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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.

How to Make Your Video Posts More Accessible to an Untapped Market of Millions

This post on making your video posts accessible to the deaf community was written by Stephen Hopson from Adversity University.

According to Technorati’s report last year, the blogosphere continues to proliferate, doubling in size every six months. Technorati is now tracking over 70 million blogs. Over 120,000 of them are created every single day – that’s about 1.4 blogs per second. On top of that, you have 1.5 million posts a day, which translates to 17 per second.

Check this out:

Slide0005
Source: State of the Blogosphere Report

Astronomical; even overwhelming, if you ask me! How does one manage to stand out in today’s fast evolving blogosphere?

Ever since I started Adversity University in the spring of 1996, I’ve read countless of articles on attracting and retaining quality subscribers, how to write authentic/inspiring articles as well as how to add visual images, to name a few. You’ve probably thought about jumping on the video bandwagon in an effort to stand out and connect with your readers. Perhaps you’ve already done so. Perhaps not.

The purpose of today’s article is to show you how easy it is to transform your videos into a visual symphony of sorts for thousands, perhaps millions of people who rely on the written word to “hear” your messages.

How?

By adding subtitles to your videos.

Would you believe that the art of subtitling is actually very easy?

And that it won’t cost you a cent?

Vast Untapped Market

According to the United States Census Bureau, there are an estimated 35 million deaf and hard of hearing people in the United States alone. You also have aging baby boomers who find themselves continually cranking up the volume of their TV sets, radios and telephones. And then you have those whose native language is not English – like most people learning a new language, they find it easier to read than speak or understand spoken English.

How about reaching out and knocking on the door of their hearts with your wisdom?

If you knew that the simple act of subtitling your videos could potentially double, triple or even quadruple the size of your blog’s community, would you want to know how to do it?

I think any serious blogger who truly wants to make a difference and reach across language barriers would at least want to consider the possibilities.

ProBlogger Plants a Powerful Seed

It is remarkable how a seemingly insignificant action or event can change entire lives. One day last year, Darren unknowingly deposited a giant seed in my mind when he launched his first video post. He was among the earliest bloggers to give this new media tool a whirl.

While I sat transfixed and watched his introductory video, I literally heard the wheels turning in my mind:

Gosh, how did he make that video?

Would it be possible to subtitle a video post without causing myself a lot of pain and frustration?

Although deaf since birth, I consider myself an expert lip-reader but there was simply no way in high heck I could harness every word Darren was saying, no matter how hard I tried. From the moment my eyes feasted upon his video, those two questions unfurled before me a compelling vision to make video blogging accessible for the masses. With razor sharp focus, I combed through the Internet like Sherlock Holmes, searching for clues.

Despite my enthusiasm, I did not immediately apply what I discovered along the way because I allowed my technical-phobias stop me from taking action. Eventually, I became a little chagrined at having boxed myself into a quandary and woke up one morning, slammed my foot on the bedroom floor and said to no one in particular:

JUST DO IT.

By golly, we have Nike to thank for inspiring us with that one!

As a result, I posted an introductory 2 minute video with subtitles at my blog last week (if you are an RSS or email subscriber, please click the title of today’s post to see it):

As you can see, there’s no need to make your first “perfect” video. Just be honest with your readers and let them know you’re still learning the ropes. They’ll forgive you. You saw how my video ended rather ungracefully. That’s because I still haven’t learned the fine art of editing – it’s on my to-do list. What had happened was that I ran out of battery power but by that point I had done about 10 retakes and knew that if I didn’t end it right then and there, I’d never go through with it. All that mattered was that I (and Darren with his) took the first step, right?

For those of you who have technical phobia, don’t worry. As much as you might want to turn and run away from this challenge, let me reassure you that I present myself as someone who has blatant disregard for user manuals simply because I have a terrible time grasping technical concepts. I don’t even have a Blackberry, never owned a pager and my VCR continues to blink 12:00. For goodness sake, you can’t get any worst than that!

In other words, don’t stress about it because if I can do it, you can too.

10 Steps to Making a Video and Then Adding Subtitles

1. You do not need to buy an exorbitantly expensive digital camcorder. What I used was a compact SONY MPEG4 Net Sharing Cam. When it first came out a year ago, it was selling for $200 but now you can get one for only $149. It comes with a CD-ROM, USB cable, AC Adapter, A/V Connecting Cable and a wrist strap. The best thing about it is that it has a rotatable viewfinder so I could see myself talking. At this point, I’m still experimenting with it. With the exception of some minor inconveniences like the trouble I first had in starting and stopping the recording process, I like it so far (I had to click the start/stop button several times to get it to do what I wanted it to do).

2. Along with the camcorder, I bought a tripod that was small enough to sit on my desk; yet capable of expanding to a larger size for when I want to stand in front of the camcorder. Compact tripods are everywhere – what you want is the one that has a removable plate to screw the SONY camcorder onto the tripod. The tripod was $20.

3. Since the internal memory of the camcorder was only 8 MB, a memory card with at least 1GB was necessary so that I could store my videos and photos. Toward that end, I purchased the Sandisk Memory Stick PRO Duo for about $28.

4. Ten retakes later (looking at the camera took getting used to), all I had to do was to connect the USB cable to the computer and download the video to a Movie Browser program that was previously installed onto my hard drive via the supplied CD-ROM.

