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Free Blog Content: 15 Places to Find Free Blog Posts

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free As a small business owner, keeping a blog going can be extremely difficult. Blogs are only useful if they are updated regularly, but devoting time to a blog isn’t always possible, especially if you don’t have the resources to hire a blogger. But what if I told you there were some places to find free blog content? If you could find free blog posts, would you update more regularly?

The reality is that a blog can’t run on just the blog content ideas listed below. However, these free blog content ideas can help you keep things going, supplementing your editorial calendar so your blog is always updated and fresh. Check out these 15 placed to find free blog posts the next time you’re scrambling to come up with content:

1. Text interviews with experts

Who knows a lot about your industry? Contact that person and ask for an interview. People love to be interviewed, and this is one of my favorite sources of free blog content. It strokes the ego when someone thinks you know enough about a topic to be interviewed. Personally, I always jump at the chance to be interviewed!

Text interviews require the least amount of time because you just send off a handful of questions and the person answer them. Think about who in your industry could be really beneficial to your potential customers. For example, if you own a lawn care business, is there a florist in your community who could talk about the best flowers for different soil types? Or if you run a bakery is there a dietician in your area who could talk about how to add desserts into a healthy diet?

2. Audio/video interviews with experts

If you’re willing to put in a little more time, audio or video interviews with experts can also be extremely effective for the same reasons. People love to hear from experts.

Audio or video interviews can also be cut so you’re presenting little snippets over time, which allows you to stretch the free blog content even farther. With a text interview, a single paragraph answering a question probably doesn’t warrant a stand-alone blog post. But if someone talks for a minute about a specific topic, that can be a very effective stand-alone video. In fact, some data suggests that shorter videos perform better.

So, don’t feel like you have to produce an hour-long video to be effective. Record that long interview, then cut it up to use it for several blog posts (and at the end, share the entire thing uncut as well).

3. YouTube, Vimeo, and other video sites

If you don’t have the time, talent, or interest in recording videos, either with experts or on your own, no problem. YouTube, Vimeo and other video sharing sites are filled with interested videos to use on your blog – and most people want you to take this content for your blog posts. That’s why they make embedding the videos an option.

Simply look for interesting content related to your niche, write a quick intro, and post it. Be careful, however, that you aren’t posting videos from your competitors. If you’re a mechanic and you post a video about changing your oil that then promotes a different shop in your community, you’re not doing yourself any favors, even if the content is interesting.

4. Flickr, Instagram, and other image sites

Just like video sharing sites, image sharing sites can be a great source for free blog content if you work in a very visual industry. For example, if you’re a wedding planner, you could find images on Flickr of cool bridal hair and post “100 unique ideas for wedding hair styles” or if you’re a travel agent, you could post “10 beautiful beaches you have to see to believe.” These posts require very little writing on your part.

Note: ALWAYS use images that are uploaded with a license that allows you to share and credit the work as the owner specifies. If you want to use an image from the general pool, get permission in writing first.

5. Comments

The comments section of my blog is one of my favorite places to find free blog posts. Often, members of my community will ask great questions that I can flip around so they become their own blog posts.

And if your blog isn’t getting a lot of comments? Ask for questions! Sometimes, readers just need a little prompting to actually leave a comment. Ask your readers what their biggest challenges are (relating to your industry) and answer each question you receive with a separate blog post.

6. Statements and questions on social media

Along the same lines, you can also find questions and statements from people via social media sites. You can even embed Tweets and Facebook statuses directly into your blog posts.

The bonus here is that not only are you finding free blog content, but you’re also interacting with potential customers. Make sure to share with these people the blog post you’ve written, and often they will promote your link, so you gain even more exposure.

7. Quotes from other bloggers

While content scrapers are the scum of the earth (in my humble opinion), it is perfectly okay to quote other bloggers. As you read interesting posts from others in your industry, think about how they can become blog posts of their own. You can take a single quote and run with it, voicing your own opinions about the topic, or you can create a post that’s filled with quotes from others, like I did with “25 Posts About Blogging that Will Change Your Life.”

Remember, always give credit to the person who originally said whatever you are quoting by linking back to their blog.

8. Links from other bloggers

Link resource pages are awesome for your readers and require little writing work on your end. You do have to spend the time to gather the links, but if you’re reading a lot about your industry anyway, this isn’t difficult. Our Brilliant Bloggers series is a great example of how a list of links can be inspiring and educational for your readers.

9. Infographic sharing sites

Visual information, especially in infographic form, is always extremely sharable. However, you don’t have to have graphic design skills to post this kind of blog content (though there are several sites to help you do this if you have the time and inclination). Often, if you see an infographic online it will be accompanied by embed code so you can share it on your own site.

You can also find free infographics to use by visiting sites like Visual.ly.

10. Guest bloggers

Guest blogging (i.e. writing blog posts on other people’s blogs) is a great way to get exposure for your own blog. So, others in your industry might be interested in providing some free blog content in exchange for a link.

Don’t just wait for people to come to you. Extend the invitation. Guest blogging is different compared to the past, so often people wait to be invited instead of reaching out. Not everyone will say yes to you, but by having even a few guest bloggers a month can help you keep your blog fresh.

