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10 Innovative Blog Business Models

Keeping You Posted by Skellie.Skellie wrote this post. For more advanced blogging tips and strategies, visit her blog, Skelliewag.

When people think about making money with a blog, they tend to think about things like AdSense and affiliate links. You write good content, people come to your blog, people click on links, and you make a bit of money. How much money you make depends on how successfully you can multiply this process.

However, for some entrepreneurs this method of monetizing a blog is just one part of a larger business model that is much more lucrative than advertising on its own.

In this post I want to highlight 10 innovative and successful blog business models that do more than sell ad space or clicks. Is there room for one of these business models on your own blog?

(Please note that this particular post does not contain affiliate links.)

1. Teaching Sells / Blog Mastermind (Educational course)

Copyblogger sells TeachingSells.com

EntrepreneursJourney.com sells BlogMastermind.com

This business model involves selling an expert course on the back of a blog. Each blogger is regarded as an expert in their field and their free content demonstrates that they have plenty of useful advice to give.

These courses may only appeal to a small percentage of the host blog’s readership, so they are usually priced at the high-end to compensate. For this reason, courses must focus on sharing skills and methods that the reader values very highly.

Most commonly these are skills and methods that will–hopefully–yield more money for the reader than they spend on the course itself. If the course doesn’t have the potential to earn the reader money then it must impart a skill that has a very high non-monetary value. A Chess course might be worth $99 a month to someone who is passionate about Chess. A course in Mandarin might be worth $150 a month to someone who is relocating to China in three months and is determined to be able to hold conversations with locals as soon as they arrive.

The determining factor in success with this model is an understanding of what your readers value deeply, and providing them with that, either by providing them with great value or the means to achieve it for themselves.

2. IttyBiz (eBook)

IttyBiz sells Ninja SEO School

Naomi Dunford writes IttyBiz for online marketers and entrepreneurs who are ordinary people with a tight budget. She says her consulting clients were always curious about SEO and how to start using it for their benefit. In response to the demand she wrote the ‘Ninja SEO School‘ eBook. If you click the link you’ll notice that it’s no longer for sale, and I hope the ProBlogger mention hasn’t made Naomi regret the decision ;).

By making the choice to say the eBook would only be available for a limited time, readers who would have post-poned the decision of whether to buy the product until later (and then probably forgot about it) were forced to act quickly.

This is a very clever method to overcome one of the eBook’s weaknesses as a medium: its format makes it seem like the product will always be in unlimited supply, which can often provoke lethargy in potential buyers. Books in bookstores go out of stock, but eBooks technically never do.

If your eBook is expensive then it’s highly likely a potential buyer will think about the purchase for several days and talk themselves out of it. By creating scarcity you can motivate potential buyers to action.

Though there are many blogs funneling into an eBook, I chose IttyBiz as an example because of the clever use of artificial scarcity as a marketing tool. (Though if you emailed Naomi, I bet she’d still sell you a copy!)

3. ProBlogger / FSw / Smashing Magazine (Job board)

ProBlogger.net sells Jobs.ProBlogger.net

Freelance Switch sells Jobs.FreelanceSwitch.com

Smashing Magazine sells Jobs.SmashingMagazine.com

Vocation-based blogs like ProBlogger (bloogging), Freelance Switch (freelancing) and Smashing Magazine (design) are a perfect fit with the job board business model. These job boards that stem from blogs are usually monetized in one of two ways: advertiser pays a flat fee to post their job ad, which is the most common method and used at ProBlogger and Smashing Magazine, or job hunters pay a small subscription fee to have access to jobs, which is the least common model and is used at Freelance Switch.

Building a job board is likely to require development costs of at least several hundred dollars and possibly over a thousand, so it may be best to wait until your traffic levels are healthy before adding something like this to your blog.

4. PSDTUTS / SEOmoz (Premium content)

PSDTUTS.com sells PSDTUTS PLUS

SEOmoz sells SEOmoz PRO

These two blogs both offer members-only content for paid subscribers. At PSDTUTS $9 a month gives the user access to a large library of .PSD artworks and tutorials from well-known Photoshop artists. SEOmoz offers its ‘Pro’ membership at $49 a month, for which you receive SEO tools, guides and extra blog content. Both membership models are supplemented by a larger proportion of free content that serves to bring potential members into the blog and also as an advertisement for the content offered in the membership program.

While members-only blog content can be a lucrative business model you should expect to meet with criticism from readers who are struck by the double-wants of experiencing all your content while also not wanting to pay for it. The internet provides such an abundance of value for free that some people perhaps stop thinking about the creator’s need to be rewarded for their hard work. You should remind them of this and then focus on those customers who see ‘free’ as a privilege, not a right.

5. SpoonGraphics (Freelance services)

Blog.Spoongraphics.co.uk sells Spoongraphics.co.uk

Chris Spooner’s blog is a good example of a supported freelance business model. Freelance services are offered on a portfolio which is attached to his blog. The blog content deals with design and presents daily opportunities for Chris to demonstrate his own expertise as a designer to potential clients who might be reading his blog.

While it might seem counter-intuitive to write for other people in the same field instead of ordinary people who might be looking for a designer, many freelancers find good work covering gaps for other freelancers. For example, a freelancer who only knows how to code might hire another freelancer to create designs for him or her. As the web makes it easier to connect with freelancers across the globe this kind of collaboration is becoming increasingly common.

6. Remarkablogger / Muhammad Saleem (Consulting)

Remarkablogger.com sells Michael Martine

MuhammadSaleem.com sells Muhammad Saleem

Michael Martine writes a blog about blogging and offers consulting services as an off-shoot to the blog, targeted towards businesses who want a strong blogging presence. Muhammad Saleem is a social media power-user who also advertises social media consulting services from his blog. The premise of this business model is to build a profile as an expert in a specific area, give readers a taste of the kind of insights you can provide and then offer consultations to those who want to benefit from your knowledge on a deeper level.

The rates you can charge and the amount of uptake you get will depend on your topic as much as it does on your personal brand. People with entrepreneurial aspirations are more likely to need and be willing to invest in a consultant because they fundamentally expect to earn back more than they spend as a result of the knowledge they’ve gained. A life consultant or sports consultant or any other kind of consultant who might not be focused on helping the client earn money needs to provide immense non-monetary value instead.

7. Pearsonified / GoMedia (Digital products)

Pearsonified sells Thesis

GoMedia sells vector graphics and Photoshop brushes

The ‘Thesis’ theme has been everywhere of late. Probably because its creator’s blog has over 5,000 subscribers and he also seems to have made the right kind of friends. If you’re going to sell a product you’ve built then nothing will help your cause more than having a popular blog to back you up.

The GoMedia design firm does more. It uses a popular design blog (almost 10,000 subscribers) to sell both design services and products: the GoMedia Arsenal vector and Photoshop brush packs. Visitors are drawn into the site via the blog content and can then be funneled into either the branded services or products on offer.

8. LifeDev, Zen Habits and Web Warrior Tools

LifeDev and Zen Habits sell Web Warrior Tools

A blog can also be an excellent way to support your entrepreneurial projects and give them a kick-start. Leo Babauta (Zen Habits) and Glen Stansberry (LifeDev) partnered to create Web Warrior Tools to provide a platform for writers to sell their eBooks and have someone else market them. Both blogs link back to Web Warrior Tools and were able to promote it at launch. Instead of having to claw out an audience from nothing, the Web Warrior Tools website was able to launch with pre-existing hype and an immediate user-base.

