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Blogging: It’s All In the Family

This guest post is by Salman of CompuWorld.

It was the second year of my graduation studies when my dad arranged for an always-on Internet connection at our place and I plunged into online chatting like never before. While I was busy living my fantasies online, my dad was busy scolding me for misusing my time. My frustration level grew exponentially as a result of my family’s reaction towards my style of socializing online. I started a blog on blogspot just to prove that I wasn’t fooling around.

What started as a result of ego has today become the most confusing and alluring career option of my life.

I assumed that my family would be proud of me as I was the only one to have a website of his own in my college. But their reaction was unbelievable. Nobody approved of the writer inside me, as it brought no monetary benefits.

The struggle

I continued to blog on daily basis for the next two years while I was completing my graduation. My first two years’ work brought enough money into my Paypal account that I could start a self-hosted blog on my own. Still nobody approved of my blogging as all that I had earned was already invested back online. Blogging for two years with no earnings whatsoever to show needs patience, and a willingness to ignore the heart-breaking comments from those around me. I became pretty good at that.

With two years of experience and graduation under my belt it was time to join a MNC as a software engineer and give up blogging … but recession came to my rescue! My company delayed my joining for over a year and I was gifted with the necessary time to earn some quick bucks online. I started my career as a freelancer and my earnings touched my current yearly salary in half the time period. Money flowed in and so did the writing contracts from various websites.

Showing an interest

Sometimes money can buy satisfaction, and it did buy my dad’s satisfaction with my alternative career as blogger, which happens to be the default term that my family uses even for freelance writers. Slowly my dad’s interest grew in a business where I was earning loads of money from the comfort of my home and ultimately I registered a domain for him.

I taught him few basic rules for a successful blog:

  • Be patient. Your blog will be successful sooner or later.
  • Don’t assume that you will be a millionaire straight away. You might earn nothing during your first six months of blogging.
  • Use basic terms and never sound overly complex.

My tech blog was two years old when my dad’s blog on stock market tips was launched. Today, his two-year-old blog’s traffic is five times that of mine. His subscribers are double mine. And his earnings per day are four times mine—and all these numbers are growing quickly.

My Dad’s blogging secrets

What did my dad do with his blog that I didn’t do with mine? He invested time into his blog. Dad is a stock market investor and has no boss above him to report to. He shares the stock market news and tips that come by during his regular surfing hours with his blog’s readers. He gives huge amount of time to his blog.

Meanwhile, I hardly get any free time to blog after my day job as software engineer and freelance writing contracts. Also, he is content enough with the trickles that AdSense sends him every day. His motto is to continue blogging as long as he can as he loves to do so.

Today, with over four years of experience as freelance writer, tech tips on my blog might not be generating much traffic but my dad is slowing cruising towards a successful blogging career after learning from my mistakes. Usually it is the son who works hard to fulfill his dad’s dream. In my case, it is my dad working hard and patiently to live my dream.

Salman is a software engineer by profession and blogger at CompuWorld while his dad blogs at BellTheBull and is a full-time investor in share market.

Blog for Foreigners Without Getting Lost in Translation

This guest post is by Regina Scharf of Deep Brazil.

Have you ever considered blogging in a language other than your own? You definitely should.

One year ago, when I started Deep Brazil, a blog that shows aspects of my country that are seldom in the media, I had a problem: there was no point in publishing it in my native language, Portuguese. A foreigner who can read Portuguese has access to millions of websites, magazines, and books about the country, right? So, it had to be in English.

Why not French, my other native language? Or Spanish, a language I’m fluent in? Because half a billion internet users—one in every 14 people in the planet—utilize English to surf the Web. It would be silly not target the biggest crowd.

The logic was good, but writing in English was a drag. Portuguese is my main professional tool, since I have been a journalist for over 25 years. I could do a killer job in Portuguese. Now, even if I am proficient in English, I definitely cannot write with the same spark in this language.

Despite this challenge, my decision proved right: exchanging Portuguese for English allowed me to stand out from the crowd and occupy a niche that was under-explored.

Should you considered blogging in any other language than English? Why would you even bother to talk to those who don’t read in your own language? I will give you four good reasons:

  • They will rule: English is the dominant language of the Internet, but it will be beaten by Chinese in the next few years. Today, around 537 million people have English as their primary language for web navigation and 444 million internet users prefer Chinese. But, according to recent forecasts by The Next Web, the Internet is growing so fast in China that that country’s users will soon overtake the English-speaking community.
  • It is less crowded: There is an overwhelming volume of information published in English. Because of that, several blogging niches are close to saturation. If you decide to start a blog on technology or food, for instance, your chances of succeeding are fairly small. Now, this is not true for most of the other languages of the wide, wide Web. Take my native Portuguese as an example. It is the fifth most popular language on the web, ahead of German, Arab, French, and Russian. It is the language favored by over 82 million Internet users. Despite being so widespread, its presence in the Web is somewhat shy. Let’s analyze, for instance, the websites listed on Google for the hottest keyword of last year: iPad.  There are 767 million websites in English that mention the tablet computer—and only 9 million sites in Portuguese. See my point?
  • It is easier to find a good domain: All the good domains in English seem to be already taken, while lots of good domains in other languages and countries are still waiting for some clever blogger to acquire them.
  • It is challenging: Blogging is about testing your own limits, your capacity for uncovering amazing facts or feelings, creating beautiful style, and captivating the masses. What’s more challenging than trying to seduce an audience with different language, background, and values than yours?

Now, the key word here is challenge. Don’t let me fool you: blogging in a foreign language is not piece of cake. But it is definitely worth the effort.

