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How to Use Facebook to Promote Your Blog

In this guest post, Steve Schwartz, a professional LSAT tutor, discusses how he has used Facebook to promote his Ace the LSAT blog and create a community of readers.

Your blog’s readers probably have Facebook profiles already, and making your own Facebook profile is easy enough. Aside from allowing you to create a profile and connect with your friends from elementary school, Facebook has several features that can connect your blog readers and help you find new ones.

Create a Facebook Group

Your readers have a common interest – your blog’s subject. My readers are preparing for the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT). Maybe yours are interested in knitting, running, or making money online. Just as they have subscribed to your blog, they will join your Facebook group.

At the beginning of December 2008, I created the 2009 LSAT Study / Discussion Facebook Group. Someone else had created a 2008 LSAT Group, and I wanted to be the person to create the 2009 group, so I started early. When someone is searching Facebook for an LSAT group to join this year, they’ll see my group has over 100 members, but someone else’s group on the same topic only has 3, guess which group they’ll join.

Note: I didn’t make the group about my blog directly – I made it broader. Why? So people searching on Facebook for LSAT-related groups would feel welcome to join. If they thought it was limited to my blog’s readers, the prospective member might not even visit the group page, which means he/she would never see the link to my blog.

So I created a group and placed a prominent link to my blog on the top, but it only had one member – me. Not very impressive, right? I didn’t want my readers to think my group and blog were unpopular, so I immediately invited all of my Facebook friends to join the group. Some of my Facebook friends were already planning to take the LSAT, so inviting them to join my new Facebook group had two additional benefits:

1. It informed them of my blog if they didn’t know about it already.

2. Facebook’s news feed told all their friends, making the group a viral marketing mechanism for the blog..

How Readers Use the Facebook Group

Of course, the Facebook group is more than a viral marketing mechanism too. It helps your readers to connect with each other in a way comments don’t. While comments are generally responses to your postings, Facebook’s discussion boards allow direct interaction between readers. My readers have used the Facebook group to find LSAT study partners and form study groups by posting messages on the discussion board and the Wall. How did I tell my readers about the Facebook Group? I posted a link to it on the side of my blog, and I made a brief blog post about it for those who hadn’t noticed the link.

Marketing Your Facebook Group, and Your Blog, in Other Facebook Groups

Search Facebook for groups on your topic and related ones. In each of these groups, you can post a message on the group Wall or discussion board, or you can use the Post a Link feature to notify the group’s members of your group and your blog. Warning: don’t do all three in the same group at the same time – it’s overkill and may get you banned from the group. By promoting your Facebook group at first, instead of promoting your blog, you decrease the likelihood that the group administrator will remove your message.

After doing all of this, Facebook became one of my biggest sources of traffic, and I don’t even have to do much to keep the Facebook traffic coming. In order to get more readers, you need to have a presence where they are. For me and for many bloggers these days, our present and future readers spend their time in social networking sites.

What about you? Have you used Facebook or other social networking sites to promote your blog? Have you found it to be effective?

Bio: Steve Schwartz is a professional LSAT tutor living in New York City. He updates his Ace the LSAT blog every week with free LSAT tips and tricks.

Increase the Effectiveness of Your Next Guest Post with a Landing Page

This is a guest post from Jade Craven from the Prolific Writer.

Are you using guest posting as a blog marketing strategy? Hook new readers in with a guest post landing page.

What is a guest post landing page?

A guest post landing page is a specific page in your blog that is highly targeted to the intended audience. Here, it’s the readership of a particular blog. Guest posts are a brilliant opportunity for additional traffic and you can capture those readers by offering the content that is relevant to them.

First, you need to decide on the type of landing page you want.

There are three types of guest post landing pages:

1. Blog specific

This is when you create a landing page based on just the one blog. You can even create a different landing page per guest post on that blog. These types of guest pages work best when the blog has a larger readership or is on a very niche topic.

2. Niche specific

This is when the landing page is targeted to a particular niche or sub niche. An example is collating all your posts on e-books, or social media. This is a really effective landing page and is one that requires the least work.

3. Audience specific:

This is the landing page that is targeted at audiences outside of your main niche. Many bloggers recommend blogging outside of your niche to learn more. This can be really effective for capturing the traffic outside of your main readership. This works best if your content is applicable to other audiences.

Once you have decided on your type of landing page, you can then focus on targeting it to that audience.

3 Steps to creating a killer landing page.

Step one: Explain in less than two sentences how your blog can help them.

This is your elevator pitch – a chance to influence how the readers will interact with your site. This is the perfect opportunity to provide a call for action regarding subscriptions. Explain how subscribing to your content would help them. Hint towards the content you will be providing in the future. Mention alternate forms of subscription like twitter or a newsletter.

Don’t be too heavy on self promotion. Quality blog posts are an advertisement in themselves. Your goal is to give them reason to delve into your best content.

Step Two: Link to the 5-12 posts that are highly targeted to that audience.

This is your opportunity to really hook the reader in. You have a couple of choices:

  • Posts that are about the blogger.
  • Personal case studies that the readers would be interested in
  • Guest posts on blogs with a similar readership.

Step Three: Provide a small pitch at the bottom.

In the first step, you explained why the readers should interact with your content. In the second, you encouraged them to interact with your best content. This is the time to capture their interest with a related product or service.

If possible, offer something for free. If you are expecting a large rush of traffic, offer something that is exclusive to that audience. Make those readers want to click on your byline when they see your name elsewhere.

Struggling for ideas?

  • Link to a free report.
  • Mention your freelancing services.
  • Show off your other blogging projects.
  • If your landing page is blog specific, link to a product from the hosts blog.

By now you should have submitted your post and got your landing page ready. The final task is to decide how you want to direct the readers to your landing page.

There are two ways to draw attention to the page:

Referrer plugin.

This is a plugin that that identifies where your readers came from and provide a welcome message catered to that audience.

Using such a plugin allows the readers to see you other content while giving them to opportunity to see your targeted posts. I would use this if I linked to a specific article on my blog, or for landing pages that are niche/audience specific. This gives the reader the choice in how they interact with your blog. If you choose this method, make sure to give the reader a reason to click through to your landing page.

