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Keep Your New Year’s Resolution: Set up a Social, Search-optimized WordPress Blog … Today

This guest post is by Marcela De Vivo of Gryffin.co.

Recently ProBlogger discussed how to brand your blog, how to find your voice, and how to build your authority.

Mouse

Image courtesy stock.xchng user panoramadi

These articles are powerful, but often I find myself speaking with people who don’t have a blog yet, or are using Blogger or custom made, cumbersome platforms. Just this week alone I went through these steps with four different people who want to jump on the blogging bandwagon.

In this article we will go back to basics for those who haven’t started their blog yet, or who are on platforms that are hindering their progress.

If one of your New Year’s Resolutions was to improve your blogging presence—or start a new one—read on!

We’ll go through a step-by-step process, including tools and resources for each step, to set up a WordPress blog that is optimized for social and search marketing success.

Setting up your WordPress blog

WordPress is currently the most popular content management platform.  It can be used for static pages or as a blog.  You can add plugins for a shopping cart, image galleries, and much more.

Here’s how to set it up.

  1. Register your domain with sites like Register.com, Godaddy.com, or Enom.com
  2. Create a hosting account with sites like BlueHost.com, WPEngine, or HostGator.  If you would like to do more research on hosting companies, check out WhoIsHostingThis.
  3. Select a WordPress theme. I personally love using StudioPress as the themes are clean, functional, and easy to work with. Search for a responsive theme so your blog will be accessible to mobile users.
  4. Is your site running on a different CMS or platform? Consider using a blog migration service, such as BlogWranglers, to move your current site over to WordPress. Hundreds of thousands have done it, with no regrets.
  5. Upload WordPress to your hosting account, and customize with your relevant theme.  If you are not a techie, this is the part where you’ll need some help.  Check out Elance.com, Freelancer.com, or a site like Craiglist.org to find someone who can help you set up and customize your template.
  6. Install WordPress plugins.

Let’s take a deeper look at the plugins you’ll need.

Setting up your plugins

Social media

These are the social media plugins I recommend you consider.

SEO plugins

My favorite SEO plugins include these ones.

Usability

Usability plugins can be a huge help. Consider these:

Doing keyword research

To gain exposure from search engines, you need to have your blog focused on a theme. Select a primary keyword within this general theme for each page of the site.  You can read more about keyword research in this ProBlogger article.

Select keywords by identifying low-competition and high-search terms for your industry from Google’s Keyword tool.

Other tools you can use include:

.

Prepare content for your static pages and images

While a designer/programmer is working on setting up your site, you can start by writing and preparing content for your site.

A well-optimized page includes the primary keywords in the Title of the page, Meta Description tag, H1 tag, once or twice in the body, and in an outbound link.

As you’re preparing your content, remember these elements of an excellent blog post:

        • Post title: creative and compelling
        • Social share icons: make sharing your content easy
        • Image: an image speaks louder than words
        • Opening paragraph: include keywords in a teaser into the introduction
        • Body copy: use headers and bold words
        • Lists: make your content easy to scan
        • Conclusion: include a teaser for your next article
        • Related posts: give them more content to consume
        • Comment section: Always respond to comments

Read Darren’s compilation from earlier this year for more information on each element in The Anatomy of a Better Blog Post.

Connect your site for optimum findability

By this point you should have a WordPress blog with a range of enhancements made possible by plugins and other customizations.  You will have SEO plugins to improve your on-page SEO, page load times, keyword density, site maps, and other relevant SEO features.

You will also have a selection of social plugins so that you can encourage social shares from your site. You will have other features such as contact forms, tracking, reporting, and an email signup box to build your email list.

Incorporating keyword research will help you to deliver the content that people are looking for in a way that lets it be found.  You can write articles based on long-tail terms, answer questions that your audience may have, and target hundreds of keywords by writing articles specific to each one.

So what are you waiting for? Make your New Year’s Resolution a reality and start your new blog today. And if you have any suggestions of plugins, tools, or services to add to this list, please do share!

Marcela De Vivo is a freelance writer who writes about blogging, SEO and social media at Gryffin.co/blog.

WordPress Feature Review: New Features You Missed in 2012, Part 1

This guest post is by Michael Scott of WPHub.com.

One of the great things about WordPress is that it never stands still. The platform is constantly evolving beyond its blogging roots, with more great features being added every year.

WordPress used to release small updates frequently, but at the end of 2009 they changed this policy. They now aim to release three major updates every year, with small infrequent updates in between to address security issues.

The three major releases in 2011 were 3.1 (February 2011) and 3.2 (July 2011) and 3.3 (December 2011).

Today I’d like to walk you through the new features which were introduced in 2012, in WordPress 3.4 and 3.5.

I’ll be focusing on the features that are most relevant to bloggers and explaining how they can help you.

New features in WordPress 3.4

Released in June, WordPress 3.4 was a solid release that is best remembered for introducing the new theme customizer.

