideas. With Evernote, which is a very popular getting-things-done application, you can do that quite efficiently with your iPhone. You’ll find it’s an awesome tool for organizing your digital life.

3. TypePad

Okay, so your blog is not on WordPress? Then it must be using TypePad. This app lets you do things that you can normally do on your blog using your computer—write new posts, post photos to your blog, and alert your friends when you’ve published a new post, You know what’s great? The TypePad app integrates with the desktop client, too.

4. PayPal

PayPal is a must-have for bloggers and online entrepreneurs. When you want to check your balance, withdraw your hard-earned money, or pay-off a contracting service, you can do so now through the PayPal iPhone app. I’ve used this app many times before, and it’s secure, fast, and reliable.

5. Instapaper

Instapaper is an useful app to keep track of interesting posts and pages you found online. I mean, being a blogger, I’m sure you do a lot of web surfing using your iPhone. Since you’re on the move, though, you won’t have time to finish reading all those articles, so using this app becomes quite handy.

6. Twitter

Find me a blogger who doesn’t have a Twitter account and I will quickly say that the person is not a true-blue blogger. If PayPal is the official financial service of bloggers, Twitter is the official microblogging service. In fact, it’s not a microblogging service anymore. It has become an official communication medium for online geeks. There are many Twitter apps for iPhone, but why bother with third-party apps if there is this official one?

7. Analytics App

Once you start using Google Analytics it’s easy to get addicted. If you already are, then you’ll certainly want to install the official Google Analytics iPhone app. This should also save you from boredom in those situations you have nothing else to do.

8. iEarn

Useful if you’re running Google AdSense on your blog, this iPhone app will let you check your earnings and statistics with all the AdSense aggregate data (including revenues for today, revenues for yesterday, last seven days, this month, and last month). The app also gives you statistics on your AdSense impressions, clicks, eCPM, and CTR.

9. Byline

A useful tool for getting the latest news from your favorite sites and blogs, which you can use as a reference for blog posts, new ideas and outbound links. What’s good about this app is that it syncs with your Google Reader account and delivers the latest and most updated news feeds to your iPhone.

10. Blogpress

If you need to manage several blogs hosted on several blogging platforms, you definitely need this app. It supports Blogger, WordPress, TypaPad, and others. It also integrates well with social sites such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, and Picasa. The app lets you do most of the things that you will normally do while log-in to your blog using your computer. One thing that you will most likely appreciate from this app is that you can cross-publish a post to different blogs on different platforms.

11. CoverItLive

Sooner or later in your blogging career you’ll be prompted to live blog a certain event. If you don’t feel like bringing your laptop to said event, you can still cover it using your iPhone. Get this app and you’ll be able to launch and run live events, publish live commentary, publish photos, audio and video, email event links, and more.

12. ShoZu

This app is best described as a social media hub. That is because will let you connect with more than 50 social networking. For bloggers like us, this app also supports WordPress, Blogger and TypePad. It lets you upload photos and videos to multiple sites with one click, update status and tweets, and geotag photos.

13. Photoshop Express

We all need to edit photos and images once in a while, so Photoshop’s app for the iPhone comes in handy. It has several nifty features that we could otherwise enjoy only on our computer. This app gives you the ability to perform several photo editing functions to your images or photos—from simple cropping to filtering and applying special effects. It’s free as well.

14. Air Sharing

Let’s say you’re drafting a post while on your way home. When you finally arrive home, what’s the best and fastest way to transfer your draft to your Mac or PC to fine-tune the post some more? Well, this app of course. Air Sharing lets you mount your iPhone as a Wi-Fi device on your computer. Once mounted, you can drag and drop files from your iPhone to your computers and open them using the appropriate app.

15. Posterous

This app made it to the list because of its seamless autoposting feature that works with most blogging platforms. It’s useful to integrate different blogs, Twitter streams, and to make sure that your posts are going directly to all your online channels.

16. Tumblr

Tumblr is also known as the “other” microblogging service, which thankfully didn’t follow Twitter’s path and remained true to what it was created for. If you have a Tumblr account and you want to regularly update it with text, image, video or link posts, this app should be sitting on your iPhone’s app screen. It’s completely free.

17. WriteRoom

This app (which is the iPhone version of a popular desktop software) has one goal: to give you a distraction free writing environment. No fancy menus, options, formatting features and the like. Just plain and straight-out writing with an even more useful full-screen writing feature.