Here I gathered a few tips and tactics that can help you succeed when writing for foreigners:

  • Know yourself: Do some serious self-examination to evaluate your knowledge of the language you are going to write in. Remember: you can go a long way with translation software, but the final product will still be imperfect. You don’t have to be a native speaker, but you have to be fluent to deliver a decent content.  If that’s not the case…
  • Consider hiring a translator or proofreader: If your budget allows it, hire professional help. If that’s not possible…
  • Consider having a native partner: Building an alliance with someone from the group you want to speak to can be a clever move. Suppose you are building a blog about Japan-Britain relations. It would be considerably enriched if a Japanese counterpart could write replica posts from the Japanese point of view of the matters. Your partner could also polish your writing, to make it more palatable to native Japanese speakers.
  • Know your public: Who’s the audience you intend to reach? If you are building a high-quality news blog targeting Arabs, you should know that it might be a good idea to use green in your design, because the color is widely associated with Islam. On the other hand, you might want to avoid an all-white design in a blog that targets Chinese, Koreans, and other Eastern communities that see this color as a reminder of death.
  • Be respectful: Humans are prone to defend their own clans. It is easy to fall in the trap of favoring your own culture and values and disrespecting those of your audience. Remember: readers won’t respect you if you don’t respect them first.
  • Be universal: Spanish is spoken by some 500 million people in 20 countries where it is the official language, and in dozens of other countries where there are considerable Hispanic populations. If you want to dialog with this crowd you will have to choose carefully your vocabulary and your topics in order to make your blog as universal as possible. After all, some words that are totally innocent in Spain can be very offensive in Mexico. And vice-versa.

Anybody out there have a similar experience to share? Do you have any tips to add?

Regina Scharf is a Brazilian journalist who blogs about her country at Deep Brazil. You can follow her on Twitter.

A Blogging State of Mind

This guest post is by Ashley Ambirge of themiddlefingerproject.org.

Blogging. Successful blogging. My own. Yours. If I could sum it up in three little words, they would be:

Magazine
Advertising
Sales

Wait, what? Magazine advertising sales?

Yes—magazine advertising sales.

You see, (insert voice of the narrator from The Princess Bride), once upon a time I sold advertising for a national print and online magazine, when the only writing I did involved contracts and thank-you letters. Day after day, I proudly won over the hearts of marketing directors everywhere. For my efforts, I became recognized as one of the top account executives in the nation—and, well, ev’body likes a nice plaque, right?

So, what do magazine sales have to do with blogging success?

The short answer: everything.

The long(er) answer: At the end of the day, when it comes down to it, every aspect of blogging is, in fact, a form of sales.

There—I said it! Please don’t shoot!

Ah, sales. If you haven’t thrown up yet, your first reaction is likely to be one of the following:

It is not. Blogging is about providing useful content.
It is not. Blogging is about authenticity.
It is not. Blogging is about building community.
It is not. I hate you and your stupid blog, so go away and leave me alone.

All perfectly valid responses, indeed.

But if you operate on those grounds alone, your would-be-profit-making blog might face the eternal destiny of … (deep, soothing breath) … Personal Journal Land. And if you’re just starting out, it’s a tempting place to visit. But if you’ve got any type of business-related purposes in mind for your blog, you’re gonna wanna take a big, fat detour.

Let me be clear for a second: creating insanely useful content, for example, is really important. But that’s kind of a no-brainer, right? You want people to read your stuff? Make it worth reading. No magic tricks there.

Yet despite the no-brainer value of useful content, traditional wisdom for blogging success continues to be trumpeted as more of the same: create useful content, create useful content, create useful content.

But there’s more to it than that.

The problem with relying on useful content alone is that what’s useful is isn’t always obvious. In your opinion, you might have the world’s most useful content, but if no one else perceives it as such, then you’ve just purchased a one-way ticket to Personal Journal Land.

Perception is everything. Right out of the gate is everything. If new visitors don’t perceive your post titles, your blog—or, more importantly, you—as useful, right off the bat as soon as they land on your site, then your stellar content might as well not exist, because no one’s going to take the time to read it—whether it’s actually useful or not.

And then you’ll grow frustrated. You might throw a series of mini temper-tantrums. You’ll lose motivation. You’ll curse your keyboard. And then curse it some more. You’ll want to ditch the whole blogging thing, and send hate mail to WordPress. And you will want to give up. It will be a sad, sad day. Especially for the poor chap opening mail over at WordPress.

Enter: Sales. The good, non-icky kind. (There is such a thing, you know.)

In the good ol’ days, when I would walk into a sales meeting, I had approximately eight seconds to make a good impression. During those eight seconds, prospects basically made a decision as to whether, a) They liked me, b) They thought I had something valuable to bring to the table, c) They were going to buy it.

Fortunately for me, I can do some pretty amazing things in eight seconds. (Not open to interpretation. Well, maybe.)

But here’s the thing: Your blog? It works exactly the same way. Except you’ve only got eight seconds or less. (If you’re lucky.)

In that (incredibly short and unforgiving) time frame, a new visitor decides as to whether, a) They like you, b) They think you have something valuable to bring to the table, c) They’re going to buy it.

In this case, however, “buying it” doesn’t mean your ebook, your product, your service, or your pet hippopotamus; it means buying you, which is the very first step. No other transactions can occur until they’re sold on you. And how, exactly, do they buy you? They buy you with their time and attention. Time and attention are the currencies du jour of the blogging world. It’s whatcha want.

You better do some pretty amazing things in eight seconds.

I guarantee that no matter how useful your content is, no human being in the world will be able to discern its usefulness in such a short time frame unless you can convince them first that they should give you their time and attention. That’s half the battle.

And that’s precisely why sales just went from being the smelly kid on the playground, to being your best friend.

When new visitors land on your site, it’s your job to have things organized in a way that’s compelling At the end of the day, that’s all that sales is—presenting things in a compelling fashion.

Yes, your site design plays a large role in this, but there are other factors that are just as important. From your tagline (you do have a tagline, don’t you?) to the photo you have displayed of yourself, to the content in your sidebar that shows above the fold, to your About page, to your post titles, to the way you present your content, and more.

It isn’t just about being useful; it’s about presenting what’s useful in a way that’s compelling.

During my magazine ad sales days, our product, frankly, was very useful. By far, it was the best product on the market. But that didn’t mean I could just walk into a sales meeting, nonchalantly slap a magazine down on the table, and expect them to magically understand exactly how useful it was. I had to take them by the hand, and not just talk about how great my product was, but demonstrate how great they’d be because of it. I had to make it compelling. I had to make it about them.

Same goes for your blog.

Your blog is insanely useful. It might be the best blog out there on your topic. But that doesn’t mean you can just show up, nonchalantly slap up a post, and expect them to magically understand how useful it is. You’ve got to take them by the hand, and not just produce great content, but demonstrate how great they’ll be because of it. You have to make it compelling. You have to make it about them.

