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Hypebot.com — a ProBlogger Community Blog Consulting Project

This week a new blog awaits your feedback as part of the Community Blog Consulting 2.0 project.

If you’re new to the project, it’s recommended that you read the launch post. This week, there’ll be another chance to win an iPod Shuffle, in addition to some special bonus prizes.

In this post we’ll be looking at Hypebot.com. The blog’s owner, Bruce, says that its main goal is to cover how the internet and technology are changing the music business as a news source, guide and commentator.

Bruce has provided the key questions he is hoping to get some feedback on.

  • Without loosing my core music industry/tech audience (which in itself could be much larger) how do I increase my readership?
  • I’ve recently been approached by more than 1 of the established blog networks. Would a niche blog like this benefit from such an alliance or be hurt by a perceived lack of independence?
  • Since my current audience is specialized, but small, do you think I could/should sell ads? If so, how do I get an idea of what to charge?
  • Am I achieving the right balance of news vs. commentary?
  • I recently simplified the design and may have gone too far. How can the design be improved to encourage more time on the site?

I’ll now throw it over to the ProBlogger community to provide your advice, suggestions and constructive critique. The commenter who provides the most useful feedback for the blog will win an iPod shuffle from ProBlogger and 5 CDs from the artists at Bruce’s booking agency, Skyline Music — a prize that will be provided by Bruce.

5 runner-up commenters will also receive a CD of their choice from Bruce’s roster of artists.

A summary of the community feedback (with my own commentary) will be posted in 4 – 5 days, so make sure to get your comments in soon.
Hypebot.com

We’d love for comments to be as constructive, helpful and practical as possible, and will be taking all these factors into account when deciding on the winning commenter.

Fashion-Incubator: Community Consulting Summary

Hi all — Skellie here. Our first foray into Community Consulting 2.0 has wrapped up. With 65+ insights shared, it’s time to summarize the main recommendations given into an actionable plan for Kathleen’s blog, Fashion-Incubator.

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 Fashion-Incubator was opened for critique.

Every inch of the blog was pored over and evaluated, which has helped build a comprehensive body of tips and lessons we can all learn from.

In what follows, I’ll try to summarize the key recurring themes from the feedback Fashion-Incubator received.

Width issues

The most frequently mentioned aspect of the blog was its 4-column layout. At a 1024 x 768 resolution — the resolution most visitors would be using — the fourth column did not fully fit on the screen. Visitors can’t be expected to scroll around horizontally to view the full design of the site.

A common solution presented was to simplify the design down to three columns — something I strongly agree with.

A number of readers also felt the information on the page was too compacted. The space freed up by removing a column could be used to add more whitespace between the columns remaining. This would make the page more readable and inviting overall, and help to make the content stand out from the sidebars.

More simplicity needed

Many readers also felt the blog would benefit from greater simplicity. The sidebars are filled with links, ads and information which many readers felt could be done away with.

De-cluttering is an important practice because for every inessential item you subtract, you’re allowing a bigger chunk of reader attention to go towards what is important. My suggestions for de-cluttering the blog are:

  • Remove the calendar widget and archives in the sidebar. As many readers pointed out, visitors are much more likely to browse by title rather than date. A separate archives page with post titles would be more useful, and would help de-clutter.
  • Move links and resources to a separate page. There are a lot of good resources here, but many readers found that it was too much information presented at once, and the overall effect was distracting. I’d suggest moving these links and resources to their own dedicated page.
  • Remove recent entries. The blog is only showing short post excerpts on the page, meaning it is already much easier for readers to scroll down the page than it is to pick out titles from a chunk of text. Kathleen will be able to free up a lot of space by removing this element.
  • Simplify Amazon advertising. Many commenters found the number of Amazon ads overwhelming. Kathleen has highlighted that these are important resources for her readership, but I would suggest offering affiliate links to the books on a separate ‘essential resources’ page, linked prominently towards the top of the sidebar. I’d also suggest cutting down the number of Amazon books advertised on the main page. Focusing more attention on less ads will lead to more click-throughs overall.
  • Simplify other advertising. Some readers felt that the amount of advertising overall impacted on their engagement with the blog. One thing Kathleen might consider is to assess her advertising strategy and retain only the ads that are performing well.

A more vibrant design

Another commonly cited issue was that some readers felt the design was too plain. A frequent suggestion was to add a logo or header image to the site — something that will not only make the blog more visually interesting, but will also help with branding and differentiating the blog from its competitors. Another simple way to liven up the design would be to add more imagery and formatting to posts.