18. Photobucket

Not only is this app is useful for posting photos you’ve taken using your iPhone, but it also allows you to search for images and photos from the Photobucket website. And if you find something that you can use for a blog post, you can save the photo or image and then use it right after. It’s great for sourcing images.

19. iBlogger

The first thing you’ll notice when checking out this app from the App Store is the relatively expensive price (i.e., $10). However, this app has several nice features that make it worthy of its price. For example, it makes adding links to posts easier and it allows the integration with Google Maps and other location based services (using the iPhone’s GPS).

20. Facebook

We couldn’t leave the Facebook app for the iPhone out of the list, right? After all Facebook and blogging go hand in hand. With this app you can easily share links to your recent posts, write new updates for your followers and readers and so on.

Do you use these apps? What others can you share?

Daniel Scocco is the owner of Next iPhone News, a website that tracks the latest news, rumors and tips about the iPhone!

Should Kids Blog?

This guest post is by Onibalusi Bamidele of YoungPrePro.com.

Do you know that over 6 million underage children write blogs with or without their parents’ consent? As a 17 year old blogger, I’ll be giving you my opinion on “kid blogging” here, and I hope by the time you finish reading, you’ll be able to make the decision about whether you should allow your kid to blog or not.

Why you should allow your kids to blog

Allowing your kids to blog might be a great decision. In case you’re not yet sure, below are some of the main reasons why you should allow your kids to blog.

Blogging helps improve written language skills

I have been blogging for almost two years now, and within that period of time I have written hundreds of articles. I have also met countless young bloggers, and those who have been following me from the beginning of my blogging career tell me that my written English has improved significantly.

This is also the case for Gloson from GlosonBlog.com. Take a look at his blog and tell me if you believe the blog is owned and maintained by a 13-year old Malaysian kid.

Education is important, and so is going to school, but what many people won’t admit is that being the best at something is more about practicing it than learning it. Blogging has evolved in a way that makes the blogger more interested in blogging—especially if the blogger is a kid. By writing on the same subject regularly, young people can improve their writing significantly.

Blogging boosts communication skills

Another great reason why you need to encourage your kid to start blogging is because it helps them learn how to communicate effectively. I’d like to use myself as an example. When I started blogging, I’d send emails to other bloggers, but I hardly ever got a response—I simply wasn’t good at communicating with others. But as time went on, I started reading other blogs, reading others’ comments, and replying myself, and so my communication started to improve. I now get a reply for almost every email I send.

It’s also important to know that there are different cultures in the world, and the modes of communication in every culture are different. By blogging, your kid would be able to get feedback, comments, and emails from people from every walk of life—and it is only a matter of time before he or she learns how to communicate effectively.

Blogging teaches us how to deal with critics

It really doesn’t matter what your age or skill is, there will always be people who don’t want you to progress. A lot of kids are brought so that they are not corrected by outsiders, so when they start to grow up and receive any comment from an outsider about their performance, they think they’re doing something wrong. If they are not used to being criticized they won’t know how to face even constructive criticism. They may be discouraged, and that can end up affecting their performance and self-esteem.

But when they blog and are criticized, they’ll do their research and see it’s a common thing in the blogosphere for commenters to disagree or point out areas where a post could be stronger. As time goes on, they’ll learn to accept criticism and see it as a part of life—especially for someone who wants to become successful.

It can help generate pocket money

Through blogging, your son or daughter could generate a little pocket money, and come to know what it means to “make” money. Retireat21.com recently released a list of 30 top young bloggers making money online. Most of these bloggers are under 21; there are several bloggers under the age of 17 on that same list.

Take a look at Sushant Risodkar who just turned 18 and is making thousands of dollars every single month from affiliate marketing. Benjamin Lang is only 17, but has built one of the most successful young entrepreneur blogs online. Take a look at Devesh Sharma, who also is 17, and has guest authors flock to his blog. I’m only 17, and I make an average of $3,000 online every month.

When kids make money from their efforts, it really means a lot. First, it means they are learning what it takes to become independent of their parents. Second, they are learning that making money takes time, and requires hard work—thus encouraging them to spend their money wisely.

