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Julien Smith: “Your Environment is Everything”

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julien smith When I was in college, I was very interested in learning about nature versus nurture (i.e. the debate about what is more important: your innate abilities/genetics or your environment/experiences). It was the first time I had stepped outside of my secure, rural community to meet people from all over the world. It was uncomfortable and exciting at the same time.

Nature versus nurture was a topic brought up in my Psychology 101 class, and I began looking at my own life through more refined glasses. What I realized is that certain beliefs and personality traits that I thought were just “who I am” (nature), were more likely a result of the environment in which I was raised (nurture).

Writes Julien Smith, in a blog post on In Over Your Head,

Where you live is not trivial– at all. Your environment is everything for you. It shapes you. It’s made you who you are, from the people you spend time with to the very streets you are driving in and walking on every day.

This can be both good and bad. For example, I consider myself to have an extremely strong work ethic, and I attribute that to the fact that I grew up in a rural farming community where everyone had to work hard just to make ends meet. There, you won’t find a tolerance for laziness. But I also am extremely hard on myself when I  face any kind of failure, large or small, because where I grew up, failure in your career meant no food on the table.

So what does this have to do with content creation or your online business?

I believe, that the same way your physical environment can effect how you interact with the world and what level of success you achieve, so do our virtual environments. As Julien writes, where you live is not trivial, and because we “live” online these days, we need to broaden our horizons a bit to include your online presence in this idea.

Think about the people in your closest circle. Think about the websites you visit the most. Think about the online communities where you choose to interact, and the online communities where you consider yourself a member. Think about how your own content reflects the online environment where you live. Think about how you can step out of this cycle and build new relationships or simply just find refreshing places to hang out online, at least occasionally.

It’s about growth, and about ensuring that you surround yourself with an environment, both online and off, that is aligned with your personal and professional goals.

See Julien Live on the NMX Stage (And Download a Free Session Featuring Him!)

We’re happy to be welcoming Julien to the keynote stage at NMX 2014. If you missed our recent keynoter announcement, you can check it out in full here.

To go along with this announcement, we’re giving away past sessions featuring our keynoters, including Julien. Download these sessions now while they’re still available!

On Agony and Blogging: How to Start Writing and Stop Panicking

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bigstock-Crying-Girl-In-The-Office--9619043 I was in second grade when I wrote my first blog post.

Okay, back in 1992, blogging wasn’t exactly a “thing” yet. But I had just received a shiny Lisa Frank diary for Christmas, and the blank pages were killing me. I had to fill those pages, and I had to do it now, before the white sheets drove me crazy.

So that night, I wrote my first entry. Or, at least, I tried. But as I sat there with purple gel pen in hand, I didn’t know what to write. I had so much to say that I didn’t know how to start writing. I began to panic. How would I ever grow up to be a famous novelist if I couldn’t even write a diary entry? I can remember my cheeks streaked with tears that first night as I cried myself to sleep, my new diary still completely empty.

Eventually, I filled that diary and several others like it with my joys, frustrations, and deepest, darkest, childhood secrets. Reading them now is hilarious. I was an intense child. And they are clearly “blog post” style – I wrote to a reader, not to myself, with apologies when I didn’t have time to write for a few days.

To this day, though, what sticks out to me most about writing in my diary is that terribly agonizing feeling of having a world of word jumbled in my head and not knowing how to start. It is one of the most frustrating part of being a blogger.

The Power of a Good Opener

Online, you a reader’s attention for only a moment. They’re gone in the blink of an eye. The best blog posts, the ones that thousands of people stop to read, have one thing in common: their opening paragraphs are awesome. I mean truly awesome.

And they’re engineered to be that way. The Internet’s top bloggers don’t get lucky. They know that a strong opening that really grips the reader is going to keep the reader reading and, eventually, sharing. Without a great opener, it’s nearly impossible for a post to go viral.

But writing a good opening and writing your first sentence aren’t the same things. There’s no rule that says the first sentence you write has to be the first sentence of your post (and if that were a rule, I would recommend breaking it). That said, there’s power to the first thing you write, too.

The Power of a Good First Sentence

You know that moment you write something good. You just know it. The sentence sings.

And then, suddenly, the floodgates open. The words begin to flow, I get into a groove, and the rest of the post makes it out of my head. The first sentence I write isn’t always the first sentence of the post, and sometime I end up cutting that sentence in editing or moving it to a different post. Having a first, finished, good sentence, though, is powerful. It unlocks the block in your mind and gives you the confidence it takes to write the post.

That’s something lost of people never talk about: blogging takes confidence. Your words are going out there for hundreds, thousands, maybe even millions of strangers to read. They matter. Writing words that matter is scary. When you don’t know how to start, panic sets in, because people are counting on you (even if they don’t know it) to improve their lives in some way.

How to Start Writing

So how do I do it? I’ve written thousands of blog posts (no, I’m not exaggerating), and many of them have started with me wanting to throw my computer out of the window. So what’s my secret?

I’m sorry to say that it’s nothing magical. The way I write so many posts, always jumping that hurdle of not knowing how to get started is this: I force myself to just start.

