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ProBlogger Community Blog Consulting

Problogger-Consulting
Today I’d like to try something a little new here at ProBlogger and want to invite you to engage in a little blog consulting and work shopping on a reader’s blog.

Let me explain why I’m doing this:

  • I get asked to look at a lot of blogs – to give feedback – to do consulting and to help bloggers improve their blogs
  • I can’t possibly do this for everyone – in fact these days I’m stretched to the point where I am unable to do any at all – even paid consulting
  • Previously I’ve found that helping one blogger publicly actually helps not only that one blogger but those who read along – if one person has a problem it is likely that others are too
  • ProBlogger is read by an incredible group of bloggers with a diverse range of skills, experiences and expertise – collectively we know so much more than what we each know individually

How Will it Work?

The idea is that later today (in the next post) I’m going to post a link to a blog of a ProBlogger reader that has asked for some help (I’ve got their permission to do this).

In posting this link I’m not going to give any initial advice or tips or critique – I’m simply going to post a link, a screen shot and a few words from the blogger who is asking for help.

Then I’m going to throw the consulting work over to you the ProBlogger readership. In a sense it’s a type of case study or workshop.

Your job is to give advice, tips and constructive critique to the blogger. I’ll give you a few areas that you might want to divide your advice into.

I’ll leave you to do this for a few days – at which point I’ll then attempt to draw together some of the main themes that people have talked about with some of my own advice.

I don’t know how this will work – but my hope is that it’ll help one blogger improve their blog, that it’ll give those who participate and read on some tips on improving their own blogs and that those who give the advice might also help their own reputations a little by showing some of their expertise.

If this works I’d like to do it on a semi-regular basis – but we’ll see how the first one goes and take it from there (I’m sure that this process will evolve over time)!

All I would ask is that you keep your comments as constructive as possible. The blogger who has agreed to do this knows they’ll probably hear some negative feedback but is willing to do so because they want to learn and improve – however I’d encourage everyone to be supportive and constructive. The point of this is to help someone (us all) to improve.

How’s this sound?

Stay tuned for the first blog consulting project in the next few hours. update – you can see it here

Update 2: Thanks to everyone for participating in this and for your feedback. I’ve been inundated with emails asking to be included in future consultations. At this point I’m not taking any of these on – but want to see how this first one goes before deciding whether I’ll do it regularly and if so how that’ll work. I’ll post more in the coming week or so on how it goes and how we’ll proceed. Thanks for your interest in the project though – I hope we can consult with a lot of your blogs.

Gala’s Lessons in Blogging

Gala-Darling-1
Yesterday I introduced you to Gala Darling and talked about her transition from having a blog with a niche topic to having a blog more with a niche demographic. Today I want to hand ProBlogger over to Gala for a post and have asked her to share a few of the lessons she’s been learning of late about blogging. I’ve also included a few of the pictures that make her blog so distinct.

Gala’s 9 Lessons Learned from Blogging

I haven’t been running my fashion website, iCiNG, for very long — I started it in December 2006. However, since then, I have written 400 articles & I’m now in the top 10,000 blogs on Technorati. I was also recently approached by Cosmopolitan magazine to write a monthly fashion column for them! I absolutely love what I do, but there is more to blogging than just writing a lot of content & optimising your website for search engines!

Here’s what I’ve learned in the past 8 months.

1. An original angle is essential.

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Does Your Blog Focus Upon a Niche Topic or a Niche Demographic? – a Mini Case Study with Gala Darling

Gala-DarlingLast week I had a coffee with Melbourne blogger Gala Darling (pictured) to talk blogging. Gala blogs at iCiNG).

We had a great chat that covered a lot of topics – from how to make money from blogs, to adding features to blogs to take them to new levels, to where we should hold the next Melbourne Blogger Meetup.

While we covered a lot of ground in the conversation there is one topic that I’ve been pondering since our chat:

focusing upon a niche topic vs focusing upon a niche demographic

I thought her blog might make an interesting case study of sorts (since that’s one of the main things readers asked me for this week in the reader feedback post).

Gala started out blogging with a niche topic – fashion. She gave fashion tips, documented her own fashion decisions and covered fashion news. A few months ago when we first met, Gala described her blog to me as a ‘fashion blog’.

Last week over coffee as Gala described her blog to me I noticed that she’d made a subtle shift in the way in which she described it.

Instead of describing it as a ‘fashion blog’ she spoke about it as a ‘blog for youthful alternative (unconventional, individual, eccentric) women‘.

