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Blog Promotion: Are You Preaching to the Converted or Are You Reaching Out to New Readers?

preaching to the convertedToday John Chow just made a post reflecting upon a competition that he ran with Shoemoney to see who could get the most new RSS readers in a month. Over the month both John and Jeremy had some great success at increasing their numbers – both by over 4600 and in the post John explained his strategies.

John and Jeremy’s Competition to find New Subscribers

shoemoney-chowWhen the competition was announced back in October I was quite excited to see how it would pan out. Two very clever blog marketers doing their thing to promote themselves and find new readers. I looked forward to seeing how they’d go about finding their new readers.

However as the month progressed and I watched them work hard at increasing their RSS feed reader numbers something didn’t quite feel right to me about it. I couldn’t put my finger on it at the time – but today in reading John’s post outlining his strategies I realized what was behind it.

Both Jeremy and John did a great job at creating buzz among their readers about the competition, both pulled together some great prizes to act as incentives for people to subscribe and both obviously got some great results – but it struck me today that they’d both focussed most of their efforts on their current readers.

John writes in his post that his ‘Ah Ha’ moment was when he realized that if he could get his current readers to subscribe via Email that they’d be counted every day instead of only the days they checked email. So a lot of his efforts centered around getting people to sign up for his daily email updates. He also emailed all of his newsletter recipients to get them to sign up for the daily email also.

His other strategy was around running competitions through the month by offering some cool prizes to those who were subscribed (something Jeremy also did).

Preaching to the Converted

Now I’ve got nothing against either of these methods. Having people sign up for more than one way of subscribing to you isn’t a bad thing (it increases the places that they’ll come across your content) and having competitions is great (I find that it builds loyalty among readers and creates a sense of fun and momentum) but I come away from John’s latest post wondering how many actual new readers his strategy brought in or was it just preaching to the converted?

Don’t get me wrong – a feed counter that is 4600 higher is nice (and I’m sure some of them were actually new readers) – but if the goal is to grow one’s reach, influence and actual readership (rather than just a number on a chicklet) I wonder if it might have been better to have some strategies that were more focussed off the blog and upon new readers than on current ones.

Turning the Spotlight…

OK – so while this might seem like a bit of a dig at John and Jeremy I’d like to turn the spotlight onto the rest of us – because I think we’re all guilty of it from time to time.

Many bloggers (including myself) spend so much time on their current readers that they forget to put themselves out there and into places where people who don’t yet read their blog are gathering. It’s easy to get complacent – I know because I catch myself doing it all of the time.

While you don’t want to go hunting for new readers at the expense of current readers – if all you ever do is promote yourself to those who are already converted then your blog will stagnate.

How to Find NEW Subscribers for Your Blog

So how does a blogger put themselves out there and find these new readers rather than just keep promoting themselves to those who are already loyal to them?

I’m glad you asked…. because next week I’m going to publish a series of posts that I’ve been working on over the last few days that covers this exact topic. Rather than kick it off on a Friday (as it currently is here) I’ll kick it off on Monday to give us plenty of space to explore it. I’ve got a few techniques that I’ve been experimenting with to share and hope that you’ll share your own experiences as we go.

So make sure that you’re subscribed to the ProBlogger feed (I had to do it) and stay tuned.

11 Tips for Getting Your Comments Noticed on a Popular Blog

Comments

One of the comments on this week’s post – The Power of Commenting on Blogs - was from The Great Seducer who asked:

“Do you have any suggestions for commenting in a way that will draw interest to you? Obviously an insightful comment is the best plan…. but when there are 100+ comments sometimes they get over looked.”

In this post I’m going to suggest 11 tips for leaving tips on blogs that not only get noticed but that help build your profile and generate traffic.

1. Be the Early Bird

One of the best ways to stand out from the crowd is to be get in early. I know numerous bloggers who are great at leaving the first comment on a post and generating some good traffic as a result. Of course being first won’t help you if you don’t have anything worthwhile to say – so read on….. (warning: being first all of the time can be quite annoying both for the blogger whose blog you’re commenting on as well as other readers. I know of a few people who’ve actually hurt their reputation by being too eager to comment on every post without actually adding value to conversations.

2. Share an Example

A great way to add value to a post that someone else has written is to give an example that illustrates their main point. Quite often bloggers writing ‘how to’ or ‘instructional’ posts cover the theory of a topic really well but fail to give practical examples of how it works itself out in reality. I find that readers really love to see examples – so if you can give them in comments they’ll often be grateful and will check out who is behind them. The examples could be to your own work – or that of others.

3. Add a Point

Did the blogger miss a point on their post? Extending the post by adding another argument or point can improve the conversation and show yourself off to be someone who knows what they’re talking about. Some bloggers will even highlight your comment in an update to the post.

4. Disagree

One way to stand out from the crowd is to disagree with the post and/or what others are writing in comments. This isn’t something you will want to do on every comment that you leave (and it could be something that gets you into trouble) but it can be quite refreshing to see someone who dares to put forward a different idea to everyone else. Of course you don’t need to do it in an argumentative or attacking way – but respectfully and politely disagree (where you actually do) and you can actually create a real impressions on others.

