“I try to leave out the parts that people skip”

I recently wrote a post with 8 things to do with your blog when you get sick – number five on the list was to find a guest blogger to lend a hand.

This week on noticing a fellow blogger, Blog Bloke, was having a bad run with illness I decided to drop him a note asking if he could do with a guest post to lighten the load and help keep the blog ticking over.

BB accepted and the post just went live. It’s a post on brevity in writing a blog and being selective with what you publish. You can see it at Leave Out the Parts that People Will Skip. Feel free and leave your comments on that post.

Create a Sneeze Page and Propel Readers Deep Within Your Blog

Sneeze-1It’s Day 18 in the 2007 31 Days to Building a Better Blog Project and today your task is to develop a ‘Sneeze Page’ (or pages) for your blog.

One of the challenges that faces blogs that have been around for a while is that they end up with a wonderful collection of posts in their archives that are rarely read by readers.

Write 1 post a day for a year and you’ll have 365 posts in your archives – but if your blog is like the majority of blog it will only be the latest 10 or so posts that readers will see when they arrive on your blog.

The challenge therefore is to work out how to propel readers towards some of the best posts in your archives.

One solution is what I call a ‘Sneeze Page’.

A Sneeze Page is one that simply directs readers in multiple directions at once – back into your archives. Let me explain further by giving a few tips on how to write Sneeze Page and then examining how to strategically position them for maximum impact.

How to Write Sneeze Pages

Writing a Sneeze Page for your blog isn’t that difficult a concept really – in it’s most simple form it is simply a list of links looking back into your archives. However as I think back on how I’ve done it before there are a number of techniques that you might like to use.

1. Themed Sneeze Pages – these are posts or pages on your blog or site that revolve around a single theme. For example – on the front page of the newly designed ProBlogger you’ll now find a section called ‘Best of ProBlogger’ which has a tab in it titled ‘Darren’s Favs’. The five links in this section point to five new pages on ProBlogger which are in effect Themed Sneeze Pages (How to Make Money Blogging, How to Find Readers for Your Blog, How to Write Great Blog Content, Search Engine Optimization for Bloggers and Darren’s Recommendations).

These pages each break down the overarching topic or theme of the page into sub themes and then list off some of the key posts that I’ve written on the topic.

Interestingly – some of the posts that I link to are the central page for a series of posts (which are Sneeze pages in themselves – for example the page on writing content links to the 7 Days to Rediscovering your Blogging Groove series). As a result these pages have the potential to sneeze readers into hundreds of archived posts very quickly.

2. Time Related Sneeze Pages – a Sneeze page that is based around a defined period of time can be very effective. These ‘best of’ posts highlight your key posts from that period to either remind readers of previous posts that they might want to revisit or to highlight posts that they might have missed.

The period of time that you choose can really be anything from a year (here’s my best of 2006 at ProBlogger post) through to a month, week or even a weekend (ie a post that summarizes the posts from a weekend that those readers who don’t read your blog on a weekend might have missed).

3. Hot Comment Thread Sneeze Pages – I haven’t done this for a while but I used to occasionally compile a list of the posts in my archives that had comment threads on them that just wouldn’t die. This drove traffic back to engaging conversations, controversial debates and insightful discussions through my blog. It was actually a great traffic driver that worked quite effectively.

4. Series Sneeze Pages – as mentioned above – the introductory or summary post of a new series of posts can be an effective Sneeze Page. The best current example of this on ProBlogger is the central page for the 31 Days to Build a Better Blog project which will end up being a list of 31 posts from this blog as well as hundreds of reader submitted tips.

Go Beyond The ‘List’

One more quick tip on writing Sneeze Pages – don’t make them just a list of links. Readers will use them a lot more and follow your suggested links into your archives if you take al little time to introduce what the page is about and to describe what they’ll get when they arrive at the page. This little extra effort will mean your page is more useful and useable for readers.