A group of readers also suggested that post headlines be made larger and permalinked. As headlines are doorways into your posts, it’s important to emphasize them over the rest of what’s on your page.

What is it?

Throughout the review process a common question readers had trouble answering was: what is Fashion-Incubator about? Short of reading the content, there is no information available on the main page to introduce the blog to new readers.

Visitors are unlikely to invest time in reading posts unless they feel there’s something in it for them. That’s where things like tag-lines become important. As a new visitor, I found it difficult to work out what the blog was about and who its target audience was.

Some readers felt the blog’s About page was not easy enough to find and could be made more helpful. Though including author information is worthwhile, most visitors to your About page are primarily interested in two questions: what is this blog about and what can it offer me? It’s essential that you answer these two questions before anything else.

Emphasizing the book

Kathleen is a published author and sells a book she’s written through the blog. The book essentially forms a handbook to accompany the posts and is considered by many of her regular visitors to be required reading.

For that reason, it’s essential that the book is given greater emphasis. I’d suggest moving it into the top-left corner of the screen (where the calendar widget currently is) and making the image clickable — taking you to a page with more information on what it is and what it offers.

Subscription options

A group of readers suggested that the RSS icon should be moved towards the top of the sidebar. This is something I agree with, though I suspect only a small portion of the blog’s target audience would be using RSS, as the blog is not at all tech/internet related.

Those interested in subscribing are likely to do so via email. For that reason, I think the email subscription form needs more clarity. It’s quite vague at the moment and could prove confusing to some visitors.

I’d title the form ‘Get new posts emailed to you’ and provide instructions to ‘type your email address here’. Being clear about what subscription involves will only help increase subscriber numbers.

Positives

While focusing on what could be improved is more useful for the blogger, I think it’s worth acknowledging some of the things readers were impressed with.

The response to the blog’s content and writing style was generally very positive. A number of commenters also highlighted the engaged and active community of loyal readers and commenters Kathleen has built.

Many other aspects of the blog were mentioned by individual and smaller groups of readers — too many to mention here. You can view the full break-down of feedback in the comments on Fashion-Incubator’s introductory post.

The prize!

The quality of the feedback was outstanding overall, making it hard to choose a winner. That being said, there is only one iPod Shuffle to give away!

This week’s prize winner is Cathy Moore. Her feedback spanned everything from design to content, it clearly outlined some key areas for improvement and it was delivered with a lot of respect. Congratulations!

What’s next for ProBlogger Community Consulting?

We’ll be kicking off our second review in a few days, following the success of this one. Another blog, another prize, and hopefully many more lessons to be learned!

Prolific Blogging: Five Methods I Swear By

I did an interesting calculation today. I worked out that I’d written 107 posts at my own blog, plus 36 posts at other blogs, for a total of 143 (mostly) long posts, produced across four months.

The maths proves that I’m a prolific blogger. Certainly not the most prolific, but I suspect that I write more than most. That doesn’t necessarily mean I spend a lot of time writing posts. In truth, I’ve always been surprised by the amount of time I spend vs. the number of posts I produce. It’s just not as much as you’d think.

I’ve realized that there are five strategies I use to write — what I aim to be, to varying levels of success — value-packed content, really fast. It’s not a skill, nor is it a talent. Writing killer content fast is something any blogger can do. The key is in changing the way you approach the writing process.

What’s so good about writing fast?

If you can write better posts in less time, you’ll be producing more content than you’ve ever been. Alternately, you can produce the same amount of content and have more time left over to do other things you enjoy.

Developing a painless writing habit can also increase your enjoyment of blogging. Creating content is less likely to resemble a chore if you can tackle the task and complete it quickly and with no fuss.

Here are the five strategies I’ve used to become a prolific blogger.

#1 — The scarecrow approach

When settling down to write a post, we usually know what we want to say. The tricky part is knowing how to say it. The scarecrow approach minimizes a lot of this trickiness.

It involves writing what you want to say first, in the form of short sentences or sub-headings encapsulating each of your main points. You add the detail after.

I used this method to write the post you’re reading right now. It started with just the sub-headings. I then fleshed them out by adding an explanation beneath each one.

This method is also ideal for list posts. Write your list with the key points in bold, then flesh out each point in the following paragraph.

The strategy works because you’re breaking down your post into bite-sized chunks. Rather than tackling the post as a whole, you’re concentrating on one point at a time. This method helps me tackle long posts quickly and efficiently.