I do a little outline of all the topics I want to cover in the post, and then I start writing. If I don’t know what to write, I just write something. Even if it isn’t good. I don’t let myself delete that sentence and go back to a black screen. I write another sentence. And another. I write until I have at least one good paragraph, then I delete all the crap and re-read what is left. And then, I don’t feel so bad. Because I have something that doesn’t completely suck.

I have a start.

Even on my worst days, when the agony of not being able to put my words on paper feels like it is strangling me, I don’t let myself quit. Sometimes I get mad and slam my laptop closed a little harder than I probably should. I go for a walk, I get in the kitchen and cook something (that’s my zen place), I read a few chapters.

And then I make myself write again.

Don’t give up. Don’t let the panic drive you to tears like it did to me when I was a kid. Blogging is not easy. Let me say that again: Blogging is NOT easy. Sometimes you have to force yourself to keep going, even when you want to stubbornly quit. But once you get that first good sentence ready, it will get better. It always does. You just have the first hurdle to jump, then you’ll be running downhill from there.

Image Credit: Bigstock

A Hard Truth: Google Doesn’t Care About Your Awesome Content

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Recently, Google introduced a new search feature called “in-depth articles” The idea behind this feature is that mid-way down on the first page of search results for more popular keywords, you’ll find older, but extremely relevant, content that serves as a “guide” to the topic at hand.

Google wants good content, not necessarily new content. When you hear bloggers talk about “pillar” evergreen posts, this is what they mean.

Learning More about In-Depth Articles

Ana from Traffic Generation Cafe wrote a really great piece about this announcement, which you can find here. I really recommend giving it a read if you want to get started writing content for Google’s new in-depth article feature. In this post, she also points to another interesting and extremely helpful post on the topic, from Mark Traphagen. In one of the comments, he writes,

 

We tend to think of Google as being really, really smart and almost omniscient. And compared to other data retrieval systems, it is leaps and bounds ahead. But the reality is that properly indexing, evaluating, and ranking the billions upon billions of pages on the web is more enormous than most people think. And at the end of the day, even Google ends up taking easy short cuts.

We have to face the reality that Google doesn’t care about “surfacing the little guy” or “reduced access to legacy content.” Their business model is built upon getting something useful to the searcher withing the top few results or ads. They may say they want to rank the “best,” but at the end of the day, how can they even successfully judge that, and if users are happy with what they are getting in the top few positions, then it works for Google.

What really struck me about this statement was how right Mark is about Google not caring about “surfacing the little guy.” In fact, I would go as far as saying that Google doesn’t care about your content at all, even if it is awesome. They aren’t some altruistic being whose job it is to find great content and make sure the world sees it. They’re a business performing a service, and that service is giving people answers to their questions based on whatever keywords they type into that little box.

Google doesn’t care if your piece was more well-written or insightful if the search results are already full of relevant, quality content. Their aim is to consistently show good results, even great results, but they don’t care about showing the best results.

This post sounds a little bitter, but I promise it’s not. What I’m trying to get across is this:

Awesome content is not enough.

At least, it isn’t for Google, especially for their new in-depth articles. Awesome content will make readers love you, but search engines care about relevant more than awesome.

So, What Can A Blogger Do to Get Some Google In-Depth Article Love?

Actually, it isn’t as hard as it sounds. Google might always cater to large sites they know and trust, but just because you’re not The New Yorker doesn’t mean you’re doomed to live on page two or three of the search results.

I’ve never given much thought to SEO. I always thought that writing great content was always the best SEO tactic I could use. And I still think that’s the case. But recently, some SEO experts taught me a little about basic keyword research (shout-out to the team at DragonSearch!) and it has made all the difference. In addition, here are a few tips Google has given us about getting your content flagged as an in-depth article:

And ALWAYS write awesome content, even if Google doesn’t give a rat’s patootie. At the end of the day, people matter more than Google. Google will help you get found initially if you cater toward their algorithm, but people will share your in-depth content if it is the best they’ve seen.

 

What is a Blog: Is the Definition of Blogging Changing?

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definition of blogging When I first started creating content online, I didn’t like to call myself a blogger. Few people actually asked, “What is a blog?” Most people just assumed it was some kind of online diary. No one, other than my fellow blogger friends, understood how I could possibly make a living as a blogger. So, I instead called myself a freelance writer. After all, as a blogger, I was certainly doing a lot of writing. Writer was a word people in my life understood.

Today, I don’t hesitate to call myself a blogger, since more people are familiar with the idea of professional blogs. But as this industry continues to grow, I have to wonder, is the definition of blogging changing? How can we properly characterize what we do? And most importantly, what does this mean for the future of the blogging industry?

Can Blogs Still Be Monetized Successfully?

Dictionary.com defines the word blog as follows:

a Web site containing the writer’s or group of writers’ own experiences, observations, opinions, etc., and often having images and links to other Web sites.

There’s a good reason lots of people associated blogging with writing an online diary: that’s what blogging was before people started to define niches and think about blogging as more than just an outlet for expression. In the early to mid 2000s, lots of people were starting new blogs and blogging networks in order to monetize them. Many were extremely successful.

Today, starting a blog is a completely different ballgame, and the monetization bubble seems to have burst without anyone even realizing it. Instead, blogging has become all about content marketing.

