Crafting Your Content 66

In the month or so since I started writing on this topic I must have seen upwards of fifty articles on how to achieve social media success. A number of elaborate strategies have been devised across the blogosphere: the inexplicable magnetism of list posts, the fine art of constructing Diggbait, and so on.

I’ve yet to see a single article, however, give due time to the single most important element of creating content with the potential to define your site: hard work. With time and effort any blogger or webmaster, regardless of talent, can create content with the potential to become rip-roaringly popular.

The key ingredient to success on social media services, as I’ve observed it, is time — time to create carefully crafted and assembled content. Your instinctive reaction to that might be: sure, but I don’t have that time.

I’d argue that you do. In fact, anyone who blogs or runs a website has that time. You just need to change the way you use it.

The most popular post on Skelliewag is unquestionably 50 Tips to Unclutter Your Blog. At the moment it sits at over 64 comments and trackbacks. I mention this example because I think it encapsulates the point I’m trying to make. Anyone could have written it, it was simply a matter of taking the time to do so.

It did indeed take quite a bit of time — a number of hours all up, spent browsing dozens of blogs and noting down clutter when I saw it. What it didn’t take was a stroke of genius, or any amount of brilliant writing. It was nothing more than a time investment which paid off.

Readers can differentiate between content that has been crafted and content which has not. Crafted content is packed with value, carefully considered, and lovingly refined. Sometimes more effort goes into research and assembling links than into the writing itself. It’s not necessarily the result of a brilliant idea, or unprecedented inspiration. If you spend three hours crafting a blog post, I would argue that it’s likely to be great, regardless of the idea behind it.

Spreading your time more thinly in order to write frequent articles will not provide rewards on par with pooling your time into one, carefully crafted article. Next time you’re visiting a blog you like, take the time to browse through its popular posts and consider the time investment that would have been required to write each of them. When you stumble across an article that has achieved social media success, ask yourself the same question.

Pretty soon, a direct correlation between effort and reward will become apparent.

Next time you create something for your blog or website, make the decision to spend three (or four, or more) hours on it. If you don’t have the time, skip out on writing a shorter post or two and pool your time into the longer one.

Making a set time investment will encourage you to keep pouring value into your article until the time limit is up. Encourage readers who liked your article to Stumble or Digg it at the end.

This approach doesn’t promise to guarantee social media success (and I don’t think any approach can), but the result of your time investment is likely to be a defining feature of your blog or website; the much vaunted ‘pillar article’ which attracts links and new readers to your content.

Take the time and effort to craft your content. The results will be worth it.

10 Bloggers Share Their Best Post Ever 271

On the 12th of March I proposed that one way to create a remarkable blog post is to write like you’re never going to be able to write again, and, in doing so, produce a trump card post. After reading the post, ten Skelliewag readers decided to give it a go. The results were quite spectacular, and covered a broad range of niches, from personal finance, to self-improvement, divination, online writing, work and the PC hardware industry!

Listed in order of submission to me:

How to Live a Life Less Ordinary
by Amy Palko

“Reawaken your curiosity and engage with your environment. Pay attention to the details, and vary the way you look at things. The way I do this is by carrying my camera with me at all times. I am always on the look out for the next photo opportunity. Get up close, look up high, investigate the places you once thought of as familiar. Oh, and make sure you report back on your blog!”

The Five Fundamentals of Financial Success
by Madison at My Dollar Plan

“Financial success has little to do with money, stocks, bonds, asset allocation and retirement plans. Sure those matter, but let’s not confuse financial tools with the fundamentals. The foundation is based on preparation, planning and the relationship that money has with other aspects of your life.”

The Most Important Thing You Need to Learn About Divination
by Danae Sinclair

“Lets start with a prediction; in a world that wants more and more out of everyday experience, we’ll want to know what everything means and want it to fit with our ordinary understanding. We’ll want a method for interpretation, a glossary of the terms of the Gods, all the air-borne secrets revealed in one digest.”
http://writing-journey.com/internet-writing/bang-your-gong-an-call-for-action-from-the-internet-writing-community”>Bang Your Gong: A Call For Action From the Internet Writing Community
by Bob Younce

“Success as an Internet writer doesn’t come easy, and it doesn’t come cheap. It requires dedication, self-discipline and a hell of a lot of good luck.”

Just Say “NO” to Crap!
by squawkfox

“I’m launching an anti-crap campaign. I want you to say “NO” to buying crap. I can’t think of a better way to improve one’s wealth, health, and self than to kick the crap habit. Like any drug, crap has a cost. Crap hits your wallet, abuses the environment, and needles your health both mentally and physically.”

Playing a Round: Life Lessons in 18 Holes of Gold
by Bruce Kuykendall

“Play the Ball As it Lies – In golf, the rules state that you must play the ball as it lies. Life is like that. I need to accept my situation whatever circumstances may bring – and take my best shot to be successful.”

The Five Most Important Things You Need to Know About Working Happy
by Karl Staib

Working happy is not a mystery. We all know that when we do something we love, we’ll work happier. The tricky part of working happy is enjoying all aspects of a job – from the mundane to the exciting. Every job has its pitfalls. You may love interacting with the people at work, but struggle with the customers or vice versa. Whatever your job entails, it’s up to you to extract as much joy from it as possible.”

My Final Post: Top 9 Lessons in Awesomeness
by Hunter Nuttall

“If you’re naturally bad at something, it might take a tremendous amount of effort to become mediocre. But if you’re naturally good at something, it’s relatively easy to become great. It might take a sustained effort over a period of years, but your odds of success are fairly high if you’re truly committed. It’s much easier to stay motivated when you’re good, you know you’re getting even better, and you enjoy what you’re doing.”

