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6 Reasons Why Your Business Needs a Blog

Last week’s Blogging in Brief post looked at a really surprising business blog post. In fact, this was a post from a government body, the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention—not the kind of place you might expect to have a raging sense of humor.

At work

Image courtesy stock.xchng user wagg66

Business blogging doesn’t have to be dull

Many business owners I speak to who aren’t bloggers scoff at the idea of having a blog. They look at their business and wonder who on earth would want to read about it.

But whether you’re a mechanic, baker, home cleaner, or a landscape designer, you can be sure that a blog could benefit your customers if you do it right.

Don’t believe me? Take a look at Dominick Del Santo’s story from earlier this year. His business—industrial dust collection solutions—isn’t what you’d call glamorous. Yet he tackled the job and owned his niche. Ryan Chritchett’s doing the same with his tech repair company blog.

You could do the same with a business blog in your industry.

Six reasons to start a business blog

Despite the possibilities, I know that business owners can have plenty of good reasons not to blog. They don’t have time, they don’t have experience, they don’t think it’s worthwhile—and these all seem like valid points. So I’d like to suggest some reasons why businesses should blog.

1. Most businesses think it’s too hard, too scary, or too much work

Your competitors are probably saying much the same thing you are about blogging. “It’s too hard. I don’t have time. I don’t even know where to begin!”

That means you have a great opportunity to jump in, get started, and engage with your target clients while other businesses in your niche are procrastinating. So do it, and build your competitive advantage before they have time to step in and take up the slack.

2. Audiences are more open to blogs than ever

Blogs are everywhere. The web is so chock-a-block with great content now that many readers no longer differentiate between what they call “blogs,” “news sites,” “websites,” and other content forms. What they want is to be informed and entertained.

If you can manage either of those goals through your business’s blog, you’ll be able to build a readership.

3. We’re more connected, which means more time to consume your content

Five years ago, at least here in Melbourne, Australia, smartphones were pretty rare. We might text or make a call while we were on the train, or waiting for a friend. We weren’t flicking from our email to Facebook to the news, following a link from Twitter, or clicking on an email newsletter to “Read more…” And no one, no one was reading an ebook on a tablet.

Things have changed now—and for the better. The web is constantly maturing, and so are its users. If you think your business’s clients aren’t too web savvy, think again. I’ll bet they use Facebook, download music, and read the news online just like most others. So this is a great way to get your brand and message in front of them.

4. It’s a great way to build deeper customer relationships

A blog is a place where your business’s individual style can really show through. Okay, you have a business card and some letter head, designed by a designer to reflect you as a person, and the professionalism of your business. That’s great, but it doesn’t establish a personal connection on its own, day or night, all week long.

Your business blog can do that. It lets you express yourself and your brand, and focus on the things that unite you and your clients. But it also lets them connect with you—through comments, feedback, and social sharing. The benefit is that you don’t need to staff a call centre to support this new method of communication.

With a blog, you can get closer to your clients than ever before—getting ideas for product or service developments, finding out what bugs them and what makes them smile, and unearthing new ways to make your business indispensable to them.

5. It’s an excellent way to stand out from the crowd

Put the points we’ve already discussed together, and you get a great opportunity to stand out from your competitors. The more you can differentiate yourself from the other suppliers in your market, the more reasons you’ll give customers and prospects to engage with your brand.

Blogs provide a great opportunity to support and build your brand, and explain and show what you’re all about. They also give you the chance to connect deeply with readers. The more you connect readers with your brand, the more you can develop your brand to meet their needs, and help them connect more deeply with it.

What that means is lasting loyalty, more repeat custom, and stronger word of mouth for you and your business.

6. Technology lets you do it your way

It’s not just consumer technology that’s evolved in the last five years. Producer technology has too.

You can create a blog in minutes, on a free platform if you want to. Or you can integrate your blog completely with your business website—again, using any of a range of platforms. And you can create and share content in a wide variety of formats—video, audio, text, imagery, you name it.

There are also plenty of blogging apps—apps that let you plan content on the go, access your blog remotely, and even publish posts from your phone.

The mechanics of creating great content have never been easier to manipulate. Blogging has never been easier. If you ever thought of starting a business blog, now’s definitely the time.

How will you do it? And what will you blog about?

Okay, so blogging takes time and energy. I don’t have the space here to get into the details of starting and running a business blog, through there’s plenty of information on the topic here, and in our ebook on the subject.

As to the question of what you could blog about, well, the sky’s the limit. Later this week, I’ll show you around a few great business blogs. Each of them is unique, presents information differently, and connects strongly with customers and prospects. Don’t miss it.

Use Product Promotions to Add Value on Your Blog—and Others

We get a lot of requests for co-promotions here at ProBlogger, and at Digital Photography School as well.

Sale sign

Image courtesy stock.xchng user Thoursie

No matter what niche you’re in, if your blog has a reasonably engaged audience, you’re probably the target for others who want to promote their new products. On the flip side, you may well target other bloggers when you want to promote your own blog products.

But negotiating coverage can be tough—and making sure the product’s promotion reaches the host blog’s audience in a meaningful way can be even tougher.

Today I want to show you how to do just that, using a great example from Pat Flynn of Smart Passive Income.

The post

The post is How a Part-Time Blogger Landed His Dream Job—an Interview with Leslie Samuel.

Now, let me say up front that I have no idea how this interview came about, although Pat does say at the beginning of the podcast that he a Leslie have been friends for some time.

