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How to Get Read: 8 Ways to Take your Blog From Existence to Greatness

This is a guest contribution from Jerry Low.

 

Here’s one thing I bet you don’t know about Isaac Newton – do you know Newton has the most valuable tooth in human history?

One of his teeth was sold in 1816 at auction for approximately $3,600. In today’s terms, that is about $35,000 – which cost more than a Ford Fusion Titanium car in the United States.

But how is this related to writing a great blogpost? Well, we will talk about it later (if you can’t wait, skip to point #2). But before we dig deeper, here are two more facts for you:

Blogging is practically a given these days, regardless of your title or industry — and for good reason.

Though there are plenty of ingredients required to make it… rather than just write to an abyss, quality blog posts are one that you just can’t overlook.

But what exactly makes a great blog post? Here are eight tips to take your blog from good to great.

1. Make your titles count

Before anyone actually reads your post, they’re going to see your headline — and that headline often is the only consideration you get as to whether they read the post or move on, so make it count.

Coming up with decent headlines isn’t always the easiest thing to do, but by creating a good set of headline templates that you can use later for brainstorming and writing reference, you’ll save yourself time on the back end — not to mention beat out writers’ block when it strikes.

A little more on headlines

Keep in mind the following when it comes to developing headlines for your blog posts:

Don’t under-estimate the value of a good “how to”

Every article seems at least a little bit interesting when you add “how to” into the title. I wouldn’t be surprised to see “How to pour plain water into a glass in 49 ways” go viral one day. And you know what? I’d probably read it. “How to” just inspire curiosity.

Incorporate “How to” in different ways and in different places in your headline. For example, you might do “49 ways to pour water” or “How to pour water: 49 unique ways” or even “49 unique ways to pour water into a glass: the how-to you need to see to believe.”

By placing the “how to” statement at different points in your headline and adding in adjectives or other lead ins, you’re able to adjust your levels of directness or drama.
If it bleeds, it leads

Not all words are created equal, so use them appropriately and carefully. Some words are soft and picturesque, some are impactful, heavy, threatening, and powerful… you get the idea.

Words like “kill,” “bleed,” “scary,” “dark,” “war,” and “secret,” for example, are quite powerful and quickly draw intrigue. They can also drive directly to a point –or, conversely, simply create an interesting play on words. Consider your purpose.

For example, “The war on words” creates a very different headline than “Why are there so many bad blogs?” Frankly, it just sounds more interesting and impactful. Or, take the following — which of these two headlines would you rather read: “Bleeding Blue… Democrats Take All” or “Democrats Win Seats Tuesday”?

3. Ride on the famous

Famous people have pull and persuasion — use that. This isn’t to say that you can start making up quotes or statements supposedly from Sandra Bullock… but you can use what (and who) you know and have access to.

Every industry has its power players — allude to them or incorporate them smartly and relevantly.

For example, “8 Ways to Think Like Warren Buffet — Create a Powerful Rapport With Your Readers,” mentions a well-known industry authority in a non-attributive way that still establishes know-how and intrigue. “Develop a Steve Jobs-quality Vision for your Company” is another example — it includes a well-known, respected persona in a neutral way to gain interest and establish legitimacy. It works for all industries — fashion and beauty? Try something like “5 Fall Outfits Even Anna Wintour Would Approve of.”

2. Open with a bang

When someone reads your blog, you have just a few seconds to hook that reader, so make every word count and make every word interesting. If you can hook visitors to read even just your first two or three sentences, they’ll be more likely to read your whole post.

There are many different types of hooks you can use in your blogpost. To name a few:

  • Shock the readers with interesting facts.
  • Use a quote that meshes up with your topic.
  • Ask a question to spark readers’ curiosity.

Make use of fact sites (example – this, this, and this) to find interesting facts and data. The story about Isaac Newton’s tooth earlier, for example, is a hook I use to attract more reads.

3. Write how you speak

speak

People read when what they’re reading is fun… corporate or formal tones are not fun to read, so loosen it up a bit.

Write your blog in fun, easy-to-understand language that takes a more personal tone. This is what distinguishes your blog from a whitepaper or other corporate communication — and, it’s why people will read your blog. They want to know what you’re up to and they want to know you (assuming you have something to say, that is) — so let them get to know you. Share your thoughts in your writing and let them get to know you by not only what you say, but how you say it.

Nenad Senic says it beautifully:

“Write like you talk. I love English for that. No matter what industry you’re coming from, write the way you talk. Writing blog posts is like giving advice or/and making a point…Your goal is to be understood. You want to get your message across. You can’t do so with cold, bureaucratic-like language.”

4. Use images to your advantage

It’s common sense, but also statistically proven again and again: articles that incorporate images attract more back links and views. Choose images that are not only relevant, but that are actually interesting. Avoid generic clip art, people can smell cheesy a mile away.

Personally, Pixabay and Compfight are my favorite sources for high quality, beautiful, and free photos. I love Pixabay due to its flexibility (no attribution is needed for images found on Pixabay!) and Compfight due to its flawless user-experience (very easy to search images). And, in case you want more, here’s a list of 20+ free image sources for bloggers.

5. Give your post flow and structure

Good blog posts are easy and fun to read not only because of how they say and the tone or language — they’re also easy to read because they’re well structured. Things like sub headlines, bullet points, images, tables, and other visual elements help to guide the reader’s eye and makes it easy for people to follow and read.

Easy reading gets more reading — it’s true.

6. Be social, be friendly

Want to get your blog posts read more frequently? Make it easy for people to share on social media.

When people see something they like, they like to share it with people they know — so making it easy for them to do so will direct more traffic to your blog. Simple share buttons for the major social networks are free and easy to install on your blogs — in fact, 54 percent of the 10,000 largest websites now display social sharing links and, according to a recent study, websites with a Twitter share button get 700% more sharing than their social media unfriendly counterparts.

Not into the buttons or want to draw even more attention? Don’t be shy — use call to actions to better interact with your readers and encourage them to share the post.

7. Have your own voice

You remember in #4 when we talked about writing more in the way you speak? This is your voice — use it.

Your voice is your personality — and it’s what sells your blog and makes it unique. Don’t try to be someone you’re not and never be too shy to show your personality. Your blog is your own — you’re allowed (and supposed to) share your opinions and even stand up to criticism. It’s your opinion… that’s the beauty of it!

In truth, controversial posts often get more links and attention on social media… that isn’t to say that you should write with the intention of picking fights — just don’t be afraid to be yourself, opinions, personality, and all.

8. Ask for what you want

Ever read something and end up thinking something to the extent of, “and….?” Don’t write an “and…?” piece.

Make sure that every blog post has a specific point and a specific objective. That objective might be to gain social media shares, email sign-ups, or traffic to another page — the objective can change, so long as each post has one. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want — directness is good and clearly communicates to your readers. A solid call to action will accomplish this beautifully — let your readers know exactly what you want them to do.

