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5 Ways to Get the Opinion of Others and Add Dimensions to Your Blog

One way to add depth to the posts that you write on your blog is to include the opinions of others on the topics that you’re exploring. The way that I see it is that when I write a post with just my own thoughts in it it can end up being a little one dimensional – but when I draw upon the experience of others also posts have the potential to become 2… or even 3 dimensional.

How do I do it?

Here are five ways that I’ve used lately to include the opinion of others in my posts:

1. Twitter – one of the things that I love about Twitter is that it has the ability to create instant conversations around virtually any topic. Next time you’re writing a post ask a question or two of your ‘followers’ on Twitter. Ask them for examples, get their opinion or survey them on their behavior on the topic you’re exploring.

Example: in my post with 9 benefits of Twitter I showed an example of this when I was writing a post about RSS and asked my ‘followers’ how many feeds they read each day. Within minutes I had over 30 answers.

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Twitter-Research-22

2. LinkedIn Q&A – yesterday I decided to test the Questions and Answer feature on LinkedIn for the first time. I asked 200 of my connections about what social media services they use. 24 hours later 70 of those that I asked have given their opinion. What surprised me the most was the depth that some of the answers had in them with people really putting some effort into their responses.

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3. Ask Your Readers - the last method is perhaps the most obvious, ask your blog readers for their opinions. Posts that are simply questions are great ways of getting comments on your blog but their real potential is to learn what your readers think. For example in the last week I asked readers about how they’d promote a new blog – I had just under 40 responses so far, some of which I featured in a followup post.

4. Google Your Topic - I’m surprised that I don’t see this done more but perhaps one of the most obvious ways to get a quote for a post you’re writing is to Google the topic and see what others have written on it previously. Rarely a topic goes by that some blogger hasn’t already covered in some way so it’d make sense to research it. Perhaps it’s our obsession with ‘fresh content’ that makes a little snobby towards what others have written previously – but I think it’s something well worth doing.

5. Target Specific Bloggers/Readers - the last method is where you ask a question of specific people. I’ve noticed more and more bloggers doing this lately – they write a post and then send an email out to 4-5 other bloggers in their niche to ask them for a quote or to do a ‘one question interview’. They then include these short quotes in their post – giving it more depth and also can add some expertise to your post (if you choose the right people to feature).

How I Use Twitter to Promote My Blog

How Can Twitter be used to promote a blog? In this guest post Chris Brogan gives a few tips on blog promotion.

Twitter is a lot of things to a lot of people. For some, it’s a virtual water cooler. For others, it’s a great way to get answers to questions. Since I started using Twitter, I have more than doubled my blog traffic over the last several months, and I can tell you how.

Some people just dump their blog posts into Twitter automatically, with a simple “New Blog Post: Money is Better Than Dirt” and away you go. I’ve found a way of using Twitter to encourage participation on my website, and it’s better than easy; it’s tasteful.

Ask a Question

Instead of telling your Twitter audience that you’ve published a new post, ask them their opinion on the core topic you’ve covered. “Do you think banner ads are dead?” followed by a link to your site is much more appealing than posting to Twitter, “Banner Ads Are Not Dead.” Asking a question engages your Twitter followers and solicits their experience.

If Comments Flow, Remark on It

I genuinely believe that the comments section of my blog is better than anything I write on my own. To that end, when a topic seems to take off, I send a note to Twitter alerting people to the quality of the conversation in the comments. It’s not pitchy in nature. I’m simply sharing that the best stuff came after the initial post.

Sometimes, I Even Dare to Ask for a Stumble

My number two referrer to my site on most slow-medium traffic days is StumbleUpon. Because I seem to get “better” response from people who visit from that site than from other traffic sources, I sometimes will send a third post to Twitter, asking if someone thinks X post is worth a Stumble. Because I do a lot of sharing and promoting and helping others, I usually get a lot of willing people to Stumble something for me from time to time.

I don’t over-do it, and I know that not every day is a “killer blog post” day. With that in mind, when I do ask, it makes a huge difference.

Those Three Touches Help Lots

So in the end, I ask my following in Twitter for love three times: once when I post the blog, again if it takes off well in the comments section, and sometimes a third time if I want to really amp the traffic via StumbleUpon. I mix these requests in liberally with all the various ways I help others using Twitter, and so it doesn’t come off like I’m perpetually pitching my own stuff. My current monthly rate of pitching others vs. promoting my own site is 75 / 25 in other people’s favor. That sounds fair, right?

