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Home Bases and Outposts – How I use Social Media in My Blogging

Lately I’ve been pondering the part that social media plays in my blogging business.

This post is an attempt to make some sense of it. I’d value your thoughts in comments to help me take these half thought through ideas to something more concrete.

Those who have been following me for a while know that I not only spend a lot of time on my blogs but also invest significant time on sites like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn…. (the list could go on).

What’s my strategy? Why invest so much time into sites that I don’t actually own?

To be honest there are days when i wonder if I have a strategy at all. There’s so much I don’t know about social media and how it fits into what I do – some days it just feels messy. However in the midst of it all there are moments of clarity.

Home Bases and Outposts

Home-Base-Outposts
Today I was watching a video of a presentation by Chris Brogan and a short segment of it resonated strongly and put words to the way I use social media. He talked about:

  • Home Bases
  • Outposts
  • Passports

He’s used these concepts numerous times on his blog before (here and here for example) but today it got my attention a little more than previously – particularly the idea of the ‘Home Base’ and that of the ‘Outpost’.

A home base is a place online that you own, that is your online ‘home’. For me I have two home bases – ProBlogger and Digital Photography School. For me my home bases are blogs but for others they will be other types of websites.

Outposts are places that you have an online presence out in other parts of the web that you might not ‘own’. I’d previously being using the word ‘satellites’ to describe this but I think ‘outposts’ works better.

Outposts will mean different things to different people and businesses. Here’s how it looks for me as I think about my home base of ProBlogger.

Problogger-Home-Base-Outposts

As you’ll see, most of my ‘outposts’ are social media sites – however for others an outpost could also include forums, other community sites and even the comments sections of other blogs.

Each of the outposts that you see above are places that I have accounts and am attempting to grow my online presence (some better than others). These ‘outposts’ are sites where I:

  • add content
  • build relationships
  • test ideas
  • grow a profile
  • listen
  • experiment
  • make connections
  • try to be useful
  • play

Out of this combination of activities many things come. Relationships, ideas, traffic, resources, partnerships, community and much more emerge from the outposts – much of it making my home base stronger.

Two Way Streams and Outposts Taking on a Life of Their Own

The outposts do drive some traffic back to the home base, but many of the benefits are less tangible and have more to do with building the brand and influences of my blogs.

Also worth noting is that the outposts don’t just feed the homebase (it isn’t just a one way thing)- but the homebase feeds the outposts and sometimes the outpost seems to take on a life of its own and becomes the real place of action where without really trying a community emerges.

For example this week I discovered that a small (but growing) group of ProBlogger readers had been interacting with my content and one another on my Facebook Profile – despite the fact that I’d not spent more than 20 minutes on Facebook in the previous three months. Just the fact that I link to Facebook and pull in my Twitter activity means that the ‘community’ there has sprung up (now that I’m aware of what’s going on I can participate and feed the community.

This Post is Half Finished

I laugh when people occasionally refer to me as a social media expert.

You see while I’ve managed to grow a reasonable social media presence over the last few years there is still much to learn. As a result I’d love to here your thoughts on what I’ve written and how you see and use social media in your blogging and business. Your comments will take this post a step closer to completion – looking forward to how it ends!

13 Tips on How to Have Great Conversations On Your Blog

Lately I’ve been suggesting 11 points to take a little extra time in the posting process on a blog. We’ve looked at everything from choosing topics, to crafting titles, to calls to action, to promoting your posts.

The point of this series is simply that when you take a little extra time at each of these points in the process you add depth and increase the effectiveness of your blog post.

Today I want to share one last point to ‘pause’ – it is as important as each other point in the process (if not more so) and can take a ‘good post’ into ‘great post’ territory.

It’s all about the Art of Conversation

ConversationImage by b_d_solis

It is easy to see the point of hitting ‘publish’ on your blog post as the ‘end’ of the process of posting – however more often than not the real action and fruit of a blog post happens once it’s ‘live’ and being interacted with by readers and other bloggers. To hit publish and move on to the next post at this point is an opportunity gone begging.

2 Benefits of Fostering Conversation on Your Blog

For me the main two benefits of a blog with great conversation are simply:

  • it adds depth to posts – my belief is that together we know a lot more than any one of us. As wise as you might be as a blogger – when your readership adds their knowledge to your posts in the comments section – it’ll generally become a better resource to future readers.
  • it builds community and reader loyalty – increasingly people are going online not only to find ‘information’ but to find community and places to ‘belong’. A blog which regularly has good conversation where people’s ideas are heard and valued is a place that people will want to return.

13 Tips for Growing the Conversation On Your Blog

Let me start by saying that this post is not about ‘how to get comments on your blog’. I’ve written previously about 10 techniques to get more comments and would recommend that post as a primer for this one.

What I do want to focus on in this post goes beyond getting comments and how to grow ‘conversations’ (something that I think is a little deeper). There is some overlap – but I hope this post goes beyond that previous one.

1. Set Time Aside for Conversation

The biggest conversation killer in my own life is simply that I’m too busy. This is true in ‘real life’ as well as blogging. If you don’t set aside time to have conversation it is highly unlikely to ever happen because it takes time.

Again – I’m not talking here about leaving comments (leaving a comment can take a second or two) – but actually engaging in conversation means listening to what others are saying and thoughtfully responding in a way that goes deeper, adds value and says something meaningful – this takes time and if you don’t prioritize it you’re not likely to fit it in.

2. Ask Questions

As mentioned in my post on how to get comments, ‘asking questions’ is a powerful technique for starting off a conversation. If you want people to respond to your posts include questions within them – it’s key to get the comment thread started, however it’s also a great technique for keeping the conversation going.

One way to add depth to a conversation and to draw out more from those commenting is to take their comments and ask questions of them that elicit a second response. Rather than just responding to someone’s comment with a ‘great point’ type comment – why not go a little deeper with a question that draws them into extending their idea.

3. Answer Questions

Not only is asking questions powerful – but so is answering those that readers ask. This can be challenging when you get a lot of comments on your blog (I’ve had to hire someone to help me manage this lately) but it makes your posts more meaningful and helpful to readers who come away wondering about some aspect of what you’ve written.

4. Track Offshoots of Conversation

The beauty of blogging is that posts that one blogger publishes can inspire other bloggers to write posts on a similar topic on their own blog. While the comments section of your blog might be the place that most of your readers interact with your ideas – a good post might inspire multiple conversations in all kinds of places in the blogosphere.

It is important to be aware of these offshoot conversations and to participate in them. Start a vanity folder in your news aggregator to help track them and when you find them visit the blog and add value to the conversation there. Don’t feel you need to drag people back to your blog – but add value on that blog. In doing so you will build a relationship with the blogger who has posted about your idea but also potentially could find yourself a few new connections (and even new readers) among their readership.

5. Add Value and Depth

I’ve talked many times about writing blog posts that are useful and unique (the secret to great content) – however it struck me recently that the same advice actually applies to comments. If the comments that YOU leave (either on your own blog or others) are not actually useful (if they don’t add value and/or depth to the conversation) and if they are not simply echoes of what others are saying (ie unique) then there is little point in leaving them.

One of the best ways to kill a conversation is to respond to something that someone else has written with a generic comment like ‘great point’. Before you comment, consider what you’re writing. Does it add something to the conversation? Will it elicit a response from others? Is it unique from what others are saying? If the answer to these questions is ‘no’ – work on your comment until it does.

6. Listen, Listen, Listen

As a blogger who has just published a post you’ve been doing most of the talking and your readers have been doing the listening – so when it comes to the comments section of your blog turn the tables and become the listener and let others do the talking.

