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10 Ways to Prepare Your Holiday Blogging Schedule

 10 Ways to Prepare Your Holiday Blogging Schedule

This is a guest contribution from Julia McCoy.

For bloggers, “rest” and “time off” are not familiar words.

The nature of blogging requires that bloggers be willing to dedicate themselves to it at all times, at all hours of the day, and at all points throughout the year. While this nose-to-the-grindstone work style may be great for getting things done and building your blog following, it’s not exactly ideal for kicking back over the holidays and enjoying some well-earned time off with the people you love.

Even if you don’t actually “take a vacation” over the holidays (most of us marketers and entrepreneurs don’t), there are many ways to plan ahead so that you don’t wind up hunched over your computer screen while everyone else is passing the gravy boat.

Here are a few tips to help you get started.

10 Tips for a Holiday Blogging Schedule So You Stay Sane & Published (At the Same Time)

If you’ve never developed a seasonal blogging schedule before, take a deep breath. It doesn’t have to be nearly as tough as it sounds. In fact, planning a seasonal blogging schedule in advance can actually help you cut down on stress and produce great content all throughout the holiday season. Here are 10 tips to help you get started.

1) Start early.

Ideally, you should start planning your seasonal blogging schedule about 2-3 weeks before the holiday season rolls around. If you want to get really ambitious (give this a try next year) you can start in the beginning of October and plan out content that takes you from Halloween to New Year’s.

The first step is to sit down with your planning platform of choice (be it a paper schedule or a web-based platform like Evernote) and dedicate some time to looking over your content. If you have an editorial calendar, now is the time to consult it.

Think about how many posts you generally publish during a week and then schedule those things into your “To do” for the weeks before the holidays. While it may be stressful to push yourself to write 4 or 5 extra blog posts ahead of time, planning them in advance and spreading them out over the weeks leading up to the holidays can be a fantastic way to get your work done and afford yourself some well-earned time off.

2) Get creative with content forms.

Easy content is a blogger’s best friend over the holiday season. If you can’t bring yourself to not blog at all during the holidays, aim to post content that is easy and doesn’t take a great deal of effort to create and distribute.

Pictures, for example, are fantastic and bloggers in the lifestyle or dining industries can post appealing snapshots of holiday meals or special moments. Polls (“What is your favorite holiday tradition?” for example) are great, as are all forms of user-generated content. Create a Twitter hashtag or a Pinterest board where people can submit snaps of how they spend their holidays or what they love to cook for a special day and make each submission an entry to win a fun promotional product or freebie. In addition to being an exciting way to shake your up blog content, these easy and creative forms of content are also interesting for your customers.

3) Use your holiday blogs as a vessel for good.

No matter what you celebrate, the holidays are a time of giving and it’s important to tap into that throughout your blog content. Not only does this serve the important purpose of giving back, but holiday-centric blogs can also drive huge traffic numbers.

When you’re planning your topics ahead of time, consider how you can use your blog content as a vessel to make people feel happy. Maybe you can tell a story about the nicest thing someone has ever done for you or how you used to spend the holidays as a child. If you’re an e-commerce company, you can take it a step further and give your customers exclusive deals or coupons toward holiday gifts or shopping. If you have a physical presence you can draw upon, consider driving your readers to donate to or get involved with a specific charity. While blogging is a vessel for many things, it can easily become a vessel for giving and inspiration over the holidays.

4) Branch out.

Maybe you run an e-commerce company that sells clothing and maybe your blog content is generally about new products and developments in the fashion industry. To branch out a bit over the holidays and get your readers excited, use the holidays to theme your blog. For example, when Christmas draws near, you could write a post titled “The 5 Best Holiday Party Looks to Make You Sparkle.” People love the holidays and using each one to theme your content is a great way to grab more readers.

5) Schedule the posts.

If you’re working in WordPress or any of the other popular blogging platforms, you should have access to a “schedule” feature from your dashboard. This “Schedule” feature is a lifesaver for the busy blogger because once your advance posts are brainstormed and written, you can schedule them all at once to appear throughout the week or weeks that you would like to take off. This affords you the luxury of not having to worry about being anywhere specific to press “publish” and ensures that your content stays on schedule and gets to your readers on time.

6) Link your posts with email automation.

One great way to grab some extra traffic during the holiday season is to use an automated email service to further your reach with your customers. MailChimp is a favorite of many bloggers because it offers easy drag-and-drop building features, a fully automated schedule, and the ability for bloggers to check on their open and click rates.

If automated email isn’t already a part of your digital marketing plan, use it over the holidays to offer a special giveaway to your customers or to promote your new blog posts. Because automated emails can be created and scheduled ahead of time, they’re yet another great way to stay on schedule even when you’re taking some much-needed time away from the computer.

7) Consider offering seasonal products.

Whether or not you typically use your blog to sell things, the holidays can be a great time to offer a seasonal product. Whether you create it yourself or team up with another business, seasonal products are exciting to customers and can be a source of passive holiday income for you.

8) Focus on quality rather than quantity.

During the holidays, it can be especially easy to get stressed and feel like you have to hammer out a blog post right now. This is especially true if you haven’t exactly aced your planning beforehand. Doing this, however, can easily wreak havoc on your blog readership and can harm your reputation.

Instead of waiting until the 11th hour to publish something, focus on creating content in advance. If life gets in the way and you absolutely can’t fulfill your editorial calendar for a week, tell your readers and provide one of the easy forms of content mentioned earlier in place of your normal blog post. The holidays are a time of goodwill and as long as you communicate with your readers, all will be well.

9) Speak directly to your fans.

People love to be appreciated and the holidays are a perfect time to let your fans know how much your blog has grown, how much you appreciate their readership, and what steps you’re planning on taking in the upcoming year. Often, people who read blogs don’t hear about how they’ve helped further your business (but they have and you know it) and they love the feeling of being involved when bloggers begin speaking directly to them. For some unique content this holiday season, consider reaching out to your customers and giving them a personalized, unequivocal thank you.

10) Have fun!

Last but not least – have fun! The holidays are an exciting time and it’s important not to take them too seriously. Focus on providing high-quality, valuable content as always to your readers, but accept that you need a break too! Spend some time with the people you love and come back to blogging post-holiday refreshed, excited, and ready to get back to work.

Conclusion

While maintaining regular blog content over the holidays can be tough, simple steps like planning posts in advance, scheduling posts and emails, and creating simple, unique, holiday-focused content can go a long way toward making your holidays less stressful and more enjoyable.

How do you manage the silly season on your blog?

Julia McCoy is a serial entrepreneur and content marketer, and the founder of Express Writers; she loves to blog and is a soon-to-be published author.

