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2 Blogging Myths: Traffic Measures Success and Content Is King

This guest post was written by Stephen Guise of Deep Existence.

Admit it. You think I’m crazy for dogging the two most commonly cited blogger goals—traffic and great content. Allow me to explain before you throw your mouse at the screen, please.

Busting the myths

Blog traffic is very important. With no traffic, how will anyone see your masterpiece on writing blindfolded for enhanced focus? Your blog needs traffic.

But traffic is not a valid measure of success. If traffic were a valid measure of success, every blogger starting out would be an instant failure for months, if not longer.

Success metrics must be applicable to people at all levels of experience. High traffic later on is a great indication that you have succeeded (like ProBlogger has), but it simply isn’t relevant to new bloggers who want to know how well they’re doing.

Traffic relative to experience and time online is also a moot statistic, because it has more to do with luck and/or marketing than anything else:

  • The better marketers will have better traffic—especially in the beginning.
  • I’ve seen horrendous blogs (messy layout, weak content, horrible grammar, etc.) with thousands of subscribers.
  • I’ve seen great blogs that are practically invisible online because they don’t know how to, or care to, gain exposure.
  • Time separates the wheat from the chaff (unless you never market your blog at all, in which case, good luck).

For a beginning blogger, it can be tough to see the big-time bloggers pull in thousands of visitors on a daily basis while you’re reaching for 50 on a good day. It takes time and effort to get your name out there so that you can get the chance to be fairly evaluated by web users. I know that many quality bloggers have simply quit because they equated low traffic with failure.

63,494 blogs were started in the last 24 hours (according to blogpulse.com at the time of writing) and many of those bloggers will quit in the first few months. The first few months are important.

We’ve all heard the classic “content is king” viewpoint as well as the opposing, “unseen content is useless” perspective. In reality, both have some truth—you need great content and you need to make sure people know about it.

However, saying that content is king gives the writer the wrong focus.

How to measure success at any level

So then, what is the best measure of success?

Success is measured by what readers think of your content.

I have only been blogging (on my website) for a month, and as such, my traffic is hilariously low. However, I am very hopeful for retaining and gaining new readers because of how I’ve been measuring my success.

When I read articles about content being king, I get the impression that we should write the best content we can create. The problem is that the writer’s opinion of “best content” doesn’t matter too much.

Content is not king, and neither is traffic: your readers are king!

Some might say that this is what “content is king” actually means, but that is up for interpretation. Saying that readers are king leaves no doubt.

Readers decide what they want to read, how much, and when. They determine which blogs soar to incredible popularity and which blogs bite the dust. They are king because they control the destiny of every blogger. So how do we cater to their interests? How do we know what they want?

  1. You want to shape your content to your readers. Okay, but how do you do that?
  2. You do that by listening to what your readers are telling you.
  3. You listen by measuring the number of tangible positive responses (Facebook likes, tweets, comments, new subscribers, etc.) relative to the number of people who viewed a post (individual post views can be seen with Google Analytics, but make sure you’re blocking your own IP address views to prevent skewing the stats).

This approach is primarily geared towards people starting out such as myself, but it is relevant to all bloggers.

When you’ve “made it” and are getting tons of traffic, the positive responses in relation to your traffic (and increased traffic itself via reader sharing) will be pretty obvious indicators of how your posts are received. You have a much bigger sample size in that case, and precise calculations aren’t necessary. But I’m sure you’ll do them anyways because of how much fun they are.

Low traffic … but high hopes

I believe that I am going to be a successful blogger. It isn’t because of my traffic—on Saturday I had a whopping six unique visitors (ouch, weekends).

My readers, not my traffic, have been foreshadowing my success by responding positively. In the first week, a couple I’m friends with told me my blog was changing their lives. I’ll take that over 1,000 visitors.

My last post was seen by only 22 unique visitors the day I posted it, but from that it received seven Facebook likes. My subscriber count doubled from seven to 14. About 32% of the readers liked it enough to share it with their Facebook friends.

If I were attracting 2,000 visitors a day and maintained that 32% sharing rate (unlikely, but interesting), it would translate to 640 Facebook likes on that post, which could obviously boost my traffic substantially.

I’ve had other posts that were seen by a much higher number of people with a much lower response—that is a huge statement by the readers. I would be a fool to ignore it and write whatever I want.

As a blogger, you need to have a willingness to adapt your vision and content to the marketplace. Let’s face it: blogging is a business. You have to promote your product (blog posts), network with other businesses (bloggers), and create value for your customers (readers).

Consider the variables

It is important to note that there are many other factors that come into play here—the time the post was published, the length of post, topic interest, marketing, statistical variations, the influential power of who shares your post, and so on.

It isn’t an exact science because of the variables involved, but it remains the best measure of success for a blogger at any level. This is why I recommend allowing comments on your posts, or at the very least adding social sharing options, to bloggers starting out. Disable comments because it looks bad to have no comments, and you’ll miss out on a chance to get valuable feedback.

Even at low traffic levels, I’ve found you can still get a good feel for your winners and losers. For example, the aforementioned post with fewer views had a much greater response than every other post with more views on my blog. The readers have spoken.

Keep in mind that different posts will have different reactions. The popular post I mentioned has zero comments, but people were sharing it and subscribing as a result of it.

Another post I wrote on deep thinking was shared less, but has more comments. Both posts were successful based on the number of views.

I’d love to hear from you about your experiences, and get your thoughts and feedback on this idea. After all, if you’re reading this, your feedback is king!

Written by Stephen Guise. See my website for more deep thoughts and follow me on twitter!

Two Email Marketing Strategies that Work

This is a guest post by Shaun at Ultimate Mailing List.

As I’m sure many of you know, building a mailing list can greatly benefit your business.

Bloggers harp on all the time about how much money you can make if you have enough subscribers, and how great it can be in terms of social proof. While this is true, what’s often left out is what you should do once you have your mailing list up and running.

This means bloggers are left paying their $19-a-month Aweber fees, with no real idea of how they’re going to make that money back.

