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Beginner’s Guide to Review Writing Basics

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As a blogger, you might get the chance to review items, services, digital publication, tools, and other things from time to time. Sometimes, brands, authors, or publicists will send stuff for free. Other times, you’ll just happen upon something awesome (or not so awesome) that you bought yourself and want to describe to your readers. Either way, adding reviews to your blog occasionally can definitely be valuable for your audience.

So let’s go over the basics of writing reviews on your blog. These tips can be also be used to create a video review or even a spoken review on a podcast as well. (And remember, this post is part of an entire beginner’s guide series, which can help you if you’re new to blogging or social media).

Using the Product

When you plan to review a product, your first step is to actually use/read/whatever it! That seems like common sense, but I can’t tell you how many review posts I’ve seen where the blogger says, “I haven’t tried this feature yet, but…” Don’t do that! Read every page, try every feature, use it in every way that you can. The best reviews are comprehensive.

And whatever you’re reviewing, put it through its paces no matter what your initial impression. When trying something for the first time, we often have an idea in our minds what it will be like, which clouds our opinion. If we expected something bad and the result was good, it might seem really good – and vice versa. It’s relative. So try to get rid of those impressions as much as possible by spending a lot of time using whatever you’re reviewing before you even begin writing.

Writing the Review

Every review should have at least four parts:

  • unbiased information about the product (like who makes it, specs, price etc.)
  • pros/advantages
  • cons/disadvantages
  • a final opinion or recommendation

You don’t have to write your review in that order, nor do you have to make those things formal headings. It can be more stream-of-conscious. But your review needs those four element. Even if you absolutely love a product, there’s something bad about it. Maybe it’s bad for certain people. Or maybe it’s a bit expensive. Or maybe it’s great, but a new version is coming out soon so it’s worth waiting. Find the bad point and talk about them, even if they’re a small part of your review. Nothing is perfect. The opposite is true too – no matter how much you hate a product, there’s something good about it. Nothing is perfectly bad.

When writing your view, it’s also extremely important to disclose any kind of relationship you have with the product’s manufacture (or the author or whatever). FTC rules require that you tell readers about anything that could potentially affect your review. Even if you aren’t paid, getting something for free could make you more willing to write a positive review. So make sure you are very clear to state your relationships, and I also like to make a note that my reviews are 100% honest so there’s no question in the reader’s mind that I’m not writing good things because I get something out of it.

Getting Review Products

Even if you haven’t been blogging long, you’ll likely get requests from companies to review items (most commonly books in my experience, but I guess it depends on your niche). So if you want to get items for free, the best thing you can do is make sure the contact information on your site is extremely clear.

Don’t be afraid to ask for products to review as well, especially once you start building traffic to your blog. If there’s a benefit to the brand, they’ll probably say yes, and even if they aren’t willing to send you anything right now, you’ll at least be on their radar for future promotions. Companies are often more receptive to sending you products or sponsoring reviews if you are a member of their affiliate programs or have talked about their products in the past.

I’ve also been given items (again mostly books but also other informational products and services) from friends, so building your only networks and meeting people in person at conferences such as BlogWorld is definitely important if you want review items. Some conferences will help you work with brands better than others. All of them are good for networking, but at conferences where a lot of consumer brands are present (like BlogHer for example), you’ll find more review opportunities.

There are also some services and online forums/networks where you can connect with companies offering items for review. Personally, I’ve never found much value with these services, and I definitely don’t recommend anywhere you have to pay to become a member, but again it depends on your niche.

Lastly, don’t forget that you don’t have to receive an item for free to review it. Often, I’ve reviewed items that I’ve purchased myself, especially when it’s something I love and use on a daily basis. If it’s beneficial for a reader to know about it, write up the review!

Building Long-Term Brand Relationships

When someone gives you something to review – or even when you review something you’ve purchased yourself – you can build momentum with your initial post to form a long-term relationship with a brand (or individual). First, send them the link to the post, especially if they didn’t send you the item for free. Companies and individuals LOVE to read about it when a blogger writes about them. You can also follow up later that day or week if there are any extremely interesting comments on the post or social media shares.

Be polite, professional, and friendly, even if you don’t like a product. If you completely slam a company, ignoring any of the advantages or being unnecessarily rude and snarky, they probably aren’t going to want to work with you again. So be true to your own personal brand…but choose your words wisely. Even a negative review can be the start of a relationship with a company as long as you are fair. Of course, occasionally, you may run into companies who don’t handle criticism well, but that’s the exception to the rule. From there, you can hopefully review more products, maybe even products that haven’t been released yet!

And remember, you can work with a brand or individual beyond doing a review for them – use the review as your foot in the door. From there you can work on a sponsorship or project together in a way that’s beneficial to both of you.

Beginner’s Guide to Guest Posting Basics

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Guest posting is a technique some bloggers use to increase their traffic. Today, as part of the Beginner’s Guide series I’m writing here on the BlogWorld blog, I thought I’d take some time to talk about what guest posts are, why you should or shouldn’t write and accept them, how to be a guest poster, and other information you need to know about guest posts!

What is Guest Posting?

A guest post is a post you publish on someone else’s blog. Most blogs do not pay guest posters, but it depends on the blogger. Guest posters typically write about a topic that has a relation to your their blog, but that also fits with the other blogger’s niche as well. For example, if you blog about getting out of debt, you might guest post on a food blog about budget meal planning. You can also guest post on “competing” blogs – blogs that are in the same niche as your own.

Before or after the content of the guest post, the blogger will post a one or two sentence bio, where you can link back to your own blog. Some bloggers will also add a paragraph or two of their own, usually at the beginning, telling their readers that this is a guest post and explaining why it is an important topic.