In other words, many bloggers are not making money by selling ad space and making affiliate sales. They’re using their blog content to get people to their website where they sell them a product or service. For example, here on the NMX blog, we’re hoping you like our content enough to purchase a ticket to our event.

And so, there’s become a divide in the blogging world. There are blogs still monetized primarily through ads and sponsorships, and their are blogs that take the content marketing approach, so the actual blog doesn’t make any money, but is instead used as a vehicle to reach more potential customers for a product or company. Some bloggers do both.

What Characteristics Define a Blog Anyway?

Because so many blogs are taking the content marketing route, the definition of blogging has gotten even muddier. What is a blog? How do you describe it to people? These are questions I struggle to answer.

Some people will tell you that a blog is a collection of articles (posts) in chronological order. What sets blogs about from other web content is that posts are dated and the newest content is presented first. But what about bloggers who argue that you should remove dates from your blog posts? There are two sides to this argument of course, but lots of blogs don’t date their posts anymore. Since most people don’t come to a blog’s homepage, is a date what really makes a blog different?

Other people argue that the community sets apart a blog from other online content. It’s the readers who comment to help add to the discussion that makes blogging unique. However, interaction isn’t a new concept. Newspapers publish letters to the editor, for example. The Internet makes interaction from a community faster, but I don’t think it’s a defining blog characteristic. After all, there some blogs, like Seth Godin’s, that don’t allow comments. It also brings up the question: if readers don’t leave comments on a blog, is it really a blog?

Personality might also be used to define a blog. Instead of dry how-to articles and news stories, blogs are all about opinions, experiences, and perspective. People follow blogs because they like the writer, not just because the content is educational or informative. Again, however, this is not necessarily a new concept. One might subscribe to a newspaper in order to read a certain column, and some blogs are extremely objective. In the case of blogs run by brands, sometimes you don’t even know the names of the bloggers.

As blogging continues to evolve, it will become even harder to define.

But is This a Bad Thing?

I argue no. Because the lines are blurring, it’s much easier for bloggers to be taken more professionally.

When we draw lines in the sand and say, “Bloggers over there and real writers and journalists over here,” we are saying that bloggers shouldn’t be taken as seriously. Because it’s becoming increasingly difficult to see the differences because blogs and other type of web content (especially news outlets), bloggers are being more commonly invited to press events, being offered sponsorship opportunities, and having their posts cited by others when discussing the topic of the day, whatever that may be.

Is the definition of blogging changing? I think so. And I think that’s a good thing.

How do you answer the question, “What is a blog?” Do you think the definition is evolving? What do you think this means for the future of blogging? Leave a comment!

How the “Clap Sisters” Online Burn Book Highlights the Problem with Anonymity Online

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Image of laptop with fire burning from being over-used

Editor’s note: I was shocked when I stumbled on a post about an anonymous group who started a site that is basically an online “burn book.” I reached out to Brittany to tell the story here on the NMX blog, and I’m so excited she agreed! Since then, the Twitter account for the group has been shut down. There’s been speculation of who was being this group and denial of involvement. If you haven’t heard about this group, take a gander at what Brittany has to say about it – and leave your comments about this blog drama at the end!

If you’re a blogger or even just a reader of blogs, you might have noticed that the whole dynamic of blogging has rapidly started to shift. These shifts have been especially noticeable within the last few weeks. It’s turning into a popularity contest, and we’re not talking page views here. Bloggers are bashing one another about silly things like what they’re hair looks like. We have full-on Twitter wars going on about subjects like copying each other’s ideas (it’s the Internet your ideas will probably be copied here and there, as they say imitation is the most sincere form of flattery.) What has really turned the blog world upside down are two e-mails that have been sent out this past week.

The first e-mail, from an anonymous group calling themselves “The Clap Sisters” the e-mail was announcing a new website launch for April 13th. This website is dedicated to being anonymous and leaking gossip about fellow bloggers. Their email promises,

“When our site is launched, you’ll have the opportunity to anonymously submit your dirty, juicy clap with us.”

It then goes on to a link to a Google document where you can submit your gossip about your fellow bloggers. An example they give of the gossip they’re looking for:

“Kennedy is a former coke addict that’s been to rehab 3 different times. She always plays up the good girl image, but my best friend was her live in nurse.”

As you can imagine, this started a major uproar in the blogging community. A second e-mail surfaced 2 days later. This new e-mail from a group called “Bloggers Anonymous” who state,

“There are those out there who would love to make each and every one of us feel like we’re nothing. But that is NOT what blogging is about! It is about building each other up, celebrating who we are, and sharing our story.”

That sounds fabulous, it does, but that’s not really what blogging is about either, is it? I think if you blogged just to get a pat on the back about something, you’re blogging for all the wrong reasons. Blogger Anonymous is now creating a countering anonymous site also debuting on April 13th, where you can submit anonymous entries to build a bloggers self-esteem up. Judging by the fact that their official Facebook page only has 23 likes (at the time of writing this post), I believe everyone else feels the same way about this site: It won’t work. It’s just going to backfire.

So, which of these new blogging sites is the one that we should support? Neither.

