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How I doubled my unique visitors in six months (and tripled them in a year)

This post is from ProBlogger Team member Stacey Roberts.

Welcome to 2014, folks – a year we hope to bring you even more tips and advice to make your blog everything you want it to be! Let’s kick off with both feet in the direction of unique browsers, and how to get them to come to your website.

Diversify – it’s the advice you hear in all sorts of blogging situations. Diversify your income streams. Diversify your social media. Diversify your time. stats

When it comes to finding new readers, it’s also advice that works. Diversify the places you are seen, and it leads to fresh eyes on your blog. Of course, then you’ve gotta deliver the goods to keep them coming back, but you’re halfway there once you’ve found them in the first place.

If you’re looking to increase the monetization of your blog, then quite a few brands and advertisers are interested in unique visitor numbers. It is also the way most blogging talent agencies work out pay scales – so the more unique visitors that read your blog, the more money you can make.

Between March and September of 2012, I doubled the unique visitors to my blog, Veggie Mama. By March 2013, they had tripled. They doubled again in the following six months, and are on track to triple by March this year. How did I do it? Well grab a pen and paper, folks, I’m about to tell all…

How I doubled my unique visitors in six months:

Content is king

Yeah, yeah, we’ve heard it a million times. Have useful, interesting, engaging content and the readers will come. But don’t be too quick to dismiss the advice – without this foundation, you won’t have much to work with. Create good blog posts that lure readers. Create good blog posts to keep them there. It’s the ultimate building block, and cannot be taken too lightly.

Be seen outside your niche

Expanding my freelance writing online was incredibly useful for having people click through to the blog. I wrote or was featured on blogs, news websites, parenting sites, recipe sites, business newsletters, and in newspapers and magazines. Some worked more than others (newspaper features weren’t great for converting readers, but parenting sites and other blogs were. So were magazines with a Gen Y/Digital Native readership), but all put me in front of people who had never seen or heard of me before.

 Don’t underestimate Pinterest

Pinterest is the second-highest referrer of traffic to my blog. And due to Pinterest’s nature, it’s often referring unique visitors. Not only have I made my site easily Pinnable (by adding intuitive “Pin it” buttons, and adding graphics to images/ensuring they are Pinterest-optimised), but I’m an enthusiastic Pinner. I pop on there most days and repin a few things, which keeps me in people’s feeds, and encourages them to follow me. It’s not “in the spirit of Pinterest” to Pin your own content, but as long as you’re not spamming everyone constantly, adding your own stuff from time to time is very useful. By making your site easy to Pin, then it doesn’t take much for your readers to add you to their boards. Then you show up in their follower’s feeds, and so on. “Ooh, that recipe/article/tutorial looks interesting,” they’ll say. “Let me click through to get the instructions”. And there you have a brand-new visitor.

Join online communities

This is especially useful with tutorial posts or niche posts. A lot of my traffic comes from including my crochet tutorials on Ravelry – a place for people to search for knit and crochet patterns, upload their projects, and chat with other crafty types. By including some of my posts (and ensuring they were optimised for maximum search results), it means that I have a constant stream of traffic on posts I wrote years ago, but are still very useful in certain situations. Apart from a few outliers, these free pattern tutorials are the still the most-viewed posts on my blog.

Be a good blog citizen

If you are friendly and engaging on social media, then it’s likely that you’ll show up in your readers’ feeds when they interact with you. I notice that when I have a popular Facebook status update that has generated a lot of interest, it comes with a bunch of new “likers” who have seen their friends engage with me, and have clicked over to check me out. Chat with your community regularly and not only are you looking after the readers you’ve got, but also being visible to new ones.

Be where others aren’t

You might have no clue about why Google Plus is still around, and you don’t understand why Vine is popular – but don’t let that deter you. New readers are everywhere, including underused social media platforms. I find it much easier to interact with superstar bloggers and influential people who are inundated with Tweets and Facebook comments, but are not so overwhelmed on Google Plus. It’s easier to stand out there, and you’ll certainly be noticed.

Switch to WordPress

This was probably the easiest and most fun way to increase readership. I moved from Blogger to WordPress when I realised how much simpler it is to optimise your site and posts for SEO than it was on Blogger. One plugin is all you need (I use Yoast), and you fill in a couple of boxes of descriptions and key words, and it’s done. It takes no more than a minute, and even gives you a rating of how SEO-friendly you’ve made your post (a green light means you’ve done all you can). Being SEO-friendly means you’re going to rank better in search engine results – and when someone is looking for a mushroom risotto recipe, well up pops your post, and you’ve got yourself a unique visitor. And how is SEO fun, you ask? Well, it’s not. But by moving to WordPress, I got a brand new design and all the changes and newness meant I was re-energised and motivated to play around and blog more effectively.

Collaborate with others

People with bigger readerships or social media networks than you aren’t to be feared or envied – they’re to be worked with! If you genuinely have a way to collaborate with a bigger blogger, or you partner with a brand authentically, then it’s a win-win-win situation for all – you, the brand or other blogger, and your collective readers. If someone they trust is recommending you, then their readers are likely to check you out. Word of mouth is still the best advertisement around!

You’ll notice that I haven’t addressed content sharing or virality, and that’s simply because none of that happened more than one or two shares every now and then. It’s definitely a way to get fresh eyes in the form of unique visitors to your blog, and I thoroughly encourage it (but don’t bo so strategic about it that you lose your authenticity and your connection with your readers), but it isn’t something that I ever tried.

There are, of course, plenty of ways to drive traffic to your site, but these are the ones that have worked for me to bring unique visitors to my blog. While I didn’t do much of it strategically at the beginning, I can see it has been the most useful to me over time. Here’s to the next six months!

What have you done that has driven unique browsers to your site? Any tips to share?

Stacey Roberts is the content ninja 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.

2014 Reboot: Find Motivation and Inspiration to Blog Better This Year

We are mining ProBlogger content this week for super-useful information to kick-start your blogging year with gusto. Today we go all the way back to the early days of ProBlogger.net, where Darren encouraged us to put our best effort into our blogs, showing us how to find motivation and interest in the most inspiring of places.

This post “Declaring War on Blogging Apathy” was part of a series that originally appeared in 2005.

It’s time to talk about something that has the potential to KILL your blog….

Apathy.

A blogger can have the best strategic plan in the world but if they have no motivation, passion or drive for their blogging it will almost always amount to nothing at all. One of the keys to the success I’ve managed to have as a ProBlogger is that I’ve taken a long term approach to my blogging which calls for constant work over 2.5 years (so far).

Whilst there have been times where my spirit has been low and the drudgery of researching, writing, networking and dreaming has threatened to put a stop to what I do – I’ve continually pushed myself to find new and creative ways to beat down the blog killer of Apathy. I’ve seen other bloggers not been able to break through this and as a result their blogs today either don’t exist or have become something like the ghost towns of the Western Movie with breezes blowing around the tumbleweed of comment spam and out of date content.

So I’ve decided it’s time to declare war on Blog Apathy and want to share a number of the things that have helped me keep my motivation up in blogging. Feel free to add your own experience and tips in comments.

