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How to Write Posts That Set StumbleUpon on Fire

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

Since yesterday, StumbleUpon has sent me around 20,000 page views. It’s the single biggest referrer for both my blogs, despite one of them having been on the Digg front page three times! You could say that StumbleUpon traffic (and lots of it) is one of the main reasons I’ve been lucky enough to become a pro blogger.

In this post, I want to share all the trade secrets I’ve learned about how to craft posts that set StumbleUpon on fire. These are tips and ideas I use on a daily basis to get anywhere between a few hundred and a few thousand (or more) StumbleUpon visitors every day.

I should note before we start that, while StumbleUpon use is heavier in some niches than others, these principles should help you to tap into SU traffic regardless of whether you’re blogging about blogging or Mexican walking fish. SU is arguably the most powerful promotional tool niche bloggers can use.

Learn the new rules

Your efforts will be hampered if you try to write posts to appeal to social media ‘in general’. Each service likes certain types of content and dislikes others. Digg likes mass appeal. Del.icio.us likes anything its users like, but an item won’t go popular unless the source page gets thousands of hits.

If you’re in a niche without mass appeal, SU can help you where the other services won’t. Digg’s categories are deliberately broad to avoid diluting its power to send waves of traffic. StumbleUpon’s categories can be much more specific. While the traffic is not always as targeted as you’d like, it’s still much more targeted than Digg’s.

This also fundamentally changes the way you approach ‘writing for social media’ when you’re writing for StumbleUpon. You no longer have to worry about pleasing everyone. In fact, sticking within the confines of your niche — even if it’s a small one — can mean the difference between badly targeted traffic vs. highly targeted traffic.

My first piece of advice on writing SU optimized content is to write posts for your target market, not for the many. This increases the chances that your post will be submitted to a more specific category yielding better targeted traffic.

Stumble no-go zones

Before I discuss the types of content that tend to do well on StumbleUpon, it’s worth outlining a few types of posts that rarely go popular on the service. I’m not suggesting that you cut out these content types, but it might be worth thinking about how you can make them more attractive to StumbleUpon.

  • Weekly link round-ups. One solution is to change your link round up to a weekly themed resource list.
  • News. Time-sensitive content is favored by Digg and Reddit, but StumbleUpon will generally only pick up timeless content. If it’s not going to be relevant in a month, it’s probably not going to get Stumbled much.
  • Posts that don’t make sense out of context. If your post doesn’t make sense without context it probably won’t get picked up by SU. Potential voters know that the visitors they send won’t ‘get’ your post.
  • Short, breezy posts. A short, value-packed post can do well on StumbleUpon, but breezy content without pithy tips is usually bypassed.
  • Posts that don’t sell themselves properly. New visitors don’t have much patience. If your mind-bending, life-changing post takes 500 words to really get going, your loyal readers will probably love it, but StumbleUpon will yawn. The value inside your post should be made clear as soon as possible.
  • Overly personal posts. Sorry personal bloggers, but this one is tough. If you’ve ever re-told a story about a friend to someone who doesn’t know them, you’ve probably noticed that the story doesn’t entertain them nearly as much as it entertained you. Highly personal content can be met with a fanatical response from readers who know you, but your average SU visitor won’t know why they should care.

Each of these content types may have a home on your blog and not everything can be optimized for StumbleUpon. The main reason I want to share these no-go zones is so you don’t pour unnecessary effort into one of these post types, only to find that it doesn’t send the traffic and potential readers you’d hoped.

StumbleUpon traffic.
Photo by swruler9284

Stumble-friendly post types

Just as there are certain content types that rarely sizzle with SU traffic, there are certain types of content that seem to be particularly well-loved by SU users.

  • Posts that look as if they took a long time to craft. SU users respect carefully crafted content. If your post is chock full of detail, examples, images, links or otherwise looks as if it took some time to put together, they’ll generally reward your efforts.
  • Unique how-to guides and advice posts. Certain topics have been done to death, but if you can tap into something people want to learn how to do but haven’t yet been told, SU will probably reward you.
  • Unique, novel and useful resource lists.
  • Pithy posts with poignant take-home points. If you can find the right words to say something important, or think of an apt metaphor, your post is likely to be popular even if it’s quite short.
  • Visually interesting posts. Captivating images can be a lot more gripping than a wall of text. I start each post I write on my blogs with an interesting image from Flickr and this always appears in the above-the-fold area of the screen. I think this might have a big part to play in my success with SU traffic. A gripping headline and a gripping image help to draw SU visitors into each post.
  • Treasure-trove content. Posts containing cool rarities and free stuff are usually highly popular.

There are other types of content that do well, but the above represents the most common formats for blog posts that fare well on StumbleUpon.

SUO: StumbleUpon Optimization

There are a few things you can do to optimize any post for StumbleUpon.

1. The Value/Curiosity headline formula. The two most effective ways to encourage someone to read your posts is to a) promise value that will make the time-investment worthwhile or b) make them curious. For option A, pick a headline that makes your post sound unmissable. For B, pick a headline that begs an explanation. For example: What’s the scariest fish in the Amazon? Hint: It’s not the Piranha. It’s far, far worse (source). Another simple hack is to make your headlines really big and eye-catching, so they gather more attention.

2. Start with an image. Our eyes are drawn to interesting images. Once you can bring a StumbleUpon visitor’s eyes down into your post, it’s a tiny step for them to make the move into your text.

3. Sell each post. Dedicate the first paragraph of each post to making it sound like something worth reading. Tell readers what they stand to get in return for their time investment.