I want to share with you two great ways to get your email marketing campaigns off the ground.

The first strategy will help you get more subscribers and build your authority in your niche, while the second will help you get more page views and affiliate sales—all in an ethical manner, of course. Both of these methods will also help build stronger relationships with your subscribers, and get them to trust you. This is vitally important, as the better your relationship is with your subscribers, the longer they will stay around.

So, let’s get into the methods shall we?

The short course strategy

The method

The short course method is pretty much what is sounds like: you set up a short course which your website visitor is enrolled in once they sign up to your mailing list. Over the next few days (usually seven, but the course duration can be more or less depending on what you have to offer), your subscribers will be sent a new part of the course. This is done automatically via your autoresponders, so you don’t have to physically be around for your course to be delivered.

What it achieves

Depending on the niche I’m catering to, I often prefer this method to sending out a one-off ebook in exchange for an email address. This is because it achieves a few objectives:

  • It helps build up a strong relationship with your customers in a short space of time. While it can take a while for subscribers to fully trust you, if you send them top-quality emails every day for a week, this trust is built up a lot faster.
  • A short course can offer higher perceived value then a one-off ebook, meaning you’ll get more subscribers.
  • It’ll get people used to opening and interacting with your emails. A subscriber who doesn’t open your emails is pretty much useless, so sending them daily emails (initially) will help them to associate your emails with quality. This’ll mean they’re more likely to open future emails they receive from you.

Why it works

With this approach, each email acts as a reminder.

While ebooks are good, many people tend to read the first chapter, put it down for further reading later on, and never get back to it. With an email course, however, they’re sent a new part every day, so they’re always reminded that they have reading to do. This means they’re more likely to read each part, and they’ll be reminded to go back to any part they miss when a new email comes through.

Another good thing about short courses is that they can quickly help you to establish your authority in your niche. If everyone else in your niche is offering ebooks, and you offer a course—something most other people will likely be charging for—people will look at you more favorably than your competitors, and they’ll be more open to seeing what you have to offer.

An example

You can see an example of this strategy at work here. In the sidebar, a seven-day course is offered to anyone who enters their email address. If collecting email addresses is your primary aim, you may want to make the opt-in box appear at the top of the page, though.

While it’s not essential, it may be a good idea to incorporate this next strategy into your seven-day course, too…

The further interaction strategy

The method

In this strategy, you’re looking to get your subscribers to further interact with you once they finish reading your emails. This is a method that can be applied to your existing email marketing campaigns, and although simple, it can drastically increase your website’s page views, reader loyalty, and more.

With this technique, you send subscribers short- to medium-length emails. In these emails, you will include a guide or something else that’s helpful to the reader, and at the bottom, include a link to more on this subject. The link will lead back to a page on your website, getting you more page views as you point the subscriber in the direction of further assistance. Note that it’s important to not include any ads in these emails.

This strategy can be applied to any email you send out for which you have additional information about the subject on your website. I tend to use it a lot in my autoresponder series, but it can be applied to any email you see fit.

What it achieves

  • More page views. As you will include a link back to your website, you will have more people visiting your site.
  • More sales. While you’re not selling anything directly in your emails, some of the pages you link to from your emails may promote affiliate products or have ads that you can make money from.
  • More visits to your hidden gems. If you have a big website, there are often articles that will be helpful to visitors that they don’t end up seeing. Using this method you can show people about your less-visible but just as helpful articles.
  • A higher open rate. If your emails are helpful and genuine, more people will continue to open and interact with them.

Why it works

I’ve been using this method effectively for quite a while now. It has led to me having top-quality open rates and a high percentage of clickthroughs—both are well above the industry average.

This method works because people don’t feel like they’re being sold to. If you constantly sell to people in your emails, your subscriber turnover rate will be very high. While people may open the first few to see what you have to say, after a while they’ll catch wind of your game and start ignoring your messages.

If you’re being helpful to them in every email, however, people are more likely to look forward to your messages and interact with them regularly. On top of that, they can make you sales if you have an affiliate offer or other monetization method in the linked page on your website.

What if you don’t have any extra information on your website?

I’ve often written emails for my autoresponder but not had anything to link back to. So what did I do? Well, I added the email to my autoresponder anyway, as the information was still valuable by itself.

The good thing about this method is it always gives you ideas for new subjects. You may want to make a note of any emails you send that aren’t further documented on your website, and in future, write an article or post about them. You can then go back and add a link to your emails (If they’re in an autoresponder) so any future subscribers will have that further bit of interaction.

Email marketing that works

So there you have it—two ways you can greatly improve your email marketing efforts. Using these methods will help build your authority, get you more subscribers, build up a better relationship with your customers, and get your more sales.

What other methods do you use to effectively build up your mailing list?

Shaun is the owner of Ultimate Mailing List, a site dedicated to help you build a responsive and profitable mailing list. Not sure how to build a list or want more email marketing tips? Then check us out.

WP Troubleshooting Tips From the Trenches

This guest post is by Dan Sheehan of DSConstructiontahoe.com.

I’m one of those types who believe when something’s working fine, it’s a good time to mess with it. After all, isn’t that how progression and innovation happen?

My construction business had been slow so I decided to build my own website during some down-time.

I learned a lot about WordPress and SEO through my toying, tweaking, and dismantling of this website, and I think my tips might help newbies and seasoned WordPressers alike!

Google Webmaster Tools

If you haven’t already, I highly recommend that you sign up for a free Google Webmaster Tools account.  Much of the following post is based on the information you can get from this extremely important tool.

It is never fun to go to your Google Webmaster Tools account to find that the Googlebots have been discovering pages of your site that you never knew existed, or URLs that are non-existent. Or to find that your home page isn’t being indexed because there’s a trailing slash on the end of your home URL. The worst was when I found that both the www and non-www versions of my URL were being indexed—that’s not good for SEO.

Redirection and link juice plugins

Along the journey, I’ve tried many plugins. One thing I have tried to do is use as few a plugins as possible in an attempt to make my site as fast as possible (since Larry Page is such a speed freak).

