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Three Ways to Take Advantage of Being a Blogging “No One”

This guest post is by Chris, “The Traffic Blogger”.

My name is “no one.” Well frankly, to you, being that you have no idea who I am, my name might as well be “no one.” However, just because I am a “no one” does not mean I have nothing to say! Many of you may actually know exactly what it is I want to say because you also are a “no one” like me.

I am a “no one” and I have dreams. I have aspirations, a good work ethic and although there are others with the same name as me, there is only one person who can be me. So just because my name and situation are not unique, does not make my personality, good humor and helpful nature a common commodity. Nobody else can be me—even other “no one”s!

I am “no one,” and I have something to say! I exist! I want to help people and I need to reach out to them! I write helpful content several days a week but I cannot find other people besides my mother to read my work. I exist whether I have a comment, a follower, or not!

Are you a “no one” as well? I know that I sure was when I first started writing a gaming blog two years ago. It took many months of hard work before 1000 people called my site home and two years later a staggering 9,000 individuals read my content daily. What I did as a “no one” was the difference between building a site that worked and one that would lead to me wasting my time.

There are two drastically different ways to look at being a “no one:”

You can realize this is hard work and eventually give up.
You can take advantage of being a “no one.”

If you chose option ‘B’, good for you! But how can you possibly take advantage of being a “no one?”

1. Be a new presence with fresh ideas.

If you are a new person to any niche you have an opportunity to jump off the band wagon and stand all by yourself on an island build out of your own ideas. Many people find fresh ideas exciting and inspiring, so play off this notion as much as you can by making your site seem very new and inviting.

Write content that is challenging of old concepts and revolutionary at the same time. In other words, don’t be just another site in your niche. If you manage to pull this off then you will be the person everyone wants a guest post from or the one person they all talk about on forums (which you should also be participating in).

2. Experiment and don’t be afraid to mess up.

Making mistakes and learning is what it’s all about. Although you will never stop screwing up and learning, it pays to get the bulk of your speed bumps out of the way earlier on. Write outrageous articles, experiment with cheesy headlines and do all the big mistakes we all learn from early on. You’re a “no one” so nobody will mind your early mistakes. Take advantage of the situation and do some learning.

3. Build a relationship with the few readers you do manage to get, while you have time to do so.

As your site grows you will find it impossible to build relationships with your readers the way you could when you were a “no one.” If you skip this crucial stage of intimately connecting with those who like you from the outset, then you will be building a structure whose foundation is made of Swiss cheese.

Be intimate with your readers and pick their brains on what their problems are, what they think so far of your site, and more. You’ll need these fans later when you want to promote site growth, especially with regards to social media.

Are you a “no one”? If you are, what are you going to do about it? If you aren’t, what did you do to go from a “no one” to a “someone?”

Chris “The Traffic Blogger” writes on the subject of generating traffic for both new and advanced site owners for the purpose of making money online. He is a self-proclaimed expert on building communities and marketing solutions for those communities.

Improving Your Ad Clickthrough Rate: the Definitive Guide

This guest post is by John Burnside of Money in 15 Minutes.

Those people who have been using the Internet as a business platform since it began will have noticed that there has been a significant drop in clickthrough rate of ads over the years. During the birth of this massive revolution people were curious and willing to click on anything that promised them fame and fortune or any of the other things that internet marketers advertise.

Nowadays, however, we have developed a generation of Internet-competent people who have seen thousands of ads thrown at them from all directions. This creates a problem for blog owners who would like their readers to click on their ads so that they can have a bit of pocket money for all their efforts.

Understanding ad blindness

This problem, which is sometimes called “banner blindness,” can be tackled to a certain extent by looking at the way users actually view and use your website.

For example, the Clicktale analytical software allows you to see how your visitors are moving their cursors around on your site. This will give you an idea of the areas where your visitors are interacting with your site, but what we really want to know is where your visitors are looking.

There has been some research about the study of how people look at websites and most have concluded that people browse websites in an F-shaped pattern, meaning that they will read the title and then move their eyes down the left-hand side of the page, occasionally flicking their eyes into the content if something catches their attention.

As you probably do yourself, internet users skim-read content to save time and to see if the information is something they are really interested in before they commit to reading it word-for-word. Full images and writeup of the study that produced these data can be found here.

Matching ad style to your content

The next thing that you must do is to match the style of your ads to the content. Because of banner blindness, people will purposefully avoid looking at ads if they can help it and if you make it extra-obvious that your ads
are ads, then most people won’t even consider looking at them: you’ll have lost the chance to attract a click.

All you visitors are interested in when they come to your site is the content. You have to make them interested in your ads. By matching them to your content you are suggesting that the ads are just as important as the content. If these ads are placed in the correct places as well, then they are likely to be seen, and hopefully perceived as a
useful part of your site.

There are a few other ways to blend your ads to your site. The one that I have found through my own research to have the greatest click through rate is the AdSense link unit 15×468. When placed near the top of your site, this link unit can appear like a menu which can create interest and if the adverts are relevant to the content, they can create excellent click through rates.

Now to talk a bit about banner and picture adverts. There is some argument about whether or not banner adverts are a good way of getting people to click through to your site. The obvious advantages are that you have a larger area to work with on the site, and these ads entail a visual aspect which can encourage people to see them. This doesn’t necessarily encourage them to click, though.

Some research suggests that banner advertising is much more useful in creating brand recognition than at actually directly selling products, and I for one would have to agree. If you have banner ads on several websites then even after seeing them only one or two times, the visitor is going to get comfortable with that brand—meaning that if they do click through to the site, they will already have a small element of trust in the brand.

The final point I’ll note is about which types of banners to use. Some bloggers can become enraged if there are what they perceive to be too many banners on a site, and will instantly leave your site with the content unread—that’s the last thing you want!

The words of wisdom here have to be: don’t drown your site in banners. This has to be left up to your own discretion but as a general rule of thumb I would suggest you use no more than about six to eight picture ads on any one page. Also, moving adverts can be great, and will attract readers’ attention, but if you use too many, you’ll risk making your website look like it’s all moving, which can be very disconcerting. My recommendation is to have no more than two moving advertisements in view at any time.

