Close
Close

Launch a Brand New Blog … with Authority

This is a guest post by Jane from Problogging Success.

Launching a new blog today is not the same as it was a few years back. Things were a lot easier and diluted in the past decade, but now, the competition is dense, given that thousands of blogs are launched every day. Every niche has become competitive, forcing bloggers to try to rank highly for less-competitive keywords.

How can you stand out in that sea of competition? Authority!

Authority makes you notable and noticeable. Authority can be built over the time, as the blog gets older and gains readership.

But how about new blogs? Can you launch a new blog with authority? Yes, you can.

Launch a second blog

When you already have an established blog, it will not be hard for you to launch your second blog with all authority. A very good example was the launch of FeelGooder. Even though it’s not a second launch, it’s among the most successful launches Darren has done.

We all know how authoritative are ProBlogger, Twitip, and Digital Photography School.

With this mighty empire on hand, Darren didn’t need to do much when he launched FeelGooder! Just a post on ProBlogger about how FeelGooder had come about was fine: people rushed to FeelGooder. Even without worrying about PageRank, and despite the newness of the blog, authors were eager to guest-post on it, myself included.

Well that’s the magic. When you already have one or more established blogs, it’s easy to authoritatively launch a new blog. People will believe you, trust you, and know about your content even before the new blog goes live.

Building your social empire

You don’t have to have an established blog to launch a new blog with authority. You can launch your first blog with authority. The key is simply to make yourself known on the Internet. Create your social empire. Be one of a kind.

Social media

Let’s make one thing clear: building your social empire doesn’t mean creating accounts on every social site out there. Anyone can create multiple accounts in Twitter as long as they provide unique email addresses for all of them. But that will not build your authority.

You have to provide value wherever you are, even without a blog. Share high-quality content in your niche, among your followers and friends. Do not go on an auto-follow or auto-friending campaign. Do not go on a “follow me and I will follow you” campaign. I know that’s tranquilizing, bit it’s important that you don’t lose control. If authority is your goal, you must always aim at quality.

Tweet and share the best of the blog posts you have read on the Internet within your niche. Occasionally be funny, make personal tweets, share and comment on others’ shares, retweet good information, and so on. These are the components of social engagement. This is about building relationships online.

Guest posting

Can you write guest posts without having a blog? Absolutely. If you can write high-quality, unique articles, submit guest posts to blogs you already know. Aim for publication on the blogs whose content you promote to your social networks. They should be able to identify you, and if your post is on-target, they’ll let you in.

In the author bio, include links to your Twitter or Facebook page to gain more followers and friends.

But don’t be impatient and start writing and submitting articles just like that. You have to guest post effectively, even if you don’t have a blog.

Launch with authority

I think there are four essential steps involved in launching a blog with authority.

1. Keep your blog offline until you post enough content

How can a new blog have “enough content”? It’s possible… Depending on how often you post, the time it will take you to develop “enough” content will vary. But if you’re posting every day, you might keep your site a “secret” for, say, about two weeks. Here’s how.

  • Do not submit the blog to search engines until you have enough content.
  • If you’re using WordPress, go to the Dashboard and click on the Settings tab, then on Privacy. Click on “I would like to block search engines, but allow normal visitors,” and save the setting.
  • If you’re using Blogger, go to the Settings tab of the Dashboard and take care of the two items shown in the figure below.

Caution: Don’t forget to change those second and third options once you launch the blog officially, or it will never be found!

2. Remove dates and time stamps while launching

All major blog platforms will allow you to remove dates and times from your posts. Select this option as you launch your blog, and turn it on later, down the track, once your blog is up and running successfully.

3. Launch without comments

One of the factors that decide the authority of a blog is the number of comments the content attracts. And we all know that a newbie blog will most likely not get a good number of comments. Instead of showing a poor number of comments in the early stages of your blog, it may be better to shut down comments altogether. Once your blog gets momentum, you can open up discussions to readers.

You can get more comments at the initial stage while your blog is still not officially “live” (as I explained above). For this, I assume that you have built your social empire already.

  1. As soon as you launch the blog, let your friends and followers in all social networks know. Ask them to make comments on your blog.
  2. Join a commenting tribe—a small group of people who share links to their posts. You give and get. For instance, if the group at the tribe has 20 members, you leave comments on those 20 links and you’ll receive 20 comments on your posts. It’s a good thing to do!
  3. Find a handful of blogging buddies; again this is a give-and-get proposition.
  4. Register your blog at ComLuv.com and do a search for CommentLuv-enabled blogs in your niche. While leaving comments on those blogs, you can display of the last ten of your posts after your comment (I have given some more details on this at my earlier post on relationship building for bloggers). This will give you good exposure and kills two (or three) birds with one stone—you get backlinks, you make buddies, and you create an online presence.

4. Launch with a premium theme

If you are willing to spend some extra money, I strongly suggest you launch your blog with a premium theme. It’s worth it.

Wait! Don’t rush yet to search Google for “Premium WordPress Themes.” Not all premium themes will do what you expect.

I can suggest two premium themes that makes blogging easy and elegant: Genesis and the Thesis frameworks. I recommend Genesis even though I have not used it—Darren seems to be doing great with it. I recommend Thesis because I use it at my blog and am extremely happy with it.

What will a great premium theme do for you?

  1. It makes your blog look professional.
  2. It comes with clean coding.
  3. It takes care of basic—and some advanced—SEO.
  4. It comes with elegant skins and designs.
  5. Professional support is available when something goes wrong—you don’t want your blog to look amateurish, with broken layouts and code. We’re talking about authority here, after all!

These are the basics of launching a new blog with authority. What other tips and advice can you add?

Jane is a blog consultant and the founder of Problogging Success. She has authored two e-books Problogging Action Plan (winner of the Small Business Book Awards, 2012) and Guest Blogging Champion to help bloggers become successful in their blogging business.

The Four Os: a Four-Step Guide to Successful Blogging

This guest post is by Adam Best of FanSided.

I spent the previous decade figuring out how to “make it” online as a writer. Led Zeppelin’s “Ten Years Gone” comes to mind. Eventually, with the help of my brother, I made a bit of a splash on a Kansas City Chiefs blog called Arrowhead Addict. That effort went so well we decided to make a business out of sports blogging and started the FanSided Network. What started as one lonely Chiefs blog is now a family of 175 sites, with over 300 bloggers and millions of readers.

I’ve gone from figuring out how to blog to figuring out how to make bloggers better. As FanSided’s Editor, that’s my job. In a day and age where Charlie Sheen has dubbed himself a “genius warlock with tiger blood,” I’m gonna take the high road and just say that I know a thing or two about blogging. Ah, screw it. I’m a Blogfather and I’m here to make you a blogger they can’t refuse.