#2 — Little words, big meaning

Short posts are quick to write, but not necessarily any less profound or valuable than long posts. You can say a lot with just a few words.

If you’ve got an idea for a long blog post, challenge yourself to convey the same information in 200 words or less. You’ll be forced to strip down the post to its essence. You might discover that you simply don’t need to add any more words afterwards — that anything else would be filler.

Profound ideas often come in the smallest of containers. The best part: you can write and publish a short post in a matter of minutes.


Photo by la_cola_de_mi_perro.

#3 — Take your foot off the brake

One common cause of slow and painful writing is actually slow and painful editing. If you hesitate after each sentence you’ve written, finger trembling above the backspace key, you won’t enjoy writing and you won’t produce good work.

Set yourself this challenge: don’t hit delete a single time until you’ve finished the first draft of your post. Yes, some of your sentences will not make sense. Yes, the post will include some horrific spelling mistakes. That’s OK. Now that you’ve written it, you can edit to your heart’s content. What’s important is that you don’t let the two mix.

Once you learn to accept mistakes and imperfections in the first draft, you’ll begin to write more freely — and quickly.

#4 — Skip the formalities

In my experience, starting is the hardest part of writing a blog post. Many of us are so unsure about what to write that we choose anything over nothing — the number one cause of a rambling introduction that’s all-too-easy to ignore.

My solution is to skip it. I started writing this post at ‘The scarecrow approach’. With each sub-heading, there’s no mystery about what I have to write next. I have to explain what I mean. When there’s no uncertainty, you can get started straight away.

Once you’ve written the body of the post, you’ve got plenty of fodder for your introduction. Tell them what you’re going to tell them. Explain what you’re going to say and why it matters. Your introduction will always be better if you know exactly what’s to follow.

#5 — Change the format

There’s a certain anxiety that comes with composing posts inside your blog software. The publish button is never far out of your line of sight. It can be hard to resist the temptation to get the post over and done with by publishing it before it’s been polished. Alternately, it can make us feel pressured to write something publishable straight away.

Composing your posts offline — in a Word processor, text file, a laptop or with pen and paper — can help sever the direct link between writing and publishing. It can help you concentrate on the act of writing alone, without worrying about the post’s public debut. Take away some of the worry and your writing process will be less stressful. This generally makes it faster and more fluid, too.

A bonus tip: practice writing posts in advance. If you intend to publish a post in two weeks rather than two minutes, you’ll take a much more relaxed approach to the first draft, knowing that you have plenty of time to revise it. When you check in on the post in a week or so, you might find it doesn’t need as much work as you thought!

Skellie is a regular writer for ProBlogger. Subscribe to her feed for more useful blogging advice.

How to Keep Your Subscribers Forever

Keeping You Posted by Skellie.One thing you may have noticed is that your blog’s feed count is volatile: it fluctuates on a day to day basis.

While much of that depends on how many people read your feed in a given day, some of that is also people both subscribing and unsubscribing. If you could stop people unsubscribing, your subscriber count would always grow exponentially.

While a lot of emphasis is placed on getting more subscribers, it seems to me that keeping the ones you have is just as important.

What is the key reason why a person might unsubscribe? They’ll do so when your posts become clutter: when they stop reading your posts.

Darren has previously listed 34 reasons why readers unsubscribe from your blog. In fact, each of these reasons causes readers to stop reading your posts, which then causes them to unsubscribe.

The question this post seeks to answer is: how can I get subscribers to keep reading my posts?

As long as your subscribers are reading what you write, they’ll never unsubscribe.

Create a gripping headline

The ugly truth is that many feed readers make the decision to either skip or keep reading a post before their eyes have reached the end of the headline. There are plenty of great articles written about honing the ability to write headlines that draw readers into posts — articles every blogger should read. Here are a few of my favorites from Brian Clark and Leo Babauta:

Headlines are your weapon in the constant battle for attention, so it’s crucial that you use them well. A simple hack I often use is to take the headline formula behind a popular article and adapt it to my own post.

Start with a knock-out opening sentence

Once your headline has done its work the subscriber will start with your first sentence. If you waffle, or go off-topic, or write in a bland way, the reader will drop out of your post.

In my experience, there are seven key routes to a gripping opening sentence:

  • A tempting offer.
  • An irresistible question.
  • A curious connection.
  • A controversial claim.
  • An engaging anecdote.
  • A problem.
  • A tricky question.

