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Get Creative About Your Content … Consistently

This guest post is by Pratik Dholakiya of E2M Solutions.

You’ve heard it a thousand times. “You need great, original content.” And it’s becoming increasingly obvious that “original” isn’t the same thing as “not plagiarized.”

There’s just one problem. Doing something truly original is hard.

How can you make original ideas happen? The answer comes from an unexpected source: psychological research.

Writer’s block is only half the battle

The solution to writer’s block is simple: keep writing. It doesn’t matter what. Just publish. Just ship.

This is where most bloggers give up. They get stuck on the belief that everything they publish needs to be gold. It won’t be. You need to make writing a habit. That’s all it takes to conquer writer’s block.

But it’s only half the battle.

If your content isn’t new and exciting to your visitors, most of them will leave. And since it’s very difficult for an individual blogger to come across a breaking news story before anybody else, most bloggers end up publishing well written and completely redundant material.

Creativity is the spice you need to keep your blog fresh.

Here’s where you can get it.

Are you afraid of creativity?

Consciously, no. But studies suggest that when we do have a fear of creative ideas, it’s subconscious, and we’re completely blind to the results.

One of these studies, led by researchers from Cornell, the University of Pennsylvania, and the University of North Carolina, suggests that when we’re uncertain about the future, we reject creative ideas, even though we want them.

They discovered that if they paid participants by a random lottery, instead of a set fee, they would subconsciously associate creative words with negative words like, “hell,” and “vomit.”

In a second experiment, they found out that if the participants wrote an essay about how “there is only one way to solve a problem,” this also created a sense of uncertainty. Worse still, this caused them to rate ideas as less creative, rather than recognize their fear.

The implications are clear:

  • Take actions that make you feel more secure about your future.
  • Embrace the mindset that there is more than one solution to every problem.
  • Write down all of your ideas when you brainstorm, and be open minded. You might be rejecting creative ideas because they scare you, not because they are actually uncreative.

Are you being too closed … or too open?

A study led by Ella Miron-Spektor of Israel, along with researchers from Harvard and Carnegie, suggests that paradoxical thinking plays a part in creativity.

In one of their experiments, they asked participants to read an article about an experimental new toy, and then they read comments made by “judges” of the product. The judges said one of four things:

  • The toy was creative or cheap.
  • The toy was creative and cheap.
  • The toy was creative but too expensive, because cheap is the opposite of creative.
  • The toy was creative and cheap, and those are usually opposites.

Out of the four groups in the experiment, only one group stood out on a creativity test: the last one.

In other words, it wasn’t enough to be open to the idea that something could be creative and cheap at the same time. It also wasn’t enough to realize that creativity and low price were opposites. Creativity was only boosted by recognizing that two things could be somehow different and complimentary at the same time.

What does this mean for you?

  • Be open to ideas and concepts that don’t seem directly related to the subject of your blog.
  • But don’t be so open that you fall back on “everything is related,” without being able to see the differences at the same time.

Again, you have to be able to see how things can be different and complimentary at the same time, not just one or the other, in order to get a boost in creative thinking. The “idea mashups” that result from this are some of the best blog posts on the web.

I like to think of it like this:

  • If you’re too closed, you won’t see interesting connections that result in new ideas.
  • If you’re too open, no connection stands out as interesting or new, because “everything is already connected,” so who cares?

Are you in the right mindset?

There is a belief among many intellectuals that in order to be creative, you need to be a tortured soul. But a meta-analysis of studies on the subject revealed that out of 29 experiments, only nine suggested there was any truth to this, and those studies had a flawed design.

In one example demonstrating just the opposite, Alice Isen and others tested the impact of mood on people’s ability to solve a creative problem, called the candle problem. They asked one group of students to watch a funny video before solving the problem, and the other group to watch a math video. Only one in five of the people who watched the math video solved it, but an amazing three out of four solved it if they watched the funny video.

Was this because of laughter, or just a positive mood in general? In another experiment, they gave the participants a decorated bag of candy. The results were similar, but not as dramatic.

It turns out maybe you don’t have to be depressed and self-loathing in order to be creative after all.

Vincent Van Gogh may have cut his ear off, and history does seem to favor the tragic stories about creative people, but the psychology is clear. At least when it comes to everyday creativity, positivity is the answer.

Are you too focused?

This is a weird one, so bear with me. I want to be absolutely clear here. It takes focus and dedication to complete anything you start. If you don’t stay focused on your goals, you’re likely to wander aimlessly for a long time before you get anywhere near where you want to be.

But when it comes to creating the ideas in the first place? In that case, focus may actually be working against you.

In one experiment, participants were asked questions like this:

Two people are born on the same day of the month, on the same year, to the same mother and father, but they are not twins. How is this possible?

The experiment was led by Mareike Wieth and Rose Zacks, and it was based on people’s sleep schedules. Your sleep schedule determines which time of day you are most and least focused (which is not necessarily the same thing as being alert and sleepy).

People who were brought in during their least focused time of day actually did best on these types of creative solving problems.