Strategic tips

Having a core base of active SU users who read your blog is all you need to tap into a steady stream of SU traffic. If you haven’t yet developed this core base yet, here’s what you should do:

  1. Start using StumbleUpon and voting up content from other blogs and websites in your niche.
  2. Friend those who Stumble your articles and thank them. This will start a dialog that could turn them into a loyal reader of your blog.
  3. Write about SU and encourage readers to add you as a friend.
  4. Swap Stumbles with other bloggers.
  5. Link to your SU profile on your About page.
  6. Befriend active StumbleUpon users and stumble and review some of their content if they have a blog or website. Active users command more traffic and they’re more likely to repay the favor because they’re Stumbling all the time anyway!
  7. Add a Stumble button/link under each of your posts.
  8. Add a Stumble link to your Feedflare (find it in your Feedburner control panel).

Points to review

  • When writing for StumbleUpon, focus on writing value-packed posts for your target audience. Don’t try to accommodate everyone.
  • Be mindful of the post types that tend to receive little interest on SU.
  • Remember the post types that SU loves best.
  • Practice SUO.
  • Work hard at turning active SU users into loyal readers of your blog.

Shopzilla Publisher Program – First Impression Review

Shopzilla

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been experimenting with a couple of new advertising networks and am really excited by the initial results that I’m seeing.

The first one that I want to introduce readers to is the Shopzilla Publisher Program. You won’t learn a lot about this program from it’s front page as they’re in beta and have been flying under the radar a little while they’ve developed it – but it’s a program that I think has real promise and that makes a good alternative to programs like Chitika’s eMiniMalls and WidgetBucks.

Shopzilla has been around since 1996 as a comparison shopping service. They’re a service that matches shoppers with online stores. Check out their Alexa ranking (around 2000 today) and you’ll see that they do some serious traffic. So Shopzilla has some serious experience and expertise in the online shopping space – so it makes sense that they branch out in the way that they have with their publisher program.

The best way to learn about Shopzilla is to register and to start experimenting with them but let me give you a few details so you know what you’re in for:

  • Shopzilla Publisher Program is a CPC (cost per click) model. You get paid when anyone clicks on one of the ads on your site.
  • It’s ideal for sites focussing upon products.
  • They offer a good range of ad unit sizes – although I’m hoping they expand this further.
  • They offer banner ads, ‘product pods’ (similar to Chitika eMiniMalls), custom text links (where you can link to categories, products or pages in Shopzilla), search boxes (search Shopzilla from your blog) and more.
  • Some of these ad types can be customized to different colors/design. Hopefully they’ll add this feature to all ad types soon.
  • They have a wide array of categories of products to target
  • They offer ad unit IDs to help you track each ad’s performance (think channels on AdSense)
  • They offer an API so that you can customize your ad units even further to your blog
  • They have a minimum payout of $50. Your monthly earnings will accumulate until you hit this level. Payment is via PayPal or check.

This is a beta program so it’s still having features added to it. Keep this in mind as you apply.

Also from my testing so far (and chatting to other publishers who use them) I’ve found that there is variance in payouts from category to category. Obviously these ads will perform best when you choose ads from a category that match your blog’s topic – however do experiment with different related categories to see what works best for you.

I was accepted into the program reasonably quickly (I think it took under 24 hours) however I’ve heard that at this point in their beta test that they don’t accept every application.

Let me show you some of the Shopzilla ad units (note: I’ve left them largely unaltered in terms of colors and design):

This first one is a ‘Top Search Results’ ad where I put the search term of ‘Canon Rebel’ in and used the Camera category. I was given 15 ad unit sizes and styles to choose from:

Here’s a ‘Product Pod’ – again I was given options to change the design and choose a few different ad unit sizes.

One thing you’ll notice with these ads is that the images are clickable. This is something that Chitika launched with but stopped doing (controversially) because it made the ads too clickable! This is one reason why I think Shopzilla might be a good alternative to check out.

Test it for yourself – Register for Shopzilla here.

A Secret to Finding New Subscribers for Your Blog

‘How do I find new subscribers for my blog?’

This question hits my inbox so regularly that I that I’d answer it publicly rather than retyping my answer to each person who asks – it’s a topic that is on the mind of many bloggers these days so lets tackle it head on.

I’ve written an extended entry on this topic with 11 practical suggestions at Ways to Find New RSS Subscribers for Your Blog – however there’s one ‘secret’ that I’m increasingly convinced is a key to increasing subscriber numbers on a blog.

I say ‘secret’ because it eluded me for years – although in the end it was staring me in the face.

This ‘secret’ has helped me build both of my blogs into the 40,000 subscriber range (and beyond) and it’s something I see many other bloggers using to build their blogs – sometimes strategically and sometimes intuitively.

subscribers.png

Today I want to introduce this secret and then over the next few days I want to follow it up with some practical tips on how to use it in practice.

At the hear of what I want to talk about is a simple question:

Why do People Subscribe to Feeds?

I am sure there are numerous reasons that people subscribe to a blogs feed – however in most cases they simple truth is that they subscribe for one obvious yet powerful reason:

they think that the blog might produce content that they’ll want to know about at some point in the future.

As I say – this is a simple (and very obvious) truth – but it is actually a secret to building RSS subscriber numbers and it’s worth repeating.

People will subscribe to your blog if they think that it will enhance their lives in some way in the foreseeable future.

Ponder that for a few moments before reading on…..

Perhaps instead of asking ‘how can I get people to subscribe to my blog’ a better question to ask is:

‘how can I convince people that I will write something tomorrow, next week or next month that they just can’t miss out on.’

This ‘secret’ of building your subscriber numbers to your blog is to create a sense of anticipation in those who visit your blog. Build this and you’ll find people seek out ways to track with you rather than you having to find ways to shove your means of anticipation down their throats.

How to Create Anticipation on a Blog

My hypothesis is that creating a sense of anticipation among your readers increases the chances that they’ll subscribe to it.

But how do you do it?

This is where I create a little anticipation of my own and let you know that I’m going to unpack this further tomorrow when I’ll give you some practical tips on how to create anticipation on your blog. (update: here’s my next two posts in this series -how to build anticipation on your blog and more on how to build anticipation on your blog).

In the mean time – some questions for discussion:

  • How do you build anticipation on your blog?
  • How have you seen others do it effectively?