Only then will it actually be perceived as useful in their eyes.  And only then will it get read. And only then can you escape Personal Journal Land.

So, how can you make your blog more compelling right out of the gate?

1. First impressions really count. A lot. Even more than on a first date, because at least your date is stuck with you for the night; new visitors aren’t.

Enough talk about dating; we’re still talking shop here. So, back to the ad sales analogy: you wouldn’t walk into a sales meeting wearing a tee shirt drenched in ketchup and mustard, unless you were selling a fabric cleaning product … or you happen to be rushing back from feeding orphans at your neighborhood homeless shelter. (Nice try.)

Same goes for your blog. Keep it clean. Keep it simple. Make it easy on the eye, so the visitor can focus on the message, not the 30,000 widgets you’ve got blinking in your sidebar. Or the ode to every other blogger you’ve ever exchanged an email with, a.k.a. the blogroll. Or that schizophrenic cloud of alleged keywords that induces more seizures than searches. Remember: you have eight seconds or less. In those eight seconds, you need to engage, not distract.

2. Talk less about yourself.

You wouldn’t walk into a sales meeting, ignore the client, and spend the entire hour giving your esteemed opinion on [insert unrelated topic]. Why? Because the client doesn’t care about your opinion; at this point, he only cares about how you can wave your magic wand and help a brother out. That’s why, in sales, you go in asking questions, you make it all about the prospect, and then you offer a logical solution that addresses the pain points that the prospect himself just finished identifying. This way, you aren’t selling; you’re offering a solution. You know the drill.

How does this apply to your blog? On first visit, a reader doesn’t care about you; at this point, he only cares about how you can wave your magic wand and help a brother out. Therefore, you should be presenting your blog in a way that makes it all about the reader, addressing their pain points, and then presenting your blog as the solution.

Where do you do this? Your About page is a good place to start. Try putting the readers first, and explaining how your blog is going to blow their minds. Give them a reason not to X out. Get them engaged. Get them fired up. Make them think, “This is what I’ve been looking for!”

And then talk about yourself.

Another way to talk more about them is right in your headlines. You know, the titles of your blog posts. Any copywriter will tell you with their eyes closed that headlines should translate into a benefit for a reader; otherwise, why click on it? Yet, “benefit for the reader” doesn’t necessarily mean spelling it out verbatim “this is what you will get if you read this.” More often, it means “subtle implications of what you’ll get if you read this.”

Whether you’re offering to solve a problem (e.g. Top 10 Ways to Cure Yourself of Writer’s Block), hooking them up with insider knowledge (e.g. The Secret to Making Thirty-Seven Zillion Trillion Dollars By Blogging—No Yellow Highlighter Required), tapping into their insecurities (e.g. The Hairy Mistake You’re Probably Making, But Have No Idea), arousing their curiosity (e.g. What Everyone Needs to Know About Darren Rowse), promising them something desirable (e.g. Drink Beer, Lose Weight), or saving them time (e.g. The Quickest Way to Make Her Fall In Love With You & Have Your Babies), for example, all of these translate into some benefit for the person who clicks on them. And benefits are all about them. And when it’s all about them, they’ll give you their time and attention. And then you win. The first part of the battle, anyway.

3. Talk more about yourself. Wait, didn’t I just say to talk less about yourself?

It’s all about the stories, baby. A good storyteller knows the difference between stories that have a greater purpose and message, and stories that don’t. You want the former. And when you tell stories in a way that ensures they have a greater purpose and message, on the surface it may feel like you’re talking about yourself, but you’re not. You might be telling your particular story, but you’re also telling the greater story of many. And in that respect, you’re indirectly talking about them. So I guess this bullet point doesn’t even count, because when it comes down to it, we’re still talking about them. Sorry—our moment in the spotlight is over.

By telling stories with a greater purpose and message, you’re guiding them through their own past experiences, when they’ll start feeling like they really relate to what you’re saying. If you can end your story with a solution (i.e. how you’ve come out ahead, how you finally sold your pet hippopotamus online, etc.), they’ll start to envision themselves having the same success if they stick with you. And then, by golly, you’ve got yourself a sale, in which case, again, the sale = their time + attention. Boo-yah. What you do with their time and attention thereafter is a whole other post.

4. Be a rebel. Skull tattoos and all. And do the opposite.

I’ve just written about why a sales mentality can be useful in order to grow a successful blog. But by the same token, one of the reasons I was so successful in sales is because I wasn’t sales-y. Being a salesperson and being sales-y are two very different things. Instead of tried and true sales-y approaches (that were also tired and trite), I remixed things to create a fresh approach. While many of my colleagues were sending out letters with their business cards attached, I was sending Fed-Ex packages containing rooftop shingles. (The magazine was specifically targeted toward the new-home construction industry.) One client with whom I had zero luck with for months, finally called and agreed to an appointment after receiving a rooftop shingle I had purchased at Home Depot. On the back, I wrote in silver marker: “[Their Company's Name] + [My Company's Name] = Sales Through the Roof.” She then became one of my best clients.

The point?

Tried and true doesn’t always mean better and best. And most of the time, people are bored with tried and true. Their eyes glaze over. They want you to make the effort to stand out from the crowd—they want you to earn their time and attention before they willingly give it. And you can (and should) absolutely apply this to blogging. Sometimes it’s a matter of reading up on other blogs in your niche and, every time you come across something that makes you cringe, go ahead and do, say, or be the opposite. Chances are good that if you’re cringing, so are others. Be the fresh breath of air that they want (and need). This, too, is a form of sales, because you’re deliberately and intentionally picking an angle and attempting to present yourself in a way that’s more compelling.

And like I said, at the end of the day, being compelling is all that sales really is.

And if compelling = sales, and sales = a key element of early-stage blogging success, whatdya say we throw a little deductive reasoning into the hat, and uncover the real answer to early-stage blogging success?

Simply
Being
Compelling.

Perhaps that’s easier said than done, but if you remember to treat your blog as a product—not just a blog—and your reader as a prospect—not just a reader—the sales mentality will begin to naturally unfold, you’ll navigate yourself out of Personal Journal Land, no (bitter and unfortunate) hate mail will be sent to the folks at WordPress … and the best part?