9. NETTUTS (Magazine model)

NETTUTS.com

Based on the success of the Gawker Media network of blogs it’s becoming increasingly common to see blogs run like print magazines, with a team of paid writers and an editor, and with an entrepreneur or company behind them, using advertising and other methods to break even and, hopefully, making a profit once staff and running costs are subtracted.

This business model can be one of the most ‘hands-off’ as you don’t need to be involved directly in the running of the blog. That being said, paying writers and an editor can be costly, so most successful magazine-style blogs are quite highly-trafficked in addition to having the starting capital to run at a loss for some time, at least initially. NETTUTS is a web development tutorials site that runs under a magazine model, paying tutorial writers and an editor out of advertising proceeds.

10. Sitepoint (Branded products)

Sitepoint sells books and educational kits

Sitepoint is an exceptionally popular website for web developers and designers. Part of that website is a network of blogs featuring web development news, tips and theory. Former and current Sitepoint bloggers have gone on to publish books under the Sitepoint brand, which are then sold from the Sitepoint website or through other channels (such as Amazon). The books are prominently branded with the website and blog logo.

Your branded products don’t have to be books. Some blogs sell merchandiseprint magazines, audio books and courses, and other products.

***

I hope this post will show you some of the creative ways people are making money through their blogs. It can be easy to approach the challenge of making money online from a very narrow angle and blinker yourself to rarer possibilities that may be a better fit with your blog.

Most importantly, don’t be afraid to trail-blaze and invent a business model that is perfect for your blog, even if it doesn’t exist yet!

How to Grow a Young Blog With StumbleUpon

Keeping You Posted by Skellie.Skellie wrote this post. She writes plenty more advanced blogging tips and strategies at Skelliewag.org. You can also get to know Skellie on Twitter.

It’s ironic that arguably the biggest challenges for a blogger come when they are least experienced–when their blog is just a few weeks or months old.

Any blogger will tell you that turning a new, undiscovered blog into a hot piece of web property is not easy. The Darren Rowses, Leo Babautas and Yaro Staraks of the world went through this same difficult teething period, like everyone else.

The accepted idea is that when you first launch your blog, growth will be very slow because you’re only able to toot your own horn to gather new visitors, by commenting and leaving links back to your blog, by asking for links and by guest-posting.

All these actions will help your blog grow, but it might take several months before your blog generates any kind of real traction and things start happening without you to push them along.

But what if there was a way to grow a new blog quickly?

I want to suggest that there is one method for growth of a new blog that can be more effective than any other, yet it’s commonly overlooked. It is very possible to grow a young blog with very little starting traffic mainly on the back of StumbleUpon. Here’s how.

The premise

How would you feel about receiving 1,000 visitors on the first day of your new blog’s launch? How would you feel about receiving 1,000 visitors on any day? This number might seem unattainable to you at the moment, but it isn’t. Not with a little preparation.

The ingredients for this strategy are:

  1. A network of at least twenty active StumbleUpon users.
  2. Stumble-worthy content.

Did you know that you can use the StumbleUpon toolbar to send pages to your StumbleUpon friends with a little message asking for a quick stumble? If your network of SU friends knows you and likes you, and the content is good, they’ll be more than happy to oblige. Each stumble can bring several hundred visitors to your blog. Reviews arguably carry even more weight when determining the amount of traffic that is sent to your content.

If you can get 20 people to stumble a single page you send to them, you could receive not just one thousand visitors, but possibly more than that. If your content is good enough to go viral on its own, you could receive several thousand, or several tens of thousands!

That’s all well and good, but it’s also easier said than done. And like most things that are easier said than done, it’s very much worth doing. You might have found yourself a little troubled at the two ‘ingredients’ outlined above. After all, how do you ‘build a network of at least twenty active StumbleUpon users?’ What can you do to make sure your content is ‘stumble-worthy’ (whatever that means)?


Photo by Toronja Azul.

The how

First, let’s deal with building a network of StumbleUpon friends. Once your blog takes off you’ll find this easy. Readers will ‘friend’ you and, because they like your stuff, will probably help you whenever you ask for it, as long as you’re willing to do the same in return. The problem is that your blog hasn’t taken off yet, so how do you create your network?

Unfortunately, the answer isn’t StumbleUpon. It’s not a great place to meet new people on its own. Instead, try emailing other bloggers who are also in the same situation and working to get their blog off the ground, and ask if they would like to be friends on StumbleUpon. If you want to increase your odds of that blogger actually being on StumbleUpon, look for a link to their profile on their About page. You could even go through the comments at ProBlogger. I expect most ProBlogger users know the value of having a StumbleUpon account by now!

The truth is that if you befriend people in this manner (being, for mutual benefit) you’re going to have stumble their stuff as much as they stumble yours. If you’re getting friends from anywhere you can, you’re not always going to like what they send you, but you should still be willing to stumble it as an investment in your own blog. Social media purists will disagree with me here, and if so, you’re welcome to build a network by other means (spending five to ten hours on StumbleUpon a week will do it).

If you have some choice as to who you add to your network, try to collect people who consistently produce content that you like.

You should expect this networking strategy to be successful because most bloggers feel guilty about sending their stuff to people for stumbles but really wish they could do it. Some do it anyway. I don’t know many bloggers, particularly new bloggers who are also going through a challenging ‘baby blog’ period, who wouldn’t welcome the approach of someone who is more than happy to stumble their stuff.

The logistics of this aren’t immediately obvious but they’re quite simple once you remember them.

Sending pages to others

To send pages, you have to install the StumbleUpon toolbar.

Once you’ve navigated to the page you want to send to another user, click ‘Send to’ on the toolbar and select the target user from the drop-down menu. You can send a message to accompany the page. Generally you should ask for the specific action you want (stumble, or occasionally a review), and most importantly, offer to help out the other person in return.

If you’re always asking for stumbles and never giving them, people will tire of you quickly. That being said, you should be vigilant to make sure the people you send pages to are actually stumbling your stuff. If not, there’s no need to be angry as it’s their choice, but you should work on adding a new, active user to your network in their place.

Creating content that works with StumbleUpon

Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, you need to build your ability to create content that is well-optimized for StumbleUpon. If you are continually getting stumbles on content that is clearly not suitable for social media then the StumbleUpon algorithm is likely to stop sending traffic to your blog all-together. If all your stumbles are coming from mutual friends and not from unaffiliated users then this is a pretty good sign that your content is not actually stumble-worthy.

If it sounds scary, it isn’t. As long as you provide genuine value for others, your content should generate some stumbles without your help. Best of all, there are a few solid principles you can follow to create content that is consistently well-optimized for StumbleUpon traffic.

Here are two posts I’ve written previously at ProBlogger about writing great Stumble-worthy content and converting the resulting StumbleUpon visitors into loyal readers:

While pursuing this strategy, continue to expand your network of SU friends and send content to different people each time. There’s a lot of evidence to suggest StumbleUpon’s algorithm rewards blogs that are stumbled by a wide variety of users, rather than the same people all the time.

Try this strategy and see if you can get more traffic than ever before. Good luck!

What is the Real Value of a Social Media Visitor?

Keeping You Posted by Skellie.Skellie wrote this post. She writes plenty more advanced blogging tips and strategies at Skelliewag.org. You can also get to know Skellie on Twitter.

Bloggers are fiercely divided when it comes to deciding the value of social media traffic.

Some crave it or even become addicted to it, writing every post with an aim to hit the front-page of Digg and spending hours trying to promote their own content. Others feel it has little value and largely ignore it, citing poor rates of conversion into ads clicked and subscribers gained. Others loathe social media traffic for the atmosphere it brings (real or imagined) and will do anything to avoid being discovered by social media–usually the result of being hit by a slew of negative comments on a post that rubbed digg users the wrong way.

