Close
Close

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.

Outsourcing: the Secret to Blogging Success

This guest post is by Mark Collier is the author of Link Building Mastery.

As an Internet entrepreneur, it’s easy to develop this sense of single mindedness—the if-I-can’t-do-it-no-one-can attitude. I call it RTODIY (refuse to outsource; do it yourself). Although the name does need a bit of work. Maybe I should outsource it…

The symptoms are: excessive DIY, penny pinching when you could outsource for little or nothing, and learning the basics of advanced theories in a vain attempt to save money.

RTODIY is also the major obstacle between your self-created job and a successful business that runs independent of you. As Keith Cunningham puts it, job is just an abbreviation for Just Over Broke.

Overcoming RTODIY

I have certainly done my fair share of RTODIYing, most recently with my experience in launching my relatively new website and writing and launching a new ebook.

I wrote all the content for my website myself and learned all I needed to know to create a website myself. While this is pretty common, this was only the beginning. I decided to write an ebook, and once it was finished, I knew I needed to create a sales landing page for my product.

Now for those who don’t know about landing pages, let me fill you in. Landing pages are designed to make all your ebook sales. Sure, promotion is crucial, and you need a great product, but without a great landing page, you’re wasting your time.

I recognized the value of a landing page and went about buying a template and customizing it, after, of course, I learned the basics of CSS.

This is what my landing page looked like:

That’s exactly what I expected would sell my $47 ebook! And I actually believed it would sell.

That was until I received the best business advice I have ever received from Glen Allsopp. I sent out an email to the 15 people I interviewed for the ebook, informing them of the new sales page. Glen said, “I hope you don’t take offence, but I really don’t think you’ll get a single sale with that landing page.”

And he was right. Not a single sale came from the first 300 people who visited the page.

So I decided to go and outsource—yes, I said outsource—the sales page design to a professional and the results were and are absolutely incredible:

What a turnaround! I certainly would be more likely to buy from a sales page that looked like this.

The results

When I talk about results, I mean money. While the orders certainly haven’t been unbelievable, they are far better than nothing, which is what my original page generated.

In the month since I launched the ebook—and I have no reputation or marketing budget—I have made seven sales. Okay, that’s not a mind blowing amount, but it’s $327 in sales, and the email sign up box has captured 120 email addresses.

I am more than happy with these results, having had no experience in launching a product, and no email subscriber list that I could promote the launch to. In fact, I didn’t even bother having a launch.

I expect sales to continue to grow, and my initial investment in that web designer to continue to pay off.

My learnings, your learnings

My reluctance to outsource to a professional web designer for $150 would have cost me $327 today, and what could be thousands in future earnings. I’ve learned that spending that extra bit up front distinguishes you from the competition, and is well worth the investment.

But I understand that not everyone will launch an eBook or create a sales page. So how can these learnings be applied to your blog, especially if you are a solo blogger?

If you find yourself doing all the work—and I literally mean all of it—you’re a class one RTODIYer, and you may need help. You need to learn the art of delegation and to commit to investing that extra bit into your blog that will come back and reward you many times over.

You need to stop acting like a one-person blog and starting acting like ProBlogger. After all, that’s how ProBlogger has been so successful: outsourcing and hiring (for free or otherwise) the best to do the work for them. Guest posts are just one example of that.

You wouldn’t have seen W.K Kelloggs out in the field growing the corn for his Corn Flakes, you wouldn’t see Michael Dell personally handling customer complaints against Dell, and you wouldn’t see Richard Branson micro-managing the 200 companies he has controlling stakes in.

All these great business people have committed to outsourcing. They have committed to investing in and trusting others, and ultimately they have overcome a human’s natural instinct to Refuse To Outsource and Do It Yourself.
That’s what your blog is, right? A business?

As a blogger, you should give up you RTODIY ways and move forward with your business in a more profitable direction. Trust in others and be prepared to invest in your blog, and you will reap the rewards. Here are a couple of ideas I know you’ll like:

  • Open your site up for guest posts. It’s a great, free way to take the writing pressures off you, while retaining full editorial rights.
  • Get a custom design made by a designer, or at least have a blog brand with logo and color scheme that’s consistent throughout your blog, Twitter, and Facebook page.
  • If you really want to step up to the next level and be an outsourcing master, why not hire a part-time writer or regular columnist? You can pitch their work to the big names in your industry and get a lot of exposure from them.

The general rule of thumb is to try to outsource your weaknesses (my big one is design), and give yourself more time to focus on your strengths. To control of your RTODIY and your blog will only go from strength to strength.

Have you outsourced any part of your blog, or are you a RTODIYer? I’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments.

Mark Collier is the author of Link Building Mastery, the best ethical guide to link building available on the web. With 86 powerful link building strategies and 15 interviews with link building interviews, including an interview with Yaro Starak. You can join the ethical link building revolution now.

Make Your Facebook Fan Page a Party

This guest post is by Caz Makepeace of y Travel Blog.

Facebook Fan pages are swiftly becoming a standard extension to blogs’ brands and messages. This is a highly effective form of engaging with your target market and building a community around your brand.