Small Changes Make a World of Difference
by Paidtwice

“Now, more than 4 years after we made that one small change to let go of the credit card convenience check security blanket, we’re out of credit card debt, making significant progress on our student loans (something I never thought would be paid off before the end dates sometime in 2013 and 2017) and looking towards having our mortgage be our only debt. All because of an avalanche of small changes.”

The Definition of a ‘Boutique Systems Integrator’
by Edward Borden

“Being a boutique SI isn’t about who your customer base is, who you market to, what color your dragon-shaped cases are, or even what your products cost! There are many companies marketing to the enthusiast space that are flat out boutique SI posers. You might ask me why I care and don’t just let them rot. Well, like I said previously, our industry’s high-end name has got to be protected and understood, otherwise people will think we’re just con-artists trying to overcharge for fancy marketing. And that ain’t right.”

Creating Signature Content 28

I have dim memories of the time I spent creating my signature, and looking back on it, I didn’t give the task the attention it deserved. Now the signature I’m stuck with is somewhat jagged and messy, and I’d go back and change it if I could.

Despite its short-comings, it does get one thing right: it’s unique, and like any good signature, can’t be copied.

This week, I want to discuss how signature content is created — content your readers won’t be able to get from anyone else.

Why create signature content?

When researching this article I stumbled across a quote by Leo Babauta which, I think, gets to the core of why creating signature content is important. Though he was speaking about including biases in blog posts at the time, the quote rings true in this context and can apply to any form of web content:

With millions of blog posts out there, yours is not likely to be very unique — unless you put in your post the one thing that you know is unique — yourself. There is no other like you out there.

In other words, the internet is so vast that chances are at least one other person is writing on the topics you cover. By signing content with your own signature — your thought process, your experiences, your stories — you’re ensuring readers can only come to you and you alone for the content you provide.

Some other benefits

  • Readers connect to you as the author, not just to your content.
  • What you write can’t be mimicked, copied or replicated.
  • Increases reader trust because you are putting yourself in what you write.
  • With advice writing, shows that you are “walking the talk.”
  • Will help set you apart from others.

Adding your signature to different types of content

News
Everyone can have an opinion, and plenty of people have the same opinion. Your biases alone are not enough to make your news content unique.

Consider asking yourself the following questions as you write and working in the answers where (and if) appropriate.

  • Where were you when you heard the news? Doing what?
  • What were your first thoughts?
  • What was your gut reaction?
  • How will it affect you or people you know?

Advice
If you’re recommending something you should have personal experience (or at least have personally observed) that it works. The more you put yourself in your advice writing the more you’re showing yourself to be “walking the talk.” You can also use your own experiences as proof that the advice works.

Lastly, advice writing is one of the most commonly duplicated forms of writing. How many advice articles have you seen listing ways to increase website traffic, for example? How many points had you seen elsewhere? Putting yourself in your advice writing can ensure that it seems fresh. A great example of an author putting themselves into their advice writing is Darren Rowse’s 18 Lessons I’ve Learnt About Blogging.

When working on your own advice writing, think about including the answers to the questions below.

  • What happened when you implemented the advice you’re giving?
  • Have you noticed it implemented successfully by someone else?
  • What was your behavior before you discovered a new way of doing things?
  • What challenges did you face when implementing the advice?
  • Where did you get your inspiration to try it?

Referrals
What you do when you create content for the purpose of pointing to content elsewhere. That might involve linking to a great article you’ve read, a new service you discovered, a funny webcomic, and so on. If the content is new and popular then it’s most likely that a lot of other people are creating referral content about it too. You can make your content unique by considering the following questions.

  • How did you find the content?
  • What was your reaction?
  • How do you think others are going to react?
  • What’s good about it?
  • What’s not so good?

Other forms of content
Above I’ve listed three common types of content. The web is home to still many other types of content, but I hope the examples above illustrate how you can add your signature to every type of content you create. You could put yourself in one sentence or you could dot your thoughts and reactions throughout the whole piece.

You might be doing a bit of it already!

Most of us don’t write completely in the abstract, and some of your content is probably already marked with your signature. What I want to suggest is that we can be more conscious of how and when we do this, and we can do it more — especially when we know the benefits.

Walking the talk

I should end this article by saying that this is something I myself don’t do enough of. My effort was the introductory anecdote about working on my own, real-life signature, but I could definitely do it more.

Is this something you already feel you’re doing well, or do you think it’s something you could work on?

Bloggers Watch and Learn 289

Learning to blog well is no different to learning any skill, from painting to playing football.

When learning about blogging, we spend much of our time reading lessons on how to blog well, much like an aspiring painter will read books and attend lessons on various types of painting. However, a crucial aspect of learning any skill effectively is to study those who are already highly accomplished in the skill you’re trying to learn. Painters may study the work of Van Gogh, and aspiring footballers might study videos of Ronaldinho or Messi. But who, or what, do bloggers study?

One of the most valuable sources of blogging knowledge is to study and observe those who do it well: bloggers who write posts that get Dugg all the time, bloggers who have tripled their RSS count in the last six months, bloggers with a kick-butt personal brand, bloggers who produce top-quality content like some kind of content producing automaton, and so on.

You should be studying these bloggers even if the things they blog about are of no interest to you. Learn from bloggers who have already achieved, or are on track to achieve, the goals you’ve set for yourself, even if you are not part of their target audience.

Learning by watching

I’m an avid subscriber of three blogs that I’m not interested in. At least, not in the same way that I’m interested in most of the blogs in my feed reader. I subscribe to Get Rich Slowly, but I consciously do not practice frugality in my own life, don’t live in the U.S.A. (much of the information is US-centric) and I’m not in debt… yet. And still, I’m still excited when a GRS post hits my feed reader. Let me explain why:

  • The blog has close to 60,000 subscribers and employs roughly the same content model I use–long and in-depth posts, albeit much more frequently. I study the blog to observe how J.D., the blogger behind GRS, makes this content model work so effectively to grow the blog’s subscriber base.
  • I observe the way the content unfolds over time. How does the blogger balance frequent posting with the production of fresh ideas?
  • I admire J.D.’s writing style, and consider how I can bring that clarity to my own posts.
  • I try to observe the way J.D. has created a community of active commenters at the blog.
  • I look at GRS posts that have done will on social media and ask, what made this work? What can I learn from this?