I do know that a lot of bloggers who’d love coverage like this for their products wonder how it’s done—even if they’re not personal friends with any A-list bloggers. So let’s pull this post apart a bit and see how you could replicate this kind of coverage for your next product launch—or to make the most of someone else’s launch on your own blog.

The post introduces a podcast—Pat posts regular podcasts on his blog—which contains an interview with Leslie, who tells the story of how he came to enjoy online success.

The post points out what’s covered in the podcast, and links to the services mentioned. It also links to the podcast, then mentions a special offer that Leslie’s making exclusively to Pat’s readers for his product.

What’s so good about this post?

Sounds simple, right? We all see posts like this all the time online. What’s so good about them?

  • The post provides valuable information independently of the promotion: The podcast is free. Anyone can listen to it—you can do it right there on Pat’s blog if you don’t want to download it. So any of Pat’s followers can access the valuable information Leslie has to share, without spending any money.
  • The information in the post isn’t focused on the product offer: Throughout the interview, Leslie tells a rich, deep story that’s packed with advice and tips. He gives it all away. Sometimes you’ll come across posts whose authors constantly refer to their new product or promotion, and some references aren’t always bad—often they’re necessary. But to make the product the focus of the post (or in this case, interview) can turn off more readers than it entices.
  • The offer comes at the end of the post: Pat makes mention of the special discount separately, at the end of his post. Leslie gets to it at the end of the interview. It’s clear, and obvious, which draws it to readers’ attention, and simultaneously lets them know that if they’re not keen, they can skip it.
  • The offer is provided independently of the host blog: While I have nothing against affiliate links (as you’ll know if you read ProBlogger or DPS regularly), promoting an offer in which you have no personal stake can be a great way to add credibility to the product, and communicate to your readers how much you’re focused on them.

From the guest’s point of view—Leslie, who has a product to promote—this super-credible approach to his story is great. He gets excellent coverage, which builds his profile regardless of whether people actually take up his offer or not. He also gets to make a great offer to a massive audience he might have trouble reaching otherwise. And he boosts his reputation as a guru without risking being seen as too salesy.

Pat, meanwhile, gets excellent content for his readers, and an exclusive deep discount on a product they’re likely to be interested in. This reinforces his position as a guru, too—again, without seeming salesy.

The message for host bloggers

If someone contacts you about a promotion they want you to mention on your blog, look at the potential value it can give your readers—and not just through the promotion itself.

See what gems you can get the blogger to “give away” in an interview, rich guest post, or infographic. Think about free value for your readers, not pushing a product.

The message for product promoters

Don’t see the opportunity as one for selling—see it as a chance to build authority with a new audience. What can you tell them that the host blogger can’t? That’s what you should share.

Focus on what’s unique about you, translate that into advice and help, and readers will automatically be motivated to click through to your blog, and take up your offer.

How to do it

This post presents great, unique information in a format that’s familiar and interesting to the host blog’s audience. While not all blog hosts will want to run hour-long interviews with product promoters, the path to the best opportunities is to match the key elements of the product that’s being promoted with the key needs of the host blog’s audience.

For the product promoter

For the product promoter, this means taking your product offer, and focusing on the aspect of it that’s central to your brand.

For Leslie, it’s about his journey to become a blogger—what it’s taken for him to build a popular blog from scratch. That’s what he wants to focus on in his coverage on the host blog. So he might come up with a few different ideas for exposure (through a post, a recorded interview, a series—the sky’s the limit when you’re proposing to help another blogger by providing content!) and pick one or two that seem to suit his brand and the host blog’s audience best.

Now as I say, I have no idea how this interview came about, but let’s suppose Leslie initiated it. He might approach Pat about the coverage, explain what he has to share, how it’ll help Pat’s audience, and mention the offer he’s willing to give Pat’s listeners if Pat’s open to that.

For the host blogger

For the host blogger, the challenge is to match that central element of the product promoter’s brand with the needs of the audience. So Pat would need to make sure that Leslie’s focus could be framed in an appropriate and really compelling way for his readers and listeners.

Of course, since Pat’s podcasts often include interviews, he may have approached Leslie about the interview himself, having spotted the solid fit between Leslie’s site and his own. He might have been the one who came up with the ideas for the interview coverage, including topics and questions, and approached Leslie with them. We bloggers are always looking for great content, after all! An hour is a lot of time to take out of a busy blogger’s week, so Pat may also have offered the opportunity for Leslie to promote his product as part of the interview.

Finding the right fit

As you can see, getting great coverage of a person and/or their product on a blog is a matter of fit.

The two brands need to align on some level, and the two bloggers need to work to make that alignment work in the best way possible for the host blog’s readers.

If you can do this as a product promoter, you’ll find it much easier to get really deep promotion on others’ blogs.

And if you can do this as a host blogger, you won’t have much trouble coming up with posts that really provide massive value to your readers, and position you as your niche’s go-to guy or girl.

Have you promoted someone else’s product through a post on your blog? Or had your product promoted through another blog? Tell us how it came about—and why it worked—in the comments.

Weekend Project: Learning to Fail

This weekend, we’re taking a different approach with our weekend project, and touching on a topic that I think is overlooked a lot in blogging.

Escape key

Image courtesy stock.xchng user michaelaw

And that’s failure.

In a world like this, where it’s so easy to try new things out—new social networks, new product ideas, and so on—it’s also very, very easy to fail.

Gone are the days when we’d get a standard education before we went out to work in a particular field. In fact, as I explained at a recent careers night, my Marketing degree was the first big thing I failed in!

…but it wasn’t the last. As I explain in that interview, I spent my early years in a kind of “chaos” as I pursued all kinds of different interests. Many of them didn’t end in great “achievements”, which I guess you could take to mean that I failed in them, too.