(If you couldn’t think of it, the answer is that they’re triplets.)

And this isn’t the only experiment to suggest this. Another experiment demonstrated that people who have frontal lobe damage do better on these kinds of problems, and still another suggested that alcohol had the same effect.

Now, I’m not advocating drinking on the job or taking a hammer to your forehead, but we can’t ignore the implications. So here are a few ideas to take advantage of this knowledge:

  • The best time to brainstorm is during those “off” times of day when you can’t seem to focus on anything and everything is distracting.
  • If you’re struggling with brainstorming, this is probably the best time of day to work on something that requires focus or something more routine, such as reading and research.
  • Consider brainstorming during times when you are sleepy.

As a simple example:

  • When you can’t read: brainstorm.
  • When you can’t brainstorm: read.
  • When you have the right combination of knowledge and original ideas: write.

Putting it all together

Here is a sample creativity “plan” that you can borrow from and adjust as you see fit, based on what we’ve learned.

  • When you brainstorm, don’t reject any ideas that come to mind. Write them down. You can sift through them later.
  • Define the problems you are trying to solve with each blog post, and write at least two different solutions to those problems.
  • For each article, pick a “parent” subject, and write down several other subjects, almost at random. Pick the other subjects you find most interesting, and write down how each is similar to and different from your parent subject.
  • Research a few different things at the same time, and write a list of reasons why they are the same and why they are different.
  • Get yourself in a positive mindset, and make the creative process as fun as possible. Use humor and stick to the subjects that you will enjoy learning and writing about.
  • If you simply can’t brainstorm, you’re probably doing it at the wrong time of day. Try reading instead. It’s when you find yourself reading the same sentence over again five times that you should probably get back to brainstorming.

So there you have it: a plan for creating original material, based on solid science. You’ll find that when you have an unlimited number of ideas to work with, the whole writing process gets easier, and your quality levels will start to improve.

Have you tried using methods like these? What else has helped you come up with original content ideas? Tell us in the comments.

Pratik Dholakiya is a Lead SEO Strategist at E2M Solutions, a full service internet marketing company specializing in Organic SEO, PPC, Local Search, Social Media, Reputation Management, Content Marketing and more. He recently started an Interview platform TalkWithLeaders.com where he’ll be interviewing various industry leaders. You can contact him on twitter @DholakiyaPratik or by email.

Writing the Truth of Your Own Experience

This guest post is by Sean M. Madden of Mindful Living Guide.

The cornerstone of my teaching is to write the truth of our own experience.

They’re fine words, which roll off the tongue with ease. But I needn’t tell you how gut-wrenching it can be to put them into practice.

For when one shares the results of such writing with the world at large it is very likely to anger at least some folk—no matter how clear, how unassuming, and how well-intentioned is what you have to say. And of course, it can be daunting to commit one’s truths to paper.

But the good news is that there’s a flipside.

Write the truth, and others—perhaps only a relative few—will appreciate beyond words that you’ve dared to express what they’ve longed to say, but perhaps couldn’t quite articulate.

Rilke, in his Letters to a Young Poet, advises his correspondent thus:

Go into yourself. Find out the reason that commands you to write; see whether it has spread its roots into the very depths of your heart; confess to yourself whether you would have to die if you were forbidden to write.

This most of all: ask yourself in the most silent hour of your night: must I write?

I’ve many times asked myself this question over the course of my writing life, and have reconsidered it afresh whenever I revisit Rilke’s Letters, either on my own or with a group of students. My initial response tends to be, no, I mustn’t write—my life could be well-lived without the act of penning words onto a page. And yet I do write, often as if my life does indeed depend upon it.

Eleven years ago, I participated in a meditation retreat in which I had to relinquish any and all writing (and reading) materials for the course of a week and a half. No problem, I thought. Until several days into the retreat when I found I had something I had to express. So I liberated a blue permanent marker from the men’s toilet area and wrote my then nearly ten-year-old daughter a letter which spanned the full length and width of the fitted sheet I’d brought from home to sleep on. A letter she slept with for a very long time, until—ever so slowly, wash after wash—it finally faded from sight.

And how many times, since, have I resolved to give up writing in response to the egregious crimes of state we witness on a day-to-day basis, only to find myself in the most silent hour of my night writing an article for publication, a blog post, or page after page of handwritten diatribe?

Why, if time and again I tell myself I needn’t write, must I?

At times I write to release my soul from the burden of silence in the face of monstrous lies. Other times I write in response to witnessing the wonderment and beauty of this world. Either way, I write to express the truth of my own lived experience, and am infinitely happier for regularly doing so.