Not sure what will work?

Do some A/B testing to determine which approach works best with your readers.

Now over to you!

These are my tips above to keep your blog post on the “great” list.

There are lots of things that separate a great blog and great posts from the rest. Do you agree with the points I mentioned in this article? What’s in your must have factors for a great blogpost? I look forward to your input in the comment section.

Jerry Low is a geek dad who enjoys building web assets. You can get his best blogging and growth hacking advice here.

Modern Enterprise Link Building Strategies for 2015

This is a guest contribution from digital marketer Ryan Chester. Screen Shot 2014-12-05 at 11.39.34 am Everything needs to adapt with the advancement of customer needs, whether it is fashion, food or even enterprise digital marketing strategies. People should have to make changes in their principles as the time changes. Likewise, when you talk about link building and its key principles, you should have to create some distinction from their previous techniques because things are not like what they used to be in the past. Companies, who haven’t modified their strategies, or hired followers of old link building techniques, always suffer. They encounter difficulties in increasing their online presence. However, it does not mean that one cannot mend it or to become successful again. All they have to do is to change their thoughts and make themselves aware of the latest Google’s linking strategies.

Importance of links

I personally own a business, in addition to my current job. I too experienced this situation where my business was about to close – but thanks to Google’s Webmaster Tools, I gained insights about establishing credibility. I’m back to successfully running my business that is getting amazing response from all over the world. Initially, what I came to know is that creating links is an extremely important steps if you want to get quality search engine results.

Matt Cutts, head of the web-spam team in Google, cleared that Google uses sophisticated text-matching strategies to display search results and makes sure that they are both relevant and important for the users. Throughout my learning process, I found that links are not only important for maximizing your online presence, but they are even important for different SEO purposes. This is a possibility of getting traffic from many of your linked websites. Maybe, people visiting other websites are directed towards your site via external links. So, you can say that backlinks are always important for any website who wants to survive in this virtual world, no matter they have zero value. Let’s have a look at some of the most successful link building strategies.

On-Site Content Creation

The Webmaster Guidelines of Google recommend website owners create high quality and unique content that is relevant to their business, so they can naturally gain popularity and help them to develop trusted links. Your website’s traffic depends on the backlinks and links’ ability to cater attention of readers is entirely based on the quality one will be producing. If you have created impressive, flawless and high quality content, chances are higher that it will get better response compared to those that have low quality content. So, your first step in link building should be based on online content marketing with all the quality standards involved.

Tips for Creating Backlinks

Research

When I started, I didn’t know the real importance of research and didn’t have any idea where to begin. But, as soon as I explored the field, I began to realize its importance. My online content strategy was not successful until I came to terms with this. After getting all the information, I reset my techniques and focused on the research. However, I didn’t have to make much effort because I got something useful! Let me explain… since you are not alone in this industry, your competitors (who may have been in this industry for a long time) have done enough legwork that can help you in evaluating what sort of content you should create. You just have to look at their work and find out what type of content attracted most of the readers. This industry establishes credibility by revealing their secrets to gain more clients.

Content Development

After determining the best topics related to your industry, start combining them with content types that best compliment the idea. Below are some of the most famous content kinds that can definitely generate high traffic:

  • Lists

They are considered as the easiest techniques to create content because they can easily provide the desired information. Just like Heartbleed Hit List, you can cater attention of readers by showing more and more list numbers.

  • Videos

The web is making a major shift toward video content, and it’s a good time to get ahead of the curve. There is a lot of opportunity here, and you can make a big splash with YouTube in sending a lot of traffic to your website. There are some tips optimize your YouTube video or channel for better rankings too!

  • In-Depth Guide

If you have knowledge about a certain topic, you should discuss it in depth. Apart from showing how efficient and expert you are, I would recommend you to accept criticism from people because this will help you to get appreciation in the sense that you are ready to learn more- no matter how much experience you have.  It’s always a good idea to build a 101 guide or introduction guide, like we did for email marketing intro for entrepreneurs.

  • Pillar Pages

They actually refer to list of resources present on your website’s page for a certain topic. You can combine many articles on one topic on one pillar page and welcome readers to have a look at them. This will not only help you in showing the extent of your knowledge on that topic but also earn links and shares for you.

  • Industry Reports

You can gather data on your industry in the form of industry reports and allow readers to go through them whenever they want. Be sure not just to ask questions on different aspects but also throw light over demographic details to authenticate your words.

Content Promotion

Don’t think your task is over because content creation is half the battle. Its publication and promotion also need your attention because it is the actual time to attract readers so they can read it. When your goal is to create links, don’t just start sharing on social media platforms or via email marketing. You need to adopt a different approach and try to approach people through other sources. You can use Influencer Outreach, Content Amplification as well as blogging platforms to show your online presence.

More Link Building Strategies to Consider

Apart from the above mentioned tactics, you can follow any of the strategies that I am going to discuss.

Guest Blogging

Guest blogging is not exactly what people think of it. You approach the right people, at the right time , with right concept. In order to create quality links with guest blogging, you need to find top publications in your field, which are also getting good amount of social media shares and traffic. You can apply as a regular contributor instead of only being a guest blogger. Once you start publishing the content, connect them with your Google+ profile to create a satisfactory authorship. This will help in improving your reputation as the industry expert.

Media

You can become a credible source for reputed journalists as they are always in search of interesting finding, quotes or reports. This can help you in earning sufficient links on different online publications.

Sponsorships

Charities and sponsorship is a good idea to feature yourself in front the audience and influencing them to try out the services of your business. This will help you gain quality backlinks.

Ryan Chester is a digital marketing connoisseur. Part of the Enterprise SEO Team at AnnexCore. He has helped many multi-national companies achieve success with their digital marketing endeavors. Chat with him on Twitter here.

How to Promote Your Blog Without Letting The Rest of Your Blogging Slide

Recently I shared the stories of how my two blogs grew. One (ProBlogger) had a ‘tipping point’ early on which grew traffic almost overnight and the other (Digital Photography School) had slow but steady growth over several years with no real tipping point.

There were some great comments on that post including this one from Steve:

I have seen a recent increase in traffic, but it didn’t happen by accident. I spent a good deal of time promoting my blog in various ways. I suspect your increases resulted from similar efforts.

I ran an experiment to see what would happen if I made a concerted effort to promote my blog. My readership increased, which is extremely gratifying. But it came at a cost. My marketing diverted time away from producing high quality content.

I want a lot of readers, and I want them to see my best work. I have yet to figure out how to do the marketing and still have enough time to produce my best content. Do you have any thoughts on this?

I wanted to publish Steve’s comment for a few reasons.

