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Niche Travel Blogging Demystified

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

If you look at all the travel blogs out there, you’ll notice many common themes. People tend to write a blog that falls into an overarching category like cruises, backpacking, solo travel, or digital nomad travel. They don’t refine their offerings any further. What readers are left with is thousands of blogs about the same thing, and a crowded field where no one really dominates. There are no leaders, no experts, and the bloggers’ voices get lost in the crowd.

For some bloggers, that’s fine. They simply blog because they like blogging. They want to interact with others and have no intention of ever making their blog into a business. If they make three hundred dollars selling an ad, they’re probably ecstatic; if they never make any money, they’re probably not fussed.

Yet there are a lot of bloggers out there who do want to make money. Some of them want to make a living, and most would just love for their blog to pay for their travels. In a sea of sameness, though, it’s hard to get the traction you need to become an expert, distinguish yourself, and gain traffic. And as we all know, it’s only then that you can make money from your blog.

The worst mistake

A few weeks ago, a travel blogger I read said that we travel bloggers should look to companies like Lonely Planet and be like them. “Copy the big companies,” he said.

I think this is the worst mistake you can make. You can’t be Lonely Planet, Boots n All, Orbitz, or the like. These companies have decades of experience and money that you don’t have, as well as huge budgets that allow them to stay ahead of the game.

Moreover, there’s no way you’ll be able to get ahead of their brands. Google didn’t wake up saying they want to be Microsoft. They said, “we want to be a new tech company.” That’s what you should aim for. You should aim to be something new. Don’t follow. Lead.

Leading a niche

To be a leader, you need to be niche. That word is thrown around a lot, but what does it really mean?

In simple terms, being niche means that you focus on a narrow topic. For the purpose of this article, I am going to talk a lot about backpacking as a niche. If you look at most travel blogs, you’ll notice that they all focus on backpacking or long-term travel. It seems to be a trend. How do you make yourself different when everyone is writing about the same thing?

Recently, I gave some advice to another travel blogger. He had just come back from a long-term trip to Central and South America, and he wanted to make his website bigger and earn some money from it, so what did he do? He followed the conventional line of thinking and turned his site into a general backpacking blog, and in the process he made his blog just the same as all the other blogs out there. They offered the same tips, advice, and stories that everyone on the Internet does.

I asked him, “How many sites do you see about backpacking in Central and South America?” That made him stop and think. He couldn’t think of any blogs that covered these regions, and he had just spent two years living, learning, and traveling that region of the world.

I told him that he is an expert on that area, and I asked him why he’s trying to cover the whole world. “Cover the area you know about!” I said. “When people ask other travelers where they look for information on a specific region, you want your name to come up first. Be the backpacking site for your area of expertise.”

Your niche matters

One of the greatest things the Internet has done is that it has made all niches marketable. With millions of people on the ‘net at any second of the day, even the smallest hobby or niche has an audience. You may think you are the only one with a passion for photos of horses doing stupid things, but with the Internet, you’ll find that you aren’t. You can bring all sorts of people together with your niche site.

The same is true in travel. No niche is too small. There are blogs covering RV travel, consumer issues, cruises, seniors’ cruises, gay cruises, gay seniors’ cruises, backpacking, long term travel, couples travel, and Asia travel—you can always find interested followers within your area of expertise.

Look at the “top travel blogs.” Out of the top 20 blogs, the majority deal with backpacking, independent travel, or families. Everyone is talking about the same thing.

When you looked at the numbers of those sites, did you notice something? There are a few with really high numbers, but the most are simply in the same area. They are talking about the same general topic, and thus they all share the same traffic.

Now take a look at the site Travel Fish. This is a destination-based site. It’s not really a blog, but it focuses on one thing: Southeast Asia. What kind of traffic does it get? It has an Alexa rank of 33,000 and a Compete rank of 144,000, which averages 88,500. That puts the site at #5 on the list of blogs.

Why does being niche help?

By going super-niche, your blog gains a single purpose. Everything you do focuses around one central theme. It helps focus your content, your marketing, and your audience. Don’t be everything to everyone. Be the best at one thing to some people. You want people to reference your name when people ask where they need to go for help. Travelfish’s single-minded nature allows that site to be the expert, and dominate one field. The owner doesn’t compete with anyone. People compete with him.

There are many travel websites out there. If you don’t go niche, you won’t be able to create a name for yourself. If you really want to make a stellar travel blog, monetize it, and be successful, you must pick one small genre of travel or location in the world, and be the expert on that. Otherwise, you’ll never break out of the crowd.

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

Use YouTube to Build Your Blog’s Audience

This guest post s by David Edwards of Candy.

