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Beginner Week: My 43 DOs and 25 DON’Ts of Blogging

Theme WeekEleven and a half years ago when I hit publish on my first ever blog post, I had little idea what I was doing and what was going to unfold for me over the coming decade.

As I prepared for a recent mini ProBlogger event event in Perth, I created a little list of some of the ‘dos and don’ts’ of blogging that I wish I’d known back in 2002 when I started. As it’s Beginner Week here on ProBlogger, I thought it might be appropriate to share them here on the blog today:

Note: these are MY dos and don’ts, and reflect my own style of blogging. I am not putting them forward as ‘rules’ that apply to all. I’d love to see your dos and don’ts in comments below.

My 43 DOs of Blogging

  1. Do create a blog that is meaningful to you
  2. Do set yourself some goals and objectives for your blog
  3. Do ‘write’ something every day (note that I didn’t say ‘publish’)
  4. Do as much as you can to get in your readers shoes and understand who they are
  5. Do use surveys and polls to help you understand your reader
  6. Do create content that meets your readers’ needs, answers their questions, and solves their problems
  7. Do write in an engaging voice
  8. Do start an email newsletter
  9. Do pay attention to the design of your blog – first impressions count!
  10. Do communicate clearly what your blog is about into your design
  11. Do spend time ‘off’ your blog engaging in the places where your potential readers gather
  12. Do go to the effort of registering your own domain
  13. Do create visual content
  14. Do model the kind of community that you want your blog to have
  15. Do install analytics and track the results of what you do
  16. Do find some blogging buddies who you can bounce ideas off and have mutual support with
  17. Do make sure you have ‘real life’ friends too – they’ll ground you
  18. Do become hyper-aware of problems (yours and other people’s), and obsessed with solving them
  19. Do create something to sell from your blog
  20. Do think beyond what you’ll write today – develop an editorial calendar
  21. Do set aside time to learn the skills you lack
  22. Do set aside time to brainstorm topics to write about
  23. Do read other people’s blogs – you’ll learn a lot from them
  24. Do share your opinion – it is what often differentiates you
  25. Do share stories – your own and other people’s
  26. Do back up your blog!
  27. Do blog with passion
  28. Do look for ‘win/win/win’ relationships with brands where you, the brand and your reader benefit
  29. Do show your personality – be yourself
  30. Do pay attention to what is energising you and do more of it
  31. Do pay attention to what is energising your readers and do more of it
  32. Do spend time refining and perfecting post headlines
  33. Do think about what ‘action’ you’re calling readers to take in your content
  34. Do make peace with the fact that there will always be more that you can do
  35. Do learn how to prioritise and focus upon activities that take you closer to your goals
  36. Do pay attention to your archives – update and promote them regularly
  37. Do push through bloggers block
  38. Do spend time analysing what types of content are being ‘shared’ in your niche – publish this kind of content semi-regularly
  39. Do use social proof
  40. Do take breaks from blogging – weekends and vacations are important!
  41. Do ask your readers a lot of questions and listen to what they say
  42. Do treat your blog as a business today… if you want it to be one tomorrow
  43. Do create content that Informs, Inspires and Interacts

My 25 DON’Ts of Blogging

  1. Don’t be afraid to hit publish
  2. Don’t feel you have to publish something every day
  3. Don’t publish when angry (or drunk)
  4. Don’t become a comment spammer on other people’s blogs
  5. Don’t publish just for the sake of publishing content
  6. Don’t use other people’s stuff without permission and credit
  7. Don’t focus so much about the readers you don’t have – have a big impact upon the ones you do have
  8. Don’t stretch yourself too thin (too many posts, too much SM) – do what you do really well
  9. Don’t become too promotional
  10. Don’t hit publish without one last proof read
  11. Don’t write purely for search engines
  12. Don’t sell out
  13. Don’t engage in every type of social media – analyse where your readers are and do those mediums well
  14. Don’t look for a ‘blueprint’ for successful blogging – forge your own path
  15. Don’t publish large chunks of text – break it up and make it scannable
  16. Don’t hide your mistakes – be transparent
  17. Don’t feed the trolls – be polite, kind, and firm
  18. Don’t let the negative things people say about you sink in – it’ll pull you down
  19. Don’t let the hyped praise people give you sink in – it’ll over-inflate your ego
  20. Don’t expect to get rich quick
  21. Don’t compare yourself to others – compare yourself to you when you started
  22. Don’t spend all your time ‘learning’ about blogging at the expense of actually blogging
  23. Don’t think there’s just one way to monetize your blog
  24. Don’t become so obsessed with blogging that you forget to have a real life
  25. Don’t give up too quickly – building a blog takes time

Of course I’m scraping the surface in this list but I hope for those of you starting out it gives you a few starting points. Also keep in mind that these are not ‘rules’ and that the do’s don’t guarantee success and the ‘don’ts’ don’t guarantee failure. In fact I’ve written many of the don’ts as a result of my own mistakes but things turned out ok in the end for me despite those failures.

If you’d like to go deeper on some of these themes check out the recording and slides of my webinar – 10 Things I Wish I Knew About Blogging.

Also don’t forget we are having a 50% off sale on the ProBlogger Guide to Your First Week of Blogging during Beginner Week. Simply enter the code BEGINNERWEEK at the checkout.

