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How I added the Twitter ID field to comments on Twitip.com

A couple of days ago I added the ability for those leaving comments on my TwiTip Twitter Tips blog to add their Twitter ID as well as their URL to comments. Since doing this I’ve been asked time and time again how we did it. In this guest post Sean Walberg (the guy who actually made it happen and who is my server admin on TwiTip) explains how he did it.

If you’ve been to Twitip.com in the past couple of days, you’ve probably noticed that commenters have Twitter IDs in their posts:

Picture 1.png

This was something Darren thought up while we were preparing to move his server, and asked me to put it in place. Twitip runs on WordPress, which is easily extended through plugins. Fortunately, someone wrote a plugin to take care of most of what’s needed to do this.

The steps we’ll follow here are:

  1. Get the plugin and activate it
  2. Configure the plugin for the new Twitter ID field
  3. Modify your theme to capture the information in your comment form
  4. Modify your theme to print the Twitter ID in the displayed comments

The first thing you’ll need is the Extra Comment Fields plugin. I used Version 1.2 Beta if you want a direct download link.

There’s one PHP file in there that you’ll put in your wp-content/plugins/ directory. When you go back to your WordPress Admin page, you’ll see the Extra Comment Fields plugin in the Inactive Plugins section of your Plugins page (off to the right of your screen, between Settings and Users). Activate this plugin.

The Extra Comment Fields plugin is tricky in that there are several references to the field name, and they all have to match (including the case). I chose “twitter” which should be easy enough to remember.

From the WordPress Admin screen, navigate to Settings, then Extra Comment Fields. (If you don’t see Extra Comment Fields in the list of plugins, go back a step and make sure you activated it)

Type “twitter” into the text box and click “Add Field”. Your screen should look like this:

addfield.JPG

This step makes the necessary changes to the database to store the comment. Heed the warning you see, if you delete this field, it removes the column in the database.

Next, go into your theme directory, it’s in wp-content/themes/. Darren runs Thesis, so we’re looking at wp-content/themes/thesis. Open up comments.php. Find the spot where the comment form is displayed by looking for comment_author_url.

You’ll want to add a new comment field with the name of “twitter”. This will depend a lot on your theme, but cutting and pasting goes a long way here. The big change, though, is that WordPress doesn’t keep this value in your cookie, so you can’t pre-populate this in the value attribute (in simpler terms, people who have commented before will have their name, email, and URL filled in, but not the Twitter ID). In Thesis, you’ll have:

                        else { // Otherwise, give your name to the doorman
?>
                                        <p><input class="text_input" type="text" name="author" id="author" value="<?php echo $comment_author; ?
>" tabindex="1" /><label for="author"><?php _e('Name', 'thesis'); ?></label></p>

                                        <p><input class="text_input" type="text" name="email" id="email" value="<?php echo $comment_author_emai
l; ?>" tabindex="2" /><label for="email"><?php _e('E-mail', 'thesis'); ?></label></p>
                                        <p><input class="text_input" type="text" name="url" id="url" value="<?php echo $comment_author_url; ?>"
 tabindex="3" /><label for="url"><?php _e('Website', 'thesis'); ?></label></p>

                                        <p><input class="text_input" type="text" name="twitter" id="twitter" value="" tabindex="4" /><label for
="twitter"><?php _e('Twitter id', 'thesis'); ?></label></p>
<?php

In the default theme, it’ll look like this:

<?php else : ?>

<p><input type="text" name="author" id="author" value="<?php echo $comment_author; ?>" size="22" tabindex="1" <?php if ($req) echo "aria-required='true'"; ?> />

<label for="author"><small>Name <?php if ($req) echo "(required)"; ?></small></label></p>

<p><input type="text" name="email" id="email" value="<?php echo $comment_author_email; ?>" size="22" tabindex="2" <?php if ($req) echo "aria-required='true'"; ?> />

<label for="email"><small>Mail (will not be published) <?php if ($req) echo "(required)"; ?></small></label></p>

<p><input type="text" name="url" id="url" value="<?php echo $comment_author_url; ?>" size="22" tabindex="3" />
<label for="url"><small>Website</small></label></p>

<p><input type="text" name="twitter" id="twitter" size="22" tabindex="4" />
<label for="twitter"><small>Twitter ID</small></label></p>


<?php endif; ?>

At this point load your site in your browser to make sure everything looks OK.