5. Write with conviction, passion and personality

Sometimes when I read the comments left on blogs I wonder if there is anyone with personality behind them or whether they’re written by some sort of zombie like half human half robotic bloggers. Inject some feeling, passion, conviction and emotion into your posts. This doesn’t mean you need to write everything in CAPS or use lots of EXPLANATION MARKS!!!!!!!!!!!!!! – but when a post excites you, let that feeling enter your comments, when you are happy, let your comment be cheery, when a post evokes anger – don’t be afraid to comment with a little edge.

6. Use Humor

As a blogger who has a blog with posts that can get hundreds of comments I know just how mind numbing it can be to read through them all. One type of comment that snaps me out of this state when I’m in moderation mode is a comment that makes me laugh. Of course humor can also be misinterpreted and cause offense – so be a little careful :-)

7. Ask a Question

I notice here on ProBlogger that it is often comments that ask questions that get the most responses from other commenters. I guess it makes sense – asking a question calls for a response – we’re all wired to answer them – so they do stop people in their tracks a little and cause them to at least stop and think about how they’d answer it (whether they do or not).

8. Formatting Comments

I want to say right up front that this one should be done with caution (and could make you look like a try hard spammer) – but a subtle and clever use of formatting in comments can actually draw the eye to your comment. Scan through the comments left on a highly commented upon post and see what you notice. In most cases it’s only broken up by the names of commenters. Many blogs will allow you to use html in comments – allowing you to bold words, use italics and more (for example here at ProBlogger using ‘blockquotes’ in comments will change the formatting. Do this too much and you can actually find yourself in trouble – but bolding the occasional word for emphasis, using a little white space, using a symbol etc can give those viewing the page a subtle visual cue to look at your comment. Like I say – this should be done with caution.

An example of this is to bullet your comments with different symbols. A number of readers of ProBlogger do this using symbols like ‘**’ or ‘–>’

9. Helpful Links

We’ve debated whether leaving links in posts is good practice previously – but my opinion is that when a link is helpful to those reading and when it adds value to the conversation in some way that it’s OK. I personally don’t like signature links in comments – but links as examples not only will potentially send people to your blog – they actually act as a visual cue (web users are wired to be on the look out for them).

10. Comment Length

Are all the comments on a post long? Leave a short one – it’ll stand out. Are all the other comments short? Leave a long one – again, it’ll stand out.

11. Lists/Break it down

A big turn off with comments can be when someone leaves a long detailed comment that has massive blocks of text. This can often be made to look worse than it is when the comments area is actually narrower than the area given to posts (as in here at ProBlogger). One way to break up the amount of text is to break your comment down into a list of short posts.

Keep in mind that while leaving comments on other people’s blogs can be a great way to draw traffic to your blog – that it can also hurt your reputation/brand. Read more on this in my post – 10 Ways to Hurt Your Blog’s Brand by Commenting on Other Blogs.

PS: I just noticed that Caroline just posted on a similar topic and outlined some suggestions for a blog commenting strategy.

Grip Your Readers With These 7 Knock-out Opening Sentences

Keeping you posted, by Skellie.

In this post regular contributer Skellie from Skelliewag.org explains how a great opening sentence can draw readers into your blog posts.

You might not want to hear this, but a killer headline simply isn’t enough.

To be effective, every great headline — like the punch of any legendary boxer — needs follow-through.

In this post, I want to suggest seven tried-and-tested methods to craft a gripping opening sentence.

This could mean the difference between someone reading your post from start to finish or skipping to the next item in their feed reader (or browsing to another blog).

These seven methods should also be a source of inspiration when you’re unsure how to start your next post. In that sense, they have the potential to benefit both you and your blog.

#1 — The tempting offer

A simple and effective way to grip readers in your first sentence is to tell them what you’re going to tell them.

Huh?

This is why news broadcasts always begin with a preview of the stories to come. It’s why the commercial for a TV show will, as a rule, highlight the best bits. People are always more likely to stick with you if they know what they stand to gain.

A fictional example:

If you’ve ever wanted to get fit, save money and work less… this post is for you.

When using this method it can be useful to think of your first sentence as an advertisement for what’s to follow. What could you say that would entice readers to keep reading? How could you make reading the post seem as attractive as possible?

#2 — The irresistible question

Questions are powerful because they coax the reader into giving an internal answer. Another effective way to start a blog post is to ask a question you’re confident most readers will answer yes to. An example:

Want to convince your readers to do something or agree with your point of view? [Source]

After answering “yes, I do want that,” the next logical step is to continue reading.

#3 — The curious connection

This model appeals to the reader’s sense of curiosity. It links two seemingly unconnected ideas together and invites the reader to stick with the post and see how the connection was made. An example:

What do Thom Yorke, Tim Ferriss and successful new media publishers have in common? [Source]

By linking together a famous author and a famous musician the reader’s curiosity is piqued. She or he will want to know what these two very different figures have in common, and will (hopefully) keep reading in order to find out.

Two boxers in the ring.

Photography by neurmadic aesthetic

#4 — The controversial claim

Confronting or strong statements engage readers because they’re curious to see how the author will justify their claim. An example:

Chances are I’m not reading your blog. [Source]

Strong statements work, but they need to be carefully justified and qualified within a few paragraphs. You don’t want to risk putting any readers offside by not explaining yourself properly.

