The 5 key elements your blog’s ‘Start Here’ page must have

The 5 key elements your blog’s ‘Start Here’ page must have: on ProBlogger.netThis is a guest contribution from Kelly Exeter.

Imagine this: you’ve written a killer blog post and it’s being shared all over the place. Woo hoo! Your traffic is going through the roof and it’s great fun watching those numbers climb. There’s just one problem; all those new readers are reading that one viral post and then leaving your site, never to be seen again.

Or this: you’ve been blogging for seven years. There’s a LOT of content on your site. And new readers are finding you via Google every single day. But your site’s bounce rate is high. Those new readers are sticking around long enough to read the one post Google sent them to and then they’re gone.

How do we stop this happening? How do we capture these readers and turn them into repeat visitors?

The answer is: with a killer Start Here page. One that brings all the important stuff buried deep in your site up to the surface, and offers it up to the reader in a logical way.

What does a killer Start Here page have on it? Glad you asked!

Here are the five most important things it needs in the order in which they should appear:

  1. A very clear statement about who your site is for

If someone’s landed on your site and they’re not your ideal reader, don’t waste their time or yours. Make it clear this is not the place for them.

If they ARE your ideal reader? Then this first part of the page should make them feel at home; like you ‘get them’. This bit need not be more than a paragraph or two.

Here’s what Pat Flynn has at the top of his Start Here page:

“I’m Pat Flynn, creator of Smart Passive Income. If you’re new to the world of online business, blogging, and passive income, this page is for you! It contains the information you need to get up to speed quickly and start your own venture confidently!”

This is what kicks off Michael Hyatt’s:

“If you’re like most of my readers, you’re a successful, high-achiever. You are committed to winning at work, and—equally important—succeeding at life. You strive to grow, get better, and reach your potential. You want to leave a lasting impact on your world.”

While Nicole Avery from Planning with Kids states:

“Planning With Kids is about productivity for families. Getting organised at home so you can spend more time on the good and fun bits of family life.”

  1. Now tell them a little bit about you

Just a little bit. Like a paragraph. If they’ve read past the first paragraph they’re thinking your blog is going to be useful to them in some way. So use this bit to quickly and easily establish some rapport – show them why you ‘get them’.

Here’s Michael Hyatt again:

“I know what it feels like to be in over your head—to have your success outpace your ability to manage it, while still attending to the things that matter most—family, health, faith, and community.

For years, I, too, struggled to get off the treadmill. Too often, my success came at the expense of my health and my most valuable relationships.”

  1. Give them the opportunity to buy something from you

Now I know some people are going to vehemently disagree with me here, but I’ll stand strong on this. Some people will be so sold on you at this stage they want to throw money at you. Let them!

Do you have a book? Offer an online course in something? Link it up!

At best, they will buy. At worst, you’re signalling to the reader right from the word ‘go’ that you’ve created something valuable enough it’s worth paying actual money for (which gives you instant credibility).

Immediately after introducing himself on his First visit? Click here! page, Chris Ducker establishes himself as an authority on the topic of Virtual Staff and Outsourcing … and then says “I wrote a book about this!” I bet a lot of people don’t get much past this bit of the page because they’ve hurried over to Amazon or Barnes and Noble to buy.

The 5 Elements Your Blog's "Start Here" Page Must Have: on

  1. Give them something for free (+ bonus social proof)

Ok, they’re not ready to buy from you just yet, but they’re still here. Now’s the time to offer them something great for free to get them on your list. If you don’t … what a wasted opportunity!

Here’s what Pat Flynn offers:

The 5 Elements Your Blog's "Start Here" Page Must Have: on

If you can offer some social proof in with your free offer like Pat does (‘this book has been downloaded 15,000 times’), all the better. Us humans like to belong so if we see that lots of other people are doing something, we feel both compelled to and comfortable in doing that thing too.

Here’s another form of social proof from Chris Ducker (when he talks about his free 7-day New Business Bootcamp):

I get approximately 150-200 emails a day from entrepreneurs that want to start growing their business the right way for today’s economy.

And here’s James Clear offering two kinds of social proof: the rather large number of email subscribers he has, along with the logos of the big online publications he’s written for.

The 5 Elements Your Blog's "Start Here" Page Must Have: on

  1. Links to your favourite blog posts/things that tell your story

The final element on your Start Here page is arguably the most important. If someone’s got to this point, they want to know more of your story. They want to know more about YOU. So this is where you both showcase your best content and offer up blog posts that tell your story/share your journey in a logical fashion.

Michael Hyatt lists his favourite blog posts under specific categories and offers subtle social proof by noting they’re his most popular posts.

Pat Flynn shares three podcasts and also adds in social proof along with a guarantee!

SPI fans tell me all the time how much these episodes helped them understand the types of passive income opportunities. I guarantee they’ll help you too.”

The Minimalists link and link and link (in a useful fashion).

So does Leo Babauta on the Zen habits site.

And, although it’s not a specific Start Here page, Bron from Maxabella Loves does a magic job telling her story/sharing her base philosophies through the links on her About page.

Diving deep into your archives and categorising key older posts in this way will take some work. But it will be completely worth it for the way it will allow someone to lose themselves in your site for an hour or two. If you managed to captivate them, you’ve got yourself a brand new super-fan!

Kelly Exeter is editor of and author of Your Best Year Ever – 7 simple ways to shift your thinking and take charge of your life. Can a highly driven person really lead a less frantic life? She ponders that and more here.

How to Define Your Blog’s Brand


In today’s episode of the ProBlogger podcast, I want to talk to you about blog branding, and how it shapes the relationship between you and your reader.

It’s something I think everybody should take seriously, and put thought into, rather than just muddle along and see what happens – it really makes such a difference not only to how you are perceived, but also in growing your presence.