If you focus on making your Fan page your homepage for the social web, you can create a page that serves as your mini-hub. Then use it as your platform to connect on a deeper level.

Today’s currency is engagement

People like to socialize with, and ultimately do business with, people they like and trust. So it’s very important that you’re actively engaging with your followers and they are engaging with you—hence the word “social”. That’s how you build strong and rewarding relationships.

From personal experience, by building an engaged and interactive community through our own travel blog’s fan page, our community member numbers grow every day. And although ours may not have as many fans as some other Fan pages, it does have a great deal more engagement, which is not only important to us, but important to Facebook.

Facebook rewards you for building relationships. The degree to which you engage with your fans, and how much they interact with you, determines whether your status updates show in your fans’ news feeds.

Strive for social success first, not marketing success

There are five critical errors most people make when they start using social media for business.

The secret to our success has been very simple. We made the intention for our Fan page to build an engaged community and start conversations. We wanted to create a place where those within our travel community can meet for some socializing and fun, not just get travel tips and information. Our intention is not to use our Fan page purely as a marketing tool.

Although we know it’s a highly effective tool, we do not build our fan page community based on this. If your intention is just to use your page as a tool to promote your products, that will clearly come through, and your success with Facebook will be limited.

Think of those who are most successful in your niche. I bet most of them began blogging by building their brand and a community first, and any monetization came later. First, build a passionate community based around social interaction and sharing. Any monetary rewards will come naturally later on.

Make your Fan page a party

We approach our Fan page strategy as if we were hosting guests at a party. For us to remove all thoughts of the page being a marketing tool, we had to think of it as the type of place we’d like to hang out. So our intention was to make our fan page more like a party. We love to socialize, and have never been shy in hosting parties in real life in any of the countries we’ve lived in. After all, isn’t that what the “social” part of social media is all about?

We invite and welcome

First of all, we invite and we welcome visitors. No one will come to your party if you don’t first invite them. We have clear invitations set up on our blog and all our other online platforms. And when our new guests arrive, we warmly welcome them in. We tag and give a shout out by video to every 100th guest. And we also have a “Fan of the Month,” which is the person who has contributed the most to the community in that time.

We interact and respond

This is our biggest recommendation for keeping social media “social.” How long would your party last if you didn’t talk to your guests? Or worse still, if they spoke to you and you ignored them? We do not ignore our guests. We respond to every comment left on our Fan page. Yes, it takes work, but we value our community members and suggest you value yours. Fostering a community involves a strong leader who supports, encourages, recognizes, and inspires.

Managing fan comments has become much easier since we started using a great free app called Hyper Alerts.

We ask questions and share

To be interesting, you must be interested. The best way to get to know new people is to ask questions. Remember, people like to talk about themselves, so let them. Don’t make the conversation all about you, what you’re doing, and your opinion.

Ask questions as a way to get your fans to share, to stimulate conversation, and to give advice. A lot of people won’t open up initially if they don’t feel like someone wants to listen or will respond. Be the listener and when your guests do answer the question and share, be the responder. Continue to ask questions throughout the conversation to encourage a more in-depth discussion.

At least once a month, we have a status update that runs something like this:

“Go ahead and introduce yourself:

  1. Where are you from?
  2. Where are you currently?
  3. What is your favorite travel destination?
  4. Can we help you with anything?”

This gets people to open up and feel welcomed. Sharing helps others to make new connections and form bonds. Simply through this particular update, community members become aware of others’ geographical locations and special interests, and can connect more directly. Sharing also shows that you are interested in and care about your fans. We also make an effort to share other people’s articles, videos, and blog sites through our Fan page.

Every Friday we have “Post Your URL Day,” when we encourage other travel bloggers to post their URLs and a three-line description under their status updates. From the URLs posted, we randomly choose a winner to do a featured interview on.

We say it with photos

Pictures really do tell a thousand words. Being in the travel industry, we find there’s no better way to inspire others and stir emotion than through travel photos. So we post a daily travel photo of a destination we have personally visited.

We also post random photos from our day-to-day lives. That way, our community members get a behind-the-scenes look into our life that creates a deeper connection.

People love to look at others’ personal photos, and Facebook is great for that. And did you know that using photos to stand out in the Facebook news feed carries more weight than text updates when it comes to your Facebook EdgeRank Score?

We play games

Everybody loves a good game—especially if they’re at a party and there are a few beers involved! There won’t be beers at your Fan page party, but you can still have a good time. We run a “Where in the World” game, where we upload a travel photo from somewhere in the world, and our fans have to guess the location. This stirs interaction and creates a fun vibe.

We also have “Happy Hour” once a week, where we encourage our fans to post a link to their favorite blog, website, or resource on the Web. Take some time to think of games you can play on your Fan page that relate to your niche and encourage participation.

We run competitions

Once you have enough fans engaged and interacting at your party, consider introducing competitions with prizes to let them know you appreciate them. We run photo contests every second month with a different photo theme which relates in some way to our prize. Last month’s prize was a backpack sponsored by Kelty, and the photo theme was National Parks. Fans get to vote on the best photo, and the top five are then sent to the sponsoring company, which selects the ultimate winner. Competitions like this are a win-win for you and your sponsor, who gets exposure to a new audience.