Regardless of which camp you find yourself in, I want to take an objective look at the real value of a social media visitor for bloggers trying to make money online. If I can be allowed to skip to the end before I’ve even started, my argument is that social media visitors are neither a godsend or a curse. Instead, they’re great for some things, and not so great for others.

1. Not for clicking on ads

It has been well-documented that visitors from social media platforms like Digg and StumbleUpon click on ads much less often compared to search visitors. Various theories have been put forward as to why this is, but I think it’s simply because social media visitors are ‘focused’ browsing. They are in the middle of doing something (using social media, usually at a fast pace), and are therefore less likely to wander off in a new direction by clicking an ad. Another reason is that social media users spend more time online than the average web user and are more likely to have developed a sort of ‘blindness’ to ads.

If all your ads are CPC (cost per click) then social media traffic is not going to add much direct monetary value to your blog–though they may go on to do so indirectly. Instead, focus on search traffic and links for direct income. By contrast, if you use a mixture of CPC and CPM (cost per thousand impression) ads, or only CPM ads, social media traffic will have more value for you. This is because it’s…

2. Really good for page views

A stint on the Digg front-page or becoming hot on StumbleUpon can send more visitors than many blogs receive in a month. Whatever these visitors are doing when they arrive at your blog, they still register on your stat counter and provide ‘impressions’ (page views) to present to potential advertisers. This may also cause your Alexa rank to increase.

Page views are the determining factor in how much a CPM advertisement is worth on your blog. More page views equals higher prices, and social media traffic can drastically increase your page views. For this reason, it’s an important source of traffic for anyone offering CPM advertising.

One potential pitfall to be wary of is that, though advertisers are probably only looking at number of page views and not the source, some will want to know where it all came from. In my experience, though, most advertisers don’t ask this question. If they end up buying an ad spot on your blog they might find the click-throughs to be disproportionate to the amount of impressions they’ve paid for. This is mainly an issue when the blog has a very high proportion of social media traffic compared to other sources. Advertisers who find click-throughs are low will be unlikely to renew with you. If this turns out to be a problem for your blog, try weighting social media traffic differently when calculating your rates. After all, social media visitors are…

3. Not initially invested in your blog

People often complain that social media visitors are disrespectful or plain rude, particularly when they come from Digg. However, it’s not hard to see why social media visitors would be tougher than your usual blog visitor. They may not follow many individual blogs. They may have clicked on a submission based on its headline and not quite known what they were getting. They might have clicked through to your blog just because they think your topic is stupid (maybe you write about a sports team that they despise, or a politician they loathe).

Search visitors are generally too busy looking for something to be nasty, and referral visitors are probably already reading other blogs in your niche, and are unlikely to find yours suddenly provokes them to lash out. When they arrive at your blog, they are partially invested in it. Social media visitors are not. At least, they don’t start out that way.


Photo by Johan Larsson.

A number of people are particularly bothered by the comments that digg users leave on their blogs. These are less troubling when you know why they occur. At digg, the comment culture there operates on a system of ‘diggs’ and ‘buries’. Comments that the community likes tend to get ‘dugg’ and comments the community doesn’t like tend to get ‘buried’. There isn’t any reward or penalty for either, but that doesn’t stop people fighting for imaginary brownie points. The quickest route to a ‘dugg’ comment is to post something insightful, add something to the content, make a joke about something mentioned in the story or to criticize or insult the content or its author–often trying to be funny at the same time, but sometimes not. Digg users have a lot of stories to read and, err, a lot of ground to make up on Mr. BabyMan, so they’ll usually go the quickest and easiest option: a witty remark, or a criticism, or an insult, or some combination of the three.

When the digg users get to your content itself they often approach commenting with the same attitude as they did when they were at digg, because digg is often where they’ve ‘learned’ how to approach commenting. Sometimes the results can be genuinely funny and clever, but other-times they can be a bit depressing! Usually this depends on the particular combination of digg users with your content’s topic. Sometimes digg comments will add a breath of fresh air to your blog and other-times you’ll wish you could delete them (and hey, you can). After all, they’re never going to come back, right?

Not necessarily…

4. Can yield new subscribers depending on the topic

A common question about social media traffic is why it often doesn’t translate into a subscriber boost. Some people claim it never does. Not for them, perhaps, but I’ve heard many stories of people gaining–and keeping–subscribers when their content goes popular on social media (and this is something I’ve personally experienced on my own blog).

For those who’ve never experienced a subscriber boost from social media traffic, you’re probably thinking: “OK then, what am I, apparently, doing wrong?”

The answer is: nothing. Social media users are generally interested in some topics in a deep way and not others. Just because they liked your post on personal bio-domes doesn’t mean they want to read about environmentally friendly inventions every day (thought it doesn’t mean they won’t either). This probably appeals to the visitor’s ‘surface interest’. They might read about the topic once in a while but not have any real passion for it. They might also find that, though they loved the post they just voted for, the rest of your blog is on a slightly different topic that they’re not interested in. After all, a lot of people bring new topics into their blog because they have more appeal to social media, but perhaps the social media visitor is interested in that topic and not any of the others you write about?


Photo by ojbyrne

From my own use of Digg, for example, I often Digg stories related to the environment and environmental innovation but I don’t subscribe to any blogs on this topic. I’m interested in it but don’t consider subscribing because I don’t have time to read blogs that don’t directly benefit the work that I do online. I do the same for content on video gaming, computers, technological innovation and so on. It’s not that I have a predisposition not to subscribe, but rather that I’m exposed to a lot of content I wouldn’t seek out otherwise, and that I am happy to enjoy in small doses.

It’s also worth remembering that many social media visitors interact with web content primarily through social media, rather than through RSS feeds or by bookmarking a handful of their favorite blogs. Their favorite social media platform delivers so much content they enjoy and is so time-consuming to be involved in that many–but certainly not all– don’t have the desire or time to follow blogs that may or may not produce good content in future. Is this to suggest all social media visitors fit this mould? Not at all, but it might help explain why they are less likely than referral and direct traffic to stick around for the long-haul.

If you do want to turn social media traffic into subscribers, make sure your social media optimized content sticks very close to the topics you write about on a daily basis. Aside from that, you might just have to hope that people interested in the topic of your blog are also likely to be reading blogs on a regular basis.

5. Likely to have a well-developed network

Social media is often just that: social. An active social media user might be in regular contact with dozens of other users and regularly share content with them. If your content hits a nerve (in a good or bad way) it is likely to be shared through that network by word-of-mouth as well as on the service itself. If the recommendation is positive then this can be a good way to get engaged readers visiting your blog. The recommendation of a friend gives them a reason to be much more invested than the average social media user.

6. Can trigger a domino effect on other social media platforms

If you look at the profile of an active social media user, you’re likely to find that they are not putting all their eggs in one basket. Many digg users have active StumbleUpon accounts, and so on. A stumble may also lead to a digg and delicious bookmark. A reddit may lead to a mixx. This can lead to a ‘domino effect’ where your content goes popular on more than one service. That’s not a bad situation to be in–unless your blog goes down, of course!

7. Can help promote other content in future

A social media visitor who votes for your content and then decides to visit your blog in future can be a valuable asset to you. They might submit future content to social media, or refer other social media using friends to your blog. The best way to have social media success is to have loyal readers who are active on social media.

