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Blogging With Audacity

Keeping You Posted by Skellie.This is Skellie’s last post before Darren gets back from Blog World Expo. You can continue reading her blogging, online entrepreneurship and social media articles at Skelliewag.

Audacity is one of my favorite words, as I believe it encapsulates one of the best ways to approach blogging, and in my humble opinion, a wonderful attitude to life. Here’s a simple definition:

  1. Fearless daring; intrepidity.
  2. Bold or insolent heedlessness of restraints, as of those imposed by prudence, propriety, or convention.
  3. An act or instance of intrepidity or insolent heedlessness: warned the students than any audacities committed during the graduation ceremony would be punished.

As you can see, the word suggests an approach that is willing to circumvent ‘the done thing’ in favor of gaining what is most important to you. It’s a unique word in that it has both positive and negative meanings!

As you’ll know, people are often criticized for being audacious, which is a good way to stop people being audacious. Humans generally feel uncomfortable when people act outside the norm. Of course, most successful people make a habit of doing just that. And the same goes for successful bloggers.

It’s conventional that people:

  • Don’t ask for more than is offered to them
  • Don’t try to talk with people who are better known or higher status than they are
  • Don’t admit their failings and mistakes
  • Don’t celebrate success publicly
  • Don’t try things that could fail badly
  • Don’t change their mind once it has been made up
  • Don’t give up, no matter whether circumstances and goals change
  • Don’t question what everybody else does
  • Don’t ask others for help (just think about how often we begin such a request with a pre-emptive apology)

With the above in mind, let’s look at the behavioral patterns of most successful bloggers. Of course, the same could be said about successful entrepreneurs, sportspeople, scientists, musicians or anyone else who excels at what they do. Audacity links them all together.

They DO negotiate higher rates and better deals. They DO say no. They DO understand that they have a lot of value to offer, and that the value they provide is worth something. That’s why audacious people earn more and can sell more expensive products and services: because they are confident that what they provide is worth it and don’t sell themselves short.

They DO communicate with experts and learn from them. If their first efforts to open a dialogue fail, they try new and creative ways to get the conversation started. They realize the best way to learn how to do something is talk to people who’ve done it before. They also know that, because most people assume that experts will be impossible to get a hold of that very few people actually try, making the chances of success much better than they seem. (If I assumed Seth Godin or Darren Rowse or Brian Clark or Leo Babauta would be unwilling to talk, I never would have talked with all of them, nor would you be reading this blog post!).

They DO come to terms with their weaknesses, admit when they have made mistakes and failed to follow their own advice. It takes a lot of courage to be vulnerable in this way, but you can’t work around your weaknesses until you openly acknowledge them. Best of all, readers feel more strongly connected to you because you become a more relateable figure.


Photo by .Luc.

The DO make their successes public. So many bloggers trying to be ‘authorities’ are afraid to clearly outline the reasons why they know their stuff, usually afraid that it will be seen as boastful. In fact, people really want to know whether they’re receiving advice from a reliable source. How often have you come across a ‘make money online’ blog only to wonder whether the blogger behind it was making any money at all?

Too many would-be experts with amazing successes never achieve the recognition they deserve because they are confined to omission and under-statement because we are encouraged from a young age never to toot our own horn. Of course, ‘toot your own horn’ eventually comes to encompass any good we might speak about ourselves and our achievements, often leaving readers in the dark. There’s a difference between saying “I’ve done this and you never will” and “I’ve done this and I would love to help you do it to, with what I learned along the way.”

They DO try things that might well fail. Because what if they don’t? And if they do, will it really be so bad? Few great successes come without risk. In fact, the amount of possible risk and possible gain usually travel hand in hand. Successful bloggers are always experimenting and most of them have failed spectacularly more than a few times but these aren’t the things we focus on because that failure has been accompanied by wonderful successes.

They DO discard ideas that they once believed but now doubt. They DO have changes of heart and changes of mind. They don’t stick with one method or opinion doggedly because it is now theirs. They try to avoid assumptions as much as is possible.

They DO give up. They don’t stick with obviously failing models until they’re driven into the ground. They don’t doggedly pursue the same goals even when new goals seem more important or attractive. They don’t let the cultural imperative to ‘finish what you start’ trap them in unrewarding pursuits.

They DO question what everyone else is doing. They never assume that anything popular must be good. They don’t assume (without thought) that popular beliefs are correct, or that popular courses of action are the best ones. They temper the wisdom of the crowd with their own observations and research.

They DO ask others for help. They DO admit to others when they have no idea. They’d rather take five minutes to email someone who is bound to know the answer to a question than spend six days searching for the right information on their own, just to have to avoid admitting a gap in their knowledge. They ask dumb questions and aren’t afraid to seem stupid once in a while.

Does the above list resonate with who you are, who you’d like to become, or who you feel you’re steadily becoming? To be a successful blogger and entrepreneur (if you’re making money with a blog, that’s what you are), to seize opportunities and make your own opportunities, you need to start living and blogging with audacity. It’s not a dirty word. In fact, it’s an excellent guiding star for any entrepreneurial blogger.

***

I want to take a moment to welcome Darren back from Blog World Expo and to thank him for letting me take care of ProBlogger this week. It’s always a joy to write here. Thanks for having me!

The Truth About Creating a High-traffic Blog

Keeping You Posted by Skellie.Skellie wrote this post. For more, you can follow her on Twitter.

Did you know that some blogs receive over one million visitors each month?

Have you ever wondered how they do it?

This kind of traffic isn’t easy to attain, but the pay-off for a high traffic blog with hundreds of thousands of page views each month (or more) are considerable. With that kind of traffic it’s hard not to make good money!

Most blogs with huge amounts of traffic are in fact run by a dedicated staff of writers who can churn out content much faster than a single blogger could ever hope to manage. Part of the reason these blogs are so highly trafficked is because a repeat visitor knows there’s likely to be something new every few hours or so. They have reason to visit multiple times during the day. Examples of blogs like this are the Gawker Media blogs, such as Lifehacker and Kotaku.

