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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.

When You Don’t Have “One Reader”: Writing for a Diverse Blog Audience

“Write for one reader” is advice we hear often in the blogosphere, and it can be a useful way to get a consistent voice going on your blog.

But the longer you blog, the more likely you’ll be to get to know your readers, and the more diverse their needs may seem. Or perhaps you’re blogging in a niche whose readers, while they’re united on some fronts, have deeply divided opinions on certain aspects of your topic.

Difference

Image courtesy stock.xchng user mzacha

This kind of diversity can be particularly common among readers of blogs in the religious, political, and “cause” niches—areas where people feel really strongly about the topic, and have a deep appreciation of what can be the many complex aspects of the topic.

That said, I’d guess that plenty of blogs would reach audience segments with differing—perhaps conflicting needs. Meeting the needs of those segments is a challenge that every blogger faces.

What if you don’t have “one reader” that you can keep in mind as you write? What if you have three, or four—or more?

Today, I’d like to talk about a strategy you can use to meet the varying needs of a diverse blog audience. It has three key steps:

  1. understand
  2. match
  3. meet.

1. Understand

The first step—and perhaps the most important—is to understand the different audience segments you’re writing for. Have a think about your readers, and note down the ways you think they vary.

For example, if you’re writing a travel blog, you might be juggling the needs of armchair travellers who want a vivid story and glowing shots from around the globe with those of pragmatic travellers who really need practical advice and inspiration to help them get out there and see the world.

You might have more segments than just two—that’s fine. Once you’ve worked out what basic factor differentiates them from other readers on your site, it’s time to delve a bit deeper. Look through your blog comments (or those on other blogs or forums in your niche) and try to track down some key facts about each segment:

  • Their attitudes: Consider their motivations or reasons for holding certain opinions.
  • Their media preferences: Your blog may in fact unite readers who might not otherwise come together online. But even if it doesn’t, different segments will likely use different media within (and beyond) your niche. It’s a good idea to make a little profile of their media usage habits, as far as you can work them out, as this can give you insights into other opinions, preferences, or expectations they may have.
  • Their post format preferences: There may be little difference between segments’ preferences for different formats, or there may be a lot. Do certain segments prefer list posts, or vlog posts, or opinion posts? Does your podcast subscription list equally represent your audience as a whole, or has it attracted more readers from a particular segment?

All you’re tying to do here is get a feel for what makes these different segments tick—what interests them, and why.

2. Match

Once you understand each segment a bit better, you can consider how your brand serves the needs of each one.

You might be able to see, for example, why different reader types respond in certain ways to particular topics you’ve covered on your blog, or why they react in certain ways to your interactions on social media. Ideally, you’ll be able to point to actual examples of posts on your blog that work—and don’t work—for each segment within your audience. I’ve visualised that matching of your brand, your blog topics, and your segment’s needs in the diagram below.

A diverse audience

Don’t just look at posts on your blog, though—it’s a good idea to also at the other media you know this segment’s readers use, and do the same there.

Hopefully, this exercise will help you come up with a list of topics and messages that your brand can use as a basis to form deep, lasting, loyal relationships with the readers in this particular segment within your niche.

3. Meet

The last step in this process is to make sure you meet each segments’ needs through your activity on and around your blog.

You created a list of topics above, you know what aspects of your brand resonate with each segment, and you also know how they like consuming your content. The trick now is to create a list of potential posts that look at the topics of interest through the lens of your brand.

Now you can drop those post ideas into your content schedule, so that you can make sure you’re meeting the needs of the important segments within your larger audience. If you want, you can probably come up with some more targeted, specific ways to address them through social media, through your current (or new, targeted) email sequences, and perhaps—for large segments—through your product strategy too.

This way, you can make sure you’re diligent about meeting the needs of each subsegment within a diverse blog audience, without undermining your blog’s brand or making any group you want to serve feel left out or forgotten about.

Celebrate diversity

I think that perhaps the best way you can go about addressing sub-segments of your readers very specifically is to get excited about the diversity your blog has attracted!

