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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

Full Or Partial RSS Feeds – The Great Feed Debate

This week I want to try something a little different and attempt a debate here at ProBlogger. The idea is simple – I’ve chosen two people who I think have experience around a debated blogging topic to argue the case for either side of it. These two opinions will act as the first speaker for each side and then I (as the moderator) will hand it over to you the ProBlogger readership to act as the 2nd and 3rd speakers for each side.

The idea isn’t to have a bun fight over the topic but to flesh it out and engage in some good conversation and learning.

Rss-Full-Or-Partial-Feed-2

The Topic

The topic for this debate is ‘Full or Partial RSS Feeds?’ – it’s a topic I get asked about a lot and which I know there are good arguments for on both sides.

The Speakers

Gina-RickI’ve chosen two speakers for this debate that I think will get a good conversation going. They are:

Arguing for Partial Feeds is Gina Trapani – editor of the famous Lifehacker blog.

Arguing for Full Feeds is Rick Klau – former VP, Publisher Services at FeedBurner and currently in Strategic Partner Development at Google.

I should say before we start that I put Gina in a position of having to argue for something that she isn’t convinced of herself. She generously agree to participate however.

So without further ado – here’s some thoughts from Gina and Rick to get our discussion going. Feel free to chime in with your thoughts in comments below – no matter what they might be.

The Argument for Partial Feeds

GinaGina Trapani – editor at Lifehacker
At Lifehacker.com we offer a choice of either a full-post feed (with ads) or partial feeds (no ads.) While giving the reader a choice is a good thing (at the expense of adding an extra step to the subscription process), I can see why a publisher or a reader might prefer less-popular partial feeds.

As a publisher, providing a pull quote in your feed instead of the full post gives you the advantage of seeing which stories your readers are interested enough to click on. A lot of people assume that publishers use partial feeds just for extra on-page ad views, and that may be true in some cases. But back when I published a personal site – and advertisement-free site – I used partial feeds for editorial purposes. The necessary clicks from feed items served as instant reader feedback. You simply can’t do the kind of traffic tracking with full feeds than you can do with partial ones.

As a reader, I prefer partial feeds in some cases, especially from news sources who can summarize the point of the article in one sentence. Skimming CNET’s partial post feed, which just includes the story lead, is a lot easier and more efficient than including the entire article.

The Argument for Full Feeds

Rick KlauRick Klau – former VP, Publisher Services at FeedBurner and currently in Strategic Partner Development at Google.

More than half a million publishers have burned nearly 900,000 feeds over at www.feedburner.com , so it should come as no surprise how often we are asked which is better: full-text or partial feeds? While there is no single, “right” answer that covers all situations, there are a number of often overlooked angles to consider.

First, I’d like to clear up a few points of confusion. Clickthroughs alone are an imperfect (if not altogether inaccurate) measure of a reader’s interest in a story. Partial feeds often make it harder, not easier, for a reader to know whether they’re interested in a story at all. If you just include a sentence or two of a post in a feed, you’re asking the reader to click through to read the rest of the post – when the actual substance of the post is not at all obvious from those first few sentences.

Regarding Gina’s statement that “you simply can’t do the kind of traffic tracking with full feeds that you can do with partial ones” – I respectfully disagree. Publishers who use FeedBurner’s feed management services can measure both feed item views ( i.e., posts which are read in the aggregator) as well as clickthroughs – giving them an accurate view of both clickthroughs, and more importantly, the clickthrough rate. This is true for both full feeds and partial feeds… and is often the best way to measure how engaged your audience is with your content. It should be noted that in feeds who’ve compared full and partial feeds, we’ve seen no hard evidence suggesting that partial feeds alone increase the clickthrough rate.

Now for some reasons why full feeds are in a publisher’s (and a reader’s) best interest. I think Mike Masnick at TechDirt hit the nail on the head earlier this week when he posted about this question:

[F]ull text feeds actually … lead to more page views… Full text feeds makes the reading process much easier. It means it’s that much more likely that someone reads the full piece and actually understands what’s being said — which makes it much, much, much more likely that they’ll then forward it on to someone else, or blog about it themselves, or post it to Digg or Reddit or Slashdot or Fark or any other such thing — and that generates more traffic and interest and page views from new readers, who we hope subscribe to the RSS feed and become regular readers as well. The whole idea is that by making it easier and easier for anyone to read and fully grasp our content, the more likely they are to spread it via word of mouth, and that tends to lead to much greater adoption than by limiting what we give to our readers and begging them to come to our site if they want to read more than a sentence or two.