11. Guest contributors

When someone writes a great guest blog post for you, turn them into a regular contributor. All you have to do is ask. Not everyone will be interested, but some of your guest bloggers will happily provide high-quality, free content for you once or twice per month in exchange for a link.

Just be wary of guest posts and contributors who are in competition with you. If your blog links back to your competitors, you’re not drumming up business for yourself–you’re just sending them to someone else. Choose your guest contributors wisely.

12. Sponsors/Customers

Depending on your industry, sponsors might be a great source of free content for your blog. For example, let’s say you run a radio station. Maybe one of your restaurant advertisers could write about their top favorite songs to play during a romantic dinner.

Along the same lines, customers can also write content for you. Testimonials are always great, but they can also write education or entertaining content. For example, if you run a daycare, one of the parents could write “10 Things to Never Send to Daycare with Your Kids” or if you run a pet grooming service, one of your customers could write “How I Trained My Dog to Sit for the Groomer.”

13. Partners

Who works in an industry related to your own? If you have partnerships with other local businesses, these people make great guest contributors, even if they don’t have blogs of their own. For example, if you’re a hair salon owner, maybe the spa owner down the street will write something for you. By partnering with like businesses, everybody wins.

Like with guest posters and contributors, usually all you have to do is ask.

14. Affiliate programs

Are you an affiliate for any products or services? Ask if they have content you can post. Often, affiliate programs give you access to free blog content that you can simply tweak a bit and post on your own blog. As a bonus, this content is typically crafted to sell as much as possible, so you’ll make some extra money as well.

15. Other members of your team

Lastly, don’t rely on just YOU. If you’re having trouble blogging, ask your team for help. Not everyone will be a great writer, but some people will rise to the occasion. If you have four other people on your staff and they each write just once a month, that’s a post per week!

And don’t believe them when they say they have nothing to write about. What questions do they get asked most often from customer? What do they wish people knew? What’s the hardest part about their job? Help them come up with content ideas and before long, you’ll have a stable of writers working for you.

Image credit: Bigstock

Get More Long-Term Readers with the Soap Bubble Approach to Blogging

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getting more long-term readers

Traffic spikes can be exciting. It’s fun to watch a post go viral, especially if those new readers are also leaving comments. But when those people leave your blog, they often don’t come back. Getting more long-term readers is a lot harder than getting more traffic.

Ten long-term readers who will become a part of you blog community are better than 100 readers who read one post and never come back, though. It’s hard to grow your blog if you don’t build a solid foundation of readers who are addicted to your posts. One of the techniques I use to convert first-time readers into long-term readers is what I call the soap bubble approach to blogging.

Blog Structure for More Long-Term Readers

The net time you work up a lather in the bathtub or splash some suds on your dirty car, take a close look at structure of the soap bubbles. You’ll notice that it typically isn’t a collection of air pockets that are all the same size. Instead, you’ll see mostly small bubbles that make up the foam with occasional mid-sized and larger bubbles. The small soap bubbles are what creates the sudsy power, though. Without them, your larger bubbles aren’t very effective.

I find that a lot of bloggers are obsessed with creating epic content. I’m a firm believer that every single post you write should be your best work. However, not every post your write has to be a “big bubble.”

Big bubble content is typically long, evergreen content that is highly sharable and often a comprehensive list or guide to a certain topic. An example of big bubble content is this post: 58 Ways to Get Noticed as a New Blogger

But “small bubble” content is just as important. This kind of content is still high quality, but aims to teach a single tip or skill or cover a single topic. An example of small bubble content is this post: The #1 Best Way to Understand Your Audience—And Why This Matters for Your Content

Whenever you write a big bubble type of post, you should be able to link back to at least five other supporting posts on your blog. Think of your big bubble content as a hub for the small bubble content you’ve written in the past.

Why This Leads to More Long-Tem Readers

In general, I’ve found that if someone reads three posts from me, they are likely to come back and read my posts again and again. In many cases, people who read at least three posts are so hooked that they read several posts on your blog. They’ve discovered your content, and they can’t get enough.

Internal linking encourages them to read more content, but this isn’t just about making sure you link to previous posts in every blog post you write. It’s about making sure that you have related posts to support the epic content that is going to get the most attention. Super relevant posts that first-time readers can visit to learn more is going to be extremely enticing. Again, if you can get someone to read at least three posts on your blog, they will be much more likely to become a long term reader. A lower bounce rate definitely leads to a bigger community.

So, the next time you sit down to write a list post or an ultimate guide or another type of post that you know is going to bring in lots of traffic, ask yourself this question: Do I have a small bubble (supporting) post to go with each point I’m making?

If not, write one before you publish so any post that goes viral encourages people to read more instead of bouncing on to the next website.

Struggle to Juggle: Three Marketing Kickstarters To Do Right Now

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Multi-tasking Business Woman

National Small Business Week celebrates its 50th anniversary this June on a high note:  According to the Small Business Administration, half of Americans own or work for a small business. While this is a glowing testament to America’s entrepreneurial spirit, one of the biggest conundrums small businesses still continually face is marketing: knowing they need promotion to grow and thrive but often lacking the time, money, and people to do the work. “Of all the classes we offer during San Francisco Small Business Week, marketing courses are the most popular,” said Jane Gong, a City coordinator of the nation’s largest such event.