Both sites are anonymous, which is just altogether bad. When anyone posts on these sites, people are going to start feeling left out if they’re not mentioned. When bloggers start feeling the animosity of being left out they’re more likely to bash bloggers on the gossip site.

What we have to do is leave the anonymity behind completely. If you appreciate someone’s blog, tell them! You can even tell your readers. Ask your blog friends to guest post, tweet about that blog you like, or post a link on your Facebook wall. Just find a way to tell them that isn’t hidden behind smoke and mirrors. If you really have something bad to say about another blogger, maybe you can talk to them about it if it’s constructive criticism, and if you really have to say something bad about their color scheme or logo, vent to a friend over coffee. Ok, yes, talking behind someone’s back is bad, but it’s so much better than posting it on the internet where it can’t be deleted, where everyone will know, and where feelings will inevitably be crushed.

When we decide to start a blog we have to welcome criticism, we have to understand that not everyone will care about your posts, and that not everyone on the internet will play fair. Am I a little bummed that someone obnoxiously posted about one of my recipes being fattening, maybe. Did I let it ruin my day, heck no! Laugh it off, and just keep going with your day. For every crappy comment you may receive on a blog post, I’m sure you have at least 10 great compliments somewhere on your blog.

And for the record, that recipe was super fattening, just like all my recipes. I live in the state of cheese, beer, and all things deep fried. It happens.

Editor’s note: Here’s what some other tweeters have said about The Clap Sisters:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Did you get an invite to join either of these anonymous groups? What do you think of anonymity on the Internet? Leave a comment below!

12 Types of Blog Posts You Need to Stop Writing

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blog posts you need to stop writing

“Add more content!”

That seems to be the battle cry these days. Keeping your blog as updated as possible does make sense. Although some argue that quality matters less than quantity, while this is true, I can say without a doubt through my own experiences, that if you have more content, you’re going to get more traffic than if you have less content, as long as you maintain quality. At one of our past events, Chris Brogan mentioned seeing similar results – when he posts fewer times per week, his traffic goes down.

That of course doesn’t mean you should just be throwing crap up on your blog to try to hit a certain number of posts every week. I think most serious bloggers understand this. However, I still see a lot of bad posts in my Twitter stream every day. Remember, it only takes one bad post to make someone unsubscribe (or never subscribe in the first place).

You can’t please everyone, but I believe the following twelve types of post have no place on a good blog:

news

1. Rehashed News

You’re never going to compete with huge news sites unless you have millions of dollars to throw into your own media outlet. If all your post accomplishes is summarizing a story you saw on Google News or Reuters, you haven’t accomplished anything other than boring your readers. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t post news at all. In fact, posting news is a great idea for most bloggers. But when you do it, consider:

  • Picking up the phone to get a quote from an expert that can add something new to the story
  • Adding your own opinion or analysis to the story
  • Doing a round-up of what other people are saying about the story
  • Putting the story in a different context (i.e. finding a unique angle)
  • Coming up with a how-to related to the story
  • Looking at what people are saying about the story via social media and talking about their unique opinions

In other words, make your coverage of the story something different than what people are going to read from a huge news outlet. For example, when Pinterest announced the addition of “secret boards,” we didn’t just post about this new feature, which many were doing. We posted three ways to use secret boards, so our story was unique and helpful to readers.

If you’re dead-set on posting news stories that report just the facts, consider taking a new approach to your blog completely and really attacking one specific niche. For example, if you like entertainment news, maybe instead of posting all sorts of celebrity news, which sites like TMZ already do, you can post specifically about celebrity babies or a certain genre or music or celebrities who are buying homes. Nich-ifying can help you find an audience even if you’re not publishing unique stories.

interview

2. Posts with More Quotes than Original Content

I love a good quote, but if the entire story is just quoting another blogger or news story, you might as well be scraping their content. Yes, it might be completely valid to publish a small part of someone’s post with a link back to the rest, but that doesn’t make you a blogger. It makes you a content curator. Again, what can you add that makes the story special or adds another layer or helpfulness?

There are so many possibilities. You can “debate” the other blogger with a post of your own, build upon his/her ideas, or even do an interview with the blogger to delve deeper into the story. If all you want to do is share an excellent quote from a blog post you read, here are some better ways to do that:

  • Share the quote via Twitter with a link back to the source
  • Post the quote in a related forum with a link back to the source
  • Create an image using the quote a publish on Facebook or Twitter with a link back to the source
  • Share the quote as part of your email newsletter with a link back to the source

Your actual posts should be more than just republishing someone else’s words.

reader

3. Theory without Practicality

This one drives me nuts.

I love to read what you think about a certain topic, but what I love every more are practical tips. Don’t just tell me why. Tell me how. If all I can do is read your information, but I have no idea how to actually apply it to any part of my life, your post isn’t very beneficial to me.

I’m guilty of this one. I think we all have a tendency to get really passionate about our opinions. And while opinions are great, they rarely stand alone if there’s no practical counterpart. Sometimes, this is as simple as including a few links to post that are straight-forward how-tos. Your entire post doesn’t have to be about teaching someone how to do something.