10 Steps to write the truth of your own experience

  1. Jump in headfirst. As with entering a cold sea or swimming pool, it’s much easier to plunge in, headfirst, than to wade slowly cursing the cold each step of the way. Once you’re in, you’re in, and you’ll acclimate yourself much more quickly. Ditto with writing.
  2. Courage grows in the doing. Fear and self-doubt, on the other hand, fester in the not-doing.
  3. Write with pen and paper. Make it a physical act, involving your whole body, your whole being, not just your mind. Thoughts are more likely to come in the doing than in the thinking up of things. Certainly, write on your computer as well, but get comfortable with putting pen to paper.
  4. Write first and foremost for yourself. While you might eventually like to share your work with others, write firstly for yourself without concern for your readers. Remember, too, that the acts of writing and sharing your work are wholly distinct. Share your work only when you’re ready.
  5. Trust wholeheartedly in the process. Simply write down whatever comes up. Trust in this process until the need to trust is replaced by an experiential knowing that the process works.
  6. Be patient and supremely gentle with yourself. Remember, too, that a thousand-mile journey begins with that very first step. Keep walking, and writing, and every once in a while look back to see how far you’ve traveled, and how much you’ve accomplished.
  7. Write with no expectations. Rather, nurture a sense of letting go of the notion of writing well. Good writing will come of its own accord, all the more so when you write regularly and truthfully about your own life experience.
  8. Begin a daily, or near-daily, writing practice. Commit to a three-month daily writing practice as a means to recognize, firsthand, the benefits of doing so, and, thereby, to develop it into a habit.
  9. Recognize that writing topics abound. They’re literally everywhere within you as well as in the world around you. Begin to notice the rich, inspiration-packed details of your day-to-day life.
  10. Write down your inner truths with great courage and honesty. You’ll thereby find your voice. This last step is a repeat from an earlier, closely related article I wrote for ProBlogger which you might find helpful to consider alongside this piece.

What strategies have you found to be helpful in writing the truth of your own experience? Please leave your comments below so that we can continue to learn from each other’s experience as well.

Sean M. Madden is a Creative Writing & Mindful Living Guide who is slow-traveling on a shoestring in Europe with his partner, Mufidah Kassalias. In addition to leading courses and workshops, Sean also works one-to-one with clients worldwide via Skype, email and telephone. He invites you to contact him via email or to follow him on Twitter (@SeanMMadden), Instagram (@SeanMMadden) or Facebook (Mindful Living Guide).

5 Ways You Can Become A Blogging Philanthropist

This guest post is by Stephen Pepper of Youth Workin’ It

Why should Bill Gates have all the fun?—Al Andrews

There are all sorts of reasons you may own a blog—to enhance your business site, to share ideas, to earn an income, or perhaps you just enjoy writing.

Imagine the impact you could have, though, if you harnessed the power of your blog to make an even bigger difference to mankind by becoming a philanthropist.

This may sound far-fetched, but it’s not at all. Here are five ways you can become a blogging philanthropist.

1. Write a book

“How can I be a philanthropist if I have no money?”

This is the question Al Andrews asked himself. Instead of just giving up, he came up with a plan to make money. He’d write a book and donate the profits to projects around the world.

And thus, Improbable Philanthropy was born. His first book, The Boy, The Kite And The Wind, has already raised tens of thousands of dollars that he’s been able to donate to projects that benefit others.

What can you do?

You don’t have to write an illustrated children’s book. Many blogs sell ebooks, so why not write one whose profits you can donate to a charity that’s close to your heart? The readers of your blog will be more likely to buy the book if they know it’s going towards a good cause. And it means you’ll get your ideas out to more people, even if you’re not benefiting monetarily yourself.

2. Microfinance

Adam McLane and Rachel Rodgers are both bloggers who also own their own businesses. Adam owns McLane Creative, a web development and design company, while Rachel owns Rachel Rodgers Law, a virtual law office.

Both Adam and Rachel offer microfinance loans through Kiva. These loans are used to help alleviate poverty and to enable entrepreneurs around the world to start up their own businesses.

Adam also makes a new loan for every new client he receives—check out some of the beneficiarieshere.

What can you do?

Although Adam and Rachel offer these loans as an extension of their businesses rather than their blogs, that doesn’t have to be the case. How about making a loan every time you receive x number of new email subscribers, or when you hit a benchmark of y extra monthly visitors?

3. Invest in others

At the 2012 World Domination Summit, Chris Guillebeau gave $100 to every single paid conference attendee.

Why? He was investing the money in the attendees so that they could in turn invest the money themselves, whether that was through community, adventure, or service.

As Chris said, “Freely receive, freely give.”

What can you do?

Don’t worry, I’m not saying you have to give $100 to each of your readers! Instead, you could set aside some money and have your readers decide on how it should be used.

Similarly, you could allocate a certain percentage of each ebook you sell to be donated to different charities. When selling the book, offer the buyers different purchasing links depending on which project they’d like to support.

4. Leverage your readership

You may not have any money, but chances are some of your readers do. On his Stuff Christians Like blog, Jon Acuff set out to leverage his readership by raising $30,000 to build a kindergarten in Vietnam. The only thing is, he didn’t raise $30,000.

He raised $60,000. So his readers were able to build two kindergartens!

What can you do?

Set up a fundraiser, ideally for a project that has some kind of link to your blogging niche. This will encourage your readers to support the initiative.