It’s important not to fall into the trap of thinking of social media visitors as ‘this other thing’, separate from your audience–a teeming mass doing their own thing somewhere else and occasionally paying a visit. At least some proportion of your own most loyal readers are likely to be using social media.

8. Are good for search rankings

Digg, delicious and Reddit in particular are good for this. When a story becomes popular many social media users link to it, in addition to Digg itself, which is a very high PR site. Many people even autopublish delicious bookmarks to their blogs. Going popular on any of these services can connect dozens of high-quality links into your blogs (and, as always, a whole bunch of scrapers).

As much as I love StumbleUpon, it is weakest here. So much of the interaction with it occurs through the toolbar rather than through a webpage. There is no iconic page of ‘Top stories’ on StumbleUpon (I’m pretty sure there is a page for popular stories, but it receives little attention compared to the ‘front pages’ of Digg, delicious and Reddit). There is no general RSS feed to subscribe to. What all of this means is that going popular on StumbleUpon rarely brings a whole bunch of incoming links with it, causing it to have less SEO benefit than success on the others.

***

With the above eight points I hope I’ve led you to think about the value of social media visitors to your own blog. They can certainly provide plenty of value, but tapping into that value will require that you begin to get a sense of the faces behind social media traffic, and to understand the ‘culture’ of social media, which leads to certain behaviours being prevalent in its users and others not so. The more realistic your expectations are, the better you will become at harnessing social media traffic.

While reading posts like this does help, you can never truly ‘get’ social media and its culture until you immerse yourself in it. You certainly don’t need to be a power-user (and for most this is unlikely to be an efficient use of your time), but spending a couple of hours a week participating in a social media service you enjoy will provide invaluable knowledge about your audience. I’d suggest going with at least one of the big three that most people are using: StumbleUpon, Digg or Reddit. In fact, I want to suggest that using a social media service for even an hour will teach you more about writing social media optimized content than any blog post you could read.

You should always strive to know your audience better.

10 Steps to the Perfect List Post

List-Post List Posts have always been a popular format of post for bloggers. Today Ali Hale examines how to write the perfect list post and gives some great examples along the way of list posts that have done well on blogs.

List posts are ubiquitous – and hugely popular – in the blogosphere. As bloggers, we love them because they’re fun and straight-forward to write, and they do well on social media. As readers, we love them because they’re easy to scan and to take one or two great points from. And both bloggers and readers love the fact that list posts are fun to comment on and link to.

They can be serious or fun:

List posts are often amongst a blog’s most popular posts. For example:

So list posts are definitely a power-keg with the potential to send a traffic explosion to your blog. But a badly-done list post will fizzle out with a lacklustre response. Throwing down a handful of disconnected ideas as “My Top Ten Ways to Succeed” won’t achieve anything.

Here’s 10 step-by-step, planning-to-publication ways to make your list posts as effective as possible:

1. Decide on the number of items in the list

The first step is to consider how many items you’re going to put in the list. Think about the reason you’re writing the post and the topic you’re covering. If you’re producing a huge resource list, go for as many items as you can (101 is a popular figure, but if you can’t manage that many, try 50 or 25).

For posts such as “X ways to…” or “X reasons why…”, picking a figure between five and twenty-five usually works well. Be aware that different numbers have different effects:

  • Round numbers (eg. 5, 10, 20, 100) may give your readers a greater impression of authority. This gets used a lot in traditional media (eg. The Observer’s 100 Greatest Novels of All Time, or The Sunday Times’s Best 100 Companies to Work For).
  • Odd numbers (13, 17, 26) are sometimes thought to encourage additions. (For example, Zen Habit’s 17 Unbeatable Ways to Create a Peaceful, Relaxed Workday.) A good trick is to suggest “9 tips for …” or “19 tips for …” and ask your readers to submit a tenth in the comments.
  • Very low number (3 or 4) might suggest to readers that you don’t have many ideas on the topic.

2. Keep each item in the list similar

Whilst generating your ideas, keep them in the same structure. Your post might be a list of:

Avoid mixing the types of items in your list: a post which gives the “10 greatest ideas for writing” and jumps from tips to quotes to websites to instructions. This sort of list lacks cohesion, and is likely to lose readers part way.

3. Brainstorm more items than you need

Once you know how long your list is going to be, and what type of items you’ll be including, start brainstorming. Aim for at least an extra 10% more ideas than the number you picked in #1. (So, at least 11 items if you want to finish with 10, at least 112 items if you want 101 and so on…) This ensures you’ll get the strongest ideas, because you can cut the few which aren’t quite good enough.

Go through your list and scratch out anything which:

  • Doesn’t fit with the topic
  • Isn’t a full idea (sometimes you can merge these into other items on the list)
  • Might seem like “filler” to a reader – these often slip into long lists

For example, when I came up with 4 low-fat alternatives to ice-cream for Diet-Blog, I’d originally written five and included “sugar free jelly”. But all the others were frozen desserts, so I scrapped that one as it didn’t fully fit in.

4. Order the list Logically

Once you have all your items down, think about the sequence. You don’t want to post them in whatever order they happened to pop into your head: some readers might “cherry pick” items from the list (especially if it’s long), but others will read the whole thing, and it helps them if you’ve structured the post.

The way in which you order the list will depend on what it covers, but these all work:

  • From most to least popular for “Top ten/twenty/fifty…” lists, eg. Top Ten Blogs for Writers 2007 from Writing White Papers.
  • From least to most popular, usually for shortish lists. An example is Lifehacker’s Top 10 Smart and Lazy Ways to Save Your Workday. This can work for long lists, eg. TechCult’s Top 100 Web Celebrities.
  • Alphabetical order works well for lists of resources, especially glossaries or jargon definitions, such as The Blogger’s Glossary on Daily Blog Tips. (You could also try a spin on the list post and write the “A-Z of…” a topic.)
  • Chronological order is a great way to make your ideas flow naturally, if you can make your list follow the pattern of a day, week or year. I don’t see this done often, but it can be very effective. For example, Copyblogger’s Five Tips for a Successful Freelance Writing Career roughly follows goes from the start of the workday.
  • Step-by-step order works for posts such as this one and Dumb Little Man’s Five Steps to Planning an Effective Presentation, which take the reader through how to do something.

Also be aware when ordering your list that you should put your strongest items first, second and last. If you start with the most obvious or bland ideas, readers will switch straight off; ending well strikes the perfect note to encourage comments, click-throughs and new subscribers.

5. Break very long lists into sections

If your list is over about thirty items, it’s a good idea to split it up into sections. (You might even want to do this with as few as ten items.) A huge block of text on the page is intimidating, even when in the form of a list, and using subheadings also lets you provide a list of anchors at the top of the page to jump readers straight to the relevant section.

Try to find categories that the items can divide into. For example, Freelance Switch’s list of 101 Essential Freelancing Resources is broken down sections like:

  • Timing
  • Invoicing
  • Project Management and Organization
  • Stock Libraries

If you do split your list in this way, you can optionally start renumbering at each section (eg. a list of “50 great sites” could become ten sections of five, each numbered “1, 2, 3, 4, 5”.)

6. Consider making your list a series

Sometimes, your ideas are strong enough that using them all in one post is a waste. If you have quite broad items on your list, ones which need more than a paragraph or two of explanation, then it’s worth considering turning them into a series. This way, you can get five, ten, twenty or more posts for the price of one.

Lots of very successful bloggers write series of linked posts that could have originated from a list. A couple of examples are the 5 barriers to success series on Skelliewag and the 7 essential WordPress hacks video series on TubeTutorial.