• Start a Series - it gets hard to constantly come up with new topics to blog about each day so why not pick a larger topic to break down over a week or so. I find that once I’ve got a topic to work on I often get the creative juices flowing – a series can fast track the process. The past few days have definitely lifted my own interest in ProBlogger (not that it was too low) – simply because I’ve been in ‘series mode’.

• Invite questions from your readers - get your readers involved in your blog by setting the agenda for you to write about over the next few weeks of your blogging. Once again this is about stimulating ideas for topics.

• Revisit old Posts - if your archives are anything like mine they are full of posts and articles that you’ve put hours of work into. Keep in mind that many of your newer readers would not have read your old posts and so from time to time it might be worth either reposting old posts, updating old posts or simply bouncing off old posts and continuing old streams of thought.

• Redesign - I always find a fresh coat of paint can really lift a room, a haircut can improve a mood and a blog redesign can get the creative juices flowing again. Tweak it, adapt it or completely redesign it – either way you might just inject a little more energy into something that’s grown tired and find that you’ve got more energy for your blogging.

• Write Posts Ahead of Time - this won’t help you now if you’re in apathy mode – but if you’re not and currently have some energy consider writing a few extra posts that are non time specific to keep for a rainy/apathetic day. When you’re inspired write more so that when you’re not you don’t have to.

• Keep an Idea Journal - this is similar to the previous point but just involves keeping a list of possible post ideas you could write on at a later uninspired point in time. It might include just titles of posts or even a few points that you could write about. I’m constantly jotting down ideas for posts or series and even new blogs all day everyday. Take your journal with you everywhere you go so that if inspiration strikes you can capture it.

• Develop a Posting Schedule - it’s amazing what you can produce if you give yourself a deadline. Whilst for some people the idea of schedules and plans might have the opposite effect – for many of us they help keep us going. My posting goal is 25-35 posts per day – knowing what I’m aiming for helps keep me on track. Whether you’ve got a goal of 2 daily posts, or 500 monthly posts some goals can help get your blogging into gear.

• Get a Guest Blogger - put a little new blood into your blog by inviting someone else to join you in posting either while you take a short break to rejuvenate or to blog alongside you. I’ve recently added a few bloggers to a handful of my blogs and have really enjoyed both the pressure that it’s taken off me but also the energy and fresh ideas that they’ve brought.

• Read other’s blogs - sometimes its easy to become so focused upon blogging that we forget to interact with other bloggers. I remember a few months ago realizing that I rarely really read other blogs any more (apart from those I scanned each day for useful information to blog about). Get back to basics and actually read other blogs – you might just find that in doing so you rediscover the reason you started your own blog in the first place. In addition to that you’ll probably find yourself stimulated to bounce off their blogs with your own.

• Interact with other bloggers - connected to the last point I also find it very useful to not only read the work of others but to converse with them. I regularly chat via instant messaging or phone with other bloggers – in doing so we encourage and inspire each other to break through the dry times. So leave a comment somewhere, start an IM conversation, send an email – talk to someone. Don’t let blogging become an insular lonely thing – rather take advantage of the relational aspects of blogging.

• Meme it Up - another way to get yourself a little more interested in and energised by your blog is to start some sort of Meme. Run a competition, start a blogging project, add a quiz or survey – do something fun, creative and interactive to get other bloggers involved in what you’re doing. To be honest this is why I started the 31 Days to Building a Better Blog project - seeing the wonderful response from readers has definitely lifted my blogging spirits this week.

• Subscribe to a new Source of Information - sometimes it’s easy to get into a rut when you feel like you’re just seeing the same sorts of information on your blogs topic over and over again. So subscribe to some new keywords on Google News Alerts or Topix RSS feeds or find some new blogs to follow. If you put fresh content and ideas into your head hopefully some fresh content will come out.

• Short Posts - if you don’t have much to say – don’t say much. Keep your posts short and to the point. Even if they don’t feel profound to you, just the act of posting something might loosen the blogging creativity within you. Short posts can actually be incredibly effective communication tools also so it might just add something special to your blog.

• New Stimuli - one of the best ways to get your creativity levels up is to expose yourself to new stuff. Buy a book, watch a movie, meet someone new, go for a walk, spend time with your family, listen to some music – get out of your normal daily rhythm and expose yourself to some new sights, sounds, tastes, touches and smells. Remember that what you put into your life has a direct baring on what comes out.

• Just Write - it’s amazing what comes when you just start writing sometimes. Some of my bests posts emerged out of really dry patches when I forced myself to sit and write. The first few paragraphs might end up being scrapped – but if you keep writing you’ll eventually hit gold.

• Get a Coach - I’ve talked a few times here recently about how I’ve found myself a business coach. Whilst the two of us don’t catch up heaps these days – every hour I spend with him is invaluable. He forces me to take a step back from what I do and look at the big picture, he keeps me accountable to the direction I’ve previously set, he asks the hard questions and he encourages me when I’m in a slump. The great thing about him is that he has a very limited understanding of blogging and sees things from quite a different perspective. So get a coach or a blogging partner (you can coach each other). You might consider paying someone to do it or just find another blogger/friend/business person/family member to fill the role. Give them permission to ask questions and give you a kick in the pants if you need it.

• Take a Break - as many people have said in the comments of previous posts in this series – taking a break is often just what a blogger needs. We all need a holiday from time to time so I suggest bloggers build into their yearly rhythm extended periods of non blogging as well as shorter ones on a weekly and even daily basis. I would suggest that if you’re taking a break that you set an end time and date for it – this is important for a couple of reasons, firstly it gives your readers a sense of where you are and when you’ll be back (I find it frustrating as a reader when a blogger disappears for an extended period without warning) and secondly it puts a boundary at the end of you break which will help you to start up again.

I’m sure between us we can come up with many other strategies for breaking the back of blog apathy – I’m interested to hear the suggestions and experiences of others in comments below.

2014 Reboot: Finally Finding Time to Blog

We are mining ProBlogger content this week for super-useful information to kick-start your blogging year with gusto. Today we tackle a common topic – time. Who has it and how can we get it? Darren shows us seven ways to finally carve it out.

This post “7 Tips for Busy Bloggers on Finding Time to Blog” first appeared in April 2013.

Last week I tweeted a question asking my Problogger followers to share the biggest challenge that they face as a blogger.

Around 50 replies came back and a couple of themes emerged – the biggest one centred around ‘Time’.

Time to blog

Finding time to blog is something that all bloggers struggle with. Whether you are just starting out and blogging as a hobby, blogging as a part time job while juggling work, home, and a social life or even blogging as a full time business amidst other demands such as up-keeping of social media accounts, responding to comments and emails etc. - finding time to write is a consistent challenge.

This issue is so prevalent, we actually published an eBook on the topic last year - BlogWise: How to Do More with Less (featuring 9 busy but productive bloggers such as Leo Babauta, Gretchen Rubin, Brian Clark, Heather Armstrong and more).

7 Tips for Busy Bloggers on Finding Time to Blog

I’m someone who periodically struggles with the challenges of being productive in limited timeframes. Over the last 10 years of blogging, I guess I’ve settled into something of a workflow and routine. What follows is a collection of reflections on what I’m learning.

I hope something in it connects with where you’re at!

1. It Starts with Life Priorities

I feel a bit like a parent saying this but the truth is, time management is a lot to do with priorities. 

It’s important to take time out to identify what is truly important to you, as this is a starting point for working out how you should spend your time.