Also, be ambitious! Jon’s readers raised the original $30,000 in just 18 hours, which is why he set a second target that doubled the original amount. Even if you don’t meet your fundraising target, you’ll hopefully raise far more than if you’d set the bar too low.

5. Advertising and affiliate schemes

In addition to Youth Workin’ It, we own a number of other (non-blog) websites. These earn a somewhat modest income of a few hundred dollars a month through AdSense, Amazon Associates and similar affiliate schemes.

As my wife and I both have full-time jobs, this income is a bonus. It therefore means we’re able to use some of this extra money to bless individuals and organizations that we wouldn’t have been able to otherwise.

What can you do?

Do you earn any revenue through your blog via advertising or affiliate schemes? If so, why not use some or all of this income to make a difference in the lives of others?

How will you become a blogging philanthropist?

There are five ideas on this list. What others can you think of that can help other bloggers become philanthropists? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

Stephen Pepper is insurance administrator by day, youth worker & blogger by night. He and his wife run Youth Workin’ It which includes a youth work and youth ministry blog. They also produce their own youth work resources, the most recent of which is 52 Scavenger Hunt Ideas.

6 Things “Saved By the Bell” Taught Me About Blogging

This guest post is by Chiara Mazzucco of TheIndieChicks.com.

There are hundreds of thousands of articles written on being a successful blogger and driving traffic to your website or blog .

Bleh.

You can sit down and read each one, leading you to write your first blog post in about 4 years, or you can pick the gems (on sites like ProBlogger) and choose to drive inspiration from the world around you, instead.

Let’s take popular 90s sitcom, Saved by the Bell, for example. Would it blow your mind if I told you that watching just one episode could lead you to become a better blogger? Yup.

Here are six lessons I learned from Zack and the gang.

1. Be yourself, loud and proud

Screech stood out, without shame.

While thousands of other bloggers, known and unknown, write about the same thing, the only guaranteed way you’ll stand out is if you stay true to who you are and know your voice—without shame.

Start typing, without worrying about grammar, sentence structure and keywords. Thought flow is a unique process and it needs to be respected. If you worry about what others will think, how many sentences should be in a paragraph and whether or not you’re SEO optimizing your text, you’ll never actually write what you’re thinking.

Be unique. Readers appreciate honesty and individuality. Stick out.

2. Be trendy

Lisa was oh, so stylish.

You need to be blogging about things people actually want to read about.

The first step is to find your niche. The tighter the niche, the easier being trendy will be. Write on a popular topic that people care about, from a different perspective, with your unique voice.

And don’t forget, you pick the trends you want to follow. Don’t write about politics because #election2012 is trending when you know little about the presidential candidates and your blog is focused on Irish bagpipes.

3. Be charming, confident, (and a little slick)

Let’s be honest, Zack was a charming, trouble-making stud—and he was completely irresistible.

You may not be the most confident person at a social gathering, but the beauty of blogging is that it’s done behind a computer screen (and, more recently, any type of tablet or smart phone), which means, you are able to be anyone you please.

The key is to establish yourself as an expert. You want readers to be attracted—smitten, even—and to want to know your every move.

Even if you’re blogging for business, you can portray a sense of charm and confidence that immediately sets you up to be seen, and respected, as an expert in your field.

4. Be the girl (or boy) next door

Remember Kelly and that sweet, snuggle-inducing smile of hers?

There is something to be said about the need for your readers to be comfortable in your home (blog).

Whatever you blog about, welcome your readers with open arms—even if you blog about hating your readers. It’s important you make your website easy to navigate, aesthetically appealing, and user friendly.

End your posts with a question, encouraging your readers to engage, and please, allow comments.

Deep down, we all had a thing for the girl (or boy) next door. Don’t you want your readers to have a thing for you, too?

5. Be bold, and don’t apologize for it

A.C. Slater was a bit inappropriate… and it worked.

This particular lesson has to be taken with a grain of salt. You don’t have to be sexist to make it work for you—but you do have to be bold.

In order for a post to be a success it has to solve a problem, be controversial or be generally entertaining.

You can’t entertain or trigger controversy if you’re afraid of making a statement.

So be bold. People won’t be able to resist the urge to comment.

6. Stand up for what you believe, be educated (and blog about it)

Jessie was a pain in the backside, even when she got addicted to caffeine pills. Putting her small indiscretions aside, it’s safe to say that Jessie always knew what she was fighting for, she had the knowledge to back it up and she was always vocal about what she believed in.

These are qualities, in my opinion, that are absolutely crucial to the success as a blogger and I’m grateful Jessie taught me about them.

First of all, being able to write something incredible and have it go live in front of the world without relying on a major newspaper to publish it, is truly a gift that shouldn’t be taken for granted.

The second quality I cannot stress enough is to be educated on the topic you’re discussing. Whether you’re writing about a celebrity love affair or the complicated matters in the Middle East, make sure you have your facts straight … and convey them without spelling or grammar errors.