You can brag to everyone you know that you can do amazing things in eight seconds. Whether you leave it open to interpretation or not is your call.

Ashley Ambirge is the sassiest freelance writer, entrepreneur and digital strategist on the block. She authors books on leveraging the internet to make a business out of your passions, runs her semi-insane but lovable blog (click here to subscribe), and does one on one strategy sessions with new bloggers, entrepreneurs & small businesses looking to¬†rock their online space with the brilliance of a diamond (and finally make some damn money). She’ll also kill you at beer pong without batting an eyelash. Just the facts, Jack.

How to Make a Blogging Business Plan … Whether or Not it’s a Business Blog

This guest post is by Kelly Watson of onewomanmarketing.com.

Blogging can be a great hobby. But treat it like one, and you may not get the traffic and attention you want. Treat blogging like a business, however, with a detailed plan and scheduled check-ins, and you’ll see results in no time.

I learned this the hard way. When I first started blogging 10 years ago, I dove in without knowing how to sustain regular updates or gauge my progress. Many failed attempts later, I looked back on my early blogging efforts and wished I had created a plan to give my work direction.

As a beginner, I wouldn’t have known what to include in that blogging plan. Today, I do. That’s why I’ve created the blogging business plan: a series of 36 questions to help you flesh out your blog’s theme, its goals and the shortest path to achieving success.

Completing the blogging plan will take time and thought. But in the end, it will save you countless hours of wasted effort. When answering the questions, feel free to skip around – just be sure to answer each one. Some may seem unnecessary or irrelevant, but each one is specifically designed to help you lay the foundation of a thriving blog.

Part one: the big picture

1.     List your three top goals for blogging in order of importance.

2.     How will you measure your success in achieving each goal?

3.     What will be your blog’s focus? Explain. (Examples: Acme Company, medical technology, home pet grooming, beauty product reviews, etc.)

4.     Who is the target audience for your blog? Think of your ideal visitor and list his or her age, gender, income level, profession, hobbies, etc. Be as specific as possible.

5.     What problem(s) will your blog solve for this person?

6.     What action(s) do you want this person to take after visiting your blog? (Examples: sign up for the e-newsletter, call to request a consultation, purchase the featured product, etc.)

7.     How will you encourage visitors to take this action?

8.     What’s the main way people will find your blog? (Examples: through the web site, via search engines, from business card, word of mouth, etc.)

Part two: the competition

9.     Do an Internet search for blogs in your industry or field, and list three.

10.  What features or content do these blogs have that could be included on your blog? List up to six.

11.  What do these blogs do wrong? Where do you see room for improvement?

Part three: the content

12.  What kind of content will your blog have? Choose all that apply:

  • Company news and updates
  • Industry news and updates
  • Instructional/how-to posts
  • Interviews/profiles/Q&As
  • Product reviews
  • Case studies
  • Other: ____________________

13.  How often will you update your blog? Choose one:

  • Several times a day
  • Once a day
  • Several times a week
  • Once a week
  • Every other week

14.  How will you get ideas for new content? List up to four ways. (Examples: company meetings, competitor blogs, SmartBriefs, trade magazines, customer feedback, etc.)

15.  List the titles of your first five blog posts.

16.  How many blog posts will you have “in reserve” upon launch? List their titles.

Part four: the structure

17.  What blogging platform will you use? Circle one:

  • WordPress
  • Blogger
  • Moveable Type
  • TypePad
  • Other: ___________________________

18.  Will your blog be hosted or self-hosted?

19.  If your blog will be self-hosted, who will install the blogging software?

20.  Will you customize your blog’s design? If so, who will do the design work? Who will make the changes to the blogging software?

21.  What will the domain name be?

22.  Where will you purchase the domain?

23.  Where will you purchase the hosting service?

Part five: the budget

24.  If using a self-hosted platform, what will the annual costs be?

  • Domain: _________________________
  • Host: ____________________________
  • Platform Fees: ______________________
  • Installation: _______________________
  • Graphic Design: _____________________
  • Customization/other fees: ____________

25.  How much time can you reasonably spend on your blog per week?

26.  How will you allocate this time? Can you schedule these tasks into your calendar each week?

27.  Are you concerned you won’t have the time or experience needed to handle one or more aspects of blogging (i.e. content creation, proofreading, formatting, design)? If so, list these aspects.

28.  Do you have a budget for hiring outside help? If so, what is it?

29.  Look at the concerns listed in question 12, and brainstorm several options for delegating these tasks that fit within your proposed budget.

30.  If hiring outside help, list the tasks to be completed, where you will find this help, and an estimate of cost.

Part six: success metrics

31.  What link building strategies will you be using to increase your blog’s SEO?

32.  How much time will you spend link-building? Can you schedule a regular time into your calendar each week?

33.  What main keywords and phrases will you use for your blog’s content? List up to 10.

34.  How will you track your blog’s success? Circle the methods you will use and write down a goal for each one circled, if desired.

  • By RSS subscribers ________________________________________
  • By e-mail subscribers _______________________________________
  • Through Google Analytics_____________________________________
  • Through Alexa web stats _____________________________________
  • Through comments and feedback ________________________________

35.  Will you be doing any special promotions during your blog launch? If so, write down the details.

36.  Besides SEO strategies, how will you continue to grow your blog’s audience over time?

You’ve just finished the blogging business plan. Congratulations! To get the most from your work, tack the completed plan to a bulletin board or similar place where you’ll see it often. Then, check back every few months to make sure you’re still on target.

Have you planned your blogging efforts? Share your thoughts with us in the comments.

Kelly Watson is a freelance copywriter and longtime blogger who writes about marketing for small business owners.

Blogging for Dyslexic Readers

This guest post is by Varda Epstein of CogniBeat.

Worldwide, about one in every ten people has dyslexia. In the U.S., Dr. Sally Shaywitz, a leading expert in the field, says that up to 20% of the U.S. population suffers from dyslexia. And yet, dyslexia is just one of any number of possible reading difficulties.

Any blogger who wants to reach the widest possible audience will want to be sensitive to the fact that some readers have reading issues. If you make your blog user-friendly for people with dyslexia and reading problems, it will stand out in the crowd. Those who enjoy blogs but find it difficult to read will reward your efforts by following your blog and recommending it to others who have reading difficulties.