The last step is to print the Twitter ID alongside the comments. This is also done in comments.php. The comments are printed out in a loop which varies from theme to theme. In Thesis, you’ll start right after:

<?php
thesis_hook_before_comment_meta();
thesis_comment_meta($comment_number);
thesis_hook_after_comment_meta();
?>

(It’s entirely possible there’s an easier way to do this in Thesis)

In the default theme, you’ll see the following, and you’ll want to start right before it.

                        <?php comment_text() ?>

Wherever you end up starting, insert the following code:

<?php if ($comment->extra_twitter) {
// Strip out the @ if they put it there because we're going to need to get rid of it for the url anyway
$extra_twitter = preg_replace("/^@/", "", $comment->extra_twitter);
$extra_twitter = htmlentities($extra_twitter); ?>
<a href="http://twitter.com/<?=$extra_twitter ?>">@<?=$extra_twitter?></a>

<?php } // extra_twitter ?>

The Extra Comment Fields plugin puts the data from the twitter field in a method of the $comment object called extra_twitter (and if you called your variable foo, it would be called extra_foo, and so forth). The above code checks to see if it’s been set (that is, someone submitted a Twitter ID), and if so, strips off any leading “@”. This allows people to enter their Twitter IDs both with and without the @. The code then calls the htmlentities function to strip out any funny stuff, and then print it out as a link. If you want to style the link with any CSS, change the HTML accordingly.

That’s it!

Sean Walberg is a network guy, freelance author, and systems administrator.

How to Increase Subscribers and Reader Engagement

Last week I decided to find some quality Australian blogs to subscribe to. I used a newly compiled list of Australian Marketing Blogs that Julian Cole put together as the basis for my search.

I was excited by the quality of some of the blogs on that list – but it struck me as I surfed through the list that there were three frustrations that I had with quite a few of the blogs on the list (definitely not all of them, but enough for me to notice).

None of these problems are issues that just Australian bloggers or Marketing bloggers face – I see them every day around the web (although I did find it ironic that a list of ‘Marketing’ blogs would have some of these problems).

1. Hidden Subscription Options

I was on a mission to subscribe to great blogs – but one disappointing thing that I noticed was that quite a few of the bloggers didn’t make this easy for me simply because they ‘hid’ their subscription methods way down the page (and a couple didn’t even show them at all). Most browsers these days give those who use them the ability to subscribe by clicking the RSS icon in their address bar – but many web users don’t know that they can do this (or are using old browsers).

If one of your goals as a blogger is to grow your readership then one great way to capture first time readers is to get them to subscribe (whether that be to an RSS feed, an RSS to Email service or a newsletter. If you hide or obscure these options you’re not likely to get the conversions.

My own approach with getting subscribers is to place these subscription options prominently in a sidebar and then under posts on single post pages (usually below the fold). This means that whether a new reader is above or below the fold they are invited to subscribe.

Further Reading11 Ways to Get New RSS Subscribers for your Blog

2. No Way to Contact the Blogger

There were a number of blogs on the list that I was really impressed with – so much so that I wanted to contact the blogger and congratulate them on their blogs. The only problem was that on a couple of occasions I found it difficult to find any way to contact the blogger other than to leave a public comment.

I understand some bloggers desires to have privacy or to cut down the admin of their blogs by keeping themselves difficult to contact but in doing so you not only filter the loonies approaches but also legitimate opportunities, potential partnerships etc

Contact options don’t necessarily have to be giving out your email address – you could have a contact form, give Twitter details, have an IM option or give other social networking profiles (the key is to give ones that you actually check).

Further ReadingWhy Your Blog’s Readers Should be Able to Contact You

3. No About Page

This one is probably more my personal preference and less essential than the first two points – but when I find a blog that I’m interested in one of the first things that I like to do to help me decide whether to subscribe to it is to search for more information about the blog and who writes it.

Some kind of an ‘About Page’ is a great way to satisfy and draw in curious potential readers (like me) and to deepen the connection with them.

Your About page is a wonderful opportunity to make a connection with new people to your blog, to sell yourself and give reasons why people should read you.

You can of course do this in other ways (an intro in your sidebar perhaps) but a page dedicated to sharing your information in this way can really work well.

