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Blogosphere Trends + Using Infographics

Information graphics, or infographics as they are more often called, are a great way to convey complex information clearly and concisely. Infographics can be anything from annotated maps, timelines, flowcharts, graphs, Venn diagrams, size comparisons, charts, or data presented with snazzy typography to a gorgeous amalgamation of several of these techniques. They add visual interest to your blog and are passed around more often than ordinary images or text.

If you have a design background or are fortunate enough to have some artistic skill, you can create your own infographics from scratch. If you’re like most of us, you’ll need a bit of assistance; fortunately, there are plenty of helpful resources online. Here are a few:

  • Visual.ly is like a search engine for infographics, so if you’re looking to use a graphic created by someone else (with permission or by Creative Commons and with attribution, of course), you may well find what you need here among the thousands of beautiful options that have already been created. They’re also working on a tool that will allow bloggers and others to create their own infographics using a plug-and-play system.
  • IBM’s Many Eyes gives you access to libraries of data and the ability to upload your own. It’s straightforward and yields professional looking results.
  • Google Public Data allows you to use publicly available data to create attractive infographics in a variety of forms.
  • Wordle makes it extremely easy to turn text into eye-catching word clouds with customizable fonts, colors, and designs.
  • Stat Planet lets you create interactive maps and data visualizations using simple browser-based tools and built-in data from sources such as the World Health Organization, CIA World Factbook, Wikipedia, and more.
  • If it’s simple, elegant, easy-to-customize charts you’re looking for, Hohli might be your answer.
  • Creately is a good option if you’re working with flow charts or diagrams but does cost $5 per month or $49 per year (USD).

Now let’s take a look at some striking examples of how infographics were used to illustrate and enhance posts about last month’s most-blogged-about stories (according to Regator.com, these were: Hurricane Irene, Steve Jobs, London Riots, Libya, Labor Day, the GOP candidates, earthquake, September 11, Federal Reserve, and Motorola Mobility) and get ten quick tips on choosing or creating infographics for your blog…

Do your research. If you’re creating your own infographic, start with a solid foundation of research. This infographic comparing Hurricane Irene with two other storms is visually simple but is based on solid research.

Cite your sources and be transparent. This infographic on Steve Jobs features an extensive list of sources in the footnotes and in doing so, allows viewers to fact-check and determine the reliability of the sources used.

Promote your blog. It takes a lot of effort to put together an attractive, well-researched infographic, which is why visualizations, like this one about the London Riots, often feature a prominent link or logo near the bottom indicating the creator. If you do make your own infographics, rather than keeping them solely for yourself, use them as an opportunity to spread your blog’s brand by tagging them with your logo and allowing them to be embedded around the web, preferably with an embed code that leads back to your site.

Get interactive. If you have the resources, interactive graphics such as this timeline of Middle East protests is just about the most engaging content you can provide. These, obviously, require a great deal of expertise and skill, but when done right, are a stunning way to provide a large amount of information.

Choose a color scheme. Choose a color palette that is complementary, striking, and able to tie elements together to create a cohesive look. This Labor Day infographic is a great example of color done right.

Give credit where credit is due. Before hosting an infographic on your blog, be sure you have the rights to do so. Check for Creative Commons License information (see the CC logo at the bottom of this infographic on the 2012 GOP candidates) or other licensing information and if an embed code featuring a link back to the source is provided, as it is here, be sure to use it.

Do one thing and do it well. Define your focus and make sure that the information you’re presenting is relevant to your point and not simply pretty to look at. This map of Twitter activity during a recent U.S. earthquake presents only one kind of information but, in doing so, paints a clear picture that can be understood in an instant.

Lead the viewer’s eye. This infographic on travel ten years after September 11, 2001 makes effective use of lines and graphics to pull the viewer’s eye down the page and onto the next piece of information. Pay attention to where you want viewers to look, especially in flow charts, and use design principles to get them there.

Use minimal text. Some text is necessary to convey your point, but the beauty of infographics is that they allow you to minimize text while still conveying extensive information or complex concepts. You want your infographic to look more like the top half of this Federal Reserve visualization than the bottom half, which is attractive but text-heavy.

Keep it short and simple. This comparison chart of Google and Motorola is short and sweet but tells the story. Use only as much data and information as you need to make your point and no more.

Do you know of other ways to find or create infographics? Please share them in the comments.

Kimberly Turner is a cofounder of Regator.com, Regator for iPhone and the brand-new Regator Breaking News service for journalists and bloggers. She is also an award-winning print journalist. You can find her on Twitter @kimber_regator.

10 Blogosphere Trends + 34 Handy Grammar Tips

Online retailer Zappos has recently seen a “substantial” increase in revenue after correcting the grammar and spelling of reviews on its site. The sentiment of the reviews was not changed, but New York University research has shown that well-written reviews—even negative ones—inspire confidence. Why does that matter? Because the same principles hold true on your blog. Good grammar can do more than just help you avoid admonishment in the comments; it can also help your blog build trust and authority.

Take our grammar quiz to see whether you’re guilty of some of the most common blogging errors. Here’s how: Take a look at the sentences below about the most blogged-about stories of July (according to Regator, those stories were: Rupert Murdoch, Debt Ceiling, House Speaker John Boehner, Harry Potter, Comic-Con, Amy Winehouse, Anders Behring Breivik, Casey Anthony, World Cup, and Space Shuttle), then determine how many grammar and spelling errors are in each. Try to find them all before you peek at the answers…

As the founder of News Corp, Amanda could care less how many pies Rupert Murdoch has thrown at him.

Problem 1: “The founder of News Corp” refers to Rupert Murdoch, but because of its location, it seems to be referring to Amanda. Tip: Put modifiers next to the noun they are modifying to avoid confusion.
Problem 2:
“Could care less” means that it would, in fact, be possible to care less and that the speaker does care to some degree. Tip: Use “could not care less” to indicate a total lack of concern.
Problem 3:
Passive voice, while not strictly incorrect, is often less direct and concise than active voice. Tip: Use active voice whenever possible. It conveys more information about who is performing the action.
Corrected:
Amanda could not care less how many pies protesters throw at Rupert Murdoch, the founder of News Corp.

The Republican’s believe the Democrat’s should of handled the debt ceiling crisis different then they did.

Problem 1: “Republican’s” and “Democrat’s” should not have apostrophes. Tip: Use apostrophes to create possessive forms, but never to create plurals. Check out the Apostrophe Abuse blog for grammar-nerd amusement.
Problem 2:
“Should of” is incorrect. Tip: Use “should have” rather than “should of.” The same goes for “would have” and “could have.”
Problem 3 (?):
This is murky water, but it could be argued that “debt ceiling crisis” should be hyphenated. Tip: When two or more words work together to modify another word, you have what’s called a compound modifier. Some stylebooks will tell you to hyphenate all compound modifiers, others tell you to refer to the dictionary for individual terms, and still others will tell you to use a hyphen only when it is needed to avoid confusion (for example, hyphenate “man-eating shark” to indicate that it’s a shark that eats guys as opposed to “man eating shark,” which could be interpreted as a guy who is eating a shark). Be consistent and hyphenate when not doing so would cause confusion. Oh, and there’s never a need to hyphenate when using an adverb ending in “ly” and an adjective (“extremely confused blogger,” for example).
Problem 4:
“Then” should be “than.” Tip: Use “then” when you are placing something after something else in time (I wrote this post then went to a party). Use “than” when you are comparing things (in this case, how the Democrats handled the crisis compared to how they should have).
Problem 5:
“Different” should be “differently.” Tip: Pay attention to whether you’re modifying a noun or verb to make sure you’re using the right modifier. In this case, we’re modifying a verb (“handled”), so we need the adverb rather than the adjective.
Corrected:
The Republicans believe that Democrats should have handled the debt-ceiling crisis differently.

House Speaker John Boehner’s Budget Control Act that aimed to raise the debt ceiling was put to a vote, for all intensive purposes the vote was successful.

