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Personal Blogging in the 2010s

This guest post is by Karen Andrews of Miscellaneous Mum.

Personal blogging has changed a lot in the last two years. Some writers now run blogs or social media campaigns to extend their profiles for current (and future) readers; some bloggers are using their reach to find or be offered writing work.

The line between ‘writing’ and ‘blogging’ is blurring, which is terrific, but can also be confusing. I know this first-hand. So today I’m going to share with you some points I try to keep foremost in mind. Maybe they’ll help you too.

Making money is possible, but prepare for tough decisions

Here’s a description: you’ve built up a pretty healthy traffic flow, or a solid RSS subscriber count. Long before that, you signed up to an ad network, thinking that by this stage the money would be steadily coming in … except it’s not.

You think about selling private ad spaces, but worry that would be a turn-off for your audience. You’re hesitant about doing sponsored or affiliate-related posts for the same reason. And as for all those opportunities out there in waiting, the longer you’re stuck, the harder they seem to be to grab.

Does this scenario sound familiar? Well, I’ve got a message of hope for the personal bloggers out there. You have one thing on your side. You’re making decisions that matter every day. Here are just a few: how much or little do I reveal about myself or my family? What are some ways I can frame or contextualize a story for effect? What is the best response I can give if I’m challenged about an issue?

What’s needed to answer those questions? Integrity. Look into that part of yourself when asking yourself how far you’re willing to go to make money from your blog. The answer is often there waiting.

Making sure ‘I’ am enough

Here’s another description: you’re chatting to a friend who also blogs, but does so in more traffic-heavy niches (such as entertainment and technologies). You compare the time you spend and your blogging tactics, and are roughly doing it the same way. The difference is that your friend’s site’s hits are triple yours. You start to feel discouraged.

Does this sound familiar? My message this time is a little more sobering. Yes, it can be hard, but this is the time when you need to decide if you are enough. Does it really matter if your traffic isn’t like so-and-so’s? Perhaps your ambitions can be channeled differently, or your goals need redefining.

It never hurts to stop, take a step back, and see what personal bloggers have achieved in recent years. People who live with or are affected by mental or medical challenges, for example, have been able to raise their voices to advocate the networks which support them and are, in turn, worth being supported by others.

Personal blogging isn’t easy—you might be surprised how many other people feel the same way. This is why meetups and conferences are so important: they create opportunities for open discussion and learning among like-minded peers. It’s also worth remembering that your blog will go through its ups and downs, just as all lives do.

If you’re struggling, perhaps take a day—or a week—off to clear your mind and refocus. It might make the difference between two or three mediocre posts or one terrific one. It might make the difference between quitting or sticking it out. At these times we need to take care of ourselves. We’re all worth looking after.

Karen Andrews is an author, publisher, speaker and blogger at Miscellaneous Mum.

How to Ajaxify Your WordPress Site

This guest post is by Jeff Starr, co-author of the book Digging into WordPress.

Injecting a dose of Ajax into your WordPress-powered site is an excellent way to enhance functionality and streamline the user experience. Without touching a line of code, you can harness the power of Ajax to boost performance, improve usability, and fill your site with win.

Ajax enables your web pages to respond very quickly and smoothly to user input by loading only snippets of data instead of the entire page. The WordPress login/registration screen is a perfect example. Without Ajax, logging into the WordPress Admin requires a URL redirection and complete page load. With Ajax, users can log in from anywhere with no redirection or page load required. This translates into a more luxurious, sophisticated experience for you and your users.

Beyond the “coolness” factor, Ajax can also improve the responsiveness and performance of your site. Instead of loading new pages to leave comments, view posts, and share content, Ajax empowers users to interact with your site with greater intimacy and efficiency than ever before. By eliminating page loads, Ajax helps to save valuable server resources and bandwidth, resulting in improved performance for your site. And you can “ajaxify” just about anything: from logins and comments to navigation and updates, Ajax can speed things up, save resources, and make your site better than ever.

WordPress + Ajax = Awesome

Using WordPress, implementing Ajax functionality couldn’t be easier. By installing and configuring a few choice plugins, you can ajaxify your entire site (or any part of it) without touching a single line of code. The trick is choosing only the best plugins for your site, and only what’s needed. There are a zillion Ajax plugins available, but only a handful of them really work as advertised (or at all). Let’s check out some of the best WordPress plugins for adding Ajax to your site from within the comfort of the WordPress Admin.

Ajax plugins for WordPress comments

A majority of the Ajax plugins listed in the Plugin Directory are aimed at improving the commenting system. Here are five of the best plug-n-play Ajax plugins for your WordPress comments area:

  • WP-Comment-Master: Put simply, WP-Comment-Master ajaxifies the entire commenting system: comment display, comment paging, comment submission, and posting. It features a great Settings page for easy integration and configuration and is definitely one of the best Ajax-comment plugins available.
  • iF AJAX Comments For WordPress: Another excellent plugin for ajaxifying the comment-submission process. iF AJAX Comments enables users to preview and post their comments without refreshing the page. It includes a ton of options for fine-tuning required fields, CSS styling, status messages, and more. It also features a host whitelist for tighter security.
  • AJAX Comment Page: AJAX Comment Page is a nice little plugin that ajaxifies the display of your comments with a fancy slide-in effect. It works great for paged or unpaged comments and includes a simple Settings page to control the number of comments per page.
  • Ajax Comment Preview: So far, this is the best plugin I’ve found for true comment previews. Ajax Comment Preview enables your users to see exactly what their comments will look like when submitted. This plugin uses Ajax to send the preview through WordPress’ “inner voodoo” and then instantly display the results. The plugin features a nice Settings page to control functionality and integrate the comment preview with your design.
  • AJAX Report Comments: One of my favorite Ajax plugins, Ajax Report Comments enables your visitors to report inappropriate comments with a single click. The Admin page includes basic settings and an email template. This plugin offers truly tight functionality and amust-have for sites with tons of user comments.