Link within the post

This is the best way to really capture the traffic is to provide a link from within the post. I link to it in both the byline and concluding text. Try to provide a

Have you used a guest post landing page? Is there anything else you would like to see on one? Let the readers know in the comments below.

If you want to see a guest post landing page in action, check out Jade’s blog at The Prolific Writer. She is currently seeking guest post opportunities and would love to hear from you.

The Essential Guide to Growing Your Blog on Minimal Time

This is a guest post from Leo Babauta of Zen Habits, author of the new best-selling book, The Power of Less.

If you’re like most bloggers, you probably want to grow your readership as quickly as possible, but don’t have much time.

Unfortunately, blogging usually takes a lot of time — writing blog posts takes up a fraction of most bloggers’ time, as they also check their stats and earning multiple times a day, customize their blog design, try out new blog ad systems, comment on many different blogs, spend a lot of time doing email, and so on.

If you let it, blogging can become two full-time jobs. But get this: you can grow your blog quickly on very minimal time, by setting limits and focusing on the essentials.

I’m just one example: I grew Zen Habits into a Top 100 blog within its first year even though I was working a full-time job and doing free-lance writing on the side — giving me only about an hour a day to work on my blog, total. I probably could have spent more time blogging by working in the evenings or on weekends, but I have a family that’s more important to me than blogging.

So how did I grow Zen Habits so quickly on so little time? Well, I figured out through experimentation what grows a blog the quickest, and I learned to focus my time on those things. And guess what? Checking your blog stats and earnings — even though it’s the thing than many bloggers do most throughout the day — doesn’t really grow your blog, at all. What does? More on that below.

Limits

The key to growing your blog with minimal time investment is to set limits on how much time you’ll spend blogging. As I said, blogging can easily expand to fill your entire day, if you let it. In fact, whatever time you allocate to blogging is the time that blogging will take.

So limit your time to something manageable … for me that was 1 hour a day, for others it might be two hours or even three, and for still others it might only be 30 minutes. It really depends on how much time you have. Don’t spend less than 30 minutes on blogging, though, if you’re really serious about it. I’d say an hour to two is ideal. Any more than that and you’re not really setting limits.

So what happens if you set a limit of say, 1 hour? You could waste that hour by doing fruitless tasks, and then your blog will get nowhere. But if you’re smart, you’ll focus on the key tasks that will really help your blog, and nothing else. By setting limits, you’ll force yourself to choose only the most essential tasks.

If you gave yourself 4 hours a day, you could do a lot of tasks, but maybe only 1 out of 4 of those tasks would really grow your blog. If you gave yourself 1 hour a day, you’d have to eliminate 3 out of 4 of those tasks to fit within the time limit, and (again, if you’re smart), you’ll choose the most effective tasks.

Set a timer each day and work within the time limit. And while you’re doing so, be sure to do the most effective tasks first, and if you have time left, go to the next most effective tasks, and so on.

Essentials

So what are the most effective tasks for growing your blog? It depends on your blog, your goals, your niche, your target audience, and other such factors, but below I’ll share the things that work best for me. Other top bloggers might have different findings.

Experiment to find your essential tasks, and once you’ve found them, focus on them completely. Here are my essential tasks for growing a blog:

1. Writing outstanding articles. This is the No. 1 essential, by far. If you only do one thing each day, this is it. A great post might take more than an hour — that’s OK, do half of it today and half tomorrow. The main reason people come to your blog, and the main reason they’ll keep coming back or subscribe, is because your content is amazingly useful (or interesting, or both). So focus on creating those posts they’ll really want to read. You should be coming out with outstanding posts, with catchy titles/headlines, at least once a week, and probably 2-5 times a week (I am for 4 these days but had 5-6 in my early days).

What is a useful post? Well, this post is an example, I hope — it contains a lot of valuable info and tips on something that people really want to do. Check out Zen Habits for more examples — I try to make almost every post an outstanding one.

2. Linking, and link-bait. This could fall under the same category as the above tip, but sometimes it gets overlooked. Linking to other blogs is a great way to help out your fellow bloggers, get them to notice you, and build up some link karma. You could do it with a daily or weekly links post, but too many of those can get tiring for readers, so I recommend you keep it to weekly at most. Instead, link to other blogs from within your useful posts, and sometimes you might consider doing “linkbait”-type posts where you do a really useful post that links to a lot of other bloggers — for example, my “Top 50 Producitivity blogs” post that I did more than a year ago … a lot of bloggers appreciated being in that post, and just as I sent a lot of traffic their way, they sent some back. Everyone wins.

3. Guest posts. If you’re not writing guest posts every week or two, on blogs that are bigger than yours (even just a little bigger is good, but the bigger the better), then you’re not really trying to promote your blog. In my early days, I did 2-3 guest posts a week on other blogs, and as a result I was everywhere. It’s the best way to promote your blog on other blogs, because you’re showing the other blog’s readers how good you are. Be sure to write your absolute best whenever you do a guest post.

4. Commenting. First, be sure to read through the comments on your blog and respond if you can — this could take just 10 minutes if you do it quickly. Second, spend another 10 minutes if you have the time to comment on other blogs — and don’t just spam them, but actually say something relevant, useful and interesting. It helps you get noticed, and helps you become a part of the network of blogs (especially in your niche).

5. Email and networking. It’s important to respond to reader email, and to network with other bloggers through email, IM, Twitter, etc. Networking helps you to grow, definitely, but if you let them, these connectivity tools can overwhelm your day. So put them last, and limit them if you can. If your time is limited, just do the emails you can process in 10 minutes. Increase that to 20-30 minutes if you have more time, but don’t spend hours on these tools.

Minimize Non-essentials

Just as it’s important to focus on the essentials, it’s crucial that you limit and try to eliminate the non-essentials as much as possible. While you have to work on these things a little, now and then, don’t let them fill your allocated blog time.

