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Grab Your Ticket for the 2015 ProBlogger Training Event

Yesterday we released tickets to the 2015 ProBlogger Training Event on 14-15 August here in Australia on the Gold Coast.

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As I write this post 560 bloggers, speakers and team have grabbed their tickets (400 of those went in the first 10 minutes) and under 150 tickets remain.

This year we’ve got attendees coming from all states and territories in Australia as well as attendees flying in from the USA, New Zealand, India and Fiji.

Attendees not only come from all over the place but come from a wide spectrum of niches (everything from bloggers blogging about Fashion, to Health, to Travel, to Food, to Small Business and much more) and also a wide spectrum of experience levels.

Here’s the experience levels of attendees broken down (this doesn’t include speakers or team which all come from the 4-5 years or 5+ years categories).

Screen Shot 2015 03 20 at 12 36 10 pm

There’s a heap more information about the event over on the PBEVENT page – check out details of the speakers and sessions already announced (more to come) and venue and location.

I’m particularly excited about our international speakers this year. We’re bringing out Heather B Armstrong from Dooce, Jadah Sellner from Simple Green Smoothies, Pamela Wilson from CopyBlogger and Ruth Soukup from the Elite Blog Academy.

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If you’re thinking of joining us the cost for bloggers is just $399 AUD (around $300USD depending on the exchange rate on the day) which includes the two days of training, lunches and refreshments both days, a networking party and slides and recordings of all sessions.

Many conferences of this type and length cost upwards of $1000 so we’re pleased to have Olympus on board as a presenting partner. Olympus have substantially subsidised the cost of attending for bloggers this year but will also be adding a heap of value to the conference with some training for bloggers on how to take better photos for their blogs.

If you’re thinking of joining us please don’t wait too long and grab yours here. Tickets will sell out for this event and we’d hate for you to be disappointed.

A Powerful Exercise inside Google Analytics to Set You Up for a Successful Year of Blogging

Have you started the year off on the right foot? I hope you had a worthwhile end of 2014 and are looking at 2015 with excitement and anticipation!

Today I wanted to share with you an exercise that I do on my blogs at the end of every year that helps me to grow my blogs in the year that follows.

I find that it both inspires me to get moving on the new year of blogging but also gives me some starting points for direction for the new year.

It’s an exercise that I do over the last week of 2014 and the first week of 2015 but is also something you could spend just 10 minutes doing and still get some value from.

google-analytics-logo

It all starts for me in Google Analytics (the tool I use to track how my blogs are performing). You may use a different tool which will get you the same results (and if you’re not using something please do).

Note: I know the mention of ‘analytics’ is enough to put some of you off reading on any further. I get that – I’m not really an analytical guy. In fact anything with numbers or statistics elevates my blood pressure and makes me want to run screaming into my happy place. But bear with me – the numbers are just the starting point for this exercise and not the main thing!

I’m going to break this post down into three main sections which are based upon the three main categories in Google Analytics – ‘Audience’, ‘Acquisition’ and ‘Behaviour’.

I should say that there’s a HEAP more we could drill down into than what I’ll cover in this post but my hope is to give you some starting points to do some analysis in.

Note: Google Analytics also has ‘Real Time’ and ‘Conversions’ sections. I’ve previously touched on Real Time stats and it’s not as relevant for the type of analysis we’re talking about today. The ‘conversions’ area of analytics is something I’m still relatively new to so won’t be touching on today.

OK – grab a cup of your favorite beverage and make yourself comfortable – this will take a little while but I hope will be well worth your time!

Audience

Audience Overview

Firstly I log into Google Analytics and head to the ‘Audience Overview’ and plug in the dates for the full year to get a quick overview of how the year was. I usually look at things first in a ‘daily’ view to see where the spikes were and get a sense for the weekly cycle of traffic.

Blogging exercise daily overview

Note: all the screenshots in this post are stats from my main blog Digital Photography School (dPS). They are stats just for the ‘blog’ area of that site and not the forum or sister sites.

You can see in the above chart that there’s some regular patterns to traffic on dPS. Each week there is a spike (related to the day we send our newsletter) and a lull (weekends). There were also a few great spikes where we had posts go viral (this is something to investigate and take note of – we’ll touch on it later).

From this chart I immediately can begin to see that there wasn’t huge growth in the site over 2014 – although things were definitely lower at the start than the end.

To get a better picture of growth I find looking at a weekly and/or monthly view can be helpful. Here is the monthly view.

Blogging exercise monthly overview

Now we have a clear picture of the months things did well and slowed down. We can immediately see February was lowest (it always is for dPS – mainly because it has less days) and December was our record month (ever).

Some of these peaks and troughs will be seasonal but others are not. For example July and August tend to be slower months for us as many of our readers are out and about enjoying the Summer of the Northern Hemisphere.

Compare This Year to Last Year

Another fun chart to look at here is to compare 2014 with the year before.

To do this click on the date section and tick the ‘compare to’ box and plug in last year’s dates like this:

Blogging exercise comparison

You can again view this by day, week or month. I like monthly as it can show you seasonal impacts. Here’s how mine looked:

Blogging exercise monthly comparison

You can see here the Feb slump in both years as well as the November and December rise.

I love this comparative view because it shows the real growth we’ve had. While you can kind of get the feeling some of the other views above that we grew over the year it’s a relatively flat line.

This comparison shows that even in November where the lines are closest that we had 31% more traffic than the previous year. April was 82% higher than the previous year.

Note: comparison reports are a lot of fun and can be very motivating. Here’s how I use them during the year to keep my blog growing month to month.

Scroll further down the report and you get more comparative data:

Blogging exercise monthly comparison 2

We can see here that overall we were up by 51.58% in terms of traffic, 31.87% in users and 39.03% in page views – all good signs.

Below however we see some areas to work on. Pages viewed per session, time spent on site, bounce rate and new visitor numbers were all down (I’ll dig into the reasons for this below) – something we need to work on improving in 2015.

We had already noticed this and are getting ready to launch an evolution of our design that is all about trying to get visitors to view more pages per visit (which will lift their time on site and decrease bounce rate).