Most of us don’t have the money or the desire to take on a large contingent of writers to keep our blogs updated every few hours. The good news is that huge traffic is still possible at a single-author blog. Look to StevePavlina.com, Zen Habits, Entrepreneur’s Journey, even ProBlogger itself (I pick these examples because you’re likely to be familiar with them, but there are so many others). These are just a few examples where a single-author blog is receiving hundreds of thousands of page views each month, and in some cases, over a million.

Can we do the same?

These are the kind of stats we dream of for our own blogs, but most of us doubt that this would be possible for us. This is probably because the steps involved in getting there seem very blurry. You’re producing great content, growing in size slowly but surely, gathering new loyal readers and increasing your traffic, but you’re still miles away from the kind of huge audience those blogs experience. What are the factors that separate the average blog from these super high traffic blogs?

This is the point where you expect a cop-out — for me to say that it is, of course, great content that separates those blogs from the average. Unfortunately, your expectations won’t be met here. I’m not interested in content right now. At least, not directly. In fact, your content may be just as good, or better, than any one of the blogs I’ve mentioned, or any other successful single-author blogs you can think of.

What I am interested in, and I hope you will be too, is to know where that traffic is coming from.

On a multi-author blog producing reams of content it’s likely to receive many of its ‘visits’ from single visitors who make multiple return visits each day, in addition to high search traffic due to the vast amount of content archived at the blog, and social media traffic, because multi-author blogs generally have the resources to break important stories. When we look at single-author blogs, however, traffic sources are going to be coming from very different places.

Instead of producing dozens of posts each day a blog run by one person is probably going to be producing, at most, a handful of posts per day. The average level will probably be one post per day. For this reason, single-author blogs probably can’t expect visitors to return five or ten times a day to check for new updates. So, we knock out that traffic source.

I want to suggest that very highly trafficked single-author blogs are knocking the ball out of the park in at least two of the following three core areas:

  • Search
  • Social media
  • Evangelism

The last one is a must. Waves of social media traffic come and go and search engine traffic can disappear with the next Google algorithm update. If readers evangelize your content, as they do for Steve Pavlina, Leo Babauta, Yaro Starak, and you have probably done for Darren Rowse (by recommending him to a friend, or linking to one of his articles with a glowing recommandation) you will find it difficult to receive anything but huge traffic.

Performing exceptionally with at least one of the others is also very important, and it’s particularly useful if you can master both.

SEO

Most single-author blogs with huge traffic are getting a lot of that from search (sometimes as high as 20%). Some blogs, however, will never receive exceptional search traffic, no matter how popular they get or how much SEO work is done on them. After all, most people use search to solve a problem. They want to know how to do such and such thing, and the problem is that they don’t. So they search. However, some blogs are not so much about providing answers as they are about asking questions. Others might provide answers to questions you didn’t know you had. If you’re seeking to be entertained, they might entertain you in a way you never would have searched for on your own.

One of the best blog posts I’ve read in recent memory was Errol Morris’s dissection of two pieces of war-time photography in an effort to decide whether one of the pictures was faked. It was called ‘Which Came First, the Chicken or the Egg?’ and generated over 900 comments. Were people searching for this content before they found it? Very unlikely. Even putting the photographer’s name in the headline probably wouldn’t have improved the SEO situation very much, but it still didn’t hurt the story any. In fact, it went on to become a viral sensation.


Photo by victoriapeckham.

Social media

I relate the above example to show that some topics suit high levels of search traffic much better than others. If you feel you’re in the latter camp it’s still very possible to receive high levels of traffic, but you’ll find it much easier to so with the help of social media. If you’re not setting StumbleUpon on fire with your posts you should aim to get some love from Digg or Reddit. If you don’t know how to do that, hire someone who does and get them to write for you once a week. There are plenty of talented writers out there, looking for work, who really ‘get’ social media. Look for for an excellent front-page story on Digg that relates to your blog topic and then find out who wrote it. If you’re lucky, that person may be looking for more work.

Once you’ve produced a great post, get a top user to submit the content before anyone else. You’d be surprised at how easy this is if they think the content is good. Once it’s done, let their network take over. With a talented writer and a bit of audacity it’s surprisingly easy to go popular on social media pretty much, well, whenever you want to. But that’s material for another post, another time.

Case studies

Let’s examine three blogs that I’ve mentioned above. First, this one, ProBlogger. I’m pretty certain most of Darren’s traffic comes from direct links (evangelism), search (a high percent, due to practical topics and clever SEO), and StumbleUpon (a whole lot of it). While most of us are receiving traffic from these sources, high-traffic blogs take this to another level. The importance of evangelism from the reader base is the driving force behind all these things. ProBlogger wouldn’t rank as high in search if thousands of people hadn’t linked to it using juicy keywords. It wouldn’t receive loads of StumbleUpon traffic if its readers weren’t motivated to vote for it.

Next, let’s think about where Zen Habits is getting its traffic from. I’m not sure about the level of search traffic it gets, but I know it receives an exceptional amount of social media traffic from StumbleUpon and Digg. I also know the reader base is highly evangelical and links to Leo’s articles regularly. The blog is also spread through word of mouth networks. Once again, the success on social media probably wouldn’t have progressed as far as it has without an evangelical reader base. That factor is essential for the other factors to exist.

Evangelism

By now you will have noticed I’ve been throwing the word ‘evagelical’ around a whole lot without really explaining what I mean by it. The word comes from religious evangelicals, so it’s best to start there. While the word has been appropriated to describe a particular group of religious people, it has also been absorbed into the language of marketing.

To evangelize something really just means that you are passionate about it and try to get others to be passionate about it too (in a religious context, this would be a particular understanding of God). In fact, I want to suggest that you’ve done some evangelizing whether you are religious or not. If you’ve forced a tattered copy of your favorite book into the hands of a friend, you’re evangelizing it. If you told someone their next laptop should be a MacBook Pro because you love yours, you’re evangelizing the product. When you tell an aspiring blogger that they really should be reading ProBlogger, you evangelize this blog. When you link to it, vote for it or recommend it via word of mouth, you are evangelizing it, and the same goes for any blog you enjoy and try to share with others.

The key difference between the average blog and a high traffic blog is that the high traffic blog has an evangelical following: people who think, “My God, more people have to see this!”