1. Blog stats and earnings
. Sure, I like to check my stats daily — but only once a day, and only for a minute or two to make sure everything’s OK. In the early days I became a little obsessive about checking blog stats and earnings, but after a little while I figured out that it wasn’t a smart use of my time. Blog earnings (from ad networks such as Google Adsense) are fun to look at, but if you’re like most blogs you won’t make a lot of money in the early days, until you have a lot of readers. So focus instead on growing the readers, and worry about the earnings later.

2. Ad networks. Many bloggers get excited about earning a side income (or even a main income) from their blog and throw every ad network possible on their blog — in fact, the ads often overwhelm the content. But that’s counterproductive — readers don’t go to a blog to read the ads, and if there are too many ads, the readers might leave or unsubscribe, never to come back. Instead, consider putting no ads, or as few as possible, in your early days … you’ll miss out on very little in terms of earnings, and you’ll probably grow even faster as a result. At any rate, fiddling with ad networks is very rarely worth your time — it does nothing to grow your blog.

3. Blog design. A good blog design can definitely help grow your blog — if it’s clean, uncluttered, attractive, and professional-looking, I think a lot of readers will be more likely to stick around. But spending a lot of time on your design when you could be writing great posts is not a smart use of your time. Instead, pick a clean, uncluttered theme, customize it as needed, and leave it alone. Maybe once in awhile you can remove a little clutter to make things more attractive, but most of the time. leave it alone.

4. Blog memes. As far as I can remember, I’ve only participated in one blog meme — those things where bloggers answer the same 5 questions (or whatever) and “tag” other bloggers to do the same. That’s not because I’m stuck up, or think these memes aren’t fun. They are fun. But they’re rarely of much interest to your readers, as they’re not that useful. Sure, they like to read a little about you, but too often and you’re just stroking your ego. Stay away from these memes if you’re looking to maximize your time.

5. Reading lots of other blogs. Don’t get me wrong — you have to read other blogs, especially in your niche, to stay on top of things. But if your time is limited, your reading time should be limited too. Reading 50 blogs instead of 10 doesn’t grow your blog any more.

6. Plugins and widgets. WordPress plugins and widgets, while fun to play with, don’t grow your blog very much, if at all. Don’t mess around with them too much. Focus on content.

7. Social media. Some bloggers spend a LOT of time on Digg, StumbleUpon, and other such social media. And while it can help tremendously to have a popular post on one of these social media, spending time on them isn’t the best investment of your time. Very, very few bloggers ever become a top user on these sites — it’s really hard, and worse yet, it takes a lot of time. A better use of your time is to write a Digg-worthy post, or a post that will spread like wildfire on StumbleUpon or Delicious — not because you’re friends with lots of the users, but because it’s insanely useful, interesting, controversial, or what have you.

Focus

Even if you’ve set limits and identified the essential and non-essential tasks, it’s easy to get distracted. It’s important that you learn to clear away distractions, such as email, Twitter, IM, social sites and even general Internet browsing, so that you can focus on the important tasks.

If you look at the essential tasks that I listed above, most of them are writing — which means you could do them with the browser closed, in a word processor or text editor (this post is being written in TextEdit, for example). This really helps you to clear away distractions and focus.

Once you’re done with the writing, you can connect and comment and do email, but even then try to stay away from the distractions until you’re done. Then if you have spare time, feel free to go wild.

Read more from Leo Babauta in his new best-selling book, The Power of Less: The Art of Limiting Yourself to the Essentials … in Business and in Life.

When Being the Number 1 Blog in Your Niche is Not Enough

“I’m the number 1 blog in my niche but I’m not getting much traffic – do you have any words of advice?”

This question hit my inbox earlier today and I thought I’d repost part of my reply here as I think it could be relevant to more than the blogger concerned. Here’s most of my response (I’ve removed reference to the blog concerned as I don’t have permission from the blogger to identify it):

Congratulations on the success you’ve had with your blog. It is great that you’ve hung in there for two years now with the blog and grown it as much as you have. It sounds like you’ve worked hard to find your voice, build a core community and establish some profile and credibility in your niche.

One thought that came to mind regarding your question was that perhaps you need to widen your sites a little. While it does seem that you’re the number 1 blog in your niche (I can’t find any on your topic on Technorati with a ranking as high as yours) you are certainly not the number 1 site on the internet on your topic.

Many bloggers only see their competition as other blogs on their topic and in doing so ignore other types of websites in their niche. For example when I search on Google for your topic I find 3 forums, one social media site and a couple of other static/informational websites that not only rank higher in Google for your keywords but which seem to do significantly more traffic than your blog (according to Alexa and Compete’s stats).

I don’t say this to discourage you but in the hope that in widening your sites about your ‘competition’ that you’ll be driven on to think bigger and improve your blog.

Some practical words of advice for you are to see what opportunities there are to interact in these other websites in your niche. I know you are active in commenting on and networking with other blogs in your niche but what about getting involved in the forums, contacting the other website owners and getting active in the social networking site?

You’ve grown your blog to the point you have partly by the networking and promotion you’ve done within the blogging community – but think broader and you might just find yourself not only being the number 1 blog on your topic but being the number 1 website of all types.

Ten Ways to Keep Technology Savvy Readers Engaged and Coming Back for More

Writing technology, science and programming blogs, or simply writing for technology savvy readers can have unique challenges. They are often more critical, not as loyal to a single blog source, and are difficult to keep engaged. The ten tips I share here should help attract this finicky audience, and keep them coming back for more.

1. Write a Timeless Topic in Sync With Modern Technology

Mind mapping is a great exercise (read more on Mind Mapping on this previous ProBlogger post). Write a central key word on a piece of paper, circle it, and then start branching out interrelated ideas from there. You will find quickly that if you start with the word technology, there is a lot to discover. Not all key phrases and ideas will immediately appear to be related, but as you step back for a little introspection, some interesting topics should begin to surface.

One article I wrote that continues to drive traffic is interview questions for programmers. At the time of the posting it received a mild response, but now that more folks in the technology sector are being put out of work, they are looking for any advantage they can get. Similar posts on updating resumes, cover letters, and general self-marketing tactics specifically geared toward science and technology job seekers are on the rise.

Tips on resume writing have been around for decades, but syncing them up with technology during a recession is what gives you a boost in popularity. Uncover those relationships that others might not recognize, and you will have a wealth of information to publish.