Beginner Week: Bite the Bullet and Start Your Blog with this Seven-Point Checklist

Theme WeekWelcome to ProBlogger’s second theme week – where we take a topic you’re interested in and drill right down to bring you all the information we can find to be of use to you. This week we are focusing on newbies – what do all beginner bloggers want to know? What are the first points of reference we should use, and where do we go from there? Today, please welcome Ali Luke from Zen Optimise, who has put together a handy checklist of things you should do in your first week of blogging to get yourself off the ground. There is also a fantastic deal on Darren’s “ProBlogger’s Guide to Your First Week of Blogging“, full of hints, tips and practical exercises for the beginner blogger. Even if you’ve had your blog for a while, it’s a great refresher of what really works in getting your site some traction. You can find all the content for this week’s theme at the bottom of this post.

Without further ado – here’s Ali.

Have you been reading ProBlogger for weeks, or even months, so you can learn everything you need to know before setting up your blog?

You might be wasting your time.

That’s not to say that the content on ProBlogger isn’t hugely valuable: of course it is. As a new blogger five years ago, I devoured a large chunk of the archives – and even today, I still get inspired (and pick up a few new tips) from posts here.

But I also know how easy it is to fall into the trap of reading post after post, struggling to make sense of it all, and wondering how you’ll ever take in all the information out there.

“Be Prepared” Can Go Too Far 

While it’s great to do some research before diving in and starting a blog, it’s easy to end up reading post after post after post … without taking any action.

Until you get your blog up and running, you won’t really know what you need to know. You might be reading about topics that you’ll never need to concern yourself with – or you might be missing out on information that’s going to be crucial.

Launching your blog can feel like a huge step. You want to get every detail right; you want it to be perfect right from the start.

The problem is, if that perfect ideal keeps you stuck, you’ll never have a blog at all. And a real, imperfect blog will outperform an imaginary perfect one in every way imaginable…

Start Your Blog This Week: Your Checklist

It’s time to bite the bullet. No, you probably don’t feel ready. Yes, there’s a lot you still don’t know. But you will learn so much faster from actually blogging than from simply reading about it.

Here’s what you need to do. If you tackle one task each day, you’ll have your blog up and running next week:

Day 1: Set a Clear Goal

What do you want your blog to do for you? “Make money” is a popular answer – but how?

Is your blog going to support your existing business and bring in new customers?

Do you have a service to offer, like design, writing, or coding?

Is it going to be market research – and a platform – for a book that you plan to launch?

Are you going to bring in lots of traffic and sell advertising space?

Will you review products as an affiliate, taking commission on sales?

All of these are perfectly valid strategies, but you need to be clear about what you’ll be doing right from the start.

Of course, your blog doesn’t have to be a money-making tool. Perhaps your motivation for blogging is to get your writing out there to the world, or to build up a strong reputation in your field.

Further reading:

Top 10 Blog Monetization Strategies, Ranked In Order (Blog Marketing Academy)

To do: 

Write your goal down, and keep it somewhere visible. You want to have your goal in mind over the next few days.

Day 2: Choose a Platform

There are so many different blogging platforms out there, and there’s a good chance you’ve heard of (and maybe tried out) a fair few of them. I’ll name a handful of them: WordPress, Blogger, Typepad, Tumblr, Squarespace…

Let’s make this decision easy. Your best option is almost certainly WordPress.

It’s used by most of the top blogs (including ProBlogger) and it’s a hugely flexible and powerful platform.

Ideally, you’ll want to go with self-hosted WordPress (WordPress.org) where you install your blog on your own web space. If you can’t afford hosting, though, you can use WordPress.com – this is still a powerful blogging platform, but it has certain limitations.

Further Reading:

Self Hosted WordPress.org vs. Free WordPress.com (WPBeginner)

To do:

Decide whether you’re using WordPress.org (self-hosted, recommended) or WordPress.com (hosted, a good second choice).

The rest of these instructions assuming you’re using WordPress.org; if you using WordPress.com or a site like Blogger, you won’t need hosting, and you can choose not to buy a domain name. (If you don’t buy your own domain name, you’ll have one like yourname.wordpress.com.)

Day 3: Decide on Your Domain Name

Your domain name (sometimes called your URL or your web address) is what users type in to visit your site. ProBlogger’s domain name is problogger.net.

To get a domain name, you need to register it with a domain name registrar – a site like GoDaddy (well known) or Namecheap (popular for its high-quality customer service).

Domain names aren’t especially expensive to register, and will normally cost you around somewhere around $12 per year. Prices vary between domain name registrars, and some suffixes (the .com or .net etc) cost more than others.

When you’re choosing your domain name, aim to:

Keep it fairly short. Long domain names are hard to remember and type.

Keep it to two words or fewer if possible.

Make it match the name of your website. If Darren called this site “ProBlogging Tips” but had the domain name “ProBlogger” it would be confusing for readers.

Avoid using hyphens if you can: if another website has the same domain without a hyphen, readers may end up there by mistake.

Use a .com suffix if it’s available. If you really want a particular name and the .com is taken, you can use .net. If your readers are mainly from your own country, you can use your country’s domain (e.g. .co.uk for the UK or .ca for Canada).