I’ve covered each of these methods in detail here: Grip Your Readers With These 7 Knock-Out Opening Sentences.

Use consistent imagery at the beginning of your posts

If you hold a particular blog in very high standing you’ll be likely to stick with a post even if it starts with a fizzle rather than a bang. If readers knew who was behind a particular post they may well be more likely to read it.

I don’t think readers always do know, however. Most of us group feeds by folder or lump new content into one stream of news. If we make the decision to read or skip based on the headline alone, we may end up deciding not to read an article before we even know which blog it originated from.

One incredibly effective way to brand your posts is to use consistent imagery right at the start. Almost every single post at ProBlogger begins with a distinct image in a unique style. Even if you’re focusing on the headline, it’s impossible to miss that the post originates from ProBlogger (because the image is right below the headline).

Using consistent imagery at the top of your posts will instantly let subscribers know where the post originated from. Here are some strategies you can use to make your imagery unique:

  • Use of images of a consistent type or style.
  • If you write on them, try to use similar fonts.
  • You could also use images of the same size and position.

This strategy is also effective in another way: images slow the eye down. We can scan text rapidly, but it’s a lot harder to scan an image.

A table covered with pens and a notebook.
Photo by Lost in Scotland.

Use interesting formatting in your own style

Give your posts texture – Your posts might look fantastic as they appear on your blog, but subscribers see them without any of the bells and whistles. Plain text without any formatting can be visually interesting when laid out on a vibrant page. Not so in a feed reader. If your posts are boring to look at it becomes easier than ever for subscribers to ignore them.

Sub-headings, bolded sentences, box-quotes and in-text links all help to add texture to your posts when they appear in a feed reader. Visually interesting posts will excite the eye and help draw readers into your posts.

Brand your posts with formatting – Developing your own formatting style, in combination with distinct imagery at the beginning of your posts, can ensure that it’s immediately obvious where your posts come from.

If you’re reading this in a feed reader right now, you’d probably agree that you recognize ProBlogger posts straight away. If a reader trusts that your blog provides good content then being recognizable is priceless.

Use short paragraphs

Big chunks of text aren’t inviting to a reader. Your blog might display your posts in a generously-sized and well-spaced font, but feed readers tend towards fonts that are small and narrowly spaced. It’s important to use paragraphs liberally to open up the text in your posts.

If your post is broken up into bite-sized chunks it becomes a lot easier to tackle. If your post looks easy to read a subscriber will be more likely to give it a chance.

Break up your text with images

Feed readers are also lacking when it comes to color and shape. A stream of text can become monotonous. You can help your posts stand out by breaking up the text with relevant images.

Always provide value

If you follow the above steps every post you publish should look unique when it appears in a feed reader. It will be immediately obvious that it came from your blog.

This will only be a positive, however, if the subscriber consistently finds value in everything you write. If that’s the case, she or he will probably stick with your post even if it comes with a snooze-inducing headline and a waffly opening sentence.

The essential point to understand is that, while the above tips will draw feed readers into your posts, the strategy will only be effective if your subscribers consistently feel rewarded when they do so.

A subscriber who is reading and appreciating your posts is more likely to link to you, comment, vote on social media and recommend you to friends. That’s something we all want.

Skellie is a regular writer for ProBlogger. You can subscribe to Skellie’s feed for more useful blogging advice.

Fashion-Incubator – a ProBlogger Community Blog Consulting Project

Problogger-ConsultingIt’s time for our first Community Blog Consulting 2.0 project. Darren previously explained what this is and it’s worth reading that post to get yourself up to speed. Your participation in the project could see you win an iPod shuffle!

This week we’ll be looking at Fashion-Incubator. The blog is maintained by author Kathleen, with the help of a few other writers. Kathleen sells copies of her book through the blog.

Update: Kathleen has requested a revision of the blog’s description. It’s a blog written for those who manufacture items made with a sewing machine. In her words: “Think operations and engineering, not Heidi Klum and Project Runway.”

I’ll now throw it over to the ProBlogger community to provide your advice, suggestions and constructive critique. The commenter who provides the most useful feedback for the blog will win an iPod shuffle.

A summary of the community feedback (with my own commentary) will be posted in 4 – 5 days, so make sure to get your comments in soon.

A screenshot of Fashion-Incubator.

The key questions you’ll want to consider are:

  • What do you like about this blog?
  • What could be improved?