Attracting and keeping readers with reading difficulties is not as daunting as it sounds. Most of what you need to know is stuff you’re already doing. Good design and good writing solve most of the issues that make blogs illegible to the person with a reading problem.

On writing

Start by keeping paragraphs short and to the point. Those with reading issues find it hard to keep the place in a long paragraph. Shorter blocks of text are the ticket to readability.

In any event, good writing entails using just one idea per paragraph. That should be your rule of thumb. Keep paragraphs short and sweet to keep your dyslexic and other readers reading.

Layout, Fonts, and More

Don’t double-space after periods, no matter what your teacher taught you in school. Once upon a time, manual typewriters necessitated using mono-spaced fonts. It was thought that double-spacing after periods would help make the ends of sentences more distinct.

Today, the fonts we use on the web have better proportions. As a result, double-spacing after periods has the effect of creating vertical rivers of white space within the text. This so-called “river effect” makes it hard for a dyslexic reader to find where sentences start and end. Single-spacing after periods, on the other hand, offers just the right amount of space between sentences.

Avoid high contrast between text and background colors. Too great a contrast may result in the blur effect for readers with dyslexia. In the blur effect, letters seem to swirl together. Don’t use pure white for background or pure black for text. Instead, add a touch of gray to each to cut the glare and reduce the blur effect.

Use sans serif fonts. Sans serif means “without serif.” Serif fonts have little hooks on the ends of the letter strokes. These hooks make letters less distinct to dyslexic readers and may cause a washout effect in which the text appears faint and becomes hard to see. Fonts that are sans serif come without those troublesome hooks. The most readable of the Windows fonts is Trebuchet MS.

Use bolding to make text stand out instead of italics. Italicized letters have jagged edges and lean to one side. These characteristics make the text indistinct and just about illegible to those with reading difficulties.

Bloggers often get just one chance to attract new readers. If the dyslexic reader has to struggle to read the text, that person will bypass your blog, no matter how great the content. By avoiding these simple design flaws however, you’ll widen your potential readership and make your blog a pleasure to read.

Is your blog guilty of any of these no-nos?

Varda Epsteinis a content writer and editor for CogniBeat, a company that aims to help people with learning disabilities by offering AgileEye technology.

How to Brand Your Blog’s YouTube Channel

This guest post is by Jenny Dean of Business Blog Writers.

Whether you run a business with a YouTube channel, you’re a blogger whose blog has a complementary YouTube channel, or you’re someone with a blog who’s thinking of setting up a YouTube channel, you may be interested in knowing how to brand a YouTube channel.

Why is branding important?  The most famous brands in the world are identified by their logos. In fact, a college kid can be wearing a red shirt with white lettering in the font of the Coke brand, but the message on the shirt doesn’t even have to read “Coke” in order for us to know what brand it is.

Your brand gives people a way to easily identify you. Because images are so powerful, your brand becomes a way for them to emotionally connect with you as well.  Whether if they find your blog by seeing one of your videos on YouTube, or if they end up on YouTube through a link from your site, you want them to know they’re still with you.

Although social networking has brought a lot of advantages to bloggers and companies, it also limits the ways you can control your brand. YouTube has made this a little easier by allowing you to include your branding within your account.

There are two options when it comes to branding your YouTube channel:

  • A background branding option, which is available to everyone.
  • A banner and call-to-action branding option that’s available only YouTube partner.

That’s right: only YouTube partners can add banners to their channels. If you want to add a banner and you’re not a YouTube partner, you might want to become one.  Of course, being a YouTube partner also gives you the opportunity to earn extra cash because YouTube shares ad revenue with its partners.

In order to qualify as a YouTube partner, your videos need to attract a certain number of views, and you need to post rather regularly. Unfortunately, the exact number of hits you need, and the post frequency requirements aren’t defined numbers. You can learn more about YouTube Partner qualifications on the YouTube website.  As a guide, my own application for my YouTube channel took over four months, and I think I applied twice. If you’ve had experience with becoming a YouTube partner, please tell us about it in the comments.

To give you a quick visual idea of the difference between a branded YouTube channel and one that is not branded, check out the image below:

You can immediately see the brand advantage of having my Floppycats.com domain name staring you in the face. My Antioxidant-fruits.com page is hardly recognizable—all it has is a dinky little image next to my username for that channel. As you can guess, I am not a YouTube partner on my Antioxidant-fruits.com channel (the application is pending)—otherwise I’d switch it up immediately.

Adding your website’s banner to your YouTube channel

If you’re already a YouTube partner, these are the steps you’ll need to follow to add your website’s banner to your YouTube channel.

  1. Sign into YouTube.
  2. Select My Channel from the drop-down menu under your username at the top-left of the YouTube page.
  3. Click on Branding Options.
  4. Upload your banner.  You may need to resize your banner to the maximum width and height at which your banner can appear on YouTube, which is 960px by 150px.  Of course, it can be smaller than 960px by 150px, but no larger than that.  Note that your banner can only be an image—either a .gif, .jpeg, or .png. You can’t use a Flash banner, for example.
  5. Fill in the Channel Banner Height.
  6. Fill in the Channel Banner Link. This is where the user will be redirected if s/he clicks on the banner.  If you would like your banner to link to several different areas, you will need to add in an Image Map Code, which will allow you to attach certain links to certain parts of the banner.
  7. Click Save Changes.
  8. Refresh your page and see how it looks.

How does all this look in the end?  Here’s how my Floppycats.com YouTube channel banner turned out:

Adding your blog’s call to action to your YouTube channel

In addition to adding your website’s banner, you can also add your website’s call to action or CTA to your YouTube channel.  This is advantageous because it can become another source of traffic for your website (and in my case, another way to generate free content for my blog). Here’s how to do it.

  1. Sign into YouTube.
  2. Select My Channel from the drop-down menu under your username at the top-left of the YouTube page.
  3. Click on Branding Options.
  4. Below the Channel Banner there is a section called Channel Side Column Image. This image will display in the left column above the “Connect with” box (maximum 300px by 250px).
  5. Upload the image.
  6. Add your“Side Column Image Link, CTA landing page, or, again, you can set up an Image Map Code.
  7. Click Save Changes.
  8. Refresh your channel to see if you like how it looks.