2. Find an Already Discovered Niche, and Give It Some Much Needed Attention

One of the most popular tips that bloggers give out is to find a niche that you would enjoy writing about that no else has discovered. I would argue, find a niche that has been discovered, and give it the attention it deserves from a unique perspective.

Technology, even as broad a spectrum as it is, receives a lot of coverage. This means that there is a high level of saturation, but there are also a lot of not-so-great posts floating around as well. These could be anything from product and service reviews, to coverage of green technology. How much have you heard about a green, renewable, sustainable energy source?

Too much to be sure. It could be though, that there are technology micro-niches that have yet to be filtered through to the mainstream. Try to draw conclusions from several other articles, and find the hidden sub- topics they are afraid to touch that you know your readers will appreciate.

3. Discover Your Reader’s Technology of Choice, and Milk It Dry

Your reader’s predilection for certain technologies will unveil itself over time. Did you ever stumble across a Web site that covers a lot of Microsoft, Adobe, or Apple hardware and software? You wonder why they refuse to move onto something new and exciting. There is a reason for that. Their readers want more, and keep coming back for more. So they keep giving it to them. This is actually not a bad thing.

Novel authors often talk about how their characters develop themselves, and how the story begins to take shape around unexpected behaviors. I used to wonder how that can be the case — they are the ones writing the story, not their characters! However, if you run a blog you will soon understand that this type of thing happens naturally. The technology is like a character, and you are merely making it the protagonist in the plot line.

This is where analytics can also be a key factor in how your writing evolves around specific topics. Dig deep for search key terms in order to get a better sense for what search engines consider your area of expertise. For an indicator of what your readers think, check out a social- bookmarking service like Delicious, and see what posts are being bookmarked.

4. Understand That the Technical Aptitude of Your Readership and the Technical Aptitude Required to Read Your Posts are Directly Proportional to Traffic

Even if you have the technical chops to write about it, the more complicated a topic is, the less likely you are to draw in grassroots readers. This was a hard lesson I had to learn when writing about programming techniques and technologies. I always get a greater response, and an increase in readership, when I write about topics that have a broader appeal. In other words, HTML and CSS tips do well. A tip on outputting MySQL query results to an XML file from the command prompt does not.

Of course, you can still tackle the tough stuff, but it is better done in chunks, or a series of posts. A steady buildup where you can educate readers along the way will be helpful because it teaches while informing. Keep in mind though that if you decide to get nitty-gritty, you risk shifting the audience focus. The expectations will then be much higher.

There are also occasions when it is acceptable to tackle the tough stuff, keeping the focus instead on the human interest element. When Wired News posted an article on Dan Kaminksy, a security expert who found a flaw in DNS, many hackers claimed the post was soft on the technology details. Yet, it was still a great read for a wider audience because it was an intriguing look into the underbelly of the Internet.

5. Play Referee in a Game of Dueling Technologies

Remember the old saying, any publicity is good publicity? Some bloggers feel the same way about readership. The attitude is that controversy sells, and so any controversy is good controversy. With technology savvy readers this can backfire. Entire camps are formed around brands, services and products, and being purposefully mean-spirited can ruin future opportunities to pull in new readers.

A better approach is to critically compare two technologies, making sure that one of them is your reader’s technology of choice. This way you can play referee through the community, allowing discussions to form without explicitly taking sides. These one-to-one comparisons are advantageous because they encourage comments, and they educate simultaneously.

Around the holiday season this is a great trick to use for product reviews. Used in conjunction with an affiliate relationship and a solid review system, you are generating a “sticky” revenue stream. Dueling technologies do the work, and you get income in return.

6. Do Not Always Be the First to Discover New Technology, but Always Be the Best At Reviewing It

Traditional media outlets have one rule to live by when it comes to getting the news — get it first, and get it fast. Some blogs covering technology conferences or a new product release take the same approach. Engadget, Gizmodo and TechCrunch all do that well. They are a tough act to follow, and have an army of authors posting up to a dozen times per day.

Being first on the scene is a dangerous game to play for those of us unable to manage such a schedule. There are alternatives. Instead of being first, take the extra time to write an in-depth analysis. Being constantly barraged with half-baked statements and high-level coverage will only engage technology savvy readers for so long. Get into the details and give your posts personal attention.

You can even write follow-ups, or have a guest author cover the same technology from a different viewpoint. Post both articles at the same time, and let your readers decide. Magazines have been doing that for years.

7. Be a Part of the Culture, Not a Sellout for “The Man”

Are you in management, or even middle-management within the technology sector? You have your work cut out for you when it comes to convincing readers you are a part of the solution, and not the problem. Technology savvy readers are cynics, and are typically cynical of corporate entities. That includes managers who are expected to toe the company line. Be willing to expect this reaction, and address it clearly.

Never do product, service or conference reviews for the company you work for unless you fully disclose it to your readers. Most people know that employees, especially managers, are required not to publically speak ill of their employer. This can have a negative affect on how your coverage is perceived, and can cause you to lose credibility.

On the other hand, if you can identify with co-workers, are tapped into the culture, and become known as a bastion of hope, then you can really generate a solid following. Not only do you have the expertise, but you have the position to back up your statements.

8. Stick To What You Know, and Research Like Mad What You Do Not

Never pretend to be an expert. However, a humble and exciting review of technology can still garner a good deal of traffic. Actually, posting a new-to-the-scene article is a great way to benefit from commentary by experienced technology professionals. Exploring old concepts and ideas with wonderment can help to alleviate some of the dry material your readers may have come across on other blogs.

The trick is to use that energy and excitement to explore in greater depth those technical questions you have been meaning to answer. Do not be afraid to use age-old journalism tactics to make it happen. Call up experts, even if they are friends and family, and get quotes and data. All bloggers writing on any topic should be willing to pound the pavement to get a great story.

You should also have a long list of well organized research bookmarks and even hard copy papers. Do not be content with Wikipedia, or else you will only be scratching the surface. Your readers deserve an author who is detail oriented.