As Darren explained in 24 Things to do When Stuck for a Topic to Blog About:

I could have chosen to break this actual post down into 20 or so smaller posts – a series.

Another way to approach this is to split your list into sections (see #5) and use each section (rather than each individual item) for a separate post, creating a short series. This works well if you find the list too long for a single article, and if it has one or more natural breaks.

7. Be consistent in how you write each item

If you’re writing a list post, readers expect each item in the list to be structured in a similar way. I’ve seen list posts where bloggers used different styles (usually <h3> and <strong>) for different halves of the list, for no reason and this can be confusing: the reader wonders whether they’re encountering a new item, or a subsection of the previous one.

  • Either use bullets or don’t – Some lists are formatted as a numbered, bullet-pointed series (each list item is contained in an <li> tag), others are simply paragraphs. It doesn’t matter which you choose so long as you keep it up throughout the list. A good rule of thumb is to go with bullet points for lists with little text per item (see Copyblogger’s 10 Steps to Becoming a Better Writer or Zen Habit’s 31 Ways to Motivate Yourself to Exercise) and to use regular paragraphs for more wordy lists (like this post).
  • Use the same style for each item title – <h3> tags are good, both for search engines and to break up the list into easy chunks. But if the text for each item is short (one paragraph, or a couple of lines), too many <h3> sections will look odd: use <strong> instead. This also applies if you’re writing a list broken into multiple sections – you’ll probably be using <h3> tags for the section headers, so use <strong> for the titles of the items.
  • Have similar length titles for each item – Lists look neater when each item is a similar length. It’s a good idea to avoid letting titles run over the end of a line, if you can – try to keep them snappy. Steve Pavlina’s popular article 10 Stupid Mistakes Made by the Newly Self-Employed has between three and seven words for each item title.
  • Use a similar format for each item - Readers tend to want “more of the same”, and they like to know what’s coming next. Keep the length of the text for each item similar (don’t mix one-line and three-paragraph items). If you’re using an image for each item, do it consistently – for example, The 5 Worst Reassurances in Tech History has a chunk of text for each item accompanied by an image.

8. Always number the items

One thing that frustrates me as a reader is lists that promise “20 ways to grow the perfect strawberries” – then don’t number the items. I start to suspect I might be being cheated out of one of the ways – perhaps there’s only 19! – and I have to count how many items the list contains. This is made even harder when the titles of items aren’t distinguished either (eg. 5 Factors Guaranteed to Sabotage Your Writing Efforts.)

Even for people without my suspicious nature, un-numbered lists are a pain, because it’s hard to know how many items are left. Readers are more likely to keep going, rather than drifting elsewhere, if they know there’s only ten/five/two items until the end of the post.

Usually, I’d number a list #1, #2, #3 and so on – but in a few cases (such as a “top five” or “our three competition winners are” post), you might want to number your items #5, #4, #3, #2, #1.

If you used bullet points for your list, switch the <ul> and </ul> tags to <ol> and </ol> and each item will be numbered from #1, #2 etc.

9. Invite readers to add to the list

Once you’ve written all the items and numbered them, that’s your post finished, right? Almost! The one thing left to do is to add a few closing words below the very last item. (If you used a bullet point list with <ol> to do yours, make sure you put the closing tag </ol> before this line, otherwise it’ll look like part of the final item.)

Here’s the endings of a few list posts:

“So – what do you think? How have you increased the levels of comments on your blog (had to ask)?”10 Techniques to Get More Comments on Your Blog on Problogger

“So how do you find a good SEO? Well, leave some comments on what you think about this post, and let Skellie know you would like to hear more. If so desired, and accepted by Skellie, I’ll return with a post answering that question.”7 Signs of SEO Scams on Anywired

“What about you, did you come across any crazy registered domains in the past?”Who Spent $10 For These Domain Names? Seriously! (a list post of 8 items) on Daily Blog Tips

Ending with a question or an invitation for more items is a brilliant way to encourage comments, to get readers engaged and involved, and to help you find ideas for future blog posts.

10. Choose a great title

One more thing to do before you hit “Publish” – choose a catchy title. There’s already loads of great advice around about writing great headlines so I’ll stick to a few points specific to list posts:

  • Include the number. You can use words (“Sixteen ways to…”) or numerals (“5 great tips…”). Try to be consistent with other posts on your site, though. You might want to decide on a style rule for yourself such as:
    • Always spell out numbers in list post titles
    • Always use numerals in list post titles
    • Spell out numbers below ten, use numerals for numbers 11 and over
  • Use some “hype” words – but only if your post can live up to it. Posts like “The 10 ultimate ways to make the best chocolate cookies ever” inevitably disappoint slightly – be careful that you don’t overdo it. Equally, “10 chocolate chip cookie recipes” is a bit too bland. How about “10 favourite chocolate chip cookie recipes tried and tested”?

And, even though I’ve already explained this technique to you, I’m going to close shamelessly in asking for your comments. Do you have a great tip for writing list posts? Have you had any hugely successful lists on your blog?

Ali Hale is a freelance writer and website creator (see www.aliventures.com). She also has a blog on healthy living for busy people at www.theofficediet.com.

The Comprehensive Paint-by-numbers Guide to Writing and Publishing Your Ebook

Over the last few months I’ve had a rise in the numbers of people asking me about the why and how of writing and publishing Ebooks. So when Mary Jaksch from the blog Goodlife Zen and Ebook From Tragedy to Triumph: Winning Through a Life Crisis offered to write a post on Ebooks I jumped at the offer. Here’s her comprehensive guide on the topic.

When I began writing my Ebook From Tragedy to Triumph: Winning Through a Life Crisis, I had no idea what a long and complex project writing and publishing an Ebook can be. I’m offering you this paint-by-numbers guide in order to make the process smooth and easy for you.

Do you feel overwhelmed by the idea writing an Ebook? Personally, I enjoy writing books! But others who feel less confident or lack the time, prefer to outsource the writing of their book. You can find writers for Ebooks on Elance for between $280 – $500.

1. The ‘why’: what is your motivation?

The ‘why’ determines the structure and content of your Ebook; it has to be strong enough to carry you through the entire project. Here are some reasons why you might want to write an Ebook:

  • To promote your blog or other product – If you want to promote your blog, consider offering the book for free, or as a teaser for signing up to a newsletter. Make sure you place a link to your blog in the footer of each page.
  • To make money online – You may not make a huge amount, but the money will trickle in continuously. It’s the ultimate passive income!
  • To boost your profile – As the author of a book, you are seen as an expert. This can have interesting spin-offs. You may get a contract by a publishing firm for a print book, you may be invited for guest posts or public talks, or you could launch a lucrative consulting business.

2. The ‘what’: 5 questions that help you find it

What can you write about? As you go through the following questions, use a notebook and jot down your answers so that you end up with a list.

  • What gets you going? – When you’re with friends, what topics do you love to talk about?
  • What do you know a lot about? - For example, do you know about collecting stamps, cleaning a house, riding a horse, kitesurfing, worm farming, learning an instrument, making friends, or bringing up kids?
  • What special life experiences have you had? - Have you overcome a particular difficulty? For example, have you emigrated, or struggled with illness, divorce, raising teenagers, or looking after ageing parents?
  • What kind of advice do friends tend to ask you for? - If you’re unsure, ask your friends. They will know!
  • What’s your passion? - If you had endless time and hords of money, what would you love to do?

Take a look at your list. Each point you wrote down could be turned into an Ebook!