Conversation is a two way street and if you take the ‘monologue’ approach into comments then you’re unlikely to develop a culture of conversation on your blog.

7. Play Devils Advocate (with Care)

One way to stimulate conversation is to throw into the conversation an unexpected and opposing point of view. Playing Devils Advocate (when done well) can be a powerful tool to draw out responses in your readers and extend a conversation into a place that it might not have naturally gone.

The key with this approach is to do so with care. Writing something controversial just for the sake of it and in a hostile tone can actually kill a conversation (or take it into the realm of a flame war). A better approach might be to make it clear what you’re doing with an ‘I agree with you – however some might argue….’ type comment.

8. Promote the Conversation

I find that when a good conversation emerges on a post it can actually be very effective to promote the ‘conversation’ (as opposed to the post itself) in some way. For example I occasionally will use Twitter to alert readers to a comment thread with a tweet that says ‘there’s a great conversation emerging at www.xxxx….’ – these tweets tend to get a fairly good level of people not only visiting the post but coming over with an openness to respond.

9. Protect Your Comments Section (Moderation)

The comments section on your blog is a really important space on your blog and can both add to and take away from the perception of others towards your blog. If your comments section becomes a comment spammers heaven or always dissolves into a place where trolls flame one another it will not draw genuine readers into conversation.

As a result I advocate that you not be afraid to protect your comments section and set some guidelines in place for people to interact there. Ultimately it is your blog and your rules need to apply. If people step outside of your rules then they need to be willing to have their comments moderated.

10. Model the Behavior you Want

What about trolls and comments sections that get too negative? My theory is that the majority of blogs that have highly snarky comments sections will generally have bloggers posting to them that display their own fair share of snakiness in the blog posts that they write. I’m sure there are a few exceptions but I find that most blog readers take the lead of the blogger on a blog when interacting in comments.

As I’ve previously written on this topic:

“If your blog is written in a positive, optimistic, helpful and inclusive voice then I find that those commenting generally respond with a similar tone. Write in a snarky, negative, rant dominated tone that makes fun of others and you can expect a very similar vibe in your comments.”

11. Bounce off Comments with New Posts

One of the weaknesses of blogs over forums is that conversations can have a limited life simply because the post that they happen on falls off the front page of the blog as new posts are published.

One way to keep a hot conversation going is simply to write a follow up post that extends upon ideas in the first. One approach is simply to elevate some of the comments on the previous post into a new post to stimulate an extension of the conversation. This not only keeps the conversation going but also rewards those who’ve previously participated with a moment in the spot light. This is what I did recently on DPS with this post on video on DSLR cameras.

12. Use Email

Another of the challenges of blogs is that often readers will leave a comment and never return to the post to continue the conversation. You can ask them all the questions in the world but if they don’t come back to the blog they’ll never see them.

There are a variety of commenting tools to help overcome this (I use a ‘subscribe to comments’ plugin which helps a little) but one effective way to keep conversations going is simply to follow up those who’ve commented with an email. For example – if someone asks you a question and you respond – shoot them an email after you answer their questions to let them know. The same technique works if you have asked them a question in comments.

13. Empower Your Community to Lead Conversation

One of the challenges that faces bloggers as their blogs grow and become popular is to genuinely and actively participate in every conversation happening on their blog. I personally struggle with this quite a lot across my two blogs which on any given day can have a total of 150-500+ comments.

One thing that can help is to try to develop a culture on your blog where the conversations are not dependent upon you alone. This takes time to achieve but unless you’re a conversation freak and/or can keep a million balls in the air at the same time (like Gary V, Liz, Scoble – each of whom leaves me shaking my head at the amount of conversations they participate in) you’ll need to do something to help you cope with your comment section as your blog grows.

One way to grow this community driven culture of conversation on your blog is simply to model it yourself and when questions are asked in the comments section on your blog to invite others to answer rather than feel you need to be the only one answering. As I say – this takes time but as you see your readers answering one another’s questions thank them for their comments and even elevate some of their answers to actual posts.

Lets Talk

OK – so this is where I invite you to comment, to add what you’ve learned about having conversations on your blog.

I’d love to hear what you do to foster conversation on your blog?

Do you use any particular techniques? Are there any tools that you use to help manage it? What’s the hardest part about generating great conversation on your blog? What’s worked for you?

PS: Tomorrow I’ll be posting some more tips on this topic from a few bloggers that have runs on the board when it comes to building blogs with great conversation. I’ll include a few of the tips left in comments below also so have your say and some of your ideas might be included in the next post!

13 Ways to Promote Your Next Blog Post

Blog-Promotion-1You’re slaved over your post – crafting titles, opening lines, adding depth, designing the post to be eye catching and more – you select the perfect time for your post to go live and hit ‘publish’!

It’s over – another post ‘released’ into the wild – there’s nothing more you can do except sit back, see how people like it and start on your next post…. or is there?

Instead of seeing the moment of publishing a post as the end point in the posting cycle of a post – I see it as the birthing moment of a post. The work has only just begun and what you do in the minutes and hours after it goes live can exponentially increase the effectiveness of the post!

Original Image by Elephi Pelephi

Today I want to talk about promoting your blog posts.

A lot is written about promoting and marketing blogs (as a whole) but I’ve found looking at ‘promotion’ on a more micro level (at a post by post level) can be a highly effective strategy.

Having hit publish on your post – don’t just leave it to chance that your post will be read by people. Giving it a few strategic ‘nudges’ can increase the exposure it gets exponentially.

Let me describe a few post promotion activities that I engage in.

note: I don’t use all of these techniques on every post but instead see them as a variety of tools that sit in my blog promotion toolbox and pull out different ones on different posts depending how suitable they are.

13 Ways to Promote Your Next Blog Post

1. Pitching Other Bloggers

One of the most effective ways of getting the word out about a new post is to let other bloggers know about it. There isn’t much more powerful a way to find new readers than another blogger recommending something you’ve written to people who trust them.

Getting other bloggers to link to your posts is not always easy though – particularly in the early days of a blog or if you don’t have some sort of profile or pre-existing relationship with the bloggers that you’re pitching. However it isn’t impossible. Here are a few tips on how to pitch your posts to other blogs:

  • Relevancy is key - don’t pitch stories to other bloggers that have little or no relevance to their blog. You’ll just be wasting their time and yours.
  • Only pitch your best posts - you will have a much higher success rate at getting a link if you only do it with your best stuff. I would only ever do this with around 1-2% of my posts.
  • Give them an angle – don’t just shoot the link over – tell the blogger what the story is about and why it might be relevant to their blog. Save them a little work by showing how the post might be interesting to their readers.
  • Keep it brief – if the blogger wants lots of details about your post they’ll click the link. Be to the point, communicate what you need to say and then let the blogger get on with their day.
  • Be polite – don’t assume you’ll get the link or insist that they link to you – make the suggestion and let the blogger decide if it’s relevant for them.
  • Be personal – use their name, their blog’s name and show you are not just spamming thousands of blogs with your email.

Read more tips like these on pitching other bloggers at 13 Tips on Asking other Bloggers for Links.

2. Social Messaging

An increasingly large source of traffic for my own blogs over the last year has been Twitter and other social messaging sites (like Friendfeed and Plurk). I use a mixture of automated tools and personalized tools to drive this traffic. On twitter I use TwitterFeed to tweet items from my blog’s RSS feed.

I find that this works best if your blogs feed is not the only thing that you’re putting up on Twitter. Add your own personal tweets, link to other people’s content, ask readers questions etc – the more you mix it up the more effective your own automated tweets will be accepted and clicked upon by your followers.

