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12 Lessons from 4 Inspiring Local Business Blogs

Earlier this week I explained why every business needs a blog. Today I want to show you just how much potential there is for businesses to connect with their customers through a blog.

Spices

Image courtesy stock.xchng user zd

The blogs I’ve chosen here are all for small businesses I know of. I’ve tried to look at local businesses, so most of them are Melbourne-based, though the lessons they teach should be useful for any business thinking of starting a blog.

The bookstore

Readings, a small bookstore chain, has a very frequently updated blog that supports its online store. This makes sense, since new books are always being released, and there’s always something to say about them.

The blog is an important element of this site. Go to the site’s homepage, and it’s all about shopping. But shoppers can buy books online anywhere. As we know all too well here in Australia, price competition on books is a major factor in deciding where to purchase. So Readings augments that offering with personality. As a small book store, they focus on range and catering to the tastes of their specific clientele. Quality reviews are important, as are in-store events and promotions. The blog is an excellent way to support those goals.

Lessons

  1. If your industry is highly competitive, a blog can help communicate your competitive edge to a highly receptive audience.
  2. Take in different aspects of your industry—this interview with a bookseller is a nice way to go “behind the scenes.” It show off the passion that exists in the industry, and inspires a passion in readers, too.
  3. Use posts to subtly inspire readers to purchase. These posts are followed by links to the books by the authors discussed in the posts themselves—a great, logical, unobtrusive tie-in that would certainly boost sales.

The bakery

A cupcake bakery with two outlets, the Cupcake Central blog is interesting in that it’s so light on text.

If you’re not a writer, you could take a leaf or two from this blog. Images play the main role, but as you can see, they also really support the strong branding of the business. This is probably true with a lot of product-related businesses whose physical output is the strongest evidence of their brand.

The blog’s only updated monthly, to focus on recipes, promoting cupcake workshops, and giving attention to seasonal events like Father’s Day. Interestingly, video is also used to supplement the blog content. The posts may be few and far between, but they’re rich with visual interest.

Lessons

  1. Rather than trying to “come up with” content, let seasonal variations and your industry itself guide your posting schedule.
  2. Not a writer? Try video, imagery, or even a podcast.
  3. Let your blog’s design support your branding. Cupcake Central’s logo is echoed in the blog’s post and header design, as well as all the other pages on the site.

The enthusiasts

Probably the least “bloggy” of the blogs we’ll look at in this list is Motorcyclerides, a site that’s been developed specifically to connect enthusiasts—in this case, motorcycle enthusiasts.

It’s not a business blog as such, in that the blog doesn’t support an individual business. But it does support an “industry” of motorbike riders and bike-related businesses. And it’s a really interesting example that many business blogs could learn from.

The blog itself is on the site’s homepage: it’s the list of maps below the header. Each map links to the details of a ride that a motorcyclist can do on their own, or with friends. And each ride (or blog post) is contributed by a rider, rather than made up by the business owners. They’re great rides that actual riders recommend.

This makes the blogging task more about editing and approving content than starting it from scratch‚ and looking at the Suggest a ride form, I wouldn’t expect the site’s owners would need to do too much work to get the content onto the site. Riders can also contribute events to the site.

Lessons

  1. Crowdsource your content to reduce the blogging burden and expand the reach and relevance of your blog.
  2. Find good ways to link provided content that provide the greatest value to users. At the end of each ride listing on this blog, we see links to related businesses, events, and other rides nearby. That’s pretty useful to riders!
  3. Make your blog into a resource for your customers, and they’ll be unable to resist coming back again and again. A great way to build authority in your industry.

The design studio

A small screen printing business in Melbourne, Ink & Spindle runs this blog as part of a larger website.

The site targets “customers”, which in this case means members of the public as well as current and potential stockists of the fabrics that Ink & Spindle make. The blog itself is updated between two and ten times a month, and keeps customers informed of sales and events like open studios. It shows how different designers, customers, and other clients use the studio’s fabrics—which inspires other readers and undoubtedly sparks purchases through the site’s web store.

The blog really helps the studio’s owners promote their brand values: quality, aesthetics, social and environmental awareness, and community involvement. The great thing about this blog is the way it helps the business connect with the people who buy and use its products at a local level.

Lessons

  1. You can easily add a free blog to your existing website, and start blogging for your business in minutes.
  2. If your business’s product or service is visually appealing, use imagery wherever you can.
  3. Bring your customers into the picture with case studies, to inspire others, and reflect your customer focus.

Get inspired about your business blog

As you can see, small businesses in a range of industries and areas are using blogging to promote themselves online. These examples show that you don’t need to be a technical whiz to make this work. You don’t even need a massive online presence.

The main thing you need is a clear understanding of the ways your business meets the needs of customers or clients, and what it means to them. Using that as a foundation upon which to build, you’ll be able to create a strong, unique web presence that builds loyalty and keeps your customers coming back for more.

Are you starting a business blog? Tell us about the challenges you’re facing in the comments.