Problem 1: The phrase “that aimed to raise the debt ceiling” should be enclosed in commas and “that” should be “which.” Tip: The phrase is what’s called a nonrestrictive clause, meaning that it could be removed from the sentence and the sentence would still make sense. Any time you have additional, non-essential information like this, use “which” rather than “that.” In these cases, enclose the phrase with commas.
Problem 2:
Instead of a comma, the two sentences should be separated by a period/full stop. Tip: When two or more sentences run together with commas in between them, the resulting monstrosity is known as a comma splice and is to be avoided at all costs. Commas are good at lots of things, but stringing sentences together isn’t one of them. (Note, in that last sentence, that the comma works with a preposition—“but”—to put two sentences together. Commas can work with their preposition pals to do this, but can’t do it on their own.)
Problem 3:
“All intensive purposes” is incorrect. Tip: The correct phrase is “all intents and purposes.”
Corrected:
The House of Representatives voted on House Speaker John Boehner’s Budget Control Act, which aimed to raise the debt ceiling. For all intents and purposes, the vote was successful.

Its hard to except that they’re will be no more Harry Potter movies. Fans literally cried their eyes out when they found out this film would be the last.

Problem 1: “Its” should be “It’s.” Tip: Remember that apostrophes stand for letters that are missing, so “it’s” means “it is” or “it has.” See the letters the apostrophe is replacing? Without the apostrophe, “its” is possessive and means “belonging to it.”
Problem 2:
“Except” should be “accept.” Tip: “Accept” is a verb that generally means to “to willingly receive, agree to, or hold something as true.”  “Except” is usually a preposition and means “excluding.” Imagine that the “A” in “accept” stands for “agree” and the “x” in “except” draws a big “X” over something that is not included.
Problem 3:
“They’re” should be “there.” Tip: Go back to the tip about apostrophes standing in for missing letters. “They’re” actually means “they are” or “they were.” You can see the letters that the apostrophe is replacing. “There” refers to a location. It has the word “here” inside of it, which might help you remember the difference between it and “their,” which is a possessive pronoun meaning “something that belongs to them.” “Their” also contains a word holds is a clue to its meaning: “heir,” which implies ownership.
Problem 4:
Fans did not literally cry their eyes out (I hope). Tip: Don’t say “literally” unless you actually truly mean exactly what you are saying. There is an entire blog devoted to the misuse of this word.
Corrected:
It’s hard to accept that there will be no more Harry Potter movies. Fans cried when they found out this film would be the last.

Comic-con is a place where a fan can get autographs from their favorite stars. The autograph sessions feature stars like the Green Lantern cast, including Blake Lively, Peter Sarsgaard, and Ryan Reynolds, the Terra Nova cast, including Stephen Lang and Alex Graves, and the Immortals cast.

Problem 1: There’s a noun/pronoun agreement problem. “A fan” is singular but the pronoun “their” is plural. Tip: Things can get awkward when a writer is trying to use “their” rather than “his or her” to avoid gender bias. It does manage to avoid gender-specific language such as, “a place where a fan can get autographs from his favorite stars,” but it also makes a grammatical mess. In many cases, the best choice is to make the noun plural to match the plural pronoun. You could also eliminate the pronoun (“…a fan can get autographs from stars…”).
Problem 2:
“Like” should be “such as.” Tip: This is a nitpicky one, and few would be bothered if you used “like” in this situation. But technically, “like” means that there will be stars similar to the stars listed, whereas “such as” means that those exact stars will be in attendance.
Problem 3:
The commas after “Reynolds” and “Graves” should be semicolons. Tip: When you have a list of items with commas, separate those items with a semicolon for clarity. The Oatmeal calls this use the “super-comma.”
Problem 4:
The titles of movies and television shows should be italicized. Tip: Use italics for longer works such as novels, television series, albums, blogs, etc. Use quotation marks around the smaller works that make up those longer works, so things such as chapter titles, episode titles, song titles, blog posts, etc.
Corrected:
Comic-con is a place where fans can get autographs from their favorite stars. The autograph sessions feature stars such as the Green Lantern cast, including Blake Lively, Peter Sarsgaard, and Ryan Reynolds; the Terra Nova cast, including Stephen Lang and Alex Graves; and the Immortals cast.

Irregardless of your opinion of her music we can all agree that Amy Winehouse, 27, died far to young.

Problem 1: “Irregardless” should be “regardless.” Tip: “Irregardless” is not a word—or at least not a standard word that is widely accepted and doesn’t make you sound silly.
Problem 2:
A comma is needed after “music.” Tip: Introductory phrases or words that come before the main clause, are separated from the main clause by commas. That’s a bit of an oversimplification. Purdue OWL has a fantastic and extensive page on comma rules if you want to geek out.
Problem 3:
“To” should be “too.” Tip: “Two” is the number after three. It’s the only one of the three homophones with a W, which, when flipped onto its side, looks a bit like a 3. “Too” means “also” or “excessively.” Let the extra O remind you that you’re adding onto something. “To” is the correct spelling for all other uses.
Corrected:
Regardless of your opinion of her music, we can all agree that Amy Winehouse, 27, died far too young.

Anders Behring Breivik says he will identify the terror cells he was working with if his “demands” are met. His demands include getting cigarettes, wearing civilian clothing, and the resignation of the entire Norwegian government.

Problem 1: The quotation marks around “demand” are not needed. Tip: Putting something that is not a title or direct quote in quotation marks implies that the term is false. With that in mind, check out the well-maintained Unnecessary Quotes blog for a laugh.
Problem 2:
The list’s structure is not parallel. Tip: When you make a list of items, they should all be the same part of speech.
Corrected:
Anders Behring Breivik says he will identify the terror cells he was working with if his demands are met. His demands include cigarettes, civilian clothing, and the resignation of the entire Norwegian government. (Second sentence could also be corrected as: “His demands include getting cigarettes, wearing civilian clothing, and seeing the resignation of the entire Norwegian government.” Either option fixes the parallel structure problem.)

The jurors in the Casey Anthony trial use to be frightened for their safety but the judge decided not allow the juror’s names to be released. Some are nervous anyways.

Problem 1: “Use to” should be “used to.” Tip: “Use to” is never correct. When said aloud, “used to” can sound a bit like “use to,” but remember that when you use this phrase, you’re talking about something in the past tense, which is why it ends in “ed.”
Problem 2:
There should be a comma after “safety.” Tip: As mentioned earlier, commas can’t put two sentences together on their own, but they can work with prepositions such as “but,” “and,” and “or” to join two sentences.
Problem 3:
The apostrophe in “juror’s” should come after the S rather than before it. Tip: If a word is both plural and possessive, put the apostrophe after the S unless the word is plural without an S (“children” for example).
Problem 4:
“Anyways” should be “anyway.” Tip: Banish “anyways” from your blog. It’s not a word.
Corrected:
The jurors in the Casey Anthony trial used to be frightened for their safety, but the judge decided not to allow jurors’ names to be released. Some are nervous anyway.

I wish I was better at betting on soccer. I layed money on the U.S. womens’ team, so I had to go to the ATM machine.

Problem 1: “Was” should be “were.” Tip: The term for this grammatical mood is the subjunctive, and it’s like the fairy-tale of grammar. You’ll find it where you’re talking about something wishful that has not yet happened, and in those cases, you’ll use “were” rather than “was.” Another example would be something like “If I were in charge, I’d do away with all these rules.” Though the second example doesn’t explicitly convey a wish, it is wishful thinking in action.
Problem 2:
“Layed” should be “laid.” Tip: “Layed” is not a word, so that makes this particular instance easy, but let’s not lie: The “lay” vs. “lie” thing isn’t simple. It’s a bit more problematic than some of the other easily confused words because the past tense of one is actually the same word as the present tense of the other. Confused? Me too. It’s my grammatical Achilles’ heel. The always-brilliant Grammar Girl wrote nearly 600 words on the topic, and her charts and examples will do a far better job of explaining than I can do in a brief space.
Problem 3:
The apostrophe in “women’s’” should go before the S rather than after it. Tip: We said above that if a word is both plural and possessive, the apostrophe goes after the S unless the world is plural without the S. In this case, the word “women” is plural without an S, so the apostrophe goes before the S.
Problem 4:
“ATM machine” should be “ATM.” Tip: The M in “ATM” stands for “machine,” so “ATM machine” is redundant. The same goes for “PIN number,” “HIV virus,” and “please RSVP.”
Corrected:
I wish I were better at betting on soccer. I laid money on the U.S. women’s team, so I had to go to the ATM.