My blogging philosophy, the Four Os, has guided FanSiders for years. Hopefully, this blogging code will now help guide some of you. The Four Os are:
Blog Original.
Blog Often.
Blog Outstanding.
Blog Obsession.

Drumroll please (I picture a grand total of six of you tapping your pens on your desks…).

Blog Original

Elvis. Bowie. M.J. Madonna. Kanye West. Lady Gaga. All talented musicians? Yes, but it was their originality, even eccentricity, that allowed their talents to come to the forefront. Am I saying that you have to wear one glove, paint your face, announce that George W. Bush hates black people, and then die eating a sub on the toilet? No. What I’m suggesting is for your blog not to be a carbon copy of the existing powerhouse blogs in your category of choice.

Because almost anybody can jump online and start a site, it’s a copycat world out there. Everybody is involved in the same rat race to be first to get to the same story, the same video, the same meme, and then be first to market that post. What happened to establishing your own voice? What happened to being a trend-setter?

You don’t want to be viewed as a walking, talking spambot. Nobody really breaks news at this point. C’mon, everybody already heard about it on Twitter. My little sister broke the story on her Facebook page before most blogs did. Your focus should be on crafting original content that’s well written and different from anything else you can find on the Net. Research your niche; figure out its staples and what’s missing. Look outside your niche for inspiration. Put together a game plan to make your site one of a kind. Don’t be afraid of trial and error either. Your audiences will eventually only remember your hits, not your misses, and if you compile enough hits you’ll be well on your way.

Say what you will about Lady Gaga and her idiosyncrasies, but there’s only one of her and her schtick feels more natural than gimmicky. She’s made herself an indispensable part of the music scene. You’d be wise to do the same in your category.

Blog Often

Let’s say you own a restaurant. Let’s even say your place has spectacular food, a convenient location and great atmosphere. The problem? You only serve one meal, lunch, and only serve it Monday, Wednesday and Friday. If that was the case, you’d expect patrons to visit somewhat frequently during those times, but not during other times. Most bloggers serve up content about as infrequently, yet expect different results—great daily traffic. That’s unreasonable.

If you are only doing three, four, even five posts per week, you are contributing on strictly a hobby level. Those who write that infrequently yet experience a great deal of success are often either already famous or write like Hemingway. Most blogs need to average a post per day. Sometimes a daily post isn’t enough. FanSided is like Office Space. We can only ask our writers to wear so many pieces of flair, but our writers who wear the most pieces (post the most) get the most out of their blogs. I’ve been staring at analytics for years now, and there is definitely a strong correlation between post quantity and traffic.

Blogging isn’t just writing—nobody alive can write four or five opuses every day. Blogging is part writing, of course. But curating, or mining the Internet for gold (news, videos, links, images, stats, quotes, tweets, etc.), is equally as important. Yes, your blog has to be your own voice, but it also has to be more. The best blogs serve as hubs that keep readers from having to surf the web. Besides, you can still Blog Original and voice your opinion when you are curating. Just make sure you interject original insight, even if you do so in rapid-fire fashion.

Another suggestion is to add a staff around you once your blog is established. There are plenty of talented writers out there who don’t have the time to spearhead their own site, yet want to receive great exposure. Adding staffers will also allow you to focus more on quality over quality. Most importantly, any knucklehead can start a site by themselves. If you have a dedicated and talented staff serving under you, then you and your site must be legitimate. That’s not always the case, but a blog staff presents a façade of success and perception is everything—or at least very damn important.

Make sure you have at least one quality post on your site every single day. If you’re not doing so already, try it out for a month. If you already do one, do two or three for the next 30 days. If your traffic and comment numbers don’t increase, tweet to me @adamcbest and let me know it didn‘t work. I’ll tweet to all my followers that I don’t know what I’m talking about. That’s how confident I am in the Blog Often approach.

Blog Outstanding

Part of the problem with trying to Blog Often is that we are all pressed for time. As a result, visual appearance, formatting, grammar, title and promotion often are overlooked aspects of blogging. Compare posting a blog post to selling a house. When you sell a house, you do everything possible to get potential buyers inside, where they can envision being there on a day-to-day basis. You don’t get sloppy or take shortcuts. You make sure the house is painted, the yard is mowed, and that there is no trash anywhere on the premises. You put up yard signs and get the house listed.

Most bloggers, however, don’t think of blog posts as houses for sale. They assume that as long as the message is there, that’s what matters. Those bloggers couldn’t be more wrong. Blog readers often scan new sites before digging into articles. If your formatting sucks, they’ll probably just close the tab. If you have huge blocks of text without breaks or images, they’ll probably bounce. If your post is chock-full of errors, they’ll assume you are either unintelligent or lazy and won’t come back. If you don’t promote your posts and site in general, nobody will even show up in the first place.

That brings us to promotion. If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? Likewise, if a blogger posts brilliant content that no one ends up reading, was it really brilliant content? “Post and ghost” is a systemic plague that has killed blogs off for years. The Internet is vast. Bloggers can’t just post, step away from the keyboard and expect for readers to miracle their way to their site.

How do you promote your blog? Start with Facebook and Twitter accounts, and make sure they are personalized. Do not just use these accounts to aggregate new posts. Network with other bloggers in your niche, introduce yourself, link their site. You might think of them as competition, but most fans of any category read multiple sites. From experience, kindness in the blog community is typically repaid. After that, look at social media content communities like Digg and Reddit, and see if you can get any traction. I no longer digg, but as a former “power digger” I can assure you that these sites can point a traffic firehouse at your site.

This section is simple: if you don’t take pride in your blog, how can you expect anybody else to? If you’re proud of the way posts look and read, you won’t feel uncomfortable promoting your site. Also, the more you promote, the more you’ll stop worrying about the shameless self promotion you’re doing and do what needs to be done. In reality, almost all promotion is at least partially self promotion anyway. Take pride in your blog. Eventually, you’re audience will, too.

Blog Obsession

Ultimately, your success will depend on your topic, your niche. If you think too small, your earning chances will be extremely limited, and you’ll have a hard time getting noticed. On the other end, if you think big, bigger opportunities could present themselves, but so will bigger challenges. For those of you who have seen Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, let’s call it Ramona Flowers Syndrome. Your new beau might seem fine at first, but a bunch of dudes were there before you and all of them are formidable. You will have to work your way to the top—if there’s even room for you up there. It’s kind of like making a decision between entering the main World Series of Poker event or a smaller WSOP satellite tourney.

Not only do you have to be passionate about your topic of choice, other people have to be passionate about it as well. If you’re not passionate, fans of your topic will see right through you. If nobody else is passionate about your topic, you might as well print your blog posts and stick them on your mom’s fridge. The number of folks who are enthusiastic about your topic will determine the ceiling of your blog venture. Some topics will leave you stranded on a deserted island with a few friends. Trust me, you don’t want to be a Blog Gilligan. I’ve been there and there’s no Mary Ann or Ginger.

