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MLB Trade Rumors: Community Consulting Summary

After receiving more than twenty reviews and view-points on Tim’s blog, MLBTradeRumors.com, it’s time to summarize the lessons learned from this week’s exercise.

If you missed the blog’s introduction, you can read it here and view the review comments directly. If you’re new to community consulting, here’s how you can get involved (and give yourself a decent shot at winning an iPod shuffle).

Thanks to everyone who participated. Here’s what the ProBlogger community thought about MLBTradeRumors.com:

It’s not so black and white

The most contentious element of the blog was the choice of gray text on a black background. While some commenters didn’t mind it, a larger group strongly disagreed with the choice. To further complicate things, a poll held on the blog indicated that around 70% of people who voted didn’t mind the theme. I’m not sure the poll is an accurate reflection of reality because if someone is bothered enough by a lack of readability they’re unlikely to become a loyal reader and vote in a poll ;-).

Those who like gray on black vs. those who don’t will always be an impossible number to tabulate, because you can’t quantify how many readers you lose because of readability issues.

My personal thoughts are: some people may choose not to visit your blog because they find it too hard to read, but existing readers are unlikely to jump ship just because you change to dark text on a light background. Dark on light is now a web standard and even those who preferred the darker scheme will not abandon your blog because of the change. However, there are some people with an instinctive negative reaction to white on black who will never read a blog with that kind of combination.

Attracting advertisers

Any blog hoping to be approached by advertisers needs an ‘Advertise Here’ page, or equivalent. Many readers pointed this out and I couldn’t agree more. Some boxes your advertising page should tick:

  • Explains the benefits of advertising.
  • Includes stats that make your blog look good.
  • Explains what kind of advertising you’re selling.
  • Explains what is needed to advertise.
  • Explains how advertisers should contact you.

Tim also wanted to know how MLBTradeRumors.com could be made to seem more professional. A theme with dark text on a light background is often perceived as more professional, so making the change suggested above could also have a benefit in this area.

Getting more subscribers

Baseball is obviously not a very high-tech interest and I would expect most subscribers to sign up for email updates rather than track the blog through a feed reader. I agree with commenters who suggested moving subscribe links high up in the sidebar. It’d also be a good idea to add a small form where visitors can type their email address to get updates. I’d also suggest adding a short message at the bottom of each post asking readers if they’d like to subscribe.

The timeliness of news

Several readers astutely pointed out that posts are not dated on the main page. Dates are absolutely necessary for this kind of blog because rumors and news depend on timeliness. Being able to show new visitors that you updated just yesterday or today shows them that your blog is fresh and current (and so are your posts).

Selling yourself

The blog’s tag-line (“Today’s hottest baseball trade rumors. If it’s whispered, we hear it.”) does two essential things: it describes what the blog is while making it sound good. My only critique is something that one commenter mentioned: it could be a little more visible. I also like that there is ‘About’ information on the blog as well as its author.

Injecting simplicity into the sidebar

Pruning under-performing ads and moving links to seperate static pages are all things you can do to add greater emphasis to the most important aspects of your sidebar. I should point out that as I write this the ads in the sidebar are throwing up an error and preventing the rest of the page from loading. This error wasn’t occurring at the time of the launch post so I presume it’s the result of some tinkering with the sidebar that might need to be reversed.

A general tip, once the problem is resolved, is something that a few commenters mentioned. Your ads will always be more effective if they are on topic. Try AdSense (which has some decent baseball ads), affiliate programs on baseball products or approach baseball related businesses, magazines and manufacturers to advertise on your site.

Extra eye candy

Baseball is a sport people watch, meaning it’s also been the subject of about a million photos. There’s plenty of potential to add color and visual interest to the site by including colorful photography of players and teams. Just make sure to establish that you have permission to use the images, first.

Let’s get Diggable

Social media has the potential to treat sport content well. I’d suggest Tim experiment with baseball-related top 10 lists, guides and resource lists to start attracting social media traffic. While the content is well-suited to its target audience I didn’t see many efforts to reach out to new audiences with the content provided.

