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46 Tax Deductions that Bloggers Often Overlook

Tax-Deductions-Bloggers-1This guest post on Tax Deductions for Bloggers is by Kelly Phillips Erb from Tax Girl.

Want to learn more about how to make money blogging? Subscribe to ProBlogger today for free.

The most popular question in response to my guest post on Problogger last time was invariably some form of “Can I deduct…?” It makes sense. Figuring out what constitutes income in the blogging world is pretty easy. But what constitutes a proper deduction is another story – and bloggers usually err on the side of not deducting enough (and not the other way around).

Don’t get caught leaving money on the table. Here’s a list of potential deductions that you might have overlooked. Consider:

  1. Monthly Hosting Fees
  2. Annual Domain Costs
  3. Design/Logo Fees
  4. Internet access fees – this clearly includes DSL and dial-up, but don’t forget charges that you might pay away from your home or office such as wi-fi charges in Internet cafes
  5. Paid blogging platform charges (such as Typepad monthly charges or “add ons” through WordPress)
  6. Cell phone usage
  7. Long distance usage related to your blog – remember that the IRS will not allow you to deduct the cost of your primary land line but you may deduct long distance charges
  8. Second phone line for business or fax
  9. Design or word processing software – this includes Photoshop, Illustrator, Word and similar programs for business use
  10. Computers
  11. Keyboards, mice and other periphery
  12. Web cameras
  13. Digital cameras – and memory cards
  14. Film processing for traditional cameras
  15. Costs paid to use or reproduce images
  16. Downloaded music or other audio
  17. Blackberry, Treo, iPhone charges
  18. Business cards
  19. Headshots for web site or promotional materials
  20. Letterhead – remember that printed materials not be professionally printed to be deductible!
  21. Promotional stickers and items – Frisbees, magnets, etc.
  22. Web advertising – text and banner ads
  23. SEO services
  24. Paid site submissions
  25. Prizes for giveaways and contests
  26. Postage – it’s impossible to keep track of every single stamp that you use in your business, so buy a sheet or two and keep them in a folder just for business use
  27. Post box fees – I recommend this if you’re working from home, it looks professional, it’s inexpensive and it keeps sales people from showing up on your doorstep late at night (trust me, MCI has seen me in my pajamas)
  28. Transportation – this includes mileage for car transportation, train and bus fare for public transit, cab fare, airline tickets
  29. Dining while away on business
  30. Hotel charges for overnight conventions and business travel
  31. Entertainment for clients
  32. Professional advice (from lawyers, accountants and tax preparers)
  33. Tax software
  34. Accounting software
  35. Copy paper, memo pads, photo paper
  36. Office supplies – pens, folders and post-its can add up!
  37. Books, magazines and subscriptions
  38. Professional affiliation and membership dues
  39. Professional informational sites (like imdbPro)
  40. Paid research sites (like LEXIS/NEXIS)
  41. Trademark fees and related costs
  42. Conference fees – such as for BlogHer and BlogExpo
  43. Promotional sponsorships – golf holes at tournaments, that sort of thing
  44. Charitable donations – limited to the cost of the production, not the FMV of the final product (in other words, if you blog about quilts and you donate a quilt, your deduction is limited to the cost of the quilt materials, not the FMV of the quilt)
  45. Backup tapes
  46. Zip drives

It is by no means an exhaustive list – you make think of more (feel free to add them below). The key is to make sure that the expenses are related to your business. They should also be both “ordinary” and “necessary” (a wide screen TV might feel necessary for your sports blog, but likely isn’t according to the IRS) for your business – if you’re not sure, ask other similar bloggers what they do. You can get some good advice and make great contacts at the same time!

Like any good lawyer, I need to add a disclaimer: Unfortunately, it is impossible to give comprehensive tax advice over the internet, no matter how well researched or written. Before relying on any information given on this site, contact a tax professional to discuss your particular situation. If you have a question, ask the taxgirl.

Building Your Blog With StumbleUpon

Skellie AvatarThis guest-post on Building Your Blog With StumbleUpon is by Skellie. She gives away big and little ideas like these to bloggers, webmasters and web workers at her blog, Skelliewag.org.

If you think this is another post about voting up your own articles on StumbleUpon, you’re mistaken.

Every blogger should have a StumbleUpon account. Regardless of which social media service you prefer, StumbleUpon is by far the easiest and least time-consuming to use.

How StumbleUpon works

When you come across something you like online you can vote for it with a button on your toolbar. The page is then shared with others who have similar interests.

When you’re bored, or looking for inspiration, click ‘Stumble!’ and great pages others have liked will be shared with you.

It’s really that simple.

As with most things that seem simple, however, there’s much more to it beneath the surface.

This post doesn’t intend to be comprehensive overview of StumbleUpon. What it does intend to do is show you how you can build your blog and your blogger profile by participating in the StumbleUpon community — while having plenty of fun at the same time!

