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How to Find an SEO Goldmine for Your Blog

This guest post is by Elena Vakhromova of Freemake.com.

We all know that search engines are a big piece of blog traffic cake. Unlike other traffic sources (subscriptions or social media), search engines bring visitors who are generally unfamiliar with your blog and have one definite goal: to get an answer or solve the problem with the help of your post.

So while your Facebook fans would rather go to check out your recent post on any abstract topic, visitors from Google & Co. are able to discover only the posts which are shown in search results for queries they enter.

Ideally, every new post should bring visitors from Google, Yahoo, Bing, and so on. However, an average blog has only a few pages ranking high in search results and bringing new visitors daily.

When we started the Freemake Blog in May 2012, we never thought that one post (written in 20 minutes, purely for fun) would bring us ~6K pageviews daily. To tell the truth, we did nothing extraordinary to optimize this post. It just appeared when it was high demand for “funny questions to Siri” and there were almost no posts on this topic.

When we realized how fertile search traffic can be, we tried to write every new post aiming at the same result. And some of our initiatives have been successful.

Of course, it doesn’t mean that we write solely SEO-oriented posts, by no means. We understand that there should be a sound balance between SEO goals and common sense. So we never practiced keyword stuffing, but tried to find the topics which would be interesting to our readers and bring us traffic from search engines.

Here I’d like to share with you an approach that may help you find an SEO goldmine for your own blog.

Step 1. Look for standout ideas

Imagine that you’re going to write a potential SEO-boosting post and you face the problem of topic choice. First, you need to make up a list of all possible topics for the blog that you’re able to cover. There are several places where you can find ideas for new posts:

  • Q&A sites: Look for topics on popular Q&A sites (Yahoo! Answers, Quora, Mahalo, etc.). Go through all questions in your category.
  • News and trends: Your readers’ attention revolves around popular events in the world and your niche, so why not take advantage of upcoming releases, holidays, and rumors?
  • Comments & suggestions: Your visitors may suggest great ideas for new posts. If you don’t have a “Tip us off” page or at least a dedicated email address, it’s high time to think about it.
  • Competitors: Have a look at popular posts on competing blogs. If they don’t have such a section, you may check top search queries for that site in Alexa.
  • Social media: Visit your Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest accounts and see what your friends and followers are sharing. Some of their ideas may be worth your attention.

Write down all interesting ideas. Then look though the list and cross out those for which you don’t have enough expertise.

Step 2. Forecast organic traffic

You outlined several ideas for a new post. Now let’s check their potential popularity in search engines.

For each idea write three or four possible keywords and compare them using the Google Keyword Tool. This lets you measure the levels of traffic the keywords would bring to your blog if you optimized a new post for them. Put down the rates of global and local monthly searches for each keyword.

The Keyword Tool will also help you identify more worthy keywords to concentrate on. You may also use:

  • Google Trends to compare the volume of searches between two or more terms
  • Google search suggestions and related searches to get more keyword ideas. Just start typing a query and look at the Google auto-suggestions. Then click Search and look for the related searches at the bottom of results.

google_suggestions

At the end of this process, you should have on your list only the ideas with high keyword traffic potential.

Step 3. Find free SEO niches

Once you’ve decided on the keywords, analyze your possible competitors to find a free niche. This tactic especially makes sense for small and medium-sized blogs that don’t have enough authority to compete with big ones for high search engine rankings.

Enter the keywords you picked up in Step 2 and look at the first page of search results. It’s worth trying to compete if, on the first search results page, you see user-generated content (e.g. forum questions, self-created tutorials, YouTube videos, and so on), or posts from blogs whose PageRank and Alexa Rank are poorer than yours.

On the other hand, if large authoritative blogs like TechCrunch, Mashable, or Engadget have already written on the topic you’ve chosen, and the first search results page has no “ray of light”, you’d better think of a different approach to this topic (e.g. a negative or funny one), look for another vacant query, or quit this idea.

Step 4. Pick the winners

So you have filtered your ideas by keyword popularity and competition. Now it’s time to identify the leaders. You shouldn’t always pick up only one topic—maybe several of them deserve to become a new post, or one idea may lead to several articles with different keywords. So let’s prioritize the ideas on this basis.

First, take the topics which are tied to upcoming events or rising trends, and publish the post at least two weeks prior to the event.

Then, give preference to evergreen topics which you’ll be able to update with new information.

Finally, pick up those which seem best suited to your blog content.

Step 5. Write a quality article

When writing a post on the topic you selected, remember that SEO aims shouldn’t affect the post quality. Don’t overburden the post with keywords. Keep in mind: readers who visit your post and don’t find any worthy content won’t come back to your blog again.

To decide which format better suits your new post, analyze your previous articles that gained high social engagement (tweets, likes, comments). What format, length, and headline peculiarities do they have? Don’t be afraid to repeat your successful experiments.

Consider providing useful calls to action and giving additional materials: links to particular tools, related articles, illustrative charts, images, and videos. Don’t write too floridly. Your readers are simple internet users, like you and me. So make every effort to provide a really interesting article.

Step 6. Reanimate SEO-unfriendly posts

As a bonus, I’d like to suggest reconsidering old posts which should be bringing visitors from search engines, but for whatever reason, aren’t. You may easily find such articles in your blog analytics: their keywords don’t bring much traffic as compared to your SEO-leaders.