If you scroll down the page further you can also do some comparisons from year to year on other areas including language spoken by visitors, their location, the browser they use, operating system, screen resolution etc.

A couple that interested me:

Blogging exercise monthly comparison location

While numbers of those visiting from the US have growth significantly (62%) as a total percentage of our readers we’ve seen a fall and much faster growth in terms of our readers from parts of Asia.

This is something to keep in the back of our mind as we think about content but also how we monetise the site.

The other big shift from 2013 to 2014 was the growth in mobile use of the site which we can see in looking at operating systems used.

Blogging exercise monthly comparison operating system

Mobile vs Desktop

While we’re talking about devices lets quickly click the ‘Mobile > Overview’ item in the menu on the left of the page and see the comparison of desktop to mobile and tablet.

Blogging exercise monthly comparison mobile overview

As I mentioned just a couple of months ago in a post here on ProBlogger mobile/tablet traffic is now overtaking desktop traffic on many sites. In fact on dPS in December we saw desktop traffic make up only 46.41% of the overall site traffic with mobile getting 39.11% and tablets getting 14.48%.

Thankfully we now have a fully responsive design on the site!

One interesting thing I noticed looking at the breakdown of mobile/desktop traffic is the difference in bounce rate on them.

Blogging exercise mobile analysis

Mobile traffic has a significant higher bounce rate and lower page views per session/time on site. This is an ever increasing problem with mobile traffic growing and gives me some great information to feed into our site redesign – we obviously need to think about how to get those viewing the site on mobile to view more pages. It’s not the only reason these stats are down though (read on to find out the other part of the issue).

Lets move onto the ‘Acquisition’ section.

Acquisition

OK – so in the Audience section we saw we had some decent growth in traffic to the site. In the Acquisition area we can begin to analyse where that traffic is coming from.

Acquisition Overview

Click the ‘Overview’ item in the menu for a quick top level look at where traffic is coming from.

Blogging exercise acquisition overview

Obviously organic search is driving a lot of our traffic (44.4%) with social and direct each contributing around another 25%. Email looks small but a lot (in fact most) of the ‘direct’ traffic is actually from our email newsletter. There is also talk lately that some direct traffic is actually mobile traffic from Facebook.

Channels

Drill down further into each of these channels by clicking the ‘channels’ item in the left hand menu. In turn you can begin to look at each channel in turn and look for trends.

We could spend a lot of time digging around in here and it can be well worth doing – but for the purpose of this post here are a few things I found.

Firstly – a lot of the growth to dPS in 2014 can be attributed to social traffic – in particular Facebook.

While I know many publishers have become frustrated with Facebook in the last couple of years I have persisted with it – in fact I’ve put more time and effort into developing a rhythm of posting to our Digital Photography Facebook page (and even started a second Facebook page).

Here is a chart of all social traffic (blue line) with Facebook (orange), Twitter (purple) and Pinterest (green) to show you just how much Facebook is responsible for our social traffic.

Blogging exercise acquisition social

This above chart is both simultaneously encouraging (that all my work on our Facebook page is paying off) but also worrying (that perhaps we’re becoming too reliant upon Facebook). It is inspiring me to think about how to grow other social channels in 2015 (something I’ve begun work on with Twitter in the last week).

What I find really interesting looking at social traffic is that it’s this traffic that is dragging down our performance in terms of pages viewed per page, bounce rate, time on site and ‘new users’ that I mentioned above.

Here’s some analysis of our social traffic:

Blogging exercise acquisition social analysis

You can see there that Facebook traffic brings in only 23.99% ‘new’ visitors to the site. It’s very much about engaging with regular/loyal readers. This is great for building engagement but given Facebook brings in over 20% of our site’s traffic it has dragged down our overall stats in this area.

The same thing is happening withe ‘bounce rate which is a little higher than the site average’, pages viewed per session and average time on site.

Knowing this gives me a little comfort but also motivates me to work harder on our design to get more pages viewed per visit.

Referral Traffic

Another thing I noticed in the acquisition area is that ‘referral’ traffic only makes up 4.98% of our overall traffic. While this is still 2.3 million sessions its an area that I think there’s room for improvement on.

We did see one really nice day of referral traffic mid year after a mention in a Business Insider post – but other than that it’s been slowish (interestingly that post was syndicated on many other sites also which led to a lot more little trickles of traffic for the months after).

Blogging exercise acquisition referral

I’ve not really spent much time in the last couple of years working on this. Perhaps it is time to start doing some guest posting or networking with other site owners.

Social Landing Pages

Before we leave the ‘acquisition’ section it is worth looking at the Acquisition > Social > Landing Pages report which will show you the posts and pages on your site that got the most traffic from social media.

This is actually a report that I spend some significant time looking at. Here are the top 10 results for dPS in this report (click to enlarge).

Blogging exercise acquisition social landing pages

This report is one that can be well worth some real analysis on. Dig deeper than the first 10 items though (you can show as many as 5000 but the top 100 or so will give you some great insights).

By looking it over you’ll identify some great information on what type of content is getting shared, liked and engaged with on social media.

This will hopefully give you some hints for what type of content you might want to create for 2015 but also might give you some hints as to how to engage on social media too.

For example the #1 post in this report is an old post on camera settings that I noticed did well on Facebook back in 2012. I reshared it on Facebook in December and it went wild again. In fact it did so well that it was responsible for our biggest day of traffic ever later in December and is still sending us traffic weeks later.

I can’t emphasise enough how powerful it can be to reshare content that has done well previously. So many bloggers only share their new stuff on social media and forget that there’s gold in their archives.

This report is great for identifying these shareable posts – I’d even go so far as to advise exporting it and using it as a part of your social strategy for the next 12 months.

Note: I’ll write more below on analysing content below in the ‘behaviour’ section.

If you click on any of the landing pages in this report you get taken to a page which shows you where the traffic came from.

For example item 4’s report looks like this:

Blogging exercise acquisition social landing pages report

This can help you to get a sense for where content might be being shared around.