For most people who are in their first year of launching a blog, it seems like a headache just to reach 1,000 unique visitors. I would have been in the same boat if it wasn’t for You Tube. I put more effort into building connections on there than anywhere else, and now I’m enjoying the fruits of my labors!

I no longer have the dreaded problem of getting email subscribers as I have a steady flow of sign ups. Here’s how I did it.

Making friends

When people talk about making friends on-line you instantly think of Facebook, but Facebook’s geared more towards socializing rather than promoting videos, where as YouTubers love to get their hands on a good video and share it!. If you make a friend on YouTube they usually stick with you and will also check out your future videos.

The best way to find potential friends is use the search box to find channels that are similar to yours. I usually search: animation.

Remember to click Search Options underneath the Search box, and click on Upload Date.

This will filter the videos and channels to show you the most recent. By doing this, you can ensure that any friend requests you make are placed with active users.

After you make ten requests, a notice will pop up to notify you that you have contacted too many people.

As you can see, this isn’t a quick way of building up contacts, but after a month or two you should have a couple of hundred friends. And for some reason, once you have friends, you start to get friend requests from other “youtubers” (I have around 50 friend requests a day now, and it only takes one click to confirm them!).

Favorites are gold!

If you’ve watched some of the top channels, you’ll notice that the site places a big emphasis on subscribing to the channel. A YouTube partner receives a small commission for new subscribers, and that can add up to thousands of dollars a year for the top guys.

As a beginner, you’re going to want to get subscribers. In fact, the only thing you have control over is the number of friends you have, and the number of videos you own.

If you check out the Show Video Statistics button below one of my videos, you’ll see that the Favourites have almost hit 2,000. This is the equivalent of having 2,000 bloggers link to a post you have on your website (imagine the traffic!). With this video essentially posted on 2,000 channels, we have a steady stream of people discovering the video every day which has a knock-on effect on all the other metrics: traffic, email opt-ins, and so on.

There are a couple of things you can do to get favorited by YouTubers:

  1. Post your video in HD: this will future-proof your work, and if a video is well-lit it is more likely to be enjoyed.
  2. Use YouTube’s Annotations feature to ask people to add the video to their favorites.

“Your video will never go viral”

This is something that I heard a lot when I started making animations. The thing is that viral videos can sometimes just be embedded on a popular website, and be viewed but not interacted with.

The way my partner Luke Hyde and I have set up our videos involves a much slower way of going viral, but the foundations are much stronger, with a great network of friends and subscribers pushing our videos out to their friends.

This is something that you could replicate with your topic to access an additional stream of traffic to your blog. For us, it’s the main source of traffic, but for you it may just be an extra bonus!

How are you using YouTube to build your audience? What advice can you add?

David Edwards is the founder and executive producer of “Candy, and currently is the SEO Director at Webfactore Ltd. You can follow him on Twitter at @asittingduck and on YouTube.

Use Google Reading Level to Improve Your Blog Message

This guest post is by Rhys Wynne of the Winwar Media Blog.

Last month, Google launched its new Google Reading Level feature. What this does is algorithmically work out the reading level of the search results, to help users more easily decide which search results to click on.

How is it worked out?

Like everything with Google, I’m not entirely sure how Reading Level is calculated. I do know that teachers were paid to grade web pages, and an algorithm was worked out using that data.

There’s been a bit of debate in cases where examples of queries (such as the trashy UK talent show “X Factor” having an “Advanced” readership) don’t necessarily mix with the content, but I think that the following factors determine whether a piece of copy is basic:

  • short sentences and paragraphs
  • common, non techincal words, acronyms, and phrases (using the phrase “http” rather than “Hypertext Transfer Protocol”, for example)
  • possibly even page structure—the use of headers, bullet points, and so on.

Using more technical phrases, longer sentence structure, and creative writing techniques such as hyperbole may cause your writing to be ranked as more “Advanced.”

How can you access Google’s Reading Level for your blog?

To view your blog’s reading level, go to Google’s Advanced Search (the hyperlink is located next to the search box on Google’s home page). Type your search query in the first form box—the one annotated with “all these words”—and make sure that the Reading Level drop-down box shows “annotate results with reading levels”. You should see the results for my old blog’s home page below:

Reading Level is calculated on a page-by-page basis, so if I take the page for my WP Email Capture plugin (which caters to a more technical audience), its results show as follows:

Using Reading Level to improve your blog

The ways in which you can use Reading Level to improve your blog will depends on your blog itself. Generally speaking, you want to keep it as simple as possible to make it accessible as possible—be it creative writing, a how-to post, or a sales page. Having a high basic rating is generally a good thing, but obviously you don’t want to patronize your audience by speaking to them like they’re three years old.