Feel free to share specific examples if you’ve got them.

Subscribe to my feed to get notified of my next post in this series.

update: Read the next post in this series at How to Create a Sense of Anticipation on Your Blog and a followup post with More On How to Build Anticipation on Your Blog.

13 Questions to Ask Before Publishing a Post On Your Blog

questions
1. What was the main point of this post? have I made it clearly?

2. What do I want readers of this post to do? have I led them to this action?

3. Have I written something useful?

4. Have I written something unique?

5. Has what I’ve written taken me closer or further away from my blog’s goals?

6. Have I used a title that draws people into my post?

7. Are my spelling and grammar correct?

8. Could I have said it more succinctly?

9. Have I credited sources of quotes and inspiration?

10. Have I written something previously that relates to this post that I could link to? has someone else?

11. Have I left room for my readers to add something to this post? have I invited them to?

12. What keywords will people search Google for on this topic? have I optimized this post for those words?

13. How could I follow this post up with another that extends it?

Image by Elín Elísabet

A Reality Check about Blogging for Money

Reality Check

Last week’s article in the Wall Street Journal revealed that my blog earnings are in excess of $250,000 per year (a very ballpark figure).

The problem with these type of articles is that they report in a few words just one element of a story – in this case my earnings.

While it’s true that I have built my blogging to a point where I’m able to earn good money blogging there are many things that an article like the one in the WSJ didn’t (and couldn’t) mention about how I was able to build my blogging up to this point.

The impact of this missing ‘back story’ is that much of the reality of blogging for money goes unseen by those looking at blogging as a potential income stream – leading some to naively enter into blogging with false expectations.

Of course when these expectations are not met things can get ugly with disappointment and anger being a common reaction. What disappoints me as a blogger writing on this topic is that I regularly see other bloggers feeding their readers with hype and false hopes about how easy it is to make big money from blogging. This only adds to the distance between their reader’s expectations and the reality of blogging for money.

The Reality of Blogging for Money

So what is the reality of building up one’s blogging to a point where they can make a full time living blogging?

Here are five facts that I’d like to share about my own story to give a more realistic picture to those considering getting into blogging as a way to make a living.

1. It takes a concerted long term effort

I have been blogging for five years. The first year was not for money in any way (although I learned a lot about blogging in that year) and the next two I worked 2-3 jobs at a time (and was studying part time) while I built my blogging up from a hobby, to part time job to a full time venture (more on my story here).

I’m often asked things like – ‘I need to make $xxxx in the next few months – how would you do it with a new blog?’

The average age of blogs in the Technorati Top 100 was over 3 years when I last surveyed it – while the occasional blogger has a fast rise to frame they are the exception. Building a successful blog takes a long time (it takes time to build readership, to work out how to monetize it etc) so take a long term approach and pace yourself.

2. It takes luck

I won’t speak for other bloggers but in my case I was very fortunate on many fronts. I started blogging at a good time (it was a lot less crowded and competitive back then).

  • I stumbled on making money from blogs quite accidentally
  • I started my first money making blog on the spur of the moment and picked a topic (digital
  • photography) without knowing what I was doing – but for the time it was right)
  • I met the right people at the right time
  • Bigger bloggers discovered me at opportune times

The lucky list could go on – but I was very lucky. Of course some people ‘make their own luck’ and to some extent I agree with this – there are ways to increase your chances of being lucky – but some of it is outside your hands. Sometimes the luck comes and sometimes it doesn’t.

3. It takes a lot of work

There’s been a lot of talk lately about how blogging less can mean more from your blog (example 1 and example 2). While I agree with this – that doesn’t mean you can just come up with a few posts on a whim every few days and expect the traffic (and money) to come rolling in. Over the last 3 years I’ve consistently worked 40-60+ hour weeks on my blogging. At one point I was posting 20-30 posts per day (mainly news related posts back then). Most bloggers that make a full time living from blogging work corresponding hours on it.

4. Many don’t make much money blogging

I’ve often used the analogy of Professional sports people to highlight that in any ‘game’ there are many who play it – less who make a little money from the game, even less who are able to earn a living from it (just) and just a small group who make big money from it. The same is true for bloggers. I’ve run many polls here at ProBlogger on how much people are earning from the medium (eg) and on every single occasion they reveal that the vast majority of bloggers are making very little per month. While it is possible to make amazing money from blogging the sad reality is that most don’t make more than pocket money. Even some blogs who ‘deserve’ to make money blogging don’t.

5. It’s hard

One thing that I’ve found to be common with when I had small/new blogs and now having blogs that are doing reasonably well is that in both instances it can be really hard to keep them going. The pressure to keep coming up with fresh ideas, to respond to critique of others, to deal with jealousy when others do well and more can be difficult to deal with. On some levels it gets easier to deal with as your blog grows – but on other levels the demands that you face from a larger readership can at times be overwhelming. Most bloggers that I know (big and small) have at one point or another been close to giving up – I know I have.

Feeling Depressed?

I don’t want to put a downer on those of you wanting to take your blogs to a level where you could make good money from blogging – the fact is that it is possible and and increasing number of people are making a part time or full time living from the medium – but I do think it’s important to have a realistic picture before getting into blogging for money.

While some bloggers do talk about blogging as a way to make quick money I’ve not had that experience myself. Perhaps others do get rich quick from blogging – but I’ve not met any successful bloggers who’ve told me that yet.

Reality Check 2

Aweber – a First Impression Review

In this post I give a first impression review of Aweber.

Building a newsletter list has been a central part of my blogging business over the last few years. While my blogs are the primary tool that I use to communicate with readers – I find that having a newsletter list helps me to reach new audiences and drive people to my blogs (I’ve written about some of the other reasons that I use email newsletters here).

Until recently I used Zookoda to do this. Of course they’ve had some serious problems over the last few months which led me to ‘un-recommend’ them. Their problems led them to suspend services completely.