Further Reading – Add an About Page to Your Blog, How to Write Your “About Me” Page and Conduct an About Page Audit

How to Polish Posts: Individual Blog Post Design

Much is written about how to ‘design blogs’ (as a whole) but another element of ‘blog design’ that I think is just as important, yet not written about much, is the design of individual blog posts.

How blog posts ‘look’ is so important. I’ve seen the power of ‘polishing’ posts time and time again.

Polish-Blog-PostsImage by Darwin Bell

I still remember the time that I took one of my early posts on my Digital Photography blog and polished it up. The original version of the post was largely text. It had one image in it but it was fairly bland and was more there to illustrate a point than anything.

The content remained almost identical – but I added 5 images to the post (images that still illustrated the point but eye catching ones), added sub headings to each paragraph and reformatted one section into a ‘list’ rather than just a block of text.

I then republished the post at the top of my blog as new.

The result was amazing!

The next day the post had 50+ comments, was on the front page of Digg and it was being linked to by blogs everywhere. The old version had received 2 comments and had previously gone largely unnoticed.

This is the power of paying attention to how your blog posts look.

Why Polishing Blog Posts Works

There are a number of important reasons why polishing blog posts is worth putting a little extra time into:

  • First impressions – in the same way that your overall blog design conveys messages to readers about what your blog is about and whether they should subscribe – the formatting and design of single posts says a lot about you to first time visitors.
  • Grabbing Attention – loyal readers may rarely visit your actual blog if they follow it via RSS so one might not think post design matters – but in actual fact post design has a massive impact in the realm of RSS where there is little to set your posts apart from others. A good picture or clever use of formatting can really grab the attention of someone scanning through their feeds.
  • Reinforce Content – visuals in a post can reinforce points that you’re using within content. Illustrative images, video, charts, graphs, tables etc – all will connect with visual readers in a way that text cannot.
  • Connect with Web Reading Habits – most web users don’t ‘read’ content word for word. They scan content, looking for elements of web pages that draw their eye and for keywords that connect with what they are interested in. As a result the way you design your posts can be the difference between someone actually ‘reading’ your post or just glossing over it.

How to Polish Blog Posts:

Following are a number of areas that I consider when polishing blog posts. I’d love to hear your thoughts on what you’d add to the list – I’m sure there are plenty more.

  • Images – images on posts are gold! They draw the eye and grab attention, they illustrate points, they inspire, they engage the imagination and they connect with visual learners. In a largely text based medium – the use of good image can set a blog post apart from the crowd – learn to use them!
  • Charts and Diagrams – similarly, good charts, graphs and diagrams add depth to content and give posts a visual point of interest.
  • Formatting – one of the big mistakes that I see guest posters submitting posts to me making is that their posts come to me largely as large slabs of uninteresting looking text. Most people don’t ‘read’ content online – they ‘scan’ it. As a result you need to work hard to break up your text and draw attention to important points. Using lists is one way of doing this, as is using bold, italics, font size and color, blockquotes and other formatting techniques.
  • Sub Headings – I am a fan of sub headings – rarely a post goes by that I don’t put <h3> tags around some important part of my post to draw the eye, start a new section or break up a slab of text. One quick tip I’d give on sub headings is to think about them in similar ways to ‘post titles’. The purpose of a subheading is to get people to read the text under it – so ‘craft’ sub headings using some of the same techniques as we mentioned in our post on crafting titles.
  • White Space – a simple line break or a little extra space around an image can have a big impact upon how your post looks. Let your content breathe.
  • Short Paragraphs – one edit that I often make with posts submitted by others on my blogs is to break up paragraphs into shorter ones. This makes posts seem less overwhelming and more achievable for readers to read.
  • Break Posts Up – at times after writing a post it becomes clear that you’ve written something that is simply too long or covers too much territory. Rather than publishing it – breaking it down into a couple of smaller posts can do wonders for how the post looks to readers. Many readers would much rather read two single posts that are more focused than a longer rambling one that covers too much ground. This is actually what I’ve done with this very post – originally it was the 2nd half of my post on Quality Control but I realized that while related, the topics were perhaps a little too different to cover in the one post.
  • Highlight and Reinforce Main Points - pay attention to using some of the above techniques when it comes to your main point and call to action. If your post is a long one – it can actually be useful to repeat your main point numerous times within your post (in the introduction, main body of the post and then as a closing sentence).