Here’s how my Floppycats.com YouTube channel side column image turned out:

As I mentioned, I waited about four months to find out that I was a YouTube Partner for my Floppycats.com site.  I went in and added the channel banner and the channel side column image. I also added video page branding, which is an image that’s substituted for your channel name.

Adding your brand to individual video pages

  1. Sign into YouTube.
  2. Select My Channel from the drop-down menu under your username at the top-left of the YouTube page.
  3. Click on Branding Options.
  4. Click on Video Page Branding.
  5. Upload an image that’s 25px in height and up to 170px in width (width can be flexible, but no more than 170px wide).  The image will display at the upper left corner of the Watch page on all your video pages.
  6. Click Save Changes.
  7. Go to one of your videos to see if you like how it looks.

Here’s how my Floppycats.com YouTube Video Page Branding looks now:

If your YouTube channel is one of your main sources of traffic and is at the core of what you’re all about, then you might consider updating it when major holidays are around the corner to be a little more festive.

Or if you are running a promotion, a special giveaway, or some other promotion, you could definitely exchange your website banner, CTA image, or your video branding image for a more time-sensitive one, and replace the promotional image with the original after your event has ended.

Another option: grab a background

In doing additional research for this post, I came across another great blog post about creating a free YouTube background to make your YouTube channel more stylish. This option is especially helpful for people that aren’t yet YouTube partners.

What ideas or tips do you have for branding your YouTube Channel?  I’d be interested in hearing any creative marketing strategies you’ve come up with!

Jenny Dean is a 31-year-old-business owner and entrepreneur from Kansas City. Jenny is currently working on Business Blog Writers, a company that supplies blog content specifically for company’s blogs, Floppycats.com, an informational website about Ragdoll cats and Antioxidant-fruits.com, an informational website about the antioxidant powers of fruit. Follow Business Blog Writers on Twitter or on Facebook.

Accepting the Blogger’s Social Responsibility

This is a guest post by Bryan Cassidy of Endless Bucket List.

On a daily basis we bloggers are bombarded posts about so-called unique methods of making money, getting new advertisement opportunities, and how to increase revenue streams. It becomes so deeply ingrained in our minds that the end goal, if we care about monetizing our blog, is to become the next millionaire blogger. For some of us, blogging is our job so we truly need the revenue. But based on the inherent characteristic that bloggers enjoy helping each other, shouldn’t we bloggers have a social responsibility to give back to society?

Darren mentions the five “Cs” of blogging include content, community, points of connection, cash, and contributing something of value to the world and the blogosphere. As blogging allows us to easily share ideas and connect with individuals around the world, we shouldn’t be relying on corporations and philanthropists to help those in need.

Proactive or passive?

Bloggers can be classified in two groups when it comes to giving back to society: we’re either proactive or passive. A proactive blogger will more than likely actively assist charities by offering direct assistance. An example would be Darren’s travels in Tanzania with a charity to assist with a project and capture the story.

A passive blogger is more likely to place a widget on their blog sidebar, enabling a reader to navigate to a third-party site to make a donation if they feel inclined.

It truly doesn’t matter what group you fall into, as both provide human or monetary resources to a specific cause. I personally feel that bloggers should try to move into the proactive group, as the conversion rate for a charity or non-profit button will most likely be lower than what you can achieve by proactively giving back to society.

Six ways you can give back, starting today

I’m not talking about posting helpful information on a blog as being your gift to society. I personally can’t recall anyone in world history who has mentioned helpful information that has changed society without specific action by someone else.

What I’m talking about here is donating monetary resources to a charity in desperate need, donating your own time to personally help a charity, donating technical skills to help promote a charity, or helping educate those who cannot attend a place of learning.

While ideas and information may spur innovation to help in the long run, sometimes direct contribution can be the better solution for immediate impact. Here are a few ideas on how you can start to give back on your blog;

1. Donate a percentage of revenue (e.g. affiliate revenue, ebook sales, etc.) to a specific cause.
2. Place a widget or PayPal button on your blog.
3. Partner with other bloggers for a specific purposes (e.g. PassportsWithPurpose).
4. Organize a specific day to meet with your readers to participate in a community service project.
5. Find charities in your local community that need help advertising, and use your technical abilities to help build a blog for them.
6. Start a scholarship for your community to help pay education costs for under-privileged children.

Finding a correlation between your niche and a charity

Now don’t get me wrong: I personally feel that a donation to any charity, even if it doesn’t directly tie to your blog, is a good thing for society. But we are taught to keep our blog ideas tied tightly together, and a blogger should be able to look at the overall mission of their blog and identify a possible opportunity to “pay it forward” to society. Once you start looking, it’s not difficult to find a cause that aligns with your blog’s niche. Here are a few examples.

A couple that blog about renovating their house at Young House Love donate surplus children’s toys and clothes to Goodwill and almost every piece of furniture, lighting, cabinetry, door, window, and fan to the Habitat For Humanity ReStore.

Matador Network, an international travel magazine blog, is a member of the 1% Of The Planet charity, which asks its members to donate 1% of their sales revenue to the natural environment.

My own site, where my partner and I blog about our bucket list journey and inspire others to start their own list, donates a percentage of affiliate revenue to the Make-A-Wish Foundation to for children with life-threatening medical conditions.

Can my actions make a difference?

It’s a fair question. We can feel that our individual actions cannot move an obstacle. Just like any other animal on this planet, our strength comes in large groups. We bloggers have done this before by uniting together after the devastating Haiti earthquakes in January 2010 and asking readers to donate to international charities.

But don’t be tricked into thinking that change can only be brought by massive groups, our individual actions carry weight too. The well-known butterfly effect theory states that, “…a small action can have large effects elsewhere.” When we, as individuals, give back to society, we are essentially throwing a pebble into a large calm lake, causing a ripple that will be felt on the opposite shore. Those ripples are the good deeds that we’ve passed back to society, and which will ultimately have an effect on someone less fortunate.

What are the benefits?

  • You’ll enjoy the great satisfaction of returning a favor to society.
  • You may build trust with new readers and a strong foundation with existing readers by showing your personal effort to pay it forward.
  • Your blog may experience a boost of traffic from other blogs or media coverage.