This presented me with a big problem – I had built up lists of over 60,000 people to my blogs – yet had no way to communicate with them.

Luckily through posting about my Zookoda woes I was contacted by a number of other email services with offers of help. I looked into each one but ended up choosing to move my lists to Aweber.

While some of the other services were free I’ve become a little wary of the free service after Zookoda and coupled with the many recommendations by readers who have had good experiences with Aweber I decided to go in that direction.

I began the process of transferring the lists over from my Zookoda list to my Aweber list a number of weeks ago. This process has not been a quick one (Aweber have some procedures in place to safeguard themselves from spammers importing massive lists of email that were not obtained ethically) but my overall experience has been positive.

My First Newsletter with Aweber

This culminated in me sending out an email last night to my DPS list (just under 30,000 subscribers). You can see the newsletter in it’s HTML version here (they also let you send a plain text email for those who prefer them).

The results of sending this first email were fantastic.

  • The % of emails that were delivered was significantly higher
  • The numbers of emails opened and clicked on was also higher as a result of more emails getting through

More important than either of those factors to me was the flood of emails that I had this morning from DPS readers saying that they’d not been getting emails for months and were so glad that they were back. I never realized the extent of the problems with deliverability that Zookoda had been having.

Aweber Features that I Love

In terms of features – Aweber has some great ones.

You can use it in a variety of ways – either as an autoresponder, in ‘broadcast’ mode (which is what I’m doing to send out weekly newsletters) or in ‘blog broadcast mode’.

This ‘blog broadcast’ tool is similar to what Zookoda offered in that it allows you to send out posts appearing in your RSS feed via email automatically (Feedburner and Feedblitz also do this). They just updated it today so that you can send these posts out in a variety of ways (for example you can have it send it out on certain days of the week or month and specify times that you want them to go out).

Other tools that Aweber offers which attracted me to it include

  • a much wider array of options when it comes to personalizing emails
  • to be able to set up auto-responder lists (I’m toying with the idea of a ‘photography for beginners’ list that sends out daily tips from the archives on the site)
  • comprehensive reports
  • a good range of templates in terms of design
  • great customer service (I’ve used the live chat service a couple of times and have found responses to emails have been very quick from the person handling my account)
  • the ability to include (and track the performance of) ads in newsletters

There are so many features in Aweber that it’s a little overwhelming at first. I’ve still got a lot to learn about what it’s capable and am discovering new things that I can use daily. Luckily they have some good training materials which have been a big help.

Cost – Can’t I get this for Free?

Aweber is a paid service. They charge a flat monthly fee ($19.95 or less if you pay quarterly, annually) which includes your first 10,000 subscribers and then they charge an additional $9.95 per month per 10,000 subscribers. This includes as many email messages and lists as you want to create.

This isn’t cheap (when you compare it with a free service at least) and at first I balked at it – however as I researched the options it actually was significantly less than what a lot of other services were charging for similar features. After my experience with a free service that didn’t perform brilliantly I realized that if I wanted to take my email newsletters to the next level then I’d have to be willing to pay for it.

I’m glad I did this – the extra traffic that I’ve driven to the site in the last 12 hours (combined with the sales from the affiliate program ad that I included in it) will pay for my use of Aweber fairly quickly.

I’m just a few weeks into using this tool – but so far I am incredibly happy with my choice to switch to Aweber.

Paying for this type of service will not be for everyone. As I’ve mentioned – there are free tools that send newsletters, convert RSS to email etc. If all you want to do is convert RSS to email then I’d probably stick with Feedburner or Feedblitz (in fact to this point I am still using Feedburner for this) however if you’re looking for a dedicated newsletter service and your long term goal is to grow your list into something that is central to your business then I’d encourage you to consider researching the options and going with a professional grade service. I wish I’d done this earlier as switching from one service to another does require some effort and coordination.

Do you use email newsletters as part of your blogging? What services have you tried?

Dear AdSense, You Broke My Heart – An Open Letter to AdSense

Broken-HeartAdSense have sent publishers using the AdSense referral program who live outside of the US, Canada and Japan an email confirming that the program will be retired as of 31 January (published below). The email came from a ‘noreply’ email address – so publishers have no way of feeding back their response.

As a result I’ve decided to reply here with an Open Letter to AdSense regarding their ‘Dear John’ (breakup) letter to me. I hope you’ll indulge me while I seek a little public therapeutic release.

update – it seems AdSense read this post and had a change of heart. You can see my 2nd ‘love letter’ to AdSense here.

Dearest AdSense,

I was sorry to receive your letter today which confirmed what I’d been hearing about our relationship – ie that you don’t want to see me (or my traffic) any more.

I still remember the time you began to flirt with me. It was in February 2005 when you announced a new product – a ‘referral program’ that offered to publishers like me gifts when they sent a new customer to you. You took my breath away with the idea but as your eyes passed over me back then for not living in a place that you desired your lover to live I was saddened. I wondered why me not living across your back fence worried you so much when my traffic was mainly local to you – but I lived in hope that you’d look upon me some day.

It wasn’t like I’d have to do anything that I wasn’t already doing. I’d had a crush on your for years already and was already telling the world of how great I thought you were!

All my wishes came true on November 2005 – when your previous flirtations went a step further and we stepped out on our first date.

At first I was cautious – but when you held me in your arms and whispered sweet promises of what we could be I leapt in. I’m a little ashamed to say it – but we did more than kiss on our first date – I began to send you traffic on that first day – 17 visitors to your site and 1 ‘conversion’ – a small but significant (at least for me) token of my love for you.

It wasn’t until February 2006 that you reciprocated my love for you. I’d been sending ‘gifts’ in the shape of readers to you for months to no avail – but 2 days after Valentines day you uttered the words I’d been longing to hear…. ‘here’s 100 big ones baby’.

In May you said it again and then in June twice more. Your calls were coming with more and more frequency and I began to see more potential in our relationship.