Behavior

This is by far my most favorite section in Google Analytics and I spend a lot of time in here during the year. I particularly love the ‘Site Content’ area – I guess because content is what I’m really most interested in.

All Pages vs Landing Pages

There are two reports here that I find most interesting. ‘All Pages’ and ‘Landing Pages’.

While both show similar data I think it’s well worth looking at both.

‘All pages’ shows how many times pages and posts on your blog have been ‘viewed’.

‘Landing Pages’ shows how many times a page or post was the entry page into your site.

While these might sound similar they can produce quite different results. Lets compare the two for my blog.

First ‘All Pages’.

Blogging exercise behavior all pages

Now ‘Landing Pages’.

Blogging exercise behavior landing pages

Obviously there are some similarities here but some differences too.

For example our ‘photography tips for beginners‘ page is in both lists but people land on it only 197,669 times in the year but end up viewing it 566,590 times. This is because it is linked to very prominently in the navigation menu. The reason I put it there was that I’d previously noticed it had a very very low bounce rate

You can also see in the ‘all pages’ report that our Cameras page is our 6th most viewed page on the site despite it not featuring prominently as a landing page. This is our category page for cameras on the site and is really useful to see as it’s a page that has not previously had as many clicks on it. Obviously our audience are increasingly interested in knowing more about ‘gear’ – this will inform our posts for 2015.

All Pages

The ‘all pages’ report is really interesting to look at how readers are viewing all posts and pages on your site.

Other interesting findings by looking at this report include that our ‘thank you for subscribing to our newsletter’ page is actually the 22nd most visited page on our blog. I’ve not updated that page in over two years – so this gives me cause to go to it and see if I can optimise it.

Blogging exercise behavior thank you

Another useful piece of information I found on our ‘all pages’ report were a couple of pages with odd URLS that were appearing in our top 200 pages viewed on the site. Both had /?s= strings.

Blogging exercise search results

These pages are search results pages. So over 83,000 people have searched for ‘lightroom‘ and over 63,000 have searched for ‘photoshop‘ in the last 12 months. While in comparison to other pages on the site this isn’t massive traffic – it gives us some hints as to what our readers are looking for and perhaps are not finding enough of.

This is great information for future content planning.

These two results were the most searched for terms on the site but it got me wondering what else people are searching for – so I dug deeper. I plugged in ‘/?s=’ into the search box in the ‘all pages’ report and ran a report on anything with this string.

There were 211,751 results to this search! That’s over 200,000 words or phrases that people have searched for in the last 12 months. Here’s the top results:

Blogging exercise more search results

These are all single word searches and give us some good broad information on topics people want information on – but dig further down into the search results and you start to get phrases and more specific searches.

Blogging exercise more search results 2

This is really useful information. While only 13 people searched for those terms I can already see topics that we could write posts on based upon some of the more common words and phrases being searched for.

You can bet that I’ll be digging further into this report and that it’ll be informing content on the blog in 2015!

Landing Pages

OK – digging into the ‘landing pages’ report is one of my favorite things to do as it gives some great insights into where people are entering your site – great information for thinking about how to grow your traffic further in the next year.

This is one report I regularly export into a spreadsheet to do more in depth analysis on.

How to Export this report - Before you export it scroll to the bottom of the page and choose to show more rows than the default 10. I choose 100 or 500. Then scroll to the top of the page and look for the ‘export’ drop down menu and choose how you want to export it. I usually export as a CSV and then view it as a spreadsheet.

9 Questions I Ask Myself About Content Reports in Google Analytics

As I work with this report there are a number of questions I’m asking myself including:

  1. what posts you might want to reshare on social at some point? – if it did well once it might do well again (see above for an example of this).
  2. what types of posts/mediums get shared most? – for example I notice in our most popular posts this year were a number of cheat sheets and infographics. This gives us hints as to what kind of posts might do well in 2015.
  3. what topics are hot? – for example I noticed in our top 100 posts for social that we had a lot of posts on camera lenses that did well. This informs what we might do more of in 2015.
  4. what headlines did well? – I noticed in our top 100 posts that we saw a number of posts that talked about ‘mistakes‘ that photographers make doing well. While we don’t want to do these posts all the time they do do well on social so we’ll no doubt do a few more in 2015.
  5. what posts could you extend? – some posts that have done well might lend themselves to become a series. For example our post ‘the only three lenses you’ll need for Travel Photography‘ could easily be extended to feature lenses for other types of photography.
  6. what posts could be optimised? – if posts are getting decent long term traffic from search or social it can be worth thinking about how to update them either by adding new content or by optimising them for search or social traffic. For example I noticed that our post on ISO settings is ranking well in Google but was not in the top 2-3 results in searches for ISO – so I’ve tweaked the post hoping to help that.
  7. what posts that I expected to go well under performed? – a lot can be learned from posts that DIDN’T rank in the most visited post lists. Perhaps they had the wrong headline, perhaps they could be republished at a better time, perhaps they are just a signal that the topic isn’t of interest to your readers.
  8. what older posts that need updating are still getting traffic? – this year I’ve noticed a number of 7-8 year old posts still getting significant traffic from Google. While some of them have evergreen content that is still relevant today a couple are very dated and in real need of updating.
  9. what posts are generating a lot of extra page views? – some pages stimulate readers to view a lot of other pages. On dPS I’ve developed number of what I call ‘sneeze pages’ that propel readers deep within the site. For example this year I notice that anyone entering our blog on our Portrait Photography Tips page is going on to view over 5 other posts on the blog. These pages that ‘over perform’ are ones to consider adding to menus, side bars, ‘further reading’ on other posts and sharing more regularly on social media.

Other Behavior Reports to Look at

There’s a lot more in the beheavior area of Google Analytics to dig into. Site speed is one to watch and work on. We’ve worked hard in the last 18 months to speed up dPS (although we could do more) as Google seem to be putting more emphasis on the speed of a site when working out how to rank it.