Have you experimented with Twitter in this way? How did it work for you? What other tips did I miss?

– Chris Brogan writes about social media business strategy and tools at [chrisbrogan.com]. He enjoyed the heck out of meeting Darren at SXSWi in Austin, TX.

Further Reading

Read more about how to use Twitter to grow your online presence in Darren’s post – How to Use Twitter – Tips for Bloggers.

Using Social Media to Grow Your Blog’s Readership

Blog-Promotion - Social MediaThis week we’re looking at five different methods that I’d use to find readership if I were starting a new blog. So far we’ve explored guest posting, advertising and networking – but today I want to turn our attention to the explosive and dynamic area of social media.

Social media sites have exploded onto the online publishing scene over the last couple of years and can generally be divided into two types of site:

  • Social Networking Sites – where the primary activity of the site is ‘connecting’ with others. Two of the most prominent sites in this space are Facebook and MySpace.
  • Social Bookmarking – where the primary activity is the finding and sharing of web content through different systems of ‘voting’ on sites. Two examples of this type of site are Digg and StumbleUpon.

The above two classifications of social media sites are fairly broad – in reality there are many different sites appearing every week, many of which have elements of both of the above as well as other features.

The point of this post is not to define social media but rather to look of it as an opportunity to find new readers for your blog. The reason that I include it in this series is that over the last year or two I’ve seen numerous blogs virtually launch themselves via social media sites.

The reason for their success is that social media sites are among the largest sites on the web at present (the volume of traffic that they do is mind boggling) but that by their very nature they are about helping people to discover new parts of the web (particularly social bookmarking sites) – and as a result they are used by people actively seeking web content.

As a result I would argue that social media sites are a logical place to position yourself as a blogger. Let me say it again:

Social media sites have a lot of traffic and they are used by people to find content – why wouldn’t you position yourself on them?

Qualification: let me qualify that last statement before going any further by saying that social media is not THE answer to finding readers for your blog. It is not enough just to promote your content on social sites – but it is one element that can help you find a lot of new readers.

9 Keys to Using Social Media to Find New Readers for Your Blog

Much has been written about using specific social media sites to drive traffic to a blog. I’ll include a few links to things I’ve written about specific sites below – however in this post I’d like to speak in a more general sense and share some principles of using social media to drive traffic.

1. Be an Active Participant - it is important to see these sites for what they are – they’re social sites which are designed for regular use and interactions between readers. They are not designed for people to come to to spam their own links and leave – they’re designed for ongoing, genuine and helpful interactions between people. As a result those who spend time using these sites are the ones who generally are rewarded for doing so over the long haul. While there is a temptation to only use these sites on occasion when it benefits yourself you’ll find them more fruitful paces to visit when you regularly participate and genuinely interact with others.

2. Learn the Rules and Culture – different social media sites have different rules, standards, cultures and acceptable behavior. This covers things like how you interact with others, the language you can use and importantly for this article – linking and promoting your own content. Some sites allow (and even encourage) you self promoting – others do not. Some might allow it officially but will have users who don’t like it and who will ‘bury’ your efforts if you do. The key is to participate, observe and learn from your experiences.

3. Find Key Players – one of the best ways to learn about social media is to find and get to know key players on the different sites. Who is using them well? What are they doing? What might they be able to teach you? How might you work with them for mutual benefit? Many social media sites make it easy to find these key players by producing lists of ‘top users’ – these can be strategic relationships to have.

4. Make Friends – extending upon this is the principle of be-friending others on social sites. This is a key part of what they are all about and many of these sites make you more powerful based upon the number of your connections. So get out there – make friends and interact with your network. From this can come many fruitful interactions. It’s also a great branding exercise to ‘connect’ with people in these ways.

I should say at this point that I see people using their ‘networks’ on social sites in two main ways either as natural influencers or in more concerted and coordinated ways. The first (influencers) is about building a network that you naturally interact with and who will take notice of what you do. This makes you a powerful user and both by the social site taking more note of you but also as others will do so also. The second is what some users have been doing for a while now – joining together to vote up each other’s content. DoshDosh has some great tips on making and interacting with friends in social sites (particularly Digg).

5. Don’t Be Self Centered – I’ve mentioned this already but it’s worth a point of it’s own. If your primary activities on social media sites is self centered then you’ll limit your own fruit from it. I know a number of top Digg users and in each case they are some of the most generous and ‘other serving’ people you’ll ever meet. They go out of their way to help others achieve their dreams. In doing so of course they themselves benefit – but it’s others first.