The iPod Shuffle winner

This week’s prize-winner is Andrej (who blogs about web-design) for his comprehensive and observant review of the blog. Enjoy your iPod!

You can send an application to Darren if you’d like your blog featured and reviewed at ProBlogger for $250. Click to get more information on our community blog consulting services.

How to Write Better Posts, Every Time

Keeping You Posted by Skellie.Skellie is a regular writer for ProBlogger. Read more posts like this one at her blog, Skelliewag.org, or subscribe to her RSS feed.

Whether you blog about internet marketing, parenthood, karate or ballpoint pens, there are certain things you can do to make each post better. This week, I want to share several strategies you can use to make your posts more gripping — regardless of their length or topic.

A simple rule for every post

Omit any sentences or paragraphs in your post that don’t fall under the following two categories:

1. Words that persuade visitors to read the article.

2. Words that visitors will want to read.

Your posts should, ideally, flow from one category to the other. The aim of your introduction is to hook visitors in: to give them a reason to read on. The rest of your post should be dedicated to delivering on your earlier promises.

A common mistake I see bloggers make is to forget persuasion: to start with a long anecdote or rambling detail without a hook. If visitors can’t see what they stand to gain from reading your content, they’ll skip it. While their visit will add +1 to your site stats, it won’t grow your blog.

A useful habit — When settling down to write the first paragraph of your post, don’t launch into the content straight away. Instead, dedicate the first paragraph to words that will persuade the visitor to read. While you could achieve this with an intriguing anecdote, a controversial statement, or a knock-out opening sentence, the “tell them what you’re going to tell them” approach has worked well for me. It won’t win the Pulitzer Prize, but being able to say “this article will do this, this and this” is easy and effective. Sometimes the most simple and obvious option is the best one.

Deliver on your promises

Your introduction will have raised certain expectations about what your post is going to deliver. Resist the temptation to provide extensive background detail or otherwise include too much preamble to the real value in your post. Once your introduction is finished, get started with a bang.

A useful habit — Start with your best point first. A reader who was gripped by your introduction may soon lose interest if your content doesn’t make an immediate impact.

Remember to link out

Once you’ve finished your post, go over it and try to spot opportunities to link out to other websites and blogs. It will add more depth and value to what you write. Even top bloggers will follow up a trackback with an interesting title, so linking out can be beneficial from a ‘getting noticed’ perspective, too.

Help longer posts get read

If your post is longish, sign-post your logic with sub-headings. Ideally, a visitor who reads your sub-headings alone should be able to come away with a rough sketch of the ideas in your article.

Readers are excellent at extracting ideas in a minimum amount of time. Even if a reader isn’t interested in your first idea, they might see a sub-heading further into your article that sign-posts an idea or topic they have a lot of interest in. Sub-headings don’t encourage scanning — they encourage reading. If you saw a sub-heading you had intense interest in, it would be silly to pass it by and move on to the next thing. Sub-headings represent extra doorways into your post.

A dog balancing a cup on his head.
Photo by SuperFantastic

Add visual interest

By adding images, color and formatting to your post, you’re making them more enjoyable to read. A text-only post might excite our mind but if it bores our eyes too much, it will never be as effective as it could have been. Emphasizing key sentences in bold is a simple yet powerful way to make your posts more gripping.

A useful habit — Make a pact with yourself to add at least one image to each post you write, even if the post is short (and even if the image is very small). By adding align=”left” or align=”right” to the HTML tags for your image, you can push your image to the left or right of surrounding text. You can use stock photography, take your own photos or, my favorite option, find and use great Flickr images.

Put the ‘I’ in Write

Unless you’re a personal blogger, it’s hard to be unique. Most of us blog in crowded niches and most topics have been covered before (in some form or another). The only unique part of the equation is you. By blogging conversationally, sharing aspects of your personality and presenting ideas in your own way, you’ll differentiate your content with every post.