If you use AdSense on the site there’s some good data in Analytics too if you sync them up. Doing some work on working out which posts in your archives are most profitable on that front can certainly help you in working out which posts to keep promoting and what kind of content seems to be converting.

Summing Up

The above description may seem a little overwhelming but I cannot emphasise enough just how important it is to begin to develop this kind of analysis of your blog.

You may choose to only do some of this or might focus on other areas – but the more you know about how your blog has been travelling the better position you’ll be in to plan for future growth!

Did Your Blog Have a Tipping Point? Here’s How My 2 Blogs Grew

Time for another reader question from a recent member webinar on ProBlogger.com.

Did you experience a “tipping point” in readership at some point or was it just steady growth?

This is actually a question I often ask full time bloggers who I meet because I love to hear the back story about how their blog broke through to have enough readers to make a living from.

What I’ve found in asking the question is that there are many different pathways to full time blogging.

This can perhaps be illustrated by sharing how my two main blogs grew in terms of readership because they could not really be more different.

Let’s start with ProBlogger

I wish I could show you an actual traffic chart of ProBlogger’s growth but when I started it back in 2004 I didn’t have Google Analytics installed (it didn’t come along until 2006, from memory).

However if I were to recreate it’s growth the chart would have looked something like this in the first couple of years.

blog traffic ProBlogger

You can see the first few months were particularly slow but within the next two months things boomed very quickly.

This ‘tipping point’ came as a result of me mentioning (without any forethought) in an interview that I’d reached a level of being a full time blogger and earning a six figure income from my blogging.

This caused quite the stir back in 2006. While blogging had been around for a few years and the idea of making money online was not new – there were not too many bloggers experimenting with making money from blogs.

The interview in which I mentioned making a six figure income from blogging went viral and was linked to from a number of big sites (one in particular was Slashdot which sent hundreds of thousands of visitors in a day).

Some people saw making money from blogging as controversial (blogging was seen by some as ‘pure’ and not to be monetised) and it also stimulated a lot of other bloggers to become interested in making money from blogging.

ProBlogger was the only real place to talk about making money blogging so subscribers shot up almost overnight and the term ‘ProBlogger’ quickly became a term those making money from blogging began to use to describe what they did.

While I didn’t set out to cause the ‘tipping point’ with that interview my blog here at ProBlogger was never the same after doing so.

A Different Story at Digital Photography School

Digital Photography School was a very different story to ProBlogger in terms of traffic growth.

If I had to chart the first two years it’d have looked more like this (in comparison to the yellow line of ProBlogger).

blog traffic comparison

It took around 2 years to get to the point where dPS was larger than Problogger (today it is 10 times bigger than ProBlogger is) and there was no real ‘tipping point).

I didn’t have Google Analytics on dPS until 8 months after the site began but here’s how growth has looked since that point (this is monthly visitors).

traffic-blog-dps

You can see that there were certainly some months were traffic spiked a little but the growth was fairly steady with no real breakout month that would classify as a tipping point.

The spikes in traffic were usually the result of being featured on other large blogs (usually the result of me networking and pitching other bloggers with links that their readers might find useful) or getting lucky with getting to the front page of sites like Digg or Reddit.

However it is worth saying that while spikes in traffic like these are fun… they rarely convert to long term traffic and are quite fleeting.

As I’ve written about in the past – this gradual but steady growth really came about as a result of a number of different factors:

    • Regular useful content: Daily “how to” posts that solved problems, showed people how to achieve their goals and improve their photography. This has been the main focus of the site since day 1 (I’d estimate over 90% of the content I’ve published fits into this category).
    • Shareable content: Content that I knew was more likely to be shared (inspirational posts, breaking news, humor, controversy (I didn’t really focus on this), grand list posts, and so on. This type of content has never been my main focus but I have mixed it into the publishing schedule at probably around 5% of what we publish.
    • Community: The other 5% of posts was more focused upon community activities like reader discussions, giving readers a chance to show off their photos, debates, polls, etc. We started a forum in time, too, to build this community further.
    • Email newsletter: If there’s one thing that grew the site more than any other, it was that we started collecting people’s email addresses early and began sending them weekly updates/newsletters. Email now sends a bit spike of traffic every Thursday night when we send our newsletter. Read more on how I use email to drive traffic and profit here.
    • Promotion: I defined who I wanted to read my blog and did the exercise of asking where they gathered. This lead me to sites like Flickr, other blogs, and some social networking sites where I developed presence, was useful and in time shared our content. Facebook is the #1 source of social traffic to the blog as a result of some of the strategies I’ve previously written about here and here.

SEO – I’ve never put a massive effort into search engine optimisation but one of the flow on effects of producing daily helpful content, regular shareable content, building community, and actively promoting dPS has been that the content we produce ranks well in Google. This doesn’t happen overnight but naturally grows as you add more content to your site and as your site becomes an authority in the eyes of Google. Knowing some basics of SEO helps but most of it for dPS has come about very naturally simply by trying to create the kind of site that people want to read (which is what Google tries to rank highest).

Further Reading On Content that Drives Traffic: I’ve talked a fair bit about content above – here is a post I wrote on ProBlogger last year that analyses 5 posts I published in the first year that generated a heap of traffic since that time which will illustrate the kind of content that has generated great traffic on dPS since the beginning.

How Did Your Blog Grow?

As you can see – my two blogs have had quite different journeys. Most full time bloggers I meet tend to have growth more similar to dPS than ProBlogger but no two are the same.

What has your blog’s growth been like?

Content Isn’t King… Here’s What Is!

Over the years I’ve heard many debates in the blogosphere about what is ‘king’.

‘Blogging is King’ was something many argued almost 10 years ago as it began to rise in popularity.

‘Content is King’ was the catch cry for many years… then it became ‘Community is King’ for a while as community management became the big thing.

‘Twitter is King’ was something I heard a number of bloggers crying (as they gave up their blogs to get onto Twitter), ‘Facebook is King’ was the cry a few years later when setting up pages there was the cool thing to do. YouTube was king for a while, and more recently some have argued for Instagram, Pinterest and other social networks being King.