I present here are a few plugins that I have found help my site play nice with Google, and are well worth the weight they add to my WP installation.

After changing my permalink structure four or five times and my domain name twice, I had a mess that Google pointed out to me under the “crawl errors” and “html errors” sections in the Webmasters tools.

Two plugins helped clean up a lot of this mess: Redirection and Link Juice Keeper.

The Redirection plugin allows you to place a 301 redirect on any URL within the domain. To tell you the truth, in many cases I had no idea where these bad URL’s came from—I only knew that Google was telling me they were crawl errors. And the reasons as to how I got all those errors are beyond the scope of this post.  When you use a 301 redirect, any PageRank from that homeless page transfers to the page you are 301-redirecting to.

Link Juice Keeper (or LJK) is what I use to basically clean up all the bad URLs for which I can’t find a page to redirect to. LJK automatically redirects all non-existent URLs and 404 errors to your home page. So after you go through and 301-redirect URLS that can be pointed to good, specific pages, you can let LJK pick up the rest—plus any others that pop up.

However, keep in mind that any of the subsequent redirections that LJK makes might be better replaced by a redirection to a more appropriate page on your site, so it’s good periodically to check for any new errors, and properly redirect them if possible, rather than just letting them go to your home page.

By giving a home to all these “homeless pages” you are preserving any link juice that those pages have within your domain. If a page with a bad URL can be found on the ‘net, then it has value—but not if it goes to a “page cannot be found” page. Why not make use of all those pages and have them become paths to the content that you want to rank for?

Anti-spamming plugins

Another great plugin I came across is cbnet Ping Optimizer.

Did you know that every time you make an edit to a post or a page on your WordPress blog, you’re pinging a bunch of update services like Google, Technorati, and many more? This action lets them know that you have some new content and that they should send over their crawlers to take a look.

That’s great … unless you’re like me, and are constantly correcting some spelling, or tweaking your pages on a very regular basis. Maybe you’re reformatting a post, and keep updating and publishing over and over until it looks just right.

While you’re consciously improving your content, you’re also making yourself out to be a spammer in the eyes of those update services. What cbnet Ping Optimizer does is control those pings so that you only ping the update services when you create something new (a post or a page)—not when you edit an existing post or page. If you’ve made a bunch of edits that have significantly changed the page or post, then you can go ahead and manually force-ping the services.

A Firefox addon that’s been helpful to me is SEO Doctor.

SEO Doctor provides great SEO-related information about the page that’s displayed in your browser. It will let you know, for example, if you are using two H1 tags (not good), as well as many other SEO blunders.

SEO Doctor told me that an important page on my blog was not being indexed because of a canonical link issue. In the end I found that the plugin All In One SEO was the culprit. Once I unchecked the Canonical URLs option, the issue resolved. I still love AIO SEO and find it invaluable, but without SEO Doctor, I’d never have found this problem.

Site Meter: a handy watchdog

The other day, I had noticed from my Site Meter account that Google was indexing my site with both www and non-www URLs.

Site Meter, unlike many other trackers, shows Googlebot visits, which I love. I was able to see that Google actually came to my site using specific keyword search terms! Tracing these back to the SERPs, I saw that there were both forms of the URLs in the search results. After an unrelenting research, I came across a website that mentioned the same WordPress problem. The author disabled the plugin W3 Total Cache and the problem was resolved.

I cleaned up my .htaccess file and reordered the rewrite rules and that seemed to fix it, but I’m skeptical.  To be sure it does not happen again, I made the non-www URL (www is my preferred format) the link I use to check out my site from my desktop and bookmarks. So when I click the link, I look in the Address bar of the browser to be sure that the non-www URL resolves to the www version.

The last thing you want is to make Google unhappy with you. For the beginner I think it is important to monitor all these things vigilantly until the dust settles. If you do not think you need to monitor your site then you must be doing nothing to optimize it. If you are, you’ll have no feedback about the search engine, and your progress could be hindered.

These are my favorite WP troubleshooting tips. What are yours? I’d love to hear about them in the comments.

Dan Sheehan is a snowboarder, general contractor, and jack of all trades.  His hobby with PCs has also turned into a small computer repair business on the side. Typically he works on something until it breaks and then he improves on it.

How to Select Good SEO Keywords

This guest post is by Jeremy Myers of TillHeComes.org.

The problem with good keywords is that they are usually not words at all. Good SEO keywords are usually phrases, that is, two or more words strung together in a saying or idea. When you enter keywords into your meta keywords section, don’t use words, use phrases.

Why? I’ll give you two reasons.

1. There are too many single keywords

While you can use single-word keywords, you will be vying for position with the millions of other websites that also use the same keyword.

Let’s say, for example, you are writing a post about how to prepare a manuscript for ebook publishing. While you could use the keyword “ebook,” you will be up against the millions of other blog posts about ebooks, even if they are about ebook readers, ebook sales, or ebook marketing.

By lengthening your keyword into a keyword phrase, such as “ebook publishing,” or maybe even “prepare manuscript for ebook publishing,” you significantly narrow the field of competitive websites, which allows your page to rise higher in Google Search results for that phrase.

Reason 2. Nobody searches for single keywords

When was the last time you searched for something on Google using only one word? That’s right: never.

If you are searching for ebook publishing tips, you don’t search for “ebook” or for “publishing.” Both are too broad. Instead, you search for the complete phrase, “ebook publishing tips.” If that is how you search for relevant sites, then that is also how you should write and prepare your own pages and posts so others can find your sites.

Boost relevance using Google Insights for Search

One helpful site I use to search for relevant keyword phrases to use in my blog posts is Google Insights for Search.

At the top of the page, you enter the single keyword or keyword phrase that you’d like to write a post about. You can choose options including a geographical area of the world you want to focus on, or which timeframe you are interested in, and then hit Search.

Google Insights

Here is a brief video from Google about what Google Insights can do.