Ironically, by maintaining a simple language form, you can actually end up complicating things. For example, if I was to explain my day job to the computer-illiterate in a way they would understand, I would describe it like this:

“My day job is that I’m somebody who spends time writing, sending emails, and working on websites in order to help push them up to the top of the first page of the search engines, hopefully leading to more people seeing the website.”

To you, I’d say this:

“I work as an SEO.”

Immediately you know what my day job is, as many bloggers know what an SEO does (or rather, should do). The previous education of your readers is important too, but how can you find that out? Well, you can find that out by using Google’s Reading Level feature again.

Attracting the right audience for your blog

Instead of searching for the reading level of your readers, instead search for the reading level of competing sites. Search for your competitors’ blogs and also for keywords that your blog’s associated with. Searching for the phrase “beginner blogging tips” shows this reading level as heavily basic. Problogger shows a more advanced reading level:

Therefore if Darren wanted to attract more new bloggers, he would write in a similar style to his Blogging Tips for Beginners page (which does rank in the top ten):

Ultimately, though, your readers are you best source of feedback. If you are constantly having to explain terms in post comments or over email, you should tone down the complexity of your writing, which will lower your Reading Level ranking. If, however, your readers respond with intelligent comments, you may be able to write in a more advanced style. Just ensure that not too many people are left scratching their heads when they visit your blog.

What’s your Reading Level? Are you happy with that, or do you think you need to tweak it?

Rhys Wynne is an eight-year blogger, four-year professional search engine optimizer, and occassional professional wrestler. He is the senior writer and editor on the Winwar Media Blog, where he shares his thoughts on SEO, social media, and WordPress tips. Subscribe to their free blogging newsletter today.

Understanding the Difference Between “Want” and “Want to Buy”

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

As I was sitting at a café over breakfast, the couple nearby flipped through their Sunday paper. As I tend to do, I eavesdropped on their conversation.

“Will you look at that bedding? That’s wonderful!” “Oh my God, I’d die for those shoes.” “I love that movie, and it’s on sale!”

Aside from my habitual eavesdropping problem, the conversation’s simplification of the “want” impulse is vital to your online success.

Buying versus browsing

There’s a significant, actionable difference between admiration and buying intent.

The first is an attraction, a respect, a good feeling. “That car has beautiful lines.” “Wow, a front-facing camera and it supports Flash?” But regardless of all those positive thoughts, admiration lacks a fulfilled need.

The second says, “not only do I admire this service or product, but it’s exactly what I’m looking for.” “My New Year’s resolution was to focus on marketing, so this is perfect!” The product satisfies a real need—not a flighty want.

Earlier this year, Lemon and Raspberry subscribers said they’d absolutely love to win my ebook, Smart Marketing, during Amy‘s New Year’s blog party.

“Ooooh I’d LOVE to win this! I’m always up for some good marketing insight!!,” said one reader. Another agreed, “I would love to read this book. Maybe I can count it as one of the many books I resolve to read this year.”

That’s flattering; really, lots of kind words. Yet, after the contest ended and the book was awarded, some readers suddenly didn’t want the book; or, more accurately, they didn’t want to pay for it.

This is the “want” gap in action—the difference between liking a product and actually wanting to pay for it.

The “want” gap

Amy’s readers may have liked the idea of reading my book, but they didn’t realize a present need for it. It’s a great idea, and it’d be a nice addition to a library, but there wasn’t enough of an internal need to get them to pull out their wallets.

We see the same principle, but to a greater extent, with larger giveaways. Sure, I’ll take the car, the free cruise, the year’s supply of coffee—but I’m not going to pay for it.

Image by Austin Kleon

Friend and artist John T. Unger experienced something similar with a book of poetry he wrote; the “want” gap was later brilliantly illustrated by Austin Kleon.

John’s poems had a real, emotional impact on a reader; the reader admired the author. Yet all the admiration in the world couldn’t compete with the prospect’s lack of buying intent.

Asking the right question

Businesses tend to forecast and allocate advertising monies based on consumer feedback, which is unfortunately more “do you like?” than “will you buy?”

That’s what focus groups have become, haven’t they?

“Do you like this new and improved artisan sandwich? How ‘bout this car? Pretty isn’t it? Would you go on vacation with this airline?”

None of those questions ask, “would you buy?” And that’s the question that makes or breaks most launches.

Understanding this gap and how you can bridge it is your way to converting admiring prospects into paying, satisfied, and loyal customers.

