Close
Close

MLB Trade Rumors — a Community Consulting Project

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

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

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

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

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

MLB Trade Rumors.

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

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

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

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

How to Run a Blog Competition [CASE STUDY]

Blog-Competition-1-1Last week I wrote a couple of posts about how to run a successful blog competition. Today I thought I’d give you a little background information (case study) on how I’m currently running one.

The competition is over at DPS where I announced it about 12 hours ago with a post here at Win a Digital Camera! [Forum Competition] (feel free to enter if you’d like to).

Using some of the points in my recent post on running successful blog competitions here’s how I’m approaching this one:

Objective – to get new members, reconnect with inactive members and increase page views. My hope is that running a competition over 3 weeks will give members incentive to return to the forums over a longer period of time – they say that it only takes a few days of doing something to form a habit – my hope is that doing something for three weeks will do just that.

Prizes – Last year I ran a similar competition with the same objectives but put photography books up as prizes. My thought this year is that a great new camera would probably excite people a little more. While the last competition did have some great results this one is really creating much more buzz.

Having runners up prizes increases the chance of a win. While they are not as valuable I’ve gone for ‘relevant’ on all of the prizes yet am giving runners up some choice in which prize they win.

I’ve also opted for a self funded prize in this case. I’ve had sponsors on DPS offer prizes previously but this limited what I could offer in terms of relevancy. Doing it this way also means I can promote some Amazon affiliate links which will hopefully drive some sales and help me off set the cost of the prizes.

Rules – I’m attempting to keep this competition as simple as possible. All people have to do to enter is be an active member. Every post they make in the forum automatically adds to their chances to win. I’ve used this method before and it works well as it not only gets new members signed up – but it gets them using the forum.

There is a danger with people entering in spammy ways – but last time I did this I made it clear that that kind of behavior wouldn’t be tolerated and didn’t have any issues. I have a good moderation team who are onto any bad behavior pretty quickly so am not expecting any trouble.

Promotion – I’ve been promoting this competition in a few ways. Obviously there is a blog post, I’ve also posted an announcement in the forums that appears at the top of many pages as well as posting a post that announces it in the general chit chat section of the forum.

Later today I’ll also email all inactive forum members and on Friday the normal DPS newsletter will go out with a prominent promotion of the competition. All in all there’s some good buzz going on already.

Results (so far) - Since starting the competition 12 hours ago the forums have been particularly hot with 100+ new members, quite a few older members coming back to get active again and a marked increase in page views. There are around 4 times the normal visitor numbers on the blog at the moment.

It’s too early to tell what the results will be as I’m yet to complete the promotion of it – but the early signs are that it will be a worthwhile venture.

Socialized Software: Community Consulting Summary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The prize!

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

Socialized Software — a ProBlogger Community Blog Consulting Project

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

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

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

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

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

Socialized Software.

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

  • Design — usability, visual appeal, readability, navigation.
  • Content — got an idea for a great viral post the blogger could write?
  • Promotion — how would you suggest the blogger promote the blog?
  • SEO — can you see areas for improvement?
  • Monetization — could this be done more effectively? Do you see any missed opportunities?

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

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

Blogging Experiment — Community Consulting Summary

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

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

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

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

Design and usability

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Getting more subscribers

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

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

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

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

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

Selling a product through the blog

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

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

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

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

The prize

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

Blogging Experiment — a ProBlogger Community Blog Consulting Project

This week we’ll be looking at a fellow make money blogging blog — one that some of you might already be reading — called Blogging Experiment.

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

To be in the running to win, give some useful feedback on Blogging Experiment in the comments section of this post.

The blog’s owner, Ben Cook, describes the blog like this:

Blogging Experiment is just what the name suggests. It’s an experiment to see if I can take a brand new blog from earning absolutely nothing, to a full time income in only one year. I’m documenting every step along the way in hopes that my successes can be replicated and my mistakes avoided. The blog just turned six months old and last month it made just over $1,000. While that doesn’t put me in the same league as Darren, Shoemoney, John Chow, or some of the other high profile bloggers, I think I’m well on my way to accomplishing my goal.

Blogging Experiment.

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

  • How can I better convert visitors into subscribers?
  • How can I use the blog to make more sales of our WordPress theme?

He recommends his Lessons on Blogging series if you want to get a better idea of the blog’s content. He’s also looking for feedback on these key areas:

  • Design — usability, visual appeal, readability, navigation.
  • Content — got an idea for a great viral post the blogger could write?
  • Promotion — how would you suggest the blogger promote the blog?
  • SEO — can you see areas for improvement?
  • Monetization — could this be done more effectively? Do you see any missed opportunities?

We’d love for comments to be as constructive, helpful and practical as possible. I’m sure Ben is looking forward to your advice!

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

Wife Advice — Community Consulting Summary

Our fourth Community Consultation wraps up today with an overview of the ProBlogger community’s feedback for Wife Advice.