New ideas for a fantastic fan page party

Keep thinking of new ways to make your Fan page—and party—better. Don’t initially approach Facebook asking, “How am I going to use this as a monetization tool?” Instead, ask “How am I going to make this the fun place to hang out?” That’s the way to create an engaged community.

Don’t just create a Fan page, create an experience. Get this right, and the rest will naturally follow.

How much of a community are you building around your brand on Facebook?

Caz Makepeace has been travelling and living around the world since 1997. Along with her husband Craig they are the founders of y Travel Blog. You can visit her Facebook Fan Page or sign up for herRSS Feed.

I Do: Tips for Co-blogging with Your Spouse

This guest post is by Mr. Broke Professional: the husband in the husband/wife team behind Brokeprofessionals.com

“I think you need to rewrite that last paragraph,” she said. “And this time, maybe try to be just a little more concise.”

She said it gently. Yet the words stung. She could tell I was a little hurt, so she tried to smooth it over.

“I really like this blog post. I think it is going to be well received by our readers.” I patiently waited for the “but.” And after a moment or two it came.

“But … the only thing is (and please don’t be upset) maybe you should also work a little more on the title before hitting the Publish button.”

This was a new criticism and I did not expect it. Again it hurt. I do not particularly like being edited, by anyone. “Anything else?” I asked with more than a hint of sarcasm.

“Yeah, when you’re done with that can you help me set the table? Dinner is almost ready.”

So goes life when you blog as a husband/wife team.

Note that I’ll use the term “spouse” in this post, but this word is being used to mean any type of relationship.

Advantages of blogging as a husband/wife team

There’s a lot to be said for blogging in partnership with your spouse.

Time

The one resource all bloggers can agree they need more of is time. Unfortunately it’s also the most finite of resources. Partnering up with at least one other co-blogger is great because you can, in theory, accomplish twice the amount of work. For example, while one of you is working on the creative portion of your blog, your co-blogger can work on blog promotion.

When you co-blog with your spouse, as I do, it’s even easier to communicate. You’re probably always together anyway, so even dinner can become an impromptu brainstorming session.

Not feeling guilty about the blogging “time suck”

Another advantage of co-blogging with your spouse is that it’s a great way to spend a lot of time on your blogging hobby without feeling like you are alienating your family. I feared in the beginning that my wife would start to resent my blog, but instead I turned her into a blogging co-conspirator.

Honest feedback and criticism

My wife and I can be (sometimes brutally) honest with our criticisms with one another because we have been together for years. We are in sync and understand each other’s strengths and weaknesses. I understand that she finds the creative process more engaging than blog promotion, so I try to pull more weight with promotion and online networking.

Much like real life, as bloggers your spouse and you will tend to form a complete unit, whereby you can as a team rise well above the level of skill and/or success that you could ever hope to achieve individually.

Improving your blog’s voice and perspective

Our blog has brought us closer together and we can sometimes incorporate our marital dynamic subtly into our blog. We have blog “debates” or use in-jokes that are, hopefully endearing to our audience and different from what they generally read in most other personal finance blogs.

You can leverage your relationship to maybe create a more unique and valuable experience for your audience.

Motivational benefits

Like an exercise program, a book club, or a diet, it can be very motivational to have a blogging partner—someone who can push you, and keep you inspired and working towards the ultimate goals of your blog. It’s also helpful if that person is someone you do not want to let down.

There are nights when I don’t want to follow our posting schedule, but then I think about how we’re a team. Also, having someone else around to pull half the weight means that I have not yet come close to burnout, despite the fact that we both have demanding day jobs and keep a daily posting schedule.

Challenges of blogging as a husband/wife team

Like any partnership, blogging with your spouse has its challenges.

Creative control issues

You need look no further than examples of various movie star couples that have broken up after working together on a movie project than to know that working with your spouse is not without its potential traps.

For some, the whole purpose of starting a blog may be to escape a job or family, or to simply have something all their own. Once you partner up with a co-blogger, whether the co-blogger is a friend, a stranger, or your spouse, you will no longer possess 100% creative control over the blog.

For example, once I wrote a post that was, in hindsight, really quite weak. It was weak because it was a subject only I really cared about, and it was outside the scope of our niche. My wife pointed this out, and I have to admit I begrudged it for a little bit, even though I knew deep down she was right. The opposite scenario has occurred as well. This creative collaboration can benefit the blog, but it’s still a challenge for the individuals involved.

The stronger personality may take over

This is the Fight Club Rule in effect. Essentially, and as with the rest of your marriage (or in any relationship, really), the stronger party may hijack creative control, and thus alter the intended direction of your blog.

This is not an issue that affects us personally, but we definitely have some friends in couples who could not, in our opinion, function as a 50/50 blogging team. This is particularly devastating if the less visionary or talented partner is the one who is more desirous of control.

Fear of honest criticism

I realize I previously listed open communication and honesty as a likely result of blogging with your spouse, but I can also imagine scenarios where even married couples are too nice to be honest about whether material is right for their blog or not—and the kind of friction that might result.