At the time, my parents were eager for me to settle down—to pick something and stick with it. We’ve probably all heard this advice at some point, and in some ways it seems very closely related to this idea of not “failing.” For a lot of people, simply following through with something—whether it’s working, or whether you enjoy it or not—is better than “failing” by dropping it. Dropping something is often seen as giving up, even when it makes perfectly good sense to do so.

So there’s a lot of baggage around failure. And this weekend, we aim to clear some of it out, so you have room to fail—and learn—in your blogging journey.

The half-full glass

It sounds patronizing, but I’ve found that when it comes to failing at something, a good way to stop yourself from focusing on the negatives is to look at what you’ve learned.

I know that can sound trite‚ especially if the thing that hasn’t worked out is something you’re heavily invested in—financially or personally.

But it’s true. I’ve started more than 20 blogs now, and obviously most of them haven’t lasted. Does that mean they’re failures? To you, maybe. To me, they were part of the proving ground that helped me develop the skills to become better at some things, and even have some successes later. In this way, blogging’s kind of like being employed—each job you take on helps you build skills that lead to the next job, and over time, help you develop a career.

Of course, within each job—or each blogging task—there are plenty of opportunities not to succeed, and as they say, you can’t win them all. If you did, you wouldn’t be learning anything.

Now, you might be thinking, “That’d be great—I’d love to know it all!” But we all have to start somewhere, and the only way to progress is through good old trial and error.

The important thing, though, is to learn from those errors, and to feed back those learnings into what you do next—or next time.

Surf the learning curve

It can be tough to handle failure—and in blogging, failure can be a very public thing. Even if your failures aren’t major show-stoppers, it can be really hard to persist when you seem to be faced with little failure after little failure. Sometimes we go through phases where nothing we try seems to work. And if we don’t know why, that can be very disheartening.

That’s why it’s so important to learn to manage failure as a blogger. At any one time, you might have several fronts to fail on—you might be trying a new ad network or a different post style, tweaking your social media strategy, floating a new product idea with your audience, trying to grow your subscription rates—the list goes on.

My approach is always to try to learn something from the failure. Even if I can’t work out what went wrong, I try to use the failure to direct my future efforts. So maybe I’ll try a different approach to using the same process or tool next time—or maybe I’ll decide to try a different approach or tool altogether, in the hopes of finding one that works for me and my blog.

I think taking the time to reflect on the failure is important, too. Otherwise, you can easily fall into the trap of just banging your head up against a brick wall, rather than thinking creatively about other ways you could achieve your goals.

There’s certainly a lot to think about when it comes to blogging failure, so I hope you’ll enjoy this weekend’s posts. In them, we’ll cover:

But first up, I’d love to hear how you handle failure as a blogger. Be honest—we’ve all done it, and we can all learn from each other. So we’d love to hear your stories and secrets for learning to fail.

Blogging in Brief: Smart Writing Techniques, Swipe Files, and Myths Dispelled

This week, I’m kicking off a new, regular feature here on ProBlogger, called Blogging in Brief.

opinion_page_of_newspaper

Image courtesy stock.xchng user quil

The idea each time is to highlight a few cool, interesting, creative ideas that professional bloggers are implementing as potential inspiration for you.

ProBlogger’s based upon a philosophy of sharing stories and learning from each other, so every couple of weeks, I’ll take a look at some of the trends, ideas, and innovative new techniques various successful bloggers are using, and which you might like to test out for yourself.

Trying a new technique

Tommy Walker’s testing a new approach to writing blog posts at the moment—have a look at this one and you’ll see what I mean.

In the world of blogging, many bloggers tend to be attracted by a particular writing style, and then work to emulate that themselves. It’s great when a blogger really strikes out on their own with a radically different approach. Tommy’s preparing a piece for us to post here on ProBlogger next month, so I’m pretty excited to see where it leads!

More unexpected blogging

Corporate blogging may seem a worthy but potentially dry area. Think again. We recently came across a post on the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention blogs (tweeted by @kasthomas). The topic? Preparedness 101: Zombie Apocalypse.

It’s humorous, entertaining, and does a great job of presenting the CDC’s key message—being that they’re prepared for, and will respond to, any public health emergency—in a way that really opens up their blog’s audience. Great blogging!

Share your story

Chris Guillebeau’s now calling for stories as part of the research he’s doing for his next book. Maybe you have one to share?

The book is on the topic of “quests”—”a project of measurable challenge that you work toward over a long period of time.” If you think you might have a story to contribute, you can find out more here.

Cool idea: swipe file

I love this idea from Lynn Terry of ClickNewz.com. Lynn keeps what she calls a “swipe file” of marketing she sees that works, and calls on this when she needs ideas, tips, and inspiration.

It’s a really simple idea, and a great way to learn from others. You might have a blog post ideas list, or a product ideas file, but do you have an examples file—for marketing, blogging, or something else? Maybe it’s time to start one.

Dispelling blog freelancing myths

Tom Ewer, who’s written for us a few times now, is preparing to launch a new product which I think will be a real eye-opener for a lot of bloggers. This ebook is a practical guide to freelance blogging—something we’ve been talking about quit a lot here on ProBlogger recently.

Many of the posts you’ll see on this topic present freelance blogging as a simple, natural advance from blogging on your own blog, as a way to make money blogging … but that expectation can be a problem. An ability to write for your own blog doesn’t automatically make you a great freelancer. There’s a lot more to it than that.

This book (which our Content Manager Georgina has had a sneak preview of) tells it like it is as far as freelance blogging goes. Should be interesting to see the reaction from bloggers on this one!