Today’s episode is super-practical, and includes lifestyle blogger Claire Hillier from Checks and Spots giving her top tips for building a brand. She spoke at the recent ProBlogger event about blogging for beginners and mentioned these incredibly important points about personal branding, your blog mission, and how these things tie together. These ultimately have a flow-on effect for other parts of your blog and presence online.

Grab a notepad and jot down the notes as they come – also feel free to stop the podcast and answer the questions she raises – and really engage with the content and concept of building your own blog brand, whether it’s commercial or as a hobby.

Claire discusses:

  • What is a brand?
  • What is the essence of a blog?
  • What is the audience?
  • Where is my blog useful?
  • Brand values

You can find episode 49 of the ProBlogger podcast How to Define Your Blog’s Brand here, as well as the show notes.

Further Reading:

Design Trends of 2015: How Your Blog Can Adapt

This is a guest contribution from Owen Andrew.

Since mobile internet began to overtake desktop internet usage in January 2014, there have been major innovations in website design in light of this trend. In general, websites have been opting for a simpler, mobile-friendly design. Maintaining a blog in such a fast-paced environment can be a huge challenge, but staying on top of trends is required for success. In order to keep your blog interesting and relevant in the upcoming year, there are five design trends to keep in mind when continuing your work in 2015.


Image via

Emphasis on Mobile

With so many people turning to their mobile devices when going online, it’s no wonder that many blogs have begun creating content that is easy viewable on smaller screens. While mobile used to be a consideration, for web-savvy designers, mobile is now the focus. If a site doesn’t work on mobile, you are now neglecting what is likely the majority of your audience, so start any web design process by focusing on mobile, and adapt that design to work on a desktop screen, rather than vice versa.

 Focus on Typography

Thanks to Google Fonts, a free package of various typefaces, and a recent decrease in typography package prices, there has been renewed interest in creating a unique look through higher-end typography. Typography is not only useful for creating a more beautiful, unified look for your blog or website, it can also have a large impact on the readability of your text– especially on mobile platforms. For example, fonts such as Verdana and Georgia have been shown to have the best readability on screens. Small touches such as typography can lend a lot to a site, and help it stand out among the competition.

 Minimalist Design

Because of the new emphasis on mobile, the web design landscape is expected to be much more minimalist than in previous years. The emphasis on flat designs and stripped-down icons will be more present in 2015. Apple, Microsoft, and Google have all embraced two-dimensional buttons and icons recently, and other websites are beginning to follow suit.

 Large Background Photos

A major web design trend in the upcoming year, large background photos have become popular because of their ability to fill in an otherwise sparse, minimalist site. This trend has been facilitated by an increase in bandwidth across the globe, and allows for scrolling sites filled with large pictures and lots of information. Using large background pictures is great for home pages, and when used with flat-design buttons lends any website or blog an expansive, elegant appearance.

 Expandable Menus

To accommodate the simpler look that is currently prominent in website design, bloggers and blog sites have started utilizing expandable menus in order to keep the blog decluttered and clean-looking. These expandable menus are often integrated with flat designs that use intuitive, minimalist icons rather than three-dimensional ones. These expandable menus are especially well suited for mobile, where they can stay out of the way of the text and media.

Blogging, especially for a living, is an extremely competitive field. Keeping up-to-date on current trends in design will enhance your content by supporting it with a cleaner, more modern look. The internet is estimated to contain more than 152 million blogs! Staying ahead of the curve on advances in technology and design will help your blog keep ahead of the pack.

Owen Andrew is a tech journalist and Apple enthusiast. When he’s not writing or drooling over the latest Apple announcement, he’s usually hanging with his kids and doing family activities. Feel free to give him a shout on G+ or Facebook.

How to Make Your Blog Look Attractive in No Time

This is a guest contribution from Daniel Glickman of Emaze.

Appearance matters.

How your blog looks when visitors first visit has a powerful effect on their interpretation of the quality of your content. However, when designing your blog, it may be difficult to know what’s most important. Is it better to look professional and risk looking like every other company blog, or to focus on being unique so that you stand out from the rest? The truth is, neither is most important – what’s most important is creativity.

Communicating creativity shows that you are not ordinary. It shows you are capable of thinking outside of the box to deliver fresh content that offers something different than the rest. This is valuable no matter what niche your blog is in, so how do you capitalize on creativity and start making your blog look creative in no time?

Step 1: Understand creativity doesn’t equal off-the-wall.

Creativity doesn’t mean sharing purposeless viral dog videos or snazzy online presentations just because you think it will make you stand out from your competition. In fact, this is the opposite of creativity. Creativity is working with purpose to do what everyone else is doing in a unique way.

Even the most professional website can be creative just by taking a different approach to classic design. In fact, the best instances of creativity come due to the element of surprise. If your audience expects you to use a certain font, create advertisement campaigns similar to those you have in the past, or make the same offer as every other blog, you won’t be creative if you serve them what you want. For instance, if every business blog in your niche is offering a helpful marketing manual or white paper, be creative and think of what else you can offer. Once you understand what creativity is, you can outline what creativity looks like on your website.

Step 2: Outline what creativity means to you.

To determine what creativity means for you and your blog’s brand, there is no better place to look than around you to see how your competition is succeeding – or failing – at being creative. Some questions to ask yourself…

  • What similarities do you see across other blogs in your niche?
  • Do they all share the same content or have look-alike landing pages?
  • Is there one that is distinct among the rest?
  • What are they doing right – do they have a killer video advertising campaign or a logo you can’t get out of your head?
  • Where is there room for improvement? Are you a travel blogger and notice every other blog has great photos, but few videos or presentations? Or perhaps you notice all the other startup’s company blogs have generic logos or that everyone in your niche is sharing the same content on social media. Find weak spots among your competition to identify where to begin.

