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How to Schedule Posts Effectively

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Today is July 4, which means it’s a holiday in the United States. Every year, Americans across the country set off fireworks, grill burgers, and enjoy time with friends and family to celebrate our nation’s holiday. So, while you’re seeing this new post from me, I’m not actually here. I’m out enjoying the day, probably in the pool with my sister.

Yep, this post was scheduled.

Whenever anything in the world of new media is automated in any way, people get the heebie-jeebies. Yet, scheduling posts usually gets a free pass. In fact, some of the same people who rant about auto-DMs and scheduled tweets give pre-writing and scheduling posts and big thumbs up.

And I agree with them. I schedule a lot of the posts here on the NMX blog, actually, as well as on my own blogs. That said, there’s a good way to schedule posts and a bad way to schedule posts. Many bloggers out there are not scheduling posts effectively.

Maintaining the Broader Schedule

First and foremost, when it comes to post scheduling, you need to be thinking about your content in a much broader way. Scheduling a post because you’ll be away from your computer is fine, but how does this fit into your overall editorial calendar?

If your answer to that question is, “I don’t have an editorial calendar,” you might want to rethink your blogging activities a bit.

No, having an editorial calendar doesn’t mean you have to write or even come up with post ideas in advance. But what it does allow you to do is:

  1. Make sure your content is spread out evenly, rather than being bunched up over the course of a few days (and then nothing for a long period of time)
  2. Make sure you are writing about a variety of topics in your niche, rather than covering the same topic too often and ignoring other topics

The visual representation of your posts on a calendar helps you understand blogging habits you might have never noticed otherwise, and you can more easily see gaps that need to be filled. here on the NMX blog, we use a plugin to maintain the editorial calendar, but even a simple note in your day planner (digital or paper) can help.

Scheduling Fluff

After getting an editorial calendar set up, you still have the task of scheduling posts when you’re going to be away from the computer. Most bloggers are already doing this, and one of the most common mistakes I see is scheduling “fluff.”

In the world of freelance writing, a “fluffy” piece is written with as many words as possible just to make wordcount. You care less about the content and the language and more about just getting something written. A lot of bloggers post this kind of fluff on their blog when they’re going to be away just to have something posted.

A huge picture of an America flag with the words “Happy 4th of July” is a good example fluff. Yet I’m sure that blogs across the Internet are auto-posting that as we speak (if they haven’t already). Before posting anything, ask yourself:

  • What does my reader gain from this post?
  • Would I post this content on a day I was actually here or is it only “good enough” because I’m scheduling it?
  • Does the post enhance my community in any way?
  • Will readers feel compelled to comment?
  • Am I proud of this post?

Do not kid yourself and say, “But I wanted to wish my readers a happy fourth of July!” If that’s the case, do it with a personal message on your blog in a post about what the holiday means to you. Or do it at the beginning of a post that is similar to what you would publish any other day of the year. Or skip posting and simply Tweet your message. When you schedule something half-assed, all it says is, “I don’t really care about my blog because I’m off having fun.” If you’re a photo blog, go ahead a post a picture of a flag. If you normally write long in-depth pieces analyzing the news in your niche, save me the pity post and just enjoy the day.

Stay on Top of Your Scheduling

Just because you schedule something doesn’t mean you can forget all about it. This can lead to disaster. For example, let’s say that you schedule a post about Twitter while you’re away on vacation. Before it goes live, there’s a major announcement that Twitter has been sold to Facebook! While every other blog is covering this major story, your post about “How Twitter is Better Than Facebook” goes live, making you look silly in the process.

Forgetting about your scheduled posts can even be downright offensive. For example, if you schedule a post that quotes or analyzes someone famous and that person dies the morning before it goes live, you can seem insensitive or tacky.

Mistakes happen. You shouldn’t avoid scheduling a post simply because some kind of disaster or change could happen. But if you’re going to be away for an extended period of time, keep track of what will be going up when and check in occasionally. If something is published at an inopportune time, you want to be around to take it down as soon as you can, rather than letting snarky comments about it build over the course of days or even weeks.

If you can, it also helps to have someone you trust watch out for your blog. That way, they can log in and take down any poorly-scheduled post or deal with other problems while you’re gone.

Don’t Fear the Schedule Button

Scheduling can be quite liberating, so despite the rest of this post, I hope you aren’t afraid of that scheduling button. You just have to be thoughtful about how you use it and responsible about maintaining your blog even if you have scheduled posts ready to be published when you’re not around.

As for me, I’m happily splashing around right now and thanking the blogging gods that scheduling is possible. It’s a great tool as long as you use it wisely. Happy 4th, everyone!

How Formulas Can Make You a Better Blogger

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“Frameworks end up producing style…What does this mean? It means you get more readers. There’s a big difference between readers and traffic.”

-Nate Riggs

As bloggers, we often shy away from advice that tells us to be systematic or formulaic in our writing. If you’re anything like me, you have a knee-jerk reaction to such advice – screaming in anger. We’re creators! We need to be free to create!