Thank you to everyone who took the time to provide feedback, even amongst the kind of chaos only the end of December can bring!

New to community consulting? You’ll want to read Darren’s launch post as well as Wife Advice’s introduction to the community.

Here are the elements which proved most important to ProBlogger readers.

The average blogger vs. graphic design: how to win the battle

The header proved to be the most commented-on aspect of the site, one which many readers felt needed to be changed or improved. One group of readers felt the header looked unprofessional or unappealing and another group was offended by the husband as Donkey and Wife as ball-and-chain representation.

As bloggers we’re often given the advice to create a unique header image to brand our site. This can be difficult, though — particularly if you don’t have the money to hire a graphic designer, or black-belt Photoshop skills.

My suggestion would be to find a cheap logo-design service or hire a freelance graphic designer. If this isn’t something you have the money to do, see if there is anything else you could offer them in exchange. For example: add a permanent link to the designer’s portfolio to your sidebar, write a post advertising their services or write a guest post for their blog (if they have one).

Blogger bias

After the logo, the second most frequently mentioned aspect of the site was the Blogger navbar and the use of the Blogger platform.

I do see the merit in removing the Blogger navbar as it reminds visitors that you’re not self-hosted and can be quite distracting. Here’s a short tutorial on removing the blogger navbar.

Once the navbar is removed, I suspect most visitors to Wife Advice wouldn’t know it wasn’t self-hosted. It’s worth remembering that the target audience is not bloggers, so it’s unlikely they’ll have all the Blogger templates memorized as well as we do ;-).

That being said, I would strongly recommend the blog’s owners do some research on WordPress and whether that would be a better solution for them. A lot of ProBlogger readers recommended it in the feedback (and I second that recommendation.)

Controversial content

The blog’s concept received mixed reactions. While some readers really liked the idea of the Donkey and Wife, others felt that generalizations and stereotypes were being made — particularly male commenters!

On one hand, the unique premise of the blog might be helping to bring some readers in. On the other hand, it could be turning just as many away. It’s quite difficult to tell. It’s the kind of factor you can’t measure with statistics.

One solution might be to keep providing the same content and advice for wives and husbands, but to use a pseudonym other than ‘Donkey’ for the husband.

Ultimately, it’s up to the blog’s authors to decide whether to keep it controversial or to broaden the target audience by making the content and concept a little more benign.

It’s not just black and white

The design of the blog is very simple (mainly text). For that reason, many readers felt the blog didn’t have enough visually interesting elements to pull off a mainly black and white design. The blog’s owners can kill two birds with one stone by getting a new logo that’s full of color.

Does the tag-line sell the blog?

A group of readers felt that the blog’s tag-line wasn’t descriptive enough. At the moment it is: “A donkey. A wife. Advice.” Though we know there will be some kind of advice given, we don’t know who it’s directed at or what it’s about.

I’d suggest going with a tag-line like the one in the title bar, which is a bit more descriptive of what Wife Advice offers.

Getting more subscribers

We all want more subscribers but a number of readers pointed out that Wife Advice wasn’t doing this as well as it could.

It’s good that there’s a page explaining what RSS is, but I’d suggest offering a ‘Subscribe via email’ option from the main page. The blog isn’t tech/internet related and we can expect most of the target audience to be using email rather than a feed reader.

How to make more money with it

One common suggestion from readers was to monetize with Amazon, particularly through affiliate links to gifts recommended by both the Donkey and Wife.

Another suggestion was to sell an eBook of advice, though long eBooks are generally only worth the effort once you have a large and loyal readership.

A shorter report might be a better solution in the mean-time, if the blog’s owners do decide to try this option.

The good — everyone’s talking!

The thing that most impressed me about the blog is the skill shown in getting readers to participate in comments. By asking questions and holding debates the blog’s owners have made sure that the average number of comments on each post is very respectable.

It was also great to see a gripping About page and a Contact page in an easy to find location. Many bloggers seem to forget these crucial elements, so it was great to see them at Wife Advice.

The prize

This week’s iPod Shuffle winner is Lid from BlogWell. Her feedback ventured beyond the obvious and highlighted some important things I would not have thought of otherwise. Congrats :-).

Thanks again to everyone who took part — I look forward to hearing more from you next week!

Wife Advice — a ProBlogger Community Consulting Project

This week’s community consultation is for a very unique blog!

If you’re new to the project, it’s recommended that you read the launch post. This week there’ll be another chance to win an iPod Shuffle and a link to your blog under the winner’s name in the summary post. Not a bad haul for a few minutes work.