Creating a better Internet, people

Finally, I came across this post by Allison Boyer this week and thought I’d share it. It’s got some great, basic advice I think we can all agree on. As Allison says, “Let’s create a better Internet, people.”

The news of Google’s launch of the Disavow Links tool, to help site owners who’ve suffered from bad backlinks claw back search rank, might help support the same cause.

What cool, creative things have you seen other bloggers doing this week? Share your links in the comments.

Bounce Rates High? Why?

Most bloggers I know want to reduce their bounce rates. Sometimes it can seem as if it doesn’t matter what the bounce rate for a page actually is, we want it to be lower!

Bounce

Image courtesy stock.xchng user ColinBroug

While it’s a stretch to expect we’ll hit a zero bounce rate, for most bloggers, it is worth looking at your bounce rates regularly, and trying to find ways to reduce them where appropriate.

While blogging’s about people—not just numbers—bounce rates can give you hints about the ways individuals are using your blog, and where you can help them out. In this post, I’d like to explain that in a bit more detail.

What is a bounce?

You undoubtedly know what a bounce is—a user who lands on our page from an external source, then leaves our blog without looking at any other pages. It’s a “single pageview” usage of our site.

But what does a bounce mean?

  • Did the reader get what they came for, and leave?
  • Were they disappointed by what they saw on your blog page?
  • Did they arrive at the page expecting to see something else?
  • Is the content current and compelling—and clearly so?
  • Is it clear from a single glance at the page what your blog is, does, and delivers?
  • Are there clear paths from that page to other actions or information that are likely to meet the needs of target users?
  • Are the bouncers regular readers who check out all your posts, so each time they just come to the latest one, read it, and go again>

Understanding the possible reasons for the bounce is an important step in doing something to reduce the bounce rate itself. Let’s look at a case study from ProBlogger to see exactly how the diagnosis of reasons for a high bounce rate can go.

The bounces, and the page

On a usual trawl through the site’s stats one month, I spotted this:

Bounce rate stats

These stats were for a single month. As you can see, this page attracted some good views, and almost 95% of them were from new visitors! But the bounce rate was really high, the time on site low, and the average visit duration? Terrible!

My first thought was to visit the page itself. It didn’t take me long to find a few issues—let’s step through some of the main ones I found (note that I’ve updated the post since, so these items have been addressed on the live page):

  • The opening dated the article. This piece has a publication date of 2008, but even if the new visitors didn’t see that, the opening, which would have been fine at that time, was written when I was a Twitter newbie—not ideal these days!
  • This problem was amplified by the outdated Twitter follower number I’d quoted. I mentioned in the post that I had 5500 followers; now that number’s over 160,000.
  • I’d included a link to Twitip in the opening. This immediately pulled readers through to one of my other sites, which doesn’t generate any income. While the content had been valuable, that site’s a bit dated now, due to a lack of regular updates. It certainly seemed smarter to try to keep these new visitors on problogger.com a bit longer, rather than syphon them off to Twitip.
  • Much of the content in the article itself was dated.
  • The post didn’t provide many links to other great articles we have on topics like Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and other social networks, and social network engagement strategies, here at ProBlogger—simply because that information wasn’t available back in 2008 when I’d written the post.

Yep, this page was pretty outdated! But I bet most sites that have been around for a while will probably have a page or two that are in a similar state.

Sources of bouncing traffic

Okay, so I knew I had a problem with the content of the page—and there were plenty of opportunities to improve it. But in order to make the right improvements—improvements that would give me the best chance of reducing that bounce rate by actually meeting individuals’ expectations—I wanted to know what the users were expecting to see when they came to the page. What needs did they have?

So I took a look at the traffic sources for the page:

Traffic sources

This was interesting. For any blog that gets a lot of its new traffic from search engines, you might expect the main traffic source to be Google. And when I first looked at the page in question, I’d imagined that most of the traffic to this page was coming from search and being pulled to Twitip. In fact, the traffic was coming from Twitip.

Understanding how the page is being used

Now I was getting a pretty clear idea of how this page was being used, and why the bounce rate was so high.

Twitip users were following a link from that site to this article. The second paragraph of the post was directing them right back to Twitip. In that case, would they feel that ProBlogger was more of an authority on Twitter than Twitip? Not likely. No wonder the bounce rate was so high!

But, as expected, Google was also among the top three referrers, and that traffic had a bounce rate of more than 90%.

Beyond content

Knowing that this page was being visited mainly by new users, it was worth looking beyond the content itself, to the page’s layout, branding, and design.

This page is laid out in the same way as the others on my blog, many of which—even if they mainly attract new users—don’t have such high bounce rates. This suggests that the layout probably isn’t the problem.

Now, the major call to action—the main point of engagement and interaction—on my blog’s content pages is to comment. Comments had long since closed on this post, so users may have struggled to find their way to other relevant content on the site at the post’s end. I’d included a Further Reading list there, but the articles were no longer current.

Yet, given how outdated the post was, and the tiny average visit duration, I guessed the visitors I was getting probably weren’t making it that far through the post anyway.

Understanding your bounces

As you can see, a little sleuthing can go a long way in helping you to understand the reasons for high bounce rates.

I try not to be thrown into a panic by the numbers alone. When I look a little deeper, I usually hit on more information that can help you take action on the bounces—if indeed that’s what you want.

In the case of this page, we made some tweaks to bring the content up to date an try to draw search traffic more deeply into the site.