Also resist the temptation just to drive traffic to your money making pages. While you can definitely include pages that contain affiliate links and well converting ads in your Sneeze pages it will be much better received by readers if the posts you highlight are truly your best and most useful work.

How to Strategically Position Your Sneeze Page

The key with Sneeze Pages is to position them in a way that will enable them to be seen and used by the maximum number of readers. On some occasions this will simply been posting them as normal posts on your blog (see discussion below on ‘posts vs pages’ and in other instances it will mean highlighting them throughout your blog in other key positions.

Obviously at ProBlogger I highlight a number of Sneeze Pages from my ‘Best of’ section (something that is working quite well) but in my previous design I had them positioned in my top navigation menus (again – this worked very well).

Another way to highlight these pages is to link to them in posts when you’re talking on an issue. You can do this either within the content itself as you write or at the end of posts as suggested further or related reading.

Posts or Pages?

Those of you who use a blogging platform like WordPress (or now MT 4.0) that have the ability to write pages (as opposed to posts) on your blog will have an interesting choice when it comes to how to present your Sneeze Pages.

I use both posts and pages depending upon their nature. For Sneeze pages that will be linked to prominently for a long time on my blog I tend to go with a page (as they don’t have dates on them that could ‘date’ the page. But for smaller recaps of time periods or hot threads I’ll publish them as posts that will appear on my actual blog.

An Example of a Blog which Sneezes Effectively

Before I send you off to create some pages let me highlight one blog that I see using this technique very effectively – Lifehacker.

Here are four recent examples:

Your Homework

It is time to head back to your blog and create a Sneeze post or page for your blog. Use any of the above methods (themed, dated, hot threads etc) or use one of your own. Head back to this thread afterwards to tell us how you did it (and feel free to link to it so we can see some more examples of what others are doing).

Plan Your Next Week’s Posting Schedule

Building-A-Better-Blog-2Your task today in the 31 Day Project is to plan out a posting schedule for the next week of your blog.

Are You a Planner or an Impulsive Blogger?

When I first started blogging my posting style was incredibly impulsive. I would sit down at my computer with no idea what I was about to blog about on any given day and would just start writing.

While this style of blogging was fun and worked well in the early days – I found that it had some ‘costs’ associated with it:

  • Sporadic Posting Frequency – some days when I sat down to write – nothing came. On these days I would quite often not post anything.
  • Post Quality Varied – on days when I was on fire I could pump out a great quality post – while on other days when I was struggling I would often feel the pressure to post something – so would end up posting rubbishy posts.
  • Productivity Decreased – posting this way meant that I was spending more time blogging for less results. It took me away from other activities that I wanted to spend time on.
  • Lack of Momentum – from day to day posts were not really relating to each other. I found readers complaining that I was all over the place.

After blogging in this impulsive style for quite some time I realized that I needed to make a number of changes. One of these changes was to spend more time planning the coming week of blogging.

It actually happened quite by accident and through frustrating circumstances. Let me tell you a quick story:

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How to Find Fresh Expert Guest Posters for Your Blog

Here’s a quick tip that I’ve used a few times with success over the last couple of months on my photography blog.

Like most bloggers I find it difficult to sustain writing a new tip or tutorial for Digital Photography School everyday. I do want to provide readers with helpful tips on a daily basis but after a year of writing and in the busyness of life it can be difficult.

As a result, recently I’ve been approaching a few experts to contribute to the blog.

I’ve done this before on different blogs but what I’ve done differently this time is look offline for the experts to write guest posts for me.

Where have I found my guest bloggers?

Two places:

1. Magazines and Periodicals

I subscribe to a number of digital photography magazines to help me keep inspired and up to date on my niche. One of the things that struck me a couple of months ago was that all of these magazines regularly feature interviews and guest articles with Professional Photographers. Many of these photographers have their own websites (usually not blogs).

On a whim one day a recently I emailed two of the Pro Photographers featured in these magazines and introduced myself. I asked them if they’d be interested in writing a guest piece for DPS in return for a little publicity of their site.