#5 — The engaging anecdote

Anecdotes are miniature stories you tell about your experiences. The best anecdotes, apart from being entertaining, are enlightening for the reader. They don’t just say something about you: they speak to the experiences and struggles of the person listening or reading, too. A fictional example:

Yesterday, after 35 years working in the PR industry, I came within an inch of quitting my job in order to write the novel I’ve always wanted to write.

If used on a blog about writing this anecdotal sentence would appeal to most readers because it speaks to a common concern: how much should we be willing to sacrifice in order to achieve our goals?

Anecdotes help readers get to know you. They appeal to our natural love of stories. They also encourage readers to keep reading and find out how the story ends.

#6 — The problem solver

Everyone has certain things they struggle with, and we’re always willing to lend an ear to anyone who might help us resolve one of those struggles.

When bloggers highlight a problem this is often followed by an attempt at a solution. Readers know this. Here’s an example of this method in action:

We all know that .com domains are the best option, but it is also difficult to find good ones that have not been registered yet. [Source]

That statement will probably draw nods of agreement from many, prompting readers to continue with the post in the hope that a workable solution is offered.

#7 — The tricky question

This one’s a twist on the ‘problem solver’ model above.

Everyone has unanswered questions, and particular niches attract readers with certain types of questions.

ProBlogger readers might come here because they want answers to the following: how can I create a popular blog? How can I generate a full-time income online? Or, an example from another niche:

Should I wait until I’m rich to give back? [Source]

Beginning with a tough question works because, even if you don’t have a complete answer, you’ll probably have some advice or useful thoughts on the matter. Readers are always eager to get help with tough questions they struggle with.

Skellie is a regular writer for ProBlogger. You’ll find more practical blogging advice at her own blog, Skelliewag.org.

Reasons to Have a Vanity Folder in Your News Aggregator

VanityOne of the important features of my daily blogging routine is to check my ‘Vanity Folder’ in Google Reader (my news aggregator of choice).

The reason I call it my Vanity folder is that it’s a folder that is absolutely and completely dedicated to…. well me. The purpose of the folder is to track any mention of me or my blogs around the blogosphere (and in mainstream media). I’ll tell you how I do it below – but first a little on the WHY.

Why Having a Vanity Folder is Important

Having a Vanity Folder in your news aggregator sounds like a fairly egotistical thing to do (and I’ll admit that the reasons I started it were probably more ego driven than the reasons I continue to use it) – however there are actually a number of great reasons to have one that go beyond stroking your ego:

  • Engage in Conversation- Perhaps the best reason to track what others are writing about you is that it helps you to engage in the conversations that others are having that relate to you and the things you’ve written about. Some of these conversations will be positive and some will be negative – but all are opportunities – IF you’re aware of them and willing to participate.
  • Build Relationships – Engaging in conversations (which end in time) can lead to ongoing relationships. Some of the bloggers that I now engage with on a daily basis (and who I work with) I first ‘met’ as a result of finding something that they’d written that referred to me or my blog. It’s amazing to see what happens when someone writes about you and then suddenly you ‘appear’ (as if out of nowhere) to make a comment on what they’ve written. It really makes an impression and shows that you’re willing to engage with people. You never know what might come from things when you do this.
  • Track Success of Posts – One exercise that I do from time to time is to look back at the posts that I’ve written over a period of time and to think about which were the most ‘successful’. There are a number of ways of measuring success but one for bloggers is to see if the post actually caused anyone else to write about it on their blog. By having a vanity folder you to see how ‘successful’ a post has been at generating conversation on other blogs very quickly.
  • Correcting Errors and Damage Control – This is really important. Sometimes the things that people write about you are negative, attacking, damaging and even false. This is one of the parts of blogging that many of us don’t enjoy – but it’s something that a blogger shouldn’t ignore. If someone’s writing this type of stuff about me then I want to know it – because I want to be a part of that conversation. This might be to correct an error that the other blogger has made, to make an apology where I’ve messed up, to answer a question or to defend myself where I’ve been unfairly written about. While it’s sometimes tempting to leave such posts unanswered (in fact sometimes it’s wise not to respond) it’s good to at least be monitoring them.
  • Find Plagiarists – Another part of blogging that is increasingly frustrating for many bloggers is when others use your content for their own purposes without permission and without credit back to you as the source of the content. Not a day goes by when I don’t find someone scraping my RSS feeds in this way and it’s almost always through my vanity folder that I find them doing it. I’m always surprised by how many of these scrapers republish everything in my feed – including links to other posts that I’ve written and even my copyright notice (which contains the word ProBlogger). All of this triggers an item in my Vanity Folder and enables me to start the process of getting the other blog to stop republishing my content in this way.