Ajax plugins for user login and registration

Ajax can literally revolutionize the user login/registration/lost-password experience. Instead of requiring multiple clicks and page loads to log into the Admin, here are three plugins that ajaxify the entire process into a single click.

  • Login With Ajax: Login With Ajax is a popular, well-ranked plugin (it has over 45K downloads). It enables users to log in, register, and recover lost passwords from the sidebar (via widget) or anywhere in your theme (via the login_with_ajax() template tag). It features a great Settings page with role-specific redirects and custom registration email templates.
  • iRedlof Ajax Login: Much more than a login widget, iRedlof Ajax Login adds a complete user dashboard to the top of the screen. The dashboard is pre-styled and includes complete login functionality as well as links to random posts and admin menus personalized to each user according to their role. Downsides: there’s no Settings page, and you need to add updateHeader() to your theme template.
  • AJAX Login Widget++: Another good plugin for Ajax-powered login, registration, and password functionality, this one also features login redirect. The login form can be placed in your sidebar with a widget, or anywhere else with add_ajax_login_widget().

Ajax plugins for the WordPress Admin area

On the other side of WordPress, the Admin area is another excellent place to enjoy the smooth and sophisticated comforts of Ajax. Unfortunately there aren’t quite as many Ajax-based Admin plugins to choose from, but here two that are both fun and useful.

  • Ajax Plugin Helper: It’s simple: save time while keeping up with WordPress plugin updates. Ajax Plugin Helper lets you activate, deactivate, delete, and upgrade plugins without leaving the Plugins page. Very smooth stuff, and there’s even an “Upgrade All” feature for knocking out multiple upgrades with a single click! Nice.
  • Admin Ajax Note: Ever wish you could leave notes and stuff for other admin users? Admin Ajax Note makes it easy with an Ajax-powered notepad in the upper-right corner of the Admin area. Create, edit, and delete as many notes as you want, and share with all users, one user, or none. Good stuff.

These two plugins are great, but it would awesome to add more to the list. If you know of any sweet Ajax Admin plugins, please share them in the comments!

Ajax plugins for other cool stuff

Here are some other keen plugins for ajaxifying different parts of your WordPress site:

  • DynamicWP Contact Form: The DynamicWP Contact Form puts a floating Contact button on the upper-left side of the page. Click the button and the dynamic contact form slides into view. Messages are sent via Ajax to keep the user on the same page throughout the process. Snazzy indeed, but the styling is distinct and may need to be tweaked to fit your design.
  • AJAX Calendar: An ajaxified version of the classic WordPress calendar, AJAX Calendar enables you to browse the months without reloading the page. It features a link to display all posts for the current month, as well as a caching option to enhance performance. If you’re already using the classic WP calendar, this plugin is highly recommended.
  • Ajax Category Posts Dropdown: This plugin is perfect for sites with lots of subcategories. Ajax Category Posts Dropdown lists your categories in a dropdown box. When a user clicks on a category, all posts from that category are displayed via Ajax. Easily display the list in your sidebar via widget, or anywhere in your theme via the acpd_display($acdp_title) template tag.

Ajax plugins to ajaxify everything

One of the coolest things to ajaxify is your WordPress navigation, so that when users click to the next post, it’s loaded instantly and on the same page, without a reload. Here are two awesome plugins that use Ajax to load posts, pages, comments, and archives to basically ajaxify all default functionality on the public side of your WordPress site.

As with any plugin that greatly modifies WordPress, these plugins involve a lot of options. You’ll need to spend some time to understand and configure them properly. Most of the other plugins mentioned so far are plug-n-play, but Ajax-everything plugins like these require some time to familiarize and customize.

SEO considerations for ajaxed content

As you ajaxify your site, keep in mind that search engines aren’t yet crawling or indexing ajaxed data, so make sure you’re enabling Google et al to find your content. There are numerous solutions to this challenge, the easiest of which involves the use of a well-linked sitemap and actual HTML content delivered via noscript tags.

Also consider SEO when ajaxifying your comments. User comments add content to your web pages, but they won’t be crawled, indexed, or considered in page rank if they’re served with Ajax. For many sites, this shouldn’t be too big a deal, but it is something to think about.

For more information on Ajax and SEO, check out Scott Allen’s article, AJAX, Web 2.0 and SEO.

Wrapping up

These are the Ajax gems that I’ve managed to find, but many other great plugins are available. If you know of any good WordPress Ajax plugins (or themes!), please share them in the comments. Thanks!