In summary, for maximum, CTR you want:

  1. ads along the top of the page
  2. ads in the top, left-hand corner of your content
  3. banner adverts sold to private sources who want brand recognition or for your
    own products
  4. picture ads in low-eye-traffic areas with moving elements to capture
    readers’ attention (but not too many moving ads).

What steps have you taken to improve your ad clickthrough rates? What advice can you add from your experiences?

This post was written by John Burnside, an expert in the making money and Internet marketing niche. To read more of his content or find out about ways to make money online then please subscribe to his feed at Money in 15 Minutes.

How to Make Your Blog Load Faster than ProBlogger

This guest post is by Devesh of WP Kube.

If you’re regular reader, you know that how much time problogger.net takes to load. Would you like to make your blog load faster than ProBlogger? Today I’m going to share eight simple tips to increase your blog speed. But first, you’ll need to know how quickly your blog is loading right now.

How to test your blog’s speed

So you can do a before-and-after comparison, take a moment to check how quickly your blog is loading now.

There are many tools online that let you test load speed, but I prefer to compare the loading speed of my blog against others—after all, that’s what your users will do.

One of my favorite tools for loading comparisons between two sites is WhichloadsFaster. To check your blog’s loading speed against a competing blog or a major website that’s used by readers in your niche, enter your site’s URL and that of the other site into the two boxes provided. Simple!

Here are the results of the loading speed comparison between my site and ProBlogger:

Comparing site load times

How to speed up your blog

Now that you know how your site’s loading in comparison to another, let’s look at the ways you can speed up your site’s load time.

Choose an efficient theme

Many bloggers make the mistake of choosing a free theme, or one that’s not properly coded. In my experience, every blogger should go for premium themes like Genesis, Thesis, or WooThemes. Premium themes tend to be much more carefully coded than free ones—Themeforest, for example, has some good themes, but many of the them aren’t well coded.

Review your hosting

Hosting plays an important role in your blog’s loading speed. Many new bloggers ignore this, but adjusting hosting can have a big impact on increasing your blog speed. Specifically, if you use shared hosting for your blog, you might want to look into switching to dedicated or grid hosting, as shared hosting can slow down load times when the demands on the shared server are high.

Remove extra widgets and plugins

This is one of the easiest things you can do to reduce your site’s load times. The more plugins you have on your blog, the longer it can take to load. Remove any extra widgets and plugins you’re using on your blog, which aren’t strictly necessary, and see what happens to your load time. Hand-code your functionality, and place it directly into the WordPress theme: this will reducing the number of calls each page load makes on the server.

Use the WordPress W3 Total Cache plugin

Now that you’ve reduced the number of plugins you’re using there’s one you should add! W3 Total Cache is a must-have plugin for any WordPress user. W3 Total Cache is a static caching plugin that generates HTML files that are served directly by Apache, without processing comparatively heavy PHP scripts. It’s compatible with most servers and server configurations, and gives you the choice of creating the cache on your own server, or using a content delivery network.

Use a content delivery network (CDN)

A CDN is a network of optimized servers around the world that store copies of your site’s data. By making your site available from various servers, the CDN maximizes bandwidth, and reduces your site’s load time. Using a CDN works really well if you have visitors from all over the world, as the servers closest to each user will be used to deliver content quickly. A CDN provider such as MaxCDN can provide great performance without putting a strain on your pocket.

Optimize your blog images

Many blogers don’t focus on optimizing blog images, but it’s a very effective way to increase your blog’s loading speed. There are many, many plugins that can help you to optimize blog images, but one of the best is WP Smush.it. I’m using it on many of my blogs and it really helps to make blog load faster. It offers an API that performs these optimizations (except for stripping JPEG metadata) automatically, and it integrates seamlessly with WordPress. Every image you add to a page or post will be automatically run through Smush.it behind the scenes—you don’t have to do anything differently.

This plugin:

  • strips meta data from JPEGs
  • optimizes JPEG compression
  • converts certain GIFs to indexed PNGs
  • strips the unused colours from indexed images.

Use social images instead of buttons

Social network buttons were among my site’s main problems: they take so much time to load, and can really slow your blog down. Displaying three or four buttons might be okay, but if you want to show all the buttons, I’d suggest you use images instead. Using images is the best way to show all the buttons without using a plugin.

These are eight simple tips that can help you to make your blog load faster then ProBlogger. What others can you share?

Devesh is young entrepreneur and part time blogger. Visit WP Kube for WordPress Tuorials & Hacks and Technshare for Make Money Blogging
Tips.

My Journey to Blogging Celebrity

This guest post is by Shawn Tyler Weeks of 344 Pounds.

In January of 2009, I weighed 344.2 pounds.  In July of 2009, I weighed 244 pounds.  I eventually reached my lowest recorded weight in my adult life in early 2010 when I weighed in under 200 pounds.  Today, I weigh a little bit more than 200, but also carry a lot more muscle on my frame.

In just about six months I changed my life forever. But my body wasn’t the only thing that underwent a transformation.

When I started my journey to lose weight by counting calories, I also started my very first blog:  344 Pounds.  It was a way to keep me accountable for my weight to friends and family members,  even though I didn’t tell them about it.  In fact, nobody read the blog for months.  I didn’t advertise it, didn’t know how to, and honestly expected myself to fail with the weight loss attempt (for the 1,353th time) and the blog would just die.  But for once, I didn’t fail.  I lost weight.

And the blog didn’t die.

The blog

On the blog I put videos of me, shirtless, at 300+ pounds, every Wednesday, plus a picture of my scale and called it “Wednesday Weigh-in Results.”  It was and is a way to hold myself accountable—almost like scaring myself to lose weight.  And while it’s not scary any more, I still hold myself accountable for my progress when I post my weight, plus pictures, every single Wednesday on the blog as I continue to try to transform my body (more muscles, less fat!).  I haven’t missed a Wednesday weigh-in result, not even when my dad died about six months ago.

As my weight loss progressed and I kept doing my weekly weigh-in results, I also started added other posts during the week.  The time involved was absolutely ridiculous and wasn’t being read by anybody and I’m still not quite sure why I posted so much as nobody was trying to read it, but I kept posting regardless day in, day out.  I’d share tips on losing weight, workout routine, the foods I was eating that week (counting calories on the blog, basically), and so on, two or thee days a week.