These young kids further prove that you don’t have to have formal qualifications and a steady job (especially important, considering the high global unemployment rates) to succeed in life. Young bloggers also understand the importance of being self-employed. This is good, because it means they would never have to be in debt to further their education, and they wouldn’t have to look for job when they graduated—unless they wanted to.

Blogging is great…

…but it isn’t only for adults.

There is a lot that kids can gain from being bloggers, and it would be even more awesome if their parents could be there to guide and encourage them as they do so. This will prevent them from going the wrong way, and ensure they have someone to hold them accountable for their actions online.

Would you let your kids blog? Let us know in the comments.

Onibalusi Bamidele is a 17 year old kid blogger and the founder of YoungPrePro.com. Download his ebook titled “From 0 to 3k Monthly” to learn how he averages $3,000 online every month.

Blogging for the Greater Good

This guest post is by Michele C. Hollow of Pet News and Views.

My most popular blog post garnered over 500 comments. I asked my readers to leave a comment about their adopted pet. For each comment, a leading pet food manufacturer donated 25 bowls of food to a local animal shelter.

the greater good

Copyright Roman Samokhin - Fotolia.com

For those of you who volunteer at animal shelters, you know how hungry shelters can be for food and other supplies. Getting my readers to take action is the goal behind my blog, Pet News and Views. I want my readers to care about animals as much as I do—and they do!

So in addition to blogging about pet care, pet travel and other lifestyle pet and wildlife-related issues, I focus on the positive side of animal welfare. Writing about people who work with and on behalf of animals is my passion. I look up to these heroes, and so do my readers.

The couple in California who rescues dogs from hoarders, the 15-year old girl who runs her own animal shelter, the organization that has helped close a large number of greyhound race tracks, and many others are the subjects of my posts.

I ask my readers to contact state legislators to ask them to support or vote against specific bills. A bill before the Nevada senate denying water to wild horses and wild burros drew thousands to action. In addition to covering it on my blog, others posted similar calls to action on their blogs and on their Facebook pages. We asked our readers to send letters to the Nevada tourism office and to the senators stating we would boycott the state if the bill to deny water to horses was passed.

As soon as we learned that the bill was defeated, we asked our readers to send thank you notes. The power of blogging constantly amazes me.

Readers want to help

A call to action gives readers a chance to flex their voices and make a difference. I get a lot of “thank you” emails from readers who are happy to pitch in.

Accentuate the positive

I focus on the positive side of animal welfare. If I constantly posted all the negative stories, I wouldn’t be able to function—and readers would stay away. So, by reporting on my heroes and the good they are doing, readers are drawn in.

Find great people and their stories

I have contacted most public relations and media departments of animal nonprofits for story ideas and people to profile. I get information—usually a press release—and contact names and numbers so I can conduct an interview. I’m sure many of you can do the same. So many nonprofits have important stories that are often overlooked by mainstream media. Just ask, and I’m sure you will get a welcome reception. Heck, they will put you on their press lists and invite you to their events.

Going for the stars

While my favorite stories are about everyday people who make a difference, I recently started covering celebrities. I don’t watch much TV. I don’t read People, Us Weekly, or gossip blogs. I never cared about the lives of celebrities, but I’m starting to post about those who are using their celebrity to help animals. These stories have a higher Google ranking than my non-celebrity stories.

If I were to write about their personal lives, I wouldn’t get a response. However, when I ask a media rep if I can interview their client about a specific cause that client is involved with, I almost always get a “yes.”

Do a Google search, and enter the name of the celebrity followed by the word “causes.” Check out the cause, and if it is a match for your blog, contact the nonprofit. For instance, Reese Witherspoon volunteers on behalf of the Children’s Defense Fund and other child-related nonprofits. Obviously, she is not a fit for my blog. But if you are a mommy blogger, she is a good candidate.

I have written a lot about Farm Sanctuary; it is one of my favorite nonprofits and they get a lot of celebrity endorsements. Thanks to my connections at Farm Sanctuary, I was able to post stories about Emily Deschanel of the hit series Bones and Wendie Malick of Hot in Cleveland. I also got to post a story on Jackie Chan, who volunteers on behalf of several wildlife causes. His celebrity got to me—I was starstruck!

By focusing on the good that the celebrity is doing, I get to promote a cause that is also important to me. Plus, I get to interview someone who will bring my blog numbers up. Even the B-list celebrities count! Some musicians have their own following, and when I post a story about an up and coming group, they let their followers know—which brings more traffic to my blog.