It also included a lot of other great new features such as Twitter embedding, HTML in captions, and flexible header images.

New feature: Live preview

Live preview enables you to preview themes before they are activated on your blog.

Browsing and installing themes and plugins directly from the WordPress admin area is one of WordPress’s greatest strengths. It’s amazing that you can modify your blog so much without even leaving your blog’s Admin area.

In the past, clicking on the Preview link for a theme would load up an overlay which displayed the theme over the current page.

live-preview-old

But the process of browsing WordPress designs changed in WordPress 3.4. In the past, the design was listed with Install and Preview links, and a full description.

Descriptions are now hidden by default, though you can view the description of a theme by clicking on the new Description link. This may seem like a small change, but it made browsing for designs within the Admin area much more user friendly.

live-preview-1

Themes are now previewed on their own dedicated Preview page. The page shows the theme on the right-hand side. On the left side, the theme name, thumbnail, rating and description are shown. To save you from having to click the Back button, themes can now be installed via this new Preview area.

live-preview-2

Once a theme has been installed on your WordPress blog, the Preview option becomes much more useful as it loads up the new theme customizer and lets you see how this design will look on your live website. This enables you to preview the theme using your menus, posts, pages and more.

live-preview-3

Being able to see how themes will look with your existing content has greatly improved the process of installing WordPress designs via your Admin area, and changed the way bloggers choose their themes.

New feature: Theme customizer

This feature allows you to configure your theme via a user-friendly Options area.

The WordPress customizer allows users to configure many different areas of their design, such as the header, background and navigation via a dedicated Options area. Older WordPress themes do not support the customizer but can be modified appropriately with a few simple edits to the theme functions.php file.

The Customize link can be found via the Themes link in the Appearance menu of your WordPress Admin area. Clicking on the link will take you directly to the theme customizer Options area.

theme-customizer-1

The options available to you in the customizer will depend on the theme itself. The default WordPress themes only had five or six different options, however over the last six months we have seen WordPress designers incorporate other options in their designs. Common options include site title and tagline, colors, background image, navigation menus, and whether posts or a static page were displayed on your home page.

theme-customizer-2

One of the reasons the theme customizer was so well received within the WordPress community was because changes can be seen in real time. Whenever you change your site name or adjust some colors, these are reflected in the theme preview. The changes are, however, only applied to your website after you have clicked the Save & Publish button.

theme-customizer-3

The theme customizer has made it possible for beginners to modify how their website looks without editing any templates. It’s very straightforward to use and since the release of WordPress 3.4, many designers have made sure their themes are compatible with it.

New feature: Twitter embedding

Now you can embed Twitter statuses directly into your blog posts and pages by simply entering the Twitter status URL.

Twitter is one of the most powerful tools available to bloggers. In addition to self promotion and networking, many bloggers use Twitter as a source of inspiration for their articles. The new Twitter embedding feature makes quoting Twitter statues simple and removes the need for taking screenshots or installing plugins to display a quote.

For example, simply enter this within your blog post:

https://twitter.com/problogger/status/271764815607898112

The corresponding Twitter status will be displayed:

twitter-embeds

The beauty of this new feature is its simplicity. There are no shortcodes to remember or buttons to click: you simply enter the URL of the Twitter status to embed it.

New feature: HTML in captions

This feature lets you add HTML directly to your image captions.

Captions have always been a great way of describing photographs and images to your readers. Being able to add HTML to captions has improved this considerably as you can now include links to photo credits, relevant articles, and websites directly inside the caption.

html-captions

Those who are using old WordPress themes may find that the new way WordPress adds captions has broken older image captions on your website. Upgrading to a new theme is recommended, though you could fix these issues manually by searching for posts with captions through your WordPress post area and updating the code.

New feature: Improved features for international users

Improved support is now offered for international WordPress users so that many locale-specific configurations can be modified from the core WordPress files.

As a native English speaker, localization is not something I ever have to deal with, so it’s easy to forget that around 44% of all websites are written in a language other than English.

WordPress 3.4 focused heavily on making WordPress more international. Some of the most important new features introduced for non-English users include:

  • Localizing commas: Many Asian and Middle Eastern languages do not use the comma (,). This causes a lot of problems for those users, as WordPress uses the comma as a delimiter for tags, quick edits and bulk edits. From 3.4, the comma can be translated to another character for languages where a comma isn’t used.
  • Translatable spellchecker language: The TinyMCE WYSIWYG editor can now be translated into any language.
  • Specify default time zone: Previously, the default timezone for all WordPress installations was set to GMT. This can now be modified so that the timezone does not have to be adjusted during the installation process.
  • Feed language: The language of your feed can now be set using the bloginfo_rss template tag.
  • Specifying start of week: You can now easily define the day the week starts.

If you don’t blog in English, many of these new features should make it easier for you to use WordPress in your native language.