Advantages to Guest Posting

When you guest post, you have access to new readers to share you opinions or knowledge, since the blog in question already has its own fans. The hope is that they’ll like what you write so much that they click on the link in your bio to read more of what you’ve written on your own blog and, hopefully, become regular readers there too.

Another advantage to guest posting is that you get a link back to your own blog, which is good for SEO purposes. This is especially valuable if you guest post on a blog with a PageRank of 3 or higher. When you write your bio, keep this in mind and consider using link text that makes sense. For example, if you want to rank higher for you blog’s name, use that text to create a link, but if it’s more important for you to rank higher on search engines for specific keywords, use that text as well. For example, on a guest post, I might use the bio:

Allison writes about blogging and social media on the BlogWorld blog.

Or, instead, I might use:

Allison writes about how to blog for BlogWorld’s blog.

The first will help me rank better if someone searches “BlogWorld blog” while the second will help me rank better is someone searches for “how to blog” – make sure to do a little keyword research when considering your options so you get the most benefit from your link.

A third advantage to guest posts is name recognition. Even if people don’t click through to read your own blog, if they start seeing your name pop up on lots of other blogs in the niche, they’ll start to remember it. Eventually, they may look you up. The name recognition also helps you get accepted as a speaker for events like BlogWorld, as well as get offers for not just speaking gigs, but also other types of jobs, like consulting and contributing – and these are paying positions in many cases.

Of course, it should be noted that some blogs will pay for guest posts. The down side to guest posting in these blogs is it is harder to be a guest poster because they usually have very specific requirements and accept a very limited number of guest posts per month.

Guest Posting – A Little Overrated?

Although the advantages of guest posts haven’t be overstated in the above section, keep in mind that writing a guest post – even for an extremely popular blog – is not going to lead to a million new readers on your own blog. Even if your guest post is beyond awesome, readers on other sites as not super likely to click bio links. They’re more likely to click on links within the post itself, but these links are generally discouraged in guest posts unless they are SUPER relevant to whatever you’re writing about.

A few months ago, I wrote a post on my personal blog called “I’m Calling BS on Guest Posts” that I highly recommend you check out before spending lots of time seeking out opportunities and writing posts you could instead use on your own blog. Yes, there are advantages, but don’t believe guest posting is the best use of your time if you’re looking for a huge amount of new readers. Even the spike you get initially will be just that – a spike, rather than long-term traffic.

So, do guest posts…but understand the advantages first!

How to Guest Post

Ready to start guest posting? Awesome! I have a group of posts especially for you to help you get started, even if you’re completely new to the guest posting concept:

And if you have additional questions about writing and placing guest posts, just leave them as a comment and I’ll be happy to answer them!

Accepting Guest Posts

Before closing out this post, I thought I should also cover the flip side to writing guest posts – accepting them. There are both advantage and disadvantages to publishing guest posts on your blog. Here are the advantages:

  • Guest posts can keep your blog active when you need time off.
  • When you publish someone’s guest post, you build a relationship with them.
  • Guest posts bring search engine users looking for posts about that topic to your site.
  • You can publish guest posts about topics in your niche that you don’t know much about, which adds value to your blog for regular readers.
  • The guest poster will likely promote their post on social media sites, so you’ll get traffic from their connections.

There are some disadvantages as well:

  • Since it’s on your blog, you’re liable for what a guest poster writes.
  • Advertising that you accept guest posts (or even publishing guest posts) will open your inbox to an influx of post offers. Some of them will be amazing. Most of them will be complete crap.
  • Publishing tons of guest posts waters down your brand. Experienced bloggers can get away with it somewhat, since people already know them (though I’m still not a fan of tons of guest posts personally). If you’re a new blogger, posting more guest posts than you write yourself can be really confusing to readers.
  • Guest posts might be optimized for search engines using terms that you want to rank for with other posts. You don’t want people searching for something to find a guest post before they find your own post.
  • You’ll be linked to that person, which could be problematic if they’re involved with any kind of scandal or drama in the future.

If you are going to accept guest posts, I recommend having a page on your  blog where you can list any requirements you have (beyond “high quality” of course) and tell people how to contact you. Make sure you review submissions carefully before agreeing to publish anything. You want to post only the best on your blog!

A final note: If you’re interested in publishing a guest post here on the BlogWorld blog, shoot an email to me at allison@blogworldexpo.com with your idea and I’ll make sure your information gets passed on to the right person!

A Beginner’s Guide to Blogging Basics

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I’ve already written beginner’s guides to Twitter, WordPress, SEO, and Blog Monetization, and the BlogWorld Blog also had a 101-level guide to Podcasting. Today, though, I wanted to back up even farther and write a mini guide for brand new bloggers. I can’t tell you how many people I met at BlogWorld LA 2011 who are new and totally overwhelmed. We were all new bloggers once, and it’s tough. This is the guide I wish someone had written for me when I started blogging.

What is Blogging?

First, let’s start by defining what blogging really is. Easier said than done. In my opinion, a blog has two components:

  1. The content is regularly updated, rather than being static, with content arranged chronologically.
  2. Readers can interact with the content through comments, voting, social sharing, etc.

Not all blogs are updated daily or even weekly. Not all blogs have posts that are structured in a traditional format. Not all blogs have comments open. Not all blogs feature Twitter/Facebook/etc. share buttons. Some blogs feature the author’s opinions very prominently. Others are more objective news sources.

There’s a really great post by Darren Rowse on Problogger about what a blog really is. It’s pretty old, but still helpful. I recommend you reading this post to learn more if you don’t understand the different between a blog and another kind of website. Remember, the definition of a blog isn’t set in stone.