Getting started with StumbleUpon

If you already have an account, great. If not, sign up here. Don’t put it off — the process is worth it.

One tip: make sure your username and profile picture are branded in line with your blog. Use your blogging name for your profile, and a photo or logo your readers will be familiar with.

Once you have your account and StumbleUpon homepage, make sure you customize your interests to suit your tastes. You can ‘manage your interests’ via the sidebar. This is important, as it will effect what kinds of pages you get when you Stumble. It will also change the kinds of people who take an interest in your votes.

There are plenty of other things you can customize, but we’ll stick with the basics for now. Let’s get started building your blog and your blogger profile with your new account.

1. Connect with other bloggers

To start connecting with other bloggers through StumbleUpon, all you need to do is vote up their content (when it’s good). The more traffic you send them, the more likely they are to go and investigate the source, or even add you as a friend. StumbleUpon can be a great networking tool.

On top of that, supporting blogs you like is just good karma. What more could you ask for?

2. Drive traffic back to your blog with great stumbles

When you vote up a site that hasn’t been voted up before, you ‘Discover’ it. This means that you write its first review and your profile information appears in the sidebar of the reviews page for that item.

Great content can drive a lot of (influential) stumblers to the page profiling you, as they rush to vote and review it. Some of them will be drawn into visiting your profile, simply because you have such great taste. But how can we encourage these visitors to check out our blog?

3. Highlight your blog in your StumbleUpon profile

This is easy. Enter your blog URL as your website address, and this will be displayed above your image on the main page of your profile. You can also write a bit about yourself and add a link to your blog in your About blurb.

4. Connect with your readers

When you start to see traffic coming from StumbleUpon, take the time to visit the reviews page for the blog post readers have voted up.

The stumblers on this page have been enthusiastic enough about your content to want to Stumble it. If they’re not already loyal readers, this makes them great candidates for becoming one.

Take the time to thank them for their Stumble, and add them as a friend. Little acts of generosity like these leave an impression and may encourage the Stumbler to see what other types of great content you’re capable of.

5. Make friends for a more powerful profile

The StumbleUpon algorithm is a mysterious thing, but evidence seems to suggest that the most active and popular stumblers are rewarded with the ability to control large traffic-flows. The ‘active’ part is up to you — how much time are you willing to put in? The ‘popular’ part of the equation, however, depends on how many fans you have. Fans are those stumblers who’ve added you as a friend in order to see the pages you stumble.

How do you get fans? Great, properly labeled stumbles will do it. Another successful strategy is to add those who vote up your content. If they took the time to explore your blog they might recognize you as the author of the content they liked and add you in return. The friendship will enhance both of your profiles and you’ll be connecting with another potential reader.

6. To submit or not to submit?

Some bloggers believe that repeatedly stumbling the same domain will see the benefits of your stumbles at that domain peter down to nothing. Others believe it’s absolutely necessary to submit your own articles to ensure they’re placed in the category best-suited to them. I’d be interested to hear which approach you think is best in the comments section of this post.

7. Send great content to your friends

StumbleUpon users have the ability to send pages to specific friends, or all of them. If you’ve written something you’re really confident is worthy of a stumble then you might consider sending it out to your friendship network. They’re much more likely to vote up your content than the strangers who routinely find themselves at your blog.

Moderation is key when using this tool. If you overuse it there is a chance your friends will tire of you. An alternative to a wide-ranging send-out might be to send an article to one or two friends you know will be particularly interested in the content.

8. Create a profile people will visit for its own sake

Treat your profile like another blog. If you make it a place people will want to visit for its own sake, the chance of visitors engaging with it and following the link back to your blog increases.

Take the time to play with the colors, add images to your reviews, and explore the functions on offer to create your ‘blog’ (StumbleUpon actually refers to it as such). Fill your profile with votes and reviews for great content your friends will want to visit, and tell others about. A great profile will naturally attract interested and admiring visitors, and raise your profile in the StumbleUpon community.

9. Use it for inspiration

When StumbleUpon is at its best, it serves up a long line of great content suited to your tastes. A stumbling session can be a great source of inspiration when your well of ideas runs dry.

A tip: don’t stumble only within the topic you blog about. Sometimes the best (and most original) post ideas are found by trying to relate radically different content to your niche.

10. Have fun!

I hope this post has convincingly argued that the secret to building your blog with StumbleUpon is to participate actively, genuinely and enthusiastically in the community there. The rewards are sure to filter back to you and your blog.

How to Get Your First Freelance Blogging Gig

Chris-GarretttThis post on getting your first freelance blogging gig was submitted by Chris Garrett.

People often ask me how they can get freelance blogging work so when Darren asked me for a guest post I thought this was the perfect opportunity. Anyone who follows my writing on my own blog and copyblogger will know I do freelance blogging myself and it makes up a good percentage of my income.