Use this to decide how you will bring creativity to your blog. Of course, your plan can (and should) evolve as you see what works and what doesn’t, but starting here is a good place to begin.


Step 3: Start communicating creativity before audiences ever reach your content.

Think about how many opportunities you have to plant ideas about your brand in your audience’s head before they even reach your content. To start, think of how they get to your site. How can you make your advertisements more creative, either by integrating creative touches within the ad content or using creative methods to reach new viewer? How is your blog’s meta-description language different from the others who come up in Google search results? What do you do that screams, “Come to my blog over the rest!” Integrate creative tactics for every step of your blog, including those leading to a visitor landing on your blog.

And of course, remember, landing pages matter. A lot! A creative landing page is one of the single most important moments for sticking your brand in your audiences’ mind. Integrating videos and highlighting focus keywords through design and font are all great ways to catch your audiences’ eyes.

Step 4: Don’t forget the little touches.

When creating a brand image, every little thing matters, and it’s important to ensure that they all fit with your desired message. Creativity doesn’t have to be grandiose – it can be as small as a rare social media link graphic or a dash of humor in your About Me page. Creativity is all about catching the visitor off guard – and making everything different is over-the-top and can defy this purpose. For example, pay attention to your logo to ensure it’s in line with the rest of your branding, and then add an unexpected touch of color to your color scheme or pick a unique font for standout content on your landing page. Creativity relies on little touches that draw the viewer’s eye and set you apart. Just like putting too much content can create an impression of clutter, so too can adding too many details because you think they are “creative.” Creativity is best when subtle, which is what makes it so powerful.


Step 5: Look at every piece of content you absorb through a creative lens.

When looking at others’ content online, start seeing the world through a creative lens. Notice what makes you pay attention and ask yourself why this company or advertisement was able to grab your focus. Chances are, you’ll notice a large part of it is due to good old creativity.

Let creativity funnel into every aspect of your blog. Use original marketing techniques and social media posts so you continuously communicate your ability to re-imagine the typical ways of doing things. An audience’s perception of you often comes from many different sources – an amazing Tweet you shared, a great logo, or an awesomely different landing page – every piece matters for creating the whole.

Daniel Glickman is the CMO of emaze. He loves analyzing marketing data and building strategic and tactical plans. 

Is your blog design ready for 2014? Four ways to tell

This is a guest contribution from Laura Windisch of 99designs.

It’s that time of year again. Time to take a good long look at your blog and reflect on what’s worked well, learn from what hasn’t, and set goals for what will. After you’ve had a chance to sort through the numbers—total visits, average length of stay and the like—give your eyes a minute to focus on what your design is doing to showcase your content.

Whether you install one of your platform’s pre-made templates or find someone to create a custom design, your blog’s appearance is what visitors will notice first. A good design will communicate your message with personality and passion.

Here are four questions you can ask yourself to assess whether your design is ready for 2014.

1. Is your design as simple as it ought to be?

When it comes to blogging, the written word rules. Keep readers focused on your content with a clean design. Here’s how.

  • Ditch the clutter. Delete any distracting background images and dead links.

  • Embrace white space. Give your text room to breathe.

  • Limit your fonts. Choose no more than three fonts (for example, one each for your titles, body text and navigation) to keep the page from looking overloaded. Whatever font you choose, make sure it’s legible.

  • Use colour carefully. Is your background light and your text dark? That’s a good start. An explosion of colour can be overwhelming, but splashes of vibrant shades will help you draw attention to important areas like call to action. A subtle background will also help the photos and images within your post pop.

2. Is your content easy to scan?

Most readers will be scanning your posts rather than reading them word-for-word. Make your design easy to scour.

  • Break it up. Headlines, subheads, lists, images and bold text are your formatting friends. They’ll make your content easier to consume.

  • Be generous with images. Treat your readers to big photos, illustrations and charts that supplement a point you’re making in your post. Visual content attracts eyeballs.

3. Can people find what they are looking for?

If you started your blog with a passion—but without a clear idea of all the topics you’d be covering—it may be time to take a step back and give your design a solid structural backbone.

  • First, get organised. Establish a clear hierarchy and put everything in its place.

  • Create noticeable navigation. Visitors will land on your blog from Twitter, search engines, links and who knows where else. Show off what else you have to offer with clear links to categories, recent posts and popular posts.

  • Include strong CTAs. Be sure your design clearly tells your audience what to do (e.g. “Subscribe to our newsletter”). Don’t assume they’ll hunt for anything.

4. Is your design memorable?

New blogs are popping up daily. As of this posting, for example, there are 72,628,476 WordPress sites in the world. Find a way to stand out.

  • Brand your header. This is the area new visitors will likely notice first, so don’t miss the opportunity to create a strong first impression of your personal brand. Play off your logo to show your personality.

  • Create a custom design. Stand out from the plethora of popular free themes with a custom blog design. A unique look will inspire your readers and keep them coming back for more.

Did you answer no to any questions? Now’s the perfect time to step up your blog design and let your content shine. Here’s to a beautiful 2014!

Laura Windisch writes for 99designs — the world’s leading online graphic design marketplace. If you’re looking for a custom blog design, try launching a contest on their website. You’ll get dozens of creative options and pick the one you love most.      

7 Places Bloggers Can Get Design Work Done (Without Breaking The Bank)

This is a guest contribution by Skellie Wag.

Every blog has a design. Whether it’s a beautifully put together custom job, a WordPress theme, a template or something frankensteined together with a vague knowledge of HTML and CSS.

Most of us are not web designers, and because of this, the design of our blogs can end up being a thorn in our side.