Apply it

Does this mean each characteristic has to be vibrant in every single blog post in order to make it a success?

Absolutely not.

Use the popular 90s sitcom to learn your strengths, your weaknesses and what you need to work on as a blogger.

You don’t have to hover over old Saved by the Bell episodes to learn anything new about blogging, either.

Look around you and be inspired. I happen to (shamelessly) love television, so I can tactfully take a CSI episode and learn that a blog post is like a murder mystery; pieces to a puzzle lead to a conclusion that solves a problem. Boom!

is CEO and Editor over at TheIndieChicks.com – an online magazine for the badass independent woman – where she devotes her time to inspiring anyone who’ll listen. She wrote a book on dating and relationships, The 9 Mirages of Love: How to Stop Chasing What Doesn’t Exist, and can be found handing out free nuggets of inspiration to new badass subscribers.

Why’d You Choose That Domain Name?

This guest post is by The Blogger.

Let’s admit one thing. We all started this web thing honestly, naively.

Our first site was designed to help people, to fill a gaping void we saw in the online world.

We wanted to do so much good.

Where, then, did it go so wrong? And why? Why did we end up with a website like “www.how-to-earn-money-online.com” that we can barely mention across the dinner table without blushing?

In this post, I’m going to target the psychology behind our seemingly harmless paths to web domination. I’ve been curious for a while about why a few of us start the Zygna.coms and Digg.coms while others go a, well, different path. It all dates back to the mid 1970s, when a man name Albert Bandura, the guy behind Social Cognitive Theory, examined how we seek to replicate success we see in our surroundings and in media, often at all costs. It gets a bit creepy.

Day 1: A new beginnning

It all began with GoDaddy.

“What is GoDaddy?” we ask Google. And Google responds with a full tutorial on GoDaddy.

“Thank you, Google. Now I’ve got my first domain and I have no idea how to use it.”

Well at some point, no thanks to GoDaddy, we find Blogger or WordPress. Your first domain name most-likely had a .blogspot or .wordpress in it. Hello, new blog.

“Wow, this is so interesting,” we think. “I can write posts, post images, create links, and put things in my side bar. And what exactly is a sidebar? I’m going to grow this blog to be huge! I’m getting 100 views a day! Wait, I was tracking my own views. Shut that off. So this actually is difficult … okay, I can handle that.”

We set up our first Google Analytics profile and hardly use it. We’re too focused positioning Adsense ads and garnering Facebook likes.

“Suggest to friends? I think so. Why did he not like it? Not my friend anymore! Write posts, write posts, write posts. Write even more. How am I ever going to have as many posts as that other site? Three a week, that’s it. Must happen. Three great posts of 500 words at least. More coffee. You can do this! Backlinks. Backlins! Need more. Alexa tells me I don’t have enough. Must network. Got one! Got a tweet too! Oh my dear god prepare yourself for traffic! Traffic didn’t come…why not? More posts … more domination!”

At some fateful point after much deliberation we decide to hack off the .blogger/.wordpress and basically think the world will rejoice over our decision.

“Sigh, they don’t. People don’t care. They’re focused on their own websites. Oh well, more networking, more Facebook marketing! Backlinks!

Day 2: Day 1 got old

At some point in blogging, we become jaded. It just isn’t like it was on Day 1. Our community blog, our niche review site, and our Google Adsense landing page just didn’t work as planned. It wasn’t all we were told it would be, but we did learn in the process.

So, we start a new blog. We suck up our pride. We hobble back over to the computer. We probably woke up later that day because we were up late making it big the night before.

This is where it gets interesting.

The day we start up a second website defines us in our blogging careers.

Why? Because (in case you didn’t realize yet) everyone starts a semi-successful-yet-pretty-mediocre website at first, then moves on to another project. It’s in that second project that we either:

  • show the world we’ve learned from our mistakes and are ready to build something useful, or
  • totally sell out and continue down the path to eventual existential failure.

I’m sorry, but it’s one or the other. Which path are you on?

Maybe you’re on a different path?! If so, let’s hear about it in the comments.

Day 3: Pick a new domain

It may not be on actual day 3 of blogging, but the “third day” in your blogging career is the day you choose your next domain name. On Day 1 you made your first website, on Day 2 you decided to build another one, and on Day 3 you picked this new domain. And on Day 7 s/he rested.

So what did you pick?

The brandable domain

If you picked a brandable domain then I’d like to buy you a beer. I’m proud of you. A brandable domain is something like “Twitter.com”. It’s something like “Coursehero.com” or “Koofers.com”. It’s a brother of “Problogger.net” and a cousin of “Alexa.com”. Its recognizable. It stands out.

It holds its own in a conversation across the dinner table. (Should that be the new standard?)

People learn not just from trying and failing, but from observing, sometimes subconsciously, sometimes for means of survival, what works for our peers.—Albert Bandura

The importance of a brandable domain is five-fold:

  • Unique: It stands out.
  • Recognizable: People remember it.
  • Bizarre: It’s weird enough to generate some intrigue the first time someone hears it.
  • Worth mentioning: People want to talk about weird things.
  • Worth putting on a t-shirt: Yes, you would consider wearing that logo with it’s branded image on a t-shirt.