Freelance blogging is a great way to earn money from blogging. While it isn’t a passive income, it does earn reasonably well, predictably, and is itself a form of marketing, so doing a good job often leads to more work. When starting out you might have to start at the lower end of the pay scale, $10 a post is quite common, but as you build a reputation you can earn over ten times that amount.

It’s not just about the money, it is also a lot of fun, especially if you enjoy writing and variety. While I started out very much in the technical and geeky topics, now I find myself writing about all sorts of things, from clients as diverse as a micro stock photography company to a software company with a product that allows you to convert PDF to Excel. I am in a lucky position that these jobs now come to me, in the past it was not always the case.

Start With Your Own Audience

The first place to start looking for writing jobs is with your own blog and your own audience. Put up a page saying you are available for hire and refer to it in your sidebar and posts. Those people who read your writing regularly are the most likely to want to hire you because they already know and like your work and there is some trust built up. You are a known quantity.

By extension any guest posting to do has the same potential. While readers will not see you as often, putting a small reference to your freelance available in your attribution line could garner some leads. See if you can get some guest post spots on likely blogs and try.

Next, Ask Around

Work outwards from your blog to people who know you. Put the word out that you are looking for writing work. This isn’t begging, you can really help someone else with your writing skills or just by saving them time. Friends of friends and word of mouth is where I get half my work so this is a really effective method. When you are down it is hard to sell yourself so it really helps if someone is doing it for you. I would mention one lady in particular here who instantly comes to mind as a friend everybody should have but I don’t want her inundating with appeals for referrals, heh.

Work the Forums

Your writing doesn’t have to only appear on blogs to get noticed, blogging forums are also a good place to get your name out there. Good forum posts and a friendly, helpful nature, could be all you need to get either paid or guest spots that lead to paid work. As before, mention in your profile your availability.

Apply For Jobs

ProBlogger has a job board, then there are places like performancing and others out there. Also look on freelancer classifieds sites and craigslist.

Summary

Once you get word out and really start looking you will see there are writing opportunities all over for a hard working blogger. All it could take is one or two jobs well done to really start the ball rolling. Happy freelancing!

How to Climb Mountains

CollisThis guest post was submitted by Collis Ta’eed of Eden.cc, who blogs about blogging over at NorthxEast.com.

No matter who you are, there is something you’d like to achieve that you probably don’t think you can.

Maybe it’s a subscriber number, maybe it’s earning enough blogging to turn professional, maybe it’s breaking into the top 100 on Technorati. It doesn’t matter, you know what you want and you think you know that it’s not possible.

For today however, you are not to think about what is or isn’t possible. Instead lets just take your goal and figure out how to climb up and get it.

What is your goal

So first of all, make sure you have clear what it is you want to achieve.

Find yourself a simple sentence that sums it up. Nothing wishy-washy allowed here. What you want is something measurable, after all you have to know when you’re at the top of the mountain.

For me, my goal has been to get a blog into the top 100 this year. Given that I only started blogging in February, this is no mean feat to achieve. But that’s perfect. This exercise is not about looking at a mound and deciding to stand on top of it. If you’re going to climb something, it may as well be something worth climbing. So set your sights high.

When we first started the blog FreelanceSwitch, I asked my wife Cyan – who is the site’s editor – what we should aim to achieve in the first month. She said ’3000 subscribers’. I laughed because I knew that was impossible. After all it had taken me three months to get to 250 readers on the blog I’d been writing on up until then. But once it was said, there was no turning back. 3000 was the goal and a month later it was left in the dust. This is how we did it.

What would it be like if…

Once you have your goal, take a moment and think about what it would be like once you’d achieved that goal. To take our mountain analogy, imagine you are standing at the top looking out. What does the view look like, how do you feel and what did you do to get there?

When I did this exercise some months back and thought about what it would be like to have a top 100 blog I thought about what it would be like approving so many comments each day. I thought about seeing my blog listed on the popular page and I thought about what blogs might be above and below it in the list. I thought about how exciting it would be to be able to think to myself on the way to work that I wrote for a top 100 blog. It sounded rather grand, and stupid as it sounds I would swish the words around in my mouth, getting comfortable with the idea.

Then I thought about what it would be like day-day. If I was running a top 100 blog, there’d be lots of readers and they’d need a lot of good content to keep them coming back. And the blog would have to be better than others like it, and it would need to be different too. And so on I would think, about all the things, from how we’d need to pay for things, and where traffic might come from, and who would write and who would edit and on it went.

So ask yourself what things would be like if you achieved your goal. Take some time and picture it from the broad strokes to the details to the feelings you’d have after you achieved it.

Working backwards

So you’ve got a good idea of where you’re going. You’ve seen what the top of the mountain looks like, now we work backwards.

Think through everything you’d need to have done to be at that point, and then think through what you’d need to do to achieve those things. Then think another step back, what do you need to do to achieve those things.