Further reading:

Five Best Domain Name Registrars (Lifehacker.com)

To do:

Come up with several possible domain names. Use WHOis.net to see which ones are available. (Simply typing them into your browser won’t necessarily tell you if they’re available or not, as sometimes domains are registered without hosting so no site will show up.)

If you’re self-hosting WordPress and thus buying hosting, you may want to register the domain name through your host – this can make life slightly simpler.

Day 4: Buy Hosting

Many bloggers find “hosting” a tricky concept to get their heads around. Here’s how it works.

For your website to be online, all the files for it need to be kept on a computer that’s always connected to the internet. (It’s technically possible for you to host your website on your own computer – but there are a huge number of reasons why you probably wouldn’t want to do this, including security issues, and the cost of keeping your computer switched on all day and all night, all the time.)

Web host companies provide space for your site on their servers (huge computers), which are permanently connected to the internet. These servers also have special software that allows you to install WordPress on your site. You pay a monthly or annual fee for this, usually around $7 – $15 per month.

There are loads of web hosts out there; personally, I use Dreamhost for all my own websites – but I’ve included links to other suggestions in the further reading.

Further reading:

How to Choose the Best WordPress Hosting? (WPBeginner)

To do:

Choose your host and sign up for an account. Don’t spend hours agonising over the choice – you can always switch hosts in the future if you decide they weren’t the best option for you.

Day 5: Install WordPress

Assuming you’ve chosen a WordPress-friendly host, you’ll probably have a simple and easy way to install WordPress – often with a “one-click installation” option.

Follow your host’s instructions, and get WordPress installed on your site. During the installation process, you’ll be prompted to enter:

The name of your site.

The username for an administrative account.

A password.

Your email address.

The only bit you can’t change later is the admin username. Avoid using “admin” as that’s way too easy for hackers to guess!

To login to your site, go to www.yoursitename.com/wp-login. You’ll automatically be directed to your dashboard – the “behind the scenes” view of your WordPress site – after logging in.

You’ll also have the option to make your site invisible to search engines. This can be reassuring while you’re developing your blog, but if you switch this on, don’t forget to switch it off again later! (You can do so in your WordPress dashboard under Settings Reading.

Further reading:

Secure Your WordPress Blog Without Touching Any Code (ProBlogger)

To do:

Get WordPress installed. It will probably be easier than you think! If you have time to spare, poke around in the WordPress dashboard to get a sense of all the different options and functions.

Day 6: Choose Your Theme

The look and feel of your blog is determined by its theme (sometimes called the template). You can switch your WordPress theme without losing any of your content – your posts, pages, sidebar widgets and so on are stored separately.

To change themes:

Go to your WordPress dashboard (www.yoursitename.com/wp-admin).

Click on Appearance  Themes

Choose a theme you like and click Preview to see how your site will look in that theme.

Click Activate to switch your site over to the new theme.

There are thousands of WordPress themes available online, so if you don’t find anything you like in the current themes section, look around. Free themes tend to be more limited in functionality and design; premium (paid for) ones often have lots of new options.

Further reading:

How to Pick a WordPress Theme That Doesn’t Suck (StuffedWeb)

To do:

Select a “good enough” theme – it doesn’t have to be perfect. If you’re creating a website for an existing business, consider using a premium theme that’s tailored to your industry. (E.g. there are restaurant themes, band themes, guest house themes…)

Day 7: Write Your About Page

Once you’ve got your theme up and running, there are still a lot of tasks ahead. New bloggers often wonder what to prioritise. Getting their sidebar spruced up? Posting lots of content? Adding their “Services” page? Including an option for readers to get posts by email?

All of those are important – but one of the very first things you should do is get your About page in place.

New readers will very often look for and click on “About” (or “About me” or “About us”) to find out who you are and what they can expect from your blog. If the page doesn’t exist, or if it’s badly put together, they might shrug and go on their way (and never return).

A good About page needs to:

Tell the reader what your blog (or company) is about and how it can help them. It’s often a good idea to put this information up front, perhaps after a few words introducing yourself (“Hi, I’m Bob Jones, and I blog here about…”)

Introduce you so that the reader feels a sense of connection. You can do this in a straightforward way, or with humour, with a list of interesting facts about you, with your credentials and experience, with an inspiring story … whatever fits with the tone and brand of your blog.

Include a photo of you. This isn’t an absolute rule, but it helps readers come to trust you – and if you’re selling them products or services, or promoting affiliate products, this is important.

Be updated regularly. Your blogging mission might change; facts about you and your life might change. If your About page is clearly years out of date, your blog is going to look cobwebby at best … and abandoned at worst.

Get the basics of your page in place, then, once you’ve been blogging for a couple of weeks, update it and:

Link to two or three of your best posts. This is a great way to draw readers further into your blog.

Let readers know how to subscribe to your blog by email. Even if you’ve got a big email sign-up box in your sidebar, readers may not notice it.

Further reading:

Are You Making These 7 Mistakes with Your About Page? (Copyblogger)

To do: 

Write your About page. You might find it easiest to split it into two sections, “About the Blog” and “About Me”. If you can, ask a friend or colleague to look over it and give you feedback – they may have ideas that you wouldn’t have thought of.