5 Reasons Batching Your Blog Content Can Improve Your Productivity

5 Reasons Batching Your Blog Content Can Improve Your Productivity

This is a guest contribution from Christian Karasiewicz.

Do you ever find you’re always rushing to compose a blog post?

Or maybe you meant to write a blog post, but life happened and you forgot?

What if you could relieve the pressure of constant blogging and have content ready-to-go on a weekly basis?

Would it help you be more active on your social media channels?

At the same time, would you feel less stressed and more accomplished knowing you’ve written your articles for the week or even the month and all you have left to do is hit the publish button?

In this article, you’ll learn why you should batch your blog content to do just that.

Let’s take a look at how batching your content can help!

What Is Batching?

Rather than rush to create new content on certain days of the week, the art of batching involves writing everything on one day or in one sitting.

This way you don’t have to worry if you completed your post for the day in case things get too hectic.

Here are some ways that batching your content can help you.

5 Reasons to batch your blog content

1. It saves time

We’re all well-intentioned to write a blog or article. Except life can get in the way.

That hour you thought you had free became a meeting or last-minute project. When that happens, you scramble to get your corner written, and in turn, you put out a mediocre article or you just don’t write one at all.

By batching your blog content, it helps save you time because you plan out and write it ahead of time.

2. Reduces stress

When we don’t write our content ahead of time, it can add unwanted stress because it’s constantly on our mind or on our to-do list.

Couple that with the fact that we might be too busy, and you have a recipe for disaster.

Not only do you not grow your business, you also lose any momentum you’ve built up because you didn’t complete a task you set out to do.

By batching your content, you won’t have to worry if a post is done since you’ll be planning them out and writing them ahead of time.

3. Keeps you on schedule

At the beginning of every month, you should create your editorial calendar. This is what you plan to work on for the month. It includes projects and content you need to create.

Once you’ve come up with the ideas, it’s time to put them into action. Often times, we get part of the equation right – we do the planning but don’t execute the content.

To solve this dilemma, spend a day planning out what you need to create and the spend a day writing it all.

Not only will this lower your stress levels because it will be done, you’ll also be making progress and building momentum as you move from month-to-month.

4. Boosts your productivity

By writing all of your content ahead of time, it helps you build momentum.

The momentum can propel you forward and give you confidence to tackle other tasks you’ve been meaning to get to but haven’t because they seemed too challenging.

5. Free up time for other tasks

One of the single best reasons to batch your blog content is because it helps you get more done. And we’re not just talking writing more content.

By focusing your energy for one day, you can complete your blog posts for the entire month.

This would give you with even more time to work on other areas of your business. For example, maybe you needed to complete a website redeisn you started or put together more videos.

By batching your blog content, now you have more time and the confidence to help move you forward.

Your Turn

As you can see, batching your blog content can have tremendous benefits for your sanity and your business.

It can also help you build lasting habits that carryover into other aspects of your business.

While these are just some of the benefits to batching your blog content, can you think of any other reasons batching your blog content would help you?

If so, please share them with me on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or in the comments below. I would love to hear them!

Christian Karasiewicz is the CEO and Founder of Social Chefs, a digital training site that teaches you how to create winning recipes for success in social media marketing and business. Follow him @ckroks.

Three Basic Elements to Help You Create the Perfect Video

Three Basic Elements to Help You Create the Perfect VideoThis is a guest contribution from James Tew.

Many bloggers are now considering the use of video to increase their reach, inform their audience about an upcoming product launch, or just as a new way of leveraging one of the fastest growing mediums on the internet. In fact, according to reelseo.com, by 2019 80 per cent of the world’s internet traffic will be made up of video.

We work incredibly hard to build our reputations and would do anything to protect it because in the end, it makes up a large part of our business. One thing that I believe can be incredibly detrimental to that brand is terrible video production. However, more often than not now, we don’t have the time or patience to dedicate time to the technical aspects of video. In addition, for some of us, video is purely a marketing tool and we’re not aspiring to be the next JJ Abrams.

A lot of bloggers may already have a DSLR and I think it is safe to say that the majority of us have a smartphone. In fact, the smartphone you have can record incredible looking video without having to make any expensive purchases.

In this article, I want to touch on a few hacks that will help you dramatically increase the quality of your video, maintain your reputation and help you stand out from the rest.

Shaky Video

I get incredibly sea sick so it doesn’t help when I watch a video that makes me feel like I’m sailing through a cyclone. Shaky video is terrible and really screams “amateur”. Now I’m not saying that you need to go out and pick up the most expensive Manfrotto tripod but these couple of suggestions will increase your quality.

  • Use a stack of books to balance your camera or smartphone. Grace Helbig has over 2 million subscribers to her YouTube channel and in the documentary Please Subscribe, she proves that you don’t need expensive equipment. Grace simply sat in front of a window and rested her camera on a stack of books. This will immediately remove the shaking out of your video.
  • Grab a Selfie Stick or cheap tripod from eBay. You may be thinking: “a selfie stick? really?” – Well in fact, a selfie stick will decrease the amount of shake in your footage. This is because you have greater surface area to hold providing greater stability. Another option is to pick up a small tripod from eBay such as a gorillapod. My personal recommendation is a small tripod as it eliminates any contact with your camera.

Three Basic Elements to Help You Create the Perfect Video

Hollow Audio

Have you ever tried recording yourself with a DSLR and noticed that you sound like you’re talking into a tin can? The cameras aren’t built for amazing audio as well as image quality so using an external audio source will increase your quality tenfold. There is definitely not a lack of options when it comes to audio. Tools like the Zoom H4n or Rode Videomic Pro are industry standard for video marketers. Instead of spending hundreds of dollars on this expensive equipment, here are three ways you could dramatically increase your audio quality.

  1. The Rode Smartlav+ is a great lapel mic for smartphone users. This inexpensive tool will dramatically increase the quality of your audio and allow you to use your smartphone as an audio recorder. Extremely simple to use, accompanied by the Rode app, you’ll look and sound like a pro in no time.
  2. Use your smartphone voice recorder app. If you’re using a DSLR, hiding your smartphone out of frame and recording via the audio recorder will see a dramatic improvement in comparison to camera audio. While it is not the best, it will suffice for the majority of bloggers looking to harness video.
  3. Use a podcasting microphone. If you’ve made the investment of purchasing a podcasting microphone, you can set that to record your audio and sync in editing. A simple clap on when recording will provide a spike in both camera audio and recorded audio enough for your to sync it up.

Lighting

Another important aspect of filming is lighting. When I started making videos for YouTube, lights were one of the first things I purchased because I wanted to stand out and look the part. If purchasing lights is not in your budget, you can certainly take a leaf out of Grace Helbig’s book and sit in front of a window.