If you picked a brandable domain I commend you because, while you won’t get immediate “direct match” traffic from Google, you will get many more returning visits because you have a pretty cool concept.

These websites are more likely to get blog comments and will inevitably build larger email followings. They may not be the best at making a quick buck, but they do have a long-term trajectory to success. Props to you for choosing this option!

The keyword-rich domain

If you picked this type of domain, you may want to watch this short video as Matt Cutts talks about how Google is changing the algorithm.

Short summary: A lot of noise and competition exists among keyword-rich domains. Google is altering the algorithm so websites with keyword-rich domains won’t get as much an advantage over similar websites with less keyword friendly domains.

If you picked a keyword-rich domain, this is my advice for you.

  • Check out onlineprofits.com: It’s a successful community that makes online profits.
  • Check howtomakemyblog.com: It’s actually an awesome how-to site by Marko Saric.
  • Check out onlinecolleges.com and literally every other domain name with some variation of the phrase “online colleges” in it. You’ll begin to see just how competitive things are getting.
  • Learn some on-page SEO: It’ll help you immensely against the waves of others like you.
  • Get used to being #2: Hey, look at how well Monster does in the shadow of Redbull.

It’s okay, as a few of these examples will show you. With your keyword-rich domain your blog might actually make that six-figure annual income you dreamed about on Day 2.

However, as time passes I can’t help but think keyword-rich domains will become a dime a dozen, and will get sifted out to the bottom of the blogosphere while unique, original concepts rise to the top. It’s a process that may be happening as you read this.

Why did we choose one option or the other?

We’re human. We don’t want the things we do to eventually lead to failure.

We want to succeed, sometimes badly, and will often consider every means necessary to do so. Sometimes this means selecting a domain we at first would have scoffed at.

Albert Bandura was a renowned Canadian psychologist. He examined the characteristics we learn in our adolescence that leads us to success or failure. From the existing Social Learning Theory, it was known four key factors affect how we learn new behavior: drives, cues, responses, and rewards.

What Bandura found, in plain words, was that those of us who are more aggressive often skip a couple steps to get to the “rewards.”

This can be dangerous.

When our aggression outweighs our engrained moral compass, we exhibit “lapses in judgement,” as Bandura called them, where we totally avoid “cues” and “responses.”

It’s these tendencies which lead us to choose a certain domain and make larger, more long-term business decisions. It’s pretty hard to say a domain doesn’t hold vibes and messages that follow our website throughout its entire existence. So next time you’re sitting at GoDaddy about to make a purchase, remember Bandura and think about the long-term implications of your choice.

Bandura became the endowed chair of social psychology at Standford University in 1974 and is believed to be the fourth most cited pyschologist of all time. Go find more of his related work on Wikipedia.

The Blogger is a 25 year old guy from Manhattan who answers 150 blog questions before breakfast and holds a world record for comment response time. Sign up to his email club if you haven’t already (jeez) and find him on the Twitter.

Blogging in Brief: Targeting, Teasers, and Trends

The last few weeks have turned up some interesting new finds in the world of blogging. I’ve covered some of the more innovative ones here—let us know what cool ideas you’ve spotted in the comments.

…and then she called me “Cupcake”

I’m not in the target audience for Molly Maher’s Stratejoy website, and it’s clear as soon as I get to her homepage, which greets visitors with the words, “This site is for you, Cupcake.”

Molly's header

This is a simple, but effective way to target an audience. That single word (in the context of the page design) lets users work out immediately if this is the place for them. It’s a brave move, and it works—Molly’s subscriber base is 4,000-strong.

How closely are you targeting your readers? Are you this forward in your headlines and calls to action? Perhaps Molly’s example will inspire you to rethink some of them.

Australian Blogosphere Report released

Australian blog advertising network Nuffnang has released its 2012 Blogosphere Report, which provides interesting reading for anyone who’s in, or targeting, this space.

The results show a number of interesting aspects:

  • The Australian blogosphere is 92% female.
  • 73% of bloggers said personal and hobby blogs were their favourites.
  • 70% of readers say sponsored posts are useful, so long as they’re transparent and impartial.
  • 95% of respondents have considered purchasing a brand or service as a result of reading about it on a blog.

Check out the report—available for free download—for more.

Ninja engagement tactics on the Ninja’s new blog

Our own Web Marketing Ninja, Shayne Tilley, has relaunched his website. inspired by the PB Event in October, he’s done a great job with a cost-effective theme and a little basic coding—check it out at let us know what you think.

One aspect I think is particularly interesting is the large quote he’s placed just above the footer, along with a Read More CTA.

Quote

That’s a pretty clickable page element—it really inspires my curiosity. And it takes you direct to his blog. Do you provide alternative ways to entice readers through to your blog, other than simply saying “read my blog”? If not, maybe you could try this idea for yourself.