One of the most enjoyable aspects of blogging is how it opens up doors to connect with people we’d probably not have met otherwise. Those relationships can be so rich and rewarding—don’t miss the opportunity to connect with key segments in your broad audience.

Does your blog have a diverse audience, with a few—or more—different segments? Tell us about them, and how you’ve tackled them, in the comments.

5 Tools for Harnessing the Power of We #bad12

Today is blog action day, and this year’s theme is “The Power of We.” But for some of us, harnessing that power is a major challenge.

Construction

Image courtesy stock.xchng user srpatel

One of the most common complaints of bloggers I speak to is that they want to collaborate more effectively with their audience members, customers, or readers, but also with other bloggers in their niche, industry leaders, mentors, and more.

To me, collaboration is as much about attitude and personality as it is about process. That said, tools can make a big impact on how well we collaborate. So many of us work alone, or with collaborators in different cities, regions, or timezones, that collaborative tools are a necessity.

So in this post I want to show you five common tools that we use to help us collaborate here at ProBlogger, and to show you how we use them. While we’re not exactly pushing the envelope in terms of the way we do things, I hope that these ideas might help you try some new approaches with your own collaboration, and prompt you to share your own tips with us in the comments.

1. Email—and email redirects

Like many bloggers, all my blogs’ email addresses were funnelled to my own email address for years. But as my blogs grew, that arrangement became less and less feasible—I became swamped with email, and managing reading and responses became a massive burden.

Despite that, I really believe email is a useful collaboration tool. It’s had some pretty bad press in the last few years, but it has many advantages—including the fact that it doesn’t require you to coordinate time with the person you’re emailing (like a call or IM does), and that most email programs store email, providing a handy archive of conversations that, again, aren’t always available for real-time conversations.

One thing I’ve done recently is to set up email redirects to various members of my team, so that they receive the emails they need to respond to directly, rather than having me forward them on. It sounds elementary, but for the solo blogger, handing over that level of control can be daunting. I’d recommend it, though—once you’ve trained up your team members so that they, and you, know what to expect from each other, this is a good way to streamline your processes.

It means that the people who approach my blogs as writers or collaborators get a quicker, more personal response, but it also means that I can spend the time I used to spend sifting email collaborating with others. For me, more efficient email management means I can focus on opportunities to collaborate.

2. Basecamp

My team uses Basecamp quite a bit, particularly in the process of creating products. For example:

  • To-do lists: we might use these to set and manage tasks associated with product development
  • Projects: we use the discussion-thread-style “Projects” to manage discussion around projects, though it’s often supplemented by email
  • Whiteboards: these can be handy for scoping and brainstorming product ideas and topics as a team.

Again, one of the benefits of Basecamp and tools like it is that your collaborators don’t need to be online simultaneously, so you can get a lot done without having to fit it into everyone’s schedules at the same time. It also provides an excellent record of the evolution of product ideas, strategy, or whatever you’re using it to discuss.

Combine Basecamp with something like Dropbox for exchanging really large files, and you have a good system for creating products collaboratively, wherever your colleagues are located.

3. Google Docs/Drive

Google Docs—or Google Drive, in its new incarnation—is another good tool for collaboration on posts (with authors and content managers), sales content (with marketers), and more.

Like email and Basecamp, Google Docs allows for solid collaboration over elapsed time, but importantly, it has a great real-time editing feature, that lets you collaborate with others simultaneously on the same document.

This can be especially handy in high-pressure situations—when you’re trying to nail your sales copy in the hours leading up to a product launch or announcement, for example. You might combine Google Chat (or some other IM tool—or even a live phone or Skype call) with real-time editing to explain your copy tweaks to your collaborator as you make them, then watch as they tweak your tweaks!

This can also apply to your collaboration with authors on posts, or even with your accountant on your budget spreadsheet. If you haven’t tried real-time editing yet, have a look and see how it might fit your collaborative style.

4. Skype and Call Recorder

My team uses Skype a fair bit, not just for meeting calls, but also as an instant messenger tool. Despite being slightly notorious for sound quality issues, we find Skype pretty reliable for collaborating in real time. Since most of my team members work from home, we can also usually arrange to meet within reasonably short notice if we need to. (Though if Skype’s being flaky, you can always try a Google Hangout instead.)