New feature: Flexible header images

Header images are now responsive.

Custom headers were added to WordPress way back in 2007 (version 2.1). Previously WordPress allowed you to set the width and height of a header image, but all header images which were uploaded had to be cropped to fit these dimensions.

Now all images will resize dynamically to match the width of your header.

With so many people viewing blogs on mobile devices, flexible headers have made it easier for designs to accommodate any resolution. Check out Creating a responsive header in WordPress 3.4 at WebmasterDepot for a complete walkthrough of this new feature.

New feature: Login shortcodes

WordPress now offers more user-friendly login URLs.

WordPress users can log in using www.yoursite.com/wp-login.php and access the Admin area via www.yoursite.com/wp-admin/. Since version 3.4, you can log in using the more user-friendly URL www.yoursite.com/login. The Admin area can also be viewed by entering www.yoursite.com/admin or www.yoursite.com/dashboard.

There’s no denying that this is a small addition to WordPress, but I always welcome small things like this that make daily tasks such as logging in quicker and easier.

New feature: Comment via the post editor

Comments can now be added via the Post and Page editor pages.

For years the Post editing page has shown all the comments that were left on a post or page. In addition to viewing comments, there is now an option to leave a comment directly on a post from the post editor area. This saves you from having to load up the article in order to leave a comment.

add-comment-post-screen

New feature: Improved touch support

WordPress now offers vastly improved touch support in the user interface.

WordPress aimed to improve site usability on tablet devices such as the Apple iPad and Kindle Fire. Specifically, they added support for drag-and-drop functionality. This allows you to more easily customize the mobile user interface simply by moving things around.

New feature: Child themes added to the theme repository

The official WordPress themes directory now accepts child themes of WordPress themes that are already listed within the directory.

Child themes will be accepted within the theme directory if they can demonstrate sufficient difference from the parent theme to warrant inclusion.

I was particularly pleased with this feature, as it allows designers to take existing designs and modify them for different users. For example, designers will now be able to take a magazine-based theme and make it more blog-orientated, or remove features from designs that are too bloated.

child-themes

The theme installer supports child themes too. The great thing about this is that WordPress will automatically install a child theme’s parent theme if it isn’t already installed.

New feature: Scroll to top of Admin bar

Now, we can scroll to the top of the page by simply clicking the Admin bar.

This simple feature was missed by a lot of bloggers but it’s something that I’ve found myself using every day. Since WordPress 3.4, you can scroll to the top of the page by clicking in the empty area in the Admin bar. Simple but effective!

scroll-to-top

Other features added to WordPress 3.4

Since we’re short on space, here are some of the other great features that were added to WordPress 3.4:

  • The dashboard is now ready for high-resolution displays such as Apple’s retina display.
  • Multi-site improvements were made, such as auto-complete for adding new users and an increase in the default upload limit from 10mb to 100mb.
  • The Recent Comments widget had some small improvements.
  • Custom post types can now use the Distraction-free Editing mode (also known as Zen mode).
  • XML-RPC was improved to let WordPress interact with other applications more easily.

A full list of features added to WordPress in version 3.4 can be found in the WordPress codex.

That’s it for WordPress 3.4! Which of these features are you using, and which are your favorites? Let us know in the comments … and don’t miss Part 2 in this series, where I explain the handy new features available in WordPress 3.5.

Michael Scott has been working with WordPress themes and websites in varying capacities since 2007. It was mainly as a project manager where he quickly developed a love for their simplicity and scalability. As a strong advocate of all things WordPress, he enjoys any opportunity to promote its use across the Interweb and on WPHub.com .

Looking to 2013: A Commitment to Blogging Smarter … With a Little Help

Feeling a little run down? At this time of year, many of us are. It’s been a big 12 months, and I think most bloggers are looking forward to some down time over the coming weeks.

If you’re like me, you might be thinking of using this time not just to recharge the batteries, but to give a little thought to the year ahead, and how you want to handle it. Perhaps you’ll make some blogging resolutions for the new year, in addition to those resolutions you might be making in other areas of your life.

Blogging resolution: work smarter … with a little help

If there’s one resolution I could encourage any blogger to make for 2013, it’s to work smarter.

There’s always more to do on a blog—the work never ends!—and as many readers mentioned on our recent post about social media mistakes, time is a critical issue. Working longer hours can’t be the solution.

For me, one of the keys to working smarter has been delegation. I’ve got help with blogging, which has given me more time to focus on the things that really need my attention.

Looking back, I’m sorry I didn’t delegate more earlier in my blogging career.

You don’t have to be on a five- or six-figure income to make the most of someone else’s expertise, and give your blog a boost. Nor does it have to be a long-term arrangement.

Over the last few months, we’ve published a few guides to outsourcing different functions on your site. If you haven’t seen them already, have a look. They might just give you some food for thought over the holiday period.

