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FAQs about 31 Day Project and Email Delivery Problems

I’ve had a few questions being asked quite a bit by those participating in the 31 Days to Build a Better Blog challenge so thought I’d post here some answers:

1. Missing Emails – I’m afraid that for some reason a number of those participating are reporting not getting emails. There are a number of reasons for this:

  • New Signups – if you signed up since Monday it takes up to 24 hours for the sequence of daily emails to kick in. New signups will be put into an email sequence where you’ll be sent daily emails starting at Day 1. This means you’re a little behind the main group but means you don’t miss anything that the main group has covered already.
  • Spam Filtering - some people are finding our emails in their spam/junk mail folders. Please search for them there and mark them as ‘not spam’ and you should get future ones in your inbox.
  • Missing Confirmation – some people did not confirm/verify their participation by clicking a link in the email that we sent you soon after you signed up. We need this confirmation before we can send you anything else. Search for this and click the link (it could be in your spam/junkmail folder). If you can’t find it try subscribing again on this page. If you still can’t find it – contact Aweber.com who are managing our list.

2. Email Delays - a few people are concerned that they see posts go up on ProBlogger for days but don’t get emails until hours or even days later. As mentioned above the main reason for this is that emails are sent out in a sequence. Most people reporting this problem have signed up since the program started and will be a day or two behind the main group. You’ll get the emails eventually but will be taken to the start of the sequence of emails.

Other people reporting shorter delays in getting emails will unfortunately just have to wait as we don’t have complete control over when emails will be delivered. Aweber queues these autoresponder emails so that they go out usually 1-3 hours after the posts go live on ProBlogger.

If you want notifications as posts go live please subscribe to our RSS feed. This way you’ll see posts as they go up on the blog. You’ll still get the emails eventually and can see any other information I’m including there.

Apologies for those experiencing delays but there isn’t a lot we can do about it at this point.

All in all though it seems that the project is being well received. We just passed 10,000 registered participants and many are reporting that they’re enjoying the tasks being set so far. Thanks for everyone’s involvement!

31 Days to Build a Better Blog – Sign Up Here

31-days-build-better-blog.pngStarting on 1 April (Update: this is now starting on 6th April) I am planning on launching another ‘31 Days to a Better Blog‘ project.

I’ve run this twice previously (once in 2005 and once in 2007) so thought that I should continue the biennial nature of it.

This year I’m going to run it slightly differently so if you’re interested in participating please read on carefully.

Of particular note – this year I’m asking those participating to sign up as registered participants. You don’t have to do it – but to get the full benefits from it I ask that you do. I’ll explain more on why I’m doing this below.

You can register here:

Here are the details of the challenge this year:

The Idea

The idea behind this is simply to have a group of bloggers setting aside a month of their time to work at improving their blogs. While we all want to have better blogs sometimes it becomes one of those things that we’re going to do…. one day.

I personally find that I improve (in all areas of my life) when I’m more intentional and set aside a specific time to make the improvements. That’s what this project is about.

Yesterday on Twitter I mentioned that I was thinking of running this again and had 50 people express interest in 5 minutes. I quickly set up a sign up page just for my Twitter users and within 24 hours had well over 1000 registered participants. I guess people want to do it.

Interested in joining us? If so, read on…

How it Works

Each day from 6th April until early May I will make a post here on ProBlogger that is part of the challenge.

Posts will be designed to each have two aspects to them:

  1. A teaching component (theory)
  2. A practical component (a task/homework)

The idea is that often teaching remains in the realm of theory and doesn’t actually prompt those digesting it to DO something. This project is more about DOING than learning. I hope you will learn, but to be honest if you’ve been blogging for a while some of what we’ll cover many will have heard before – but this project will give you a framework and hopefully some inspiration to put what you know into action.

Some of the tasks will be similar to previous years tasks and some will be new (some things never change so there will always be some overlap). Some tasks will be more relevant to some bloggers than others so you may not choose to do all of them but they will be on a variety of areas of blogging including writing content, interacting with readers, finding new readers, design, tools etc.