Much like with photography, we want to avoid overly saturated images. One hack that I have used in the past was to sticky tape baking paper over the window. This will diffuse the light enough to make the image less saturated.

Finally, avoid ‘yellow’ coloured down lights. If you’re using the downlights in your home, purchase a daylight bulb and position yourself approximately one to two metres away from the bulb. If you can, set your camera higher than your face and look up on a slight angle. This will help eliminate any harsh shadows on your face.

These are just three basic elements of what makes a good video from the production side. Of course as with anything we create, good content will always win however, implementing these three recommendations will help ensure that people don’t switch off in the first 10 seconds of your video.

Have you had much success with video? What has worked for you?

James is a 27-year-old dad of four girls who helps entrepreneurs build relationships and grow the strength, courage and confidence to build their brand with video.

Top Takeaways for Bloggers from the International Food Blogger Conference 2015

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This is a guest contribution from Thei Zervaki.

Each year, the International Food Blogger Conference brings together USA-based and foreign food bloggers under the same roof. During the three-day event, participants taste food, improve their food writing skills, and learn more about the latest trends in photography and technology. As a participant myself in this year’s conference held in Seattle, I share the highlights:

FOOD –the center of all activities

Food was the main event of the conference, so to speak! The opening night reception and gift suite, the wine reception on Saturday followed by the culinary fair, and two breakfast sessions hosted by two sponsors, it was indeed a show for those who are in the food business.

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The Takeaways:

  1. Be observant, curious, open-minded and spot upcoming food trends. IFBC is rather small compared to massive food trade shows like the Fancy Food Show for example, but trends are there in terms of recipe making, propping and decorating. You can reinterpret these trends on your blog for a unique twist on everyone’s new favourite.

The trends I saw were:

  • The avocado cupcakes served may well be an indication of a cupcake comeback – this time savory.
  • Yogurt got an upgrade by being served in martini glasses. Is this the new way of serving, daily, modest foods and dishes?
  • Cocktails were made with tea, spices and herbs, marking a soft passing to the fall and winter months.
  • Street-food inspired dishes as well comfort food dishes with a twist had a bold presence.

WRITING: are food bloggers moving towards to more conventional food writing?

There were several sessions with the topic of food writing. From a New York Times writer to Seattle-based bloggers to published cookbook authors, all shared their personal writing and blogging stories, and made suggestions on how to improve our writing skills.

The Takeaways:

  1. Find your writing voice. Bloggers can have different voices for different blogs or outlets. One may require you to reveal yourself, a second to play a bit more of a character. Whatever you decide to go for, you have to be consistent to the outlet you contribute because consistency will bring readers back.
  2. Decide who you want to be as a blogger/writer. Are you a recipe tester? A mom trying to make better and healthier meals everyday? Or a professional who wants to succeed in everything including cooking? That will define your surroundings and it will be essential to find your voice.
  3. Do exercises to improve your writing skills like try to create a scene with your words. Don’t forget the famous Ws: when, where, what, why and who.
  4. Make three changes after the final post is written to delve even deeper: why the pie is so good? Who made it? Where is now? Can you improve on your writing?
  5. Keep an eye on the food trends for updated, fresh and interesting content that can be seasonal or holiday-related. It will help you establish yourself as a blogger who has their finger on the pulse.
  6. Watch out with those freebies. Bloggers should respect the FTC regulations that demand from all bloggers to disclose in their postings any free products or services they receive in order to write it. Postings can be sponsored by brands very often and this also has to be disclosed. What bloggers should build first to bring and keep readers to their sites is trust, so ethics is an important piece of food blogging.
  7. The well-worn path is often the most fruitful – if you want to become a published cookbook author, you have to follow the traditional path of getting an agent, sending a proposal and working with a mainstream publisher. In come cases, a publisher may ask you to find a photographer and a food stylist for the images of the book and this is an additional cost to you. There are self-publishing options of course but in this case writers are in charge of everything.

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Trends in Technology

Write more, and write well

Sara Rosso, Marketing Director at Automattic (WordPress.com) gave a presentation that focused on the Jetpack plugin for the self-hosted WordPress sites. The presentation was packed with all the features that Jetpack offers from the stats to contacts and the extra side bar widgets to security backups (through vaultpress).

The Takeaways:

  1. Write often and well
  2. Develop quality content
  3. Adopt descriptive titles (in recipes and all content)
  4. Add text to images, and add links to their content.

Photography is King

But if food, writing and technology were the themes, photography actually under-staged them all. High-profile photographers talked on how to make your food look better in photos, how to prepare the food, prop styles for cookbooks and how to shoot excellent photos for major culinary magazines as well as your blog. Those well-planned and staged shots manipulate any plate of food in such detail that it looks delicious, so delicious that your desire of having it is immediate. The recipe on how to make your Thanksgiving turkey look brown and mouthwatering includes some dish soap. You’re better off not eating it afterward!

The Takeaways:

  1. Create the setting for your image: think about time, season, weather, indoors/outdoors, people, emotions…
  2. Develop your personal style to really stand out from the crowd: consider colors, props, decoration
  3. Tell a story through food: what do you want to portray?
  4. Develop recipes from different angles so they can be photographed in different ways: give a twist to classic dishes, think outside the box.
  5. Prop styling is as important as writing and photography: Invest in surfaces, linens, flatware, etc that you can use again, but also diversify. Scout for little treasures in antique and vintage shops, eBay and boutique stores in your area. You can also rent them instead of buying them.
  6. Have a budget for gear, workshops and travel in order to learn to take better photos but think where you will use these photos first

Next year the IFBC is moving to Sacramento for the much needed change of scenery. The choice is not coincidental – Sacramento is the heart of California’s farming and agricultural industry. Next year’s content will include some key issues facing the world’s food community, including drought, food-insecurity, urban farming, sustainability and agricultural innovations. It seems that food bloggers are moving to food writing with a larger scope.

Are you a food blogger? Have you seen similar trends emerging in your space?

This is a guest contribution from food writer and columnist Thei Zervaki. You can read her culinary adventures on fullybooked.biz and at the Huffington Post

5 Sure-fire Ways to Avoid a Google Penguin Penalty

5 Sure-fire Ways to Avoid a Google Penguin Penalty (Which you REALLY don't want!) on ProBlogger.This is a guest contribution from Steve Ceaton.

So recently Gary Illyes from Google announced that hopefully by the end of 2015, Penguin updates will be carried out in real-time. Waiting for the next Penguin update has been the bane of many a website owners’ life, and getting hit with a penalty can cost thousands in lost revenue.