Don’t be afraid to use social messaging to promote posts that have good discussion on them also. I find that 12-24 hours after my post goes live can be a good time to shoot out another tweet if there’s a particularly hot conversation going on (in fact this can drive even more traffic than the first TwitterFeed automated tweet as it alerts your followers to a conversation rather than just content).

3. Social Bookmarking

This is something that I only do on selected posts – those that I think could do well on bookmarking sites like Digg or StumbleUpon.

I won’t go into great depth on this topic in this post as I recently wrote on how to get to the front page of Digg and have posted other tips at Using Social Media Sites to Grow Your Blog’s Traffic.

4. Internal Links

A great deal of blog promotion tips focus upon how to promote your blog on other people’s blogs and sites – but a great way to promote your blog post is to do it on your own blog.

One thing that I try to do with my best posts after I publish them is to think about where I could promote it on my own blog.

While it is at the top of my blog’s front page (the primary place to promote it) if you think hard you’re bound to find a few other posts in your archives that you could link to this new post. Find places where you’ve covered similar topics before and add your link as a ‘related reading’ link or even add a link to your new post within the content of an old post.

You might also want to add your new post to previously written ‘sneeze pages‘ or your sidebar if it’s a key post. Every link you add on your own blog to your new post potentially sends your current readers to your new post but also helps your blog with Search Engine Optimization (internal links count too).

5. Newsletters

If you have a newsletter list on your blog and you’ve written what you consider to be a key blog post – include a link to it in your next newsletter. Doing this will drive traffic but also signal to your readers that it’s a pillar post that you feel deserves their attention.

As with each of the points above – only do this with your best and most relevant posts. If you do it with every post reader will become desensitized to your recommended reading.

6. Other Blogs Comments Sections and Forums

NOTE: tread carefully with this one and only do it occasionally and in a way that adds value.

If you’ve got a post that you think relates strongly to something that another blogger has written about or that is the topic of discussion on a forum – leave a link to your own post.

The key to pulling this off without being labled a spammer is to leave a genuinely useful comment on the blog or forum. The comment itself should add value, be right on topic and contribute to the conversation. Then if you include a link introduce it with a ‘I’ve written more about this at….’ type comment rather than just a spammy call to action.

The other option is to email the other blogger first and ask if they’d mind if you leave the link. You might even find that the blogger will add the link to the post itself (don’t assume this).

7. Email Signatures

If you use a service like Feedburner they have a little widget that you can add to your email signature that highlights your latest blog posts. I’m not sure how effective that this is at driving traffic but the principle is a good one.

I know of a couple of bloggers who do the same thing by hand – they pick one or two of their latest key posts and add links to them as ‘featured posts’ in their email signatures. Many of us have links to our blog’s main URL in our email signatures but it strikes me that a link to a recent individual post could actually be more effective as it sends people to your very best content – food for thought.

8. Followup Posts

If you’ve just written a post that you feel is important a great technique to give it a second round of attention is to write a second post extending the first in some way.

This technique is very powerful at adding a sense of momentum to your blog.

‘Treat every post as an introduction to your next’. Here’s an image that describes this process taken from How to Keep Momentum Going by Building on Previous Posts.

Extend-The-Life-Of-An-Idea

Also check out how I use Mind Mapping to extend posts and do followups like this.

9. Advertise Your Post

This one won’t be for everyone and is definitely only for those special posts that you write that you particularly want to drive traffic to – but why not put a little budget aside to promote a post with some advertising.

Key posts that have a high ‘usefulness factor’ to potential readers are a great way to find new loyal readers to a blog. Rather than advertising the front page of your blog a high quality post can actually be the perfect landing page for an advertisement.

There are a variety of ways to advertise a blog but one of my favorites is on StumbleUpon where you can actually start an organic rush of traffic to a good blog post with a relatively small budget. Learn more on how to do it at Run a StumbleUpon Advertising Campaign for your Blog.

4 More Ways to Promote Key Blog Posts

The list could go on – here are a few more quick tips on how to promote individual blog posts:

  • 10. Write a Press Release – some press release services don’t cost anything (or much) and they can be surprisingly effective with a little luck.
  • 11. Pitch Mainstream Media - some posts will have mainstream media appeal. Shoot a paper, magazine, TV or Radio station an email – you might get lucky.
  • 12. Article Marketing – while I’ve never done article marketing I know a few bloggers who swear by writing articles for ‘free article sites’ as a way to promote themselves. While they often include links back to their main blog in these articles I think there’s some strong arguments for doing it to individual posts.
  • 13. Add a Comments Competition – if you want to increase reader interaction on a particular post run a comments competition where you give one commenter a prize. To increase the ‘quality’ and not just ‘quantity’ of comments offer a prize for the ‘best’ comment rather than a random comment.

How do You Promote Blog Posts?

I’ve covered 12 ways to promote an individual blog post above. What would you add?

How have you done it? What success have you had?

Keep in mind I’m not asking about how you promote your blog in a general sense – but how do you drive traffic to individual blog posts?

Read the Full Series

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

When to Publish Blog Posts – Timing Considerations

Timing-Blog-PostsOver the last few weeks we’ve been looking at important times to pause in the writing and publishing of a post. Each of these stages in the development of a blog post can contribute to whether a post makes it big around the web or not. Today we’re considering the time that you publish your post.

Image by SunnyUK

What Time Should You Publish Your Blog Post? – Factors to Consider

As I chat with bloggers I find that there are a lot of different opinions on when the best time is to hit publish on a blog post. Some pay a lot of attention to it and have studied what works best with their audience, while others go with a hunch and still others don’t think it really matters at all and just publish posts as they finish them (I’d love to hear your thoughts in comments).

In my own experience and in talking to other bloggers I find that timing issues vary quite a bit from blog to blog depending upon its audience and topic.

Let me explore some of the potential issues to consider:

Weekends

The day of the week that you publish can have a big impact upon how many people read it. While RSS feeds might mean some of your readers will read posts published when they are away from their computer I find that posts that go live on weekends tend to get a lot less traction than weekday posts. The exception to this is of course for blogs with a topic that is weekend specific (sports or certain TV shows for example). The other advantage of weekends is that I find it can be easier to crack the front page on sites like Digg as there seems to be less competition.

Mid Week

If I have a very important post that I want to get as much attention as possible I generally will publish it on a Tuesday or Wednesday morning (my time). This gives a few days after the post is written for it to be found, linked to, bookmarked etc before the weekend arrives (and momentum stops) – but means that those in catchup mode after the weekend have a little more time to digest the post.

Public Holidays

I tend to avoid posting anything important on public holidays days as web readership is lower (I’m thinking mainly of US specific public holidays as that is where my main audience is located on my two blogs). Having said this – I do find that sometimes posts on public holidays can do quite well as some readers have more leisurely type time on their hands.

On DPS I find ‘reader questions’ type posts and posts that have a more ‘fun’ nature do well on both weekends and public holidays. The main exception to the ‘avoid public holidays’ rule is when you have a blog that relates to one of them. For example I know a recipe blogger whose biggest day of the year is Thanksgiving (they have a lot of Turkey cooking tips that do particularly well).

Times of Day

My main advice with thinking about the time of day to publish posts is to test what works with your audience. My own daily posting schedule is to have something new up on my blogs at about midnight my time (which is first thing in the business day in the USA) – I try to make this my main post for the day, something that is teaching focused if possible. This means that those scanning their RSS feeds when they get to work (I know you do it) have something fresh to read and ponder during the day. I then usually have a post that goes live in the afternoon (US time) – but this post is usually a ‘lighter’ newsy post.