But the reality for the high bounce rate from Twitip users is this: Twitip targets a different audience from ProBlogger. While it’s not unlikely that bloggers will read Twitip, that site is at once far more focused (Twitter tips only!) than this one, and more broad (it targets anyone who wants to use Twitter better—which could include casual, social users of the network, right through to online marketers in corporate environments).

So while ProBlogger contains Twitter tips, to try to convert traffic from Twitip into readers of this blog is probably a bit of a challenge. The two audiences want different things. While it was definitely worthwhile updating the ProBlogger post, the Twitip audience, on the whole, probably isn’t going to be interested in what we’re doing over here.

And that’s an important thing to realise: not all bounces are bad, and not all need addressing. Many do and will, and they’re the ones you’re better to spend your time trying to fix. But you won’t be able to work out which ones they are unless you take a few minutes to dig into the facts behind the bounces in the first place—to think about the individual users behind the numbers.

What do you do about your blog’s bounce rates? Have you been able to lower bounce rates through any specific tactics? I’d love to hear your tips in the comments.

Blogging Isn’t a Numbers Game: It’s a People Game

Last month I had the privilege of attending one of the biggest events in Australia—the AFL (Australian Football League) Grand Final. For those of you outside Australia, it’s kind of like the Superbowl of Aussie football (without all the cool ads and wardrobe malfunctions…).

Anyway, I was a guest (with my wife “V”) at the event of Virgin Australia and it was quite the experience.

The game is held at the MCG (a stadium in Melbourne) and was attended by 99,683 people.

During the Nathional Anthem moments before the game started

I don’t know if you’ve had the experience of being in a crowd close to 100,000 people, but it is a pretty amazing thing to be a part of—especially when so many of them are so passionate about supporting their team to win the season’s ultimate prize.

The game starts

As I sat there in that frenzy of flag-waving, face-painted, screaming fans it was easy to look at the crowd and almost see them as a single unit. Within an hour or so, the stadium had been transformed from a quiet, empty place into one that was teaming with life.

Buddy Franklin (one of the biggest AFL stars) takes a ‘Mark’ early in the game

However that crowd was actually made up of almost 100,000 small parts. Each person in attendance had entered through the turnstiles that day, one by one, having made their way to the stadium from around the city (and in some cases, from around the country). Each one came in their own unique way, with their own unique story, and their own unique expectations of what was about to unfold at the Grand Final.

Within seconds to go the game was tied up – this vital contest led to a goal that sealed the match for the Sydney Swans.

Each one also had their own experience of the day. For some, those expectations were exceeded as their team won. Others left the stadium dejected after seeing their team lose.

This was highlighted to me at the end of the game, particularly when I watched these two fans celebrating with such emotion.

Tension – it went down to the wire

Emotion – the win is in sight

Jubilation – the final siren sounds and pandaemonium breaks lose around us

It strikes me that all this is true for the “crowds” that read our blogs, too.

I was chatting with one blogger at the ProBlogger Training Event in Melbourne recently and they told me that they’d just passed the 100,000-visitors-in-a-month milestone. As we chatted, I told her that that’s enough people to fill the MCG, and an amazing thing!

However it is good to also remember when we celebrate these milestones that the crowds (whether they be 100, 10,000, 100,000, or 10,000,000) are actually more than just a number—they’re made up of individual readers.

The total “unique visitors” stat that many of us use to measure the success of our blogs is actually made up of real people who arrive, one by one, on our blogs.

  • They have unique journeys, and arrive from different places.
  • They each arrives at a different part of our blog (many on our archives).
  • They each come with their own set of needs that they’re looking to fulfil.
  • Each person has been shaped by their own stories and experiences.
  • Each has his or her own expectations of what the experience of your blog will be like.

Keeping this in mind as you blog is so important—it should shape the way that you write, the way that you build community, the way that you find new readers, and even the way that you monetize.

Don’t get too wrapped up in the overall number of visitors (big or small). Instead, focus upon the individuals who make up the crowd, and you’ll create something that not only grows, but really impacts the lives of those who read it.

A big thanks to Virgin Australia for the experience of going to the Grand Final – an experience of a lifetime.

What’s Good for the Blogger Is Good for the Blog

As we were preparing this weekend’s posts—which all deal with topic of productivity and the blogger’s lifestyle—I was reminded of a blogging truism that many of us seem to forget.

happy_time

Image courtesy stock.xchng user lusi

For the blogger who’s taking their blog and their readership seriously, what’s good for us is generally good for our blog.

Conversely, what’s good for our blog is generally good for us.

This truth isn’t just helpful when it comes to feeling motivated, inspired, and creative—it can also help us stay on track. Keeping this in mind helps me align my blog with my life—and vice versa, making my blogging a sustainable part of my life as a whole.

What’s bad?

Some of us might be tempted to take that as an excuse to avoid the tasks we don’t like doing. Of course there are always blogging tasks we don’t enjoy—for me, it’s the accounting. But what’s good for my blog—staying on top of the accounting—is also good for me (since my blog pays my bills!).

This philosophy isn’t an excuse for forgetting about things we don’t like doing. Instead, it’s a call to action to tackle them and make sure they’re as successful as they need to be. I hired an accountant, which has been good for me, and helped sustain my blog!

And what’s good?

But what about the tasks we do want to do? If I’m considering a new business idea or strategy, and find that I’m feeling weighed down or burnt out by it, that can tend to impact my life beyond blogging as well as my blogging itself.

When that happens, I’ll go back to the new idea I’m working on and try to find the real problem—is there some aspect of the plan that needs to change? Should I consider another idea instead? For me, there’s no reason in pursuing an idea that I’m not enjoying, or that’s taking more out of my life than it’s putting in.