We want to make changes, but don’t know how. We’d like a better logo (or simply to have a logo at all), but aren’t sure how to get one. We know our header image is a little ugly. But what to do about it?

Frustrated blogger

Image copyright Renee Jansoa –

Finding designers for smallish jobs like making tweaks to a blog theme, designing a new header, or adding an email form can be a little tricky. It involves working with a designer who is willing to take on a small job, who fits with our budget, is friendly, communicative, and does work in a style that we like. That’s a lot of criteria to fulfill!

Because finding someone like this seems tough, many bloggers will overlook necessary design updates, or try to do it themselves. If you’ve ever stayed up until the wee hours trying to make one small change to your blog’s layout, only to mess up everything on the page, you’re not alone.

My life as a blogger became much easier when I realised that there are several places where you can get small design changes done at a good price, by good people. I’ll dig into these options below, examining the pros and cons of each. Next time you need design work done on your blog, you may consider using one of these options.

1. Elance

How it works

You write an outline for your job, and list a budget. Freelancers will write proposals for why they are the best person to do the job, and will ‘bid’ a price for completion.


Because each job generally receives bids from multiple freelancers, there is downward pressure on pricing as freelancers compete to win the job. Working with freelancers from Elance tends to be affordable. Because there are hundreds of thousands of freelancers working through Elance, you are likely to have a rich selection of proposals for your job.


Because Elance is highly competitive for freelancers, many try to speed up the process of submitting multiple proposals by submitting generic copy and paste messages. In some cases, the freelancer may not have properly read the details of the job proposal.

Because the quality of a freelancer’s work is not approved prior to joining Elance, quality varies.

The verdict

If going through Elance, take the time to do due diligence on any freelancer you are considering hiring. Make sure you’re willing to devote some time to go through the multiple proposals your job is likely to receive.

2. oDesk 

How it works

Browse freelancer profiles listing their hourly rate, skills, and the number of hours worked through oDesk. Alternatively, you can post your job and budget and receive applications from oDesk’s freelance community.


You can pick and choose a freelancer whose work you like, whose hourly rate you like, and who has a great reputation on oDesk. Alternatively, you can post a job and receive applications (much like on


If you post your job to oDesk, you’ll have a volume of applications to go through, not all of which will be from ideal candidates. You need to ensure that you have the time to perform due diligence on applicants. If the job is only small, the time taken to choose a freelancer might outweigh the benefits of outsourcing the job.

The verdict

For small jobs, consider selecting a freelancer directly to save time, rather than posting a job.

3. 99designs 

How it works

On 99designs you create design competitions rather than post jobs. Designers enter multiple designs aimed at best fulfilling your brief. If you select one of these designs as the competition ‘winner’, you claim ownership of the designer’s work, and the prize money is divided between the designer and 99designs.


If you don’t like any of the designs provided by competition entrants, you don’t pay anything. You’ll receive designs in a variety of styles, with many different interpretations of your brief. Most jobs receive around 30 design pitches, giving you a wide range of work to choose from. If you’re not sure exactly what you want, this could be a smart route for you.


This service is a better choice for a large scale redesign, as they do not do small tweaks. 99designs also focuses on design work only. Because designers who enter your competition are not guaranteed to be paid unless they win (the chances of which are statistically low), their work may reflect this. Some members of the design community also believe that spec work is unethical, because the designer may or may not be compensated for their effort.

The verdict

99designs could be a worthwhile choice if you need a complete redesign for your blog. If you aren’t sure exactly you want, having a range of options to choose from could be useful.

4. Microlancer 

How it works

Freelancers create listings for their services, with price, turnaround time, number of revisions, and work examples provided upfront. Buyers purchase the service they want. The work must be completed and approved within the turnaround time, or the buyer is eligible for a refund.


Microlancer is specifically designed for small design and coding jobs, the kind that bloggers usually need done. Freelancers are reviewed for quality, meaning the standard of design and code is high. Terms, price and work examples are provided upfront, making it easier to make an informed decision. 


Because service categories have a minimum price, Microlancer is less affordable than other options. Job size is limited, so it is not a good choice for a complete blog redesign. Additionally, payment is required upfront, which might deter some buyers.

The verdict

Microlancer is a good choice if you have a clear idea of what you want and don’t want to spend time trawling through dozens of job proposals. It isn’t well-suited to larger projects, such as a complete redesign.

5. Freelancer

How it works

You post a job and freelancers submit job proposals and bids to work on your project. You can also search freelancer profiles, or post contests (similar to 99designs).


With projects, freelancers and contests available, there are many options for getting your design job done. If you’d like to choose from a number of interested parties, post a project. If you’d like to choose one person to work with, select a freelancer based on their profile. If you’d like to receive many different pitches for completed work, post a contest.


Going through project proposals requires time to perform due diligence on each application. Choosing a freelancer from the 8 million+ profiles might also be time consuming. When posting a contest, it will take time for the entries to come through. might not be the ideal choice for a job that you need done urgently.

The verdict

Freelancer offers flexibility in how you want the job done, and a huge pool of freelancers to choose from. It is a solid choice if you have the time to make sure your job is done by the right person.

6. People Per Hour

How it works

People Per Hour is structured around hourly rates. You can choose to work with individual freelancers who state their hourly rates upfront, purchase an ‘Hourlie’, a fixed price service, or post a job and receive proposals.


You may be able to find a freelancer who has posted an ‘Hourlie’ rate for exactly the job that you need done, for example, a blog header redesign. Otherwise, you can post your job and receive bids, or choose a freelancer who seems like a good fit for the job.