9. Put Together a Technology Review Like You Would a How-to Manual

Paid technology reviews are easy to spot, and are referred to by some as a fine bit of navel-gazing. They are self-absorbing, and until you read a more honest review elsewhere, you are simply distracted for a short time. Automobile magazines in the US are well known for this, and are criticized for softening critiques of poor performing cars and trucks. If they are to post a no-holds-barred review, they risk being black-listed by manufacturers.

Try not to fall into the same trap. Write technology reviews like you are a customer who uses the product or service every day of your life. If you want to know if others feel as you do, or if you are glossing over trouble spots, check out the comments from readers on other blogs. Read The Consumerist to get a better understanding of how real people react to real problems with technology. Write from that perspective.

If you do get paid, or are compensated for the expenses involved with a review, be sure to fully disclose that fact. It will help to strengthen your credibility with readers.

10. Take Heart in Knowing That Technology Savvy Readers Are Cynics, but Form a Great Community

As I mentioned in the introduction, technology savvy readers tend to be critical, and are even a tad cynical. Do not be disheartened if an above average number are unsympathetic to your hard work and effort to write quality material. Be respectful in your response, though, and learn to glean from comments exactly what improvements can be made. Remember, you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.

This is the best way to learn what your audience is really after when reading about technology. Do they want to know more about the who’s who in the industries you cover? Do they want a barrage of alternate reference materials? Maybe they want the fine details and hard-science involved with the products you review? They might be inventors and entrepreneurs in need of information on being involved personally.

Find the time to answer these questions, and you will keep your readers engaged and coming back for more.

You’re Losing Subscribers, Here’s How to Get them Back

Today Glen Allsopp a Personal Development blogger at PluginID shares a great technique for capturing lost subscribers to your blog. You can subscribe to his blog here.

A few months ago, I was messing around in feedburner and noticed something pretty drastic, I was rapidly losing subscribers on a regular basis. I bet that you are losing subscribers too, even ones that have signed up for your feed. Since this discovery I’ve been regularly ‘getting them back’ and I’m going to explain exactly what I mean today.

What brought me to remember this (and decide to do a guest post for ProBlogger) is a new tool I’ve been testing out called BLVD Status, it’s brought to you by a team of internet marketers and includes some awesome features. My favourite: live analytics.

So, on a normal day my blog was receiving quite a lot of traffic from StumbleUpon as shown in the screenshot below:

blvd.jpg

The panel for BLVD Status is very simple, giving you a brief overview of what is going on in your site at any one moment. I particularly like the outgoing links section to see where I’m sending traffic too, this also includes people subscribing to your RSS feed. I noticed quite a few of the StumbleUpon visitors were opting to sign-up for my email feed:

outgoing-links.jpg

And then BAM! I instantly remembered the little area of Feedburner where I noticed that I’ve been losing subscribers, lots of them.

Lost Subscribers

Firstly, if you aren’t using Feedburner then I highly recommend that you do. It comes with a host of features such as:

  • Seeing how many subscribers you have
  • Seeing where your subscribers are coming from
  • Simple email subscription set-up
  • A chicklet that lets you show off your subscribers (great for sign-ups)
  • and much more…

Now then, once you’ve logged into your Feedburner account, click the ‘Analyze‘ tab then click ‘Subscribers‘ on the left navigation menu.

Next, scroll down the page to see your email subscriptions through Feedburner. You should have this enabled if you don’t as not everyone will know how to use normal RSS feeds, especially if you don’t have a tech savvy audience. I’m not sure if you get the same options if you use a different email provider within Feedburner, but if you go directly to them I’m sure they’ll be able to give you similar information.

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If you click on that link you should then see a list of all your email subscribers. My site is quite new (~ 3 months old) so there are only 41 right now but every subscriber counts.

Once there, you should see a list that looks a bit like this:

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Of course, I’ve blurred out the actual email address’ for privacy reasons, but your account will show them clearly. Now then, on the column on the right hand side you can see subscribers which are ‘unverified’. What this means is that the person has entered their email address in the box, and gone through the captcha process.

However, they have never actually confirmed their subscription which should have been sent to their inbox and therefore aren’t being ‘counted’ as a subscriber. If you have a big site, you might find quite a lot of people who are unverified, these are people who want your feed, but for whatever reason didn’t finish the process. Some possible reasons:

  • They didn’t receive the email
  • The email went to their spam box
  • They received it but forgot to confirm
  • They changed their mind (possible)

Getting them back

Luckily, all is not lost. Just because somebody didn’t verify their address, it doesn’t mean they don’t want to. It would be great if there was an option within Feedburner to re-send the activation email but that doesn’t seem to be the case.

However, you do have their email address so all I recommend that you do is send all unverified subscribers a quick, friendly email to let them know that they can try again, or ask if they had any problems. If you want some pointers on this, here is the email I sent:

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If you are sending this to multiple people at once, make sure you add them to the BCC (Blind Carbon Copy) field of your email client so they can’t see each others email address.

The result: about 40% of people got back to me and said they had either not received the email or received an error when they tried. I simply took 10 minutes to enter their emails for them and they activated their subscriptions. For some bigger sites this might be a job that takes you a day, but subscribers are an important factor in any blog, and not something that you want to lose.

I would not recommend doing this more than once as you will annoy people, but check regularly for new people that sign-up but are unverified. Hopefully, you’ll get a lot more subscribers back that you actually (kind of) had before.

Glen Allsopp writes on the subject of Personal Development at PluginID. You can help him help you by subscribing to his feed, here.

How 24 Hours of Work Will Send Millions of Readers to My Blog

I have written numerous times about how I use weekly email newsletters to drive significant traffic to my photography site (here’s why newsletters are good and here’s how to use newsletters).

However lately I have started using a second type of newsletter that in time has the potential to send even more traffic. In fact initial testing shows me that it’ll literally send millions of readers over time.

The way I use my normal weekly newsletters is to send an email to my list every Thursday that updates them on the latest posts on the blog and ‘hot threads of conversation’ in the forum.

The second type of newsletter (I’ll call it a ‘special feature‘ newsletter from now on) is quite different.