Use Product Promotions to Add Value on Your Blog—and Others

We get a lot of requests for co-promotions here at ProBlogger, and at Digital Photography School as well.

Sale sign

Image courtesy stock.xchng user Thoursie

No matter what niche you’re in, if your blog has a reasonably engaged audience, you’re probably the target for others who want to promote their new products. On the flip side, you may well target other bloggers when you want to promote your own blog products.

But negotiating coverage can be tough—and making sure the product’s promotion reaches the host blog’s audience in a meaningful way can be even tougher.

Today I want to show you how to do just that, using a great example from Pat Flynn of Smart Passive Income.

The post

The post is How a Part-Time Blogger Landed His Dream Job—an Interview with Leslie Samuel.

Now, let me say up front that I have no idea how this interview came about, although Pat does say at the beginning of the podcast that he a Leslie have been friends for some time.

I do know that a lot of bloggers who’d love coverage like this for their products wonder how it’s done—even if they’re not personal friends with any A-list bloggers. So let’s pull this post apart a bit and see how you could replicate this kind of coverage for your next product launch—or to make the most of someone else’s launch on your own blog.

The post introduces a podcast—Pat posts regular podcasts on his blog—which contains an interview with Leslie, who tells the story of how he came to enjoy online success.

The post points out what’s covered in the podcast, and links to the services mentioned. It also links to the podcast, then mentions a special offer that Leslie’s making exclusively to Pat’s readers for his product.

What’s so good about this post?

Sounds simple, right? We all see posts like this all the time online. What’s so good about them?

  • The post provides valuable information independently of the promotion: The podcast is free. Anyone can listen to it—you can do it right there on Pat’s blog if you don’t want to download it. So any of Pat’s followers can access the valuable information Leslie has to share, without spending any money.
  • The information in the post isn’t focused on the product offer: Throughout the interview, Leslie tells a rich, deep story that’s packed with advice and tips. He gives it all away. Sometimes you’ll come across posts whose authors constantly refer to their new product or promotion, and some references aren’t always bad—often they’re necessary. But to make the product the focus of the post (or in this case, interview) can turn off more readers than it entices.
  • The offer comes at the end of the post: Pat makes mention of the special discount separately, at the end of his post. Leslie gets to it at the end of the interview. It’s clear, and obvious, which draws it to readers’ attention, and simultaneously lets them know that if they’re not keen, they can skip it.
  • The offer is provided independently of the host blog: While I have nothing against affiliate links (as you’ll know if you read ProBlogger or DPS regularly), promoting an offer in which you have no personal stake can be a great way to add credibility to the product, and communicate to your readers how much you’re focused on them.

From the guest’s point of view—Leslie, who has a product to promote—this super-credible approach to his story is great. He gets excellent coverage, which builds his profile regardless of whether people actually take up his offer or not. He also gets to make a great offer to a massive audience he might have trouble reaching otherwise. And he boosts his reputation as a guru without risking being seen as too salesy.

Pat, meanwhile, gets excellent content for his readers, and an exclusive deep discount on a product they’re likely to be interested in. This reinforces his position as a guru, too—again, without seeming salesy.

The message for host bloggers

If someone contacts you about a promotion they want you to mention on your blog, look at the potential value it can give your readers—and not just through the promotion itself.

See what gems you can get the blogger to “give away” in an interview, rich guest post, or infographic. Think about free value for your readers, not pushing a product.

The message for product promoters

Don’t see the opportunity as one for selling—see it as a chance to build authority with a new audience. What can you tell them that the host blogger can’t? That’s what you should share.

Focus on what’s unique about you, translate that into advice and help, and readers will automatically be motivated to click through to your blog, and take up your offer.

How to do it

This post presents great, unique information in a format that’s familiar and interesting to the host blog’s audience. While not all blog hosts will want to run hour-long interviews with product promoters, the path to the best opportunities is to match the key elements of the product that’s being promoted with the key needs of the host blog’s audience.

For the product promoter

For the product promoter, this means taking your product offer, and focusing on the aspect of it that’s central to your brand.

For Leslie, it’s about his journey to become a blogger—what it’s taken for him to build a popular blog from scratch. That’s what he wants to focus on in his coverage on the host blog. So he might come up with a few different ideas for exposure (through a post, a recorded interview, a series—the sky’s the limit when you’re proposing to help another blogger by providing content!) and pick one or two that seem to suit his brand and the host blog’s audience best.

Now as I say, I have no idea how this interview came about, but let’s suppose Leslie initiated it. He might approach Pat about the coverage, explain what he has to share, how it’ll help Pat’s audience, and mention the offer he’s willing to give Pat’s listeners if Pat’s open to that.

For the host blogger

For the host blogger, the challenge is to match that central element of the product promoter’s brand with the needs of the audience. So Pat would need to make sure that Leslie’s focus could be framed in an appropriate and really compelling way for his readers and listeners.