The key is to know where your readers are situated and watch how posts at different times of the day (and days of the week) are interacted with (both in terms of traffic but also comments and incoming links).

What I find is that it works best to be a little preemptive with your readers. ie if you have a peak time that readers come to your blog time your posts just before this time so there’s something fresh for when they arrive.

Give Posts Room to Breathe

Another tip that I’d give with regards to timing is to think about the sequence of posts and how often they go live on your blog. I think about this on two main levels:

  • Giving Important posts Room to Breathe – got a post that you really want people to notice? If so, I’d advise that you post it not only at a good time of day, but that you don’t post anything after it for a while. If it’s a really important post you might even want to not post again for a day or two so that it remains at the top of your blog.
  • Topics and Variety - sometimes too many posts on a similar topic too quickly can have a negative impact upon readers. Try to mix up different types of posts.

Social Media Campaigns

One occasion that ‘timing’ can be particularly important is if you want to do some sort of a social media campaign with a post. For example, if you’re looking to have a post do well on Digg it can be important to have the post go live, have it submitted to Digg and for a Digg This button to go up on the post all very quickly. This means that as soon as it’s live and the initial rush of new visitors to the post have the opportunity to Digg it.

Some social media experts that I know also advise you to time these posts that you think will do well on social media sites for early to mid morning (US time) so that the most visitors on Digg can be involved in promoting the post for you (again, I’ve heard a variety of opinions on this).

Less Can Equal More = Except When it = Less

Posting frequency is one of those topics that I get asked about a lot and it’s a tough one to give an ‘definitive’ answer on because like many aspects of blogging, what works for some won’t work for others.

Instead of a long section on the ins and outs of posting frequency – let me point you at a post dedicated to exploring the issues at – What is the Ideal Post Frequency for a Blog?

Further Reading on Post Timing:

When Do You Publish Your Posts?

  • Do you give consideration to the timing of your blog posts?
  • If so – when do you publish them – and why?

I’m looking forward to hearing your experience on this topic.

Read the Full Series

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

16 Important but Potentially Distracting Blogging Tasks

Have you ever had one of those days where you set aside time to blog and while you spend the whole time that you put aside busily doing ‘stuff’ – you don’t end up actually writing anything?

I had one of those days this last week. After what felt like a busy day of ‘work’ I realized I’d not actually produced a single blog post.

As I looked back over my day and the things that I’d done it struck me that there are a lot of tasks that bloggers do that are important – but that can at times become distracting from… well… writing posts… the core task of any blogger.

16 Important but Potentially Distracting Blogging Tasks

Following are 16 potentially distracting tasks for bloggers (note, I’m not saying that any of these are not important or worthwhile, just that they can actually become a distraction if we allow ourselves to become sidetracked by them):

  1. Social Messaging - Twitter, Plurk, Friendfeed, Pownce…. (add your favorite micro blogging/social messaging service here). Each can suck up your time if you don’t get focused and put some boundaries around them.
  2. Social Bookmarking – many bloggers become somewhat obsessed with writing posts for and then gathering votes on social media sites like Digg, StumbleUpon, Yahoo Buzz, Reddit etc
  3. Social Networking - building profiles and interacting upon Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace etc – all useful in building a brand and profile as a blogger, but potentially a distraction.
  4. Blog Design – blog design is important at creating a first impression but when you find yourself tweaking it, reworking it, planning your next one more than actually writing content for your blog you might be in trouble.
  5. SEO – like blog design there always seems to be something you could do a little better when it comes to optimizing a blog for search engines. It can be worth your time to do some of this, but one of the most effective ways of doing SEO is to write content that hits the spot with readers.
  6. Reading other Blogs in Your Niche – yet another great use of time, but many bloggers spend so much time on other people’s blogs connecting, leaving comments and even writing about them that they fail to write anything unique on their own.
  7. Reading about How to Blog – this might seem strange coming from a blogger who writes about blogging, but from time to time a blogger comes to me for advice on how to improve their blog who has done so much learning about blogging that my encouragement to them is simply to stop reading about it and start doing it.
  8. Guest Posting - I am a big fan about using guest posting on other peoples blogs to expand your profile and grow your readership – however the best way to utilize guest posting is to have great content on your own blog for the new readers you engage with to see when they come visit.
  9. Interacting with Readers - this is one that I hesitate to write about because I’m a firm believer in allocating time to spend one on one with readers – however as a blog grows it gets more and more difficult to do. There comes a time where most bloggers need to decide how to strike a balance on this front – boundaries and processes can really help.
  10. Networking with other bloggers – another great way to build brand and traffic to your own blog is to connect with other bloggers in your niche – however there are millions of blogs ‘out there’ and it can be an endless task.
  11. Monetization – finding and testing ad networks and affiliate programs can take a lot of time. Then optimizing them for your blog and tracking the results and extending your earning potential by finding private sponsorships and ad sales can really eat up even more of your time.
  12. Starting New Blogs – diversification is an important and worthwhile part of the journey of many bloggers development, however I come across some bloggers who start too many blogs too quickly and don’t give their early ones time to get going and develop before they branch out.
  13. Analyzing Stats – one of the biggest potential time suckers, that many bloggers become distracted with at different times, is analyzing your stats. Sure, you can learn a great deal from looking at who is coming to your blog, from where they come and what they do when they arrive – but at times, when you do it all day everyday, it can be a habit that takes you away from your blogging.
  14. Projects/Competitions/Memes - many bloggers wanting to run a competition or project on their blog don’t realize just how much work it can be to manage (or how hard it can be to get them working). They can bring a lot of life to a blog, but they can also be suck you (and your readers) attention away from your core blogging.
  15. Dealing with Trolls and Trouble makers – it is SO easy to get drawn into passionate (yet pointless) arguments with other bloggers and readers that can leave you emotionally drained and having wasted hours upon hours of your time. While at the time it seems to important to respond – many times it’s best just learn to hold it in.
  16. Tracking down copyright violations - unfortunately in the medium we operate there are people who scrape the content of others, whack ads on it and call it their own. While it can be important to track down these copyright violations down – the statement ‘how long is a piece of string’ comes to mind and some bloggers spend so much time tracking splogs down, issuing DMCA legal notices and attempting to get the content removed that they have little time for much else.

Let me reiterate – there’s nothing wrong with any of these activities…. BUT….

In fact I at different times I’ve recommended and given tips on all of them on this blog! However – this post is about balance and priorities.

While these are all great activities the danger is in those times when they sidetrack us from other core aspects of our blogging.

In my own blogging I try to guard against becoming distracted by:

  • Having goals (both long term but also daily goals)
  • Being aware how I’m spending time (periodically throughout each day I stop and ask myself if I’m on track
  • Setting time aside for the most important tasks (I put aside three mornings a week specifically for content creation – I block out this time and remove other distractions for these times.

What distracts you most from blogging? How do you keep yourself on track?

13 Ways to Add New Dimensions to Your Next Post

What do you see when you look at this image?

bubble blowingImage by Lord V

OK – so it’s two flies right? Yes it is…. but look a little harder.

Have you ever used one of those crazy eye cross eye 3D multidimensional pictures? This is one of them. Relax, cross your eyes a little and stare (for a more details version of how to see the 3D impact read here). Do it right and the the ‘flies’ become one very 3 dimensional ‘fly’. If you like the effect I’ll show you some more in a link at the bottom of this post.

What does a 3D image have to do with Blogging?