No doubt, the reasons for this may differ from post to post—from technical or design oversights to high keyword competition. I’d like to draw your attention to the SEO drawbacks that you may eliminate in shortest time:

  • The keywords you chose are unpopular. In this case, examine Keyword Tool ideas to find better keyword combinations (go to Step 2 above).
    keyword_toolFor example, I see that our blog has a keyword funniest youtube channels which brought us about 150 visitors last month. Our post comes second in search results on this query. We consider the keyword unpopular—it has only 720 global monthly searches. Still the tool suggests to me the related search terms top youtubers, funny youtube channels, and best youtube channels.

    It’s clear that top youtubers isn’t what the post is exactly about, but a simple change from funniest to funny youtube channels might triple the clickthroughs to this post.

    • Your post doesn’t look attractive in search results, so people don’t click it. A skillfully written title and description will improve the situation.
    • The post doesn’t match the keywords for which it’s appearing.Short visit durations and high bounce rates are strong signs of this problem. Therefore, think thoroughly about what people expect to see when they enter a particular search query. What is their aim?For instance, imagine that you look for a good youtube converter and instead of a direct link to some converter, you see the analysis of how to choose a good YouTube converter. You may scroll the tips and even follow them one day, but your goal isn’t achieved, you haven’t received what you were looking for. So the post needs re-writing (keep in mind Step 5).

    Find your SEO goldmine

    Whether new or old, as long as it’s optimized for “right” search queries and written primarily for readers, your post has all chances to become a traffic goldmine.

    However, search engines are unpredictable mechanisms, so who knows how another algorithm update will impact on your search traffic?

    What steps do you work through to make sure your posts are optimized for the right search terms? Tell us your tips in the comments.

    Elena Vakhromova is a full-time PR manager and blogger at Freemake.com, developer of free Windows software for audio/video conversion and YouTube MP3 download.

Lookin’ Good! A Brief Intro to Inline CSS for Bloggers

This guest post is by Andrew Couch of Learningwebbasics.com.

As a website owner it can be really handy to know a bit of web coding. The HTML editor in most blogging platforms gives you enough power to do a lot of cool things without any risk of screwing up your site.

Adding inline styles to elements is one of the easiest.

What are inline CSS styles?

CSS is the style language of the web. It describes to the browser how web pages should look to the last detail. These styles can be packed together in a style sheet and attached to a site as a whole. Or they can be added to individual elements to affect only that element, not the entire site.

This second way of applying CSS styles is called inline styling. These pieces of CSS are inline styles.

Why can they be the blogger’s best friend?

1. They’re easy to use

You can add an inline style in the HTML editor of your platform. Just a few pieces of code can go a long way. And all without hacking into your theme.

The most common element to style is the paragraph. An inline paragraph style would affect all of the text in the styled paragraph. In WordPress HTML editor you need to add the tags <p …> </p>.

Type this into your HTML editor:
&lt;p style="border:1px solid red;padding:5px;"&gt; This is the text that I want to affect. &lt;/p&gt;

This is how it’ll look in the visual editor, and the post itself:

This is the text that I want to affect.

P is the name of the element. It stands for paragraph.

Style is the name of the element that lets you define an inline style.

So border:1px solid red;padding:5px; is the style in the example. It adds a red border around the paragraph and a bit of spacing to keep the border from running into the text. Pretty easy!

2. They’re safe

Since you are working only in one post instead of the theme itself, there is no chance you could screw up your entire site. This is often a worry of novice coders—that one mistake could take down their site. Inline styles can give you a safe place to play with your creations.

Using inline styles could at most affect the one post you are working on. However if you use your blog’s Preview feature to look at the post before it gets published, you can reduce even that risk.

Styles only affect how specific elements look, not how the site functions. At most, mistakes mean the effect you are going for won’t be seen; they don’t result in a loss of functionality.

3. They are powerful

Many effects can be created on a specific element using inline styles. They do not need to remain as bland as changing the color, or be as functional as spacing out paragraphs.

How about a box set aside as a tip?

This tip callout floats next to your text and lets you push something out of the flow of the text to highlight it. It looks impressive, but is just a slightly more complex inline style.

&lt;p style="padding: 10px; border: 1px solid #cccccc; background-color: #f9f595; width: 210px; float: right; margin: 0 0 5px 5px;"&gt; How about a box set aside as a tip. &lt;/p&gt;

Why aren’t inline styles used more?

Themes for blogs and custom-built websites include a set of CSS rules that are attached to the site as a whole. This style sheet dictates how the site looks. This means you don’t need to use inline styles to achieve effects that fit within the overall theme style.

At a technical level, these overall styles are more efficient than using inline styles on every element. This just means that you would never use them to build an entire site. But inline styles are still very powerful and often overlooked as a way to impact certain elements in a single post.

Give inline styles a try

Basic knowledge of CSS can help you make small changes to the appearance of an individual post. It’s a simple way to make important parts of a post stand out, it can make your post look more professional, and it can break up the monotony.

Best of all, learning a few basics of CSS isn’t too complicated.

If you are intrigued about what CSS can do for you, check out the extensive list of examples at w3schools and their entire CSS section. These move beyond inline styles and into stylesheets, but can give you an idea of what’s possible for your blog.