One of the tasks that Skype’s proved very handy for is content creation. We’ve used it, combined with the tool Call Recorder, many times to interview topic experts for blog posts and products we’ve created.

Recording interviews like this can give you a lot of material that you can reuse in posts and other content you’re developing—with the interviewee’s permission, of course. And that’s material you’d never remember from an unrecorded conversation, or be able to get through an emailed, Q-and-A-style interview.

5. Social media

You may not have been expecting this one to be on the list! But social media can be a great collaborative tool.

I’ve mentioned before that I use Google+ to engage with readers and others through longer form content than I can post on Facebook or Twitter, and Jade mentioned recently how we’re engaging with potential DPS contributors through Pinterest.

Engagement is the first step in collaboration. I’ve found a good number of authors through social media collaboration—and not just by contacting, or being contacted by, those people myself. Often my team members will spot something or someone on social media, DM me about it, and spark a collaboration that way.

The other advantage of social media has been as a collaborative content creation mechanism in itself—on G+ I’ll post an idea or perspective, get feedback and input from my connections on that network, build on those extra ideas, then use everything I’ve learned as the basis for a post on either ProBlogger or DPS.

I have a hunch that some bloggers still see social media as a promotional platform, and—at most—somewhere to engage with individual readers for a short period of real-time before they disappear into the ether again. But if you let it, social media can fit into your collaborative toolset in a really productive, rich way.

Harnessing the power of we

These are just five tools that my team and I use to harness the power of we on an ongoing basis. If you’ve heard about certain tools, and think they might be helpful for you, but haven’t give them a try yet, I’d really encourage you to do so.

You don’t have to commit yourself to them for life, but if you can just give them a go, you might discover that they do a lot to help you harness the power of we with collaborators around your blog.

What tools—or other offline approaches—are you using to harness the power of we in your blogging? I’d love to hear about them in the comments.

We’re Spending the Week On Your Blog!

It’s Monday—the start of a new week on your blog—and I wonder what challenges you’re facing.

Woman_writing_in_the_agenda

Image courtesy stock.xchng user Jan Willem Geertsma

If you’ve neglected your RSS or social media feeds over the weekend, you’ll likely find plenty of good advice there—advice that you feel you really should try out if you want your blog to be its best.

But before you become overwhelmed by all the things on your weekly To-Do list, let me tell you what we have planned for the week ahead.

This week, we’re focusing not on promotion or social networking or reaching the right readers or affiliate programs or SEO.

We’re focusing on you and your blog. Entirely.

A week on your blog

Imagine if you could put aside all the other, external things you usually do to keep your blog humming along for a whole week.

Imagine if you could instead spend the next five days really honing your approach to blog design, content, and your own productivity.

If you’re anything like me, you rarely spend this much time focused exclusively on your own online presence. I know I normally slot the tasks of content and design around other things, mainly to do with product development, reader engagement, and promotion.

While I don’t think any of these elements exists in a vacuum—they all interplay thought our blogs and our lives as bloggers—I do feel that sometimes it’s good to take a break and really home in on our blogs themselves.

Stepping back

Blogs evolve over time. Each day we learn new ideas to try, and we want to see what the produce.

But ongoing blog tweaks can be a curse as well as an aid. If we never step back, the tweaks we make to our designs, our interfaces, our content, our structure, and our brands overall can slowly erode the sharp focus we began with. That can be more than unfortunate—that can undermine your ability to maintain and grow reader loyalty.

So if you’ve spent the past months in the trenches, head down, backside up, working hard at a tactical level, then this week’s posts will hopefully help you step back and look critically at some key elements of your blog.

We’ll have posts on landing pages and logos, on voice and audience, and on making the most of the time you dedicate to your blog. We’ll mix writing and design tips with productivity advice.

The aim? To help you focus on the thing that matters most—the thing that keeps you attracting readers, converting subscribers, and selling products: your blog itself. And to help you take stock of where you’re at, and where you can improve to make your brand more coherent and powerful.

