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Blogosphere Trends + Effective Calls to Action

You might be saying, “I’m a blogger, not a sales person. I create content. Why would I need to worry about calls to action?” But if you are, I’d encourage you to adjust your thinking. Making money from your blog, growing your business, and getting readers to interact will be next to impossible if you can’t effectively motivate your audience to take action.

Still skeptical? Take a look at Darren Rowse. His latest video on making money online encourages bloggers to build products, and for good reason: according to his blogging income breakdown, 40% of his February income came from ebooks and another 9% from membership sites such as Third Tribe Marketing and ProBlogger.com. Certainly these revenue streams would not have existed if he’d never asked anyone to buy his ebooks or join these sites. He is successful, in part, because he’s great at creating effective calls to action.

Even if you’re not selling anything (yet), you still want your audience to take action by commenting, interacting, sharing, Facebook “liking” your post, watching your videos, attending your events, etc. These things all grow your blog and your community. So let’s get into some tips that will help you create successful calls to action on your blog, no matter what your goal. To give you some examples of these tips in action, I’ll use blog posts about the last month’s most-blogged-about stories, according to Regator (they are, in order: Japan, Libya, SXSW, Charlie Sheen, March Madness, AT&T, Elizabeth Taylor, St. Patrick’s Day, iPad 2, and Rebecca Black).

1. Be clear

Example: Social Times’s “10 Ways To Help Japan Through Social Media
In this example, the goal is to get readers to take action to help Japan. There are several options, and each is presented in a clear, simple way: “Watch this video,” “If you have received information about someone in Japan who was affected by the earthquake or tsunami … add this information to Google’s Person Finder,” and so forth. Calls to action are no place for subtlety or word play. Be direct and straightforward.

2. Solve a problem

Example: Save Darfur’s “Protecting Civilians in Libya: How You Can Help
One of the number one tips given here on ProBlogger is to be useful, and it’s possible to be useful even when making a call to action. In this case, the readers of the blog are activists who are likely looking for ways to make a difference. This post asks readers to “take action by writing a letter to the editor” but also explains how to take that action, going as far as providing a sample letter to the editor. Don’t focus so much on your own desire to have readers take action that you forget to be helpful.

3. Know when and where to ask

Example: Mashable’s “Join Mashable for Two Days of Events at SXSWi
Here, the call to action (to register for one of the blog’s SXSW events) is placed in the headline, in the RSVP section, and at the very end of the post. There’s no wrong place to put your call to action, but putting it at the end of your post often works better than putting it near the beginning because they’ve finished reading your post and are ready to act.

4. When the goal is interaction, offer some options

Example: The Smoking Jacket’s “Smoking Poll: Would You Watch Two and a Half Men if Charlie Sheen Returned?
You know that most of your readers are lurkers, but how do you lure them out to become an active part of your community? Asking them to vote in a poll or take some other similarly simple action is a good way to help them get their feet wet. In this example, the bloggers directly asks readers to vote in the poll and state their case in the comments.

5. Create visual interest.

Example: Mental_Floss’s “The mental_floss Guide to the NCAAs (The West)” [March Madness]
Drawing attention to your call to action is imperative. After all, if no one sees it, no one will act on it. In this example, Mental­_Floss tries to get readers to follow its Twitter account but rather than putting it in the sidebar or using a standard Twitter button, it has created an impossible-to-ignore, colorful button at the bottom of the post itself. Use bold text, colors, buttons, or large fonts to draw attention to the action you want readers to take. Facebook “Like” buttons and retweet buttons are so ubiquitous these days, many people tune them out. If those actions in particular are important to you, find a unique way, such as the one in this example, to present them.

6. Provide an incentive.

Example: The Consumerist’s “Make Your Voice Heard On The AT&T/T-Mobile Deal
I hate to break it to you, but very few readers who aren’t your mom will do what you ask out of the sheer goodness of their hearts. You’ve got to make it a win-win situation. In this example, The Consumerist wants readers to share their opinions but sweetens the deal by letting its audience know that those who contribute will have an opportunity to have their “voices heard” and possibly be chosen for inclusion in press materials. Before you ask others for anything, ask yourself what they’d get out of it. If the answer is nothing, don’t ask until you’ve found some value for your audience.

7. Set a single goal

Example: PopWatch’s “Elizabeth Taylor: What’s your favorite role? ‘National Velvet’? ‘Cleopatra’? ‘Virginia Woolf’?
Determine what you want your post to achieve then make a single call to action. Don’t ask for too many things at once. If you want people to buy your ebook, ask for only that. If you want them to attend your seminar, ask for only that. In this case, the post’s goal is to get readers to share their opinions via a poll and the post’s only call to action is that. Set a goal for every post.