In February 2006 you became more generous with your promises – extending the period of time that you’d accept referrals from 90 to 180 days. You added new features and designs – making it easier for me to tell everyone of you.

In October you did the unthinkable and called twice in the one day and I could hardly contain my excitement.

Darren-Larry-Serge

All the while I was telling the world of my admiration and love for you. I gave them tips on how they too could be your lover, sharing the secret insights on how you worked (things I could have kept to myself), I defended you when you seemed distant from them and I continued to send you more and more gifts.

I even set up a permanent place on my blog proclaiming my love for you as well as a whole category (with over 450 posts) on my blog dedicated to breaking your news, sharing tips on how to work with you better and encouraging people to check you out – it’s the most popular category on my blog. Sure I did this partly because I wanted to win your favor and get the gifts you promised – but it was also partly because I believed in you and appreciated what you’d done for me and others like me.

In February of last year you again whispered sweet nothings in my ear and generously updated your promises to me. You gave more incentive to send you smaller lovers to you but also dangled a large reward before me to send more and more lovers your way.

I increased my efforts to please you and the results were amazing.

You began to call and say the words that I loved to hear (‘here’s 5 big ones’ or ‘here’s 250 big ones baby’) more and more. There were weeks when you called almost everyday and I began to wonder where all of this was leading!

As someone so loyal to you I had half wondered if there might be special privileges one day set aside for me. I’d heard of others who’d been given more personal attention and who had been invited to get access to your palace…. perhaps one day you’d notice the efforts that I’d put in to win your affection and build something that you might find worthy of acknowledgement….

Sure I’ve taken other lovers at times. You might not want to hear it but seeing as we’re being hones, some of them even even were more generous than you in what they offered me – however you were my first love and I’ve always had a special place in my heart for you and so despite your gifts being a little small in the size department I continued to proclaim my love for you.

The big ‘reward‘ for sending many lovers in a 180 day period has been so tantalizingly close over the past few months. Surely you’ve noticed how hard I’ve been working to share with the world my love for you.

And then last week I began to hear rumors about you. People began to say that you’d changed – that something was wrong. The news began to filter out and then you broke the news on your blog. Oh I wish I’d heard it directly from you so that we could talk about it – but I guess you wanted everyone to know at once.

It seems that the gifts that I send you are not of the type that I want – for some reason because of where I live. Once again the fact that I’m not living over your back fence seems to be something you can’t get over.

The gifts I send you are largely local to you, I’ve sent thousands of them over the last two and a half years. While I’m sure others have sent more – I know that many hundreds of them have converted for you. You’ve taken thousands of lovers upon my recommendation.

When I heard the news late last week I was shocked. Then I was hurt. Then I felt taken for granted. Then I felt insulted. Then I was angry.

I got lots of sympathy from others about it – but it seems my that nothing has changed in your mind because today I received your letter.

  • You are still hung up on my location – despite my relevant traffic and audience who lives in your backyard.
  • You say that the gifts I sent you that still convert in the next 180 will no longer count after 31 January. You will profit from our relationship for many years – yet you cut me off with 3 weeks notice.
  • You apologize for my inconvenience again but your apology feels empty after years of me declaring my love for you.

You seem to want to remain friends – your letter suggests that other programs might convert better for someone in my ‘region’ – but you don’t seem to understand that I don’t want to dance with others.

Those other programs have no relevance to my audience – and to be honest I’ve never had gifts from any of them. You’re the only one for me – or so I thought.

I’m sorry to see our relationship end. I’ve danced publicly with and for you for years and now this – a slap in the face.

The time has come for the dancing to stop. I don’t want it to – you see I think you’re really great. But unrequited love has a habit of turning ugly in time – so it’s probably best I step away from the dance floor like you’ve asked me to.

I’ll still talk about you – after all I want to help my readers and continue to provide relevant information for them – but I can’t guarantee quite the same warmth in my voice when I do while I’m feeling like I do. That’s not a threat – it’s just the way life is when you break up I guess.

I’m not sure what else to say. I know there’s little that I can do to change your mind – but I guess I wanted you to know how I feel. I do look back on some of the times we’ve had with fondness – but I guess it’s time to say goodbye.

Darren Rowse
ProBlogger.net

Thanks to directeur from xhtml-css.com for the help with the image.

Following is the email sent by AdSense to ‘international’ publishers earlier today:

Hello,

We are writing to share some important information with you about
referrals to the AdSense product. As part of ongoing efforts to
optimize revenue opportunities for our publishers, we’re
constantly experimenting with new revenue-enhancing features as
well as tweaking those products already available to our
publishers. This is the case for referral units directing visitors
to sign up for AdSense. After experimenting with this program
over the past year, we’ve concluded that there are other products
that are of higher value than this program to publishers in your
region. As a result, referral units for the AdSense program will
be retired in the coming weeks. Referrals to other products and
services remain unaffected.

If you’re currently displaying referral units on your site
directing users to sign up for AdSense, read on below for details
about what to expect in the coming weeks.

In early January, the option to add referral units directing users
to the AdSense product will no longer appear in your account. You
will continue to accrue earnings for all existing referrals yet to
generate $100 until late January, at which point the program will
be fully retired. Existing referral units will continue to appear
on your pages.

By the end of January, you should remove all referral units
directing users to AdSense from your pages. Referral units
that you do not remove will continue to be displayed on your pages
as normal, but conversions will no longer be recorded. We
suggest you replace the AdSense referrals with referrals to
another product or service or an additional ad unit.

How to Run a Successful Competition on Your Blog

Blog-CompetitionYesterday I shared some of the costs and beefits of running a competition on your blog. I ended that post by asking:

“So how does one run a competition on their blog that brings more benefits than it costs?”

In this post I want to walk you through everything I know (and I mean everything) about running a successful competition on your blog – from setting objectives, finding prizes, running the competition and more.