Your Blog Content

Despite the inability to firmly describe what defines a blog, one thing is certain: you can’t have a blog without content. Individual pieces of content are called “blog posts.” You can also record video posts or podcasts.

A mistake that I commonly see: people confuse the words “blog” and “blog post.” If you write one post per day, don’t say that you are writing one blog per day. Someone can hire you to “write ten blog posts” but they likely wouldn’t hire you to “write ten blogs” (if they do, that means you’re going to be VERY busy, since that means you’re writing for ten individual websites). Basically, “blog” is the website and “blog posts” or just “posts” are the articles.

Many bloggers choose to blog in a specific niche. A niche is a specific topic, so all of your blog posts will revolve around this topic. It does go a little farther, though – your niche also includes a specific target market. Essentially, you want to ask, “who will be my reader?” and write posts for that group of people. David Risley wrote a great post about how to evaluate the viability of a niche (if you want to monetize your blog) that I recommend checking out.

You can also blog in a more journal style. Online diaries are extremely difficult to monetize unless you’re a celebrity or well-known personality, but there are no rules to blogger. You can write about whatever you want.

Your Blog’s Sidebar

Most blogs have a sidebar, and some have two (one on either side). You can put whatever you you want on your sidebar, but here are a few things that bloggers typically include:

  • A way to subscribe to the blog’s RSS feed
  • A way to subscribe to the blog’s mailing list
  • A search bar
  • A list of the most recent posts
  • A list of the most popular posts
  • The categories
  • A list of the most recent comments
  • Social profile buttons
  • Advertisements
  • Links to niche resources
  • Photos
  • Videos

This is not by far an exhaustive list. You can include anything on the sidebar that you want! Keep in mind that the sidebar real estate “above the fold” (i.e., viewable before a reader has to start strolling) is more valuable, so put your most important stuff at the top or sell ads placed in these spots for more money.

Blogging Platforms

A blogging “platform” is the program you’ll use to update your blog. I mean, you can do it manually by updating the code of your website every day, but this is super inefficient, even if you are awesome at coding. You want to choose a blogging platform.

The two most common platforms are WordPress and Blogger. Both have free versions so you can start a blog without paying for your own domain name and hosting, but your URL will be blogname.wordpress.com or blogname.blogspot.com. I highly recommend that you pay for your own domain name and hosting (there are options available for less than $5 per month) if you want anything more than an online diary. It’s hard to monetize if your blog doesn’t look professional.

WordPress and Blogger are both easy to use and have great service, so check them both out before making your decision. They’re also not your only options if you want to blog on your own domain name, but they are pretty widely used because they’re free to download and put on your own domain. Here are some other options:

  • Typepad is an easy-to-use option, though this is not a free content management system  for bloggers (though your monthly fee also include a domain name/hosting, so it isn’t a bad deal)
  • Moveable Type is free for bloggers
  • Tumblr is an option, with a great built-in community, but you don’t have the option to use your own domain (all blogs are blogname.tumblr.com)
  • Squarespace is an option that’s super easy to use, but with customization limitations
  • Drupal is a traditional content management system that can be used for blogging and is loved by coders

There’s a really great post about blogging platforms on Practical Ecommerce that I recommend you read. My heart lies with WordPress!

Your Blogging Goals

I always recommend that brand new bloggers start by defining your blogging goals, since that will dictate the type of content you write, your monetization efforts, etc. Here are some goals you might have:

  • Teach others something you know
  • Inspire readers in a certain area
  • Provide entertainment
  • Promote a business, product ,or service
  • Establish yourself as an expert in your field
  • Make money online
  • Vent your feelings and voice your opinions
  • Network with other people in a specific niche

Many blogs do more than one things on the above list, but it helps to establish your main goal so you can ensure that every single blog post you write helps you achieve that main goal. A good way of figuring out what you goal is to ask yourself this: When my readers think of me and my blog, what impression do I want in their minds?

Do you want to be the opinionated girl who teaches others about gardening? Do you want to be the blog that has the awesome country music community? Do you want to be the go-to source for information about new ice cream products?

Some Final Tips for Blogging Beginners

If you have more questions, I’d love to answer them for you – just ask in the comments section below. Here are a few more tips for beginning bloggers:

  • Be consistent. You don’t have to blog once a day, but it helps to establish how often you’re going to blog not only to help you maintain a schedule, but also to help your readers know when to expect new content.
  • Give your readers a way to sign up for a mailing list. Even if you don’t email them right now, collecting those emails one by one is going to help you in the future.
  • Have pages that talk about who your are, what your blog is about, and how to contact you. Make sure they’ll all linked clearly in your navigation menu.
  • Use 5-10 tags with every post to help readers find more posts on your blog relating to the same subject (and to help with SEO).
  • When designing your blog, make sure that it looks good in every browser, especially Internet Explore, which has a tendency to break websites that look awesome in other browsers.
  • Make sure you have a mobile version of your website. It’s really easy to use a plugin to create an automatic mobile version if you use WordPress.
  • Don’t overwhelm with categories. You want your options to be clear, but if you have 50 categories, it’s hard to keep them all updated. Instead, go for main categories that are broader and subcategories to help further organize content.
  • Use pictures to help make your blog more personal (if that makes sense for your niche and writing style).
  • Make sure your blog is search-engine friendly. Our SEO guide can help you with that.

What tips have I missed? Experienced bloggers, help me out!