The problem is that many bloggers publish these types of posts but never follow up. So, as a reader, I’m lost. Don’t write “10 Reasons Why You Should….” unless you follow up or link to how to actually do that task. You’ve convinced me! Now tell me what to do to get started.

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4. Common Sense Posts

Worse than “theory” posts are common sense posts. I get it; we’re all beginners at some point. You can’t ignore your readers who are just learning about a topic for the first time. Only posting advanced-level stuff isn’t the right choice for most bloggers.

But even beginners have common sense.

For example, let’s say that your blog is about cooking and you want to publish “10 Things Every Kitchen Needs.” That sounds like a great post – but if your 10 items include a pot and a pan, I’m going to roll my eyes. Newbie cooks might not realize how helpful it can be to own a strainer or a food processor, but come on…they know that they need a pot and a pan.

Take things a step farther and be more useful. If you’re going to do something so 101-leve that it includes telling new home chefs to buy a pot and pan, at least tell them what kind to buy and why. What size is best? What material? What brand? Go a step beyond common sense, even with your beginner-level posts.

headline extra

5. Posts that don’t Deliver on Headline Promises

If I click on a post you share on Twitter and the content doesn’t deliver what the headline promised, I’m probably going to unfollow you. Your headline builds trust with the reader. If your content isn’t what they expect, you lose that trust, and it’s nearly impossible to get it back again once lost.

The biggest offender I see of this is the use of the term “secret.” If you’re going to give me “10 Secrets to Writing Better Blog Posts,” I better not show up to your post and see that secret number one is to optimize for search engines, secret number two is to use headers, secret number three is to include an image, etc. Those are not secrets. Those are 101-level tips. “Secrets” implies that the post is going to be advanced – that these are tips I’ve probably not come across before or am not already using.

Another offender is telling me something is “awesome” or “killer” or “ninja” or “rock star.” If you use any of those terms, you better deliver on that promise. It’s not that you have to stop using these words (and related words) to describe your content. Just understand that you’re setting the bar high, so there’s a bigger probability that people will be disappointed by the content if it doesn’t deliver.

beach

6. “Sorry I’ve Been Away” Posts

Sometimes, there are unforeseen circumstances that require us to be away from our blogs. When you’re ready to start up again, it’s really tempting to write a “Sorry for being gone” post to explain what you were doing.

To me, that’s a throw-away post. Unless what you were doing is super interesting, I don’t need to hear your excuses and explanations. I just want posts like you used to publish. Mention why you were gone at the beginning of your next post if you must, but just get back to your schedule instead of spending 500 words to tell me that you had the flu or were snagging some beach time.

love myself

7. Ego Strokers

A few months ago, I wrote a post about blogging success and whether your success stems from content that helps people or content that is simply what people want to hear. The latter is little more than ego-stroking. It really isn’t hard to get people to rally behind you when you say, “Hitler was bad.” This is also true with less extreme examples. If your audience is primarily working moms, it isn’t hard to get people to agree with an op-ed about the need for flexible scheduling for parents who work.

That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t post something you’re super passionate about, but don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone – and to ask your audience to step out of theirs. If you are promoting a popular opinion, add your “something special” to the post, whether that means including some how-to tips, playing devil’s advocate, or quote an expert. What can you add to the story that makes it unique? (Am I started to sound like a broken record yet?)

scales

8. How *Blank* is like *Blank* Posts

When I first started blogging, I wrote a lot of this type of post. But you know what? They’re kind of dumb. Congratulations, you found a creative comparison between two things. Unless your post is meant to be funny (Think: “How Your Baby is like a Tiny Ninja”) or teaches you something interesting (Think: “How Soft Drinks are like Addictive Drugs”), the post is another throw away.

Even if you think your post is teaching something, ask yourself…”Is it really?” Remember, you want people to walk away with specific, practical tips not a bunch of random information that doesn’t really relate because you were stretching to find comparison points.

snarky

9. Snark

When you’re snarky on your blog, you’re really nothing more than an online, adult bully. Yes, it can make you popular, because some people thrive on drama, but will it make you respected? No way.

You can still be opinionated and even write in a “snarky” style. The key with snark is to talk about things that happen, not specific people or companies. Erika Napoletano is a great example of something who has a snarky writing style, but in a good way.

Of course, you can also still voice your opinion about someone or some company you don’t like, but when you do so, have a little class. Make points that you can back up instead of just snarking. You’re not going to do yourself any favors if you’re just flat-out mean.

And keep in mind that when you’re snarky, you lose business. Even if you see your traffic go up because people think you’re funny or are attracted to negative leadership, when all you do is snark about crap you don’t like, brands won’t want to work with you. Brands like bloggers who give honest, thoughtful, thorough opinions, not drama queens (and kings).

gossip

10. Rumors

When you post a rumor like it is news, it makes me question your dedication to the niche. It’s okay to comment on rumors, but I’ve seen several popular blogs run rumors as though they are confirmed stories.

This happens even more frequently when bloggers are republishing blog posts that are republished from other blog posts. It’s like a game of telephone. Along the way, rumors turn to facts, which can be confusing for the reader and unfair for all parties involved.

Take the time to find the original source of a story and confirm facts with a reputable site or expert. Hint: Wikipedia is not a reputable site.