A useful habit — If you’re writing about news in your niche, ask yourself the following questions: does this affect me or someone I know? What do I think the implications of the news will be?

If you’re sharing advice or tips, ask yourself the following questions: how has this advice helped me, personally? What made me decide to start using these tips or methods? What kind of mistakes was I making beforehand?

When writing any type of post, ask yourself: could I work my own experiences into this, in a relevant way?

Points to review

  • Start your posts with words that help persuade visitors to read them.
  • Once you’ve done that, start delivering on the value you’ve promised.
  • Go over finished posts and add relevant links.
  • Add sub-headings to provide multiple entry points into your posts.
  • Add at least one image or graphic to every post you write.
  • Inject your personality and experiences into your posts to help differentiate your content.

Blogger or Mind-Reader? Six Ways to Give Your Audience Exactly What It Wants

Keeping You Posted by Skellie.Skellie is a regular writer for ProBlogger. Get more unique blogging tips at her blog, Skelliewag, or subscribe to her feed.

ProBlogger readers are absolutely spoilt when it comes to great articles about coming up with post ideas. But what about thinking up the post topics your audience has been craving?

In this post I’ll be outlining six strategies you can use to determine exactly what kind of posts your audience wants to see on your blog.

1. Listen to comments

One thing you might have noticed is that commenters will sometimes ask you to expand on a section of your post. Either they wanted more information on a specific point, a more thorough exploration of one of your ideas or a clear explanation of something that’s confused them. Instead of answering in comment form, you can turn your answer in a post (and use the answer to drive more traffic back to your original article.)

2. Listen to emails

Part of being a blogger is receiving and answering reader questions by email. These questions can be a great source of ideas for posts your audience is craving.

After receiving the tenth or so email on how I find and use great Flickr images in posts on my own blog, I decided to write a complete guide to the process after sensing it was something a lot of readers were interested in. The resulting post went on to become one of the most popular articles I’ve ever written!

Listening to reader emails can result in some fantastic post ideas.

3. Ask them

A fairly obvious option, but one I don’t see many bloggers explore. Ask your readers to submit ideas for posts they’d like to see on your blog. Do this every couple of months and you’ll have a list of ideas you can turn to when your well of inspiration runs dry. If you notice several ideas on the same topic or area you can bet that it’s something quite a few of your readers would like to see more of.

4. Turn wants and needs into post-topics

Grab a notebook, open to a new page and put a pen in one hand. Write down all the possible niche-related wants and needs of your target audience.

If your target audience is interested in debt elimination, for example, their wants and needs cloud might look like this:

  • To develop a workable budget and stick to it.
  • To spend less without sacrificing quality of life.
  • To find cheaper versions of the things they need.
  • To find new ways to make a bit of extra money.
  • To avoid getting into future debt.
  • To become debt-free as soon as possible.
  • To eliminate unnecessary expenses.

If we give each want/need its own space on the page, we can start to branch out post ideas from each one. Because each of these post ideas is based on something our target audience wants, we can almost guarantee that it will be useful to them.

Two people in silhouette.
Photo by nattu

5. What do you want?

You’d be hard pressed to find a baseball blogger who’s not into baseball, a copywriting blogger who’s not into copywriting, a travel blogger who doesn’t like travel, and so on. You are part of your target audience. The things you’d like to see someone else in your niche write may just be what your target audience is also searching for.

Expanding on this premise, you can use your own niche experiences, problems and triumphs as fodder for blog posts. If you struggle with something related to your niche on a daily basis, maybe your readers are struggling with it too? If you’re worked out a solution to a problem related to your niche — something you were experiencing — maybe your readers would find the solution truly useful themselves?

If there’s a skill you’ve always wanted to learn, a problem you’ve always wanted to solve or a resource list you’ve always hoped to see, stop waiting for someone else to use your good idea, execute it yourself and turn the result into a truly useful blog post.