So what can small businesses do lickety-split to get started, brush up, or recommit to a marketing program? Here are some ways to start or reboot your  efforts: After that, it’s up to you to make it a habit.

#1 Ask, Don’t Tell (When it Comes to Social Networks)

News flash to small business owners: social media is no longer a “trend” or “sexy”– it’s a reality of an integrated marketing plan. “Small business owners need to stop complaining about having little or no understanding of social media and no time to learn it,” said Brian Moran said in an article interview. “One of my favorite sayings is, ‘If you don’t have the time to do something right, when are you going to find the time to do it over?” Gong said, “When people are starting a business, the questions we get asked most about are social media. They think they need to be on social networks to increase their returns, but if you’re a mom and pop corner store, they are not sure it makes sense.”

Kickstarter: Go where your customers social-ize: Though it seems intuitive to get your target audience’s input to help drive marketing decisions, many businesses don’t, not because of lack of desire, but preoccupation with five hundred other tasks at hand. In the end though, the time you spend upfront getting feedback will prevent wasted time later. Though Facebook appears to be the most popular social network for small businesses, get the raw data from your  customers and prospects: survey in-person, by email, or quickly and free online . They’ll appreciate that you want their insight and the input will help shape your plans.

Once you establish your social media direction, get educated for free online. Also, check out what your competition is doing and get inspiration from the  brands you admire. Start small by offering something of value to get fans and followers, such as a Facebook-only deal, a discount for Twitter followers, or showcase customer photos on Pinterest. But start something and do it consistently as you build and fine-tune your social media program.

#2 Give Your Blog Nine Lives (or At Least Five)

Chances are if you’re reading this article, you already have a blog or want to: as most bloggers will attest to, it’s one of the easiest and straightforward ways to promote your business. Did you also know there are at least five things you can do to transform a stale blog to fresh content? The best place to start is to check your stats (or tags and categories) and determine the best performing ones. If you don’t have a blog yet, come up with a popular industry topic and use that as a starting point.

Going through the stats exercise for my own blog, I found a piece from a year ago about J.C. Penney’s rebranding disaster was my third top-read post of all time. Upon further research I found out why: On a Google search of “JC Penny Branding Disaster”, my blog comes up fourth, below PRDaily and Forbes and above Huffington Post. Even though the position could change, I got great SEO by writing about a popular topic when the story was blowing up in the media. Now, to use it for my own purposes…

Kickstarter: Repurpose. Repurpose. Repurpose. Did someone say repurpose? For the J.C. Penney blog, potential ideas are: 1) Update blog to reflect the recent booting of its CEO and apology ad and republicize on all social networks; 2) Use as partial content for quick blog countdown “The Five Worst Branding Disasters of All Time”; 3) Turn blog into online story and publicize; 4) Reformat with some quick visuals and create Slideshare and blast out to social networks. 5) If I were feeling particularly ambitious, I could create a short video that tells the story of what happened (a search revealed just one interview.) People are hungry for online information in different ways to learn about big events, industry trends, and practical tips–you can be the expert, go-to source no matter which they choose.

#3 Putting the Cure in Curation: the Multi-tasker Extraordinaire

Content curation for your business can be  a great marketing Swiss Army Knife, but it’s a lot of work. There are services that  do the legwork for free, collecting relevant content in your industry, monitoring your competition, and  even prepping a targeted customer newsletter. “I use the analogy that people really are looking for water,” said Scott Scanlon, CEO of You Brand, Inc. in a content curation video.” …ultimately they don’t want to drink out of a fire-hose–they want a glass of water. If you can be there providing that glass of water on a consistent basis you’ll begin to garner their trust.” Bonus: Content curation services enable topic discovery for your blog, web site, or email marketing campaign–the possibilities are endless.

Kickstarter: Max out a free curation serviceScoop.it paper.liCurata, newcomer Swayy and other services specialize in online curation from thousands of online sources to slash time and effort. Take advantage  to get information compiled, organized, and leverage for your own purposes. If you use a curation service for customer newsletters, put your own brand stamp with commentary or tweaking a headline for your audience.

Too pressed for time to try any of these? Break down kickstarters into baby steps and do one part each week.

Image Credit: Bigstock

The Walking Dead Guide to Better Blog Content

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Even if you’re not a fan of zombies, you have to respect The Walking Dead. This AMC original series, based on a comic book series of the same name, has won several awards, including two Emmys, and has been nominated for a whopping 43 major awards overall. 10.9 million viewers tuned in for the season three premiere, making it the most-watched basic cable drama telecast in history, and the show even has its own devoted late-night talk show, The Talking Dead, with host Chris Hardwick.

This blog post isn’t about what you can learn about blogging from zombies, though. Today, I wanted to actually look at this television show and why it is so successful (and how that relates to your content!). I truly think what sets it apart from other basic cable shows is not its geeky appeal or marketing ploys, but rather its top-notch content.