The fumes, which were left from the Kennedy Center’s 135 space shuttle launches, will take thirty years and $96 million dollars to clean.

Problem 1: “Which” should be “that” and the commas should be removed from the first sentence. Tip: Without the clause explaining that the fumes were left over from the shuttle launches, we don’t know which fumes the sentence refers to; that means it is a necessary or restrictive clause. As you might recall from above, if you cannot remove the clause without losing the meaning of the sentence, the clause should be introduced with “that” rather than “which” and does not need to be set off by commas.
Problem 2:
The word “dollars” is unnecessary. Tip: Like “ATM machine” above, “$96 million dollars” is redundant because “dollars” is represented by the dollar sign.
Corrected:
The fumes that were left from the Kennedy Center’s 135 space shuttle launches will take thirty years and $96 million to clean.

Well, how’d you do? Were you able to find all 34 errors? Are there other common grammar errors that plague you? Share them in the comments!

Kimberly Turner is a cofounder of Regator.com, Regator for iPhone and the brand-new Regator Breaking News service for journalists and bloggers. She is also an award-winning print journalist. You can find her on Twitter @kimber_regator.

Blogosphere Trends + Improving Readability

Hello again, fellow bloggers! Last month, we talked about how to find and interpret your blog’s readability score. If you weren’t happy with what you found, don’t worry: there are plenty of ways to improve readability and we’ll look at a few today.

Some, such as using shorter sentences, may actually improve your readability score. Others, like font choice and adequate white space, won’t impact your score but are every bit as important. As I said last month, it’s not the score that matters, it’s whether readers find your blog useful and engaging. This month’s tips will help you connect with readers … even if you have no interest in your numerical score.

To give you some examples of these principles at work, we’ll use blog posts about the past month’s most-blogged-about stories (rankings provided, as always, by Regator. (They are, in order: Bin Laden, Memorial Day, Donald Trump, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Lady Gaga, Oprah Winfrey, Cannes Film Festival, Rapture, Tornado, and Dominique Strauss-Kahn.) Here’s how you can start improving your readability right away:

1. Use fewer links

Some studies have shown that links in text reduce comprehension, even if they’re not clicked. The theory is that each time you are presented with a link, your brain pauses, ever so briefly, to assess the situation—to click or not to click? Those little decisions break your concentration and decrease comprehension.

The problem with eliminating all links is that linking can provide additional information, promote your old posts, support your opinion, and build community, among other things. So what to do?

Nicholas Carr suggests putting relevant links at the bottom of your posts rather than within it, which is a valid option. My advice would be to continue to use links but to do so sparingly, with the awareness that they do impact readability. Make sure each link you choose to use serves a purpose.

Examples:
Compare CPJ’s “After bin Laden, a warning to foreign journalists,” which is less distracting because of its lack of links with the ACLU Blog of Rights post “The CIA Weighs In: Torture Did Not Help Find Bin Laden,” which features links that provide context and additional information.

2. Use clear language and avoid jargon

Avoiding jargon and using language that is as simple as possible will increase your potential audience. Even if your blog focuses on a niche that uses a lot of jargon or technical terms, such as business or the scientific community, consider whether saying the same thing in another way could help you expand your reach and readership.

Example:
Storage Bits’s “Memorial Day 2011: defending the 9th” breaks down the U.S. Constitution’s ninth amendment into simple language and, in doing so, increases readability.

3. Proofread carefully before you publish

Nothing decreases readability like typos or grammatical errors. Everyone makes mistakes (mentioning typos in a post always scares me because that’s inevitably when something sneaks past you), but endeavor to make as few as possible because once you hit publish, your errors stick around on the internet.

Example:
Bossip, which, it should be said, is a good blog that makes very few errors of this type, had a typo in its headline “Wait A Damn Mintue: Palin and Trump ‘Palling Around’ In NYC … Are They Joining Forces?“ and though they corrected the error, dozens of sites had linked to the incorrect version before it could be fixed and those links live on in Google.

4. Put thought into your font choice

The serif vs. sans-serif debate has been raging for as long as typography has been studied. (Alex Poole wrote a brilliant post based on his review of more than fifty studies.) Historically, serif fonts have been considered more readable in print but many argue that sans-serif fonts work best online.

Given the lack of a truly conclusive answer, I’m not going to advise you to definitively go with one over the other, but I will advise you to give it some thought. It not only impacts readability but also the general feel and aesthetic of your site. Consider not only serif vs. sans-serif but also line spacing, font size, and the aesthetics of specific fonts. Try timing yourself reading the same text in several different fonts with various spacing options and sizes to see which is fastest and easiest to read.

Example:
There are countless font size/spacing/type combinations but start by comparing Gawker’s “Schwarzenegger Son Didn’t Know the Truth Until This Week,“ which uses larger, airier serif fonts, with LAist’s “Oops, He Did it Again: Schwarzenegger Not Being Investigated by Attorney General,” which uses smaller, more tightly spaced sans serif fonts.

5. Use active rather than passive voice

To remind the non grammar nerds among us: In sentences written in the active voice, the subject of the sentence is doing the action. For example: “Wombats write gardening blogs.” In the passive version, “Gardening blogs are written by wombats” (please note that the accuracy of these sentences cannot be guaranteed), the target of the action becomes the subject. So why should you avoid passive voice? Because in most cases, it will tighten your writing and make your sentences clearer, thus improving readability.

A recent Northumbria University study found that less educated readers may struggle to understand passive sentences when compared to active sentences. That’s not to say there isn’t a time and a place for passive voice. It’s useful when you either don’t know or are trying to avoid stating who performed an action (e.g., “The bank was robbed”).

Example:
PSFK’s “Lady Gaga And The Future Of Music Albums“ uses active voice throughout the first paragraph but switches to passive for the second paragraph’s first sentence because it would be difficult to accurately list all of the individuals involved in arranging Lady Gaga’s products, events, deals, and appearances.

6. Write to communicate, not to impress

I’m not advocating for the dumbing down of language, but I am encouraging you to use the words that do the best job of communicating your message, regardless of whether you know a longer, fancier way of saying something. Don’t say “utilize” instead of “use” just to try to sound impressive. A writer’s goal is to communicate effectively. We’d all do well to remind ourselves of that every so often.

Example:
PopWatch’s “Oprah gives her email out to everyone in the free world!“ uses straightforward language without sounding as though they’ve attempted to dumb it down.

7. Don’t justify text

Text with a ragged right margin is generally considered to be more readable than fully justified text. It provides more consistent spacing between letters and words, increases white space, and allows the eye to keep its place more easily. Unless you have a strong opinion about using justified text for its aesthetic appeal, go with flush-left text with a ragged right margin for readability.

Example:
Compare Film School Rejects’s justified “Who Should Have Won Cannes 2011: The (Unbelievably Prestigious) FSR Awards with 24 Frames’s flush left “Cannes 2011: A spell of conflict, and then (some) resolution” to see how justification impacts readability.

8. Use colors that are easily readable

For visual appeal, you may choose another palette, but for contrast and readability, black text on a white background is your best bet. If you’re going to use colored backgrounds and text, be cautious. Color combinations from opposite ends of the color spectrum quickly fatigue the eyes causing color “vibrations”, as do colors that don’t provide enough contrast.