3. Prepare for productivity: 3 planning points

  • Set the length of your book – An Ebook is usually between 15,000 to 30,000 words long. A piece that has less than 15,000 words is usually called a ‘report’. Set a length for your book so that you can develop a strategy for writing it.
  • Use a mindmap to plan your book - Mindmaps are great tools to spark creativity. Download Freemind or use crayons and paper. Check out this article for a step-by-step guide on how to use a mindmap.
  • Lay out the bones of your book - Once your mindmap has produced main headings and sub-headings, it’s time to lay out the bones of your book. Make a list of chapters; they can be up to 2000 words long. Then divide the chapters into sections, each with their own heading. You can enter chapters and sections into a spreadsheet with the projected wordcount for each part. As you write each section, place your actual word count in a separate column to keep on track.

4. Hit on the right title

The title makes all the difference when it comes to selling a book. You might want to start with a working title and choose your final title when you’ve completed writing your book.

  • What makes a great title? – Titles for Ebooks and blogposts follow similar rules. Check out Brian Clark’s Magnetic Headline series.
  • Getting help with your title – If you’re not sure about the title, ask a marketing advisor for help. Elance is a good place to find the help your need.

5. Write on!

Remember the tale of the hare and the tortoise? Slow and steady certainly wins out when writing an Ebook! Here two tricks to keep your writing flowing:

  • Set a deadline for completion – There is nothing like a deadline to keep you moving ahead, even if you set it yourself. To find an appropriate date, plan on writing a certain quota of words a day. Then divide the total amount of projected words through your daily quota to find how long it will take. Add another month for editing.
  • Keep the momentum going – Set a daily time for writing. If your life is full, get up 30 minutes earlier each day and sit down immediately to write. Don’t worry about writing well. Just put the daily quota of words on the page. Next morning, read last day’s words briefly, then add the next lot. Take an hour once a week to edit what you wrote.

6. Breathe life into your writing

Here are 3 ways of bringing your writing to life:

  • Write like a journalist – Journalists learn to write for maximum impact. Instead of introducing the theme with an overview and then focussing in on particulars, journalists take the reverse track. They start with a personal story, and then zoom out to the larger issue.
  • Use juicy writing – Pick up the pace and increase the flow of your text through using short sentences and frequent paragraphing, getting rid of filler words, and using only one idea per paragraph. Check out techniques of juicy writing here.
  • Use dialogues for emotional impact – Dialogue makes a story out of mere information. Learn how to use it in this article.

7. Tricks of an efficient editor

Good editing can lift a book from mediocre to excellent. After writing, editing is a writer’s most important task.

  • Liposuction flab – Your first major edit should cull every superflous word. Here’s an article that shows you what to watch out for. Aim to shave at least 10% off your wordcount after the first read-through!
  • Outsource the final edit - A final edit is best done by a professional. Good editors aren’t cheap. You may have to spend $150 – $250 for a 20,000 word book. You can find editors on Elance. Some print-on-demand publishers (see below) also offer editing.

8. Do pictures say more than a 1000 words?

  • Pro’s and con’s of using illustrations – Illustrations can add value but make ‘on demand’ publishing more expensive, as well as creating a large file size for downloads.
  • How to source illustrations – Flickr is a great source of free images. Check out Skellie’s excellent article on how to find images on Flickr.

9. Design your book for ‘knock-out’ impact

To complete and market your Ebook, you will need the following design package: layout, fonts, ilustrations, the cover, a small 125x 125 banner and a large banner with 3D book image for your website. If you’re not a designer yourself, I suggest finding someone on Elance. Check out other Ebooks in order to find a layout and cover that you like so that you can give clear guidance to your designer.

10. Make the most of front– and back-matter

  • What the front matter needs to contain – The first few pages before the actual text begins are called ‘front matter’. It’s a place for a quote or a dedication, for credits of your photographers or designers, for stating your copyright, and for including an index.
  • How to use back matter to maximum effect – The back matter is what you add at the end of your book. If you are a blogger, add a page to invite readers to your blog. If you have any other products you would like to sell, you can add a sales page as well.

11. Create an audio version for iPod people

Consider adding an audio version. You can either produce it yourself or get a professional to do it. On Elance this will cost you about $150. You can either offer it for sale on sites like LearnOurLoud, or offer the audio version together with the Ebook as a value-added package.

12. Sell your book to the whole world

  • Selling the Ebook yourself – If you have your own blog or website, you can sell your Ebook from your site with Paypal. In that case you would store the Ebook file on a password protected page on your site. In the process of paying through Paypal, the buyers would get a password to your download page. A no-sweat alternative is to sell your book through E-junkie. Their system is easy to set up, and they store the digital file for you. This choice means that you can also set up their user-friendly affiliate service.
  • Sell your book through LuluLulu produces and sells both digital books, as well as on-demand print copies. An Ebook nets the author 80% of its sale price. For ‘print on demand’ books, Lulu’s commision is 20% of the author revenue (which you set over and above the production cost per copy). The setting-up cost for a print version ranges from zero (if you have all the files ready to go) to $500 if you choose Lulu’s complete editing, formating and design package.
  • Sell your Ebook through Amazon – Amazon is pushing their Ebook reader Kindle. Check out how to publish and sell your Ebook with Amazon here. Amazon has joined with a ‘print on demand’ publisher called Booksurge. Their fee for setting up a print-on-demand version of an Ebook is about $300.

13. Write a sizzling sales page

Whether people follow through and complete the buying process is largely due to sales copy that overcomes inertia and doubt, and calls to action.

  • Write your own copy – Read my sales page here and check out this article on how to write web copy that sells.
  • Outsource copywriting – It may be worthwhile to outsource the copy for your sales page. There are many experienced copy writers on Elance.

14. Prepare for the Big Day

The launch is an important day. Make sure that your blog readers and fellow bloggers know about your upcoming launch. This helps to create expectation and excitement. Check out this article on How To Use Product Launch Principles When Selling From Your Blog. Here is what you can do to prepare for the launch.:

  • Sign up buyers pre-launch – This strategy means signing people up to get a discounted book on launch day. It’s best to start the list about three months before launch date.
  • Test your selling system - It’s important to test your selling system. If you use E-junkie, you can set the price to a few cents for testing purposes and buy your book by credit card. This will immediately show up any problems. Remember to change the price before the launch!
  • Write a sales page or launch post - Have your sales page or blog post ready as a draft on your site so that all you need to do is to hit the ‘publish’ button on launch day.
  • Send out complimentary copies - Send out complimentary copies to fellow bloggers and close friends. You can use their testimonials on your sales page. Craft your email carefully. Offer your affiliate program and ask people to review your book.

15. Set up an affiliate program

Setting up an affiliate system means that you are offering your Ebook not only to your own readers but potentially to hundreds of thousands of readers! An affiliate gets a commission for every sale. It pays to be generous with your commission (I offer 40%). I think E-junkie is the most user-friendly affiliate system. It’s easy to set up, and both you and your affiliates can track sales online.

  • How to find possible affiliates – To find possible affiliates, start a list with all your blogging friends, as well as your commenters who have blogs. Then comes the detective work: find an Ebook by an author who focusses on a similar target group. Google the name of the book plus the word ‘review’; chances are that the people who wrote a review also are affiliates. Add them to your list. On your launch day, email each possible affiliate and attach a complimentary copy.

16. Blow your trumpet

You are your best marketing weapon! Contact all your friends on the Net. Now is the time to call in your favours. Here is what you can do:

  • Ask for reviews – Choose blogs with a similar theme and ask for a review of your book.
  • Create links to your sales page – Mention your book in your blog posts and link to the sales page. Go through your archives and find relevant post in which you can place links.
  • Put up a banners – Put up a big banner on your site and offer smaller 125×125 banners to your affiliates.