So now I challenge you: how can or does your blog contribute back to society?

Bryan Cassidy runs Endless Bucket List with his soon-to-be-wife Lauren, a blog that captures their stories on accomplishing the joint bucket list items and inspiring readers to start their own bucket list. You can subscribe to their RSS feed.

Eliminate 21 Reputation-Crushing Writing Mistakes from Your Blog

This is a guest post by Stefanie Flaxman of Revision Fairy® Small Business Proofreading Services

Writing mistakes happen.

Unfortunately for you and your readers, writing mistakes are like speed bumps on the blog post open highway. They slow down the reader and remove her from your world—the created reality that you share through your text.

Since you only have a few seconds to impress new readers, it’s critical to make all facets of your content flawless. If your writing confuses readers or hinders their experience because of a glaring error, you’ve failed.

Here are 21 common writing mistakes that turn off new readers. Eliminate them to demonstrate that you are an authority on your subject and get new subscribers.

1. You have no proverbial welcome mat

Display your personality on your Home, About, and Contact pages to attract and retain readers. Avoid generic descriptions.

Your content is hardly the only item on a reader’s to-do list. Immediately entice viewers and offer them something of value if they stay.

Let’s use ProBlogger as an example. Darren has a brief bio at the bottom of every page on his site, as well as a current video on the Home page. New readers quickly know the person behind ProBlogger.

Darren looks happy in his bio photograph because he makes money blogging. He also wears glasses. Perhaps a new reader wears glasses and likes that he and Darren have something in common. The bespectacled reader decides to read Darren’s blog instead of another blog advice site. (You get the point.)

Inviting tag lines and snazzy logos can also work well. What makes you different from the other bloggers in your niche?

2. Your posts look like Wikipedia articles

Content can reveal your individuality and remain professional. Don’t mindlessly spit out facts.

3. You don’t answer “W? W? W? W? W? H?”

Give your readers a complete story that they’ll want to share.

Answer “Who? What? When? Why? Where? How?” in your content.

The art of effective blogging strikes a balance between traditional journalism concepts and the casual, interactive tone that is characteristic of new media.

4. Your posts don’t include images

People like visuals. They go to the movies, watch television, and look at art in museums. Photos complement your text and improve a reader’s experience.

Think 360 degrees of SEO. Use the main keyword that you’re promoting in your post for the name of a photo file and its alt text (title tag). You may also provide a descriptive caption with the photo to offer the reader a synopsis of your post.

All effective writing isn’t necessarily in the headline and body text.

5. Your paragraphs break the four-line rule

Avoid redundancies and edit paragraphs to four lines or less. Structure your posts for short attention spans.

6. Your headlines break the goldilocks rule

If Goldilocks was on a search for the best headline (not a perfect bed to sleep in), she’d choose one that is not too short, not too long, but “just right.”

Do you want people to retweet your headlines? Keep them succinct and juicy.

7. Each post does not have a byline

Post bylines give readers information about you if they haven’t first viewed your bio or About page. They introduce you and build trust with a potential new subscriber.

Use the space at the bottom of every post to connect with readers.

Bylines are an excellent opportunity to link to products or services that you offer.

8. You use too many incomplete sentences

Incomplete sentences, abrupt tangents, and parenthetical thoughts can be disruptive. Use them sparingly.

9. Your posts include obvious factual blunders

Make sure that your links correspond to the proper, active URLs. Check the spellings of names/titles. Is “Wednesday, March 9” really a “Wednesday?”

Inaccuracies in simple elements of your posts are only a result of laziness.

10. You make “actual word” typos

Many pubic relations firms (oops, I mean, “public” relations firms) are familiar with this type of error. Spell check won’t alert you when you type an incorrect word that is spelled correctly.

There’s no prize for proofreading fast. Examine your text so that each word is the word that you intend to write.

The occasional “actual word” typo even appears on ProBlogger. (In the fourth paragraph of the ProBlogger guest post, the word “A” should be “At.”)

11. You use incorrect or excessive punctuation

You can express your voice and tone without distracting eyesores, such as “?!?!”, every time that you’re flabbergasted. Simply end sentences with periods, instead of transitioning with ellipses.

Learn the specific functions of each type of dash: hyphens, en-dashes, and em-dashes. If you’re not sure how to use a certain punctuation mark, look it up.

12. Your blog has inconsistencies

It’s easier to spot inconsistencies when you follow the four-line rule for paragraphs. Be careful with:

  • Name references. If you mention the name “Darren Rowse,” refer to him as “Darren” or “Rowse” in the remainder of the text. Don’t alternate between the two.
  • Hyphenated words. If you use the word “copy-editor,” don’t write it elsewhere in your post as “copy editor” or “copyeditor.”
  • Spelling. If you write the name “Stefanie,” don’t also spell it “Stephanie” when you refer to the same individual again.
  • Numbered items. If you promise “Five Tips” in your headline, list five distinct tips in your post.
  • Paragraph breaks. Make sure that paragraphs don’t accidently run together after your publish.

13. You use vague words

Edit words from your first draft until they are refined and specific. Each sentence should be crisp and clear.

14. You confuse plurals and possessives

I’ve even written “letter’s” in first draft copy when I intended to write “letters.” Pay attention to apostrophes and plural words when proofreading to double-check that they are used correctly.

15. You include too many links in posts

Limit links to relevant, useful articles that supplement your writing. Set links to open in new browser tabs or windows, so that readers don’t navigate away from your post.

16. You misuse double and single quotation marks

Use single quotation marks for quotes within double quotation marks.

17. You smother direct quotes

Give direct quotes space, rather than cluttering them within a paragraph. Use block quotes to highlight important information or quotes that you analyze.

18. You make word choice errors

Do you know the difference between the words “compliment” and “complement?” “Premier” and “premiere?” “Stationary” and “stationery?”

Unlike “actual word” typos, you may be unaware that you continually make these writing mistakes. Regardless of your niche, if you don’t use the proper words, you’re going to look like an amateur writer.

19. You use too many bold, italicized, and upper-case letters

They’re unattractive, at best, and look like spam, at worst (similar to excessive punctuation).

20. Your blog’s font is too small, big, or fancy

When I get too aesthetically ambitious, I remind myself of the KISS principle: Keep It Simple, Stupid.