(And for those of you who haven’t seen the show yet or aren’t 100% caught up, don’t worry – this post contains no spoilers!)

The Devil’s in the Details

In the very first episode of Season One, protagonist Rick Grimes wakes up in a hospital to find that the world has gone to…well, you know where. He wanders toward his home, confused, an in one of the most iconic scenes, sees his first still-moving “walker”: a female zombie who has been ripped in half, but is still crawling toward him, trying to bite him.

This show’s special effects are nothing short of amazing. That scene is movie-quality, as is most of the show. In fact, their special effects department has won numerous awards.

Seeing as this is a zombie show, it would have been really easy to focus on the story alone and settle for campy special effects. They choose instead to spend money and time on the details to get it right. I think that’s where some bloggers fall short. Writing great content is important, but have you taken the time for the details, the finishing work. Is the post formatted well? Did you add interesting and relevant images? What about statistics, quotes, and links to back up the information?

Good content is a dime a dozen online. We like to think it’s not, but the fact of the matter is that despite all the crap you’ll find online, there are also thousands of amazing bloggers out there. If you don’t care about the details, it’s hard to stand out from the crowd.

Restraint

What I find extremely intriguing about this television series is the amount of restraint the show’s writers use when telling this story. At the end of the day, it’s a tale about the zombie apocalypse. You want to please fans? Show some us the zombies! Show us gruesome zombie kills, horrifying human deaths, and disgusting walking corpses. Granted, if you’re not a horror fan, that might not be your cup of tea, but believe me when I say that this community is hungry for the blood and guts scenes.

The show has its fair share of zombie goodness, but there’s a certain amount of restraint used as well. The writers delve deeply into character development and take time to set up the story. Some episodes actually have very few zombies at all. Fans complained loudly during season two that it was too much talking and not enough action, but this was not without purpose. The writers needed time to tell the story, in order to make the experience that much better for the audience. Too much time spent on the horror element and gross-out scenes and you begin to lose site of what the show is really about.

I see bloggers make this mistake regularly – giving fans want they want, not what they need. You have to please your audience, but don’t lose site of what your blog is really about. You’re the expert. It’s up to you to direct the ship, which means sometimes missing out on those traffic spikes in order to write content you feel your readers really need. Keep readers entertained, but never at the expense of the “storyline” – the reason you write your blog.

Shock Value, Done Right

Lastly, I want to talk a bit about shock value. The Walking Dead isn’t afraid to surprise viewers, but in the right way. Some horror movies go for the cheap scare, the moment that make you jump when you realize the killer is standing right behind the character or a monster jumps out from behind the door. Sure, it makes your scream and jump in your seat, but this kind of shock rarely has any long-term value.

The Walking Dead has very few moments like this, but is not short on shock value. Instead, the show focuses on moments that will really shock you and have a lasting impact. They aren’t afraid to kill off main characters. They aren’t afraid to put characters in horrifying situations. They aren’t afraid to do a 180 degree turn and take the plot in a direction that most people never saw coming.

On your blog, you can write content that shocks readers in some way, gets them to click through and read your post, or you can go for long-term value.  Being controversial on your blog can lead to a landslide of traffic, but the value of this kind of traffic isn’t very high if you’re being controversial for the sake of it, rather than actually trying to voice a real opinion about a topic. Write content you really believe in, rather than writing posts that bait your readers. Building your traffic is a marathon, not a sprint.

If you want to learn more about creating great blog content, definitely check out the entire Blogging Track at NMX in Las Vegas this January. And if you want to talk zombies (or blogging..or both) definitely hunt me down at the show!

There’s Gold in Them Thar Hills: Finding Hidden Content Treasures for Your Blog

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After blogging for a year or two, you likely have a rich library of evergreen content. Your blog is just bursting at the seams with these high-quality posts, but what gets the most attention? Whatever you’ve posted most recently. Some of your best content might never see the light of day again.

This content is gold. Older blog posts can be absolute treasures, helping you create new content and drive new readers to your blog. You just have to dig it out, dust it off, and repurpose it in the best way possible.

The Inspiration Bank

Since new content often gets the most attention, maybe it’s time to repurpose some of your old content into brand new posts. I keep a list of the very best posts I’ve ever written, and this is my inspiration bank. Even posts that are timely (i.e., not evergreen) can be part of your bank. What was most popular in the past and why? How can you replicate that success? Think about the topic matters you’ve covered and consider doing an update on them to create a brand new post for readers.

For example, let’s say you’re a political blogger. You probably covered the 2012 U.S. Presidential elections pretty closely. A year from now, it probably seems like those posts aren’t relevant – but they are! Posts that discuss candidates’ promises or predictions from yourself and others can be turned into excellent follow-up posts on the topic.

You can also use this kind of “updating” technique to produce high-quality guest posts. With guest posts, people are often more likely to visit specific posts you mention in the text rather than a general link in your bio at the end.

Build Your Mailing List

Old content – or should that be gold content – can also be extremely helpful in building your mailing list. Instead of writing a free ebook from scratch, are there post series that could be combined, edited, and formatted into a short ebook to give away in exchange for mailing list sign-ups? Or, you might be able to expand upon a post, breaking down your advice into more detail so you can turn the post into a longer format giveaway.