6. Reverse engineer what worked

Look at your blog’s top ten most popular post. They’re examples of posts that your target audience truly wanted to read. You can build on their success by adapting the same format to new content.

Let’s say one of your most popular posts was a list of ways to make money with eBay. You could capitalize on the success of the first article by creating an updated version (25 More Ways to Make Money With eBay), or invert the format by taking the opposite tack (25 Ways to Guarantee You’ll Lose Money With eBay) and outlining don’ts rather than dos.

Another effective strategy is to apply the same post format and headline formula to a new subject. Your list of 10 Insane Firefox Extensions for Web Designers could be followed by a list of 10 Insane Firefox Extensions for Entrepreneurs, or Journalists, or anything/anyone you can imagine (as long as it’s of interest to your target audience).

The crux of this strategy lies in combining what has worked well previously with something fresh, new and interesting.

Points to review:

  • Find ideas in comments.
  • Find ideas in emails.
  • Ask your readers what they want.
  • Use your audience’s wants and needs as a springboard for post topics.
  • Find inspiration in your own wants and needs.
  • Transfer the best qualities of your most popular posts into something new.

MLB Trade Rumors — a Community Consulting Project

This week we’ll be looking at MLBTradeRumors.com, a blog about Major League Baseball trading (one I’m sure the baseball fans here will enjoy reviewing!)If you’re new to the project it’d be a good idea to read the launch post.

This week there’ll be another good chance to score an iPod Shuffle and a link to your blog under the winner’s name in the summary post.

Thorough and original feedback left in the comments here will help you get our notice when it comes to awarding the prize.

The blog’s owner, Tim, describes his blog as follows:

MLBTradeRumors.com is a clearinghouse for baseball trade and free agent rumors. All legitimate rumors (typically from major U.S. newspapers) are gathered and published on the site in a timely fashion to create a one-stop shop for rumors, trades, and signings. Additional analysis plus a commenting community is provided.

MLB Trade Rumors.

Tim is especially interested in feedback and advice in the following areas:

  • How can I make the site more professional and attractive to advertisers?
  • Suggestions for de-cluttering or redistributing the links on the sidebar, and improving navigation in general?
  • The white text on black background is a point of contention with some readers, though 70% said not to change it in a survey. I feel that it has become part of the MLBTR “brand” but I do receive regular complaints about it being hard to read. Should I change this?
  • Suggestions to increase RSS feed readership with an audience that is not always well-versed in RSS feeds?
  • Anything else about the site is welcome!

We’d love for comments to be as constructive, helpful and practical as possible. I’ve got no doubt that Mark is eager to hear what you have to say!

You can send an application to Darren if you’d like your blog featured and reviewed at ProBlogger for $250. Click to get more information on our community blog consulting services.

Socialized Software: Community Consulting Summary

It’s time to finalize our review of Socialized Software and summarize the main recommendations given into an actionable plan for Mark’s blog.

If you’re new to the project, you’ll definitely want to read the Community Consulting launch post and take a look at the post where Socialized Software was held under the spotlight.

Here are the blog’s key areas of improvement as determined by the ProBlogger community:

Doubling up of tags and categories. Displaying both tags and categories on the main page is bound to be confusing for visitors and creates unnecessary clutter. The tag cloud, in particular, should be removed. Interacting with a jumble of text is difficult and there’s already a usable categories list on the page.

Broken in Internet Explorer. I’ve had the same problem with my own blog and can definitely emphasize — a 3 column layout in which column three slips under column two in internet explorer. While it’s tempting to say that “People shouldn’t still be using IE, anyway”, people do use it (and depending on your niche, it could be 50% or more of your visitors). It’s important to work out the source of the problem and resolve it.

Ambiguous elements. There are a few ambiguous elements on the site, like the ‘Marketing feed’ (what is this?) and the ‘Share This!’ plug-in. I don’t think the ‘Share This!’ plug-in has good usability, because it doesn’t describe what it does. Share this by… email? On Digg? By carrier pigeon? Post it to a forum? Until you click on it, its function is a mystery — and that’s not good usability.