How to Create a Vanity Folder

Creating a Vanity Folder in your News Aggregator of Choice isn’t difficult to do. Here’s how you do it:

1. Create a Folder in your feed reader and name it ‘Vanity Folder’ (or anything else you want to call it)
2. Fill it with ‘watch feeds’. These feeds might include:

  • Technorati Watchlists – a ‘watchlist’ is a tool that Technorati offers for you to watch different keywords or URLs. Simply login to Technorati and go to their Watchlist page (http://technorati.com/watchlist/) and enter the keyword or URL you want to monitor. It will then give you an RSS feed that you can subscribe to for each term or URL. Subscribe to it and add it to your Vanity Folder. Tip: make a watchlist for your name, your blog’s URL and even your blog’s name (if it’s unique).
  • Google News – Google News allows you to track different search terms via RSS also. Simply go to Google News and do a search for the term you want to track. You’ll get the latest appearance of that term in the results – but at the bottom of the left hand sidebar are some feed options including an ‘RSS’ link. This link is to a feed for the search term you’ve just entered. Subscribe to it and you’ll see any time that anyone’s mentioned that term in a mainstream news article.
  • Google Blog Search - the same service is available to you Google’s Blog Search (http://blogsearch.google.com/). The only difference is that Google Blog Search tracks blogs only whereas Goolge News tracks mainstream media (and some blogs). As a result if you use subscribe to the same terms in Google News and Google Blog Search you’ll get some double up – however you’ll see some results in each that are different from one another.
  • Bloglines Search – if you use Bloglines as your news reader it has a nifty little search feature that allows you to be notified of any mention of certain keywords. When I used Bloglines I used this. It would usually give similar results to the above methods – but occasionally picked up something that the other tools didn’t.

Other ways of Keeping Track of What Others Blog about You:

There are of course other non RSS related ways to keep track of what others are writing about you or your blogs. Here are a few:

Google News Alerts - Google News (http://www.google.com/news) allows you to set up ‘News Alerts’ which allow you to track keywords via either email or RSS. You can track words in a number of categories:

  • ‘news’ – which tracks mainstream media and some blogs
  • ‘blogs’ – which tracks blogs
  • ‘web’ – which tracks other web pages
  • ‘video’ – which tracks videos
  • ‘groups’ – tracking Google Groups
  • ‘comprehensive’ – which tracks News, Web and Blogs

Note: the ‘news’ and ‘blog’ options will give you the same results that you’ll get if you’re using the RSS methods outlined above – but the ‘web’, ‘video’ and ‘groups’ options are not available via RSS anywhere that I can see them.

Trackbacks – perhaps the easiest way to see when people have blogged about you is to keep an eye on ‘trackbacks’ to your posts (if you have them enabled). Read our introduction to Trackbacks for more on what they are http://www.problogger.net/archives/2006/02/26/introduction-to-trackbacks/.

Metrics Referrals - most stats packages will have an option to view where people have arrived from when they get to your blog. This will reveal the URL of any site that has sent you traffic and is useful to keep an eye on.

A Final Warning

The title of this post encourages you to be more Vain. In actual fact I don’t really encourage any of us to be Vain – but instead to monitor what’s being written about you. In fact the main problem with Vanity Folders is that they can in fact lead to egos inflated and time being wasted on fairly self indulgent activities. As a result, my final piece of advice on vanity folders is to keep things balanced and to not get obsessed.

While I do see this as an important part of my blogging – I really only spend a few minutes each day monitoring these types of feeds. Like with any aspect of blogging – it’s when you get obsessed that your blogging gets out of balance and your blogging will begin to suffer.

Value Blogging: A New Model For Success?

SkellieIn this post regular contributer Skellie from Skelliewag.org explores the idea of building successful blogs by giving readers value.

What do ProBlogger, Lifehacker, Seth Godin’s Blog, Copyblogger, Dosh Dosh, Lifehack.org, MAKE blog, Zen Habits, 43 Folders, Pronet Advertising and Coding Horror all have in common?

Yes, they’re all in the Technorati 100, but there’s something else, too.

Each of the above blogs is dedicated to maximizing value for the reader. Rather than reporting news, or covering an industry, or attempting to persuade, the above blogs are primarily dedicated to making readers more skillful at what they do, whether that skill is blogging, marketing or software coding.

I call this approach value-blogging, and in this post, I want to explain how it can be a powerful model for bloggers to adopt, either fully or partially. I want to suggest that this approach has a number of distinct advantages for the average blogger. Most importantly, I want to outline how you can get started with value-blogging.

Why value-blogging is a powerful strategy

Unlike news or time-sensitive posts, value-blogging helps readers to improve in ways that are continually relevant. Every time you add another value-blogging post to your archives, you’re building up a database of knowledge that should still be as relevant in future as the day it was written.

Value-blogging, by its nature, encourages original and differentiated content. Though two bloggers might both write a post on quick ways to increase your email productivity, those two posts are likely to contain very different advice, influenced by the individual blogger’s personality, experience and writing style. The advice you give and the way you deliver it will help to brand both you and your blog.

The quality over quantity model is well-suited to a one-blogger show. The upper echelons of the world’s most highly trafficked blogs are updated dozens of times a day, often by full-time editorial teams. The average blogger simply can’t hope to compete in terms of volume (at least, not if any shred of quality is to be maintained).

Value-blogging emphasizes quality over quantity every time, and many of the world’s most respected value blogs update only a few times a week. This flexibility is invaluable to anyone who leads a busy life outside blogging.

Value-blogging is ideal for building a loyal and enthusiastic readership. Though I might respect a blogger for updating me with news or sharing her eloquent opinions, I will probably have an even greater fondness for someone who helps me become better at something I love. It’s hard to think of a more powerful way to leave an impression on a reader.

Value-blogging can boost your personal brand and open up direct and indirect sources of income. Value-bloggers are presented with unique opportunities to make money online. As they have proven their expertise on a topic time and time again, they can be in demand for speaking engagements, consulting work, and freelancing. There is also the possibility of producing and selling an eBook. A number of value-bloggers also make good money through affiliate sales because their recommendations are so well-respected.