You can also look to see which posts were most popular and then offer a free webinar or e-course on the topic. Use your older posts as a jumping off point for this kind of education. It’s much easier than starting from scratch.

Reshare Instead of Repurpose

If a post is truly evergreen, repurposing it might not make as much sense as simply resharing it. The key is to share it with a new audience. For example:

  • When you first published the post, were you active on Pinterest or Google+? If not, share them with these communities.
  • Have you ever shared the post with your mailing list? Maybe it’s time to promote it in one of your newsletters.
  • Was the post shared at a certain time of day? Change things up and share it at a different time of day to hit different time zones.

Breathe some new life into that old content!

Of course, to have great evergreen content in your library, you have to be adding new evergreen content to your blog regularly. For blog content creation tips, check out our upcoming Blogging Track at NMX in Las Vegas 2013!

Photo Credit: Bigstock

12 Places to Find Inspiration for Your Next Blog Post

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12 Places to Find Inspiration for Your Next Blog Post Recently, I sat down at my computer to write some blog posts for the week. I found myself in that dangerous cycle of staring at the blank page, getting frustrated, walking away, coming back to the computer when I felt “refreshed”…and starting the cycle all over by staring at the blank page again. I’ve written hundreds of posts here on the NMX blog and thousands of posts across several blogs over the span of my career.

I had nothing left to say.

I felt like punching the computer. I felt like crying. Could this be the end? Was it time for Allison the blogger to retire once and for all?

Of course, if you’ve been blogging for any length of time, you know that these feelings wax and wane. All bloggers inevitably face the terror of the blank screen from time to time. It’s one thing if you truly do not enjoy blogging in your niche anymore. Then, maybe it’s time to move on to another project. But if you’re simply feeling uninspired, don’t worry; it will pass.

It will pass…but you can’t just sit around and wait for that to happen. If you do, you can easily fall into complacency, ignoring your blog for months. Sometimes, you have to go out and find inspiration, tear it from the world, and stick it on your blog. If you don’t have a muse, look for one rather than just waiting for one to magically find you.

I already posted this short list of the places I find inspiration most often – from current events, stories/parables, and kids/pets. But some days, those techniques just don’t work. So let’s dig even deeper and find more places to help get inspired to write. Here are the places I look for inspiration when I don’t know what to write about (and if you need even more ideas, check out this list of Brilliant Bloggers talking about finding post ideas):

1. Other Bloggers

When is the last time you took a day to catch up on your reading? When’s the last time you actively searched for new blogs to read instead of relying on your old favorites? What’s the last time you wrote a reactionary piece to something someone else wrote?

2. Google Analytics

What search terms are people using to get to your site? Are you actually answering their questions or addressing their needs with the posts they find?

3. Your Readers

Don’t be afraid to post a poll asking your readers what kind of topics they want to see you covering on your blog. You can also ask them for specific questions they have so you can address their problems.

4. Your Past Posts

Rarely is a post truly evergreen. Could you write an update to a previous post? Could you cover a topic in more detail? Think about how you can use one of your favorite past posts as a starting point for one or more new posts.

5. Versus

What in your niche can be compared? Think about two products or two services or two schools of thought you can compare and contrast and write about it.

6. Books and Print Media

Just like we don’t take enough time to read other blogs, we often don’t take enough time to read books in our niche. Books (and other forms of print media) can lead not only to reviews, but also to content ideas. Pull a quote from an author and write an entire blog post around that.

7. YouTube

What are people in your niche creating video content about? Check out YouTube and see what videos are most popular about specific topics. Even if you don’t do videos yourself, you can turn those ideas into blog posts.

8. Forums

If you don’t have a huge following quite yet, polling your readers can be difficult. So instead, head to a forum related to your niche and see what people are asking. Answer their questions with a blog post.

9. Wordtracker’s Keyword Questions

This is a trick I learned from Rich Brooks during his BlogWorld New York 2012 session. Wordtracker has a great tool called Keyword Questions. You enter a broad term (like “cooking” if you are a food blogger) and you can see what people are really asking about this topic. Each question can be answered in a blog post.

10. Twitter Hashtags

On Twitter, people often use hashtags to talk about specific topics. Search these hashtags (or just do a general Twitter search) to find out what they’re talking about. This can inspire you to write your own posts about the topic.

11. Pinterest

I absolutely love Pinterest! (If you aren’t using it yet, here’s a five-part Pinterest 101 series to help you get started.) This site is a great source of inspiration, since you can search for boards about a specific topic and see what people have pinned to those boards. You can also type in pinterest.com/source/yoururl.com (replaced with your url of course) to find out what people are pinning from your site so you can replicate that success by expanding more on a popular topic.

12. Your Own List of Ideas

Lastly, you can get inspiration from your own list of ideas. What does that mean? It means that right now, start a list of ideas that you can pull up whenever you are stuck. When you’re feeling super creative, it’s easy to come up with topics for posts, so when you’re in the blank screen cycle and contemplating giving up, you can simply open this document and pick an idea from the list. Add to this list of ideas regularly so you also have fresh content ideas for your blog.