Someone who only skims your posts will register on your stat counter but they are not going to spread the ‘gospel’ of your blog to others, so to speak. An evangelical reader might stumble every post they read and link to you every week. They do the kind of things that allow you to rank highly in search, and to get torrents of traffic from social media. In other words, to build a high traffic blog you need to create a highly evangelical audience.

What makes someone passionate and evangelical about a blog?

It’s not fluff. It’s not controversy for its own sake. It’s not self-indulgence. It’s not stale formulas. It’s knowing deeply the kind of individuals your audience is made up of, what their needs and wants and dreams are, how you fit into that, and how much you can make their lives better, whether it’s by making them smile, laugh, cry, go ‘Ah-ha!’, feel empowered, feel informed, entertained or more skillful.

The amount of improvement you make in the lives of your readers will be in proportion to the amount of effort they put into evangelizing your blog and helping it become more popular than you may ever have imagined.

4 Quick and Simple Ways to Increase Page Views on Your Blog

Keeping You Posted by Skellie.Skellie wrote this post. For more advanced blogging tips and strategies, visit her blog, Skelliewag.

When selling advertising spots on your blog the metric that advertisers value most is page views, or ‘impressions’. More page views equals higher value advertising spots on your blog. While the obvious solution to increase the value of your ad spots is to increase the amount of traffic your blog receives, you can also do a number of quick and easy things to yield more page views from your existing traffic.

1. Develop the habit of self-linking

I was recently referred by a friend to read a post at Steve Pavlina’s blog. I enjoyed the post immensely, and because it linked out to other relevant posts on the blog, I found myself spending several hours swinging like a monkey from post to post, devouring new ideas voraciously. During that time Steve probably squeezed about 10 – 20 page views out of my single visit.

Most bloggers don’t self-link anywhere near as much as they could. This is a particularly beneficial habit if page views directly correlate with your income. When a reader is deep into your post it means the topic you’re writing on is of keen interest to them and so, related content is also likely to be of keep interest. If you don’t make readers aware of this as you write, it’s a lost opportunity: not only for more page views, but also for a greater level of reader engagement in your blog.

2. End with related posts

Bloggers are increasingly using a WordPress plug-in to link to related posts at the footer of each post. This is a clever move because it gives readers options to continue at the point when they are most likely to be looking for them (when they have just finished reading one of your great posts). You can handle this automatically through the plugin and give up some control over what appears or hand-pick posts to link to, which will of course take more time but gives you maximum control over the links that are chosen.


Photo by nate steiner

3. Use your sidebar to build page-views

Think about the three best blog posts you’ve ever written. Are they on the main page of your blog right now? Chances are that at least one of them isn’t, unless you’ve hit a real purple patch at the moment!

Just because this wonderful post is not on the main page doesn’t mean nobody but the odd wandering search visitor should find it. Highlighting your best posts in your blog sidebar (usually under a ‘Popular Posts’ list) is an excellent way to drive page views while also keeping your best posts evergreen.

4. Create multi-page posts

Have you ever started reading a fun top 100 list at a website only to discover that they’d given each item its own page, forcing you to click 100 times? Most people will find this excessive, but it is a clever tactic if the content is actually worth it. Blog posts also make good candidates to spread long posts over several pages, and there is a WordPress plug-in designed to do this. Of course, it’s important to always be mindful of stopping before the point where it becomes frustrating for your audience.

Here I’ve presented just a few ways to yield a greater number of page views from your existing audience. I’m sure I missed a few good ones, so add your ideas in the comments!

10 Innovative Blog Business Models

Keeping You Posted by Skellie.Skellie wrote this post. For more advanced blogging tips and strategies, visit her blog, Skelliewag.

When people think about making money with a blog, they tend to think about things like AdSense and affiliate links. You write good content, people come to your blog, people click on links, and you make a bit of money. How much money you make depends on how successfully you can multiply this process.

However, for some entrepreneurs this method of monetizing a blog is just one part of a larger business model that is much more lucrative than advertising on its own.

In this post I want to highlight 10 innovative and successful blog business models that do more than sell ad space or clicks. Is there room for one of these business models on your own blog?

(Please note that this particular post does not contain affiliate links.)

1. Teaching Sells / Blog Mastermind (Educational course)

Copyblogger sells TeachingSells.com

EntrepreneursJourney.com sells BlogMastermind.com

This business model involves selling an expert course on the back of a blog. Each blogger is regarded as an expert in their field and their free content demonstrates that they have plenty of useful advice to give.

These courses may only appeal to a small percentage of the host blog’s readership, so they are usually priced at the high-end to compensate. For this reason, courses must focus on sharing skills and methods that the reader values very highly.

Most commonly these are skills and methods that will–hopefully–yield more money for the reader than they spend on the course itself. If the course doesn’t have the potential to earn the reader money then it must impart a skill that has a very high non-monetary value. A Chess course might be worth $99 a month to someone who is passionate about Chess. A course in Mandarin might be worth $150 a month to someone who is relocating to China in three months and is determined to be able to hold conversations with locals as soon as they arrive.

The determining factor in success with this model is an understanding of what your readers value deeply, and providing them with that, either by providing them with great value or the means to achieve it for themselves.

2. IttyBiz (eBook)

IttyBiz sells Ninja SEO School

Naomi Dunford writes IttyBiz for online marketers and entrepreneurs who are ordinary people with a tight budget. She says her consulting clients were always curious about SEO and how to start using it for their benefit. In response to the demand she wrote the ‘Ninja SEO School‘ eBook. If you click the link you’ll notice that it’s no longer for sale, and I hope the ProBlogger mention hasn’t made Naomi regret the decision ;).

By making the choice to say the eBook would only be available for a limited time, readers who would have post-poned the decision of whether to buy the product until later (and then probably forgot about it) were forced to act quickly.

This is a very clever method to overcome one of the eBook’s weaknesses as a medium: its format makes it seem like the product will always be in unlimited supply, which can often provoke lethargy in potential buyers. Books in bookstores go out of stock, but eBooks technically never do.

If your eBook is expensive then it’s highly likely a potential buyer will think about the purchase for several days and talk themselves out of it. By creating scarcity you can motivate potential buyers to action.

Though there are many blogs funneling into an eBook, I chose IttyBiz as an example because of the clever use of artificial scarcity as a marketing tool. (Though if you emailed Naomi, I bet she’d still sell you a copy!)