Content marketing coverage

If you’re looking for new content marketing ideas, this epic post on the value of long-form content in your content marketing efforts is one for you.

In the piece, Demian Farnworth uses The New Yorker as a benchmark for content marketing excellence. If you’re a solo blogger, keep in mind that The New Yorker probably ha a few more resources than you do to put into content marketing! That said, the post is information-packed and gives us plenty of ideas to use in our own content marketing efforts.

In the same vein, I was recently approached by Flippa for a post on using content marketing to add value to your blog. Have a look—I’d love to know what you think!

Big-block headers on blogs

A design trend that’s definitely becoming more commonplace is the big-block header, like the ones on the Fast Company subsites. Interestingly, Fast Company doesn’t use this style on its flagship blog—just on those sites that specifically target design-conscious users.

But this trend is becoming more mainstream. Some pro bloggers using it include Jaime Tardy at Eventual Millionaire … but there don’t seem to be many others.

Eventual millionaire

What do you think of this as a design trend for blogs? Have you seen others using it? Let us know what you think in the comments.

Advice from Famous Authors a Blog Writer Could Use Today

This guest post is by Colin Olson of Fresh Essays.

Every high-school superstar longs to follow in his sport hero’s footsteps. Small business owners idolize those on the Fortune 500 list. Likewise, blog writers can hope for the greatness of past literary giants.

While many of the world’s most famous authors are long gone, their words of wisdom still resonate today. Listen to the advice these famous authors have left for blog writers.

“What I try to do is write… And it might be just the most boring and awful stuff. But I try. When I’m writing, I write. And then it’s as if the muse is convinced that I’m serious and says, ‘Okay. Okay. I’ll come.’ ”—Maya Angelou

When writing an article, just let the thoughts flow. Constantly stopping and starting will break your train of thought. Don’t stop to correct typos, grammar errors or punctuation mistakes. All the editing can be done later. Don’t pause while writing to go looking for facts and statistics. Do all the fact-checking at once.

“If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.”—Elmore Leonard

One of the most unique features of a blog is the laid-back, conversational tone that can be implemented. Blogging is a chance for customers to see the person behind the brand.

Don’t be stuffy, pompous, or too formal. Engage readers in a conversation.

“If my doctor told me I had only six minutes to live, I wouldn’t brood. I’d type a little faster.”—Isaac Asimov

A great way to earn loyal readers is to provide content no one else is willing to discuss. 

Sit down and make a list of all the controversial topics, hard-to-answer questions, and pressing issues that are related to your industry.  Then, write content to address each item on the list. 

Be the first one to talk about the touchy subjects, and readers will come to trust and appreciate what you have to offer.

“I try to leave out the parts that people skip.”—Elmore Leonard

Blog readers tend to be skimmers. They like grabbing bits and pieces of information. So make that process easier for them.

Use headings, bullets and lists.  Keep paragraphs to a few sentences; big chunks of text can be intimidating.

“A short story must have a single mood and every sentence must build towards it.”—Edgar Allen Poe

When writing blog posts, be concise.  Choose one topic and stick to it.  Wander too far off on a tangent and readers will be lost.

“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”—Ernest Hemingway

Write about topics that are interesting. If you wouldn’t want to read it, no one else will either. And make sure blog posts have genuinely helpful information. Readers who are subjected to constant product pitches won’t stick around for long.

Write about topics people are passionate about—topics that they hold dear to their hearts.

“Quantity produces quality.  If you only write a few things, you’re doomed.”—Ray Bradbury

Nothing says, “I don’t care,” like a dormant blog. At the very least, bloggers need to post once a week. Readers who always find the same old posts won’t bother to come back again.

Also, try to be consistent about when your posts appear. Use the site’s analytics to determine when readers stop by. Then, post on that day(s). If posts appear sporadically, readers won’t know what to expect.

Don’t be afraid to tell readers when a post is coming, too.  Make a simple announcement on your social networks.

“Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print. Never use a long word where a short one will do. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out. Never use the passive where you can use the active. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.”—George Orwell

Blog writing is different from just about any other type of writing for one very simple reason—it is global. Loyal readers can come from any corner of the world, and for many, English is a second language.

Make blogs post simple to read. Avoid clichés—not everyone will understand them. Even posts that are translated into a native tongue will benefit from clear, concise, accurate language.

Check out these two great resources to learn more about passive and active voice and commonly misused English words.

“Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia”.—Kurt Vonnegut

Have a target audience, and write for that audience. 

For a business blogger, the target audience is not the bigwigs with corner offices who sign the paychecks. Writing to please them is a big no-no. And a target audience of “women,” isn’t specific enough.

Narrow down the target audience until it seems there could only be one possible person in the world who fits that description.

“Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible….Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why…”—Kurt Vonnegut

Get to the point quickly. Readers shouldn’t have to wade through half the article before coming to the main point. Tell the readers what they’ll get from the article within the first few sentences.