Eventually, somebody showed up to read what I was writing and watch me shrink! While I had to blog in darkness for a couple of months, that all changed in March.  I was featured on a consumer blog called Consumerist, after I wrote to its editor expressing my views on counting calories after I’d read a piece on the site that infuriated me by promoting some weight-loss gimmick. That email led to a plug for my blog on Consumerist, plus numerous follow-ups after that as they began to follow my journey.

Being featured on Consumerist was the start of a lot of exposure in “new” and traditional media.

Growing exposure

After Consumerist, I was in Newsweek.

I was contacted by Kate Dailey, a reporter for Newsweek, who wanted to set up a phone interview to ask me a variety of questions about my plans on keeping the weight off down the road. I had (and still have!) a full-time job, and I wasn’t prepared to ask her to work late just to interview me, so I did the interview on my lunch break one Wednesday afternoon. I didn’t tell her I was in my car at the time of the interview, but I was literally sitting outside of a barbeque restaurant in Columbia, SC, in my old jeep, being interviewed by Newsweek.  After the interview, I ate lunch and went back to work.

Consumerist and Newsweek gave me a strong following.  I can’t recall exact figures, but I was soon up to several hundred “fans” (I call them friends) on Facebook, and traffic was at several hundred visitors a day.

An interesting thing about the media coverage I’ve gained, since the start of the blog until today, is that while a spike of traffic will occur, it will never subside near its previous levels. It’s a simple concept, really: 10,000 people can visit your site in a day, and 9,700 of those will visit it once or a few times, and never return. You’ll be left with a few dedicated new readers, as I was, depending on the quality and relevancy of the traffic your site was exposed to.

My media exposure really started to accelerate after Newsweek.  While I’m not sure how the local media heard about me, I was invited be part of a live interview by the local CBS news affiliate for the morning show.

I don’t think I was as nervous on my wedding day as I was the day I walked into the state-of-the-art, multi-million-dollar satellite CBS studio one very early Tuesday morning.  I was incredibly scared about being on television and it showed.  Remember, I was nearly 350 pounds just a year ago, so I wasn’t exactly overflowing with self-confidence. But I was invited back several times to share tips about losing weight, andaAs I got more and more television experience, I became relaxed. The last time I was on television, it was laid back, casual, and I wasn’t nervous in the slightest. I walked in, made myself comfortable in the studio, and waited for my turn to step onto the live set.

The morning show, while a wonderful experience and something I’ll hopefully do again soon, didn’t bring much in terms of traffic. While I was able to plug my blog on the air and appeal to many listeners, there just aren’t a whole lot of people watching the morning news at 6 a.m.

What did bring a surge in traffic, however, was a taped segment I did with a reporter from the same CBS station.  This segment also focused on weight loss, but specifically on my realistic approach to weight loss.  The reporter, Michael Benning, followed me to my gym and a local burger shop. He filmed me working out and then shortly afterward eating a big, juicy, greasy cheeseburger. This segment, unlike my live interviews, was broadcast at 11 p.m. (with 20,000 people watching, he estimated).

In addition, my segment was plugged on the CBS station throughout the night during the regular CBS primetime television lineup, enticing people to tune in and hear my story.

I don’t know the exact number of people that watched my television segment, but the increase in traffic was considerable, and I know of at least one person that saw it:  Governor of South Carolina, Mark Sanford. As I live in the capital city of my state, the governor (Mark Sanford) actually watched the interview from the Governor’s mansion and personally wrote and mailed me a letter congratulating me.

Also, that same CBS interview (and a corresponding transcript) was put on their website, which was then syndicated to other affiliates and cities.  My mother actually called me in Charleston (about 120 miles away) when she saw my story come up on her local CBS station. Apparently, my story spread up and down the east coast at various CBS stations.

That was a good week in terms of gathering more exposure for me, the blog, and my effort to spread the word about counting calories.  I was an instant celebrity around Columbia after this exposure and that opened the door to many opportunities.  For instance, I now have a great relationship with Anne, the owner of a local athletic club.  One of her friends told her about me and Anne invited me to come in and talk to members about my journey.  Today, I have a few free memberships at her luxury athletic club for myself and family members.  We’re also discussing the potential for me to become trainer in her club starting in 2011.

Later, well into 2010, I would do another interview with CBS and Michael Benning.

The media coverage up to this point, the beginning of 2010, was modest.  It grew my site, got me some advertising requests (which I turned down, as most went against my core beliefs of counting calories), and gained me some true, real friends, plus thousands of followers.  I was impressed, happy, and content with blogging away in my little corner with a few thousand followers.

The media explosion

Then, I was featured on the homepage of CNN, and on air on CNN as they plugged their website. The CNN anchor mentioned “an incredible weight loss story” was on their homepage and recommended that viewers log on to CNN.com to check it out.

I was standing in line at the bank with about half a dozen other people when I saw their homepage and my face come on the plasma television hanging from the ceiling.  Nobody noticed it was me until I blurted out, “Oh wow, that’s me.” Indeed, it was.  Albeit, a much smaller me.

I received 100+ emails within minutes of that promotion.  Traffic was coming in, according to Google Analytics, at a rate of a thousand visitors every 30 minutes or so.  It was intense.  I remember constantly refreshing my Facebook page, and looking at all the new fans showing up.  The count was increasing by a hundred new fans every hour or so, which was impressive considering they had to first go to 344 Pounds, then like me enough to want to become a fan on Facebook.

CNN, much like the other media mentions, brought me hundreds of encouraging emails (by far the most of any plug I’ve done), and I’m still determined to respond to every single one. I receive a lot of emails through my blog: mostly positive, and mostly people opening up their hearts with me. I read about people who have been 50, 150, 300 pounds overweight their entire lives and how they’re depressed and sick of being so obese, and how my story gave/gives them hope for the future.

These emails deserve to be responded to.  I have 218 still needing a reply.