If blogging is important to you, the first step in finding time to do it is to name it as a priority.

Of course ‘naming’ it as important is only half the battle. For many people there is a HUGE gap between what they say is important and how they actually spend their time.

One of the most confronting exercises I’ve ever done, when it comes to time management, was when (as a young adult) I was challenged write a list of my priorities. I then had to track how I used each 15 minute block of time over a week.

At the end of the week I tallied up the different activities and was amazed to discover how much time I was spending on things that did not feature in my priorities list, and how little I spent on the things I’d named as my priorities.

My list of priorities included things like studying, career, relationships etc.

My actual use of time was dominated by TV, computer games, time in the pub etc.

Of course, at the time I was young and reckless… but I suspect if I did the exercise again today there would probably be a bit of a disconnect between my priorities and how I spent my time. The activities I ‘waste’ time on and my priorities today might be different but the pattern would probably remain.

One of the keys to finding time to blog is working out whether blogging is actually important to you and arranging your life so that time is allocated for it!

I know it’s sounds obvious but it is easier said than done… and needs to be said.

2. Name Your Blogging Priorities

In the section above I talk about ‘life priorities’ but now I want to hone in on your blogging priorities.

The challenge many bloggers face is that they feel overwhelmed and often distracted by the many elements of blogging that they feel they need to do to have success.

Writing blog posts, reading and commenting on others blogs, responding to readers comments, guest posting on others blogs, being active on Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, LinkedIn, Pinterest (and more), working on your blog design, writing an eBook, finding advertisers, creating a media kit…. the list goes on and on.

I’ve had periods in my own blogging where this list overwhelmed me – to the point it almost paralysed me.

When I felt overwhelmed, I tried to strip my blogging back to the core tasks I knew I needed to do to keep my blog moving forward. Again it was really about priorities.

What do you need to do to grow your blog and make it sustainable?

For me, I strip my focus back to these areas:

  • Writing Content
  • Finding Readers
  • Building Community
  • Monetizing

These are the non-essential priorities I have with my blogging. Simply by naming them simplifies things a little for me so I’m not looking at a long, crazy list of little things that I need to do.

With this list in mind I’m can set myself some achievable goals in each area.

For example, when it comes to ‘Writing Content’ I’m set myself some goals with how many posts per week or month. Then I start to think about the types of posts I want each week.

So here on ProBlogger, my current goal is 5 posts per week as a minimum with 3-4 of those posts written by me and at least one of them to be a longer form piece of content (like my recent Guide to the Amazon Affiliate Program).

Within each of these areas I would normally have at least a couple of goals/priorities at any one time.

Simply having this list of things I want to achieve suddenly gives me direction on how to spend my time, which makes me much more effective when I do blog. Instead of sitting down at the computer to blog and then working out what to do, I have a list of things I need to get done – and I find myself just knocking them off.

3. Batch Process Your Main Tasks

I won’t go into great detail on this as I’ve written about it before but a number of years ago I changed the way that I do my weekly tasks and it significantly boosted my productivity levels.

Before making this switch, I would sit down to blog and find myself going through a whole day flitting from one thing to another…. but not really getting much done. I’d write an intro to a blog post, then jump onto Twitter, then talk to another blogger about a collaboration, then go back to the blog post, then moderate some comments, then jump on Facebook and then…. well you get the picture.

So I began to carve out longer chunks of time to do the most important tasks in ‘batches’.

For example, one of my weekly rhythms is to use Monday and Wednesday mornings to write. On those mornings, I will often set myself up in a cafe and work offline for 2-3 hours. This enables me to write as much content as possible for the days and week ahead. It is not unusual for me to write 4-5 blog posts that I’m then able to schedule onto the blog for the coming days.

By silo’ing off time to do the most important tasks, and removing other distractions, I found I churn through a lot more work than I had previously been able to do.

I now ‘batch’ process many tasks. I’ll often set aside half an hour to do social media for example (instead of popping into Twitter 20 times a day, I might spend a longer period once a day). Email is similarly something I try to do in batches, similarly I tend to read other blogs via RSS in batches etc.

Read more about ‘batch processing in my post ‘How Batch Processing Made Me 10 Times More Productive‘.

Mental Blogging

In the early days of my blogging I had very very limited times to blog. I was working 3-4 part time jobs at any one time while also studying in the evenings. As a result I often would only have half and hour here or there during a lunch break, late at night or early in the morning to write content.

In order to be more effective at those times, I began to do what I now call ‘mental blogging’.

So while I was working in one of my jobs in a warehouse packing parcels, I would begin to write my blog posts in my mind. I would come up with a topic, decide upon a title and then begin to map out my main points – all in my head.

I sometimes would use a small notebook to jot a few words down to remind me what I wanted to write but after a shift in the warehouse, I would often be ready to sit down and quickly write out a pretty decent blog post (sometimes more than one) because I’d effectively written it already in my head.

Since that time I’ve come across countless other bloggers who do a similar thing during their own daily activities.

Later on I did a similar thing by jotting down my notes on my iPhone or even speaking blog posts into an audio recording app on my iPhone while I was out on a walk.

4. Idea Generation and Editorial Calendars

In my early days of blogging one of my biggest time sucks was coming up with ideas. I would sit, staring at my computer screen for hours on end, trying to work out what to write about on my blog that day.

I discovered that a much more effective strategy is to put aside batches of time specifically to come up with post ideas.

Instead of deciding what to write about each day, I began to create times to brainstorm and mind map blog ideas. I would then developed a file for each post topic so that on any given day I could sit down and within seconds I’d have something to write about

Mind Mapping is my favourite technique for generating potentially hundreds of ideas (read Discover Hundreds of Post Ideas for Your Blog with Mind Mapping).

Just having the ideas ready to go when you need them will save you a lot of time. You can take this a step further and consider creating an Editorial Calendar where you actually slot the ideas into a calendar over the coming week, month (or longer) and map out where you’ll be going with the blog in that period of time.

Editorial calendars may not suit everyone but I know of numerous bloggers who plan their blogs content well over a month in advance. This not only gives them an idea of where their blog is headed but they also find it useful to monetize their blogs as they’re able to share their calendar with advertisers who may wish to sponsor a relevant series of posts that might be coming up.

5. Break Down Big Jobs into Small Bites

Late last year, I recorded a free webinar where I shared 10 things I wish I’d known about blogging when I started 10 years before. In that webinar I shared the story of creating the first eBook that I developed over at Digital Photography School.

The idea of creating an eBook was something that I’d been meaning to do for at least a year or two but I’d always put off doing it because I didn’t have the time for such a big project. I’d never done something like that before and I felt overwhelmed by it.

In the end, to get the eBook created and launched, I decided that the only way I’d find the time to write it was to get up 15 minutes earlier every morning to work on the project.

15 minutes a day isn’t much (although we had a newborn at the time so 15 minutes sleep was precious) but I was amazed how much I could get done in that short period of time, on a daily basis. Over the coming 2-3 months I completed writing the eBook, had had it designed, had worked out how to market it, had researched how to sell it (shopping carts etc) and was ready to launch.

I effectively broke down a big job into little bite sized chunks until it was complete. That eBook went on to sell thousands of copies and became the template for 19 other eBooks that I’ve now launched (the main source of income to my blogs today).