The way she talked about her blog changed from being one that revolved around a single topic to one that revolved around a certain type of reader or audience.

When I asked Gala about this she told me that she’d intentionally broadened her topic in this way – but that it had been a reasonably organic sort of shift that had been the result of interactions with her audience.

Fashion still made up a significant proportion of her posts but so did other aspects of the life of her loyal readership. In a sense Gala is moving towards providing a one stop shop for her readers rather than just a smaller destination that focuses upon one aspect of life.

Making a shift from being a niche topic blog to a niche demographic blog is not something that would be advisable for every blogger but is definitely an option for some. Here are a few observations that I make about this shift – speaking as an outsider to Gala’s blog (ie I’m far from being part of her target audience – although in my younger years I was a Goth…. but that’s a whole other story):

1. Establish Niche Demographic Traffic First - one of the reasons that Gala has been able to make this gentle transition from niche topic blog to niche demographic blog is that she already had built up a strong loyal readership around her niche topic (fashion). In doing so she developed credibility, trust and a voice that connects with her audience. As a result when she started to expand she was able to take her audience with her. I suspect that if Gala had started up her blog with a wider focus that it would have been more difficult to establish an audience. Doing a small thing well first and then growing into other areas seems like a smart way to do this.

2. Let Readers Lead the Way – as mentioned above, the transition was largely a response to where readers seemed to be taking the blog. Gala didn’t force her non fashion posts on anyone – but as a result of her readers questions and comments she was able to provide content for their needs that was good for them and her.

3. Warning, don’t Spread Yourself too Thin – one of the possible dangers of moving to a demographic based blog is that the temptation could be to focus upon a range of topics that spread the blogger (and their audience too thinly). Don’t dilute your focus too much too quickly or you may end up burning yourself out and frustrating readers. Gala’s done this pretty well but keeping her ‘fashion’ oriented posts at around the 40% mark and making the transition reasonably slowly.

4. Trapped by Brand - one of the reasons that many bloggers would not be advised to make this transition is that their branding, blog name etc ‘trap’ them to some extent. Gala’s lucky in this regard that she started her blog around her own name (galadarling.com) rather than a name with a topic focus (something like fashionblogger.com). A more generic or personal name would be better suited to a demographic focussed blog.

Tomorrow we’ll hear from Gala herself

As I’ve been writing this post I thought that rather than just having me talk about Gala’s blog as an outsider that it might be a worthwhile thing to get her in for a guest post – so tomorrow I’ll hand ProBlogger over to Gala to share a few of the lessons that she’s been learning about blogging. Gala’s got a lot of worthwhile things to say about blogging – I think you’ll enjoy her post.

How to Sell Products Through Your Blog – Business Blogging

Dave at Red Fly Marketing asks: “You mentioned that you would probably not sell problogger because it sells YOU so well. What advice do you have for business bloggers wishing to use blogging to increase their exposure and leverage that exposure to sell THEIR products?

Thanks for the question – it’s one that I’ve got a few thoughts on – as well as a short case study to illustrate.

The first advice I’d give to business bloggers looking to ‘sell’ through their blog is to be careful.

While blogs can be used as a tool for selling they are at their best when they are relational, conversational and offer their readers something useful that will enhance their lives in some way. Ask most blog subscribers why they follow a particular blog and you’ll find out that in almost every case they get something out of the blog (whether it be entertainment, advice, research, ideas etc).

Every company will have customers who will subscribe to a purely sales oriented blog because they are fans of the products that that company makes and want to keep up to date – however in most cases this will be a fairly small group of people.

Most people will not react overly positively to a blog that is just sales spin. We get it all day, on the radio, on tv, in our inbox, in our real mailbox etc.

So what is a business blogger wanting to ‘sell’ to do?

If I were a business blogger (and I guess I am in a way – but that’s another discussion) I would spend more time actively engaging with and enhancing the lives of my readers (and potential readers) than selling to them.

Make your primary focus to build trust, credibility, profile and perception of expertise while doing everything you can to develop a large, loyal and engaging community around your blog and you’ll find that on those occasions you do sell that your message will be all the more effective.

You’ll also find that instead of pushing your products on readers that they’ll push themselves on your products.

A Case Study as Illustration

I did a little work a year or so back with a company that was selling jewelry. Their blog had largely been a sales blog – mainly announcing new products and announcing specials. While they did have a small loyal readership they were not drawing in new customers.