As I wrote earlier this year on our corporate blog, full posts also contain far richer information within the posts – hyperlinks – that can be exploited by services like TechMeme, Technorati, and other RSS-aware services. Those links are valuable indicators of the relationships between posts – which can yield tremendous context for readers who want to discover related content. Partial posts rob readers (and automated services) of that context, as the hyperlinks themselves aren’t included in the partial posts.

Commercial publishers who distribute feeds often worry about the lack of revenue – they make money on their site and are understandably concerned that they are “giving away” their content through the feed. But it’s possible to monetize your feed directly (through FeedBurner’s feed and blog ad network, among other options) – and if you buy Masnick’s argument above, traffic to your site will actually increase thanks to the fuller feed (which means your site revenue will increase as well!).

Readers clearly prefer full feeds over partial feeds; one need only see the outcry from Freakonomics readers (read the comments) last week when they switched from a full feed to a partial feed to understand that readers value the delivery of information in its entirety, to an environment (their newsreader) they prefer. Certainly there are occasions when a partial feed is required: many commercial publishers have licensing issues that prevent them from including full text in the feed, and in those cases, some content’s better than no content. But when it’s better for the readers (who get what they want, where they want it), better for the publishers (who can drive more revenue and satisfy their users), and better for the ecosystem (which get more information, which allows them to add more value to their users), it’s my opinion that full feeds are simply better.

Have Your Say

OK – Rick and Gina have kicked the conversation off – it’s time to have your say!

Do you use Full Feeds, Partial Feeds – or both? Why?

Create a Custom 404 Error Page for Your Blog

404-Page-Not-FoundWhen someone comes to a page on your domain that is no longer there (either because it’s been deleted, because they’ve typed something in wrong or because the link that they followed was wrong) they are shown the dreaded 404 ‘page not found’ error page.

This error simply means that the person was able to communicate with your server but that the server couldn’t find the page that they were after.

404 error pages come in all shapes and sizes but traditionally are quite often like these:

404-Errors

While these sorts of pages certainly communicate that there’s been some kind of error – they don’t really do you or your potential reader any good. In the majority of cases they’ll simply surf away from your website.

It need not be this way – Customize Your 404 Page

One of the things that I asked Ben to do when redesigning ProBlogger was to put together a customized 404 page for this site. The old one was a fairly poor page that didn’t really do much (it was just an error message on my normal template).

However Ben put together a page that in the last week or so had a message about us going through a redesign process.

Yesterday I upgraded it to give more information. You can see how it looks by typing in any url that doesn’t return a page on my domain (like this one).

What Have I included in my 404 error page?

Bloggers wanting to customize their error page are confronted with a lot of choices. My own priorities on this occasion were twofold:

1. Help people find what they are looking for

2. Give people other helpful content and drive them deeper into the blog

Priority 1 is all about helping the person find the actual information that they are after. I do this by giving them a search field and the option to contact me.

Priority 2 is all about making the site sticky and giving readers an option to surf deeper into the blog. As a result I prove some of my ‘best articles’, suggest some ‘blogging for beginners’ posts and then point them back to the front page of the site.

I’ve chosen to do this all within a normal template for the blog – although did toy with the idea of a much simpler and cleaner page.

Other Options that I’ve seen bloggers use

Redirect to Front Page of Blog - From what I can tell the default 404 page on WP blogs is to serve up the main page of a blog. While this is probably better than a start white error page it fails to communicate to the reader what’s going on or to help them find their information.

Promote RSS Feed – I’ve seen a few bloggers use a 404 page to heavily promote their RSS feed. While I can see why they do this (and do promote mine right at the bottom of my own 404 page) I’m not sure how the conversion would be. People confronted with a page not found error are looking for something specific – not looking to become loyal to a site that can’t find what they want on.

Humor – There’s been a trend over the last few years (or longer) to serve up funny 404 pages – either with funny images or statements. These can definitely take some of the sting out of a reader’s frustration at getting an error – but unless they have a way of helping them or driving them into the site I suspect most will surf away from the page – be it with a smile on their face.

To see a list of different 404 pages check out Smashing Magazine’s post on the topic with lots of examples (and another one).