Make a plan for what points you’d need to achieve to get there. If your goal is to be earning a sum of money every month, say $4000, then think, where exactly would that money be coming from. Say $1000 was from affiliate sales and $2000 was from advertising and $1000 was from freelance blogging. OK, then what affiliate programs would you need, how many would you need, how would they need to be worked into your blog? Now what about advertising, what forms would you use, how would they be used? And if you’re taking freelance blogging jobs, which day will you do the writing for those? Where will you find those jobs? What experience do you need to get those jobs? What do you need to do to get that experience?

Work backwards from your goal to where you are now and think through all the things you need to do.

Strategy

Now instead of one gigantic mountainous goal, you have a series of goals. From basecamp to foothills, to slopes to summit, you have a series of things you need to achieve.

So now you strategize.

Come up with a bunch of strategies to achieve those goals. When you think you have enough strategies, think up another set. Cyan and I would often sit over cups of tea writing out dozens of ideas to get traffic, to get links, to find writers, to get dugg, for articles that would be popular, for things to set us apart from other blogs and so on. Pages of strategies, ranging from the obvious to the out-of-the-box. All are needed.

Execute

Now you execute. Go through your strategies, one by one and execute them. Don’t do them half-heardtedly, don’t deviate, don’t get distracted, don’t second guess. You know what you need to do, do it. You won’t know the outcome until you have.

Reevaluate

Do you think mountain climbers climb the exact path they had thought out? I doubt it. At intervals you have to stop and reevaluate how things are going. Make new strategies, make new plans and then execute again.

And whenever you waiver, think back to the view when you get to the top, the taste of the air in your mouth, the feel of the ground beneath your feet. Climbing mountains isn’t easy. It takes time and effort. But if it didn’t, would it really be worth doing?

Minimalist Blogging

LeoThis guest post was written by Leo Babauta of Zen Habits.

In recent months, I’ve reduced the time I spend writing posts for my blog to about half a day’s work, and I spend about an hour or so more every day of the week responding to comments and emails.

That’s probably 20% of the time I used to spend blogging just a few months ago, and yet with this form of minimalist blogging, I’ve actually increased readership (to well over 1 million page views a month) and made it into the Technorati Top 100.

How is that possible, to work less and accomplish more? By focusing on the essentials, and nothing else.

I’m a minimalist at heart — ask my readers. One of the most popular posts on my site is a Guide to Creating a Minimalist Home, but this minimalist philosophy pervades just about everything else I do. I have not completely achieved minimalism in every aspect of my life, but it’s my guiding light.

And when I take a look at something from a minimalist perspective, I always ask myself: what are the bare essentials here? What is the core of this? It’s what I do when I declutter a room, or clear my desk, or declutter my blog’s sidebar, or decide what I carry in my pockets (only 2 things).

And so I asked myself: what is essential about my blog? And the answer: very useful posts that are quick reads. It’s not the ads, it’s not MyBlogLog, it’s not affiliate marketing. It’s the posts, the content.

And while many people have said before that “content is king”, they don’t always take that idea to its logical conclusion: not much else matters.

Does nothing else matter? No. I’m not saying that at all. Yes, you have to work hard (especially in the beginning) to find readership. Yes, you have to comment on other blogs, and promote yourself on social bookmarking, and respond to readers, and write guest posts on other blogs. Those things are all important, especially when you’re trying to make a name for yourself.

But when you want to boil a blog down to its essentials, in my eyes, the two most important things are (in this order):

  1. good, useful content; and
  2. being responsive to readers

So those are the things I focus on almost exclusively now. Here’s what I did, and what the results have been:

  • Cut my posting down to 5 a week (weekdays only). At first, I was doing multiple posts a day, a mixture of long and short posts. Then I cut it to 7 a week, with a longer feature-type post each day. Then, after asking my readers if it would make a difference to them if I cut my posts down to 5 a week, I made the decision not to post on weekends. Not many readers read my site on weekends anyway, so it wasn’t a big deal to most people. And it drastically reduced the pressure on me. Now, I am free to post on the weekends, or do a short second post on weekdays, but I am committed to only 5 a week.
  • Write all my posts on one day. This is a recent experiment of mine, but it seems to be working well. I’ve designed one day a week (Thursdays) for writing my 5 posts. The night before, I come up with the post topics for those 5 posts (I have a running ideas list that I choose from). Then, in the morning on Thursday, I first get all the images for the posts, do formatting, do research, and generally get everything all set up. Takes about 30 minutes. Then I focus on writing each post, one at a time, trying to write the best content I possibly can. I block everything else out. Takes about half my work day. Possibly longer, if I feel lazy and take long breaks. Either way, I’m done before the end of Thursday, with time left over for reading ProBlogger.
  • Invited guest bloggers. I can’t accept many offers for guest writing on my blog, as I want to keep guest posts to once a week, but I try to invite some of the best bloggers to write a guest post for me from time to time. This allows my blog to have fresh content from some great writers, while reducing the time I spend writing each week — it reduces my posts per week from 5 to 4, on the weeks I have a guest writer.
  • Decluttered my design. I try to extend my minimalist philosophy to my design as well. I’m actually going through a redesign right now, but in the meantime, I’ve eliminated a lot of elements from my blog’s design. It’s not as minimalist as I’d like it, but I try to reduce it to the essentials. This also means less maintenance for me. Here’s a better article on this topic.
  • Reduced ads. I’ve tried probably 6 different ad services, but have cut them to the top 3 earners. Could I earn more with more ad services? Sure, but that’s more clutter for my readers, and with little return for me. I focus on just the most important ones, and the readers appreciate that. It also means less time spent checking ad earnings (I usually only do it once a week now).
  • One hour of reader comments and emails, plus feed reading, a day. Email and comments and feed reading used to take up most of my day. Really, these things can fill up as much time as you give them. Instead, I’ve given myself about an hour. Some days it’s a little more, but I try to keep it down. I respond to everything at once, trying to clear my inbox if possible. I also cut my feeds down to 10, and only read the best 6 posts each day from those 10 feeds. It’s been a huge reduction in time, but I still respond to everyone if I can, and it hasn’t hurt my blog.
  • Cut out the rest as much as possible. I used to check stats, Technorati, ad earnings, etc. all day long. It was counterproductive, and in truth, it didn’t do much except feed my addiction. I decided it’s not worth it. I still check those things most days, but it’s much less than before. The fact is, these things don’t help your readers at all, and they’re not essential.
  • The results of this minimalist blogging? My readership has continued to increase. Perhaps not at the rate it did in the first few months, but in the last three months I’ve gained 8,000 subscribers.
  • An even better result? My focus on content has reminded me what’s important, and allowed me to write some of my best posts. Perhaps not every single post I write is stellar, but I think some of my favorite posts I’ve every written have come in the last month or so. That’s because I’ve focused on the essential, and let the other stuff be minimized.

The Top 5 Uncommon Timesavers for Bloggers

Tim-Ferris-1The following guest post was submitted by Tim Ferriss author of The 4-Hour work Week and blogger at www.fourhourworkweek.com/blog. Read my interview with Tim.

1. Decide how you’re measuring success before writing a post—what’s your metric? Form follows function.

Is it Technorati rank? Then focus on crafting 1-2-sentence bolded sound bites in the text that encourage quoting. Quotes can be just as important as content. Alexa or other traffic rank? Focus on making the headline and how-to appeal to tech-oriented readers on Digg, Reddit, etc. Number of comments? Make the topic either controversial or universal and end with a question that asks for opinions (slightly more effective than asking for experiences).

2. Post less to be read more.

No matter how good your material is, too much of it can cause feed-overwhelm and unsubscribes. Based on input from close to a dozen top bloggers I’ve interviewed, it takes an average of three days for a new post to propagate well in the blogosphere. If you write too often, pushing down the previous post and its visibility, you decrease the reach of each post, run the risk of increasing unsubscribes, and create more work for yourself. Test posting 2-4 times per week—my preference is two—and don’t feel compelled to keep up with the frequency “you have to post three times before lunch” Joneses. Quality, not quantity, is what spreads.

3. Define the lead and close, then fill it in.

This is a habit I picked up from John McPhee, a master of writing structure and recipient of the Pulitzer Prize. Decide on your first or last sentence/question/scene, then fill in the rest. If you can’t decide on the lead, start with the close and work backwards.

A good formula for the lead, which I learned from a Wired writer, is: first sentence or paragraph is a question or situation involving a specific person, potentially including a quote; second paragraph is the “nutgraph,” where you explain the trend or topic of the post, perhaps including a statistic, then close the paragraph explaining what you’ll teach (the “nut”) the reader if they finish the post.

4. Think in lists, even if the post isn’t a list.

Separate brainstorming (idea generation) from synthesis (putting it all into a flowing post). I generally note down 10-15 potential points for a post between 10-10:30am with a double espresso, select 4-5 I like and put them in a tentative order from 10:30-10:45am, then I’ll let them marinate until 12am-4am, when I’ll drink yerba mate tea, craft a few examples to match the points, then start composing. It’s important to identify your ideal circadian schedule and pre-writing warm-up for consistent and reliable results.

5. The best posts are often right in front of you… or the ones you avoid.

Fear is the enemy of creativity. If a good serious post just isn’t coming, consider trying the obvious or ridiculous. Obvious to you is often revelatory for someone else, so don’t think a “Basic Confused Terms of Blogging” or similar return to basics would insult your readers. Failing a post on something you take for granted, go for lighthearted. Is this self-indulgent? So what if it is? It might just give your readers the respite from serious thinking they secretly crave. If not, it will at least give them an excuse to comment and get engaged. Two weeks ago at 3am, I was anxious because the words just wouldn’t flow for a ground-breaking post I wanted to finish. To relax, I took a 3-minute video of me doing a few pen tricks and uploaded it as a joke. What happened? It promptly hit the Digg frontpage the next morning and was viewed by more than 120,000 people within 24 hours. Don’t take yourself too seriously, and don’t cater to readers who have no sense of humor. If blogging can’t be fun at least some of the time, it isn’t worth doing.