Sounds great, but how do I start?

A teacher addresses her classPhotography: My Hobo Soul

Value-blogging is, at its core, about focusing your energy on helping readers. There are dozens of ways you can do this, but the most common approaches are as follows:

  • Provide tips and advice on an important skill in your niche.
  • Answer a key question your readers might have.
  • Share lessons you’ve learned.
  • Provide useful information and resources.
  • Write a tutorial or guide.
  • Answer the who, where, what, when and why of something.

There are plenty of examples of value-blogging you can use for reference. ProBlogger, for example, is a value-based blog, though the value-blogging is supplemented by some news and commentary. This article is an example of value-blogging, in that it attempts to describe not just why value-blogging is important, but how you can add it to your raft of blogging skills.

The best way to boost your value-blogging skills is to learn by example. Subscribe to value-blogs and pay attention to their most popular articles. Could you transfer that format to your own niche?

For example, one of the most popular posts at ProBlogger is Blogging Tips For Beginners. Could you write: ‘Cooking Tips For Beginners’? Or ‘Karate Tips For Beginners’? Whatever your niche, the idea behind many great posts can be translated over to a topic of interest to your audience, resulting in something very different but (hopefully) equally appreciated.

Give value-blogging a try!

It’s not necessary that value-blogging become the whole focus of your blog, but it can be a useful thing to add to your content mix.

If you’d like some homework, make the next blog post you write a value-post. Teach your readers something, give them some tips, or advice, or share some resources. You might be surprised at the results!

Skellie is a regular writer for ProBlogger. She runs her own blog about blogging at Skelliewag.org. Come by and say hello :)

How to Pitch to Bloggers – 21 Tips

How-To-Pitch-To-BloggersOne of the challenges that many bloggers face once they become established and grow a profile in their niche is that they become the target of ‘pitches’ – or people emailing to ask them to do ‘stuff’.

These ‘pitches’ can be on any number of fronts including:

  • announcing new products/services in the hope of being linked to or reviewed
  • link exchanges
  • asking for permission to use content
  • exploring potential partnerships
  • suggesting links to posts on other blogs
  • story ideas
  • asking for books to be reviewed
  • asking for guest posts
  • asking questions
  • request for an interview

The list goes on. Some bloggers get ‘pitched to’ hundreds of times each week (some get hundreds per day!) and so if you’re looking to approach a blogger with some kind of pitch it is worth thinking carefully about how you do it.

Here are a number of things to consider when pitching to bloggers. Some will relate more to pitching around product releases, others are more relevant to those looking to suggest links/stories for other bloggers to look at:

1. Comment First Pitch Later

Become a genuine and active member of the blog that you are pitching to before you make personal contact. Yes this doesn’t help if you have something to pitch today – but I find bloggers are much more willing to interact with you if they can see that you’ve gone to the effort of interacting with the content that they’ve written. Be genuine in these interactions, add value to the conversation happening on the blog and show that you’re not just there to ‘take’ but to ‘give’. If a blogger has a genuine connection with you they are much more willing to respond positively to you than if you approach them cold. The longer you interact with them the better.

2. Personalize it

Nothing is a bigger turn off to most bloggers than an auto generated email (or one that lacks any personal touches). This is a turn off in most aspects of life – but blogging is a personal and relational medium so tailor your first point of contact to the blogger you’re writing to. Use their name, mention their blog, show that you’re not sending out an email to thousands of people but are talking directly to them.

3. Get their Details Right

Another turn off for bloggers is being pitched to by someone who gets the personal details wrong. I’ve been on the end of many of these – where the person pitching the idea has gone to the trouble of copying and pasting unique details into an email – only to forget to change a detail from the last email on some important part – like my name. Get the person’s name and URL spelling right for starters.

4. Show You Know Who they Are

This is really going beyond adding a personalized detail or two (anyone can really do that) and showing that you really do know who you’re pitching the idea to. Mention something that they’ve recently written, compliment them on something unique to them, ask them a question that shows you’ve dug a little deeper than finding their name and email address in preparing your pitch.

5. Introduce Yourself

Quickly introduce yourself with your email. This might sound too basic for a post like this – but I’m amazed by the ‘out of the blue’ nature of many pitches. Us bloggers are generally relational beasts and like to know who we’re talking to. This doesn’t mean you need to give a full bio – just a sentence saying who you are and what you do would be fine. Also consider reminding people who you are and how you’ve interacted with them before if you’ve had contact with them previously. They may remember – but they may not.

6. Keep it Brief

I know that if I open an email from a stranger that is longer than 2-3 paragraphs that in most case I’ll mark it for ‘later’ (and sometimes later never comes) unless I’m given some real reason for reading on in the opening paragraph or two. Get to the point, ask your question or pitch your idea quickly and if more detail is needed give it in a followup email (or provide a link in the email where the person can go to find more).

7. Highlight Benefits

Whatever you are pitching – it’ll have more chance of success if there’s something in it for the blogger you’re pitching to. Clearly outline what you’re asking for and how it will benefit the blogger, their blog, their readers etc

8. Keep it Simple

I had an email recently where the person asked me if they could chat with me on the phone. They needed ‘just two hours’ of my time and required that I ring them (paying for the call myself) at a specific time (which just happened to be at 3am my time here in Australia). Needless to say – I passed. If you are asking for someone to do something for you – provide them with some simple, achievable and clear steps to respond.