And as an added bonus, the staff at the nonprofits I cover are regular readers of my blog. My biggest thrill was reporting on the Born Free Foundation, and the director left a comment.

A friend told me not to worry about my numbers, but to be concerned about who is reading and commenting. Pet News and Views is a niche blog. It covers people who have pets and who care about wildlife and farm animals. I’m reaching my peeps—people I truly am in sync with.

Advertisers

My advertisers know that, too. I recently told an advertiser from the U.K. that while I have readers in the U.K. (and I want more), the majority of my readers are in the states. His company sells pet products in the U.K., and I thought he would be better off finding a blog with a larger U.K. readership. He said he wanted to advertise on my blog because the readers really care about the topics and seem to take an active role.

So that takes me back to blogging for a cause and knowing my audience. They are concerned about the same issues I am. And for that, I feel fortunate.

Michele C. Hollow writes the blog Pet News and Views (http://www.petnewsandviews.com), a site for pet lovers and admirers of wildlife. Her blog focuses on pet care and the people who work with and on behalf of animals.

A Blog, a Book and a Business: One Author’s Journey

This guest post is by Kevin Cullis of MacStartup.com.

I don’t like writing. Or should I say, I used to not like writing. My reason? I found no reason to write other than writing a college paper or something for work; it was a requirement; I had to do it.

I was bored with my computer sales job and still had plenty of talent and motivation to do something—but nowhere to channel it.

book

copyright matttilda - Fotolia.com

One day at work I had an idea: use my talents to write about my experience. Initially I had no clue where this was going to lead me, much like spontaneously taking a late night drive on a country road and only seeing as far down the road as your headlights will shine: let’s just head out into the open road of writing and see where it leads!

My book idea

To start, I just began writing, and days turned into weeks. My idea was to combine both business processes and computer solutions into one content document, not separating these into one subject or another and then into finer and finer details like other writers have done.

This writing was different from my previous efforts: I now had an outlet for my pent-up boredom and an engaging interest in my subject matter because it combined both my talents and experience selling computers to businesses.  In addition, I had daily, ready-made access to content and a list of potential readers.

Whenever I came across something relevant in my work, I wrote it down—both the problem and solution. As my writing began to take shape, I organized the information into specific and logical sequential steps for my future potential business readers. My realtor wife even became a guinea pig in my endeavor. When I heard the familiar “Honey, I need some help,” I’d go in to help her, taking notes, and writing the solutions down when I was done.

Now for my blog

One day, a business customer recommended turning my writings into a book, and wondered when it would be done so she could buy one. Until then, it was just a writing idea, but now my idea took on a larger goal: to get a book published. I was now seeing farther down that lonely country road with larger and brighter lights of my writing journey.

In 2009, I started a blog because a fellow author said that during the one to two years it would take to write a book, my writing would improve and change. Talking with other bloggers, I was told that 250-750 words was an appropriate length for a blog post—and similar to having a goal of writing 1000 words a day for a book. Writing a blog would provide another outlet for increasing my monthly goal word output, and improve my writing skills. Later, I found out that blogging allows one to test out content ideas online and provides both personal and additional perspectives for the readers of the book. Also, an author’s blog almost always points to that author’s book.

In the spring of 2010 I attended the Colorado Independent Publishing Association conference and connected with other professionals in the publishing field. There, a local editor suggested that I use an initial (raised or drop) cap in my book design. I couldn’t afford Adobe’s InDesign or to pay someone to help me. I used Apple’s iWork Pages to write my book, and I had to eat my own dog food. But I did not know how to create a drop cap in Pages.

So I spent three hours finding the answer and, rather than lose this experience because of my infrequent use of it, I posted it on my blog. Within weeks it rose to near the top of my most-viewed articles, and still remains one of my most popular blog posts.

Not only were people hungry for my information, but I have personally referred to my site using my own blog to find long forgotten answers to problems. And if I hadn’t blogged about it, I’d have to revisit the process again. Oh, and when I showed my printed proof to the editor, she didn’t believe that I used a $79 office suite to produce what I did until I showed her the file on my laptop. Then she gave me a B+ for my results.