Of course, since Pat’s podcasts often include interviews, he may have approached Leslie about the interview himself, having spotted the solid fit between Leslie’s site and his own. He might have been the one who came up with the ideas for the interview coverage, including topics and questions, and approached Leslie with them. We bloggers are always looking for great content, after all! An hour is a lot of time to take out of a busy blogger’s week, so Pat may also have offered the opportunity for Leslie to promote his product as part of the interview.

Finding the right fit

As you can see, getting great coverage of a person and/or their product on a blog is a matter of fit.

The two brands need to align on some level, and the two bloggers need to work to make that alignment work in the best way possible for the host blog’s readers.

If you can do this as a product promoter, you’ll find it much easier to get really deep promotion on others’ blogs.

And if you can do this as a host blogger, you won’t have much trouble coming up with posts that really provide massive value to your readers, and position you as your niche’s go-to guy or girl.

Have you promoted someone else’s product through a post on your blog? Or had your product promoted through another blog? Tell us how it came about—and why it worked—in the comments.

Weekend Project: Get a Handle on HTML

Tools like WordPress and Blogger and pretty much all online editors now provide us with WYSIWYG tools.

The HTML editorThat’s excellent for those of us who are less technical—like me! But visual editors like the one in WordPress can tempt us to copy and paste content from another program, like Word.

Even if we type directly into the content window, as I’m doing now as I write this post, if we only know how to use the visual editor, we can make what seem irrevocable errors (or edits!) as we format and style the content using the buttons on the toolbar.

For this reason, we’ve wanted to publish an HTML-for-bloggers guide here at ProBlogger for some time. And now we are.

Why bother?

If you’re not as familiar with HTML as you could be, you may hit a few problems in your blogging:

  • making small errors that are time-consuming to fix and solve
  • having trouble correcting issues that arise in guest submissions
  • not being able to check the content of links—which can be disastrous if they’re affiliate links or promotions
  • failing to present your content in a consistent or professional way, which undermines your blog’s credibility.

These are just a few of the potential everyday problems you face if you don’t know the basics of HTML. But the fact is that to grow your blog, you will definitely need to know how to encode a link, style text, and more—and that means you need to understand a little HTML.

Get a handle on HTML

This weekend, Matt Setter’s going to introduce us in a straightforward, simple way, to the basics of HTML. Over the next two days, he’ll show us what HTML looks like, and step through the main elements you need to know to set up and format posts to perfection.

This two-post mini-series will help you get a handle on the code behind your posts so that you can trouble-shoot formatting and content issues yourself, quickly, as they arise. It will also, I hope, inspire you to find out a bit more about the language.

At the end of each post (or the series) feel free to add a comment about the main problems you have with encoding posts and content on your blog—I’m sure Matt will be pleased to answer your questions, perhaps in an extra post if needed!

To get started, I’d love to know how you’d rate your understanding of HTML basics. Do you usually use your blog platform’s WYSIWYG editor, or its HTML editor, to edit and format posts? Let us know in the comments—and enjoy this weekend’s project!

Are You Wasting Time Guest Posting?

This guest post is by Dan Norris of Web Control Room.

Guest posting is up near the top of every list of ways to grow your blog. The problem is, if you don’t do it correctly, you are more or less wasting your time.

I’ve been writing guest posts for a long time as a way to build interest in my blogs. But until recently I’d never really looked specifically at the results. I’d been assuming, like a lot of bloggers, that I could just get published on some big blogs, and readers would come my way.

My new business, Web Control Room, is a free web app that allows tech savvy business owners to track all their important metrics in the one place. So part of my launch strategy is guest posting on popular blogs for small business owners and bloggers.

In the first few weeks of running my beta I was lucky enough to get published on three well-known industry blogs.

But after analyzing the results, I was shocked. The stats are shown below, “conversions” being the number of people who signed up to use the app in its beta stage.

  • Total visitors to my site: 67
  • Conversions: 2 (2.9%)

Those figures are for all three guest posts combined—about nine hours work for me!

As you can see, these results fall a long way short of what most people expect when writing guest posts. Not only is the traffic minuscule, the conversion rate was well below that from other sources (some were closer to 10%).

Two problems with guest posting

There are two things that are often forgotten by bloggers publishing guest posts.

  1. It’s hard to understand an audience when they aren’t your audience. This is a problem when you’re writing your first post on a blog—you really don’t know what is going to appeal to the audience.
  2. People don’t want to leave their favourite blogs to go back to yours—unless they have a really good reason to.

So if you don’t understand what the readers want, and they don’t want to leave the host blog to come back to yours anyway, what do you do?

In this post I’m going to give you five techniques you can use to directly address these problems, and stop wasting time guest posting.

1. Mention your blog or business

The first thing you absolutely must do in a guest post is mention your blog or business, ideally with a link back to your site. A lot of people forget this. I’ve read some exceptional posts in the past and arrived at the end of the article having no idea who wrote it or what they do. You’ve got to work this into the post, ideally near the start (like I did above).