Jealousy

There have been times when I’ve been jealous of one of my wife’s posts going viral or getting more comments—particularly if my posts have been in a prolonged slump. It is only normal to feel a twinge of envy under such a scenario, and it is one of the possible occupational hazards of working with any partner on a blog.

The blog becomes consuming

I fear I have the blogging addiction much worse than my wife does. I am sure there are times when she wishes we could just relax without worrying about furthering the blog. The solution, of course, is to set some boundaries. That said, if you figure out how to properly establish such boundaries, please let me know, so I can try to establish some as well! My wife would be forever indebted to you, I’m sure.

Are two heads better than one?

The important thing, of course, is to have fun and to allow the co-blogging experience to bring you together as a couple. The major thing to avoid is burnout induced from working together. If you ever need a reminder of what not to do, turn to this post or, if you’re desperate, watch the movie “The Getaway” starring Alec Baldwin and his ex-wife, Kim Basinger.

If you establish the right boundaries and you both find a passion for blogging, then your co-blogging experience can be both beneficial to your readers and to your marriage.

Have you ever co-blogged? What was your experience like? If you haven’t co-blogged with a spouse, would you consider doing so? I look forward to reading your responses.

Join our husband/wife blogging team as we discuss life for the overeducated and underpaid, along with what we have learned about blogging thus far, over at Brokeprofessionals.com.

Plan the Blog; Blog the Plan

This guest post is by Tricia Lawrence of Realbrilliant.com.

Oh, it’s a love/hate relationship with New Year’s Resolutions, isn’t it? If you’re feeling a bit dismayed at your lack of resolution to blog better in 2011, you’re not alone. But I’m here to help.

How can you get that resolution back on track?

1. Revisit your plan

What did you decide to do this year? Blog more often, guest post more often, add sponsors, or get involved in the comments? You can pick yourself back up again. It’s only February, and there’s a lot of 2011 left.

So, where did you lose heart? What made you trip? Was your goal too much? Did you set too high of a standard? Did the new season of American Idol suck you back in? (Steve Tyler is like a train wreck; you just can’t look away! His jowls. Randy’s shoes! Yeah, I got sucked in.)

2. Reconfigure the plan

So, how can you get back to it? Do you need some more soul-searching? Do you need to research? Write a few emails that you’ve been avoiding? Ask the hard questions and push past the block. You can do it!

3. Schedule yourself into the future

How do you intend to accomplish this plan for your blog? Set up a schedule. If you have to write your blog posts at Starbucks to feel like you’ve made it, then do it. The carrot and stick method works. Bait yourself and get a reward.

4. Find your resources

Whether you’re using Darren’s book or blogging ebooks to build a better blog in 2011, dig them out from wherever you’ve stashed them, and use them. Set limits on how much you’re going to do each day, but do something each day. Don’t we all just work better when we stick with it? Little by little, we’ll eat that elephant.

5. Keep track of your progress

Believe me, you keep at this blogging thing in 2011, and by 2012, you’ll want to look back and see how far you’ve come. Keep a blog journal and note how many things you attempted, what did work, and what didn’t. This is not a competition. This is a learning process.

Twelve months is a long time. Even if you’ve dropped the ball and really got off track in the past weeks, that doesn’t mean you can’t get back to the top of the pile in the next five weeks. Give yourself a break, sip the latte, and go to it!

Tricia Lawrence is an author, teacher, and speaker, helping the publishing industry, specifically authors, position their blogs and books to sell. Tricia’s book, The Social Network(s): A Field Guide for Writers will be out on Kindle in March and she’ll appear at several tech and writing conferences in 2011. Sign up for Tricia’s biweekly eZine, Please Write Like You Talk at http://www.realbrilliant.com/blog. Tricia is on Twitter @realbrilliant.

Teach, or Your Blog Will Die

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

What separates your blog from thousands of others in your niche? What are you doing that’s different? Why would people prefer your blog over others?

Like most writers, that question may make you freeze for a minute. You can feel your insides going numb. Your face starts turning green.

What’s different about you? Man. You can’t think of anything right off the bat. You’ve lived with yourself for a long time, and you’re used to it. You can’t imagine what makes you different from everyone else. You’re just an average guy.

After thinking for a bit, you come up with this answer:

The only thing that distinguishes you from everyone else is your personality. It’s your most valuable asset. There’s nobody else quite like you. If you write with personality, people will listen to what you have to say.

This makes sense. You begin feeling better. All you have to do is relax and be you, and everything will be okay.

But there’s a problem: nobody cares about who you are.

Everybody’s unique

There are millions of bloggers, and every one of them has a personality. Sure, your personality will separate you from other people, but that’s not enough. Everybody’s unique. So if you want people to read your blog, you’re going to have to have more than just personality.

This is a huge blow to the ego. It’s very hard to accept. By nature, you imagine that people value what you have to say. You’re more important than they are, and they recognize that.