The idea behind this ‘special feature’ type of newsletter is that it is much more automated than the weekly emails that I send. It takes a little work to set it up – but once you’ve done that you just sit back and watch it do it’s ‘magic’.

Here’s how it works. There are two ways that these special feature emails are different from the weekly updates that I send.

1. The first difference is Topic

These newsletters are not updates of new posts on the blog – but they are much more focused upon a ‘theme’ and point readers to old posts in our archives.

For example – the first of these newsletters focused upon the theme of ‘portrait photography’ (you can view what it is like here). In it I pointed readers to 18 of our best portrait photography posts from the last two years on the blog. I also pointed people to the portrait section of our forum as well as some recommended reading (books) at Amazon. There’s also a ‘recommend to a friend’ invitation – interestingly I have seen it’s been used a few times already).

You can see a what my newsletter looks like here (click to enlarge):

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The idea behind this email is that it brings alive our archives – which are often hidden to new readers of the blog.

2. The second difference is HOW I send the Emails

OK – the real magic of these special feature emails is not the content – but the way that the emails are sent. While weekly emails go out to my list all at once and the benefits from them dies off after a day or two – these special feature emails just keep on giving and giving for months and even years to come. Here’s how:

I use Aweber to send my emails (here’s why I use Aweber). Aweber gives you the ability to send a variety of types of emails. I use their ‘broadcast’ type email for my weekly updates – but for these special feature newsletters I use the ‘autoresponder’ (Aweber also call it a ‘Follow Up’ email) type of email.

Note: Other bloggers that I respect use Get Response to deliver their emails – I’m yet to use it but by all reports it is a feature rich and very reliable option.

An autoresponder is a tool that allows you to send out emails at certain predetermined intervals to people on your list. Let me explain by going back to my portrait photography example:

I set my email not to go out immediately to my list – but for it to go out 2 weeks after subscribers sign up to receive newsletters. This means that if you sign up for my photography newsletter today – that you’ll get the portrait tips newsletter in 14 days time. It also means that anyone who has signed up for my newsletter at any point in the past before 14 days ago got the email immediately.

What this means is that everyone on my list gets the email – but unlike my weekly newsletters which only go out to anyone currently signed up – these special feature newsletters go out to anyone that signs up for my newsletter at any point in the future.

As I’m getting 300 new signups to my newsletter a day at present – this means that my portraits newsletter goes out to my 57,000 current subscribers but will go out to the 110,000 subscribers who sign up in the next 12 months (300 a day)… and hundreds of thousands of others in the years that follow.

The initial tracking that I’ve done is that 86% of those who get these emails are opening them and clicking on at least one link.

But Wait There’s More – Here’s How to Extend the Idea

OK – so I’ve set up this portraits newsletter and the 2 hours that it took me to build it are going to pay off for years to come. But how can I extend this idea further?

My plan is to develop a new special feature newsletter every month. So 30 days after readers receive their Portrait Photography special feature they’ll receive another one – on Travel Photography. 30 days after they get the travel photography one they’ll get one on Exposure/Settings, 30 days later they’ll get one on Composition….. etc

Over a year I’ll have 12 special feature newsletters in place.

Do the sums on this and when they are all in place the amount of people getting special feature emails on a daily basis will be 3600. Add to this the current 57,000 people on my list and over the next few years millions of people will get these newsletters.

If I can achieve the 86% open rate with them – that’ll drive millions of visitors to the blog and forum.

I’d estimate that each of these emails will take me 2 hours to put together – so 12 of them will take me 24 hours. Considering that they’ll continue to drive traffic to the site for years to come – I’d say that this is a pretty good use of time.

Of course this is not just about driving traffic to the blog – it’s also about giving readers value and a service (which builds loyalty and brand) as well as promoting affiliate products in the newsletters (and I could potentially sell advertising in them also). I think this type of newsletter has real potential with affiliate programs as each newsletter is focused upon a single topic and if you can match a good product with that topic in terms of relevancy I suspect conversion will be quite good.

Note: of course the results I’m getting with these newsletters have been the result of me building up a blog for 2 years. I already have a large list of subscribers and a lot of traffic coming to the blog. However the same principles can be applied to a blog with smaller traffic also. If you can sign up 10 new people to your list every day and have 12 monthly newsletters in place – at the end of the year you’ll have a list of 3650 and you’ll be sending out tens of thousands of emails a year.

The key is to start building and communicating with a newsletter list now.

Characteristics of Traffic Generating Posts

When I set TwiTip up look after itself over the weekend (I set up a few posts to go live at specific times) I wasn’t expecting it to be a huge weekend of traffic. The posts were good – but there were less than during the week and past history shows weekends are quiet (particularly those after big holidays like Thanksgiving).

On Sunday night I logged into the blog to moderate comments and was surprised to see that on Saturday the blog had had it’s highest day of traffic since it was launched a few weeks back and Sunday was looking good to be a pretty decent day too.

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What happened?

As I reflect upon the reasons for this traffic – it all comes down to content. Over the weekend I had two particular posts that drove the vast majority of traffic to the blog.

In this post I want to take a look at these two posts and reflect upon some of their characteristics that I think were responsible for the traffic.

1. Ten People All Twitter Beginners Should Be Following - this is the post that started it all. It was a guest post by Mark Hayward that I really should have known had the potential to go viral (I guess when I posted it on the Friday I was a little tired after a big week).