It’s not just me who feels this way, though—this weekend we’ll hear from three bloggers who have made blogging a part of their lives, and have let their lives enrich their blogging too.

  • Karol K will reveal the 7 habits of highly inefficient bloggers … which is based on his own experience, as well as the lessons he’s learned from those around him. As he shows, these seven inefficiencies can make your life as a blogger a lot harder than it needs to be. Fortunately, they’re all pretty simply fixed.
  • Jon Rhodes will show us how he’s making the most of his full-time blogging lifestyle—and what that has meant for his blog. If you need a breath of fresh air—and fresh inspiration for your blogging—don’t miss this piece.
  • Jefferson and Michelle, a husband-and-wife blogging team, will let us in on some of the advantages of blogging in partnership—with your significant other! Again, their story proves that if you’re serious about your blog, what’s good for it will usually prove to be good for you, too.

Every day, we see the work we put into our blogs, but we may not be so quick to look at what our blogs contribute to our lives. The fact is that if we don’t see the relationship as symbiotic and mutually beneficial, we probably won’t continue with our blogs.

What aspects of your life are good for you and your blog? I’d love to hear about them in the comments.

Writing for a Diverse Audience, Part 2

Last week’s post on writing for a diverse audience sparked a great discussion, with some really interesting thoughts contributed by bloggers at all stages of building a blog, and from a range of markets and niches.

AudienceOne thing that really struck me about these conversations was that bloggers seem to feel a bit of a conflict between audiences and niches. I wanted to clarify that today.

Audiences, niches, and topics demystified

I have a pretty simple way to differentiate between an audience and a niche.

I think about an audience as being a group of people.

To me, a niche is like a market “space,” including other blogs, other offerings, other sites and services (all of which may also serve other niches), as well as readers.

And a topic is an area or item of interest. It’s relevant to particular audiences, and probably relates to more than a few niches.

Let’s see how this works in practice.

DPS: topic, niche, and audience

To explain this most clearly, I’m going to reverse the order in which we consider these concepts because I think that’s a more intuitive way to grasp them.

On DPS the:

  • topic is photography
  • niche is DIY amateur photography education
  • audience is English-speaking amateur photographers who want to teach themselves more about photography, typically for a specific purpose: travel photos, family snaps, portraits, and so on. These people have various characteristics—age, gender, purchasing power, previous experience with my brand, degree of photographic skill, interests, and so on—that I can use to unite them into different audience segments.

From this little explanation, you can see that the topic is a big umbrella. The niche fits under that umbrella, with a lot of others. There are lots of other niches in the field of photography: professional photography services, photography equipment and software sales and reviews, photographer profiles, folios and galleries—the list goes on and on, and the niches overlap.

Finally, the audience is the group of people who are engaged with or interested in that niche. They might also be interested in other niches under that umbrella, too—which is why DPS provides reviews and offers on equipment, shows off reader photos in galleries, and so on.

In fact, that’s an example of writing for a diverse audience.

Planning content for a diverse audience

A diverse audience might contain groups of readers with clearly differentiated needs or interests, but most commonly, the truth is that different audience members may move between audience segments, or have a range of “niche” interests that vary over time.

On DPS, I have readers who just want to get better at taking photos with their phone cameras. This is their key need. Then I have readers who are interested in developing a range of professional-level skills as a photographer, without any interest in establishing themselves as pro photographers.

Both these audience segments might be interested in content on taking images of people, provided the information focused on their common needs. What are those needs? Off the top of my head, I’d guess content on either portraits and/or action-shots of people could be made to appeal to both these segments.

Importantly, to meet the needs of these diverse segments, the content would need to give advice that wasn’t equipment-specific, or, alternatively, it would need to give equal attention to the different equipment these readers would be using.

Article ideas that met the needs of these diverse audience segments might include:

  • the basics of photographing people in motion
  • how to spot a good action shot, any time, any place
  • tips for better nighttime photography of people
  • post-processing tips for portraits.

These article ideas are all on the same topic—photography. They address the same niche—self-education for amateur photographers. Within that, they look at the sub-topic of photographing people. And in so doing, they target users from diverse audience segments: camera-phone junkies and high-level amateur photographers who want to develop pro skills.

Show us how you meet the needs of your diverse audience segments

Hopefully this has made the idea of audience segments a bit clearer, and provides a helpful roadmap for your own review and analysis of your own readers and content.

If you’re writing for diverse audience segments on your blog, why not show us how? Point us to a post that meets the needs of multiple segments, and explain how it works—and whose needs it meets—in the comments.

Essential HTML for Bloggers Part 1

This guest post is by Matt Setter of MaltBlue.com.

In the modern-world of blogging, there are so many blogging platforms to choose from. From the venerable WordPress, TypePad and Drupal to other great tools, such as Habari, Typo3 and CushyCMS amongst others. All of these make building a professional and stunning web presence, rather trivial—almost something so simple that our grandmothers and fathers could do it.

HTML5 logo

Image courtesy of the W3C

With all the ease of use that these tools afford us, how many of us still know what the underlying HTML looks like, that these tools, with their assortment of visual (wysiwyg) editors build for us? There was a time when you were considered a true web professional when you wrote all the HTML by hand.

To be fair, editors allow us to write quicker and likely more efficiently than we could if we were writing both the posts and the HTML code around them. They allow us to focus on what we’re good at, not the platform on which that knowledge rests.

From time to time, as capable as these editors are, they may either not be enough or we may simply want to know more and be more independent. We may want to know what’s going on underneath so that we’re not so reliant on them should something go wrong.