For those unaware, Google has two major algorithms that can penalize websites, and they’ve named them after two cute animals. Penguin and Panda. Far from being cute, these animals have put a countless number of websites out of business, and if you’re going to be a blogger you should acquaint yourself with them very carefully.

The Penguin algorithm is all about links pointing to your website from other websites. If the links are over optimised, from bad neighbourhoods, or just don’t ‘look’ right, then you could find yourself with a Penguin penalty. A penalty that will kill your positions on Google. To get out of a penalty you need to fix whatever’s triggered it, then wait up to 6 months or more for the next update to see if your website is now ‘Penguin free’. If not, then you have to try again and wait another 6 months, and so on and so on.

But, if Gary Illyes is true to his word, there could be hope on the horizon to recover much quicker. With real-time updates there’ll be no more waiting around for a refresh and we can see the results of fixes almost as soon as we apply them.

This is great news for website owners, but what can we do to avoid getting hit by a Penguin in the first place?

Here are some things you should do if you want to avoid a Penguin penalty.

1) Watch Your Blog Comments

We all love to be sociable, and it’s true if you want engagement on your blog you should frequently engage on other people’s blogs. This is commendable and perfectly reasonable, but if you’re a little too zealous with your commenting you could find a (not so cute) Penguin breathing down your neck.

When you submit a comment, you’re requested to add a name, email and web address. The blogging system will then turn your name into ‘anchor text’ and use it as a link back to your website.

If you add the same thing every time you post, you could find your anchor text ratio hitting dangerously high levels.

A study by MicroSiteMasters.com showed that every website hit by Penguin had over 60% of its anchor text the same. In this instance the anchor text was a ‘money’ keyword (e.g. web designer, SEO expert etc.), but you still need to err on the side of caution and ensure all your anchor texts are at least below 35%.

The highest percentage of anchor text would ideally be your brand name, or if you’re blog commenting you should use your actual name. But if you’re commenting a lot then it’s good to mix it up and use variations, so they aren’t all exactly the same.

Of course, there are exceptions to this rule and you’ll find websites getting away with much higher anchor text ratios, but these type of websites usually have one thing in common: Trust.

2) Build Your Trust

If your website is trusted by Google you can get away with a multitude of sins. Rand Fishkin from Moz once famously invited spammers to hurt his Google rankings, but they failed because Moz is such a trusted website. But how do you build on trust?

Trust is an ethereal kind of thing that comes over time, but you can be proactive. Tools like Majestic SEO have their own Trust Flow indicators which are built using complicated algorithms that analyse backlinks. Generally they’re quite effective when it comes to sorting out the low from the high quality websites, and you can use these when assessing who to make ‘friends’ with.

For example if you’re going to comment on someone’s blog, give them a quick check on Majestic SEO first. If they have a low Trust Flow then you might not want them linking to your website. The more low quality links you have the less trusted you’ll be, so be selective on where you get your links. On the flip side, you can seek out websites that are high in Trust Flow and comment/engage with those. The higher your Trust Flow, the higher chance you have of becoming a trusted website, and the better chance you have of avoiding the dreaded Penguin penalty.

Worried about incurring a Google Penguin Penalty on the SEO of your blog? We've got 5 surefire ways of doing just that! On ProBlogger.net

3) Avoid ‘Active’ Link Building

John Mueller is a Webmaster Trends Analyst at Google, so when he speaks we should generally listen. John came out recently and said we should avoid active link building completely. Now this is a bit extreme, but actually good advice, especially for people new to SEO. It’s a known fact that your website needs links to improve its rankings on Google. So it’s all too easy to run around begging, stealing, borrowing links from anywhere and everywhere you can find. But this opens the door to low quality links and can leave you vulnerable to a Penguin update.

You should look at your content first and concentrate on building a website that’s the best, most resourceful and informative of its kind. People come first, not links, and as mentioned, trust is more important than links. So if you spend more time delivering excellent content and engaging real relationships via social media, and less time ‘actively building links’ then you should have a much better chance of success and avoiding any penalties.

4) Never, Ever Buy Links

This follows on from the last two points and should be a given, but it has to be said. Don’t buy links. If you do a little digging into the world of SEO you’ll soon find a multitude of link peddlers selling links in all shapes and sizes. They’ll come at you with testimonials and charts and tell you that these links are proven to increase rankings. For a newcomer it’s easy to get swayed by this kind of talk, but I can guarantee that the vast majority of websites hit by Penguin had paid for links at some point or other. The people that sell links aren’t bothered who they sell them to. They just want the money, and what might seem like a shortcut at the time will only shorten the life of your website when you get hit by a Penguin update.

5) Be Polite and Don’t Annoy SEOs

This may sound pedantic, but it could be the best advice you’ve ever been given. If like me you enjoy getting involved in forum discussions or groups on Facebook, it’s quite reasonable you’ll look for some SEO experts for advice. This is all well and good, until you find yourself in a flame war, arguing over some point about how links can’t hurt your website, or how link building is dead etc.

It only takes one disgruntled keyboard warrior, sat at home in his/her dressing gown to make a point by throwing a barrage of bad links at your website.

If you make enemies in the wrong places it could kill your website before it’s even started. Tread very carefully when speaking to groups of SEOs, as they all have access to links that can damage your website. If you see an argument brewing then run for the hills. Negative SEO is very real and in certain niches highly prevalent, so it’s best to fly under the radar until you have enough trust to withstand an attack.

Summary

Basically a Penguin penalty is caused by one of two things:

  • Anchor text ratio
  • Low quality links

If we stick to the points above we should have a good chance of avoiding a penalty and not losing our rankings on Google. If like Gary Illyes says, Penguin updates are to be carried out in real-time, and we do get hit by a penalty, at least we have a chance of addressing the problem quickly and hopefully recovering sooner.

Online success is a long term venture and there’s no quick fixes or shortcuts. Remember, it’s a marathon, not a sprint and if Google has anything to say about it, you’ll never outrun a Penguin.


Steve Ceaton is a writer and blogger of SEO tips. Learn more about him here and connect with him on @SteveCeaton, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

How Writing Sponsored Posts Changed the Way I Blog (and Why it Might Change You Too)

How Writing Sponsored Posts Changed the Way I Blog (and Why it Might Change You Too)

This is a guest contribution from Katie Moseman.

In my first few months of writing my food blog, I ran across a lot of impassioned opinions about how publishing a sponsored post on your blog constituted “selling out.”  I didn’t immediately agree with that idea, but I hadn’t ever written a sponsored post, so how would I know?

A few months later, I had the chance to find out when I was tapped to write a sponsored post for a wine company.

It certainly didn’t feel like selling out.  It felt like being paid to write, which for me was a very good feeling.