8. Use deadlines

Example: For the Love of Dog’s “Photo Contest: Bizzy go Braugh” [St. Patrick’s Day]
In this post (which, by the way, features a dog in a leprechaun outfit, including beard), the blogger makes it clear that readers must take action by sending in their caption by March 23. Deadlines create a sense of urgency that makes people want to act faster. Use one if it makes sense with your particular call to action.

9. Keep it simple

Example: Digital Photography School’s “Buy Captivating Color for a Chance to Win an iPad 2
You’re a blogger, so I don’t need to tell you how short people’s attention spans are these days. The easier the action is, the more likely they are to take it. Compare the example above, wherein people are automatically entered into a contest to win an iPad 2 simply by purchasing an ebook, with an iPad contest post on another blog (for the sake of keeping things positive, I won’t name it), which required readers to follow a particular Twitter account, tweet a long and very specific message, find the exact URL for that tweet, then come back to the blog and post the URL in the post’s comments. It’s obvious which call to action is likely to be more successful. Don’t complicate things.

10. Ask for what you want

Example: TV Squad’s “Watch Stephen Colbert (and Taylor Hicks!) Sing [Rebecca Black’s] ‘Friday’ With Jimmy Fallon
I saved the most basic tip for last and it applies to all of the examples above as well as every call to action you make: ask for what you want. This example post ends with “Tell us: Whose version of Friday do you like better?” It is a specific, simple call to action. Don’t assume that readers will comment, that they will tweet your posts, that they will buy your products, or that they will take the actions described in your posts if you never ask them. Be clear, direct, and make it a win-win and you’ll see results.

Now I’ll follow my own advice. My call to action: If you’re a ProBlogger reader who has never commented before, take this opportunity to introduce yourself and say hello in the comments today. I’ll check back all week because I’d love to meet more of you guys.

Kimberly Turner is a cofounder of Regator, a site that curates the best of the blogosphere, as well as an award-winning print journalist. Reach her on Twitter @kimber_regator and get free widgets for your blog from Regator.

Third Tribe is Closing to New Members—Join Us Before Friday, April 1

No, it’s not an April Fool’s joke: we’re closing our flagship community, the Third Tribe, to new members on April 1, 2011 at 5:00 PM Eastern Time (U.S.).

If you’re not familiar with Third Tribe, it’s a community that I co-founded in 2010 with Brian Clark (Copyblogger), Sonia Simone (Remarkable Communication), and Chris Brogan (ChrisBrogan.com). We built it to provide a learning and networking opportunity for internet marketers who wanted cutting-edge information about how to grow their sites—without the high-pressure hype or “black hat” techniques you see on some other sites.

We took the most effective techniques from Internet marketing and blended them with the content-rich, community-building style of the social media crowd.

Learn more about Third Tribe.

What can you get from Third Tribe?

  • Each month, you get at least one audio seminar on an essential marketing or business technique. We talk about SEO, social media marketing, blog monetization, affiliate marketing, and heaps more. Implement what you learn in the seminars and you’ll start to see real growth in your business. Full transcripts are provided, as well as “Next Action” worksheets that will give you the next steps to take.
  • Each month you also get two Q&A sessions with Tribe founders. These are fantastic “mini consulting” sessions where you can get specific advice that relates to your own business. Imagine stopping any of the four founders in a conference hallway and getting five or ten minutes of our undivided attention to address your business question. That’s what the Q&A sessions do for our Tribers … twice every month.
  • 24/7 access to a thriving community of online marketers. Ask questions, get feedback, form JV partnerships, or just ask your pals for a “Like” on that Facebook page. When things get tough, it’s great to know you have peers and friends who have your back.

If you’d like a taste of some of our seminar content, we’ve prepared a “free sample” for you. This case study was a bonus seminar for this month, with Sonia Simone grilling Third Triber Shane Ketterman on how he grew his niche site from zero to 10,000 unique visitors a day … in seven months.

Zero to 10K: A Case Study.

Even if you don’t join the Tribe, do yourself a favor and download the case study. It’s filled with lessons you can apply right away to your own sites. (For example, he has a nice technique for using AdSense to quickly find the most profitable corner of your blog.)

So why is the Tribe closing down?

It’s not really closing—it’s being transformed into something bigger and better. And … yes … more expensive.

That’s why this is great opportunity to come into the Tribe. Join today and you’ll get in at the best possible price, plus you get instant access to more than 24 hours of archived seminar content.

No, the Tribe isn’t the cheapest resource you’ll find. But if you’re serious about treating your blog as a business, it’s an investment that can repay you many times over.

I hope you’ll come join us in the Third Tribe today. Remember, the site will close to new members on April 1, 2011, at 5:00 PM Eastern (U.S.) Time. Don’t get locked out—you’ll never be able to join at this price again.