6. Find what Works Best for Your Blog – a regular comment on posts where I write about the power of using social media is people saying that they’ve ‘tried it’ and it doesn’t work. When I unpack these comments with people I often find that what they mean is that they tried one social media site once or twice – and it didn’t have much impact. The mistakes with this kind of thinking are numerous (ie it takes time to get to know a social media site, get to know people etc) – but one main thing that I’d say is that not all social media sites work for every topic of blog. For example I find that StumbleUpon works really well here at ProBlogger – but that Digg works on some more technically focused sites that I have worked with. The other thing that I’d say is that sometimes the biggest social sites are not always the best ones to use – but rather smaller and more focused ones can have bigger benefits. Every week new social bookmarking sites appear around different niches – search them out and focus on them too.

7. Social Media as a Branding Exercise – while social media sites can send you a lot of traffic very very quickly they can also be excellent places to do branding. Every time a reader or potential reader comes across you on a social media site the more you reinforce your brand. Get active on a site like stumbleupon and promote the content that others publish and you could actually get on their radar and end up benefiting yourself in many ways.

8. Convert to Loyal Readers - one thing that many bloggers fail to do when they succeed in driving traffic to their blogs from social media sites is to convert them into loyal readers. Getting readers to your blog is just half of the challenge – getting them to return tomorrow and every day afterwards is the other half – it can be the difference between a one off traffic event and a blog with an ongoing growth in readership. I’ve written more on converting one off visitors into regular readers here (and also here).

9. It’s all about the Content – one factor that exponentially increases (or decreases) the impact of your efforts in social media is your actual content. Without content that engages social media users you are wasting your time as it will rarely capture their imaginations and inspire them to promote it. Writing great content is the focus of tomorrow’s last post in this series on growing blog readership – so I’ll say more then.

Further Reading at ProBlogger on using Social Media to Build Traffic to Your Blog:

How to Promote Your Blog through Networking

Blog-Promotio - NetworkingThis week I’ve been suggesting five ways that I’d promote a new blog to new readers if i was starting out again.

Today I want to turn our attention to Networking as a great way to promote a blog.

If I were starting out in blogging today knowing what I now know I’d invest significant time each day into connecting with others online. The old adage of ‘it’s not what you know it’s who you know’ rings true in blogging.

By networking I mean doing all of those things that I regularly write about here at ProBlogger. Commenting on others blogs, answering comments that others leave on yours, emailing other bloggers when you write something that you think will interest them, making helpful suggestions to other bloggers, connecting with people via social networking sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace, emailing people to introduce yourself, linking up to others in your niche…. the list could go on… and on…. when it comes to ways to network but today I’d like to put forward a few more general suggestions.

A number of suggestions that I’d make in networking with bloggers:

  • Be generous – a lot of the networking that I see going on between bloggers is fairly much about ‘taking’ rather than ‘giving’. One way to make a real impression on another person is to be generous with them. Help them achieve their goals – highlight their best work – encourage them – go out of your way to work on their terms. While you do need to have good boundaries (otherwise people will abuse your generosity) I think a spirit of generosity is the right attitude to go into networking with.
  • Don’t Expect too much too quick – the most fruitful relationships that I’ve been a part of in blogging have emerged over time. Let the relationship grow naturally as you build trust and a mutual understanding of who the other person is and how you can work together.
  • Look for the B-listers – many so called ‘A-lister’ bloggers are approached all day long with requests to connect. While you might get lucky – I’ve found that approaching slightly less know blogs can have more chance of working out (and they can still drive a lot of traffic).
  • Prove Yourself First – if you’re brand new to your niche it could take time to make an impression. This isn’t necessarily because people are being cliquey – it’s often because they’re waiting to see if you’re going to stick with it and if you know what you’re talking about. There’s nothing more frustrating that networking with someone who disappears a couple of weeks later. Show you’re in it for the long haul and that your blog is making a contribution to the niche and you’ll find people more willing to connect.
  • Persist But Don’t Annoy – some bloggers will take a few emails or conversations before they’ll warm up to you. There’s a lot of noise around the blogosphere so don’t be offended if people don’t respond – try again in a little while – but don’t stalk them :-)
  • Look in Neighboring Niches – it is important with blog networking to interact with other bloggers in your own niche – however don’t close yourself to relationships with bloggers outside of your niche – particularly in those that neighbor yours. When you limit yourself just to other bloggers exactly like yours you will end up dealing mainly with people who could see you as a direct competitor. While some will be open to interacting with you I’ve found networking with people outside my niche can be fruitful. Another way to be strategic is to not look for networking opportunities just with other bloggers on your topic – but with bloggers who share a similar demographic of reader.
  • Ask Questions – one key that I’ve found to work in networking is to ask a lot of questions of those around you. Some bloggers go into networking with obvious agendas and goals but fail to listen to the other party. When you become a person who asks others about their goals and objectives, where you know what their strengths and weaknesses are and where you know their dreams you not only create a good impression on them but you’ll be in a great position to know where your situation aligns with another person’s – this is where networking becomes most effective.
  • Become a Go-To Person and a Connector – as you network with others don’t just focus upon you and the other person – but attempt to draw others into the relationships you have. I find that people are particularly grateful to me when I can’t help them but point them to someone else who can. This creates a good impression upon both of the parties that you connect which can lead them to come to you again with opportunities (ie you become the ‘go to’ person because they know you’ll either help them personally or point them to someone who can).
  • Have an Elevator Pitch – a lot has been written about business people being able to articulate what they do in a concise statement (having your elevator pitch). I think being able to do this is important with blog networking too. I get many emails every day from people wanting tow work together in some way and in many cases it’s a few minutes into an email that I even work out who they are and what they are on about. Develop a few key sentences that describe who you are, what you do and what you offer others. Another good elevator pitch is on what your blog is about. Having thought through these things will help others understand what you can bring to a relationship – but they will also help you understand that too.
  • Look for Points of Synergy – perhaps this says more about my personality type, but I’ve found the most profitable relationships to be ones where there was a ‘spark’ or ‘energy’ around our interaction – particularly where there was some sort of synergy around goals and objectives but also some sort of a connection when it comes to personality. My style has always been to look for points of ‘energy’ or ‘synergy’ and going with them. Perhaps someone else has a more technical description of this but it’s worked well for me.

Looking forward to hearing more about your own experience of blog networking and how it’s helped your blogging grow.

How I’d Promote My Blog If I Were Starting Out Again

Blog PromotionToday I want to explore a ‘secret’ of growing the readership of a blog.

A few weeks ago I explored how to increase the number of subscribers on your blog through creating anticipation. The more people anticipate that they’ll get something of value from your blog in the future the more likely they are to want to come back and subscribe.

The problem is that you can create anticipation on your blog as much as you like without increasing your readership one iota if you don’t also do what I’m going to share with you today.

I touched on this ‘secret’ last November in a post titled Blog Promotion: Are You Preaching to the Converted? but let me summarize the mistake that I see many bloggers (big and small) running into when they’re promoting their blogs.

The Problem of Preaching to the Converted

The mistake that I think many of us make in our blog promotion is that we continue to promote our subscription methods to the same people – those who have already subscribed to it – our regular readers.

We’re preaching to the converted – or to use another analogy we’re mining the same patch of dirt over and over again.

Some Promotion to the Loyal is OK

Now I’m not arguing with this post that you shouldn’t talk about your subscription methods to regular readers or that they should never see your invitations to subscribe (promoting your methods of subscription prominently is an important technique in building RSS subscriber numbers) – however doing it to your regular readers will have a diminishing conversion rate the more you do it.

Perhaps the most public example of this was in the post that I linked to above where I observed that John Chow and Shoemoney’s competition to increase subscriber numbers seemed to largely pitched to their current readers – however I see daily examples of how many bloggers do this (and have done it myself).

Example One - I once followed a blogger who writes a post each week which promotes their subscription methods.
Example Two - I follow another blog that has an invitation to subscribe to it’s RSS feed actually in the footer of every post on that same RSS feed.

While I do encourage you to post about subscription methods (see point #2 here) – the more you do this the less impact it will have over time. In fact the more you do it the more you run the risk of annoying your regular readers (illustrated by the point that I no longer read the blog in example 1 above).

I guess what I’m saying is that it’s ok to preach to the converted a little (it does work) but your main efforts when it comes to promoting your blog should be happening OFF your blog.

If you really want to grow your blog’s subscriber count you need to find new potential readers to draw in.

Another Obvious Secret

Yes this is another obvious piece of knowledge – yet it’s something that many of us fail to understand and live out. We continue to dig in the same patch of dirt expecting our blogs to grow.