In this post I want to share 13 ways to make your blogs go deeper and become more multi dimensional.

  • How deep do your blog posts go?
  • Do you bang out a post that covers the basics of your topic and then hit publish?
  • What would happen if you just took a few extra minutes once your next post was finished to ask yourself – how could I make this post more useful to readers?

Over the last few weeks we’ve been exploring 10 points in the writing of a blog post where it is important to ‘pause’ and take a little extra time in crafting the blog post.

Today I want to explore a question that you can ask yourself after writing a blog post (and before hitting publish) that I have found can exponentially increase the impact and effectiveness of a the post.

It is a question that I think can help good posts great and help it to stand out from the clutter of millions of posts going around the blogosphere at any given time.

The question is simple:

“How can I add more depth to this post?”

A theme that I continually go on about here at ProBlogger is ‘creating useful content‘ for readers. The question about ‘adding depth’ is all about making your post more useful. An alternative way of asking it would be:

“How can I make this post more useful?”

13 Ways to Add Depth to Your Next Blog Post

Following are 13 of simple techniques that can add a new dimension to your post – techniques to make good posts great:

1. Use Examples

Too many bloggers simply talk in theoretical terms and don’t ground what they are talking about in reality. There’s nothing wrong with ‘theory’ but you can do your reader a real service with two simple words – ‘for example’. Show how the theory can be applied in an actual situation and you’ll make your post much more effective. Readers will not only come away with an idea of how to do something – they’ll have seen it in action – something which takes them a step closer to actually implementing it in their own lives.

Adding examples to posts is something I’ve been doing for years without really thinking about it. I just searched on Google for “for example” on ProBlogger and found it used over 1000 times.

For example (I had to add one here didn’t I) – check out my post on how to find new RSS subscribers to a blog where I give give examples on every 2nd point that I make.

2. Add an Analogy, Story or Metaphor

An example need not just be a ‘link’ – it can be some kind of story or analogy that helps readers to unpack what you’re writing about.

As I’ve discussed earlier in this series – stories are particularly effective ways of opening blog posts – however they are also useful within and at the end of posts. They engage the imaginations of readers, help to reinforce what you’re saying and can be very persuasive tools.

As Brian Clark of CopyBlogger writes – “Stories allow people to persuade themselves, and that’s what it’s really all about.”

Personal stories can also be very effective at establishing common ground between you and your readers – something that makes people be able to relate to you.

Read more on using different types of stories on a blog.

3. Add Your Opinion

If you’re writing about ‘news’ or linking up to something another blogger is saying – don’t just report the news or tell your readers to go read something because ‘it’s good’ – tell your readers what YOU think about what you’re linking to.

Giving your opinion takes your post to a new depth, it stimulates readers to think about their reaction to what they are reading, creates conversation, adds value and helps to make your post unique. Don’t just echo the news around the blogosphere – inject something of yourself into it.

4. Suggest Further Reading

One of the simplest ways to add value to a blog post is to recommend other reading that a reader could do on your topic. This can be done formally at the end of a post with a ‘recommended reading’ type list of links – or informally during a post when you hyperlink relevant articles on key ideas that you write about.

Further reading can be both internal links to other things you’ve written on your topic and/or external links to what others have written previously on the topic you’ve covered. Only do either of these if they do add value and are on topic.

5. Add Quotes

An effective way of adding authority to a blog post is to add the voice of another person using a short quote. Most students know the power of using quotes in the writing of essays (they show you’ve researched and read widely and grasp a topic) – the same thing is try with blog posts.

There are two main ways of using quotes in blog posts:

  1. quote someone talking about your topic (I did this above in the ‘stories’ point with a quote from Brian Clark).
  2. quote someone talking about something unrelated, but still relevant to your topic (something I did in my post – What Thomas Edison Can Teach You about Blogging).

6. Interview Someone

If you can’t find an existing quote to use from someone – create one by approaching them for a quick comment or interview on your topic.

Identify another person who has expertise on the topic you’re covering and then asking them a specific question (or more than one) on that topic so that you can use their answers within your post. Effectively this is what journalists do when they’re working up a story.

While this might sound like a long process – with instant messaging, skype and email it can actually be very quick to get comment from others.

7. Add Reader Comments/Tweets

Another way of adding other ‘voices’ to your blog posts is to actually use the words of those reading your blog by elevating their comments into the post itself.

I’ll share some ways to do this below but first let me say how powerful this is as a technique as it shows your readers that you notice what they say, that you care about them and gives them a moment in the spotlight which can make a lasting impression. It all comes down to making your readers famous.

  • Use Comments from Previous Posts - if you’ve written on the topic you are blogging about before check out the comments section on that post. Hidden away there you might find gems of wisdom that you can pull out an include in future posts.
  • Ask Readers in a Post - this takes a little thinking ahead but if you know you’re going to be writing on a topic a day or two ahead of time – post a question on your blog asking for readers to give feedback on that topic. Then use some of their comments in your next post. For example – I asked readers about how they’d promote a blog here and then used their responses as a post later in the week here.
  • Do a Call for Comments on Social Messaging Sites – I do this regularly on Twitter and Plurk. All it involves is to ask your followers/friends a question as you write your post and then to include some of the best ones within your post. To see this in action – I did this recently in my review of the iPhone as a blogging tool and when I wrote about the benefits of Twitter.
  • LinkedIn Q&ALinkedIn has a great Question and Answer feature that is fantastic for gathering the opinions and ideas of those within your network. I’ve used it on occasions to generate some great discussions which could then be used to add depth to blog posts.
  • Email readers – if you don’t have enough Twitter followers or LinkedIn contacts – why not email a few of your most loyal readers and ask them if they have any thoughts on a topic you’re writing about.

I can’t express to you how much of an impact that using readers comments in blog posts can have. When I do it I get a lot of emails of thanks from those that I use the comments of and also find that it adds a lot of wisdom to my posts.

8. Set Homework

If your post is a ‘teaching’ or ‘how to’ type blog post an effective way of adding depth to your post is to actually set your readers homework or some kind of ‘assignment’.

By finishing a post with a task to go away and do you help your readers to immediately apply what they’ve just learned (most of us learn better by ‘doing’ than just consuming information) and you increase the ‘participation’ levels on your blog (it takes readers out of ‘lurking’ mode).

I discovered the power of homework on my photography site a couple of years back. Our readers there loved the idea so much that we now have a weekly assignment in the forum. Heaven forbid if we miss a week – our readers love it so much that if we do miss one they certainly let us know! Read more on setting readers homework

9. Offer Points of Participation

I’ve touched on this earlier in this series also but it is amazing how much value can be added to a blog post simply by inviting readers to respond and participate in the post. Ask for comments, add a poll, invite readers to blog about the topic on their own blog…. again this is about giving readers an opportunity to bed down what they’re learning and reinforce it in their minds by ‘doing’ something.

Many readers learn best not just by listening to others but by putting their thoughts into their own words.

10. Add Illustrations or Charts

I will talk more about this in the next post in this series of ‘crafting blog posts’ – but it is amazing what a simple image or chart can do to illustrate a point. I’m not just talking about eye catching title images – but those that actually add value to your posts.

This will of course relate more to some types of posts than others but when you do it it is like adding a visual example to your posts. I find this is most effective either when doing a ‘how to’ or tutorial type post (I do it on photoshop tutorials on DPS) or any posts that you quote any kind of statistics in).

11. Look at the Flip Side

A simple technique to add depth to any kind of post that shares an opinion is to explore not only one side of an argument but two. I find it quite amazing how many bloggers write posts that are one dimensional and that argue strongly for one perspective but fail to show that there might be another point of view.