Book, blog, and business working together

As both my book and blog posts progressed, my blogging experience awakened me to how a blog could be more useful for me. Over time I began noticing trends in my blog statistics. An affinity surfaced when I looked at monthly, quarterly, and even yearly post view counts. Using this information, coupled with my day-to-day interaction with business customers needing computers, I was able to get a much clearer vision of my content for both my book and blog.

When I first blogged, I considered it to be like shooting in the dark in terms of working out what to write about, but over time this multi-sourced feedback helped provide me with content direction. Writing my blog also helped change my book’s content to today’s third version. It’s one thing to scratch your own itch, but it’s even more motivating to get actual, statistical feedback from others who have the same itch that needs scratching.

Going forward from today with my blog, I’ll be using Google Analytics and keyword research to help determine what people are looking for, so that I can provide immediate answers to my ideal blog audience. Using this approach will help narrow down my potential content and solve a customer’s points of pain in the short term, but I have also found that it may not provide a good focus for all of my content. Here’s why. Answers people are searching for comes in two forms and everything in between: I know what I want to know (my drop cap example), and, I don’t know what I want to know (I have no clue what to look for).

The first search is easy. The second one is more important, but it’s solved by awareness and education.

So my future content will take on many forms. While some of my blog posts might be the “thrill of the road hot rod” looking for an adventuresome driving experience of immediate answers, be sure that I’ll also provide “slow, steady, reliable transportation” posts to educate my blog readers to find the right answers to their many different journeys and destinations.

AJ Michalka’s song title states it right—It’s Who You Are—so I write my blog posts about my subjects because it’s who I am. And watch out for the occasional spontaneous “road trip” breakout blog post occurring before a long weekend that just might shake things up a bit.

Can you see potential in your work, interests, and life to combine blog, book, and business? I’d love to hear your experiences in the comments.

Kevin Cullis is a former US Air Force officer and considers himself an Entrepreneur, Mac
Evangelist, Business Geek, Husband, published author of a Mac business book, readaholic,
analytical, balding. He is the founder of MacStartup.com.

Optimize the Most Underutilized Page of Your Blog

This guest post is by Richard Adams of WordPress Traffic Explosion.

Whilst it’s easy to get excited about crafting your latest blog post it’s far less likely you’ll be kept awake at night thinking about your blog’s Contact page. Indeed many bloggers don’t even bother to add a Contact page to their blog at all—but this can be a big mistake. As you’re about to discover, when contact pages are done right, they can become one of the most important parts of your entire blog…

The importance of your contact page

blogging

Image copyright kpwerker, licensed under Creative Commons

A key blogging concept that sets it apart from running a standard static website is the “community” element. Blogs are built for discussion and networking and any blog worth its salt will have a group of like-minded subscribers reading and contributing on a regular basis.

In the same vein, your Contact page is just one more way to interact with your blog visitors. Here are just a few of the many types of email you might get as a result of having a contact page—just take a look at all these benefits.

Site problems

Spelling mistakes. Grammatical errors. Broken links. Strange page alignments. Despite your best efforts sooner or later a few issues are likely to creep into your blog, either because you failed to proofread your writing before publishing, or because of changes to old posts that you haven’t noticed (such as the removal of photos you’ve linked to, affiliate programs closing down, or linked websites changing their site structure).

Sure, it can be both a little frustrating and embarrassing when someone contacts you to say that something isn’t quite right on your site but would you rather resolve the issue or leave the problem to run for the foreseeable future?

Making it easy to contact you allows your visitors to report any problems they are having with your site. That enables you to not only quickly resolve these, but to really take care of your readers by responding to thank them for the heads-up, apologizing for the situation, and telling them what you’ve done to resolve their problem.

Product review requests

Anyone releasing new products—from publishers to manufacturers—likes to get feedback on new products. It not only helps them make their product the very best it can be, but can also help to make their latest release more visible to potential consumers.

A highly-visible blog written by someone who clearly knows what are talking about can be an ideal avenue for this. It’s not uncommon for the blogger to be contacted in person and offered free products to look at that closely relate to the subject of their blog.

Without a Contact page, you make it very difficult for anyone to offer these to you. You miss out on potentially interesting and unique content, and freebies too!

Affiliate program invitations

The most profitable affiliate campaign I have ever run was as a result of being approached through the Contact form on one of my blogs. The gentleman who contacted me was one of the founders of a well-known online company who had since sold it and was setting up a new venture. He’d tweaked his sales process to within an inch of its life and was looking for a few beta testers.