Firstly – I think a lot of us could learn from Steve’s observation that growing traffic to a site almost always is the result of time and effort spent intentionally trying to grow your blog.

I don’t know how Steve went about growing his traffic but there are a couple of ways I’ve seen bloggers work hard at doing it:

1. prolific networking – we’ve all seen bloggers do this. They are on every Twitter chat, commenting on many blogs, attending meetups and events, participating in forums and Facebook groups, emailing other bloggers and generally putting themselves out there many times every single day. The result is that they seem to be everywhere and are on the radar of everyone.

This approach takes MASSIVE effort!

2. guest posting – I can think of numerous bloggers (I’ll share one example later in this post) who have used strategic guest posting to grow their profile and traffic. Those who do it best write amazingly helpful content and usually appear on multiple blogs. They usually also pay a heap of attention to the comments sections on those guest posts (answering every single comment left) and social media.

Another approach that probably fits into this guest posting approach are those who put themselves out there constantly to be interviewed or to interview others. Also in this category are those who put themselves out there in speaking at events.

This approach takes a MASSIVE effort!

But it Doesn’t Stop There

The above two strategies are not the only two that can be used to grow traffic to a blog (and they are not mutually exclusive – many do both) but I think you’ll agree that they illustrate this idea that growing traffic is not a passive thing – it takes significant work.

But it doesn’t stop there… and this is the second reason I love Steve’s comment.

To grow a successful and well read blog takes a lot more than just putting yourself out there to promote your blog prolifically.

As Steve observes – it also takes time to create high quality content for your own blog.

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This is where the juggle begins because as we all know, creating great content for your blog on a regular basis takes a MASSIVE effort!

Of course the work doesn’t stop at the creation of content, there’s also serving those readers who come as a result of your promotion who are reading that content.

Many of the most successful bloggers that I’ve seen rise to prominence over the past few years also have an incredible focus upon building community with and serving the readers that they currently have.

They respond to comments on blog posts, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, email etc.

This takes a MASSIVE effort!

Throw into the mix the challenge of monetising your blog, the technical challenges keeping a blog up and running can throw at you, paying attention to your blog design and the challenges of having a family, ‘real’ job, social life and staying healthy and you can see why many bloggers feel quite overwhelmed and disillusioned with blogging!

“Do you have any thoughts on this?”

Steve finished his comment with a question… one that many of us ask. What’s the answer to this massive tension that we all face?

To grow our blog’s traffic takes us away from creating content. To focus upon one thing means a ‘cost’ in another area.

I don’t have THE answer to this question but as I responded to Steve’s comment a couple of thoughts came to mind.

Firstly – Pay Attention to the Tension

It is very easy to get out of balance. Over the years I see bloggers often falling into one of two camps.

1. Focus Upon Content at the Expense of Promotion

This sometimes comes as a result of feeling too shy to put yourself out there but can also be the result of a ‘build it and they will come’ mindset and a belief that great content will attract readers.

This is a half truth.

Great content does help to attract and retain readers – but it’s a lot easier to do that if you’re ‘out there’ promoting that content in some way. This is especially true when you’re just starting out.

As your blog gets older and you do have an established readership you’ll find that they do share great content for you – but in the early days it’s you that needs to do that work!

2. Focus Upon Promotion at the Expense of Content

I’ve seen a number of bloggers lately who are ‘everywhere’ and doing an amazing job of networking, growing their profile and just generally being a fantastic contribution to their niche on social media.

The problem for them is that they do this at the expense of building their own blog. There comes a time where if you want to build a business around your blog that you need to get people engaged in what you do on your blog.

If you’re not paying attention to creating great content there and engaging the readers who come – much of your promotional effort will be wasted.

Pay attention to the tension – spot when you’re getting out of balance and adjust your approach as you do. It’s really important!

Secondly – Try a Promotional Burst Approach

It strikes me that some of the bloggers that come to mind who used guest posting to grow their blogs a few years back didn’t use the strategy indefinitely.

One of the bloggers who I marvelled at with regards to how he built his audience was Leo Babauta from Zen Habits.

Leo seemed to burst onto the blogging scene – seemingly from nowhere – back in 2006-2007. I don’t remember the first time that I came across him but I’m pretty sure it would have been in a guest post on someone else’s blog because Leo was prolific as a guest poster.

Leo would have these bursts of guest posting over a few weeks. It was almost as if every day over these weeks he’d be on a different blog (including here on ProBlogger). The result of the accumulation of all these posts must have been great traffic back to his blog.

The thing was that these bursts seemed to have quite inentional starts and ends to them. He’d be published everywhere (including publishing posts on his own blog) for a few weeks and then he’d pull right back and just focus upon his own blog.

I remember emailing him at one stage when I was going on holiday to see if he’d be interested in writing something for ProBlogger and he said no because he was just focusing upon writing for his own blog at that time. A few months later he was open to writing a guest post again.

I’ve never talked to Leo about this strategy but it strikes me that he must have worked really hard for a month or two before his burst of guest posting to either produce all those guest posts or have a backlog of posts to publish on his own blog and then he must have switched into ‘promotion mode’ and let it all loose.

The key though was that it was for a defined period before he got back to serving the readers he’d attracted.

I saw him do these bursts of promotion several times over a couple of years in which he built himself an amazing audience and real momentum. At this point he didn’t need to guest post so much (if at all) but his established audience began to promote him through word of mouth.

My Final Advice for Steve

There are a couple of things that I think we as bloggers always need to pay attention to – these being publishing regular high quality content on our blogs and looking after the readers we already have (community).

These activities are like a baseline. Take the focus off these at any point and your blog is likely to suffer fairly quickly.

Promoting a blog is something you should also have some baseline activities and rhythm around. For example sharing new content to social media (whether through automation or manually doing it) is good practice.

However I do think there are times where it’s probably well worth having a burst of concerted promotional effort to grow your blog.

Whether it be through guest posting, reaching out to mainstream media, attending/speaking at events or even paying for advertising – a burst of intentional promotional activity for a defined period can have some real benefits.

Giving it a ‘burst’ means that you’re able to plan for it and hopefully the baseline activities don’t suffer too much. Also by giving it a burst you can potentially get that ‘she’s everywhere’ effect that gets on people’s radar.

What’s Your Advice to Steve?

I’d LOVE to hear your advice for Steve on how to keep this balance between promotional activity and paying attention to the rest of your blogging right.

Over to you!

Is it Time to Burn Feedburner? There are Alternatives

This is a guest contribution from Steve Williams of feedburner-alternatives.com

To build up a readership it’s crucial to offer your visitors to subscribe to your blog, so they get updated every time you publish a new post. The two most important channels are email and RSS. Social media, despite the hype, is only second priority in terms of effectiveness.