Andrew Couch is a career web developer and author of a tech e-book for non-techs called Web Foundations for the Non-Geek. He also runs a travel blog at Ctrl-Alt-Travel with his wife.

3 Ways Cartoons Can Improve Your Blog

This guest post is by Mark Anderson of Andertoons.com.

Mark Anderson is the cartoonist behind Andertoons.com where he offers cartoon subscriptions and creates custom cartoons.

How Sponsored Posts Can Ruin Your Blog

This guest post is by Kalen Smith of OnlineRookies.com.

More bloggers accept guest posts for their sites.

Guest posts are an arrangement where a guest author will write content and submit it to the blog. In exchange, the blogger will allow the blogger at least one backlink to promote their own website. Guest blogging is a great opportunity for both the blogger and the guest author to receive exposure and share ideas.

Or is it? Some use guest blogging as a means to monetize their site: they charge a fee to guest authors for sponsored posts.

What is a sponsored post?

Most bloggers are more than happy to receive free content to their site and offer a backlink in return. A blogger will not generally pay nor receive money for a traditional guest post. However, some bloggers insist on taking sponsored posts instead.

A “sponsored post” differs from a traditional guest post in that the blogger will require the guest author to pay a fee to post the content. They see guest posts as a way to make money blogging.

I generally discourage bloggers from using these kinds of sponsored posts for several reasons. I think they are unfair to the guest author and can damage your site. I suggest you pursue other advertising strategies if you are looking for a way to monetize your site.

Let’s see why.

Why do bloggers take sponsored posts?

I don’t blame bloggers who are frustrated with guests who submit low quality content. Many SEO linkbuilders certainly fall into this demographic.

Some SEO companies do a very good job guest posting. One of the SEO companies I’ve worked with actually secured a guest post with one of the biggest social media managers in the world, because they were committed to quality.

However, there are other SEO companies that do a very shoddy job with their services. Although I want to encourage bloggers to be open to anyone offering a guest post, I certainly understand and respect their decision not to take a guest post from freelance writer or business they aren’t familiar with.

What concerns me is bloggers who insist on taking a payment from authors wanting to secure a spot in their blog’s schedule. These bloggers clearly aren’t discouraging what they consider “thin content” from being submitted as a guest post. They are simply using guest posts as a means to monetize their sites.

I am opposed to this as matter of principle, but it can also ruin your site in a couple of ways.

What harm can sponsored posts do?

I have a few qualms with sponsored posts. If you are offering sponsored guest posts, I ask that you at least hear me out here.

They’re unfair to the guest

Many bloggers charge a fee because they want to receive something from a guest blogger. They don’t realize they are already getting something: fresh content for their blog.

A guest poster has to spend time writing the content that they are going to submit. Warn any guest poster of your standards beforehand so they don’t waste your, or their, time. If they take their work seriously, they will submit a high-quality post to you.

As a blogger, you understand how long it takes to write great content. By accepting guest posts, you get several hundred words of great content and a fresh perspective for your readers. This can save you a considerable amount of time writing content yourself.

In return, they get a two-sentence biography and a link back to their own website. It is still a great arrangement for both parties, but you are already getting the better deal for the amount of work involved. Is it really fair to ask for a payment on top of that?

Most bloggers who charge a fee to place sponsored posts do so arguing that these posts are “advertising.” However, they stipulate that sponsored posts cannot be promotional in any way. I find this to be ironic and very unfair to the guest blogger. If a business is paying for promotion (sometimes to the tune of $250 for a post), shouldn’t they have a chance to promote their company somewhere in the post?

I can understand charging for a post that is specifically written to promote the company. However, guest blogging was intended to be more of a bartering system.

They can hurt your relationship with readers

I don’t have a problem with affiliate marketing or any other business model that makes money from great content. You can build affiliate links into your content naturally without compromising the value of your post. Affiliate marketers still focus on creating great content and share resources that benefit their readers. Sponsored posts are a bit more awkward.

Your readers could actually be offended to see you running guest posts. Why? If I see a blog taking sponsored posts, I assume that they are relaxing the standards of quality to make a buck. I am sure other readers feel the same way when they see that they are reading a “sponsored” or “paid” post. You may argue that you only take high-quality content on your site. However, I don’t believe most bloggers hold companies and SEO freelancers to the same standard when they are paying for the post.

The United States Federal Trade Commission requires you to disclose whether or not have received payment to post any promotional content or links. Other countries may have similar laws. If you are abiding by these laws, then your readers will know that you are getting paid for these posts.

Many bloggers argue that they need to generate advertising revenue. I understand that we need to make a living. But is the content itself the right way to advertise?

You are selling links

Many people who take sponsored posts claim they are against black-hat tactics such as selling links. Frankly, I don’t really care if someone wants to sell links or not. It’s not usually illegal and it’s not hurting anyone.

However, you should at least be honest with yourself. I roll my eyes when someone pretends they are superior to anyone who sells links but then turns around does the same thing themselves.

Of course, my personal opinion shouldn’t concern you. There are bigger implications, such as the fact that selling links can harm your blog’s ranking. No matter how many times you tell yourself you aren’t in the link trade business, Google will probably decide otherwise if they know you are taking dofollow, sponsored posts. In fact, Matt Cuts has written on this very topic in his article Paid Posts Should Not Pass Pagerank.