Why did the post draw in a lot of traffic? A number of reasons come to mind:

  • Controversy – while I don’t believe Mark intended it to be controversial – it was. There was quite a bit of talk around Twitter about those included in this list of Twitter users and whether they should have been included, who was missed out, whether the list should have been written…. etc. Of course every time it was discussed the link was passed on which of course drew people to have a look.
  • List – the ‘list’ format of post is a classic way of getting a post to go viral. Find out why in my post – 8 Reasons Why Lists are Good for Getting Traffic to Your Blog.
  • People Focus – there’s something about writing about other people that seems to draw a crowd. I’m not sure why it is – but I can think of numerous occasions that I’ve published posts about ‘people’ where the posts went viral. One of the reasons for this is that the people being written about (and their fans) often pass on these lists to others (a few retweeted it themselves).
  • Fulfilled a Need - whether you agree with the list or not – it actually seemed to connect with a lot of readers simply because they were beginner users of Twitter and didn’t know who to follow. This post gave people with this need an answer to this problem and a practical way to fix it.
  • Social Media - of course one of the advantages that a blog about Twitter has is that it tends to be read by fairly active Twitter users who are used to spreading links around as part of their normal web surfing. This post (and the next one) got linked to quite a bit on Twitter.
  • Repeat Tweets - one of the weaknesses with Twitter as a way of spreading news of a post on your blog is that when you tweet your links the impact of those tweets can be quite temporary because they tend to only be seen by people for a short period of time before your tweet is pushed down the list of tweets that they are following. I find that reweeting your own tweets every now and again can give fresh momentum to those who didnt’ see your first one (I only do it on my best posts and a maximum of 2-3 times a day.

2. Construct your own ‘Top 10 Must Follow’ List as it Relates to Your Own Niche – this next post was not planned and was written on the fly on Sunday morning after I logged in and saw some of the buzz around the first post above.

As I began to read some of the comments on the first post (both those that didn’t like the list and those that did) I realized that there was an opportunity to take the ‘buzz’ further.

Actually – if I am honest, the idea the idea actually came to me as I did damage control and as I wrote a comment on the first post answering some of the concerns that readers had with it. I didn’t really want things to blow up and was trying to find a way to turn some of the negativity into something more positive.

One of the recurring comments about the first post was that it was too narrow – that the list just focused upon those into social media as a topic. It struck me that while this was a valid critique that on another level it actually made the list more valuable to those with that interest.

A light bulb went on and in the comment I suggested people create more lists that focused upon specific niches/topics/industries. Within 20 minutes of making that suggestion people began to take up my idea and post comments. I quickly realized that the idea had energy and decided to make the idea into an actual post.

Once I did this – the post really took off. A number of reasons come to mind as to why it did:

  • Momentum – the first post fed the second (and the second fed the first). I find that when I write posts one after the other that build upon each other that it can have a powerful impact upon a blog’s traffic. This is a perfect example of what I talk about in a previous post – How to Keep Momentum Going by Building on Previous Posts. One of the take home lessons from this is that it’s important to monitor how people are responding to your posts because in those responses could be a seed for future ones.
  • Reader participation – this post gave readers a specific invitation to do something very practical and relevant to their own interests. People respond well to invitations to answer questions or do little challenges (as long as they are not too hard) and that is part of the reason for the success of this post. Interestingly, many of the people who constructed lists then went on to tweet links to their comments because they were proud of their submissions and they were relevant to what they used Twitter for.
  • Positive/Constructive Focus – while there was a slight negativity about some of the comments in the first post’s ‘controversy’ – there was a very different vibe in the comments on the second. People seemed to appreciate and respond well to the positive and constructive challenge.
  • Invitation to Blog about it – in this post I gave people the opportunity to leave their lists either in comments or on their own blogs. Most left comments but a number blogged about it – most of those that did linked back to my post to give their list context (even though I didn’t require or even ask for this).

Concluding Remarks

The lists of characteristics in these posts above are things that I think are some great starting points for writing popular posts. They don’t guarantee them – and you certainly couldn’t use them all in every post that you write – but as I look over them I see that many of them have worked for me in previous posts.

It also strikes me as I read through them that while I was quite strategic about my second post – that the first one was a little more accidental (at least from my perspective). Sometimes posts have a life of their own take off for reasons you didn’t anticipate. The key in these times is to be watching out for opportunities to extend the life of these traffic events.

PS: to further build the momentum on these two posts I’m going to take some of the reader submitted lists and turn them into posts themselves (see the update on the second post).

Ten Tips for Stats Addicts

Today Dr. Nicole from Kitchen Table Medicine shares her story of overcoming her Stats Addiction and gives some tips on what to do with your time to build your blog instead of checking stats.

Do you obsessively check your blog traffic stats throughout the day? Do you optimistically expect your Alexa ranking to drop every four hours? Do you frequently fret over your Google Page Rank? Do you watch your Adsense account like a hawk throughout the day? Well as much as these statistical markers may be helpful in understanding the success of your blog, they may also be interfering with the long term growth of your website.

Not only is checking stats a total time kill, but it can be a real buzz kill too when it doesn’t turn out the way we want.

In a month’s time, I stopped checking my stats only to return and find that my page views had doubled if not tripled, and my Alexa ranking had dropped from it’s consistent 252K to 151K! WOW!

So what happened? Had I actually changed anything I was doing…no not really I had just freed up a few extra hours to spend doing something more productive for my blog then obsessing over my stats.

First of all as a recovering stats addict I can’t stand before you all pure and pristine that I actually decided to give up stats all on my own, I never stopped obsessing over my stats intentionally. Actually, I was locked out of my stats program when my website crashed from hitting the front page of Digg! When I upgraded to a better host, their stats program was down for maintenance.

I WAS LOCKED OUT OF CHECKING MY STATS! OH THE TRAUMA!!!

Do you feel my pain?

For the entire month of October I was unable to check my stats! Only those of you obsessed with the constant joyful reassurance that checking stats brings can even begin to understand the frustration!!!

In an attempt to just “go with the flow” I decided to give up worrying about stats and start spending my time on marketing, writing, and building my readership….you know those things I should have been doing all day instead of wondering about my readers in Zimbabwe and if more people read my blog through IE7 or FF?

So you can only imagine my extreme paranoia when I finally could log back in to my site statistics and see if I was meeting my goals. You can only imagine my shock when I logged back in to see 10,000 page views a day!

Previously I would freak out if I hadn’t hit my goal of 3500 page views daily. Previously I liked considered 3500 pv’s my “fighting weight”.

So I was SHOCKED to find in just one month’s time that my baseline was bumped up to 7000-10,000 page views a day!

WOW! Maybe there really is something to this…

For most of us bloggers checking stats is the immediate reward we need for our day. However, checking stats can also be discouraging when we log in to find that a post was not as successful as we hoped.