Follow these steps, and you will find the process of writing and producing an Ebook quite straightforward. When you finally get to Launch Day, you will feel the thrill of achievement!

If you have a question or want to add something, please leave a comment.

Mary Jaksch writes a blog at GoodlifeZen.com. She is the author of ‘Learn to Love’ which has been translated into six languages. Her recent Ebook From Tragedy to Triumph: Winning Through a Life Crisis has had rave reviews.

Do You Write From Your Heart ?

In this post Abhijeet Mukherjee from Jeet Blog (where he writes about tech tweaks, blogging tips and productivity hacks) asks ‘do you write from the heart?’

As professional bloggers, freelancers or writers, sometimes we tend to be skeptical about our own content. We tend to think more about external aspects like marketing etc (which we can always do after we complete the article) even before we start writing and consequently the quality of the article dips down.

However most of us fail to understand that the questions which come to our mind, which bother us when we start writing, are completely unnecessary and doing no good to us. Do the following questions bother you?

1: Will readers like my post ?

Why to worry about this when you are writing something. You just need to give your best shot, thats it. And it is important that you are satisfied with your work before somebody else. Remember these words of Swami Vivekananda:

“Each work has to pass through these stages—ridicule, opposition, and then acceptance. Those who think ahead of their time are sure to be misunderstood.”

Hence your work will be accepted sooner or later if you put your heart and soul into it.

2: Has someone already written about it?

I’ll start with an example. Look at this post in Mashable.Then here’s a post by Amit. So what do you find?. Both posts have similar information about a similar product. Both are A-list blogs.But there is a difference in presentation of post. And thats what you need to understand. If there is something you discover, just write about it.

When you discover something and feel that it could be useful to your readers, don’t think twice. Nothing gets old on the internet. I have seen topics covered way back in 2006 in some blogs being repeated in A-list blogs after 2 years. What matters is the presentation of the topic and your own, original views so that you are not copying stuff and you are creating value for the readers. So just focus on your presentation. (Like Skellie says here, its not a matter of writing, but how you present things online ).

3: What keywords I should use?

This question could be the most distracting while writing.Yes, you want to optimize your post for search engines but lets think about those humans first who will read your post and about keywords after writing the post.When you write a post, it is not about words..its about thoughts…and your thoughts cannot be the slave of few keywords.

And after you unleash your thoughts, you can always try and check if some keywords might fit in the post.

4: Am I writing in good English?

Hmm… that’s a valid question. Not all of us are language experts.So what to do then? Here’s what Seth Godin said in one of his posts:

“Don’t let the words get in the way. If you’re writing online, forget everything you were tortured by in high school English class. You’re not trying to win any awards or get an A. You’re just trying to be real, to make a point, to write something worth reading.”

So as he puts it… Just Say It!

5: Will I become a successful blogger?

Different people have different definitions for success. However to achieve that you need to work from your heart. In fact you’ll find that the only in the work in which you get absorbed, you are able to apply new techniques and new ideas. So its a myth that heart and mind have separate point of views. They both complement each other.

I would conclude this post with a memorable quote from the movie Jerry Maguire, where Tom Cruise explains the importance of playing from heart to Cuba Gooding ,Jr.

Jerry Maguire- “Alright here’s why you don’t have your ten million yet. Right now, you are a paycheck player. You play with your head, not your heart. In your personal life – (points to chest) Heart. But when you get on that field — it’s all about what you didn’t get, who’s to blame, who underthrew the pass, who’s got the contract you don’t, who’s not giving you your love. Well, that is not what inspires people. That’s not what inspires people. Shut up. Play the game. Play it from your heart. And you know what? I will show you the “kwan.” I’m sorry, but that’s the truth. Can you handle it? “

What Jerry (Tom Cruise) said above is true for every profession in the world till date…. believe me.

So do you write from your heart ?

The Choice of Associating Your Name with Your Blog

Do you associate your name with your blog?

One of the choices that face bloggers when starting out is one around their own name and whether they will use it on their blog (and to what extent).

There’s a range of options open to bloggers:

  • Blog under your personal name and promote it prominently on your blog (this is what I’ve done here on ProBlogger)
  • Blog under your personal name but don’t really promote yourself (this is what I’ve done on DPS – my name is on the about page but not much more)
  • Blog under an alias and promote that name (Skellie does this on Skelliewag)
  • Blog without any name on your blog at all – letting the content speak for itself

I’m sure there are other options – but these would be the most common.

So which is the best option?

I heard a speaker recently answer this question and they argued strongly that the best way to build a blog is to associate your name with it. In answering the question they used me and ProBlogger as an example saying something like ‘when you think of blogging for money, who do you think of? Darren Rowse’.

It’s nice to have you name associated with a niche and it certainly can be a smart move – but it’s not the only way to build a successful blog.

Let me use myself as an example of this.

Here on ProBlogger I’ve always blogging under my name, included it in the byline of my posts, had a prominent about page, written in a personal tone, included personal details of my life and included video and pictures of myself in numerous places.

As the blogger I mentioned earlier suggests – it’s paid off. Having my name associated with the blog has opened opportunities for me to speak at conferences, pick up consulting work, meet partners to start a business and write a book. Some of these things might have come to be without promoting my name – but I suspect less so than they did.

PbBut what impact has it had on traffic? Let’s look at the stats:

  • ProBlogger has had just over 7 million readers since it started a three and a half years ago. It currently averages around 14,000 unique visitors a day.
  • RSS readers osilate between 43,000 – 46,000 depending upon the day of the week.

The growth has been steady since I began blogging with different peaks and and troughs along the way.

But what about my other blog Digital Photography School

DPS is a blog that I don’t really associate my name with very much. Like I mentioned above I mention myself on my About page and use it in passing on weekly newsletter emails but my approach on this blog is much less about aligning my name with it and letting content speak for itself. It is a step up from anonymous blogging – but it’s much much less than I do here on ProBlogger.

If anything these days the names of other writers (those who I employ to write weekly posts) are more associated with DPS than my own name.

DpsWhat impact has this had on traffic? Lets go to the stats (note, these are just for the blog and don’t include the forum stats):

  • DPS started almost exactly two years ago (it’ll be our 2nd birthday later this week).
  • As you can see from the Sitemeter stats it’s now over taken ProBlogger in it’s visitor levels with 8.5 million uniques in that time.
  • It currently averages 20,000 readers a day
  • It’s RSS feed subscriber numbers hovers between 41,000 – 44,000 readers a day

So despite it being a a younger blog with no one name behind it DPS has overtaken ProBlogger and continues to pull away.

Some might argue that if I’d associated my name more with DPS that it could have grown faster but I’m not so sure. My feeling is that some topics and styles of blogging probably do lend themselves more to associating your name with them.

I guess the point of this post is really to present the options and to point out that there’s no one way to building a successful blog in terms of aligning your own personal brand with your writing.

A Couple of After Thoughts:

As I go to hit publish on this post a few other thoughts come to mind.

An Advantage of Not Aligning Your Name with Your Blog – one of the advantages of not associating your name with your blog prominently that springs to mind is that if you ever choose to step away from your blog and sell it it can be quite helpful. One of the challenges facing many blog purchasers is that to buy a blog written by someone else is to transition the audience from one blogger to another. Obviously not having your name associated with a blog makes this easier.