What would you add to this list of ‘post design tips’? How do you ‘polish’ your posts to maximize their impact?

Further Reading on Quality Control and Polishing Your Blog Posts:

Read the Full Series

This post is part of a series on how to craft blog posts. It will be all the more powerful if taken in context of the full series which looks at 10 points in the posting process to pause and put extra effort. Start reading this series here.

Present a Consistent Brand in Your Blogging

In this video post I reflect upon the one of the downsides of changing your blog’s brand and/or design.

While updating blog design, logos and avatars in social media sites can bring a lot of life to a blog and present you with an up to date and fresh web presence – one of the negatives is that you can actually stop the momentum that you might have already created with your previous branding.

This is a lesson that applies when thinking about blog design but also even the simple avatars you choose for your Twitter and other social media profiles.

I’m interested to hear your experiences of both how changing your online ‘branding’ has led to confusion but also how you would suggest bloggers do it in a way that builds upon previous branding.

This post was brought to you by Business Week Exchange.

PS: sorry for the audio quality on this video. I recorded it in a public space and there was a little too much background noise.

Thesis WordPress Updates and Offers a Weekend Bonus

Thesis WordPress ThemeI’ve been behind checking my email this week and it could have cost you a great deal….

Apparently the fantastic Thesis WordPress theme (see my first impressions of Thesis here) is running a special this weekend. They’ve just updated the theme with some great new features (see below) but if you buy it before the end of 31 August you get another theme from DIYthemes ‘Cosmo’ (a magazine style theme) for free.

The update of Thesis includes:

  • A new ‘design options’ panel which gives you the ability to customize fonts and font sizes. This will help set your blog apart from others using this theme.
  • Also in the design options it the ability to change the layout of your blog by selecting different number of columns and column width.

There’s more new stuff too – see it all at Thesis WordPress theme.

PS: sorry I didn’t post this earlier – I hope it doesn’t mean any of you miss out, it’s been one of those weeks in the Rowse house with sick little guys everywhere!

Split Testing: How To Increase Your Adsense Earnings 94% Overnight

In this post Brian Armstrong from StartBreakingFree.com shares some tips on using Split Testing to increase his AdSense earnings.

Long time readers of ProBlogger know that Darren is a big fan of split testing ads to improve your earnings. I took this advice to heart, and wanted to show you some real world results that I got on my own blog.

Feel free to take these results and apply them to your own site. Or better yet, do some of our own testing and improve on them even more!

I split tested 3 separate regions of my site and looked mostly at eCPM to compare them. If you aren’t sure what eCPM is click here. I think it’s better to use eCPM than click through rate (CTR) because it incorporates not just how often it’s clicked, but also how much you make per click.

Right Aligned vs. Left Aligned Ad In Post Body

post_body.png

This ad region makes the most money for me, and was smack dab at the top of each individual post page (but not on the homepage).

  • The right aligned ad got a 0.78% CTR and $1.41 eCPM
  • The left aligned ad got a 1.30% CTR and $5.31 eCPM

Clear winner: left aligned (276% improvement)

It’s hard to say why this is exactly. Maybe the left aligned ad looks more like it’s actual content instead of an ad. Whatever the reason, the difference was substantial.

Top Right: image vs. text

top.png

This ad resides at the very top right of every page. I had been running it with image ads for a while and decided to test it against text ads (with some appropriate color choices).

  • The image ads got a 0.35% CTR and $1.74 eCPM
  • The text ads got a 0.33% CTR and $2.15 eCPM

Interesting to note here that although the CTR went down slightly, the eCPM went up. This seems to indicate that the text ads were paying more per click. So even though it was clicked slightly less often it still made more money overall.

Winner: text ads (narrowly)

Under Posts: image vs. text

bottom.png

This ad was placed at the bottom of each post page and also on the homepage under the excerpts. I again decided to test some text ads against the incumbent image ads.

  • The image ads got a 0.58% CTR and $1.86 eCPM
  • The text ads got a 0.43% CTR and $2.27 eCPM

Again here the CTR went down and the eCPM went up. Also worth noting is that the color scheme I used on the text ad block is consistent with my site. “Blockquote” tags on my site use a similar color scheme.