That one affiliate program replaced my full-time income the day I added the links to my site.

And it was all because I ran a visible blog and was easy to contact. Without my Contact form, I’d never have been invited to join this “private” affiliate program and would be literally tens of thousands of dollars worse off.

Visitor questions

Ever wonder what your blog visitors really want to read about? Ever spend hours working on a post only for it to get little or no response from your subscribers?

Actually getting out there and surrounding yourself with your readers is one of the very best ways to create a uniquely tailored blog that’s perfectly in line with the interests and expectations of your audience.

And one ideal way to understand your visitors better is quite simply to pay attention to the questions you get asked. Look for common themes that you’re asked about on a regular basis and construct blog posts that specifically target these.

Advertising inquiries

A friend of mine with a small travel blog recently got contacted by an online advertising company which offered her a monthly advertising deal that, by itself, is equivalent to around 50% of the salary from her job. And all she has to do is paste a few adverts into her blog—a job that will take a few hours at most.

A 50% pay rise just for being easy to contact? Yes, contact pages really can bring in some amazing opportunities.

Media inquiries

The media constantly needs “experts”—for interviewing, fact-checking, raising awareness, consultancy and so on—and a visible and easily-contactable blogger makes a perfect target for these media professionals.

All these benefits from having a contact page on your blog that’s easy to find and encourages feedback? Hopefully you’re starting to see why you need to overhaul your Contact page! But what should you do to make the most of all these opportunities?

Contact page best practices

Make it easy to find

The first step with publishing a Contact page is to make it easy to find. Ensure that anyone who wants to contact you can quickly and easily find your Contact page.

A great service for helping you understand how easy your website is to use is UserTesting, where real visitors who have never been to your website are set assignments (such as “Find my Contact page”). They carry out these challenges on video while describing their thoughts so you can exactly how real-life visitors view your site, and how easy it is to navigate.

Encourage feedback

A well-designed Contact page doesn’t just provide information on how to get in touch with you—it actively encourages anyone reading your page to drop you a line. Let it be known that you love to hear from your readers, that you’re a real person and that you genuinely value their feedback.

Set realistic expectations

What should your visitors expect when they contact you? Try to improve the whole experience for your readers by giving advice on how long it normally takes you to respond to different types of queries, what type of contact you encourage (and what you simply don’t have the time to respond to), and so on.

Even consider giving tips on how you like to be contacted. For example do you prefer email, phone, Twitter, or Facebook? Do you prefer detailed messages, or short, to-the-point contacts? Are there any essential elements that your visitors need to ensure they include in their message to you?

List your social media profiles

Too many contact pages simply provide an email address on which you can be contacted. However, if you’re a blogger you’re probably involved in social media in a variety of ways, so your Contact page is another great place to list these profiles, thus offering more opportunities for interaction and growing your social network.

Add a Contact form

There are two problems with simply providing an email address on your Contact page. The first is that there is a risk your email address will be harvested by spammers who will then bombard you with junk email. The other is quite simply that you make it more difficult for people to contact you—and as a result you will reduce the number of messages you receive.

While it seems like a tiny thing having a Contact form that readers can fill in and send straight from your Contact page will make life significantly easier for your visitors and so encourage them to contact you.

Does your blog have a contact page? Has it helped you connect with your readers, the media, and others? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Find out how Richard Adams generates over 232,000 free visitors to his blogs per year at WordPress Traffic Explosion or visit his lifestyle design blog for tips on building an online business around your passions.

The Perils and Pitfalls of Blogging in College

This guest post is by Rob Paone of BROcrastinator.

In March of 2010, during my sophomore year at Elon University, I started a blog called the Jersey Jets Fan as a way to exercise my passion for professional football. What originally started as a hobby evolved into much more than that, as I constantly looked to further promote my blog and slowly began to monetize the site.

In January 2011, I launched my second blog, BROcrastinator.com in hopes of capturing a large piece of the male college demographic. While, I’ve had varying degrees of success and made a few dollars along the way, I’ve learned a lot about the blogosphere. Balancing the work load of college as well as maintaining a full-time blog is a difficult thing to do and it certainly has its benefits and pit-falls. Here they are, according to yours truly.