I advised them that they write a series of articles that didn’t mention their products at all but that helped their readers in some way. The articles that they wrote were along these lines (I’ve changed them slightly as they wish to remain anonymous):

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Lifehacker – An Example of what Helpful and Positive Blogging Can Do

Logo TextThe Wall Street Journal had a nice piece on Gina Trapani’s Lifehacker yesterday at Lifehacker Draws Visitors With Time-Saving Tech Tips.

Lifehacker is a standout blog in my opinion and a prime example of how blogs can be more than just creating noise and clutter on the web by actually providing useful content to their readers. The quote of the article that sums it all up for me was from Robert Scoble:

“”She focuses on information that’ll make her readers’ lives more productive,” said Robert Scoble, author of the Scobleizer blog and a former Microsoft Corp. blogger. “That’s quite different from other bloggers who share gossip, give opinions or break news.”"

I think news blogs have a place and can be quite successful – but if I were starting a new blog today I’d be focussing more upon a style of blogging that is ‘helpful’ in nature as it’s the type of blog that not only draws people in, but that develops loyalty among it’s readership.

It’s also a much easier style of blog to monetize in some ways either through the development of products to sell readers (loyal readers are much more likely to buy something than one off readers) and also through affiliate products of other people’s quality resources.

The other great quote from the article was:

“Ms. Trapani, who manages a staff of three writers, is something of an anomaly among bloggers. She avoids writing about herself and her posts are free of the sarcasm and snarky attitude that other blogs — particularly those on technology — use as calling cards. The former software programmer says she prefers to stay out of the limelight. Any publicity about herself, instead of the site, “makes me want to climb under my desk and hide,” she said. “But that’s just my inner geek.”"

Perhaps this is more of a personal preference than anything but the other reason I am drawn to Lifehacker is the voice that it is written in. It’s a remarkably positive blog and I often come away from it in a slightly better mood than I was in when I got to it. As a result there’s a lot of goodwill towards Lifehacker in it’s readership (and in the wider blogosphere). Also – despite it’s size – it’s one of those few large techie blogs that usually has a positive vibe i it’s comments – this has a lot to do with the way it’s written in my humble opinion as that has a lot to do with the type of reader interaction it attracts.

It’s no wonder that they’ve tripled their readership in the last year.

Introducing 12 Year Old ProBlogger – David Wilkinson

David-WilkinsonI love hearing stories of of young entrepreneurs and so today when I came across 12 year old ProBlogger David Wilkinson whose Web 2.0 blog is Techzi I was over the moon.

Here’s a young guy who has recruited a couple of friends (one is 12, the other is 11) to help him write his blog and who in a recent interview at Repliqa answered the question of ‘Are you making any money blogging?‘ with:

“Yes, quite a bit actually. I could definitely live off $500 a month until I turn 14, by which time I aim to be earning more, by experimenting in Internet Marketing.”

David and his co-bloggers are currently running a fundraiser to raise enough money to transfer his blog from Blogspot to a hosted WordPress blog and he’s already over the $1200 mark (make a donation below).

David was recently featured on the BBC and sounds like he’s becoming quite the local celebrity.

What I love about his blog is his style of writing. He’s actually a great writer (you’d never know he was 12 most of the time) and that he writes with an authentic voice, humor and having done some good research. While he’s only been blogging for 6 months he does at a standard that is as good (if not better) than a lot of more experienced bloggers twice (or thrice) his age.

I’m looking forward to watching David’s blogging in 2007.
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Case Study Update – Digital Photography School

Picture 11-1I’ve been using my Digital Photography School as a case study over the past 9 months since it’s launch.

I’ve previously talked about it (at launch in a vidcast, then giving a progress report and then talking about some of my goals for it) but it’s been almost six months since I gave an update so I thought it was about time for another one.

A few basic stats to start with:

  • The site has been running 9 months
  • I’ve posted 178 posts to the site in that time
  • I’m currently aiming for around 4-5 posts per week (one each week day)
  • Numbers of subscribers to the weekly newsletter currently stand at just under 13700
  • RSS subscriber numbers are currently at around 3000 (according to Feedburner). This oscillates between 2800 and 4000 depending upon the day
  • This week the site is averaging around 8000 daily unique visitors to the actual site viewing around 17300 daily pages (again this varies a lot – and is higher than normal due to being dugg a couple of days back)
  • The Flickr discussion group has 2900 members (of course not all are active) and it’s new forums have active 650 members.
  • Earnings have been slow but steadily growing. Its nowhere near my most profitable blog when I think about the effort that goes into it or the traffic levels that it has. To this point AdSense has been my main focus but I’ve been hesitant to put many ads on the blog at this point – I’m hoping to build it up and then find a small number of sponsors to have premium sponsorship of the site. I’ve also introduced an affiliate program or two to the site which are returning good results.