This 31 days are designed for beginner and newer bloggers but many of the tasks will be relevant to intermediate and more advanced bloggers also.

To Participate

As mentioned above – this year I’m asking those who want to do the challenge to register their email addresses. You will receive one email per day over the 31 days notifying you that a new post is up, giving you the link to it as well as a little extra information for registered participants.

You don’t have to do this and can follow the posts via our RSS feed – but I’m asking for you to register for a few reasons:

  1. Sometimes signing up for something is important in making us accountable to do what we say we’ll do.
  2. It will enable me to give a little extra information than the posts contain themselves. On the blog the posts will be written in a way that anyone will hopefully benefit whether they do the full challenge or not – but in the emails that I send each day pointing you to the post I will include a little extra information just relevant to those doing the challenge.
  3. My hope this time is to let the 31 Day Challenge live on way beyond the first 31 days. People will be able to signup and do the challenge at any point as the emails will be sent via an auto responder.
  4. It will give me a little more insight into who is doing the challenge which will hopefully means I can tailor it a bit better to peoples needs.
  5. Lastly – there’s a couple of things I’m working on as a bonus for those who register. I’ll write more of these as they firm up.

If you signup for the 31 days you’re more than welcome to unsubscribe at any point if you feel it is not helpful or not quite where you’re at.

At the end of the 31 days I’m not planning on sending too many more emails. I may add a few more tasks over time but the daily emails will stop. If I do keep sending a few emails, again you’re welcome to unsubscribe if it isn’t meeting your needs.

Sign Up to participate in the Challenge Here

I’m looking forward to the 31 Day Challenge this year and hope that you’ll join me.

Lastly – a special thanks to @Mark_MacDonald who put together the logo above and thanks also to the 15 other friends on Twitter who put together logos – I appreciate them all.

98 Blog Tips for a Lazy Sunday

Building-A-Better-Blog-2The 31 Days to Building a Better Blog is over and it’s time to post the final reader tips. In today’s batch there are 98 tips in total which means that I’ve now posted links to 626 reader blog tips on the central 31 Day Project Page. Please note – submissions are now closed.

In this latest batch of blogging tips are some fantastic examples of blogging tips which I really hope you’ll enjoy.

Thank you to everyone who participated in the project. A special shout out to the team in the 31 Day Project who did the Chocolate Challenge – sounds like they had a sweet time of it.

Here are the last batch of blogging tips – make yourself comfortable and enjoy!

Don’t for get to check out our Blog Tips for Beginners.

Run a SWOT Analysis on Your Blog

Swot-AnalysisToday is the last day in the 31 Days to Building a Better Blog project and as a result I want to make your last task a little reflective and forward looking.

Your task today is to run a SWOT Analysis on your blog.

A SWOT analysis is a strategic tool that has been used for many years in business (and many other fields) to look at the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats that that business might have or be facing.

Much has been written about SWOT analysis and how to carry it out (I’ll let you do some searches on Google for it if you’re not familiar with it) however let me write a brief description of how to apply it to a blog.

1. Define Your Mission and Goals

Before you carry out your SWOT it’s important that you know what your blog’s goals are (otherwise the exercise is a little pointless as you’ve got nothing to review your site based upon). As a result you’ll want to have done Day 28′s task – Define Your Blogs Mission Statement.

2. List Your Blog’s Strengths

What attributes does your blog have that will help you to achieve your blog’s goals? What does your blog have going for it? What are you good at as a blogger? What resources and assets do you have at your disposal? What do you do better than anyone else?

3. List Your Blog’s Weaknesses

What attributes does your blog that are holding you back from achieving it’s goals? What skills do you not have as a blogger? What is ‘broken’ on your blog or in your workflow? What could or should you improve about your blog? What should you probably avoid in your blogging? What is distracting you from your goals?

4. List Your Blog’s Opportunities

What external things could/are helping you achieve your blog’s goals? What trends are their in your blog’s niche that you could explore on your blog? What tools and technologies could you use to improve your blog?