And that’s it! Your blog isn’t only online, it’s looking good, and it’s ready for you to publish your first post. This is just the start of an exciting journey – and I wish you all the best with it.

Ali Luke is Head of Content at Zen Optimise, where she leads small group courses on blogging and writing for the web. Once you’ve got your blog set up, check out 7 Rules for Creating Highly Successful Posts for powerful tips plus handy further reading suggestions.

Beginner Theme Week Posts on ProBlogger

New Blogger Katie180′s Success Story
We Asked Veteran Bloggers to Reflect on Mistakes Made in Their Early Days
Darren’s 43 Dos and 25 Don’ts of Blogging
Resource Roundup – 1o Links New Bloggers Can’t Live Without

How to Blog Effectively When You’re Feeling Overwhelmed

Outtake - Nooo! [Overwhelmed]
This post is from ProBlogger Managing Editor Stacey Roberts.

Blogging is a voracious beast, and there is literally always something you could be doing to improve your traffic, find new readers, interact with other bloggers, and make some cash. The more you put in, the more you get out – but how do you cut through the (almost) infinite internet and create a manageable blog environment? Well, like anything, it takes trial and error. FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) is alive and well, but soon we all get to a point where it can all get too much to keep up with, and something’s gotta give.

These tips could work with anything that you find overwhelming, not just blogging. Just started a new job? Want to start your own business? Want to write the Great American Novel? Well, don’t panic – let’s get some perspective.

Break it down

Once you realise the magnitude of what you’re about to do, hyperventilation is only a moment away. Get back on top by sitting down for a minute and taking the task apart. Once you see it in sequence, it can be much easier to achieve. Yes you might need to blog, then tweet, then share on Facebook, then read six articles on blogging, then respond to comments, then find something to write for the next day, but it doesn’t all need to be done at once. Break it down and spread it out.

Don’t let your head run away with you

Sometimes we are our own worst enemy. Our brains conjure up worst-case scenarios, which in turn scares us and makes us think it’s not possible to succeed. Recognise when you’re about to board the Paranoia Train, and get some facts straight. You can survive (and thrive!) with just doing a little every day. Don’t just assume it’s too much and you won’t ever make it so you shouldn’t even try. Get out there and do what you can, for something is always better than nothing. Even one tweet can be useful.

Get some perspective

Often when you write down your tasks and responsibilities, you can see that they’re not so overwhelming. A list of things you need to do is a tangible thing to help you get your head around the job at hand. It’s common to then realise it’s not as crazy as you thought, and in fact is actually quite do-able. Identify the parts that aren’t important, or not viable at this time, and focus on the things you can actually do. An overview is incredibly useful when you’re liable to get carried away.

Find five things you can do right now

This helps make everything seem even more manageable, and gives you that perspective you need. Once you’ve got five easy things done, you feel much more productive, which inspires and motivates you to do more. Maybe it’s just one extra tweet, editing some photos, or even writing a couple of post intros. Each journey begins with a single step, as they say, and you’ve just taken five.

Set mini deadlines

Want to write brilliant posts, but don’t know where to start? Time is of the essence, and you’ve got none? Set yourself a deadline and get stuck in. It might be a post a day, it might be two posts in the next hour, but give yourself a time to have achieved at least one thing on your list. If there’s an even bigger deadline (guests post submission cut-off date or something), then set mini deadlines before then so you’re not frantically scribbling something at the last minute. Have your post ideas sorted by Monday, a rough draft by Wednesday, and a well-thought-out, well-written post and image by Friday. It might only take five minutes a day, and that’s infinitely more do-able.

Ask for help

You might need someone to watch the kids while you write. You might need someone to show you how to create good video content. You might even need to ask a blogging veteran to share a tip or two – don’t be afraid and think that your questions are silly, or that you should know this stuff by now. Or that blogging isn’t important. If you need help, reach out – you might even make a new friend in the process.

Spend some time getting acquainted

The first thing I do when asked to write for a publication is spend some time hanging out in the archives to see what’s been covered, where’s a knowledge gap I can plug, and what the vibe is. That can work for anything – if you’ve been asked to guest post, or if you want to see what is the trend in your blogging niche. What are people looking for? What can you provide that’s missing at the moment? What are other people Tweeting? What’s getting engagement on Facebook? Getting a feel for what you will be doing is essential for toning down panic and turning up productivity.

Just do it

Stop talking yourself out of it. Stop reading this! Go and kick some blogging goals.

But come back to ProBlogger when your’e done! What’s one thing you can do today to cross off your overwhelming to-do list?

Stacey Roberts is the Managing Editor at ProBlogger.net, and the blogger behind Veggie Mama. Can be found making play-dough, reading The Cat in the Hat for the eleventh time, and avoiding the laundry. See evidence on Instagram here, on Facebook here, and twitter @veggie_mama.

Spend 10 Minutes Doing This Every Day and You Could Transform Your Blogging

Today I want to suggest an exercise that has the potential to improve your blogging profoundly if you build it into your daily routine.

Look at another blog

Image by zev

Image by zev

OK – this may not sound that profound – most of us read other blogs every day but it doesn’t revolutionise what we do – but stick with me for a second while I explain HOW to do it in a way that could have a big impact.

Here’s what I do every day

I choose a blog and then spend 5-10 minutes reviewing it. My aim is not to ‘consume’ it as a reader…. but rather to review it with the view of learning about blogging.