Jeff Starr is a web developer, graphic designer and content producer with over 10 years of experience and a passion for quality and detail. Jeff is co-author of the book Digging into WordPress and strives to help people be the best they can be on the Web. Read more from Jeff at Perishable Press or hire him at Monzilla Media.

The Money’s Not In the List, it’s In the Connection

This post was written by the Web Marketing Ninja—a professional online marketer for a major web brand, who’s sharing his tips undercover here at ProBlogger. Curious? So are we!

What impact will changes to the flow of communications on the Internet cause by the rise of new options, like social media, have on the old marketing adage, “the money’s in the list”? I was asked this recently, and I’ve been pondering the question ever since.

For quite some time, in all honestly, I dismissed the question, because I’ve literally made millions of dollars through email marketing—I’d be hard pressed to ignore that.

But then I thought about the main reasons I’ve been able to use that communication method as a monetization tool. The answer? It’s about the connection, not the practical outcome of having someone’s email address.

Then I realized that the money is not in the list, it’s in the connection with a customer.

We shouldn’t fear the changes new communications methods have brought to bear. We should see them as a great way to expand our channels to build even more connections with customers.

The same principles apply

It even gets better. You can take exactly the same approach you’ve been refining for your email list-building activity, and apply it to these new channels—the basic principles are exactly the same.

The four core attributes of successful email marketing are:

  • Make your email capture findable.
  • Provide incentives for people to sign up.
  • Craft well-written, engaging messages.
  • Give more than you ask from your list.

Now let’s look at how that might translate into a social media channel like Facebook.

  • Findable: Set up your vanity URL and Facebook page, and link to it from your site.
  • Incentives: Offer something unique to your Facebook followers (a coupon or ebook, for example).
  • Engage: Put together a publication schedule specifically for your Facebook page—don’t just syndicate your blog or Twitter feed.
  • Promote: Seed your promotional messages with real value, quality content, and so on.

The key here is to not treat the channel as a method to build your email list, but to see it as a new method to develop a connection with a customer in the place where they feel most comfortable communicating. If you’re trying to fit Facebook pegs into email holes, you might be able to jam a few in, but you’re costing yourself valuable leads in the process.

While these new channels need unique approaches, and different regulations govern what you can and can’t do in each, at their cores, they’re the same.

Patience pays

It took us all years to master the intricacies of marketing via email, so don’t expect instant income from these new channels. But stick with it, and you just might discover greater success was you step away from the norm and embrace new methods of connecting with your customers.

As long as the medium allows for me to communicate with my list, and my list to communicate with me, I’m happy.

Stay tuned from most posts by the secretive Web Marketing Ninja—a professional online marketer for a major web brand, who’s sharing his tips undercover here at ProBlogger.

13 Tips for Beginning Bloggers (Which I Learned the Hard Way)

This article is by Gretchen Rubin of The Happiness Project.

I started The Happiness Project blog as a way to test the argument that novelty and challenge bring happiness (turns out they do!), but I knew nothing about blogging when I began.

Here are some strategies that I learned the hard way, through experience. As Benjamin Franklin once remarked, “Experience keeps a dear school, but fools will learn in no other.”

  1. Start simple. Add bells and whistles over time. Many people get paralyzed at the outset, because they’re overwhelmed by the desire to figure everything out before launching. Don’t get it perfect, get it going.
  2. Post every day. It’s counter-intuitive, yes, but strangely it’s easier to post every day than to post three or four times a week. You don’t procrastinate, you loosen up, you stay engaged with your subject, and you’ll be taken more seriously by readers. But if you stop writing for a while…
  3. Don’t point out that you’ve been lax about posting! It’s boring, it shows a lack of commitment, and maybe readers won’t notice if you don’t say anything.
  4. Include the text of the post as well as the URL if you want to bring a post to someone’s attention by email. Often, people won’t bother to click through, even though they might like your post if they did!
  5. If you feel squeamish about posting something—don’t. Wait a day or two, and think it over.
  6. Join the community. Link to other bloggers who write about your subject, shine a spotlight on their work, get to know them. Blogland is a friendly, helpful place—and the truth about human nature is that people become interested in you when you show an interest in them.
  7. Read about blogging. My favorite resource is ProBlogger, of course.
  8. Use lists when possible. People love reading lists, especially tips lists. I know, tips lists seem like a simplistic way to present information. But people love them. I post a tips list every Wednesday.
  9. State the purpose of your blog very prominently. A new reader shouldn’t have to ask, “What’s this blog about, anyway?”
  10. Maintain quality. I have checklist to try to keep my posts interesting and my voice true:
    • Am I being funny?
    • Am I giving interesting information from science, history, literature, etc.?
    • Am I revealing my character?
    • Am I telling stories?
    • Am I showing what it’s like to live in New York City?
    • Am I linking to other bloggers?
    • Am I comfortable with my parents reading this? (I never work blue.)
    • Am I criticizing anyone except myself?
  11. Keep a separate document containing your blog entries. I have an 800-page document containing every post I’ve ever made. That way, I can easily search, copy, and paste the material on my blog when I need it for other purposes.
  12. Keep a running list of ideas. Invaluable.
  13. Most important? Have something to say with every post, and with your entire blog. This sounds obvious, but it’s a lot easier to write when you’re trying to tell a story, explain an idea, give a review, link to an article, or whatever. If you’re having trouble with your blog, forget about the blog and focus on what you want to communicate instead.