How to Customize Your 404 Page

The process for creating a customized 404 page for your blog will vary from blog platform to blog platform (and for some hosted options it may not be possible). I don’t propose to go through each option in this post – but if you are a WordPress user (as the majority of ProBlogger readers are) I would suggest you look at a post on 404 pages that Average Joe Blogger posted on the topic a few days back which reminded me to fix my own 404 page.

If you’ve seen tutorials for other blog platforms please feel free to suggest them below. If you’ve customized a Custom 404 Page – how did you do it and what did you include?

More SEO Tips from Aaron Wall

Seo-Book-Aaron-WallToday I continue my interview with Aaron Wall – author of SEO Book. Also read Part I of my interview with Aaron Wall.

What’s the best link building strategy you ever used?

Creating free software and giving it away. It is unreal how many thousands of high quality links you can get from producing free software. One of my new Google Gadgets is about a month old and already gets over 30,000 weekly page views. I also love awards programs and interviewing others.

If you had to identify 3 important SEO tips that all bloggers should know and implement – what would they be?

Is it ok if I do 5?

Sure thing!

  1. Attribution is important. Linking to popular bloggers and other sources is a way of getting their attention. Its like saying hey I just talked about you, come see what I said. Many will ignore you, but it only takes a couple good ones liking you for your blog to spread like a weed.
  2. Make sure your content is formatted such that it is easy to read. Use headings and sub-headers, bulleted lists, spread things out, etc. Ultimately you need people to read and trust your work for search engines to want to trust it. Search engines follow what people do.
  3. Make sure your page titles are unique on a per post level with the unique part of the title element at the far left of the page title. This helps improve rankings and makes people more likely to click on your listing when you do rank. Descriptive enticing headlines will pull more clicks than boring and bland ones.
  4. Don’t ignore internal navigation. Where possible, allow some of your categories to drive your keyword strategy. Some of your categories should be well aligned with some of your keywords. Create a top hits or featured posts section that makes it easy to find your best content. Also link back to your older posts in some of your newer posts to alert new readers to the best related posts in your archives and help search engines understand which pages are most important.
  5. If many people are writing about the same thing you are, try to write about something else or try to write about it from a different perspective such that people want to keep paying attention to you. Don’t be afraid of being yourself. Often times our flaws are more interesting than what we are allegedly good at.

What are the biggest mistakes that you see bloggers making in SEO?

I don’t think this mistake is specific to bloggers, but is a general web thing. You can sometimes see a piece of garbage website ranking well, or see a site worse than yours doing better than you are. But you can’t beat people by following them to wherever they currently are. At one point in time some of those sites were some of the better sites on the market. If they launched a similar site today they would be nowhere. And some of the sites are in cash out mode, publishing garbage spam where something good once ranked.

Don’t believe that just by following anyone’s guidelines or doing exactly what other sites are doing that you are going to rank well. You really need to leverage your own knowledge and personality to create a brand that others can evangelize and spread.

Is Page Rank important any more?

Keep in mind that toolbar PageRank is perpetually outdated and measured on a rough logarithmic scale, but yes real PageRank is important. The reason why is that for any given amount of link equity you can only get so many pages indexed. The more link authority you have the deeper search engines will crawl through your site.

How is blogging important to your overall business?

It is huge. Where others are buying $5,000 booths at conferences and spending $500 a day on AdWords my marketing spend is next to nothing because I get many sales from people talking about me. Plus blogging got me media exposure which makes it easier to get more media exposure down the road. I was a no name SEO with one popular article before I started SEO Book, but now I have thousands of subscribers and thousands of customers. The single most important part of my business right now is blogging.

I talk to many bloggers who want to launch an e-book – what have you learned that could help them from your experience in launching SEO book?

I actually wrote a 9 page blog post offering a bunch of tips on this topic.

At the core it helps to have a strong name, keep the site clean, put your offer inline with the content, give a way a ton of value, give away review copies and just keep pushing on the public relations front.

If you are in a competitive marketplace you need people talking about you everyday. If you find a smaller uncompetitive niche then you might even be able to get away with hiring a freelance writer and having them do the writing and marketing. You can also test markets before you create your products by creating a PPC offer and promising a book as collateral for their feedback. Use their feedback to estimate demand and target pricing.