Remember, gossip is as bad as rumors. Sometimes gossip is made up of rumors but other times, gossip is someone saying to you “I’m not supposed to know this, but I overheard…” If you can’t confirm it by printing the source, it is as good as a rumor. “Facts” are overheard out of context all the time.

shock

11. Sensationalist Stories

The media thrives on emotion. Facts are skewed so that someone’s agenda is supported in the most emotionally charged way possible.

Sensationalism can drive a ton of traffic, but it ultimately damages your credibility.

When you post facts on your blog, be aware of your own biases. It’s okay to post your opinion, but if you’re presenting supporting facts, make sure those facts are accurate. If there was a study done, how many people took part in the study, how were they chosen to participate, and when were the stats collected? A survey of 60 people in rural Texas asked about their opinion on gun laws will yield a much different result than a survey of 10,000 people from across the country on the same topic. A study on cancer patients’ diets done 50 years ago is going to give you different results than a study on the same topic done today.

In the end, make sure that the information you’re posting is the most up-to-date, unbiased information possible, not just the best information to support your personal viewpoints. That way, if you’re firing people up, it’s for the right reasons, not because you’re manipulating data to scare people.

peacock

12. Posts that aren’t Your Best Work

Finally, I’m using a picture of a peacock here, because I hope you are always proud to show off your work. If a post isn’t your best work, don’t hit that publish button. Simple as that.

All the time, I hear the advice that your work doesn’t need to be good, it needs to be “good enough.” There’s something to be said for analysis paralysis and being so caught up in the details that you never get the job done. However, if you write a post and feel “meh” about it, reconsider before you publish. How can I as the reader get excited if you as the writer don’t even care?

You should always strive for the best. Pretend this post you’re writing is going to be seen by Oprah. Imagine if you lost your job today and your last post was the post a new employer would be looking at to consider you for their open position. Get morbid and think about how the last post would represent you if you died tomorrow.

Take pride in the work you do, always. It only takes one bad post to make me hit the back button and be gone from your blog forever.

Your turn: What kind of posts do you wish people would stop writing?

Bloggers, Are You So Focused On “What Works” That You Forget “What’s Right”?

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Like all bloggers, I can sometimes get a little wrapped up in stats. I love looking at my traffic, doing split testing, and trying out new techniques. One of the reasons I enjoy attending NMX (previously BlogWorld) is learning new ways to get traffic, how to create content that engages readers, and build a brand online. I’m always interested in hearing about others’ experiences with what works and what doesn’t work.

But sometimes, I worry that we get so focused on what works that we forget what’s right.

NMX has been part of the “are Internet marketers scammers” debate for quite some time, and I feel like this is the core of the issue: Almost any tool or technique used to make money online can be manipulated by scammers.

Let’s use SEO (search engine optimization) and guest posting as an example. You can boost your SEO through writing high-quality guest posts on others’ blogs and linking back to your own blog within the post or at the end of the post in a bio line.

Someone using this technique the right way will link to high-quality, relevant posts that give the reader more information. They’ll be upfront about where the link leads and seek to guest post on blogs that have a connection to their own niche.

Someone trying to game the system will write low-quality articles stuffed with keyword links. They don’t care about the topic. They don’t care about whether or not the links are beneficial for readers. They only care about their precious links. Often, they don’t even write these posts themselves, but instead hire freelancers. Now, as a freelance writer myself, I can say that there’s nothing wrong with hiring a freelancer to write guest posts for you, but not if you pay them $3 per post to basically “spin” or even blatantly plagiarize stuff already online.

Luckily, Google is increasingly improving their search engine algorithm to prevent any kind of manipulation like this, but it still happens. I see it all the time.

It’s tempting to do whatever works. You have to keep up with the Joneses, and if all the other bloggers in your niche are doing it to gain advantage, it’s hard to say no. If crappy guest posts on unrelated blogs give you a huge boost in search engine traffic why wouldn’t you do it?

Because despite it being what works, it’s not what’s right.

What is right for your readers? What is right for the Internet? Are you making the world better in some way or are you contributing to the problem?

I haven’t always made the best decisions with my own blogs. I’ve tried techniques and tools that resulting in huge ROI, but just didn’t sit right with me from an ethical standpoint. I think it’s okay to make these mistakes as long as you’re constantly monitoring yourself.

When’s the last time you held yourself accountable?

The reason people who make money online (especially those teaching others how to make money online too) get labeled as scammers is because there’s a lack of this self-regulation. We need to be better than that. Before calling out others we feel are scamming people or only contributing trash to the Internet, it’s important to look internally. Ask yourself, what can I be doing better?

And definitely speak up. It can be intimidating to say that a popular blogger is doing something you don’t agree with, but the only way this world of online content will get better is if we’re all honest about our own activities and willing to vet our role models. When you go against the crowd with legitimate concerns, you might be surprised at how many people agree with you.

Lastly, if you’re heading to NMX this January, please take the time to fill out the surveys about individual speakers after attending sessions or even just shoot us an email with any concerns. We don’t just want to know who is a good public speaker. We also want to know who is teaching valuable information, not contributing to the problem by promoting techniques you consider to be scams. There is definitely some grey area here, but your opinion matters to us.