I often wonder what would have happened if I’d never found that extra 15 minutes per day!

6. Slow Blogging is OK

“I have to post something today!”

Sometimes, as bloggers, I think we create monsters for ourselves for no good reason when it comes to posting deadlines and frequency.

I’m very guilty of this and it’s been something of a relief to realise that I can slow down my blogging a little and not see it ‘hurt’ my blog.

Here on ProBlogger you may have noticed a bit of a change lately. I’ve gone from posting 7-10 posts per week to posting 5-6 times a week.

For many years here at ProBlogger I felt the need to publish daily posts and at times, even aimed for 2-3 posts per day. While there were some benefits of doing so (more posts can mean more traffic) there were also costs in terms of the quality but also personally (it’s hard to sustain that kind of publishing for years on end).

Since slowing down, I’ve been fascinated to see that our traffic has remained steady (in fact some days it has been higher). The other impact has been a rise in comment levels, in positive feedback but also in my own energy and passion levels.

While deadlines and targets for posting frequency can be motivating - there may be periods of time when slowing down has some big benefits.

7. Make Space for Preparation, Creating and Rest

I recently came across this great video from Aussie blogger Kemi Nekvapil.

What I particularly loved about it was at around the 1.30 minute mark, Kemi talks about the structure of her week and how she has 3 different types of days during her week. They are ‘preparation days’, ‘success days’ and ‘inspiration days’.

Note: I think this originally comes from Jack Canfield who talks about creating days for ‘preparation’, ‘success’ and ‘rest’.

So for Kemi, her Mondays are preparation days when she is getting ready to have a creative ‘success’ day, Tuesdays are successful days, Wednesdays are preparation days and Thursdays are successful days. Fridays are her inspiration days where she gets to do whatever she wants to do for herself.

By giving herself days with a different focus, Kemi says she’s able to keep her creativity up and to sustain herself.

It makes sense really – if every day is a day where you have to produce something and you never have time to prepare or to have a break the quality of what you produce will suffer (as will your energy levels).

I love this idea and almost intuitively have done something a little similar of late. My wife (V) works on a Wednesday, so on those days I’ve had a bit more to do with the kids (drop offs, pick ups and a shorter working day). I’ve decided to go with it not being quite as a productive day and make Wednesdays a little less hands on with work, giving me a little more space to just ‘be’.

I’ve been doing a little work but also am trying to put time aside on Wednesdays to read, walk and have a siesta. It might sound a little like a lazy day on some levels but I’m noticing that having a quieter day in the middle of my week certainly makes me more productive on the following days.

What Are Your Tips for Finding Time to Blog?

What I’ve written above just scratches the surface. I am by no means an expert on this and am keen to learn from your experience.

Update: Check out this post where I ask a number of other bloggers about their tips and blogging routines.

 

2014 Reboot: Get Ready for the New Year With a Blog Overhaul

We are mining ProBlogger content this week for super-useful information to kick-start your blogging year with gusto. Today we delve into the world of giving your blog a shake-up for 2014 when you’re a bit weary of the same-old same-old. Ryan Barton, author of Smart Marketing, shows us the way.

This post “9 Steps To Take When You Loathe Your Own Blog” first appeared in May 2012.

You’ve got an editorial calendar, you’ve scheduled blog posts weeks in advance. Look how professional you are. Well done. You’re an inspiration.

You press “publish” and bask in retweets, praise, and a flood of comments. You’re “resonating” with your “tribe.” You’re prolific. You’re a cocky so-and-so.

Then it hits: the loathing.

You’re exhausted. You’re ignoring your calendar. You can’t be bothered to think about new topics. Your writer’s well is bone-dry. You’ve met the resistance and it has won.

Your writing becomes programmed (verse, verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, chorus). It’s no longer art, and no longer an exercise in intellect. It lacks moxy. You’re phoning it in.

This is a low point. Have you been there?

If you bore yourself, how do you expect your readers to read, let alone share, your content?

What do you do when you loathe your own blog?

Find a way to restart, tabula rasa. And you’re the only one who can make it happen.

1. Do a design refresh

You buy new running shoes, and suddenly you want—need—to run. I must satisfy the shoes, it is their reason for existence. You buy a new car and instantly you cease dreading your hour-long commute.

It’s the same with your blog. Launch a new theme and you’ll feel the need to create new content that mirrors the sophistication of your new design. It pulls you back in and urges you forward. Clearly, your own boredom isn’t reason enough for a design overhaul, but it’ll certainly reignite your fire.

2. Narrow your focus

When I launched The Smart Marketing Blog in 2007, my posts were eclectic random. Readers didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know what to expect. One day, a post about bus stop ads, the next day, how to set-up PDFs to open at screen height, and another day, musings on a new social network. There was no focus.

But now, when I focus only on smart marketing for small business success, my readers know what to expect. I have focus—a roadmap.

3. Take off the chains

Darren publishes daily. Sort of. Somebody on the collective ProBlogger team publishes daily. But I think he’d agree that expecting you, by yourself, to generate mind-blowing content daily is expecting too much.

At one point, I followed an editorial calendar that scheduled posts twice a week. But even those posts were rubbish. They weren’t inspired, they were the result of a self-imposed guideline. Sure, publishing more frequently drives more traffic, but also yields disappointed readers who are trying to digest your traffic-driven rubbish.

Write because you can’t help it, not because there’s a blank post to fill. Today, I write only when I can imagine giving a speech on my topic. The topic is that good. So good, I can visualize myself preaching from a soapbox. And you know what, my traffic has remained the same, despite publishing much less frequently.

4. Ship something

I don’t advocate shipping something simply for the sake of shipping; that only yields mediocrity. But shipping evokes pride and passion and a fierce sense of taking names. Last year I published my book on smart marketing for small businesses, this year I launched my newsletter, and in the months ahead I have two other books in the works. Each functions to inspire and refill my writer’s well.

Aside from your blog—because your blog is not your product, your blog supports your product—what can you create to inject that same inspiration?

5. Change your routine

Want to find new inspiration? Approach your trivial, mundane tasks in a new way. When you break your habits, you force yourself to problem-solve, expand your thinking, and consider other solutions. It’s that same thinking that yanks you out of your writer’s rut. Purposefully take the longer route to the office, travel to a foreign country, run instead of lifting weights, read a different genre book to stretch your mind, expand your palette with a new coffee brewing method, keep your phone off when it’s normally on, watch a documentary instead of that sitcom—or better yet, read a book … with pages, not a screen.

6. Change how and where you write

Last week, I sat in a dark parking lot waiting for takeout from a local eatery. I was isolated, undisturbed, and focused. So much so, I made great progress on a blog post in the matter of minutes. Just me, a journal, and a soft dome light. Working out of coffee grinder-dominated cafes doesn’t foster the same productivity. Neither does sitting in front of a television or high-traffic public venues. Sure, use the excuse that people-watching inspires you. Rubbish.

Take yourself seriously, hide yourself, sever ties to notifications, reminders, and the urge to make sure you’re always in-the-know. Your writing—your art—deserves nothing less than your undivided attention.