I’m launching a new blog soon and recently had fun browsing Genesis Framework themes for WordPress. (No affiliate link here. Just good stuff!)

There’s a style for every taste, yet all design aspects are simple and straightforward—which ultimately enhance your writing.

21. You publish first-draft copy

A sloppy rant may have been appropriate on your LiveJournal in 2003, but first-draft copy does not always communicate your message effectively.

All blog content is an opportunity to demonstrate your superb writing ability. Perform every step of the writing process: writing, editing, proofreading, and more proofreading. Treat your blog like a professional publication, not a hobby.

How do you keep your blog and your reputation spotless? Share your techniques with me in the comments below.

Stefanie Flaxman is an online proofreader who corrects business, marketing, and educational documents in 24 hours. Check out Stefanie’s free report, Business Proofreading Tips Other Proofreaders Don’t Want You to Know, and connect with her on Twitter.

Nine Ways to Spice Up Any Blog Post—Fast

This guest post is by Ali Luke of Aliventures.

Did your latest post get all the readers, comments and tweets that it deserved?

Probably not. You wrote a great piece, but somehow, it seemed bland. Your ideas were good, but the post lacks a little something. What you need is more spice.

Here are nine ways to add some heat to your post, and grab readers’ attention.

#1: Add a snappy title and subtitles

You know that posts need great headlines. Often, the headline is all that a potential reader can see before clicking through to read the whole post—on Twitter, for instance, or in a CommentLuv link.

When you’ve got a post ready to go, though, it’s easy to just hit the Publish button, leaving it with whatever title first came to mind. Don’t do that. Give yourself time to pause and rethink. Is every word in the headline pulling its weight?

Further reading: How to Craft Post Titles that Draw Readers Into Your Blog

#2: Introduce powerful images

You might think images don’t really matter. After all, you’ve written great content—surely no-one cares whether or not there’s a pretty picture with it?

The thing is, images are eye-catching. They can make your posts look more polished and professional. And a great image can even set up the mood or tone of a post.

You’ll want to include at least one image per post—probably at the top. But if you’ve got a longer piece, it’s often worth adding several images to help break up the text. You can see how I did this in a huge post, Freelance Writing: Ten Steps, Tons of Resources, with ten images, one for each step.

Further reading: Blogosphere Trends + Choosing and Using Images

#3: Tap into readers’ concerns

Your readers don’t just want interesting information. They want posts which solve a problem. That could be something simple and basic (“How do I hold my camera?”) or something huge, like “How do I get out of debt?”

If you know your readers well, you’ll know what their common worries and struggles are. You can use these in your post, by empathizing with how they feel and by showing them the way forwards.

Further reading: How to Create Reader Profiles/Personas to Inspire and Inform Your Blogging

#4: Add a personal anecdote

This isn’t a technique which you’ll want to use in every single post, but it’s very powerful when used sparingly.

Readers love stories, and they love to feel a sense of connection with another person. By telling a brief story from your own life, you hook the reader on an emotional level, not just an intellectual one.

My favourite example wasn’t originally a blog post at all. It was live, from Darren speaking on stage at BlogWorld Expo. He retells the story in the video post What My 4-Year-Old Son Taught Me About Successful Blogging.

Further reading: The Power of Being Personal on Your Blog (which also includes an anecdote!)

#5: Offer “take home” or “action” points

Sometimes, you’ll have a great post packed with useful content—but without anything for the reader to really grab hold of.

To help your reader engage, offer “take home” points, summing up the post, or “action” points: something that gets the reader thinking or some next step they can take. I’ve noticed that when I do this with posts, I get more comments and retweets than otherwise.

This is particularly crucial if you’ve written a post which is heavy on theory. There’s a great example here in Charlie Gilkey’s The Four Key Dimensions of Business, where he ends with four straightforward questions to help people start using what they’ve just read.

Further reading: How to Create Compelling Content by Inspiring Action

#6: Get readers to react

Sometimes, bloggers aim to use the power of reaction in quite a cynical way. They post rants—angry pieces which are just intended to start an argument or to get attention.

But when you encourage thoughtful reactions, you help readers to share their ideas—and to share your content. You turn them from passive consumers of your content into active engagers with it.

Getting readers to react might be as simple as asking “What do you think?” In most cases, though, you’ll want to pose a question or ask their opinion on something specific.

Further reading: 7 Questions to Ask On Your Blog to Get More Reader Engagement

#7: Include quotes from other bloggers

When you’re reading blogs, you might come across a great quote—a sentence or a paragraph which really resonates. Why not share it with your readers?

Including quotes from other bloggers can help you to back up your own opinions and facts: it proves that other experts in your field are saying the same thing as you.

Plus, quotes help break up a long blog post. They allow you to introduce a different voice into your piece, and can provide a starting point for discussion.

Further reading: Blogosphere Trends + Effectively Using Quotes

#8: Use an analogy

Maybe you’ve written a great post that explains exactly how something works, in painstaking detail. The problem is, your readers aren’t engaging with it—they’re not even reading it.

Can you come up with an analogy that helps the reader to understand?

A good analogy gives your reader a picture in their head, based on something familiar. It can give them that “Aha, I get it!” moment. It can help them look at something in a fresh way, like Starting a Successful Blog is Like Planning an Invasion. You can keep the analogy going as a running metaphor using language that relates to it (like “allies” and “skirmishes” in that post).

Further reading: Blogging is like…

#9: Make your language punchier

You’re a blogger—which means you’re a writer. You need to make every sentence and word work for you.

By “punchier”, I don’t mean you should be aggressive. I mean that your words need to be strong and engaging.

Cut out unnecessary words and phrases, like “it may be the case that” or “In my opinion” or “it’s quite probably true that”. You don’t need these wishy-washy qualifiers, and your sentences will reader more strongly without them.

Use everyday language. Short, simple words can convey your points far more effectively than grandiose, convoluted ones.

Further reading: Blogging is About Writing

I’ve given you nine ways to spice up your posts. Now it’s your turn! What’s your number 10?

Ali Luke is a writer, blogger and writing coach. She’s just launched The Blogger’s Guide to Freelancing, a fully updated and expanded version of her popular Staff Blogging Course. Grab your copy today for $29, and start using your blogging skills to make serious money.