You might want to focus your comment on these areas:

  • 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’m sure Kathleen (the blog’s owner) is eagerly awaiting your advice.

5 Powerful Techniques to Help Your Posts Stand Out

Keeping You Posted by Skellie.

In this post regular contributer Skellie from Skelliewag.org helps you differentiate your content.

Blogs are now so popular that it’s very hard to find a niche that isn’t already saturated. There are probably dozens or hundreds of other bloggers writing on the topics you cover.

Being unique has never been so important.

We already know that ‘differentiation’ is a worthwhile goal for any blogger. In this post, I want to explain why it’s important to differentiate your posts, and give you five strategies you can use to do so.

What’s so good about being different?

By differentiating, you give readers a compelling reason to give their attention to your blog over others. After all, if you can’t offer something different, if you can’t fulfill different needs or solve different problems, potential readers simply won’t pay attention to what you’re doing.

Differentiating can sound like a hard task. It’s best to tackle “being different” one area at a time.

Here are five strategies you can use to set your content apart.

#1 –Develop a recognizable and consistent voice

One thing you might have noticed about top bloggers is that they have a very distinct writing style, or ‘voice’. One of the simplest ways to stand out in your niche is to write differently to other bloggers covering the same topics.

The key is to write naturally and consistently.

Be natural — don’t impersonate the writing style of successful bloggers. Even your flaws can help you stand out in your niche. If you’re a funny person, don’t suck the humor out of your writing simply because it’s uncommon. If you write and speak informally, don’t break into formal language because that’s the standard in your niche.

You’ll always perform better when doing something that comes naturally to you. Readers will be able to sense when you’re not being authentic, or otherwise trying to hide your natural voice.

Be consistent — readers won’t come to recognize your writing style unless it’s consistent. Don’t chop and change between funny and serious, formal and informal, easy-going and aggressive. Staying away from extreme voices will allow you more room to move. For example, moving from neutral to light-hearted is a lot smoother than moving from angry to light-hearted.

#2 — Put yourself into what you write

One of the nicest things about being human is that we’re unique without trying. No-one else has exactly the same experiences, biases, tastes, physical features and perspective as you do.

On the other hand, there are millions of blogs out there, many of them writing on the same topics. The tips, opinions, news and advice you write have probably been written many times before, albeit in different ways.

One effective way to make your content unique (which is also another way to turn readers into raving fans) is to put yourself into what you write.

  • When sharing a tip, what caused you to discover it? How have things changed since you started using it?
  • When you argue an opinion, explain what influenced you to adopt it.
  • When you give advice, explain what the results of following that advice have been for you.

The key is to weave relevant personal anecdotes into your writing. It’ll add strength to your posts while also helping to make them unique.

Photo by theforbzez
Photo by theforbzez.

#3 — Develop your own formatting style

If your writing looks a certain way, readers will begin to recognize it wherever it appears. In an instant they can say: “I know who wrote that.” You can think of the way you format your posts as your own personal watermark. Some different ideas:

  • Use box-quotes to emphasize your key points or the most interesting sentences in your post.
  • Sum up each post with a bullet-point breakdown of your key points.
  • Use unique looking sub-headings and emphasis.
  • Develop your own way of presenting information.
  • Get creative with the way you use links.
  • Use the footer of your posts for asides and unrelated notes.

#4 — Use imagery in a unique way

I think it’s important to have a unique image near the top of each post you write. You can see this strategy in use at ProBlogger: most if not all posts contain an image with rounded corners in the top-left corner.

This is particularly useful when it comes to drawing feed readers into your posts. The image immediately indicates the source of the content. Though the headline you’ve used probably won’t tell the reader which blog the post is from, the image will.

If the reader trusts that you provide good content, they’re much more likely to put the brakes on their scroll-wheel and see what you have to say.

Without the help of images, subscribers may not slow down long enough to work out which blog a particular post is from. Unique imagery makes the fact unmissable.

#5 — Break with tradition

A great idea-sparking suggestion from Seth Godin is to “do the never” — in other words, to work out what your niche always seems to do, and then do the opposite.

Maki, a blogger who writes about making money online, recently started publishing very long, value-packed posts. Why? Because most other bloggers covering the topic write short, newsy posts. He’s doing the never, and he says it’s working great for him. That’s his content differentiation strategy.

  • If everyone in your niche is posting news, why not focus on analysis? (or vice versa)
  • If your niche is full of long posts, why not write short, pithy ones? (or vice versa)
  • If blogs in your niche are quite formally written, why not write informally? (or vice versa)
  • If blogs in your niche update all the time, why not focus on quality over quantity?

