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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.

9 Lessons You Can Learn about Blogging By Watching Me Sell My House

Auction-For-SaleToday is Auction Day for our house (the house that blogging bought).

While I’ve bought houses before I’ve never sold one and the whole experience has been one of a lot of learning.

We’ll find out how it will end later today (12 hours from now) – but as we nervously wait for the hour to arrive (while doing last minute polishing, scrubbing and tweaking) I’ve been reflecting upon some of the lessons that I’ve learned during the last four weeks since the house went ‘on the market’:

1. Small Things Matter

As part of the service that our real estate agents offer we had an interior designer come to our home to give us some advice on how to arrange things to show the house off to it’s fullest potential. I’m not sure what I was expecting her to tell us but was surprised to hear that much of what she suggested was quite small and that while they didn’t sound much they made a real difference. For example, moving our fridge from one part of the kitchen to another completely opened up the room.

Pay attention to the smaller details on your blog – while individually the small things that you don’t might not make much of a difference, overall they can really add up!

2. Tell a Story, not just the Facts

One of the theories that I’ve been testing with the marketing of our house is to appeal not just to the head of buyers but the heart. I’ve pushed for the ads in local papers and the copy used to not just present facts but to appeal to emotion and the heart. We also added a few ‘heart’ and ‘story’ elements to the way we’ve presented the house during opens for inspections by writing a short brochure for prospective buyers on why we’ve enjoyed living in this house and have left a screen saver of images that I’ve taken around the house running on my computer screen in my study. These have complemented the more ‘factual’ brochures and information that the agents have presented to potential buyers and the feedback that we’ve received is that it’s really made an impression.

Blogs that appeal to different levels (particularly emotions) can do quite well. Add elements of story into your blogging.

3. Don’t reveal all your Cards at once – Get people in the Door

While selecting which images to use of the house in our newspaper and online advertising our agent gave us some good advice. She suggested that instead of featuring images of every room that we only show half of them. The reasoning is that if you do this you get people to actually come and visit to check out the rest. Getting people in the door drastically increases your chances of converting people into bidders.

In blogging the temptation when starting a blog is to vomit out everything you know on a topic very quickly. I’ve seen a number of bloggers launch with ’100 ways to….’ type posts and while these can be good at getting attention – they can also leave you with little more to say. While I believe a key to success in blogging is to share everything you know – there is an art in the ‘slow reveal’ that helps to build momentum and loyalty in blogging.

4. Expect the Unexpected

The last week has led to a number of ‘surprises’. One was looking out the window of the house one day and seeing a photographer setting up his full kit. A couple of days later our house was featured prominently in two prominent newspaper articles as editorial copy – nice! The other surprise came one afternoon a couple of weeks back when I was quietly sitting in our living room working on my laptop and three people appeared in the window. They were carrying out their own impromptu open for inspection (well outside of the advertised times). My agent would probably be horrified that I let them see the property without the agent being there – but it turns out that the family who was there are coming back today to bid.

Blogging is full of surprises. Some of them feel like threats and some opportunities. The key is to be able to harness them and turn them into positives.

5. De-cluttering Rocks

One of the main things that we did to get both our garden and the inside of our home ready for auction was to ‘declutter’. We’re currently living in a very neat home with about 75% of the furniture that we had in it 5 weeks ago (we also have a locked shed with a lot more in it). I’ve also ripped out a significant number of plants in the garden and planted some great new (and smaller) plants. It’s amazing what taking out elements in a home can do for it!

Most bloggers have been through times when they’ve seen the power of de-cluttering. The principle applies in design (especially sidebars) but also in blog writing itself.

6. Get Sensual

I’ve already touched on how appealing to the heart through story can impact how a home (and blog) is perceived. Similarly, we’ve worked on making our opens for inspections a slightly more ‘sensual’ experience. No…. not that kind of sensual…. we’ve been appealing to the senses with music, candles (scented), flowers etc. While you don’t want to overwhelm people with these things – a few subtle touches can really make a house more homely. We saw the impact of this ourselves recently in looking around to buy our next home.

The same is true for blogging – while it’s primarily a medium where people read text – it’s increasingly possible to add visual and audible elements with images, video and podcasts. My own experience of this is that it makes your blog a much more engaging and personal space.

7. Facades Count for a lot but….

The most impressive part of our house is the view of it from the street. It’s not that it’s bad inside – but we’ve worked hard at the outside by upgrading a fence and fixing up the garden. Our home is a Victorian period home which is sought after around here – as a result, we’ve used a shot of the front of the house on our marketing and we’ve seen a lot of people come to the opens for inspection come to check it out.