Online Trolls, Toxic Disinhibition, and How We can Change the Internet

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This is the story of how Leo Traynor met a Internet troll, and how we can use this as a launching pad to change the Internet. It’s a story every blogger – no, every Internet user – needs to hear, understand, and take action upon.

As he outlined on his blog, Leo decided to leave Twitter. He and his wife were getting derogatory messages from trolls, and although they brushed things off in the past, things got serious when Leo started getting deliveries to his home.

Delivers like a Tupperware container full of ashes and a note that said “Say hello to your relatives from Auschwitz” and a bunch of dead flowers with his wife’s Twitter handle on it. Twitter messages calling him a “Dirty f*cking Jewish scumbag” had now escalated to say “You’ll get home some day & ur b**ches throat will be cut & ur son will be gone.” and “I hope you die screaming but not until you see me p*ss on ur wife.”

Leo was scared. I would have been too, petrified.

And then, with the help of a friend who knew how to trace IP addresses, he found out who his troll/stalker/harasser was: the 17-year-old son of one of his friends.

And so, Leo got the opportunity most of us will never have. He got to confront his troll. Over tea with his troll’s entire family, Leo showed him the screenshots of the abuse, pulled out the pictures of the mail, and told the boy how scared and physically sick he had been.

Then it happened…

The Troll burst into tears. His dad gently restraining him from leaving the table.

I put my hand on his shoulder and asked him “Why?”

The Troll sat there for a moment and said “I don’t know. I don’t know. I’m sorry. It was like a game thing.”

A game thing.

Leo’s story isn’t the only one out there. Remember the story of feminist media critic Anita Sarkeesian, who so angered the Internet with her kickstarter project that people threatened to rape her and kill her. They even created an online “game” where the entire point was to punch her likeness in the face? Or how about the story of Patrick Frey Patterico, who’s critical remarks on his blog led to a SWAT team showing up at his house after phoney calls about him killing his family?

And this isn’t a new threat either. Back in 2007, developer and author Kathy Sierra famously cancelled her O’Reilly ETech conference appearance after receiving death threats on her blog, and other instances of online content creators dealing with trolls both online and off date back even farther.

When are we, as the users of the Internet, going to stand up and say, “Enough”?

Disinhibition, Turned Toxic

The barrier of the screen creates a sense of disinhibition among Internet users. For most of us, this disinhibition means that we let our guard down and share struggles and triumphs with online communities even when we wouldn’t share those same experiences with our friends in a face-to-face setting. But for some people, this turns into a toxic disinhibition.

The best explanation of toxic disinhibition I’ve found in my research of this topic is this piece from John Suler’s The Psychology of Cyberspace. According to Suler, toxic disinhibition happens for a number of reasons, which include:

It’s Just a Game (dissociative imagination) – Like in Leo’s story, some people create this “game world” where the person online is just a character to them, and other people are just characters as well. Just like turning off a game, this manifestation of toxic disinhibition leaves the user feeling like they can turn it off because it isn’t real. And just like shooting zombies in a video game, how can someone be held responsible for something they did in a game world?

You Don’t Know Me (dissociative anonymity) – Because users can often be completely anonymous, they don’t feel vulnerable. Their actions can’t be linked to their “real” identity, so they can act out feelings of rage or hatred with no consequences even if those action are completely out of line with who they feel they really are.

We’re Equals (minimizing authority) – When you’re online, other people can’t tell if you’re the CEO of a major corporation or a fifth grader with no friends. The Internet is the great equalizer, and people believe they can say things without disapproval or punishment. They have the ability to be powerful online, even if they aren’t in “real” life.

This isn’t an exhaustive list. I really encourage you to check out Suler’s full article for further analysis of toxic disinhibition.

Beyond toxic disinhibition, it’s simply human nature to want to be part of a group. We have this pack mentality where we don’t want to stand out as the lone person not doing something, and when someone is being attacked, we don’t want to be the next target. It’s easy for lots of people online to gang up on someone when there’s a ringleader (or at least not say anything in opposition). All it takes is one bad egg and a few followers for an entire community to quickly dissolve. This is as true online as it is offline. We all want to be on the “right” side, and sometimes that leads us to make bad decisions.

What We Can – And Should – Do About It

We have a responsibility as online content creators. If you wouldn’t say it to someone’s face, don’t say it on your blog, on Twitter, on Facebook, or anywhere else online.

We obviously can’t stop other people from acting in certain ways online, but here’s what we can do, beyond ensuring our own actions are responsible:

  • Stop referring to face-to-face interactions as “real life.” Online is real life too.
  • When you see someone bullying someone else online, speak up, the same way you would (I hope) say something if you saw a bigger kid bullying a little kid at the playground. It’s really hard not to get sucked into the group, but be brave.
  • Vote for politicians who understand the Internet and the laws that govern it, and who will make responsible decisions about trolling laws in the future and appoint judges who can adequately deal with Internet cases.
  • Don’t allow trolls to attack you or others on your blog under the banner of “free speech.” You get to decide what comments are approved on your blog. This doesn’t mean that you should delete all negative comments, but it does mean that you take responsibility for every word published on your site. There’s a difference between debate and trolling.
  • Call the police if someone is harassing you online. Do not be too ashamed. These are real, dangerous situations, and police need to take them seriously.
  • Boycott sites that allow trolling and harassment among community members. Tell the owner (politely) why you will no longer be a member of this community.
  • Reach out to people dealing with online harassment and offer words of encouragement and support.
  • Apologize for past wrongs. If this guy on Reddit can do it after laughing at a woman with facial hair, you can do it too. Admitting that you’re wrong is hard and uncomfortable, but it can make a huge difference.
  • Blog, podcast, or create a video about these issues. If you don’t have a blog, share this post or another post like it. Spread the word that trolling and harassment online isn’t cool. Encourage others to commit to troll-free actions online.