How to bridge the “want” gap and boost sales

What you may not realize is that admiration is a big step forward in closing the sale. The prospect has already indicated they appreciate you and your product, but they don’t think they need it. That doesn’t mean you’re out of luck; you can fix this.

Here are five steps I use to effectively bridge the gap between admiration and convincing a prospect to buy.

1. Establish your authority

Chances are, before reading this article, you’d never heard my name. If you’re launching a product of your own, you may face the same challenge—obscurity.

If I had released my ebook under Darren’s name instead of my own, the sales would’ve been drastically different than my initial figures. Darren’s an established figure in the industry. Over 167,000 subscribers and 19,000 Facebook fans are testament to this. His community buys into his history of success. My own success isn’t global like Darren’s, but that doesn’t mean it’s not as relevant.

That’s why the endorsement of Hall of Fame speaker and bestselling author, Scott McKain, was so powerful. Scott had a lot ofkind words about my book—and his review told new prospects my book wasn’t a scam, it was real and unique, and they needed it.

That’s the power of word-of-mouth marketing. But it’s leveraging these words that helps you confirm legitimacy and close the sale.

2. Create value

It’s pompous to assume that because you have a product, it’ll be bought. Give prospects a reason to buy. What’s in it for them? Show them value and security in their purchase.

For my own book campaign, my value offering included free quarterly updates. Every quarter, I send my customers an updated digital file that highlights new industry trends and developments. This makes my ebook a living book—it doesn’t gather digital dust, it’s a constant resource.

Plus, it maintains my personal brand awareness among my clientele in a most personal manner.

I also went so far as to include a 100% results-and-satisfaction guarantee with every purchase. Yes, I’m that confident in my content. It works, so why wouldn’t I offer a guarantee?

And as for the prospect, why wouldn’t they buy? There’s absolutely zero risk in making the purchase. If they were apprehensive or worried they’d get burnt, this guarantee eliminates those fears. What’s more, I’ve never had a request for a refund—it’s a guarantee I’ve never been called on.

What type of value-added element can you include in your launch that convinces your prospect that they can’t afford to not buy from you? Can you offer a limited-time price reduction to create a sense of urgency? Or a creative incentive to reward multiple purchases?

3. Put their needs in lights

You launched your product for a reason: you recognized a demand, a need. So don’t be ashamed to tell your audience that you know it. Speak directly to them.

In my case, that meant telling small business owners and first-time entrepreneurs that I understand the daunting challenge they face in marketing themselves. What’s an effective strategy? What offers the greatest ROI? I know the thought of their business failing keeps them up at night. Moreover, I understand that heavy feeling—I’ve been there. And it’s difficult to navigate through new business decisions.

But simply telling prospects you understand their need isn’t enough. You also need to satisfy it. Which brings us to your solution. In my case, I hold the marketing road map to their success.

4. Spell out your solution

For my small business owner audience, it wasn’t enough to say, “Don’t worry about your business failing, I wrote a book on marketing.”

I needed to take a step back and detail the topics I’d covered—targeted marketing, brand differentiation, social media ethics, blogging, and so on—and explain how each topic plays into their success.

Andy Nulman uses the analogy of “virgin contact lenses” as a great way to remove yourself from something you’re deep into, to gain valuable perspective. You, yourself, are in-the-know. You understand what you offer, since you’re the product creator. But for the first-time prospect, you need to say exactly what you do. Assume nothing on their part. Look at your product the way a first-time prospect would, taking nothing for granted.

You’ve highlighted their need, and you’ve detailed exactly what you’re providing. Now, explicitly tell your prospects with confidence, “I am the solution. My product will fix your problem.”

5. Show them what others have

You’re at the mall; you’re hungry. You walk towards the food court, and as you get closer, you begin to smell the variety of foods. “What do I want? What am I in the mood for?” you ask yourself.

And as you arrive at the food court entrance, before you stand 15 different restaurant choices, people with trays of food rushing to and from tables. Your gaze moves across the large room, scanning the signs and lines of each of the restaurant choices. Asian food? Not bad. Pizza place: ghost town. Sandwiches … not really in the mood. But the burger joint is hoppin’.

Without saying a word, every person in each line is telling you their preference—the majority favored the burger over the pizza. And that makes you wonder, what is it about the burger that everybody loves so much? You don’t want to miss out on what the people in the burger line are enjoying. Now, your decision is made: burger it is.

In the digital food court, it’s similar; it’s the online equivalent of, “I’ll have what she’s having.”

Show prospects how much your customer base supports you. Show them you’re popular, show them what other customers are buying and how they’re benefiting from it, and force the inactive community to buy in and be part of the “next big thing.”