Lately there’s a new ‘king’ every day. Infographics, podcasting, hangouts, webinars, apps… you name it!

The arguments for all of these things being ‘king’ are good… but they all kind of miss the point in my opinion. You see I think something else is king…

Usefulness
Yep – in my books ‘Usefulness is King’.

Creating content is just one way of being useful.

Building community is another.

Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn and G+ are just ways of delivering usefulness.

Infographics, videos, podcasts and even blogging… all just different mediums for being useful.

Over the last decade that I’ve been doing business online a multitude of trends have come and many have gone but those who remain and have build valuable enterprises are those who understand that they’re in the business of being useful.

I’m often asked if I’ll be blogging in 10 years time… if the medium will still exist?

I don’t know the answer to that – blogging may well fall by the wayside at some point (although I don’t see it disappearing any time soon).

What I do know is that usefulness will never die as a strategy for building a business (online or offline).

How to be useful?

So how should we be useful as bloggers and online entrepreneurs?

Ultimately for me it comes down to understanding people’s needs and creating content, community and experiences based upon meeting those needs and solving their problems.

There are many ways to do this.

Here’s a slide from a recent talk I gave to business bloggers which begins to unpack a few ways blogs can be useful (and it scrapes the surface).

How to be useful
My blogs tend to focus most upon ‘education’ and ‘advice’ (with a sprinkle of inspiration and community) but other blogs are equally as useful by taking different approaches.

How Is Your Blog Useful?

So my question today is – ‘is your blog being useful’?

This is something I ask myself semi-regularly as I review what I do. If the answer is no – it’s time to refocus!

Passion – Do You Have It?


Recently on Twitter I was asked for some tips on what sets ‘great’ blogs apart from the rest.

With millions of bloggers creating blog posts every day – how do you stand out?

It’s a big question, and the reality is that there are many ingredients to building a successful blog.

A variety of words came to mind as I struggled to come up with my 140-character guide to ‘standing out’.

I started to list them:

  • Credibility
  • Share Your Opinion
  • Great Writing
  • Ability to Connect
  • Understanding Readers
  • Injecting Personality

As I brainstormed, I realised 140 characters was not going to cut it:

  • Great blog design
  • Tell Stories
  • Use Great Visuals
  • Network with other bloggers
  • Be prolific
  • Be funny
  • Be smart
  • Be first
  • Write great headlines

I started to think of the blogs I love and what makes them stand out:

  • Be Useful
  • Be Entertaining
  • Take note of your readers
  • Have a different spin on things
  • Be Original

The list continued to grow and with it my heart sank a little.

“There’s no one way to stand out…”

But then I had two realizations:

Firstly – I love that there’s no one way to stand out! There are no rules. There is no blueprint – and that’s what is so simultaneously exciting and frustrating about blogging.

That’s why I love what I do. Constant experimentation, learning, testing and trying new things.

The second thing I realised is that there actually was a common feature about all of the blogs that came to mind as ‘stand out’ blogs.

Passion

There are plenty of bloggers that do the things in the lists above. There are bloggers sharing opinions, writing well, with a heart to connect, with great personalities…. bloggers who are smart, funny, prolific, original, entertaining and bundles of wonderful!

But something that seems present and that shines through in the blogs that I read and love is passion.

They are created by people with passion for the topics being covered, passion for the process of creating content, passion for their readers, passion for learning, and passion for pushing the boundaries of thinking and creating.

They love… they enthuse… they delight in what they do. By doing so they somehow draw others into their passion too, which is where the real magic seems to happen.

This isn’t to say that passion is the only ingredient needed for success – but maybe… just perhaps… it’s what binds it all together and helps a blog just click.

Are you passionate about your blog?

Happy Valentine’s Day.

What My Wife Has Taught Me About Blogging After Just 3 Months

Next week marks the 3 month anniversary of Vanessa (my wife) starting her first blog at Style and Shenanigans.

It’s been a fascinating process to watch her plan, launch and grow her blog.

Some might imagine that being married to ‘the ProBlogger’ means she’s constantly being told what to do and being given secret tips and advice – however I’ve been remarkably restrained in my involvement and very impressed by what she’s intuitively built already.

While she’s not got a huge readership – it continues to grow and it has already opened up some pretty cool opportunities for her.

In fact having watched her over these last 3 months I have been somewhat inspired and learned a lot and in this post want to share some of the things I think she’s done well that have helped her to grow her blog’s traffic and profile already.

My hope is that in doing so it’ll help others at the beginning of their blogging journey to get their blogs rolling.

1. Focus Upon Community Management

Perhaps the #1 thing that I’ve been impressed with so far is Vanessa’s commitment to engaging with her readership.

This has shone through in a number of ways including:

  • writing in an engaging style – most of her posts end with a question that invites comment
  • every comment on the blog is responded to
  • every comment on her Facebook Page is responded to
  • every incoming Tweet to our Twitter account is responded to

This is partly just who Vanessa is (she’s very engaging and inclusive in real life) but was something that probably stretched her a little too. I remember in the early days when she would get comments from people she didn’t know for the first few times it was certainly a bizarre feeling for her to engage with them – but she’s fully into the swing of things now!

Interestingly she’s now well and truly passed the tipping point of having more ‘strangers’ reading her blog and following her on Facebook and Twitter than she has ‘real life’ friends.

2. Personal/Personality Driven Content

Screen Shot 2013-11-14 at 8.15.43 pmI wrote a few weeks ago about Vanessa’s first foray into including a few ‘selfies’ on the blog. These more personal ‘Everyday Style’ posts have continued and have been received well (they’ve been the most commented posts on the site). In fact her ‘Everyday Style’ series of posts have become something she’s become well known for of late.

Other experiments with a more personal style of content included a post about a dinner party we threw for a few friends and a couple of posts about a short trip we took.

And then there’s Facebook…. this for me has been one of the most fascinating parts of the journey because her blog Facebook Page has gone ‘off topic’ and into a more personal space than I would have predicted.