The great thing about this strategy is that there’s almost always an audience craving for the ‘never’. The never represents a demand that isn’t being met.

Points to review

  • A consistent and natural writing style can help make your content more distinctive.
  • You’re unique, so put yourself into what you write.
  • Using formatting and imagery in your own way can set your posts apart visually.
  • Doing the opposite of what others are doing can be a powerful way to differentiate your posts.

How to Transform Readers Into Raving Fans

Keeping You Posted by Skellie

In this post regular contributer Skellie from Skelliewag.org explains how you can turn readers into fans.

The notion of ‘raving fans’ brings to mind a screaming crowd at a Beatles concert. For bloggers, a more accurate version of a ‘raving fan’ is someone who raves about you — recommending your stuff to anyone who will listen.

In this post I want to explain how you can use your content to create a kind of friendship between you and your readers. As much as they might love your blog, it’s almost impossible to form a meaningful connection with information and writing alone.

As humans, we connect easily and naturally with other people. Put yourself into what you write and readers will connect with you.

Why having fans of your own is important

  • Readers with a personal affection for you will consistently treat you with respect.
  • Readers who like you will stick by you when times are tough.
  • They’re more likely to speak highly of you to others.
  • They’ll be more accepting of your faults.
  • They’ll come with you when you move on to new things.
  • They’re more likely to trust your recommendations or buy from you. This can help you make money blogging.

How to help readers become fans

A useful starting point for us is to look at how we form relationships with new people in face-to-face situations. One thing you might have noticed is that we tend to like or dislike others based on how they make us feel about ourselves.

We can spend a lot of time with someone but feel very little closeness to them if they make us feel a bit stupid, or boring, or as if our views aren’t important. On the other hand, we can feel quite close to someone very quickly if they give us their undivided attention, entertain us and seem to enjoy what we have to say.

Another key in building relationships of any kind is sharing our experiences and personality: probably because both these things are completely unique to us.

These face-to-face guidelines can easily be translated to blogging.

Sign each post with your signature

Some bloggers do this literally, but I’m referring to other things that, like a signature, are unique to you: your experiences and your personality. You can inject these things into anything you write.

Some simple tips to help you do this:

  • Ask yourself: how does what I’m writing about fit in with my own experiences?
  • If you’re sharing advice, how has what you’re recommending benefited you?
  • If you’re sharing news, how does the news influence you or people you know?

If you do this consistently it won’t be long before your readers start to get a sense of who you are.

Write with humanity

Don’t let your readers forget the content on your blog is produced by a person not so different to them. You have friends, family, hobbies, work, loves and hates. You’ve made mistakes and achieved successes. You occupy a specific place in the world. You’re not just a mind plugged into a keyboard.

Let readers know about the unplugged you — who you are when you’re not online. You can maintain your privacy by using pseudonyms for friends and family and by not getting too specific.

People are good at forming relationships with people. Emphasize that you’re no different to your readers and it will be much easier for them to warm to you.

Some tips to help you do this:

  • Share how your offline life has shaped what you’re writing about.
  • Share how your family and friends have influenced what you’re writing.

Create selfless content

If it’s true that people like you based on how you make them feel about themselves, it follows that your content should always be focused on the reader. The content you produce must answer ‘yes’ to at least one of these questions.

  • Does it inform?
  • Does it entertain?
  • Does it help?
  • Does it teach?
  • Is it useful?

Use content to showcase your readers

If a reader’s comment sparks an idea for your next post, why not quote them at the beginning of the article?

If one of your readers writes a great article on their own blog, why not link to it?

If a reader shares a good tip, why not mention it in the next post you write on the topic?

These are a few simple things you can do to acknowledge and draw attention to your readers, which will make them feel good about themselves and you.

Give more than you take

Pure generosity is rare. Bloggers rarely give without expecting something in return, whether it be payment, or a link, or a review. In my experience, bucking that trend can create incredible goodwill among readers. Here are some things you can do to make a fantastic impression:

  • Hold a competition and allow readers to enter by leaving a comment, rather than blogging about it or performing some other task.
  • Offer to perform a service for your readers and expect nothing in return. I’ve done this on two occasions and both times it allowed me to connect with many readers in a very positive way.
  • Give away a free eBook or report.
  • Write a post showcasing your favorite reader comments of the month.