3. ProBlogger / FSw / Smashing Magazine (Job board)

ProBlogger.net sells Jobs.ProBlogger.net

Freelance Switch sells Jobs.FreelanceSwitch.com

Smashing Magazine sells Jobs.SmashingMagazine.com

Vocation-based blogs like ProBlogger (bloogging), Freelance Switch (freelancing) and Smashing Magazine (design) are a perfect fit with the job board business model. These job boards that stem from blogs are usually monetized in one of two ways: advertiser pays a flat fee to post their job ad, which is the most common method and used at ProBlogger and Smashing Magazine, or job hunters pay a small subscription fee to have access to jobs, which is the least common model and is used at Freelance Switch.

Building a job board is likely to require development costs of at least several hundred dollars and possibly over a thousand, so it may be best to wait until your traffic levels are healthy before adding something like this to your blog.

4. PSDTUTS / SEOmoz (Premium content)

PSDTUTS.com sells PSDTUTS PLUS

SEOmoz sells SEOmoz PRO

These two blogs both offer members-only content for paid subscribers. At PSDTUTS $9 a month gives the user access to a large library of .PSD artworks and tutorials from well-known Photoshop artists. SEOmoz offers its ‘Pro’ membership at $49 a month, for which you receive SEO tools, guides and extra blog content. Both membership models are supplemented by a larger proportion of free content that serves to bring potential members into the blog and also as an advertisement for the content offered in the membership program.

While members-only blog content can be a lucrative business model you should expect to meet with criticism from readers who are struck by the double-wants of experiencing all your content while also not wanting to pay for it. The internet provides such an abundance of value for free that some people perhaps stop thinking about the creator’s need to be rewarded for their hard work. You should remind them of this and then focus on those customers who see ‘free’ as a privilege, not a right.

5. SpoonGraphics (Freelance services)

Blog.Spoongraphics.co.uk sells Spoongraphics.co.uk

Chris Spooner’s blog is a good example of a supported freelance business model. Freelance services are offered on a portfolio which is attached to his blog. The blog content deals with design and presents daily opportunities for Chris to demonstrate his own expertise as a designer to potential clients who might be reading his blog.

While it might seem counter-intuitive to write for other people in the same field instead of ordinary people who might be looking for a designer, many freelancers find good work covering gaps for other freelancers. For example, a freelancer who only knows how to code might hire another freelancer to create designs for him or her. As the web makes it easier to connect with freelancers across the globe this kind of collaboration is becoming increasingly common.

6. Remarkablogger / Muhammad Saleem (Consulting)

Remarkablogger.com sells Michael Martine

MuhammadSaleem.com sells Muhammad Saleem

Michael Martine writes a blog about blogging and offers consulting services as an off-shoot to the blog, targeted towards businesses who want a strong blogging presence. Muhammad Saleem is a social media power-user who also advertises social media consulting services from his blog. The premise of this business model is to build a profile as an expert in a specific area, give readers a taste of the kind of insights you can provide and then offer consultations to those who want to benefit from your knowledge on a deeper level.

The rates you can charge and the amount of uptake you get will depend on your topic as much as it does on your personal brand. People with entrepreneurial aspirations are more likely to need and be willing to invest in a consultant because they fundamentally expect to earn back more than they spend as a result of the knowledge they’ve gained. A life consultant or sports consultant or any other kind of consultant who might not be focused on helping the client earn money needs to provide immense non-monetary value instead.

7. Pearsonified / GoMedia (Digital products)

Pearsonified sells Thesis

GoMedia sells vector graphics and Photoshop brushes

The ‘Thesis’ theme has been everywhere of late. Probably because its creator’s blog has over 5,000 subscribers and he also seems to have made the right kind of friends. If you’re going to sell a product you’ve built then nothing will help your cause more than having a popular blog to back you up.

The GoMedia design firm does more. It uses a popular design blog (almost 10,000 subscribers) to sell both design services and products: the GoMedia Arsenal vector and Photoshop brush packs. Visitors are drawn into the site via the blog content and can then be funneled into either the branded services or products on offer.

8. LifeDev, Zen Habits and Web Warrior Tools

LifeDev and Zen Habits sell Web Warrior Tools

A blog can also be an excellent way to support your entrepreneurial projects and give them a kick-start. Leo Babauta (Zen Habits) and Glen Stansberry (LifeDev) partnered to create Web Warrior Tools to provide a platform for writers to sell their eBooks and have someone else market them. Both blogs link back to Web Warrior Tools and were able to promote it at launch. Instead of having to claw out an audience from nothing, the Web Warrior Tools website was able to launch with pre-existing hype and an immediate user-base.

9. NETTUTS (Magazine model)

NETTUTS.com

Based on the success of the Gawker Media network of blogs it’s becoming increasingly common to see blogs run like print magazines, with a team of paid writers and an editor, and with an entrepreneur or company behind them, using advertising and other methods to break even and, hopefully, making a profit once staff and running costs are subtracted.

This business model can be one of the most ‘hands-off’ as you don’t need to be involved directly in the running of the blog. That being said, paying writers and an editor can be costly, so most successful magazine-style blogs are quite highly-trafficked in addition to having the starting capital to run at a loss for some time, at least initially. NETTUTS is a web development tutorials site that runs under a magazine model, paying tutorial writers and an editor out of advertising proceeds.

10. Sitepoint (Branded products)

Sitepoint sells books and educational kits

Sitepoint is an exceptionally popular website for web developers and designers. Part of that website is a network of blogs featuring web development news, tips and theory. Former and current Sitepoint bloggers have gone on to publish books under the Sitepoint brand, which are then sold from the Sitepoint website or through other channels (such as Amazon). The books are prominently branded with the website and blog logo.

Your branded products don’t have to be books. Some blogs sell merchandiseprint magazines, audio books and courses, and other products.

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I hope this post will show you some of the creative ways people are making money through their blogs. It can be easy to approach the challenge of making money online from a very narrow angle and blinker yourself to rarer possibilities that may be a better fit with your blog.

Most importantly, don’t be afraid to trail-blaze and invent a business model that is perfect for your blog, even if it doesn’t exist yet!