Blogosphere Trends + The Art of Live Blogging

Live-blogging—writing about an event as it happens rather than after the fact—can be a valuable resource for your readers, providing them with up-to-the-minute information about important events and making your blog the go-to destination for information on a developing story. It is also rife with perils: insufficient power supplies, spotty Internet connections, and errors made in haste, to name a few.

Here are ten tips to make live-blogging work for you. I’ve used blog posts about the last month’s most frequently blogged about stories, according to Regator (they are, in order: Egypt, Super Bowl XLV, Academy Awards/Oscars, Libya, national budget, Charlie Sheen, New Zealand earthquake, Mobile World Conference, CPAC/Conservative Political Action Conference, and Radiohead) to illustrate live-blogging techniques and practices that you can start using on your own blog:

1. Do research as you blog to fill in gaps in your own live reporting

Example: World Watch’s Live Blog: Egypt in Crisis, Day 11
Yes, you are on the scene, gathering original information, doing interviews, and taking your own photos, but if you’re covering a broad story (in this example, the revolution in Egypt), you simply can’t be everywhere at once. Don’t be afraid to include well-attributed links to other up-to-date coverage or to include quotes from experts to give readers more information.

2. Choose your weapons carefully

Example: Packers Blog’s Super Bowl XLV live blog
There are a number of useful tools and services designed to make live-blogging simpler. The live-blogging plugin for WordPress, CoverItLive (the service used in this example post and acquired on Thursday by Demand Media), and ScribbleLive are solid options for general live-blogging assistance. Justin.tv, Ustream.tv, and Qik.com are useful for on-the-go video. Audio can be recorded and posted from anywhere with tools such as Chirbit and Audioboo. Determine which of these tools works best for you and become familiar with their interfaces before you go live.

3. Prepare if possible

Example: Paste Magazine’s 2011 Oscars Live Blog
If you’re live-blogging an unexpected event, such as the tragic New Zealand earthquake (see below), you’ll have to start from scratch. An event such as the Academy Awards, on the other hand, leaves ample opportunities for advance preparation. In this example, the categories, nominees, and predicted winners could all be filled in prior to the show, leaving the live-bloggers with extra time to cover the spontaneous moments and announcements of winners. This particular live-blog also makes the author of each comment undeniably clear, which is especially important when opinions are being shared in a post by multiple bloggers.

4. Go beyond the tweet

Example: Need to Know’s Libya revolts: A live blog
There are times when 140 characters will suffice and times when seconds matter more than details. Those are the times to turn to Twitter. There are, however, situations, such as the Libyan revolts, that are too complex to be conveyed with such brevity. Those who argue that live-blogging is dead (likely the same ones who claim blogging as  a a whole is dead) should look no further than this example to understand its value. This post incorporates official statements from Amnesty International, Interpol, and other organizations; video and photographs from the scene; witness interviews; updates from bloggers, activists, and news outlets; relevant tweets from Libyans; video of the White House’s statement; original reporting; and, perhaps most importantly, a lasting, detailed chronological account of events as they happened that can be referenced for years to come. Take advantage of the diversity of content and attention to detail that live-blogging allows and don’t treat it like a series of tweets.

5. Understand the difference between distilling and transcribing

Example: The Two-Way’s Live-Blog: President Obama’s News Conference [National Budget]
In this example, Mark Memmott blogs important direct quotes but does not attempt to transcribe the entirety of the president’s speech. He quotes key phrases and summarizes the rest of Obama’s main points. He is fastidious in his use of brackets to indicate changes to direct quotes and (this is important) never uses quotation marks when the language isn’t exact. As a live-blogger, your job is not to transcribe an event but to distill it for readers and present the most important points. Trying to transcribe word for word will lead to frustration, exhaustion, and typos galore.

6. Pack appropriately

Example: The Wire’s Live Blogging TMZ’s Charlie Sheen Backyard Livestream (headline changed after-the-fact to “WATCH: Here is Charlie Sheen’s EPIC TMZ Livestream Interview”)
Admittedly, finding a good live post about the month’s sixth-most-blogged-about story, Charlie Sheen, was challenging. It’s pretty much impossible, after all, to live-blog Charlie Sheen without being with Charlie Sheen and he’s too busy “winning” to hang out with most of us. TMZ did, however, do a live video interview from his mansion so I’ll use that to discuss the kinds of equipment you should bring in a similar live-blogging situation. Things you might want to pack in your live-blogging kit include: extra batteries, power cords and chargers aplenty, laptop, smart phone, Flip or larger video camera, reasonably sized camera, USB cords or other connectors for cameras and video cameras, and an alternative method of Internet connectivity in the case of inadequate WiFi.