7. Read new, not more

How many blogs do you subscribe to? Right now, how many blog posts sit unread? If you’re no longer challenged—if you’re glazing over posts out of habit, if you’re no longer being inspired and challenged—unsubscribe and find new ways to be stimulated. Stop wondering if you’re missing out on anything, cut ties, and stretch yourself. You may be out of school, but that’s no excuse for not remaining a student.

8. Who’s your muse?

Who do you work for? Wake up for? Breathe for? Write for them. Is it your wife, your lover, your most loyal subscriber, or your unborn child? Use them as your motivation to keep driving when you’re not strong enough to persist yourself. Keep this person’s photo nearby as a reminder. Don’t get so busy that you forget why or for whom you’re working so hard.

9. Declare victory or failure

When starting a new project, name your goal. How else will you measure success? Seth said it best, “Declare one or the other, but declare.” Maybe it’s time for self-evaluation. Maybe it’s time to reflect and determine what you did right (to do it again) and what you’ll avoid the next time. Because there will be a next time. “Failure” isn’t never blogging again. No, failure is taking valuable lessons and proactively applying what you’ve learned to the next iteration of your blog.

We’re artists. We all feel the urge to tweak our logos and change our avatars. We see the same “us” every day, and we’re bored. But what we find repetitive and boring and loathe-worthy, our tribe views as consistency and resonation.

The real artists find a way to push through, put their shoulders back and chin up, and reignite their own passion.

Talk back

Have you hit the blogging loathe-wall before? How did you bust through it? Leave a comment below so others might be inspired to do the same. And stick around—later today we’ll take a look at a case example of a blogger who changed their blog’s writing style overnight—and reaped the rewards.

Ryan Barton is a small business marketing, social media, and design consultant. He is the author of Smart Marketing, blogs at The Smart Marketing Blog, tweets at www.twitter.com/RyanBarton, and lives in Los Angeles.

10 Ways to Switch Your Brain to Writing Mode When Working From Home

Immigration, Assimilation and the American Dream
This post is from ProBlogger Team member Stacey Roberts

Finding it hard to make time to blog? Me too. In fact, that’s one of the biggest issues people tell me they have when trying to write. Often we’re blogging from home alongside other work and family commitments, and it can be hard to switch between them when we need to. If you’ve only got 90 minutes in which to write that day, all the good intentions in the world don’t necessarily mean you can use every single one of those 90 minutes to their capacity, churning out a brilliantly-crafted blog post and three witty tweets to wow your readers.

I write from home with two toddlers, and juggle my own blog in addition to freelance writing and my  work here at ProBlogger. When I sit down to the computer after a morning of LEGO fights and snack time, I’m not always inspired and motivated to be productive. I have to make myself use my time to its potential, which is a heady mix of prior organisation and brute force. I’ve come up with a couple of ways to get my head in the game, when the game could be called off at any minute.

1. Create a ritual

There’s nothing better than a physical distinction between one task and the next. For me, it is to make a cup of tea, which is leftover from my days as a journalist, and tells my head it’s writing time. You could make a cup of coffee, fill your water bottle, or put on the same playlist every day. Whatever helps your brain train get on a new track.

2. Walk around the block

If you work at home, it can be tempting to work from the couch in your pajamas. And while that’s definitely one of the perks of the business, it doesn’t really help your productivity. Get dressed, walk around the block and pretend you’re walking to “work”. Grab a cup of coffee on the way into your office, sit down and start your day.

3. Move to a new location

Sometimes a change of environment is just the kickstart you need to find your writing groove. Not feeling it at your desk? Get outside, sit at the kitchen table, go to a cafe – wipe the slate clean and start again. Don’t be afraid to move to find your groove!

4. Be prepared

Nothing blanks me out more than sitting down to an empty white screen. Where does one start? What if you can’t come up with a good headline, and then you can’t figure out what’s the most important thing to cover? Before you know it you’ve spent half an hour idling with nothing to show for it. I find I work best when I’ve taken a few minutes prior (even days prior) to roughly sketch out what I need to cover in my post. Then by the time I sit down, I’ve got anything from a couple of words to go on, to a whole skeleton outline I just need to flesh out. This helps enormously, as even when you type the first sentence, you can get into the flow.

5. Work solo

We like to think that we are multi-tasking ninjas, but research has shown you really don’t get as much done as you think. So in order to train your brain to work to its potential, you have to be tough and shut down any distractions. If this is hard, then tell yourself you can sneak a peek every 15 minutes, but you need to get stuff done in that time. So much of writing is self-discipline, and when you don’t have time to waste it’s even worse when you waste it.

6. Spend two minutes digging around in your brain

When you sit down to write, just take a few minutes to think about the tasks ahead. Don’t write anything down, don’t look at anything, just fill your mind with what you need to accomplish. This will help you stop thinking about distractions and get your mind in the groove of what lies ahead. It’s a great way of getting some demarcation between what you’ve been doing, and what you need to do, and also works as a bit of a brainstorm for today’s tasks.

7. Spend another two minutes sketching out ideas

Now spend a few minutes jotting down those thoughts. I often find it’s a mix of items for my to-do list, post ideas, something to share with my readers on Facebook, and points I want to cover in my posts. This also means I’m motivated and inspired to get to work on these items, and also ensures I’m not sitting down to the dreaded blinking cursor without anything to kickstart my creativity.

8. Don’t start from scratch

One of the best things I learned about writing novels is to stop when you’re inspired. It sounds counter-productive, but if you stop once your wave is over, you’re at a bit of a loss where to start when you pick it back up. This can mean you waste valuable time trying to come up with what to write about next. Picking up where you left off when you were in the groove means you can start with all cylinders firing, which does wonders for your productivity. There’s nothing better than starting off with a good chunk of work under your belt, it lessens the guilt you feel when you fritter your time reading eight Buzzfeed articles instead of getting stuck in. Or that might just be me.

9. Do the worst thing first

I know I’m tempted to leave the hardest thing for last as I “warm up” with easier tasks, but I also then find I’m still dreading the job while I’m doing other things. And often my time gets cut short and I’ve got to find another time to get it done. I find I work best if I sit down and get the big job out of the way first, almost like ripping off a Band-Aid. Everything you do after that is gravy.

10. Use recent notes

If you’re anything like me, you will look at some notes you wrote three days ago and they make little sense. “Mirfin? what’s a mirfin? It looked important, too…”. So while it’s useful to jot down notes when inspiration strikes, it’s even more useful if those are recent notes and you can still recall what you need to do and when. I often email myself notes, or use the notes function on my phone and laptop. Sometimes I even go beta and use pencil and paper, hence the mirfin. But the shorter the timeframe, the better for you.

I’d love to hear what helps you get your head on track when working from home. Any tips you’d like to share?

Stacey Roberts is the content ninja 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.

How to Build a Successful ‘White Hat’ Business on a ‘Black Hat’ Internet

White-HatOver on the ProBlogger Facebook page I was asked a great question by Aman Tandon, who asked for some tips on ‘how to stay alive using white hat techniques?’ when competitors in his niche were being ‘foxy’.

It’s a great question and one that I know many bloggers face in different ways.

The reality is that when you’re developing blogs or websites, there are many temptations that face us as bloggers. People make all kinds of choices about how to grow their businesses – choices that span the entire length of the ethical spectrum.