You don’t need to sit on the fence with your posts and can still express your preference strongly for your argument – but at least show that you’re aware of other arguments as it’ll show your readers that you have thought through an issue fully in coming to your point of view. You’ll also find that it doesn’t alienate as many readers who don’t share your opinion and gives a better foundation for constructive dialogue.

12. Look Forward and Create Momentum

One very effective way of adding depth to your post is by telling readers that you’re not done yet and are going to write a followup post in the coming days.

While this doesn’t actually give immediate extra value to a post it creates a sense of momentum and signals to readers that the topic you’re writing about means something to you and is worthy of further exploration.

So before you hit publish on a post consider whether there is any areas within it still not explored that could be the subject of a followup post. A great way to do this is to use mindmapping to plan your next blog posts.

13. Make an Honest Appraisal of Your Post

Before hitting publish on your post ask yourself again – does this post matter?

Is your post useful to readers in some way? Does it inform, entertain, inspire, educate, provide community, motivate or do something else that will enhance the lives of your reader?

Not every post you write will set the world on fire (and that’s ok) but every post should add value to your reader and take you closer to your blogging goals.

If it doesn’t – don’t publish it. Go back to your post and keep adding value.

9 More Thoughts on Adding Depth to Posts from my Twitter Friends

As I was writing this post I decided to put my advice into action by asking my Twitter followers for their experiences on the topic. Here’s just a few of the responses (you’ll see a few new ideas and recurring themese):

  1. @ruraldoctoring – add personal experiences, quotes, open up possibilities for opposing views–>depth. I hope.
  2. @Jonathan_Gunson – How? Try reading your draft posts out loud to someone who cares. Their reaction can produce deep insights you never imagined.
  3. @mark_hayward – give the post some thought while running, write a rough post or outline, do research, and continue to refine over several days.
  4. @ashishmohta – adding some real time example, case studies about 1 hour ago
  5. @DanBlank – To add depth, I add images, and take time between writing sessions, often using ideas that germinated in my head for days.
  6. @johnwroachiii – I have my wife read it and give me her unanwered questions.
  7. @tynansanger – leave it until the morning then look over it again. see if any new news has added to or taken away from the story
  8. @cornerscribe – I let a post “rest” for a while. That helps me see where I need to add detail and depth.
  9. @Arbenting – I usually let a post sit for a day or so before going back to it. Once I re-read it I’ll usually find things that need expanded.

How Have You Added Depth to Your Blog Posts?

There’s lots to digest in this post I know – but I’m certain that among the ProBlogger readership there’s a lot of wisdom and experience that could be added – so what have you tried to add depth and new dimensions to your blog posts?

PS: If you want to see some more 3D Crazy Cross Eye Images – check out 9 more here.

Read the Full Series

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

Calls to Action – 12 Tips To SNAP Readers Out of Passivity

The vast majority of visitors to your blog are paralyzed by passivity.

They never comment, they don’t vote in polls, they won’t subscribe to your feed or newsletters, they won’t buy the affiliate products that you recommend, they won’t email a friend about your blog, they won’t vote for you in social bookmarking sites and most of them will never come back.

Call-To-ActionImage by Aaron Jacobs

Depressed? You’re not alone.

Some days it gets me down that readers can be so passive too.

In this post (a part of our crafting blog posts series) I’m going to share how using Calls to Action can significantly increase the interactivity on your blog. I’d also love to hear what you have to say on the topic.

The Problem of Passivity on Blogs

I still remember early in my blogging expressing my frustration to another blogger. At the time my main concern was that while I was getting a lot of visitors, so few of them left a comment.

He responded to me with a question that was like a SMACK to the side of the head with a BRICK – it was so simple yet stupidly I’d never thought of it. He said:

“Do you ever ask for comments?”

He went on to explain to me a ‘secret’ that copywriters have known for ages – ‘Call to Action‘ – if you don’t call your readers to action they are far less likely to take it:

  • If you want people to comment, invite them to do it.
  • If you want people to subscribe, don’t assume that they’ll think to do it themselves, ask them to. If
  • If you want people to buy something – give them a way to do it.
  • If you want people to come back tomorrow, give them some motivation to do so and show them how to remind themselves.
  • If you want a vote on Digg or StumbleUpon – ask.

Call me ‘Captain Obvious’ – but so few of us bloggers have mastered the ‘Call to Action’ in their blogging that it is no wonder that so many of us struggle with passive audiences.

Why Calls to Action are Important

After my friend gave me the above advice I began to experiment with inviting readers to comment on my posts. Here’s what I found:

  • Some People Respond to Invitations - When I invited comments and didn’t assume that people would leave them I noticed a marked increase in comments. While the majority of my readers still ‘lurked’ I’d estimate comments were up by between 50-100% on posts.
  • Action grows Reader Engagement - I began to notice that when people commented once it would open a floodgate of comments from them over future days. When I questioned a few of these readers I found that some had been ‘lurking’ a while, too scared to comment but once they had they felt more ‘ownership’ and ‘confidence’ to do it again.
  • Action brings loyalty – I noticed that first time readers would become loyal readers – they’d often come back to the blog in the days after their comment to see how other people responded to it.
  • Action breeds Action - When you grow the interactivity on your blog it draws others to be interactive. When a first time visitor to your blog sees that you have thousands of subscribers and hundreds of comments they take notice and many will be drawn to do likewise (it is called social proof).

In time I saw similar things as I ‘asked’ readers to do other things (vote in polls, subscribing to feeds etc). I learned that as obvious as it might seem to us as bloggers to do these things – many readers don’t think to do these things unless asked to.

12 Tips for Calls to Action:

So how do you effectively use Calls to Action on your blog?

Let me say that the following Call to Action Tips come out of my own experience of experimenting with this type of thing. I’m by no means a copy writing expert (although am about to start some training in it) and would love to learn from your own experiences of Calls to Action so please do feel free to share you own experience in comments below.

1. Know what Action you want Readers to take

Sounds almost too basic to include in these tips but I think it’s really important to be clear about what you’re trying to achieve with your blog post. This really builds on the last post in this series which talked about making your posts matter and identifying purposes for posts. What’s the purpose of your post? What do you want readers to do as a result of reading the post? Answer these questions before writing your call to action and you’ll be in a great position to write an effective one.

2. One Call to Action Per Post

Early in my own experiments with Calls to Action I wrote a post that was linked to by the uber blog Slashdot. It sent more traffic to my blog than I’d ever seen before and so I decided to update the post with some calls to action. Problem was that I stuffed so many of them into the post that no one did any of them. I asked for comments, pointed to my RSS feed and newsletter, asked for people to link to the post… etc. I find that I have a lot more luck with just one call to action per post – it gives people a simple next step rather than overwhelming them with choices.

3. Make it a Win/Win Call to Action

There’s nothing wrong with benefiting from the actions that your readers take on your blog. Don’t be afraid to ask things of them – but do make sure that what you ask of them will have an upside not only for you but for them.

4. Make the Action Simple and Achievable

I was recently asked by a reader to look at a competition that they were running on their blog and to give my opinion on why no one had entered it. Upon looking at the competition it became clear that while the prize was great and the blog did have readers – that the requirements to entry were too complicated. The blogger was asking readers to leave a 500 word comment, write a post on their own blog linking to their competition AND subscribe to his RSS feed (and to prove it take a screen shot of the subscription confirmation page). Ask your readers to jump through too many hoops to do the thing you want them to do and you’ll get significantly less of them to take that action.