After that, I was accepted into several groups that help match bloggers with brands looking to pay for sponsored posts.  I went from making absolutely nothing from my food blog, to making a decent part-time income almost immediately.  And that was entirely due to writing sponsored posts.

Since I blog about food, almost all of the sponsored posts were for foods.  Although the occasional post was sponsored by one of those marketing organizations like “Got Milk” or “California Raisins” that promote a whole food, most foods that got featured in a sponsored post had been processed in some way.  That didn’t always mean they were always unhealthy, but there was certainly an abundance of ready-to-eat or ready-to-heat convenience food.

I tried very hard to stick to products I’d actually serve my own family.  That standard eliminated quite a few of the assignments that would have been available to me.  That meant less money overall, but it also meant that I didn’t feel bad about helping to convince people to buy products that I wouldn’t use myself.

However, the more I wrote about the convenience foods that I was buying, the more I realized that I’d had a habit of buying them since long before I had started blogging.  The more convenience food that I was required to buy for work, the more it made me think about the food I bought for my own reasons.

Constantly blogging about what I was eating and drinking made me much more aware of my long-entrenched shopping habits.  I started making more conscious shopping decisions.  And I started experimenting with whole foods for meals (like breakfast) where I had previously reached automatically for something ready to eat.  Perhaps that’s not a flattering admission for a food blogger to make, but it’s a truthful one.

Being hired for all those assignments showed me that I was being taken seriously an influencer.  And if you’re being taken seriously by commerical interests, you should take your own influence seriously, too.  You have to start thinking about questions like, “What am I saying to my audience?” and “Do I feel positive about my effect on their choices?”

With those questions in mind, I started playing a little game with my sponsored posts.  If I wrote a sponsored post for a frozen main course, I’d include a recipe for a side dish made from completely fresh and unprocessed ingredients.  If I wrote a sponsored post about a sweetened beverage, I’d create a recipe with it that reduced the total amount of sugar.

Writing sponsored posts can feel like selling out, if you’re picking the wrong ones for you (or your audience) and writing them in a formulaic way.  But writing a sponsored post can be empowering if you  weave in your own messages in a way that you know will speak to your audience.

Sometimes, I can’t find a good way to fit an extra message within a sponsored post.  In that case, I just follow it up with another post.  In a sponsored post, I might write about a children’s snack food; in the next, I’ll spread the word about a children’s charity.

This method can work for almost any blogging niche.  If you write about photography, find a spot in your editorial calendar to bring attention to a photo scholarship in need of funding.  If you write about children’s clothing, pick your favorite children’s charity and give them a spotlight.  The possibilities are endless; let your influence be wielded not just to sell, but to help those in need.

Individually, bloggers may not have the power of the New York Times, but collectively we influence millions of people every day.  We can’t ever take that for granted.  Being mindful about your influence is the key to finding the balance between getting paid for your work and staying true to yourself.

Katie Moseman writes about food and restaurants at her blog Recipe for Perfection.

Using Google Analytics to Unlock the Secrets of your Blog’s Audience

loves-data-Benjamin-Mangold-Pro-blogger-post-v2This is a guest contribution from Benjamin Mangold of Loves Data.

Do you ever think Google Analytics is a bit overwhelming?

Do you ever get stuck on where to start?

If you’ve already logged into Google Analytics then you’ll know it provides an incredible amount of information which you can use to gain powerful insights into your blog’s audience. However, to really get the most out of your reports it’s important to understand what you’re looking at – so let’s jump in and walk though the most powerful reports and find out what things mean inside Google Analytics.

Keep It Simple

Today we’ll be jumping right into your reports, so if you don’t have Google Analytics set up on your blog I’d recommend you keep reading (so you get pumped about what you can do with the tool) and then at the end of the post you will find some resources to help you set up Google Analytics (these are useful if you already have Google Analytics but want to improve things further).

We’re also going to try and keep things simple, or in other words, I’m going to try to keep the technical jargon to a minimum. We’re going to focus on the core concepts and how to begin interpreting what you find in your reports. I’m happy to get technical in the comments, so head to the comments and say hello!

Bounce What? Bounce Rate!

Bounce Rate is a great way to understand how engaged people are on your blog (and even individual posts). It tells you the percentage of people who just view a single post (or page) when they come to your blog. For example, if only two people came to your blog and you had a bounce rate of 50%, then this would mean that one person only viewed a single post before leaving your blog, while the other person when on to view at least one more page.

It’s important to know that blogs will typically have a higher bounce rate than other types of websites (like a popular brand or a corporate website). This is because lots of people will come to read an individual post, absolutely love your content, but they get what they want and they leave your blog. So your blog might have an overall bounce rate of 60, 70, 80 or maybe even 90%. So you might be thinking – why would I want to use bounce rate then? Well, great question!

Even though your blog is likely to have a higher overall bounce rate you can still use bounce rate to identify pieces of content that are leading to higher levels of engagement. Plus you can check the bounce rate for particular posts based on if you are actually trying to get people to view another page.

Let’s say you have a post that includes a competition you are running and you are asking people to complete a form on that page which then sends people to a thank you page. In this case you will want to see a lower bounce rate within your reports for that particular page.

You will see Bounce Rate on the ‘Overview’ report within the ‘Audience’ section:

Screen Shot 2015-11-12 at 5.21.15 pm

And you will also see Bounce Rate for your individual posts (and pages) in the ‘Site Content’ reports within the ‘Behavior’ section:

Screen Shot 2015-11-12 at 5.21.20 pm

Sessions and Users

Now I said we wouldn’t get technical but understanding the difference between a session and a user is kind of critical. So let’s make this as painless as possible…

A session is reported when someone interacts with your blog. If someone reads an article on your blog, a pageview will be reported for the particular post someone reads (you will find this within the Site Content reports) and since they are interacting with your blog, a session will also be reported.

If they navigate to your homepage, then you will have another pageview, but it will continue to be included within the same session.

If that person leaves your blog and comes back tomorrow you will now have two sessions reported, and if they come back the day after you will have three sessions.

There are some other things that will increase session numbers – the most common is coming back to your blog using a different channel. For example if someone found your blog on Google, one session will be reported. If they then immediately click on a link from a Tweet to come to your blog then a second session will be reported because they’ve used another channel to find you.

Now what is a user? Well, thinking back to that person that came to your blog on three different days – you would have three sessions, however these three sessions would come from one user within your reports. So users is a more accurate way to understand the number of people reading your blog.

You might have noticed I said “more accurate” and not just “accurate”. This is because people can access your blog on their mobile, their laptop and their tablet. Google Analytics is pretty awesome, but it’s not a superhero, so each one of these devices (the mobile, laptop and tablet) will each show up as a separate user within your reports – so by default you would have three users for this scenario.