Keep in mind that certain combinations also make your site less accessible to your colorblind readers. There are a number of sites that show you how your site would look to colorblind visitors—it is estimated that as many as 10% of men are colorblind so it’s not an insignificant concern.

Example:
Though opposite, Good’s black on white “’I Don’t Understand’: How Rapture Believers Are Taking It” and Geekologie’s white on black “That Nutjob: Rapture Happened ‘Spiritually’, Apocalypse Still Slated For October 21st are both high-contrast and accessible.

9. Use as many words as you need, and not one more

Example: Need to Know’s “Twisted logic: What tornadoes don’t have to do with global warming” is a good example of concise writing.

10. Keep sentences and paragraphs short

Reading from an illuminated screen is more taxing on the eyes than reading from a printed page and slows reading by as much as 30%. So avoid large blocks of text whenever possible, keep text scannable by using short sentences and subheadings, and allow for ample white space.

Example:
The Two-Way’s post “In Goodbye Note, Strauss-Kahn Denies Accusations” illustrates a number of the points we’ve talked about here by featuring high-contrast text with a ragged right margin, short paragraphs, ample white space, and a large serif font.

Will you be making any changes to improve readability based on these tips? Tell us about it in the comments!

Kimberly Turner is a cofounder of Regator.com, Regator for iPhone and the brand-new Regator Breaking News service for journalists and bloggers. She is also an award-winning print journalist. You can find her on Twitter @kimber_regator.

Blogosphere Trends + Readability Scoring

Do you know your blog’s readability score? If not, there are several ways to find out. But before you go calculating, let’s talk about why you should even care.

For starters, the average American adult reads at a level between eighth and ninth grade, according to the National Adult Literacy Survey. Other nations’ results vary but many are in the same neighborhood. So if you’re writing on a twelfth-grade level, you are not reaching some segments of the population (which is why many government-regulated documents must have readability scores that indicate they can be read and understood by most people).

That’s not necessarily a bad thing and, depending on your target readership, might even be a good thing, but there are some advantages to simplifying: increased sharing, a bigger audience, and possibly better SEO.

Blogger and “social media scientist” Dan Zarrella’s research found that posts written for lower grade levels were shared more often on Facebook—with those written on a second-grade level being shared about 40% more often than those written on a twelfth-grade level. (Look, I’m not saying this isn’t a little depressing, I’m just stating facts. We all know that one of the Internet’s most popular sites is called “I Can Has Cheezburger?”)

Way back in 1954, a fascinating (seriously) book called Know Your Reader: The Scientific Approach to Readability cited multiple studies and experiments in which changing the reading level of published material increased readership by as much as 50%.

The fact is, the more readable your text, the more people you can reach.

Ever since Google implemented its reading level feature late last year, there have been rumors that your site’s categorization (basic, intermediate, or advanced) may be impacting your search engine rankings. I’m not an expert on SEO but what I can tell you for sure is that, at the very least, Google users now have the option of limiting their search results to a specific reading level and filtering out the rest.

Those are the arguments for keeping your reading level basic, but ultimately, you ought to be writing for your readers, not for some formula. Take your readers’ ages, backgrounds, and interests into account. At the last magazine I worked for, there was a woman on staff who personified our publication’s demographic, so when I finished a story, I’d ask myself, “What would Betsy think?” You can do the same by imagining your ideal or average reader while you write, and using readability scores occasionally to see if you’re hitting the mark.

When you decide you do want to see where your blog is sitting, there are a few tools you can use.

  • To use Google’s reading level feature, do an advanced search for site:thenameofyoursite.com (that’s the word “site”, then a colon with no spaces, then your blog’s URL without the “http://www.” part), and be sure you have selected “Annotate results with reading levels” under the “Need more tools?” heading. A couple of words of caution about Google’s tool: It doesn’t give you a grade level, just categorizes your site by basic, intermediate, or advanced. ProBlogger.net, for example, is 44% basic, 55% intermediate, 0% advanced. Also, be aware that it may take the text of your comments into account when evaluating your site.
  • If you use Microsoft Word to write posts, you can check readability easily. Go to “Preferences,” then “Spelling and Grammar,” and you’ll see a checkbox under “Grammar” that says “Show readability statistics.” I use this often. The advantage over Google is the handiness of it and the ability to evaluate a single post. Plus, it gives you the average number of sentences per paragraph, words per sentence, characters per word, and percentage of passive sentences.
  • The first readability formulas were written back in the 1920s. Now, according to Wikipedia, there are literally hundreds, each taking different factors into account and, thus giving you different scores. My favorite, at least by name, is McLaughlin’s SMOG formula, where SMOG stands for Simple Measure of Gobbledygook. (If you really want to geek out and learn about the most popular ones, Wikipedia’s Readability page is a great start.) That’s why I like sites that provide multiple scores at once. AddedBytes has a great readability calculator as does online-utility.org. Both allow you to analyze specific text rather than a whole site.

To get a sense of what different grade levels look like and the results you’ll get, let’s take a quick look at the scores of posts about the month’s most-blogged-about topics, according to Regator: (they are, in order, Osama bin Laden, Royal Wedding, Birth Certificate, Easter, Donald Trump, PlayStation Network, Lady Gaga, Tornadoes, Libya, and Japan).

The Daily Beast’s “Osama Bin Laden’s Death Exposes the Price of Torture
Google site info:
19% basic, 80% intermediate, <1% advanced
Flesch Reading Ease (according to Microsoft Word): 47.3 (scale of 1-100, where 100 is easiest)
Grade level
(the AddedBytes calculator, which averages five types of scoring, was used): 11.36

PopEater’s “Celebrities Tweet Like Crazy About the Royal Wedding
Google site info: 88% basic, 11% intermediate, <1% advanced
Flesch Reading Ease:
62.2 Grade level: 6.92

Fast Company
’s “How To Make Skeptics Believe Obama’s Birth Certificate Is Authentic
Google site info:
19% basic, 79% intermediate, 1% advanced
Flesch Reading Ease:
30.8 Grade level: 14.62

Makes and Takes
’s “A Wee Enchanted Garden and Easter Bunny Napkin Holders
Google:
No data
Flesch Reading Ease:
74.8 Grade level: 7.1

The Gothamist
’s “Is Trump’s “Campaign” Over Before It Even Officially Began?
Google site info:
59% basic, 40% intermediate, <1% advanced
Flesch Reading Ease:
56.0 Grade level: 10.46

L.A. Times Technology Blog
’s “Sony’s websites may be next target for hackers, report says
Google site info:
15% basic, 84% intermediate, <1% advanced
Flesch Reading Ease:
45.8 Grade level: 11.32

Perez Hilton
’s “GaGa’s Monster Ball Breaks Record For Debut Headlining Artist!
Google site info:
94% basic, 4% intermediate, <1% advanced
Flesch Reading Ease:
62.9 Grade level: 6.38

Daily
Intel’s “Death Toll From Tornado Outbreak Reaches 300
Google site info:
17% basic, 82% intermediate, <1% advanced
Flesch Reading Ease:
56.6 Grade level: 9.92

Econbrowser
’s “Saudi oil production and the Libyan conflict
Google site info:
1% basic, 78% intermediate, 19% advanced
Flesch Reading Ease:
55.9 Grade level: 9.68

ScienceDaily
’s “NASA technology looks inside Japan’s nuclear reactor
Google site info:
<1% basic, 29% intermediate, 70% advanced
Flesch Reading Ease:
24.5 Grade level: 12.06

Now that you get a sense of what these scores can tell you, will you be testing your blog? Let us know in the comments!

Kimberly Turner is a cofounder of Regator, a site that curates the best of the blogosphere, as well as an award-winning print journalist. Reach her on Twitter @kimber_regator and get free widgets for your blog from Regator.

Blogosphere Trends + Effective Calls to Action

You might be saying, “I’m a blogger, not a sales person. I create content. Why would I need to worry about calls to action?” But if you are, I’d encourage you to adjust your thinking. Making money from your blog, growing your business, and getting readers to interact will be next to impossible if you can’t effectively motivate your audience to take action.