More experienced bloggers, what are your top tips to help those just starting out?

This article is by Gretchen Rubin of The Happiness Project. Follow her on Twitter @gretchenrubin, and buy the book THE HAPPINESS PROJECT, the #1 New York Times bestseller.

Seven Tips to Start Your Travel Blogging Journey

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

So you want to be a travel writer? So do a lot of people. In fact, I can’t think of one person who wouldn’t love to get paid to travel. To try, lots of people start travel blogs. Some just do it for fun; others do it seriously. Some would like to get paid but can’t be bothered to really put in the time, so the few hundred they make off advertising is enough for them.

In 2008, when I started my travel blog, I could count the number of travel blogs on one hand. Now, there are hundreds upon hundreds: it’s a cluttered field. So how can you create a successful travel blog that moves beyond the clutter, gets you noticed, and helps fund your travels? Here are my top seven tips.

1. Be an expert.

The best travels blogs are written by people who have traveled, or are traveling. No one wants to take travel advice from someone who doesn’t travel. Many travel bloggers start blogging months before they actually start traveling. But the casual readers you want to attract want tried and tested travel advice. They want an expert—someone with experience. It’s simple advice, but it’s so often overlooked. People who start a blog six months before their trip and realize they don’t have content either stray off their subject, or commit the next sin…

2. Skip the generic advice.

One of the mistakes most beginner travel bloggers make is that they write generic articles. They make lists of what to pack, lists of how to pack, posts on how to find a cheap flight, or other topics every traveler should know. Google any of these terms and you’ll find millions of results.

When I first started out, I did this too, but in order to be successful, you need to differentiate yourself. Yes, these tips are important and I have a special section on my site for beginner tips (after all, beginners need them). But they don’t retain readers over the long term. You need to be different.

What advice can you offer that no one else can? What experience can you impart? For example, I talk about money a lot. I talk about how to use frequent flier programs for free flights and find unadvertised deals. I break it down. I show you, rather than telling you. I don’t tell you what to pack. I tell you where to go and how to save when you’re there. Forget about an article called, “10 Things to See in London.” Instead, write a piece titled, “A Historical Walk Through London’s WW2.” Tell people information that can’t easily find—take them off the beaten track.

3. Be a good writer.

Travel is about a telling a story. You want to bring someone else on the journey. Travel isn’t about you: it’s about your reader. In telling a travel story, you are putting the reader in the picture, connecting them to that place and time. You don’t need to be Ernest Hemmingway or Bill Bryson, but you can’t just blog about what you did on Sunday.

A good travel blog tells a story that brings people to the place. Most people won’t end up going to that location, but what keep readers coming back to your blog is telling a story that your reader can relate to. For example, my post on making friends in Ios is about Ios but it’s really about connecting with people. That’s something everyone can relate to. My post on Budapest describes good things to see in Budapest, but also talks about the joy of enjoying understanding local culture. Write a story that connects with your reader.

4. Be a personality.

When you think of ProBlogger, you think of Darren Rowse. The Four Hour Week? Tim Ferris. SEOmoz? Rand Fish. When we think of big sites, we think of the personalities behind them—their creators. They are the personality, and we identify the brand with them.

If you’re going to be a successful travel blogger, you need to be a personality. You need to be out there dominating a certain travel niche. Be the best backpacker blogger, be the best boomer blogger, or the best family travel blogger out there. This means having a voice on Twitter, having personality in your posts, and relating to people. You are the voice. And people are going to follow you because they have a vested interest in your life and your travels.

5. Or don’t.

If you don’t want to be a personality or deal with social media, and you just want to relax, another way to make a successful travel site is to create destination-specific blog. Destination-specific websites rely on SEO. These sites are a bit less work and can bring in a lot of money, but you’ll never be a “name.”

Sites like Travel Fish and Boots N’ All are very good, have a lot of traffic, and make a lot money—but could you name the person behind them? Most can’t. Probably most people in the travel industry can’t either. But creating a destination website is your best alternative to creating a travel blog, where you need to be a personality. All you need to do is focus on some juicy keywords, and yours can be the number one site on Mexico.

6. Use photos.

Most people don’t travel all the time. However, we all love seeing beautiful places we’ll never visit. That’s we all had tropical island posters back in college, and calendars in our cubicle. It’s why we love The Big Picture from Boston.com. How many of you have really read National Geographic? Mostly we just look at the pretty pictures.

People simply love good photos. So have big photos that attract the eyes. You can write a great story, but without images, you won’t get a lot of return visitors. I would love to hear about your safari. But you know what I would love more? Huge pictures of the Serengeti, lions, elephants, and gazelles. Travel is as much about photography as it is about writing.

7. Stay focused.

Pick a niche and stick to it. Remember: you want to be an expert. No one wants to hear about backpacking from someone who takes cruises or women’s travel tips from a guy. When you’re an expert in your niche, you attract traffic naturally because people always go to the best for information. You don’t buy books on physics from college students—you buy them from Stephen Hawking.

Don’t try to be everything to everyone. That’s the worst thing you can do in the travel niche. The world is a big place and there are simply too many ways to travel—you could never be good at covering them all with authority. Just because you have a travel site doesn’t mean you should talk about all the forms of travel. Stick to what you know.