Despite being disinterested in this type of personal finance, each post is a lesson for me. It’s not a problem that I don’t read the blog for the financial tips and advice, as I’m not part of the target audience. The impressive subscriber count shows that the blog is exceptionally good at catering to its target audience.

Another blog I’m subscribed to for similar reasons is Zen Habits. I think Leo Babauta is to blogging what Van Gogh is to painting–a true master! However, I don’t generally enjoy reading personal development blogs, and don’t use the blog’s content in the way it was intended to be used. Instead, I track the blog for the following reasons:

  • To observe how Leo’s content strategy has influenced the growth of Zen Habits’ subscriber base.
  • To learn how a super-strong personal brand is built.
  • To examine how the blog has been able to have phenomenal success on Digg, in particular.
  • To learn how a passionate readership and comment-culture is constructed.

The story is similar with Coding Horror, a software programming blog I greatly admire despite having next to no knowledge of the subject matter! I read the blog to observe the way posts are given beautiful texture with the use of formatting and images–a method I’ve observed to be very effective when it comes to maintaining reader interest throughout a long post, and also in the realm of social media.

Immerse yourself

The practice of learning can be loosely divided into three areas: listening (or reading), practicing, and studying. Many bloggers do not actively practice this third aspect of learning. You might listen to the recommendations of blogging experts and practice blogging regularly, but do you actively study other blogs and bloggers that have achieved the kinds of goals you’ve set for yourself? This kind of learning is as practical as it gets: it deals in real-life action and examples rather than abstract lessons.

Get started as soon as possible, in the following ways:

  1. Familiarize yourself with the most successful blogs in the world, even when their subject matter is of no interest to you. Start here: even though its accuracy is questionable, it includes many of the key players. Think about the following: content strategy (what kind of posts, how often), target audience (who it’s for, who it’s not for), branding (what do you know about it?), what aspects of its success would you like to emulate?
  2. Familiarize yourself with blogs that have already achieved goals you aspire to (i.e. 50,000 subscribers), with a roughly similar content style. How did they do it? Once again, it’s not important that you be part of the blog’s target audience. In fact, this can often help you gain objective distance and study the blogger’s strategy with fewer distractions and biases.

Immersion is an essential aspect of skilful blogging, just as it is essential when learning any skill. If you want to master the art of writing content that is optimized for social media, you need to immerse yourself in this kind of content. If you want to become a world-class blogger, immerse yourself in the work of world-class bloggers. Never stop watching and learning.

Are Subscribers Over Rated 225

Subscribers are widely regarded as the most valuable indicators of a blog or website’s success. When it comes to selling a blog, some pundits have valued 1 subscriber at around $35. That’s incredible. Whether they’re truly worth that much is a mystery, but it holds true that most of us look to our subscriber count as the primary yardstick of our progression.

The question I want to ask today is: should we be doing this? Much has been written by various bloggers — including myself — about trying to gather more subscribers. A lot less time has been dedicated to examining why we should be pursuing this goal. It’s assumed that subscribers are worth their weight in gold, but are they really?

I’m not setting out to prove or disprove the assumption. I want to test it, weigh up the pros and cons, and see what happens. As I write these words, I’m not sure what the outcome will be. I like subscribers. I hope they come out on top. But I can’t make any guarantees.

Form follows function

I’m concerned by untested assumptions. Are subscribers really important, or did we just decide they were important? Your subscriber count is a fun visualization — a badge you can wear, a number which can be volatile but, like blue-chip stocks, tends to increase over time. Part of me wonders if our veneration of the subscriber count started because of it’s game-like quality: blogging is the game and your subscriber count is the score. As humans, we like competing, we like to measure our success in numbers rather than an abstract sense of achievement.

I want to set aside my own fondness for the impetuous little subscriber count badge and work out if it really means as much as we think it does.

What is a subscriber… really?

Aside from the percentage of your subscriber count made up of bots and scrapers, each subscriber is an individual who’s elected to be notified every time you update your blog or website.

While it’s almost impossible to determine how your users interact with a subscription, we know one thing for sure: each subscriber means that at some point in the past an individual opted-in to voluntary interruptions from you. Something about your blog or website made them feel as if they didn’t want to leave it behind in the internet ether. They decided it was for keeps.

After that point, things get murkier. Email subscribers get posts emailed to them, but you don’t know whether they read them or delete them, or use a filter to send them straight to trash.

Those who follow you blog in a feed reader are also relatively mysterious. In Google Reader it takes a fraction of a second to skip a post and mark it ‘Read’ without looking at much more than the first few words of the headline. If you’re like me, most of the posts you’re delivered will be ignored in this fashion. Of 50 posts, I might only scan a handful. Most posts fall into the ‘Not relevant to me’ or the ‘I already know that’ category. Because there’s so little time involved in skipping past posts, I can stay subscribed to a blog even if I only read a fraction of its content– simply on the odd chance that it’ll eventually produce something I want to read.

Your feed readers could be:

  1. Ignoring all your posts and on the path to unsubscribing.
  2. Ignoring most of your posts and reading just a few.
  3. Reading most of your posts and ignoring a few.
  4. Reading all of your posts religiously.

It seems likely that most subscribers fall into either category 2 or 3.

What does this mean?