Still skeptical? Take a look at Darren Rowse. His latest video on making money online encourages bloggers to build products, and for good reason: according to his blogging income breakdown, 40% of his February income came from ebooks and another 9% from membership sites such as Third Tribe Marketing and ProBlogger.com. Certainly these revenue streams would not have existed if he’d never asked anyone to buy his ebooks or join these sites. He is successful, in part, because he’s great at creating effective calls to action.

Even if you’re not selling anything (yet), you still want your audience to take action by commenting, interacting, sharing, Facebook “liking” your post, watching your videos, attending your events, etc. These things all grow your blog and your community. So let’s get into some tips that will help you create successful calls to action on your blog, no matter what your goal. To give you some examples of these tips in action, I’ll use blog posts about the last month’s most-blogged-about stories, according to Regator (they are, in order: Japan, Libya, SXSW, Charlie Sheen, March Madness, AT&T, Elizabeth Taylor, St. Patrick’s Day, iPad 2, and Rebecca Black).

1. Be clear

Example: Social Times’s “10 Ways To Help Japan Through Social Media
In this example, the goal is to get readers to take action to help Japan. There are several options, and each is presented in a clear, simple way: “Watch this video,” “If you have received information about someone in Japan who was affected by the earthquake or tsunami … add this information to Google’s Person Finder,” and so forth. Calls to action are no place for subtlety or word play. Be direct and straightforward.

2. Solve a problem

Example: Save Darfur’s “Protecting Civilians in Libya: How You Can Help
One of the number one tips given here on ProBlogger is to be useful, and it’s possible to be useful even when making a call to action. In this case, the readers of the blog are activists who are likely looking for ways to make a difference. This post asks readers to “take action by writing a letter to the editor” but also explains how to take that action, going as far as providing a sample letter to the editor. Don’t focus so much on your own desire to have readers take action that you forget to be helpful.

3. Know when and where to ask

Example: Mashable’s “Join Mashable for Two Days of Events at SXSWi
Here, the call to action (to register for one of the blog’s SXSW events) is placed in the headline, in the RSVP section, and at the very end of the post. There’s no wrong place to put your call to action, but putting it at the end of your post often works better than putting it near the beginning because they’ve finished reading your post and are ready to act.

4. When the goal is interaction, offer some options

Example: The Smoking Jacket’s “Smoking Poll: Would You Watch Two and a Half Men if Charlie Sheen Returned?
You know that most of your readers are lurkers, but how do you lure them out to become an active part of your community? Asking them to vote in a poll or take some other similarly simple action is a good way to help them get their feet wet. In this example, the bloggers directly asks readers to vote in the poll and state their case in the comments.

5. Create visual interest.

Example: Mental_Floss’s “The mental_floss Guide to the NCAAs (The West)” [March Madness]
Drawing attention to your call to action is imperative. After all, if no one sees it, no one will act on it. In this example, Mental­_Floss tries to get readers to follow its Twitter account but rather than putting it in the sidebar or using a standard Twitter button, it has created an impossible-to-ignore, colorful button at the bottom of the post itself. Use bold text, colors, buttons, or large fonts to draw attention to the action you want readers to take. Facebook “Like” buttons and retweet buttons are so ubiquitous these days, many people tune them out. If those actions in particular are important to you, find a unique way, such as the one in this example, to present them.

6. Provide an incentive.

Example: The Consumerist’s “Make Your Voice Heard On The AT&T/T-Mobile Deal
I hate to break it to you, but very few readers who aren’t your mom will do what you ask out of the sheer goodness of their hearts. You’ve got to make it a win-win situation. In this example, The Consumerist wants readers to share their opinions but sweetens the deal by letting its audience know that those who contribute will have an opportunity to have their “voices heard” and possibly be chosen for inclusion in press materials. Before you ask others for anything, ask yourself what they’d get out of it. If the answer is nothing, don’t ask until you’ve found some value for your audience.

7. Set a single goal

Example: PopWatch’s “Elizabeth Taylor: What’s your favorite role? ‘National Velvet’? ‘Cleopatra’? ‘Virginia Woolf’?
Determine what you want your post to achieve then make a single call to action. Don’t ask for too many things at once. If you want people to buy your ebook, ask for only that. If you want them to attend your seminar, ask for only that. In this case, the post’s goal is to get readers to share their opinions via a poll and the post’s only call to action is that. Set a goal for every post.

8. Use deadlines

Example: For the Love of Dog’s “Photo Contest: Bizzy go Braugh” [St. Patrick’s Day]
In this post (which, by the way, features a dog in a leprechaun outfit, including beard), the blogger makes it clear that readers must take action by sending in their caption by March 23. Deadlines create a sense of urgency that makes people want to act faster. Use one if it makes sense with your particular call to action.

9. Keep it simple

Example: Digital Photography School’s “Buy Captivating Color for a Chance to Win an iPad 2
You’re a blogger, so I don’t need to tell you how short people’s attention spans are these days. The easier the action is, the more likely they are to take it. Compare the example above, wherein people are automatically entered into a contest to win an iPad 2 simply by purchasing an ebook, with an iPad contest post on another blog (for the sake of keeping things positive, I won’t name it), which required readers to follow a particular Twitter account, tweet a long and very specific message, find the exact URL for that tweet, then come back to the blog and post the URL in the post’s comments. It’s obvious which call to action is likely to be more successful. Don’t complicate things.

10. Ask for what you want

Example: TV Squad’s “Watch Stephen Colbert (and Taylor Hicks!) Sing [Rebecca Black’s] ‘Friday’ With Jimmy Fallon
I saved the most basic tip for last and it applies to all of the examples above as well as every call to action you make: ask for what you want. This example post ends with “Tell us: Whose version of Friday do you like better?” It is a specific, simple call to action. Don’t assume that readers will comment, that they will tweet your posts, that they will buy your products, or that they will take the actions described in your posts if you never ask them. Be clear, direct, and make it a win-win and you’ll see results.

Now I’ll follow my own advice. My call to action: If you’re a ProBlogger reader who has never commented before, take this opportunity to introduce yourself and say hello in the comments today. I’ll check back all week because I’d love to meet more of you guys.

Kimberly Turner is a cofounder of Regator, a site that curates the best of the blogosphere, as well as an award-winning print journalist. Reach her on Twitter @kimber_regator and get free widgets for your blog from Regator.

Blogosphere Trends + The Art of Live Blogging

Live-blogging—writing about an event as it happens rather than after the fact—can be a valuable resource for your readers, providing them with up-to-the-minute information about important events and making your blog the go-to destination for information on a developing story. It is also rife with perils: insufficient power supplies, spotty Internet connections, and errors made in haste, to name a few.

Here are ten tips to make live-blogging work for you. I’ve used blog posts about the last month’s most frequently blogged about stories, according to Regator (they are, in order: Egypt, Super Bowl XLV, Academy Awards/Oscars, Libya, national budget, Charlie Sheen, New Zealand earthquake, Mobile World Conference, CPAC/Conservative Political Action Conference, and Radiohead) to illustrate live-blogging techniques and practices that you can start using on your own blog:

1. Do research as you blog to fill in gaps in your own live reporting

Example: World Watch’s Live Blog: Egypt in Crisis, Day 11
Yes, you are on the scene, gathering original information, doing interviews, and taking your own photos, but if you’re covering a broad story (in this example, the revolution in Egypt), you simply can’t be everywhere at once. Don’t be afraid to include well-attributed links to other up-to-date coverage or to include quotes from experts to give readers more information.

2. Choose your weapons carefully

Example: Packers Blog’s Super Bowl XLV live blog
There are a number of useful tools and services designed to make live-blogging simpler. The live-blogging plugin for WordPress, CoverItLive (the service used in this example post and acquired on Thursday by Demand Media), and ScribbleLive are solid options for general live-blogging assistance. Justin.tv, Ustream.tv, and Qik.com are useful for on-the-go video. Audio can be recorded and posted from anywhere with tools such as Chirbit and Audioboo. Determine which of these tools works best for you and become familiar with their interfaces before you go live.