“Cut out all those exclamation marks. An exclamation mark is like laughing at your own joke.”—F. Scott Fitzgerald

After writing a post, go back and proofread it. Not only do spelling errors and grammar mistakes need to be caught, punctuation blunders should be noted too.

Overuse of comas can be distracting. Long, ugly sentences that would benefit from semicolons are annoying too. Consider consulting the AP Stylebook. At the very least, note AP style calls for only one space after a period or colon. Numbers ten and under should be spelled out (with the exception of age: a 5-year-old boy).

“Read, read, read. Read everything—trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read!  You’ll absorb it. Then, write.”—William Faulkner

Reading the content of other industry leaders can provide useful information. First, insight will be gained as to what the competitors are up to. Second, inspiration can be found on other sites. Lastly, valuable lessons can be learned about what not to do!

There is no better way to end this article than by sharing G.K. Chesterton’s words: “I owe my success to having listened respectfully to the very best advice, and then going away and doing the exact opposite.”

This post was written by Colin Olson. He is a content writer and editor at Fresh Essays – an online writing services provider. He likes to write essays on history and education related topics.

One Essential Characteristic of a Pro Blogger [Not Your Everyday Blog Writing Advice]

Each week, my Content manager Georgina turns away around 20 or so posts for publication at ProBlogger. She tells me that maybe 5-10% of those are of a publishable standard, but they just don’t fit our audience or purpose. The rest aren’t pro-level pieces.

Learning

Image courtesy stock.xchng user Valsilvae

Forget for a moment that these are guest posts—which are supposed to be bloggers’ best content.

Instead, I want to think about what that means for the average blogger, toiling away on their blog day in, day out, trying to reach and captivate their audience.

What is “pro blogging”?

Pro blogging isn’t just about making money through a blog. You don’t need to write a word to do that. But I think most of us would expect pro bloggers to be able to write reasonably well.

Why?

Because Pro bloggers need to be consummate communicators. Whether they hire others to write for their blogs, or use video, audio, or images rather than text, clear expression is a hallmark of any pro blogger.

Clarity doesn’t just mean error-free writing. It means:

  • content that touches readers, showing you empathize with them
  • relevant, helpful content
  • consistent information, in terms of frequency, tone, etc.
  • content that delivers what it promises, and has integrity.

A blogger might use writing for a range of purposes, too:

  • to attract readers, and keep them coming back
  • to promote their blog or sell something
  • to approach potential collaboraters
  • to build relationships and networks
  • to make money directly (e.g. through an information product).

There’s plenty of great quality advice about writing and content marketing online. Writing tips abound.

This week, we want to present a few different takes on writing for your blog. Over the next four days we’ll publish some posts that focus on some nitty-gritty aspects of writing—ideas that go a bit deeper than usual.

Writing to make money

Our first post will look at writing product reviews that deliver real value. Among other things, the post explores the challenges bloggers face in exposing the negative aspects of a product they’re reviewing and may want to encourage readers to buy (if they’re an affiliate for it).

Handling that tension is exactly the kind of thing that pro bloggers work to master. This post will show how showing the full picture supports authority, and can actually encourage more sales than a purely glowing review.

Writing to improve

One great thing about blogging is that everything we do is practice—each post we publish should be an improvement on the last one.

Looking to leaders for advice on writing is an excellent way to develop your skills. Our second post will reveal the thoughts of some of the world’s greatest writers, and provide starting points to help you apply that advice in your own posts.

Writing to build your profile

When bloggers think about content marketing, we often ponder the question of content reuse. If you do it right, it can be an efficient way to get the most out of the time you spend writing—it can boost your visibility, your publishing schedule, and your available time.

Our third post this week explains how freelance writers can best reuse their freelance content on their own blogs. This isn’t a straightforward topic, and this post highlights the potential advantages and pitfalls so that if you’re a freelancer, you know where to start looking into content reuse.

Writing to experiment

For many bloggers, after high-school or college essays, and workplace emails, blogging is the first focused writing they’ve done.

We’ve all heard the advice that if you want to be a great writer, you need to be a big reader. But the final post in our series shows that to be a better blog writer, you need to be a better writer, period. It prompts us to look beyond blog posts for opportunities to write, and topics to write on. It shows that through experimentation, we can learn skills out of context that we can bring back and apply to our blogs.

Are you up to the challenge?

The advice we’ll cover this week goes beyond the everyday. It assumes you’re already serious about being good writer, and are facing the challenges of becoming a great writer. There’s no hype in these posts, and no write-your-way-to-a-million-dollar-income-in-five-minutes advice. They’re posts that aim to provide a different perspective on post writing.

Where are you at as a writer? Are you ready to challenge yourself to become better? Or do you think you’ve reached your limits, either in terms of potential, or interest in writing? Share your perspective with us in the comments.

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

This guest post is by Tommy Walker of Inside The Mind

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Open. Vulnerable. Penetrable…

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

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

Get out of your head! Again.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“If we catch you blogging, you suck.”

“If we catch you marketing, you suck.”

Sometimes I wish John Tyrell were a blogging coach.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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