Travel is such a personal experience that you will turn people off quickly if they don’t think you actually know the location and type of travel you are talking about. The good news? Travel is a big industry: you’re sure to find readers if you blog in this space.

Do you have a travel blog? What tips can you add?

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.

Prepare for a Custom Blog Redesign in 5 Simple Steps

This guest post is by Josh Mullineaux, co-founder of Highlighter.com and Unique Blog Designs.

Over the past four years, my business has completed over 500 custom blog projects and through that experience, we’ve learned the ins and outs of a what contributes to a successful blog design.

Today, I wanted to share the five key factors I believe you should consider before hiring a blog designer. Thinking about these five factors in advance will help you make the most of your experience.

1. What are your goals for the project?

This sounds like an obvious question, but being able to communicate clearly your reasons for wanting a blog design will be extremely helpful for your designer, and will contribute to a more successful project.

I recommend having one or two main goals or objectives. Then, if necessary, create a subset of several more. For example, when I ask potential clients what their goals are for their projects, it isn’t usual for the blogger to respond with a really abstract answer: “I want my blog to look better,” or “I want my blog to be more visible.” Neither of these goals are specific enough to help us create a great blog design, so it’s my job to ask more specific questions at that point.

Get a head start by really thinking about what your goals are for the blog design. If it’s a new blog, you may have specific goals around branding either yourself or your blog business. If you’re redesigning an existing blog, you may have goals such as increasing the number of daily opt-ins to your email list, or changing the layout so your visitors are able to read the content they want more easily.

Again, the more specific you can be with your goals, the more successful your project is going to be.

2. Which sites do you like? What do you like about them?

Having a list of sites and blogs that you like and can reference is a huge help to your designer. This doesn’t mean that you have to have examples of sites that you want to copy, or sites that you like everything about—actually, the contrary is true. The best thing to do is gather sites that you like specific elements of. For example, you could really like the header of one site, the color scheme of another site, and the footer of yet another site.

I recommend having a list of at least three to five sites that you like. As with my first point, the more specific you are with what you like about the sites, the better. If you like the header of a site, think about what it is that you like about the header. There are usually multiple elements within the header of the site; you may like the position of the logo, or the way the navigation looks, or where the RSS icon is located, or that it’s tilted sideways, and so on.

3. What’s your budget?

Have a budget in mind for your project—this may determine who you hire. There are many possibilities for designing a blog interface, and a wide range of pricing options.

The least expensive option is to go with a premium WordPress theme that closely suits your needs. Expect to pay in the range of $50-$150 USD. For improved branding, you can also have a custom logo designed, which will usually cost you around $300 USD.

There are other options, such as 99designs.com, that can be less expensive than engaging a design agency or even a well-known freelance designer. The upside is that you’ll get good value for your money, but you will also have to put a lot more effort into preparing a great design brief, creating a layout description, and giving feedback on designs. A reasonable price to pay on 99designs for a custom blog design is around $1100 USD.

Going with a custom design firm or a well-known freelancer is going to be more expensive, but you will have the experience of working with a professional, and can expect customer service to be top notch. I would recommend speaking with at least three different agencies or designers before you select one. This way, you’ll get to know the process, get an idea of what they charge, and have a feel for who understands your needs and who doesn’t. For a professional custom blog design, I’d expect to pay a minimum of $3,500—more likely, closer to $5,000 USD.

4. What’s your timeline?

The timeline for the creation of a custom blog design comes down the schedule of the person or company doing the creative work. Designers usually have lead times of at least a couple weeks for starting new projects. For example, we estimate that a custom WordPress blog will usually take eight to 12 weeks from start to finish. If you need it quicker than that, you can expect to pay extra for rush delivery.

Some individual freelancers may be able to complete a project faster, and options like 99designs.com can also be quicker. The best advice here is to plan as far in advance as possible, get multiple quotes, and choose the one that works for your timeline.

5. Which sites has the designer created that you like?

There is no doubt that you have selected several possible designers for your project, and that you’ve selected them at least in part because of their past work. It’s important that you can identify which sites they’ve done that you like, and what you like about them, for referencing purposes when you are speaking with the designer.

Conclusion

Whichever route you choose to go through—agency, freelancer, 99designs.com—just remember that the more thought and work you put into the project before approaching designers, the more successful your project is going to be. Getting a custom blog designed can be a headache or a great experience, but fortunately you can do a lot to influence which way the project goes.

Josh Mullineaux is a co-founder of Highlighter.com and Unique Blog Designs.

Boost Traffic and Trust by Giving Back

This is a guest post by Joshua Noerr of JoshuaNoerr.com.

It’s clear that social media, specifically blogging, is about so much more than making money. Sure, we all want to be compensated for our time and our talents, but if the only goal was to make money, blogging would certainly not be our first choice.

If you’ve been reading ProBlogger for any length of time, the message will be clear to you: blogging is not a get-rich-quick kind of deal. There are certainly a few stars that rose to prominence quickly, but they’re the exception, not the rule.

The truth is, blogging for dollars is a slow process that requires many different factors to click into place before it produces a dependable income. One of those key factors is trust. The bottom line here is that your readers absolutely must trust you in order to buy from you, or to subscribe to your feed or newsletter.