Timothy Ferriss is author of the #1 New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Businessweek bestseller, The 4-Hour Workweek. His blog at www.fourhourworkweek.com/blog went from zero traffic to Alexa 9,600-10,400 and Technorati Top-2,000 in six months.

How Not Throwing the Baby Out With the Bath Water Earned me Hundreds of Thousands of Dollars

Today I want to tell you a story – a story of how not throwing the baby out with the bath water has earned me hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Just under two years ago a controversy erupted in the the ‘make money online’ segment of the blogosphere that involved a lot of hype, anger and attack.

Chitika-1It involved the launch of a new advertising network product called – Chitika eMiniMalls.

I had been beta testing this new ad unit for a few weeks and was one of a small group of bloggers who blogged about my experience of it and how it had significantly increased my earnings. I wrote my first review of Chitika here.

A couple of weeks later after continuing to experiment with the ad unit my earnings with Chitika continued to grow and I revealed that I was earning over $700 per day with them – they’d become my biggest earner.

The result of me (and others) reporting my success with Chitika caused a real stir around the blogosphere and when Chitika announced an affiliate program which paid 10% commission the ‘stir’ quickly became ‘hype’ as many bloggers pumped Chitika up as being an AdSense killer and the answer to all problems of bloggers struggling to make money online.

I attempted to communicate a more balanced review of the ad unit (they work well on some blogs but not others) but the frenzy and buzz that surrounded Chitika for a few weeks was like nothing I’d ever seen around a product launch before.

Of course the positive buzz around Chitika didn’t last for too long. Chitika made a few mistakes in their launch (I suspect overwhelmed by the numbers of those signing up) and in getting the mix between serving publishers and advertisers they had to make some tough decisions which saw some publishers see decreases in earnings. This of course didn’t go over terribly well with many.

At the same time some publishers found that Chitika didn’t work on every blog (as they’d read some promoting the affiliate program promising) and became disillusioned by Chitika and anyone who had promoted them.

The resulting backlash against Chitika was as strong and vicious as the previous weeks of positive buzz had been – the pendulum has swung to the opposite end of it’s trajectory. Many bloggers expressed real anger, quite a few vowed never to use Chitika again, accusations of fraud and scrupulous behavior flew left right and centre. I took a lot of flak for my positive (yet in my opinion balanced) reviews of Chitika (in fact the attacks on me in those months were the most vicious I’ve ever experienced and escalated to a point where my property was physically assaulted).

While many many bloggers jumped off the Chitika ship as the popularity pendulum swung away from them – I felt that while Chitika had issues and had made some mistakes that they were a company with potential. They needed to improve their service – but the basics that they had put in place were good and in time I felt that they’d improve.

Rather than jumping ship (or throwing the baby out with the bath water) as many were doing I decided to do two things:

  1. give constructive and encouraging feedback to Chitika - While much of the blogosphere descended into snark and attack I decided to attempt to help Chitika improve. I did this in part because I felt it was the right thing to do and that they didn’t deserve all of the hits that they were taking – but also because I knew that if they improved what they offered – that it’d enhance my own business. I told them what I liked about their product, what I didn’t like, what I wished they’d change and what I wished that they’d add.
  2. experiment with the use of their service to see how it worked best - I spent significant time in those early months really tweaking and tracking the use of Chitika’s ad units. I saw from my own experience and the reports of others that it didn’t work on some blogs yet did on others – so I decided to work out where it did work best and how to improve it’s performance. This resulted in a series of tips posts including Chitika eMiniMalls Tips.

A few other bloggers quietly took a similar approach in the midst of the Chitika bashing that went on around us. The results were quite amazing.

Firstly – Chitika improved. Since that time the company as grown and offered a variety of new ad units. They have had their ups and downs but what they offer now benefits many bloggers. While these ads still don’t work on every blog – many bloggers have found ways to make them work for them. I know a few who make more than I do from Chitika each day.

Secondly – My own experience of Chitika and what they contribute to my business has confirmed to me my hunch that it wasn’t something to jump ship on. I revealed in a post 4 months ago that I’d earned just under a quarter of a million dollars using Chitika – of that figure is now well in excess of the quarter of a million dollar mark and continues to confirm to me the value of taking a different approach than being swayed by popular opinion and doing something positive instead of being caught up in the pendulum swings that the blogosphere can become distracted by.

Is the Pendulum Swinging Again?

In the last week we’ve seen a pendulum swing over the launch of BlogRush service that reminds me a little of the Chitika fiasco. The service launched in a frenzy of praise and hype as bloggers jostled to benefit from referring others. While many posted about it advising caution and trying to paint realistic expectations – some posts that I read painted this new and untested service as though it was the Messiah!