So How Do You Expose Your Blog to NEW Readers?

Ok – so the ‘secret’ is to keep your blog promotion efforts more OFF your blog on readers that you’re yet to connect with rather than those that area already loyal – but how do you do it?

I will say up front that as easy as the principle is in practice it’s a lot harder. Getting word out about your blog to new groups of readers is not easy – however unless you make a concerted effort to get yourself out there your subscriber count will remain slow (at best).

How I’d Promote My Blog If I Were Starting Out Again

I’m regularly asked how I’d promote my blog if I was starting out again today and didn’t have the profile that I currently have. This week I want to answer that question with a series of posts – all of which are focused upon this topic of finding NEW readers.

I’m going to cover five areas that I’d focus upon as a new blogger attempting to give my blog a start. I hope you find them useful.

5 Ways to Promote Your Blog – the Series So Far

  1. Guest Posting
  2. Networking
  3. Advertising
  4. Social Media
  5. Viral Content

5 Teaching Techniques that will Improve your Blogging

TeacherIn this post Leslie Madsen-Brooks explores 5 teaching techniques that bloggers might like to explore to connect with their readers

The best teachers–from first-grade teachers to university instructors–employ some simple techniques that bloggers can use to their advantage.

image by Patrick Q

Here are five of my favorites:

1. Find unexpected common ground.

A couple years ago, I was standing in front of a classroom of 100 college students immersed in small-group discussions. Try as I might, I had a hard time getting them to reconvene. So I pulled out a trick I had seen elementary school teachers use. I took a deep breath and said, “One, two, three–eyes on me!” About a dozen students responded with “One, two–eyes on you!” — an effect that astonished us all and allowed us to share a laugh. Many of my students had been conditioned years ago to respond to that simple rhyme, and they were surprised to see the technique had made its way around the state and the country, that it wasn’t unique to their own first- or second-grade experiences.

Similarly, I’m always delighted when I find a blogger who establishes novel common ground among his or her diverse readers. Sometimes that connection is ridiculously simple and tied to Internet pop culture, such as a recent post on the fabulous professorial blog Edge of the American West called I CAN HAZ SPLENDID WAR?. I didn’t care much about the sinking of the Maine in 1898, but the post title’s reference to LOLcats made me read on, and I was tricked–tricked, I tell you!–into placing history into a contemporary perspective and vice versa.

2. Offer points for participation.

At my university, faculty can’t grade students on attendance. One way, therefore, to get students to come to class is to offer incentives for participation (or, some would say, punitive consequences for non-participation). Each student’s final grade in any of my classes, therefore, depends a good deal on how much–and well–he or she contributes to class discussion. Students appreciate it when faculty weave student contributions into the fabric of a lecture or class discussion.

Bloggers do much the same thing when they pull a reader contribution from the comments and make it the inspiration–or even reason–for a new post. It’s a way of driving a conversation into different direction but it also rewards readers who leave quality comments.

3. Know every student’s name by the second day of class.

In a large lecture class, this tactic may be beyond the capability of most faculty. But when I have classes of 25-50 students, I try to learn their names as quickly as possible, usually by letting them introduce themselves while I madly take notes on their appearance and their quirks so that I can remember them in the next class period. (A colleague of mine uses Facebook to study her students’ photos.)

If someone stops by your blog and comments meaningfully or comments several times in a short span of time, drop her a line to thank her for her participation and to welcome her to the community. Take notes on what your commenters say so you can refer back to them when the opportunity arises. Even better, go leave comments on your reader’s blog. In the corner of the blogosphere I frequent, there are 100 or so blogs where the commenters all seem to know one another’s stories. It’s a powerful community that came about through reciprocal links and comments.

4. Give meaningful, fun homework assignments.

At my university, we’re on a 10-week quarter system. Science students begin taking “midterms” during week 2-3 of the quarter. Accordingly, science majors enrolled in my courses are tempted to stop doing the reading assignments at this time. To encourage them to read, I make sure to provide interesting homework and in-class assignments that require students to read all the course texts and come prepared to talk about them. Students are rewarded for doing the reading when they come to class and receive the respect of their peers for contributing meaningfully to our conversations.

Blog contests and challenges provide similar stimulus for reader involvement. Right now I’m very much enjoying how Dave Navarro is blogging his way through Christine O’Kelly’s e-book on freelance writing. He hasn’t explicitly given homework to his readers, but I’m inspired to follow along just the same, especially since I purchased O’Kelly’s book.