Several services exist which help you to offer easy RSS & Email subscription options, ranging from RSS subscription facilitators (turning your RSS feed into a nice-to-look-at subscription screen which anyone can understand), RSS2Email as well as classic Email marketing services.

Feedburner: The top dog in decline

The – by far – most popular choice in the blogging community is (still) Feedburner. Feedburner offers solutions for both RSS and Email. And the best of it: it’s 100% free.

However, since Google bought Feedburner in 2007, it never got further developed. Several features got shut down, such as the monetization tool Adsense for feeds as well as the Feedburner API.

And it’s getting worse: more and more bloggers notice that Feedburner’s email delivery is not working reliably anymore. And as there has been no Google support to solve the issue many bloggers have given up on Feedburner.

However: which alternative services could take Feedburner’s spot?

The Feedburner alternatives

The essence of our research: there’s not one solution for all. It all depends on what your needs are.

Switching from FeedBurner Decision Tree Infographic

Credit to feedburner-alternatives.com

Feedburner is not working anymore, and it’s time to do the switch.
If you used Feedburner to handle your RSS feeds, Feedblitz (inexpensive) and Feedpress (slightly more expensive, but more features) are the way to go.
If you also used Feedburner to update your readers by email, then Feedblitz is the first choice which offers the most advanced solutions for both RSS and email (however, they charge quite a bit).
If you want to spice up your email newsletter a bit more, it may be worth to switch to the services which focus on those, i.e. either Mailchimp or Aweber. For the RSS-part you can then use Feedblitz or Feedpress.
Are you already using one of those alternatives? Let us know in the comments!

Steve Williams initiated www.feedburner-alternatives.com, reacting to the increasing frustration with Feedburner and the time-consuming process to find an alternative. Contact him on his page with suggestions on how to further improve the overview.

What to Do BEFORE You Launch A Product On Your Blog

Over the last 5 years there has been a shift in the way that many bloggers try to monetise their blogs.

Rather than relying upon advertising and working with brands to make money – many have started to develop their own products to sell directly to readers (whether it be by selling virtual products or physical ones).

There are many reasons why selling your own product is a good thing to do. No longer will you be sending people away from your site – but they’ll be staying with you. You can also ensure that the quality of what you’re selling is high and you end up taking 100% of the profits of sale – not just a small part of it for the traffic you send.

Of course selling products on your blog takes a lot of work – more than many bloggers realise when they dream of doing so.

If you’re thinking of creating your first product – get ready to get focused!

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For one you need to develop your product. At dPS our photography eBooks take a minimum of 3-6 months to write, edit, proof, design and launch (and we have a team working on it around the clock).

But it isn’t just a matter of creating a product. There’s a lot more that you should be working on BEFORE you launch a product that will help to ensure it is profitable.

The Sad Tale of a Blogger with a Great eBook and No Sales

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I spoke recently to an eBook author/blogger who couldn’t work out why her eBook hadn’t sold well. She’d read of the success of other eBook authors making big money with eBooks and decided to create one of her own.

She worked hard for months on producing the best eBook that she could. Her problem was that she focused so much upon creating the eBook that other things too a back seat for the months it took to produce it.

  • Rather than publishing five high-quality weekly blog posts, she slipped to being lucky to publish one mediocre one
  • Her twitter account became a ghost town
  • She stopped emailing her newsletter list
  • Her Facebook page posting dropped away
  • She stopped interacting with other bloggers in her niche

On the day she launched her eBook she did so with a fantastic product but a blog with very little engagement or reader goodwill. Her eBook barely made any sales as a result.

The Other Scenario I See - the other situation I’ve seen many times are people who create products and then when they’re ready to launch start researching how to find people to buy it which results in them starting a blog, email list, social media accounts the day they want to launch their product!

Believe it or not I’ve had quite a few confused emails from people in this boat over the years!

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They end up starting out even further behind than someone with a blog that they’ve ignored to develop a product.

Having a Great Product Is Only Half Of the Profitable Product Puzzle

I’ve heard these kinds of story from bloggers many times in the last few years – in fact it is a challenge I faced in producing my own first eBooks (when I had to do it all myself).

There’s so much work involved in producing a product like an eBook – writing, editing, designing, marketing – that it is easy to let everything else slip.

The problem is that having a great product to sell is only half of the profitable product puzzle. The other half is having people ready to buy it.

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If the sacrifice you make to create a product is looking after your readership then your efforts will be wasted.

If anything – in the lead up to launching your product you should INCREASE your efforts in serving your readership, deepening engagement and growing a positive relationship with those who could potentially buy what you’re developing.

Here’s what to Focus on BEFORE you Launch a Product on your Blog

Before I suggest some areas to work on before you launch a product let me say that this is always a juggle and it’s hard to get perfect.

Not only are we working on creating a product, keeping a blog running and engaging readers – on top of that there’s ‘life’ (family, other work etc).

It’s not easy but being prepared is so important!

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Other than creating the product itself, here are four things I’d be working on to help me be ready for a profitable product launch.

1. Growing a ‘Warm’ Email List

NewImageBy far the biggest source of sales for our eBooks have been email. Yes your blog and social media will product drive sales too – but email is likely to convert better. I’d estimate over 90% of our eBook sales come from the emails we send to our list.

There’s two parts of this task.

A. having people sign up to your list – promoting your email list is really important.

B. keeping your list warm – don’t just email when you’ve got something to sell. Keep your list ‘warm’ by sending them regular useful information. On dPS this means we send them a weekly newsletter with all our latest tutorials every Thursday night.

Regularly emailing your list with useful content grows the relationship, builds trust and gets them used to hearing from you.

It’s so important!

2. Growing Your Blog Archives

NewImageMost of the people who subscribe to your email list (and social media accounts) will have found you as a result of reading a post on your blog. Keep producing great content on your blog to keep them engaged.

This will give you content that you can email to your list but also will help you to keep growing that list (fresh content gives people more to share on social and via word of mouth).

Also use your blog to take your readers on a journey towards your product launch. For example:

  • Telling your readers that you’re working on something for them
  • Involving them in the journey of creating your product
  • Using blog posts to research and test ideas in your product and building anticipation of your launch

3. Building Your Social Presence

NewImageWhile I’ve not seen a heap of sales coming directly from social media for our eBooks I do find social media to be a great way to keep our readership engaged and to build our brand – all of which can help when it comes time to email our list and launch a product.

I also love using social media to understand our readers and research products.

In the lead up to a product launch I quite often ask questions that relate to our product to help me understand what our readers needs and problems are and what might trigger their interest. This is golden information when creating sales/marketing material (sales pages, emails etc).

I don’t tend to sell too hard on social at the time of a product launch but do include a little messaging on our social accounts to support our emails.

NewImage4. Grow Your Network and Affiliate Relationships

Your readership, list and social network is probably where most of your sales will come from but there’s also potential to go beyond that if you have relationships with other influencers.