9. Research Your Question

- many of the questions that people ask bloggers could be answered by simply taking a moment or two to look around their blog. Look on their about page – see if they have a FAQ page and do a search of their blog to see if they’ve written on the topic that your question is on. You don’t need to spend hours on this – but you might just save yourself (and the blogger concerned) some time with just a quick search for answers. Similarly – if you’re pitching a story idea – check to see that they haven’t already written about it by scanning their last few weeks archives.

10. Consider Time Zones When Calling

If you’re calling the blogger concerned – check to see where in the world they are and what time it would be in their time zone. Also consider that it might be the weekend where they are while it could be business hours for you. Also consider this when you’re emailing – I’ve had a few people email me just as I was going to sleep and sending rude emails 8 or so hours later complaining that I’d not responded.

11. Don’t Stalk

Obsessively emailing a person multiple times in a short period of time to ask question after question doesn’t tend to go over well. If you think you’ll have multiple things to ask – hold off on sending an email until you have them all in the one place.

12. Be Persistent

On the flip side of the obsessive stalking is the pitcher who gives up too quickly. Don’t be afraid to send a reminder email asking if they got your first one. I don’t mind getting these myself as I do find it difficult to respond to everyone on the first try.

13. Avoid Press Releases

I must have hit ‘delete’ on thousands of press releases over the last few years. While I do occasionally use them – it is generally only when they are right on target for my niche and quite often when I go searching for them. I’d much rather be pitched a story idea that is tailored to my blog. This need not be long or detailed (in fact it’s best if it’s not) but if someone shoots me an email that says ‘here’s a story you might be interested in and here’s why it’s relevant to your blog’s readers’ I’m much more likely to read it. If you do have a press release it might be more effective to not send it – but to give a link to where it is hosted online so that if the blogger wants to refer to it (and link to it) they can.

14. Keep on Topic

If you’re pitching story ideas you can do yourself a lot of damage by pitching irrelevant stories to bloggers. If their blog is about digital cameras, don’t send them information on TiVO (you know who you are).

15. Be Polite and Courteous

Making demands, assumptions and being overly familiar can sometimes lead to people binning your pitch. I’ve been left shaking my head numerous times of late at the arrogance and demands of some. On the flip-side though – some pitches come across as so polite that they seem sterile. I guess there’s a fine line to walk here. Keep in mind that cultural differences come into play on this too.

16. Free Stuff Works, But….

Sending schwaag, review copies, samples etc can work well with bloggers – however you need to be a little careful and learn from the mistakes that others have made in this area. My personal preference would be to require bloggers to disclose any benefit that they’ve received from you (particularly if it’s of any high value). Transparency matters. I would also recommend asking the blogger if they want to receive what you’re sending them before you send it.

17. Mention Your Blog

Most bloggers are wired to be on the look out for other bloggers. If you have a blog, mention it in your pitch (your introduction). If you don’t have a blog – why not?

18. Link Up

One quick way to get on many blogger’s radars is to link to them on your own blog or website. This shows that you know who they are, might send them some traffic and is a show of good will that can help to break down those initial walls that can be hard to get through with a blogger. Keep in mind that larger bloggers get a lot of links from other sites and blogs so this may not have a massive impact in all circumstances – but it can’t hurt.

19. Give an exclusive

Bloggers love to break stories. It helps them build traffic, establish credibility and profile and gives them the perception of being more connected in their niche. Offering some sort of exclusive angle on a story, access to interview a key person or even given them the exclusive rights to be first with a story is something that might help you get your story featured on a blog. A quick warning though – if you tell someone that they have an exclusive but in fact end up offering it to numerous others you could end up doing more harm than good.

20. Don’t Include Anything You Don’t Want Blogged in your Communications

I’ve seen a number of companies burnt by sending emails out to bloggers that included both the official press release and pitch – as well as other information that they didn’t want to go out – the whole lot got blogged about. This can happen either because the blogger didn’t realize and just copied and pasted everything OR because the information that wasn’t meant to be blogged was too juicy for the blogger to resist publishing (even though they knew they probably shouldn’t have).

21. A word on Embargoes

Some companies approach bloggers with information in advance of product launches on the condition that the story can’t be broken before a certain time. This enables the blogger to digest the information before launch and have something prepared to write about that goes beyond rehashing a press release. The downside of this is that some bloggers either don’t understand embargoes or don’t like them – some blatantly break them to get the exclusive. I personally respect them – but would rather a company approach me in a relational way and work with me on a coordinated release of information that isn’t a hard and fast embargo – but a more relational and trusting exchange of information.

Obviously incorporating all 21 points into your next pitch of a blogger might be a little too much to ask – but as both a blogger and someone has done my fair share of pitching I would recommend at least attempting to incorporate some of the above.

The Benefits of Being Featured in Mainstream Media

What impact does being featured in a mainstream media publication have upon a blog?

Mainstream-Media-1Skellie asked in comments about what type of traffic a mention in a mainstream media story can bring into a blog. I answered in the comments on the post but thought it might be something worth exploring quickly in a post as well.