Yes – BlogRush needs to take some responsibility for the way they presented themselves (they talked themselves up as you’d expect – and gave bloggers an incentive to talk them up) but many bloggers took it to another level and promised the world from the service.

In the last 24 hours – since the release of BlogRush stats – the pendulum has swung and I’ve seen quite a few bloggers painting the service as ‘evil’. Once again bloggers are jumping ship left right and center and accusations are beginning to fly.

While I don’t know if BlogRush will ultimately be as successful for bloggers as Chitika has been for those who remained on board – I found myself wondering how many bloggers are in danger of prematurely throwing a potentially good thing away simply because it didn’t work for them in the in the first day or two.

  • What would happen if rather than dismissing or attacking BlogRush bloggers looked the service over and compiled some constructive feedback for it’s creators?
  • What would happen if bloggers took the time to analyze how it works and to experiment with different ways of using it?
  • What if bloggers pressed pause on their judgement and allowed the creators of this product to improve it?

I’m not saying bloggers should blindly accept every new service that comes along as ‘the answer’ – there may come a time to ‘jump ship’ from BlogRush if it doesn’t work (either for anyone or in individual circumstances) – however I wonder if we all need to take a chill pill and let things run their course a little.

Yes – it may be a big flop – but perhaps if we give it (and other services that emerge) a chance we might just see things grow into something worthwhile that enhances our blogging.

Just my two cents worth.

Improve Your Blog By Reading a Magazine – An Exercise for Bloggers

Are you looking for some fresh design, marketing and even story ideas for your blog? Today I’ve got an exercise that you might find helpful.

This is an off line activity – all pack of sticky notes, a notebook, pen, a magazine and an hour of time.

Magazine-Analysis

The Exercise

It’s simple really – take some time out to analyze/review the magazine with the view of learning something about how you might improve your own blog.

Which magazine do you need? Really almost any one would do – however if there’s a magazine covering the topic that your blog is on then it’s probably worth choosing it

hint – many public libraries have back copies of magazines so you can do this for free and with lots of magazines at once there

I do this process on a regular basis and find that it helps me in a number of ways:

  • Marketing ideas – the way the magazine markets and pitches itself to readers can teach a lot
  • Design ideas – some magazines do layout better than others and the web is definitely a different medium than print – but you can still learn a lot about design from reading a good magazine
  • Post Ideas – whether I choose a magazine on my blog’s topic or not – I almost always come away from this with a story for a new post
  • Learning about my Niche – if you choose a magazine on your topic it’ll keep you across the latest news and developments in it
  • Writing Tips – a good article on almost any topic can teach you a lot about effective communication
  • Monetization Lessons – mainstream media have been monetizing content for a long time – while the web is different some principles still apply

Why Analyze ‘Old Media’

I can here a few blogging evangelists asking what the point of this exercise is. Isn’t blogging ‘new’ media and why would we look to ‘old’ media like magazines to learn how to do it?

While I agree that blogging is a very different medium to magazine publishing – I don’t think that we need to throw everything that’s been learned by mainstream media out – to me that’s rather arrogant.

Sure we should be innovating and working with the strengths of the medium of blogging – but there are also some lessons to be learned by looking at what others are doing in different mediums also.

The Process that I Use

When I conduct this magazine review exercise I generally do it like this:

Set aside at least an hour and head to a place where you won’t be disturbed (I tend to go to a cafe)

Take with you the magazine (or more than one), a notebook, pen and a pack of sticky notes

Starting with the front cover – quickly skim through the magazine – put a sticky note on any page that catches your attention. Don’t pause to read anything yet – just take a quick flick through it to see what leaps out at you

Once you’ve had a quick flick through – make a note at what grabbed you on this first pass through the magazine. Was it a headline, picture, color, opening line of an article or something else? (attention grabbers are so important in creating an engaging blog)

Take a second slower read of the magazine. Again – start at the front cover and work your way through. As you read – ask yourself some of the following questions:

  • Who is the target audience of this publication?
  • What techniques are used on the front page to draw people into the magazine?
  • What makes you pause to read an article?
  • What type of headlines are they using? How effective are they?
  • How are pictures used?
  • What colors are in at the moment?
  • How are articles formatted (use of sub headings, bold, lists etc)?
  • How does the magazine sell itself (looking forward to future issues, subscription pages etc)
  • What can you learn from ad placement and design in the magazine?
  • What level is this magazine pitched at? (beginners, advanced etc)
  • What is the magazine doing well at – what are they not doing well at? How would you improve it?
  • What are the limitations of the medium of magazines that you don’t have with a blog and how could you sell your blog on these things?

As you read through the magazine also make note of story ideas, design techniques, headline structures etc that you might want to try on your blog.