The road ahead

If Newsweek, CBS, and Consumerist didn’t solidify the longevity of my blog, CNN did.  All told, a few days after the initial plug and the link on the homepage of CNN disappeared, my blog had received well over 50,000 visitors and countless links, new fans, subscribers, advertising requests, and so on.  I made some money from it by plugging a couple of companies I truly believed in (and which didn’t conflict with counting calories), but I declined most offers as they focused on losing weight with fads, gimmicks, and diets.

Short-term money isn’t a good thing if you sell out your core beliefs to get it.  After about 22 months of blogging, I’ve recently secured a very well known, big sponsor: MyFitnessPal. MyFitnessPal is free calorie-counting website where you can track your calories on the web, as well as your iPhone or Android phone.  It is, without a doubt, something I support 100% and could recommend (and have!) to my mother.

Since CNN in early 2010, I’ve done the occasional television interview and various interviews for large fitness-related websites.  I’ve also done some interviews on different blogs.  Another notable media gig I did this year as for the powerhouse Clear Channel on a top-40 station in Columbia, SC, during rush hour. It lasted about three months and involved me driving down to the radio station one night a week and pre-recording several “Tyler’s weight loss tips” sessions.

These sessions involved me and the DJ in a little skit, where the DJ set me up with a question.  He’d ask, “So Tyler, I’ve heard that counting calories is the best way to lose weight.  Is that true, and if so, why?” and I’d give a short, quick, helpful reply.  These clips last about 30 seconds and a different one was played every weekday during rush hour.

Heading into 2011, I have follow up interviews lined up with various publications, and I’ve already been in touch with the morning show anchor for the local CBS station that I had my original interviews with. We should be setting up something soon for another interview around the start of the New Year.

I’m flattered by all the attention I’ve received over the last couple of years.  And while you may think that my ego has become inflated or that I think too highly of myself, think again.  As my wife says, I still have to take out the trash and change my daughter’s diaper regardless how “famous” I am.  I had to take out the trash when I had 100 Facebook fans, and I’ll have to do it when I have 100,000.

Of course, there’s no guarantee I ever will.  It’ll be a fun journey though, regardless.

Shawn Tyler Weeks lost nearly 150 pounds by counting calories in a little over a year.  He blogged his entire journey on 344 Pounds and continues to do so as he hopes to transform his body again in 2011.

How To Create Link Bait Content

This guest post is by Brandon Connell of BrandonConnell.com.

Throughout my blogging career, I’ve worked hard on my writing style. I’ve improved over time, and I’m at a point now where I believe I have perfected my ability to write link bait articles. A link bait article is an article that makes many readers want to reference it within their articles, or link to it as a general resource.

The thing I love about link baiting is that it allows your blog to build some quality backlinks and increase search rank over time. It also means additional targeted traffic is attracted to your blog, which can mean more subscribers. Let’s see how you can start writing such articles, and increasing your presence on the web.

Why do articles go viral?

The main reason why articles go viral is because they offer something that of value to a large portion of the population. This is usually something that people feel that they cannot be without, and with the way that social media works, everyone automatically shares links to that content which spreads it like a virus; hence the name “viral”.

Think about viral content as being like the latest craze during a holiday sale (e.g. Tickle Me Elmo).

Two common link bait post types

Some articles are just so good that they grab the attention of the reader immediately.

One example of such an article is a list post. These are posts that are easy to read, and usually provide solutions to problems or reasons why things are needed. Examples of list post titles are “Top 10 Must-Have WordPress Plugins”, or “5 Methods To Increase RSS Subscribers”. The titles of those articles are meant to get the attention of the person who has a need for those things. When they access the article, it is broken down into a list for easy consumption.

A controversial post is another example. Consider the blogger who refused the screening process by the TSA. He recorded the entire confrontation, and posted it on his blog. The next thing you know, not only was he on the news, but everyone was linking to his blog when they talked about negative reactions to the TSA backscatter xray machine and the aggressive pat-downs.

Making your article stand out

When I first guest posted on ProBlogger, I intended to write an article that I knew would be referenced in the future. I wrote about blogging styles, and I made sure to create an in-depth article. So link bait posts don’t have to be list items or controversial articles. They can simply be articles that cover a topic in depth, and which another blogger can reference within his or her own posts into the future. You see this all the time among bloggers and site owners who link to wikipedia articles.

In order to make your article stand out, it’s wise to write a detailed post and cover the key bases of the topic. Break your article into sub-sections and lists, and reference other materials where you need to. The most important part of standing out is to be original. If you write a me-too post, then you aren’t likely to get comments, let alone inbound links.

Using leverage while remaining original

Let me stress this. Go out of your way to be original. Once, I created free banner ads for some of my regular readers in order to show my appreciation for their loyalty. It only took five hours of my time to design those ads, but I knew that they would appreciate the effort for a long time. I had no intention for getting inbound links from the exercise—they were an unexpected bonus.

I love when I come across a massive article with links to a lot of useful tools. Once, I came across an article on traffic sources. That article listed hundreds of websites that we can leverage to get traffic to our blogs. I bookmarked that bad boy and referenced it in my own article.

Those kinds of articles really get my attention, and easily turn me into a regular reader. The person who compiled the article wasn’t lazy, and took their time to make a valuable resource for someone else. They didn’t do a quick article just to get some link bait. And if their intent was to get link bait, they did it the right way by taking their time to make a valuable resource.

Make an effort for style

When I talk about style, I’m not telling you to go out and make sure your socks match. When I speak of style, I’m talking about how you present your articles.

  • Do you break them up with pictures related to what you are writing about?
  • Do you use H1, H2, and H3 tags?
  • Do you change the color of your header tags to look different than the article text?
  • Do you throw a video or some audio in there to appear to be keeping up with the Jetsons?
  • Do you style your social media accounts to look like your blog?
  • Do you use an occasional list like this one to make your point?

There are many ways to go about creating style for your brand. The lesson here is: don’t be lazy. If you take your blog seriously, present it in a unique way, while at the same time completing the maintenance your readers expect.

Size does matter

You may have heard that phrase from an ex-girlfriend, but I am talking about the length of posts here. There’s a big debate that will remain a debate for years to come: whether or not to write long posts.