We’ll kick off later today with a post by the Web Marketing Ninja which is designed to help those with bigger blogs whose growth has stalled. He’ll show you how to look closely at your online presence and face up to the tough questions: why has your blog stalled, and what do you need to do to get it going again?

Before we get to that post, I’d love to hear about the challenges you’re facing in building an online presence on your blog. Share them with us in the comments.

How I Fast-tracked My Blog to 10k Subscribers and $15k Revenue in a Month

This guest post is by Alex Becker of Source Wave Marketing.

Tracks

Image courtesy stock.xchng user Thoursie

When I first got into blogging, gaining any sizable amount of engaged subscribers seemed like a slow, tedious task. As bloggers, I am sure you know the popular ways to get people to your site:

  • guest posting
  • participating on forums
  • SEO.

But when your blog is brand new, getting featured on a site with a ton of traffic is next to impossible. Creating a solid reputation on a forum takes time. SEO is a popular tactic but also takes a long time. To put it bluntly, if you are new to blogging, the deck is not stacked in your favor.

This is why I decided to use another method to grow my blog: product creation.

“Wait, what?!” you might be thinking. “Making products as a way to grow your blog/brand? Does that even work?”

Well, my blog is just over seven months old. It has an email list of just over 10,000 people and brings in a total of $15k+ in revenue monthly. So yes, product creation is a super-effective and underutilized method to grow your blog. But before you can put this method to use on your blog, you need to understand why it works so well.

Why blogging and making products is like pouring gasoline on a fire

Ironically, the easiest place to get traffic you can capture is not on other websites. It isn’t on Facebook or Twitter. It is the massive email lists people have in certain niches.

But I am not just talking about any big email list. Getting a monster blogger or magazine to feature you in their email list is pretty tough, and oddly enough, they do not even have the best traffic.

Blogger and news lists: the hard way

A huge blogger might have 10-30k emails. The funny thing is that many of these are worthless because these are what we call “freebie chasers.” These are people that joined an email list for free and are only interested in one thing—more free stuff. They are also commonly not committed to a niche.

Now this blogger is going to make you jump through hoop after hoop to get featured in his or her list. While you can traffic from the list, it’s going to be very hard unless you also have a big reputation (which 95% of bloggers do not).

We want to focus on one and only one type of list: the massive email lists that other product creators have. And here’s why.

Product creators’ lists: the easy way

Think about the owner of a successful Clickbank product or information products. Even small-time product creators routinely have email lists of 5-20k. Bigger names can easily have 20k-100k. That’s a lot of people, folks.

Here’s why their lists are so valuable: every single person on their lists has loaded up their PayPal accounts and paid for information in the niche they’re selling in. As they say, money talks. And when these people have put money down, they’re telling you a couple things:

  • They are very interested in the niche.
  • They participate in the niche.
  • They are comfortable spending money in the niche.

This is exactly the type of person you want coming to your site and joining your list.

The ironic thing is that product creators are far less stingy with their lists than many others. This is because they usually have their list for a much less honorable reason than most straight-up bloggers. Most product creators (not all of them) use their list to promote other products and make an affiliate income.

This means one thing to you: if you have a product that will make them money, they will throw a tidal wave of traffic your way.

This is why they are such a great resource. They have one simple button you need to press to get access to “buyer” traffic. In this post, I’ll show you exactly how to push that button.

My product creation blueprint for blogging

I understand your thoughts right now: “What if I’ve never made a product before?”

Don’t panic. You don’t need to create a mega-product, nor I am not telling you to put crummy material out on the market. However, my father always told me “Keep it simple, stupid.” Sometimes something small and simple works insanely well. In fact, for this method, we want small and simple.

For example, one of the first products I made with my partner was a list of the most reliable Fiverr sellers, which we sold for five bucks. This simple product has sold over 6,000 copies, earning us over 6,000 subscribers.

So just keep in mind that you are totally capable of doing this. With that being said, let me walk you through the steps I used to create a product and blow up my blog, and then how I used my blog to create sales.

Step 1. Find an idea for a short product and make it happen

The first thing you want to do is find places online where your targeted visitor hangs out. These will usually be forums or Yahoo Answers-type sites.