Some blogs don’t like linking off to your site during the body of the post, but most will allow you to talk about your business if it’s used as an example in your post. If you aren’t talking about your business then you are probably writing generic, boring content anyway, so most good blogs will understand the need for you to do this.

If you mention your blog or business at the start, it will be at the back of the readers’ minds when they get to the end of the post, where there definitely should be a bio and link back to your site with a compelling pitch targeted to the readers of the host blog.

2. Take a case study approach

To take the first point a step further, why not write a post specifically about what you are doing in your business—a case study? Notice how in the intro above I mentioned specific results I got for guest posts I have written. That’s a small example. An even better one would be to make the entire post about work you have done in your business.

I recently wrote a guest post for Think Traffic, called Which traffic strategy converts best? This post was all about the traffic strategies I was implementing as part of my new business. Because it was about my business, people were naturally interested in checking out my site after they read the post. In fact, I suspect a lot of people going back to the site were simply doing so to see how the site was set up for conversions.

This particular guest post brought in over three times the number of visitors than all three posts I mentioned above combined, not to mention 40+ email subscribers it generated.

Most of the time, the main thing that’s unique about you is that you are the one running your business or blog. Anyone can write general stuff, but only you can write truly unique content with meaningful insights from the work you’ve done—and this is much more interesting than a generic top-ten list.

3. Be nice to the gatekeeper

Most large blogs have someone who manages the content, but who isn’t necessarily the face behind the blog. This person is used to seeing the same spammy guest post email day in, day out, and guest posters following the same standard approach of sending off their article and never returning to the host blog once it’s accepted.

As I mentioned before, it’s hard to get everything right with your first guest post. If you are just doing it for a backlink, there are quicker and easier ways to get the same result.

If you are doing it to legitimately provide value and engage with the audience, then you should do what the others don’t do, because your goal should be to write more articles for the site in the future—and better articles, too.

When I approach a host blog, I always do the following:

  1. In the back-and-forth emails prior to a post going live, I make sure I take the editor’s ideas on board. They will always know the audience better than you will. Ask them how they think the post will go or if there are any tweaks you can make to make it more appealing to the audience.
  2. When the post goes live, I do my best to promote it. Add your post’s link to blog directory sites, promote it relentlessly on social media, ask your friends to comment on it, promote it on forums, and more. Getting your first post is sometimes difficult, but blog owners will be more than happy to have you back if you prove you can drive traffic to their site.
  3. I send a follow-up email after the dust settles. Say you thought the post went well judging by the social shares and comments, but you’d love to hear from the editor what they thought, and how they think the post was received. Most people don’t do this, so it helps you stand out from the crowd. But it also helps you understand the audience better and do a better job with your next post.

4. Encourage comments and reply to each and every one

Towards the end of your post, ask a specific question of the reader and encourage them to reply with their answer. Then, after the post goes live, respond to each and every comment made on your post.

Quite often a lot of the best content comes out of the discussion at the end of a post, so blog owners like to see an active comment thread. If you don’t have anything to say in response to a comment, just say thanks!

There will also be more opportunities to discuss your business or blog with the readers in the comments, and that discussion will drive up the comment count on the post, to make your work stand out from others’. In some cases, the number of comments will impact on the popular post links on the site, so having more discussion could get you even more eyeballs if it gets you into that list. Needless to say, you’ll also certainly get the attention of the blog owner this way.

The comments will also teach you a lot about the audience. What level are they at in relation to the content? What sites do they run (check out a few as you reply to comments)? What did they like and dislike about your post? This will help you do a better job on your next post, because you’ll know the readers and have a better idea of what they will respond well to. Regular readers will also remember you and be much more likely to read and engage with your future posts.

5. Make it controversial (if you can)

This one is always a bit tricky. It’s hard to fabricate controversy, and I’m not suggesting you go out and offend people. But often, you can inject a little hint of controversy into your writing and if it’s done well, it’s sure to result in more shares and more comments.

On my last blog, my two most popular posts were:

  • one that outlined a five-step process for ridding yourself of Microsoft products
  • another that told business owners to stop focusing and used examples from some big companies like Apple and Google to support the idea—an suggestion that’s against most of what you read about business these days.

These posts expressed an opinion and were in some way a bit controversial, and that, no doubt, is why they were the most popular.

You can even use the title to drip in a bit of controversy. “Are you wasting time guest posting?” suggests that guest posting can be a waste of time, which is controversial. “5 guest posting tips” wouldn’t have the same appeal.

My post on Think Traffic explained 12 traffic strategies, and the one that converted the best for me was a Twitter auto-follow strategy that some readers weren’t too keen on. But you have to go back 11 posts on Think Traffic to find one that was shared more than mine, and the comments thread was also very active.

If you can be just a little bit controversial, your post becomes interesting, and content needs to be interesting to have an impact.

So are you wasting time guest posting?

I’ve talked about some of my best and worst guest posts in this article, and now I’d love to hear from you. Have you wasted time on unsuccessful guest posts? And if so, what did you learn to turn it around for future posts?