When I think about the choices I make, a scene from Blow pops into my head. The one where Diego says to George, “You failed because you had the wrong dream.” Your blog could fail the second you choose your topic, as many relationships often fail because the pair was just wrong from the start. Make sure you and your topic are a good match for both you and your audience, and that there is an actual audience. It’s like an NFL franchise choosing between quarterbacks with a No. 1 overall draft pick. Choose wrong and it will cost you down the road, possibly for a long time. You want to pick Peyton Manning—not Ryan Leaf.

Take your time mulling your topic over before you launch your blog. If you’ve already launched, reevaluate your blog and ask yourself if you’re covering the right topic. If you figure out you’re wasting time, that’s okay. You’ll be saving time in the future.

So what do you think? Are you following these Four Os of successful blogging?

Adam Best is an entrepreneur, blogger/writer and artist from Austin, TX. He founded FanSided and currently has a couple other start-ups in the developmental phase. He has covered sports, film, pop culture and blogging all over the Net. Follow him on Twitter at @adamcbest.

7 Tips for Bloggers with Learning Disabilities

This guest post is by Leigh Stevens of whereapy.

If you want to improve, be content to be thought foolish and stupid with regard to external things.
—Epictetus

Image is author's own

“Are you stupid? You sure look stupid. Everyone else in this room handles this level of work. If you can’t do simple conjugations you shouldn’t be in my classroom.”

That’s what you get when the middle school basketball coach is also your advanced language arts teacher. Much to my eternal frustration, I was that “stupid” kid. I am dyslexic with an auditory processing disorder, which means I don’t understand verbal instructions very well, but at the time, the school didn’t know that. As a first-grader in the early 80s I was placed in the special education classes: the “speds”. It didn’t help much that I came from a financially poor family, relative to my peers. And I was a girl. And blonde. There was just no escape from the stupid jokes.

I was inspired to write this post after reading a piece by the Blog Tyrant a few weeks ago. As far as marketing goes it’s a standard emotional headline tactic designed to pull you in. It’s a good post. Except that, at the time, it frustrated me in a big way, bringing back all the garbage I went through as a kid. So here’s my response.

Persistence pays

A learning disability can hamper your blogging practice. Not so much functionally—there are people who can help you write cleaner prose. The real kicker is the emotional baggage created by years of verbal abuse, of people insisting that you’re not very bright. It’s hard to have confidence in your writing abilities when it was always assumed that you just weren’t smart enough to succeed.

My experience in school followed the same pattern, over and over. At the end of each school year, I would graduate from the special education reading class, and be placed in the advanced class for the beginning of the following year. Once my new teacher noticed that I couldn’t take verbal instruction, spell, or abstractly conjugate, I was sent back down to the special education class, so I could graduate again, be promoted again, and be rejected, again. Rinse, wash, repeat.

By third grade I had developed strategies to compensate for my dyslexia that made reading very easy for me: I memorized everything through pictures. I process visual and kinaesthetic information beautifully; it’s like when the blind develop greater acuity in their other senses, creating alternatives for making their way in the world. My brain created another way for me to learn, unique to me. Brilliant, right? Not according to my teachers.

Unlike more visible disabilities, atypical styles of learning don’t garner much sympathy or support. If I had a dollar for every time I was accused of “not living up to my potential,” I’d be rich; the ability to pass as almost “normal” can produce massive anxiety.

I hire a copy editor to clean up my posts, and while the ideas, connections, turns of phrase, overall structure and layout are mine, it still feels inauthentic. The fact that I need another person to help me when it comes to writing makes me struggle to feel complete ownership over the work that I create. And that can be difficult. But I suck it up and keep on trying, because that’s what needs to be done.

Tips for blogging with a learning disability

  1. Write with a copy editor. It may take some time to find a writer who understands you and with whom you can develop a “voice.” Learn how to collaborate to create a product you can be proud of.
  2. Strive for publishing only one or two good posts a week. Don’t get too aggressive with your posting schedule, especially when you’re just starting out. Putting too much pressure on yourself will only lead to frustration and burnout.
  3. Ignore all the advice on how to write a blog post in 20 minutes. Accept the fact that it may take you five hours to produce an imperfect 600-word post while an adept writer can whip something up over lunch.
  4. Ignore all the jingoistic advice that says “you can do it if you just try harder!!!” You can’t grow back a leg that’s been amputated—you need to learn to use the tools available to you to get where you want to go. The same thing applies to your brain: if you’re old enough to read this, you’ve already forged new pathways to circumvent the ones that weren’t working so well. If something feels good and works for you, stick with it, regardless of what everyone else is doing.
  5. Continue to read challenging blogs and try to participate in the discussion, knowing that your comments will likely be full of skipped words, switched letters and other indicators of how your brain works. The grammarians may complain, but that doesn’t mean that your contributions are any less important or interesting.
  6. Deal with your past and present emotional issues surrounding your learning disability. Rejection is a standard part of blogging for everyone: guest posts get turned down, comments in the forums get misinterpreted or misunderstood. When you have a learning disability you can expect to experience even more of this, and maybe even by people you respect and admire. A lot of smart people with learning disabilities respond to this by turning inward and developing a rugged and individualist persona, but still feel isolated and alone. Strangely enough, the experience of social rejection causes a 25% drop in IQ—an astonishing effect in a pernicious cycle that actually perpetuates “stupidity.” To counter this effect, I encourage you to keep participating: reach out to people, make meaningful contributions, even if you risk looking silly or being misunderstood. In the right context, it can be good to be vulnerable. Another way to cope with rejection is by practicing emotional resilience processes.
  7. Tell your readers that you have an issue on your About page (and tell them how they can help). You don’t have to write a long soppy story like me; you can just say, “Hey, I’m dyslexic. I’d appreciate it if you’d send me a message if you find a mistake on the blog. Thanks!”

One last note. Because Problogger has such an international audience, I feel comfortable mentioning that bloggers with processing disorders are a lot like bloggers for whom English is a second language. The stigma attached to grammatical and spelling mistakes in the blogging world is palpable, and if you’ve ever felt bashed for having less-than-perfect English, I want to let you know that you’re not alone! Kudos to everyone who blogs in a second language.

Your turn: Do you consider yourself to be a “‘real” writer? What kinds of limitations have you run across in your practice? How do you work past them? Feel free to comment. I’d love to hear what you have to say, no matter how you say it.

Leigh Stevens is a certified massage therapist, artist, humorist and co-founder of whereapy. Special thanks goes out to Heather Gaskill, social worker and copy editor extraordinaire.

3 Ways to Use Twitter Favorites

This guest post is by Ryan Barton of The Smart Marketing Blog.

Until I began receiving notifications of Twitter followers “favoriting” my tweets, I admittedly hadn’t thought much of the Favorites feature.