The sites are so valuable because there you will see your visitor tell you exactly what they want. Look at the questions and problems that are getting the most focus. Then, make a product to solve these problems. Simple, huh?

Step 2. Make a juicy offer for product list owners and their customers

One of the best ways to get product creators interested is to offer 100% commission on your product. Remember, we’re not trying to make money: we’re trying to get them to hand over their traffic. You have to remember your motives, first and foremost.

We also want to make a product that’s cheap enough to convert very highly with their list. If you make, say, a $50 product, not very many people will buy it. However, if you produce a $5 product, the interest will, naturally, skyrocket.

Step 3. Find big list owners

This is fairly simple. Look around your niche and find information products. I guarantee you the owners of those products had a way to collect the emails of their customers. Email these product creators and pitch them on your product. (Hint: Be sure to mention the 100% affiliate commission!)

Step 4. Collect the emails

Now that you have a product creator blasting your product with traffic, it is time to collect the traffic that converts. (Remember, keep your product cheap for maximum conversions. More conversions means more emails.)

You can easily collect and manage these emails through a server such as Mail Chimp. After a person purchases your product, redirect them to an opt-in form that they must fill out to get access to the file.

Step 5. Treat your new subscribers like gold

Now that you have the emails of these people, it is time to deliver value, and really wow them with your brand.

One thing you need to keep in mind is that most of these people are used to being abused with affiliate offers whenever they get forced onto a product email list. This your chance to step up and do something different. Differentiating yourself will be what makes you so successful. Treat them with respect and earn their trust.

Constantly link them to cool things that are happening on your blog. Bombard them with value.

I did this by providing free weekly webinars, sharing my most potent internet marketing secrets for free and taking every chance I get to make personal connections with my readers. I also never asked for anything in return. Remember these words: what can I do for you?

This is the secret to turning a list of people that randomly bought your product into a community of friends and colleagues that trust you and like you enough to invest in your business.

Step 6. Use that trust in you and your brand to grow a profitable business

The funny thing about this is that most people would assume the next step is, “spam them with affiliate offers!” No way! That’s very, very bad.

The simple truth is that you will now have a community of buyers who trust and respect you. If you maintain that trust, they will invest in offers your promote and be eager to be a part of any business you create. So why push them away with spam?

A great example of someone who’s used the trust he’s developed with an audience is Pat Flynn of the blog, Smart Passive Income. By always having his readers’ best interests in mind, Pat has become not only a very rich man, but an internet marketing icon. Do not ever underestimate the power of a trusting audience.

The results

My partner and I have used this traffic generation method on our blog, and, in under seven months, we’ve created a thriving community in an extremely competitive niche. On top of this, any business we launch is an instant success due to the trust we have built with the subscribers we gained from product launches.

In fact, the last premium service we launched from our blog sold completely in under one hour. That is the power of combining buyer traffic from product launches with the amount of trust quality blogging can generate.

You were meant to make products

As a blogger, you are undertaking a role as an authority on information in your niche.

To me, creating products and being an authority go hand and hand. When you create a good product (remember, simple can be good), the people that buy it will naturally be interested in your blog. This is because authority figures make products and authority figures blog. Period.

By making products, not only do you get access to hoards of traffic, but you also become an authority.

This is why I encourage every ambitious blogger to break out of the “strictly blogging” mindset and spread your message through as many formats as possible. Remember, it’s important to differentiate.

Of course, creating a product is not going to be an easy 6-step process, but niether is growing a massive brand. I do promise one thing, though: If you take the ideas presented in this article and run with them, your blog will become a red-hot source of awesome faster than you ever thought possible.

Alex Becker is the co-founder of the Source Wave Marketing and owner of multiple online SEO services.

Kickstart Your Stalled Blog Content, Part 1: Six Steps to a Fresh Post

Just starting a blog? Longing to revive an old, forgotten blog? Or just feeling guilty because you’ve let your blog languish without a post for a little too long?