A less Glamorous Pursuit – I always have to chuckle when I hear myself introduced as the guy behind ProBlogger. While this is true and I’m very proud of this blog DPS is obviously a blog that is doing better when it comes to traffic and readership. Choosing not to associate your name with your blog is not a glamorous approach. You might never appear on the top list of bloggers for your work or get written up in mainstream media… but then again that is something that I know is attractive to many.

Do You Associate Your Name with Your Blog?

I’d love to hear your approach to whether you associate your name with your blog. What do you do? How did you come to your decision? What are the Pros and Cons of the approach you’ve taken in your experience?

Finding New Readers for Your Blog with Guest Posting

Blog-Promotion - Guest PostingThis week I’m looking at five ways that I’d promote a new blog to new readers if i was starting out again. Read the introduction to this series here.

Perhaps one of the most powerful ways of exposing your writing to a new group of people is to put some of your best content on other peoples blogs – and not your own.

Guest Posts have long been a feature of blogging but it has been in the last year or two that I’ve really seen some wonderful examples of bloggers launching their own blogs and raising their own profiles through focussing their attention on writing guest posts on other blogs.

Names that come to mind of bloggers who I’ve seen do this brilliantly include Leo Babauta from Zen Habits (who has been a prolific guest poster and who has grown his blog to 37,000+ subscribers), Skellie from Skelliewag.org and Anywired and ChrisG. These three bloggers (and many others) have consistently put some of their best content on other people’s blogs over the last year and have seen tangible benefits from doing it.

Giving Your Best Content Away

While it might seem a little odd to put your best posts on another person’s blog it is something that does pay off.

Keep in mind that last week we talked about the best way to get people to convince people that you’ll write great content in future is to show them great content now. While you can keep showing your regular readers great content on your blog – the best way to show people who’ve never heard of you your best stuff is to go where they’re already gathering – on other people’s blogs.

Keys to Successful Guest Posting Campaigns:

I’ve seen a lot of people attempt to use Guest Posts as a means to promote their own blog with varied rates of success. Here are a few tips that I’d give for doing it most effectively:

1. Pick Blogs Strategically – one of the best things that you can do to increase the effectiveness of a Guest Post campaign is to choose the right blogs. The key is to find blogs that have the type of readership that you want and that are on topics that will have some sort of cross over with your blog. Obviously blogs with large readerships are good – but I would argue that a smaller blog with a more relevant readership would be more effective than a large one with little relevance.

2. Repeat Posts - build a relationship with the readers of the blog that you’re writing for my writing regularly for it. Of course this is not always easy (and depends upon the blogger who you are writing guest posts for being open to this) but each time you write a post on another blog you reinforce your own brand, expertise and authority in the mind of their readers.

3. Multiple Blogs – a lesson that we can learn from the three bloggers that I’ve mentioned above is that they each have blogged regularly on multiple blogs in a niche. In doing so they exposed themselves to a wider audience but also reinforced their brand as many of those blogs would have been read by the same readers.

4. Defined Time – one thing that I’ve noticed particularly about Leo’s guest posting is that he seemed to engage in the practice for defined times and in ‘bursts’ of guest posting. He used guest posts to launch his profile in a niche but then drew back a little in order to work on his own projects – then went on another ‘burst’ to launch his next project or give his older ones another round of promotion. This makes a lot of sense to me.

5. Keep Working on Your Own Blog – it is absolutely essential that you not only focus on producing exceptional quality posts on other people’s blogs but also your own. The key is to put great content on other people’s blogs to get attention and to have them check out your own blog – but to have content on your own blog that engages them and gives them reason to subscribe to your blog. I’ve seen a number of bloggers do brilliantly at writing for other people’s blogs but have seen their own blogs suffer as a result. It could be a wise thing to plan the posts on your own blog before you start a guest posting campaign.

6. Don’t Burn Yourself Out - another mistake that I’ve seen from a few guest posters is that they end up burning themselves out by overloading themselves with guest posting appearances. The result of this is that their own blog can suffer but also they can run out of ideas for new posts if they are posting on too many blogs in a niche. The key is to walk the fine line between being prolific but also keeping yourself fresh and able to sustain your posting for the long haul.

Have you tried guest posting on other people’s blogs? What did you learn?

I’ve explored this topic further in posts like How to Get Guest Blogging Jobs and How to Be a Good Guest Blogger.

Top 5 Ways to Improve Your Blog’s Usability

Skellie is a regular writer for ProBlogger. Check out her new blog Anywired if you’re interested in earning an income online.

Usability.

Yaaawn, right?

Think of it like this: the art of making it as easy as possible for your blog’s visitors to do exactly what you want them to do.

That simple, super-effective tip on putting your feed icon high up in your sidebar is usability at work. So is putting social media buttons at the bottom of your posts. So is putting popular posts in your sidebar. In fact, some of the coolest, simplest things you can do to get more subscribers, links and loyal readers come from usability.

Setting aside an hour or two to re-arrange your layout with usability in mind will pay long-term dividends for your blog’s growth. Here are my top 5 tips to help you get started.

#1 — Be predictable

When we want to know what a site is about, the first thing we look for is an ‘About’ page.

When we want to contact the owner of a site, the first thing we look for is a ‘Contact’ page.

When we want to leave a comment, we usually look to the bottom of a post.

When we want to subscribe to a blog, we look for the subscribe button at the top of its sidebar.

These things are so common that they’ve become standards — things we expect. When we can’t find the standard, we look for the next most similar thing.

By adhering to these predictable standards you’re actually making it as easy as possible for your blog’s visitors to do exactly what you want them to do. Sometimes being predictable is not a bad thing!

#2 — Be obvious

Look down at your keyboard and you’ll probably be able to spot at least one key that you’ve never noticed before, either because you have no need for it or you don’t know what it does. It could be the most useful key ever, but our hesitation when confronted with the unknown has probably stopped you ever pressing it before. What if it deletes everything you just wrote?

We don’t like not knowing what the result of our actions will be, and so it goes with your blog. Non-obvious links and buttons will very rarely be clicked. In my experiments with private advertising, there can be as much as an 800% difference in click-through rates between ambiguous banners and ones which make it obvious where the reader will be taken when they click on it. Scour your blog and ask this question of every element: would a new visitor know what this does, or where it leads?


Photo by Davichi

#3 — Subtract the unimportant

By hiding important elements (your most popular posts, your feed icon, your comment button) amongst a dozen other unimportant things (widgets and recent comments) you’re making it harder for readers to do what is truly important to you.

#4 — Limit options

A category list with 10 categories is a lot more usable than a list with 50 categories. Too many options creates overload which leads to deferral: a visitor will not engage with that element at all. Your list of 5 most popular posts will get clicked more than your list of 20, and so on. Simplified options make it easier for the visitor to decide where they want to place their attention. Too much choice will actually hurt your blog’s usability.

#5 — Do the little things

A usable blog, aside from the above, is also made-up of many little touches that make your visitor’s browsing experience easier.

  1. Does your header image link back to your main page?
  2. Does your blog have an about page?
  3. Does your blog have a contact page?
  4. Do your headlines match with your content?
  5. Is it clear where your links will lead?
  6. Do you use frequent paragraphs in your posts?
  7. Do you have comment links at the bottom of your post?
  8. Do you use sub-headings?
  9. Are your posts less than 2/3 screen length wide?
  10. Are you making your best posts easily accessible?
  11. Are your links easy to pick out?

Points to review

  • Predictability is a good thing for usability.
  • Be creative with your posts, but obvious in your layout elements.
  • Subtract obstacles to your most wanted actions.
  • Simplify options to make your elements easier to use.
  • Pay attention to little touches that your visitors will find useful.