3. Prepare if possible

Example: Paste Magazine’s 2011 Oscars Live Blog
If you’re live-blogging an unexpected event, such as the tragic New Zealand earthquake (see below), you’ll have to start from scratch. An event such as the Academy Awards, on the other hand, leaves ample opportunities for advance preparation. In this example, the categories, nominees, and predicted winners could all be filled in prior to the show, leaving the live-bloggers with extra time to cover the spontaneous moments and announcements of winners. This particular live-blog also makes the author of each comment undeniably clear, which is especially important when opinions are being shared in a post by multiple bloggers.

4. Go beyond the tweet

Example: Need to Know’s Libya revolts: A live blog
There are times when 140 characters will suffice and times when seconds matter more than details. Those are the times to turn to Twitter. There are, however, situations, such as the Libyan revolts, that are too complex to be conveyed with such brevity. Those who argue that live-blogging is dead (likely the same ones who claim blogging as  a a whole is dead) should look no further than this example to understand its value. This post incorporates official statements from Amnesty International, Interpol, and other organizations; video and photographs from the scene; witness interviews; updates from bloggers, activists, and news outlets; relevant tweets from Libyans; video of the White House’s statement; original reporting; and, perhaps most importantly, a lasting, detailed chronological account of events as they happened that can be referenced for years to come. Take advantage of the diversity of content and attention to detail that live-blogging allows and don’t treat it like a series of tweets.

5. Understand the difference between distilling and transcribing

Example: The Two-Way’s Live-Blog: President Obama’s News Conference [National Budget]
In this example, Mark Memmott blogs important direct quotes but does not attempt to transcribe the entirety of the president’s speech. He quotes key phrases and summarizes the rest of Obama’s main points. He is fastidious in his use of brackets to indicate changes to direct quotes and (this is important) never uses quotation marks when the language isn’t exact. As a live-blogger, your job is not to transcribe an event but to distill it for readers and present the most important points. Trying to transcribe word for word will lead to frustration, exhaustion, and typos galore.

6. Pack appropriately

Example: The Wire’s Live Blogging TMZ’s Charlie Sheen Backyard Livestream (headline changed after-the-fact to “WATCH: Here is Charlie Sheen’s EPIC TMZ Livestream Interview”)
Admittedly, finding a good live post about the month’s sixth-most-blogged-about story, Charlie Sheen, was challenging. It’s pretty much impossible, after all, to live-blog Charlie Sheen without being with Charlie Sheen and he’s too busy “winning” to hang out with most of us. TMZ did, however, do a live video interview from his mansion so I’ll use that to discuss the kinds of equipment you should bring in a similar live-blogging situation. Things you might want to pack in your live-blogging kit include: extra batteries, power cords and chargers aplenty, laptop, smart phone, Flip or larger video camera, reasonably sized camera, USB cords or other connectors for cameras and video cameras, and an alternative method of Internet connectivity in the case of inadequate WiFi.

7. Update frequently with clear time stamps

Example: Channel 4’s News blog Live Blog: Dozens dead in New Zealand Earthquake
Live-blogging is a commitment. If you plan to post only two or three updates, you’d be better off posting a single well-thought-out post after the fact. In this example, 45 updates were posted during the two days following the earthquake, each with a clear time stamp for context. Regular updates ensure that your blog will be considered the primary place to go for up-to-the-minute information. This is especially vital for situations in which people are frightened and worried about the wellbeing of loved ones. As a general rule of thumb, aim for updates every five to 15 minutes or so during shorter events such as the Academy Awards or Obama’s budget news conference, and once every half hour or so when covering situations such as the earthquake aftermath or revolts. This lets readers know the blog has not gone dormant.

8. Accept that your live posts won’t be as flawless as your edited posts

Example: Business Insider’s LIVE: Steve Ballmer At Mobile World Congress
Once you’ve made it clear that you are live-blogging from the scene, most readers will forgive minor typos and grammatical errors. Do the same. The faster you are trying to get updates out, the less time you have to edit and guard against errors, so don’t beat yourself up. As long as you’ve got your facts straight, errors such as the minor ones in this example (lowercase “nokia,” lack of apostrophe in possessive “consumers,” etc.) from the normally meticulously edited Business Insider are understandable.

9. Use subheadings along with time stamps

Example: The Fix’s CPAC 2011: The Conservative Political Action Conference
Live-blogging can lead to lengthy posts. Using subheadings such as the ones in this example in addition to time stamps throughout your post can increase reader engagement and allow for easy scanning.

10. Know when to live-blog…and when not to

Example: Dig Boston’s Live Blog Review: Radiohead’s ‘The King of Limbs’ From Start to Finish
Live-blogging works best for developing stories or live events. While this live-blog of Radiohead’s new album is good, the live-blogging format doesn’t add a great deal because of the static nature of the story. With all due respect to the blogger, whose work is solid, the review would have been just as good or better if the blogger had taken notes as he listened then written a comprehensive post after the fact. Use live-blogging in moderation.

Do you live-blog? What tips can you add?

Kimberly Turner is a cofounder of Regator, as well as an award-winning print journalist. Reach her on Twitter @kimber_regator and get free widgets for your blog from Regator.

Monthly Trends + How to Instantly Triple Your Post Ideas

For many bloggers, coming up with ideas for great posts is one of the biggest challenges. The good news is that if you have an idea for one post that will appeal to your readership, odds are, you have at least one more. How so? By covering a story from a different angle.

Every time you write a post, you determine the angle you’ll take—even if you’re not consciously doing so. Just as taking a photograph from a different angle can yield very different results (imagine a photo taken from the base of a large tree, a photo taken from the top of the same tree, and a close-up shot of an individual leaf), covering a story from a different angle can give your readers a brand-new experience, even if you’ve covered a topic before.

As always, Regator has calculated the ten most-blogged-about stories of the last month, and we’ll be using posts about those popular stories to demonstrate the power of choosing the right angle. (The blogosphere trends for the month of January 2011, in order, were: Egypt, State of the Union, Golden Globes, Verizon iPhone, Gabrielle Giffords, Super Bowl, Martin Luther King Jr, Sundance Film Festival, Flooding, and Consumer Electronics Show.) Here are some tips on finding the right angle for your next post, along with examples showing how a few bloggers used unexpected angles to put a new spin on these oft-covered topics… and, more importantly, how you can use similar ways of thinking to turn a trickle of post ideas into a flood.

1. Narrow down a broad story by choosing one element

The top story for the month is, of course, Egypt. While it is valuable for us to hear the general details, it’s not valuable for every blogger to provide the same information. To find an angle that would provide unique content to its readers, Threat Level first narrowed the story down to one aspect: the shutting down of Egypt’s Internet access. Still, plenty of bloggers were writing about that, so they went even further by focusing on just one aspect of the shutdown: how it was actually achieved by those in power.

Because of this very specific angle, the resulting post, Egypt Shut Down Its Series of Tubes With a Series of Phone Calls, is interesting and stands out amidst the crowd. A story doesn’t need to be as massive as the Egyptian revolution for this tactic to work. Try taking the subject of your next post and narrowing it down. Then, if you can, take that and narrow it down again.

2. Find the right angle for your niche

A story like President Obama’s State of the Union address may seem like a political story—and it is—but it’s not limited political bloggers. Smart Politics is a political blog but the angle it chose to cover this story would work just as well for a linguistics or psychology blog. The post, Obama’s SOTU: Uniting the Country…through Pronouns?, is a fascinating examination of the President’s use of pronouns as a unifying device.

The next time you think, “That’s a really interesting story but it doesn’t fit into my blog,” ask yourself if there’s any element to the story or angle you could take that might make it a great fit for readers in your niche. You might be surprised.