I see this happen all the time in the visual arts. An amateur artist thinks their self-taught, self-expressive painting is every bit the masterpiece of a Rembrandt or Bierstadt. The artist refuses to study formal technique because he or she is afraid it’ll ruin his or her “touch”—the artistic personality.

Teach, or die

There’s one thing your blog can’t live without. And that’s teaching.

Nobody cares who you are, but they love to surf the Internet and learn things. If you’re giving away useful content that creates value for others, they’ll start showing interest in you.

People care about you in as much as you help them.

It’s tough to learn, but it’s true. People have the same ego problem you have. Learn to harness that, and you’ll start getting attention. The main purpose of blogging is to give your audience information they didn’t know. If your blog doesn’t teach, it won’t survive.

  • Decide what your blog is all about.
  • Choose very specific topics within that niche
  • Write thorough, two-hour posts that explore these topics, one at a time.
  • Publish consistently. Don’t publish something unless it’s the best thing you’ve ever written. This means you’ll either be deleting a lot of drafts, or you’ll be spending entire days revising your content.

As you do this, don’t worry about how you come across to others. Don’t put on a front. Just teach. And teach with passion. If you have a personality, it’ll start showing naturally.

Picture that starving artist. After a few years’ frustration, he or she decides they need formal training after all. They take workshops from today’s masters. Eventually, their technique improves and they paint professionally. Does the artist still have a unique, personal style? Sure. But this time, it’s professional.

True, some of the artist’s original “touch” is gone. But looking back, he or she realizes that they’ve mistaken “touch” for awkward unprofessionalism. Now, the artist’s glad he or she lost that touch. It was horrible.

If your blog is going to live, you’re going to have to teach. If all you ever do is be personable, it’s going to die. Teach or die. It’s your choice. Your blog can live without you, but it can’t live without teaching.

Do you teach on your blog? How important is learning for your readers?

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

Which Blogs Should You Be Watching?

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

What if I said you’re only as good as the blogs you follow? Maybe that’s not completely true for everyone, but I’m willing to bet all the A-listers have several blogs they check out every day.

I think there are basically two types of blogs you should follow.

Type 1: Blogging blogs

I know I’m preaching to the choir here, but I believe every blogger should keep an eye on several pro blogs in the field—whether they’re on making money or SEO tips, etc). Why? Here are three reasons:

1. Game-changer posts

Every once in a while, I’ll run across a post that radically impacts my blogging from that point forward. One example would be a post I read here that explained how to optimize the position of ads. Following that advice greatly improved the profits I made through both Adsense and affiliate banners. I don’t find these high-impact posts every day, but they easily make up for the effort I spend following the blogs I read.

2. Motivation

I wasn’t even sure you could make money with blogging when I first started. It’s hard to keep posting every day when you aren’t even sure there’s a possibility of financial reward for your efforts. Following the pro bloggers gave me the encouragement I needed to keep going, even when profits were slow (or non-existent). It also helped me to have realistic expectations and patience. Building a good blog takes work and determination; never underestimate the power of motivation.

3. SEO tips

I was completely clueless about SEO in my early blogging days. I still don’t consider myself an expert—not by a long shot. I also don’t obsess over SEO. Having said all this, I needed to learn how to work with search engines—best SEO practices, so to speak. I learned most of what I know from reading what other bloggers had to say.

I follow about 17 blogs through feeds on my Google page. Do I read every post on every blog? No. I just keep an eye on them and click any titles that get my attention. Also:

  • Don’t overanalyze them. At some point you just need to shut up and blog. Don’t try to follow every single bit of advice you read—some of it may not apply to you, your niche, or your blog. You’ll even run across contradictory advice if you follow the blogging niche long enough. Just use what helps you and disregard what doesn’t.
  • Don’t snub the B-listers. Keep an eye out for up-and-coming bloggers who may not be well known yet. Some of these guys really know their stuff and are more accessible than their A-list counterparts. Some of my favorite blogs, in fact, are not nearly as popular as Problogger.net. One example is SEO-Hacker, a blog created by one of my friends here in Asia.

Type 2: Niche blogs

I mentioned that I follow several pro blogs through RSS feeds. I also follow several blogs within the same niche as mine (fitness blogs). Following blogs in your niche, or related niches, can help you in several ways:

1. Potential income streams

Your fellow bloggers can help you keep an eye on new ways of making money. You may learn of a new product or service to promote by watching other blogs in your niche. Most of us try to keep track of these opportunities through affiliate newsletters, but other bloggers can help you find even more opportunities.

2. Trends within your niche

Blogs within your niche will alert you to “hot topics” in your industry or specialization. You may want to post your own two cents about those trends—there’s always a chance you’ll get ranked well in search engines on a topic that everyone’s talking about (and searching for).

This is especially helpful if you live outside the country that’s responsible for most of your traffic. I live in Asia, but most of my fitness blog’s traffic (and revenue) comes from North America. It’s very beneficial for me to follow bloggers back in the States.

3. Rebuttal posts

Following other bloggers is also an opportunity to be a voice of dissent. If you read a post you disagree with, you can give your own unique point of view on a particular topic within the niche. This would likely be a post you would have never thought of if you weren’t watching the blogosphere in your niche.