5. List Your Blog’s Threats

What external things could or area hindering you achieving your blog’s goals? What are other blogs in your niche doing that could be hindrance to your own blog’s growth?

note – Think of Strengths and Weaknesses as internal factors while Opportunities and Threats are external factors.

6. Analyze Your Reflections and Generate Strategies

Take some time out to work out what you can do with your findings. How can you utilize your Strengths? How can you bring your Weaknesses to an end? How can you make the most of your Opportunities? how can you fend off the Threats?

As my old Marketing lecturer used to say – ‘doing the analysis of Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats is only half the job. Working out how to turn Weaknesses into Strengths and Threats into Opportunities is the key part of a SWOT analysis’.

7. Plan to Do Something and Do It

Translate your findings into an Action Plan and begin to implement it.

Doing a SWOT analysis is something that I do periodically on my individual blogs and on my overarching business also. Have you ever done one on your blog? What tips would you give to others wanting to do one?

If you want to do more strategic analysis and planning on your blogs you might also like to check out my series of posts – Strategic Blogging.

Explore a Social Media Site

Social-Media

Today’s task in the 31 Days to Building a Better Blog Project (this is the 2nd last day) is to explore a social media site (whether it be a networking site or a bookmarking one) that you might not have seen or explored previously. I’m not going to tell you which one to choose to explore (because you’ll all have had different experiences of different ones) but will leave that choice up to you (I’ve got a suggested list below of some you might like to choose from).

Social media sites are increasingly popular types of sites and are full of wonderful potential for bloggers wanting to improve their blogs.

Why Should Bloggers Take Notice of Social Media Sites?

Traffic – The most obvious attraction to many of these social sites is the massive number of people that many of these sites have and the potential for them to drive deluges of traffic in your blog’s direction.

However, while I’ve written numerous times on getting and leveraging traffic from social media sites (I’ll include some links at the end of this post) I have increasingly begun to see numerous other benefits of being an active participant in these spaces.

Let me briefly explore a few:

Branding – I wrote a post a month ago on Building Your Personal Brand One ‘Straw’ at a Time which highlighted the power of being involved in a variety of different activities online. In that post I shared an email from a reader telling me how he’d stumbled across me in six different ways before subscribing to my blog – two of these instances were social sites (Facebook and Digg). I’m amazed how many people have told me similar things having come across some of my different pages on social sites.

Reinforcing Relationships – A lot has been written about the nature of ‘friends’ in sites like MySpace where you can rack up thousands of ‘friends’ in a day or two yet ‘know’ none of them. While ‘friendships’ and relationships in these types of sites is usually of a different kind to what happens in ‘real life’ (although there are exceptions) I’ve still found that the interactions that I have on social media sites can reinforce the relationships that I have with readers on my blog. There are a number of readers that I interact with regularly on sites like StumbleUpon and LinkedIn that have led to closer interactions on my blog also.

Learning – I learn a lot about building successful blogs when I participate in social media sites. Spend half an hour stumbling through sites on StumbleUpon and you will learn a lot about how to design sites that immediately capture attention in just second or two (which is all you really have to make an impression on SU), analyze the popular posts at a site like delicious and you’ll see the importance of good headlines (and pick up some tips on how to write them), take some time to go surfing on MySpace and Bebo and you’ll see and learn about all kinds of subcultures that you might not have known much about previously, explore a site like Twitter and you’ll learn the power of conensing a message down into just a handful of words….

How to Use Social Media Sites?

I’m sure that many of you will share other things that a blogger will benefit from as a result of social media sites – but lets take a few moments to share a few tips on HOW to interact on social media sites. The following tips will be fairly general as each site is different – but there are a few principles that remain the same:

Don’t Spam – the temptation with many of these sites is to rush in and plaster links back to your blog all over these sites. However this could lead to you damaging your blog more than it’ll benefit from it. There is a time and place to submit your own blog to many of these sites – however do it as a genuine participant rather than just someone in it for self promotion.