Dan Norris is the founder of Web Control Room a free tool that gives bloggers a simple report on the performance of their site. The app talks to popular services used by bloggers (Feedburner, Aweber, PayPal, Analytics etc) and simplifies the information into a 1 page live report available via the web or mobile.

How to Improve Workflow in a Multi-Author WordPress Blog

This guest post is by Syed Balkhi of WPBeginner.

Running a multi-author blog can become a hassle, especially if you do not have a dedicated content manager for your site.Having run several multi-author blogs myself, I understand the issues you face and decisions you have to make.

If you’re running a multi-author blog, you may have asked yourself questions like, should I give the writer access to my WordPress dashboard? Is it secure? How do I monitor their activities to see they aren’t messing up my website? How do I improve my workflow?

In this article, I will share my personal experience in managing a collaborative WordPress site safely and effectively.

The “t” in “team” is also for “trust”

If you want to improve your workflow, then you will have to give your writers access to your WordPress dashboard. Otherwise, you will find yourself copying and pasting a lot of elements from a Word Document into your WordPress dashboard, attaching images, adding styling elements, and so on.

Fortunately, WordPress comes with numerous user roles with various permission levels.

user capability

If you look at the charts above, the two permission levels that make the most sense for multi-author blogs are Contributor and Author.

The biggest issue with Contributors is that they can’t attach images because they do not have the ability to upload files. Since you want your authors to have the ability to upload and attach images to their articles, you will want to give them Author-level permissions.

The big issue with that is that it gives them the ability to publish posts, delete posts, edit published posts, and so on. While I trust all of my authors, I don’t want things to go live without going through an editorial review. So I don’t want them to have this capability.

The good thing about WordPress is that there is a plugin for just about everything. You can use a popular plugin called Members to modify the capabilities of the Author role. Once you install the plugin, go to Users > Roles and modify the Author role. Your final permissions settings should look something like this:

The roles editor

As you notice, the only abilities we’ve given Authors here are editing posts, reading posts, and uploading files.

Security and monitoring

In the past, I have seen hackers trying brute force attacks through the login page. Because each author’s URL contains their username, they only have to guess the password for an author to get access to your site. What’s worse is if your author has used the same password elsewhere, and the hacker knows this.

To prevent this kind of attack, the first thing you need to do is to limit the number of failed login attempts. This means that after three failed login attempts, the user will be locked out.

The second thing you need to do is make sure that you use the plugin Force Strong Passwords. To monitor users’ activity, you can use plugins like Audit Trail or ThreeWP Activity Monitor.

Last, but certainly not least, make sure that you have a strong WordPress backup solution in place. Of course there are other security measures you can take to protect your site in other ways, but these are the ones that are specific to multi-author blogs.

Improving your workflow

A good editorial workflow can make things a lot easier. The key to a good workflow is communication. I use a plugin called Edit Flow to make things easy for me.

The first step is to define the stages of your workflow. My workflow looks like this:

  • Draft: default auto-saved posts, or any un-assigned posts
  • Pitch: when an author pitches a post idea
  • Assigned: the editor or admin assigns the post idea to a specific author
  • In progress: the author puts the article in this mode so everyone knows that someone is working on it
  • Pending review: once the author finishes the post, they submit it for an editorial review.
  • Ready to publish: once the editorial review is complete, we make the post Ready to publish. From there, I or another admin can take a look at it and schedule it for publication.

This workflow makes the process really easy, especially when we have a lot of writers. This plugin comes with default statuses, but you can always add your custom post statuses.

The best part is that you can sort posts by the custom status. Changing the status is extremely simple.

Custom status

You can also use the Edit Flow plugin to communicate with the author from within your dashboard. This makes the communication part really easy, and prevents you juggling through emails. Also, when assigning posts to a specific author, you can set deadlines in the Editorial Meta Data option.

The plugin also gives you a convenient month-by-month calendar-view of posts. This lets you know if you have a post scheduled for a specific day or not.

Calendar view

A private area just for contributors

Over time I have learned that I don’t have to do everything myself. I can assign tasks to trusted folks in my team. The best way to establish this trust and find out who is the right person for the job is by judging their interest level. Setting up a private area just for your team members can help you determine that.

I recommend that you set up a site with P2 theme and invite your team members and authors there. Password-protect the site, so only logged-in users can see the content. And when an author stands out in this environment, you can promote them to an Editor or another position within your business.

What’s your workflow process? I’d love to hear about it in the comments. Feel free to share your tips and tricks for multi-author blogging, too.

Syed Balkhi is the founder of WPBeginner, the largest unofficial WordPress resource site that offers free WordPress videos for beginners as well as comprehensive guides like choosing the best WordPress hosting, speeding up WordPress, and many more how-to’s.

We’re Spending the Week On Your Blog!

It’s Monday—the start of a new week on your blog—and I wonder what challenges you’re facing.