A Beginner’s Guide to WordPress Basics

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If you’re a new blogger, you might want to check out the entire Beginner’s Guide series we’ve been doing here at the BlogWorld blog, which, to date, includes guides to Twitter Basics, SEO Basics, Podcasting Basics, and Blog Monetization Basics. Today, I wanted to cover another common challenge for new bloggers: using WordPress.

WordPress is the blogging platform used by most major bloggers who have their own domain names. Of course, it isn’t the only choice for bloggers, but I personally find it to be the best option based on the community of people developing for it, the ease of installation and use, and the various options to customize your blog and the way you use it.

Before you continue reading this post about using WordPress, head to their site to read installation instructions so you can get WordPress set up on whatever domain name you own.

Adding a Theme

The first thing I do whenever I install WordPress on a new blog is look for a theme I like so that I’m not using the generic out-of-box theme that comes with WordPress. The theme is basically the look of your blog – colors, fonts, sidebars, etc. If you know CSS, you can pretty easily make changes to any theme you see, but even if you don’t, there are thousands of choices, so you should be able to find something you like. If you’re willing to pay for your theme, check out Thesis and Genesis, two of the most well-known and easy-to-customize options out there. Want a free theme? There are tons of those available too – just do a quick search and you’ll find lots of options.

When you download a theme and unzip the file, you’ll want to add it to your site by uploading it to the themes folder. When you log into your WordPress dashboard, you’ll be able to access all of the themes under “Appearance” on the sidebar. From there, you can preview how the themes would look on your site and choose which one to make live.

Adding Plugins

Plugins are awesome. Basically, they add additional functions to your blog based on what you personally need for your community. Personally, my favorite plugins are:

  • All-In-One SEO – perfect to for simple SEO on all of your posts
  • Zemanta – helps you interlink posts on your own site, find related posts to recommend, and add tags to your post
  • Livefyre – my personal comment plugin of choice is Livefyre, though you can also make a case for Disqus (what we use currently here at BlogWorld) and CommentLuv with the generic WordPress comment system, which simple adds a person’s more recent post to the end of their comment

In addition, though there are several individual plugins that perform each of these functions, I recommend using plugins for:

  • Creating a mobile version of your site
  • Adding buttons for social sharing (on individual posts, in a top/bottom bar, along the side of the post, etc.)
  • Adding contact forms to your pages or posts (if you don’t want to list your email address)
  • Building galleries of your pictures
  • Creating tables
  • Backing up your site (SUPER important – check out BlogWorld speaker Peter Pollock’s post on protecting your blog)
  • Adding your author profile to the top or bottom of a post

This is not the end-all list of plugins you can add to make your blog more functional for you and for readers. Spend some time browsing through the available plugins to find those that make sense for your blog.

Setting Up Your Sidebar

After you’ve installed WordPress, added a theme, and set up plugins, your next step is to set up your sidebar. I recommed you include the following things on your sidebar:

  • Links to your most recent posts
  • A sign-up box for your mailing list (I use Aweber)
  • A link for people to subscribe to your blog via RSS
  • Links/buttons to your social network profiles
  • A list of your categories or other navigational tools
  • Polls
  • A calendar of events or posts

You can also consider adding a list of your most popular posts, advertising, a blogroll, a search bar, your Amazon wishlist, Youtube videos, links to products you’re selling or affiliate products, a list of the most recent comments on your blog, a tag cloud or list of popular tags…and much, much more. If you want to add it to your sidebar, there’s a way to do it – and most of what you’ll add to your sidebar, you’ll do so with widgets.

You install a widget much like you’d install a plugin. Under the “appearance” tab on your dashboard sidebar, you’ll see a link to show your widgets, so you can simply drag and drop them onto your sidebar. Easy peasy. There’s also a text box if you want to get all HTML-y and add your own code instead of using a widget for something you want to display.

Configuration

Next, head into your profile (under “Users”) on the sidebar and update it as necessary for your blog. You should pay special attention to your display name (go with a name or nickname rather than “admin”) and your biographical information if you include a theme or plugin that adds your bio to each post.

Remember to go to Gravatar to upload an avatar associated with your email address if you don’t have one already.

Under the “Settings” tab on your dashboard sidebar, you’ll also want to do some more configuration work on your blog. Here’s what you should do, at minimum:

  • Under General: Add your blog title and a tagline (or at least delete the default) and change the blog to your timezone
  • Under Permalinks: Change the permalinks structure to something better than the default numbering system

I recommend going through each page under Settings and considering your various options. While the defaults work for many bloggers, you might want something different.

Adding Content

Congrats – you’re finally ready to add content! There are two different types of content you can add via WordPress (and most blogging platforms):

  • Posts: the general articles you want to add to your blog day by day
  • Pages: content that is more informative to help the user understand more about your blog or you

Posts are linked to both categories and tags. Categories give a broad, general topic while tags are more specific topics. Most bloggers have categories are a main navigational function and choose to include 5 to 15. You can also include a few main categories and then several subcategories under each main “parent” category. Tags tell your reader what an individual post is about. There’s no limit to the number of tags you use on your blog, though most recommend that you don’t use more than 10 or so on any one post.

Pages include things such as About Me, Contact, Archives, About the Blog, Best Of, and more. They’re typically included on the navigation bar of a blog so people can find them quickly.

WordPress Pointers for Beginners

Here are some more tips and tricks for using WordPress if you don’t have experience with this platform.