Some use it as a reminder to follow-up on a tweet’s topic. Others favorite a tweet they find funny. And some users go as far as importing favorite tweets on their Facebook page, email signatures, or even packaging them as an ebook.

There’s no wrong way to favorite a tweet (unless you’re favoriting every single update you read), but it’s worth considering a few other applications.

1. Completing your profile

I’d make a case that your favorite tweets tell a follower as much about you as your bio does.

Your Twitter bio tells followers what you want them to know about you, while your favorite tweets are a visual representation of what’s actually important. And more often than not, what’s important to you (humor, follow-ups, etc.) is more telling than any marketing copy.

Especially as Twitter continues to explode with spam bots, follow-backs aren’t obligations: they’re earned. And that earn process now includes more than a bio, a few tweets and a URL. Even bots have those.

But filling your stream with @ interactions and marking some of your favorite tweets, visually-demonstrate that you’re more than a casual stalker observer.

2. Word-of-mouth recommendations

It’s no secret—social media is the digital form of testimonials and word-of-mouth marketing. And that means platforms like Twitter are hugely-effective methods of growing your brand.

I’ll trust my followers’ opinions about a product exponentially more than I would an integrated marketing campaign for the same.

So using Favorites as a way to establish my authority through others’ tweets is my primary use of the feature.

Should a user check my favorite tweets, they’ll see kind words about my guest posts and the same about my book release.

I didn’t solicit their tweets, but now that they’re out there, I’m capturing them—curating them—in an online presentation of some of my favorite things.

It’s significant when those tweets are coming from some of the Internet’s most influential players. And if it means a lot to me, chances are it’ll mean a lot to a user who’s considering following me.

Seth wrote a post a while back about a prospect’s first impression of your digital self. In his case, it was watching reading his blog. It was tempting to run over and tell them to ignore this one or that one, but look at that one because he really put a lot of thought into that one.

It’s similar with Twitter. “Noooo, I didn’t want you to see those tweets, look at these … over here, instead, these tweets are more representative of who I am.”

Using Favorites like your digital refrigerator— showing off your A+ work—ensures that no matter where you are or what you’re doing and saying, your best side will always be showing.

3. Encouraging others

I’ve had followers favorite some of my most random tweets. But I’ve also had followers favorite some marketing advice they thought was valuable, or a link to one of my latest blog posts they wanted to reread at a later time.

Often, seeing the way users favorite my tweets tells me what’s resonating with my community. It’s a valuable real-time feedback mechanism. It’s also a new form of encouragement.

I think of encouragement like a fuel tank. I fuel my late nights and long hours from the tank; eventually it’ll run low. But through one form of encouragement or another—in this case, as simple as favoring a tweet—my encouragement tank is refueled a bit.

Think of favoriting as a new form of Twitter interaction that’s perhaps more meaningful than any @ reply. It’s more than “nice article,” it’s validation that your writing struck a chord; you’re on to something.

What’s more, you’re encouraging the user to continue producing quality content—and that makes the Internet a more intelligent place.

Do you use Favorites differently? Are the rules different for a business account? Leave a comment and share your thoughts below.

Ryan Barton is the author of the “Smart Marketing” eBook and he writes at The Smart Marketing Blog for Small Business Success; you can follow him on Twitter, where he shares entirely too much information. He wrote “Smart Marketing” with the intent that small businesses would glean insightful information and tangible marketing strategies so they too, could compete competitively with industry giants.

Three Blogging Lessons from Leonardo Da Vinci

This guest post is by Martyn Chamberlin of Two Hour Blogger.

It was getting late.

The sick old man sighed and set down his brush. Learning back deeply in his chair, he gazed at his painting.

No matter how hard he worked, he couldn’t seem to finish it.

It was only a medium sized work—30 by 21 inches. And yet, the canvas seemed like a monolith of impossibility, stretching towards to the unforeseeable future…

Maybe he should just abandon it, like he had dozens of other works. This painting wasn’t getting anywhere. He couldn’t even give it a name. It was time to admit defeat.

After gazing thoughtfully at it for a bit longer, he shook himself away. Nightfall had long since fallen, and it was past his bed time.

It was May 2, 1519.

Leonardo Da Vinci never woke up. He died with his painting the Mona Lisa in his bedroom.

He never finished it.

He’d worked on it for four years, and given it nearly 30 layers of paint. But he never finished it.

Still, it’s considered the greatest painting ever brushed by mortals. Leonardo hit a home run. He created a masterpiece that would transcend the boundaries of location and time. How’d he do it?

Let’s peek at what Leonardo had going for him. The good part is that you’ll be able to apply these to your blog too.

1. He knew his stuff before he got started

Leonardo was a master at painting before he began the Mona Lisa. He spent decades learning and studying. He’d already mastered drawing and painting in oils.

There was a day when Leonardo picked up a paint brush for the first time. He made a lot of really lousy paintings when he started out—horrible, absolute disasters.

But he stuck with it and got better. After decades of unmitigated labor, he was finally ready to paint his masterpiece.

How this applies to you: If you stick with it, your blog will become a collection of masterpieces. But like Leonardo, you don’t start out professional and successful. The pursuit of excellence requires patience. Don’t let your failures discourage you. They’re essential to growing and getting better.

Nobody can create a masterpiece without lots of prior experience.

2. He had an incredible idea

Leonardo knew that people love an extra-ordinary painting, so he gave it to them. In his day, all the portraits had serious looks on their faces. He gave his a smile. That ticked people off so much, they’re still talking about it today.

How this applies to you: Don’t blog like everybody else. Stand out. Ask what nobody else is doing, and do it. Be exciting. Be weird. Be interesting. Be different.

People love to read a blog that’s got something unique about it.

3. He spent four years executing his idea

…and he still didn’t finished it.

Leonardo was a perfectionist. He didn’t slap together 30-minute paintings and shove them out of the studio. He didn’t ship anything until is was polished to perfection. He abandoned lots and lots of paintings.

Leonardo understood that creating art takes time, and creating really good art takes a really long time.

How this applies to you:No, you don’t want to spend four years writing a blog post and then never publish it! But you do want to spend a lot of time writing and polishing each article.

If you’re just blogging for fun, that’s okay. But if you want people to read it, you’re going to have to work hard at creating value for your audience. Don’t worry about “just getting something out there”—don’t ship until you’ve actually got something worth reading.

This could mean that you spend a lot more time on each article.

This could mean that like Leonardo, you abandon the majority of your work.

This could mean that you publish less often than you currently are.

One great post per week is a lot better than five mediocre ones. What if Leonardo had painted 20 mediocre portraits of a smiling woman instead of one great one? We wouldn’t be talking about any of them.

The same applies to your blog. You don’t have to give it 30 layers of paint, but more than one is certainly nice.