Typing a post

Image courtesy stock.xchng user tikideputy

If your blog’s fallen behind your ideal post frequency, you’re in luck. Today, I’m going to give you a six-step plan for kickstarting stalled blog content. The work we’ll do today takes just 40 minutes in total, but you can split it up in to five- and ten-minute blocks if that’s all you can fit in.

Then, over the coming week, I’ll check back in with you periodically to see how you’re going—and provide some more tips for staying on track along the way. Are you ready to kickstart your content? Let’s go!

1. Take stock: readers, niche and blog: 10 minutes

First up, let’s take stock of what’s going on on your blog, in your niche, and with your readers. A good way to do this is to start by looking at the leading sites in your niche—not just blogs, but all sites and other media (press, for example) that your target audience might use.

Look closely at:

  • current news, events and trends
  • what readers are linking and sharing
  • what readers are worried or concerned by
  • where your niche seems to be headed in the short- to medium-term.

Do this now, and in ten or fifteen minutes’ time, you should have a pretty clear picture of what’s happening in your niche—an essential step if you’re reviving a blog you’ve left to languish for a while.

Next, visit your own blog. What topics have you covered most recently (even if that was a while ago)? Where does your blog sit relative to the competition, and to readers’ interests?

Hopefully, this review will give you a clear idea of some gaps in niche coverage that you can fill on your blog. It might also spark your ideas or opinions on topics that are important to your niche and audience right now. We’re off to a good start!

2. Think of three questions readers are asking: 5 minutes

After step 1, you’ll probably be fairly clear about the kinds of things readers are trying to learn or get information on.

Take a minute to write down three questions they’re asking. You might like to write them as if they’re questions you’re tying into Google or some other search tool, or you might just narrow down to fairly specific topics.

These questions don’t have to be actual questions you’re seeing readers ask in blog comments. They might be suggested through the interactions your audience is having on social media, or questions other leaders in your niche seem to be asking, and which are getting some attention from readers.

What you’re really looking for here are audience needs that aren’t being fully met by the content that’s available in your niche right now.

3. Write answers to those questions: 5 minutes

You’ve got a list of three questions; now answer each one in a sentence or two.

In those answers, make sure you’re 100% clear on the meaning of what you’ve written (it’s all too easy to jot down a one-sentence answer and find out later that it was full of holes!), and that you know why you answered the way you did.

Being able to rationalise your points of view will be essential when it comes to writing your next post!

4. Choose one Q&A to expand on: 10 minutes

Hopefully, you’ll find at least one of the questions you’ve identified really interesting. Pick that one, and note down a bit more about it.

You might get into the reader question in a bit more detail, or jot down the logical components of your answer—perhaps just in bullet points or using keywords.

The object here is just to get clear about the nature of the question, and the key elements of your answer. You might also have a think about some of the content you’ve seen on the topic online (if you have seen any) and identify what’s missing from that content. Should you cover those points in your post? Where would they fit?

You might notice now that you’ve got a brief outline for a post. You have a topic, a question for the post, and an answer split into a number of elements. Not bad for a half-hour’s work!

5. Write down what’s different about this advice: 5 minutes

You might be tempted to skip this step. Don’t.

Here’s where you clarify for yourself what your post will provide that no other content on the topic does.

This isn’t just an informational question—though of course knowing what advice or detail your post will offer uniquely is important. But let’s not overlook what you bring to the equation as well.

Perhaps your post will hinge on your own personal experience of the topic, and will provide unique insight from that experience.

Perhaps the approach will be different—maybe all the coverage so far has come from one side of the industry, or of a debate. Perhaps you’re going to provide another perspective from a completely different viewpoint.

Or maybe you’ll use a different format from the rest—one that makes the issues more approachable and digestible, and helps readers understand the topic more easily.

6. Schedule writing time, editing time, and a publication date: 5 minutes

This is the last step for today! You’ve just created a plan for a unique piece of content that responds directly, and uniquely to readers’ needs.

All you need now is the time to write it.

Check your schedule and set aside three blocks of time:

  1. 40 minutes for writing
  2. 30 minutes for editing, on a different day
  3. a publication date.

Commit to these dates and times—make them non-negotiable. Tell us when they fall in the comments, if you like. What I’d love is if you could fit them into the next week, because I’m planning to check back in with you on Tuesday and Friday to see how you’re going.