3. Look for trends

Analyzing a story for patterns or trends is another way to find an angle. There was no doubt that celebrity fashion blog, Go Fug Yourself, was going to cover the Golden Globes from a fashion perspective, but by finding a red-carpet trend, its post, Golden Globes Trend Carpet: Best/Worst Green, not only gave readers the gossip on the awards ceremony but also advised its fashion-conscious readership of an upcoming trend.

See if you can find a legitimate pattern or trend in a story you’re covering. Identifying trends before the rest of the blogosphere will help your blog become the place to go for those who want to be in-the-know.

4. Try a personal or emotional angle

It’s no accident that every news organization features “human interest” along with its hard news. Stories involving emotions and struggles of everyday people are almost universally appealing. When writing about the launch of the Verizon iPhone, The Next Web’s Verizon Throws Best Customers Under the Bus: Charges Them 3X for iPhone post focuses on the anger of a long-time Verizon customer. Try finding an emotional or personal angle in a post you’re working on.

5. Focus on an interesting but seldom-covered aspect of the story

Every story is made up of thousands of details. Slate: Press Box’s Jared Loughner is ready for his photo op post analyzed a rarely talked about aspect of the man accused of shooting Representative Gabrielle Giffords and several others: his mugshot and, more specifically, his baldness and the cultural implications of a shaved head. The uniqueness of this angle made the post a captivating read.

Make a list of at least ten different aspects of a story that you’re covering, then try to choose an unusual angle to create a distinct post that your readers won’t find elsewhere.

6. Turn one story into three (or more) posts

There are countless ways to tell every story. The Business Insider’s How To Bet On The Super Bowl – A Click-By-Click Guide chose to focus on betting. Other blogs talked about uniform choice, psychological preparation of the players, Super Bowl party snacks, and many, many other facets of the game.

If a story is relevant to your readership, you need not limit yourself to just one post about it. If you can find several angles that each provide something unique and interesting, you can get several quality posts out of just one story.

7. Take an unexpected approach

In general, the more unexpected your angle, the more likely it is to be shared. I saw i09’s Martin Luther King In Science Fiction passed around Facebook and Twitter more than any other individual post about Martin Luther King Jr Day. Now that may be because I’m friends with too many nerds, but I think it’s actually because the angle was so unexpected. I’m not a big science fiction fan, but even I clicked on the link to see what the connection between King and sci fi was.

I think it’s important to surprise your readers now and then to keep them engaged. The unexpected makes an impression.

8. Research the historical angle or backstory of an event

The Daily Beast looked back at the Sundance Film Festival and found that many of this year’s Oscar nominees had started at the festival. The combination of finding a trend and researching historical data yielded the post Filmmakers Who Started At Sundance.

There are myriad stories hiding in history. A bit of research might reveal an angle you never considered.

9. Remember that there are always more stories than you think

When parts of Queensland, Australia, were affected by severe flooding, Fran Jurga’s Hoof Blog combined several of the techniques we’ve talked about above in the post University of Queensland’s Equine Hospital Keeps Its Head Up Above the Flood. This intriguing post took a broad story and found a way to apply it to the blog’s niche; it struck emotional chord with details of horses who’d worn their hooves down by swimming up to 30 hours to stay alive; it narrowed the story down first to horses affected by the flood, then to horses being cared for by a single veterinary hospital; and it took an unexpected and seldom-taken approach to flood coverage.

10. Write a story from someone else’s perspective

This is one of the easiest ways to find an alternative angle, but it’s also one of the most effective. While most blogs were covering the Consumer Electronics Show from the perspective of attendees or companies presenting new products, Gadget Lab chose to post It Takes a Mountain of Shipping Crates to Make a Trade Show from the perspective of the organizers, providing a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the massive conference.

Consider covering a story from another party’s perspective to provide a whole new story.

Do you consider different angles when writing posts? Please share your thoughts in the comments!

Kimberly Turner is a cofounder of Regator, as well as an award-winning print journalist. Find her on Twitter @kimber_regator and visit Regator’s widget site to get free widgets for your blog.

Monthly Trends + Resolutions for a Better Blog

Happy 2011! How are the ole resolutions holding up so far? Have you stopped biting your nails, started a daily exercise regimen, and organized your closets yet? Me neither. Still, ’tis the season for new starts, and while you’re thinking about improving your health, your home, or your life balance, don’t forget about your blog. Make a resolution today to take your blog to the next level in 2011.

It’s the beginning of the month as well as the year, so, as always, Regator has provided blogosphere trends for the month, and I’ll use posts about these popular stories to inspire you to make a vow to improve your blog in the New Year. (The most-blogged about stories for December 2010, in order, were: Christmas, Wikileaks, Tax Cuts, DADT/Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Tron, New Year’s Eve, Net Neutrality, Elizabeth Edwards, Oprah, and Michael Vick.) Let’s make some resolutions!

1. I resolve to be funnier.
Inspiration: Cracked’s The 12 Most Unintentionally Disturbing Christmas Ads. Obviously, humor isn’t always appropriate, but it certainly has its place and can breathe life into a dry subject if it’s used correctly. If you can handle a bit of rough language, comedy blog Cracked.com provides plenty of inspiration, putting an amusing spin on everything from Christmas to science to pop culture.

2. I resolve to take extra time to write gripping intros to my posts.
Inspiration: The Chronicle Review’s Why WikiLeaks Is Bad for Scholars. The first few lines of your post will determine whether readers will stick around or click around. Don’t save your genius for the third paragraph. Use your first paragraph to make a promise, create intrigue, hit readers with a killer quote, or—as in this example from The Chronicle Review—build suspense with a story.

3. I resolve to help my readers solve more problems.
Inspiration: The Consumerist’s Calculate How Much Of A Raise You’ll Get On January 1 [Tax Cuts]. You’ve read it over and over here at ProBlogger, but it can’t be said enough: Be useful to your readers and they will come back for more. As you sit down to write each post, ask yourself what the reader will get out of it and why he or she should take the time to read it. Even if it’s not a straight-up, service-oriented post, like this example from The Consumerist, all of your posts should provide some benefit: entertainment, knowledge, advice, etc.

4. I resolve to take more time to craft my headlines.
Inspiration: Queerty’s Why Fox News’ Story On Gay Soldiers Living Under DADT Never Got Filed. Your headlines should not be an afterthought and, if they are, this is the resolution for you. They’re all people see when your link is tweeted and the first thing potential readers see in RSS readers and aggregators. A great post with a mediocre headline will lose countless potential readers. This example from Queerty is keyword-heavy, potentially controversial, and seems to promise an intriguing bit of information.

5. I resolve to be more creative and to break out of the echo chamber.
Inspiration: Pushing Pixels’ The colors of “Tron: Legacy”. While many were blogging about Tron’s opening weekend numbers or its (awesome) Daft Punk soundtrack, Kirill Grouchnikov took a different approach and blogged a fascinating breakdown of the color usage in Tron’s computer world. It’s a perfect fit for that blog’s readers and a unique twist on a frequently covered story. If bloggers in your niche are writing about one particular story, find a way to put your own unique twist on it.

6. I resolve to use more photos and/or video.
Inspiration: The Big Picture’s A New Year rolls in. Photos and video add interest and depth and if you aren’t using many, this may be the resolution for you. Just be sure you’re using them legally. This example from The Big Picture shows just how striking the right photo can be.

7. I resolve to be more opinionated.
Inspiration: Tech Talk’s Opinion: Who’ll Really Benefit from Net Neutrality Regulation? Strong opinions have the potential to put some people off and generate controversy, but they also have the potential to establish you as a blogger with interesting things to say and to solidify your blog as a place where healthy debate can happen. This example from Tech Talk is clearly labeled as opinion, presents facts to back up the opinions in the post, and takes a respectful tone.