If you want your next blog post to be like the Mona Lisa, be patient, conceive a great idea, and execute it thoroughly. Follow these three steps and you’ll be creating art folks will be linking to years to come.

Martyn Chamberlin is an entrepreneur who blogs about copywriting and digital marketing at Two Hour Blogger. You can catch more on Twitter.

Google’s Panda Update—the Lessons I Learned

This guest post is by Kevin Sanders, of strongandfit.net.

Things were going well over at my fitness blog. I was not an A-lister, but traffic was steadily increasing.

I was starting to get ranked for several lower competition keywords. Organic traffic was improving. Then suddenly my search engine traffic dropped dramatically.

I was apparently one of the casualties of Google’s so-called Panda update. I’m guessing it’s because about 10% of my website’s content was re-posted. I wasn’t just mindlessly copying and pasting a bunch of content for the sake of content. I only posted stuff I considered valuable to my readers—and I only ever post articles with permission of the original author. Regardless, it seems this was enough to have my blog slapped with the “content farm” label.

I’ve bowed to the Google gods and removed the “duplicate content.” Maybe I’ll recover my SERP rank, maybe not. Based on what I’m reading, no one has successfully recovered from the Panda meltdown once his or her site has been affected—I think it will take some time for Google to re-crawl sites reassess sites.

But I’ve learned some important lessons from this. Some lessons are new, while others just reinforce what I’ve already learned.

Lesson #1: Never become over-dependent on one source of traffic

The algorithm change has affected my site, but it hasn’t destroyed it. That’s because I use several methods for driving traffic to my site. Staying active on forums, for example, has been one of my favorite strategies I’ve spent a little more time on forums in lately in light of the Google issue.

Lesson #2: Blog as if no one is reading

Blog as if everyone is reading. Here’s what I mean: I love lifting weights, and fitness in general. I enjoy blogging about it, regardless of how many (or few) read my posts. This passion has kept me going in spite of the setback. But I always want to make sure I’m producing high-quality, useful posts—just as if thousands would be reading.

Lesson #3: Look to other bloggers for help

I’m not an SEO guru—not by a long shot! But there are several bloggers out there who are experts in this particular discipline. These blogs have been especially valuable in learning what adjustments I need to make to my site, and why. But this tip is not limited to search engine algorithms—you can apply it to almost any issue you have in blogging. Always be open to learn from your fellow bloggers.

Lesson #4: Try to keep an eye on search engine news and anything else that may affect your blog

I didn’t realize there was an update until after my traffic was affected. I later learned Google had already warned us about the coming changes—I just wasn’t paying attention. I’m not sure I could have changed the outcome, but I would have responded sooner if I had known.

Again, this is a tip that applies to other aspects of blogging—keep an eye on anything that has the potential to affect your blog. I’m not suggesting you be reactionary in your approach to blogging. But a general awareness of things can help you make informed decisions.

I’m still learning about websites/blogs you can use to follow search engine trends. I’ll give you a few suggestions, and maybe you can recommend others in the comments:

  • SEO-Hacker.com is a blog I’ve mentioned before. I like the simplified approach to explaining SEO, and this blog has a few articles about Panda.
  • SEO Roundtable is a very helpful blog I ran across while trying to make sense of all this Panda update stuff. This blogger actually keeps an eye on forums and gives you a feel for what bloggers and webmasters are talking about.
  • The Google Webmaster Help YouTube Channel is another one to keep your eye on. You’ll be able to hear direct answers from Google representative Matt Cutts here.

Hang in there if you’ve also been affected by the changes at Google. Learn from the challenges and you’ll become a better blogger in the end. If you have a Panda experience to share, or some tips to add, I’d love to hear them in the comments.

Kevin is a missionary, author and fitness enthusiast. You can check out his fitness tips at strongandfit.net. You can read his devotional thoughts and personal reflections at KuyaKevin.com.

15 Blogger Resources Not Previously Featured on ProBlogger

This is a guest post by the creators of the new site Bloggers’ Domain: 369 (and counting) blog tips, tools and resources.

One of the most exciting things about being a blogger is finding new ways to improve your blogging experience. Whether that’s by implementing a new plugin to give your site extra functionality, finding an untapped traffic source to boost your reader numbers, discovering a resource that will help you create more entertaining posts, or learning of a website that’ll reignite your blogging mojo.

Here, we’ve listed 15 blog tools and resources you may not have heard of (none have been featured in ProBlogger articles prior to now—we checked!). Some are new, some are hidden gems, and some are old favorites too good not to share.

1. Hello Bar

What is it? The Hello Bar is a simple notification bar that sits across the top of your blog. It’s designed to deliver a single message, either a link to a post you’re trying to draw attention to or your latest tweet.
Three reasons to bookmark it

  1. The dashboard provides you with options to customize it.
  2. You can view the all-important click-through statistics at a glance.
  3. You can then use this data to work out what grabs your readers’ attention the most, and adjust it to something else if need be.

Did you know? It’s fast becoming popular with its invite-only approach to site membership, and the likes of Seth Godin, Tim Ferriss and Chris Brogan all having added the Hello Bar to their blogs or websites.

2. Lanyrd

What is it? A social-media conference directory.
Why is it worth bookmarking? Sometimes, the best places to learn about all things online, is offline. And getting to know your readers and fellow bloggers IRL (in real life) is a highly rewarding experience. This is where Lanyrd is useful—use it to find blog conferences by topic or location. Find out who’s going, their Twitter handle, and other conferences they plan to attend.
Bonus info: Can’t make it to the event? Lanyrd collates numerous resources covering it, including write-ups, videos, slide decks and photos. Learn what went on, even if you weren’t there.

3. HTML Ipsum

What is it? Pre-written HTML ready and waiting for you to use.
Why it’s worth knowing: If HTML doesn’t come easy to you (and that’s okay—not everyone’s an expert at it), this handy site will make adding tables, ordered lists, and more headache-free. Simply find the HTML you’re after, copy and paste it into your blog’s HTML editor, and replace the text with your own.
How refreshing! It’s as simple as that. No sign-up, invite-requesting, tweeting or liking required. Just head to the site and use it.

4. BlogDash

What is it? A tool designed for blogger outreach.
How does it work? For publicists, it claims to provide the tools required to reach bloggers who’ll care about their story. For bloggers, it lets you set up your preferences for how you like to be pitched—email? LinkedIn? Twitter? The choice is yours. BlogDash also lets you select the type of opportunities you’re open to receiving, such as products to review or events to cover.
Bonus info: More than 25,000 bloggers are currently listed.

5. TinyLetter

What is it? A very simple newsletter tool you can use for free.
Why is it worth bookmarking? If you’ve ever wanted to charge your readers for a newsletter subscription, but lacked the technical set-up know-how, TinyLetter is as simple as they come. Simply create your account, decide what you’ll charge per month (or of you’ll charge at all), and embed the sign-up form on your blog. Easy.
Other options? The Letterly.net concept is similar, however readers must pay to subscribe.