The hype, the tangible energy in your community, your popularity—they’re all extremely powerful selling tools.

What people want

Your blog, your business, your campaign, your new product—should be less about what you think people want, and more about what your prospects will actually act on. Want to be profitable? Then that’s your focus: what people want.

Save yourself time and money. Understanding this “want” gap and bridging it—conquering it—improves your conversion rate, it motivates you through your new-found success, and it takes your efforts to a competing level.

How have you experienced the “want” gap in your blogging efforts? And how have you bridged it?

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

Will Your Blog Be Big? Or Great?

This guest post is by Marjorie Clayman of Clayman Advertising.

Recently, it was announced that Richard Thompson was going to be awarded the OBE by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth. Your response, in any order, might be, “Who cares?” and “Who is Richard Thompson?”

Richard Thompson has a career in music that spans 40 years. He is a brilliant lyricist, but even more, he may be one of the best living guitarists out there. He was a member of folk rock super group Fairport Convention and he partnered with his ex-wife Linda in the 70s to make some fantastic albums. He wasn’t much of a vocalist back then, but now, even his vocal stylings are outstanding. And yet, Thompson plays small theatres and “intimate” concerts, and has a hard time enticing record labels to keep him on.

Richard Thompson is great, but he is not big.

Big? Or great?

Over the years, at any moment, Richard Thompson probably could have chucked his own particular style and his own particular skills out the window. He could have promised himself and his fans that it was for just one album, so that he could get his name out there. Then he’d come back to being himself.

So it is with blogging. You bring your own particular voice to your blog. You bring your own unique experiences and skills to your readers. But at any moment, you could say that honing your skills is not nearly as important as getting a lot of traffic. It’s so easy to think that aiming for “big” may be better than aiming for “great.”

Let’s face it—it’s probably easier to achieve “big” in comparison to becoming great in this competitive space. Write a few posts attacking big names, offer link bait, be controversial—you’ve seen all of those tricks in action. But are those bloggers great? Will you remember them in 40 years?

Aiming for greatness

If you want to aim for greatness instead of trying to be big, here are some tactics you could try.

  • Look at how you can improve. Richard Thompson probably realized that his vocal work needed improvement. Instead of resting on his laurels, he worked hard, and it paid off. Look at your posts from the last month. What would you do to improve each post just a little bit?
  • Blog outside your comfort zone. Stretch your limits. Attack new areas that will enrich your experience and that of your readers.
  • Look at the content of the comments you receive, not the number. Are people saying that you helped them out or helped them see things in a new perspective, or are they just saying, “nice post”?
  • Track your subscribers. Although this can be a metric for size as well, subscribing is an action people take when they are confident every post you write will be of interest to them (though they won’t read every single one). Are people placing that much confidence in you?
  • Become a cult classic. While Richard Thompson may not be “big,” his followers are about as loyal as they come. Look at your readers. Do you have people who are not just reading your posts but gushing about them to their followers and their community?

You can be big and great

This is not to say that everyone has to be like Richard Thompson, toiling away in the genius room while only the Queen of England cares. But becoming “big” is often a function of elements that are out of your control.

If folk rock had really become popular, Richard Thompson might well have become king of the world. The Beatles became as big as they did in part because they caught a new sound just as it was growing.

But aiming for great? That’s entirely under your control. It is defined by you, it is measured by you, and it is something you do from the heart. It’s important to remember that greatness can help pave the way for getting big. Getting big does not promise greatness.

Have you been concentrating on getting big lately or have you been working on honing your craft? Which do you value more? I’d love to discuss it with you in the comments section.

Marjorie Clayman is Director of Client Development at Clayman Advertising, a full service marketing communications firm located in Akron, OH.

You Have a Niche! You Just Don’t Know It Yet

This guest post is by Heather Eigler of HomeToHeather.com

Yes, you do have a niche. You’ve likely read it a thousand times on blogs about blogging. Two of the number one pieces of advice are ‘choose your niche wisely’ and ‘write what you know.’

So what if you aren’t wise and don’t know anything? What could you write about that qualifies as a niche? And what does having a niche do for you anyway?

Having a niche has its benefits

Your niche gives you focus. It gives you identity and purpose. A blog with no niche is like a magazine with no cover model. The model on the cover of a magazine tells readers instinctively what they are likely to find on the interior pages. A fashion model indicates articles about celebrities and shopping can be found inside. An athlete tells us we can likely learn how to improve our golf swing.

The same goes for blogs. A niche is our version of a cover model. We include it in our headers, our buttons, our posts and our SEO. Readers who land on our page will instinctively know what the blog is about—if we’ve done our jobs well.