I remember reading a book on sales a few years ago that said, essentially, “The prospect does not have to like you, he or she just has to trust you.” I don’t know about you, but I can’t recall any time I’ve said, “Wow, I don’t like that guy, but I sure do trust him.” Likability and trustworthiness have a tendency to go hand in hand.

Give back to build trust

Giving selflessly is a very powerful way to build the trust that you need to boost your repeat visitor levels, and your traffic overall. I’m going to share with you a way to do exactly that, but first I want you to consider something.

Have you ever noticed that most large corporations have either a foundation established in their name, or a department that handles charitable giving on behalf of the company? Think about that. I could name ten corporations that do just that off the top of my head. Consider why they do it. If you answered “to build trust,” you’re right!

What I’m proposing is that you donate a small portion of your online real estate to a good cause.

I know that the thought of giving even a small portion of your sidebar to charity may seem painful at first. For many, that means less space for direct advertising or AdSense promotion. It might even mean removing a featured affiliate product.

What I promise you is that the trust you get in return, while impossible to place a dollar value on, will be worth it. The good that you do in the world will become a part of your legacy.

Get started giving

Head over to FirstGiving.com. This website sets up free donation pages for thousands of charities and non-profits. After you set up your giving page, you’ll be able to create a widget that displays the amount of money you’re trying to raise, the organization you’re supporting, and how far you’ve progressed in your fundraising.

Place this widget somewhere on your blog. Now, you’re almost done, but there’s still one more step.

I suggest that you announce what you’re doing, which charity or cause you’re supporting, and why you’re supporting them (if you would like to see an example, take a look at my post asking for help to cure multiple sclerosis).

Writing this post is key, because it’s highly likely that it will be Stumbled, Dugg, and Tweeted, drawing attention to the cause, as well as your blog.

I also recommend that you choose a charity that’s near and dear to your heart. I decided to support the MS Fund because I have a wonderful friend who struggles with the disease. I can’t wait for the day when this disease no longer affects so many people. I’m sure you have a similar story, and I encourage you to share it with your readers.

Can blogging change the world?

Blogging has already changed the world in so many ways. It has changed the way news is reported, the speed at which information travels, and the way we get that information.

But I believe it can do much more than that. I truly believe that with so many wonderful, giving people out there in the blogosphere, blogging will change the world for the better in the years to come.

Please share your thoughts in the comments. What other ways can we give back and make the world a better place through blogging? Is there an organization that fits perfectly into your niche that you would like to support?

Joshua Noerr is a former competitive fighter turned blogger. He owns, or is partnered in, several blogs in different niches including personal development and fly fishing. He has one simple mission that drives all of his blogs: to change the world.

Online Marketing … Without the Arrogance

This post was written by the Web Marketing Ninja—a professional online marketer for a major web brand, who’s sharing his tips undercover here at ProBlogger. Curious? So are we!

There are many less-respectable professions than internet marketing, but even today I get a glare—“so you’re one of those guys”—when I’m introduced to someone for the first time.

For many, the word “marketing” conjures images of people whose sole job is to convince others to spend money they don’t have on products they don’t need, using every tactic possible—no matter how sneaky. The business owners I speak to all the time consciously ignore all forms of marketing because of this.

But I’m here to tell you that you can be a marketer without being a die-hard, arrogant salesman, and the secret is simple: you just need to know where the lines are.

Silence or the megaphone?

You or your product may be the very best, most valuable product in the marketplace, but if you sit in the corner in silence, no-one will ever know your name. On the flip side, if you stand in that corner on a box, and scream how awesome you are into a megaphone, everyone will remember you—but as that irritable person who just wouldn’t shut up!

The secret here is engagement. Be ready to start or join a conversation, and be prepared to listen as much as you contribute. Engagement is a two-way street, and it requires you to get out of your cave not just for face-to-face conversations, but in all your forms of marketing communication. Your customers have a voice. Seek it out, listen, and show you care.

The moral: engage, engage, engage!

Over-deliverer or over-promiser?

Do you write, “This product is going to make you a billionaire!” or “I’m going to share with you all my secrets to becoming a six-figure blogger”? These are two very different approaches to tag lines that I’m sure you’ve seen, and it’s not hard to guess which is more credible in most peoples’ eyes.

When it comes to taglines and copy, it’s very easy to overstep the mark. You’re told time and time again to focus on benefits, not features, and it’s so attractive to launch into the most outrageous, fantastical benefit you can—without thinking about whether it has any credibility, or your product can deliver on the promise.

Keep your messaging benefit-focused, but don’t claim to be able to better the human plight forever—unless you’re convinced your product actually does this. Focus on the benefit for the specific problem your product solves, and you’ll be set.

The moral: promise something great—and deliver.

Humble or egoistical?

A company that I believe has walked very close to the line when it comes to being confident in their product, but not egotistical, is Apple. They were brave with their Mac vs. PC campaign, and initially they focused on what the Mac could do that the PC couldn’t—and it was a great success. Over time, as it became harder to find new points of difference, their approach did devolve into an all-out attack on the PC, but they backed off that tactic pretty quickly.

When looking at the brand you project, as well as your products, if you can instill confidence, it can give you credibility. Arrogance will only project insecurities. Darren and Brian Clarke http://www.copyblogger.com/ are two people who are perfect examples of this philosophy in action.