Woman_writing_in_the_agenda

Image courtesy stock.xchng user Jan Willem Geertsma

If you’ve neglected your RSS or social media feeds over the weekend, you’ll likely find plenty of good advice there—advice that you feel you really should try out if you want your blog to be its best.

But before you become overwhelmed by all the things on your weekly To-Do list, let me tell you what we have planned for the week ahead.

This week, we’re focusing not on promotion or social networking or reaching the right readers or affiliate programs or SEO.

We’re focusing on you and your blog. Entirely.

A week on your blog

Imagine if you could put aside all the other, external things you usually do to keep your blog humming along for a whole week.

Imagine if you could instead spend the next five days really honing your approach to blog design, content, and your own productivity.

If you’re anything like me, you rarely spend this much time focused exclusively on your own online presence. I know I normally slot the tasks of content and design around other things, mainly to do with product development, reader engagement, and promotion.

While I don’t think any of these elements exists in a vacuum—they all interplay thought our blogs and our lives as bloggers—I do feel that sometimes it’s good to take a break and really home in on our blogs themselves.

Stepping back

Blogs evolve over time. Each day we learn new ideas to try, and we want to see what the produce.

But ongoing blog tweaks can be a curse as well as an aid. If we never step back, the tweaks we make to our designs, our interfaces, our content, our structure, and our brands overall can slowly erode the sharp focus we began with. That can be more than unfortunate—that can undermine your ability to maintain and grow reader loyalty.

So if you’ve spent the past months in the trenches, head down, backside up, working hard at a tactical level, then this week’s posts will hopefully help you step back and look critically at some key elements of your blog.

We’ll have posts on landing pages and logos, on voice and audience, and on making the most of the time you dedicate to your blog. We’ll mix writing and design tips with productivity advice.

The aim? To help you focus on the thing that matters most—the thing that keeps you attracting readers, converting subscribers, and selling products: your blog itself. And to help you take stock of where you’re at, and where you can improve to make your brand more coherent and powerful.

We’ll kick off later today with a post by the Web Marketing Ninja which is designed to help those with bigger blogs whose growth has stalled. He’ll show you how to look closely at your online presence and face up to the tough questions: why has your blog stalled, and what do you need to do to get it going again?

Before we get to that post, I’d love to hear about the challenges you’re facing in building an online presence on your blog. Share them with us in the comments.

What Is Cyber Liability, and Why Should You Care?

This guest post is by Matt Setter of MaltBlue.com.

Recently, here on Problogger, I was discussing the topic of privacy breach notification and how it affects us as bloggers. The article looked at the protection of our site’s information and the potential impact that the loss of that information may have on the privacy of our readers and customers.

Today, I want to look at another, closely related, topic—cyber liability. The internet is an amazing medium, providing us an enormous amount of flexibility and affording us nearly the same opportunity as an organisation ten to 100 times our size. But unlike the days of old, the internet landscape is not what it once was.

Whereas in days gone by, we could pretty much write anything, anytime, for any reason, and either no one cared, or if there was a concern, the legal jurisdiction we fell in to was largely undefined or near-impossible to enforce. Fast-forward to 2012 and the law’s rapidly catching up, if it hasn’t already caught up.

Now I’m not saying for a moment that we are or should be careless, callous or unthoughtful individuals inconsiderate and unprofessional in our conduct. Quite the opposite: we’re professional in our approach, conduct, content, and more.

But from time to time, mistakes happen. There are people around who, potentially, don’t share our level of professionalism or may, justifiably, feel that we’ve wronged them.

However, as in my previous article on privacy breach notification, I don’t want to unnecessarily alarm you about these issues. I just want to take a minute or two to let you know about cyber liability, specifically about one key component of it, the infringement of intellectual property and discuss:

  • what it is
  • how it may affect you
  • what you can do about it, if you believe you may be at risk.

What is it?

The intellectual property aspect of cyber liability is quite similar to other fields, such as in computer software, academic papers, books, magazines, and other works. If we infringe on someone’s copyright or trademark, then we run the risk of having action taken against us by the other party to right what they perceive as a wrong.

If we, intentionally or otherwise, use a certain proportion of someone’s work as the basis for our own, we stand the risk that the aggrieved party may seek to take action against us.

Consider the following examples:

  • In 1990 music artist Vanilla Ice was sued for copyright infringement over his track “Under Pressure”, by Queen and David Bowie. The track appeared on his album “To the Extreme” but didn’t give credit to the original artists, nor did he seek their permission.
  • The Wall Street Journal reports that in 2008 blogger Shellee Hale was sued for remarks she made in forums relating to a software company. The article goes on to say that by 2007, 106 lawsuits had been brought against bloggers, up from 12 in 2003.
  • Lotus corporation claimed, in the case of Lotus Development Corporation v. Borland International Inc., that “the structure of the menus by Borland was copyrighted by Lotus.”
  • Oracle is currently suing Google for $1 billion dollars in damages, alleging copyright infringement over the Java programming language, which Oracle acquired when by bought Sun Microsystems in 2010.

How can it affect you?