2. Books

The other place I’ve found guest posters recently is in my local bookshop. No – they were not there browsing the digital photography section – they’d written the books there.

Again, just to see what would happen, I tracked down and emailed the author of one photography book asking if he’d be interested in a guest post in return for a little publicity for his book (with my own Amazon affiliate link).

Does it Work?

Before I tell you what happened as a result of my approaches – let me tell you why I suspected the technique might work….

  • They’ve demonstrated their expertise and ability to communicate
  • They’ve demonstrated their willingness to write for publicity already (in magazines)
  • They have something to gain from participating (links to their sites/books)

What happened?

  • One of the magazine authors emailed within an hour agreeing to write a post.
  • One of the magazine authors didn’t reply for a month – but yesterday did and offered not only to write one guest post – but a series of 10 of them! He’s already written a few and we’ve agreed to release them 1 per week over the next few months.
  • The book author agreed to a guest post and is interested in doing more (one per month) depending upon the results of the experiment.

I’m pretty happy with the results to this point. I’m yet to get any of the posts actually in my inbox so there jury is still out on it – but the initial response has been very positive and I’ve already approached a couple more people to participate.

I particularly like this strategy because it brings new faces to the blogosphere. Usually guest posts tend to come from other blogs in a niche. While this can be very effective – it can sometimes produce posts that are nothing too new. Bringing in authors from outside of the blogosphere can bring a new voice that your readers may not have heard before.

Time will tell how it works out – but it’s an experiment with promising results so far.

The 4 Pillars of Writing Exceptional Blogs

A+The following guest post has been submitted by Leo Babauta from Zen Habits.

Too often it seems that we bloggers get caught up in worrying about monetizing our blogs, or the design of the blog, or SEO techniques — but although it may sound trite, the major focus of our time should be on our writing.

I’m often asked how I got 12,000 readers for my blog, Zen Habits, and made it into the Technorati Top 500 in 5 months — other bloggers seem think I have some secret that I can impart upon them, but I don’t.

I follow the same advice given here on ProBlogger, and by many of the other top blogs: create valuable content and good writing, and the readers will come. Content is king, as they say, and that should be the focus of all your efforts.

I write about this topic more on NorthxEast, a new blog with great weekly articles for bloggers, but the key is to focus on your readers and give them what they want.

Why Not Much Else Matters

Are there other things that matter in creating a successful blog? Sure there are, but they don’t matter nearly as much as some people think they do. Let’s take a look at a few examples:

  • Design – While the look of your site may be attractive and very usable, you won’t attract any readers from design alone. You need to attract them with good content … and then hope your design doesn’t scare them away. But content is really what matters here. If the design isn’t great, but the content is insanely useful, they’ll come, and they’ll stay.
  • SEO – While I agree that SEO techniques can help, what matters most in SEO is getting links. If you don’t get a bunch of links, all the SEO optimization in the world won’t do you a bit of good. SEO really makes the biggest difference when the page in question has a bunch of links coming to it — SEO doesn’t change the ranking of a page with 1 inbound link. So how do you get those quality links? Great content, and nothing else.
  • Social media – Digg, Delicious, Reddit, Stumbleupon, Netscape … these kinds of sites can help your traffic tremendously. And sure, it helps to have friends and be active on these sites. But all of that doesn’t matter a lick if you don’t write a knock-out post.
  • Monetizing – All the monetizing in the world won’t get you a dime unless you get traffic, and that traffic won’t come until you start creating a destination site, with amazing content that attracts the readers and keeps them reading. In fact, a site with ads that aren’t optimized can make more money than a site with optimized ads if the traffic is much higher from great content.

Am I saying that none of this stuff matters? Again, these things are useful, but they are not nearly as important as the content.