7. Update frequently with clear time stamps

Example: Channel 4’s News blog Live Blog: Dozens dead in New Zealand Earthquake
Live-blogging is a commitment. If you plan to post only two or three updates, you’d be better off posting a single well-thought-out post after the fact. In this example, 45 updates were posted during the two days following the earthquake, each with a clear time stamp for context. Regular updates ensure that your blog will be considered the primary place to go for up-to-the-minute information. This is especially vital for situations in which people are frightened and worried about the wellbeing of loved ones. As a general rule of thumb, aim for updates every five to 15 minutes or so during shorter events such as the Academy Awards or Obama’s budget news conference, and once every half hour or so when covering situations such as the earthquake aftermath or revolts. This lets readers know the blog has not gone dormant.

8. Accept that your live posts won’t be as flawless as your edited posts

Example: Business Insider’s LIVE: Steve Ballmer At Mobile World Congress
Once you’ve made it clear that you are live-blogging from the scene, most readers will forgive minor typos and grammatical errors. Do the same. The faster you are trying to get updates out, the less time you have to edit and guard against errors, so don’t beat yourself up. As long as you’ve got your facts straight, errors such as the minor ones in this example (lowercase “nokia,” lack of apostrophe in possessive “consumers,” etc.) from the normally meticulously edited Business Insider are understandable.

9. Use subheadings along with time stamps

Example: The Fix’s CPAC 2011: The Conservative Political Action Conference
Live-blogging can lead to lengthy posts. Using subheadings such as the ones in this example in addition to time stamps throughout your post can increase reader engagement and allow for easy scanning.

10. Know when to live-blog…and when not to

Example: Dig Boston’s Live Blog Review: Radiohead’s ‘The King of Limbs’ From Start to Finish
Live-blogging works best for developing stories or live events. While this live-blog of Radiohead’s new album is good, the live-blogging format doesn’t add a great deal because of the static nature of the story. With all due respect to the blogger, whose work is solid, the review would have been just as good or better if the blogger had taken notes as he listened then written a comprehensive post after the fact. Use live-blogging in moderation.

Do you live-blog? What tips can you add?

Kimberly Turner is a cofounder of Regator, as well as an award-winning print journalist. Reach her on Twitter @kimber_regator and get free widgets for your blog from Regator.

Monthly Trends + How to Instantly Triple Your Post Ideas

For many bloggers, coming up with ideas for great posts is one of the biggest challenges. The good news is that if you have an idea for one post that will appeal to your readership, odds are, you have at least one more. How so? By covering a story from a different angle.

Every time you write a post, you determine the angle you’ll take—even if you’re not consciously doing so. Just as taking a photograph from a different angle can yield very different results (imagine a photo taken from the base of a large tree, a photo taken from the top of the same tree, and a close-up shot of an individual leaf), covering a story from a different angle can give your readers a brand-new experience, even if you’ve covered a topic before.

As always, Regator has calculated the ten most-blogged-about stories of the last month, and we’ll be using posts about those popular stories to demonstrate the power of choosing the right angle. (The blogosphere trends for the month of January 2011, in order, were: Egypt, State of the Union, Golden Globes, Verizon iPhone, Gabrielle Giffords, Super Bowl, Martin Luther King Jr, Sundance Film Festival, Flooding, and Consumer Electronics Show.) Here are some tips on finding the right angle for your next post, along with examples showing how a few bloggers used unexpected angles to put a new spin on these oft-covered topics… and, more importantly, how you can use similar ways of thinking to turn a trickle of post ideas into a flood.

1. Narrow down a broad story by choosing one element

The top story for the month is, of course, Egypt. While it is valuable for us to hear the general details, it’s not valuable for every blogger to provide the same information. To find an angle that would provide unique content to its readers, Threat Level first narrowed the story down to one aspect: the shutting down of Egypt’s Internet access. Still, plenty of bloggers were writing about that, so they went even further by focusing on just one aspect of the shutdown: how it was actually achieved by those in power.

Because of this very specific angle, the resulting post, Egypt Shut Down Its Series of Tubes With a Series of Phone Calls, is interesting and stands out amidst the crowd. A story doesn’t need to be as massive as the Egyptian revolution for this tactic to work. Try taking the subject of your next post and narrowing it down. Then, if you can, take that and narrow it down again.

2. Find the right angle for your niche

A story like President Obama’s State of the Union address may seem like a political story—and it is—but it’s not limited political bloggers. Smart Politics is a political blog but the angle it chose to cover this story would work just as well for a linguistics or psychology blog. The post, Obama’s SOTU: Uniting the Country…through Pronouns?, is a fascinating examination of the President’s use of pronouns as a unifying device.