Get Your Objectives Right

If there’s one tip that you need to take away from this post it is to get the objectives of your competition right before you even begin to design it.

What do you want to get out of your competition?

The answer to this question will shape everything from the prizes you offer, to the rules of the competition, to the length of the competition.

Speaking generally, there are two types of focusses that you might want to have:

  1. Internal Focus – this is where you focus upon the readers you already have and include rewarding loyal readers, increasing pages viewed per visit, drawing RSS readers into the blog, increasing reader participation etc
  2. External Focus – this is where you focus upon readers who you don’t already have – ie drawing new readers into your blog, increasing the amount of links pointing at your blog from other sites, building your RSS subscriber numbers etc

While it is possible to have a competition that achieves objectives in both of these areas – I find that the most successful blog competitions have a primary focus of one or the other. The main reason for this is that a competition that wants to draw new readers into a blog will need to be promoted in a different sort of way to a competition focussed upon regular readers.

For example - if your primary objective is to find new readers – you won’t want to run a competition like I currently did over the weekend that asked people to leave a comment to enter. This type of competition is squarely aimed at rewarding regular readers and increasing their participation on the blog. A competition to draw new readers into a blog would need to have more of an external focus and possibly would involve readers doing something more ‘viral’ in nature to help me promote it.

One last note on objectives – I think it’s worth mentioning that competitions with external objectives tend to be both harder work and more risky. They require more planning and ground work as you need to force yourself off your blog into new audiences. The risk is that if you’re unsuccessful at drawing people in you could either leave yourself with unhappy sponsors (they are looking for exposure) or leave yourself holding the bill for a prize.

Prizes

There are many ways you can go with prizes (more than I can handle in this post alone) but let me throw a few tips at you:

Sponsor vs Self Funded - there are pros and cons of both having a sponsor supply your prize/s or doing it yourself. This will partly depend upon your budget and your blog’s profile. In the early days of my blogs I generally will fund my own prizes (smaller ones to start with) but work my way up to going with sponsors. If you choose to fund the prize yourself, be realistic about what the competition will bring you. One thing to consider is starting with a small prize and then adding another if the competition really takes off. Changing the rules by increasing the prize is not going to phase anyone who enters – but downgrading the prize from a big one to a small one won’t do anything to help your credibility.

Finding Sponsors - I’ve used two methods to find sponsors – both have worked out for me. Firstly I tend to announce that I’m looking for sponsors on my blog a week before I run the competition. Even on a smaller to medium sized blog this can draw out some good opportunities – you might be surprized who is reading your blog. The other method is to directly approach sponsors with a request for a prize. I’m always surprized how effective this is – particuarly with sponsors who have products relevant to your blog’s topic. If your blog is smaller you need to lower your expectations a little in terms of what sponsors might offer – but that’s ok – you can always grow your relationship with sponsors over time.

Get Expectations Right with Sponsors – it is extremely important when negotiating with sponsors to get their expectations of the competition aligned with yours. This can alieviate a lot of headaches for you in the long run. Some of the things you might want to outlign indlude:

  • the prize – get a good description and the value in writing
  • deliverability – are they covering costs of delivering prizes , will they ship internationally, how will this be handled?
  • benefits to them – what will they get in return. How many posts will they be mentioned in, how many links will this entail, how many readers will see these posts (your normal readership as a minimum).
  • active promotion – will you be endorsing them or just linking to them? What do they want you to say about them (ie get them to give you a short description of their company or a product that they want to promote).

Getting these expectations right is crucial. Never lie to a sponsor or promise what you can’t deliver.

Relevant Prizes – it’s always hard to tell which prize will be most appealing to your readership until you actually put one up – but in general I find that prizes that have some relevancy to your blog’s topic will do well. While I’ve given away some pretty irrelevant prizes on my blogs – the more closely you can match them to the reason your readers come to read your blog the more on topic you can keep your prize (this helps combat reader disillusionment).

Valuable Prizes – this probably goes without saying – but the more valuable your prizes are in the eyes of your readers the higher buyin rate you’ll get. Of course ‘value’ is something that will vary from reader to reader and is not just about monetary value (although this doesn’t hurt). I’ve found that sometimes it’s the simple prizes that get the most excitement from readers – a well chosen book for example can really get a good response. A perfect example of this is the prize I offered last weekend – a 2gb flash drive. That prize is fairly simple and something that many could go out and buy relatively cheaply – yet it drew over 200 entries in two days!

The Wow Factor - if you’re objective is external in focus (ie to build new readers) then a big and impressive prize is one way to go. For example my recent birthday competition which was a $54,000 giveaway got quite a bit of attention on other blogs and was reasonably successful at drawing in new readers. Of course going this big was risky and a lot of work – like I say, a simple giveaway can go a long way too, but is more effective for competitions with internal focus.

DIY Prizes – if you’re just starting out and don’t have any luck with getting donated prizes from sponsors you’ll need to provide your own. This can be daunting if you don’t have a large budget – but it need not. There are numerous options that you might want to consider including:

  • a cheap but highly relevant prize – as mentioned above a prize that is highly relevant to your audience can have as much impact as one that is irrelevant but expensive. Pick a new book from Amazon on a topic similar to your blogs and you’ll find that it can do quite well (bonus tip: link to it with an affiliate link and you might make a few dollars to cover the cost of the prize in commissions).
  • a service – what can you DO for people that they’d find valuable. Do you have expertise that you could offer as a prize (free consulting), do you have a resource that you’ve made that you could give away, do you have a site that you could give some free promotion on…. think outside the box a little into what you could offer a lucky reader.
  • a ‘re-gift’ – this is what I did over the weekend. The prize I gave away was given to me as a gift by AdSense late last year – but I had no real use for it – so I ‘re-gifted it’. I’ve started keeping these types of gifts in a ‘prize cupboard’ here in my office. It includes books that I’m sent to review, gifts from vendors and even a few freebies that I picked up at trade shows.