How to Grow a Young Blog With StumbleUpon

Keeping You Posted by Skellie.Skellie wrote this post. She writes plenty more advanced blogging tips and strategies at Skelliewag.org. You can also get to know Skellie on Twitter.

It’s ironic that arguably the biggest challenges for a blogger come when they are least experienced–when their blog is just a few weeks or months old.

Any blogger will tell you that turning a new, undiscovered blog into a hot piece of web property is not easy. The Darren Rowses, Leo Babautas and Yaro Staraks of the world went through this same difficult teething period, like everyone else.

The accepted idea is that when you first launch your blog, growth will be very slow because you’re only able to toot your own horn to gather new visitors, by commenting and leaving links back to your blog, by asking for links and by guest-posting.

All these actions will help your blog grow, but it might take several months before your blog generates any kind of real traction and things start happening without you to push them along.

But what if there was a way to grow a new blog quickly?

I want to suggest that there is one method for growth of a new blog that can be more effective than any other, yet it’s commonly overlooked. It is very possible to grow a young blog with very little starting traffic mainly on the back of StumbleUpon. Here’s how.

The premise

How would you feel about receiving 1,000 visitors on the first day of your new blog’s launch? How would you feel about receiving 1,000 visitors on any day? This number might seem unattainable to you at the moment, but it isn’t. Not with a little preparation.

The ingredients for this strategy are:

  1. A network of at least twenty active StumbleUpon users.
  2. Stumble-worthy content.

Did you know that you can use the StumbleUpon toolbar to send pages to your StumbleUpon friends with a little message asking for a quick stumble? If your network of SU friends knows you and likes you, and the content is good, they’ll be more than happy to oblige. Each stumble can bring several hundred visitors to your blog. Reviews arguably carry even more weight when determining the amount of traffic that is sent to your content.

If you can get 20 people to stumble a single page you send to them, you could receive not just one thousand visitors, but possibly more than that. If your content is good enough to go viral on its own, you could receive several thousand, or several tens of thousands!

That’s all well and good, but it’s also easier said than done. And like most things that are easier said than done, it’s very much worth doing. You might have found yourself a little troubled at the two ‘ingredients’ outlined above. After all, how do you ‘build a network of at least twenty active StumbleUpon users?’ What can you do to make sure your content is ‘stumble-worthy’ (whatever that means)?


Photo by Toronja Azul.

The how

First, let’s deal with building a network of StumbleUpon friends. Once your blog takes off you’ll find this easy. Readers will ‘friend’ you and, because they like your stuff, will probably help you whenever you ask for it, as long as you’re willing to do the same in return. The problem is that your blog hasn’t taken off yet, so how do you create your network?

Unfortunately, the answer isn’t StumbleUpon. It’s not a great place to meet new people on its own. Instead, try emailing other bloggers who are also in the same situation and working to get their blog off the ground, and ask if they would like to be friends on StumbleUpon. If you want to increase your odds of that blogger actually being on StumbleUpon, look for a link to their profile on their About page. You could even go through the comments at ProBlogger. I expect most ProBlogger users know the value of having a StumbleUpon account by now!

The truth is that if you befriend people in this manner (being, for mutual benefit) you’re going to have stumble their stuff as much as they stumble yours. If you’re getting friends from anywhere you can, you’re not always going to like what they send you, but you should still be willing to stumble it as an investment in your own blog. Social media purists will disagree with me here, and if so, you’re welcome to build a network by other means (spending five to ten hours on StumbleUpon a week will do it).

If you have some choice as to who you add to your network, try to collect people who consistently produce content that you like.

You should expect this networking strategy to be successful because most bloggers feel guilty about sending their stuff to people for stumbles but really wish they could do it. Some do it anyway. I don’t know many bloggers, particularly new bloggers who are also going through a challenging ‘baby blog’ period, who wouldn’t welcome the approach of someone who is more than happy to stumble their stuff.

The logistics of this aren’t immediately obvious but they’re quite simple once you remember them.

Sending pages to others

To send pages, you have to install the StumbleUpon toolbar.

Once you’ve navigated to the page you want to send to another user, click ‘Send to’ on the toolbar and select the target user from the drop-down menu. You can send a message to accompany the page. Generally you should ask for the specific action you want (stumble, or occasionally a review), and most importantly, offer to help out the other person in return.

If you’re always asking for stumbles and never giving them, people will tire of you quickly. That being said, you should be vigilant to make sure the people you send pages to are actually stumbling your stuff. If not, there’s no need to be angry as it’s their choice, but you should work on adding a new, active user to your network in their place.

Creating content that works with StumbleUpon

Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, you need to build your ability to create content that is well-optimized for StumbleUpon. If you are continually getting stumbles on content that is clearly not suitable for social media then the StumbleUpon algorithm is likely to stop sending traffic to your blog all-together. If all your stumbles are coming from mutual friends and not from unaffiliated users then this is a pretty good sign that your content is not actually stumble-worthy.

If it sounds scary, it isn’t. As long as you provide genuine value for others, your content should generate some stumbles without your help. Best of all, there are a few solid principles you can follow to create content that is consistently well-optimized for StumbleUpon traffic.

Here are two posts I’ve written previously at ProBlogger about writing great Stumble-worthy content and converting the resulting StumbleUpon visitors into loyal readers:

While pursuing this strategy, continue to expand your network of SU friends and send content to different people each time. There’s a lot of evidence to suggest StumbleUpon’s algorithm rewards blogs that are stumbled by a wide variety of users, rather than the same people all the time.

Try this strategy and see if you can get more traffic than ever before. Good luck!

What is the Real Value of a Social Media Visitor?

Keeping You Posted by Skellie.Skellie wrote this post. She writes plenty more advanced blogging tips and strategies at Skelliewag.org. You can also get to know Skellie on Twitter.

Bloggers are fiercely divided when it comes to deciding the value of social media traffic.

Some crave it or even become addicted to it, writing every post with an aim to hit the front-page of Digg and spending hours trying to promote their own content. Others feel it has little value and largely ignore it, citing poor rates of conversion into ads clicked and subscribers gained. Others loathe social media traffic for the atmosphere it brings (real or imagined) and will do anything to avoid being discovered by social media–usually the result of being hit by a slew of negative comments on a post that rubbed digg users the wrong way.