The bottom line: watching blogs within my own niche gives me lots of new ideas for producing fresh, relevant, high-quality content. I think it will do the same for you.

What should you keep in mind as you follow niche blogs?

  • Be yourself. Don’t just repeat what everyone else is saying. Always try to find a way to stand out from the crowd. Loyal readers want to hear what you have to say.
  • Do your homework. Hopefully you’ll inspiration from other blogs, but be sure to do your own research. You’ll need to go back to original sources and studies to check the accuracy of other bloggers. You’ll also need to carefully look at products you choose to endorse—what’s right for one blogger may not be right for you (even if you are in the same niche).

Are there other types of blogs that you consider essential reading? Share them in the comments.

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

The 8 Most Greatest Tips to Write Unstoppably Killer Headlines Guide Ever

This guest post is by Eric Cummings and Michael Cummings of On Violence.

Nearly a year and a half into making small strides in one of the smallest niches on the Internet—the MILblog (military blog) community—our traffic started going up. We had one question.

Why?

Our guess is that—in addition to some great guest posts—we started writing better headlines. People want to read articles with great headlines. From the very beginning, we knew we should have been writing good headlines—it was one of the first tips we read. So why did we avoid writing analytics-crushingly good headlines?

Because of the tabloids.

We’ve all been at the check-out counter, looked over and seen the tabloids screaming, “Snooki Sex Tape!” What? Or, “Brad Leaves Angelina!” Double what!? “Obama is an Alien!” Triple what! So you pick up the magazine, and none of that is in there. Snooki just got drunk. Brad is on vacation. Obama is still human. You’re understandably disappointed: you’ve fallen for the tabloids.

I think bloggers do the same thing. In an ever busier, fuller blogosphere, we battle one another with our headlines. We fight each other to write gripping, sticky headlines, clawing over one another with more outlandish declarations of greatness like, “The 10 Tips To Guarantee Blogging Success” or “How to Make A Billion Dollars Blogging, Today!” Bloggers are, in the words of Cmdr. “Stinger” Johnson, writing checks their butts can’t cash.

And the average member of the public is sick of it. Even John Stewart has made fun of it.

If every post you have is turned up all the way, your readers will go deaf. Take “Please RT,” for example. Asking your followers to retweet a post will almost guarantee your tweets get more views. But if you “Please RT” every other tweet, as opposed to just the occasional special tweet, “please RT” loses its meaning. You’ll lose followers, or your tweets will just get ignored.

So when we started blogging, we wanted to avoid misleading headlines, writing only straight-forward, descriptive titles. And it was boring. Post titles like, “War Without Meaning” and “Rainbow” just don’t attract readers. They aren’t creative or fun.

Every headline needs to do two things:

  1. Explain honestly what is in the article.
  2. Make you want to read that article.

There are boring headlines that aren’t honest, boring headlines that are honest, exciting headlines that are dishonest, and exciting headlines that are honest. If you don’t know which is the best, it’s the last one.

So we went from writing “Violence in context” to writing “Haters Want to Hate or: If You Haven’t Been to Afghanistan, Then F*** You Hippy and Get Off My Internets.” That title is fun, ironic, and snarky; it was also our most popular post ever.

This wouldn’t be ProBlogger if we didn’t offer tips on how to “crush” headlines, and we have ‘em:

  1. Avoid exclamation points, or titles that feel like they need exclamation points. Seriously. Calm down.
  2. Avoid non-ironic hyperbole. It probably means your claiming something you can’t follow up on.
  3. Put accuracy before excitement.  We still don’t turn every headline up to eleven, because some don’t need it. Accept this, and say what your post is about.
  4. Embrace creative limitations. To paraphrase Robert McKee, limitations force writers to be creative, to look for novel solutions. So be honest, don’t overstate or over-claim. Then apply the creativity to get a great title on that post.
  5. Take five minutes on every post and brainstorm a better title.
  6. Don’t use the word “Secret.” Because guess what? There are no secrets to great writing/blogging/making money/losing weight/whatever. It’s the Internet. Someone, somewhere already posted that data. Which means it isn’t a secret. In the words of Darren Rowse, “There is no secret and there’s no one way to do this.”
  7. Read this series on headlines by Copyblogger. It’s really good. “Many people feel that a great headline is bombastic and full of hyperbole, but that’s usually not the case.” Brian Clark writes. “If people don’t believe you can deliver on your promise, they won’t bother reading further, and your over-the-top headline fails.”
  8. Be funny. If you’re funny. Otherwise, avoid it.

What other headline tips can you add to this list?

Eric Cummings and Michael Cummings write for “On Violence,” a blog on military and foreign affairs, art and violence written by two brothers; one a soldier and the other a pacifist.

The Ultimate Guide to Creating Your Blog Logo

This guest post is by Liane of the Blog Design Team.

After almost three years of blogging, and about the same time spent discovering my addiction to graphic design, I’ve come to realize that both of my passion go hand in hand. Blogging and design is a match made in heaven. And my favorite project to work on? Logos, of course.