What I’ve found is that my spending 5-10 minutes every day looking at another blog in this way that I learn so much! In fact I’ve learned so much over the last few months that last week in my team meetings I’ve introduced the idea of us doing this as a group – each week we’ll review a blog to see what we can learn.

The objective is not to do these reviews to copy what others are doing – but rather I find in looking at other blogs I often find inspiration and insight for my own blogs. The learnings cover a wide range of areas – from design, to product ideas, to content, to increasing engagement, to use of social media, to marketing etc.

Let me dive a little deeper into how I do it:

Choosing a Blog to Review

I review a blog every week day so over a year I’m potentially reviewing 260 blogs so I don’t have a single criteria for choosing which blog I’ll review.

When I started doing this a few months ago I started doing it mainly with photography blogs (those in my own niche) but I’ve since moved outside my niche too. While it is great to know what competitors in your niche are doing there’s a much to learn by going beyond it too.

Not only do I mix up the niche but I’m also trying to mix up the size of the blog. There’s a lot to learn from the biggest blogs who have lots of readers, staff, developers, professional designs etc – but you can learn a lot from medium and smaller blogs too.

Also I like to keep my eye open for those blogs that are up and coming – those that seem to burst onto the scene quickly – because these blogs are often doing something new or innovative.

Lastly I like to try to mix up the style of blogs. While I mainly focus upon creating ‘how to’ content blogs I also regularly review blogs that focus more upon ‘news’, ‘reviews’, ‘personal’, ‘opinion’, ‘entertainment’ etc.

So if you’re just starting to do daily reviews – do start with blogs in your niche – but mix it up too, and you’ll discover a lot that you can apply in your own blogging.

Tips on Conducting Your Review

I don’t have a set routine for reviewing the blogs that I look at, but there are a number of things that I tend to do.

I usually start by viewing the blog on my desktop computer which has a nice, wide, 27-inch display. However I also try to view the blog on my iPad and phone which is often quite illuminating from a design viewpoint.

I generally will start by reviewing the front page of the blog and pay particular attention to my first impression and feelings about the site (first impressions are often lasting ones), but will always dig around deeper into the site and review ‘posts’ (both recent and those in the archives) and also any ‘pages’ (about page, advertising page, contact page, etc).

Questions to Ask As You Review

There are a variety of areas that you can review when looking at another blog. I tend to break things down into the following areas and find myself asking questions like those that follow.

Note: I don’t ask all of these questions every time I do a review – but I hope by presenting them you’ll get a feel for what directions you can explore.

Content

  • what voice/s are they writing in?
  • what is their posting frequency?
  • how long are the posts that they write?
  • what type of posts are they majoring on (information, inspiration, engagement, news, opinion, etc)?
  • what style and medium of posts are they using (lists, imagery, video, podcasts, etc)?
  • what blend of original vs curated content are they using?
  • what topics/categories are they majoring on?
  • what type of headlines/titles formulas do they use?
  • do they use multiple authors/guest posters or a single writer?

Community

  • how do they engage readers?
  • what calls to action do they use and what is being responded to?
  • what type of posts get the most comments, shares, likes?
  • do they use tools like polls, surveys, quizzes or other engagement triggers?
  • what social media sites are they using and how they using them for engagement/community building?
  • do they have a newsletter – how do they incentivise signups? What type of content do they send?
  • how much do the writers of the blog engage in comments?
  • do they have a dedicated community area? (forum, membership etc)?
  • do they have ‘discussion’ posts or ‘assignments’ or ‘projects/challenges’ that give readers something to DO?

Finding Readers

  • where do they seem to be putting most of their energy in terms of generating readership (social, guest posting, media etc)?
  • which social media sites are they primarily using for outreach and what are they doing their?
  • what type of content seems to be being shared the most on their site?
  • how do they try to ‘hook’ new readers once they’ve arrived (newsletter, social, RSS etc)?
  • what type of reader is this blog attracting?
  • how does the blog rank on Alexa? What does Alexa say about sources of traffic, type of reader that the blog has?

Monetization

  • how are they monetizing?
  • if advertising, what advertisers are they working with directly?
  • are they using an ad network like AdSense?
  • how many ads are they showing per page?
  • where are they positioning ads on their pages?
  • what size ads do they offer advertisers?
  • do they have an advertiser page? Do they publish their rates, traffic or other interesting information on it? Do they have a media kit? What is their main selling point to advertisers?
  • if selling products – what type of products seem tot be selling the most?
  • what can you learn from the way they market their products?
  • what affiliate programs/products are they promoting?
  • do they offer premium paid content or community areas on their blog?
  • do they have a disclaimer/privacy page? What can you learn from it about how they monetize?

Design/Tech

  • what layout do they use?
  • what navigation/menu items do they have?
  • what first impressions does their design give? What is the first thing they seem to be calling people to DO when arriving?
  • have they used a designer or blog template for their blog?
  • how do they communicate what their blog is about (do they have a tag line)?
  • how are they using their front page? Is it a traditional blog format, portal or something else?
  • what do they have in their sidebar?
  • do they have a ‘hello bar’ at the top of their site? What are they using it for?
  • what do they put in ‘hot zones’ on the blog (above the fold), below posts, etc?
  • what type of blogging tool do they seem to use?
  • what can you observe about their approach to SEO?
  • what kind of commenting technology do they use?
  • what widgets and tools do they have that make the reader experience more interesting?
  • how do they use images in posts?
  • what’s their logo like?
  • what colours are they using in their design?
  • how do they highlight ‘social proof’ in their design?
  • do they have an app?
  • is their design responsive to mobile/tablets?
  • do they use any techniques to increase page views?