I’m not saying you should copy everything you see happening in the magazine – but rather that you use it as an opportunity to learn and think about your own blog. Some of what you see will naturally lend itself to your blog – other things will not.

The value of this is in stepping away from your own blog for a little while and getting some fresh ideas and perspectives.

I’m keen to hear how you go with this exercise – feel free to share your experiences of it in comments below.

One more Tip

If you choose a magazine on a similar topic to your blog – it can sometimes be worth keeping an eye out for opportunities to directly improve your blog from it. Two come to mind particularly:

1. Guest Posters/Interviews – I wrote a few weeks back about how I’d approached a number of people that I’d come across in magazines to either write guest posts for me or to be interviewed by me on my blogs (read this post at How to Find Fresh Expert Guest Posters for Your Blog).

2. Pitch yourself - I’ve done this a number of times with mixed success – but if the magazine strongly relates to your blog – why not contact the editor to suggest that you do something together? For example you might offer to write an article or even a regular column. I’ve seen a number of bloggers do this with some success. Alternatively you might want to pitch yourself or your blog as a potential subject for an interview or article in their magazine.

Building Blog Readership by Monitoring What Other Bloggers are Writing

Monitor-BloggersToday I want to share a technique that I used when I started my first money making blog to find new readers. It’s one of those tips that probably won’t bring you thousands of new visitors to your blog all at once – but it definitely did help me to grow traffic levels in the early days.

Before I share the tip – let me start with a short illustrative tangent

Regular readers will know that we recently put our house on the market (and sold it). One week after we first began the marketing campaign to sell our house (we advertised in newspapers and online) we began to find that our mail box was filled with letters from a variety of companies including moving services, mortgage brokers and house cleaning services.

Obviously these companies were watching who was advertising in different real estate websites and newspapers and gathering the addresses of advertised properties to send their own marketing material to. In this way they were targeting prospects who were more than likely to be in need of those types of services.

While I found these letters somewhat annoying – they actually did work. We booked a window cleaner through one of them and my wife’s collected all of the removalist companies for when we move home in December.

What does this have to do with promoting a blog?

While checking our mail box this morning and finding another moving company letter I was reminded of something that I used to do when I was starting up one of my early blogs.

The blog was on digital cameras and photography and as most new bloggers do – I was struggling to find readers for it.

One day when I was pondering my lack of readership I went to Technorati and typed the words ‘digital camera’ into the search field there. I was actually looking to see if there were any new cameras being released – but what I found instead were 15 or so blog posts written mainly by personal bloggers talking about different aspects of their use of cameras.

One was complaining about his camera being a piece of junk, another was boasting about her new camera, another was asking for advice on which camera they should buy, another wanted to know how to use their camera better…. etc

I spent half an hour that day leaving helpful and relevant comments on each of those blogs – making suggestions for new cameras, giving tips on how to use them etc. In each case I left the URL of my camera blog in the URL field so that they could find my blog – and in a couple of the posts I even left links in the comments pointing to useful pages on my blog to help the blogger find more information.

What I found was that around half of those that I left these comments for responded to me either with follow up comments or emails. In each case they said they’d check out my blog. Not only did they do this – but I found that many that I helped with comments actually linked up to my blog in days and weeks following me making contact.

As a blogger with just a handful of regular readers I decided that this technique could be quite powerful and I began to monitor a variety of keywords on Technorati with the goal of interacting with other bloggers when they brought up a topic that I was writing about.

Tools for Monitoring Keywords that Bloggers Use

These days there are a variety of tools that you can use to help you to monitor keywords that other bloggers are using in their posts. these include:

  • Technorati Watchlists – you can use these to monitor keywords and/or URLs. You can set them up to report any blog that uses those words.
  • Google Blog Search Blog Alerts – in the same way Google’s Blog Search allows you to track keywords and have them emailed to you either as it happens, daily or weekly.

There are other tools available for this type of monitoring – but I find between these two that you are pretty comprehensive. Feel free to suggest any of your favorite monitoring tools that you use.

Be Useful and Generous

The key with this technique is to not only find when people are talking about topics that relate to your blogs – but to respond to what they’re saying in a genuine and helpful way. Don’t spam their comments with your links but answer questions, make suggestions, share your experience etc. The more useful and generous your comment is the more likely you are to have someone check out who you are and what else you might have to say that is useful.

Building Your Blog One Reader at a Time

I’ve shared this technique with a number of people and around 50% of the time that I have done so I’ve had people write it off as all too hard and not worthwhile. Some bloggers are only interested in building traffic to their blog quickly and any technique that doesn’t have the potential to bring in hundreds and thousands of new readers is ignored.

My own experience is that techniques like this one that build your blog’s readership one reader at a time can be very worthwhile. One new reader who comes back on a daily basis over a number of years because they’ve been genuinely helped by you can have a significant impact upon your blog not only in terms of their own visits and comments – but when they’re a blogger the potential for them to bring their readership with them can be significant.

Image based on one by practicalowl