Working with WordPress contractors

How to choose the right WordPress contractor for your blog, by John Bonello.

If you’re on WordPress, and your blog’s not performing at the level you’d like, it might be time to call in the pros. A good WordPress expert will be able to implement new designs, apply plugins and patches, take care of your backups, and more.

For those who aren’t technical, getting a WordPress contractor to do piecemeal work—or look after your blog on a continuing basis—could be a good way to go.

This post is also worth reading if you have a blog on another platform, as it’ll help you assess any blog platform developer you’re considering working with.

Working with other techies

How to work with technical contractors, by Neil Matthews.

Whatever your blog needs, it seems there’s a developer for every occasion! In this post, you’ll learn what’s needed to find a good developer to implement all kinds of changes on your blog, including things like:

  • adding forums, communities, gamification, social integration, and so on
  • customised backend features that give your blog a competitive advantage or point of difference
  • online store and shopping cart integration
  • specialized tracking or research
  • migration of blogs, mailing lists, etc.
  • security and privacy-related work to protect your blog’s and your customers’ details.

Most of us need help with these kinds of tasks—especially if we’re going to apply them to to our blogs with some degree of depth and reliability. A pro developer may well be the answer.

Working with designers

How to work with designers to design your blog, by Rob Cubbon.

Plenty of blogs use off-the-shelf themes, but those that stand out usually entail some kind of customization, or perhaps have their own unique design.

Of course, you don’t need to be undertaking a complete redesign of your blog to be able to use the expertise of a quality designer. They can also help you with:

  • campaign- or launch-related communications
  • designing the visuals for products, like the cover of an ebook, or an eye-catching branded intro for your video series
  • designing newsletters, ads and other communications like infographics that you’re hoping will go viral
  • illustrating your posts, and more.

…and the rest

Over the last year, we’ve published a few other posts in this area, which I’ve listed here:

Making it pay

Outsourcing aspects of your blogging—even as one-off projects—can be expensive. While the resources above should help you avoid being ripped off, many bloggers will be asking how they can justify the expense in the first place?

I think the answer to that question is to adopt the mindset that the work you outsource will need to pay for itself somehow.

That might mean you set a conversion goal for the new online store you’re having developed. Or it might mean that you spend the time you’re not having to dedicate to redesigning your site on creating and launching a new product, or boosting conversions through your email subscriber list. Whatever you outsource, plan to recoup the costs through the time that’s freed up. Make either the work itself, or the extra time you have, pay for the outsourcing fees.

Put a monetary goal on your work, and a timeframe by which you want to have recouped the cost. This is a great way to make sure you’re not just throwing money at your blog—instead, you’ll be investing it, and you’ll be able to track your return on that investment over time.

How does that sound for a new year’s blogging resolution? And what others do you have in mind? Let us know in the comments.

The Blogger’s Guide to Cutting Your Losses

I don’t know whether it’s a coincidence, but as we near the end of the year, there seem to be a few bloggers talking about what you should do if a past passion no longer inspires you, or your next big idea’s already been done.

Making cuts

Image courtesy stock.xchng user mmagallan

Now is a good time to take stock—I know I’m not the only one who has a look back over the year in December, and makes new plans in January. So I thought it might be valuable to talk today about cutting your losses.

What are losses?

You might be tempted to think of losses in terms of passion (things you no longer have an interest in) or lost opportunities (ideas you want to pursue but can’t, because of other commitments).

But there are other losses. One is dollars. If you’ve monetized your blog, and you are making money from blogging, you might find it difficult to work out the monetary value of lost opportunities, or money you’ve left on the table through poor execution or planning.

The other big consideration is lost opportunities around and beyond your blog. These can play into the question of income—perhaps a project you’re busy working on caused you to forfeit another opportunity that could have stepped up your income this year.

The question we, as bloggers, need to ask ourselves is whether that other thing we were working on is worth that lost opportunity. Are the gains we’re making with that other project worth it?

If not, it might be time to consider cutting your losses.

What should we cut?

Only you will know the parts of your life as blogger that feel like chores, that are overwhelming, or that don’t seem to add to your life no matter what you try.

Importantly, as Yaro’s story points out, sometimes cutting your losses has to be done in advance. You have a great idea, but then you find out the competition is really very tough, or someone’s already done what you’d planned to. That may mean that developing the idea isn’t worth the effort.

But only you can tell if that’s true.

I tend to cut the things that don’t give me energy to keep doing what I’m doing. I always have a lot on the go, so that makes it pretty easy to tell what’s gaining momentum, and what’s not. It’s easy to look at reader stats, or income statements, or even just how I feel about tackling a project, and know if I think it’s worth doing.

But sometimes, ideas that have been very popular can actually be difficult to convert into money-makers. For a pro blogger who’s relying on income to keep a roof over her or his head, those ideas can be the hardest—and the most necessary—to let go of.