Freelancers on People Per Hour don’t pass through a review process, so the quality of their work varies and may not always be clearly visible upfront. You should look deeper into any freelancer you are considering working with and make sure they do the kind of work that you’re looking for.

The verdict

People Per Hour offers the flexibility to find a freelancer through several different means. You’ll need to take the time to make sure you’re happy with your choice before you commit.

7. Tweaky

How it works

The Tweaky website offers dozens of fixed priced jobs based around small tasks and customisations. Once a job is purchased, it will be completed by a freelancer on the Tweaky team. The project is overseen by a Project Manager, there to ensure that things run smoothly and that work is delivered on time.


Tweaky was deliberately created around small jobs and customisations, so it is well suited to the kinds of tasks that bloggers need done. The presence of a staff Project Manager on each job offers an extra level of professionalism and protection against poor quality work.


Tweaky focuses on code rather than design. Some bloggers may not like that they aren’t able to choose who will complete the work they need done (freelancers are assigned to jobs by Tweaky staff).

The verdict

If you’re not overly concerned with who does your work, only that it gets done quickly and for an upfront price, then Tweaky could be the right option for you.

Who Do You Recommend?

Would you work with any of these companies to get design or customisations done for your blog? Have you done so already? If so, we’d love to hear your reviews and experiences in the comments.

Skellie is a writer, entrepreneur and web developer. She is currently helping out the team at

Branding your blog is difficult, or is it?

This is a guest contribution from Olivia RoseA question mark

How much time have you spent on the branding of your blog? If you haven’t branded your blog, you may not realise what you’re missing out on.

Branding a blog is extremely important but it is also a bit of a nebulous concept to those who are not professionals in the marketing industry. The first step is to understand what a brand is and how it can help you develop your blog and reach and retain your audience. You also need to understand how to properly build a brand, or when rebranding may be necessary.

So let’s start at the beginning.

What is a Brand?

A brand is the essence of a thing. Your blog’s brand contains its tone, humour, character, colour scheme, visual logos and much more. A brand needs to be a cohesive thing and the actual thrust of the brand should be something simple that encapsulates what your blog is about. Your brand will also need to be about; who you are, and what your blog means to you and your readers. Once you have answered these core questions you will be able to begin connecting with readers who identify with your blog’s brand.

Rainbow colour chart

Why Should You Brand Your Blog?

Branding offers some very simple benefits, such as the ability to merchandise. However, it also offers subtler benefits. Customers will know what to expect from you and will understand who you are and what you represent. The power behind your brand will lead you into larger overall market exposure that can help expand your readership. Virtually every successful blog out there has a very clear brand that is emphasised and developed.

How Do You Brand a Blog?

Branding a blog begins with brainstorming. You will need to ask yourself very important questions, such as what your blog is about, what your goals are and how you want readers to engage with you – emotionally. You will then want to narrow this down to a few core concepts that form the foundation of what your brand represents. From there you can develop a name, slogan and logo, and a blog colour scheme and style.

How Do You Design a Brand?

Branding is so much more than a colour scheme, but the colours you use are important so it’s worth spending some time on this issue. After all, it’s much harder to change things once your blog is up and running! You may wish to study colour theory and choose colours that are best associated with your core principles.

WordPress themes are an excellent way for you to develop your brand quite quickly. A WordPress theme allows you to create an entire design and scheme almost immediately, and then you can base all of your additional branding and media off your chosen theme. Many WordPress themes are extremely customisable, which means that you can change the colours and add a logo of your choosing. It’s worth working on new themes or theme modifications when the majority of your readership is not active, because it is always possible to crash your blog.

Wordpress screen print

How Can You Develop a Tone of Voice?

Equally important to the physical aspects of a blog is the actual content of the blog. You will need to determine the tone of voice of your blog early on and be consistent. As noted in a previous post about branding, if your tone isn’t well-suited to your brand and consistent, you will dilute your brand. If you’re aiming at professional journalism you should stick with a very professional and dry tone, whereas if you are aiming for a funny entertainment website you will want to remain light-hearted and entertaining.

A consistent tone of voice is very important in letting readers know what they should expect from your blog.

Can You Avoid Branding?

An important point to remember is that a lack of brand development does not mean that your blog does not have a brand. A blog will still have a brand because it is, in large part, a conceptual thing that exists in a reader’s mind. However, a blogger that doesn’t actively develop their brand has absolutely no control over what the reader associates the blog with.

Creating a brand allows a blogger to take control over the image of their blog, and not creating a brand essentially relinquishes this control.

Is it Worth Branding Your Blog?

If you are in the blog industry for success and readership then there is really no choice but to brand your blog. You may not even realise that your blog already has a brand of sorts but it simply isn’t a concise or directed one. You may be able to take your existing blog brand and develop it further. Using an existing brand to create a new brand is a simple and easy conversion process that can build new readers without losing old readers.

What Do You Do After the Brand?

It is worth mentioning the most important part of having a brand: sticking with it.

Even an imperfect brand will gain momentum over the months or even years that it is in use, but changing your brand over and over will simply confuse your readership and dilute the impact of any further brand developments. It’s very important for you to find your brand and then stick with it for as long as is possible.

Have you branded your blog? Is it something you’re considering?

Olivia Rose’s hobbies are cycling, playing tennis and blogging. Her favourite thing to blog about is business- especially branding! She suggests a Print Management business such as Hague Print if you are thinking about branding or rebranding your business. 

Help! My Baby is Sick and Someone is Stealing My Money!

This is a guest contribution from Andrew Grant, owner and author of The Freedom Blog.

Two weeks ago I made a shocking discovery.

I found out that my youngest child, barely out of nappies, has been infected by a terrible virus with the sinister name of SASS.