On those days I’ll be providing tips to help you keep your content kickstart on track, so it’ll be great if you can work along with us. If not, that’s fine—I’d still love to hear when you’re planning your writing, editing and publication in the comments.

Don’t forget to check back on Tuesday, when I’ll reveal some of the tricks I use to blog when I have no time in my schedule. Hopefully, they’ll put you in good stead for keeping the content rolling on your blog long after you’ve kickstarted it back into action. See you then!

How to Write Your Most Popular Post

What was your most popular post this week?

I asked this question on Twitter on Thursday, and got some interesting responses. The people who tweeted back blog in a range of markets—from personal blogs and finance blogs, to fashion blogs and craft blogs. And their readers are have differing needs.

Put yourself in the picture

Put yourself in the picture

Among the posts were how-tos, reviews, personal stories, opinion—all kinds of approaches. And the ideas discussed are as diverse as yellow pants, Excel spreadsheets, and portrait photography.

Yet all of these were these bloggers’ most popular posts.

The message here?

There is no perfect post formula

If you’ve been blogging for a while, you’ll have seen that a concept or approach that works one month might flop the next. While much of the advice we see online seems to suggest that repeating what works is the path to blogging success, most of us know it’s not that simple.

Each new day brings a slightly different world, and we have to continually adapt to meet the needs of that world, and the readers who inhabit it.

What worked yesterday may not work quite so well today. So while we can rely on some “formulae” or “secrets”, we have to continually evolve new ones, and test them, and see how they work, so that we’re evolving at the same rate as our market—maybe even a little ahead if we’re lucky.

In doing that, many of us develop reader personas—ideal views of the person we’re trying to reach through our blogging. While we all understand that there’s variation, these personas can make our blogging clearer, more consistent, and give it a stronger voice.

Still, it’s important to see the lesson here, too.

There is no ideal reader

While it’s good to picture an “ideal reader” and write and blog with them in mind, I like to remind myself that that person doesn’t actually exist.

All readers are different, as all people are different. We have unifying characteristics, but they’re usually outweighed by the differences. It’s the combination of similarities and differences that makes us unique. While as bloggers we can focus on the similarities, and use them to define our readership, if that’s all we look at, we miss a big opportunity to connect.

Each person experiences things—including your blog—in a unique way. This was very clear in the posts we recently published by bloggers who joined me in Queensland, Australia, earlier this year. We all attended the same blogging workshops, and we all shared a lot of the experiences that Queensland Tourism made available to the group.

Also, all of the attendees were bloggers who were interested in visiting Queensland, and had the abilities to win the competition we ran to find our attendees.

Yet if you read those posts—and we gave all the bloggers a similar “brief” for the series we put together—it’s clear that each person took something unique from the experience. NOt only that, but they applied what they learned in completely different ways with their blogs and readerships. No two bloggers are alike—not even in these five examples!

There is only one you

We’ve published a few posts recently that have made this point, including The Secret to Crazy-happy Blogging and Unconfidence: The Essential Ingredient to Crazy Stupid Success.

While the world may change and your audience may evolve, there’s only one you.

You—your unique way of seeing the world in which you blog, and interpreting it for your readers—are the glue between your blog and your audience. I know it’s more common to see the blog as the medium between yourself and your readers, but just for today, I’m asking you to see it differently.

See yourself as the reason readers are coming to your blog.

You’re the reason they’re reading, following you on social media, and using your blog to buy products, connect with others, share their experiences, and engage.

While none of us wants to get too ego-bound, I think bloggers can be more likely to overlook this point than focus on it. And that’s to our detriment. While your blog’s not about you—it’s about your readers—you’re the reason your blog is popular.

You’re the reason your most popular post is popular.

Success is down to the work we do, as individuals. So just for today, don’t look at others’ work to find some commonality, technique, or formula that you can apply to your blog to achieve popularity. Instead, think about yourself, and your readers, and know that the approach you create to meet their needs and solve their problems is unique to you. You’re popular with your readers because you are the person you are. And that’s worth making the most of in your blog.