Let’s look a little deeper into how you can use Google Insights for Search to write blog posts around a central keyword or phrase. Let us say, for example, you wanted to write a post on the “top blogs.” If you entered “top blogs” as a search term, and did not change anything else, you would discover that since 2004, the interest in searches related to “top blogs” has been steadily increasing.

This is good news! You have hit on a rising trend which might make a good blog post or, better yet, blog series.

Interest over time

But Google Insights also provides you with a list of related keywords and key phrases that people have been searching for on Google, as well as keyword trends:

Top searches

The phrase you originally searched for, “top blogs,” does not appear to be the best choice of keywords. Better and more popular phrases appear on the left, with breakout trends on the right. As indicated, the word “breakout” means that over the timespan chosen, this keyword has trended by 5000% or more.

Choose a few of the phrases or words that are most popular or are trending upward, and write your post focusing on those terms. As the picture below shows, you might be better off focusing on terms like “top blog,” “the top blogs,” “best blogs 2010,” or “best design blogs.”

However—and this is crucial—this search, while helpful, does not show recent trending. Remember, it is using the default search criteria, which go all the way back to 2004. You want more recent trends to understand current searches. So one thing you could do is adjust the timeframe filter, maybe to just the last 12 months, as shown in the picture below:

Reseraching "best blogs"

By adjusting the timeframe filter, you can get a bitter picture of what people are searching for more recently. As the following image shows, not much has changed except the top search phrase on the right. People want to know what the best blogs of 2011 were. Maybe you could write a blog post on that instead of the more generic idea of “best blogs.”

Refining the keyphrase

Let me give one final example.

Let’s say you are launching a blog about men’s health. Naturally, you want lots of visitors as soon as possible. So what sorts of posts would be best to start with? Let Google Insights for Search tell you. You would begin by leaving the keyword search field blank, and then change the filters to reflect a recent timeframe and the “Men’s Health” category.

Google Insights on "Men's health"

By doing this, you discover the most popular and upward trending search phrases on Google.

Google Insights search results

Men's Health top search results

It would appear that if you were launching a blog post on men’s health, you would be wise to do a series on vasectomies, androgen insensitivity, circumcision, and uncircumcision.

Hmm, I wonder why those search terms are popular? I’ll let you research that on your own … but not on your work computer—your boss may not understand!

Using Google Insights for Search to help select better keyword phrases will not automatically rocket your website to the top of Google Search results, but such a practice will help you write more targeted and focused articles, which over time will provide you with more readers.

Have you used Google Insights for Search yet? Share your experience in the comments below.

Jeremy Myers writes at www.tillhecomes.org. You can also follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

Why Your Blog Sucks

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

Your blog sucks. You just don’t know it yet. On the other hand, my blog is great because my blog really sucks, and I know it.

I know that my blog needs work, and I’m always working to improve it. I wish I had the fan base that Chris Guillebeau from the Art of Non-Conformity has. I wish I could “figure out” social media better. I wish I had apps like Travelfish. I wish I could have better conversions, a better design, and a million other things.

In short, I know that despite getting tons of traffic and being viewed as having one of the biggest travel websites on the Internet, my blog still sucks because I know there’s always room for improvement.

I’m always working on improving my site on every front. I understand that blogging takes time and that no two blogs are equal and, if I am going to make it, I am always going to need to change and constantly improve.

No two blogs are the alike. However, one common trait I see among too many bloggers is the idea that just because we all have blogs, we’re all equal and deserve the same treatment. I think this notion harkens back to the early days of blogging, when the practice was seen as a more egalitarian form of journalism, and everyone was in it together.

Even when the social aspect of blogging is put aside and the business factor comes in, this equality idea still lingers on, and it limits bloggers from developing great websites. Why would you need to improve your website if you think it’s already on par with the best sites on the Internet? You don’t. After all, you’re at the top of your game, right? But the mentality that “all blogs are equal” will only keep you from reaching the true potential of your website.

Think of it this way: is McDonald’s the same as that amazing burger place down the street? Are two pizza places the same? No way! If every sushi restaurant thought they were the famous Nobu, why would they ever bother improving their services or quality? They wouldn’t!

And it’s that kind of attitude that keeps bloggers from developing truly outstanding websites. There’s the assumption that if we all have a blog, we are all equal and deserve the same stuff. We all deserve to guest post on Zen Habits, get advertisers, write for CNN, and receive lots of amazing perks.

I run a travel site and PR folks often remark in their conversations with me that they find too many people demanding a free trip, a free hotel, or a free whatever. Those PR people are going to look at a blog and think, “This person has no readers, but s/he is demanding free stuff. Why would I give them anything?”

They’re right to think this way. You have a blog, but that doesn’t mean you should be entitled anything. Anyone can start a blog. It takes about ten minutes. However, not everyone knows how to make a high-quality blog.

Should the person who just installed WordPress be entitled to the same benefits as the person who has been working two years at building a successful site has? I don’t think. Would you make a guy CEO after he worked for your company for two weeks? You need to prove yourself and show you have value to offer.

I wake up everyday thinking, “How can I be better? What am I doing right? What am I doing wrong?” Unfortunately, too many people don’t do that. They just have a cookie-cutter, free theme and write short, unfocused posts. But blogging is more that.

Blogging, like it or not, is a business. (Sure, you can write a blog just for mom and dad but I suspect most people reading this article want to make a serious business out of their blog.) Blogging is like any other profession. You don’t get better unless you improve yourself. But if you already view yourself as the best, you limit your ability to become great, because you make yourself blind to your limitations.

I think it’s great that you have a blog. You are doing something, and by reading ProBlogger, you are probably already committed to bettering yourself. However, don’t get into the false mindset that all blogs are equal, because they aren’t. Recognize that your blog, just like my blog, needs to be improved constantly. The more you better yourself, the more traffic and readers you will get.

In no other business do you see people say, “Okay, I opened a store and that’s all I need to do. Let the money roll in.” So I’m always baffled that bloggers think, “Well, I just started this blog and even though my mom is the only person reading it, I should still get that all-expenses-paid trip, I should be able to preview the new iPad, speak at SXSW, or write for Mashable.”