Points to review

The key to helping readers form an attachment to you is by emphasizing the ways you are similar to them and making them feel good about themselves, often by entertaining, informing or helping.

You can also use your posts as a platform to acknowledge and appreciate your readers. This will help communicate your respect for them and, in doing so, increase their respect for you.

There are a number of direct and indirect benefits to transforming readers into personal fans and friends: more links, more comments, more positive recommendations, more trust and an incredibly rewarding blogging experience.

Give it a try: use your next post to implement a few of these strategies and start building your fan-base.

Skellie is a regular writer for ProBlogger. You’ll find more practical blogging advice at her own blog, Skelliewag.

Grip Your Readers With These 7 Knock-out Opening Sentences

Keeping you posted, by Skellie.

In this post regular contributer Skellie from Skelliewag.org explains how a great opening sentence can draw readers into your blog posts.

You might not want to hear this, but a killer headline simply isn’t enough.

To be effective, every great headline — like the punch of any legendary boxer — needs follow-through.

In this post, I want to suggest seven tried-and-tested methods to craft a gripping opening sentence.

This could mean the difference between someone reading your post from start to finish or skipping to the next item in their feed reader (or browsing to another blog).

These seven methods should also be a source of inspiration when you’re unsure how to start your next post. In that sense, they have the potential to benefit both you and your blog.

#1 — The tempting offer

A simple and effective way to grip readers in your first sentence is to tell them what you’re going to tell them.

Huh?

This is why news broadcasts always begin with a preview of the stories to come. It’s why the commercial for a TV show will, as a rule, highlight the best bits. People are always more likely to stick with you if they know what they stand to gain.

A fictional example:

If you’ve ever wanted to get fit, save money and work less… this post is for you.

When using this method it can be useful to think of your first sentence as an advertisement for what’s to follow. What could you say that would entice readers to keep reading? How could you make reading the post seem as attractive as possible?

#2 — The irresistible question

Questions are powerful because they coax the reader into giving an internal answer. Another effective way to start a blog post is to ask a question you’re confident most readers will answer yes to. An example:

Want to convince your readers to do something or agree with your point of view? [Source]

After answering “yes, I do want that,” the next logical step is to continue reading.

#3 — The curious connection

This model appeals to the reader’s sense of curiosity. It links two seemingly unconnected ideas together and invites the reader to stick with the post and see how the connection was made. An example:

What do Thom Yorke, Tim Ferriss and successful new media publishers have in common? [Source]

By linking together a famous author and a famous musician the reader’s curiosity is piqued. She or he will want to know what these two very different figures have in common, and will (hopefully) keep reading in order to find out.

Two boxers in the ring.

Photography by neurmadic aesthetic

#4 — The controversial claim

Confronting or strong statements engage readers because they’re curious to see how the author will justify their claim. An example:

Chances are I’m not reading your blog. [Source]

Strong statements work, but they need to be carefully justified and qualified within a few paragraphs. You don’t want to risk putting any readers offside by not explaining yourself properly.

#5 — The engaging anecdote

Anecdotes are miniature stories you tell about your experiences. The best anecdotes, apart from being entertaining, are enlightening for the reader. They don’t just say something about you: they speak to the experiences and struggles of the person listening or reading, too. A fictional example:

Yesterday, after 35 years working in the PR industry, I came within an inch of quitting my job in order to write the novel I’ve always wanted to write.

If used on a blog about writing this anecdotal sentence would appeal to most readers because it speaks to a common concern: how much should we be willing to sacrifice in order to achieve our goals?

Anecdotes help readers get to know you. They appeal to our natural love of stories. They also encourage readers to keep reading and find out how the story ends.

#6 — The problem solver

Everyone has certain things they struggle with, and we’re always willing to lend an ear to anyone who might help us resolve one of those struggles.

When bloggers highlight a problem this is often followed by an attempt at a solution. Readers know this. Here’s an example of this method in action:

We all know that .com domains are the best option, but it is also difficult to find good ones that have not been registered yet. [Source]

That statement will probably draw nods of agreement from many, prompting readers to continue with the post in the hope that a workable solution is offered.

#7 — The tricky question

This one’s a twist on the ‘problem solver’ model above.

Everyone has unanswered questions, and particular niches attract readers with certain types of questions.

ProBlogger readers might come here because they want answers to the following: how can I create a popular blog? How can I generate a full-time income online? Or, an example from another niche:

Should I wait until I’m rich to give back? [Source]

Beginning with a tough question works because, even if you don’t have a complete answer, you’ll probably have some advice or useful thoughts on the matter. Readers are always eager to get help with tough questions they struggle with.