I wrote both long and short posts. Some of my articles are as small as 200 words and some of those are just personal update; others can get up to 5,000 words. The fact is that search engines love longer articles with original content. So do readers. They may not read the entire thing, but they will skim that article like tomorrow wasn’t coming. If you pack a longer article with many eye-catching subtitles, you can easily attract links to those articles.

Longer articles are more likely to attract backlinks. Let’s take, for example, a post titled “7 Ways to Come Up With Blog Post Ideas”. What if we were to take the same concept, but create a piece titled “100 Ways to Come Up With Blog Post Ideas”? Guess which one will attract more attention. 100 ways is better than 7 ways; that article is a sure-fire bookmark post.

I’m not saying that you can’t have a successful blog with 500-word articles. Many great blogs that I visit every day post short articles, and short articles are easy to read. What I am saying is that you are less likely to create link bait articles with shorter posts. It’s not impossible—I’ve done it myself. But if you want a consistent solution, then longer articles that are 1,000-5,000 words are best.

Contests aren’t just for traffic

Have you ever held a contest on your blog? They’re usually used to attract traffic, because everyone taking part in the contest will promote it. But contests also generate a lot of inbound links through that promotion. Take, for example, a guest post contest. You’re likely to get many links to various articles in this contest, rather than just one to the contest itself. Each guest poster will actively promote their article on as many social media sites as possible, as well as the sites and blogs they own or partner with.

You can really utilize contest by soliciting sponsors. To do so, post an article on your site that invites sponsorships for an upcoming contest. In addition, contact companies directly and let them know you have a contest coming up. Offer them major exposure if they contribute cash, tangible items, or software licenses, for example, as prizes. This is a great way to build up a link-baiting plan around your contest.

Is it broke? Report it!

I recently broke a story on my blog. At first I wasn’t going to, then I realized what I’d be passing up. The story announced a new web platform that was coming out for bloggers and readers alike, called Newsgrape. I gained some quick traffic by breaking this story before the mainstream media got hold of it.

More recently, I started getting some extra links to my story, because I was the first blogger to write about Newsgrape. An added bonus was that I gained a link to my article from the Newsgrape page. Aside from the backlink on a PR6 site, I started receiving traffic from that site, which keeps coming to this day!

If you can manage to get your hands on a big story before anyone else does, you can create some serious link bait. Some blogs actually focus on breaking news stories, and other bloggers only hope to come across a story occasionally. But the great thing is that you don’t have to be the very first in order to benefit. If you can manage to be just one of the first bloggers to write about it, then you’ll get in before the audience is saturated with the story. Your article is also likely to gain favor with Google for being one of the first t report that topic.

How can you can find breaking stories to report as “one of the originals”? Look at news sites and stories, like the Yahoo! homepage. Don’t hesitate: write about it, then publish it quickly. That would be one of the only times I actually advise writers not to take their time on a story. Make sure you are original when you write it, though: don’t be in such a hurry that you only report an article that’s already been written by another or news site. You can reference a sentence or two, but provide your own opinion and ensure that your thoughts are mentioned by others in the near future.

The art of link baiting

Writing link bait content is easy. It’s an artform, but any blogger can do it if they just apply the science and avoid laziness.

Make sure that you’re not being selfish by only seeking links. Rather, work hard to create a valuable resource that others can’t resist.

What tips can you share from your experience writing successful link bait content?

Brandon Connell is a full time blogger, and internet marketing expert. He can be found on his blog teaching you how to make money blogging, and you can follow him on Twitter.

Why Writing Every Day Isn’t Enough

This post is by Michelle of Wicked Whimsy.

One of the most common pieces of advice given to aspiring writers and, by extension, bloggers is to write every day. The idea of a daily writing practice is thrown around as though it’s a cure-all for any malady.

Don’t get me wrong, I try to write every day, but the advice as it’s given is missing an important component. And it can be downright harmful in its closely related form: “Write every day—it doesn’t matter what you write, so long as you’re writing”.

The problem

Recently, I had a stint of a week or two where I was writing almost constantly, and all of it was for the viewing of others: blog posts for my blog, guest posts for other blogs, client work.

When things slowed down a bit, I took a week long breather since I had a backlog of blog posts‚ I was still writing daily at 750words.com and my private journal, but that was it.

And, to my surprise, when I sat down to write again, I found it nigh impossible. The words simply refused to come. I couldn’t figure it out—I had found it so easy to write only a week before!

The new version: write for others every day

There’s a big difference between writing something that you know will be private, and writing something that others will see. I propose that if bloggers want to keep the ideas coming, keep writing, and most importantly, keep improving their writing, then writing every day isn’t enough.

Instead, you should be making it a point to write for others every day. Why?

There are two main reasons:

  • You hold your writing to a higher standard. If something is private, you have no pressing motivation to keep improving it aside from your own drive. Sometimes that’s enough, but sometimes it’s not. If you know that your writing will be in front of hundreds or thousands of people (or even just the one paying client), you definitely want to make sure it’s up to scratch.
  • It keeps you in a quality writing mindset. Writing for yourself is often an entirely different experience than writing for others. It gives you a moment to pause and reflect on your day, tease out thoughts you might not have known you had, and record your experiences. These are all totally fabulous things in their own right, and doing these on a regular basis might (eventually) make you a better writer. But they’re not the same thing that you need to be taking into consideration when you’re writing for other people. When writing for others, you need to think about headlines, subheadings, ease of reading, and how well you convey your message. If you’re not actively practicing writing for others and maintaining the mindset that comes with it, then chances are your improvement will be nonexistent or marginal.

It could also be argued that writing for others makes you more creative, but several other talented bloggers have recently addressed that idea here on ProBlogger, so I’ll just point you towards those posts for that debate.

You don’t have to write an entire, polished post every day. Depending on your schedule, that might not even be possible. But do try do something like writing a post draft or editing another post, just to keep you in the groove of writing for others. You could even make commenting a part of this practice—as has been proven in several ProBlogger posts, commenting is a vital part of growing your blog and your brand. A well-crafted comment makes both you and the blog you left the comment on look better.

Do I think a daily writing practice is vital? Definitely. I also think that bloggers are in the business of writing for other people—so that’s where our focus should be. I still write for myself every day, but now I know better than to fail to put the focus on writing for others every day.