SASS spreads at an alarming rate and is highly contagious. Prevalence has doubled in the last year alone and the most frightening thing is that SASS is propagated by one of our favourite modern technologies; the smartphone!

OK, don’t worry; I’m not talking about real children. You don’t have to hygienically dispose of your iPhone, just yet.  SASS stands for Short Attention Span Surfing and I just made it up. But this fictional disease does represent a very real threat to something very precious to me; my young, fresh-faced blog.

If you are a fellow blogger, you’ll know exactly how I feel. Just like a real baby the birth of a blog is often protracted and painful, yet at the same time, strangely moving. Once mine entered the world, I was anxious to show it off, but also curiously shy in case people thought it was ugly.  I dressed it in a pretty theme, fed it with the freshest content and showered it with unnecessary plugins on the slightest pretence.

At the same time, I anxiously monitored its vital signs, reacting to every burp and hiccup; even getting up in the middle of the night just to make sure it was still breathing.

Heart beat vital signs

Image courtesy of jscreationzs

The Danger Signs

It was during one of my nocturnal check-ups that I noticed something was wrong.

At first everything appeared normal. I noted, as usual that mobile visitors represented about twenty percent of my overall traffic, split roughly 50/50 between tablets and smart-phones, which is exactly what I would expect from reading the latest tech news headlines. Mobile is growing like crazy.

The latest report from Monetate for example, shows that mobile share of web traffic has doubled in the last year alone from 10 to 20% (in line with my stats) and businesses with retail sites now get a better conversion from their tablet users than they do from desktops. It seems we’re happier to buy on our iPads than our Dells, these days. Smart-phone users aren’t quite so keen to buy stuff, yet.  But that will change as web designers catch up with the opportunity.

Therefore, it seems perfectly feasible, as Morgan Stanley have predicted, that in less than two years, more than half the people who visit my site, or yours, will be on some sort of mobile device. So, what’s the problem? Mobile users are as good as any others, aren’t they?

Well, yes, but also a big, No.

Like most blog-parents I had been careful to choose a nice warm, mobile-responsive theme, so that my baby would look his best on any browser, but I was beginning to suspect that it wasn’t enough. When I started looking at my analytics for visitor engagement, I found a disturbing dark shadow on the X-Ray.

Although my desktop stats were holding steady, mobile user-engagement was significantly lower. In fact, the figures were remarkably symmetrical.  Twenty percent of my visitors were reading twenty percent fewer pages and leaving twenty percent sooner than everybody else.

Except for one visitor, who spent 25 minutes browsing my blog on a Motorola phone. But I don’t think he counts. I think he was asleep!

Why don’t they like my baby?

I wanted to figure out why my content wasn’t working for mobile users, so I took a critical look using my own smartphone. I could see the problem straight away. Even though my nice, responsive theme was doing its best to optimise the presentation, there were bigger issues.

The site took too long to load, the font was difficult to read indoors and impossible in daylight, the graphics were too big and the layout looked uninviting.  Clearly, my mobile readers were receiving a second rate experience. It was no surprise they were bouncing off to go and play Angry Birds.

I could see it was time for a change, but the real tipping point came when I read this piece by Amy Mischler at

“Building a dotMobi site means that your URL will automatically feature on the ‘zone files’ that we maintain for ICANN, which are regularly requested by mobile search engines, directories and other sites as ‘seed lists’ for the indexing of mobile-centric web sites.

 In other words, the use of a dotMobi domain will automate the beginnings of your search engine and directory submission process – in fact each month these log files are requested by around 5,000 interested parties.”

Does that smell like free traffic to you?  Bear in mind that was written in 2008, so imagine how much opportunity there is now!

Note: Dot mobi is a top level domain (TLD), just like dot com or dot org, which was introduced in 2006. It is intended to allow sites to differentiate themselves from their desktop counterparts and indicate that they are focused on a mobile audience.  You can register a dot mobi domain with any of the usual domain name providers.

Can Anybody Help Me?

So I began looking around for advice on how to ‘go mobile’. Surely, I thought, there must be plenty of other bloggers who are way ahead of me on this one. Mustn’t there? Well, as it turned out, there weren’t. What I found was lots of advice in two areas. Neither of which was much help.

Firstly, there were dozens of articles advising the use of responsive themes and secondly, I found plenty of suggestions for apps allowing me to post on the move. Since I already had a responsive theme and no desire to write my articles from the inside of a whale’s belly, I was disappointed.

Nowhere could I find anybody talking about things like user engagement, mobile content optimisation or multi-media repurposing, except as a means of building backlinks. It seemed I was on my own.

But then I discovered something even more shocking.

Someone is stealing my money!

Image courtesy of chanpipat

Let’s see if you can spot it too. Here’s a little challenge for you. If you have a responsive theme on your blog, take look at it on your smartphone. Looks nice doesn’t it?

All your posts neatly lined up, one on top of the other.  Lovely, slidey, scrolly action.   See those front-page extracts whizzing past your fingers.  Wheee!

Now look a little closer. Notice anything missing?  No? Are you sure?

OK, I’ll give you a clue. Think of the word ‘sidebar’. Are you getting it now? Where is your sidebar? Not there is it? I don’t know which responsive theme you’re using, but every single one I’ve tried has dumped my sidebars like a cheap date, as soon as it spots a hot, new smart-phone.

And what are the three most important things that most bloggers keep in their sidebars?

  • Recent posts widgets
  • Opt-in forms
  • AdSense ads and banners

Those clever boffins who designed your, oh-so-elegant, responsive theme have completely forgotten to include the three most important elements of your blog; the elements responsible for reader engagement, visitor retention and monetization.

Programmers are pilfering our pocket money! Of course, it’s not deliberate. I hope. But it is bad design. It solves one problem but creates a bigger one.