This might simply be friendship type relationships (another blogger who simply wants to support you) or commercial relationships (where you offer commissions to those who sign up as your affiliates).

Either approach works best if those relationships are warm and engaging ones.

Think about when you would promote what another blogger is doing? If you’re like me you’re more likely to promote then if they are engaging, friendly and communicating regularly with you.

So keep interacting with other bloggers in your niche in natural ways (don’t overwhelm them). This might simply be by engaging on social media but it could also be private industry groups on Facebook or LinkedIn.

Also consider promoting what they are doing to help grow trust and relationships. Find win/win ways to benefit from supporting each other.

How to Get your Dreams Into Reality

Again – I understand the juggle it takes to create a product without letting your blog suffer. It isn’t easy but let me finish with two pieces of advice from my own personal experience.

1. Take Action

I’ve lost count of the times I’ve met bloggers with a dream to create a product that they’ve not actioned.

Get that dream out of your head! I spoke at World Domination Summit on how to do this (the video is below) but the #1 thing you need to do is ‘take action’ – even small actions.

I put off creating my first eBooks for over two years because I couldn’t see how I could keep my blogs running AND create those products. I was juggling a lot (we were also starting a family and newborns/sleep deprivation didn’t help).

So for over two years I took no action on my dream and in doing so missed out on two years of a new income stream and learning.

When I finally did take action and launched my product my first feeling was one of regret that I didn’t find a way to do it earlier.

Don’t allow yourself to be paralysed – you need to take action, even if it is very small steps. Which leads me to my next point.

2. Take Your Time: Small Steps Can Still Get You There

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Telling your to ‘take your time’ might seem at odds with my last point of ‘taking action’ but I think it can co-exist. Let me explain.

If creating product means you need to sacrifice the relationship with your readers – don’t do it. Find a way to take action that doesn’t cost you that relationship.

After two years of taking no action on my dream of creating my first eBooks I decided I needed to do something – anything – or give up the dream.

The only way I could do it was to get up 15 minutes a day earlier every day and get it done.

15 minutes a day isn’t much (although when you’ve been up settling babies in the night it feels like a sacrifice) but it is more than 0 minutes a day. Over time it adds up – 15 minutes a day over a month is 7.5 hours (an extra work day a month) and over 3-4 months you’ll be amazed what you can achieve!

In 15 minutes a day I took small but steady steps toward my goal of launching an eBook. I initially spent it on writing, then on editing, then on design, then on researching and setting up shopping carts, then on writing sales copy etc.

It took me months to get there but in 15 minutes a day steps I launched that first product WITHOUT sacrificing the relationship I had with my readers.

In fact I grew the relationship I had with my readers even stronger – so when those first eBooks launched (here on ProBlogger with 31 Days to Build a Better Blog and on dPS with a Portrait eBook) they blew my mind with the sales that they achieved.

You don’t need to make a choice between creating a product and looking after your readers!

Is Blogging Dead? How Blogs are changing and How You Can Stay on Top

Image via Flickr user Spondle.

Image via Flickr user Spondle.

This is a guest contribution from author and freelance writer Steff Green.

Like that sparkly rhinestone jacket you purchased last year but suddenly realise is actually kind of hideous, blogging trends change with the seasons. What was once the mark of a high-quality blog now screams of incompetence. Readers are fickle and changing, apt to desert you at a moments notice when something new and shiny and rhinestone-encrusted comes along.

But could blogging actually be dying?

Many sources confirm that it is. The Guardian points to statistics showing the amount of blogs started by teens has halved since 2006, and massively declined among millennial. Jason Kottke, writer of one of the longest-running blogs on the web, states that the blog’s demise came about because the fundamental purpose of blogging was no being fulfilled with other media. In her Atlantic piece titled 2013: The Year “The Stream” Crested, Alexis C. Madrigal discusses the idea that content online is now organised by preference and importance, rather than chronology, rendering the format of the blog obsolete.

“Today, teens are about as likely to start a blog (over instagramming or snapchatting) as they are to buy a music CD. Blogs are for 40-somethings with kids.” – Jason Kottke.

With social media platforms becoming the online communication too du jour, and with smartphones and other devices becoming for many the preferred platform, blogs have fallen to the wayside in favour of shorter, punchier messages specifically tailored to hit a reader’s buttons.

So what does this mean for you, the blogger? Are you scared? I’m not. And here’s why. I know that whatever changes come about, there are always people out there who need to know things, or need to be entertained. I know things, and I’m mildly amusing, so as long as I’m creating content, it will find an audience, even if that audience – and the way they find and digest that information – may change.

Here are some changes I’ve noticed, and some ideas for how you can stave off your blog’s untimely death:

People are less interested in following blogs

I’ve found that subscriber numbers are way down on all the blogs I manage. The use of feeds has diminished since Google Reader was laid to rest, and I think when Gmail and other clients started filtering promotional material away from the “Primary Inbox”, blog updates via email became less important.

With dwindling subscriber lists, what do you do to keep your readership intact?

What you can do about it:

  • Just because people aren’t subscribing, doesn’t mean they aren’t reading. People are more likely to follow your blog on social media – clicking through to your links when you post them on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.
  • Take advantage of this swing towards social media use by ramping up for social presence. One thing I like to do is post an article link a couple of times over the week, to increase the chances of people seeing it. I also frequently post links to older articles from my archives.
  • Look at new ways to boost subscriber rates by offering something different. Many bloggers are transitioning into “media hubs” – a place where many different stories and opinions and ideas and media are collected and disseminated. Offer content that can be shared on social media with ease and keep people coming back by giving them a whole lot more of what they want.
  • Rebrand your blog so it’s not a “blog”. Instead of a blog tab in your navigation bar, call it “Steff’s Thoughts” or “Helpful Tips” or “Articles” – recreate yourself, move away from the title of “blogger” and start thinking of your website as a media business.

Guest Blogging Isn’t As Valuable As it once Was

I’ve been finding my recent guest blogging aren’t yielding the results I’ve come to expect. Whereas a post written for a A-grade blog in 2012 might generate 300 hits to my site, these days it might only generate 30.

People are paying less and less attention to the bio links in posts, and Google is, too. Host blogs, hounded constantly by advertisers looking for low-cost linkbacks, have tightened their submission guidelines to the point that getting in is almost as strenuous as a job application at Google.

Yet, despite the changes in the guest-blogging space, many bloggers are still citing this technique as one of the core methods of building a following. So, what do you do to improve your guest blogging results?