So in this two-part series, using the WordPress visual editor, I’m going to take you through a HTML for Bloggers Introductory Course. If you’re an aficionado on HTML, then this is likely not for you. If you’d like a refresher, are curious about what the code looks like that you’re producing in each of your posts, or just want to know how to go beyond the limitations of the editors you use, then this post is for you.

In this post, you’re going to learn five key, fundamental, aspects of HTML. These are:

  • What is a tag?
  • Formatting
  • Alignment
  • Lists.

Tomorrow we’ll add one more important aspect:

  • Links.

By the end of the series, you’ll know what’s happening when you click on a number of the buttons in the post editor and be able to change the HTML, should you want or need to do so.

Though I’m referring to it as a course, don’t worry, there’s no test at the end. If there were one, it would be based purely on how more empowered you’ll feel through having a greater hands-on knowledge of HTML.

HTML foundations

Tag: something used for identification or location—merriam-webster.

Before we get started, I want to give you a rapid overview of how HTML works. If you’ve not worked directly with it before, it’s based around the concept of tags or elements. From hereon in I’ll refer to them only as tags.

Tags give documents and parts of documents special meaning. Web browsers, such as Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer and Opera know how to interpret that meaning and display the appropriate page, for your viewing pleasure.

Have a look at the following, very basic, HTML document:

<html>

<head>

<title>The Page Title</title>

</head>

<body>

<h1>The Main Page Title</h1>

<p>A paragraph of text</p>

</body>

</html>

This is likely the most simple, yet still meaningful, HTML page that could ever be produced. You can see that the page begins and ends with the word html surrounded in opening and closing angle brackets, < and > and that the closing one has a forward slash,  /, in it. Within that, we then see two further sections, one is called head and the other body.

In head, we see a section wrapped in title and in the body we see two sections, h1 and p. It will work as follows:

  • The text inside the tags and will be what you see in the title bar of your browser.
  • The text in side <code>

    and

    will be the main heading on the page, likely in very large font and bolded.

  • The text insideandwill be the first paragraph that you’ll read on the page.

The image below shows what it would look like if we were viewing it in Mozilla Firefox.

Viewing the page in Firefox

So as you can see, when you think about it, HTML really is nothing more than a document that you would write in say, Microsoft Word, Open Office or Pages for Mac, but with some simple encapsulation around sections of the text to give it special meaning. The catch at times is knowing which element or tag to use and when.

I hope you can see that it’s pretty straightforward. With that, login to your WordPress blog and open a fresh new post, ready to play with, as in the image below.

A new post template

Headers and basic formatting

Right after links in order of importance, comes headers and basic formatting. This includes: the key headers, bold, italics, strikethroughs, and quotes.

Headers

As we all know, for documents to be searched and ranked most effectively in Google, they have to be semantically correct. In short, that means they have to use headers in the right way and use formatting where appropriate. The largest header should contain the core theme or point of the page and the increasingly smaller headers should be for sub-points of that.

Say we’re writing an article on the U.S. election. Well the main theme would be the election itself and we’d likely have two key sub-themes, being Democrats and Republicans. Have a look at the sample I’ve created below:

Header example

You can see that I have the main heading, US Election, with the headers for Republics and Democrats the next level down, with the content for each section, dummy text, in normal text with no special formatting. Let’s look at the HTML that’s been generated behind the scenes by changing to the HTML view. The HTML looks like this:

<h1>US Election</h1>

<h2>Republicans</h2>

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Donec diam felis,

vulputate et facilisis sit amet, aliquam a lacus. Vestibulum nec mi ac

augue luctus scelerisque ut a ante. Vestibulum ante ipsum primis in

faucibus orci luctus et ultrices posuere cubilia Curae; Duis malesuada.

<h2>Democrats</h2>

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Donec diam felis,

vulputate et facilisis sit amet, aliquam a lacus. Vestibulum nec mi ac

augue luctus scelerisque ut a ante. Vestibulum ante ipsum primis in

faucibus orci luctus et ultrices posuere cubilia Curae; Duis malesuada.

You can see that the main heading is wrapped in a H1 tag and the two sub-headings are wrapped in H2 tags. H1 is the primary and most important and H2 - H6 are decreasingly important. Now let’s say we want to mention the recent speech by Bill Clinton to the Democratic Convention. Have a look in the section below where I’ve added a H3 and H4 header mentioning just that.

<h2>Democrats</h2>

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Donec diam felis,

vulputate et facilisis sit amet, aliquam a lacus. Vestibulum nec mi ac

augue luctus scelerisque ut a ante. Vestibulum ante ipsum primis in

faucibus orci luctus et ultrices posuere cubilia Curae; Duis malesuada.

<H3>Democratic Convention</h3>

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Donec diam felis,

vulputate et facilisis sit amet, aliquam a lacus. Vestibulum nec mi ac

augue luctus scelerisque ut a ante. Vestibulum ante ipsum primis in

faucibus orci luctus et ultrices posuere cubilia Curae; Duis malesuada.

<H4>Former President Bill Clinton</h4>

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Donec diam felis,

vulputate et facilisis sit amet, aliquam a lacus. Vestibulum nec mi ac

augue luctus scelerisque ut a ante. Vestibulum ante ipsum primis in

faucibus orci luctus et ultrices posuere cubilia Curae; Duis malesuada.

You can see from the above text that it’s pretty simple indeed. You could, alternatively, have done this using the Visual editor by selecting the respective text and choosing Heading 3 or Heading 4.

Basic formatting

Bold

Now let’s say that we were talking about Obama and wanted to draw attention to his name by doing some simple formatting, say bolding it. Well, in the visual editor, you’d highlight the text and then click B. But let’s look at how we’d do it in the HTML editor.