I’ve been featured in a number of mainstream media publications of the last few years and would make the following observations:

It doesn’t bring a lot of direct traffic – I’m sure it varies from publication to publication and story to story but I’ve never seen much of an increase in traffic from any mention in a paper, magazine or even TV appearances. This is sometimes due to there not being a link mentioned – and sometimes just…. well just because.

The benefits of being featured in mainstream media are not so much about traffic but include:

  1. branding/profile/awareness – whether it’s in a MSM publication or anywhere else – every time you are featured can help (more on this theory of personal branding here). I regularly meet people who have never seen my blog – but say things like ‘didn’t I see you in The Age?’
  2. contacts – everytime I get some mainstream media attention I get calls, emails etc from people wanting to connect. Many times these are fairly low level and incidental connections, but sometimes they lead to great opportunities.
  3. flow on media attention – there’s something about being mentioned in one paper that tends to trigger other media outlets (or even the same one) to do similar or followup stories. I find that MSM attention often comes in fits and starts with numerous in a short period and then nothing for a while.
  4. credibility – whether it be with your family and friends, potential clients, book publishers or potential readers – there are just some people who respect a mention in a mainstream media outlet than if they see you mentioned on another blog.
  5. widening circles of influence – connected to much of the above is that an appearance in MSM tends to widen your circle of influence and gives you access to a different audience. The problem that many bloggers face is that they grow to a point but then exhaust their natural circles of influence (or reach a saturation point). Mainstream media can open up a new audience to you. It may not be a large audience – but it can often be an influential one and you never know what might come from it.

I don’t spend a lot of time trying to get mentions in mainstream media publications – however I don’t knock them back – for the above reasons and one more. The last reason is that I find that I learn something new every time I’m interviewed, quoted or featured in an article. I learn about communication, journalism, media etc – and I’m a firm believer in putting yourself in situations where I’m always learning – this makes me a better blogger.

15 Things I’d Love to See Ad Networks and Affiliate Programs Do to Help Us Earn More Money Blogging

I write quite a lot about what works in the ad networks that I use to make money from my blogs – but sometimes there are some little niggling problems with ad networks and affiliate programs that can be quite annoying.

Today I thought I’d compile a short ‘ProBlogger Wishlist’ of things that I’d love to see specific ad networks and affiliate programs rolling out. I’m not doing this because I don’t like any of the programs mentioned here (in fact most feature in my top earners list) – just because I’d like to see them improve.

Feel free to add your own on these networks (and others) in comments. Hopefully some of them will lead to some positive changes:

1. Direct Deposits for Amazon Associates

AmazonI’d love to see publishers outside of the USA able to be paid via direct deposit. I not only have to wait an extra week or so to get my cheque each month, but because my monthly payments are over $2000 my bank then charges me over $60 to cash them – and they have to send the cheque back to the USA for authentication before they’ll clear the money. This authentication process takes an extra 6 weeks. So if I earn money on the first day of a month it can be around 3 months before I see any money from it. If direct deposits are out of the question payments via PayPal would be another alternative.

2. Direct Deposit Payments at Clickbank

Cb LogoWhile we’re on the subject of payment via cheque – the other group I’d like to see with a direct deposit system (or a PayPal payment) is Clickbank. Come on people – get with the 21st century!

3. Increase Minimum Payouts – Linkshare

Logo-4I don’t even know where I still earn money with Linkshare (I must have promoted something once of theirs and it still earns me a dollar or two a month). The problem is that they send me a cheque for that dollar or two every month or two. Do you know how embaressing it is to go into a bank and try to cash a $2.27 check (considering it’s in US dollars and I have to get it converted I don’t bother any more). It’s time for a minimum amount earned before sending cheques Linkshare.

4. More Customization with ID Tracking at Amazon Associates

AmazonI love the fact that Amazon added the ability to use ‘tracking IDs’ to allow their publishers to track which links are converting best (see how useful this can be in this post analyzing what people buy at Amazon from one post). The problem is that once you add a tracking ID there’s no way to remove it. I have a growing list of them and it’s getting pretty messy. It’s also be great to get more customized reports with tracking IDs that’d allow for more drilling down.

5. Better Reporting at AdSense

Logo Main-1Speaking of drilling down in reports – while I think AdSense has one of the best reporting systems, I think it’s time that they took things to the next level and gave us some more useful tools for analyzing our results. While channels can be handy – unless you use a different channel for each post it’s impossible to tell which pages are converting best unless you use a third party application to track clicks on a page by page basis. Another simple wish for AdSense reports is a cost per click figure (something other networks give). I know this is complicated by impression based ads – but it’d be handy to have more information on this. I’d also love to see more ability to combine data from Google Analytics and Google AdSense.

6. Split Testing at AdSense

Logo Main-1A built in mechanism for split testing might be nice too. It’s now possible to rotate different ads in the one ad unit, but there’s no way to track which combination converts best. Split testing tools might be useful (in fact they’d be good at all the ad networks – not just AdSense).

7. Better Referral Reports at WidgetBucks

Logo3-1Time to look at the newest ad network on the block, WidgetBucks. I’m getting good results with this network but I think there’s plenty of room for improvement. For starters I’d love to see more data on referrals. At this point there’s just a total referrals number and the promise of the total amount earned to be given at some point in the first week of next month. Most other networks give significantly more information on this including a daily breakdown (even if it is audited later). Not having these figures takes some of the incentive for promoting the program away from publishers and will slow the growth of the network.