More explicitly in this vein, Darren offered his readers a 31-day course in building a better blog, complete with such homework as link up to a competitor and do a search engine optimization audit on your blog.

5. Be interdisciplinary.

While teaching, it’s easy to get stuck in the rut of your discipline. For example, just about everyone in your department might use the same textbook for a particular course, so all students get stuck learning the same material from the same source in the same way. But if you’re in chemistry and your students are looking a bit bored, you can liven up your discussion of sugar versus saccharin by tossing in some history of how sugar was rationed in the U.S. during WWII in part so that candy bars and other sugary treats could be sent to U.S. soldiers, whom, it was believed, needed sugar for energy. Saccharin, in the form of saccharin pills, therefore became a necessary sugar substitute–and a chic accessory on middle-class dining tables. Paint a humorous picture for your students of 1950s housewives using teeny tiny prongs to pick up saccharin tablets from bejeweled, turtle-shaped saccharin containers, and your students have a new context for their learning.

Similarly, if you blog in, say, the internet marketing niche, it’s easy to simply re-blog the same techniques everyone else is using and to promote the same affiliate programs. Why not branch out into another discipline or field–online or off–in order to bring new perspective to your readers? What, for example, are librarians doing to help clients better find the information they need? What can you learn about keyword searches and keyword research from their techniques?

Leslie Madsen-Brooks helps a broad spectrum of clients–including university faculty, K-12 schools, museums, and businesses–develop better learning experiences online and off. Among other venues, she blogs at Museum Blogging and The Multicultural Toy Box.

Top 5 Ways to Improve Your Blog’s Usability

Skellie is a regular writer for ProBlogger. Check out her new blog Anywired if you’re interested in earning an income online.

Usability.

Yaaawn, right?

Think of it like this: the art of making it as easy as possible for your blog’s visitors to do exactly what you want them to do.

That simple, super-effective tip on putting your feed icon high up in your sidebar is usability at work. So is putting social media buttons at the bottom of your posts. So is putting popular posts in your sidebar. In fact, some of the coolest, simplest things you can do to get more subscribers, links and loyal readers come from usability.

Setting aside an hour or two to re-arrange your layout with usability in mind will pay long-term dividends for your blog’s growth. Here are my top 5 tips to help you get started.

#1 — Be predictable

When we want to know what a site is about, the first thing we look for is an ‘About’ page.

When we want to contact the owner of a site, the first thing we look for is a ‘Contact’ page.

When we want to leave a comment, we usually look to the bottom of a post.

When we want to subscribe to a blog, we look for the subscribe button at the top of its sidebar.

These things are so common that they’ve become standards — things we expect. When we can’t find the standard, we look for the next most similar thing.

By adhering to these predictable standards you’re actually making it as easy as possible for your blog’s visitors to do exactly what you want them to do. Sometimes being predictable is not a bad thing!

#2 — Be obvious

Look down at your keyboard and you’ll probably be able to spot at least one key that you’ve never noticed before, either because you have no need for it or you don’t know what it does. It could be the most useful key ever, but our hesitation when confronted with the unknown has probably stopped you ever pressing it before. What if it deletes everything you just wrote?

We don’t like not knowing what the result of our actions will be, and so it goes with your blog. Non-obvious links and buttons will very rarely be clicked. In my experiments with private advertising, there can be as much as an 800% difference in click-through rates between ambiguous banners and ones which make it obvious where the reader will be taken when they click on it. Scour your blog and ask this question of every element: would a new visitor know what this does, or where it leads?


Photo by Davichi

#3 — Subtract the unimportant

By hiding important elements (your most popular posts, your feed icon, your comment button) amongst a dozen other unimportant things (widgets and recent comments) you’re making it harder for readers to do what is truly important to you.

#4 — Limit options

A category list with 10 categories is a lot more usable than a list with 50 categories. Too many options creates overload which leads to deferral: a visitor will not engage with that element at all. Your list of 5 most popular posts will get clicked more than your list of 20, and so on. Simplified options make it easier for the visitor to decide where they want to place their attention. Too much choice will actually hurt your blog’s usability.

#5 — Do the little things

A usable blog, aside from the above, is also made-up of many little touches that make your visitor’s browsing experience easier.