Not all subscribers are engaged readers. In fact, I suspect that the ‘Returning Visitor’ count is composed of more engaged readers (proportionally). If you load up a website enough times and find it has little to offer, you’ll probably delete the bookmark. It’s a lot easier to sweep irrelevant feed items under the rug.

Your ‘Returning Visitor’ count will also include feed readers who’ve visited your blog to comment, extract the link to your post or vote for you on social media. I’m not yet sure whether subscribers are over-rated, but I feel confident in saying that the ‘Returning Visitor’ metric is under-rated.

Though each subscriber is not necessarily a ‘perfect’ reader (as they’re often characterized), I think the subscriber count is a better indicator of whether you’re on the right track with your content than your number of daily uniques (DU). Your DU count is held under the sway of too many variables you can influence but not control: social media surges, in-bound links and search engine traffic. Your subscriber count will depend on the quality of your content and your niche alone. Your DU in the short-term might say nothing about the long-term story behind your blog — and where it’s heading.

If you’re publishing for a niche audience who don’t often use feed readers, it might be more worthwhile to measure your subscriber count in comparison to the subscriber count of other blogs in your niche.

If subscribers are not necessarily engaged, daily uniques are even more flippant. It’s almost inevitable that most of the social media and search engine traffic you receive isn’t interested in your content. The web still has work to do when it comes to delivering the right content to the right people.

As for measuring your blog’s progress, I’d argue that your subscriber count is more valuable than any other metric. Your daily unique count tells you only how many people found their way to your blog — even if they navigated away instantly. Your subscriber count gives you an idea of whether your content is appealing to your target audience. That’s invaluable.

I do, however, think that a blog’s subscriber count is possibly over-valued by on-site advertisers and buyers. Of course, this is one thing that tends to work in our advantage. Only a small proportion of feed readers click back to your blog (unless you use partial feeds, which will mean you have less subscribers overall, anyway).

When it comes to on-site advertising, page views are the most important measure — as well as whether your product is targeted to the blog or website’s audience. Despite this, prospective advertisers do seem to be impressed by a decent subscriber count — probably because they assume that it’s accompanied by a lot of traffic. They also want the benefits of being associated with a respected blog or website. From a buyer’s perspective, I think subscribers are over-rated. From a seller’s perspective, they remain highly valuable.

When it comes to buying blogs as assets (with the assumption that the blog will eventually recoup the price you paid for it and make a profit on top of that) I believe subscribers are strongly over-valued. A blog’s subscriber count says very little about its potential profitability. If you’re ever looking to buy a blog as an investment, the key question to ask is: how much does it make?

Another thing to consider: people subscribe because of content rather than premise. If you buy a blog with 500 subscribers there’s no guarantee those subscribers will stay after the previous author hands over the reigns.

From a seller’s perspective, though, your subscriber count can drastically increase the value of your blog even if your monthly earnings are insignificant. Blog buyers seem to believe subscribers will translate easily into dollars. I don’t think this is true at all, but demand creates value, and there’s a very high demand to buy blogs with an established subscriber base — particularly in niches commonly regarded as ‘money makers’, i.e. blogs about blogging, SEO, make money online, gadgets and so on.

My advice to anyone thinking about selling their blog is to do everything you can to increase your subscriber count and monthly earnings. My advice to anyone looking to buy a blog is to look at the monthly earnings and page views, and get proof that both figures provided are accurate.

The answer?

A blog’s subscriber count is the best metric you can use to work out if your content is doing its job. If your count is plateauing, you may need to increase the quality of your content to get things moving again. If it’s falling, determine whether you’ve changed anything about your content (i.e. form, frequency, etc.) If the change loosely corresponds with the drop, I’d suggest that you revert to what you were doing before, or try something else.

If you’re hoping to sell advertising on your blog, your subscriber count will influence what you can charge. Buyers attach more value to this metric than they should. If you’re a buyer looking to advertise a blog, website or product, look at page views and relevancy over the number of subscribers.

If you want to sell your blog, chase subscribers like crazy. The other metric you want to bump up is your current monthly earnings. You don’t need to have these two things in place to get a good price, though. I’ve seen blogs with a few hundred subscribers sell for thousands of dollars without making more than small change. Conversely, I’ve seen poor quality blogs with a high monthly income sell for thousands, as well.

If you’re looking to buy a blog for love, a subscriber count is probably the key metric you should be looking at. If you’re buying for love and money, look at its subscriber count, page views and monthly income. If you’re buying for money, look at its monthly income and, to a lesser extent, page views.

The Bloggers Library 28 Free ebooks and Excerpts for Bloggers 77

Looking for some reading material?

These eBooks cover topics ranging from content creation, promotion, social media, general blogging, business blogging, making money blogging to web writing/copywriting, SEO and design.

The collection totals more than 864 pages and 31 megabytes. Enjoy!

Instructions: left-click on the links provided to download or save the eBook from its dedicated page.

Content Creation

1. Killer Web Content (Sample) by Jerry McGovern (20 pages . 154kb)

The first chapter of Killer Web Content provides an overview of writing for the web and the different types of content you can create. McGovern has also written an eBook specifically about writing for the web (available below).

2. Killer Flagship Content by Chris Garrett (17 pages . 255kb)

The definitive guide to writing pillar articles — value-packed blog posts which will help to define your blog. The eBook was written by Chris Garrett who blogs about becoming an authority blogger at ChrisG.com. He’s also a regular contributor at Copyblogger.

You can access the eBook by subscribing to the ChrisG.com RSS feed. You can unsubscribe at any time.

3. What Do You Do When Someone Steals Your Content? (Sample) by Lorelle VanFossen

Lorelle of Lorelle on WordPress outlines several different responses bloggers can take to the (almost) inevitable content theft that comes with writing on the web. This is an excerpt from her book, Blogging Tips.