However… while the front of the house is great – it’s what’s on the inside that counts and that will term people from interested parties into actual bidders and eventual purchasers.

The same is true for a blog. While a lot has been written recently about how a blog’s design can make a major impact upon a blog (and it can) – if you want people to stick around and to convert those who are impressed with how it looks into loyal readers then you need to provide them with something on the inside that is useful to them.

8. Spending Money to Make Money

Over the last 2.5 years that we’ve been living in this home we’ve added value to it by updating a variety of things to it. We’ve put on a new roof, installed wardrobes, painted, put in new carpet and more. We didn’t do this to make money but did it for ourselves because we originally felt we’d live here for the long term (plans change). While we didn’t do it as an investment – it seems to have paid off with the quoted selling figures all significantly more than it would have been without the extra features that we’ve added.

In terms of blogging – I don’t believe that you need to spend a lot of money in order to have a successful blog. There are examples around of blogs that are run on free platforms and hosting that have done well that would shoot this down in flames. However…. spending money on your blog can help to give it a boost. I regularly speak to bloggers how spend money on advertising, more who spend on education (buying online learning resources), others who’ve spent considerable money on design and others who pay for writers (and more) who would argue that spending money to make money blogging is an important part of their approach to profitable blogging.

9. Positioning is Everything

Our agent started talking to us about where to advertise our house by saying that people from our suburb generally don’t buy in our suburb but that there’s a 90% chance that our buyers will come from 2-3 suburbs closer to the city to where we live. As a result – advertising in our very local papers was a waste of time and our ad dollars would go a lot further by advertising in papers from the inner city suburbs.

I’ve discovered a similar thing in blogging when it comes to where growing your traffic by putting time and energy into developing a presence in other websites and blogs. While some take a shotgun approach and market themselves to any other blogger who will listen – smart bloggers think carefully about where their potential reader is already gathering and positions themselves in those spaces.

Now it’s Time to Test it…

So everything above is, in reality, untested theories. I guess we’ll find out what the reality is in just a few hours. Wish us luck! I’ll update this post with a note on how it all goes later today.

Update: We sold the house and achieved our targets. Thanks to everyone for your well wishes.

10 Ways to Hurt Your Blog’s Brand by Commenting on Other Blogs

Comments-Blog-1Ask popular bloggers for 10 ways to build traffic to a new blog and I’ll guarantee that almost all of them will mention the importance of commenting on other blogs as part of their answer.

Much has been written about commenting as a strategy to build traffic (because used correctly it is a powerful tool) – but very little has been written on the dangers of it. Over the past few months I’ve noticed some bloggers using comments in increasingly aggressive ways to build their own readership – to the point where I think they are probably doing more harm to their own brand than they are doing good.

I should say that this topic has been one I’ve been a little hesitant to write about – partly because I see some of these tactics used here at ProBlogger. This is not a post written with any particular person (or people) in mind – however I put it out there for your consideration and feedback.

Two notes before I start:

  • I’m not going to include using automated comment spamming techniques – I’m assuming that people will have the brains to work out why this can hurt your brand
  • Some of these techniques will annoy some but not others. Some of them I personally don’t like but some are observations about what I’ve seen annoy others. A lot of this is about the perception that you give off to others. Whether you see them as annoying or not is important – but more important to your brand is what others think of the techniques.

1. Excessive use of Signatures – I ran a poll back in 2005 about whether ProBlogger readers thought that I should allow the practice of leaving a signature in comments (ie a link to your blog at the comment itself in addition to the link that you get as your name). The result at that time was that 56% of readers said the practice should be allowed. As a result I decided to allow them here at ProBlogger. However at the time I also suggested that I didn’t like them as did a significant number of other readers. I still don’t like the practice personally and particularly get turned off when people leave 2-3 (or more) links under their comment (note, I’m not talking about relevant links inside your comment that add to the conversation). While this might not turn off everyone – it’s worth noting that it does get some angry – and even if this is the minority it can hurt your brand.

2. Excessive Self Linking – The practice of leaving links inside posts is not something that bothers me too much – unless it gets excessive. A well placed link back to something you’ve written (or that someone else has written) previously can really add to a conversation – particularly if what you’ve written else where is too long or detailed for the comment thread itself. What does risk annoying others is when you include lots of links to yourself in every comment you make and/or when the links are irrelevant to the topic and/or when you just leave a link without saying anything else. Keep links relevant and in moderation and you’ll find people respond to them well.