What you can do about it:

  • Don’t write off guest-blogging altogether – it still has its place. You just have to be more strategic about it.
  • Instead of randomly choosing 20 sites to target for guest blogs, focus on building ongoing relationships with 1-3 popular sites. Become a regular contributor. Allow that audience to get to know you through regular posts. This is how you get them to start following you.
  • Choose topics that require specific examples from your own sites and businesses. This way you can talk about your personal experience and, as you describe yourself as a case studies, readers are more likely to be interested in your work and click through.
  • Pull together resources with other bloggers to create awesome products like free webinars or documents. “Free” is still a great way to attract new readers to the top of your funnel. For example, the team at First Site Guide created this incredible Start a Blog guide with advice from some of the best bloggers in the business. It was a real team effort and has provided a free resource that I personally find incredibly useful.

People Interact on Social Media, Not Your Sites

So how many blog comments do you get, huh? Is it anything like the number you had four years ago? I doubt it very much. Practically every blogger I’ve talked to has said comments are on the decline. Why? Two words: social media.

Readers are not only using social media to find your content, they are also using their favourite platforms to interact with it, and you. A reader is more likely to share your post on Facebook and leave a comment there than write something on the blog itself.

If your readers are flocking to social media to discuss your posts, what can you do to steer them back to your site?

What You Can Do About It?

  • First of all, I think you should let your readers take the lead with how and where they want to discuss your posts. If discussion is moving on to social media, than I say, “embrace it!”
  • Delete the comment function of your blog altogether, or at least hide the number of comments on a post, so readers aren’t always seeing a big “0 comments” after the post title.
  • Focus on building and engaging with your audience on one or two of your favourite social media platforms. Discuss topics, ask questions, post interesting links and get them to talk with you throughout the day, not just when you post an article. Don’t try to be everywhere at once, but use the platforms you enjoy to build your audience.
  • At the end of your blog posts, invite readers to share and discuss your content on Facebook.
  • Post content on your social media you don’t post on your blog. I like to share funny links and music videos throughout the day on my Facebook page.

Monetization of Sites

Readers have started to get smart to the methods of blog advertising – they might avoid affiliate links, scoff at “sponsored content” and glance over your sidebar ads without a single click. Google is punishing the selling of text links and other types of sponsored content. It seems that selling advertising is no longer a way to create a viable income stream.

And it’s not just advertising. With the advent of the kindle and readers coming to expect ebooks for $2.99, revenue from ebook sales on blogs have dwindled.

Or is it? Here’s what you can do to jump-start monetization on your blog:

What can you do about it?

  • Bloggers are getting truly entrepreneurial and thinking about monetization from outside of the context of their blogs. For example, Elsie and Emma from A Beautiful Mess – a simple DIY blog – created an app allowing users to add doodles and words on top of their images. The app became one of the most popular.
  • Other bloggers are stepping out from behind the keyboard and building branded content in a live setting. The three bloggers behind The Blogcademy, for example, are running live workshops all around the world.
  • Chunky advertorial posts just won’t cut the mustard any more. Blog readers want something more authentic. Brands are still working with bloggers but many are looking for sophisticated content partnerships.
  • Other writers are using their blog as a platform to launch creative projects that might not necessarily have much to do with the topic of their site. For example, I am writing and publishing dark fantasy fiction, and my site is a music website, but I’m using it as my platform as many music fans also enjoy dark fantasy.

I’ve been blogging since 2008, and I’ve seen many different trends rise and fall. It can be hard when something we’ve come to rely on no longer works, but I think it’s important to see every setback as an opportunity in disguise – allowing us as bloggers to shift focus, re-evaluate, change things up and take risks.

Steff Green is a writer, blogger and heavy metal maiden living off-grid in rural New Zealand with her cantankerous drummer husband, a menagerie of animals and their medieval sword collection. Check out her dark fantasy novel, The Sunken, or subscribe to her blog for updates and free books.

How to Calculate the Value of Your Blog

This is a guest contribution from Tom Fanelli.

For most businesses, blogs are marketing tools. And while most take the time to measure their ROI from other marketing avenues, I’m surprised by how many don’t truly understand how their blog is (or is not) benefiting their bottom line.

Understanding your blog’s value can help you determine if you want to invest more on its development, adjust your blogging strategy to make it more effective, or simply cut back on your investment entirely.

Sound good? Here’s a guide on how to figure out your blog’s value.

Track the cost of content development.

This isn’t as easy of a task as it may initially seem. If you work with freelancers to create and upload content, their fees are the most obvious direct cost, but it’s likely that there’s still someone in-house who reviews the content – and their time is a cost to your business.

Be sure to account for time spent by all full-time employees who contribute to the blog as part of their responsibilities. Ask them to track how much time they spend working on blog-related tasks for a month.

Calculate your cost per visit. 

Okay, you know how much it costs to keep your blog going, but you want to consider that in the context of how much traffic your blog generates. If you spend money promoting your blog posts, through PPC, Outbrain, or outreach, factor this in. Don’t forget to include any associated labor costs.

Now add the cost of content development and promotion, and divide it by the number of visits over the same period. This is your blog’s “cost per visit”. It can also be valuable to determine the cost per unique visitor.

Determine the revenue of each visit. 

What direct returns do you get from your blog? You may earn money from advertising or affiliate sales. If that’s the case, calculate your total profits on a monthly basis and divide it by the number of visits during the same period.

However, many business blogs don’t have ads or support affiliate sales. Instead, your goal is likely to convert blog visitors into sales of your products or services. For product sales, you can use analytics to determine how many visitors on your blog ultimately completed a shopping transaction as well as the exact revenue from each transaction. But for most services (and some products), it may still take a phone call before they actually convert into a sale. Accounting for your blog’s influence on sales in this way is a little trickier but not impossible:

  • Track how many blog visitors end up on your “Contact” page. Figure out the average value of a new customer, and use this figure to assign a value to these “conversions”.
  • For a month, have your sales team ask new clients if they visited your blog. If the answer is yes, include that sale as part of the return you earn on your blog.
  • Use call tracking. Provide a unique phone number for those who visit your blog, so you’ll be able to say definitively that the customer was acquired in that manner.

There is also another business blogging goal that shouldn’t be overlooked, though it is not as easy to quantify: establishing your brand or expertise. The best way to account for this type of value is focus on the cost per visitor. From there, you can better determine if your investment is worth the reach you’re achieving.

Don’t forget the value of the content itself.

Many businesses reuse blog content in other ways, such as eBooks, marketing materials, social media updates, and newsletters. It’s worth calculating the cost and value of these other uses to get a more complete picture of how your blog fits into your marketing success.

If you find that your blog’s ROI isn’t bad but also isn’t where you’d like it, this is also one way that you can improve it without blowing up your entire strategy.

Now What?

So you’ve subtracted your cost per visit from your gross revenue per visit, and you now have the value of each visit. Armed with this data, you can evaluate your overall content strategy. Do you need to make adjustments? Should you double-down on your current success? Can you grow your business by driving more blog traffic through PPC ads? This figure is also important if you’re calculating the value of your domain name or website for sale.