To my mind, the best option is to use specific links for specific services, so users know exactly what they’re going to get (making them more inclined to interact with the element). I will point out, though, that Darren uses the ‘Share This!’ plug-in — you can see it on this very post — and I’m sure he has a reason to do so, meaning there is clearly an opposing viewpoint on this. Just something to think about, anyway.

Readability issues. A number of commenters found the body text on Socialized Software too faint and too small. Increasing the font size and making the gray a little darker should help alleviate the problem.

Selling the book. Impressively, Mark is the author of a book that’s likely to be loved by much of his target audience. I’d suggest moving the book section of the sidebar into the ‘above the fold’ area of the screen to maximize attention and sales.

What do you have to offer? It’s great to see that the blog has an About page, but it needs quite a bit of work. The blurb on the main page contains biographical information, but this isn’t what new visitors are interested in. They want to know: what does this blog have to offer me?

Your About page is where you sell the blog to prospective readers. Someone who’s been on your site less than thirty seconds probably isn’t interested in the history of you as a blogger, but they do want to hear that your blog will provide useful tips, news and commentary on Linux, Open Source, Free Culture and social media.

A simple question to ask yourself is: would I care about this if I were a first time visitor at someone else’s site?

Adding value. While the content demonstrates a deep knowledge of the topics covered, I get a sense that the blog would have more social media success and inbound links if it made use of some value-packed feature articles. Resource lists, complete guides, advice columns, tips and tricks… anything that the blog’s target audience would find insanely useful.

A handy guiding strategy when creating content is to ask: how can I be as useful as possible?

More simplicity. A number of readers felt the design was busy and contained too much text. I think this is most likely the result of packed sidebars and lines interrupting whitespace. I don’t think there needs to be a black box around posts (because this means that the writing runs almost right into the line, without leaving any space for the eyes to rest).

Recent posts, Twitter updates, tags, online identity links and the Dopplr widget could all be moved to their own page or done away with, as they don’t really add any value for the first-time visitor. It might also allow Mark to simplify down to one sidebar.

I wish Mark the best of luck in implementing the changes he likes. I’m confident that will result in a pretty outstanding blog. Thanks for taking part!

The prize!

This week’s iPod shuffle winner is Patrick Burt for providing holistic feedback on everything from colors to monetization. If you’d like to win an iPod shuffle, make sure to leave a comment on the next review launch (coming soon).

How to Create Social Media’s Favorite Type of Blog Post

Keeping You Posted by Skellie.In my time as a blogger I’ve been lucky enough to have two posts I’ve written hit the front page of Digg. The first one was a resource list of 110+ resources for creative minds. The most amazing thing about the experience was that the post itself required only one ingredient to create: time.

Any one of us can create a fantastic resource list — it’s just a matter of taking the time required to do so. And it’s worth it. While a Digg or del.icio.us-worthy resource list might take several hours to create, it has the potential to grow your blog more quickly and powerfully than a dozen of your ordinary blog posts.

If you’re a regular user of social media, you’ll notice that big lists of resources, tools and articles are consistently popular. In fact, they seem to be social media’s favorite type of blog post.

In this Keeping You Posted column, I want to share the most important lessons I’ve learned on creating a list of resources social media will love.

1. Work out what your readers want

A fantastic list of 50 home-improvement ideas won’t benefit you much if your readership is interested in vegetable gardening. For your post to gain the momentum required to become popular on social media, it needs an initial ground-swell of support. You can create that groundswell by providing your readers with a resource list they can actually see themselves using.

2. Pick great resources

There are two potential stumbling blocks that will cripple the potential of your resource list: 1) low-quality resources and 2) uninteresting resources. It can be easy to make the first mistake, particularly when you don’t have time to thoroughly check every item on the list. The problem becomes even easier to encounter if you’ve committed yourself to a very long list and you’re having trouble filling it out.