Really! Can Anyone Help Me?

Once again, I turned to the heavy hitters to find some answers. Surely, the big bloggers are not so dumb as to let 20% of their readers go by without showing them a single ad? They must be doing something really creative to get round this problem. Mustn’t they?

Well, once again, not exactly. Out of five big names chosen at random and viewed on my smartphone, three showed less than ten percent of their normal number of ads and two of them had no ads at all!  Sorry, Problogger, I’m afraid you are one of the latter. The ones who did manage to squeeze some in, were usually settling for a single banner at the top of the front page and maybe a box ad at the bottom of each post.

The most effective solution I came across was to make the advert into a post. That way it would appear as part of the front page scroll and carry the same visual weight as a post I’ve since discovered this is called ‘native advertising’, though I’m not sure why.

Despite these small pockets of advancement, it was clear that the mobile interface is a problem that we’re all wrestling with. What we need is an action plan to inoculate our babies against SASS.  Since no one else seems to have got round to it yet, here’s mine.

Mobile Action Plan – Mark 1


Optimise everything; mobile users may have slow, 3G connections

  • Cut down the number of images
  • Compress the ones you keep
  • Install a caching plugin and learn how to configure it
  • Compress your CSS and JS code by installing Minify and Gzip .  Don’t worry.  I know that sounds like a technical nightmare, but it is really easily achieved with a couple of plugins


You probably don’t want to write two sets of content, so use the same posts as on your main site, but mobile-ise them, like this:

  • Write a three bullet summary at the top of each post in a larger font.  This will appear in the post extract, so mobile users can see immediately what they’re getting
  • Offer them different ways to consume the post
  • How about a recorded version so they can listen while they drive?
  • Give them the option to email the post to themselves and read it later – that way they can sign up to your email list at the same time
  • Or turn the post into slides or a video, upload it to Slideshare or YouTube and embed the player on your blog – that way you get a couple of backlinks into the bargain


Get clever with your adverts

  • Find out if you can configure your theme to display sidebar content to mobile users
  • If not work out ways to embed ads into the body of your posts
  • Turn the ads into posts ; advertorial style is great for product reviews or A vs B, type content. That way they will have the same visual weight as any other post and show up in the middle of the front-page scroll
  • Find smart ways to integrate your money links into the body of your content – it’s more compelling that way anyway and you may well find that click-through rates increase.

Visitor retention and list building

  • Buy some low-cost PLR ebooks and offer a new one every week or month, as an opt-in gift.  Then you can write a review post of each book, with your opt-in box in the middle of the text.  (PLR stands for Private Label Rights and basically means you buy a licence to do what you want with the book – sell it, give it away or even pretend you wrote it.)
  • Try embedding your opt-in form into other posts as well, so that it shows up a couple of times a week


Ultimately, mobile users should really have their own gateway

  • At the very least you should install a responsive theme and test it on a smart-phone
  • Think seriously about building a satellite blog on a dot mobi domain, with an auto-switching plugin that detects the visitor’s device and serves up the most appropriate version.
  • Consider building an app as well as, or even instead of, your blog.  This has cost implications, but also advantages.  An app is a walled garden that engenders loyalty and push notification blows email out of the water, when it comes to open rates (up to 60% for push vs around 20% for email).

Once you put your mind to it, the mobile challenge starts to throw up all sorts of new opportunities and new ways to deliver good content.  In fact some of those ideas might work well on your main site too.


The real question is; will doing all this cure our babies and let them grow big and strong again? The simple answer is, I don’t know. But we have to try something, or blogging as we know it, is in danger of disappearing.

Maybe the future blogging model is virtual and distributed, rather than site-centric. Imagine that your content is everywhere and readers simply access it via an app which draws in articles, slides, videos and audio files from all the different places you uploaded them.

Rather than getting hung up on the framework of our site, we should be focused on creating multi-purpose content, ready to be delivered, via whatever medium comes along. Right now we’re thinking about mobile. Next year it might be a wristwatch, or Google’s Glasses or a flexible screen sewn into your jacket.

Ultimately, the biggest lesson for content providers is that we need to separate the intellectual property from the real estate. Whatever it looks like, people will still want content and we need to be ready to give it to them.  Or someone else will. For a list of useful test sites, plugins and tools to help you go mobile, you’ll find a page called ‘Mobile Resources’ on my blog.

Let us know what you think.  What steps have you taken to mobile-ise?  What solutions have you come up with to monetise on smartphones?

Andrew Grant is the owner and author of The Freedom Blog a site where aspiring bloggers and internet marketer can find inspiration, practical advice and food for thought.

Common Creativity: Understanding the Rules and Rights Around “Free” Images on the Web

We’re all familiar with the old adage: a picture is worth a thousand words. In some cases, a picture is worth a thousand dollars. Luckily, for those of us not interested in investing a small fortune for the use of an image on a small scale, there are options.

Creative commons

Image by Jayel Aheram, licensed under Creative Commons

Sites offering free copyright images are gaining in popularity throughout the blogging and web design communities alike, but they are by no means created equal.

In fact, “free” does not necessarily mean “without cost” or even relate to price. For example, “royalty free” simply means that once you pay for the photo, you are “free” to use it however you like.

When words don’t even mean what they are supposed to mean, how are we to know the rules and rights surrounding “free” images on the web?  And if payment is a prerequisite to all of that freedom, are any pictures truly free?

Now, you may be asking yourself “who really cares?” After all, what are the chances that some artist is going to go to the trouble of tracking you down to sue you for “illegally” downloading their work? Besides, they put it out there on the Internet so it’s really fair game, right?


No matter how small the risk of your getting caught may seem (depending, of course, on how flagrant you are with what you have “stolen”), the simple fact is that improper use of protected works is a crime and is actually prosecuted more often than you might think.