Email/Newsletter

  • do they have an email newsletter?
  • if so – how are they driving people to signup? Popups, forms, hello bar etc?
  • are they incentivising signups with something free?
  • signup for the newsletter and watch what kinds of emails they send. Is it an auto responder or more timely broadcasts?

Social Media

  • what social media accounts do they promote on their blog?
  • how are they promoting their social media accounts?
  • are there social media mediums that they are ignoring?
  • which type of social media seems most active/important to them?
  • where are they getting most engagement?
  • how often are they updating their accounts? what times of day seem to get most engagement?
  • what techniques are they using on social that seem to get most engagement and build community?
  • what techniques are they using on social to drive traffic?
  • what techniques are they using with social to monetize?
  • what feedback is this blog getting from readers on social? What are they known for (both positive and negative)?

Other Questions to Ponder

  • are there opportunities to network or partner with this blog/blogger?
  • do they accept guest posts – could you write with them?
  • do they have products that you could promote as an affiliate?
  • do you have a product that they could promote as an affiliate?
  • if they are in your niche – what ‘gaps’ in their content could you be filling in your own blog?
  • what are they doing poorly that might provide you with an opportunity to have a competitive advantage?
  • what are they doing well that you’re not doing to the best of your ability?

What would you add?

The above list is not something I systematically work through for every blog that I look at – rather it is the type of questions I find myself asking as I review a blog and might be useful as a starting point for you to work from.

I’m sure there are other areas you could dig into further and I’d love to hear your suggestions in comments below.

Learn From The Actions of Others

Let me finish by coming back to the motivation for doing blog reviews like this.

What I’m NOT suggesting is that you review other blogs to simply steal other peoples ideas and replicate what they do.

What I AM suggesting is that you will learn a heap by looking at how others blog.

It might sounds odd coming from a guy writing a blog about blogging but I think you’ll actually learn as much – if not more – by doing the above exercise each day than by filling your RSS reader full of blog tips blogs. There’s only so much theory you need to hear – much more can be learned by watching people practice their craft.

A side note about Blogs about Blogging: The reality is that most ‘blog tips blogs’ are written by bloggers whose most successful blog is a ‘blog tips blog’. While this doesn’t discount them as people to listen to, it’s worth keeping in mind as you ponder their teaching and calls to purchase what they sell.

It also strikes me that the vast majority of successful bloggers going around are quietly going about building amazing blogs and not broadcasting their tips and learnings. Their focus is building their blogs – not teaching others how to blog. While it’d be great to get inside their heads the great thing is that almost everything they do is live on their blogs for all to see – hence the opportunity in spending time learning by watching what they do.

My Challenge to You

For the next week, review a blog every day. It need not include every question above – but put aside 10 or so minutes each day over the next week to look at another blog and see what you can learn.

I dare you! It could just be the most valuable 70 minutes of blogging learning you ever have!

If you take the challenge, I’d love to hear in comments below what you learn!

Passion – Do You Have It?


Recently on Twitter I was asked for some tips on what sets ‘great’ blogs apart from the rest.

With millions of bloggers creating blog posts every day – how do you stand out?

It’s a big question, and the reality is that there are many ingredients to building a successful blog.

A variety of words came to mind as I struggled to come up with my 140-character guide to ‘standing out’.

I started to list them:

  • Credibility
  • Share Your Opinion
  • Great Writing
  • Ability to Connect
  • Understanding Readers
  • Injecting Personality

As I brainstormed, I realised 140 characters was not going to cut it:

  • Great blog design
  • Tell Stories
  • Use Great Visuals
  • Network with other bloggers
  • Be prolific
  • Be funny
  • Be smart
  • Be first
  • Write great headlines

I started to think of the blogs I love and what makes them stand out:

  • Be Useful
  • Be Entertaining
  • Take note of your readers
  • Have a different spin on things
  • Be Original

The list continued to grow and with it my heart sank a little.

“There’s no one way to stand out…”

But then I had two realizations:

Firstly – I love that there’s no one way to stand out! There are no rules. There is no blueprint – and that’s what is so simultaneously exciting and frustrating about blogging.

That’s why I love what I do. Constant experimentation, learning, testing and trying new things.

The second thing I realised is that there actually was a common feature about all of the blogs that came to mind as ‘stand out’ blogs.

Passion

There are plenty of bloggers that do the things in the lists above. There are bloggers sharing opinions, writing well, with a heart to connect, with great personalities…. bloggers who are smart, funny, prolific, original, entertaining and bundles of wonderful!

But something that seems present and that shines through in the blogs that I read and love is passion.

They are created by people with passion for the topics being covered, passion for the process of creating content, passion for their readers, passion for learning, and passion for pushing the boundaries of thinking and creating.

They love… they enthuse… they delight in what they do. By doing so they somehow draw others into their passion too, which is where the real magic seems to happen.