Traffic has been up and down over the months since launch as a result of a variety of links from big sites and social bookmarking sites. But overall I’m pretty happy with traffic levels considering the length of time that it’s been live.

The last two months have seen a distinct rise in search engine traffic. It’s still not a massive proportion of overall traffic but as the blog gets older it continues to grow (ie we’re out of the ‘sandbox’). In my experience it generally takes around 9-12 months to really hit it’s straps in this way so it’s about on schedule.

Current Strategies and Developments:

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Introducing ChickAdvisor and Throng

Chick-AdvisorJeremy, Mark and I spent a pleasant evening tonight with the founders of ChickAdvisor (Ali and Alex de Bold). I’d not come across the site before but it’s an innovative and fun site for women looking for reviews and looking to review products, services, restaurants, deals etc – all for women (ie it’s advice FOR ‘chicks’ not ON how to understand them ‘chicks’ (although that’s a whole other niche).

While ChickAdvisor isn’t really a blog as such it does involve blogging and shares a lot of the same space. It’s a pretty interactive space with readers able to vote on each others reviews and add their opinions on what others have said.

ThrongWhile quite different in many ways – it sort of reminded me of another site that I’ve recently come across – Throng.

Throng is run by another husband wife team (Rachel and Regan Cunliffe – Rachel designed this blog) and is a community site that involves it’s readers in generating content around the topic of New Zealand TV shows.

Throng users get blogs, there are bookmarking features and a forum.

It’s nice to see these sorts of sites popping up around the blogging space and gaining traction. I suspect we’ll see more and more of this in the coming year or two – as blogging, social bookmarking, social media and more collide around different verticals.

Kiddley Blogs – Blog Case Study

One of my favorite bloggers in my early years of blogging was Loobylu – an award winning blog written by a fellow Melbournian Claire Robertson.

Claire is an illustrator and toy maker and has been featured for her illustration work and blogging in many places over the last five years. I’ve always been very jealous of her sense of style and beautifully designed blog.

Kiddleybanner4Six or so months ago Claire and her husband Phil launched a new blog by the name of Kiddley – a blog with loads of ideas, projects and tips for parents to enjoy with their kids. In a sense it is a DIY blog for parents.

It’s a blog that is brimming with the creativity in Claire’s other works but is also an entrepreneurial blog also with a real commercial edge (advertising and affiliate links).

Claire writes about Kiddley’s growth and emerging income stream that it brings:

“Kiddley has been going from strength to strength and no one is more surprised than me that we are starting to make a small income. It’s exciting to be working on a project like this with Big-P and it’s immensely satisfying trying new things and see what works. We are learning so much about blogging and marketing and our audience and after lots of planning and thinking and projecting we have decided that another new (small) blog is the next step for us followed by yet another in the new year. It’s all a bit of an experiement at this stage.”

Kiddleylinksbutton04In the last week or so Claire and Phil have added another blog to their growing network – Kiddley Links. It’s more overtly commercial in nature as it is a shopping blog and is specifically looking at and reviewing products related to kids.

I love the work that Claire and Phil are doing on these blogs and want to highlight it here for a number of reasons:

Firstly – its a brilliant example of people blogging about something that they obviously have an interest in and finding a way to monetize it. While it’s possible to pick a topic that will be financially rewarding and learn to love it – I think it’s much easier to sustain a blog that is on a topic that you’re passionate about.

Secondly – I love the way that Claire and Phil are expanding their blogging by picking related topics and are leveraging previous success to drive traffic to their new blogs. I wish that I’d done this in my early days of commercial blogging instead of picking a wide array of topics.

Thirdly – The clean design and layout of these blogs and ad placement is pretty smart. While there might be a few tweaks that I’d suggest – all in all I really like their integration of ads and design. Their blogs are warm, inviting and exude character and personality.

Fourthly – I quite like the husband and wife team approach on these blogs. I know of a few family partnership blogs like this and while it’s not possible for everyone it’s really great to see this type of partnership in action.