Anyone who knows you take money for guest post placement can report you to Google (including a guest blogger who was irritated that you asked for payment). Google itself can find out how much sites are charging for post placements. Matt Cutts said that Google did a small test and found a number of sites that were running sponsored post contests. Those sites are now on Google’s naughty list.

Of course, you can put the “nofollow” tag in a sponsored post, but what guest poster would agree to that? Commercial companies are usually interested in getting link juice.

Also, you better be honest with them if you are going to nofollow the link once they’ve paid good money for it. Withholding your intentions can get you into trouble later on—and with others besides the disgruntled author.

Is it worth it?

Taking sponsored posts can be risky. Is it really worth alienating yourself from your readers and damaging your position with the search engines in order to make a quick buck?

What are your thoughts on taking sponsored guest posts? Feel free to share your thoughts below.

Kalen Smith writes about the importance of a social media marketing plan and Internet marketing experiments and case studies on his blog OnlineRookies.com.

Blogging the Festive Season: The Not-for-Profit Blog [Case Study]

Stephen Pepper is insurance administrator by day, youth worker and blogger by night. He and his wife run Youth Workin’ It, a not-for-profit site that provides consultancy and services for youth workers and organizations worldwide. This includes blogging 6 days a week about youth work.

As part of our Blogging the Festive Season series, we asked Stephen how he and his wife are preparing the blog for the festive season.

What does preparing the Youth Workin’ It blog for the festive season mean?

Over the last year or so, we’ve realized that we need to be well-prepared when it comes to writing posts about particular times of the year. We posted an idea for a Valentine’s Day fundraiser on February 13th, but this meant youth workers didn’t have any time to use the idea this year.

So we started publishing our Christmas posts a couple of months early, like a youth work session to include young people when planning Christmas activities and ideas for organizing a Christmas card fundraiser.

This will be your second festive season on the blog. What did you learn last year? What will you do differently this time?

Last year, we stole an idea from Jon Acuff. He wanted to take time off over the Christmas period but didn’t want to neglect his blog, so he re-posted his his most trafficked posts from the prior 12 months. This meant new visitors read material they might not have come across otherwise, while loyal readers were reminded of some of his best writing.

On our blog, we did something similar. This was based on the 12 Days Of Christmas, where we re-posted our most highly trafficked 12 posts since we started the blog on 1 September 2011. It probably wasn’t wise from an SEO standpoint, as we were effectively re-posting duplicate material. However, we’d moved into a new apartment at the beginning of December, so not having to write new posts for two weeks meant we were able to get settled in far more quickly.

Last year, we also found that our Christmas scavenger hunt ideas proved to be popular. We therefore started posting similar ideas throughout the year, which in turn also received a lot of traffic. Having identified the popularity of these activities, we published our second book, 52 Scavenger Hunt Ideas.

Youth Workin’ It has a global audience. What usually happens to readership and traffic on your site over the festive season?

As our blog was only a couple of months old in late 2011, we had very low levels of traffic in comparison to today, making it hard to identify any kind of trend. Our average number of daily visitors has grown approximately 3,000% since December 2011, so it’s hard to estimate what our traffic levels will be like this festive season in comparison, as we started from such a low base point last year.

Having said that, I’m anticipating that in the run up to the festive season we’ll see a bump in Christmas-themed search traffic. In the first two weeks of November 2012 we had close to 300 people find our site through Christmas-themed search terms, suggesting this trend will continue.

We’ve been seeing good growth all year, but I think that overall traffic will drop off over the Christmas period. Visits to Youth Workin’ It continued increasing throughout November, until two days before Thanksgiving when it dropped off for a few days while Americans celebrated this holiday, so I’m assuming the same will happen at Christmas too.

In January, though, I think we’ll receive a lot more traffic as youth workers will be looking for new youth work and youth ministry ideas for the coming year.

Do you think that having a “cause” blog provides you with different opportunities or challenges around this time of year than bloggers with more commercial blogs face?

For commercial blogs, I’d imagine Christmas is one of the best opportunities for generating revenue, particularly by driving sales through affiliate schemes.

Although we have the odd affiliate link on our site (mainly using Amazon Associates) and produce our own youth work resources, we’re not a commercial blog.

This means we can focus on writing material that we think youth workers will find helpful, rather than feeling like we have to focus on writing about topics or products that will earn us an income. That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with commercial blogs—I’m simply not a salesman, so am glad I don’t have that pressure when I write.

This also helps ensure that most of our content is evergreen, rather than becoming dated quickly. If you’re trying to drive sales of the latest phone, or camera, in six months those products will be old news, and your blog post could equally become old news.

We therefore try as best as we can to take the opportunity to provide youth work ideas and principles that will be equally as valid in five years as they are today.

How else does the festive season affect your blog and blogging schedule?

I have a full-time day job and will only be taking a couple of days off over Christmas—I contract for an insurance company so if I don’t work, I don’t get paid! My blogging schedule therefore won’t change much, as I’ll be maintaining the same daily routine.

Our engagement with subscribers and social media followers won’t change much either, but that’s because we don’t have a large focus on those channels at the moment. Both my wife and I have full-time jobs, do volunteer youth work in our spare time, and blog six days a week. Unfortunately, we’ve therefore been unable to focus any time and energy on engaging with readers and followers on a consistent basis.