4. Who’s There? by Seth Godin (45 pages . 1.88mb)

“Seth Godin’s incomplete guide to blogs and the new web.” The companion book to Knock Knock (available below), this one is more focused on what you put on your blog than how you promote it. Seth outlines some simple and powerful ideas as only he knows how.

Promotion

5. Viral Marketing With Blogs by Brian Clark (30 pages . 484kb)

Packed with tips on using viral content and promotions to build the profile of your blog, this eBook is written by the inimitable Brian Clark of Copyblogger.

6. Unleashing the IdeaVirus by Seth Godin (197 pages . 893kb)

The most detailed text on viral marketing you’ll find. It’s not written specifically about blogging, but many of its core principles can be translated over.

7. Everyone Is An Expert by Seth Godin (32 pages . 1.59mb)

Discusses how Squidoo can be used to build your profile and drive traffic back to your blog. It should be noted that Squidoo is the brain-child of the author.

8. Knock Knock by Seth Godin (41 pages . 6.10mb)

“Seth Godin’s incomplete guide to building a website that works.” An unconventional guide to marketing and running a website/blog from an unconventional guy.

Using Social Media

9. What is Social Media? by Spannerworks (33 pages . 975kb)

A good overview of the different types of social media, from podcasts to folksonomies. Anyone looking at branching into new content formats will find this eBook useful.

10. Flipping the Funnel by Seth Godin (18 pages . 1.20mb)

A short guide to promoting yourself with Web 2.0. Many of the principles are directly translatable to blogging.

11. Authority Black Book by Jack Humphrey (64 pages . 856kb)

A guide to utilizing Web 2.0 as a promotional tool for your blog. Would also serve as a good introduction for someone unfamiliar with how social bookmarking services can interact with blog content.

General Blogging

12. Blog Branding and Identity (Sample) by Lorelle VanFossen

Lorelle of Lorelle on WordPress outlines the basics of creating a brand and identity for your blog, through both its content and its design. This is an excerpt from her book, Blogging Tips.

13. Blog Syndication and Subscription Tips (Sample) by Lorelle VanFossen

Some basic tips on offering feeds and increasing subscriptions. A good starting point for the absolute beginner. This is an excerpt from her book, Blogging Tips.

14. Successful Blogging (Sample) by Bob Walsh (29 pages . 630kb)

A solid overview of the blogging process, from being consistent to remaining inspired.

15. The Art of Alpha-Female Blogging by Halley Suitt (22 pages . 386kb)

The focus of this eBook is on writing dirty — writing with personality and humanity. I’d recommend this to any personal blogger.

16. We Media by Shayne Bowman and Chris Willis (66 pages . 3.14mb)

In-depth exploration of citizen journalism and how this relates to blogging. Useful reading for any blogger who writes on current events, politics or breaking news.

17. Launching a WordPress Blog by Tina Clarke (5.72 mb)

A good starter-guide for anyone flummoxed by the process of setting up a WordPress blog. Details installation, customization and some basic SEO. It might also be useful to share with anyone you know thinking of moving to WordPress from another platform.

Business Blogging

18. The Corporate Weblog Manifesto by Robert Scoble (13 pages . 295kb)

Robert Scoble is an internet celebrity. Here he provides 20 solid foundations for any corporate weblog. Any business blogger will find useful ideas here.

19. Beginner’s Guide to Business Blogging by Debbie Wiel (41 pages . 913kb)

A practical and common-sense guide to getting started with a business blog. Aimed at the absolute beginner, but with good foundational principles for the veteran, also.

Make Money Blogging

20. Blog Profits Blueprint by Yaro Starak (54 pages . 676kb)

A comprehensive overview of how to get started making money with a blog. Yaro has previously co-operated with Darren Rowse of ProBlogger.net and is currently selling his services as a blog profits mentor at Blog Mastermind.

21. Make Money Online by John Chow (59 pages . 1.79mb)

John Chow of, well, his blog, outlines how he has started generating a monthly five-figure income through blogging and provides tips for how you can do the same. This contains some useful general blogging info as well, though everything is always related back to monetization.

22. The Long Tail by Chris Anderson (33 pages . 645kb)

Required reading for anyone aiming to monetize a niche market.

Web Writing/Copywriting

23. Writing for the Web (Sample) by Gerry McGovern (12 pages . 218mb)

Short and sweet guide to crisp web writing with a focus on saying more in less words. I recommend this one if you don’t want to spend too long reading theories on writing better.

24. The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jnr.

The online version of the classic book. This remains a constant point of reference for many copywriters. Its most famous message is to “omit needless words” and will be useful for any blogger looking to sharpen up their web writing.

25. Common Errors in English by Paul Brians

The online version of the book by Paul Brians. An encyclopedic list of common errors in English, this resource should be useful for bloggers looking to fine-tune their spelling, grammar and expression.

SEO

26. Beginner’s Guide to SEO by SEOmoz (30 pages . 438kb)

SEOmoz is a highly trusted SEO resource and its Beginner’s Guide has consistently been a first port of call for those who want to get to grips with the SEO phenomenon.

Design

27. Web Style Guide, 2nd Edition by Patrick Lynch and Sarah Horton

A comprehensive introduction to web design for the blogger looking to customize or construct a theme for their blog. Introduces important concepts like the use of whitespace and chunking information.

28. 5 Simple Ways to Improve Your Blog by Nate Whitehill (8 pages . 2.51mb)

A clearly presented basic guide to making your blog look unique. This would be perfect for anyone looking to personalize or brand a theme. You’ll need to subscribe to the Unique Site Designs email list to receive the eBook. You can unsubscribe at any time.

Ask the Readers Whats Your Definition of success 165

This week, I want to challenge Skelliewag readers to set out a concrete definition of success for their blog or website. A point where you can say you’ve achieved everything you wanted.