Stop thinking that way. Stop thinking you are the cat’s meow just because you blog. Stop thinking you are the same as everyone else. Start thinking about ways to improve your site. Start looking at what is wrong and how to fix it. Set goals for yourself, work at it, and see what other people are doing.

Yeah, it’s going to be a lot more work than it was before. Yeah, blogging will be like a job. But if your goal is to have an awesome website that supports you, simply posting a blog post isn’t going to cut it.

Can your blog do with some improvement? What changes are you making to better your blog today?

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.

10 Ways to Use Your Blog to Manage a Crisis

This guest post is by Jeff Domansky of The PR Coach.

Your blog is a very important part of your personal image or company brand. While you’ve invested time in its development, have you ever thought about how you could use your blog to manage a crisis?

A blog offers several advantages compared to news releases, websites, or other social media channels.

Image by Jeff Domansky of Fotolia.com, used with permission

It lets you control your message without a media filter. It speaks with authority as your “voice of record.” In a crisis, your blog can be a valuable internal and external communications tool. And, most importantly, with quick action, it can help ensure you’re heard accurately in a crisis.

Ten ways to blog in a crisis

Here are ten valuable ways you can use your blog to help manage a crisis:

1. Quick response

Issue your holding statement and/or first “official” response to a crisis as soon as possible on your blog. This prevents a vacuum being filled by the messages of your critics, competitors, or opponents. Deal with the most obvious concerns. Be proactive. Provide facts. Reassure the community that you’re actively working on the issue and that safety is paramount.

Scott Monty shows how SeaWorld used its blog effectively in the tragic death of an employee by one of its Killer Whales.

3. Voice of record

Use your blog as your company’s voice when you can’t reach everyone more easily in other ways. A fire or other emergency may prevent you from accessing your email system, your office fax, or communications equipment. In that situation, your blog may be your only available communications channel.

GE recently tried to use Twitter to defend itself from media attacks around a tax issue. It didn’t work. 140 characters wasn’t enough. Using the GE blog would have been more effective for such a complicated defense. Ultimately, GE has quit trying to “spin” its story after a poor media relations effort.

3. Updates

Quick, timely updates through your blog can be invaluable in keeping employees, customers, regulators, fire and safety officials, the media, and the general public informed of new developments. Remember, your updates can be very brief and factual. Most crisis managers know it’s important to show that even if you have not yet resolved the crisis, you’re working to solve it.

BP attempted to use a blog for Gulf oil spill cleanup updates, but received pointed criticism for its attempts to paint the recovery unrealistically. BP since shuttered this blog and removed the posts, demonstrating how transparent and objective you must be for success.

4. Corrections

Your blog is critical in correcting mistakes, responding to misinformation, and making sure that audiences have the correct information. Move quickly to correct factual errors, but don’t sweat the small stuff.

Chrysler’s Ed Garsten used his corporate blog to go on the record effectively with facts about firing a consultant for dropping the F-bomb in a corporate tweet.

5. Leverage internal resources

In a crisis, employees are your most valuable resource. Encourage employees to view your blog. Suggest they provide links to the blog to their key contacts. It informs employees, controls their messages and helps them respond to family, community, customer and other concerns with accurate information.

Whole Foods Market’s’ blog, Whole Story, has a series of Food Safety posts that show its care and commitment to safe, healthy foods.

6. Media relations

In the heat of a crisis, it may be difficult to reach media. Your blog can provide critical media information as well as links to press releases, fact sheets, FAQs, photos, video, and everything else a reporter needs if they can’t reach a spokesperson. Make sure your blog address and 24-hour phone contacts are provided on all media information.

Craigslist founder Craig Newmark’s blog, craigconnects, has a simple Press page that works well.

7. Support with the “basics”

Use your blog to provide advice, direction, and basic information such as phone numbers and addresses for company, fire, and safety contacts, and community organizations. Provide all employees with key information including the blog address. Add a recorded message to your answering service to ensure that information on your blog is available after hours. This will help ease pressure, reduce inbound calls and show concern while your team deals with the crisis.

Remember, much of this information can be prepared in advance before you have a crisis.

8. Enrich and personalize response

Your blog is a great vehicle for visuals, multimedia, links and many additional voices that allow richer, more effective, more human response by your organization. Be creative. If time allows, make use of all of the social media advantages in blogging.

No surprise that Disney Parks Blog is one of the best, taking visitors behind the scenes with wonderful storytelling.

9. SEO

Careful use of keywords in your post titles and content helps you rank higher in search engines and news aggregators, allowing you to compete for a fair and balanced share of voice in the crisis coverage.

10. Post-crisis

Companies often forget to do a wrap-up after a crisis has been handled. The community, your customers, employees, officials, regulatory agencies, media, and the public all need to know that you handled the crisis well. They need to be reassured that they are safe, and that they can trust you to do the right things now and in the future.

Discovery Channel did this very effectively after their hostage crisis in 2010.

Don’t forget to do advance planning so your blog can be used off-site in the event of a fire or other emergency that prevents the use of your office. Build your mailing list of VIPs, media, employees, and customers with smart, useful content.  In a crisis, make sure to alert your readers with the blog address using Twitter updates when speed is critical.

By following these ten steps, your real-time blogging can play a vital role in helping you prepare for, respond to, and manage a crisis. You’ll earn respect for openly communicating and definitely establish trust for the future.

Remember: one-size social media does not fit every situation. Anticipate, plan for the worst crisis you can imagine, and blog for the best.

Have you had success blogging in a crisis? What were your biggest challenges? I’d enjoy hearing from you.

Jeff Domansky is a PR consultant, crisis manager, writer, blogger and editor of The PR Coach with more than 7000 PR resources. Reach him on Twitter @theprcoach.

Why Hopeful Bloggers Are Bad Bloggers

This guest post is by Chris, The TrafficBlogger.