8. Better Referral Reports at AuctionAds

Auctionads-1The other ad network that I’d like to see improve it’s referral reporting is AuctionAds. At the moment I have no idea what of my income comes from the ad units that I run and what comes from referrals. Again – it doesn’t really inspire me to actively promote it if I can’t see what the results of that promotion are.

9. Channel Names at WidgetBucks

Logo3-1Another pet peeve of WidgetBucks for me is that the name you give different widgets appears in both the reports page and on the widget. While I don’t mind being able to customize the widget in this way – it’s frustrating in the reports page as there’s no actual descriptive way of labeling widgets. For example I’d like to be able to have ‘popular digital cameras’ appear on my widget – but in the back end reports would like to be able to call my widget ‘Digital Photography School Footer’. It’s getting more and more confusing the more widgets I add. In fact the whole reports page probably needs to be reworked. Imagine having 100 different widgets across different sites – the page would be a mess.

10. Less US-centric Testing at AdSense

Logo Main-1Regular readers will know about this one already – but there’s nothing more frustrating for a publisher situated outside of the USA than seeing great new ad units released and not being able to test them. AdSense did this recently with their YouTube Video unit.

11. Open Up for International Publishers at YPN

Logo PnSpeaking of US exclusive deals – I’d love to see Yahoo’s Publisher Network (YPN) open up to international publishers with international traffic. The YPN beta launched in August 2005 and did so exclusively for US publishers with predominantly US traffic. It struck me this morning that it’s been over 2 years now (26 months to be exact) and there’s been no movement on that. In fact if anything they tightened things up about a year ago by booting out some publishers who had too much non US traffic.

12. Open up RSS Ads at AdSense

Logo Main-1While a 26 month beta test with no expansion seems pretty bad – AdSense have one of their own which has been going longer. In April 2005 they introduced their RSS Advertising system (AdSense for Feeds). The program is still in a beta test according to their help center page and the beta test is full and they don’t anticipate adding any more publishers too it. Still – publishers are encouraged to keep checking back to that page for updates – I wonder how many have been for the last 30 months.

13. Improved Reports at Chitika

Chitika LogoChitika have made some real improvements over the last year or so – but one area I’d like to see them take to the next level is their reports. One aspect of them that I find frustrating is the channels are and a simple improvement would be to make the channel names in reports live links that take publishers to a report for the last month of that channel alone. Also useful would be the ability to group channels together (like AdSense offer). For example to be able to put the multiple channels that you might have on a single blog into one report so you can get a combined report for the full blog. At present if I want to know a blog’s performance with Chitika (I might have as many as 10 channels on a blog) I need to get the calculator out and look at each channel individually to get their totals.

14. Open up to Smaller Publishers – Chitika

Chitika LogoAnother common complaint that I hear from many publishers about Chitika is that smaller publishers are not eligible to join. While I understand that this ads significantly to the workload of an ad network – most (if not all) other ad networks that I’ve mentioned in this post don’t have a minimum traffic limit for publishers. This frustrates many bloggers and could actually hurt Chitika in the long term because publishers that grow might have been put off by their early rejection from Chitika.

15. Better Conversion at AdSense Referrals

Logo Main-1I’ve asked ProBlogger readers a number of times if they’ve had any success with AdSense Referrals – the response was an overwhelming ‘NO’. The exception is those who promote the ‘Google product’s – but outside that I’ve only found a few that have had any luck with it. I’ve actually chatted with a couple of people at AdSense about it and know that they have challenges that they are working on – but I’d really love to see the Referrals program taken up to the next level in the coming 12 months. PS: Jen shares her AdSense Referrals wishlist here with some more good suggestions.

As I mentioned above – I’m certain that there are many other improvements that all of these ad networks and affiliate programs could make. I’d invite you to add your own points to the wish list.

My hope with this post is that it doesn’t become a ‘bitching session’ but a more constructive conversation that might help the ad networks concerned to improve what they have on offer.

Competition: Create a Slogan for Bloggers Hit by the Page Rank Slam of October 07

Lets lighten the mood around here a little and have a little fun with this whole Page Rank Update – it’s time for a competition.

The winner gets a 3 month subscription to Brian’s new Teaching Sells program – worth $97. If you’ve already bought it then you get a refund.

The competition is simple – design a slogan for bloggers hit by the PageRank hit that Google dished out yesterday. Submissions will be received in the comments of this post for the next 24 hours.

  • Entries can be in any form you want – image, video or text (perhaps a little banner ad that bloggers can put on their blogs might work?). Get as creative as you like.
  • One entry per person.
  • Brian and I will select a winner tomorrow.

Here’s one I quickly whipped up – I’m sure a lot of you can do much better though!

Page-Rank-Competition

Can’t wait to see what you come up with!

Update

The Sydney Morning Herald just published an article about the page rank shenanigans of the last 48 hours. You can read it at WWW spooked by Google algorithm tweak.

PS: it’s an old picture and not my computer – I didn’t trade in my MacBook Pro :-)

Update: I’ve closed comments on this as the 24 hour deadline is up. Thanks for everyone for entering! Now Brian and I need to sort through them all to find a winner – give us a day or two, there’s a lot here!