The next time you think, “That’s a really interesting story but it doesn’t fit into my blog,” ask yourself if there’s any element to the story or angle you could take that might make it a great fit for readers in your niche. You might be surprised.

3. Look for trends

Analyzing a story for patterns or trends is another way to find an angle. There was no doubt that celebrity fashion blog, Go Fug Yourself, was going to cover the Golden Globes from a fashion perspective, but by finding a red-carpet trend, its post, Golden Globes Trend Carpet: Best/Worst Green, not only gave readers the gossip on the awards ceremony but also advised its fashion-conscious readership of an upcoming trend.

See if you can find a legitimate pattern or trend in a story you’re covering. Identifying trends before the rest of the blogosphere will help your blog become the place to go for those who want to be in-the-know.

4. Try a personal or emotional angle

It’s no accident that every news organization features “human interest” along with its hard news. Stories involving emotions and struggles of everyday people are almost universally appealing. When writing about the launch of the Verizon iPhone, The Next Web’s Verizon Throws Best Customers Under the Bus: Charges Them 3X for iPhone post focuses on the anger of a long-time Verizon customer. Try finding an emotional or personal angle in a post you’re working on.

5. Focus on an interesting but seldom-covered aspect of the story

Every story is made up of thousands of details. Slate: Press Box’s Jared Loughner is ready for his photo op post analyzed a rarely talked about aspect of the man accused of shooting Representative Gabrielle Giffords and several others: his mugshot and, more specifically, his baldness and the cultural implications of a shaved head. The uniqueness of this angle made the post a captivating read.

Make a list of at least ten different aspects of a story that you’re covering, then try to choose an unusual angle to create a distinct post that your readers won’t find elsewhere.

6. Turn one story into three (or more) posts

There are countless ways to tell every story. The Business Insider’s How To Bet On The Super Bowl – A Click-By-Click Guide chose to focus on betting. Other blogs talked about uniform choice, psychological preparation of the players, Super Bowl party snacks, and many, many other facets of the game.

If a story is relevant to your readership, you need not limit yourself to just one post about it. If you can find several angles that each provide something unique and interesting, you can get several quality posts out of just one story.

7. Take an unexpected approach

In general, the more unexpected your angle, the more likely it is to be shared. I saw i09’s Martin Luther King In Science Fiction passed around Facebook and Twitter more than any other individual post about Martin Luther King Jr Day. Now that may be because I’m friends with too many nerds, but I think it’s actually because the angle was so unexpected. I’m not a big science fiction fan, but even I clicked on the link to see what the connection between King and sci fi was.

I think it’s important to surprise your readers now and then to keep them engaged. The unexpected makes an impression.

8. Research the historical angle or backstory of an event

The Daily Beast looked back at the Sundance Film Festival and found that many of this year’s Oscar nominees had started at the festival. The combination of finding a trend and researching historical data yielded the post Filmmakers Who Started At Sundance.

There are myriad stories hiding in history. A bit of research might reveal an angle you never considered.

9. Remember that there are always more stories than you think

When parts of Queensland, Australia, were affected by severe flooding, Fran Jurga’s Hoof Blog combined several of the techniques we’ve talked about above in the post University of Queensland’s Equine Hospital Keeps Its Head Up Above the Flood. This intriguing post took a broad story and found a way to apply it to the blog’s niche; it struck emotional chord with details of horses who’d worn their hooves down by swimming up to 30 hours to stay alive; it narrowed the story down first to horses affected by the flood, then to horses being cared for by a single veterinary hospital; and it took an unexpected and seldom-taken approach to flood coverage.

10. Write a story from someone else’s perspective

This is one of the easiest ways to find an alternative angle, but it’s also one of the most effective. While most blogs were covering the Consumer Electronics Show from the perspective of attendees or companies presenting new products, Gadget Lab chose to post It Takes a Mountain of Shipping Crates to Make a Trade Show from the perspective of the organizers, providing a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the massive conference.

Consider covering a story from another party’s perspective to provide a whole new story.

Do you consider different angles when writing posts? Please share your thoughts in the comments!

Kimberly Turner is a cofounder of Regator, as well as an award-winning print journalist. Find her on Twitter @kimber_regator and visit Regator’s widget site to get free widgets for your blog.

Join the 31 Days to Build a Better Blog Group Challenge on SitsGirls Today

Do You Republish Other People’s Content? You’ll Want to Read This

Earlier this week Google’s “head of web spam”—Matt Cutts—posted on his blog that they’re implementing a change in their algorithm that impacts those that publish content from elsewhere on the Web.

The changes are all about ranking the original sources of content higher than those who scrape/republish/copy it. This has always been Google’s intent but increasingly some have been seeing scraped content ranking higher than original sources.