There are blogs about food and blogs about cameras. Blogs about travel and blogs about sports. But what if you just write about your everyday life? What if there is no core subject matter and your blog is a grab bag of this and that.

What can you do then?

You have a pre-made, bona fide, built in niche

Yes, you do! It’s your location. Everyone lives somewhere. And there are other people who live where you do who might be searching for information on local events or restaurant reviews. And there are many people who don’t live where you do who might be interested in visiting someday … but how would they know if they can’t come across anything on the web that tells them what a great place it is?

When I rebranded my site, HomeToHeather.com, to be more of a personal blog, I knew that I was going to have issue expanding my readership because of my content—it’s a mom blog. Only so many people are going to want to read about my kids
and they certainly aren’t going to surf in from search engines to do so. Yes, I write about other things, too—like blogging and products.

I’ve had a small bit of success with traffic from StumbleUpon but not enough to keep the site growing. Since I live in a fairly large, dynamic city I decided that incorporating a local slant could be my niche. So I started incorporating a few posts here and there about Calgary. I added my city to my title tags and banner. Then I sat back and watched my stats to see if anyone arrived via search.

And they did.

What topics can you take local on your blog? How about:

  • events
  • restaurants
  • parks
  • wildlife
  • sports
  • local celebrities
  • local schools, clubs, and associations
  • tourist info.

If they’re talking about it, they’re Googling it

What’s going on right now that people are talking about? Read through your paper and write a post on the opposite view on a major topic. What are people talking about at work? Write about it.

I get a smattering of Google traffic every day for phrases such as Calgary Daycare, Calgary Blog or Calgary mom blog. I’ve attended a few events as a “local blogger” and have had one or two advertising inquiries from local
businesses. The new local focus is working and I’m excited about what’s next for me.

While HomeToHeather is still a small blog—very small, I am slowly working my way towards establishing a local readership, with local content. It’s a great way to round out the rest of my more random posts about blogging, motherhood and creativity. So try it yourself and take advantage of your built in niche—you never know where it will take you.

Have you done any local posts on your blog? Could this technique work for you? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Heather lives, parents and blogs in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Grab her rss feed for more posts on local blogging.

Social Media … or Social Blogmarking?

This is a guest post by Devesh of Blokube.

What is “blogmarking”? Many of us already use and understand social media, but very few of us tap into the great and growing potential of social blogmarking sites.

Blogmarking is the process of you bookmarking your blog post on a blog bookmarking site. Blogmarking can also be referred to as blog bookmarking.

How blogmarking works

The blogmarking process involves you writing a post on your blog, looking for a great and active blogmarking site, and then submitting your post to the blogmarking site.

Your post will be ranked on the site based on the number of votes it gets from users. If your post has a great title there is every chance that it will get a lot of eyeballs. If it’s good, it’ll likely get a lot of votes, and moved to the front page of the blogmarking site.

While blogmarking works just like social bookmarking, the concept is different. A social bookmarking site is highly influenced by power users who determine which posts can be promoted to the homepage. Most of these power users have been on the site since its inception, and they read and work on the site rigorously. It’s not easy for just anybody to become a power user.

The concept of a social blogmarking site is different from this, as any post can be promoted to the front page on the basis of the votes it receives from site users. If you’re not familiar with blogmarking, here are a few blogmarking sites:

Social media … or social blogmarking?

There are many ways to spread the word about your blog while building stronger relationships online. Currently, the key most popular options are social media sites. So let’s look more closely at the pros and cons of social media sites in comparison to social blogmarking sites.

Social media sites

You’re undoubtedly familiar with social media sites and are using them to promote your blog. Social media sites like Twitter, Facebook, and so on, allow users to create a profile, providing photos, website links, biography information, and a host of other personal details.

To get solid traffic from social media sites, you usually have to be very active on those sites, and that can take lot of time.

Advantages of social media sites

First, let’s look at some advantages of social media sites.

They’re open to anyone: A major advantage of social media sites is that they’re open to anyone. It doesn’t matter if you’re a new blogger or you’re already established, you can easily open an account on any social media site you love, and you can begin to interact with others immediately.

They foster community: Social media sites also encourage discussion and community interaction—that’s the main reason why they were established. Take Facebook as an example: a lot of your high school/college friends probably have a Facebook account and you can easily get in touch with them through the site. Another community-related advantage of social media sites is that they encourage personal discussions and people will be encouraged to discuss and interact with you if they know a lot about you as a person.

Disadvantages of social media sites

Even though making use of social media sites has strong advantages, it also has disadvantages.