Are you with me? (#OMG I hope so! If you’ve got a question or need any of this clarified let me know in the comments!)

Here we can see Users, Sessions and Pageviews:

Screen Shot 2015-11-12 at 5.22.47 pm

When you look back at your historical data inside Google Analytics you will generally want to see your pageview, session and user numbers increasing. If they start to slide downward, then this can indicate that your blog is losing reach and it might be time to start looking at how you are attracting your audience and the types of content you’re posting.

Screen Shot 2015-11-12 at 5.23.20 pm

The example above shows that our traffic is increasing, so things are going well! For details on how to do this check out Darren’s post on the compare option within Google Analytics.

What’s The Value Of Your Content?

Within the Site Content reports you will find a column called Page Value. This is a really awesome thing to use because it shows you the dollar value of your different posts.

Now you might jump into your report and find a super boring zero – that’s okay, but let’s look at how you can start to use Page Value for great insights into your content.

Screen Shot 2015-11-12 at 5.23.54 pm

Page Value is only shown in your report if you’ve taken the time to set up at least one goal inside Google Analytics. For example, if you’re collecting email addresses on your blog then you will want to measure that as a goal within Google Analytics. By setting up the goal you will be able to easily report on the number of people signing up to receive your email updates and you will also be able to make use of Page Value.

So what is Page Value?

Let’s say you’ve set up your goal and assigned the goal a dollar value of $5 for every person that completes the goal. Now someone views your blog’s homepage, then reads an individual post and converts for that goal. The value of the goal ($5) will be taken and divided between the posts (and pages) that they viewed leading to the conversion. This means each page will be assigned a dollar value and when we head to our reports we can see the average value for each of our pages.

This means that you will be able to quickly identify your most important content based on the value that it’s creating. You can then generate more content based on the type of content that is already delivering value. Pretty cool huh!

The idea of defining a value to your goals might be a little bit confusing at first. There are few ways you can do this, the simplest way is just to assign a symbolic dollar value – just make one up! For example, if you were using goals to measure email signups and people commenting, then you might assign $5 to email signups and $2 to people commenting. You would want to assign a higher value to email signups since they are more valuable because you can send updates and other promotional messages.

Goals For Your Blog

There are lots of options for setting up goals to measure the success of your blog. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Email subscribers
  • Competitions
  • Contact forms
  • Clicks on email links
  • People commenting
  • Downloads (PDFs, eBooks, etc.)
  • Engaged audience members
  • Members login area
  • Embedded videos

Take some time and list out as many goals as possible. Once you have them, it’s time to assign each goal a value and configure your goals within Google Analytics. In most cases you should be able to configure the goal yourself, but if you have a highly customized blog, you might need help getting things up and running. (If you’re on WordPress, then take some time to explore the plugin you are using. The better plugins allow you to automatically track things like downloads and videos which will make setting up much easier!)

If you’re selling online, then you will want to use Google Analytics to track your ecommerce transactions. Ecommerce data will also be used to calculate your Page Value.

Setting Up Goals

There are three different types of goals you can configure inside Google Analytics. The most common is a destination goal – this is basically where you want to get people to a particular page on your blog. In most cases you should only use this for thank you pages – like after people sign up for your email updates, or after they complete your contact form.

In order to setup a destination goal you will need to travel through the steps on your blog and note down the URLs. You can then configure the goal within the ‘Admin’ section of Google Analytics. Here is an example of a goal configured to measure people signing up for email updates:

Screen Shot 2015-11-12 at 5.24.53 pm

You can also configure goals based on Events that you are already measuring. Events are more advanced – they allow you to measure custom interactions like people watching videos.

The final option is to configure goals based on engagement. You can create a goal for people viewing a certain number of pages or spending a certain amount of time on your blog.

We’re not going to get into detail about Event tracking or configuring all the different types of goals today, but if you are interested there’s a quick post on setting them up.

What Do People Want?

Knowing what to write for your next post can cause a mental block (or maybe that’s just me), but next time you are stuck and need inspiration for your next post you should jump into your Google Analytics reports. You can of course make use of the Site Content reports, but if you offer a search function on your blog you can use Google Analytics to understand what people are actively looking for on your blog.

Unfortunately the Site Search reports are not automatic – you do need to configure Google Analytics to use them, but in most cases this is pretty straightforward. The best option is to perform a search on your blog and look at the URL in your browser. If you’re on WordPress then you will probably see something like myblog.com/?s=this+blog+rocks (if you searched for ‘this blog rocks’). If you’re not on WordPress or have a custom setup, then you might see something a little different to this. That’s okay, there are other ways to setup the Site Search reports.

Let’s say we saw the URL of myblog.com/?s=this+blog+rocks – in this case we can head to the ‘Admin’ area of Google Analytics, then select ‘View Settings’ under the ‘View’ column on the right and enable Site Search, so it should look like:

Screen Shot 2015-11-12 at 5.25.29 pm

Now Google Analytics works its magic and you will begin to see the search terms people are looking for on your blog within the Site Search reports (within ‘Behavior’):

Screen Shot 2015-11-12 at 5.26.04 pm

This is a brilliant report – think about it: people are actually taking the time to type in exactly what they are looking for on your blog! It’s amazing!

You can use the Site Search report to identify topics for your next post and also identify potential issues in your navigation. For example, if lots of people are searching for “advertise”, then maybe they are looking for details about how they can advertise on your blog. You could then think about adding a page or highlighting your contact details in your blog’s layout.

I’d love to hear how you’re using Google Analytics to improve your blog – let me know in the comments!

Benjamin Mangold co-founded Loves Data, a digital agency helping people understand how to get the most out of digital analytics and online marketing. Get his free Google Analytics course and his new book ‘Learning Google AdWords and Google Analytics’ and take your skills to the next level.

7 Popular Blogging Tips That Don’t Always Apply

7 Popular Blogging Tips That Don't Always ApplyThis is a guest contribution from Larry Alton.

Ask anyone on the web for advice on blogging, and you’ll undoubtedly get a response. Survey a hundred people—including readers, amateur writers, experienced professionals, and even industry influencers—and you’ll likely find dozens of common themes emerging between them. That’s because there are certain general “best practices” that everyone knows, or everyone’s heard, as they make their way into the blogging world.

For the most part, this advice is helpful. It can guide you through the ropes as you become more acquainted with the industry and more familiar with your specific blog. But there’s one problem, and it’s a big one: this advice doesn’t always apply. 