In Matt’s words:

“The net effect is that searchers are more likely to see the sites that wrote the original content rather than a site that scraped or copied the original site’s content.”

This has a couple of implications for bloggers of different types.

For those who produce blogs with original content, it hopefully means not being out-ranked by other sites reproducing your content (with or without permission). As someone who finds his own content appearing on other sites many times a day (many times without credit of the source), for me this is a welcome change.

For those who do use scraping (or syndication) strategies, this news might stimulate a rethink in that approach. I know there are times and places for syndication (particularly if you do so with permission), but this serves as a reminder that in most cases if you’re looking to build a prominent and successful blog, you need to produce something that’s not only relevant and useful, but is also unique.

Monthly Trends + Resolutions for a Better Blog

Happy 2011! How are the ole resolutions holding up so far? Have you stopped biting your nails, started a daily exercise regimen, and organized your closets yet? Me neither. Still, ’tis the season for new starts, and while you’re thinking about improving your health, your home, or your life balance, don’t forget about your blog. Make a resolution today to take your blog to the next level in 2011.

It’s the beginning of the month as well as the year, so, as always, Regator has provided blogosphere trends for the month, and I’ll use posts about these popular stories to inspire you to make a vow to improve your blog in the New Year. (The most-blogged about stories for December 2010, in order, were: Christmas, Wikileaks, Tax Cuts, DADT/Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Tron, New Year’s Eve, Net Neutrality, Elizabeth Edwards, Oprah, and Michael Vick.) Let’s make some resolutions!

1. I resolve to be funnier.
Inspiration: Cracked’s The 12 Most Unintentionally Disturbing Christmas Ads. Obviously, humor isn’t always appropriate, but it certainly has its place and can breathe life into a dry subject if it’s used correctly. If you can handle a bit of rough language, comedy blog Cracked.com provides plenty of inspiration, putting an amusing spin on everything from Christmas to science to pop culture.

2. I resolve to take extra time to write gripping intros to my posts.
Inspiration: The Chronicle Review’s Why WikiLeaks Is Bad for Scholars. The first few lines of your post will determine whether readers will stick around or click around. Don’t save your genius for the third paragraph. Use your first paragraph to make a promise, create intrigue, hit readers with a killer quote, or—as in this example from The Chronicle Review—build suspense with a story.

3. I resolve to help my readers solve more problems.
Inspiration: The Consumerist’s Calculate How Much Of A Raise You’ll Get On January 1 [Tax Cuts]. You’ve read it over and over here at ProBlogger, but it can’t be said enough: Be useful to your readers and they will come back for more. As you sit down to write each post, ask yourself what the reader will get out of it and why he or she should take the time to read it. Even if it’s not a straight-up, service-oriented post, like this example from The Consumerist, all of your posts should provide some benefit: entertainment, knowledge, advice, etc.

4. I resolve to take more time to craft my headlines.
Inspiration: Queerty’s Why Fox News’ Story On Gay Soldiers Living Under DADT Never Got Filed. Your headlines should not be an afterthought and, if they are, this is the resolution for you. They’re all people see when your link is tweeted and the first thing potential readers see in RSS readers and aggregators. A great post with a mediocre headline will lose countless potential readers. This example from Queerty is keyword-heavy, potentially controversial, and seems to promise an intriguing bit of information.

5. I resolve to be more creative and to break out of the echo chamber.
Inspiration: Pushing Pixels’ The colors of “Tron: Legacy”. While many were blogging about Tron’s opening weekend numbers or its (awesome) Daft Punk soundtrack, Kirill Grouchnikov took a different approach and blogged a fascinating breakdown of the color usage in Tron’s computer world. It’s a perfect fit for that blog’s readers and a unique twist on a frequently covered story. If bloggers in your niche are writing about one particular story, find a way to put your own unique twist on it.

6. I resolve to use more photos and/or video.
Inspiration: The Big Picture’s A New Year rolls in. Photos and video add interest and depth and if you aren’t using many, this may be the resolution for you. Just be sure you’re using them legally. This example from The Big Picture shows just how striking the right photo can be.

7. I resolve to be more opinionated.
Inspiration: Tech Talk’s Opinion: Who’ll Really Benefit from Net Neutrality Regulation? Strong opinions have the potential to put some people off and generate controversy, but they also have the potential to establish you as a blogger with interesting things to say and to solidify your blog as a place where healthy debate can happen. This example from Tech Talk is clearly labeled as opinion, presents facts to back up the opinions in the post, and takes a respectful tone.

8. I resolve to develop my blogging voice.
Inspiration: The Atlantic’s Elizabeth Edwards and the Case Against the Political Wife. If you look back at 2010’s posts and find they don’t sound much like you or that they simply lack a bit of personality, resolve to work on your blog’s tone in 2011. This example by Elizabeth Wurtzel is conversational but smart and, quite simply, sounds like Wurtzel. Let that be your goal: sound like you.