Depending on your situation as a blogger, hope could be your ticket to success, or cause you to quit blogging within the month. Dictionary definition-wise, hope is the feeling that what is wanted can be had, or that events will turn out for the best. Think about how this could be a great or terrible thing for you as a blogger.

False hope (bad!)

There are two very different types of hope for online marketers—and all bloggers need to start thinking of themselves as marketers if they want to be successful.

The first type of hope is a false kind. It is the kind of hope that makes you think spending hours online was worth it because you earned a few pennies for your efforts. A false sense of hope is not only dangerous, but it also wastes your time and, more often than not, your audience’s time as well. I’d rather you failed at something miserably and attempted to make changes, rather than have mediocre success and consider it a reason to keep on failing.

False hope is so dangerous because it leads to complacency and plateauing.

False hope was something that pervaded my every effort online when I first started Internet marketing three years ago. A typical example would be AdWords and affiliate marketing. I would set up ads on Google AdWords for a few dollars each and have the accumulated traffic sent to websites designed to sell a particular product.

Since I was seeing some money come in from this effort I felt that I was successful, but I was actually failing horribly. For every $5 I spent on AdWords advertising, I made $7.

As someone just starting out I felt that a few dollars each day was successful and this feeling led to a false sense of hope which made me complacent instead of aggressive in my internet marketing endeavors. Nowadays I spend $1 and make $30, which is a far cry from the good old days of sitting back and thinking I knew everything about making money online.

Motivational hope (good!)

Failure is a great thing. It’s a reason to have hope, not to lose it.

It is through failure that we achieve success. As a computer programmer, I know what it’s like to find every possible route that doesn’t work—until eventually you track down the solution to your problem. This is how you should view failure: as closing off another dead end, which, in turn, helps you get closer to the correct answer.

When you fail, have hope in the fact that you have saved yourself from the false sense of hope I mentioned earlier, and replaced it with the motivational hope that will one day see you achieve financial success through your efforts.

Don’t take mediocre success as good enough. Keep failing until you get it right.

Taking your failure and spinning it into a motivational tool is part of becoming successful in life—not just online. Failing can push us further towards success, but we have to first recognize failure, and then convert it into motivation. The secret to doing this is to never be satisfied with your own efforts, and therefore to work constantly to improve upon your strategies. Personally, I am never satiated with the fruits of my labor and this forces me to constantly look for a better way to do what I do on a daily basis.

In three years I managed to create a system for blogging that actually builds relationships, captures leads, and sells products consistently. That’s three years of constantly working towards improving upon my own system and being my own biggest critic.

A great example of this is in my posting style. Look at the way you first started blogging, and compare it to the way you do today. Personally, I use more bulleted lists, bolded key points, big headings and concise content. I interact with my audience on a daily basis with not just posts, but social media and a few thousand words per day. I also work hard to get feedback and suggestions from my audience through various collection methods.

Rewind to three years ago? I was happy writing a paragraph a day! Only once I changed my attitude from being excited about my performance, to realizing that I was failing, was I able to begin improving my blogging business.

Are you a hopeful blogger?

The good kind of hope keeps you swinging for the fences, tearing down bad ideas, and trying out new ones until you tweak and split test to the point where even you are happy with the results. A person who is motivated by failure will always be looking to improve upon their current business strategies.

Are you this kind of person, or do you sit back and relax because you feel that you are doing “well enough”?

Chris writes for The TrafficBlogger, as well as writing books on how to drive traffic to your blog.

Shakespeare on Blogging

This guest post is by Leanne of IronicMom.com.

Although Shakespeare wouldn’t have known words like Twitter, social media, and blogging, he no doubt would’ve embraced these new terms. After all, he coined an estimated 1700 words and had a lot of fun playing with language.

But what do you get when you take Shakespeare’s words out of context and apply them to blogging? You get sage advice that has—in its own way—survived more than 400 years.

Here are words from the Bard, applied to blogging.

On the length of posts

Brevity is the soul of wit.
(Hamlet)

Translation: Keep posts and paragraphs short.

On posting too infrequently

I wasted time, and now time doth waste me.
(Richard II)

Translation: Post regularly, or your blog’s energy and following will wither away.

On finding images

Suit the action to the word, the word to the action.
(Hamlet)

Translation: Ensure your image is related to your content; if it’s not obvious, use a caption make the connection.

On the importance of blog design

The apparel oft proclaims the man.
(Hamlet)

Translation: Appearance is important. If you wouldn’t wear 35 accessories, don’t put that many on your blog.

On content

More matter, with less art.
(Hamlet)

Translation: Photos and images are important, but fantastic content is what keeps readers returning.

On avoiding controversial topics

Boldness be my friend!
(Cymbeline)

Translation: Don’t be overly afraid of divisive topics; they can attract and engage readers. Deal with them maturely, and invite readers to disagree.

On commenting

They do not love that do not show their love.
(Two Gentleman of Verona)

Translation: Ensure you read and comment intelligently on other people’s posts. Blogging is about building relationships, and—if you’re genuine—commenting is the best way to do so.

On dealing with hostile comments

I am not bound to please thee with my answers.
(The Merchant of Venice)

Translation: Hostile comments are rarely fun to deal with. It’s usually best to remember that you don’t have to please; instead, aim to critique the idea, rather than the person.

On being preoccupied with statistics

All that glitters is not gold.
(The Merchant of Venice)

Translation: While stats do indeed glitter, they don’t tell the whole story of a blog’s success. Check them, use them to improve your blog, but don’t let them distract you from writing and building community.

On verifying your sources

Lord, what fools these mortals be.
(A Midsummer Night’s Dream)

Translation: Don’t immediately trust what other people have put on the Web. For example, there are several quotations from seemingly reputable sites that are attributed to Shakespeare; cross-referencing revealed the quotes aren’t all his.

On the need to proofread

What’s done can’t be undone.
(Macbeth)

Translation: Think before you hit publish; ideally, leave your post 24 hours and reread it again.