What’s the start of the New Year got in store for Youth Workin’ It?

Although we’re not taking any time off around New Year, the start of 2013 is going to be very busy. My wife Shae is going to be a speaker at Open Boston—a new youth ministry event—so she’ll be planning her talk for that. She also runs three girl scout troops in low-income housing areas that rely on fundraising in order to organize activities, which means she’ll also be focused on selling Girl Scout cookies.

The result of this is that I’ll be taking over more of the blogging responsibilities. I’ll therefore try to get ahead on my blogging schedule, particularly at weekends.

And what will you be most heavily focused on?

In addition to our regular blogging, we’re aiming to publish at least two new youth work resources again this coming year. That’s an area I’ll be focusing on, along with writing guest posts for other blogs. I’ve also been approached about another blogging project which looks set to be an amazing and fun opportunity.

On top of all this, I’ve recently set up a separate scavenger hunt blog. As mentioned earlier, these activities were popular on Youth Workin’ It, but we didn’t want them to be our primary focus. I’ve therefore set up this separate niche site so that I can keep publishing these ideas, which will also hopefully drive a few more sales of our scavenger hunt book.

Shae’s focus will be on getting more speaking and consulting opportunities. We’re also planning on setting up a non-profit that will work with young people in our local low-income communities, so we’re definitely going to be busy!

We’re not planning on making any changes to the general design or layout of our site, but are seriously considering signing up with AWeber instead of relying on Feedburner to deliver our daily emails.

One of the reasons for this is that we’re considering experimenting with popovers to gain even more email subscribers, especially having seen how much success Darren had with this technique.

As we’re not a commercial blog, we’d be paying for the service out of our own pocket without expecting to earn any revenue from email subscribers, which is why we’ve held off on doing this so far. The increase in subscribers should be a good longer term investment though, as it’ll help get the Youth Workin’ It name out more widely and will hopefully result in further speaking and consultancy opportunities for Shae.

What’s your advice to other not-for-profit bloggers to make the most of the festive season—both on their blogs, and in their personal lives?

Depending on the nature of your blog, prepare for the festive season well in advance. As I mentioned earlier, we’re already receiving hundreds of visitors to our posts relating to the festive season. As always, Google’s keyword tool is an invaluable resource for finding out what people in your niche are searching for when it comes to Christmas, the New Year, and other religious holidays.

In the New Year, people will be looking for a new start and fresh ideas. What can you offer them to make their lives better?

As for your personal lives, make sure that you have some balance. Answering these questions has made me realize how much I want to achieve for 2013, but this could easily result in working too hard and getting burned out. I therefore need to make sure that I intentionally carve out time—even if it’s just for one weekend in December—where I don’t touch blogging at all.

I’ve found this leaves me feeling incredibly refreshed, so this will set me up well to launch into 2013.

Huge thanks to Stephen for taking the time for this interview. If you run a not-for-profit or cause blog, what are you doing to prepare for the festive season? Share your plans in the comments!

Blogging the Festive Season: The Digital Publisher [Case Study]

Kimberly Gauthier has been running online pet magazine Keep the Tail Wagging for just on a year. As part of our Blogging the Festive Season series, we asked a few questions about how she’s squaring up for her first festive season on the blog.

You started Keep the Tail Wagging on January 1, 2012, so this will be your first festive season on the blog. Can you tell us what your goals are over the coming month to six weeks?

Keep the Tail Wagging is scheduled out almost through December 31st and I will be sprinkling extra holiday wish-list posts through that period as well.  I went back and forth a little on how I would handle the Holiday Season and decided to keep my blog on track (sharing tips on dog care) while adding extra posts for fun.

I’m working with several brands to promote Holiday Wish Lists that dog lovers will be interested in.  The brands are sending me their holiday look books and I’m choosing the times I want to promote—items that I would buy for our home and dogs.  I think these posts will come across with a genuine feel for my readers.

What does preparing Keep the Tail Wagging for the festive season mean?

This season, I’m working on building relationships with brands and small pet businesses, while helping my readers save time and money.

One thing that I promote on Keep the Tail Wagging is the ability to save money on quality dog food and products. Preparing for the season for me means networking with my favorite pet brands (for quality images and Black Friday sneak peeks) and making lists of items that I would purchase.

My goal is to be realistic about what my readers will buy and what’s safe for dogs.  I now have a rule that I won’t promote a product that I won’t buy for our dogs.  One vendor approached me about rope toys, which I find hazardous, because our dogs shred them and I worry about them swallowing the string (big vet bill).  I explained my thoughts and policy, and the vendor was able to share a different (very cool) product to promote instead.

I notice that you’ve already published a seasonal post from Petsmart. Is this a sponsored post, or a guest post? Does the festive season give you different opportunities to generate revenue than the other months of the year?

This is a press release that I agreed to publish on my site, because I’m a Petsmart customer.  I usually pass on press releases, preferring to post guest post (or my own post) instead.  In the upcoming weeks, you’ll see posts that I’ve written for Target and Petco.

These posts are generating revenue, but I am building a solid relationship with these brands.  A fellow blogger suggested that I hold out for money, because they’re taking advantage of me, but I disagree.  My logic is that I’ll be shopping at these stores and talking about it anyway. So why not work with the brands, get quality images and access to the stores (I spent the morning taking pictures at Petco with their permission), and build those relationships?