These choices impact the way that bloggers:

  • create content (eg. using others people’s words, images, and ideas)
  • optimise their sites for search engines (eg. buying links)
  • engage on social media sites (eg. buying followers)
  • monetise their sites (eg. selling links, disclaimers, promoting dodgy products)
  • grow readership (eg. personal attacks on others to create controversy)

The list could go on… and on.

Not a day goes by when I don’t see some kind of black…. or at least murky grey…. hat strategy being employed in some of the niches that I operate in (particularly the ‘make money online’ space).

Note: it is probably worth saying that while there are plenty of examples of ‘black hat’ around, most bloggers I come into contact with are good people with great morals, integrity, and a genuine desire to build businesses that not only are profitable, but that serve and help others. It’s also worth saying that there’s lots of different shades of grey between the extremes!

I have always taken the stance that I want to approach what I do with high ethics, transparency and integrity. That doesn’t mean the temptations are not there. I, like everyone else, am human and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t face temptations to take shortcuts or get ahead.

However I’ve worked hard at keeping on the straight and narrow and operating at the ‘white hat’ end of the spectrum. This probably flows from a mixture of motivations – partly it’s just who I am and how I was raised, partly it’s because I get a lot of satisfaction from doing things well and without taking short cuts, and if I’m honest it probably is partly out of fear – I’d hate to lose what I’ve built as a result of making a dumb choice.

I’m not going to use this article to define what is a ‘white hat’ vs a ‘black hat’ approach to blogging (although that would certainly make for an interesting discussion), but let me make a few comments for those bloggers who do try to play by the rules and approach what they do with ethics – sometimes in the face of others in their space who don’t mind bending (or completely breaking) the rules in an attempt to get an advantage or take short cuts.

Play with a long-term vision in mind

The main message I have regarding this topic is to approach what you do online with a long-term vision in mind.

As I mentioned above, I’ve seen many examples over the years of people crossing over to the ‘dark side’ to grow their online businesses. It is frustrating to see it happen, but in each case I’ve reminded myself that I’m not looking for a quick buck, but am looking to build a business that sustains itself over the long haul.

Numerous examples come to mind of when I’ve seen people make decisions for short-term gain that have led to long-term hurt.

  • I think of one blogger, seven or so years ago, who went on a spree of personal attacks of other bloggers to grow traffic to his site. He got the traffic, but destroyed his own reputation in the process.
  • I think of another blogger who made the decision to promote a product he knew was dubious as an affiliate on his blog. He hyped it up and made a lot of promises the product couldn’t live up to. While he made some quick money, he lost his reputation and most of his readership.
  • I think of another blogger who tried to grow his blog with some prolific link-building schemes with a ‘blog network’ that promised he’d be #1 on Google overnight. He did get to #1… for a week, before disappearing from Google altogether at the last big Google algorithm update.

Of course there are good examples around of people who behaved in arguably unethical ways that ended up doing well (anyone who has seen the movie ‘The Social Network’ probably has a good example in mind – however in many (if not most) cases that I’ve come across, the people who decide to go to the ‘dark side’ to get a short cut often end up behind the pack as a consequence of their decisions.

Deliver value

Instead of looking for a short cut, look to deliver value and be useful.

Usefulness trumps pretty much anything else I can think of in the online (and offline) space.

  • The online businesses that I support by spending my money with, are the ones that solve a problem for me.
  • The blogs that I support by subscribing, reading, and interacting with, are the ones that make my life better in some way.
  • The people that I meet on social media that I retweet, link to and recommend to others to follow are the ones that add value in some tangible way to my life.

Conversely:

  • the website that is clever enough to get me to visit them by ranking #1 in Google but doesn’t serve any purpose when I get there doesn’t get me to come back.
  • the person on twitter who simply self-promotes, or spams out affiliate products gets unfollowed, blocked, or reported as spam.
  • the business that rips me off or tells untruths to get a sale gets their reputation left in tatters, as blog posts and tweets go out exposing what they’re really about.

My personal experience is that when you build value, you build something that is much more likely to last as a business.

Stay true to your values and build something that matters to you

Much of what I’ve written above probably sounds a little trite, and will probably be laughed at by those who take pride in their ‘black hat’ ways.

I’ve previously been linked to and ridiculed in a number of black hat forums for the stances I’ve taken, so as I’m writing this half-expecting that reaction again.

However, all I can really say is that you’ve got to be true to yourself and do something that matters to you.

Me donning a black hat and going to the dark side simply isn’t who I am. I get a lot more satisfaction in life in building something of value, serving others, and looking to build a business and become sustainable through a win/win exchange with those whom I interact.

I sleep easier at night living in that way.

Others seem to be comfortable living at other points along the spectrum, and sleep easy with the decisions that they make. At least to some point, I think we have to live knowing that we’re each different.

When I first started out in blogging, and I would see others doing things that I disagreed with, I would often get angry and outspoken about it. I guess in some ways I’ve come to peace with the fact that in most cases, as angry or outspoken as I get, it is unlikely to change the perspective and practice of the other person.

Instead, these days in most cases I choose to focus my energy less upon what others are doing that annoys me, and more upon doing something myself that matters to me and those who read my blogs.

One last note on taking a stand

A final thought – there does come a point when sometimes you do have to take a stand, and not ignore what others are doing in your niche.

For example: if I see another blogger blatantly copying and pasting my content onto their blogs without any attribution, or pretending it is they who wrote it – I act. I start with an email to them, and will escalate that to issuing DMCAs.

Another example that comes to mind is a time when I saw a lot of ProBlogger readers being ripped off by a certain blogging network/service that I felt was a scam. In this case I wrote about it as a service to my readers.

While I’d rather ignore the dodgy behaviour of others and focus upon building something of value, there are times when I think it is important to take a stand to either protect what you’ve built, or to stay true to your values.

What would you add?

These are just my thoughts on this topic – I’d love to hear yours.

How do you approach working on the web where there is such diversity in the approaches that people take on an ethical level?

What do you do when you see others in your niches taking different approaches to you?

The Day I Almost Lost My Blogging Business By Having Too Many Eggs in the One Basket

It was 17 December 2004 and my dream was falling apart, right before my eyes.

I had just celebrated the 2nd anniversary since I started to blog and I was on the tipping point of my part-time earnings becoming a full-time income.

I’d quit my only other employment to devote 100% of my time to blogging and had recently started ProBlogger to share what I knew about blogging for money. I had just been interviewed in a national paper about my business and all in all, I was pretty happy with how my dreams were progressing.

Then it happened. Most of my traffic disappeared, almost overnight.

I had been averaging 12,000 visitors per day to my main blog (a camera review blog that no longer exists) – around 80% of which came from great Google Search Engine rankings.

That level of traffic was enough to make a living from using the Google AdSense program (which accounted for 95% of my income).

I woke up on the morning of the 17th December 2004 to discover that my blog’s healthy Google rankings had disappeared overnight.

The result was that I was dropped to 2000 visitors a day (from nearly 14000) on my main blog and my other blogs lost even larger amounts of traffic.

Here’s how my traffic looked on my main blog at that time.

Statsdpb 1 2

Of course, with only a sixth of the traffic I previously had I also saw my income from AdSense take a similar tumble. Rather than a full time income, I was looking at earning enough money to call it a 1 day per week job.

I was devastated.

I was confused.

I was angry.