On helping other bloggers

How far that little candle throws its beams! So shines a good deed in a weary world.
(The Merchant of Venice)

Translation: Find someone less established to help out; this is the spirit of blogging.

Leanne’s motto is “If you can’t laugh at yourself, laugh at your kids”; you can read her attempt to survive parenting at IronicMom.com. Leanne also co-created the website, WordBitches, where she and two friends use sass to motivate each
other to write 500 words each day.

Use Twitter Contests to Find Targeted Followers

Few things will replace SEO, providing great content, posting frequently, or building relationships with your readers and with other leaders in your niche as ways to help bring visitors to your blog.

However, I’d like to introduce you to another way you can find targeted followers who are interested in the content, products, and services you create: Twitter contests.

Anyone can put on a Twitter contest. The actual steps you go through are not difficult. And anyone can find a lot of followers with a Twitter contest. But what I want to share is how you can craft a Twitter contest to find the people who are interested in your niche, and build excitement around them following you on Twitter.

What is a Twitter contest?

Simply, a Twitter contests is a marketing activity designed to cause people to follow you and tweet a predefined message in order to be entered into a drawing for a prize. At the end of the contest period, you randomly draw the winner from those who:

  • followed you, and
  • tweeted the predefined message you created for the contest.

The results, if the contest is crafted right, are a lot of new followers who are truly interested in the messages that you tweet. These are the people who will most likely stay connected with you on Twitter and take action on your tweets. These are also the people who will be most likely to visit your blog or website long after the contest is over.

Each Twitter contest I run yields between 20% and 25% new targeted followers over ten days. My contests are big, so I run them about a year apart. That way, they don’t become so commonplace that they lose their novelty and appeal for either the people who enter, or the sponsors who provide the prizes.

Elements of a successful Twitter contest

While I concede that there are a lot of reasons why a person or company may want to conduct a Twitter contest, the reason that I’m discussing focuses on the blogger’s desire to find targeted followers. All other things being equal, we would rather have 2,000 followers who are interested in the information we tweet, than 10,000 followers who follow us but have no desire to read our tweets.

Depending on how you craft your contest, you may spend a lot of time, energy, and money attracting the wrong people. Alternatively, you can take specific steps to attract those in your niche.

There are several essential elements involved in attracting targeted followers in your niche:

Be clear on the purpose of your contest

Before you go through the work of crafting a Twitter contest, make sure you are clear on what you’re looking to get from the exercise. With me, it’s more targeted followers, targeted being the operative word. Once I have them, I have other activities in place to move them to my blog, my books, and my products. If you’re not clear on the contest’s purpose, then you are setting yourself up for disappointment when it’s over.

Choose prizes wisely

This is perhaps one of the biggest mistakes people make when they conduct a Twitter contest. If you are looking for targeted followers, bigger is not always better—bigger can cost you a lot of money without delivering the results you are looking for. For example, $5,000 in cash may not be as good a prize as a $500 camera or a $30 signed photography book if you’re looking to find photographers as targeted followers.

Sure, $5,000 is empirically worth more than the other two prizes, but consider this: $5,000 may attract a lot of people to your contest who want nothing to do with photography. All they want is the prize—then they’re out of your life. And the truth is that not everyone is motivated to enter contests for cash. Don’t believe me? When was the last time you entered the Publisher’s Clearinghouse $10,000,000 sweepstakes?

When you select a prize for your Twitter contest, it needs to do two things:

  1. Encourage people in your niche to enter the contest.
  2. Discourage people who aren’t in your niche from entering.

Generic prizes like cash, electronics, and vacations appeal to a wide range of people without doing anything special to reach out and grab the attention of a photographer. A camera, however, might raise the eyebrows of someone in your niche, as would a signed book from a renowned photographer.

Spending time choosing the right prizes that appeal to your targeted Twitter followers can make or break your chances of contest success. It can also save you a lot of money by helping you focus on the prizes that your targeted followers really value.

Don’t offer only your own prizes

Here is another mistake that people often make when they launch a Twitter contest designed to find targeted followers. Instead of reaching out to others for help in providing cool prizes, they only offer a book they wrote, a product they created, or a service they offer. While your prizes may be worthy of prize status, you will be missing out on a huge opportunity to find new targeted followers if you don’t invite others to contribute prizes.

When you reach out to experts and leaders in your niche to donate prizes to your contest, you are in essence setting up a sure way that the sponsors will send their followers to your blog or website—where they’ll find out how to enter your contest. You’ll also capture a lot of their followers on Twitter when they enter your contest. These are targeted prospects who may never have known about your contest had it not been for the sponsor your recruited.

As an example, I recently launched a Twitter contest for my blog with nearly 20 sponsors. Each of these sponsors will play a huge part in sending traffic my way; and since I chose sponsors and prizes related to my niche, the quality of visitors should be in line with the target audience I’m aiming to attract.

Give away the spotlight

In order to get the best experience from your contest, you need to take a step back from the limelight during the contest, and make your sponsors shine. This will give them all the encouragement they need to enthusiastically promote your contest to their followers and subscribers. Remember—these people are business men and women who are constantly looking for ways to promote their business. If you set them up as experts with a prize worthy to win, then they will help you communicate that message.

Another way you provide value to your sponsors during the contest is by highlighting their prize, linking to it, and linking to their website. By doing this, you’re increasing the chance that someone who’s looking at your prize list will see something they like, and decide to buy it instead of waiting for the contest to end.

Make the contest period the right length

This is where some finesse comes in. If you make the contest period too short, it will be over just about the time that its exposure is ramping up, causing you to miss out on a lot of potential traffic. Conversely, if you make it too long, people will not get the sense of urgency to enter it now.

We all know that if we don’t get a prospect to take action when we have them on our page, the chances that they will come back to do so later are dismally low.

With my contests, I’ve found that ten days seems to be a good running period. I run them over two weekends and the week between, starting on a Friday and going through the second Sunday. However, the length and the days you choose may be different for your niche. Don’t be afraid to test the contest length to find the optimal one for you.