Sure, I’ve made designs for both online and offline business, but when a blogger knocks at my mail box, I give them special priority. That’s because, in truth, designing a blog logo is one of the trickiest things to do. Of course there would always be clients who’re easy to deal with and just give me free reign in creating the design (not recommended!), but more often than not, bloggers are particularly nitpicky (as you should be) at every step in the process. And I don’t blame them. I’ve been there, done that—I actually used my previous blog as a guinea pig for countless logo experiments.

In this post, I want to cover all the bases with regards to designing a blog logo—from its importance to a blog, to the process of creating your own. Even if you’re already happy with the logo you have right now, who knows? Within the next few months or years, you might revamp your blog or create a new blog altogether—and then, this guide ought to be useful.

What’s the big deal with a blog logo?

I know a lot of non-believers out there. These bloggers do away with logos and rely on other branding techniques such as their name as a brand (e.g. the blogs of Seth Godin and Matt Cutts). These cases are exceptions to the rule. If you are Matt Cutts or Seth Godin, would you even need a logo to begin with? In reality, the blogosphere is split on this issue. While some bloggers consider their own logo a requirement for branding, for others, it doesn’t really add any value.

At the end of the day, I think it’s a matter of personal choice whether or not you think a logo is something you want on your blog. But eventually, most bloggers realize they need to have one to help build their blogs and their reputations, for a number of reasons:

Branding

Among the sea of blogs out there, being noticed can be a challenge—especially for new blogs. And it won’t make it any easier if you just leave your blog’s name in plain text as your header. A logo is also useful once you start developing products and services, as using a logo in your ebook or videos, for example, looks much more credible than just using your domain name.

Recognition

Blogs gain popularity the moment they’re recognized and remembered by an audience. This is where logos play an important role—they represent you, and make it easier for readers to connect to your blog.

Authority

Okay, maybe logo isn’t much of a factor to your authority. Though that doesn’t mean it should be completely set aside. In terms of authority, I think a good logo should act as an important symbol of your authority and credibility.

The makings of a great blog logo

There’s no concrete formula for creating a great blog logo.

Most of the time, it’s just the blogger’s and/or the designer’s discretion that comes into play. Being both a blogger and a designer gave me a good perspective on this issue, and based on the clients I’ve handled, these criteria have proven to be standard for every blog logo design.

A color scheme that works

Don’t just randomly use any color you believe is nice. Aside from the aesthetic value, remember that your logo has to be coordinated with your blog theme. Make sure you use not only the right color, but the right shade as well. Otherwise, it may seem a bit out of place or, as I said, uncoordinated.

There are some bloggers who do it the other way around: they start with a logo, then build their blog. I guess that makes you freer to conceptualize the logo. But of course, if this is the case, you have to consider the theme you plan on using for the blog anyway.

By the way, if you’re not good at making color schemes, try Adobe Kuler.

Good typography

Blog logos usually follow the symbol-and-text design style, since they’re also used as the header image. This is why you’ll need one good, stand-out, typographical font. Of course, the type of font that’ll be suitable will vary with your blog niche (personal blogs tend to have more artsy fonts, while professional blogs tend to go for bolder, simpler typefaces) and your personal preferences. I suggest that you steer away from complicated fonts like grunge or macabre options unless that’s really the image you want to portray.

An original concept

This might sound obvious, but you have no idea how often bloggers want to replicate a logo of an A-list blogger. Some of the bloggers who want to emulate a popular blog’s logo seem to think that, as a prerequisite to being great, you have to look like someone who’s already great. But really, when did someone ever achieve greatness through imitation?

Good resolution

Always ask for your logo to be created at high resolution. That you if you want to make it smaller, you can just resize the original logo. The trouble arises when the resolution is poor, the logo’s too small, and it gets pixelized every time you make it bigger. Not a good thing!

Conveys your blog’s or your personality

It’s easy to get carried away by designing for the sake of an awesome design. But never forget that your logo is not a painting: it’s there to serve a purpose, and that is to be a symbol of your blog.

On creating your blog logo

Okay, so now that we’re done with the reasons and essentials of logo-making, it’s now time to get into the meat of the story—making the logo itself. You have two ways to make this happen. You can either do it yourself and take full control over what happens to your logo, or hire a designer to do it for you.

Whichever way you choose, I have prepared a set of guidelines that’ll make the process a bit easier—or at the very least, familiar—so you’ll know what to do and what not to.

The do-it-yourself (DIY) logo guide

A cold, hard truth first: you’ll need, at the very least, basic design and editing skills to do this. In my experience, bloggers who goes this route either have no spare funds to pay for the design service, or they’re confident that they can create the logo without professional help.

If you have only the most basic design skills, don’t worry. Who says logos should be complicated, or loaded with effects? they don’t! Simplicity is your best asset. If you have average-to-above average design skills, lucky you! However, if you don’t have any knowledge at all in the field of design, don’t lose hope yet. There are many fool-proof design software products out there: just search for a few basic tutorials, and you’ll get the hang of it.

Here are the steps you’ll need to follow to design your own logo:

Step 1. Get hold of a Photoshop or a similar product

If you don’t have one, be resourceful and look for free online alternatives. Just Google for “free online alternatives for Photoshop” and you’ll soon find a ton of them.