This isn’t to say that passion is the only ingredient needed for success – but maybe… just perhaps… it’s what binds it all together and helps a blog just click.

Are you passionate about your blog?

Happy Valentine’s Day.

The 3 Ingredients in Our Best Selling eBook Titles


Over the last few days in Facebook groups I participate in, I’ve seen a number of people ask for advice on coming up with titles for new eBooks, courses and books.

Below is a combination of a few pieces of advice I gave in response to the topic:

Coming up with titles for our eBooks on Digital Photography School is always something that takes our team considerable time and debate.

There’s no right way to to create a title and many factors come into play but there are generally three main ingredients that I try to include in titles of eBooks:

1. Clearly Communicate What the Book is About

This is pretty obvious, but it can be tempting at times to come up with a title that is a little more cryptic. I’ve found that the clearer you are about the topic, the better (this also helps with after-sale customer service – you’ll get a lot less complaints if people know exactly what they’re buying).

2. Include a Tangible Benefit

I didn’t always do this but have noticed that our best selling eBooks tend to have one. A good example of this is the ProBlogger eBook – 31 Days to Build a Better Blog.

Do this, and you’ll get this – show the people who are pondering whether they will buy your product what they’ll get as a result of doing so. What’s in it for them?

Sometimes putting the benefit in the title is tricky, particularly if you’re looking to create a short title. In this case, we would usually create a sub-title that we prominently display.

For example, our landscape Photography eBook is ‘Living Landscapes: A Guide to Stunning Landscape Photography‘. The benefit or result is (stunning landscape photography).

So as you’re creating your product, make a list of the needs/problems/challenges that your readers face that your product solves. You may come up with multiple benefits but choose the biggest one (one that readers have at the top of their minds and that the product solves), and use that in the title.

Keep the other benefits that you’ve brainstormed handy because they will be very useful when you’re writing your sales material for the eBook.

3. If Possible Say Something Aspirational that Touches Emotion

This is not something we always do, but particularly for our Photography eBooks, we know that as we’re talking about photography (which is an aspirational topic), that when we use words that evoke some kind of emotion that we generally get a better response from readers.

Note: there’s a fine line here between manipulation and hype, and doing this well.

The example of our ‘Living Landscapes’ eBook mentioned above is a good one. ‘Living Landscapes’ communicates something about what we’re trying to do with the eBook – i.e. help readers to bring the landscapes that they photography to life.

Also in the sub-title we use ‘Stunning Landscape Photography’ rather than just ‘Landscape Photography’. The addition of an adjective not only communicates our objective with the eBook to readers, but also gets them dreaming a little about the things that our eBook will help them to unlock.

You’ll also see if you dig into the sales copy on dPS eBooks, that many of our sales pages also use this more aspirational language in how we sell our products.

Another example of this is Transcending Travel: A Guide to Captivating Travel Photography which at the time we published it was our fastest selling eBook.

You can see in the title alone the same kind of formula. You can tell what it is about (Travel Photography), there’s a clear tangible benefit and words like ‘Transcending’ and ‘Captivating’ are aspirational.

Look at the sales page and again you can see that the copy starts by aiming to touch the ‘heart’ – getting readers to think about the feeling that we all know of getting home from a trip to find that the images we’ve taken don’t capture the true spirit of our time away.

Two Last Tips on Creating Great Titles for Products:

While the above three ingredients are things that we try to get into our eBook titles, it is important to re-emphasise that there is no right way to do this.

Our approach has worked for us with our readership, but I know others take different approaches (and I’d love to hear yours below).

The two last tips I’d give also come out of our experience:

1. Test and Watch How Your Readers Respond

Not all of our titles have worked, and there have been times when we’ve used titles that I had doubts about that worked surprisingly well!

The key is to experiment and see how your readers respond. There are a variety of ways of doing this including:

  • watching how readers respond to titles of blog posts – over time you’ll see some posts get read more than others and that certain words/topics/title formulas seem to resonate more than others
  • test how people respond to social media updates – tweet a link to a blog post you’ve written with two alternative titles for the link and see which works best
  • watching open rates of emails that you send your email subscribers – in the lead up to a product launch send an email to your list pointing them to a blog post on the topic and test different subject lines
  • As your readers which title they’d be most interested in reading – we’ve done this a couple of times on Facebook with readers, showing them two covers of eBooks and asking which they like more

2. Involve Others in the Process

I learned with my very first photography eBook how powerful it was to involve others in the coming up with titles and sales copy.

I was close to launching my first eBook with the simple title ‘Portrait Photography’ when I shot Brian Clark from CopyBlogger an email asking his advice. He came back with the title ‘The Essential Guide to Portrait Photography’.

The title was much stronger and the eBook sold very well.

While not everyone might have access to email one of the best blogging copywriters around (Brian is brilliant) even tossing a title around with friends, family, colleagues and other bloggers will help you to hone your title.

These days we spend days tossing around title ideas as a team before deciding upon one and I think doing so has helped a lot. You’ll also find that as you talk it through the marketing of the product will also become easier as you’ll get more clarity about the benefits of your product and how it will help readers.

Content Week: A bit of homework to inspire you – come and get involved!