My personal definition of success is focused around two goals: to be able to quit my part-time job and make my income online doing something I love, and secondly, to release a book or eBook through the blog. I haven’t achieved either of these yet, but I’m on track to do so.

What are the goals you’re working towards?

I’ll be looking for another most valuable commenter this week. Here is a quick summary of what I’ll be looking for:

  • A useful and insightful answer — something others can learn from.
  • Engagement with other commenters and reflection on their answers.
  • Active participation in the discussion.

What I won’t be taking into consideration:

  • Names, identities and affiliations. I’ll be judging by comments alone.

* * *

Last week’s question — what’s the most important lesson you’ve learned? — generated another interesting discussion with some fantastic comments and contributions. I’d love to highlight about a dozen commenters, but that would devalue the prize.

This week’s winner is Keira Peney (who runs a blog for game developers) for her original and insightful thoughts on the importance of listening as a blogger.

I’m not sure this counts as a ‘lesson learned’, but one of the best things I find about blogging is the way you can interact with people – to some extent it feels like the evolution of the message board. You can be questioned, sometimes you can be persuaded to change your mind. You’re always learning and developing – especially if you have challenging readers!

I think if I had to sum it up in one word, the most important lesson I’ve learned as a blogger is listening. Listening to other bloggers, to your readers, and in my case to my Dad who is my best critic! And really responding and engaging with other people. Being approachable really helps, and I think that ties in with being authentic, and including the personal stories alongside the factual information.

It’s like being at a party – you can either jump in and have a good time, or stand off in a corner mumbling to yourself.

Keira goes into the running to win a one-month featured spot in the sidebar, alongside previous winner SpicePuppy.

I’ll be judging that winner at the end of December, depending on their continued participation in the ‘Ask the Readers’ discussions.

This week’s question again:

What’s your definition of success?

How to Level the Playing Field with Digg 288

If you haven’t noticed already, Digg is the most deeply gamed social media service on the planet.

‘Gaming’ social media is the act of using private networks and arrangements to propel your own content forward. Asking for votes is gaming, organizing submission by select individuals is gaming, and so on.

The argument against so-called ‘gaming’ is that it’s undemocratic, and it goes against the principle of a level playing field. At first glance, this objection sounds both fair and logical. The issue is made more complex by the truth: everybody does it. From top bloggers down to little minnows in the web ocean, people are trying to maximize their chances of success on Digg using both arranged submission and private networks.

For a second, though, let’s imagine if nobody did this. Small blogs and websites would be at a huge disadvantage, as they’d be unable to get more than a few Diggs from their modestly-sized regular readership. The chances of the Digg community picking up on a submission with 5 – 10 diggs in as many hours is miniscule at best, considering the huge number of submissions made every hour. At the opposite end of the spectrum, highly trafficked blogs and websites would utterly dominate the front page (more than they already do), because they could rely on their huge reserves of traffic to propel the stories forward.

The end result? You have a service that sends CNET, TechCrunch, NyTimes and the Huffington Post even more traffic, and entrenches the web media status quo.

Is it really a level playing field if content succeeds based on the size of its servers and advertising budget, rather than on the back of human creativity and endeavour alone?

A network of voters can give even a small website or blog the chance to hit the front page, by putting its content in a position to be judged by the Digg community, and then either propelling it success or burying it, depending on its merits. This networking stage is also one of the most social and enjoyable aspects of using Digg.

If you’re serious about playing the odds game on Digg, you need a network to push your best content forward. Here’s how you can build one, and benefit everyone involved.

Build a grassroots network

This is a network of contacts with Digg accounts who have reason to help you. They might be readers, friends or online acquaintances. Let me explain how to create such a network from the ground up.

  1. Start with the obvious. If you already have a network of friends on Digg, this is a logical starting-base for your network.
  2. Ask your readers. Write a quick post asking if your readers would be willing to offer occasional help with growing your blog through social media. Reassure them that you will never send more than one email in any seven day period. Tell readers who are willing to opt in to leave a comment on the post. You can extract their email from your comment and add it to your network.
  3. Ask other contacts. This could include other bloggers or other people you’ve had correspondence with, friends and online acquaintances, or people who might be interested in a mutual-help arrangement.
  4. Continue building your network and making it stronger. The effectiveness of your network will depend on several factors: its size, how much individual members care, what they get in return and how often you utilize it.
  5. Always look for new people to add to your network. You might make a post about it once every three months, for example, to add interested readers who’ve discovered your blog since the last time you asked. Being active on Digg will also allow you to naturally accrue friends. A larger network will help you succeed even if your conversion ratio is quite low (conversion ratio being the percentage of people you ask who actually vote).
  6. Build the quality of your network. Get to know its members better and help them to care more about you.
  7. Make it worthwhile. It’s easy to take, take and take, but your network will always be more effective if its members receive something in return. Make yourself available to reciprocate their social media votes with your own.
  8. Don’t utilize too much. I mentioned earlier that you shouldn’t ask for votes more than once in any seven day period. When a blogger does this to me, my conversion ratio plummets. Think of your network like a rechargeable battery. If you use it less often, you can extract the maximum amount of power from it each time. If you use it too much and too often, it will quickly become depleted and worn out. You don’t like to be interrupted, so make sure your requests don’t become an interruption for others.
  9. Communicate across multiple channels. If you ask less often, you can get away with being louder when you do so. I would suggest staggering vote requests across shouts, Email and Twitter, each about an hour apart.
  10. Capitalize on existing momentum. To use your network most efficiently, you only want to ask for its help with content that really does have a chance on Digg. I would suggest doing this by focusing on posts that have developed a little bit of traction on their own. The number of diggs your content initially receives will depend on whether it has at least one of the Idea or Execution elements, the size of your network, and your conversion ratio. With a network that is large enough and responsive enough, you can virtually guarantee up to 100 diggs on any given content item.