Be an Active Observer – each social bookmarking and networking site that you’ll discover will have it’s own rhythms, language and etiquette. The culture at one site will be quite different to another – so it’s important to take your time in getting to know it and to spend time familiarizing yourself with it. Watch how it operates, analyze what type of people use it, get a feel for how people interact with one another and the content, see what people respond to and make note of how other people are using the site in productive ways. Out of these observations you’ll be in a much better position to see opportunities to participate in fruitful ways.

Be a Genuine and Generous Participant - once you’ve got a feel for the site create a profile and begin to participate. Building on my tip ‘don’t spam’ – I’d encourage you to spend as much time as possible using the site in a completely non self serving way. If it’s a bookmarking site – bookmark other sites (ones you have a genuine interest in), if it’s a networking site – interact with people in a real and friendly manner. While you should find ways to build your own profile, brand and authority – these things generally come in time as you naturally participate rather than by always pushing the boundaries and manipulating the system.

Look for Tour Guides – every social media site has it’s key and central participants who can help you to understand and know how to use these sites most effectively. Look for these ‘tour guides’, watch how they operate, emulate them, befriend them, help them achieve their goals and in time build a relationship with them. In doing so you’ll learn a lot, begin to understand the language and culture of the site and will grow in your own influence in it.

If you have more tips on how to use these sites best – feel free to give tips below.

Social Media Sites to Explore:

There are hundreds and hundreds of these types of sites popping up and I can’t possibly mention them all. Let me suggest a few (with links to my own profile where I use them more actively so we can become ‘friends’):

Of course there are literally hundreds of others – many now appearing on specific smaller niches. Feel free to suggest the ones that you’re experimenting with in comments below.

Further on Social Media Sites from our Archives

Email a Blogger that Linked to You to Say Thanks

Building-A-Better-Blog-2One of the lifelines that keeps a blog healthy and growing is the incoming link. When other blogs and websites link to you blog they inject your blog with ‘juice’ that brings it real life in three main ways:

  • Google Juice – incoming links are gold when it comes to climbing the search engines rankings. Every link is like a vote in Google’s eyes – get enough votes from the right sites and your blog will see increases in search engine traffic over time.
  • Reader Juice – incoming links from even small sites will generally mean that people click the link and visit your site. New potential readers!
  • Branding Juice - sometimes the real benefit of an incoming link can be the general branding and reputation enhancing that it can do. A link can be like an endorsement for your blog and on larger sites it can have profound impact not only by what it does with traffic and SEO but the impression that the link creates in the reader’s mind.

There has been a lot written about how to get links to your blog of late – but one thing that can be just as important is how you cultivate the relationships with those linking to you.

One of the things that I’ve learned in the last year particularly is that when a blog or website links to you once there is every chance that they’ll do it again.

As a result it can be very worthwhile to get to know the person who does the writing on the site and to build a working relationship with them.

This generally starts with an email and/or a comment on the post where they link to you.

Today’s task is to send an email to a blogger or webmaster that linked up to you recently. For some of you there will be plenty to choose from, for others just starting out it could be difficult to find any.

Some places to look for who is linking to you:

  • Technorati – type your URL in and hit search and you’ll find any blogs linking to you
  • Google Blog Search – another good tool for real time link tracking
  • Your Blog’s Metrics – any worthwhile stats package will give you a ‘referrals’ stat that shows incoming links. I use Google Analytics but you could also use Sitemeter, Mint, AW Stats or one of many other metrics tools.
  • Search Engines – type in ‘link:http://www.yourblog.com’ at Yahoo or Google and you’ll find incoming links to your blog – note: this isn’t a quick or immediate method of finding recent links.

Once you’ve found another blog or site that’s linked to you – simply drop them an email of thanks. You can do a comment also – but I find an email is a little more personal and often leads into a conversation and perhaps relationship.

Keep the email brief and simple. Don’t pitch the blogger ideas – simply thank them and let them know that you appreciate both the link and their site (if you do). You may also want to make some sort of a comment or ask a simple question that relates to how they linked to you to show you’re engaging with them. If you intend to keep following their blog tell them (eg – let them know if you subscribe to their blog).