I’m excited about a recent job that I landed after working for free with a brand.  The PR group who represents the brand appreciated my work and is now paying me for a job this season.

That post’s archived in a category called “Happy Holidays”. Why create a separate category for festive season posts?

I wanted my readers to be able to quickly call up the holiday posts for when they’re ready to do their shopping.  I also want to be able to quickly call them up for repeated promotion over the next six weeks.

I’ll also be creating a button for my site that links to the Happy Holidays posts.  I’m all about making it easy for my readers to find things; plus, I want them to stick around on my site longer, which they’ll do if they’re not frustrated with my organization.

I’ll also be putting these posts in a “Gifts for Dog Lovers” category for the rest of the year.

How’s your blogging schedule looking for the festive season?

One of the bonuses of scheduling out my posts so far in advance is that it allows me to place more focus on other tasks.  Right now, I can focus on writing, promoting my Holiday Wish Lists, blog commenting, and sharing.

What I am going to start doing is spending more time on promoting images.  I’ve been uploading images to Flickr, Pinterest, and creating photo albums on Facebook and Google Plus.  I created a Fur-Holidays board on Pinterest where I’m storing all of my Wish List items.

Are you taking time off around New Year? How are you preparing Keep the Tail Wagging for that time?

I will be taking a break for New Year.  I will be writing a Year in Review post and a One Year Anniversary post to schedule around the New Year.

We stick close to home on New Year’s Eve so I can do some social networking, but I made a commitment that I will take a break during that time.  It’ll make it easier if I can schedule posts and only respond to emails and messages for a brief period (an hour) each day.  I receive over 100 emails a day (I know a blogger who receives nearly 1000) and taking the time to respond to, file, and delete emails each day will make my return to the blogging world much less stressful.

When you do return to the blogging world in 2013, what will you be most heavily focused on?

Content, building traffic, and affiliate marketing.

In 2012, I identified what I want to write about (dog training, behavior, nutrition, health, safety, pet products) and that I wanted to write in my voice, sharing my experience with my readers.

In 2013, I want to continue with this trend and connect with guest bloggers who have a similar writing style.

Building traffic is something we’re all working on and I will continue to do this through networking and PR, both locally and online.

I want to do a better job promoting affiliates through my writing.  I don’t want my site to come across as an online catalog, but it’s important that I remember to place those links and banners effectively throughout my blog posts and pages.

Sounds good! What’s your advice to other digital publishers who want to make the most of the festive season?

My advice is…

  • Be genuine. Don’t accept a check to promote something you don’t believe in, because your followers will notice and call you on it.  My goal is to build Keep the Tail Wagging into an authority that people will respect; they won’t respect me if I make choices that paint me as a hypocrite.
  • Set office hours.  The longer I work, the more work that comes my way.  I’ve accepted that I will never get to the bottom of my To Do List, so I created a working schedule and try my hardest to adhere to it.  This allows me a much-needed break and gives me time to spend with my family and friends.
  • Have fun.  If it’s not fun, then it’ll show through in my writing.  If I’m not into doing something, then I won’t do it.   I apply this to brands, guest contributions, and my own writing.  What’s the point in putting in the work to write, edit, and promote a post that no one will like, because you didn’t like it?  I’d rather spend that time walking the dogs; which is what I do when I find myself grappling with my blog.  Take a break, come back with a better approach later.

Special thanks to Kimberly for sharing her plans with us. Are you a digital publisher? How do your festive season blogging plans compare? What ideas can you share? Tell us in the comments!

Coming up next, Blogging the Festive Season: The Not-for-Profit Blog

5 Ways to Use Images to Make Your Posts Irresistible

This week on #blogchat on Twitter, we discussed the use of images in blog posts, and I thought that some of the advice we covered there might be useful for you too. So here are my top tips for using images in your blog posts.

1. Use an image per post

At Digital Photography School, I include an image at the top of every post.

This provides a visual point of interest that draws people to read the post. Whilst the audience is particularly visually oriented, I think this is true across the board. The web is filled with rich media, and great images now. So the more you can do to make text-based posts visually appealing, the better.

In fact, some of our most shared posts on dPS are composed almost entirely of images, with little to no text at all.  Take a look at the stats on your blog for posts with images, and compare them with posts that don’t have images. You might find that the former do better with readers. They’ll almost certainly be more likely to be shared.

Eye

Image courtesy stock.xchng user L-O-L-A


2. Use images to draw the eye

Using an image at the post’s top is a default for dPS, but we also often images later in posts, too. In this way, they act almost like sub-headings to draw people down the page, and keep them engaged throughout the post.

Not only do those later images catch attention, they provide visual respite for the visitor who is diligently reading through the whole post, from start to finish. So these images serve all kinds of readers—not just scanners.

I think the trick with this is to take care with the images you use. If the reader scans from the top image to a subsequent one, you may—or may not— want that subsequent image to jar for them. It’s important to choose those images carefully, so that they tell the story you want them to.

3. Use images for RSS

Images in your posts also grab the attention of users who are subscribed to your RSS feed. In that case, they can mean the difference between your post being read or ignored.

If you think images are eye-catching on your blog—which is already heavily designed and strongly visual, just imagine what they can do to get attention in a less designed, more texty environment.