  • You can change the permalink for a post of page under the main title box by clicking on the “edit” button. This is helpful for SEO in many cases and can also help you create a permalink that is easy to remember.
  • You can work in a WYSIWYG editor or HTML editor – whichever is more comfortable for you.
  • Most of the editing buttons are self-explanatory, since they’re similar to what you already use in word processing programs. Some that you may not know: to the right of the link buttons you’ll see one called “insert more tag” when you hover. This adds “read more” to the post on your homepage which is beneficial if you write extremely long posts and don’t want the whole thing displayed. Beside the spell check, you’ll see a blue box called “toggle full screen” which can be beneficial when you’re writing posts. Beside that, you’ll see a button called “show/hide kitchen sink” which, when clicked, gives you even more editing options.
  • You don’t have to publish a post immediately. You can also schedule it to go up at a specific time in the future by choosing the “edit” option in the publish box.
  • You can move boxes around on your dashboard to make it more functional for you. Simply drag and drop!
  • At the bottom of your edit post page, you can see previous revisions and auto-saves of a post.

If you’re a WordPress user, I want to encourage you to leave your own tips in a comment below!

A Beginner’s Guide to Blog Monetization Basics

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I’ve already written A Beginner’s Guide to Twitter Basics and A Beginner’s Guide to SEO Basics, and someone much smarter than me wrote about podcasting basics, so today I wanted ton continue this theme and write about monetization. Now, there are people who write entire blogs about monetization, so believe me when I say that this is a quick overview. If you’re new to blogging, though, this post can help you figure out how to make money from your blog.

Monetization Methods

Bloggers who want to make money from their blogs have five main choices for monetization. Under each of these categories, you have multiple options as well, so I’m going to list as many as I can. The great thing about blogging is that bloggers are always finding new and innovative ways to make money!

  • Advertising

First and foremost, you can monetize your blog with advertising. Advertising comes in two main forms: selling ads directly for a flat fee and PPC ads where you’re paid a very small amount every time someone clicks on the ad. You can also add advertising to videos and podcasts with commercials, the same way a TV show or radio show sells advertisement time.

Advertising is also available in the form of posts. Someone can pay you to sponsor a post or even write an entire post on your site, though FTC rules mean you have to disclose when you’re paid for something like this. If the post isn’t high quality, it can also hurt you blog, so take this into consideration.

  • Selling Stuff

You can use your blog to convince your readers to buy stuff. Working as an affiliate is the easiest way to get started doing this – basically, you’re selling other people’s products, and in exchange, you’ll get a cut of the money. Amazon is my favorite affiliate program for general stuff since they have just about everything, but you can also be an affiliate for an individual product, such as the latest ebook your favorite blogger releases. If you can’t find affiliate program information on their website, just shoot them an email and ask if one is available.

To make more money, you can sell your own products. Informational products (like ebooks and courses) are most popular for bloggers since you can create them with little overhead cost, but you can also sell products like t-shirts and mugs.

  • Membership Sites

If you create great content, you might want to charge people to read it. To do this, you’ll sell a membership to the site, where people will pay on a monthly basis to access your content. Another form of a “membership site” is a subscription to content via email. Membership sites often focus on the community aspect and include forums, profiles, and more.

  • Using your Blog as a Platform

This is a more indirect way to monetize your blog. Instead of actually getting money from your readers, you use your blog as a platform to make money. For example, you could use your blog to land a book deal or become a paid public speaker. You can also use it to find clients. For example, if you’re a financial professional, you could advertise your services on your free blog.

  • Reviews

Product reviews are a bit controversial in the blogging world, since some bloggers think you deserve more than free products for the work you do to review a product. The choice is up to you, though. I think it depends on what you’re reviewing. If someone is willing to give you a car, for example, I think that’s a pretty sweet deal! A company that send you free potato chips? Maybe not so much. It also depends if you want to support the company because you have a personal connection or because you think your readers need to know about a product.

Some companies will not only send you free stuff to review, but will also pay you a set amount to write the review, so it’s kind of like a paid post. Remember that you have to disclose everything if you’re reviewing a product that you received for free or were paid to review.

Setting Your Advertising Prices

One of the questions I hear over and over again is this: how much should I charge? It’s not a question that can easily be answered, unfortunately. Heck, even big companies have trouble setting prices. Just look at Netflix if you want an example of a company having a hard time feeling out their market.

Let’s start by talking about advertising. I think the key here is finding a price that is fair for those buying from you without being so cheap that you cheat yourself out of the money you could be making. Basically, you want to set advertising prices based on traffic. So, it depends on how big you are – and don’t be afraid to raise your rates as you grow.

In my opinion, no one can say it better than what Daniel Scocco has said in his guest post for the Problogger blog. Whenever someone asks me how much to charge, I said them to that post. It’s also how I set my own advertising prices.

Monetization Mistakes

Every blogger goes about monetizing in a different way, and that’s one of the best things about blogging; there are no right or wrong methods! Well, almost. There are a few things I think almost all bloggers should avoid when monetizing. Don’t make these mistakes!

  • Giving top billing to your ads: Unless there’s a reason (like the advertising is paying extra), banner ads shouldn’t be on the prime real estate of your blog. Reserve that spot for your own stuff, like a sign-up box for your mailing list, an ad for your own products, or buttons to subscribe to your RSS feed.
  • Not disclosing when you’ve been paid: This isn’t just shady – it’s illegal. If something is an affiliate link or you’ve been paid to write it, the FTC requires that you let your readers know. How I understand the law (and I’m not a lawyer), this also includes your social media updates (tweets, status updates, etc). When you use an affiliate link, mark it as such! Don’t try to trick your readers. It’s just not cool.
  • Sending readers to your competitors: We like to think there are no competitors in blogger, but if you’re using your blog as a platform, there are other sites you just don’t want to advertise. For example, if you’re a writer and looking for clients, you don’t want to advertise for other writers on your blog sidebar! Be careful when you use advertising services such as the one offered by Google – block ads that drive potential money away.