There are certainly the predictable updates that are links to new posts on the blog – but mixed in are plenty of slightly more personal updates. Photos from things she’s doing, questions, funny family moments, personal quick tips and random off topic humorous posts.

The result is that she’s got a page with pretty high engagement – in fact if I had the engagement she had on my pages relative to how many people were ‘liking’ my pages I’ve be over the moon!

3. Helpful Content

The other key thing that I think is going to work in Vanessa’s favour is that the bulk of her content on the blog is ‘helpful’ and solves problems for readers.

V is what Malcom Gladwell would describe a ‘Maven’. She is a gatherer of information, a watcher of trends and LOVES sharing what she finds. She’s been doing this on the topic of style in her friendship circles since before I met her and her blog is an extension of that.

The bulk of her content reflects that and is basically her curated collections of different themes of fashion and home wares.

Her typical posts feature a collection of suggested products on a colour style or brand theme and the comments I see on them are often people saying thanks for the suggestions.

Update: She’s also experimented with seasonal posts – for example Kris Kringle Ideas for Christmas.

Also of interest to me is that I’m starting to see readers leave messages asking for advice on particular areas based upon her posts.

4. Understanding the Audience

Her 7am post - got decent engagement.

Her 7am post – got decent engagement.

This morning Vanessa was posting an update to Facebook at 7am and I suggested that it might be a bit too early in the morning for her readers to be checking Facebook.

She responded that it was one of her best times of day and that when she posted that early she often got a lot of responses by 8am as people checked their phones over breakfast.

I had my doubts but as I ate my porridge I watched the comments come in on Facebook and the blog and realised she had her finger on the rhythms of her readership perfectly.

Also of interest is that she’s already noticed that some days of the week seem to get more comments on posts than others and that certain types of Facebook updates at certain times of the day get more interaction.

This is golden information!

5. Getting OFF her Blog

I’m always talking here on ProBlogger about how important it is to ‘get off your blog’ if you want to grow traffic and to monetise your blog.

Vanessa has intuitively started to do this without much prompting at all.

It is a challenge – she’s a busy person with 3 active boys (two home during the day), working a day a week, involved in a variety of community activities etc – but she’s going beyond just writing content and responding to comments.

This has happened in a variety of ways including:

  • when she’s mentioned brands or other sites in her posts she lets them know (this has already led to one brand suggesting that they might like to work with her and others linking up to her blog!)
  • reading and engaging on other relevant sites/Facebook pages
  • involvement in a small Facebook group for other bloggers in her niche
  • responding to opportunities that other bloggers and media have already offered her to guest post on them

By no means is it easy to get everything done (and there will always be more that you can do) but I’m always amazed at what happens when you push open doors and get active about engaging off your blog with others.

The key lesson here is to not just build a great blog and expect good things to happen to you. You need to take some initiative and get off your blog to see those good things come into being!

6. Involving Others

Screen Shot 2013-11-14 at 8.22.52 pmIt was several years after I started blogging that I even considered the possibility of other people writing content on my blogs. That’s not the case for Vanessa.

Just 3 months in she’s already had two guest posts. Both have been submitted by the one person – a good family friend – but both posts have added something to the blog that V couldn’t have written herself.

The key is that she’s found someone who writes in a similar voice and that the posts have complemented existing content on the blog (for example this post from Mandy on toys for Girls was a follow up to one V wrote on toys for boys).

7. Visuals and Creating Content for Social

CR-CollageA couple of weeks ago I shared some great image creation tools that I use to create visual content for my blogs. Vanessa is also a convert to PicMonkey and Canva and a regular feature of her posts are collages of the products that she’s talking about.

I suspect that the visual element of her blogging will only evolve in time but these simple collages have been really popular with readers and I think are a big part of the reason that her Facebook Page has had great engagement.

Visual content is gold – particularly on social!!!

Lots More to Learn

By no means am I suggesting that Vanessa has arrived or is a poster child of blogging. She has a lot more to learn (as do I). I just have loved watching her growth and development in these early months.

What did you learn about blogging in the first few months that has stuck with you ever since?

5 First Year Posts that Led to Over 6 Million Views

What sort of content should you publish on your blog to help you grow traffic in your first year?

There is no right or wrong answer to that question as each blog will be different depending upon the topic, your writing style and the purpose of your blog. However, I thought it might be fun to look back at some of the earliest posts that I wrote on Digital Photography School and talk a little about how each contributed to the growth of the site.

What follows is a selection of posts that I published in the first year of Digital Photography School (back in 2007) and some reflections on how I think they helped grow readership on the site.

5 Posts on dPS that Helped Me Grow Traffic

Note: what you’re seeing here is how the posts look today. We’ve been through 3 redesigns in that time.

1. 15 Stunning Images Using Blur to Portray Movement

Early posts on dps

This post was the most viewed post on dPS in the first year (in that 12 month period it had 183,269 visitors). It was published about 8 months after the site launched and was one of the first times I experimented with what I later started to call ‘image collections’.

This style of post was a move away from the normal ‘tutorial’ type of posts that I did. While the majority of the posts on dPS were ‘information’ heavy this post was almost completely images (a series of 15 of them) and it highlighted the importance for me of ‘inspiration’.

One thing I’m glad I did in this post was to link it back to a previously written ‘tutorial’ that I’d written on the same topic (which I did in the first paragraph). This led to some decent traffic to that ‘information’ heavy post.

This post was something of a slow burner in terms of traffic. It wasn’t until 4 weeks after I published it that it suddenly saw a rush of traffic from StumbleUpon and Reddit (peaking at 27,000 visitors in a day).

Two years after I published this post I gave it an update and reposted it to the front page of the site. This resulted in another great spike in traffic to the post as at that time it was featured on the front page of Digg (bringing in 24,000+ visitors in a day).

In 2010, the post again had a spike of 15,000+ visitors in a day after being linked to from another large site.

This post has continued to get traffic every day. It’s not spectacular daily traffic (it has averaged 100 or so visitors per day over the last month) but when you think about the long tail life of this post it adds up. The post has been viewed 786,547 times since being published.