Skellie is a regular writer for ProBlogger. You’ll find more practical blogging advice at her own blog, Skelliewag.org.

Value Blogging: A New Model For Success?

SkellieIn this post regular contributer Skellie from Skelliewag.org explores the idea of building successful blogs by giving readers value.

What do ProBlogger, Lifehacker, Seth Godin’s Blog, Copyblogger, Dosh Dosh, Lifehack.org, MAKE blog, Zen Habits, 43 Folders, Pronet Advertising and Coding Horror all have in common?

Yes, they’re all in the Technorati 100, but there’s something else, too.

Each of the above blogs is dedicated to maximizing value for the reader. Rather than reporting news, or covering an industry, or attempting to persuade, the above blogs are primarily dedicated to making readers more skillful at what they do, whether that skill is blogging, marketing or software coding.

I call this approach value-blogging, and in this post, I want to explain how it can be a powerful model for bloggers to adopt, either fully or partially. I want to suggest that this approach has a number of distinct advantages for the average blogger. Most importantly, I want to outline how you can get started with value-blogging.

Why value-blogging is a powerful strategy

Unlike news or time-sensitive posts, value-blogging helps readers to improve in ways that are continually relevant. Every time you add another value-blogging post to your archives, you’re building up a database of knowledge that should still be as relevant in future as the day it was written.

Value-blogging, by its nature, encourages original and differentiated content. Though two bloggers might both write a post on quick ways to increase your email productivity, those two posts are likely to contain very different advice, influenced by the individual blogger’s personality, experience and writing style. The advice you give and the way you deliver it will help to brand both you and your blog.

The quality over quantity model is well-suited to a one-blogger show. The upper echelons of the world’s most highly trafficked blogs are updated dozens of times a day, often by full-time editorial teams. The average blogger simply can’t hope to compete in terms of volume (at least, not if any shred of quality is to be maintained).

Value-blogging emphasizes quality over quantity every time, and many of the world’s most respected value blogs update only a few times a week. This flexibility is invaluable to anyone who leads a busy life outside blogging.

Value-blogging is ideal for building a loyal and enthusiastic readership. Though I might respect a blogger for updating me with news or sharing her eloquent opinions, I will probably have an even greater fondness for someone who helps me become better at something I love. It’s hard to think of a more powerful way to leave an impression on a reader.

Value-blogging can boost your personal brand and open up direct and indirect sources of income. Value-bloggers are presented with unique opportunities to make money online. As they have proven their expertise on a topic time and time again, they can be in demand for speaking engagements, consulting work, and freelancing. There is also the possibility of producing and selling an eBook. A number of value-bloggers also make good money through affiliate sales because their recommendations are so well-respected.

Sounds great, but how do I start?

A teacher addresses her classPhotography: My Hobo Soul

Value-blogging is, at its core, about focusing your energy on helping readers. There are dozens of ways you can do this, but the most common approaches are as follows:

  • Provide tips and advice on an important skill in your niche.
  • Answer a key question your readers might have.
  • Share lessons you’ve learned.
  • Provide useful information and resources.
  • Write a tutorial or guide.
  • Answer the who, where, what, when and why of something.

There are plenty of examples of value-blogging you can use for reference. ProBlogger, for example, is a value-based blog, though the value-blogging is supplemented by some news and commentary. This article is an example of value-blogging, in that it attempts to describe not just why value-blogging is important, but how you can add it to your raft of blogging skills.

The best way to boost your value-blogging skills is to learn by example. Subscribe to value-blogs and pay attention to their most popular articles. Could you transfer that format to your own niche?

For example, one of the most popular posts at ProBlogger is Blogging Tips For Beginners. Could you write: ‘Cooking Tips For Beginners’? Or ‘Karate Tips For Beginners’? Whatever your niche, the idea behind many great posts can be translated over to a topic of interest to your audience, resulting in something very different but (hopefully) equally appreciated.

Give value-blogging a try!

It’s not necessary that value-blogging become the whole focus of your blog, but it can be a useful thing to add to your content mix.

If you’d like some homework, make the next blog post you write a value-post. Teach your readers something, give them some tips, or advice, or share some resources. You might be surprised at the results!

Skellie is a regular writer for ProBlogger. She runs her own blog about blogging at Skelliewag.org. Come by and say hello :)