If you’ve given everything you have to making a project a success, yet you just can’t make that traffic convert, you might need to think of cutting that project from your schedule and focusing on the areas of your work that are helping to support you.

Is now the time?

It seems obvious that once you’ve worked out that you need to cut a project, you should just do it. But I don’t know that this is always the right approach.

Think about selling a house. You might decide you’d like to move somewhere else, but you might also know that houses in your area sell better in Spring. So perhaps you decide to wait until then before you list and sell your home.

The same goes for blogging. I was in touch with a blogger recently who’s decided to sell a blog, so he’s spending three months building it up to be the strongest he can make it, to maximize his sale price.

So the on-the-spot cut isn’t always the best idea.

That said, there are times when it will be. If it’s an ongoing project (rather than a bright idea you wanted to pursue), it’s important to work out an exit strategy for that project. Simply dropping it might not be the answer.

Abandoning projects you’ve been working on means writing off the time you’ve put into them. By carefully reviewing what you’ve developed, you might be able to find ways to reuse some of that work in a way that gives you the greatest possible benefit.

That might mean backing up a cool WordPress theme you had specially developed before you take a blog offline, or asking contacts you’ve met through an ultimately unproductive project to help you with something else you’re working on.

Whatever you do, try not to just cut something and run. The best endings are the ones where we learn and gain from our experiences.

Looking back over the year, have you got losses you need to cut from your blogging work? I’d love to hear what you’ve been thinking in the comments.

Quality Vs. Volume: The Traffic Spectrum, and How You as Bloggers Can Harness It

As web usage grows, and we all become more connected more of the time, it could seem like getting traffic to your blog should be getting easier.

But as connectedness increases, so does competition. There are only 24 hours in a day, and the blogger’s job is to convince readers to spend a few precious minutes with us.

motorway_traffic_trail

Image courtesy stock.xchng user ansmedia

Attracting more readers to your blog

A lot of the time, it can seem like we have two options for attracting readers to our blogs:

  • entice them in, one at a time
  • “explode” your blog with “viral” content or promotions.

You can imagine these as two extremes on a spectrum; for most of us, traffic growth usually sits somewhere in between. Though for bloggers at the beginning of their careers, the one-at-a-time scenario is very real. And occasionally, any of us might hit on an “explosive growth” moment where our blogs get a massive volume of traffic for a brief moment (comparatively!) in time.

Of the traffic that comes once, only a portion will ever come back, and even fewer will subscribe. No wonder it can seem like an uphill battle to build a tribe around a blog!

I’ve found the best way to make the most of both kinds of readers is to cater to both.

Capturing attention—and holding it

If a blog has strong, targeted content that really gives value to readers, it’s off to a flying start. The design should also be easy to use, and attractive to the target group—that goes without saying.

So what is it that captures and holds the attention of individuals arriving at your site either as one-offs, or as part of a massive stream of traffic that you’ve generated through, say, some viral content, or great search positioning?

Let’s look at some of the tactics that suit each group.

The hard-won, single visitor

Perhaps this person’s found your site using a very specific search phrase, or they were having coffee with a friend who mentioned your blog. They might have seen the column you write for the local paper, and typed in your blog’s URKL out of curiosity, or had a contact share a link to a particular article on your blog that they thought would help this new visitor.

I think of these kinds of visitors as pre-engaged. When they arrive at your blog, they’re open-minded about what it has to offer, but they also have an expectation that it’ll solve a problem or answer a need that they have.

What can we do to capture the attention of these readers? Things like:

  • links to further reading on the same topic
  • signup forms/newsletter subscriptions
  • a contact form for questions they might want to ask
  • a free download targeting their need
  • an active community of commenters or forum members
  • links to social media/rss subscriptions.

The generic, viral visitor

By “viral visitors,” I’m talking about people who arrive at your site as part of a crowd sent by a viral piece of content you’ve published somewhere, or a big-name blog making mention of you.

We know that this traffic traditionally spikes and plummets soon after, and while the traffic can be strong for a short period, the majority of those visitors tends not to come back.

Every blogger wants to capture a larger slice of the viral traffic pie. How can we? I think that the answer here is a little more complicated. When I click a shared link on social media, I’m in either “entertainment” or “intrigue” mode. I’m wanting distraction, or a quick fix of new knowledge in an interest area. I’m not looking for a long-term relationship with a blog!

If I’m coming from a contextual link that’s on another site I’m reading, my motivation is usually a fairly specific kind of curiosity related to the topic in question, and my level of engagement will depend on how much I trust the site that linked to you, and the content I was reading when I came across the link. I’d guess that viral traffic that comes through contextual links is likely to have higher expectations of your blog than that coming through social media—I know this is true for me as a user.

So how can we capture viral readers with such different levels of engagement and motivation?

To be honest, I think that if the landing page for viral traffic convinces them to re-share the link, you’re probably doing a pretty good job. The fact is that a lot viral traffic coming through social media isn’t often strongly targeted.