4. Trust your instincts

I choose images for blog posts based on the feeling that the image gives me more than anything else. And I’ve really found this to work well.

Often here on ProBlogger, guest posters will send us generic clipart-style images to accompany their content, and we avoid publishing these.

The best images are the ones that evoke a feeling in you and your readers. Clip art probably won’t do that! What does are images that contain people. We’re human, and biology has preprogrammed us to look into each others’ eyes.

So I find that using images with people who are looking at the camera tend to be the most engaging.

5. Take your time

Images are important—and not just to those embracing Pinterest as a medium for growing their readership!

A good image is sometimes as important (if not more important) than a good title for a blog post. On dPS, sometimes I’ll take longer choosing the image for a post than writing the post itself.

You may not spend that much time on your image selection, but if you’re not paying much attention to it, I encourage you to build some time into your posting schedule over the next few weeks to source really strong, eye-catching, and engaging images. You never know how your readers will respond, but you might see longer visits, and more sharing of your content if you do.

Are you already using images on your blog? What types work best for you? Share your advice in the comments.

How to Blog In the Moment (or What Acting School Taught Me About Being a Better Blogger)

This guest post is by Tommy Walker of Inside The Mind

Editor’s note: We’ve broken ProBlogger’s ban on offensive language for this post, as we feel it’s necessary in this particular piece. If harsh language offends you, you may want to skip this one. 

 

In the Summer of 2005 I graduated from The New York Conservatory of Dramatic Arts with a certificate in Film Acting.

Normally mentioning my training would be of no consequence, and to this point it’s been a loosely guarded secret; fearing you might confuse my degree with some glorified week long camp at your local community theater that said I was “certified” to act on camera, hurrr hurr.

No. My school was serious. I was one of 16,000 who auditioned, one of 154 accepted, and one of 60 who graduated.

The training was taxing. Twice a week we would access the kind of bared-soul vulnerability you feel after a long fight with your spouse—or the first time you undress in front of a crush.

The whole first year was about getting past the layers we use to defend ourselves. When someone says “F*ck you” for example, that has an impact, but you’ve trained yourself to not care. In reality, some part of you is bewildered. The school’s unofficial motto was “If we catch you acting, you suck.”

Every day was another exercise to achieve that emotional nakedness, but the most effective was also the most simple—Repetitions.

The Repetition exercise looks like this: you and a partner stand across from each other, gaze held, and wait until someone voices an observation. It’s not about who speaks first, or how clever the observation is, it just needs to be organic.

“You’re wearing a blue shirt.”
“I’m wearing a blue shirt.”
“You’re wearing a blue shirt.”

Our instructor, John Tyrell, was a first generation Meisner student. He sat at a small table at the corner of the stage watching the repetition move like a tennis match. He wore a black shirt with blue jeans. Outside of class, John was sweetest man you’d ever meet. But in class, he was always just this side of worn.  Maybe it was the cigarettes, maybe it was the burden of passing the teachings of one of the greatest acting instructors of our time, who knows?

He watched to make sure neither actor would sabotage The Moment. If we did, he would say “Bullshit!” throw his glasses onto the table, run a hand through his salt and pepper hair, then say, “Okay, look…

“Open. Vulnerable. Penetrable…

“There is never nothing going on. There is only this moment. This moment. This moment.” he’d say hitting his heart and tugging at an invisible thread.

“And it changes, one second to the next. It is not your responsibility to manipulate it, make love to it, or hold on to it, only to recognize it and let it work through you, then move on to the next.

Get out of your head! Again.”

Rookie actors live in their heads; they practice their looks and memorize scripts by reading aloud, training to say this line this way. They build the scene in their head, without regard for other actors or the director.

The outcome is inevitably the same; everyone plays their interpretation of the scene, missing moments, and delivering cardboard performances. It’s inauthentic, contrived, and a nightmare to watch.

What we learned through Repetition was to be open to the pure joy, uncontrolled laughter, and gut wrenching tears, or whatever else The Moment demanded. It was hyper-realism, volatile, and at times, terrifying.

But when it was done you’d take a breath, reset, and come back in two days.

For a year, unless you quit or were cut from the program.

Of course, as a blogger, and more specifically a blogger who talks about marketing, it can not be stated enough how relevant the “If we catch you acting, you suck.” mantra is.

See, like acting, blogging and marketing are meant to take the audience away and get them caught up in The Moment.

Bloggers like Jon Morrow and Derek Halpern understand this so well that it doesn’t matter if the article is 100 or 3,000 words, you’ll miss appointments to see how it ends.

Sure, a percentage can be attributed to talent, but if you asked either of them how they do it, I’m betting it would come down to repetition.

“If we catch you blogging, you suck.”

“If we catch you marketing, you suck.”

Sometimes I wish John Tyrell were a blogging coach.

If Meisner repetitions were meant to get us out of our heads; movement exercises were to get us out of our bodies.

Movement was primarily a weekly yoga practice, but the homework was to journal how random people carried themselves. In the next class, we would incorporate their physicality into our own bodies.

The major revelation was that taking on someone else’s physical characteristics meant your body would adopt the associated energy.