Which leaves us with the question: how do you write great content? It’s actually very simple in concept, but takes a lot of practice to perfect. I’m still trying to perfect these things myself, but in general, there are four pillars of exceptional blogwriting:

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How To Write Excellent Blog Content – What We Wish We Knew

Writing-ContentThis post is part of the ‘What we wish I knew when I first started Blogging’ Series. Below I’ll share readers comments on the topic of Writing Good Blog Content as well as some of my own thoughts.

One of the most key aspects of any successful blog is the ability to create content that keeps drawing people back to your blog. I’ve written so many posts on this topic and know that ‘excellent blog content’ means something different on every blog – as a result I won’t pretend that what I write in this post will be a definitive guide to writing great blog content.

However I can tell you five things that I wish I knew in my early days of blogging about writing content (with a few links for further reading).

5 Things I Wish I’d Known Earlier about Writing Content for a Blog

  1. The Power of Titles – the title has the ability make or break a blog post. It impacts how (and if) it’s found in search engines and social bookmarking sites, it influences whether people visit your blog in News Readers, it affects whether people leave a comment and is vital in whether people actually read what you have to say. Read more about using Titles Effectively on Blogs.
  2. The Viral Nature of Lists – a single well written list post can launch a blog to great heights in the blogosphere. While the prolific nature of lists in the blogosphere can also mean your lists get ignored, I find that when writing the same content as a list that you write as an essay like article the list will almost always get more attention. Read more about why lists are great for getting traffic to your blog.
  3. The Importance of Being Original – perhaps the best lesson that I ever learned as a bloggers was that people are drawn to others who speak their mind, who have something unique to say and who say it in a creative and fresh way. Say what everyone else is saying in the same way that everyone else is saying it and you’re almost guaranteed of being largely ignored. Read more about how to avoid joining the echo chamber and saying something original.
  4. The Value of Well Formated Content – people don’t read content on line in the same way that they read content in other mediums. Online readers tend to scan content. As a result if you place visual cues in your posts that draw the eye to important points you’ll find people stick with you longer into your posts. Read more on How to make your content Scannable
  5. The Impact of a Good Image – another simple technique for providing an additional point of interest in your posts is to provide something visual. I don’t use images in every post on this blog but find that when I do that those clicking through on the post in my feed reader increases. Images have the power to communicate in ways that words cannot – use them. Read more on Using images to make your posts POP in RSS feeds.

Reader Comments on Writing Excellent Blog Content

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Seasonal Traffic and How to Capture It for Your Blog

Don’t Miss Seasonal Opportunities on Your Blog for Spectacular Traffic. Read to the bottom of this post for an example of how I’ve used the same content three times in 18 months to generate 50,000 page views on one post.

One of the skills that I encourage bloggers to develop is to think ahead about what events might be coming up that will impact the niche that you’re writing about.

The web is a fairly rhythmic place and every year there are waves of activity across search engines and other websites that are quite predictable.

For example:

  • In November and December every year millions of people go online searching for gifts in the lead up to Christmas.
  • At Superbowl time people go online looking for the ads that were featured during the game.
  • Every Thanksgiving the numbers of searches for Turkey recipes go through the roof
  • During the Olympic games (every 2 years for Winter and Summer games) people go online searching for results and medal tallies.
  • At the end of American Idol’s season (and other localized versions) people head online searching for results, inside gossip and related information
  • Everytime a blockbuster movie is released people hit the seach engines looking for reviews

The list could go on… and on.

One tool for looking at what people are searching for at any given point in time is Google’s Hot Trends page which shows the latest popular searches.

However as bloggers wanting to capitalize on these mini frenzies of online activity around different topics a tool like Google Trends is limited in how useful it is. The problem with it is that it gives information on what people are searching for today and not what they’ll be searching for in a few weeks or months time.

You see, with 4th of July upon us, one of the keywords people are searching for online today is ‘fireworks’. It comes up 17 times in the top 100 list as I’m writing this (update – a few hours later fireworks appear in 38 of the top 100 terms). The term spikes on July 4 and at the end of the year (just before New Years) every year. Here’s Google’s Trends graph on the term ‘fireworks’ (click to enlarge in a new window).