Change over to it, and in some text, or select some existing text, select it, then surround it with the tags <strong></strong> and , such as in the example below:

augue luctus scelerisque ut a ante. <b>Vestibulum ante ipsum primis in</b>

faucibus orci luctus et ultrices posuere cubilia Curae; Duis malesuada.

After you’ve done that, change back to the visual editor and you should seem output similar to the image below.

Bold text

Italics and strikethroughs

What if we’re not wanting to bold text, but to either italicise it, say for a list of important items, or we want to strike through (strike/cross out) and item, emphasising a correction in our text. As you may well have gathered, they’re as simple as all the previous items.

The italics tag is <em></em> and the strikethrough is <del></del>. Let’s say that we have a long list of items, separated by commas, such as towns in New Zealand. And let’s say that we’re highlighting them so they’ll stand out to our reader. In our visual editor, we have the towns: Christchurch, Aukland, Invercargill and Taupo. But what we don’t want to do is italicise either the commas themselves or the word ‘and’. Add the list above in the Visual editor then change to the HTML editor.

All you need to do is to wrap each of the town names in <em></em> and as below and they’re emphasised.

<i>Christchurch</i>, <i>Aukland</i>, <i>Invercargill</i> and <i>Taupo</i>

Now let’s say this was the list of towns contending to host director Peter Jackson as he’s travelling the country looking for new locations for his next feature film; and that, sadly, Invercargill’s not made the cut. We need to strike it out. All we’d do is to take our list above and wrap Invercargill in the <del></del> tag and we’re done. An example is below:

<i>Christchurch</i>, <i>Aukland</i>, <i><del>Invercargill</del></i> and <i>Taupo</i>

When you switch back to Visual mode, or preview it in your browser of choice, it will look a lot like the image below (allowing for the dotted underline).

Italics and strikethrough

Quotes

Like all good bloggers and journalists, we don’t just write our own thoughts or link to others articles and thoughts. We also want to quote authors, whether that’s some prose, a statement, a callout or something they said recently. Commonly we see it in a larger, italicised, greyed font, with prefixed double-quotes. Often times it’s styled nicely like below, from a recent article on Copyblogger:

Blockquote

To achieve this effect, we need to use the tag. We simply surround the text we want to appear quoted in the tag. The example in the image above would be created as follows:

<blockquote>Please expand on your answer to Q1. What have you tried?

What’s keeping you from getting results?</blockquote>

I hope that you can see by this stage, just how very simple HTML is. Though there are a lot of tags and a number of the tags have a wide variety of options, they’re reasonably self-explanatory and quick to master. Keep it simple, start from the most appropriate tags and go from there.

The other thing you’ve likely noticed is just how much of a time save a good visual editor is. Could you imagine what it must have been like in the early days, before editors, doing all of this by hand? I didn’t mind doing it, but well, it’s not always the most effective way to work.

Alignment

Now let’s say we wanted to play around with the alignment of text. Say we want to align a few paragraphs of text either in the center of the post or on the right-hand side. Let’s work with the paragraph below. It will start off left-aligned, move to be aligned in the centre, and then end up right-aligned.

Left alignment

By leaving the text as is, optionally surrounded in

 

tags, will display the text left aligned.

augue luctus scelerisque ut a ante. <b>Vestibulum ante ipsum primis in</b>

faucibus orci luctus et ultrices posuere cubilia Curae; Duis malesuada.

Center aligned

By surrounding the text in

 

and

tags and adding the attribute “align” with the value of “centre,” we can display the text center aligned.

<p align="center">augue luctus scelerisque ut a ante. <b>Vestibulum ante ipsum primis in</b>

faucibus orci luctus et ultrices posuere cubilia Curae; Duis malesuada.</p>

This code will display as shown here.

Center alignment

Right aligned

By surrounding the text in

 

and

tags and adding the attribute “align” with the value of “right,” we can display the text right aligned.

<p align="right">augue luctus scelerisque ut a ante. <b>Vestibulum ante ipsum primis in</b>

faucibus orci luctus et ultrices posuere cubilia Curae; Duis malesuada.</p>

This code will display as shown below.

Right alignment

Lists

Now we’re coming to the end of Part 1 of out mini-course. We’re going to look at the last of the key, basic elements—lists. In HTML there are two types of list:

  • unordered
  • ordered.

Unordered lists are delimited with a bullet point and ordered lists have a numeric value, such as numbers, roman numerals and so on. Lists are a little more complicated than the tags that we’ve covered so far, though not by much. Lists need tags for the list itself, and for each of the elements within them. Below are two examples:

Unordered list

<ul>

<li>First Point</li>

<li>Second Point</li>

<li>Third Point</li>

</ul>

Ordered list

<ol>

<li>First Point</li>

<li>Second Point</li>

<li>Third Point</li>

</ol>

You can see that an ordered list starts and ends with and an unordered one with . You can also see that the list items start and end with

. So, there’s a nice correlation between the purpose and the name.

 

There’s quite a bit you can do when configuring what your lists will look like, where they will start or resume their numbering from and so on and lists can have sub-lists. But I think that we’ve covered enough for now.

Tomorrow we'll finish up our tour of essential HTML by looking closely at links, the "glue" of the Internet. Before then, let me know if you've learned anything in this tutorial—and what else you want to know. I'd love to hear from you in the comments.

Matthew Setter is a freelance writer, technical editor and proofreader. His mission is to help businesses present their online message in an engaging and compelling way so they’re noticed and remembered.