Theme WeekAfter the week we’ve had immersing ourselves in the wild and wonderful world of sourcing blog content, there shouldn’t be any one of you who hasn’t come up with at least one idea for a post. But in order to blog better this year, I’m encouraging you to push even further – spend some time this week (why not right now?!) writing 25 blog post ideas to get started. You don’t need to use all 25, just find some space in your brain to dig them all out and get them all down in hard copy. Have even more than 25? Go for it! Really, it’s just an exercise to put everything we’ve learned this week into practice. If nothing else, you’ll have a handy list to refer to next time you’re struggling for ideas.

As always, let us know how you go in the comments – you’re bound to find a friend in the same boat as you!

Content Week: Let’s Chat! Where do you get your blog ideas from?

Theme WeekThis past week, we’ve been talking about all things content – where can we get it? What inspires us? What works with our audience? What are some out-of-the-box ideas that will set us apart from the regular blogging crowd? We spoke with Chantelle Ellem, of Fat Mum Slim, who encouraged us to write what we love, and Carly Heitlinger of The College Prepster, who told us to take a topic and make it personal. We wrote a mega-list of places to go when we’re fresh out of ideas to inspire us again, and we heard from Darren on the topic.

Now it’s over to you – where do you find your ideas? Do you have any sure-fire sources of inspiration? What do you do when you’re hit hard with blogger’s block? We’ll also be chatting about this over on Darren’s Facebook page - we’d love to hear from you all.

Content Week: An Interview with Chantelle Ellem of Fat Mum Slim – Where Does She Find Post Ideas?

Theme WeekChantelleFAT MUM SLIM (1)

Chantelle Ellem is a blogging powerhouse – if you’ve not read her blog Fat Mum Slim, then you’ve probably seen her pop up in your social media feeds with her Instagram Photo A Day challenge.

Over her five years of blogging, she’s not only come up with almost two thousand post ideas, but she has also written for leading Australian parenting websites, magazines and blogs. If that wasn’t enough content for you, she also creates most of the Photo A Day prompts each month that sparks the creativity of social media photographers everywhere. She has also written an eBook packed to the brim of topics to get inspired – “Let’s Give Them Something to Blog About” will no doubt knock that blogger’s block right out of you.

Choosing blog post topics

But coming up with thousands of blog post topics can’t be easy, can it? Chantelle says when she’s super-stumped, there are a couple of go-to inspiration sources that never fail:

  • getting out and about (people and places are great for prompting ideas)

  • scrolling through StumbleUpon or Pinterest,

  • reading favourite magazines Frankie,  Fete, or Red,

  • digging back through post archives to remind herself of the topics she really enjoyed writing about.

While having a niche is usually a good idea, sometimes personal blogging is hard to categorize. Chantelle says that over time, her post topics have been refined into: photography, family, “living life inspired”, and food. She says these are the themes that inspire her the most, and therefore form the backbone of her blog.

What do readers want?

A blog is nothing without its readers, and it doesn’t take long for a blogger to realise that writing reader-friendly material is the key to keep them coming back. But how does one know what will work and what won’t? Well that’s just a matter of trial and error.

“It’s hit-and-miss sometimes,” Chantelle says.

“Something I think will really connect can fizzle, and others that I’ve spent very little time on and think will be a dud, soars. I think if people can’t connect, then it just doesn’t work”.

Over time it gets easier to know intuitively what readers might connect with, and to provide it in an authentic way. Chantelle says she knows that if she is moved while writing the piece, it is likely to strike a chord with the reader.

“If I cry over my keyboard, I think others will too,” she says.

“The heartfelt, moving posts are always the ones that people connect most to, and they’re usually about life experience or family. It always overwhelms me the number of comments, and social media feedback I get on posts like that.

“I once wrote a post about a man I sat next to on a plane, and it was one of the most beautiful moments of my life. It’s still my favourite post, and the one most people remember on my blog.”

How she stays organized

But with all of these ideas, inspriations, chance encounters and motivating moments, how does Chantelle keep track of it all?

“I am a paper person, so I keep jot down post ideas onto Post-It notes and place them on my wall. I also have a big box that I add to when I’ve read a great article or jotted down lengthier notes so that I can delve in when I’m stumped for content ideas.

“I also have an editorial calendar that I try and plan a few months in advance. It’s not strict, because if I don’t feel like writing, I don’t but it gives me an idea of which direction I’m headed.”

After being asked daily how other bloggers can find ideas, an idea for the “Let’s Give Them Something to Blog About eBook was born.

Her advice to others

  • There are loads of things you can do; get out and about (go to a cafe, the beach, the shopping center)

  • Use images/video instead of traditional written content (I think it’s a great way to get inspired and find new content ideas. I’m a huge fan of photos, even bad ones, because they tell a story themselves. And short videos are great when done well, but they have to be short (I think under 2 minutes is key). I don’t think we should ever get stuck doing what we’ve always done. Trying new things is key to staying inspired.

  • Try something else new – buy a magazine you’ve never read before, or even just exercise.

  • Get a blank piece of paper, and vomit out your thoughts in a quick fashion onto the paper. It doesn’t matter if it’s a lame blog post idea, write it down… you never know what it might inspire.

You can find Chantelle at her blog Fat Mum Slim, on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. She might be just the inspiration you’re looking for.