5. In Post Calls to Action Work Best

Positioning is everything in many aspects of your blog and calls to action are no exception. In the same way that click through on ads increase when you put ads near or in content – responses to calls to action will work significantly better for you within posts than if you slap them on your sidebar. This doesn’t mean you can’t have an invitation to action in your sidebar (almost every blog I know does this with RSS subscription invitations for example) however in post invitations will generally work best.

6. Express Clearly what you Want People to do

This really builds upon the ‘simple and achievable action’ point that I’ve made above but comes down to the way you communicate the desired action to readers. In the same way that I’ve suggested taking extra time to craft post titles and opening lines it is important to pause and consider the words that you use in your call to action. If your call to action isn’t a simple thing (and sometimes it is unavoidable) consider outlining what you want readers to do in ‘steps’ or a list of points. This is what I do on my Group Writing Projects and I find it works quite well.

7. Multiple Calls to the Same Action Can Work

While it’s best if you keep the number of actions you call for to a minimum (preferably 1 per post) this doesn’t mean you can’t invite readers to take that action more than once in the post. The most logical place for a call to action is at the end of the post – after all it is where readers stop reading and start thinking about what to do next. However I find that adding a call to action earlier in the post can increase the likelihood that people will take the action. This works for two main reasons – firstly you are sowing the seed of the action in their mind early and secondly some people will never make it to the end of your post but may actually take the action early on. For example – in this post I’ve already invited comments twice – and I’ll do it once more at the end of the post.

8. Draw the Eye to Calls to Action

Why do we make titles bigger and more eye catching on blog posts but leave our invitations to action as plain text languishing at the bottom of our posts? As with any important part to a post it is important that your readers see calls to action. You can ensure this happens in a number of ways including putting a heading above them, using an image near them, making the call to action a striking image itself, using text formatting (bold, italics, capitals), using colored backgrounds and borders around the calls to action etc.

9. Lead your readers to the Action

Your post itself needs to lead people to the action. The call and the topic of the post should strongly relate to one another and you should give reasons why the action would benefit readers. One technique that is worth using with some calls to action (particularly bigger ones) is to paint a picture of what life would be like after the action is taken (or what it’d be like if it is not taken).

10. Give an Incentive

Some calls to action will have an incentive to the reader built into them – but at times you might want to add extra incentive. This can be especially effective if you’re promoting an affiliate product and want to give your readers extra value by offering a bonus.

11. Mix Up Calls to Action from Post to Post

Readers can become a little blind (or numb) to calls to action over time if your calls are always the same (either given in the same way or asking them to do the same thing). Mix things up from post to post. Also don’t feel you need to have a call to action in every post. If you’re constantly asking your readers to do things you could burn them out.

12. Don’t Hard Sell But Call with Confidence

Using Calls to Action can be a bit of a balancing act at times. In talking to bloggers I find that they usually struggle with them in one of two ways. Either they feel awkward asking readers to do anything OR they SELL SELL SELL and lack subtlety. Somewhere between these two extremes is the place you need to dwell. The place you position yourself along the spectrum will differ from blog to blog and probably based upon your personality. Some bloggers get away with the hard sell better than others – the key is to experiment, listen to your readership and how they respond and to try to strike a balance between the two extremes.

What Was Your Most Effective Call to Action?

What I’ve shared above is my experience of Calls to Action but as I’ve said above – I’m still on a learning journey on this topic and would love to hear what you have leaned on the topic? Feel free to give an example of what you’ve done with a link and share your lessons in comments below so we can all improve our call to action technique!

Read the Full Series

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

Does Your Next Blog Post Matter?

Does-Your-Blog-Post-MatterIf your next blog post doesn’t matter – don’t publish it until it does.

In our series on How to Craft a Blog Post we’ve been talking about ‘points to pause’ while writing a blog post. So far we’ve looked at choosing a topic, titles and opening lines and today we’re going to get into the meat of your actual post.

Here’s the question that I think we should all be asking before we hit ‘publish’ on now blog posts:

“So What?”

This simple, yet profound, question was one that I heard a lot of bloggers emerging from SOBCon with earlier in the year. My co-author Chris Garrett is one speaker from that conference who I know used it as a central theme in his presentation.

Other similar questions might include:

  • What’s the Point?
  • What am I trying to communicate?
  • What impact do I want to have on my reader?
  • How will this benefit my reader?

All of your hard work in choosing topics, titles and opening lines will go to waste if the actual meat of your post has no real point to it, if it doesn’t communicate anything, if it doesn’t have any impact upon your readers, if it doesn’t really matter.

If you want a post to be more than just something that people flit past it needs to ‘matter’ to people on some level. Otherwise it will never get traction.

Why Many Blog Posts Don’t Have Points

The reality is that many blog posts that I read (and I’ll admit to writing a few) have no real points (or they are unclear).

There could be a variety of reasons for this including:

  • laziness – sometimes it is just easier not to really think through the direction of a post
  • busyness and distractions – life gets cluttered and many of us as bloggers have too many things on the go at once – leaving us unable to focus our attention fully upon the task at hand.
  • pressure of deadlines – feeling the need to have to post something every day can mean many posts get published that are not thought through

Three times to ask ‘so what’ as you’re crafting your next blog post:

1. Before You Start - I find that my blog posts are significantly better if I identify a goal that I want to achieve with the post before I start writing it. For me this usually happens during the topic selection process and leads me to write a simple sentence at the start of each draft (which I usually delete later, unless it becomes part of my introduction).

This sentence is usually something like ‘this post will teach readers how to hold a digital camera‘ or ‘this post will answer the question of “What is a Blog?”‘.

Important Note: I write blogs with a ‘how to’ type form so my goal sentences reflect this – however this same thing can apply to other types of blogs. The answer to the ‘so what’ question can be to teach, inform, entertain, inspire, build community etc. It need not be to ‘teach’.

2. While You Write - with the post goal statement at the top of your draft it is important to keep it in the forefront of your mind as you develop your blog post.

I attempt to include a statement of what the post will achieve within the post (so the reader sees it) but constantly attempt to remind myself what I’m trying to achieve with the post. This is not always easy (and sometimes my posts do evolve beyond my original goal – read on for more on this) but I find that unless I do it I can end up with posts that have a wishy washy point.

3. Before You Finish – if you’re anything like me, your blog posts ‘evolve’. I often start out with a goal statement and then proceed to go ahead and write a post that ignores the statement. Don’t beat yourself up about that – but DO ask yourself the question of ‘so what’ again at the end of your post.

Have you written something that will matter to your readers? Have you written something that meets a need that they might have? Have you fully explored the topic? OR…. Have you written something just for the sake of writing something? Does what you’ve written have a point?

Don’t Try To Achieve Too Much in a Single Post

A trap that I used to fall into regularly with my blogging was to try to do too much in every post that I wrote. I’d try to write posts that explored lots of themes, that tried to inform, entertain and inspire, that tried to get readers to have a sense of belonging…. etc

The reality was that the posts ended up being ‘epics’ and didn’t really achieve anything.

If you find yourself with lots of goals for a post – why not split them into multiple posts.

This is what I did earlier in this series when writing about crafting blog titles. I originally has this post on Crafting Titles and this post inviting readers to improve titles as one single post but before hitting publish I asked myself what my goal was with the post and realized that I was trying to do too much and that could better achieve my goals of ‘teaching’ and ‘involving readers’ in two separate posts.

What’s the Point of This?

The take home message of this post is to take your time in identifying goals for each post.

This exercise need not take a great deal of time or even be something that you formally set time aside to do for each post (for me it’s become a natural part of my blogging) but it is something that will help to lift the quality of your blogging significantly.