The moral: be confident, but not arrogant.

Marketer or con artist?

In my mind, the difference between a marketer and a con artist is honesty. If you’re being told that the key to marketing success is to lie to your customers or leads, then you’ve crossed a line—it’s as simple as that. There are also laws designed to protect consumers against exactly that kind of behavior.

The moral: honesty is the best policy.

Friends or profit resources?

If you believe that your customers are your friends, you’ll look at what you do as a gift to the world, nothing more. And if that’s truly what you want to do, then no one will question you. The other extreme is to see people purely as resources from which to extract as much cash as you can; you judge their value by how deep their pockets are.

If you want to run a business, you need to be somewhere in the middle of this continuum. Again, it comes down to solving a problem for someone, and more importantly, solving a problem they’re willing to pay for.

There’s nothing wrong with asking people for something you value—money—in exchange for something they value—your product. It’s been happening for a while, and we’re doing okay so far.

The moral: ot’s okay to ask for money, but not to bleed them dry.

Does it feel wrong?

I have a very close network of people who act as my arrogant-web-marketing-o-meter. I seek them out when something I’m planning feels a little wrong. Just the fact that I feel I need a second opinion is usually warning enough, and in most cases, my suspicions are confirmed by a group of people I trust. Because the reality is, if it feels wrong, it probably is.

The moral: go with your gut feel for what’s appropriate.

Don’t cross the line

In my history I’ve done things that pushed the envelope on every single one of these points. Some I regret, some I don’t, but by doing this I’ve been able to more effectively understand the balancing act that exists between being a marketer and being nothing more than an arrogant salesman.

It’s something that you’ll only really understand over time as you conduct marketing yourself, but all I ask is that you don’t let the worst cast scenario prevent you from using online marketing to help your blog or your business grow.

Stay tuned from most posts by the secretive Web Marketing Ninja—a professional online marketer for a major web brand, who’s sharing his tips undercover here at ProBlogger.

7 Self-doubts New Bloggers Can Beat

This guest post is by Scott McIntyre of Vivid Ways.

You’ve just launched a shiny new blog and you’re buzzing with excitement about sharing content and building an audience. At first, it requires a lot of time and effort to get things off the ground, but your confidence is sky-high that this blogging thing will take off and push you straight up to the A List.

Sometimes I believe I can fly

Image by R'eyes

Then, slowly but surely, you begin to doubt what you’re doing. Success doesn’t come quite as quickly as you’d hoped, despite your hard work. Disappointment sets in. You lose motivation. After a while, this lack of self-belief causes you to ask yourself if it’s even worth publishing another post.

Did you ever feel this way?

Perhaps you’re a more experienced blogger who still remembers when you questioned what on Earth you were doing and whether you were any good. Or, maybe you’re facing this crisis of confidence right now.

If that’s the case, you need to tackle these self-doubts before they sabotage your blogging dreams!

Self-doubt and the New Blogger

I recently started my first blog, and one of my initial articles looked at how to conquer self-doubt in general. This got me thinking about the specific doubts new bloggers come up against, and the ways in which a lack of self-belief can negatively affect our blogging activities.

Feelings of self-doubt have little to do with how good a blogger you really are—they’re about how not-so-good you perceive yourself to be. There’s a crucial difference.

So, there’s no shame or weakness in admitting that you experience self-doubt (I’m sure even top bloggers suffer from the occasional wobble in confidence). In fact, the opposite is true: you have to be willing to recognize and shine a light on your doubts so you can deal with them head-on.

Here are seven of the biggest self-doubts you can face as a new blogger, and useful tips on how to beat them before they crack your confidence.

1. Have I chosen the best topic to blog about?

At some stage early on, you nervously wonder if you’ve chosen the right topic to blog about. Of course, you’ve done your research and opted for a subject that’s a good match for your knowledge, experience, and passion. But, until you start seeing results, how can you be sure it’s the best niche for you?

The fact that you decided upon a topic based on your interests is a reasonable indication that you’re on the right track. As you’ll be producing content for a long time (hopefully), you need to maintain an enthusiasm for the subject matter from the outset. That way, you’ll want to learn more so that you can pass on new insights to your readers in the future.

If, however, after only a few months of blogging you find yourself struggling to come up with ideas for posts, or you haven’t the heart to publish regularly, this is usually an early warning sign that you have to rethink your first choice of blog topic. Do a reassessment of your current interests against a range of different niches.

Don’t panic too much if you decide to change to another topic. Your blog is still in its infancy, and it’s better to alter your course sooner rather than later.

2. What if no one wants to read what I’ve got to say?

When you start off blogging, you could very well find that there’s a readership of only one: yourself! It’s all too easy to become disheartened when you see your carefully crafted content languishing with no comments and very few visitors.

Don’t be tempted to throw in the towel quite yet. Rather than it being the case that no one is interested in what you’re publishing, it’s more likely that you’ve yet to reach your target audience. It’s your job to get out there and help those ideal readers come across your blog.

People always want to discover fresh, useful, and thought-provoking content online and that’s a huge opportunity for you to tap into. No one, however, says that attracting readers is easy—it’s not.

There are, fortunately, many tips and techniques you can use to help increase your readership. Experiment with these proven methods, or be brave and go do something unique that draws in your special crowd. It’s far too early to give up until you’ve done everything you possibly can to entice those ideal readers back to your blog.