Seeing how quickly Google grabbed control of video and how aggressively they are pushing it I am not convinced that ebooks are a sustainable long term model that will still work in 5 or 10 years. Google and Amazon are both wheeling and dealing to get access to the catalogs of major publishing houses to sell their books online as ebooks. When those books are available at $8 it gets much harder to charge $80 for an ebook. I think it is better to sell a product as a service with recurring revenues if possible. Include video and other stuff as well. And the reason the web is great is because it is interactive. Most eooks generally are not. ;)

What SEO resources and blogs do you read?

I probably read about 100 different blogs. My favorites are ones that are published less frequently, but with deeply insightful posts, like:

As well as ones that usually have something unique, like:

I also stop by many of the old mainstays like Webmasterworld.com and Searchengineland.com

Seo-Book-NewThanks to Aaron Wall for his time on this interview.

Aaron has been most generous with me personally over the years and both SEO Book and personal advice at different times have added significantly to my own earnings from blogging.

I commend him and his resources to you as a great source of knowledge when it comes to SEO.

Learn How to Get Your Blog Ranking High in Search Engines – An Interview with Aaron Wall

Seo-Book-Aaron-WallOver the next couple of days you’re in for a treat because I’ve managed to secure an interview with Aaron Wall – a blogger and author that has literally added thousands (if not tens of thousands) to my own blogging earnings over the last few years as a result of me reading his great eBook – SEObook. Aaron’s book is 300 pages of pure Search Engine Optimization gold and he’s been generous enough to answer some of my questions.

His answers are so good that I’ve decided to split this into a two part interview so you don’t scan over them too fast and miss something.

Aaron – thanks for your time. Can you give us a short introduction to yourself and what you do?

I am a blogger who wrote a popular book about SEO. I also publish a wide array of websites and do a limited amount of high end SEO consulting with my partner Scott Smith at ClientsideSEM.com.

In addition to writing about SEO I offer free tools to help people automate doing research. I recently created a couple Google Gadgets that were well received, and my programmer created SEO for Firefox, which puts marketing data right in the search results.

It seems that a lot of people are getting into SEO at the moment – how and when did you get into it?

My first website, in early 2003, was a poorly done rant site. I wanted others to see my opinions and I figured the easiest and cheapest way to do so was to learn how to make it rank in search engines. I asked lots of questions at forums and then started moderating many of them. I had a site that listed my own notes about SEO stuff and a person hired me before I knew I was selling anything. A few months later they had already seen a 20x return on their spend and I felt pretty good about that.

By the end of 2003 I was ranking in the top 10 of Google’s results for search engine marketing, and my article about the Google florida update became popular and got me more client inquires than I could handle.

I’ve said on numerous occasions that I’ve learned almost everything that I know about SEO from your resource – SEO Book – but can you tell us why you wrote it and why ProBlogger readers might want to consider making the purchase?

Seo-Book-NewWhen I got on the web I bought SEO services from a scammy company that ripped me off. I also went down many dead end paths, trying to find where there was free traffic, doing arbitrage from unclean sources that stole my money, signing up for programs that teach you the world revolves around spreading their crap. etc. That led me to an inbox full of spam but no rankings.

I saw at the end of 2003 that the client services lifestyle was a bit feast or famine. I was getting about 2 calls a month. Then overnight it was up to like 30 in a day. Then it went back down a bit. And honestly I tended to undersell services because I didn’t fully appreciate the value of search off the start.

After I started learning more about SEO and business I thought it would be a good idea to share what I knew. My goal when I first wrote SEO Book was to write the book I wished I had read when I first got on the web. The first version was a modest 24 page HTML document that I gave away on Christmas of 2003.

Search has since got more complex and important, my experience has increased, and my knowledge of marketing has increased. As a result, the book is now over 300 pages, and rather than talking about do this do that in specific white and black my book also offers reasons why I think an idea will work or not.

When it comes to building links to a blog – do you recommend bloggers buy links, ‘use’ social media sites, trade links, linkbait, something else…. or some combination of the above?

I say try everything and see what works best for you. You might come across a trick that I haven’t used much that works well for you given your personality and your market.