Michelle Nickolaisen is a rainbow-haired writer, blogger, and all-around creative maven making her way in Austin, TX. She writes at Wicked Whimsy about saturating life with constructive creativity, among other topics.

Five Ways to Become a Better Writer and Take Your Blog to the Top

This guest post is by Ali Luke of Aliventures.

Does great writing matter in blogging?

It’s a debate that isn’t over—yet. But it’s one where more and more blogging experts are emphasizing that your writing does matter, and that readers are drawn in by a strong, engaging voice.

Great writing will:

  • encourage people to share your content
  • persuade readers to subscribe for more of the same
  • get a powerful response—like comments or sales
  • make you look like a big player in the blogosphere, even if you’re just starting out.

You might not think of yourself as a writer, but your writing skills will make or break your blogging career. Here are five ways to improve.

1. Blog regularly

If you talk to any writer, they’ll tell you that you need to write regularly. We bloggers, of course, have an advantage here; there are a bunch of good reasons to produce frequent posts (encouraging search engine traffic, and keeping readers engaged, for instance).

Blogging regularly doesn’t necessarily mean daily. In fact, you’ll almost certainly do better by writing slightly less often and putting more time and effort into your posts: after all, wouldn’t you rather your readers were eagerly looking forward to your next in-depth post, instead of skipping past yet another mediocre 300 word piece that you’ve churned out?

To get into a regular blogging habit, try setting up a blogging calendar. Once you’ve found a comfortable routine, it’s easy to keep going.

2. Learn actively

Just writing regularly won’t get you far. It’s also important to actively learn about writing—to look for areas where you want to improve.

You need to slow down when you write. You need to think about what you’re writing, and how it works to capture reader attention. You need to devote conscious attention to improving your work to make it more effective. More readable. More captivating and compelling.

—James Chartrand, Why You Shouldn’t Write Often, Men with Pens

So how do you give your writing that “conscious attention” which James is talking about?

  • Read writing blogs. Ideally, subscribe to them so you get daily tips and inspiration. I’d recommend Daily Writing Tips, Copyblogger, and Men with Pens, for starters.
  • Invest in great ebooks. The Copywriting Scorecard for Bloggers is a fantastic resource to have to hand. And if your grammar and spelling could use a bit of work, get 100 Writing Mistakes to Avoid (from Daily Writing Tips).
  • Read brilliantly-written blogs, and learn from them. All the writing blogs are great examples, but it’s also a good idea to find blogs in your own niche. If you come across a particularly engaging or well-written post, print it out and go through line-by-line to see how it works.
  • Go to a writing class or course. Try your local college, or look online—for instance, Darren and Chris run Creating Killer Content.
  • Form a writing circle with blogger friends. You might not be experts, but you’ll probably be able to point out the potential flaws or trouble spots in one another’s work.
  • Get one-to-one support from a writing coach. Although this isn’t cheap, it’s an incredibly effective way to get advice specific to you and your writing.

3. Read widely

How much reading do you do outside the blogosphere? When did you last read a book?

Although blogging is a particular form of writing, you can learn a lot from other mediums and styles. You might find a great technique in an advert in a newspaper, for instance, or you could use a brilliant headline that you took from a magazine.

Most books have been through a number of gatekeepers before being published—agents, editors, marketing boards, and so on. Not all books are well written, but many are, and they can give you a sense of what’s possible. Try out some novels (ask friends for recommendations)—novelists have the toughest job of all writers, because they have to convince us to care about imaginary people in made-up situations.

Look for good non-fiction books too—I particularly like the writing style of Richard Wiseman (Quirkology and 59 Seconds) and Chip and Dan Heath (Made to Stick and Switch).

4. Write creatively

As well as reading outside the blogosphere, try writing outside it. Okay, you may not have any ambitions to be the next J.K. Rowling, but by trying out different writing styles, you’ll find yourself becoming more comfortable and fluent in your blogging.

A great place to start is with the Creative Copy Challenge, run on Mondays and Thursdays. You’re given ten words or phrases as prompts, and you have to work them into one short piece of writing on any topic you like.

You could also try these ideas:

  • Write short pieces of fiction. These can work incredibly well on blogs, particularly when they offer a different way of looking at your usual topic. A couple of examples are How to Attract The Most Awesome People Into Your Life by Vlad Dolezal and What Hope Really Means by Alex Blackwell.
  • Write poetry. I’m really not a good poet (I wrote such awful poetry as a teen that I swore off it for life!), but occasionally I’ll try out poetry because it encourages me to focus on the full value of each word.
  • Write the same post or page in several different styles. This is a great exercise if you’re struggling with how best to write something. Your “About” page is a good one to try this with. How about:

5. Use feedback

I’ve touched on feedback above, suggesting that great ways to learn are by working with friends or by hiring a coach. But you’re probably already getting plenty of feedback on your writing.

This feedback might come through:

  • Tweets (either directly at you, about you, or retweets of what you’ve said): what gets a great response on Twitter? Look at the way you phrased things, and the content, and see if you can figure out why it engaged others.
  • Comments on your blog: which posts get the most comments? What do readers seem to particularly like? If you’re experimenting with different styles—maybe writing a short story with a point, like Alex and Vlad did in the examples above—then pay attention to the comments and see what’s resonating with your readers.
  • Emails that you receive: these may give you ideas of particular topics to write on (and choosing the right subject for your post is an important part of writing well). In some cases, they may also indicate when your writing has touched someone deeply.

Want to get more in-depth feedback on a particular post? You could ask on Twitter—making it clear that criticism is welcome—or ask on a forum. If I’m working on a high-impact piece of writing, like a sales page, I often ask in the Third Tribe for feedback and suggestions—and I’ve seen lots of other bloggers do the same.

How are you going to take your writing forwards, today?

Ali Luke blogs about writing and the writing life at Aliventures, covering topics like Finding Your Writing Voice. You can grab the Aliventures RSS feed here.

How to Optimize Your Sales Funnel for Success

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!

As online marketers, we often devote a large amount of time to finding ways to attract eyeballs to our online assets. We put such effort into simply get the readers there that we allow the rest to take care of itself. Money will flow, Ferraris will be purchased, and we can all retire nice and young…

Then we discover the concept of sales funnels.