5. I then signed up for YouTube (a breeze) and clicked the upload button. (You are asked to browse for and then select the location of your video).

6. Next, I visited Overstream, a do-it-yourself subtitling website, opened a free account and downloaded the YouTube video by filling in its URL. (Note: It also works with Google Videos if you prefer that).

7. With the help of Overstream’s very user-friendly tutorial, I was able to subtitle the video on my very first attempt. Granted, it took me 2 hours to get it just right it but it was a lot easier and more fun than I imagined it would be. Put yourself in my shoes – in order for me to do this, I had to watch the video very closely and read my own lips. Assuming that you have the ability to hear yourself speak, imagine how much easier subtitling would be for you.

8. After I was finally satisfied with the timing of the subtitles, the video was saved on Overstream’s server. You can drive yourself a little crazy here, especially if you are one of those perfectionists – at some point, you just have to stop and say, “Enough, this is the best I can do.” A pop-up box appeared, giving me a link to the embed code and a choice between small, medium and large video sizes – I went for medium.

9. For those of you who use WordPress, you probably already know how taxing it is to embed a video in a post because in order for it to work, you have to remember to first deselect the visual editor option before pasting the video code. To deselect the visual editor, click the “Users” tab within the WP Administrator Panel and then choose the “Your Profile” sub-tab. You’ll find the visual editor box on the upper portion of the page, under Personal Options.

10. Once I deselected the visual editor, I went back to the post and simply embedded the newly subtitled video.

That was it!

Now that I have shown how easy it is to create and subtitle a video, will you join me in a massive worldwide movement to make video blogging more accessible? I’d be humbled and grateful for it and so will countless of other people who rely on the written word to “hear” your video messages.

Until the next time we meet, let me wish you continued success with your blogging endeavors in 2008!

About the Author of this Post: Help and support Stephen by subscribing to his blog at Adversity University to receive inspiring articles about the power of achieving the impossible, overcoming and dealing with adversity in addition to some of the most revealing, in-depth “Stephen Hopson Interviews” of authentic bloggers. He is a former award-winning Wall Street stockbroker turned motivational speaker, author and the first deaf pilot in the world to earn an instrument rating in 2006. Read more about Stephen here.

A Tortoise’s Guide to Blogging

The following post has been written by Kaila Colbin from VortexDNA

torthare2.jpgEffortless Traffic-Building. 5 Easy Steps to Number 1. Lose Weight in Your Sleep. We’re hardwired to be tempted by shortcuts, even in the face of overwhelming evidence that they don’t work. The good news is that it’s more fun—and more gratifying—to succeed in blogging the old fashioned way. This step-by-step guide will show you how to blow by the hares and laugh all the way to the finish line.

Step 1. Remember what a blog is about.

I’ll be the first to confess that I’m obsessed with my stats. I check them several times a day; I delight in every uptick and despair at every downturn. At the end of the day, though, stats are just one way of measuring what a blog is really about: people.

That’s why artificial jumps in stats aren’t sustainable, because people and traffic are two different things. You can pay for traffic, but people define your success. Traffic doesn’t come back again and again; people do. Traffic doesn’t tell its friends; people do. Traffic doesn’t comment; people do.

Hares only worry about traffic; tortoises create blogs to serve the people who read it, with the professionalism, quality and content that they deserve.

Step 2. To make a friend, be a friend.

When you meet somebody new, do you start by asking them to help you move house? Or do you wait until you’ve built the foundation of your friendship? Tortoises cultivate blogging relationships the same way you cultivate your friendships: one at a time, thinking about the other person as well as yourself, contributing at least as much value as you take away.

Hares, on the other hand, send non-personalized link-request emails to people whose blogs they’ve never read without offering anything in return.

True relationship building can’t be faked and it can’t be hurried. It won’t work if you’re not genuine about it, but it will pay enormous dividends if you are.

Rule 3. Stay humble.

Your blog cannot succeed without the help of a lot of people, big and small, buying into what you have to offer. Nobody owes you anything, so remember to express gratitude for everything you get: every link, every review, every comment, every visitor.

Tortoises write thank-you notes. They link to others. They offer guest posts.

View yourself as a contributor to society, and continually ask yourself, “What more can I do?” This takes time, but if you’re not willing to give your time to others, why should they give theirs to you?

When people link to you, they are entrusting you with their reputations. When people read your blog, they are entrusting you with their time. Hares do not appreciate the value of others’ reputations and time, but tortoises do.

Rule 4. Be patient.

The Internet invites speed, and hares love it. We can throw up a blog at the drop of a hat. We want six-figure AdSense checks, and we want ‘em yesterday. In the midst of all that speed, the longevity of the tortoise carries an unmistakable weight.

Started a blog a week ago? Why should I care? So did ten thousand other people. You’re going to have to prove to me that you’re dedicated to this before I’ll be willing to be dedicated to you. So don’t despair; just keep writing.

Building a successful blog is a marathon with no shortcuts, but great rewards. Do your training. Eat right. Sleep well. Pace yourself, and don’t give up. Day by day, link by link, your blog will build in reputation and reach.

Caution will turn to trust will turn to love, and the love of your readers will keep you going long after the hare has fallen by the wayside. Five or ten or twenty years from now, you’ll be amazed at how far you’ve come—even at the slow pace of a tortoise.

Kaila Colbin blogs for VortexDNA, whose technology can improve relevance for search engines, ecommerce sites, or any other recommendation service.

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