If you can go one better and entice them to follow you on social media as well, you’re doing very well. To achieve this, you’ll need prominent social media buttons that allow them to follow you on every post. If they can also reshare the content direct from the page, so much the better.

To capture those coming through links from another site in your niche, you might consider extra tactics like:

  • making comments on posts prominent
  • offering a free download or subscription related to the content on the same page
  • following up with the linking site to see if they’ll accept a guest post, so you can further build your profile with the site’s readers
  • offering the linking site an exclusive piece of quality content (e.g. a whitepaper or report that links back to your blog) on the same topic, or one that’s related, that they can share with their readers.

How do you capture different kinds of new visitors?

These are just a few ideas that I’ve used to try to capture different kinds of new visitors to my blogs. Do you target different kinds of new visitors differently, or use specific tactics to try to grab their attention?

I’d love to hear how you’re handling things—and what’s working for you—in the comments.

Blogging in Brief: Looking Good, Saving Face, Tags and Lags

We all make mistakes, but making mistakes in the media can be costly—especially to your authority!

…Or can it? We all know readers appreciate honesty. And our first story this week is all about that.

Saving face online

Last week, I got my regular flippa.com newsletter … and another a few hours later! The new subject line? “Our newsletter, now with functional links!”

Intrigued, I opened it to see this:
Newsletter

Way to save face after a blooper! If you’ve ever had to apologise for an error you’ve made publicly, online—perhaps even on your blog or with your valued subscribers—we’d love to hear how you handled it in the comments.

Big-block headers revisited

I mentioned last time the growing trend toward big-block header on blogs. This week, I found one that acts simply to pull you through to the latest content, on food blog Peas and Thankyou.

Content feature

This screencapture shows the header on rollover—the opening of each post appears as an overlay on the header. This is a great use of imagery I think, and an excellent way to catch the attention of readers, especially those who are arriving for the first time. On dPS, I use a similar carousel for featured content, but it’s not simply for the latest posts. It really brings attention to your current content.

What do you think of this idea? Could this work for your blog?

Name your own price

The battle to find the best price for a blog product—one that maximizes your profit—can be hard to do. So the approach of letting customers choose their own price is an interesting one. Tara Gentile uses it on her blog:

Set your own price

The product is designed to change customers’ relationship with money, so the tactic is in keeping with the concept.

Seriously

It’s an interesting tactic, and not one I’ve tried. Have you? How did it work? I’d love to hear of your experiences in the comments.

Are your promotions slowing your site?

Many blogs show a popup on page load for first-time users—perhaps offering a download, subscription, or other goody.

But this week I’ve stumbled across a few that are really extremely slow to load as a result.

One of them flashed up the homepage before hiding it—so the screen was blank—for what felt like ages (but was probably 5-10 seconds) before displaying the popup. The popup itself didn’t have the usual close button in the right-top-corner, either, which meant that after the long wait, I had to spend more time trying to work out how to close it so I could access the site content. That finally appeared only once I’d found the Close window link.

Every time you add a new widget, plugin, or promotion to your blog, test the load times for different browsers to make sure your blog’s still accessible and usable for everyone who stops by.

Do tag clouds still matter?

Remember tag clouds? They were popular a few years ago, but they seem to have fallen out of favor now—though I notice the Blog World blog still has one:

Tag cloud

Tag clouds can help users drill down to specific content that isn’t represented in your basic blog navigation, and to reach content in your archives that spans topics. In fact, in some cases it’s a great way to provide users with access to your older material. That said, I don’t use tag clouds—basically because screen real estate is so precious, and a tag cloud never really makes the cut onto my sites.

Are you using a tag cloud? How’s it working for you? We’d love to get an idea of whether you think this mechanism is still relevant to the blogs of today.

The Value of Comments to a Profit-making Blog

We’ve talked about the issues of blog comments before on Problogger.net, but never from a point of view of profit-making.

Coins

Image courtesy stock.xchng user lusi

But as I was looking at the stats on dPS last week, I found that this short, helpful opinion post from 2010 was still attracting a steady stream of readers—and comments. I explained on Google+ why I think that post’s still so popular, but today I wanted to look a bit more closely at how comments can help a profit-making blogger.

So let’s step through some of the ways blog comments can—directly and indirectly—add to your bottom line.

Increased ad revenue

Posts that engage readers are more likely to be shared, which draws more traffic back to those posts. Commenting is a very strong kind of engagement. That lenses post really does stimulate discussion, and at the same time it’s very helpful to those trying to work out which lenses to buy.

So if someone comments on that post, they may also be more likely to share it, which would boost traffic and ad impressions. And if your blog has a “most commented” or “most popular” list in the sidebar, an ongoing comment stream could push the post into that as well, drawing more attention to it from users on other pages of your blog.