3. One or Two word Comments – Some comment leavers seem to be have a ‘quantity over quality’ mentality where they think that the more comments they leave on as many posts as possible the better they’ll be (whether for SEO or direct click visitors). Newsflash – it’s not. One insightful, intriguing and intelligent comment that is relevant and helpful to readers can achieve far more than many two word comments that ultimately mean nothing. All you’ll achieve by leaving loads of useless comments is to annoy bloggers, get yourself listed on comment spam blacklists and to potentially hurt your blog’s reputation as a spammer.

4. Not Reading Posts Before Commenting - I’m sure most of us have been guilty of this from time to time. You see a post title that you want to react to, you read the first line or two and feel strongly moved to comment. You leave the comment without reading the full post and then realize that you’ve made an idiot of yourself by saying something stupid, wrong or poorly thought through. While you might be able to repair the mistake by leaving another comment – it’s hard to get a comment removed on blogs – your words remain for years to come to highlight your opinion. Take a moment before leaving comments to make sure you understand what’s being written about – this means reading the full post first – it can also mean reading what others have written too.

5. Flaming and Personal Attack – While blogging has always been a medium where people don’t mind a little vigorous debate – it’s also got a history of flaring up into personal attack and flaming from time to time. It’s easy to do – you read something that you strongly disagree with and write a comment in the heat of the moment. Your comment is misinterpreted and read by another emotional person who responds – things escalate and suddenly things get personal. No one really wins in these exchanges – in fact more often than not both people come out of it with slightly tattered egos and reputations. Get a reputation for repeated flaming and you can really hurt your credibility.

6.’Anonymous’ Flaming – From time to time I get ‘anonymous’ comments left on this blog which get a little personal or which critique me or my actions. While I try to take these in good spirit (critique is actually an opportunity to improve) I sometimes wish that the person leaving the comment would reveal who they are – not so that I could attack back but so that we could have a good constructive interaction via email. What I do find interesting however is that many ‘anonymous’ comment leaves don’t seem to realize that when they leave a comment their IP address is also included with the comment in the back end of the blog. If you’ve written a non anonymous comment previously under your real name it is very simple to connect the two together. So your attack, jibe or personal swipe might not be so anonymous after all – and this can only hurt your reputation.

7. Always Being First To Comment - This is one of those tricky ones that doesn’t really annoy me personally and which can actually be a good tactic on some levels – but which can get a little excessive and become annoying for some. I’ve done heatmap tracking on comment sections of posts before and it is true that the earlier that you comment on a post the more chance that people will come to visit your blog. As a result – I’ve seen numerous people compete on popular blogs to be the first to leave a comment. While this can generate some traffic – the problem is that if you do it on every post and if in your rush to be first you write junky, quick and irrelevant comments you will begin to annoy both the bloggers who you are commenting on the posts of as well as their readers. Balance is the key if you want to be first – and quality comments count for a lot.

8. Dominating Comment Threads – A couple of years ago I had a blog which had a particular reader who commented multiple times on every post that I wrote. I’m not sure why they did this but while the comments were on topic, relevant and quite often helpful – they were also overwhelming in their quantity. In any given week this person would comment on my blog 50 to 100 times by responding to everything I wrote and most of the comments that other readers wrote. It got to a point where they were more active on my blog than I was and that other readers began to complain that they felt they were being drowned out. I ended up talking to the comment leaver about it and they scaled things down to a more reasonable level. Lots of comments are great – but when comment threads are dominated by any one person the feeling of community and dialogue can be lost and the person dominating the conversation can be seen in a negative light.

9. Keyword Stuffed Names - This is another one that people will have differing opinions on – but it is annoying for some and therefore could be considered as slightly risky. The reason that people leave comments under names that are not their own name but which are other ‘keywords’ are numerous. For some it is an SEO strategy (although it is worth noting that the majority of blogs these days use no-follow tags which stop Google Juice being passed on), for others it’s about communication what your blog is about, for others its about anonymity and for others it’s probably more of a branding decision. I get all of this and as a result it doesn’t worry me that much – however I do know some bloggers and blog readers who can’t stand it and who consider it to look spammy. While I don’t hold such strong views I would say that by not using your real name you could actually be hurting your own personal brand because there’s something about a real person’s name that is… well…. it’s personal. I would much rather chat to someone who has a name like James, Sara or Rahul than someone called ‘Million Dollar Get Rich Quick’ or ‘Free Debt Advice’.