How Being a Nerd has Made Me a Better Blogger

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Are Nerds Better Bloggers I’ll admit it; I’m a total nerd. My idea of a romantic date night is playing video games or Magic: The Gathering with my boyfriend. I’d rather hang out online than hang out at a bar (most of the time). I can quote Doctor Who on command and would rather watch Star Trek than Sex in the City.

Perhaps my nerd-dom is summed up in the fact that I couldn’t think of a more recent popular non-geeky television show than Sex in the City.

Being a nerd isn’t really a badge of honor for me as much as it is a fact of life. Luckily, being a nerd has made me better at my job as a blogger. Here’s why:

  • Nerds are used to dealing with haters.

These days, being a geek is “cool.” Or so it seems. I would argue that living zombies and playing Madden with your “bros” doesn’t really make you nerdy. But regardless, nerds out there know how hard it was growing up loving books instead of cheerleading or chess instead of football. I count my lucky stars that I’m a girl, so I was never on the receiving end of a wedgie (do boys still give wedgies to one another on the playground?), but I was certainly teased and even bullied. It’s great experience for dealing with haters online. I’ve grown a thick skin over the years, which makes it easier for me to voice my opinions online without being fearful of people thinking I’m uncool.

  • Nerds love education.

Growing up, I was always the kid who actually liked going to school. The first day was exciting for me, and I would often start browsing through my textbooks as soon as I got them, even before we had homework assignments or had jumped into lessons. This love of education has really helped me as a blogger, because I’m constantly trying to learn new things in my niche. More importantly, I like the research aspect of blogging, which is where I feel like a lot of bloggers are lacking. The amount of misinformation online is astounding, and even most opinion pieces online could benefit from better research. Don’t just tell me why I should do something a certain way. Tell me what proof you have to back up your opinion.

  • Nerds are passionate about weird stuff.

To be successful as a blogger, you have to be passionate about your niche. Weirdly passionate. Nerds already get that. We’re fangirls and boys of weird stuff, whether it’s bringing Firefly back on the air and who shot first–Han or Greedo. We follow every snippet of news about books from our favorite authors  becoming movies, we spend hours creating fantasy characters for a new tabletop game, and we stand in line behind thousands of other people at ComicCon to see our favorite comic book artists. That weird obsessive behavior is what will make you successful in your niche, and trust me; nerds have weird down pat.

  • Nerds are driven.

I wasn’t given a basketball scholarship. Making friends didn’t come easily to me. Getting a date? Let’s not even talk about that. Growing up, if I wanted something, I had to try really, really hard. Even with academics, the competition to be best among nerds is fierce, and if you aren’t working hard, you’re falling behind. Nerds have to work extra hard at everything they do growing up, so it leads to a very driven personality in many cases. Now, that’s not to say that if you aren’t nerdy, you aren’t a hard worker. But as a nerd, I personally learned to be a very driven person, working hard for everything I have with nothing just handed to me. This is a quality that has helped me be a successful blogger today. You aren’t going to be successful if you aren’t willing or able to put a lot of blood, sweat, and tears into your blog.

  • Nerds love a challenge.

Whether it’s figuring out that math problem or writing a novel or beating a video game villain, nerds love a challenge. And really, that’s what blogging is–a challenge. If you’re someone who easily quits when things get tough, this probably isn’t the right path for you, at least not as a career. Challenge is scary, but it can also be extremely rewarding. When you embrace the challenge of blogging and combine that with your nerdy nature to be driven, passionate, educated, and willing to express your opinions even in the face of haters, that’s when you can truly start to build a better blog.

So let your nerd flag fly! Embrace the inner geek, learn to love your dorky self, and start building a better blog instead of repressing those memories of getting picked last in gym class.

For other nerds out there: do you think being nerdy has helped you become a better blogger? And if you weren’t a nerd growing up, do you think that your personality as a child (and beyond) has helped you be successful as a blogger?

Quality Blog Content: It’s Not What You Think

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Quality Blog Content “You have to have quality content on your blog to succeed.”

“Search engine optimization only works if you have quality content.”

“Content is king.”

How often have you heard people say one of the above phrases or another version that essentially boils down to the need for high-quality blog posts if you want to succeed as a blogger? The word quality is throw around more often than any other, and justifiably so. I fully agree with the advice that, as a blogger, you will live or die by the quality of your content.

But what is quality?

One of the main problems I see in blogging world right now is that few people actually define what constitutes quality content. So let me ask right now: What is quality blog content? I personally don’t think there is a single, all-encompassing answer, but if you aren’t asking yourself that question, I wonder: how can you honestly be providing true, quality content?

What Quality is Not

I think we need to be disillusioned about the true definition of quality content as it relates to blogging. What comes to mind when someone says quality blog content to you? I’ll tell you my knee-jerk reaction:

  • Quality content is well-researched.
  • Quality content is written artistically and with care.
  • Quality content is original and interesting.

That’s my knee-jerk reaction…but I’m not sure it’s correct. At least not entirely.

If your blog needs quality content to be successful, and quality content is well-researched, artistic, created with care, original, and interesting, I have to ask: Why are there so many popular blogs online that do not have any of these characteristics?