Ongoing affiliate revenue

Imagine if this post had included affiliate links to actual products. So long as I’d kept the links up to date, I could still be making affiliate revenue from a post we’d published nearly three years ago. Not bad!

Potential sponsorship

This post obviously draws strong attention from my readers. It’s been shared on Facebook nearly 1,000 times, and pinned to Pinterest more than 17,000 times.

This could give me good reason to approach brands that make the types of lenses covered in that post, or mentioned by users in the comments themselves. I could contact them to see if they’re interested in buying paid sponsorship either for that post, or an updated version of it.

Audience research for new products

The comments on the post are really insightful. Have a read and you’ll get a feel for the experience levels of the users, what brands they prefer, what they’re shooting, how they use their equipment, and so on. They’re also tagged by date, so they provide some insight into the way my audience has evolved over time.

By spending a little time going through these comments, I might easily come up with a couple of ideas for new products to try with my readers.

Encourage first-timers to engage

There’s nothing worse than clicking through from a search result to find the article you’ve chosen is old and outdated.

Comments really do keep your evergreen content fresh and alive. This is a short post, but the scroll bar indicates there’s a lot more on the page. Any new visitor who scrolled down would likely be surprised by the number of comments, and the fact that the discussion is ongoing.

They might be encouraged to comment themselves, or at least to look around the site a bit more. Best-case scenario? They subscribe to the RSS feed or mailing list, prompted by the strong evidence of a passionate readership, as indicated by these comments!

In short, comments:

  • attract attention
  • keep the discussion growing
  • are helpful to other users
  • can solicit on-site engagement in a range of ways
  • can excite users to share, driving more traffic to the post.

But there’s a catch: not all comments are good comments—especially for those with a profit focus. So let’s look at the characteristics of comments that will help you achieve the goals we’ve just talked about.

Good comment, bad comment

The kinds of comments I want to keep on my posts are those that:

  • add to the discussion, rather than just repeating the article’s main points
  • contribute insight or personal experience
  • are clearly written
  • have a username, email address, website or avatar attached.

These are the kinds of comments that potential post-sponsors will want to see, as will any advertisers or others who are considering investing marketing budget into your blog.

The kinds of comments I try to catch before they’re published are those which:

  • criticize without contribution: I love respectful disagreements in comments, because often they’re a great way to learn. But criticism that doesn’t add value is usually pretty unhelpful.
  • aren’t clear, or don’t take the post or author seriously: Again, this doesn’t really add value to the discussion. it certainly won’t inspire potential ad-space buyers about your readership.
  • simply promote their own products: Sometimes, this can be a fine line, but if a commenter simply suggests readers look at his or her own site, and doesn’t add to the discussion in any other way, I tend to send their post to the trash.

On that basis, I don’t necessarily delete comments that:

  • include offsite links
  • talk about other (or the commenter’s own) products
  • criticize or disagree with the author
  • are short or informal.

If I did that, the comments could end up feeling fairly stilted and contrived—and that’s not going to encourage further comments over time. But also, the presence of any of those things doesn’t mean the comment’s no good. Each comment really does need to be judged on its own merits, and in the context of the post and other comments that haven been made.

Taken with the post itself, the comments should ideally provide real value that encourages sharing, bookmarking, repeat visits, and more commenting—that’s where the greatest profit potential for comments lies.

Do you treat comments as adding to the overall monetization potential of your blog? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Prepare Your Blog For the Festive Season: a Step-by-step Guide

Over the weekend, we ran a short series of interviews with bloggers of different types, to get a feel for how they’re preparing for the festive season.

Christmas

Image courtesy stock.xchng user danyba


We spoke to the owners of:

If that series made you realize how underprepared you are for the coming weeks, don’t worry. Today’s post is a checklist for getting ready.

1. Have you worked out when you’ll take a break?

The first thing to do is get out the calendar. Work out when you won’t want to be blogging, and block those days (or weeks!) out.

Now you know how much time you have to work with.

2. Do you know what you want to get out of this period?

The benefits of setting some goals up front are two-fold.

First, goals will help you set your priorities for the next few weeks. Second, they’ll help you assess your efforts when you come back to your blog in 2013. They might even help you improve on your work when the festive season rolls around again in a year’s time.

Set a few goals. They might be as simple as maintaining regular posting and social media schedules, or as detailed as setting expectations for sales and tracking the sources of traffic that converts.

3. Do you know what you need to do to get there?

List the tasks you’ll need to achieve your goals.

If you want to maintain a twice-a-week positing schedule, how much writing time will you need? How much editing time? Will you work any affiliate promotions into those posts? Which ones, and when will they run? When’s the best time to promote those posts?

Make a list of all the things you need to do. Then, schedule them. Think a long time in advance, and get right into the details. Don’t just make a note to curate ten tweets to autopublish over the festive period. Schedule the time you’ll need to find quality content to include in those tweets.