Like I said, there are entire blogs just about how to make money with your blog. This isn’t in the least the end-all post about the topic. But for beginners out there, I hope this will get you started.

And I hope you’ll share a link to your favorite blog about making money online! My favorite resource is David Risley’s blog (hey, there’s a reason he’s BlogWorld’s monetization track leader!) – what are your favorites?

A Beginner’s Guide to Podcasting Basics

Author:

You have never produced a podcast. You may have heard or seen an episode or two, but you’re not a regular consumer of podcasts. Those are the two assumptions that this article is going to make, dear reader. This is the absolute, rock bottom “hey, I heard about this thing called podcasting” beginner’s guide to podcasting basics. If you’ve heard the term and are curious about its meaning, you’re in the right place!

If that description fits you and you have any questions after reading this guide, please don’t hesitate to ask in the comments. If you’re a podcasting pro, feel free to jump in with answers or post some tips of your own! Alright then, let’s begin at the beginning. What’s a podcast?

A podcast is a web-based series of audio or video content. Episodes are released chronologically and may be seen or heard in a podcatcher* or on a website. Think of it like web-based television or radio: if your favorite radio show were web-based, it would be a podcast. One advantage that web-based podcasts have over their TV or radio counterparts is the ability to archive. Podcasts are typically archived for weeks, sometimes months, sometimes years. Another advantage is the episode show notes**. The internet is great at blending mediums – text, audio and video.

Podcasts can be produced very inexpensively by anyone with a computer and a microphone.

They are as varied as they are plentiful. Many audio podcasts are live off-the-cuff talk shows; many others are scripted and sound a lot like an audiobook. Stand-up comedians and at least one prominent movie director have made a splash releasing live sets. Video podcasts abound on topics ranging from technology to news to family and raising kids – and much, much more.

* Podcatcher: You are, statistically, probably familiar with iTunes. That’s a podcatcher. Any program or application that facilitates the downloading of episodes (either through a directory or by manually providing an RSS feed) can be called a podcatcher. There are dozens to choose from on every platform.

** Show notes: Podcasters often write a few paragraphs of text and/or provide a list of links about what was talked about on the episode. These show notes look rather like a blog post, and in fact, for podcasters that work with WordPress (or similar), that’s exactly what they are.

History

Serialized audio has been available online almost for as long as there has been a line to be on. Video would come later as storage and bandwidth costs dropped. The roots go back to the 1980’s, but what we think of as modern podcasting really came about in the early 1990’s with things like Internet Talk Radio, and in the early 2000’s with Rob & Dana Greenlee’s WebTalk Radio. In the early 2000’s, enclosures were developed for RSS that allowed for easy distribution of episodes.

The term podcast was coined in 2004, and despite efforts to go with a different word (webcast, netcast), that’s the one that stuck. Apple added support for podcasts in iTunes 4.9 in 2005, and that was the kick that really sent podcasting on the trajectory that it finds itself on today.

A Few Suggestions: As the Audience

  • Shows live and die by the feedback that you leave in the various directories – especially iTunes. If you’ve got about 90 seconds, that’s all it takes to leave a star rating and a short comment.
  • Most podcasts are available in iTunes, but that’s not the only place to find great shows. A Google search for “podcast directory” will yield a long list of places to check out.
  • If a podcaster lists contact information, he or she would like you to contact them. Reach out, say hello, offer comments or opinions about the show.
  • Name a topic and I’ll bet there’s someone out there doing a podcast about it. Look around, spend some time in the directories and you’re likely to find even the most esoteric subject. If you can’t find a show about a topic you’re really interested in… do it yourself!

Thinking about making the transition from listener to producer? I’ve got you covered.

A Few Suggestions: As a Podcaster

  • You’re nothing without your audience. Take the time, make the effort to get feedback from them.
  • It’s not hard, technologically, to look or sound like a pro. Judicious use of music or graphics, checking audio levels, making sure your lighting and camera angles are correct… these things are worth doing right.
  • I just told your audience to contact you with comments and opinions. Be nice 😉

A Beginner’s Guide to SEO Basics

Author:

Earlier this year, I wrote a post called “The Beginner’s Guide to Twitter Basics” about how to use Twitter if you’re brand new to the platform. Month after month, it is one of the highest-trafficked posts here on the BlogWorld blog. You know what that tells me? It tells me that sometimes I forget that a lot of people have no experience with blogging and social media and are craving 101-level posts.

So today, I wanted to tackle another topic that seems difficult from the eyes of a newbie: search engine optimization, or SEO. If you want to learn SEO from the experts so that you have the top rank on Google for any keyword you choose, this is not the place for you. However, I think that if you’re a blogger that doesn’t know a darn thing about SEO, you’re doing yourself a great disservice. If you just take a moment to learn the basics, you can get your blog in front of a lot more eyeballs! And no, you don’t have to jeopardize your content to do it.

What is SEO? Why Should I Care?

One of the first things I did as a new freelance writer back in 2005ish was google “What is SEO?” I had no clue, but a lot of my clients were asking if I was skilled in that department, and I wanted to be able to say yes! If you have no idea what SEO is or why you should care, don’t worry. We were all in that boat at one time.

Think about  how your website gets traffic. Some people come to your blog when others retweet or like or otherwise share your links through social media sites. Some people come to your blog when it is linked in another blogger’s post or sidebar. Some people are regular readers or perhaps even subscribed to you RSS feed. But chances are that a large percentage of your traffic comes from search engines. SEO (again, that stands for search engine optimization) is your way of making your blog as visible as possible on search engines so that the people who could most benefit from or who will most enjoy what you write actually find you.