To explore this, I’m going to focus on seven pieces of advice I hear all the time (and explain why you shouldn’t necessarily follow them):

1. Write a new post every day.

This advice comes from two ideas; one, that if you write a post every day, you’ll stay committed to the project and have a reliable flow of work getting to your blog, and two, that the daily addition of new content will be valuable for your search engine ranks and visitors alike. These are both true, but with one important caveat—the content you write has to be good. If you force yourself to write a post every day, but you don’t have anything valuable or unique to say, you’ll end up spinning your wheels. The proper advice is “try to write a post whenever you have a good idea, and try to have good ideas as often as possible.”

2. Controversy breeds attention.

I’m actually a proponent of this in most cases, but as with the first piece of advice, it only applies to certain situations. Controversial posts tend to take one side of a hotly debated issue. The theory is that this one-sidedness will fire up both sides of the debate, and your post will become a central feature in a bustling comment thread and a flurry of backlinks.

However, if you aren’t careful, you could damage your reputation. Controversy is fine, but only if it’s backed up with objective research, and acknowledgements to both sides of the debate. Otherwise, you’re making bold claims with no backup 

3. “Good” content will always become successful.

I see this one a lot from practitioners who claim that if you write “good” content for a long enough period of time, eventually any blog can become successful. There are two problems with this. First, what constitutes “good” content isn’t the same for everyone—it’s a vague term. It could mean informative, or entertaining, or detailed, or enlightening, or any mix of other qualities. Second, good content isn’t always enough. You also have to be socially active enough to promote your blog to new people and committed to your audience enough to retain them once they start reading.

4. Comment on other blogs.

Blog comments do serve several functional purposes. They help you engage with your community. They give you an opportunity to post a backlink to your blog. And most importantly, they give your personal brand more exposure, which creates new opportunities for people to find your blog.

The unfortunate thing is, most blog comments are ignored these days, and link building isn’t as simple as it used to be. Comments can help you, but only if applied to the right posts with the right community and with the right intentions. As a general rule, community participation is good, but self-promotion will only burn you.

5. Find a niche and stick with it.

If you want to stand out in this oversaturated content market, you need to have a strong, unique niche for your blog. That much is true. But sticking with that niche forever is a bad plan for most blogs. Doing so can rob you of future opportunities for great posts by limiting your range, and can make your readers feel bored or irritated by the end of it. Stick with a niche at first, but don’t be afraid to expand.

6. The more content you have, the better.

The more pages your site has, the more Google has to index, and the more posts you have to promote, the more potential readers you’ll have. This thinking leads many to the conclusion that more content is always better. But remember my first point—exhausting yourself trying to make posts for the sake of making posts is going to leave you with inferior content. More content is better only if that content is a consistent and high quality.

7. Write more posts like those that have performed well in the past.

This is advice I follow as a general rule of thumb, but if followed religiously, it can hurt you. Take inspiration from your previous posts. See what factors worked for certain posts and what factors didn’t work for others, then combine them in new applications. Merely revisiting the same topic is going to alienate your readership and possibly compromise the success of your blog. Conjure up new topics based on that information rather than recycling old ones.

To reiterate, I’m not saying any of this advice is explicitly bad, or that following it will ruin your chances at becoming successful. However, you need to be careful which of these you follow and how you follow them. Each blog is inherently unique, so you’ll need a correspondingly unique strategy if you want to make it a success.

Larry Alton is an independent business consultant specializing in social media trends, business, and entrepreneurship. Follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn.

How A Simple Blog Led To Writing For Forbes, Mashable, and TechCrunch (and 7 Tips to Help You Do it Too!)

How A Simple Blog Led To Writing For Forbes, Mashable, and TechCrunchThis is a guest contribution from Josh Steimle.

I’ve had the privilege of my writing being published on Forbes, Mashable, TechCrunch, Time, Fast Company, VentureBeat, Entrepreneur, and several other publications, and if you aspire to see your writing in mainstream publications like these, perhaps there is something in my story that will help you get there.

The writing I’ve had published has brought me speaking opportunities, a book deal, and more than 1000% growth for my business. I’ve been able to interview and network with my marketing and business heroes, all in the last two and a half years. Prior to that, my writing had never appeared in a mainstream publication. I was just a guy nobody had heard of, posting here and there on my blog, with a small handful of readers. This is the story of how everything changed. 

10 Years of Solitude

I started blogging before blogs existed. There wasn’t any strategy. I didn’t have a plan. I just enjoyed writing. When I started blogging I didn’t care if anyone read what I was writing. I wrote for myself, and if anyone else enjoyed it, that was icing on the cake.

In the first 10 years I wrote over 700 blog posts. I didn’t write consistently. I might blog 10 times one week, and then not blog for a month. Sometimes I didn’t blog for several months, and then I would return with a flurry of activity.

I wrote about entrepreneurship, and the experiences I was having. Most of my writing didn’t attract any comments. Occasionally some of my writing, like my post about 75 ways to tell you might be an entrepreneur, seemed to strike a chord. But my blog never brought me any business. No client ever contacted me and said “I was reading what you wrote on your blog and I want to hire your agency!” No publisher ever asked me to compile my blog posts and turn them into a book. As near as I could tell, the people reading my blog were mostly family and friends, and I was ok with that.

Dumb Luck

Sometimes you’re in the right place at the right time and despite this, you almost mess it all up anyway.

In 2012 I was talking with Cheryl Snapp, a friend of mine who runs a PR agency. She had helped me get an article published on the Fast Company website after I told her I wanted to get some logos from big publications to display on my company website, you know, in an “As seen in…” section. I noticed Cheryl had written some articles for Forbes, and I casually asked her how she landed that gig. She explained to me that Forbes had a few hundred paid staff writers, but several hundred unpaid “contributors” who wrote for free. She told me she thought it was worth asking to see if Forbes might be interested in me as one of their contributors. “If they take you on, you need to write an article once a week. My editor from Forbes is coming to town in two weeks, I’ll introduce you!” she told me. That sounded cool. There was just one problem. I was really busy already. I didn’t think I had time to write an article every week. Thank heavens I kept my mouth shut.

Two weeks later I went to the event where I met Tom Post, then-editor of the entrepreneurship section of Forbes. Cheryl arranged for me to talk to him while he and I were in line dishing up lunch. I assume he didn’t know anything about me yet, so I was surprised when he said “I read your article in Fast Company. I wish you had published it in Forbes.” I wasn’t able to get more out than a stammered “Thanks…” before he followed up by saying “I’ve also been reading your blog. I like what you’ve got there. We’d like you to write the same stuff for Forbes.” All I could say was “Sure, I’d love to!”

10 years of blogging with nothing to show for it but my own self satisfaction, and the next thing I know I’m writing for Forbes.

But then the real work began.