6. Timely

What is it? A Twitter tool that tells you the best time to tweet for maximum impact.
How does it work? By looking over your last 199 Twitter messages, Timely analyzes the best times to schedule your tweets for the highest engagement. Including a link to your blog? Well then of course the more people who see it, the more traffic you’re likely to get from it.
Also note: Timely is free, but the pro account features also include letting you post to Facebook.

7. TinEye

What is it? A reverse image search tool.
Why would you use that? Scenario 1. To help discover if one of your images has been used on the web. Scenario 2. To try and find the origin of an image you may have discovered that you were hoping to use on your blog.
How does it work? With image identification technology. Either upload the image you’re reverse searching for, or enter its URL. Either way, you’ll be shown results whether they’re the same, and have been cropped, or even Photoshopped.

8. Wylio

What is it? A shortcut for finding, resizing and using Flickr Creative Commons images.
How do you use it? Simply search for the image you’re after, select from one of the many options, and choose how you’d like it sized and positioned. Copy and paste the HTML into your post article and you’re done.
Bonus info: The image is embedded on your blog, complete with Flickr credits.

9. Stella

How is it described? As a developer’s tool for monitoring and debugging websites and applications.
Why is it worth bookmarking? For a free, quick check-up to find out how fast your blog is. Enter its URL and click “Run checkup”.
What happens next? You’ll get a result indicating how your site compares to the average speed of others checked that day, as well as an idea of how fast your site is considered in plain English. For example: “Not so fast.”

10. Vokle

What is it? A broadcasting tool allowing you to host your own video talk show right from your blog.
What can you do with it? You can take “live” calls from your readers who can participate via web cam or chat. Worried about who might appear on your video? Set up a friend as a “screener” to preview them behind the scenes.
Features worth noting: You can cut to close-ups of the host or caller, making your production look extremely professional.

11. NameChk

What is it? A tool to check for available usernames.
Why would you use it? Along with setting up a new blog, comes setting up its related online profiles (Twitter, Facebook, and more). Consistency is key for your “brand” so try to register the same usernames or vanity URLs if you can.
Bonus info: NameChk will search across 160 of the most-popular sites. A similar tool is KnowEm.

12. My Blog Guest

What is it? A directory for bloggers looking for, and offering, guest posts.
Why is it worth bookmarking? Sometimes you’re short on time to write a post—especially if you’ve got a vacation coming up and you’re trying to schedule content in advance. Guest posts can help you save that time. My Blog Guest acts as the man in the middle, helping you find guest posts to publish, or blogs that will publish your writing.
Stating the obvious: Guest-posting is a great way to get new traffic to your site.

13. Color Scheme Designer

What is it? A simple tool that creates color combinations with the click of a mouse.
Why would you use it? Using an easily customized theme is one thing, lacking an eye for color is another! The Color Scheme Designer will help you quickly choose a color palette of up to four colors and you can feel confident they’ll work in harmony on your blog—even if you’re not Leonardo Da Vinci.
Clever feature: If you’re the type who just can’t make decisions, click “random” and see what you’re offered.

14. My eCover Maker

What is it? A 3D ebook cover-maker.
Why is it worth bookmarking? It offers free ecover making options, meaning you can have a professional-looking book cover to download in minutes—no sign-up required.
Worth noting: You’re not limited to ecovers. This online tool also lets you create 3D images of software boxes, iPads, and iPods (though sign-in is required for these features).

15. MeasureIt

What is it? A Firefox Addon that measures an area of your screen in pixels.
Why is it worth using? If you’ve ever tried to create buttons or graphics, or insert images of a particular size into your blog, getting the size exactly right can sometimes be tricky. MeasureIt is like a ruler for your screen, taking the guess work away.
Bonus info: MeasureIt is just one of many useful Firefox Addons to help with the design aspects of your blog. Others include Firebug and ColorZilla.

What’s your must-use blogging tool or resource?

Bloggers’ Domain is the home to all things blogging. It’s an extensive list of click-worthy resources (such as those listed here), for bloggers of all platforms, levels of experience and budgets. All items are categorized and arranged in alphabetical order, making them easy to find. The site also offers a 2011 Blog Conference and Event Calendar.

How Bloggers Can Make Money from Brands

This guest post was written by Mark Pollard of MarkPollard.net.

Let’s face it, how you make money from blogging is in serious flux right now. The thing is, flux brings opportunity. If you’re thinking differently enough to everybody else, chances are you can stand out. That’s what this article is about. How to get you standing out in front of brands and agencies, and find new ways to make money from your blogging pedigree along the way.

Old models are struggling

It’s not just “heritage media” that’s trying to work it all out right now. Bloggers everywhere need to rethink their approaches:

  • display advertising needs reinvention: who’s it working for?
  • Google just downgraded content farms
  • guest posting is the new content marketing
  • selling ebooks is a hit-and-miss affair for most
  • affiliate marketing: how do you pick a product and make it worthwhile?

Establishing an audience and then releasing a book as your monetization tactic is challenging when such a small percentage of books are actually profitable. So, do you make an app? Do you go Kindle? Do you put on a conference? Should your revenue come from the very content that you pour your soul into or from something else, like a better salary, fees for speaking at events or a new business venture?

Just where will the money come from?

As a blogger, you need to make some serious strategic calls on where to put your focus because content-making is heavy going.

Why listen to me?

I work in advertising. It took me a long time to be able to say that. It’s not something I identify with—”advertising,” that is. I’m in it to disrupt it for the better. I’ve been publishing content online since around 1997, since the days of Angelfire, Tripod, and Geocities; since the client request of “Can we have an animated .gif on our homepage?” To which one would reply: “I’m not sure the modems will be able to handle it.”

I made my first website to publish interviews with hip hop artists that I liked at the time—underground ones. I’d network on IRC and ICQ, email my questions to them and put them up on a very ugly Geocities-hosted website. Within 2 years, I was hosting the main hip hop radio show in Sydney, Australia, and started publishing the first full color hip-hop magazine in the southern hemisphere: Stealth Magazine.

Since then, I’ve worked in digital agencies, dot-coms and advertising agencies. Most recently, I’ve been working with Aussie Bloggers Conference. One of the questions that Sarah Pietrzak asked was, “What should brands expect of bloggers and where do you see this relationship going?”

I started listing all the benefits that I see available from working with bloggers, and they fell politely into these four buckets.

1. Perception

What a marketer wants from you is to look better and more relevant to the people they’d like to sell to—as many as possible, too. Once they’ve finished a campaign, they will screengrab the blog posts and other media for a case study. They may use a sentiment analysis tool to establish the reach and positivity (hopefully) of what you made.