You’ll hear the word keyword thrown around a lot when talking about SEO. This is essentially the word (or words) someone types into a search engine when looking for something. So, think about the keywords your target audience are using. When they search for those keywords, you want your site to pop up as high as possible on the results list. Makes sense, right? The higher you are on the results list, the more likely readers will click through to your site.

As an example, let’s say you blog about movies and you were writing a review of Toy Story 3. You might want to optimize your post so that people searching for “Toy Story 3 reviews” and “reviews of Toy Story” and maybe even “Pixar movie reviews” see your site on page one of their search engine results list.

Good SEO can mean a lot of traffic to your blog. Even just the bare minimum can mean that you show up in the search results on page one whereas before you were on page 17.

Fact: SEO advice is always changing.

One of the most annoying things about SEO is that it is forever changing. What worked back in 2001 isn’t going to work today, ten years later. Heck, what worked last week might not work today. Search engines change the way they rate sites (their algorithm) constantly because if they didn’t, people would just game the system as much as possible.

So if you’re reading this ten years from now…sorry, dude. I suspect the information here is a little outdated! The same might be true a week from now. But I’ve tried to include tips that are as evergreen as possible. These are the basics, the building blocks of good SEO. It’s the bare minimum you should be doing if you want search engine traffic.

Making Your Website SEO Friendly

First and foremost, make sure that your overall website is friendly for search engines. Have you ever seen what the code of your website looks like? If you don’t know HTML, it looks like a mess, right? Well, essentially, that’s what a search engine sees. Kind of like the matrix, but without Keanu Reeves. In other words, a search engine doesn’t see pictures or your fancy site design. Those things might be great for your users, but you want to make sure search engines can index your site as well.

If you use WordPress or another popular blogging platform, chances are that you don’t have to do much to ensure your site is visible and easily picked up by search engines. Make sure your navigation makes sense (something you want to do anyway for your readers) and avoid too much javascript or a silly flash intro that search engines can’t understand. Create a few static pages to serve as anchors on your website, include some sitemap options (like an archives page or menu), change your options so that your permalinks are “pretty” (i.e., not just a bunch of random letters or numbers), and update often. Pretty easy, right?

Oh, and when picking your domain name, think about SEO. Branding is important too, of course, but if the URL of your homepage has nothing to do with your site’s topic, SEO will be a little more difficult. There’s a reason why RealEstate.com is higher on the list than Zillow.com for the keyword real estate, even though both sites are extremely relevant to someone searching for that term.

Individual Post SEO

The easiest way to make sure your individual posts are optimized for search engines is to download a free plugin to help you do just that. I like the All in One SEO Pack for WordPress, but there are lots of options. Some themes also have an SEO option built in. These plugins help you easily change the meta information for the post – basically, what a search engine sees rather than what the reader sees. For a title, you want to write what the post is about in as few words as possible, using a keyword that makes sense for the post if you can. For a description, type just that – a description of the post about the length of a Tweet, that uses keywords. For keywords…type your keywords. That’s pretty easy too, right?

So, going back to our example of a post with your review of Toy Story 3, even though you might think up some kind of clever title for the actual post, you’d probably want your SEO options to be something like:

  • Title: Toy Story 3 Movie Review
  • Description: Movie review of Toy Story 3 with discussion of Tim Allen as Buzz and Tom Hanks as Woody. Should you see Toy Story 3 with your kids? Read Toy Story movie opinions.
  • Keywords: Toy Story 3, Toy Story, Toy Story 3 movie review, Pixar movie review, Woody in Toy Story, Buzz in Toy Story, movie reviews

Essentially, your keywords can be the same as your post’s tags. Make sure you include tags and also categorize your posts well, as this will help with overall site SEO.

As you’re typing your post, be conscious of the keywords someone would use to find your post and sprinkle them as it makes sense. You don’t have to change your writing style much and you definitely shouldn’t stuff your post with keywords (this could actually hurt you), but as you’re writing, just keep keywords in mind and use them where they make sense. People have written entire websites and books about how to best use keywords; but again, I’m not an expert and the rules change a lot, so unless you’re passionate about SEO and have the time to invest in learning it, start with the basics of just “using keywords where they make sense.”

A few other quick tips:

  • Name your pictures. Nobody is searching for “IMG1290812” but lots of people are searching “Woody in Toy Story 3.”
  • If the title of your post is something crazy that is interesting but does not include your keywords, consider changing the permalink. Instead of yoursite.com/super-awesome-kids-movie-that-is-lightyears-ahead-of-the-rest, change it to yoursite.com/toy-story-3-movie-review.
  • Link to old posts within your new posts. When you add the link, do so with a keyword that makes sense, not just “click here.” Don’t overdo this and link to dozens of posts in the matter of a a single paragraph, but try to link to yourself at least once a post.

SEO and Links

One of the best things you can do for SEO is something you should be doing anyway – write awesome posts. If your content is awesome, people will link to you within their own posts, on social media sites, in comments, and more, and links are extremely valuable. When a search engine sees a link on someone else’s site to one of your post, they think, “Oh, so that blogger found this post interesting/informative/worthy enough to add a link on their own site? It must be good!”

That’s how I imagine computers think, anyway, if we could hear their inner monologues.

Basically, it’s a vote for your site, kind of like a thumbs up on Facebook. The more “votes” your site has via links, the better! And if you write great content, you’re naturally going to have more people linking to you. So if you do nothing else, blow us away with what you have to say so people share your link as much as possible.

Hope that gets you started with SEO. If you’re experienced with this topic, I hope you’ll leave your best top for beginners below as a comment to help us newbies learn more!