They can help build relationships and brand loyalty, but take time and dedication: If you observe how marketing is done on social media sites you will notice that influence matters. Those with bigger audiences, greater popularity, and stronger reputations will have more success with social media sites than those of us who don’t. Social media sites also require you to spend a lot of time building your profile, especially if you’re a new blogger, and even though the results you will get will be great, this takes considerable time.

They’re littered with ads and spam: Another major problem with social media sites is that they can be havens for spammers, and many are laden with ads. Since it’s very easy to join social networks, a lot of people who are just using the site for spamming purposes join, and this can lead to a lower-quality service.

Social blogmarking sites

Social blogmarking is the process of submitting your blog content to social voting sites and blogging communities.

Many bloggers don’t utilize the power of social blogmarking yet, but it’s a great way to get traffic and connect with other bloggers.

Advantages of social blogmarking sites

They’re less time-consuming than social media sites: A major advantage of social blogmarking sites is that they tend to consume less time than social media sites. It doesn’t matter if you’re a new or established blogger, you have an equal opportunity to gain exposure. What matters most when trying to get attention for your blog is not your influence or reputation, but the title of your post and its content.

They help you connect with other bloggers in your niche: Another great advantage of social blogmarking sites is that they allow you to get in touch with other bloggers in your niche. Since these sites are mainly used by bloggers (where social media sites are used by a much broader audience) they make it easy for bloggers to get more targeted traffic. For example, I notice that I get more links to my articles when I submit them to social blogmarking sites because most people reading my content there are bloggers, and they’re more likely to share it on their blogs if they like it.

They allow users to comment and vote on their favorite articles: Another major advantage of social blogmarking sites is that they allow people to comment on blog posts through commenting systems like those we see on everyday blogs. It’s also easier for bloggers to connect with others using this feature.

They’re a great way to share favorite blog bookmarks: Social blogmarking is a great way to share your favorite blog posts with friends, family members, and your readers. Content can easily get lost in the social media space but with blogmarking it’s easy to share your content with other people who care about your blog.

They champion quality content: If your main aim as a blogger is to find quality content to link to, or you’re a reader who wants to read more about a niche subject, social blogmarking sites are highly effective because they are always moderated. The quality of the blog posts you’ll find there is usually high, and the sites are spam-free.

Disadvantages of social blogmarking sites

They’re very specific: The major disadvantage of social blogmarking sites is that they’re very specific, and they don’t yet have broad appeal among general or mass audiences. For example, most of the current blogmarking sites focus on blogging tips and making money online, so it’s often difficult for bloggers in other niches to make effective use of these sites.

They’re not well-known yet: Social blogmarking is a relatively new concept, so although social blogmarking sites are growing their audiences, the concept hasn’t yet gained the same traction that social networking sites have achieved.

Getting started with social blogmarking

Social blogmarking has its drawbacks, but it also offers a lot of advantages. You don’t have to have a high profile or a huge following to succeed at social blogmarking.

Have you tried social blogmarking? Where do you think this field is heading in future? Feel free to share your views in the comments.

Devesh is young entrepreneur and author of Blokube, a social voting site for Bloggers and Intenet Marketers. Follow him @blokube and join Blokube on Facebook.

Time Management for Travel Bloggers … and Others

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

While I hate the name, I am, to some degree, a digital nomad. I spend my time traveling the world and working as I go. By that very definition, I’m a digital nomad. But unlike most other digital nomads, I don’t move to a city for a few months, live and work there. I run a travel blog so I’m constantly on the move. In fact, my life would be a lot easier if I stayed in one place. That’s why the issue of time management is so important to me.

Balancing life and travel is a hard task when you’re constantly being pulled outside for activities, while the demands of running your own business keep you inside.

As a traveler who makes a living by building and publishing travel websites, I’ve found that the web can be all-consuming: it’s easy to spend hours or even days online. There’s always work to be done. The Internet will take as much as you give it. Conversely, it’s easy to get off track and “play” too much. Meeting new people and traveling to new destinations often becomes more important than work. It was hard for me to strike a good balance between the two for some time. I worked too much and I traveled too much, so something always suffered.

Meshing travel and work into a manageable and fulfilling lifestyle is an art. If you are going to have a travel blog, you are going to eventually need to travel and blog at the same time. A some point you’re going to need to find a way to balance work and travel if you want to be a successful travel blogger.

Time management involves a lot of trial and error, and I have had to learn how to balance conflicting demands. I’ve been pulled in many different directions, and it has taken a lot of discipline to balance my work and life. One of the most important lessons I’ve learned over my years of travel is that it’s important to set specific times for work. You have to force yourself away from the computer, otherwise “a few more minutes” can easily turn into a few more hours. Over the years, though, I’ve developed a few strategies that help others manage their time more efficiently on the road.