I’d like to suggest that quality is not the same online as it is in the print media world. In fact, I think the definition of content quality online is still evolving.

What Quality Really Is

So if quality isn’t any of those things I’ve listed, what is quality content?

I’d like to suggest that quality content is this: Content created that will help you reach your overall blogging goal.

We’ve been talking a lot about goals here on the NMX blog recently. Last week, I asked, “Are Your Blogging Goals Realistic?” and before that, I posed the question, “Are Your Actions Aligned with Your Online Goals?” As a blogger, you probably have (and should have) several goals, but if pressed, what is the single thing you hope to accomplish with your blog? Is your goal to…

  • Sell a product?
  • Raise brand awareness?
  • Position yourself as an expert?
  • Educate your community?
  • Entertain readers?
  • Promote a cause or idea?
  • Enjoy the blogging process?

Any of these are justified goals, and most bloggers will point to more than one. But what’s your one general, most important goal? In order to create quality content, everything you write has to be created with that one goal in mind.

Quality in Action

To illustrate how this works, I’m going to use two very different blogs as an example. The first is celebrity gossip blog TMZ, and the second is social media blog Social Media Examiner. Very different blogs, right? But in their respective niches, they are both extremely popular.

TMZ’s goal is to entertain readers. You don’t go to TMZ for education, and they aren’t really trying to sell anything. Readers visit TMZ as a guilty pleasure, to pass the time, and to satisfy the natural curiosity we have to know how celebrities live.

Social Media Examiner isn’t about entertaining readers. This site is all about education. Yes, they sell products, and I’m sure they certainly want to be seen as experts in the social media field, but overall, this site is about educating their community.

Forget about niche, if you put content from TMZ on Social Media Examiner, readers will absolutely not think it is quality. The opposite is true as well. TMZ readers would not be happy if they started blogging in the same style as Social Media Examiner.

The Subject Nature of Quality

To everyone reading this post, the choice may seem simple: You’ll take Social Media Examiner over TMZ any day, am I right? But we’re an insular community in many respects, and what we like isn’t necessarily what others like. A lot of people use the Internet not for work, but for relaxing when they get home. The last thing they want to read online is educational content. They want fun. To them, Social Media Examiner may seem extremely low quality because the posts are long and boring.

In other words, quality is subjective.

It’s important to remember that why you’re throwing around advice that writing quality content is important. What’s quality in one niche or even to one blogger might be drastically different in another niche or to another blogger. So before you point to someone and say, “You content is not quality” and more importantly before you give advice about how to create quality content, it’s important to step back and ask whether or not the content is aligned with the goal of the blog.

Does Your Blog Just Tell People What They Want to Hear? A Honest Look at Social Success

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Oh, the ripples a single blog post can make. It’s been a long time since a post about social media got people as worked up as Cathryn Sloane’s “Why Every Social Media Manager Should Be Under 25” at NextGen Journal. I’ve read dozens of blog post responses to her, and as of writing this post, there are 482 comments on her post itself.

In reading the responses, there are a lot of very thoughtful points being made. At the same time, there’s something about this whole discussion that is making me cringe a little. It’s highlighting a very important and oft-ignored problem in op-ed blogging: the tendency to overvalue the popularity of our own posts when they haven’t truly added any value. As I continue to read blog posts about age and social media, it’s making me more and more uncomfortable.

Cathryn’s post struck a nerve with a lot of people, but the vast majority of commenters were older social media managers (and other older people working in the social media space, regardless of official title). Understandable, since those were the people she was attacking with her post. And the vast majority of people who wrote rebuttal posts were also older social media managers. Again, understandable given her attack.

But what I’ve seen most of the time (read: not all of the time) are defensive rebuttal posts that are simple masquerading as a “discussion” or “conversation” on the topic when they aren’t really adding anything to the debate at all. I have to ask myself, what do these posts accomplish other than perhaps making the blogger feel good about him/herself?

To me, a discussion or conversation about the topic is all about debate and, more importantly, learning. I actually think that’s where Cathryn’s post was extremely successful. Regardless of your opinion of the piece, what she published was an opinion about something that she felt needed to be addressed. She supported her opinion with a few reasons and put it out there for the world to read. Whether or not she did a good job or has a valid opinion is a moot point. She was, in her blog post, seeking to make a difference, to change your way of thinking, to highlight an injustice she thinks is a problem in this industry.

Did the rebuttal blog posts do the same? Or did they just say, “NUH UH!” and get liked and tweeted by the same hundred or so people who’ve been liking and tweeting all rebuttal posts and comments?

In other words, did your post make a difference, or did it just tell your community what they wanted to hear? Did you actually add to the conversation with new ideas or did you just defend yourself by calling someone wrong? Did you seek new ways of looking at the topic or did you just rant?

Take a good hard look at how successful you are on social media. If you say, “HITLER IS BAD!” it’s not hard to get your audience to agree with you. But what does that prove? Did you teach your readers anything? Did you really start a conversation? This applies to every controversial topic, not just the wildfire that caught online about age and social media this past week.