You may already know what a sales funnel is, but if you don’t, let me quickly describe it for you.

A sales funnel is a simple map of your lead-to-sale process.

  1. Let’s imagine you start with 1,000 leads (visitors to your web site).
  2. 100 might click on a sales page link for of one of your products.
  3. 50 might click your Order Now button and enter your shopping cart.
  4. Ten complete the checkout process and buy the product.

So your sales funnel starts and 1,000 and ends in ten sales—that’s a 1% conversion.

That’s a bare-bones view of a sales funnel, but as you can see it takes four steps, not one, to increase the amount of sales your site delivers. If we put all our attention on attracting new visitors, we’re essentially forgetting 75% of the puzzle—and we’ve all done that.

But that’s not where online marketers go wrong!

It’s not hard to sell people the idea of the sales funnel—it’s simple to understand and easy to quantify. It’s also been around for a long time. Offline sales professionals have been using it for decades.

The problem with the sales funnel is that in the offline world it’s a simple and straightforward methodology, but in the online world, it’s not.

The image below is a quick process map I prepared for a Managing Director of a large retail operation, who’s focusing heavily on online strategy.

As you can see, that organization’s sales funnel is a lot more complicated than the simple four-step process I mentioned above. There are some key points I want to highlight in this map:

  • Seven different types of traffic that visit the site.
  • There are multiple behaviors that we need to analyse: what pages visitors view, how long they stay, the navigational path, and their user profiles (locations, browsers, etc.).
  • There’s a connection outcome, as well as a buy outcome.
  • A visitor can become a customer in a range of ways.

Now my idea of a funnel resembles something I use to fill my car with oil, and this looks nothing like it. This depiction reminds me more of the tubes game I play on my iPhone. In even more bad news, I made this process map in five minutes. The reality is that this business’s online sales funnel is probably twice as complicated!

The key to sales funnel success

The key to creating a more successful sales funnel is: step away from the keyboard. While I work in an office, I actually have a whiteboard in my house. I actually use it, and it’s better than any online tool I’ve seen for laying out the bare bones of a real, live sales funnel.

I start by detailing every single way people can enter the funnel, identifying where they have come from, what their persona is, and where they’re at in the purchase cycle.

Then, I identify every activity that someone can undertake on the site: read some content, read some more content, subscribe to a newsletter, view a social media profile, buy something, or exit the site.

Finally I detail the measures I can put on each activity: time on page, entry path, exit path, and so on.

Then I start connecting the dots and putting together all the different pathways a visitor can take thought my funnel. The key here is not to change anything about your site yet.

Putting theory into practice

Once the funnel is mapped, and the measures are in place, I start collating reports at every step. What I’m trying to do here is understand how my funnel works in practice, not in theory.

Try this on your blog. Once you’ve collated enough information to start making decisions, I guarantee there will be obvious points of failure in your process, and they’re likely to arise in two main areas:

  1. a page that does a great job at encouraging a secondary behaviour (that is, rather than keeping someone in the sales funnel)
  2. a page that fundamentally fails to move a customer to the next step in the funnel.

Initially, you’ll probably feel like there is a lot to do, so you’ll need to prioritize the changes you want to make. Focus on the areas that are costing you the most sales (which might actually be at the bottom end of your funnel).
With time, effort, and focus, you could see huge improvements in the performance of your site, without your having to attract one new visitor to your site. Sounds good to me!

Have you tweaked your sales funnel recently? What changes have worked best for you?

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. Questions? Suggestions? Email him.

10 Blogging Myths You Must Ignore

This guest post is by Onibalusi Bamidele.

I’ve been blogging for almost a year now, and like every other new blogger, I spend a large percentage of my time reading other blogs. While there are some great blogs out there, I have also read blogs that are otherwise. Most of these blogs are misleading and some helped contribute to a delay in my blog’s success. I also discovered that most of these blogs are owned by those who have no experience building a successful blog—they’re either blogging just for the money, or they’re simply copycats.

There are many blogging myths that, if followed, will lead to the death of a new blog. Many new bloggers read and follow these rules religiously because they heard it from someone they respected, but the end result is that they quit out of frustration—the frustration of not getting results from their efforts.

From building a successful blog and observing other successful bloggers, I have realized how dangerous and deceitful these myths can be, so I’ve decided to bust them in this article. Some of these myths will be shocking, and some will spark debate, but they represent what I’ve learned from experience.

Myth #1: Content is king

How can this be a myth? I knew it’d surprise you, but the majority of bloggers have been made to believe it. Yet highly successful blogger and copywriter, Brian Clark, says himself that a word has no life of its own if it is not read. It doesn’t matter how great your content is: you need people to read and share it. The truth is that even if people share your content, or a post on your blog goes viral, you still need a community to give it a lasting boost.

Through the emails I get, I’ve been able to discover lots of awesome content on my readers’ blogs. That same content might have gone viral if it were published on mine, since I have a stronger audience. But they don’t, and no matter how great their content is, it still can’t go viral, or bring them success, if they have no audience.

Many new bloggers spend the whole of their time crafting great content, based on the “content is king” myth), yet they can’t achieve anything, why? Content is not king!

Myth # 2: Marketing is king

I know I’m not the only one who disagrees with the myth that content is king. Yet many who doubt that content is king argue that marketing is king. It’s not. You can’t market nothing, and no matter the type of marketing you use, if you have a mediocre blog, you will end up with little in the way of results.

I once wrote a guest post that sent me over 1000 visitors in a day (before I wrote the guest post, I was averaging 150 visitors a day). But after two days of attracting those 1000+ visitors, my blog returned to the 150 visitors a day average. I was of course disappointed. But I realized that the traffic had fallen because I didn’t have solid content to back up that initial guest post, and sustain those traffic levels.

It doesn’t matter what your marketing budget is: if you don’t have solid content, it will end up being wasted. So marketing is not king.

So if content is not king, and marketing is not king, what is king? You might not expect this answer, but I believe the blogger is king. The blogger should be able to strike the right balance between content and marketing—this is the only path to true success.