In this round of consultation we’ll be looking at Wife Advice. The blog’s owners, The Donkey and Wife, described the blog as follows:

At Wife Advice, The Donkey and The Wife share anecdotes, arguments, and advice based on their own marriage. The Donkey is an expert on what NOT to do (like don’t rate your wife’s looks a 6 out of 10 while you’re still on your honeymoon, and definitely don’t publish her weight on the internet). The Wife offers advice on how to handle a husband who lacks marital skills.

They’ve asked the ProBlogger readership to answer three questions:

1. What’s the best way for Wife Advice to increase its readership?

2. How could the design be improved?

3. What monetization strategies would work best at Wife Advice?

I’ll now open it up to the ProBlogger community to provide your advice, suggestions and constructive critique. The commenter who provides the most useful feedback for the blog will win an iPod shuffle from ProBlogger with a link to the winner’s blog in the prize announcement.

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

A screenshot of Wife Advice.

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

Brisbane SEO Blog — Community Consulting Summary

Our third Community Consultation finishes up today with an overview of the ProBlogger community’s feedback for Brisbane SEO Blog.

As always, the results have been illuminating. You might even be able to take away some tips and tricks for your own blog.

New to community consulting? You’ll want to read Darren’s launch post as well as Brisbane SEO Blog’s introduction to the community.

Here are the elements which proved most important to ProBlogger readers.

Lack of connection with the business

Brisbane SEO Blog is a business blog, and the primary aim of any business blog should be to raise the profile of the business and gain new clients. At the moment, the blog is not adequately connected to the main SiteMost website. If a visitor arrived via search results they would only be able to reach the main site via the About page.

I would firstly suggest making the SiteMost logo a link to the main site, as this is what visitors expect. I’d also make it clearer to new visitors that the blog is an offshoot of SiteMost — perhaps with a tagline or a paragraph at the top of the sidebar.

If it’s not clear which company is responsible for the blog (and how to learn more about it) even the most successful business blog won’t be able to reach its full potential as a promotional device.

Getting more subscribers

One of the owner’s main aims for the site is to convert more readers into subscribers. He’s taken the essential first step by offering both RSS and email subscriptions in a prominent location on the page.

The blog could attract more subscribers by adding a subscribe link to the bottom of posts, and by offering a freebie with every subscription (such as a short eBook or report). A number of readers suggested both these strategies would help to persuade them to subscribe.

Greater distinctions between posts

Some readers felt that the gap between posts was too narrow and this impacted on readability. The issue was worsened by a sub-header for related posts which matches the blog’s headlines for size.

This readability issue is easily fixed by adding some more space between each post and shrinking the related posts heading down to the text size used for the body of the posts. It’s essential that headlines be the biggest and most eye-catching text on the page.

Turning visitors into customers

A business blog presents an opportunity to convert visitors into potential clients. Without a Contact or Services page this task is made very difficult. A number of readers suggested refining the About page to emphasize the faces behind the business and their credentials.

I’d also suggest including a little information about the services offered by the company, with a link to a dedicated ‘Services’ page readers can visit for more detailed information.

Adding a Contact page to the navigation bar is essential. It’s simply impossible to get web-based business without it. As a local business it would probably be wise to include a phone number and PO Box in addition to an email address. I’d suggest promoting a ‘Services’ page in the navigation bar also.

Some readers also suggested an additional page explaining what SEO is and its benefits. I think this is a great idea. Most clients who hire SEO consultants (unsurprisingly) aren’t experts at it themselves. It can’t hurt to tell potential clients what you’re capable of.

Showcasing the best

Displaying a list of your best posts should really be a requirement for any blog. It shows new visitors straight away the best of what you have to offer. It also helps to draw them deeper into your blog (making it more likely that they’ll stick around or subscribe.) A number of readers really missed this feature on the blog.

Less is more

The content list on the main page is very long and took some time to load. Some readers requested less posts on the main page and others wanted to see only post excerpts displayed.

MyBlog Log and ads

Some readers felt that the MyBlog Log widget seemed unprofessional on a business blog. I’d also add that these widgets can sometimes be several hundred kilobytes all-together as the button images aren’t efficiently resized.

Other readers wondered why the blog was advertising third party services. It’s worth considering whether the reader attention would be better spent on SiteMost’s own services.

The good

It seems like the blog’s owner (Peter) is on to a good thing with his content as it received almost unanimously positive reviews. The visual design was also positively received overall, though some readers disagreed with the color choice and the lack of custom imagery. While color is always subjective and I don’t think you can please everyone, a unique logo wouldn’t go astray.

Another thing that I really liked to see was the relative lack of clutter on the blog. While I still think a few things could be subtracted (and a few more added) the blog is very simple and clean overall.

The prize!

As always I found myself with a shortlist of about five names who’d each written a really high quality review. You guys sure don’t make this easy ;-).

This week’s iPod Shuffle winner is ericabiz for her savvy review, though it was her partial rewriting of the blog’s About page which really impressed me and put her a step above the rest. Thanks Erica!

Make sure to stay tuned for blog number four.