  • I wouldn’t recommend renting too many links right out of the gate, because it adds cost and you may not be able to recoup the costs unless you are business savvy, plus sites get trusted more as they age. I would recommend listing in the Yahoo! Directory and some of the other higher quality general directories and blogging directories if you intend on creating a long term successful blog as a business.
  • Comment on related blogs and participate in related communities. These may not provide direct links, but links flow naturally after you have subscribers. You need to raise awareness if you are new and starting from scratch.
  • After you have awareness many people will frequently cite you just because they are subscribed to you.
  • Buy specific ads from specific sites.
  • Take concepts you see poorly done and do them exceptionally well, then use email to notify people who might care. Don’t forget to ping people you know well, especially if you have done them favors too.
  • Create social content as a form of marketing. Interview people, create tools, hold contests, give out awards, etc.

One other thing I would probably add is that for most people it is probably not going to be worth it to spend tons and tons of time building up a social media account on a large generalist website. If you only have a few hours a day to spend online then you should spend most of that reading and participating on sites specifically about your topic, or writing your site.

Tomorrow I’ll share the second part to this interview with Aaron and will ask him about the best ever link building strategy that he’s used, where he gives 5 key SEO tips that bloggers should implement, where he talks about Page Rank and gives some hints on how to launch a successful ebook (plus more).

In the mean time – take a little time out to check out SEO Book – which comes with a money back guarantee, free lifetime updates (and he does update) plus a few worthwhile bonuses.

How to Get Loads of Traffic from a Group Writing Project

Last week I decided to run a small experiment on the ProBlogger reader community (please forgive me for making you a guinea pig).

In my post revealing a batch of reader blog tips in the 31 day project I inserted a CrazyEgg tracking code to track what links in the post readers clicked on. The reason for the experiment was to answer a few questions to do with participating in Group Writing Projects:

  1. Are people actually clicking the links in these posts (ie – is it worth running these projects and participating in them)?
  2. How important is it to be early in the list?
  3. What makes a title clickable?

Let me share the results by tackling each question.

1. Are people actually clicking the links?

Crazy-EggCrazyEgg shows that 1550 people visited the post in question (more viewed it in RSS and on the Blog Page – these were not tracked) and that they clicked 2204 times on the page. The vast majority of these 2204 clicks were on the list itself. While the total number of clicks from RSS and the blog page cannot be known I’d say that there is a good number of clicks on the list and that it’s probably a worthwhile thing to participate in.

2. How important is it to be early in the list?

The heat map that CrazyEgg produced shows that those in the top section of the list did get more clicks than those in the bottom section. The two screen shots below show this. The first is of the first links in the list and the second is of the last links in the list.

Crazy-Egg-Top-Bottom

Obviously there’s more action in the first screenshot.

A few other observations on positioning of links

  • While the top links were clicked on more than others all but three links in the list were visited at least once
  • The top 4 links were particularly hot although…..
  • The most clicked link on the page was actually listed 12th in the list, the next two in the list were 3rd and 4th, the next was 16th and the next was 51st.
  • Other single links down the page did get higher clicks on them than others while a few links in the top section were clicked on significantly less than others around them (indicating that some other factor was at play – particularly the title)

3. What makes a title clickable?

TitlesTo the right are the top 25 links from the list ranked in order of how many clicks that they each had.

As mentioned above – where they were listed did have a play – although there were a few that appeared out of order.

A few observations:

  • ‘lists’ with numbers in them featured well
  • posts that related strongly to the audience of ProBlogger obviously did well
  • posts that were obviously ‘how to’, practical or ‘tips’ did well
  • questions featured in the list in numerous places
  • titles that showed a benefit of reading or presented a need that people had worked
  • there was a real mixture in the list in terms of post length – some were short, some were quite long
  • the use of CAPITALS in the 5th ranked link seemed to draw the eye down the page (to the 51st position) to get more clicks

Titles do matter in group writing projects.

While I won’t publicly point out the posts that didn’t get any or many clicks – in most cases they were due to weaker titles which were either vague or irrelevant.

What other things do you notice about the Top 25 titles in the list?

Take Home Advice:

If you’re going to participate in these types of group writing projects then there are three obvious factors in play if you want to generate a lot of visitors.

  • Get in Early – have a post ready to go if possible to be at the top of the list
  • Consider your title very carefully
  • Choose a topic that is highly relevant and useful to the audience of the blog that the project is on

Of course getting people to your blog is only half of the equation. There’s no point in have a post at the top of a list with a great title if your post is rubbish and you don’t draw people into your blog. Making your blog sticky then becomes the key task that you need to work on.