If the blogger responds in some way then let the conversation flow. You might find that it leads you to suggest another post that you’ve written, you might find that you can help them in some way or that you can work on something together – however don’t rush this. If nothing more happens than you saying thank you then you’ve lost nothing and made a little impression.

On the other hand you could well find yourself with a new friend and regular incoming links to your blog.

Find a Sponsor for Your Blog

Building-A-Better-Blog-2Today’s task in the 31 Day Project will appeal more to those who are looking to make money from their blogs. If that’s not you – there are plenty of other daily tasks in previous days of the project that you might like to repeat. This task might also be easier for more established blogs than new ones – although it’s not impossible for a new blog to land a sponsor so give it a go!

Today your task is to go on a hunt for a sponsor for your blog.

You might not think that your blog is big enough to find sponsors (and you might be right) but even if you’re unsuccessful in finding one you will hopefully learn a thing or two about finding sponsors and might even start a relationship that could be fruitful at some point in the future.

Getting a sponsor for your blog (or selling an advertising spot directly without relying upon an ad network like AdSense) is a great thing for numerous reasons – not the least of which is that you cut out the middleman and don’t have to share the revenue with a company like Google!

It’s not always easy to land a sponsor – but it’s a skill that bloggers wanting to make money from their blogs should learn – even in the early days.

A few tips for finding a sponsor:

1. Before you go out and start asking companies to sponsor your blog read these two postsFinding Advertisers for your Blog and 10 Ways to make your Blog more Attractive to Advertisers. A big part of finding an advertiser is to get your blog in order first and to be prepared for what they might ask you.

2. If you have a smaller blog and haven’t had a sponsor before don’t aim for the stars straight away. It might be worth starting out by approaching smaller retailers, websites or companies in your niche and see if they’d be interested in some sort of partnership rather than aiming for the very biggest ones right up front. I did this a couple of months after starting my first digital camera blog and emailed 10 online digital camera sites to see if they’d be interested in advertising. 3 of the 10 bought small ads on my site (I think it was for something around $15-$25 a month). It wasn’t a lot of cash (and I didn’t have a lot of traffic to send to them) but I learned so much and made a little money in the process.

3. Target Potential Advertiser Carefully - before you start approaching potential sponsors think carefully about your blog and the topic that you write about and about who might want to reach your readers. Brainstorm a list of companies and websites that might fit the bill.

4. Wondering who to approach? Why not check out who is advertising on other websites and blogs in your niche. Quite often they’ll also be open to running a similar campaign with you.

5. If a sponsor isn’t sure whether to go with you or not – give them a discounted or free trial. I’ve done this a number of times and found it beneficial on three levels:

  • It gives the sponsor a taste of what your blog can offer
  • It can help get your readers used to the idea of advertising on your blog
  • I’ve found that having one advertiser (even if it’s a free one) can actually attract other advertisers (or at least make selling sponsorships easier)
  • You’ll learn a lot by getting the ad up, finding out how it converts and at a discounted rate you’ll even earn a few dollars

6. Find an Angle and Sell it - don’t just email a potential sponsor asking if they want to advertise with you – sell yourself. If your blog has a loyal community of core readers then sell this, if you get a lot of search engine traffic for certain keywords that the advertiser would want to have, sell it to them on this, if you have an audience who is researching to make purchases – this is a key selling point and if you’ve never had an advertiser before on your blog – turn this into a selling point. You need to give a potential sponsor or advertiser a reason to align their brand with yours.

7. If you can’t attract anyone – run a campaign of your own. Pick a part of your blog that you want to drive traffic to (perhaps a post, or a category, or a subscribe page) and develop a button or banner ads to drive traffic to it. I’m doing this here at the moment in the 468 x 60 banner position here at ProBlogger at the moment (there’s a number of different campaigns running there including some internal ones). The beauty of this is that you can test your conversion rates on different positions. Run a heat map test and you’ll learn a lot.