Myth #3: SEO is bowing to social media, so neglect SEO and focus on social media

While Stumbleupon or Digg can send you 1 million visitors in one day, have you ever sat down to think about the value of those visitors?

Online success has nothing to do with the quantity of traffic you receive—what matters is its quality. While a social media site can send you several thousands of visitors in one day, the same number of visitors from a search engine may be far more effective. I discovered Problogger from Google, and I discovered Copyblogger from Google, but I can’t remember a blog I discovered it from a social media site, and now read loyally.

Also consider that more traffic from search engines can lead to greater social media success. I wrote a post on success quotes weeks ago, but I got little to no social media traffic to it. I spent a few days doing some SEO for it, which generated more search engine traffic, and that lead to thousands of visits from Stumbleupon thereafter.

In a nutshell, social media traffic hardly leads to more search engine traffic, but more search engine traffic leads to more social media traffic. After all, more visitors means there are more people sharing your content (social media), but more visitors won’t lead to an increase in your search engine rankings (more backlinks do this).

Myth #4: Social media is useless

I have heard this myth more than once. Most of the bloggers who promote this myth are bloggers who rely on search traffic.

While I said earlier that SEO does not trump social media, Im not trying to rule out the importance of social media. There are a lot of bloggers who started with nothing, but have been able to take their blogs to celebrity status using social media sites. Things are becoming better with the advent of Twitter and others—what matters most is not social media traffic, but how it’s being used.

You shouldn’t just focus on gaining more social media traffic; rather, focus on converting the traffic you do attract into repeat readers who will yield more dividends for you in the long run. Social media is the future of the web. A good blogger will not put all his or her eggs in one basket—we have to adapt to these kinds of changes and make them work for us.

Myth #5: More traffic = more money

This is probably the greatest myth of all. If it takes Darren 100 visitors to make $1000, it will take me far more than that number of visitors to make the same amount.

A lot of factors come into play when it comes to getting the best from your traffic and one of the most important is the authority and reputation of the blogger. If people see you as a mediocre blogger, attracting more traffic won’t make much of a difference, but if people see you as an authority blogger, you get a bigger bottom-line impact from every new visitor you capture.

I know some bloggers whos sites have less traffic than mine, but have several times the number of subscribers I have. What matters most is not the sheer number of visitors, but your relationship with them.

Myth #6: Not responding to comments means you don’t respect your readers

I have always wanted to be a successful blogger, but I never knew it could be a burden. With countless emails unattended to, and comments awaiting my reply, developing quality content starts to become a burden. Replying to comments doesn’t generate traffic: quality content does!

One of the best decisions I’ve made in my blogging career was to make sure I only reply to comments that really need a reply—after all, my content is what my readers want. This decision sparked a lot of debate. Some of my readers stopped commenting and one of them even went to the extent of ranting over my decision.

Yet, months later, the average time people spend reading my posts has increased from 2 minutes to more than 7 minutes.

Don’t waste your time doing things that are not necessary because people think it is a must. Rather, spend your time on what matters: developing great content that will keep your readers coming back. If you always strive to give your best, your “true” readers will stick with you, and invite their friends. But if all you can manage is to write sloppy, slap-dash posts, even those commenters you’re always replying to will eventually stop reading your blog.

Myth #7: Longer posts bring more traffic

I have been a victim of this myth not once or twice, but several times. I have observed some successful bloggers who write longer posts and this led me to write single posts as long as 5,000 words. Even though I fell for this myth, I was fortunate to learn an invaluable lesson in the process: your best post is what comes freely from your mind, nothing else. It doesn’t matter whether a post is short or long: its success has nothing to do with its length. What matters most is the uniqueness and consistency of the blogger.

A good example of someone who has great success with short posts is Seth Godin. Seth can write successful posts as short as 100 words. Someone who has great success with longer posts is Glen Allsop. Glen rarely writes posts less than 2,000 words, yet all his posts go viral and bring the desired result.

From these examples we can see clearly that what matters most is finding your voice. If you do better with short posts then stick to it; if you have more success with longer posts, don’t look back!

Myth #8: Selling ad space is the best way to monetize a blog

Another blogging myth that dominates the blogosphere is the belief that selling ad space is the best way to monetize a blog. In fact, I think selling ad space is one of the poorest ways to monetize a blog.

The problem is that many people are only blogging for the money—they are not ready to focus on building a true community with which they can later turn their blog to a business. You won’t make any real money from your blog until you have a community, so, instead of spending your time on ads that don’t work, focus on building a community. Once that community is there, you won’t find it difficult to make money blogging.

I’m not trying to rule out the possibility of making money from online ads—in fact, there are several successful bloggers (like Darren) who are making thousands of dollars from selling ad space every month. But the reality is, Darren has several hundreds of thousands of monthly visitors to his blog and unless you have visitor levels like that, you shouldn’t expect to make a solid income from selling ad space.

Myth #9: The best way to get traffic is by implementing as many tactics as you can

While there is nothing bad in learning and trying many traffic generation tactics, you should also remember that the greatest traffic-generation secret is to master that which you know.

I regularly hear people advise learning various traffic generation tactics. I’ve tried several tactics, such as blog commenting, guest blogging, forum posting and other methods, but only guest blogging seems to be working for me, and the moment I dropped other methods and started focusing on guest blogging I began to get incredible results.

If you’re a new blogger, try to start with three or four tactics. Observe which one works best for you and stick to it. Drop other tactics: they won’t take you far.

Myth #10: The key to blogging success is getting backlinks from an A-list blogger

It doesn’t matter if you’re expecting a link from an A-list blogger or a major media site: your success shouldn’t rely on any one person other than yourself.

Recently, I was reading a blog post by Brian Clark in which he said he didn’t get links from any A-list bloggers before his blog became a success. Stop waiting for the golden bullet (or link): don’t let your success depend on anyone but you! The key to blogging success lies with you, it lies in you giving your best and being consistent with it.

What blogging myths can you bust? What hasn’t—or has—worked for you?

Onibalusi Bamidele is a 16-year-old entrepreneur and founder of young entrepreneur blog, YoungPrePro, who writes practical tips to help you succeed online. Subscribe to his blog for more from him and get his guest blogging guide for practical tips on getting success from guest blogging.