The bottom line is simple: do you really want the risk of prosecution hanging over your head ready to come down on you at any time? If you’re serious about your future in blogging, the answer is no.

Okay, fine, you get it: you don’t want to break the law. But you’re not a copyright attorney and the nuances of intellectual property laws are so tricky, even those guys seem confused a lot of the time! If only there was a way for you to honor the law and easily understand the right and wrong ways to navigate the choppy waters of copyright protection all at the same time…

Enter: the world of Creative Commons licenses. Thanks to sites like Flickr, morgueFile, Wikimedia, and Pixabay (just to name a few), thousands of free images are at your fingertips. Creative Commons licenses have made legal use of images on the web simple for anyone—even if he or she is not an attorney.

However, there are still various levels of “freedom” within the licenses and a keen comprehension of those is necessary if you wish to use the images without fear of legal repercussion.

The licenses

There are six basic licenses within the Creative Commons library, linked together with one common thread: proper credit, or attribution, must be given to the original creator. Their individual designations, followed by short-hand codes and real-world examples, are explained below.

Attribution: CC BY

This is the least restrictive and most accommodating grant of permission to the public. Basically, it lets others do as they please with the creator’s work (distribute, remix, tweak, alter, and profit commercially), provided the originator receives proper attribution.

Attribution-ShareAlike: CC BY-SA

This license offers the same rights as an Attribution license (others may distribute, remix, tweak, alter, and profit commercially) with the added stipulation that all subsequent forms of the work carry identical terms.

In other words, if the work starts out under this license, it must have this license forever and cannot change to a basic Attribution license somewhere down the line.

Example:Wikimedia uses this license and it is recommended for all similar sites that share and incorporate various bits of information.

Attribution-NoDerivs: CC BY-ND

Under this license, the work itself may be reused, but it must remain identical to the way you found it—no tweaking, altering or remixing allowed. However, you may still redistribute and profit commercially from it, provided, as always, that you properly attribute the originator.

Example: This is a good one for web designers and bloggers who have found something great that they want to incorporate “as is” for use in creations that earn them money, i.e. a website or blog.

Attribution-NonCommercial: CC BY-NC.

This license provides that others may do as they wish to a creation (alter, tweak, remix, etc.) as long as it is done in a non-commercial context.

You might look at this one as “permission to do what you will to the creation, but not what you will with the creation.”  Additionally, as long as this non-commercial new work gives proper credit, it need not be licensed under the same terms.

Example: You might look for this license if you were preparing a school project or creating something for your own personal use.

Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike: CC BY-NC-SA

This is the same as Attribution-NonCommercial (may be altered and used in a non-commercial setting); however, the new version must be licensed in exactly the same manner as the source work.

Example: This license might apply to an image or a song that someone has altered and passed along to friends, provided it carries the same license and does not profit the “tweaker.”

Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs: CC BY-NC-ND

Of the six main licenses, this one carries the most restrictions with it. Under this, you are only allowed to download and share the work, with absolutely no modification or profit along the way.

If you are a web designer or a blogger and you see this license designation, back away … unless, of course, you are interested in facing an accusation of copyright violation.

How to give proper attribution.

Now that we have discussed the various types of licenses and we know that all of them require the proper attribution of the creator, how exactly do we do that?

The folks at Creative Commons have created a nifty little pack that explains the different ways you can attribute, along with examples, but the basics are simple and flexible:

  • you should credit the creator
  • provide the title and host URL of the work
  • indicate the type of CC license it takes (along with a link for others to follow)
  • keep any copyright notices intact.

For an example, see the image I included at the top of this post.

Some final “legal” notes…

This post is not a law review article, nor is it intended to be a treatise on the ins and outs of copyright law. But I do want to shed some light on a few basic aspects of copyright protection for bloggers.

First, this licensure actually protects the user, not the creator.

This statement doesn’t seem so crazy when you consider that a basic truth of intellectual property law is that all works are automatically copyright-protected (thus, enforceable against the user) upon their creation—it’s literally a legal “given.”

Since this is true, if you are ever sued for copyright infringement, the burden is automatically upon you, the defendant, to prove that you did not violate the copyright and, in fact, the creator granted you permission (of some sort). This is how Creative Commons licenses have succeeded in making grants of permission easy to understand and flexible.

Although the Creative Commons licenses are considered flexible in the world of copyright laws, it is important to keep in mind that they still retain legal force. Indeed, they are not US-specific and are supported, promoted and honored in over 70 jurisdictions throughout the world. For specific affiliates and jurisdictions, visit

If these licenses are abused, they are forfeited: if someone violates the terms of the license, that person is no longer protected and may be sued by the work’s originator and held liable in a court of law.

Along the same lines, once the originator has granted permission through one of the licenses, her work is out of her hands. As long as the person using the work does so according to the license terms, the creator has no legal remedy if she does not like the way the new person uses her work (there are some exceptions, but that is another article entirely).

Finally, even though the Creative Commons licenses carry legal weight, they were designed with flexibility in mind. If you have a particular use in mind for a work, but the originator has not licensed it for the purpose you intend, contact them.

And whatever you do, make sure you get any special permission in writing. That email or piece of paper, like the license itself, is your ticket to verify you covered all of your bases. As long as you have done your part to respect the rights of others, there is no end to the creativity waiting right around the corner.

So, let’s hear it. What are some of the ways you have seen CC licenses in action? Do you think they “work” or do you have suggestions on how they could be better? Offer more protection? Tell me in the comments.

Contributing author Thomas Ford is the Marketing Director of, a leading supplier of business cards and a wide variety of business and office supplies. Tom writes on a range of topics of interest to bloggers and business people.