A Beginner’s Guide to Twitter Basics

Author:

I’ve gotten several requests for a down-and-dirty guide to Twitter for someone who is new to this platform. While this post may not help everyone, we were all new once, so it is important to pass on this information to others. If you’re a Twitter newbie, feel free to ask questions in the comments, and if you’re a Twitter vet, please consider answering some of these questions if you see them before I do or posting some tips that you use when on Twitter.

Twitter Lingo

To use Twitter effectively, you have to know the lingo. I remember being super confused when I first signed up and tried to figure out what people were saying on Twitter! There are three many terms that are most important for you to understand:

@ Reply: If you see an @ (that isn’t part of an email address) on Twitter, it is typically followed by someone’s screen name. It’s a way to hold a public conversation with that person.

DM: DM stands for direct message. It’s a way to hold a private conversation with another Twitter user, but you can only DM people who are already following you.

RT: RT stands for retweet. If you like what someone says on twitter, You can retweet it to spread the message to your followers as well.

Other lingo that may come in useful to know:

Hashtag (#): If you see the pound symbol (#) before a word or phrase, it is essentially a keyword tag for the tweet so that others can find it more easily. On Twitter, this is called a hashtag, and they can be serious, to help people search for your tweet (like #advice or #blogging) or funny (like #ImSoDarnTired). Not every tweet needs hashtags. Basically, it’s a way to follow the stream of everyone talking about a specific subject.

OH: Overheard – usually this is something funny or profound that someone overheard while going about their daily tasks.

FF: Usually written with a hashtag, (#FF), this stands for Follow Friday. Every Friday, users recommend other people to follow to spread the Twitter love. I wrote about Follow Friday here a few months ago, so if you’re interested in participating, that’s a great post to check out before you do.

Twitter Chat: A Twitter chat happens when several people get on Twitter at once to share ideas with one another. They do this by using a specific hashtag. For example, every Sunday, bloggers participate in #blogchat. I wrote about Twitter chats as well, so check out that post to learn more.

Lists: Once you start following lots of people, you can put them in different lists to keep them more organized. People can also add you to their lists to keep their own streams organized. Lists can be public or private.

Favorite: If you want to save a Tweet for later, you can favorite it.

Where to Use Twitter

When you sign up to use Twitter, you do so on Twitter’s website, but you aren’t limited to using this website to log into your account and read/post updates. In fact, most bloggers find Twitter’s website to be unorganized and limiting, so many use desktop clients instead.

My favorite tool for using Twitter is TweetDeck, which runs on your desktop even if you aren’t on the Internet. HootSuite is also extremely popular, though I personally don’t like this option as much as I like TweetDeck. With a service like TweetDeck or HootSuite, you can also link other profiles (like Facebook) to post status updates across multiple platforms at once.

You can also download and use a Twitter app if you have a smartphone. I use Plume for Android, but there are multiple apps for every OS, with most of them being free. Twitter even has an official app that you can use.

If you’re following a fast-moving hashtag (i.e., people are using that keyword a lot), you can use a service like TweetGrid or TweetChat to keep up and post at the same time. These are especially useful if you are participating in a Twitter chat like #blogchat.

Twitterfeed and Related Services

If you’re a blogger, Twitterfeed is something you likely want to use to link your blog to Twitter. Twitterfeed uses your RSS url to post your links directly to Twitter on your account. You can choose to post just the title, or the title and a description (basically, it will pull the first several words from your post).

With Twitterfeed, you can also include something before or after the title/description/link. For example, you can have it automatically tweet “My latest blog post:” before or “via my blog” after. I recommend writing something before or after the title/desctiption/link to make it apparent that this is a link to one of your blog posts.

Along with using Twitterfeed, there are services you can use that tweet out your link multiple times after it is posted, rather than just once. You can also use an “old tweet” service to pull a post at random from your site daily (or more often) to tweet out. This is a way to get some traffic to your posts.

Some Etiquette for Twitter Users

To close this post, I wanted to list some etiquette rules for using Twitter. These are definitely not hard and fast rules, but some you should consider to create a great experience for yourself and your followers:

  • When retweeting, add your own comments before the RT’ed message so it is apparent what you are saying versus what the other person has said. For example, you could tweet: “Me too! RT @allison_boyer I love blogging”. I’ve seen some people do it this way instead: “RT @allison_boyer I love blogging <<< Me too!” or “RT @allison_boyer I love blogging (me too!)” but I personally find those methods more confusing. Most people add their own comments before the RT. In any case, if you do add your own comments, make sure it is apparent that they are yours.
  • Never ask someone for a favor publicly with an @ reply. It’s ok to ask a question (such as “Do you know of a good Italian restaurant in New York?”), but if it would be something rude to ask someone in person in front of a group of people, don’t put them on the spot on Twitter either. For example, “Can you write a guest post for my blog?” is a better question to DM someone.
  • Don’t send automated DMs. Some people still do this and it makes me pull out my hair. There are services where you can automatically DM someone when they follow you – most people DM with something like, “Thanks for the follow. Check out my blog at http://www.imannoyingontwitter.com”. It is the equivalent to Twitter spam, and a lot of people will unfollow you if you send these automated messages, because it seems like you’re trying to sell them something.
  • Remember that you are on a public forum. Don’t share something about another tweeter that they might want to keep private and don’t make people uncomfortable with TMI tweets.
  • If you use an affiliate link on Twitter, tweet something sponsored, or link to an ad, make sure you note that in the tweet. Don’t try to deceive followers into clicking on something so you potentially make money.

Ok, over to you – what questions to you have about using Twitter? Or, if you’re a long-time Twitter user, what tips do you have to share?

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