Winner: text ads

Conclusions & Next Steps

For those who are curious, here is the actual data from an excel spreadsheet. You can pull this out of Adsense under the “reports” tab if you use different channels to compare different ads.

data.png

Overall these results were impressive. The site-wide eCPM from these three ads went up overall from $5.01 to $9.73 which is a 94% improvement.

I could just convert all ads to the better performing version and call it a day, but what I’ll do instead is continue testing….forever.

There are plenty of other things to test, such as…

  • Trying text ads in the post body (since they performed better elsewhere)
  • Left aligning ads under the posts
  • Trying different color schemes
  • Trying other types of ads (Amazon, Performancing Ads, Text-Link-Ads, etc)

Most people focus on growing their blog’s readership to boost earnings. This is a critical component, but don’t forget about the other major tool in your arsenal: split testing.

What ad formats and placements have worked best for you? Leave us a comment below.

To get more tips like these, check out my blog at StartBreakingFree.com. It’s is a blog for people who’d like to quit their 9-to-5 jobs, start their own business, and achieve financial freedom. I’ll even give you 3 of the top 10 books on building wealth for FREE when you subscribe, instantly delivered to your inbox! Check it out.

5 Methods to Enhancing Page Load

‘How do I make my page load faster?’ – it’s a question I get a bit so I thought I’d ask Aaron Brazell from Technosailor to tackle the question and offer some suggestions around enhancing page load times.

“The internet is dying.”

This phrase, though probably a bit sensationalist, is also not far from the truth. As we all now understand, thanks to U.S. Senator Ted Stevens, the internet is a series of tubes and the more stuff you put into the tubes, the more it gets clogged. Trust me, the Senator from Alaska was probably more dead on than most give him credit for.

Everyday, internet servers and bandwidth pushes new highs, and even though there are political solutions to such global economic problems, the reality is that bloggers, and really, website owners as a whole, are affected the most.

This site is loading so slow.

I can’t get to the site.

Down for everyone or just me?

1. Avoid images

Everyone likes an aesthetically pleasing site. Many blogs, particularly out on the long tail, tend to get very artsy in their designs. Colorful headers made from pictures of serene prairies, busy metropolitan night scenes taken with a Nikon D3 set at 100 ISO, 61 second shutter speed and a 1.2 Aperture (Oh, sorry. Wrong site).

You get the point, though. Lots of images can increase your site load time. In the event that images are necessary, either in posts or as the site structural elements, consider that images should be optimized for 72 DPI and never be “resized” in the HTML itself. If the image is bigger than the spot you want to put it in, then resize the image itself as opposed to letting the HTML do the work for you.

2. Avoid Third Party Javascript

I realize I’m talking to an audience that is keen on advertising on their blogs, so I may step on some toes. Third party javascript might be the worst culprit when it comes to page load.

The problem is not the javascript itself, though there is certainly that possibility on occasion. More than likely, third part javascript is invoking content, whether advertisements or widgets, from another server that could be running slow at any given time.

It’s generally easy to spot slow loading javascript. Because a page loads, usually, from top down in the order that the HTML is written, when the browser encounters slow loading javascript the page will stop rendering for a period of time. Usually, you can identify the specific part of the page that is loading slowly, and refer to your widgets or source HTML to figure out who exactly is the culprit.

3. Flash Video

I’m fighting a losing battle, it would seem, on Flash but if my observations are correct, Flash has an ongoing memory leak that is most manifest when it comes to online video. Almost all video players are written in Flash and, in most cases, after running a significant amount of video you might notice your browser crash or everything slow to a place where you have to forcibly quit the browser. These symptoms manifest themselves, for me, in Safari 3.x/Mac and Firefox 2 and 3 on Mac. I cannot speak to the lesser browser on the lesser operating system.
Memory Leak

The problem exists when many Flash invocations occur. Flash seems to not give up the memory that a player uses – or at least not all of it. So the more videos viewed, the more videos embedded on a site, the higher the likely for slow browser experiences for readers.

4. 80/20 Rule

The Yahoo UI team released an interesting set of findings a few years ago that brought the concept of 80/20 rules back to the forefront. In geek speak, the 80/20 rules states that 80% of a sites symptoms (slowness) come from 20% of the site features.