  1. Does your header image link back to your main page?
  2. Does your blog have an about page?
  3. Does your blog have a contact page?
  4. Do your headlines match with your content?
  5. Is it clear where your links will lead?
  6. Do you use frequent paragraphs in your posts?
  7. Do you have comment links at the bottom of your post?
  8. Do you use sub-headings?
  9. Are your posts less than 2/3 screen length wide?
  10. Are you making your best posts easily accessible?
  11. Are your links easy to pick out?

Points to review

  • Predictability is a good thing for usability.
  • Be creative with your posts, but obvious in your layout elements.
  • Subtract obstacles to your most wanted actions.
  • Simplify options to make your elements easier to use.
  • Pay attention to little touches that your visitors will find useful.

Five Blogging Rules to Make a Great First Impression

Guest Post: Andy Beal is co-author of Radically Transparent: Monitoring and Managing Reputations Online and a recognized expert in online reputation management.

When someone first discovers your blog, it’s much like that awkward first date. Will they like your appearance, do they find you interesting, and did you remember to brush your teeth? As a blogger, your goal is to demonstrate that you’re worthy of a second date and perhaps even marriage–or at least worth subscribing to your RSS feed.

To convince your readers that you’re worth their effort, you need to make a great first impression. Your blogging reputation may not proceed you, but there are five rules that every blogger should follow–if you want to make a great first impression and grow your audience.

Rule 1: Dress Your Blog to Impress

That free WordPress theme you’re using on your blog might be enough to impress a few readers, but if it’s the same theme used by dozens of other blogs, you’ll blend into the crowd. Just as you’d consider a new suit a great investment for impressing your date, you should consider a custom design a great investment for your blog.

When I first started MarketingPilgrim.com, I used a really bad off-the-shelf theme. Two years ago, I invested in a custom designed WordPress theme. Did it help me dress to impress? Within one month of launching the new design I doubled the number of RSS subscribers and attracted new advertisers–which more than paid for the cost of the theme.

Rule 2: Mind Your Blog Language

Blogging lends itself well to a casual attitude. What does it matter if you don’t spell-check your post? Why worry if you happen to insert an expletive here or there? Well, if you were to turn-up to your first date and subsequently cuss throughout dinner, or utter sentences such as “I is very smart,” what do you think you chances would be of getting a second date?

You should understand that the voice and style you use in your blog posts, reflects on your blogging reputation. Whether you’re hoping to land that new job, attract new advertisers, or just want to increase the number of people that link to you posts, you’ll be judged by what you say in your blog posts.

Rule 3: Always Bring a Gift

If you want to make a great first impression, bring a gift on your date. Likewise, if you want to build your reputation as blogger, you should shower your readers with gifts. Now, I don’t mean you have to give away an iPod every week–although I’ve certainly gained readers with such promotions–but you can give them ideas, tips, and insight that they can’t find anywhere else.

While it might feel unnatural to be so giving, you need look no further than ProBlogger as a great example of giving away the farm, in order to build your blogging reputation. Have you ever known Darren to hold back? Do you ever get the sense he’s not spilling all the beans? Nope, me neither. Darren’s tens of thousands of daily readers proves that having a reputation as a “giving” blogger will make you the hottest date in town!

Rule 4: Listen as Much as You Talk

Do you know what happens if you spend your entire date talking about yourself? You don’t get a second date! The same is true with your blog. Sure, your readers want to hear your advice, thoughts, and opinions, but you’ll build your reputation as a blogger by learning to listen to them.

I know what you’re thinking: “readers are free to leave their comments.” Whoopdedo! Do you actually read their comments? How about responding to them? I make a point of reading every comment left on my blog. If a reader has taken the time to share their thoughts, you might just learn something from them. Go one step further and engage them in a conversation, and you’ll build a reputation of being a fantastic blogger.

Rule 5: Don’t Let the Flame Burn Out

What do you think would happen if you went on a dozen great dates, then didn’t phone the object of your affection for two months? Do you think they’d readily come back to you? So why would you blog consistently for a month, then not update you blog for 8 weeks?

You don’t have to be as prolific in your posting as Darren–who can?–but you should be consistent in your posting. You readers will become comfortable with the frequency of your posting. If you post once a day–or once a month–they’ll get used to that schedule. Stick to it! Nothing kills a romance faster than ignoring your amore’s phone calls, and nothing kills your blogging reputation faster than going quiet without an explanation.