3. Am I just saying the same old stuff in the same old way?

You’re concerned that when you follow the trail of links to other blogs within your niche, everyone seems to be talking about exactly the same things you are. With so many blogs creating so much content, it can be very difficult to come up with original ideas that haven’t been explored a million times before.

The blogosphere loves original thinkers with fresh perspectives. Any blogger can gain popularity when they stand out from the crowd by both a) what they say and b) how they say it. When you deal with a subject, remember that it’s never been addressed from your viewpoint before. That’s why telling your own personal story and sharing your opinions breathes energetic life into what could simply be run-of-the-mill content we’ve all seen before.

There’s always going to be a unique angle on whatever topic you look at, because the knowledge and experience you bring are different to those of the next blogger. With practice, you’ll learn how to build your blog’s voice in a way that sets it apart from all the other sites out there.

4. Is my writing all right or all wrong?

You’re eager to get your thoughts out there, but you’re afraid that people will criticize the amateur writing style and rip apart the spelling and grammar.

It’s reassuring that writing content for blogs is very different from anything you’ve ever written before. Every new blogger can learn how to adapt these tried-and-tested techniques for themselves.

Sure, some folk will point out your mistakes—there will always be critics lining up to take a shot. Correct spelling shows you care about attention to detail, while good grammar helps the reader more easily grasp the points you want to get across. Bear in mind, though, that what you write is just as important as the way it is written.

Put it this way: wrongly spelled words and awkward grammar can hinder the reader’s understanding and enjoyment of your post, so try your best to get it right. But don’t allow this concern to stifle your creativity or limit what it is you desperately want to say. The more you write, the more confident you’ll become in expressing yourself through the medium of a blog post.

5. Am I getting too personal?

Sharing your experiences in life is a critical part of connecting with an audience on a deeper level. Readers respond well to a blogger who can show first-hand that he or she understands the challenges they face. Yet, how can you be certain that you don’t reveal  “too much information?”

Personal story telling works best when it brings home a learning point that the reader needs to know. The lesson has to be relevant and appropriate to help someone solve a specific problem or deal with a particular issue. In other words, the personal information you share has to be of benefit to the reader in some way. Otherwise, it could be seen as irrelevant and self-indulgent.

Ultimately, it’s down to your individual judgment: you choose exactly what you tell your readers about your life in a blog post. Before hitting the Publish button, ask yourself this: “Do I really want the whole world (literally) overhearing that fact about me, or my family and friends?” The old saying holds true: If in doubt, leave it out.

6. I’m nervous about networking

You realize that it’s essential to build relationships with other bloggers to get ahead in blogging nowadays. However, this is easier said than done: you feel awkward about getting in touch with them. What could a newbie like you possibly have to offer a big-name blogger?

Well, if you feel like this, instead of contacting A-list bloggers straight away, reach out to others who are at the same stage of their blogging journey as you. You’re bound to have a lot in common, giving plenty of opportunities to assist each other as you grow your blogs together.

The main priority of a blogging-based relationship is to provide mutual value and benefit to each of you. That’s why linking up with bloggers in a similar position can work so well—each can appreciate the other’s situation and provide the same kind of support.

Forming strong bonds with other bloggers online is basically no different to the way you’d get to know someone in the real world. Courtesy, genuine interest in what they’re doing, and offers of help go a long way! Don’t be shy to make the first move, as it could very well be the start of a very productive partnership.

7. Will I ever be a success?

This is probably the biggest single doubt that keeps popping into your head as you try hard to kick-start your blog. After all, it’s the reason you’re doing all this work, isn’t it? Constant worrying over whether you’re ever going to make it gradually eats away at your self-confidence. How you define “success,” and how long you’re prepared to wait for it, will help you cope with this doubt—one that’s felt by nearly every new blogger.

What success means to you will be different from the criteria set by another blogger. Getting subscribers, attracting thoughtful comments, reaching a target of earnings, and establishing a reputation as an industry expert are only a few examples of possible performance benchmarks that you might use. Pinpoint your own measures of blogging success. This exercise provides concrete facts on which to assess how well you’re doing, rather than having to rely on your own opinion and impatience.

Successful blogging also requires a considerable investment of your time. While we’d all love quick wins, overnight success is rare. It’s much more realistic to assess your blogging activities over a period of at least six to 18 months, rather than a few weeks. Adopting a longer-term view relieves the pressure on you to meet an overambitious deadline, and lessens the likelihood that you’ll become depressed when you fail to meet it.

Beating self-doubt as a new blogger

We’re most vulnerable to self-doubt at the beginning of our blogging journey. When you feel a lack of belief in yourself, take time to identify the knowledge and skills you need, as well as the practical steps you can take to overcome that doubt. Have a browse through the archives here on ProBlogger to get ideas and encouragement.

Your loyal readers of tomorrow will appreciate that you stuck around and persevered…

Have you faced any self doubts as a new blogger? How did you beat those doubts to keep on blogging? Please share your experiences in the comments section. Let’s encourage each other!

Scott McIntyre aims to encourage ordinary people to do great things every day. You can learn how to live a colorful life—right now—at Vivid Ways. You can also add color in your life by following Scott on Twitter.