The Competition

The actual competition that you run on your blog can vary quite a bit and will largely depend upon the objectives that you’ve chosen for it.

I’ve seen (and run) a variety of competitions over the years. Here’s some of them:

  • Comment Competitions – where readers enter the competition by leaving a comment. These might be any comment that they like or could have requirements (ie our consulting workshops offer a prize for the most helpful comment).
  • Subscriber Competitions – where you offer a prize or incentive to those signing up either for an RSS feed and/or newsletter.
  • Membership Competitions – similar to subscriber competitions – but prizes are offered to those who sign up for a forum or other membership area
  • Link Competitions - where you offer a prize to someone who links to you. It’s worth noting that these are risky competitions as Google has penalized some who have run them.
  • Writing Competitions - offering a prize to bloggers who write on a certain topic (for example I’ve run a variety of Group Writing Projects like my Top 5 and How to projects). These can be good for externally focussed competitions as they can have a viral element to them.
  • Treasure Hunts – where you hide clues and treasures in your archives and readers have to find them to win a prize (good for increasing page views).
  • Guess the…. Competitions - where readers need to take a guess at something (for example – I ran a ‘guess the key words that people searched for most in Google to arrive at my blog’ competition).

I’m sure you’ve seen other types of blog competitions being run – feel free to add to the list in comments.

Keep entry rules simple - what ever type of competition you choose to run, attempt to keep the rules as simple as possible. I’ve seen people run competitions where people have to jump through so many hoops to enter that the competition flopped whereas simple competitions (ie asking people to leave a comment) can generate massive responses.

Find ways to add value to your blog – good blog competitions not only give your readers something – but they add some sort of value to your blog in other ways. For example, when the community consulting workshops that we’ve been running here at ProBlogger offer the chance to win an iPod to readers that add helpful comments to the consulting posts. The quality of comments that have been written are significant and add a lot of value to this blog.

Don’t Change the Rules - I have seen a number of bloggers hurt their reputations by changing the rules of a competition mid-stream. While I understand the reasons behind it (for example if there are not as many entries as expected) those who have entered the competition with one set of rules can become disillusioned if you then change things. The only time you might want to consider changing the rules is if the competition has more success than you’d expected and you want to increase the number or value of prizes.

Choose a period for the competition carefully - the length that your competition runs is important. If you go for a long competition (a month) you increase the chances of participation – but also could frustrate readers who get sick of you posting about it. Choose a competition that is too short (or at the wrong time of the week) and you’ll have readers who miss it completely. There is no single ideal length for a competition – but you should consider the implications of your choices. One hint I’d give is to map out how the competition will run in advance. When will you make posts about it (ie when will you launch it, how many posts will you make during the competition, when will you close it off, when will you draw prizes, when will you announce winners). Mapping it out in this way helps you to see how many posts you’ll make which can help you see how much the competition will dominate your blog during it’s duration.

Lighten Your Load over the Duration of the Competition – depending upon your blog’s size and the requirements that you have for people to participate – you’ll need to find more time during a competition to administer it. I generally either choose periods that I have less on or lighten my load on a week that I have a competition running. Freeing up this time can help a lot.

Keep Normal Posts Flowing – it is really important that during a competition you continue to post ‘normal’ content on your blog. Regular readers will enjoy the competition – but not if it’s at the expense of what they’ve subscribed for, your best content. I attempt to keep my normal posting frequency up during a competition (the competition posts are not included in this) and will often write some of these posts in advance to ensure that I have quality content over that period.

Promoting Your Competition – if your competition is all about your regular readers then you probably don’t need to do much more than post about it to get people participating. However, if your competition has more external objectives then it’s important that you think about how you’ll promote it.

New readers will not hear about your competition if all you do is post about it on your blog. A few suggestions on promoting your competitions:

Take if Off Your Blog – include something in the ‘rules’ of the competition where those who participate need to do something off your blog (and on their own) to enter. A good example of this is a ‘Group Writing Project‘ type post where they write their entry on their own blog. Be a bit careful on these though that you don’t force people to link to you as part of their entry as you can get in trouble with Google. I find that a large % of people naturally link up in these. The benefit of this is that your competition suddenly is being exposed to not only your blog’s readers but the readers of readers. This of course works best when you have a blog which is read by other bloggers (not for everyone).

Big Prizes – I’ve already mentioned the power of ‘wow prizes’. Impressive prizes can really draw people in – although with more and more blog competitions happening I suspect people are becoming a little immuned to this. However a unique prize that is worth talking about in and of itself could also be another way to go.

Promote to Other Blogs – promote your competition to other blogs in your niche. Email other bloggers that you have relationships with to let them know what you’re doing. Also – if there’s some way of involving the other blog/blogger you can increase your chances of them linking (for example – ask them to be a judge and promote their participation).

Do Something Out of the Blue That Will Make People Talk – how about running a competition that is out of the blue and that will make people talk. The problem that I see with some competitions that bloggers hold is that they’re exactly the same as what every other blogger does. While this will be ok for blogs with an internal focus, if you want to draw new readers you’ll probably have more success with a competition that is new and fresh.

Two Last Words of Advice about Blog Competitions

What I’ve written above some of what I’ve learned from running competitions on my blogs over the last few years. I would encourage you to add your own tips below as I’m only one guy sharing from my own experience – together we know a lot more.

I will finish with two points which I’ve touched upon above numerous times:

Keep it Simple - a competition can fun into trouble on numerous fronts the more complicated you make it. Every extra requirement that you make on those entering decreases the likely participation rate, every extra post you do it on it will frustrate an element of your readers and every extra hour you spend moderating and administering it will take you away from the core business of your blog (producing content and building community).

Let Your Competitions Evolve - view each competition on your blog as a learning experience. Each time you run a competition you’ll learn a little more about what works and what doesn’t work. Let these lessons shape your future competitions. Also let your prizes and participation rate build naturally. It’s OK to run a competition with a $30 prize and 30 participants the first time around. What you learn from this will hopefully enable you to run one with a $50 prize and 60 participants the next. Let things progress one step at a time.