9. I resolve to interact with commenters.
Inspiration: TV by the NumbersNo Matter How Tiny the Ratings for OWN, the Media Will Obsess Over Oprah. It’s easy to get so busy working on your next post that you don’t take time to correspond with readers about your previous post. It happens to us all at times (guilty). There’s certainly no need to respond to every comment left on your blog, but interacting with readers where appropriate can go a long way in building a community and, by extension, fans and advocates for your blog. In this example, blogger Robert Seidman responds to questions and even refers back to one commenter’s previous comment, showing that he pays attention to what’s being said on his posts. It’s a good habit to get into.

10. I resolve to edit my posts after I finish them.
Inspiration: The Phillyist’s White House: Vick’s Crimes Deserve Condemnation. This example is short and sweet. It gets the points across with no more words than are necessary. There’s nothing wrong with longer posts, but chances are, you can take around 15 percent off the word count of most posts without losing anything important. Try it for a month and you’ll find your writing is sharper and more concise.

So what do you say? Will you make a resolution to improve your blog this year? My blogging resolution is pretty simple: I resolve to blog more often. As one of the founders of Regator, it’s all too easy for me to get so distracted by the day-to-day running of an internet startup that my first love, writing, gets pushed aside. 2011 will be the year that changes. How about you? Please share your resolution in the comments!

Kimberly Turner is a cofounder of Regator, as well as an award-winning print journalist. Find her on Twitter @kimber_regator, get free widgets for your blog, or nominate your blog for review.

StudioPress Offer 25% Off Themes – Last Sale Ever

If you’re looking to start a new blog or redesign a current one, you’ll want to check this out.

StudioPress Premium WordPress ThemesStarting today, StudioPress (the creators of some amazing themes) are offering 25% off all of the products that they make if you use the word “BLACK” as a coupon code. It’s part of their Black Friday sale, which ends on Tuesday.

This discount applies to all of their themes and frameworks, including:

I’ve switched two of my main blogs over to StudioPress themes in the last few weeks, and have been very impressed by the results. They’re fast loading, well optimized for search engines, and simple to use and secure.

The team at StudioPress also tell me that as of Tuesday (when this ends) they won’t be doing any more discounting—this is their last sale.

Make the most of it and secure a StudioPress theme today.

Disclaimer: I’m an affiliate of StudioPress. As a user of StudioPress products I’m more than happy to recommend them. That’s why my face is on the front page of their site telling the world how much I love them!

October Trends + The 10 Horrors of Blogging

For those celebrating Halloween, it’s the spooky season, with haunted houses, terrifying costumes, and creepy decorations around every corner. What better time to look at the horrors that plague bloggers? Gruesome typos and grammatical errors, ghastly headlines, confusing echo chambers, dreadfully empty comments sections, and more!

Since it’s the end of the month, it’s also time to unveil October’s most-blogged-about stories, according to Regator.com’s trends. They were, in order: Halloween, Windows Phone, Brett Favre, Chilean Miners, Breast Cancer, ‘The Social Network’, Jon Stewart, World Series, Kanye West, and Nobel Prize. We’ll use posts from Regator about these top stories to illustrate how you can avoid the ten horrors of blogging…

The Horror: Typo terrors
Save Yourself:
As The Huffington Post found recently with “The Funniest 2010 Internet Meme Hallowen Costumes,” (a repost of a post by Nerve), not even the largest blogs are immune to the occasional typo or grammatical error. It’s a horror we all succumb to now and then. Take extra time to run a spell check and review your post before hitting publish, especially your headline. Once you’ve hit “publish,” your post takes on a life of its own, appearing in aggregators, RSS feeds, and on social media. Many of these do not reindex your post if it’s altered. If you use a platform that automatically creates permalinks and you fix a headline typo after it has been published, you could end up with a headline that’s spelled correctly, but a URL that is not. If possible, have another person read over your copy before you publish and be aware of words that you consistently misspell.

The Horror: Layouts that scare your users
Save Yourself:
Broken RSS feeds, difficult-to-find email subscription boxes, a lack of contact options, or an overly complex layout can send readers fleeing. Boy Genius Report’s “Live from Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 launch!” is an example of a post with clear tags, author information, and date information. And, like ProBlogger, BGR features prominent RSS and email subscription options that encourage readers to stay engaged via feed reader or email. Could you simplify your layout? Have you checked recently to ensure that your RSS feeds are working? Content may be king but the way you present it matters too.