2. 4 Easy Photoshop Techniques to Make Your Pictures Pop!

Early posts on dps 2

This very early post (published 20 days after the launch of the site) was the one that opened my eyes to the potential of the site on a couple of levels.

Firstly, it was the first time the site saw a post go viral from any kind of social media after it was featured on the front page of Digg (which brought in 45,000+ visitors in a day and crashed our servers).

Secondly, the post was the first time I’d ever published a guest post. In the first year I did only publish a handful of guest posts and wrote 99% of them myself but this did change my opinion of the featuring other people’s voices on my blog.

Thirdly, this was the first ever post that we’d done on the topic of ‘post production’. Up until this point I’d always just published posts that were how to ‘take’ photos rather than how to manipulate and process them in photoshop. Later I went on to add a post production section to the site.

What is interesting to me about this post is that while it is now dated (as there are new versions of Photoshop out and new tools available to photographers) it still continues to get decent traffic. The post still regularly gets 200 visitors a day and has had over 1.7 million page views now despite me never really promoting it since the early days of the site (it’s almost all Google traffic).

3. 11 Surefire Tips for Improving Your Landscape Photography

Early posts on dps 3

This post is written in a style that has always been popular on dPS – the ‘list post’.

As the title suggests there are 11 tips in the post listed. Each point is 2-3 paragraphs long and then most link deeper into the site to other articles that go deeper on those topics. As a result a reader can get a good introduction to the topic but are encouraged to read more of the archives.

Scattered through the post are also great illustrative images for the points mentioned.

In later years I’ve included larger images and more of them – but this was an early version of this style of post.

This post did particularly well on StumbleUpon in the first year after it was published and saw around 148,000 visitors come to the site in that 12 months (half of which came from StumbleUpon).

Interestingly I noticed that as a result of StumbleUpon traffic (and a day that it did well on Reddit) we then saw a number of other larger blogs link to up to the post.

Lastly – for years I have used this post as a piece of ‘cornerstone’ content on the blog and have often linked to it when I mention Landscape Photography in other posts. By linking back to it so many times I was always driving traffic to this post in those early years.

Since it was published the post has been viewed over 1.3 million times – approaching 10 times more traffic than it got in its first year after publication!

This to me highlights the importance of extending the life of posts in your archives by pushing traffic back to them over time.

4. How to Photograph Fireworks

Early posts on dps 4

There are no prizes for guessing what time of year this post went live – that’s right – in the lead up to 4 July 2007 (about 6 months after the site launched). I actually published the post on 26 June to allow it to have time to be indexed by Google.

My theory was that there would be a lot of people searching for tips on how to photograph fireworks at that time, and I was right.

This post saw only a bit of traffic in its first week but on 4th July it saw 32,000+ visitors – almost all of which came in from Google.

I’ve updated this post and republished it on the front page of the site every July since 2007. It is the post that just keeps on giving. Here’s a screen shot of traffic to the site – with spikes every 4th July and New Years Eve.

Fireworks seasonal traffic

To this date the post has been viewed just under 1.5 million times.

The key lesson to me from this post was to consider when you can write seasonal content. We’ve done this a variety of times with Christmas Photography Tips and Halloween Photography Tips posts doing pretty well too.

5. ISO Settings in Digital Photography

Early posts on dps 5

All of the posts linked to above have had spectacular days of traffic but this post was quite unmemorable in many ways.

It was on a very beginner topic. I even remember wondering whether I should publish information this basic in those early days. It was a relatively short post on a niche topic that was a part of a series where I looked at the topic of Exposure and covered ISO, Shutter Speed and Aperture.

Traffic to the post in the first year never rose above 800 visitors in a day and averaged only 150 per day.

But here’s the thing… this post is one of the most viewed posts I’ve ever written and has been viewed just under 2.4 million times since I published it.

You might be wondering when it featured on the front page of Digg or was linked to by a major blog… but the reality is that it never had a day of traffic over 5000 visitors (and that was just once). Here’s the traffic graph since the early days:

ISO

Where did the traffic come from? The vast majority of it was from search engines. Facebook is the next highest referrer of traffic and it only sent 17,927 views.

This is another example of a ‘cornerstone’ piece of content that must have linked to hundreds of times from other articles on the site when I mention the term ISO. I did this the same with the Shutter Speed and Aperture posts in this series (incidentally this 4 post series has had close to 6 million page views – I’m glad I wrote it).

The key lesson here is that even the most simple concepts are worth writing about. You might think a concept is too basic but there’s no doubt that others will want that information (another example of this was my ‘How to Hold a Camera‘ post that I almost didn’t publish but which has been viewed almost 600,000 times).

The other key lesson is that growing traffic to your blog is not always about trying to write shareable content that might go viral. This post is just a simple article that attempts to serve my readers. It wasn’t written with growing traffic in mind – rather it was written to serve my current readers.

I do believe that it is wise to write some of your content with ‘finding new readers’ in mind – but the majority of your posts should focus upon serving the readers you already have.

What Posts Did You Write in Your First Year that Helped You Grow Your Blog?

I have really enjoyed creating this post and have actually gotten some great idea for future posts on dPS from doing this analysis of old posts on the site.

I’d encourage you to dig into your own stats and see what you notice about your old posts that have gone well – I’d also love to hear about them in comments below!

Don’t Fall Into This Trap That Could Destroy Your Blog

NewImageLast week I spent time with a young blogger who was completely stalled with her blog (for the purpose of this post I’ll call her Sally).

Sally’s blogging had started with a bang and had put together 3 great months of content and had started to build a readership but then it suddenly all came to a halt.

I arranged to catch up for coffee to see what had happened and see if there was a way to get her moving again and she told me a story that I’m sure many readers will find familiar.

Paralysed by Comparisons

The reason Sally started blogging was that she had been a reader of another reasonably well known blogger. She had been so inspired by this established blogger that she simply had to start her own blog – which she did.

The problem that brought Sally’s blog to a grinding halt started a few weeks after her blog began when Sally began to compare her fledgling blog with her hero’s blog.