To be honest, this is where a lot of agency and marketing types finish. But it’s not enough in most cases. If I were their boss, I’d be asking about the results. This brings us to:

2. Action

What a marketer should really be measuring and focusing in on (at least in the medium term) is working with you to get people to do stuff. My perception of Bugaboo strollers is that they look and work great but they’re too expensive, so I wouldn’t buy one. Great perception, no action. Having said that not all actions have to be “sales.”

When I work with a brand over an extended period of time, the first step is about establishing credibility, respecting the existing communities, engaging with them. These are softer metrics—they will harden over time.

Examples of four common actions that you can sell:

  • sales: work out how you can sell their stuff directly within a matter of clicks
  • high-quality website visitors (defined by a conversion or engagement)
  • increasing their email/RSS subscribers, followers, fans
  • consumer reviews: no, not fake, astro-turfing stuff—legitimacy or nothing.

Now, if you want to be professional, you need to work out up-front exactly what you want to be held accountable for, and how to measure it. If you bring this rigor to your approach, you will get taken seriously, you’ll start having conversations with more senior people, and possibly get access to more serious budgets.

3. Contacts

This isn’t often something a marketer will ask for, as they may have a PR agency that gets paid to do this, but if you can act as a connector, then you have value to sell or exchange. You may connect them to other bloggers like you, bloggers not like you but with a potentially relevant audience, readers, media, event organizers, and so on.

4. Knowledge

Every brand is working out how to do this right. Business is typically a very alpha-male environment—things are rigid, political, and bureaucratic. And, yes, “male” more often than not. Marketers are always under the pump to prove they have something to offer—typically, the CEO is a sales or logistics guy, and the sales teams always tease the marketers about doing the fluffy stuff compared to their frontline activity. They have to compete for budget.

New leaders understand the values of transparency and vulnerability. These are values one needs to have to succeed in social (I believe). However, these values are not widespread—they involve admitting that you don’t know stuff, that you made an error, that you’re learning.

Some of the things you know that you can package:

  • what topics are hot-button topics in your community
  • how to talk, write and deal with your social media world
  • what ideas you believe are likely to succeed or flop.

How to get out of the monetization rat-race

If you’ve explored any of the ideas below, I’d love to know how it went. They all aim to set you apart from the rest by making you more of a strategic partner with a brand—not just a place for ads. It can take time to earn the trust of a brand to be able to implement it all. If you’re contemplating giving it a shot, have a go at doing one of these for free so that you can approach your key targets (and their competitors) with something in hand and a 30-minute offer to see it.

1. Research and research groups

Marketers spend thousands of dollars every year on research groups. The most common way to do this is to get eight people together in a research room with mirrored windows and for a facilitator to ask questions. Now, it’s important to realize that the people you recruit to these groups—if based on your audience and connections—will not be representative of the population at large, so don’t pretend they are.

How much money is there in this? A typical range would be $2500-$10,000 per group. The higher fees are charged when it’s harder to recruit people and they expect bigger incentives (e.g. doctors, CEOs).

Your costs? A venue, food, drinks, stationery (butcher’s paper, cards, pens), a projector, recording the session (video, audio), phone calls, incentives (for 60-90 minutes, you may pay $50-$70), printing of disclaimer forms, and your travel.

How can you make money?

  • Bring your audience together for your own research groups.
  • Bring bloggers together for a research group (incentives will cost more).
  • Create your own side-business focusing on a handful of key audiences that you can credibly claim to know better than anyone else and have ready access to.
  • Undertake depth interviews, where you spend a day with a person and document everything relevant.
  • Complete desk research, preparing white papers that pull together audience-specific trends (what they like, where they are, how they communicate, with text, photos and/or videos).

2. Online surveys

Marketers often conduct surveys about their brand, competitors, trends in the market, ideas, and advertising. They use online research companies who may have built up a database through cheap banner ads.

How much money is there in this? It depends on the speed of turnaround required, the number of people they need, and the dashboard/tools and analytics you’re offering. My gut feeling is that a typical bit of online research and interpretation would be worth $5,000-$20,0000.

Your costs? If you have ready access to an audience, your costs would simply be in the technology plus your time to make it all happen, perhaps an email blast if you don’t use free tools.

How can you make money? By producing:

  • fast-turnaround surveys based on hot topics—especially brand-specific topics (e.g. if a brand gets bagged out by a celebrity, perhaps you can run a survey about sentiment and seek ideas about what to do)
  • rolling surveys: a survey that repeats itself, capturing data about the same questions every few months
  • bespoke surveys: when needed, when asked for (but don’t be scared to suggest)
  • Facebook insights, polls, surveys (although Facebook may not appreciate it)

3. Conversions

Instead of selling blanket advertising space, what about selling more relevant and useful space on pages that tend to convert well or get a lot of quality search traffic? Obviously, you don’t want to cut off your nose to spite your face and stop selling your own products to do this, but, again, it positions you as someone who takes how you work with brands seriously. Offering deep links with correct title tags is another little bonus you can throw in.

How much money is there in this? You’d either charge per acquisition (trial, sale, registration, fan, follow), by the impression or by time period.

Your costs? It depends how you do it—they’d range from simply time to upload images/text through to costs associated with creating high quality content.

How can you make money? By providing:

  • video content that helps them sell better and fits with your values ($500-$20,000 depending on quality, if they are allowed to re-purpose and syndicate the video, etc)
  • a whitepaper or ebook on behalf of the brand ($1000 to $10,000 depending on design, contributors)
  • designing good performing advertising ($200-$20,000 depending on what’s required and how much is required, whether they can use it elsewhere)
  • additional pages on your website: there’s no reason for advertising to have to lead away from your site when people are at your site to stay on your site
  • advice about how a brand should optimize their landing pages for your audiences (if you know; also a research opportunity).

4. Shortcuts via statistics, data and numbers

This is a combination of a few points above, but if you do your own research, you can re-package it all and re-sell it. Your sources may include: website analytics, search behavior (keyword search volumes, trends, seasonality, geography), bit.ly analytics, PostRank, Twitter, social bookmarking websites, and so on. With this data, you’ll help brands understand what content, which headlines, what time of day, and which days work. You may build a report on who comments the most, who Stumbles, how people use the key, relevant Facebook pages.

How much money is there in this? This sort of data is very precious. You could shortcut a brand to beat you at your own game if you’re not careful. If you did an annual report, you could try to charge a few thousand dollars for it, but you may need to collaborate with an existing research company. Perhaps the value in this is really to only share it with senior marketers and CEOs (to be honest, I’d use this directly only, not with agencies).

Your costs? Your time, perhaps you can buy others’ research to use in your own (transparently), perhaps a venue to present your findings to key targets.

How can you make money?

  • You’d possibly use this tactic as a way to set up selling everything else.
  • You could sell a teaser (a top-ten list, for example) and then sell other services to unlock the rest.