I’ve always identified with the Gandhi quote, “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. … We need not wait to see what others do.” In other words, be the change you want to see in the world. I’m an optimist to a fault, but if everyone reading this post takes action, we can make the Internet – and the whole world – a better place. So let’s do it!

Photo Credit: Bigstock

Why Bad Bloggers are Sometimes Successful

Author:

It can be hard to see “bad” bloggers become successful.

We follow the rules. We monitor our stats and strategically plan our content calendar and engage our community via social media. We write long, from-the-heart posts that are education, inspirational, and grammatically perfect. We spend thousands of dollars on domain names and themes and plugins and all of the other things the experts recommend.

And then some jerk with a brand new blog comes on the scene and just kills it. Within months, they’re surpassing you in traffic and making a livable income while you’re still struggling to get started.

You know it’s true: there are some really bad bloggers, by your standards, who are extremely successful. It can be infuriating.

It’s Time to Stop Caring

First and foremost, because I talk about the “why” behind bad bloggers, I want to make a very important note: it’s easy to get consumed by jealousy of others’ success, especially when we perceive that success to be unfounded.

The reality? In the vast majority of cases, a “bad” blogger that gains success has absolutely no effect on your blog. There are enough readers to go around for everyone. If you’re producing good content, promoting your work well, and really staying true to what you believe, than someone else’s success or failure shouldn’t matter to you.

Jealousy is a difficult emotion. For me, the best thing to do is acknowledge it and do my best to just let it go, remembering that every moment I spend worrying about someone else is a moment I could be putting energy into my own work.

“Bad” is in the Eye of the Beholder

When I’m feeling frustrated by a “bad” blogger’s success, I try to keep in mind, first and foremost, that beauty is in the eye for the beholder. I call it the Justin Bieber effect.

I have never once met anyone who admitted to liking Justin Bieber. Yet, he wouldn’t be famous if some people out there liked him for some reason.

Similarly, there’s a reason why people like the bloggers you don’t like. Maybe these bloggers are doing something completely different and readers find it an attractive break in the monotony of other blogs in the niche. Maybe these bloggers are extremely charismatic and good at building a community. Maybe people are entertained by their “bad” content. I could go on and on. The point is, when you come across a “bad” blogger who is popular, try to understand the reasons why they’ve achieved this success.

We’re All Just Sheep

Sometimes, “bad” bloggers are popular because no one is brave enough to point out that they stink.

When a blogger’s value is validated in a major way, it’s easy for popularity to snowball – even if that popularity isn’t truly earned. It’s hard to stand out from the crowd and say you don’t like someone or their work when it seems like everyone else in your niche is gushing about how awesome they are.

It’s actually kind of funny how easily people will change their tune if you’re honest about your thoughts. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said to friends “I don’t think so-and-so gives very good advice,” and they’ve replied, “Oh, thank god! I thought I was the only one!” even though they’ve just retweeted that so-called expert not moments before.

It’s easy to get wrapped up in someone’s popularity too. When everyone consider someone to be a true thought leader, we start to lie to ourselves, trying to see what everyone else sees. I’m unashamed to say that I’ve been caught up in the hype of someone’s popularity on several occasions. What’s important is that you reexamine your heroes and role models often, constantly learn new things, and try your very best to live above the influence of others in your niche.

Content Creators: Stop Using the Term “IRL”

Author:

Today, I wanted to share a video with you that I think is extremely important. It comes from TEDxVictoria and is a talk by Alexandra Samuel, the Director of the Social + Interactive Media Centre at Emily Carr University and the co-founder and principal of Social Signal.

Every day, I see people using the phrase “in real life” (or “IRL”) when speaking about their life away from the Internet. But why isn’t the time we spend online real too?

It starts with us, the content creators. It starts with banishing the term “in real life” to talk about face-to-face connections and instead acknowledging that it is okay to have a real life online as well. And not only is it okay, but our interactions online count. When we say something mean online, it can hurt another person the same way saying something mean to them face-to-face can hurt. When we’re creative online, it’s just as valuable as when we’re creative in the offline world. Online, you can help people, hurt people, or even fall in love. It’s real life too.

Here’s the video:

My favorite quote from this video: “It’s up to each of us to decide that what we are doing and sharing online can create meaning. And if you focus on creating real meaning with what you are doing online, you’ll find that the Internet is actually meaningful.”

We are the shapers of the Internet. It’s up to us to be responsible for the content we’re adding to the Internet so that we’re creating a meaningful real life experience for everyone online.

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