I will let you determine how geeky you want to get with your site, but I have found profiling my site useful in determining bottlenecks and best fixes. Firebug may be the easiest profiling tool for average users. It is free, but requires Firefox as it is a Firefox extension. In order to use Firebug, you must have the “Net” panel option enabled in Firebug.

5. Cache, cache, cache

Any site that has some degree of traffic should have basic caching in place, and the larger, more high-trafficked sites should consider multiple levels of caching.

For WordPress users, plugins like WP Super Cache do wonders for load. In essence, WordPress writes pages to the filesystem for quick access by WordPress. Once an hour (or other interval if changed), those cached pages expire and a new version is fetched from the database. By end-rounding the need for repeated trips to the database on every page load, load time is drastically increased.

More aggressive caching can be used in larger contexts, or when multiple servers are in play. For instance, at b5media, we implemented Memcached, which is supported by WordPress as well as core memcache support by Movable Type.

Other alternatives include proxy caching with Squid. MySQL has a query cache that can be explored as well.

Interview with Blog Designer – Chris Pearson

One of my favorite blog designers is Chris Pearson – the designer behind the newly released Thesis premium WordPress theme (which I reviewed here).

Chris has consistently produced great blog designs over the last few years so after the launch of Thesis I thought it would be worthwhile to do a short interview with him here at ProBlogger to talk about Thesis and blog design. I hope you enjoy this interview.

1. There are a lot of WP themes out there – why did you create Thesis?

thesis-lisa-firke.pngAfter selling Cutline in March of 2007, I began to realize that I really missed fostering and interacting with a community of users. Running a theme and being immersed in the development, use, and feedback cycle is a uniquely fulfilling experience, and I suppose I finally came to terms with the idea that maybe this is what I ought to be doing.

Also, I spent the latter half of 2007 learning how to create dynamic sites with PHP, and in doing so, I began to realize some of the untapped potential of the WordPress theme market. The platform is set up in such a way that you can literally build just about anything you want, and I’m convinced that idea has legs. Because of this, I decided it was time to build Thesis and get movin’!

2. What part of Thesis most excited you as you were designing it? What is exciting those who are using it most?

For me, the most exciting thing about Thesis (and developing themes in general) is the idea that I can give users more functionality and more control over their sites than they’ve ever had. When a user who has little or no knowledge of HTML and CSS can use an options panel to accomplish tasks that would normally require coding, that’s a big deal. The sky is really the limit here, so as a developer, I find that to be a huge source of motivation.

I think my users are keen on the idea that I want them to be able to control even the finest details of their site, and that’s probably the thing that excites them the most. They want to know what elements of control they’re going to have next, and I’m just as excited to produce those elements as they are to receive them.

3. How much development can we expect to see on Thesis as a theme? Or will you be spending more time developing other themes?

thesis-jennae-peterson.pngI’ve still got tons of ideas for Thesis, so I fully expect to be developing it for quite some time. In fact, I’d go as far as to say I’m not even 40% finished with the functionality that I eventually want to achieve. In spite of this, I’m going to begin introducing new frameworks in August, and eventually, DIYthemes will offer an outfit of code platforms that should be adequate for just about any type of Website.

4. Where do you see blog design going in the next 12 months?

Blog design as we know it is going to change entirely, and this is probably the most compelling (and controversial) aspect of the philosophy behind DIYthemes. At this point, everyone is familiar with the notion of a “custom blog design,” but with each passing day, paying for a fully customized design (which includes code) is becoming a far less intelligent choice for bloggers and Webmasters alike. Not only is custom design prohibitively expensive for all but the most successful bloggers, but also, the odds of any designer/developer nailing a functional, flexible, easy-to-modify codebase from scratch on the first iteration are a zillion to one. In other words, it’s not going to happen.

Essentially, this means that people who have fully customized designs end up with far less functionality than people whose designs are “skins” of a battled-tested framework like Thesis. Because of this, the future of blog design is a complete abstraction of design and code. In this type of environment, designers can stick to pure design, which is something they’re way more qualified to do. In addition, savvy designers can develop a working knowledge of a few quality WordPress frameworks, thereby allowing them to focus on the art of skinning them for clients.

When people are able to focus on the things they do best, you end up with more efficient, cost-effective solutions all around. My goal with DIYthemes is to help push Web design (and Webmastering, for that matter) in this direction.