Make friends in high places

If you look at the profiles of top Digg power-users, you’ll see that the percentage of stories they submit that go popular are very high (as high as 66.8 percent). This is because they have a large network of followers and a keen understanding of what works and what doesn’t. If you’re lucky enough to have your content submitted by a Digg power-user, your chances of hitting the front page are drastically increased.

It’s no surprise that many bloggers try to form relationships with Digg power-users and co-ordinate the submission of articles with them. If you decide to travel this route, here are a few tips to help you:

  1. Pursue channels with the least competition. Everyone wants their articles to be submitted by Mr.BabyMan, msaleem or MakiMaki. This is exactly why your efforts are probably better spent elsewhere. Users in the top 10 – 20 are not far off in terms of percentage popular ratios, but they’re unlikely to receive anywhere near as much inbound communication. Having said that, Muhammad Saleem’s profile encourages you to call upon him for submissions.
  2. Understand their needs. Digg power-users are always looking to tap new sources of content that is well-optimized for Digg. If you can provide them with that, your relationship will be mutually beneficial. Understand, however, that a Digg power-user will never submit content unless they truly believe it has a good chance at going popular. Their reputation rides on it.
  3. Shape your publishing schedule around them. Don’t publish a post and then go looking for your power-user contact. They might not be around, and in the mean-time, someone with a weak profile might submit your post (with a crummy headline and summary text, to boot). Instead, let your contact know as soon as possible what day you are planning to publish your post. They can give you a time that works for them in return, and you can set your post to publish at the moment they specify. This ensures they will be waiting when your post goes live.
  4. Don’t take advantage of your contact. Only ask for a submission when you’re sure that your post is well-optimized for Digg. If they have to knock you back too often, it will add a negative tone to the relationship.
  5. Consider developing 2 – 3 contacts. If you’re relying on one power-user only, you have a single point of failure. They might not respond to your email, they might go on vacation, and so on. Once you have one relationship in place, think about developing another one. Just make sure option #2 is not an immediate threat to your first contact’s Digg ranking, or the partnership might out you in a difficult position.

An example strategy for reaching the Digg front page

  1. Read the previous post in the series on playing the odds game with Digg. There you’ll learn about the IEN formula.
  2. Draft a post concept with IEN, IN or EN qualities.
  3. Execute the post concept with care and attention to detail.
  4. Include images and clear formatting to add texture and interest.
  5. Take time to craft the best possible headline.
  6. Proofread thoroughly and check all links.
  7. Make sure your blog is Digg-proof (I use WP-Cache).
  8. Negotiate a publishing time with your power-user.
  9. When the time comes, check that your post has been submitted by the right person.
  10. Stagger contact with your network over shouts, Email and Twitter.

You may also wish to count the total amount of communications you’ve sent out and the total number of diggs from within your network, to tabulate your conversion ratio. Once you have a rough idea of what your conversion ratio is, you can work out how large your network needs to be to generate the desired number of initial diggs.

Bonus: extra tips from Digg power-user domfosnz (thank Dominic!)

“My extra tip would be to make your digg profile networkable. By this, I mean list all your network channels so that people can get in touch with you easily. e.g. Twitter, Gtalk, AIM, Plurk, Facebook, and all the other usual suspects.

Also (while on the topic of profiles) make sure to use and avatar. Friend requests from avatar-less users are a real turn off for a lot of diggers. Bonus points if you use the same avatar across multiple social sites so you stand out easily.”

30 Simple Ways to Battle Poverty with Technology 571

Bloggers are very privileged to be able to share our creative output with so many people, and in some cases, to profit from that creative output. We’re able to do this because we’re not living in poverty. We can afford to run computers, electricity, pay internet bills, purchase domain names and hosting–something that many people can’t do, and will never do.

Blog Action Day 2008 presents an excellent opportunity to remember this, and to avoid taking the privileges we have for granted. That’s why I’m glad to take part this year, with this post.

Here’s a challenge: today, do at least ten things to help in the battle against poverty. Don’t worry–I’ve made it kind of easy for you. Below are 30 things you can do. Some take a few hours, others a few minutes, others only a few seconds. Some you’ll only able to begin today, others you’ll be able to begin and end. Best of all, (almost) none of them require you to leave the chair you’re sitting in right now.

If you like the idea of helping out but are strapped for time, why not just contribute $10 to a low-interest loan for an entrepreneur in the developing world?

I’ll be donating 5 cents to Kiva.org for every visitor to Skelliewag on October the 15th. That’s $1 per 20 visitors. I want this number to be as high as possible, so I appreciate any visitors you can send my way. Please remember that there are no advertisements or affiliate links on Skelliewag, so I don’t benefit from this. I’ll give you an update on how much we raised when October 15th is over.