Here are some important tips to remember:

  • Don’t sacrifice quality for a big headline. You could probably find a hundred or more resources for your list, but how many of them will waste your reader’s time? Include only as many quality resources as you find.
  • Don’t recommend anything you haven’t read/tried/explored yourself. If the resource turns out to be harmful, misleading or otherwise poor quality, you could get the blame.

Your resource list must also be interesting. If it contains links and resources your readers are already very familiar with, it won’t have any value to them. The best resource lists highlight fresh and interesting information and tools your readers may never have heard of.

Fireworks.
Photo by foxypar4

A great place to find resources is by searching del.icio.us. Results will be returned based on the most popular bookmarks for that keyword. If you’re looking for articles about web design, for example, searching ‘web design’ will return hundreds of popular web design bookmarks. I’ve found dozens of wonderful resources using this method.

3. Perfect your headline

The headline is probably the most important part of your resource list. Headlines for these types of posts tend to be most effective when they include a number. When it comes to numbers, bigger numbers are not always better. Certain formulas (like 100, 101, and so on) can seem gimmicky to web users who see them often. If your target audience is tech-savvy they are likely to be quite jaded by over-used headline formulas.

Another useful tip is to do one of two things with your headline: either make a direct call to your target audience or focus on ends.

Call upon your target audience
If you address your list as ‘for’ a certain type of person it makes the list a lot harder for your target audience to ignore. I could have called my list post ’110+ Creative Resources’ but that simply describes the contents of the list — it doesn’t draw people in. By describing the list as ’110+ Resources for Creative Minds’, it forces the reader to think: “Am I a creative mind? I like to think so… so I guess I should read the post!”

Focus on ends
Readers are not interested in the list itself, but in what it has the potential to do for them. A list of “20 Firefox Extensions” is not as interesting as a list of “20 Firefox Extensions that *Will* Make You More Productive”. That’s not a great example, but I hope you can see what I mean. Use your headline to explain what your list has the potential to do.

Points to review

  • The best resource lists give readers what they want.
  • Make sure your resources and links are interesting and (hopefully) undiscovered.
  • Don’t link to anything you wouldn’t use yourself.
  • Craft the perfect headline for your resource list.

Have you had any social media success with a list of resources?

Read more posts like this one at Skellie’s blog, Skelliewag.org and track her posts here at ProBlogger by subscribing to our RSS Feed.

Socialized Software — a ProBlogger Community Blog Consulting Project

This week we’ll be looking at Socialized Software, a blog by technology executive and entrepreneur Mark Hinkle.

If you’re new to the project, it’s recommended that you read the launch post. This week there’ll be yet another chance to score an iPod Shuffle and a link to your blog under the winner’s name in the summary post.

Past prize winners have stood out from the pack by providing thorough and original feedback. Do that in your comment, and you’re in with a good chance!

The blog’s owner, Mark, describes his blog as follows:

Socialized Software is technology blog that focuses primarily on technology trends, especially open source software development and social media (with the more than occasional personal rant). While not exactly topical the blog touches on those things that are likely to interest those who work in technology, blog, or are interested in other topics related to collaboration on the Internet.

Socialized Software.

Mark is particularly interested in feedback and advice on the following:

  • 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’d love for comments to be as constructive, helpful and practical as possible. I’ve got no doubt that Mark is eager to hear what you have to say!

You can send an application to Darren if you’d like your blog featured and reviewed at ProBlogger for $250. Click to get more information on our community blog consulting services.

Blogging Experiment — Community Consulting Summary

In this summary of Blogging Experiment’s community consultation you’ll find advice on:

  • How to bring important site elements above the fold.
  • How to get more subscribers.
  • How to sell a product through your blog.

If you’re new to the project, you might want to read the Community Consulting launch post and take a look at the post where Blogging Experiment was opened for critique.

Here are my and the community’s recommendations for the blog. Maybe you can take away some advice for your own blog?