Tom Fanelli is one of the nation’s leading experts on website development, SEO, SEM, and social media marketing. For nearly two decades, Tom has built both world-class marketing solutions and leading global marketing teams in corporate and small business environments across many industries. He has shared his insight on online customer acquisition, lead generation, and business optimization in both print and web publications, as a presenter of over 50 webinars, and as a featured speaker for companies like Intuit, Microsoft, Sage Software, and the Small Business Administration.

Follow Tom on Twitter at @tfanelli, purchase his ebook Infographics in Action, or learn more on TomFanelli.com.

Man Vs. Machine: Get Better Sales by Keeping Marketing Automation Human

Image via Flickr user Peyri Herrera

Image via Flickr user Peyri Herrera

This is a guest contribution from Veronica Taylor.

Marketing automation without a human element is just a robot on autopilot. Before, during and after each automated campaign it is essential for real people to plan, edit and review. When campaigns aren’t working, they need to be tested and updated. Most people think of marketing automation as efficient yet impersonal. When used correctly, however, most automated marketing solutions now provide the possibility for highly targeted messages based on each customer’s personal interests, preferences and history. Here are a few tips for making your automated campaigns efficient and dynamic while also building stronger connections with your customers.

Have a Specific Goal

For each campaign you create, it is essential to know what you are trying to accomplish. Are you seeking more new signups? Trying to get leads to download your whitepaper? Simply raising awareness about your business or an upcoming event? If you have automated messages going out to customers but you don’t have a clear idea of what results you are trying to measure, you will not know if the campaign was successful. You won’t know which messages were effective and which ones need to be changed. If you are not measuring the response to your messages, you are not listening to your customers. The automated campaign will continue to run robotically, with no edits or improvements. Know what you are trying to achieve. If it’s not working, update it.

Survey and Track Customers

The best way to give marketing automation a personal touch is to use it to its full potential. Marketing automation now has the capability to track and store each individual customer’s preferences, history, important dates, interests, personal information and much more. With this wealth of data, it is possible to automatically create highly personally targeted campaigns for each customer. This way, the customer receives information that is directly relevant to them, making the experience much more personal. You can send out automated appointment date reminders, bill payment notifications, birthday messages, personalized promotions and so on. This type of personalized messaging builds stronger connections and reduces customer churn. When you want to update your customer information in order to provide even better targeted messages, survey customers to learn more and keep information up to date.

Know When to Write a Personal Message

Sometimes automation just isn’t appropriate. There are many instances in business where it is essential to take the time to manually write a message or a response to a customer. In these cases, a prompt message sent by a real person has a much greater impact than an automated message ever could. These are just a few examples: when a customer makes a very large purchase and you want to thank them with a special discount or free product/service, when a customer has been with you for years and you want to show your appreciation, when a customer takes the time to write to you with feedback, questions or comments, when you make a mistake with a customer’s bill, purchase or account, when a customer has a complaint, and when you have time to make personal comments on social media (automated social media management saves oodles of time, but you absolutely need real posts or tweets thrown in).

Review and Analyze

As mentioned before, if you don’t keep track of how customers are responding to your automated messages you are simply letting a robot control your marketing, which is going to show in your sales. Real people are essential to a marketing strategy because they try different things when they see something isn’t working as well as they had hoped. One of the greatest advantages humans have over machines is that they take chances and make mistakes rather than doing the same thing over and over again. The best way to increase revenue, boost customer life span and attract new customers is to listen to what your customers want. Automated marketing solutions provide you with all the data you will ever want. Keep a close eye on your reports, open rates, unsubscribes and other data. Review your campaign data after each campaign you send. Learn what customers respond to, learn what they don’t want and learn how to react positively when you need to make a change.

To summarize:

Your marketing is ultimately in your hands. Marketing automation makes it possible for businesses to save time and money, reduce the daily effort their staff has to put in and connect more effectively with their customers. Marketing automation is a powerful tool, but like any other tool it needs a skilled operator to make it work.

Veronica Taylor, Assistant Marketing Manager at SimplyCastenjoys writing about small business marketing, improving communication strategies, social media trends and more.

5 Sources of Ideas for My Blog Posts

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On a recent webinar over at ProBlogger.com I was asked by John:

“Where do you get your ideas for blog posts?”

It’s a question we get a lot so I thought it might be a good one to write up here on the blog.

Discuss: I’m also keen to hear your experience on the question because I’m very aware that my approach is just one of many ways to go about generating blog post ideas.

1. Questions from Readers

Perhaps the #1 place I get inspiration for blog posts is the inspiration for this one – a question from a reader.

As I look back at the most popular posts here on ProBlogger I can see this pattern over and over again. While I might not always start with the actual question (as I’ve done above) questions often stimulate me writing a post.

If one person is asking a question you can bet that it is something that others are wondering about too.

Questions come from a variety of sources including:

  • Emails from readers
  • Comments on blog posts
  • Webinar Q&As
  • Real life events (both in conversations and in Q&As)
  • Social Media
  • Conversations
  • My own questions (both present and past ones)

Taking note of questions is something that you need to get in the habit of noticing, capturing and responding to – once you get into this mindset you’ll have a never ending supply of ideas.

Example: How to Convince Someone to Be Interviewed on Your Blog

2. Reader Surveys

One of the most powerful things I’ve ever done to collect reader questions and understand what topics I can write about that will solve readers needs is to set up surveys.

Over on Digital Photography School if you sign up for our email newsletter you get an invitation three months after joining to do a short survey.

The survey has a handful of demographic questions to help us get a picture of who is reading but also has an optional open ended question that asks readers if they have any questions, problems, challenges that they’d like us to write about.

Since setting up this survey we’ve had tens of thousands of people complete that question which gives us invaluable ideas.

Here’s a screen shot of the question we ask and some of the most recent responses.

Blog post ideas survey

This survey gets new responses every day and is ongoing but the other option is to do a one off survey. Here on ProBlogger we tend to do this as an annual ‘census’ where we invite readers to complete a similar survey all at the same time. This gives us a snapshot of the readership. It also enables us to compare where our readers are at today as compared to last year and the year before.

Updating Previous Topics

Once you’ve been blogging for a few years you’ll potentially have hundreds (if not thousands) of posts in your archives – some of which will become dated or even obsolete.

Going back through your archives to examine old posts that are out of date can serve as great inspiration for new posts.

Perhaps you’ve changed your opinion on the topic, or maybe there’s fresh information you can share, or maybe there is a new trend, technique or tool that you can write about.

In some cases you might want to delete the previous post (if its now completely wrong) or you might also want to update it or link to a new post on the topic.

Either way – your old dated posts will quite often give all kinds of inspiration for new ones so go hunting in your archives!