8. If you do manage to sign up a sponsor give sponsors as much value as possible. Do everything you can to over deliver on the campaign. Announce the sponsorship on the blog with a post, mention it any other newsletters or lists that you have, position it high on the page, consider throwing in a bonus text link in another part of your blog etc. The more traffic you can deliver to your sponsor the more chance of getting them to renew.

Link up to a Competitor

Building-A-Better-Blog-2Earlier in the 31 Day Project that I’m running this month I suggested taking some time out to analyze your Blog’s Competition as an exercise to help you improve your own blogging.

In that post I wrote:

“I use the word ‘competition’ hesitantly because the thing about blogging is that those blogging on the same topics as you are potentially your biggest allies. Connect and work with your competition and everyone improves.”

I’ve previously written more on when competition is good in blogging – but today we’re going to put the theory to the test.

Today’s task in the 31 Day Project is to link to another blog in your niche – a ‘competitor’.

While linking to other blogs in your niche might seem a little bizarre to some I’ve seen it’s power many times in my own blogging and that of others. Outbound links Matter!

So here’s the task – find a way to link up to at least one other blog in your niche.

There are of course many ways to do this. I regularly do it here at ProBlogger in my speedlinking posts (random recent links) and at DPS in a similar format called Digital Photography Tips from Around the Web – but there are other ways to go about it from linking to a post someone else has written, to writing a review of the blog in question etc.

So get linking up – and let us know how it goes in comments below!

Go Shopping and Improve Your Blog

ShoppingToday’s task in the 31 Days to Building a Better Blog project is to go Shopping!

OK – I can hear what you’re probably thinking:

“What? The ProBlogger has lost his mind – what does shopping have to do with blogging?”

Stick with me for a second and let me explain….

The reason I want to encourage you to go shopping is twofold:

A. It’ll get you away from your blog for a bit - I was chatting with another blogger yesterday and we both admitted to each other that we’d been in our PJ’s all day blogging (it was 4pm for me) and needed to get out more – sad but true.

B. It’ll give you a chance to do some observation exercises that could help your - this is the main reason for today’s task and is based upon an experience that I had today at a local shopping centre (or ‘mall’ as many of you non Aussies would call it).

The exercise:

1. Step away from the Computer (come on, you can do it)

2. Grab a notebook and pen (do you remember them? They are the things you used to use before your primary form of communication involved typing)

3. Head to your local shopping centre/mall/CBD shopping area (easier for some than others I realize – apologies to those in rural areas, this may or may not work in your local general store)

4. Once at the ‘mall’ take 30 minutes or so to go ‘wandering’ with no agenda (don’t do your groceries) except to ‘watch’ and ‘observe’ in some of the following ways:

  • Who is there? Who are they with?
  • What are they doing?
  • What are they buying?
  • How do they make their buying decisions?
  • What are the retailers doing to get people’s attention and stand out?
  • What messages are they using in their marketing?
  • What colors are in at the moment?
  • What other things are ‘hot’ or in fashion?
  • What sales techniques are sales staff using?
  • What are retail outlets doing well? What are they doing poorly?

5. As you watch, make some notes. Don’t attempt to find any ‘lessons’ or try to tie it back to your blog yet.

6. Once you’ve spent half an hour or so on ‘observation mode’ find a spot to sit down (a food court perhaps) with a coffee and go over the things that you’ve noticed and see if there’s any lessons there that you might be able to apply to your blogging?

This process might seem a little random and pointless – but it’s something that I’ve done on numerous occassions over the last few years and each time that I’ve done it I’ve come away with at least one new idea that I want to apply in my blogging.

Some of the ideas have come directly from things I’ve seen retailers doing in their marketing (for example, today I saw a store using an attention grabbing technique that I want to try to apply to one of my blogs to draw readers eyes) – while others are more lessons about ‘people’ and how they operate and once or twice I’ve even seen illustrations to use for posts or ideas for new blog topics.

If nothing else it’ll get you out of the house for a bit!

I’d love to hear your experiences of this exercise in comments below!

Update: Here’s what I learned on MY shopping expedition today.