10. Not adding value to the Comments – This is related to other points in this list but is worth saying. Every comment that you leave has the potential to either add value or take value from that other person’s blog. Add value to the conversations that are happening in the wider blogging community and you’ll build yourself a reputation as a wise, insightful and knowledgeable authority figure. Conversely – every comment that you leave that is obviously self serving, that illustrates that you’ve not read the post or that tears down others says something about who you are also and can give you a different kind of reputation.

OK – so there’s 10 ways that you can potentially hurt your brand by the way that you leave comments on others blogs. As I mentioned above – some of these are more black and white in my mind than others (some, like ‘being first’ or commenting a lot can start out as good but tip over into being bad if you get excessive – however all are worth considering.

You may decide to continue to do all or some of the above for good reason – but do so knowing that there is cost and potential for being misunderstood or perceived as doing something that perhaps you’re not intending to do.

Remember – everything you do or say in a public forum like another person’s blog comments have the ability to positively or negatively impact you and your blog’s brand. Not only that – the things you say and do in these spaces are permanent (at least until a person retires and deletes their blog). As a result commenting on blogs should not only be seen as an opportunity – but also as a practice that can be risky if you do it in the wrong way.

Have Your Say

Now it’s time for you to have your say. By no means am I an expert on any of this – so I’m keen to get your input:

  • What practices would you add to the above list?
  • Which would you remove from it (or modify)?
  • What advice would you give bloggers when it comes to commenting on others blogs?
  • As a blogger – do you police any of these types of things? Do you have a comment policy of any kind?

When it Feels Like Nobody is Reading Your Blog

Talking-To-YourselfI was chatting with two friends last week – one of them is a blogger and the other was considering starting a blog.

My blogging friend was dispensing a few words of wisdom on how to start out (the usually kind of beginner blogging tips) when he said something out of the blue which made me take note because of the wisdom of it.

He said:

“In the early days you’ll feel like you’re talking to yourself (actually in the very beginning you probably are) – but don’t give up because it’s a feeling that will subside. The key is to keep blogging through that awkward beginning because if you do you’ll find people will begin to find you and the memory of talking to yourself will be a distant memory.”

I really appreciated my friend’s words. They reminded me a lot of my own beginnings in blogging when I felt quite foolish about pouring out what was on my mind for everyone (and nobody) to read).

His words also reminded me of another time in my life where I felt like I was talking to an empty room.

Warning – Tangent Ahead (it’s been a while since we had a tangent hasn’t it!)

In my previous life, before I was a blogger, I was a minister of a middle sized suburban church (I still do this work in a part time voluntary capacity in a small emerging experimental church).

Part of my work in this church that I really enjoyed was preaching. I loved preparing for and delivering sermons (in fact I find the process very similar to putting together blog posts).

My workflow for preparing a sermon went something like this (it took a week or more to go through the full process):

  • Pick a Topic (or be given one by the senior minister).
  • Begin Brainstorming ideas/angles/points
  • Research the Topic (bible study, reading the opinion of others, surfing the web/forums/sermon resource sites)
  • Putting together some main points

Empty-PewsAt this point I would jot my main points (usually 5 or so) down on a piece of paper and leave my office to go and find a quiet empty room (quite often the main chapel of the church). Once in that empty echoing room I would do something that felt quite awkward the first time I did it – I would begin to preach.

With my main points before me I would begin to speak them out – playing with how the words sounded – adding stories, illustrations and ideas as they came to mind.

For me the researching/brainstorming process of the first 4 steps outlined above was a fairly dry process. I gathered information – but it wasn’t until I began to actually do it that the real magic happened. While it felt a little weird at first to start talking out loud in a big empty room it was actually a valuable practice.

As I would preach to the empty pews and as my word echoed around the room I found that I learned so much about the topic I was exploring and how to deliver it. I also learned a lot about preaching. New ideas would come, I’d try different ways of expressing it and slowly the final version of the sermon would begin to form – to the point that when I got up in the same room on Sunday to deliver the final version it would flow.

The more I practiced in this way the more I improved as a preacher.

Lessons for Blogging from Preaching to Empty Pews

As I reflect upon my early days of blogging where I felt that nobody was listening I now realize that that was a time where I learned a lot about what I wanted to say and how to say it.

In those early days I tested ideas, tried new ways of expressing them and learned a lot about my topic and the medium of blogging.

So my advice to new bloggers who feel like no one is listening is to not give up and see the experience of preaching to the empty pews on your blog as a learning experience.

The things you learn now will shape your future blogging, will grow your understanding of your topic, will grow your character and make you into a better blogger.

Hear endeth today’s sermon….