Plan your tracking system

You need a plan for tracking all the people who enter your contest. The worst thing you can do is run a contest and then realize that you forgot to track it. Or worse—find that the tracking system you planned to rely on doesn’t give you accurate results.

For example, if you rely solely on Twitter search to find your entrants, you may find that the results don’t go back far enough to capture all the entries.

I like to use redundancy by choosing two tracking methods and cross-referencing the results. There are a number of great services that can send you alerts whenever someone enters the retweet phrase you create for your contest. When your contest starts, you need to immediately confirm that your alerts are capturing data accurately.

Communicate who the winner is and measure your results

When the contest is over, you need to contact the winner and announce on your official contest page that the contest has been won.

I wait until I receive confirmation from the winner before I publish his or her name. I also give the winner seven days to respond to my contact before I choose another winner. The last thing you want to do is choose a winner who doesn’t accept the prize, or one who comes back a month later and wants to collect the prize package then. Be clear in your rules and you can avoid issues like this.

If you’re like me, the real fun begins when the contest is over. This is when you get to crunch all the numbers to see how well you did. The data you get can help your next contest become more effective.

Creating a great retweet message

As I said earlier, for a follower to have a valid entry in your contest, they need to:

  1. follow you on Twitter
  2. retweet a specific message that you create.

A great retweet message will look like this one, which I created for my last contest. This retweet message is not for my current contest, so please don’t retweet it! I’m using it for illustrative purposes only:

RT @tonyeldridge Win a $1300 book marketing prize package from top book marketing experts in the business: http://tinyurl.com/ljn7y6

A great retweet message has these elements:

  • It’s 140 characters long, or less. Don’t forget to make room for the URL when crafting your message. Some blog platforms won’t provide you with the post’s URL until after the post goes live. In those cases, you’ll have to grab the URL, shorten it, and edit your post with the complete RT message once you publish the post.
  • It begins with “RT @YourTwitterID.” If you don’t place something before your Twitter ID, then Twitter will treat the tweet as a reply, rather than a mention. This can limit your contest retweet message’s exposure.
  • It makes mention that this is a contest, and summarizes the prize. It’s harder than you think to craft a small message that packs a big call-to-action, but it can be done. Your goal is to craft a message that makes people want to visit your page to read more about this great contest you’re having.

Twitter contest launch tips

Based on my experience, here are some parting tips to help make sure your Twitter contest takes off smoothly:

  • Don’t roll out a contest on the fly. Until you get experience with running these contests, there are too many places for things to go wrong. A little planning goes a long way for a smooth contest launch.
  • Give sponsors plenty of time to respond. If you don’t have enough planning time, you will not give potential sponsors enough time to digest the benefits of donating a prize to your contest. Chances are, you will be the first person who has approached them about being a sponsor. If you give enough time for this process, you can truly win them over to this marketing activity.
  • Test all links to your sponsors’ pages. You will be reaching for the antacid tablets if you get a bunch of calls from sponsors saying that their links are broken. Broken links are a rough way to start a contest.
  • Make sure you understand exactly what your sponsors are offering as prizes. Here’s where you grab the rest of the antacids in the bottle. You post that your sponsor will donate a 60-minute, free consultation; they come back after the contest is live and say, “No, I said I’d donate a signed copy of my book.” You really don’t want to have to change your prizes after the contest starts, nor create hard feelings between you and your sponsor.
  • Don’t change the rules mid-contest. People expect rules, but they don’t like to see them change. It tends to make them feel like they’re not being treated fairly, or that they’re being taken advantage of. You don’t want to create ill-will by changing rules after the contest launches unless it’s absolutely necessary.
  • Tweet around the clock. Twitter is global, so make sure you are tweeting about your contest around the clock. Even in your own country, you may have target audience members working all hours of the day. Someone is always around to read about your contest.
  • Don’t charge for an entry into your contest, or require someone to purchase something to enter. In many places, it’s illegal to require someone to purchase something to enter a contest. The laws of gambling take effect then. To be safe, make a “No purchase necessary” contest.
  • Don’t trust your sponsors to promote the contest. Prompt them. I often create special tweets that highlight an individual sponsor’s prize and tweet it three or four times during the contest run. This almost always catches their attention and causes them to retweet the message, thus increasing their followers’ exposure to the contest.
  • Follow Twitter’s contest rules. Twitter contests are popular, so Twitter has weighed in on rules they impose for contests. Their rules are simple and very practical, so make sure you follow them. Here’s a summary:
    • Discourage the creation of multiple accounts. If your contest encourages people to create multiple accounts to better their chances of winning, you are in violation of Twitter’s Terms Of Service.
    • Discourage posting the same tweet repeatedly. While it’s okay to have one tweet that everyone needs to use, you cannot encourage users to tweet it multiple times to increase their chances of winning.
    • Ask users to include an @reply to you in their update so you can see all the entries. You can see this in my Retweet example earlier.
    • Encourage the use of topics relevant to the contest. If I have a Twitter contest about photography and I say, “Cool new Apple phone out now” just to get people to click on the contest link in the tweet, I’m breaking the rules. You can use specific hashtags in the tweets, but even the hashtags need to be relevant to your contest.
  • Have fun. You may find a contest stressful when you launch it, but take a breath and relax. I’m betting this will be one of the most memorable marketing experiences you’ll engage in!

Twitter contests, conducted correctly, can be a fun, viral way to uncover targeted Twitter followers and ultimately send them to your blog or website. If you conduct quality contests on a regular basis, you will find sponsors lining up to be part of your next contest, and you’ll build an eager niche anticipating your upcoming contests. Once you have these followers, it’s up to you to keep them, with valuable tweets that relate to their interests.

Have you had experience with Twitter competitions? How have they worked for your blog? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Tony Eldridge is the creator of the Marketing Tips For Authors blog and the author of the Twitter marketing book, Conducting Effective Twitter Contests, and the action/adventure novel, The Samson Effect, that New York Times bestselling author Clive Cussler calls a “first rate thriller brimming with intrigue and adventure.”