The Costs and Benefits of Running a Competition on Your Blog

Blog-Competition‘How do I run a successful competition on my blog?’

Competitions on blogs have become increasingly common in 2007 with an increased number of high profile blogs running them. As a result many smaller to medium sized blogs are considering them also.

The problem is that a competition can actually hurt your blog if you don’t do it right. There are some serious benefits and costs of running a competition on your blog and in this post I’ll take a look at the upsides and downsides.

With the benefits and costs of running a competition in mind tomorrow I’ll publish a post that gives some practical tips on how to run a successful competition on your blog (subscribe here to ensure you get that update).

The Benefits of Blog Competitions:

The benefits of running a competition on your blog will vary depending upon the type of competition that you choose to run. However there are a number of reasons that I see bloggers running them.

1. Finding New Readers – the most common reason that I hear from bloggers running a competition on their blog is that they want to find new readers. The hope is that the lure of prizes will draw readers in and that those new readers will like what they see and stick around. While this post isn’t the place to fully discuss it – this objective is actually harder than it might seem. Simply announcing a great prize to giveaway is not enough to draw in new readers – but more of that in tomorrow’s post in this series.

2. Rewarding Loyal Readers - most blogs have readers that have been a part of a blog from the early days. I know that here at ProBlogger there are a number of long term readers that have almost religiously read every post I’ve written (a fairly impressive task since there are now 4000 posts in the archives here). It’s easy to take these readers for granted – and a competition can be a way of giving a little something back and giving the readers you already have a little incentive to keep coming back for more.

3. Increase Reader Participation – with the rise of RSS feeds as a means of following a blog it’s not uncommon for a blog to be ‘read’ mainly by people who rarely actually visit the blog (ie people who read it in News Aggregators). While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing (at least people are reading you) RSS subscribers can be a more passive audience than those who actually visit your blog as they are less likely to comment, participate in polls etc. A competition can be a good way of drawing readers into your blog to take some sort of action.

4. Increase Page Views – depending upon the type of competition that you run, it can be an avenue to increase the pages viewed by readers. Asking readers to comment to enter or sending readers on a treasure hunt through your archives to find a hidden ‘key’ are two examples of this.

5. Good ‘Buzz’ – in addition to the above benefits – there are a number of others that are difficult to put a name to – so I’ll call it ‘buzz’. I’ve found that on my most successful competitions that there’s been an increase in the general positive ‘vibe’ on a blog as readers become energized and momentum is created. This can potentially happen both on the blog (among your blog’s readership) but also off your blog (on other blogs). This buzz impacts your brand, community and can even impact your own energy levels and motivation levels.

The Costs of Blog Competitions:

While there are numerous potential benefits of running a competition on your blog – there are also a number of significant pitfalls and risks that a blogger wanting to run a competition must take into consideration:

1. ‘Costs’ outweighing the ‘Benefits’ – let me share a scenario that I have heard from a number of bloggers in the last few weeks. The blogger decides to run a competition. They put up a reasonably expensive prize out of their own pocket believing it will attract new readers to their blog, they announce the competition, just a handful of regular readers enter the competition, the blogger sees no new readers but has to shell out for an expensive prize. This scenario plays out time and time again on blogs. I’ve seen it force bloggers to ‘go out of business’ and have seen bloggers attempt to cheat their way out of the situation and give prizes to made up readers. Sometimes the investment a blogger puts into a competition can far outweigh the return on that investment. Competitions can be risky.

2. Time Management - another ‘cost’ that many bloggers fail to take into consideration before a competition is that it can be a very time consuming exercise. This is increasingly so the bigger your blog gets and the more participants you have – but even on a small blog a competition can suck up every spare second that you have. Administering sponsors, writing announcement posts, answering reader questions, moderating entries, picking winners…. all of this takes time.

3. Sponsors Problems – almost every time that I’ve run a competition I’ve raised the prizes by asking sponsors to provide them. This is good in that it means I don’t need to outlay a prize myself – however it doesn’t always go smoothly. Sometimes you’re not able to give sponsors the attention that they want, other times their expectations don’t match yours, sometimes they just disappear and winners don’t get prizes, some need more hand holding than others…. While the majority of my sponsors have been great over the years – a handful have caused problems that took both time and money to fix.

4. Distractions from Your Core Business – when you run a competition on your blog it is good to keep in mind that the competition itself is not what your blog is about. A key element of a successful blog is that it produces regular quality content on it’s topic – this is your core business and a competition has the potential to take your attention away from it by taking your time away from writing content and by the competition being mentioned too regularly in posts over too long a period. Getting the balance right between running a successful competition and running a successful blog can be tricky.

5. Reader Disillusionment – one of the costs of being distracted by a competition is that a certain percentage of your readership can become disillusioned with your blog. There are ways to combat this – but even when you manage to do everything you can, there will be some readers who won’t like competitions. The other disillusionment with readers can be among those who don’t win anything. I don’t find that this is a major factor – but you will find that some readers can become quite obsessed and demanding around competitions – particularly if you have problems with administering it in some way.

6. Bad ‘Buzz’ – in my section on the benefits of competitions on blogs I mentioned that you can get ‘good buzz’ from a competition. Similarly you can end up with bad buzz – both on your blog (among readers) and off your blog (on other blogs). A poorly administered blog can end up giving your bad publicity, hurt your reputation and end up losing you regular readers.

So how does one run a competition on their blog that brings more benefits than it costs?

I’ve probably written enough today to give those considering running a competition on their blog something to think about. So tune in tomorrow for a post exploring “HOW” to run a competition on your blog.

In the mean time – feel free to share stories of successful and unsuccessful blog competitions that you’ve run and seen others run. You’re welcome to share a link to your examples so that we can all learn by seeing how you approached it.

Image by Kaptain Kobold