30 easy ways…

  1. Give social media votes to articles and news dealing with poverty.
  2. Lend $1 to an entrepreneur in poverty for every new person who subscribes to your blog in a given time period. You can adjust this number to more or less, depending on how much you want to give and how many subscribers you already have.
  3. Lend $5 to an entrepreneur in poverty for every one person who links to your blog in a given time period.
  4. Invest 5% of online eBook or service sales from your blog into a Kiva.org loan.
  5. Donate your blog or website’s October 15th earnings to a poverty-fighting charity.
  6. Donate spare or old technology to a family living in poverty (an old computer, for example).
  7. Donate $1 for every 1,000 page views or visitors to your blog or website in a given time period (i.e. one month).
  8. Join or create a Facebook group dedicated to reducing poverty.
  9. Use Twitter to share a good article on poverty (and reducing it).
  10. Use Twitter to share one important fact about poverty.
  11. Invite 5 friends to join Kiva.org and create a lending group.
  12. Share Blog Action Day posts in Google Reader.
  13. Send your favorite poverty-related website some SEO juice by linking with good anchor text.
  14. Create and share a desktop wallpaper to remind people about the battle to solve poverty.
  15. Donate your freelance skills (i.e. web development) to a poverty-fighting organization.
  16. Create a Flickr photoset of images that tell a story about poverty.
  17. Sell unneeded items on eBay or Craigslist and donate the proceeds to battle poverty.
  18. Create a video to raise awareness about poverty and share it on YouTube.
  19. Review a product on your blog or website and use an affiliate link. Lend your earnings to another entrepreneur somewhere else in the world.
  20. Donate unused hosting space to a poverty-battling organization.
  21. Email your local representative about your ideas on battling poverty in the area.
  22. Use your blog or website to tell the story of someone who overcame poverty. If your site is about online business, for example, you might tell the story of an entrepreneur who lived in poverty during a period of their life.
  23. Encourage your blog’s reader-base to donate or lend to battle poverty today.
  24. Lend 50 cents through Kiva.org for every person who comments on your next blog post. Make sure to tell your readers that’s what you’re doing, as you’re bound to get more comments that way. If your readership is small, you might raise the amount to $1.
  25. Give a poverty-battling organization some free advertising on your blog or website.
  26. On October 15th, submit 15 articles on poverty to your favorite social media service.
  27. Send a fantastic article on poverty to all your StumbleUpon friends.
  28. Shout an excellent article on poverty to your fans and friends on Digg.
  29. Have you heard about 1% for the Planet? This year, try 1% for Poverty with your blog or website’s earnings.
  30. Participate in Blog Action Day! (if it’s still October the 15th, it’s not too late).

Getting Better at Bad Why Practice Doesnt Always Make Perfect 1176

“Practice makes perfect.” – Unknown

Or does it?

We’re told that with thousands of hours of ‘deliberate’ practice, meaning practicing the same thing repeatedly, we can become experts. Well, tell that to my old soccer team.

I was new to soccer and especially bad at it, but some of the players on the team had been practicing and playing soccer for 12 years. And yet, they weren’t very good. In truth, they were terrible. Their kicks were weak and inaccurate, and they were awkward with the ball. These were players who had spent hundreds, if not thousands of hours practicing soccer. They practiced the same skill repeatedly. And yet, they never seemed to improve. We lost every game we played!

They were passionate and dedicated and loved soccer, but it didn’t help. Somehow, in 12 years of practice and playing, no coach had ever taught them the correct way to strike a ball, or control it.

When we practiced, we were only getting better at doing things the wrong way. Every training session we burned bad habits and bad technique into our muscle memory. We became experts at playing soccer badly.

Repetition isn’t enough

I’m a firm adherent to the belief that anyone can become expertly skillful at anything, if they practice intelligently. But it’s not enough to practice with repetition – to take 500 free-throws, or write 500 short stories, or play 500 songs on the guitar. If your technique isn’t right, you’ll be getting progressively better at doing things the wrong way, and helping to entrench habits that will hold you back from reaching your full potential with that skill.

Every time you practice with bad technique, you entrench it further. The most obvious example is in sport, and unknowingly teaching your muscle memory to throw incorrectly, or kick like your leg is a hockey stick. But this applies just as equally to cooking, or making music, or writing, or any other skill you might want to learn. If you start to practice before you know what you are trying to learn (and what you are trying not to learn), your skills may end up stagnating.

“I can’t sing.”

If you’ve ever had the pleasure (or displeasure) of watching an episode of an Idol series, you’ve probably seen some of the terrible auditions that air. You watch those people and assume they are talentless and delusional, that they simply don’t have the ability to sing. And yet, there’s no doubt they spend a lot of time singing, and singing the same things repeatedly and doing their best to improve. They’re engaging in what is commonly called deliberate practice, so why are they still so bad at singing?

I suspect it’s because they spend a lot of time practicing how to sing badly. They’ve never been taught how to control their voice, or modulate their pitch. Surrounded by encouraging friends and relatives, they’ve never been told that they’re going about this whole singing thing the wrong way.

And yet, with the right teaching, practicing the right things, even the worst singer can learn how to sing.

Repeat success patterns

When trying to learn any skill the best thing you can do is learn how the skill is practiced by people who are already experts. How do your favorite writers write? How do the best soccer players kick a ball? Find success patterns and replicate them.

Too often we focus only on results when we practice. It’s possible to achieve good results with bad technique, but too often that’s what separates the best from those who get lost among the middle ranks. You hit a ceiling of how far you can go doing things the wrong way.

Learn the best practices in the field you are trying to learn, then practice what you learn. In sport, practice correct form. Focus on form over results. In the short-term you might fall behind teammates who settle for easy yet incorrect methods, but long-term your investment in good technique will pay off.

When writing, don’t simply try to write as much as you can, regardless of quality. Try to produce as much good writing as you can, putting into practice the advice and best practices that you learn. Don’t write things that you know contradict the expert advice you have read, for the sake of increasing your word count (often thinking I’ll fix it later). Every time you do that, you’re getting better at bad writing.

Intelligent practice

When striving for expertise, deliberate practice is not enough. To become an expert at a skill, you must:

1. Learn the best practices, success patterns, and correct technique and form for the skill you’re trying to master. The time you spend reading and researching is not, as is commonly argued, wasted time that you should spend actually practicing. You are preparing yourself to practice right.

2. Practice good form first, and think about results later. Most bad form is entrenched when people take shortcuts to get results faster. If you’ve ever read a poorly written best-selling novel, that’s why.

3. Practice good form for a long time and you can’t fail to become extremely good at the skill you’re practicing. Just know that hard work isn’t quite enough. You don’t need innate talent (many argue it doesn’t exist), but you do need to practice intelligently.