8. I resolve to develop my blogging voice.
Inspiration: The Atlantic’s Elizabeth Edwards and the Case Against the Political Wife. If you look back at 2010’s posts and find they don’t sound much like you or that they simply lack a bit of personality, resolve to work on your blog’s tone in 2011. This example by Elizabeth Wurtzel is conversational but smart and, quite simply, sounds like Wurtzel. Let that be your goal: sound like you.

9. I resolve to interact with commenters.
Inspiration: TV by the NumbersNo Matter How Tiny the Ratings for OWN, the Media Will Obsess Over Oprah. It’s easy to get so busy working on your next post that you don’t take time to correspond with readers about your previous post. It happens to us all at times (guilty). There’s certainly no need to respond to every comment left on your blog, but interacting with readers where appropriate can go a long way in building a community and, by extension, fans and advocates for your blog. In this example, blogger Robert Seidman responds to questions and even refers back to one commenter’s previous comment, showing that he pays attention to what’s being said on his posts. It’s a good habit to get into.

10. I resolve to edit my posts after I finish them.
Inspiration: The Phillyist’s White House: Vick’s Crimes Deserve Condemnation. This example is short and sweet. It gets the points across with no more words than are necessary. There’s nothing wrong with longer posts, but chances are, you can take around 15 percent off the word count of most posts without losing anything important. Try it for a month and you’ll find your writing is sharper and more concise.

So what do you say? Will you make a resolution to improve your blog this year? My blogging resolution is pretty simple: I resolve to blog more often. As one of the founders of Regator, it’s all too easy for me to get so distracted by the day-to-day running of an internet startup that my first love, writing, gets pushed aside. 2011 will be the year that changes. How about you? Please share your resolution in the comments!

Kimberly Turner is a cofounder of Regator, as well as an award-winning print journalist. Find her on Twitter @kimber_regator, get free widgets for your blog, or nominate your blog for review.

Monthly Trends + 10 Tips for a Flawless Linking Strategy

This guest post is written by Kimberly Turner, cofounder of Regator.

To link or not to link—that is the question. What should you link to in your blog posts? How many outbound links should you have? When and why should you use outbound links?

We’ll answer those questions today, using posts about the month’s most-blogged-about stories to illustrate good linking strategies. The top ten stories of the last month, according to Regator.com’s blogosphere trends were: 1. Thanksgiving, 2. Midterm Election, 3. TSA, 4. Black Friday, 5. Korea, 6. WikiLeaks, 7. Sarah Palin, 8. Harry Potter, 9. Kanye West, and 10. Call of Duty. Let’s look at how a few bloggers used links to improve their posts about these stories…

1. Build relationships and community.

When bloggers in a particular niche link to one another, it shows mutual respect and helps build the community around that niche. Don’t immediately reject the idea of linking to blogs you consider to be your competition. Showing that you’re reading a competitor’s blog (especially if you take the extra step to leave thoughtful comments there) can be the start of great relationship that has advantages for you, the other blogger, your readers, and the community as a whole. Make your content as useful as possible.

Example: Serious Eats links to a number of food blogs in “Weekend Cook and Tell Round Up: Thanksgiving Leftover Derby.”

2. Give credit where credit is due.

One of the most common reasons to include outbound links in your posts is to provide references for facts, or as a hat-tip to a source that brought a particular fact or story to your attention. You will not always be the original source for the information you blog about. Providing links to your sources makes your content seem more credible, shows your appreciation of the work done by your source, and lets readers know that you’ve done your research—if the sources are credible. Remember: quality counts and linking to a site or article does, in some ways, imply endorsement.

Example: Despite its humorous tone, Cracked’s “6 Things You Won’t Believe Can Brainwash You On Election Day” links show that the information for this post came from reputable, trusted sources such as MIT, ScienceDaily, California Institute of Technology, and others.

3. Don’t go overboard.

You can have too much of a good thing. While relevant links can help with SEO, Google’s own webmaster guidelines advise you to “keep the links on a given page to a reasonable number.” What’s the cutoff between reasonable and unreasonable? No one knows for sure. The safe bet is to use outbound links when they are relevant and add something to your post and not to use them gratuitously to attempt to improve your SEO. Think of them as part of your content. And when it comes to link exchange schemes, just say no. Outbound links to scammy, spammy, or low-quality sites do you more harm than good for a number of reasons.

Example: Death and Taxes’ “Harvard Law Students Sue TSA” provides only enough links to give relevant back-story and additional information to benefit the readers.

4. Recognize guest posters or image sources.

No budget for guest bloggers or photography? You may find that a link to a writer’s blog or photographer’s flickr page can serve as compensation, particularly if your blog is popular. Try allowing guest posters to include a very brief bio with links at the bottom of their guest posts and look for Creative Commons images that are free to use with attribution.

Example: Business Insider’s “Window Shoppers Dominated Black Friday” provides a link to the photographer’s flickr page below the image as required by that photo’s Creative Commons license.

5. Provide a deeper understanding of your topic.

Use links to provide back-story, additional information, or context for your post, but don’t rely on links to the point that your post can’t stand on its own. Links should let readers who are particularly interested delve a bit deeper but shouldn’t be vital to a reader’s understanding of your post.

Example: Danger RoomHowitzers Fire, Jets Ready After North Korea Shells South” links to posts about relevant history, articles from Korean newspapers, and the Wikipedia pages about a particular weapon, among other things. Each link gives the reader an opportunity to learn more but none is required to grasp the post.

6. Support your opinion.

Your opinions are (hopefully) based on facts and knowledge that you’ve picked up about a given subject. Being opinionated on your blog is a good thing but presenting your opinions without any sort of support is likely to cause some readers to question your ideas. Use links to share information and facts to back up your claims.

Example: Valleywag’s “Amazon.com Evicts Wikileaks. Who’s Next?” takes the position that Amazon’s eviction of Wikileaks was inappropriate and uses a number of pertinent links to support that opinion.

7. Know that it’s okay not to link.

A number of studies have shown that simply including links in text, regardless of whether they are actually clicked, reduced comprehension and slows reading time. The theory is that each time you see a hyperlink, your brain takes a moment to assess the situation. Click or move on? Each of those small decisions disrupts your train of thought enough to break your concentration.

Example: Los Angeles Times’ Show Tracker’s blog presents “Decoding ‘Sarah Palin‘s Alaska’: Top 3 lessons from the debut episode” in simple black and white with no links, making for a quick, distraction-free read.

8. Promote your older posts and keep readers on your site for longer.

Linking to other posts on your own blog can increase your page views, help with SEO, and make you a better resource for your readers. Feature related links at the bottom of each post or intersperse links to older posts within the text when relevant.

Example: MTV Movies Blog has written about each of the Harry Potter movies and, because it stands to reason that if you’re taking the time to read one post about Harry Potter, you might be interested in other posts about Harry Potter, the blog linked back to its previous posts on the franchise in “Which ‘Harry Potter‘ Film Is Your Favorite So Far?

9. Bring information together.

Occasionally, you may want to quote extensively from a source or bring a number of opinions on a given issue or story together for your readers. Linking back to the original source when quoting or doing round-ups pays respect to the original author’s work and lets your readers read more from the story you’re quoting. Just remember that a link does not give you license to plagiarize.

Example: Idolator’s “Review Revue: Kanye West’s ‘My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy’” rounds up a number of reviews of Kanye West’s new album, each with a link.

10. Use good anchor text.

Anchor text is the visible, clickable text of the link you’re sharing. For the purposes of search engine rankings as well as readability, it’s best to avoid anchor text such as “click here,” “this,” or other non-descriptive text when possible. Imagine that the reader can see only the anchor text; would he or she still have an idea of where you’re sending them? If not, rethink that particular text.

Example: GamesBeat’s “Call of Duty Black Ops Sells $650M in five days” has very specific anchor text that lets readers know exactly where they’re headed when they click.

What’s your linking strategy? Please share your thoughts in the comments!

Kimberly Turner is a cofounder of Regator, as well as an award-winning print journalist. Find her on Twitter @kimber_regator, get free widgets for your blog, or nominate your blog for review.