Regardless of which camp you find yourself in, I want to take an objective look at the real value of a social media visitor for bloggers trying to make money online. If I can be allowed to skip to the end before I’ve even started, my argument is that social media visitors are neither a godsend or a curse. Instead, they’re great for some things, and not so great for others.

1. Not for clicking on ads

It has been well-documented that visitors from social media platforms like Digg and StumbleUpon click on ads much less often compared to search visitors. Various theories have been put forward as to why this is, but I think it’s simply because social media visitors are ‘focused’ browsing. They are in the middle of doing something (using social media, usually at a fast pace), and are therefore less likely to wander off in a new direction by clicking an ad. Another reason is that social media users spend more time online than the average web user and are more likely to have developed a sort of ‘blindness’ to ads.

If all your ads are CPC (cost per click) then social media traffic is not going to add much direct monetary value to your blog–though they may go on to do so indirectly. Instead, focus on search traffic and links for direct income. By contrast, if you use a mixture of CPC and CPM (cost per thousand impression) ads, or only CPM ads, social media traffic will have more value for you. This is because it’s…

2. Really good for page views

A stint on the Digg front-page or becoming hot on StumbleUpon can send more visitors than many blogs receive in a month. Whatever these visitors are doing when they arrive at your blog, they still register on your stat counter and provide ‘impressions’ (page views) to present to potential advertisers. This may also cause your Alexa rank to increase.

Page views are the determining factor in how much a CPM advertisement is worth on your blog. More page views equals higher prices, and social media traffic can drastically increase your page views. For this reason, it’s an important source of traffic for anyone offering CPM advertising.

One potential pitfall to be wary of is that, though advertisers are probably only looking at number of page views and not the source, some will want to know where it all came from. In my experience, though, most advertisers don’t ask this question. If they end up buying an ad spot on your blog they might find the click-throughs to be disproportionate to the amount of impressions they’ve paid for. This is mainly an issue when the blog has a very high proportion of social media traffic compared to other sources. Advertisers who find click-throughs are low will be unlikely to renew with you. If this turns out to be a problem for your blog, try weighting social media traffic differently when calculating your rates. After all, social media visitors are…

3. Not initially invested in your blog

People often complain that social media visitors are disrespectful or plain rude, particularly when they come from Digg. However, it’s not hard to see why social media visitors would be tougher than your usual blog visitor. They may not follow many individual blogs. They may have clicked on a submission based on its headline and not quite known what they were getting. They might have clicked through to your blog just because they think your topic is stupid (maybe you write about a sports team that they despise, or a politician they loathe).

Search visitors are generally too busy looking for something to be nasty, and referral visitors are probably already reading other blogs in your niche, and are unlikely to find yours suddenly provokes them to lash out. When they arrive at your blog, they are partially invested in it. Social media visitors are not. At least, they don’t start out that way.


Photo by Johan Larsson.

A number of people are particularly bothered by the comments that digg users leave on their blogs. These are less troubling when you know why they occur. At digg, the comment culture there operates on a system of ‘diggs’ and ‘buries’. Comments that the community likes tend to get ‘dugg’ and comments the community doesn’t like tend to get ‘buried’. There isn’t any reward or penalty for either, but that doesn’t stop people fighting for imaginary brownie points. The quickest route to a ‘dugg’ comment is to post something insightful, add something to the content, make a joke about something mentioned in the story or to criticize or insult the content or its author–often trying to be funny at the same time, but sometimes not. Digg users have a lot of stories to read and, err, a lot of ground to make up on Mr. BabyMan, so they’ll usually go the quickest and easiest option: a witty remark, or a criticism, or an insult, or some combination of the three.

When the digg users get to your content itself they often approach commenting with the same attitude as they did when they were at digg, because digg is often where they’ve ‘learned’ how to approach commenting. Sometimes the results can be genuinely funny and clever, but other-times they can be a bit depressing! Usually this depends on the particular combination of digg users with your content’s topic. Sometimes digg comments will add a breath of fresh air to your blog and other-times you’ll wish you could delete them (and hey, you can). After all, they’re never going to come back, right?

Not necessarily…

4. Can yield new subscribers depending on the topic

A common question about social media traffic is why it often doesn’t translate into a subscriber boost. Some people claim it never does. Not for them, perhaps, but I’ve heard many stories of people gaining–and keeping–subscribers when their content goes popular on social media (and this is something I’ve personally experienced on my own blog).

For those who’ve never experienced a subscriber boost from social media traffic, you’re probably thinking: “OK then, what am I, apparently, doing wrong?”

The answer is: nothing. Social media users are generally interested in some topics in a deep way and not others. Just because they liked your post on personal bio-domes doesn’t mean they want to read about environmentally friendly inventions every day (thought it doesn’t mean they won’t either). This probably appeals to the visitor’s ‘surface interest’. They might read about the topic once in a while but not have any real passion for it. They might also find that, though they loved the post they just voted for, the rest of your blog is on a slightly different topic that they’re not interested in. After all, a lot of people bring new topics into their blog because they have more appeal to social media, but perhaps the social media visitor is interested in that topic and not any of the others you write about?


Photo by ojbyrne

From my own use of Digg, for example, I often Digg stories related to the environment and environmental innovation but I don’t subscribe to any blogs on this topic. I’m interested in it but don’t consider subscribing because I don’t have time to read blogs that don’t directly benefit the work that I do online. I do the same for content on video gaming, computers, technological innovation and so on. It’s not that I have a predisposition not to subscribe, but rather that I’m exposed to a lot of content I wouldn’t seek out otherwise, and that I am happy to enjoy in small doses.

It’s also worth remembering that many social media visitors interact with web content primarily through social media, rather than through RSS feeds or by bookmarking a handful of their favorite blogs. Their favorite social media platform delivers so much content they enjoy and is so time-consuming to be involved in that many–but certainly not all– don’t have the desire or time to follow blogs that may or may not produce good content in future. Is this to suggest all social media visitors fit this mould? Not at all, but it might help explain why they are less likely than referral and direct traffic to stick around for the long-haul.

If you do want to turn social media traffic into subscribers, make sure your social media optimized content sticks very close to the topics you write about on a daily basis. Aside from that, you might just have to hope that people interested in the topic of your blog are also likely to be reading blogs on a regular basis.