So can you do it? Can you stop checking your stats? Are you fit for the challenge to completely give up obsessing over your stats for an entire month? Can you stop doing it every day and sit down for an hour once a week to go over it all? In hindsight the following ten traffic building tips are what I unintentionally ended up doing to build up traffic, and for just 20-30 freed up minutes a day, you can likely double your traffic flow in a month as well:

1. Stop checking your stats and stop writing for stats!

Write from your heart. I know we hear this over and over and OVER again, but readers really don’t “care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Keep it fresh, keep it live, and let it flow right through you. Say what is on your mind and be passionate about your beliefs. You may lose a few readers occasionally with some extreme viewpoints, but it ensures everyone else that you are at least always giving your honest opinion. When I couldn’t check in to my stats after a while I suddenly found myself not writing for stats but instead remembering all the things I always wanted to write about…and then writing about them.

2. Instead of checking stats, help out a fellow blogger!

Offering newbie bloggers in your field guidance and feedback for instance is a great POSITIVE way to spend a bit of free time. One day out of severe boredom while my site was down I started a forum thread offering help to people about their blog. It was a fun project for me and a valuable learning opportunity for those brand new to blogging. Pay it forward instead of obsessing on your latest stats. People quickly pick up on your kindness and will link to you like crazy. Please don’t go about this with the intention to gain backlinks. Don’t be fake, just sincerely make an effort to help out those folks you see with a great deal of potential, because it feels really good and truly is SO much more rewarding than checking stats. Honestly I think this is what helped my traffic out the most. The fact that I found myself a bit bored from not checking stats and so started just checking in on other bloggers.

3. Interview other bloggers.

In just FIVE MINUTES you can put together a fantastic set of FIVE interview questions that will not only promote another blogger, but will hopefully bring along some of their following. Find someone that specializes in a niche within your niche and you instantly have a free SEO friendly page perfectly made for your website….by an expert! Don’t forget to ask them for all their favorite links to add as resources, readers love it, and it easily connects you to other like minded bloggers.

4. Participate in discussion forums.

I always participate in the threads that catch my interest and the threads that are within my niche. Participating in your community is a million times more beneficial than obsessively obsessing over you your stats.

5. Check in on your readers instead of your stats!

Pay a visit to your latest commenter’s, thank them for stopping by your blog and read their latest article. Being a successful blogger means being part of a community. Are there any top bloggers that are an island within themselves on the internet? Not that I know of. Chances are if you have the time to fritter away checking stats, you are better off using that precious time to build your community.

6. Sign up for a new social network each day instead of obsessing over stats.

The more websites your blog is featured on, the more enmeshed in the internet you become. It only takes a few minutes to get signed up. I just copy and paste my info from Blog Catalog consistently in to each new site. If you are seriously obsessed with stats you may need to be prescribed two to three social networks a day to fill the void!

7. Write a scintillating guest post such as this one (well hopefully).

Translate those moments obsessing over stats into something productive like guest posting. Ask to be interviewed. A great guest post can be done in a matter of minutes. Many bloggers are just looking for a quick basic bit on your area of expertise. Write up a list of tips and tricks that reference longer posts on your site to generate new interest to old content. A great guest post can typically be done in a matter of twenty minutes. You know the basics about your field. Don’t waste your research time on a guest post. Talk about the stuff that constantly rattles out of you. You will sound more like an expert that way anyways. Save writing longer articles for your own site, and then write guest post “press releases” using them as a reference. Whatever you do, just keep writing, you got in to this business because you love to write—right?

8. Reach out to new friends at Stumbleupon, Digg, Reddit, and Mixx.

These social news sites are fantastic places for promoting your news and the more friends you have the better. I spend about 15 minutes on intentional time per day per social network and it is plenty. You don’t have to be on the front page, don’t digg your life away. Remember the best way to have a friend is to BE a friend. Spend a few minutes each day voting for your favorite articles and finding like minded authors and readers in your field. Now write some articles intended for the front pages of these sites. I know I know…Ignore my previous recommendation to write from your heart. Suck it up and write some REAL newsworthy piece of journalism for your niche. Spend some time on the front pages of Digg and Stumbleupon in your category to see what becomes popular. When you learn to consistently craft posts that are eye catching and intriguing they will inevitably hit the front pages. For Digg and Mixx I write brief journalistic newsworthy features on the latest in alternative medicine research, and for stumbleupon it is all about the simple numbered lists of tips and tricks, quizzes, and photos. I’m sure right at this moment you can easily go through your categories and find a theme for some numbered posts such as my article “21 Free Preventative Medicine Tips” .

I actually now create categories for certain tips and do a post a month on this topic until I have enough for a great viral link post.

9. Keep a stats journal.

Instead of obsessing about your stats on your computer make a stats journal. Write a log of the post title’s for each day, the time you posted them, what you did to promote them, if they became popular on any social media sites, etc. Then sit down with your stats journal for a couple hours at a time once a week and try to make REAL sense over your page traffic instead of just obsessing over numbers and feeling destroyed if today wasn’t as popular as yesterday. Looking at the big picture is the best way to address stats. Is it really worth all your time to spend your day on Digg when 90% of your socialnetworking traffic comes from Stumbleupon? Hmmm…Maybe not.

10. Read Problogger.net!

Ha…you all know that Darren did not edit this in because I made it the last tip and not the very first ;) But really we always save the best tip for last and the most important thing you can do to improve your page traffic is become a better blogger. You are far better off reading Problogger or your other favorite blog improvement blog 15 minutes four times a day then you are obsessing over stats. I remember a post a while back here on ProBlogger on how to be a “Meta” blogger. Some people hated the post, but I took it to heart and the advice has rung true on many frustrating occasions. The message behind “meta” is that you don’t have to be the very best each and every day. You just have to be a little bit better than we were yesterday. That is why Meta is bettah.

In all honesty, if you are on the internet to write, if you are passionate about blogging, I hope you will be inspired by my little stats success story to focus on your readers and your writing, and not use stats to determine the success of your blogging endeavor. Instead of obsessing over your traffic, obsess over ways to improve it.

Could you give up checking your stats for an entire month? A week? One day? Two hours?

What else would you recommend to increase traffic instead of checking stats?