Pros

Real business experience

College is a time in which you’re supposed to learn everything you need to adequately survive in the real world. As a marketing student, I’ve learned my fair share of terms, equations and statistics in college, but only blogging has given me the real world experience that will help me to become successful in the business world.

In the past year and a half blogging, I’ve joined various affiliate networks, spoken with a ton of potential advertisers, hired/fired/kept bloggers, worked with different partner sites and created business opportunities for myself on the way. I’ve never made a lot of money, but it’s been enough to offset the costs of up-keep on my blogs and even to splurge on a few items like new golf clubs.

Resume booster

Whether you’re applying for an internship in the summer, grad school or a full-time job, include your blog in your resume. When I was applying for an internship in sports marketing, my experience as a blogger with the Jersey Jets Fan was one of the key factors that generated employer interest.

A lot of people say they are interested in a subject or have experience in something, but not many people have the dedication to maintain and run an effective blog. If you do, don’t be ashamed, write about it in your resume and it might help you earn that job you’ve been striving for.

Self-esteem booster

Never in a million years when I started blogging did I ever believe my articles would be featured on Sports Illustrated or talked about on the New York Times website. It truly gives you a sense of accomplishment when you work hard and someone notices by featuring your work.

As a blogger who only gets around 400 views a day, sometimes I get discouraged when reading the “quick and easy” success stories of other bloggers who reach a million views overnight. Even though I’ve never had a viral post or even broken 1,000 views in a day, it makes you feel good when someone acknowledges your work.

Cons

Lack of time

While I originally started a blog because I had spare time in college, I soon realized the amount of spare time I had wasn’t enough to take my blogs to where I wanted them to go. There were points in time in which I was too spread out, writing for too many blogs, concentrating on too many social media sites, talking in too many forums. You only have so many hours in a day, and I’ve learned that you must spend them wisely on what works well for you.

At one point, I was writing for a prestigious New York Jets blog in addition to my own. While I was at first honored by the opportunity and experience, I didn’t have enough time to put full effort into both. Something had to give and as much as it pained me, the prestigious blog wasn’t as important to me as my college grades or my own blog.

Lack of capital

Like many of you, one of the reasons I began to blog was because of the chance to make money. I was never hoping for much, just enough for some spending cash on the weekends. However, there have been times when I started to believe the saying, “You have to spend money to make money”. Well, like I just told you, I am cash strapped college kid with a few spare dollars here and there but nothing significant. It isn’t the easiest thing in the world to launch a good looking website with about $100 while others out there are spending thousands.

I’m aware that my blogs aren’t the prettiest thing your eye has ever seen, but I’ve done my best with the money and technological skills I’ve had. While some older bloggers may have the spare cash to drop $10,000 on a beautiful looking website, college bloggers might have to quit at a $50 premium theme. I’m not saying you need money to build a good looking and successful blog, but it certainly doesn’t hurt.

Overcoming the difficulties

When blogging in college, or on any time constraint, it’s important to make sure you know your priorities. While I place school work over blogging, when I’m not studying, I use that time to advance my blog. I actually spend a lot less time doing school work then I did before blogging because I know I have additional work to attend to when I’m done. The most difficult times can occur during mid-terms and final exams when the stress of multiple classes all come crashing down at once. Sometimes, you just have to put your blogging goals on the backburner for a week, even if your visits and page views have to suffer.

In regards to the lack of money many bloggers have, I’ve learned to make the best with what you have. I originally started with a free WordPress theme and then moved on to a Thesis theme with a premium skin as my blogs advanced. By re-investing almost all of the money my sites have earned, I’ve been able to improve the design and even spend a little money on advertising. While I sometimes wish I had thousands of dollars to spend on my blogs, the reality is I don’t. However, with some smart money management and a little creativity, you can stretch your dollar and take it a long way.

There you have it, those are some of my main advantages and disadvantages to the college blogger. I hope I’ve shed some light on the topic, especially to you college students out there who are looking to potentially start a blog. It’s a tough thing to do, but it is certainly well worth it. I’ve found in blogging that you only get out as much as you put in, but if you put forth a ton of effort, you can find huge rewards.

Rob is an up-coming college senior, blogger and wanna-be entrepreneur. He is currently working on his second blog, BROcrastinator, and working toward his dream of blogging full-time after graduation.