Related Reading: How to Repurpose your Content and Why You Should Do it

3. Stories/Experiences/Experiments/Learnings

Another source for many of my own most popular posts over the years have simply come from my own experience.

This has been especially the case here on ProBlogger where many of my posts have simply been me sharing what I’m learning.

Take for example some recent posts here I have shared:

How Our eBook Launches Have Evolved (after 235,000 eBook Sales) – reflections on what I’ve learned over the last 5-6 years
My Experiment with Starting a 2nd Facebook Page for My Blog – a case study on a little experimenting I was running
Tapping into Joy and Disappointment: Lessons from Our Biggest eBook Launch Ever – lessons learned in a recent launch
Spend 10 Minutes Doing This Every Day and You Could Transform Your Blogging – sharing an activity that I do that helps me
My Top 5 Mistakes as a Blogger – don’t just share the good experiences and successes!

4. Evolution of Previous Posts

Pay particular attention to previous posts that you’ve written and how people respond to them because this is often a source of great inspiration for future posts.

Let me give you an example.

Recently I noticed that an old post that we published on Digital Photography School was getting a surge in traffic from Facebook.

The post was titled How a Humble 85mm Lens Became my Favourite and was written by one of our regular paid writers.

Blog post ideas example

The post had been popular when we first posted in back in 2012 but after I’d shared it again on our Facebook page (I highlight 1-2 posts in our archives every day) it had been really well received by our Facebook community.

It struck me that perhaps we could get some of our other writers to write similar posts about their favourite lenses.

We have a private little ‘group’ on Facebook for our dPS writers so I posted the idea there.

Ideas blog posts

Our other writers liked the idea and began nominating the lenses that they’d write about and got to work on writing the posts. We’ve already published the first of these favorite lens posts and have got another 7-8 of them being written to be published over the coming months.

Want another example? Check out this post I wrote on ProBlogger last year on how I turned a simple guest post into a series of posts that generated over 3 million visitors to dPS.

This principle of watching how people react with your previous blog posts can be extended to see how people react to your previous social media updates.

A good example of this is a post I published earlier in the year here on ProBlogger titled 10 Quick Tips for Entrepreneurial Bloggers which was actually based upon some of my most popular Tweets. I looked back over the previous years of tweets from my ProBlogger twitter account to find the most retweeted and liked updates – which then became a blog post.

5. Talks/Presentations/Twitter Chats

Another source of numerous recent blog posts that I’ve written have been talks and presentations that I’ve given.

I invest many hours on preparing to speak at a conference or event so it makes sense to take that work and turn it into a blog post (or series of them) wherever possible.

An example of this would be my recent post – How to build a Blog that has Lasting Impact Upon its Readers in which I took a reader question (point #1 above) and shared my answer to it using some ideas from a recent talk I gave.

Creative control broken down

I also included some of the slides (like the one above) from my talk as graphic in the blog post to give it some visual punch.

Another example of this is a post I wrote here on ProBlogger recently titled – How to Build a Blog Worth Monetizing – in which I shared a series of tweets from a Twitter Chat that I’d co hosted (the #BlogChat twitter chat). In fact many of those tweets also had slides from a previous talk also!

Where Do You Get Ideas for Blog Posts?

I’m scratching the surface of this topic here and know there are many more ways to generate ideas – but I’m keen to hear your experience!

Where do you get your ideas for blog posts?

How to Use Google in the Most Unusual Way to Make Your Self-Editing Faster, and Better

This is a guest contribution from Karol K. You can read the first and second post in this mini series here and here.

“[...] then the evening came and she found herself sitting by the drawing board again, trying to [...]“

Um … wait a minute, is it “sitting by the drawing board” or “sitting at the drawing board”? Damn it, I never remember, and both sound okay to me! How do I check this?!

Oh, the struggles of every blogger attempting to edit their own work. There are thousands of expressions just like the one above, causing us problems on a daily basis.

Is something in or on, at or by, from or with, of or for, “all of a sudden” or “all of the sudden”? There’s really no end to this craze. And this is especially relevant if English is not your first language.

So what to do? What to do if you’re not entirely sure and you don’t want to look silly?

Call a friend? Email a friendly blogger? Shout this out on Twitter?

Sure, that could work, but you can be sure that if you do this multiple times throughout the day, people will hate you.

There’s a quicker and better solution though.

Its name is Google.

Please, hold on! Don’t leave just yet. I promise the trick I’m about to describe isn’t as obvious as it sounds now.

Introducing clever Googling!

Here’s what I do when I’m in doubt like that.

Step #1. I go to Google and search for part of the phrase that I’m uncertain of. I put†the phrase in quotation marks.

Using the example above, like so:

“sitting by the drawing board”

Now, the individual results Google gives me don’t matter that much. What matters is the number of indexed pages:

google1

Not a lot in this case.

Step #2. I start checking other known alternatives. Like so:

google2

Ah, that’s better, over 130,000 results.

In most cases, what this means is that the higher number means proper expression.

The end.

Quick. Simple. Correct in most cases.

(Of course, sometimes a common error is more popular than the correct form. But even if that’s the case, can using this wrong form still be considered a serious mistake?)

How to do this properly

To be perfectly honest with you, I use this trick all the time. I’ve truly made Google my lightning-fast blog editor, and I encourage you to do the same.

Now, just a handful of final guidelines.

  1. If you’re completely clueless about what the correct expression you’re looking for might be, try using the magic “*” character. This star lets Google know that you’re looking for any word that fits the gap. Go ahead, try it with†“sitting * the drawing board”.
  2. Always put the phrase in quotation marks. This is important. Without them, the method is useless.
  3. Enclose the word you’re looking for on both sides. For instance, looking for just “by the drawing board” wouldn’t provide me with sufficient context for the returned number to be an accurate representation. Always put the missing part in the middle.
  4. Use replacement verbs and nouns. Not all expressions are popular enough and they might not return any reliable numbers, but you can improve the results by replacing some not common words with more common ones. For example, if “drawing board” is too specific, I can replace it with “desk” and the meaning remains more or less the same (“by the desk”).
  5. Mind the context. In some cases, two versions of a phrase can be equally as popular, but that can be due to the fact that they mean two separate things. In such a case, look into the individual results and take a look at the excerpts Google gives you. Here’s an example result for “sitting on the drawing board”:

google3

Is this method fail-proof?

Of course not.

But it’s not meant to be fail-proof. This is just a trick to speed up your editing when you’re stuck and can’t find the right way to express a thought.

What do you think? Will you make Google your personal editor too?

Karol K. (@carlosinho) is a freelance writer, published author, founder of NewInternetOrder.com and a blogger at Bidsketch.com (delivering some cool freelance blogging and writing tools, advice and resources just like what youíre reading now). Whenever heís not working, Karol likes to spend time training Capoeira and enjoying life.