In this modern day and age, we’re no long just bloggers—we’re also publishers. And as such, we increasingly have some of the same legal exposures and responsibilities as more traditional publishers.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. A number of countries, including the United States and Australia have what are referred to as “shield laws,” and these are increasingly being extended to include new media workers, such as bloggers.

Those living in countries such as the United Kingdom and other European nations are also, potentially, covered under the European Convention of Human Rights.

According to Out-Law.com, a shield law:

protects “publisher, editor, reporter, or other person connected with or employed upon a newspaper, magazine, or other periodical publication, or by a press association or wire service” and a “radio or television news reporter or other person connected with or employed by a radio or television station.”

However, checking your facts before you seek to be covered by one of these laws is critical, as Montana blogger Crystal Cox found out the hard way. She was sued by Obsidian Finance Group for $2.5 million and tried to invoke shield law protection.

However, during the hearing, the judge ruled that she was not covered by them because she lacked:

  1. any education in journalism
  2. any credentials or proof of any affiliation with any recognized news entity
  3. proof of adherence to journalistic standards such as editing, fact-checking, or disclosures of conflicts of interest
  4. keeping notes of conversations and interviews conducted
  5. mutual understanding or agreement of confidentiality between the defendant and his/her sources
  6. creation of an independent product rather than assembling writings and postings of others, or
  7. contacting ‘the other side’ to get both sides of a story.”

This goes to show is that although shield laws exist and appear to be becoming increasingly universal in their protection of bloggers and new media workers, they’re not universal yet. What’s more, they’re not a “get out of jail free” pass, nor do they give us carte blanche to say whatever we want.

It pays to double-check the laws before attempting to use them.

What can you do about it?

To keep it simple, ask yourself the following questions and write down your answers to them:

  • Has what we’ve published infringed someone’s copyright?
  • Has what we’ve published infringed someone’s trademark?
  • Have we defamed someone?
  • Have we invaded someone’s privacy?
  • Have we misused confidential information?
  • Has someone in our forums posted material that does one or more of these things?
  • Has one of our members or staff made derogatory comments about a person or organisation?

Did you answer yes to any one of those questions? If you have, then it’s a good idea that you take action immediately about it so that you don’t fall foul of cyber liability laws. If you’re uncertain or would like professional advice, always remember to consult a legal expert.

Should we feel the need to do so, we can also take out insurance cover against legal action relating to cyber liability. An increasing number of insurers who will do this for us, including QBE and Trafalgar International.

However, looking at the list above, you can see that with a healthy amount of common sense and a professional editing process, we should have nothing to worry about.

Before anything gets published, bloggers should to continue to ensure that:

  • our content’s been checked to ensure that we haven’t plagiarised or wholly copied anyone’s work
  • if we make statements, we can and have backed them up
  • if we’ve used content, we’ve sought relevant permission to do so and cited its original sources
  • we have a fair usage policy in place for commenting on posts and participating in our forums, and that it’s enforced
  • even if we’re cheeky and attention-grabbing in the content of our sites, we’re not crossing the line and being derogatory or defamatory of anyone or organisation.

You could sum all this up in two words: being professional. If we’re professional and use common sense, I don’t see that we’ll have any serious problems. However, if you’re not sure, or you just want to double-check, take the time to seek professional advice.

Summing up

While there’s always been, and likely will continue to be, a low barrier to entry for online publishing, that doesn’t mean that we can disregard normal, professional, and civilised etiquette.

We need to ensure that when we’re publishing content online, we’re keeping a professional tone, especially as the web becomes increasingly intertwined in all aspects of our daily lives.

Have you ever been on the receiving end of threats of litigation regarding your blog? Do you often see sites infringing content—even your content? Share your experiences with us in the comments.

Matthew Setter is a freelance writer, technical editor and proofreader. His mission is to help businesses present their online message in an engaging and compelling way so they’re noticed and remembered.

Protect Your Content from Being Copied in 3 Steps

This guest post is by Abhishek of Budding Geek.

Content scraping still haunts the entire blogosphere. No matter how hard you try to defend your creation, content thieves will always find a way to steal it!

It really feels terrible to find exact copies of your original work distributed all over the internet, often without any credit or link back to your blog as the source. The most frustrating part is when you find the copied content outranking your own blog in the search engines.

How can someone copy content from your blog?

Copycats can steal your content in a number of ways, but there are two key techniques:

  1. by directly copying text and images from your published post and re-publishing the content on the spammer’s blog (or splog!)
  2. by scraping your RSS feed. The truth is, this form of plagiarism is the most difficult to tackle.

Since plagiarism is impossible to obliterate, we need to safeguard our blogs from these vulnerabilities in such a way that it becomes at least extremely difficult for the content thief to plagiarize our content.

Protect your blog content

There are a few different ways you can protect your blog content.

1. Disable text selection on your blog

This is the first and most essential step to discourage direct copying of your content.

Users of the Blogger platform can disable text selection from their blogs by manually installing some JavaScript code before the closing <head> tag in the HTML of their blog.