Without taking your plans to this level of granularity, you’ll run the risk of underestimating the time and energy you’ll need to do everything on your list. Which leads me to…

4. Have you prioritized your priorities?

This is an extra step, but one you may well end up doing. You may already have found that your eyes were bigger than your stomach, so to speak, when you set your goals for the period. If you can’t fit everything in, check your top priorities and consider whether you’d be happy if you just achieved those.

This should help you focus as the inevitable distractions and schedule-changes come up in the coming weeks … and you run out of time!

Tip: Consider making your own checklist for every one of the tasks you need to do, so that you can avoid waking up in a panic because you forgot to find images for a post, or to encode your affiliate links in that email you’re autosending.

5. Have you got things ready for your return in 2013?

Getting ready for the festive season isn’t just about getting through to January 1, 2013. It’s also about hitting the ground running when you get back to your desk.

The lead-up to the break, at a time when you’ve just set all these goals, is to write a to-do list for Day 1, 2013. Include:

  • checking emails, stats, and social listening to find out what you missed while you were offline (assuming you were offline!)
  • goal-setting for the new year (if you haven’t done that during the break)
  • reconnecting with others who you can help—and can be helped by—in the coming 12 months.

This is the basic checklist I use to make sure I’m on track through the festive season and beyond. What about you? Share your tips and advice for keeping your blog going through the silly season below.

Blogging the Festive Season

It’s that time of year: the silly season is upon us!

Festive spirit

Photo by Axel Bührmann on Flickr.

The bricks-and-mortar stores have had the Christmas trees and fake Santas up for months … but what’s the blogosphere doing to prepare?

The answer depends on who you talk to. Every blog and every audience is different, after all. Still, we can learn from each other’s ideas and get inspiration from niches outside our own.

Today and tomorrow, we’ll look at a few different blogs, and see how their owners are preparing for the festive season:

Some of the blogs have been around for years, while others are barely 12 months old. Some of the bloggers work full-time on their blogs, but others are part-timers fitting in blogging around their day jobs. We’ll find out:

  • how they’re planning to optimize festive season sales and promotions
  • how they’re fitting blogging in around all the other stuff that happens in the lead-up to the end of the year
  • how they’re planning to keep in touch with clients, followers, and fans over the New Year break
  • how much they’re expecting to work over this period, how much time they’re hoping to spend with family and friends—and what they’ve done to make that possible
  • what they’re doing to make sure they hit the ground running in 2013—and what they’ll focus on then.

I hope you’ll find this series inspiring. To kick off, let me give you a bit of a behind-the-scenes peek into what I’m doing on dPS, a product blog, for the festive season.

The product blog

It’s a busy time for dPS in the lead-up to the festive season. As well as maintaining our publishing schedule, we’re starting to prepare for our annual 12 days of christmas celebration. It’s always a lot of fun … and a lot of work.

Festive promotions, content, and visitors

For each of the 12 days leading up to Christmas, we offer a special price on either one of our own products, or that of a hand-picked partner. So there’s a lot of work getting those deals in place, and getting the pages and promotions ready to go ahead of time.

This sale is something that the dPS audience really loves, so we keep trying to improve, and we’re ramping things up again this year. Past experience has shown that the sale should create a lot of additional traffic to the blog, but not just to the sales pages themselves—we’ll start to see increases in the visitors coming to certain tutorials, too. Posts on portraits and family shots are always popular at this time of year, as are more specific topics like photographing fireworks.

And while we do promote the 12 days of Christmas deals as great gift ideas, we also encourage our regular readers to buy a special gift for themselves, too.

Time off

I always like to take some time off at Christmas to spend with family and friends, and preparation is the key. I’m fortunate that I can share some of the preparation with my team, but we also plan and schedule content well in advance so that everyone who works on the blog can enjoy the time off.

With all the activity happening in the lead-up to Christmas, I’m pretty busy. In the period between Christmas and New Year, I’ll do check-in from time to time but I do limit that to as little as I can.

Looking forward

Taking time off means I need to prepare for the time when I get back to work in 2013. That preparation’s been going on for a while now—we already have our first new product ready to launch in January, so that will take some of our focus early in the year.

I’ll also start plotting our roadmap for the rest of year in January, with my team, and of course the publishing schedule is an ongoing task.

A festive plan

Understanding seasonality is an important part of maximising the sales of products for those with a product or affiliate-product blog.

The products on dPS are well suited to festive events, so we ensure our campaigns are timed to maximise that potential. But even if you’re products aren’t really relevant to Christmastime, there will be other times during the year when demand will be at its highest.

For those of us who rely on product sales income, it’s important to have a plan in place so you can meet that demand.

At the end of the series, I’ll provide you with a five-point checklist to help you prepared your product—or other—blog for the festive season. But for now, I’m interested to hear your stories. What do you have planned on your blog for the coming weeks? Let me know in the comments.