For example, rub your thumb repeatedly in circles around the outside of your knuckle on your index finger. Feel that? Do you feel anxious? Is your leg starting to bounce? It’s always a little bit different for everyone, but the principal remains: certain tics are triggered by emotion, but it’s possible to trigger an emotion by activating the tic.

Of course, we all have our tics (the example is mine) so for the exercise to be effective, it’s best to abandon your own physical tensions and become a blank slate.

To do this, we’d stand in alignment, in a neutral stance that allows the skeleton to support itself, free of its defenses from the world. For example, shifting weight to one leg, or pushing your pelvis, neck, or shoulders forward, or curling into your own back. Trust me, it’s harder than it sounds.

As an actor, it’s your job to become other people. How can you be believable as someone else if you don’t learn to first abandon yourself?

“Listen and respond. Listen and respond,” John would say, hitting his chest.

At the surface, this might seem like something one could incorporate into their routine after reading it in a book, or blog post. (Wouldn’t this make for a nice tips and tricks article?) But this couldn’t be any further from the truth. There was a reason we did these repetitions twice a week, every week for ten months. There was a reason more than half of the students were cut.

Repetition until it is etched into your bones is exhausting. Maintaining total mind body vulnerability while being told, “That’s bullshit!” wears you down.

Accessing The Moment at will doesn’t take weeks, or months, but years of constant dedication to the craft. You certainly don’t get there by reading a blog post or two.

I’m not just talking about acting. Whatever you consider your art, you have your own version of the Repetition exercise. If you’re lucky, eventually The Moment comes with less resistance, but it’s just a sign to dig deeper. Your willingness to do so is what really determines whether this is something you want to do.

Of the 60 that graduated, I can think of two—maybe three—who have pursued their career as actors. One did Burger King commercial and has been on Bravo. Another was in that Wendy’s Frosty Posse commercial. But that’s it.

The rest have gone on, like myself, to start families or businesses. One classmate is finding celebrity in the world of hairdressing (I’m happy to say he cut my hair more than once). Yet, everyone seems perfectly content with their path, even if we all said at one point, “I couldn’t imagine doing anything but acting! Acting is my life.” [Barf.]

My point is: saying you’re dedicated and being dedicated are two different things. It takes repetition and vulnerability like we’ve talked about, but it also means doing it full force, even if it risks finding out you don’t love it quite as much as you thought.

My classmates who work now don’t do it by sitting in coffee shops waiting to “get discovered,” but by sending out endless headshots and resumes, going on calls and facing constant rejection.

Once you’ve found The Moment, you must do the equivalent. This means sending endless emails asking for guest posts, and sharing your most intimate work with people you don’t know understanding full well they’re probably going to shoot you down.

The world is made people hoping to make it big without damaging their precious egos. They’re afraid of letting go of the “what it would be like” mindset and refuse to surrender themselves.

If you want to make magic, you can’t be one of them. You must expose your vulnerability and do so repeatedly. The Moment is magic, and the only way to harness its power is to let go entirely.

It won’t be easy, but don’t you owe yourself to yourself to try?

Tommy Walker is host of “Inside The Mind” a video show that aims to flip the world of online marketing on it’s head. He has been described as having an “infectious creative energy that is as rare as it is refreshing.” Currently he is guest posting on every popular site known to man in order to raise $100,000 in 30 days in an experiment in crowd funding designed to make online marketing accessible and fun to learn.

The Commonsense Approach to Fresh Post Ideas

This guest post is by Ryan Shell of Fashables.

If you’re a long-time blogger, you, at some point, have inevitably looked at a blank document on a computer screen and thought to yourself, “I have no idea what I’m going to write about.”

And if you’ve never been a blogger, it’s likely you haven’t even fathomed the idea of, you know, sharing your thoughts with all of “those” people on the internet, let alone knowing what to write about.

What to write about

This is a topic I’ve addressed with a number of individuals during the past few months, and imagine it will continue to come up time and time again.

When the “What do I write about?” question comes up, I quickly start brainstorming and, within minutes, can develop a number of topics for the individual to write about.

My method isn’t rocket science.

It’s also not some wildly colorful secret that you’ve not been told.

It is one thing though, and I’d like to share it with you.

Common sense

Everyone’s an “expert” about something. What we fail to do is realize that what is easy and common sense to Person X (you) may not be common sense to Person Y.

What happens is that people inventory the knowledge floating around in their brain and eventually—due to their expertise—think, “that’s nothing special” or “everyone already knows that.” And that’s a big mistake.

I recently built a website for someone and the following exchange happened via text message.

Her: “Is my site mobile phone friendly?”

Me: “Yes. Very.”

Her: “Cool! How did you do that?”

What immediately came to mind after seeing her question was, “It really isn’t that big a deal. I simply customized a mobile responsive WordPress theme.” When I look at that short thought through a different lens, I can quickly see two blog posts develop: one about the importance of creating a mobile friendly website, and another that discusses mobile responsive WordPress themes and how they easily make mobile friendly websites.

That simple exchange, followed by what came to mind for me, is a great example of how we constantly take knowledge and our life experiences for granted.

What’s simple for you very well may not be simple for someone else.

Ryan Shell is the Senior Manager, Online Communications for a global communications firm. He is also the founder of the fashion blogFashables and recently created a t-shirt line, The Home T, that helps raise money for multiple sclerosis research. He can also be found online at RyanShell.com.