WordPress users can add this feature by installing the wpcopyprotect plugin.

2. Watermark your images

It’s important to watermark all the original images you’ve created for use on your blog. A watermark proves that you are the owner of the copyright to all those images. Moreover, watermarks discourage others from using your photos and illustrations on their blog, since they’d have your blog’s name all over theirs!

Although there are many watermarking utilities available on the internet, I generally prefer to use Windows Live Writer’s inbuilt watermark plugin. Note that if you’re using photos from any other outside source on the web (like Flickr or Picasa), it’s up to you to take a notice of their licenses before reusing them—otherwise you might find yourself guilty of ripping someone else’s content!

3. Manage your RSS feeds

A few months ago, I encountered a terrible content scraper who, I think, was using content scraping software and publishing my posts under several different permalinks. Sounds scary, right? This software basically scans your main content and republishes your posts with the main keywords replaced by synonyms. Isn’t that irritating?

These auto-publishing sploggers target the RSS feed of your blog, where they scrape your creation in just a matter of seconds! In order to stop such exploitation you should either allow partial/short RSS feeds (so that the scraping software doesn’t take all of your content) or add a custom feed signature with a copyright notice in the feed footer section of your blog, like this:

© 2012, All Rights Reserved ¦ yourblog.com

Note that, like a waternark on an image, this note won’t prevent your content from being taken—but when it’s reproduced on another site, readers will see that the content is being used illegally.

Users of the Blogger platform can add a custom feed signature by navigating to Other settings for your blog, then in the Site Feed section, add the following feed signature in the post feed footer:

<p> © copyright 2012 – All rights reserved </p>
<a href=”
http://www.yourblogaddress.com“>Your Blog</a>

For the WordPress platform, I stumbled upon this excellent free plugin that adds a custom signature in the feed footer.

These tips can definitely help you to reduce plagiarism of your content. But what other techniques have you tried? Share them with us in the comments.

Abhishek is a part time blogger from Delhi who loves to write unique and interesting tech tips on a variety of topics like blogging, making money online, SEO, internet marketing and gadgets. Apart from that he is a die heart android fan and so don’t be surprised if you find loads of android tips on his budding blog!

How I’m Using Google+ to Create Content and Collaborative Opportunities on my Blogs

Google Plus has been a medium I’ve had a fascination with since Day 1, but it’s taken me a while to work out how to actually use it effectively in my blogging.

I’ve tried a variety of things, including using it as a blog of sorts (making longer posts), for status updates (what I’m doing), as a pseudo-RSS feed (sharing links to posts I’ve written on my blog), looking for great content that others are sharing to reshare, and much more.

But to be honest, I’ve still not found it to “click” with me… All of this work has been good and benefited what I do, but I’ve not felt I’m really using it as effectively as I could be. That was until last week, when I began to realize that sitting right in front of me was an opportunity that I’d not seen before.

The opportunity was not to drive traffic to content on my blog: it was an opportunity to actually help create content for my blog.

Each day as I sit down to G+ I see the most amazing conversations happening. Each day I see ideas, images, and information being shared by remarkable people. G+ is being used by innovative people who are pushing the boundaries.

As an example of this, recently I was marvelling at the beautiful photography of +Elena Kalis on G+. I was completely sucked into her beautiful images and it struck me that I had an opportunity to connect with her and to even shoot her a message. I did, and cheekily asked if she’d be open to being interviewed by me for +Digital Photography School. She agreed and we published that interview a couple of weeks back.

Then, the other day, I was watching a hangout run by +Trey Ratcliff. It was one of his weekly variety hours, and he had his usual array of guests—people who were clever, funny, and creative. Some of them were reasonably well-known, while others were not (but should have been). All were active on G+.

As I sat there watching the conversation, it occurred to me that I was watching a group of five or six potential guest posters for my photography blog. They were people who knew what they were talking about, who could communicate, and who were obviously trying to get their names out there.

I immediately decided to use G+ to send a message to one of them (+Todd Sisson) asking if he’d consider writing a guest post for me. An hour or so later he’d agreed and we’d decided upon a topic. We published that post soon after.

I also shot another message to two other panelists in that hangout that day. One didn’t reply, but I’m now talking about topics for a guest post with the other.

Over the last two weeks I’ve reached out to around ten people on G+, and five are working with me to create content for dPS as guest posters or interviewees. Another just submitted his second post and is keen to contribute regularly. Yet another is talking to us about a potential ebook collaboration.

All of this activity has taken place in private messages on G+. While this could probably be achieved on Twitter or Facebook, the freedom to write more than 140 characters—or to not have to be “friends” to message someone—is certainly a big plus on G+.

While there are many benefits of using G+ to drive traffic, deepen reader interaction, build your profile, and so on, I’ve been pleasantly surprised in the last few weeks by how wonderful a place it has been to build collaborative opportunities and generate content.

How are you using G+, other than to drive traffic to your blog? I’d love to hear about your strategies in the comments.