I was also deeply embarrassed.

Not only did my friends and family know that I’d quit my job to become a blogger… so did the world because I’d talked about it here on ProBlogger.

Falling from the rankings in Google was the single biggest challenge I faced as a blogger. I didn’t understand why it had happened and I came very close to giving up blogging altogether.

Thankfully I didn’t give up.

I’m glad I hung in there because just under 2 months later I began to rank in Google again and saw most of the traffic that I’d lost return. I’m also glad because that that really tough period taught me a lot about blogging, and about business.

The Biggest Lesson Learned: Diversification

That experience taught me many things but one of the biggest lessons was about diversification and becoming too dependant on any one area of a business.

Thankfully I learned this lesson very quickly. In this post (which I wrote 3 days after falling out of Google) I wrote about my mistake of having too many eggs in the one basket.

I was too reliant upon Google for traffic and too reliant upon AdSense for income.

Rather than see this challenge as something to stop me I decided to see it as a hurdle – something to get over that would make me stronger in the process.

I decided that I would not only keep blogging but that I was going to work hard to rebuild my blogging in a way that was less reliant upon any one source of traffic or income stream.

This mind-shift led to a range of decisions to diversify in the coming months and years.

It also led me to regularly ask a simple question that helps me avoid this problem again…

Is there a single thing that could kill my business right now?

I regularly ask myself this question (in fact our team discussed it the other day). By asking it on a regular basis I get a good sense for whether the balance in my business it out and whether I need to adjust my approach to spread the risk a little.

In a series of posts in the coming days, I’ll talk more about some of the areas I’ve diversified what I do to help with this but in the mean time, I’d love to hear your own reflections upon this.

Have you ever realised that you’re too reliant upon any one form of traffic or income stream? What have you done to diversify what you do?

Stay tuned for some suggestions on how to diversify your blogging to avoid having too many eggs in the one basket by subscribing to our RSS feed or to the ProBloggerPLUS newsletter below:

UPDATE: I’ve since followed this post up with a post looking at how I diversified traffic to my blog but do plan another couple of articles in this series in the coming weeks.

My Top 5 Blogging Blunders You Can Avoid

This is a guest contribution from Gary Newell.

guest-post-mistakes.jpg

I started blogging almost two years ago and since then, my blog has grown considerably.

I have learned a lot in a relatively short period of time and I want to share five of my biggest mistakes so you can avoid falling into the same traps.

1. I didn’t link to my own articles

For well over a year, I would write articles and post them on various news sites and social media networks.

This isn’t a bad thing to do but I never linked to other articles I’d written so people bounced off my website very quickly.

For a while I couldn’t understand why people wouldn’t click on the menus at the top or click on the links in the “most popular posts” section in the side bar of my blog.

The truth is people clicked on my article in the first place because they may have been mildly interested in the title. I needed to give them a reason to stick around. And so do you.

It is up to you to sell your blog posts with great titles but then you need to try and sell other blog posts on your site. By not linking to your own articles you are just giving readers an excuse to leave.

2. I sold an outbound link to another site

There are various ways to make money from blogging but selling outbound links is not one of them.

There are a huge number of sites that provide lists of how to make money from your blog and some of them suggest selling links. I think this is bad advice.

Selling links is a sure fire way of annoying Google so selling one link for $10 isn’t worth plummeting to the bottom of Google’s rankings.

Another danger I discovered when I sold outbound links is other sites selling the same link, reducing the value of the link. I also realised the site I was linking to had a dozen pages of bad reviews. I quickly retracted the link and refunded the purchaser!

3. I spammed social networks with links

If you read the get-hits-quick guides for getting visitors to your blog, they will often say that you should embrace the social networks. I posted all my blog posts on social media before I realised the “trick”.

The “trick” behind getting value from social media is actually engaging with the people. You need to have conversations with people before they trust you enough to follow you and share your links with friends!

For many of you, this won’t be a surprise.

You have to get involved and comment on other people’s articles and build up a comment Karma. You also have to post not just your own links but link to other people’s articles.

4. I randomly posted affiliate adverts all over my site

For a while I became disillusioned with affiliate schemes. I placed adverts across my site but nobody was clicking them.

Then one day, I realised why. I was doing it wrong.

Placing an advert at the top of the page is just eye candy. Hardly anybody clicks through to them.

I found that if I provided an ad for something that was related to my content, that wasn’t easy to find elsewhere and was something people needed then they would click through and purchase goods. I’m not making millions but I am getting a good return now.

I also found that Amazon links don’t work when sporadically splashed around the site. If you link to content and write articles that link to items on Amazon without overly selling the item then people click through and buy goods.

5. I kept all the best articles for my own blog

This is a recent one really. I have only written a couple of guest articles because as a blogger I wanted to keep my best content for my own blog.

I thought that if I want people to visit my site then I need to have the best content on my site.

The truth is, however, that to get people to click through to my site I needed to have great content on other people’s sites as well. I also accept guest articles and they often attract a great number of new visitors.

Summary

Be careful about following advice on how to get rich quick from blogging or advice thats tell you how to grow your blog ridiculously fast. If it seems to good to be true, it probably is.

My five blogging blunders have helped me become a better blogger . I have learned that if I write good content and build relationships with other people in my niche area, my blog grows naturally. And it has.

I’d love to know…. what have your big blogging blunders been and what did you learn?

Gary Newell lives in Scotland with his wife Stephanie and three children. Gary runs the blog Everyday Linux User which provides news, reviews and technical how-to’s.

 

The Ultimate Guide to Leaving Comments On Blogs

Comments icon

If you’ve ever read a post, book or eBook, or listened to a webinar or conference session on the topic of ‘finding readers for your blog’ you’ll have heard the advice:

Leave comments on other blogs

It was the first piece of advice I remember reading about building readership (from memory a 2002 book by Rebecca Blood was the first blog tips that I ever read) and it’s advice I’ve heard (and given) hundreds of times, since.

In fact this advice is Day 20 in our 31 Days to Build a Better Blog workbook.

7 Benefits of Leaving Comments on Other People’s Blogs

1. Building your own profile – leaving a comment gets you seen. Leaving a good comment can make people pay attention.

2. Showcasing your expertise – sharing what you know or the experiences that you have can help build your credibility.

3. Getting to know other bloggers – leaving a comment can often be a great way to get on the radar of another blogger.

4. Driving traffic to your blog – as a result of your engagement, you will often get people checking out your blog.

5. Idea generation – often, when you engage in conversation in other blogs comments, you get ideas for your own blog posts.

6. Staying sharp - I find that reading and commenting on other blogs  is a good daily discipline to help me keep abreast of what is happening in my industry and keep my brain engaged on the topics I write about. It’s also great writing practice!

7. Opportunities May Follow – just last week someone left a comment on my photography blog that I thought was so insightful that I asked them to write a guest post. In fact, now I think of it, one of our most successful eBook authors on dPS first made himself known to me through a great comment on the blog. You never know where a great comment might lead!

1 Problem with Leaving Comments on Other People’s Blogs

The problem with leaving comments on other blogs, as a technique to grow traffic, is that while it can have many benefits it can also end up hurting your blog’s brand and reputation – if you don’t do it the right way.

This post is an attempt to give you some advice on how to leave comments effectively and what to avoid.