Design and usability

A number of readers felt that the theme was too gaudy. I don’t actually think this is a problem with the color scheme (dark blue, white and orange). Instead, I think this is because of the stark color contrasts in the header. I have a suggested solution for this, which is influenced by some other points made by commenters:

  • The header is very busy and subscription elements get lost in the noise.
  • The header is quite long and pushes the content almost out of the ‘above the fold’ area. The length of the header also pushes banner ads into less valuable screen space.

If the big blue bar across the header could be removed, this would enable a few really valuable things to happen:

  • Content would be moved further into the ‘above the fold’ area, making it more attractive and gripping to social media visitors (particularly StumbleUpon visitors, for whom it’s less work to Stumble to another site than it is to scroll down!).
  • Advertisements would be moved almost entirely into the ‘above the fold’ area of the screen. This is more attractive to advertisers and will allow you to charge more for ad spots (because everyone who visits the site will see them).
  • The stark contrasts between the white and blue would be minimized.
  • RSS options could be moved into a zone that receives more visual traffic (i.e., the top of the sidebar).

There are a few ways Ben (the blog’s owner) could do this, but my suggestion would be to move the ‘About’ photo and blurb to where the subscription options are, then remove the rest of the blue bar across the header. I’d replace it with a much thinner colored bar to keep some visual separation between logo and content without the stark contrast.

I’d reintroduce subscription options to the top of the sidebar, using smaller icons. One thing bloggers often forget is that the size of your icons doesn’t correlate with the amount of new subscriptions you receive. Icons that are easy to find are more than enough. Trying too hard can make it seem as if you’re not sure whether your content is good enough to make people want to subscribe.

More whitespace between sidebar elements
At the moment, the different parts of the sidebar are squashed into one-another and can be hard for the eye to pick apart. I’d suggest adding a line break between each element.

Most commented –> Most popular
Readers tend to interpret ‘most commented’ posts as ‘most controversial’ when really what they want is the best. A most popular posts list is really important to have (it’s often stop #1 for new visitors) and I’d suggest adding it to the Blogging Experiment sidebar, under the Topspots widget.

Getting more subscribers

It’s great to see that Ben has allowed potential subscribers a number of ways to subscribe, both from the main page and beneath each post. While these little things help, ultimately, it’s the content that moves people to subscribe.

In my discussions with readers, the key question that determines whether they’ll subscribe or not is: “What does this blog have to offer me?” While the blog centers around Ben’s experiences trying to earn a full-time income online, I think a powerful way to get more subscribers would be to market the blog more explicitly in an outward-looking way. In other words, to focus on what Ben’s experiences can teach readers.

At the moment, a question some new visitors might be asking is: “I see that this blog is about the author’s experiences earning an income online, but how does that help me?”

One way to do this more explicitly would be to write a weekly post outlining what worked and what didn’t in terms of making an income online that week, and what advice Ben would give readers as a result.

I see another opportunity to attract subscribers in providing more content that other average bloggers can relate to: things like blogging-life balance, lighthearted stuff about what Ben bought with his blogging income and so on. If Ben can make readers care about him (and relate to him), they’ll be much more likely to subscribe and follow his journey.

Selling a product through the blog

Myself and a number of commenters saw problems with the way the blog’s theme is being sold through the blog. As part of the 125 x 125 banner ads block, it’s easy not to see the banner advertising the theme due to ad-blindness.

Because the theme has the potential to be a good money-maker, I’d suggest advertising it in the space between the first and second post on the main page. Readers are focusing on that part of the page because that’s where the content is. Just a sentence or image containing the words: “Like what you see? Buy the Blogging Experiment theme,” would probably be quite effective.

Another adventurous way to generate buzz around the blog would be to give the theme away for free to every subscriber in a one week period (probably via your feed footer). I imagine Ben could gather a lot of new readers and links through that method. Another great suggestion from among the comments was to launch an affiliate program for the theme. The one-week promotional drive could recruit quite a few bloggers who are interested in making affiliate sales of the Blogging Experiment theme.