5. Likely to have a well-developed network

Social media is often just that: social. An active social media user might be in regular contact with dozens of other users and regularly share content with them. If your content hits a nerve (in a good or bad way) it is likely to be shared through that network by word-of-mouth as well as on the service itself. If the recommendation is positive then this can be a good way to get engaged readers visiting your blog. The recommendation of a friend gives them a reason to be much more invested than the average social media user.

6. Can trigger a domino effect on other social media platforms

If you look at the profile of an active social media user, you’re likely to find that they are not putting all their eggs in one basket. Many digg users have active StumbleUpon accounts, and so on. A stumble may also lead to a digg and delicious bookmark. A reddit may lead to a mixx. This can lead to a ‘domino effect’ where your content goes popular on more than one service. That’s not a bad situation to be in–unless your blog goes down, of course!

7. Can help promote other content in future

A social media visitor who votes for your content and then decides to visit your blog in future can be a valuable asset to you. They might submit future content to social media, or refer other social media using friends to your blog. The best way to have social media success is to have loyal readers who are active on social media.

It’s important not to fall into the trap of thinking of social media visitors as ‘this other thing’, separate from your audience–a teeming mass doing their own thing somewhere else and occasionally paying a visit. At least some proportion of your own most loyal readers are likely to be using social media.

8. Are good for search rankings

Digg, delicious and Reddit in particular are good for this. When a story becomes popular many social media users link to it, in addition to Digg itself, which is a very high PR site. Many people even autopublish delicious bookmarks to their blogs. Going popular on any of these services can connect dozens of high-quality links into your blogs (and, as always, a whole bunch of scrapers).

As much as I love StumbleUpon, it is weakest here. So much of the interaction with it occurs through the toolbar rather than through a webpage. There is no iconic page of ‘Top stories’ on StumbleUpon (I’m pretty sure there is a page for popular stories, but it receives little attention compared to the ‘front pages’ of Digg, delicious and Reddit). There is no general RSS feed to subscribe to. What all of this means is that going popular on StumbleUpon rarely brings a whole bunch of incoming links with it, causing it to have less SEO benefit than success on the others.

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With the above eight points I hope I’ve led you to think about the value of social media visitors to your own blog. They can certainly provide plenty of value, but tapping into that value will require that you begin to get a sense of the faces behind social media traffic, and to understand the ‘culture’ of social media, which leads to certain behaviours being prevalent in its users and others not so. The more realistic your expectations are, the better you will become at harnessing social media traffic.

While reading posts like this does help, you can never truly ‘get’ social media and its culture until you immerse yourself in it. You certainly don’t need to be a power-user (and for most this is unlikely to be an efficient use of your time), but spending a couple of hours a week participating in a social media service you enjoy will provide invaluable knowledge about your audience. I’d suggest going with at least one of the big three that most people are using: StumbleUpon, Digg or Reddit. In fact, I want to suggest that using a social media service for even an hour will teach you more about writing social media optimized content than any blog post you could read.

You should always strive to know your audience better.

The Top 5 Recommendations for Vista Rewired

It’s time to summarize over 40 reviews of Vista Rewired as part of our ProBlogger community consultation.

Before we begin, congratulations must first go to our three winners!

  • First-place reviewer Troy has won our 1,700 visitor prize, plus a one-month featured link at Vista Rewired.
  • Second-place reviewer Jacob Share has won the runner-up 500 visitor prize, plus a one-month featured link at Vista Rewired.
  • Third-place reviewer TzuVelli has won a one-month featured link at Vista Rewired.

Here were the top 5 recommendations made by the ProBlogger readers who critiqued Vista Rewired:

1. Monetizing without overwhelming

Because the blog is well-targeted to a niche, ProBlogger reviewers were able to come up with some stellar monetization ideas, including:

  • Blending AdSense units to make them the same color as links, which will decrease ad-blindness and increase click-throughs.
  • Sell private sponsorships through an ‘advertise here’ page.
  • Review Vista-related software and sell these products through in-post affiliate links.
  • Sell Windows Vista! At least some of your search traffic will be from prospective buyers looking for more info on the OS.
  • Add an eBay or Amazon affiliate store selling related products.

Readers were divided on whether to place AdSense units on the left or the right of the content — the argument for the left being that people start reading from the left, the argument for the right being that people will ‘read into’ the right.

Lastly, one easy way to get away with more advertising without making the site looks spammy is to remove Kontera from within content. It might convert OK, but does it really convert well enough to be worth making your blog look spammy?

2. Which design?

Many of the design critiques from the ProBlogger community won’t be relevant in this summary because the blog was redesigned during the course of the review. The eagerness to make changes is understandable, but it does present the problem that reviews directed at the previous version of the blog no longer make sense.

One reservation I have about the new design is that there is no way to access a traditional blog-style layout, and without images and excerpts of posts on the main page, it’s a lot more difficult for visitors to become gripped by a particular article. It also means headlines are very small, and lose much of their impact.

3. Taking content to the next level

One very good suggestion from a reader was to differentiate content on the basis of difficulty in application. At first glance, a particular visitor might assume that all the tips are beginner level, or if they’re very new to Vista, that the tips are too tricky for them. Marking each tip or tutorial as beginner, intermediate or advanced will help to communicate that the blog caters to all levels of Vista users.

Another practical tip was to include more images earlier on in the post to attract the attention of social media visitors. It was also suggested that Albert (the blog’s owner) mix-up the how-to articles with list style posts and collections of resources and relevant links. If Albert can provide a unique tip for the Vista community, he may be able to get a link from Lifehacker. Unique or unconventional tips and tutorials would be the smartest way to attract the attention of services like Digg.

4. Boosting traffic and subscribers

My favorite tip in this area was the suggestion to guest-post on MakeUseOf.com. The content is largely driven by guest-authors and OS related resource lists and tutorials are popular. Exposure to 13,000+ subscribers wouldn’t hurt, either! In my experience, guest-posting yields some of the most highly targeted traffic you’ll find, and it’s ideal for boosting your subscriber count. Other than guest-posting, writing for Digg or StumbleUpon at least once a week is the best way to grow both your traffic and your subscriber count.