Check email once a day

It’s easy to get distracted by incoming email. I increase my productivity by scheduling specific times to check my email. Nothing is ever so urgent that it can’t wait a few hours. If you’re always checking email, you are going to be constantly distracted and not as productive as you could be.

Know when you are productive

My most productive hours are in the mornings and late afternoons before I go out. That’s when I do my best work. By scheduling work when I’m most productive, I get the most done and then I don’t have to worry about anything else.

Avoid tourist times

This point continues the one above. As a traveler, you want to be out, traveling and doing stuff. You don’t want to be working all day. Avoiding work during the day is important. Museums, tours, activities—they all occur when the sun is up, and that’s when you should be out too. Working the late afternoon or early morning will still give you time to see the sights.

Set a time limit

I set a time limit for work and tasks. If I force myself into a time constraint then I have to work during that time. It’s a mental trick, but it works. This works even better when you’re traveling with other people. You don’t want to make them wait!

Create a task list

It can be easy to get into work or forget about important tasks. I find that creating a list of tasks helps me to focus my efforts and increase my productivity. I like to break the list up into daily tasks. Once I finish a day’s work, I go out and play, and I don’t feel like there is still more to do.

Compartmentalize

Another trick I find helpful in balancing the workflow is to create day tasks. For example, Monday is my writing day, Tuesday is photo day, Wednesday is a random task day. By further breaking up the work into more manageable pieces, I spend less time getting stressed out and going, “Oh! I have so much to do!”

Shut off social media

Twitter and Facebook are the most distracting tools ever invented. I love them both and constantly use them, but when I am working I shut them off. If I don’t, I spend too much time chatting with friends on Facebook or reading tweets, and my productivity suffers for it.

Learning to balance work and travel—or blogging and the rest of your life—is a hard task that everyone has to work on. You can better balance work and play, however, by training yourself to lead a disciplined life and by having good time management skills. I didn’t learn these lessons right away, and I’m still not all the way there yet, but I’m getting there. What are your time management secrets? I’d love to hear them!

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

5 Fast Tips to Improve Internal Links

This guest post was written by James Hay, Social Media Coordinator for Fasthosts Internet Ltd.

Playing to your strengths is an important part of SEO, and before going out and spending all day endlessly pursuing external links, it is important to look at your own site.

You control what is displayed on your site and the SEO tips below provide a number of ways to increase your rank strength and improve your blog’s internal link architecture.

Just in case you’ve not come across the phrase “Internal Linking” before, here’s a quick definition from SearchPath:

The process whereby words or phrases within a web page are linked to other pages in the site. Internal links are considered important in SEO terms, as they are often spidered and displayed by Google.

So here are my top five tips to help you improve your internal link architecture.

1. Use keyword-relevant anchor text

Ensure that the keyword(s) you’re trying to get ranked for is used as your anchor text (the text within the link). For example, if the phrase you are trying to get ranked for is “Internal Links”, and the page you want people to find for that phrase is your article “Guide to Internal Linking”, then use that phrase as the anchor text for your link. The search engine spiders will then understand what your target page is about, and it will increase the content’s ranking strength for that phrase.

2. Use absolute URLs

Although there is no empirical evidence to say that search engines spiders prefer absolute URLs (i.e. http://yourdomain.com/pagetitle.html) over relative URLs (i.e. /pagetitle.html), it is good practice to use absolute URLs. It help spiders determine exactly where the page is located on your site, and if your content gets copied, then at least the links will point back to your website.

3. Improve your site’s speed

The speed at which your pages load certainly affects your page rank. I recommend using Google Webmaster Tools and adding a sitemap to your blog. You can then look at your site performance and how quickly your pages load. Google seems to regard 1.5 seconds or less as a good load time. Compress any large images and refine unnecessary code to help speed up your site.

4. Use text menus

Although search engines are improving all the time, the search engine spiders still have difficulty crawling non-text navigation menus. It is advisable to use text menus rather than those that require Flash or JavaScript.

5. Clean up your links

It’s important to keep in mind that search engine spiders love to move freely and quickly through your site, which is why I’ve provided the tips above. But one thing that spiders really dislike is hitting a dead-end, and broken links are the cause of this. The Google Webmaster Tools can also identify broken links on your blog. Go through those links and either remove them, or change the anchor text and redirect the link to a valid page.

These are my top tips for improving internal links on your blog. What others can you add?

This article was written by James Hay, Social Media Coordinator at Fasthosts Internet Ltd and the main contributor to the Fasthosts Blog which provides advice on everything from B2B Marketing to Social Networking.