The Horror: Uncannily familiar content
Save Yourself:
Though it’s not clear whether SNL’s recent Brett Favre sketch was indeed based on Funny or Die’s sketch, Warming Glow’s “More Plagiarism? SNL Favre Sketch Mirrors Funny Or Die Video” proves that even the suspicion of swiping someone else’s content is enough to get you called out, and nobody wants that. Put simply: Never republish another blog’s post without permission. You wouldn’t want someone to take the content you worked hard on and claim it as their own or monetize it, right? Just apply the Golden Rule.

The Horror: Dreadfully dull headlines
Save Yourself:
A good headline needs to stand on its own and scream, “Click me!” in an RSS reader, aggregator, Twitter feed, or email subject line. Headlines that create curiosity and intrigue, such as The First Post’s “Chilean miners ‘not ready for the outside world,’” are effective because they make readers want answers (why aren’t they ready for the outside world?). Using words such as “secret,” “discover,” and “easy” can also make titles more interesting, as can asking a question, creating controversy, and, most of all, conveying a benefit. The best headlines tell readers what they’ll get out of reading a post, whether it’s entertainment, knowledge, or a new skill. Quantifying the benefits by using a list format (e.g., “Four reasons the Chilean miners are not ready for the outside world”) often works even better.

The Horror: Sinister swiping of photos
Save Yourself:
Not every photo you find on the internet is yours for the taking, and as a blogger, intellectual property is something you should be familiar with. The Big Picture’s “Breast Cancer Awareness Month” acquires the rights to some truly amazing photos and then provides clear photo credits for each. If you can’t afford or don’t want to spend money on images, there are plenty of free or cheap options.

The Horror: Ghost-town comments sections
Save Yourself:
Does your comments section look like Reason’s “Aaron Sorkin’s Facts and Fictions [About ‘The Social Network’]” which has 129 comments and counting—or more like a ghost town? If you said, “ghost town,” don’t lose heart. Start by making it easy to comment. The Reason example above has an inviting, clearly structured comments section that requires nothing more than a name. Forcing users to create an account will reduce the number of comments you receive. It’s also vital to keep spam comments to a minimum so the actual discussion around your content doesn’t get buried in a sea of self-promotion. Consider ending posts by asking readers to give an opinion or add to the conversation. It’s surprisingly effective.

The Horror: Frightfully useless content
Save Yourself:
Darren says it again and again: Be useful and solve a problem for your readers. And he says it for a reason. If you aren’t solving a problem, whether it’s giving readers a laugh, information they’re interested in, or a new way of doing something, they won’t have a reason to return to your blog. GigaOm’s “Where to Watch Jon Stewart’s Daily Show Rally Live” is a great example of a post that gives readers something they want. As you write each post, ask yourself what readers will get out of it and have a good answer to that question before hitting “publish.”

The Horror: Eerily silent blogging schedule
Save Yourself:
You need not be as prolific as Bleacher Report’s coverage of the World Series (“World Series 2010: Why the Giants Won Game 1” is one of nearly 250 posts on the subject in the last month), but you should maintain a fairly regular posting schedule so that readers know when to expect content. Whether you choose to post twice a day or once a week is up to you and should be determined by how much time you’re willing to devote to your blog and what you ultimately want to get out of it. Going on holiday? Line up posts ahead of time or consider using guest posts to maintain the schedule.

The Horror: Echo chamber of terror
Save Yourself:
While 90 percent of blogs covering the story were repeating (almost verbatim…I smell a press release) the news that Kanye West’s new album had a release date, Vulture took the opportunity to get creative with “Ten Album Titles Culled From Kanye’s Twitter That Are Better Than ‘My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy,’” a choice that made this post stand out from the crowd. Finding an unconventional way to cover a popular story can be the difference between getting lost in the echo chamber and getting significant traffic. Take the extra time to get an exclusive interview, add your opinion, delve deeper, or explore unanswered questions.

The Horror: Hauntingly boring (generic) voice
Save Yourself:
One of the best things, in my opinion, about blogging is that you have the ability to express yourself, not just through your opinions but through your writing voice and style. Wired Science’s “Nobel Worthy: Best Graphene Close-Ups” could have been a dry, boring explanation of graphene, but is, thanks to a humorous and conversational tone, quite engaging. Let your personal voice—whether it’s serious, humorous, conversational, or academic—shine through your posts until your writing sounds like you.

That, brave souls, is the end of our blood-curdling jaunt through the horrors of blogging. We made it out alive. Which of these horrors haunts you most frequently and how do you deal with it? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

See you next month with more blogosphere trends from Regator. In the meantime, you can get your niche’s trends or other free widgets for your blog at Regator’s new widget site.

Kimberly Turner is a cofounder of Regator.com, Regator for iPhone, and the Regator Platform, as well as an award-winning print journalist. You can find her on Twitter @kimber_regator.