An example: Let’s say I write a post about how automated DMs are bad. Of course the vast majority of the NMX/BlogWorld community is going to agree with me, and if I write a passionate, well-written post, it’s likely going to get a lot of social shares. But so what? All I’m doing is preaching to the choir. I’m not bringing new people to church. Putting the popular opinion into a blog post doesn’t alone make you a good blogger or good at social media.

That’s not to say that you have to be controversial when you blog about something, but I do think it is important to be honest about your social media success. Before you smugly say that Cathryn knows nothing about social media, perhaps take a good hard look at how often her post has been shared, how many true discussions it has created, and how many people have admitted that she does have some valid points that they hadn’t considered before.

Are you achieving the same things with your op-ed posts or are you simply telling people what they want to hear and patting yourself on the back when people like it?

Why You Should Embrace Sponsored Posts on Your Blog

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The phrase sponsored post still leaves a dirty taste in the mouths of many bloggers. Companies are still learning how to work with bloggers, so you might still get a ton of lame offers, ranging from press releases to requests for free promotion for a product or service that has nothing to do with your niche.

But if you swear off sponsored posts altogether, you could be missing out on awesome content for your blog – not to mention a source of income.

The Negative Connotation of “Sponsored”

If you poll your readers, asking, “Would you like to see more sponsored posts on my blog?” I have a feeling that 100% would say, “No way!” But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have sponsored posts. There’s this negative connotation with the word sponsored. People read that word and think crap that has no relevance to me that the blogger published because they were paid.

Stereotypes happen for a reason. Many bloggers do publish crap that has no relevance to their readers simply for the cash, and that’s a problem for three reasons:

  1. Your readers aren’t getting high-quality content.
  2. The sponsor isn’t getting any bang for their buck since readers aren’t clicking their links.
  3. Companies everywhere see this continue to think this is what bloggers want.

There’s a bit of a revolution with sponsored content happening right now, though. Companies are beginning to realize point number two – that they aren’t getting any benefits from the money they’re spending on on sponsored posts. But it’s up to us bloggers to take it a step farther and educate companies on what we really want. That way, the word sponsored won’t make readers shudder anymore.

A Three-Point Rating System

Whenever I’m pitched by a company, I use a three-point rating system to determine whether or not it is a good fit for our blog.

  1. Is the topic relevant and interesting to my readers?
  2. Am I being compensated for my work?
  3. Will the content be unique for my website or is everyone in the niche posting it right now?

So, for example, let’s say that XYZ company sends me a press release about a celebrity chef for my food blog. They offer to send me to his restaurant for a free meal and pay me for the post. Is the topic relevant and interesting? Yes. Am I being compensated? Yes. Is the content unique? Well, it’s a press release, so probably not.

Let’s say that a start-up offers me access to their new social media monitoring product and payment to post a review of it on my fashion blog. In this case, I’m being compensated and since it’s my own review, it would be unique. But will readers of a fashion blog want to know about a social media monitoring tool? Probably not.

Now let’s say that a third company, 123 Travels-R-Us contacts me to write about their new hotel deals site for my travel blog. They offer to send me a unique post about how to save money booking tickets online, which links back to their site. However, they do not offer any kind of compensation for publishing the post.

So I should say no to all three of these offers, right?

Get the Sponsored Content You Really Want

The answer is no: No, I (or any blogger) should not just say no to the above three offers. As bloggers, when we get good but slightly “off” pitches like these, we have the chance to educate companies about their content marketing strategy and get awesome content for our blogs – all while getting paid!

If a company satisfies none of the point on my three-point system, it’s probably not a good fit and working with them will likely be a huge headache. But if they satisfy one or, better yet, two of the points, we can probably work together. They just need a good teacher!

Respond to the email, not in an attacking way, but in an understanding way. They have a job to do – promote their own company. So tell them exactly how they can better make that happen on your blog.

  • “Dear Company XYZ, I would love to promote your chef to my readers, as I feel they’d be very interested in visiting his new restaurant. Instead of posting a press release, though, I think you’ll get more interest if I can do a unique interview with him about his food. If that sounds good to you, let’s work out the details.”
  • “Dear Start-Up, Your new social media monitoring tool looks great, but unfortunately most of my readers are fashionistas who wouldn’t be interested in this topic. However, I am willing to review it as a guest post for such-and-such blog about social media. Does this interest you?”
  • “Dear 123 Travels-R-Us, I checked out your new site and it looks fantastic! I’d love to promote this to my readers. Attached, you’ll find my rates for sponsored posts, and I also have package deals if you’re interested in sidebar or newsletter advertising as well. If you’re interested, I’m happy to talk to you more about my traffic numbers and audience demographic.”

In all three of these cases, the company might not be interested or they might not respond, but you’re sending a clear message:

  • Bloggers want unique, quality content.
  • Bloggers want relevant content.
  • Bloggers want to be paid fairly.

When you can satisfy all three points, you’ll not only be paid for your work, but your readers will enjoy the post you’ve published. Sponsored doesn’t have to be such a dirty word if the details of the sponsorship are very carefully worked out. The vast majority of readers don’t care in the least that you were paid to write something (as long as you’re honest about that, of course); they only care that what you write is something they want to read.

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