5. Affiliate marketing

This is something I’m exploring: how to help brands that are typically sold in supermarkets sell online on your blogs. Brands have guns at their heads right now. The chain stores and big supermarkets have so much power: they bully price changes, and reduce shelf positioning, all while introducing their own competing home brands. If you can solve this problem, you win.

How much money is there in this? What did Groupon sell for?

Your costs? How much did Groupon cost to make?

How can you make money? How does Groupon make money?

In all seriousness, there are free tools out there to help you do this—you just need to work out the logistics with the brand (that is, delivery), as well as how to make them feel that the big stores won’t come for payback.

6. Talent and representation

Like everyone else, you have blogging friends. Like everyone else, you’re getting approached by PR companies, agencies and marketers. Like everyone else, you think it could all be done much better. Well, do something about it! Set up your own company and systems to help your friends get paid more doing stuff they want to do and help the people with the money achieve their goals.

How much money is there in this? If you’re serious about this, then it’s a completely new business for you so the possibilities (and risks) are as big you want them to be.

Your costs? Time, legal fees, business setup costs, and so on—unless you can trial the idea using firm handshakes as contract-makers.

How can you make money?

  • Coordinate book proposals with publishers you’ve built up relationships with.
  • Talent agency for advertising agencies.
  • Event-speaking representation.

7. Band your ads together

You could also set up your own ad network via Adify. You’d need to work hard to establish credibility and scale. You’d also need to decide whether you will do the sales or whether you’ll hire or outsource that responsibility. Either way, it’s worth exploring.

What do you think?

If you have questions, need clarity, want to collaborate or simply debate … let me know in the comments.

Mark Pollard blogs about account planning, digital strategy and Twitter and Facebook.

Blog Monetization Outside the Box

This guest post is by Matthew Kepnes of Nomadic Matt’s Travel Site.

Someone once told me that the only way to make money with a blog is to sell massive amounts of text links. “There’s no other way,” he said, and he was resolute in his opinion.

I couldn’t change his mind, so I just listened and nodded my head. I didn’t bother to argue, even though I knew he was wrong. I know plenty of people who make money online and they don’t do it by selling text links. Yet lots of people seem to think that the only way to make money with a blog is through text link sales. When I hear people say this, I often think to myself, “You only think this way because you aren’t thinking outside the box. You aren’t being creative enough.”

Don’t get me wrong. Text links can be good money. I’ve sold text links in the past, and I know many sites that still do. Those sites still rank highly in Google, and they still have good PageRank. Sites that sell text links are controversial, especially after the JC Penny controversy, and I won’t get into whether or not you should sell text links.

This post is about a larger issue: the idea that without text links, you can’t make money online. I think that is a great fallacy and it is a line of thinking that is perpetually argued by those who are stuck in the box.

Outside the box

When most people think of the phrase, “think outside the box,” they imagine a big boardroom of people brainstorming the next big idea. There’s some guy at the head of the table going, “Come on, people, we need to think outside the box on this one!” and then everyone at the table looks around nervously at each other, unsure of what to do.

However, thinking outside the box, as contrived of a statement maybe, is the only way to succeed with a blog.

When most people think of monetization, they think AdSense, sponsored posts, affiliate sales, or text links. But the biggest sites in the world don’t use any of those techniques. They get more creative than that.

Let me give you two examples.

First, take a site like Zen Habits by Leo Babuta. It’s a popular site on simple living that probably gets over 500,000 visitors per month. But it didn’t start that way. Leo grew the site every day, and he has made it a point to never sell advertising on the site. It is completely ad-free, and his site eventually allowed him to quit his job and focus on what he loved doing.

So what is on his site? Ebooks. Leo created a trusted brand and now people buy his books to learn more. The site even got him a real, physical-book deal. By focusing on delivering what his readers wanted, Leo was able to develop a following of loyal fans that supported him by buying his products.

Everyone has an ebook these days, but the most successful ebooks are completely unique. For example, everyone seems to have an ebook on how to travel the world these days, but I decided to think outside of the box. I launched a new ebook that offers a bit of a spin on the traditional travel ebook by lining up travel companies and offering exclusive discounts in the book worth over $700 USD. Now, my book is more than just another travel book on the internet. I found something people weren’t doing, I did it, and I also created a better way for my readers to save money.

Secondly, look at the lifecaster, iJustine. All she does is video-blog her life. She didn’t just start a website and think, “I’m going to sell text ads.” No, she did something unique and cutting-edge. She thought outside the box. (And the fact that she is a beautiful blonde certainly helps!) She started doing crazy stuff online like singing and dancing in Apple stores and she got a great following. Now, she gets sponsorships and speaking deals. (After all, you can’t put text links on YouTube!)

Take guest blogging, for example. I focus on travel, but this isn’t a travel site. I guest blog on finance blogs, life hacking sites, and a wide range of other topics. I do this to leverage my knowledge into other fields, because, after all, everyone likes to travel and everyone likes to save money. So when I blog on other niches, I let people know I’m an expert in travel to people who would never have come into my own niche on their own. But many bloggers never do this. They only stay in their niche—but if you do this, you have nowhere to grow. Think laterally. Blog in niches that are similarly related. Don’t always get stuck in your niche.

Experimentation pays

It’s important to continue acting outside of the box. You should always be trying something new. In the words of Thomas Edison, “I didn’t fail; I just tried 1,000 ways that didn’t work.” You must be willing to experiment, take risks, and lose in order to finally win. I’ve tried Facebook ads, AdWords, guest posting, using AdSense, not using AdSense, Facebook ads again, different hostel booking engines, and flight engines in order to see what works and what doesn’t. I’ll try new products and services. I am always testing. I’m always experimenting to find that perfect mix.

If you limit the online game to text links and banner ads, you will fail. My friend is right. You won’t make any money. Even with over 100,000 visitors a month, I still have trouble attracting banner ads. The ad space in travel just isn’t there yet. So I got creative, I found ways to expand my audience beyond just travel blogs, and I figured out how to expand my income beyond text ads. I experimented. I tried. I failed. I keep trying. I keep failing. I keep experimenting. And in the long run, I succeed.

There are many ways to make it online. Those who have made it have done it by bucking conventional wisdom and thinking outside the box. They got creative. They went right when everyone was going left. If you also want to make it with your blog, you must do the same. Narrow thinking won’t help you last on the Internet. Be bold. Be daring. And when you are, you’ll be successful.

Do you think outside the box when it comes to monetizing your blog? Let us know in the comments.

Matthew Kepnes has been traveling around the world for the past four years. He runs the award winning budget travel site, Nomadic Matt’s Travel Site and has been featured in The New York Times, The Guardian UK, AOL’s Wallet Pop, and Yahoo! Finance. He currently writes for AOL Travel and The Huffington Post For more information, you can visit his Facebook page or sign up for his RSS feed.