The benefit of identifying a point to your posts will especially help you in the next two steps in this process of crafting a blog post – ‘calls to action’ and ‘adding depth’ (things we’ll explore in coming days).

Read the Full Series

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

Is Writing Great Content Enough to Build a Successful Blog?

Content
At times you could be forgiven for thinking it is – if you read a lot of blogs on ‘how to blog’ that is.

One of the first thing that most of us who write about blogging advise those starting out is to work on writing useful and unique content.

Certainly at the core of most great blogs is useful and unique content that draws readers in and generates links from other blogs, builds the profile and reputation of the blog – however sometimes great content is simply not enough.

The reality is that many bloggers write excellent content – however not all of them break through the clutter and rise to the top of their niche.

This is frustrating – there’s no two ways about it.

I’ve felt the frustration myself and hear the frustration of others on a daily basis via emails and IMs from bloggers wanting to know how to take their blogging to the next level.

  • How do I find readers?
  • How do I get my first “break”?
  • How did you get your first incoming links to my great content if nobody is reading it?

These are the type of questions I see more and more.

Do you want the “right” answer or the “real” answer?

As I sit down to answer some of these questions on how to build a successful blog I’m increasingly feeling that there are certain answers which are “right” and some more that are “real”.

The “Right” Answers

“Write unique and useful content for your readers.” – this has been one of the catch cries at ProBlogger over the last couple of years as I’ve attempted to show bloggers how to build quality blogs. It’s a principle that I strongly believe in – it’s something that does work and I don’t know too many successful bloggers who wouldn’t agree with it and/or apply it. It is ‘right’.

Other “right” answers include things like:

  • Interact with your readers – the more you interact with readers in a genuine way the more likely they are to stay around and spread the word about you.
  • Use Quality Titles – a lot is written about the effectiveness of quality post titles at getting attention and drawing in readers to your blog. In my mind there is little doubt about how important it is to invest time into smart title generation.
  • Promote yourself - while some of us feel a little awkward about self promotion – there’s little doubt in my mind that it is a necessary part of launching a new blog. While it’s also important to let your readers spread the news about you – without some self promotion you may never find those first readers to help you spread the virus.
  • Know and Use basic SEO principles – it is well worth learning the basic principles on how search engines index and rank online content. While some bloggers become a little obsessed by SEO – setting up your blog smartly and keeping some of the basics in mind as you write is a common sense way of building a blog that will bring in significant SE traffic over the long term.
  • Inviting Design – I don’t believe that to be successful a blog needs to have professional designs that cost mega-bucks. However inviting design that communicates what a blog is about, that enables good navigation and that draws readers into the content can really take a blog to the next level.

In my mind – these sorts of tips (and there are many more of them) are “right“. They make sense – they work (to varying degrees) and many bloggers talk about them as keys to successful blogs – because they are.

Much has been written about these “right” answers. ProBlogger’s archives are full of them.

However there’s a problem – as “right” as these tips are – they are quite often not enough for many bloggers.

In fact I’ve talked to many bloggers who have done all the right stuff (they’ve executed everything mentioned above perfectly) yet they still fail to find readers, build community and reach their goals.

The “Real” Answers

In addition to the “right” answers above – I’ve been pondering some other keys to successful blogs that I don’t see many of us writing about. The reason they don’t get spoken about much is that they are hard to define, they are subjective and some might even say that they’re things that might apply to some but not others.

However I think some of it is worth saying – as difficult as it might be to put them into words (just don’t expect a list of tips that you can go away and apply to get these things):

Mojo

MojoAustin Powers has it and so do many successful bloggers. What is it? Well I could define it using a dictionary (magic or some powerful force) – but mojo is one of those indefinable characteristics that some bloggers just seem to have which others don’t. It’s a quality that some bloggers have that intrigues, invites and inspires readers – not because they write grammatically perfect posts, not because they are the smartest people going around – but just because they do.

Perhaps finding your mojo is similar to “finding your voice” or “injecting your personality” into your writing or just “being yourself” – to be honest I’m not sure where it comes from – but for many successful bloggers, they’ve got mojo!

Luck

LuckI’ve written about being lucky on a couple of occasions previously and both times the response from readership was positive. I even tried to talk about “how to be lucky” once (I do like to try to define the undefinable) – however sometimes no matter what you do Lady Luck just comes calling in the most unexpected times and places.

Meeting the right person at the right time to collaborate with – picking up a scoop ahead of the competition – overhearing something in a conversation that triggers a thought process that people respond to – starting your blog on the day before something happens that draws attention to your niche – getting that link from an A-lister out of the blue… the list of ways you can get lucky as a blogger could go on.

Trust

TrustTrust is one of those things that you can do things to build with your readers (and with other bloggers) but in some ways it is something that is not manufacturable or definable (you can’t come up with a list of 10 ways to absolutely guarantee it – as much as I’d like that).

Building Trust with readership takes time, it means putting actions behind your words and it means being a person of authenticity and character – in such a way that others both see and connect with it.

Expertise and Authority

ExpertiseI almost put expertise in the “right” answers list because on some levels it is something you can work on and to some degree define. However expertise can also be slippery thing to nail down also because it’s one of those things where there is a sliding scale and which readers can respond differently to. For example here at ProBlogger I don’t see myself as “the” expert or authority on the topic making money from blogs.

I do have expertise in some areas of blogging (or at least 5-6 years of experience) – but in other areas (like blog design or coding) I’m definitely no expert. However – I attempt to write this blog in a way that is transparent about what I do and don’t know about or have experiences in and for some reason the gaps in my expertise don’t seem to matter to readers.

I do think it’s important that you know something about your topic that you can share and help others with – however, what’s probably more important is the way you convey that expertise.

What seems to happen with some bloggers is that they become perceived as experts and authorities on their topics (whether they feel that they deserve it or not).

Charisma

I find that many successful bloggers seem to have an ability to draw people to them – to connect with their readers and to connect their readers with one another.

Community is one of those trigger points that people are gathering around online at the moment – and they often gather around a key person (or people) that have the gift of connecting with others.

While it’s possible to work on your relational skills the reason I put this in the “real answers” list is because it’s something that many bloggers seem to have without really trying. Everywhere they go they just seem to draw others around them. As I see it these bloggers seem to be able to do the following things:

  • draw people around them (perhaps this is the “mojo” I’m talking about above)
  • connect those people with one another to form community
  • empower that community and it’s members to be self sustaining and not reliant upon that person
  • continue to inspire and champion that community – but not need to continually drive it in a hands on way

These people are often humble and don’t let their egos get caught up in the community they develop. They know when to stand back and let others continue what they start.

What Would You Add?

Mojo, Luck, Trust, Expertise, Charisma – these are just some of the more slippery and hard to define characteristics that I find many successful bloggers have. On some levels they can be ‘worked on’ – but in many cases bloggers just seem to have them.

What other characteristics would you add – either to my ‘right’ or ‘real’ answers?

PS: Can I finish this post by saying that I feel a little weird about publishing it? I actually wrote this 12 months ago and have been coming back to it again and again over that time.

My hesitation comes mainly from this….

I don’t want people to get frustrated by not having some of these more indefinable characteristics.

I don’t think that lacking them disqualifies you from blogging well at all – but wanted to put ‘out there’ that sometimes it’s not just about doing all the ‘right’ things that we blogging advice givers might teach.

All I really want to add is that in my experience a lot of these qualities come with time. Out of experience comes relationships, experience, expertise, finding your voice etc. If you’re still finding your way – hang in there friends.