Diversification

Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. But if you only have one basket, take good care of that basket [tweet that!]. My first goal when I started writing for Forbes, the one I repeated to myself every time I submitted a new post, was “Don’t mess this up, don’t mess this up, don’t mess this up.” But I did mess up–twice. The first time was when I posted something about politics. Tom told me to never do that again. He made it clear I was brought on to write about entrepreneurship and I should stick to my subject. Another time I mentioned in a public forum that I was getting too many requests from startups that wanted me to write articles about them. The way I worded my complaint made it sound like I was too busy to write for Forbes. Tom found my comments, and told me since I was too busy we might as well part ways. I pleaded my case, explained what I meant, and he gave me another chance.

With Forbes I had all my eggs in one basket, which was a distinct improvement over having no basket at all. But I realized it could disappear at any moment, and it would be a good idea to branch out and write for other outlets and leverage my work at Forbes to do so.

My first attempt was to get into TechCrunch. I wrote an article about a tech company, submitted it, and it was rejected without comment. I asked for feedback, and I got one sentence. I didn’t understand what the sentence meant, and still don’t, but I recognized one thing–different publications are looking for different things. What works for Forbes isn’t what works for TechCrunch or Mashable, and as a writer it’s best to respect those differences rather than try to convince an editor they don’t know what they’re doing. As it turned out, the article that wasn’t the right fit for TechCrunch was the right fit for VentureBeat.

Which Way Is Up?

Each publication sits within a hierarchy of sorts. Forbes is a top tier publication. Your hometown newspaper is somewhere lower. Even though I could publish everything I wrote in Forbes, I tried to spread my writing around as much as I could, just in case. I figured even if I somehow lost Forbes, I would then have evidence of my writing in many other places, and I could use that to pitch other top tier publications. I moved downward in the hierarchy and wrote for regional and niche publications you may not have heard of, like the South China Morning Post (the “New York Times of Hong Kong”), Hong Kong Business Magazine, Marketing Magazine, and TechinAsia.

At the same time I kept trying to make lateral moves. VentureBeat was one of those. Then I got in with Entrepreneur, which has been another great outlet for me. One of my recent articles on Entrepreneur was syndicated by Time, allowing me to claim that publication as another big name in my quiver. And I kept on pitching TechCrunch, as well as Mashable, but to no avail.

Sometimes It’s Who You Know

My intro to Fast Company and Forbes came through a friend. Similarly, when I got into TechCrunch and Mashable it would also be because of who I knew. I had submitted work to Mashable before, but without any response. Then, through pure serendipity, my agency hired a part-time writer who happened to have written some pieces for Mashable. I told her about my desire to write for Mashable, so she put me in touch with her editor. I pitched the editor on a piece I had written, it was well received, and then…that editor went on maternity leave for two months. I’m all about maternity leave and babies, but I wish I would have gotten my article submitted a week earlier. For the next two months I couldn’t do anything but wait.

When the editor returned she reviewed my article again and published it. I was in! Now that I have a relationship, I still have to submit articles, but I get feedback rather than the silent treatment. But that doesn’t mean everything I write gets in. One of my pieces was rejected, due to Mashable having published too many articles on a similar topic lately. No problem, I just published it on Forbes instead, where it has received 30,000 views. For me, that’s pretty good, since most of my posts attract around 4000 views. That’s another benefit of writing for a bunch of places–if it doesn’t work in one place, you can pitch the same content somewhere else. And Forbes always has my back. That’s why they end up with 80% of my writing.

TechCrunch was also a personal connection. After reaching out to several writers there and trying to get feedback on why I was getting rejected, I gave up. But then I happened to meet a TechCrunch writer, started a correspondence with him, and then met him in person for dinner. My intent wasn’t to pitch him on anything, but I was curious to know more about TechCrunch. It wasn’t until months later when I was writing a story for Forbes that I realized I had something that might be a good fit for the big TC. I sent it to my friend and asked him if he thought it was something TechCrunch would be interested in. The next thing I knew he had given it to his editor, his editor contacted me, and then it was published. Oh wait, that’s not quite how it happened. In reality his publisher told me the article wasn’t the right fit but, but…he said if I rewrote it (and he gave me some specific tips) then it might be. I rewrote the article, resubmitted it, and then it got published.

Your Story

That’s the start of my story. But yours doesn’t need to take 10+ years, or even two, to come to fruition. Things are a bit clearer in hindsight, and if I had to do it over again, here’s the 7-point plan I would put into action.

  1. Blog. Yes, I would still set up a blog, but I would focus in on one niche topic. Become the expert on that one topic, and resist the temptation to write about anything else. Do this well enough, and the publications may come to you and you can skip all the other steps.
  2. Start niche. When you start reaching out to get published elsewhere, start locally, or with a niche publication, and work your way up. Use your blog as evidence you can produce the kind of content they want.
  3. Leverage. As soon as you get three or more pieces published in one place, leverage that to get into another, slightly up the totem pole, until you get to a top tier publication. Then leverage your work sideways. At this point, it’s easier to approach editors because they can see they don’t have to test you, because someone else has already done that for them.
  4. Educate yourself. I got a pitch today from a company that wants me to write an article about them for TechCrunch. The problem is, their business is definitely not something most TechCrunch readers would be interested in. I could be wrong, but I’m pretty sure the guy who sent me the pitch doesn’t read TechCrunch, or he would also know this, and he never would have pitched me. If you don’t regularly read a publication, don’t count on being able to pitch them successfully.
  5. Network. Get to know who the writers are at the publications you want to write for. Read what they write. Follow them on Twitter. I create Twitter lists for each publication, like this. If you can meet writers in person, so much the better. Never introduce yourself to a writer by saying “I really want to write for your publication, can you help me get in?” Writers introduce friends, not random strangers, to their editors. What writers are more willing to do is give advice, so ask for advice. Write an article, send it to a writer, and ask “Do you think this is the type of article your publication would be interested in? Why or why not?”
  6. Keep pitching. I gave up too easily with TechCrunch and Mashable. I was saved only by coincidental meetings with people who could and were willing to help me. What I now realize is that I probably could have gotten in with both of them two years ago if I had been willing to write five articles for each one, rather than writing one or two and then giving up. Remember, it’s never a waste to write an article. If it gets rejected, just publish it somewhere else. If nobody else will publish it, you’ve always got your blog.
  7. Once you get in. For good heavens, feed the editor! She didn’t bring you on so you could write one article and disappear. Keep sending content on a regular basis and keep the relationship alive.

If you’re focused, you can execute this plan within six months and be writing for just about any publication you want.

Josh Steimle is the CEO of MWI, a digital marketing agency with offices in the U.S. and Hong Kong. Pitch him @joshsteimle.