4 Types of Commenters

Over the last 10 years I’ve seen a real spectrum of approaches to leaving comments on blogs. I suspect that most of us sit somewhere along this spectrum.

1. At one end of the spectrum we have the spammers

We’ve all see them – they leave comments on your post that are completely irrelevant and stuffed full of keyword rich links in an attempt to rank for those words in Google. Many times these are auto-generated spam systems that simply get caught in your spam filters and never work anyway.

There’s no real debate around the legitimacy of these comments – they are spam and any blogger in their right mind mark them as such.

2. Next we have the spammy self promoter

A little further along the spectrum we see commenters who usually at least go to the effort of manually leaving their comments and who sometimes even go to the effort of keeping comments slightly on topic…. (sometimes).

However, their comments are pretty obviously only about trying to get a link to help their search rankings or to get a few clicks back to their site.

This group use a variety of tell tale strategies that show what they’re really on about.

For one, they usually don’t leave comments with a personal name but their name is something like ‘Best Dog Biscuits’ or ‘Hawaii Accommodation’.

They also rarely say anything that builds on the conversation but leave empty ‘great post’ comments. Alternatively, sometimes this group will do something controversial to try to get some attention (attacking the writer or other comments) in the hope of people wanting to check them out.

They also will often leave links in their comments that have no relevance to the post.

In short – this group are impersonal, irrelevant, add no value and self promotional.

Sometimes these comments get through spam filters but most bloggers will delete them if they are spotted. It’s doubtful that the comments have any real benefit to the commenter as most blogs have nofollow links in comments which kill any search ranking benefits and nobody in their right mind will click their links as they’re so obviously spammy.

3. Next is Commenter who Builds their Profile by Delivering Value

Next on the spectrum for me is a commenter who is doing it right.

They have obviously read the post and have something of value to contribute. Their comments may not always be long or in-depth but they add to the conversation with something that is thoughtful and relevant.

This group might share a story, give an example, put another point of view, answer a question or do something else that provides value to the blogger and their readership.

This commenter is all about delivering value but in doing so builds their profile and credibility. They are after a win/win exchange where the blogger/readers get value from their comment but they also might get some traffic and kudos from the exchange.

The best of these commenters in my experience tend to use a personal name (and where possible use a personal avatar). They tend to leave less comments than the above groups but the comments are more effective.

Note: on avatars, it can be worth registering for a Gravatar account as this is often used for avatars on many blogs.

4. Lastly is the Value Provider Who Gets No Value Back

At the other end of the spectrum are a rare bunch of commenters who are all about delivering value but for one reason or another don’t promote themselves.

There’s nothing wrong with this – but I have come across a few bloggers of late who are either so shy or so scared of being seen as a spammer that they don’t ever leave a link back to their own blog.

I do partly understand the ‘shy’ thing but my advice to this group would be to know that if you deliver value that most bloggers wouldn’t mind you leaving a link back to your blog – or they wouldn’t have a field in their comments section for you to share a link.

One blogger who I came across lately said that he never leaves links because he heard it can get him in trouble with Google.

I do know that Google look for unnatural links (so those in the first two spammers categories above should watch out) but that they don’t have a problem with genuine comments. In fact, Matt Cutts (from Google) made this video on that topic last week.

How to Effectively Leave Comments on Other Blogs

Several years ago here on ProBlogger I suggested 11 tips for getting the comments that you leave on other blogs to stand out.

I think most of the tips I gave are still relevant today:

  • Be the Early Bird – earlier commenters will have their comments seen more than later commenters. However, being first on every single post can be a bit annoying.
  • Share an Example – built upon the blog post with an example that illustrates what the blogger is saying.
  • Add a Point – if there’s a point the blogger has missed, politely suggest it.
  • Disagree – you may not want to do this on every comment you leave but courteously disagreeing and then adding constructive reasons why can make a good impression.
  • Write with conviction, passion and personality – these things stand out and show you care about your comment.
  • Use Humour – this can grab attention of those scanning through comments.
  • Ask a Question – I’ve long noticed that those who ask good questions often become the centre of conversations in comments.
  • Formatting Comments – be careful with this. Some commenting systems allow you to bold or italicise comments. But don’t go over the top here as it could looks spammy. Comments systems like Disqus allow you to add images – this can also work to draw attention to your comment.
  • Helpful Links – if you’re going to add a link make sure it is of high relevancy and value
  • Comment Length – Are all the comments on a post long? Leave a short one – it’ll stand out. Are all the other comments short? Leave a long one – again, it’ll stand out.
  • Lists/Break it down – think carefully about how your comment will look. Will it be just one big block of text? If so – consider breaking it into shorter paragraphs or even a list type format

One additional tip that I’ve used a number of times: when you leave a comment that you think adds a lot of value to a blog post – share a link to that post with your own social networks.

This shows the blogger that you’re not only willing to engage but promote their blog (which creates a great impression). It also has the side benefit of providing your followers with something useful to read (both the blog post and your comment) and shows them that you’re engaging beyond your blog which can only enhance your brand.

You can also take this a step further by blogging about the post you commented on. I’ve only done this on a few occasions and only when I think the blog post and the comment thread are of high value – but it can have a big impact.

Oh – and one more tip, regular commenting on the same blog can be worthwhile. A one great one off comment can have an impact – but this impact grows exponentially over time. Just don’t become an over contributor and dominate the blog (see below).

What to Avoid When Leaving Comments on Other Blogs

Also written several years ago is a post I wrote about how you can actually hurt your brand by commenting on other blogs. In it I listed 10 things to avoid (this did cause a little debate on a couple of them so there are different opinions):

  • Excessive use of Signatures – this practice was more common several years ago but it involves leaving a link to your blog IN your comment in addition to in the link field that bloggers allow you to link to your blog in.
  • Excessive Self Linking – only leave links that are relevant and not in every post you write.
  • One or Two word Comments – it’s ok to show some appreciation and say ‘great post’ – but more useful to the blogger is for you to tell them WHY you think it’s a great post. Add some value.
  • Not Reading Posts Before Commenting – this is pretty self explanatory. I would also advise reading through other comments already left!
  • Flaming and Personal Attack – not good form. If you disagree, be constructive.
  • ’Anonymous’ Flaming – if you have something to say, put your name to it.
  • Always Being First To Comment – I’ve seen a few people do this over the years and they’ve ended up annoying the blogger and other commenters. It’s not good manners to always be the one to say something… conversation is also about giving others room to speak.
  • Dominating Comment Threads – similar to #7, listen, allow others to contribute and let your comments bounce off them a little.
  • Keyword Stuffed Names – I know this one causes some debate but my personal preference is to know the name of a person that I’m speaking to rather than refer to them as their Business Name.
  • Not adding value to the Comments – Ultimately this one is what it is all about. If you’re adding value, you’ll get value back. If you add no value, you could be hurting your brand.

One last thing to avoid – don’t comment just for the sake of commenting.

While leaving comments does have many benefits I think that most people get into trouble with commenting when they are just going through the motions of leaving comments as a ‘strategy’ rather than leaving comments because they genuinely want to engage.

What Did I Miss? (your chance to practice)

I’d love to get your input on this topic.

What commenting practices have you used or seen others use that either are effective or annoying?

I’m looking forward to some good comments on this post!