A quick note: as pointed out by several commenters, it’s essential that there’s an easy to find link back to the blog’s main page from the Theme area. At the moment this appears to be missing.

The prize

This week’s iPod Shuffle winner is TzuVelli, who will be launching his blog about professional blogging on the 8th of February. The feedback given was incredibly detailed and original, so I look forward to the blog!

Build Your Blog With Forum Traffic

Keeping You Posted by Skellie.Skellie is a regular writer for ProBlogger. You can subscribe to her feed or visit her blog, Skelliewag.org, for more posts like this one.

One of the most satisfying aspects of blogging is finding uncommon and underrated ways to build your blog’s traffic.

One traffic building strategy I’ve always found to be underrated is using a niche forum profile to draw visitors back to your blog through a signature link.

One thing you might not know is that I built my blog, Skelliewag, from 0 to 100 subscribers almost exclusively using a forum profile. My forum posts would bring in dozens of visitors every day. Though my blog has over 2,000 subscribers as I write this, I still get comments and emails from loyal readers I first met through the Authority Blogger Forums.

If you’re skeptical…

There is a general consensus on the wisdom of using comments to get incoming traffic to your blog. In my experience, forums have been even more effective than a comments-for-traffic strategy, yet the two strategies aren’t often compared. Posting once or twice on a busy forum often brought dozens of visitors back to my blog. You’d need a much higher volume of comments to achieve the same results.

While I don’t claim that everyone will have the same experience, I found forums to yield more traffic for less work than a commenting-for-traffic strategy.

Is forum traffic part of your blog’s growth strategy? Perhaps it should be. Here are my suggestions for growing your readership through a solid forum profile.

1. Find your target audience

What kinds of people do you think would be most interested in your blog? If there are blogs in your niche, there are probably forums in it too.

If you can find a forum dedicated to your target audience, every forum user is a potential reader.

2. Create a compelling signature

Your forum signature will appear beneath every post you write. Unlike comments, where the only way to link back to your blog is via your name (or by linking in the comment), you have a lot more control over your signature.

You can link to your blog and include a tag line. You can format it with color and bolding to get more attention. You could also link to a featured post using one of your best headlines.

Your signature is the point of conversion where forum visitors become blog visitors. Take the time to make sure it’s as effective as possible.

City buildings.
Photo by extranoise

3. Make an impression

The quality of your forum posts will influence incoming traffic more than their volume. You need to make an impression on other forum users — something which makes them think: “I want to know more about this person.”

You can do this simply by being a friendly and helpful user. Go out of your way to do favors for others and become well-respected in the community.

You can also get more traffic back to your blog by writing interesting posts in high-visibility locations, for example:

  • Starting a popular thread.
  • Writing a FAQ or Guide which is stickied by a moderator, meaning it will stay on the front page of the forum permanently.
  • Becoming a moderator (people always pay attention to them!)
  • Becoming a forum power-user (people pay more attention to them, too).

4. Make connections

Aside from the traffic benefits, forums allow you to make connections with a diverse array of individuals with a variety of skills.

Making connections with people through forums is rewarding in its own right, but it can also present opportunities for mutual benefit. You might meet potential guest posters, other niche bloggers, experts or other people with skills you can use.

When I was trying to guest-post as much as possible, I made a forum thread offering to do a guest-post for anyone who asked. Quite a few bloggers accepted the offer. The resulting guest-posts helped take my blog to the next level.

The overall point I’m trying to make is that the rewards of an active forum profile go beyond traffic. Genuinely enjoying your participation in the forum (rather than viewing it only as a means to an end) will result in opportunities you would not have been able to orchestrate on your own.

Points to review

  • Find a forum (or more than one) popular with the people you want to reach.
  • Create a signature designed to convert forum users into blog readers.
  • Be a remarkable forum member.
  • Reach out and make connections with other forum users. They might have valuable lessons to teach you.