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How to Keep Momentum Going on Your Blog with a ‘Points System’

Jason left a comment a couple of weeks ago on my previous post asking how many posts readers have posted on their blogs in a week that caught my attention.

In his comment Jason talks about a ‘points system’ which he’s developed for helping him to keep his blog achieving the momentum that he wants it to.

His daily goal is 50 points and different tasks get him different amounts of posts. I’ll let him explain (note – I’ve slightly reformatted his comments):

“I work full-time on the side as well. The way I get things done is by using a point system.

Some days I don’t feel like writing, some days I don’t feel like commenting, some days I don’t feel like networking, or whatever… I have to reach at least 50 points per day.

  • 10 points for a long blog post
  • 5 for a short one
  • 2 points for a comment on a blog I’ve commented on before
  • 5 points for commenting on a site I’ve never commented on before
  • 1 point per comment on my own blog
  • 10 points for installing a new module/plug-in, etc.

Works well for me. I think I may have created the system, or sub-consciously remember reading about such a thing somewhere.

I just know that the point system keeps production going while I also work a full-time job.”

What a great idea. I’m sure some readers will find it a little too complicated for their free flowing style – but if you’re in a dry patch and need a little self discipline, or like Jason have limited time to throw into your blog I think that this is a great plan.

I’m sure there are plenty of other tasks one could put on such a list. Here’s some off the top of my head (feel free to add more):

  • 2 points for emailing another blogger with a link to a relevant post
  • 3 points for an IM conversation with a blogger in your niche
  • 2 points for answering a reader’s question via email

What would you add?

My Weekend Blog Strategy

In my last post I asked ‘What do you do with your blog on the weekend?

Having asked the question I thought I’d give a quick answer myself to shed a little light on one strategy (of many) that I’ve been using.

I ask questions

You’ve probably noticed it if you’re regular reader of any of my blogs – but over the last few months I’ve decided to make the weekends less about me producing content and more about the community discussing an issue.

I don’t do it every weekend – but posing a question for readers to ponder seems to be working for me. There’s a few reasons (7) that I like it:

1. It Lengthens the Window for Conversation – here at ProBlogger I’m on a 2-4 posts per day posting schedule. The downside of posting more than once a day is that stories get pushed down the page reasonably quickly. This means that the conversation that is happening on a post has a real window where it happens before quickly dying off. Posting a question on the weekend gives a conversation space to happen and lengthens the window that it can happen in. When I post a reader question like this I try not to post anything else for at least 12-24 hours. The result it lots of participation.

2. Readers are in a Different Mindset on the Weekend – I know for myself that the weekend leaves me in a different frame of mind. I do things slower, I’m more interested in connecting with people, I’m more relaxed and willing to have conversation etc. This means conversational posts have a better chance on the weekend. Instead of just getting quick and blunt comments I notice comments left on the weekend are often longer and more thought through (of course there are always exceptions).

3. Increased Reader Community and Participation – I am becoming more and more convinced that when a reader participates regularly on a blog that they are more likely to feel a sense of ownership and belonging to that blog. This means they’re more likely to comment again and keep on visiting. This is what I’m wanting to put more and more time into on my blogs – building communities around topics rather than just building my own perceived expertise. I want to build a community that is known for it’s expertise. The best way to build a true community is to give people a space to share, connect and learn together. Taking this approach on the weekend allows me to step back a little and the community to step up to the plate and show what it knows.

4. Increased Blog Stickiness – Visitor numbers tend to drop on my blogs (and they do for most websites and blogs that don’t have a specific weekend focus – such as sports blogs) however I’ve noticed that the page views per visitor tend to increase a little on the weekends. This might be partly as a result of readers being a little more willing to surf more pages as they have more time – but I also think it’s because of my reader questions and the way that that means more page views. For starters, just leaving a comment means at least two page views – but secondly, these discussions draw people back later in the weekend to see what others have written.

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