Of course, like a romantic relationship, blog relationships take more than just making a great first impression. In Radically Transparent, we discuss how you can use a blog to build a stellar reputation and my sincere thanks to Darren for his generosity in sharing his advice for the book. Such benevolence is part of the reason ProBlogger is the most eligible bachelor in the blogosphere!

5 Killer Ways to Improve your Writing Right Now

Improve Your Blog Writing with this post written by Rob Siders from 52 Novels.

5 killer ways to improve your writing right now

One of the hallmarks of producing great content for your blog is writing it so it sounds natural, the way it would if we were chatting with each other over a coffee.

I know. I’m not the first person to say this, so the advice won’t sound all that fresh. But the fact is, writing this way enraptures your audience. You’ll have them begging to know what comes next.

And, after all, isn’t that the purpose of a sentence? To get people to read what comes next?

I’m a technical writer and editor at my day job. I’m writing my second novel in my free time. I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember, and over the years I’ve learned some things that never fail to punch up my prose.

Junk unnecessary words

This staple of Strunk and White’s ELEMENTS OF STYLE is, perhaps, the best piece of advice I have to share. I put it number one for a reason.

But how do you know which words are unnecessary?

A quick and dirty way is to look for all of the thats. You can jettison most of them.

Then take a look at the fluff. Strike any copy if it:

  • Doesn’t add anything substantial.
  • Won’t change the work’s meaning or tone.

Remember: You’re writing for others as much as — if not more than — you’re writing for yourself.

If you’d skip over something, you better believe someone else will, too.

Make it active

Thank ol’ Mrs. Anderson for this one.

Mrs. Anderson was my seventh grade English teacher who insisted the class adhere to every motherlovin’ grammar rule… no matter how archaic. Or stupid.

As as result, everyone learned to write dreadful passive prose. I don’t know about you, but I’ve seldom met a passive sentence I liked.

Chances are good you’ve got a Mrs. Anderson in your past, too. Exorcise that demon’s teaching immediately.

Examples of passive sentences:

The awards presentation this year will be emceed by Wink Martindale.

My daughter was given a turtle by my sister-in-law.

Notice how the subjects of the sentences are receiving the action? Blech.

Here’s how to fix them:

Wink Martindale will emcee this year’s awards presentation.

My sister-in-law gave a turtle to my daughter.

Here, the sentence subjects are performing the actions.

Subjects — not to mention your readers — yearn for action. Don’t disappoint them.

Forget your adverbs here

Adverbs suck the life out of magnificent nouns and adjectives. In fact, there’s nothing an adverb can do that the right noun or adjective can’t do better by themselves.

Bob admitted he liked women with slightly curvy figures.

Don’t softpedal this, Bob. Tell us you like voluptuous women. Tell us you like women with va-va-voom. “Slightly curvy” just doesn’t cut it.

Before you publish your copy, be sure to look for the words ending in -ly. It’s a safe bet they can go. You might even have to rewrite a few things.

Just be sure your meaning isn’t warped when you do remove your adverbs.

Read it out loud

My wife makes fun of me when she hears me reading my fiction. She claims it’s because I like to fawn over the sound of my own words.

She’s only half right. :-P

The other half is that my writing doesn’t always sound in my head the way it does when it’s spoken. What rings near perfect on the page sometimes doesn’t come across natural at all. “That just doesn’t sound real,” I say to myself.

Because blogging is about conversations, our posts have to sound real, too.

Take a few minutes to read what you’ve written aloud. You’ll find it’s a lot different when it passes through your ears first.

Bonus: You’ll also come across repeated words, incomplete thoughts, clumsy construction, misspellings, and host of other goofs you won’t wanna see in print. You’re welcome.

Vary, vary, vary

I hesitated giving this one up. It comes deep from within the fiction writer’s trunk full of magic.

So deep I could get blacklisted.

Have to turn in my keyboard.

Forever.

I hope you see where this last one’s headed.

No matter what anyone tells you, there aren’t many rules when it comes to writing. The only one I know of that’s hard and fast is, “Never start a sentence with a comma.

That said, changing the pace, gravity, and tone of your posts is often as simple as varying sentence and paragraph lengths. English composition teachers say, “Each paragraph should have a thesis, and each sentence in the paragraph should support the thesis. Each sentence needs a subject, verb, and blah blather blah.”

Whatever.

Each sentence should keep the reader, you know, reading. If that means you get creative with the rules, then by all means…

Do it.

Rob Siders is a writer living in Denver, Colo. He blogs about reading, writing, technology, and books at 52 Novels.