It started innocently enough with her noticing that this others blogger’s design just seemed to flow much better than Sally’s. However in the coming days and weeks Sally started to compare other things too.

Her hero seemed to blog with more confidence, she got more comments, she had a larger Twitter following, she was more active on Pinterest, she was getting some great brands advertise on her blog, she was invited to cool events…

Once Sally started comparing she couldn’t stop. She told me that she would sit down to work on her blog and end up on her hero’s blog and social media accounts – for hours on end – comparing what they were doing.

On one hand Sally knew it wasn’t a fair comparison – she had only been blogging by this stage for a couple of months and her hero had been blogging for over 4 years… but logic was clouded out by jealousy and Sally found her blogging beginning to stall.

She started second guessing herself. She would work for days on blog posts – hoping to perfect them to the standard of her hero only to get to the point of publishing them and trashing them instead for fear of them not being up to scratch.

Days would go by between posts and then weeks. Sally’s blog began to stall… and then it died completely.

The Comparison Trap

Sally isn’t the only blogger to fall into the trap of comparing oneself with others – in fact I’ve heard this story (or variations of it) numerous times. If I’m honest, it’s something that at times I’ve struggled with too.

I remember in the early days of my own blogging comparing my style of writing with other bloggers that I admired who wrote in a much more academic, heavy style of writing. I tried to emulate this over and over again and never felt I hit the benchmark that they set.

The temptation was to give up – but luckily I found my more informal and conversational voice through experimentation and persistance.

Comparing Is Never Fair

As I chatted with Sally last week a theme emerged in our conversation – the comparisons were simply not fair.

Sally knew this on some levels but needed to hear it again.

Her hero had been blogging for years. Sally had been blogging for months.

Not only that – Sally was comparing herself to tiny snapshots of this other blogger.

She could see her hero’s Twitter follower numbers, how many comments she was getting, how many times she Pinned on Pinterest and the instagram photos of this blogger at glamorous events – but she didn’t really have the full picture of this other blogger.

She didn’t know how many hours that blogger worked, she didn’t know whether that other blogger had people working for her, she didn’t know if that other blogger was actually happy with her blog or life and she certainly didn’t see the instagrams of that other bloggers boring, dull or hard moments of life.

I’m not saying the other blogger is hiding anything or doing anything wrong – just that the comparisons Sally was making were of everything Sally knew about herself (and her insecurities) with tiny edited snapshots of the life and work another person.

Run You Own Race

Sally is a remarkable person. I’d love to tell you her real name and story because she’s overcome some amazing things in her life, has some unique perspectives to share and has an inspirational story to tell.

My encouragement to Sally (and to us all) is run her own race. Yes she’s running beside others that at times seem to be running faster or with more flare… but nobody else around her has her unique personality, set of experiences or skills.

Nobody else can blog like Sally – so the sooner she gets comfy in her own skin the better.

Attend the ProBlogger Training Event Virtually

Are you looking for a little inspiration and guidance in your blogging as you head into the rest of 2013? The Problogger Training Event Virtual Pass could be just what you need.

In March this year when I announced the 2013 ProBlogger Event I did so quite nervously because we’d book a venue with 450 seats (up from 300 the previous year) in a new location.

I need not have been nervous – we sold 200 early bird seats in a matter of minutes and the remaining tickets to the Gold Coast (Australia) event sold out two months ago.

Since selling out I’ve had daily emails from people from around the world asking if there was a way that they could attend physically or get access to the training with some kind of a virtual pass.

Today I’m pleased to announce you can attend with the ProBlogger Training Event Virtual Pass. You can find out more about it here or pick up yours by clicking the button below.

What is the ProBlogger Training Event?

#PBEVENT (as it’s referred to by many) is held on the Gold Coast (Queensland, Australia) on 13-14 September. It is an event that is designed from the ground up to equip and inspire bloggers to build profitable blogs.

We fly in speakers from around the globe like Trey Ratcliff, Tsh Oxenreider and Amy Porterfield and add in some other great Aussie speakers like Shayne Tilley, Pip Lincolne and myself (see the full speaker list here) and then run 2 pretty intense days of training.

This year we’ve got 31 sessions planned (we run 3 streams at once during most of the days) on topics including:

  • Monetization Where to Start
  • Designing Your Blog
  • Blogging and Creativity
  • Creating Your First eBook
  • Launching a Speaking Career off Your Blog
  • How to Sell Stuff from Your Blog
  • Blogging for Beginners
  • Facebook Marketing
  • SEO for WordPress
  • Affiliate Marketing
  • Building Community on Your Blog
  • How to Create Your Own Products to Sell
  • Video Creation on a Shoe String
  • DIY PR to Grow Your Blog and Brand
  • Creating a Professional Media Kit
  • Google Analytics for Bloggers
  • Growing Your Social Media Network

That’s just some of it! See the full schedule here.

What is the Virtual Pass?

Our Virtual Pass is designed to be the closest possible thing to actually being there live at this sold out event.

It gives you access to:

  • Over 30 hours of teaching about building a profitable blog. You get audio recordings of all 31 sessions of training (keynotes, workshops and Q&A lounge sessions). These recordings are yours to keep and listen to as many times as you like
  • Access to an exclusive one hour webinar after PBEVENT with the amazing Jonathan Fields
  • View all slides used in sessions at the live event (yours to keep).
  • Participate in a live and exclusive webinar with myself after the event for a post-event Q&A (and get access to the recording to listen to later)
  • A stunning, visual live social media feed, aggregating all Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google+ posts and more from live attendees and virtual participants in one place.

Audio files and slides will be available shortly after each session happens at the event on 13-14 September and will be yours to keep forever.

Grab Your Virtual Pass Today

Normally a package of teaching like this would be sold for upwards of $500 but thanks to our friends at Yellow Pages our Virtual Pass is available for you to purchase right now for the price of $249.99 USD. That’s just on $8 per session (plus you get access to the two webinars).

So don’t delay – take advantage of this special price and Pick Up Your Pass here.