Another simple, practical tip is to add an email subscription option alongside the RSS subscription option.

5. Search Engine Optimization

ProBlogger readers provided two key tips for SEO at Vista Rewired:

  • Use the All-in-One SEO Pack to generate unique meta descriptions for each post, rather than one generic meta description for the entire blog.
  • Work ‘Vista’ or ‘Windows Vista’ into blog post titles as much as possible (where appropriate) to increase your search rankings for Vista-related keyword strings.

Concluding thoughts

Overall, ProBlogger readers were impressed with Vista Rewired’s design and content, but felt the blog was not making the most of all the monetization and growth opportunities available to it. One thing we also learned: it’s a lot easier to think of ways to monetize a niche blog than it is to monetize a blog dealing with several broad topics!

Want to Win 1,700 Visitors? Review Vista Rewired

This week’s community consultation of Vista Rewired gives you the chance to win something very good for your blog: 1,700 visitors! Leave a helpful review with some non-intuitive tips in your comment and you could win a stampede of 1,700 StumbleUpon users to your favorite post. If your content is good, those 1,700 visitors could grow into a much bigger traffic snowball as votes for your content pile up.

What we’re looking for: a thorough review of the blog answering all the questions below and containing some non-intuitive advice. That’s all you’ve got to do to be in the running. There will be only one winner.

UPDATE: Albert has offered a few prizes to sweeten the pot!

1. The Top 3 Reviews will win a sponsored link in the blog’s sidebar for one month. The blog is PR 5!
2. The runner-up review will win  500 visitors to their blog!

The blog’s owner, Albert, describes the blog like this:

Vista Rewired was designed to help Vista users get the full experience out of their operating system. There are numerous tutorials and tips to help them solve computer problems or make their life easier with Windows Vista. My ultimate goal is for the site to become the de facto site for Vista information.

The blog’s owner has asked for feedback on the following areas (you can answer one, some, or all questions):

  • How can I max monetization on my blog without filling it up with too many ads?
  • If you can, please tell me one thing my site is missing. (I don’t know if this question can be worded better.)
  • My returning visitors are less than 10%. Is this normal for a site such as mine? If no, how can I increase the rate of returning vistors other than writing more often?

And the standard five points:

  • Design — usability, visual appeal, readability, navigation.
  • Content — got an idea for a great viral post the blogger could write?
  • Promotion — how would you suggest the blogger promote the blog?
  • SEO — can you see areas for improvement?
  • Monetization — could this be done more effectively? Do you see any missed opportunities?

We look forward to your helpful and respectful advice. Good luck!

The Top 5 Recommendations for Furniture Fashion

It’s that time of the week where I try to shrink down dozens of in-depth reviews into five actionable points resulting from our community consultation. This week we held Furniture Fashion under the magnifying glass. You can head back to its launch post if you want to read the reviews in detail.

Before we start, congratulations must go to Bruce for winning our 1,700 StumbleUpon visitor prize for the best review. He asked an incredibly important question: what’s your focus? Are you a catalog, or an interior design blog? The answer will inform a lot of the steps John Cavers and his blogging partner take from here.

Here were the top 5 recommendations made by the ProBlogger readers who critiqued Furniture Fashion:

1. The interplay between niche and design

A number of viewers felt the design seemed messy and visually unimpressive. There is little padding between elements (making things seem squashed together), and the color scheme of green, white, red, blue and black doesn’t seem to mesh well. The blog’s niche makes this more of an issue. Interior design is an aesthetics oriented industry and I suspect most readers would question a design blog that doesn’t express a sense of the aesthetic in its own design.

Because of the blog’s magazine-style content, I’d suggest switching to an elegant magazine theme like Futurosity EOS. Having said that, if the existing design is working well in terms of monetization, a few simple tweaks would make it a lot better.

1. More padding between the content, sidebar and header, and more space between items. The lack of padding makes it difficult for the eye to isolate specific elements.
2. A simplified color scheme, without the bright blue (orange might work as a replacement).

2. New ways to make money

Some reviewers wisely suggested entering into furniture affiliate programs to sell items directly from your posts. Another option would be eBay or Amazon affiliate programs to sell homewares and smaller, more shippable decorative items.

Another common theme was the color and position of the AdSense ads in the sidebar. Most notably, that the ads were bright blue — a color not found anywhere else in the blog. My suggestion would be to pick a unique color that matches the theme (a reddy orange, perhaps).

3. Boosting your content

Even if the blog contains mainly catalog style content, it’s still possible to mix this up with posts that could do well on social media. For this niche, I’d suggest:

  • Top 10 lists of weird or cutting edge furniture.
  • Photographic profiles of famous interior designers and their work.
  • Collections of themed tips on interior design.

4. Boosting traffic and subscribers

Catalog-style content can be fantastic for generating well-targeted AdSense, but it usually receives a lukewarm response in terms of long-term loyalty and repeat readership. This type of content is unlikely to gather traffic through social media and links. I’d suggest focusing on SEO and keywords within posts and headlines. Without the hope of social media traffic on catalog-style content, there’s little motivation to write headlines with flair — just go for well optimized ones. Working the full formal product name into headlines is a great way to attract cut and paste searchers doing research and price comparisons.

As for increasing subscribers, I would suggest either not worrying about them (they don’t really aid on-site monetization), or creating more value-packed content. Catalog content attracts curious browsers researching items they’re interested in buying, but it’s not great for attracting long-term, loyal readers. If the aim of the blog is to serve as an online business, though, this might not be so important. The importance of subscribers will depend on your goals.

5. Building a community

Catalog style content works well for making money through PPC ads, but it’s lackluster when it comes to creating a community and comment culture on a blog. To change the culture among your readers, you need to change your content.

  • Give advice.
  • Provide opinions and analysis — something readers can add their thoughts to.
  • Post three items of furniture and ask readers to vote which one they like best.
  • Create discussion posts: i.e. “What was the last piece of furniture you bought?”
  • Take questions from readers and answer them in-post.
  • Write reviews with pros and cons. This will encourage readers to chime in with their thoughts.

Concluding thoughts

Overall, ProBlogger readers felt Furniture Fashion was monetizing well but remained unconvinced about the blog’s design and focus. We wish John a lot of luck in implementing the changes!