Step 2. Conceptualize

What do you want your logo to look and feel like? If you’re stuck for ideas (like most clients I’ve met), it helps to check out competitor sites. Not that you should copy them, but this can help to get your creative juices flowing. Consider the elements of your design, the font you want to use, the colors you want to use, and even the logo’s dimensions—especially if you’ll use it as your header.

Step 3. Check for originality

This is the step even designers often forget. While this step is a no-brainer, it’s very important. You wouldn’t want to be accused of being a copy-cat, would you?

Step 4. Execute the design

This could be the hardest part, especially if you have no or little knowledge of design. Here’s a little tip though: create the logo one section at a time. Execute your symbol first, before you start thinking about the text, or vice versa. Make sure you use a good font. If you desire certain effects or elements, you can always Google for tutorials (it never fails to amaze me how people frustrate themselves with software when they could so easily just Google for a tutorial!).

Be sure to save the file every now and then. There’s nothing more frustrating about creating a design than losing unsaved changes, or worse: losing the whole file. Back-ups help too. Once you’re done, convert the logo to .png or .gif image files. These are the files that are best for use on the Web.

In creating your own design, you are obviously in full control of everything. The down-side is that your blog logo design is limited to your own designing ability (or lack thereof). Back when I ran a blogging tips blog, I never paid a cent to designers. I did everything on my own, and that’s how I acquired the skills of logo design. Who knows, you might end up on the same path too!

The hire-a-designer logo guide

If you don’t trust yourself with anything that has to do with art and design, I guess it’s best to leave these things in the hands of good designers. Of course, you’ll need to have some funds to take this route.

It’s a common misconception that hiring a designer means that you need to shell out hundreds of bucks. In reality, the competition in the design industry makes the pricing competitive. In fact, you can have your own professional logo designed for under $100. So really, if you believe a great logo is a great investment (which is true), then justifying the fee isn’t really an issue.

If you plan on hiring a designer, or using the services of a design company, here are a few pointers that you should consider:

Always check the designer’s portfolio samples

Designers often use a set of styles that can be seen in action through their portfolio. It’s best if you check their previous work to ensure that you can trust them to make your logo to a standard that you’ll be happy with.

Ask to see client testimonials

From a designer’s perspective, I’d say trust the portfolio more than the testimonial. We all know stories on how testimonials can sometimes be manipulated, though there are of course designers that have genuinely good feedback for their excellent service. Nevertheless, it’s at least a good thing to make sure that clients speak highly of the designer. If you can, see if you can find any familiar names (or research them) to make sure that the testimonials are authentic.

Read the design policy, and terms and conditions

How will the designer create your design? How fast will they design it? What are the packages or offerings involved? What are the terms for revisions? Before you order, make sure that you know how the designer operates and how much the finished product will cost you (watch out for hidden fees!). If it’s a good design service then you don’t need to dig around their pages to figure out how the process will work. It should be transparent.

When you order, be specific about details and/or instructions

There are still a number of clients out there who provide one or two sentences of “instructions” and then expect the designer to come up with a design that’ll blow their minds. Let’s face it: designers are not psychics! They only do what they’re told to do (because it’s all about what the client wants) and would hesitate to venture beyond those instructions. Of course, you can always say to your designer, “I’ll let you do whatever you want,” but that’s the most frustrating instruction ever! It’s always better if you have a clear vision for your logo. It makes our job easier, it speeds up the process, and it so much lessens the need for revisions.

If you can’t tell the designer what to do, at the very least tell them what not to do

Okay, so maybe you’re really out of ideas. There’s one thing a designer will at least be grateful for—if you remind him or her of the things you don’t want to see in your logo. Then at least they’ll be aware of the major no-no’s of the design and can avoid obvious mistakes.

For revisions, make up your mind, and be nitpicky

It’s stressful if a client keeps on changing his or her mind about the design. First, it’s counter-productive. But you’ll also be very lucky if the design service offers unlimited revisions—if not, ongoing revisions will likely cost you extra. Be detail-specific if you ask for revisions. Trust me: your designer will want to get the job done to your satsifaction as soon as possible.

Happy with your design?

Thank your designer, and give them a testimonial. Not happy with your design? Perhaps you’ve chosen a design service that offer a second concept re-design, or a 100% refund policy. Again, this explains why it’s better to pick design services that are credible, reachable, and accountable.

Put your logo first

Whether you design it yourself or hire someone to help, a good blog logo can deliver a lot of benefits in the long run. It doesn’t really have to be expensive—all that matters is that you get to build a symbol of what your blog is all about.

Last but not least, remember that logos do not posses any magical abilities, so don’t expect that having one will immediately catapult you to success. You need to work hard for your logo and brand to become known, not the other way around.

If you have any logo-making stories, insights, of nightmares, I’d love to here about them in the comments.

Liane (blogger of 3 years) is now the Founder and Team Head of the Blog Design Team, the design service behind every blog and blog businesses. And btw, she’s just 18 :) Follow her in Twitter @HeyLiane.