5 . What 3 blogs using Thesis do you think are using it best?

thesis-eric-scouten.pngLisa Firke (pictured top right) is a really talented designer who quickly grasped the concept of abstracted customization, which is something I’ve tried to push to the forefront with Thesis. Her site is a perfect example of how you can leverage a working knowledge of CSS to produce a unique design that is simply a “skin” of a solid WordPress framework.

Jennae Petersen (picture middle right) runs an awesome site about green (eco-friendly) home decor, and she has really taken to the art of creating a unified design “brand” with Thesis. She makes liberal use of in-post styling elements and images to help shore up her brand, and as a result, her site looks to be far removed from the humble framework it rests upon.

Finally, I’d like to point out Eric Scouten (pictured right), a photographer and developer who works on Adobe’s Lightroom software. He’s used Thesis in a pretty unique way on his site, modifying it to power his portfolio, photoblog, and blog sections. On top of that, the site just looks fantastic, and I think it deserves a mention on that basis alone.

Check out the Thesis Theme Here

GRAB Your Reader’s Attention and HOOK them into your blog

Hook-1Do you want to learn how to SNAP readers out of their zombie like surfing and HOOK them into your blog?

If so – read on….

Image by Essjay in NZ

Before I was a blogger I did a lot of public speaking. I did a number of courses in public speaking and used to spend a lot of time with my head in books on the topic.

One of the techniques that I was taught that I found to be very helpful was to include something at the start of every presentation that was there unashamedly to grab attention and create interest.

The theory was that in most presentations (whether it be in a work context, conference, church, school or even in a social context where a speech was given) the majority of your audience quickly will slip into a zombie like trance even as you’re getting up to speak. The act of sitting down and listening to someone speak in a monologue is not really something most of us are wired to do.

So to snap your audience out of this state where they’re incapable of comprehending your 16 point presentation the theory is that you do something, say something, show something or claim something that grabs their attention.

Whether it be a joke, question, controversial statement or claim, powerful story, funny title slide or intriguing and surprising opening line – the primary aim in the first moments of your presentation is to grab attention and create interest in what you’re about to present.

This same principle applies to blogging in two ways.

1. Grabbing Attention on a Post Level

Let me start with the more obvious place that you can (and should) be thinking about grabbing the attention of your readers – within each post.

Every time a reader see’s one of your posts in their RSS feed, stumbles upon it in search engine results, spots it linked to on another site or even sees it on your blog – they make a snap judgement whether they’ll read it or not. This is based upon a number of factors:

  • The post’s title
  • The opening lines of your post
  • An intriguing question
  • A Story
  • The topic being covered and how relevant and useful it is to the reader
  • Visual cues on the page (pictures, sub headings, comment numbers, page design)
  • A controversial statement or bold claim
  • A great promise
  • The voice and style you’ve written in

We could probably add a lot more to this list – but I guess the point I’m wanting to make is that ‘grabbing attention’ is something a blogger needs to think about in the writing of each post.

2. Grabbing Attention on a Blog Level

While grabbing attention on a post by post level is important there’s another one that is worth thinking about also – on a bigger picture level as you think about your whole blog.

What hooks a first time reader into your blog?

Not just into the post that they’ve arrived on – but to your whole blog?

I’m not just talking about how to make your blog sticky (although many ‘sticky’ techniques will help a lot) but I’m talking particularly about getting ‘attention’ of readers.

Many of the points on a post level (point #1 above) come into play on this as they will be the first thing that a new reader sees – however there are other factors too – particularly:

  • Clear Communication of Topic – Communicating what your blog is about, who it is for, what needs it will fulfill etc all can potentially hook a reader.
  • Distinct Site Design and Branding – Whether it be a bold logo, distinct colors, an eye catching picture or some other factor design can stop readers in their tracks momentarily and get them to take a second look at your blog.

What attention grabbing techniques have you tried on either a post by post level or a bigger picture blog level?

PS: As I’m hitting publish on this post I’m reminded of a great little book – Hot Button Marketing: Push the Emotional Buttons That Get People to Buy.

This book looks at a variety of buttons (or hooks) that marketers use to make customers buy. While this might not seem that relevant for blogging – I found that as I read the book that a lot of the buttons described were similar to what I’d seen work at engaging readers on my blogs.