After all, we already see enough of that robotic stuff when tracking stats, formatting, and doing other blogging tasks, right?

But systematic doesn’t have to be evil. In fact, creating formulas can not only improve your writing, but it can also help you find that creativity we all crave as writers. Yes, I actually think formulas can make you a better blogger.

At BlogWorld & New Media Expo 2012, Nate Riggs (pictured at right) talked about mastering the list post, and he’s the person I blame for changing my mind about formulas. At the beginning of his presentation, Nate talked a bit about formulas and why they make sense for make bloggers. This information gem has already changed how I think about blogging, so today, I wanted to share the information with you.

Formulas as a Foundation

The most important concept to understand when it comes to writing in a formulaic way is that this is just a foundation. You need more to create a great post than simple a tired formula that bores your readers. However, a good formula (like a list post) is a strong foundation, and it can support experimentation. By having this “base” for a post, you can be more creative and know that you aren’t so far out of the box that it will confuse readers.

Formulas for Consistency

I’ve found that blogging consistently is one of the most influential factors on my stats. However, who among us hasn’t had weeks or even months when blogging seemed impossible? Life gets in the way sometimes, and writer’s block can make it impossible to come up topics, even with these three secret ways to find post ideas. Formulas make it a lot easier to blog consistency, no matter how busy you are or how uninspired you might be feeling. When you have a formula, you have a base for structuring your ideas, which makes consistency a lot easier.

Readers Love Formulas

Formulas can easily be equated to works like “boring” and “expected,” but that isn’t always the case. In fact, your readers might not even realize you’re using a formula unless you point it out. Formulas are formulas for a reason: they work. They’ve been honed to be inviting, memorable, and easy to read.

You don’t have to use a formula, list or otherwise, every time you write a post. But don’t make the mistake of thinking that formulas have no place at all on your blog. They can actually be quite helpful and make you a better writer, so explore this blogging option to create better content no matter what your niche.

Want to learn more about a specific type of formula, the list post? You can catch Nate’s full presentation with our virtual ticket, which also gives you access to all of the other sessions you may have missed at BlogWorld & New Media Expo 2012! Buy a virtual ticket here today!

Readers are Speed Dating Your Blog: How To Land that Second Date

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I’ve never done speed dating, but I’ve seen it done often enough to understand how it works: you have two or three minutes to talk to another single before a bell rings and you both move on. You meet several people during the course of the event and write down the names of the people you like best so you can connect in the future.

Speed dating is all about making snap decisions about people and relying on your instincts. And believe it or not, that can lead to a lot of dating success. Judging people so quickly might seem harsh, but being forced to focus on what’s important to you can help you instantly identify people who really might be right for you. This certainly isn’t the dating scenario that’s best of everyone, but it has its advantages.

As a blogger, you’re going to be propelled into the same situation. Readers actually have a fairly long attention span if they like your content – but they make the choice about whether or not they like your content in just a few seconds. If you aren’t good at “speed dating,” they fairly quickly move on to the next blog.

So what can you do?

Looks Matter

You don’t have the be the hottest person in the room to get a date, but you do have to care about your looks at least a little. Nobody wants to date a slob who hasn’t showered in weeks. If you put on a little lip gloss, you’ll make a much better first impression.

Online, the same is true: looks matter. Your design doesn’t have to be flashy and expensive, but it does have to be clean and pleasing to the eye. Give some thought to your design, especially anything “above the fold” (anything you can see without scrolling). If you aren’t a design maven, don’t worry. No matter what blog platform you use, there are plenty of free themes you can use out of the box and even more themes you can use if you’re willing to spend a little money. This list is a great place to start when looking for a WordPress theme, and you can find some great Blogger templates here.

Be Yourself

There’s a great line in Disney’s Aladdin where the genie turns into a bumblebee to try to convince the title character to “beeeee” himself. Puns aside, it’s really good advice in most areas of life.

The fact of the matter is that people come to your blog because they like getting information from you. So let you shine through in every word you write. This does not mean you have to be super personal on your blog. Being objective, formal, and informational, is certainly a legitimate blogging style. But what is important is that you are consistent and every sentence reflects the style. You want readers to understand what your blog is about as soon as they start reading. If you try to be too general and appeal to everyone, you’ll only be boring, which is a good way to ensure you never get that “second date.”

You will lose some readers this way. Not everyone is going to like you. That’s okay, though. As long as you are yourself from the start, you will attract your people, the people who really are going to connect with the things you write. These are the people who will really become fans.

Treat Every Post as the Most Important One You’ve Ever Written

When you have just a short time to spend with someone while speed dating, every word you say is being judged. If you’re boring or talking about topics that don’t interest me, I’m probably not going to want that second date. Likewise, on your blog, new readers are not going to tolerate boring or uninteresting posts.

We all have bad blogging days, and we’ve all written posts that are kind of “meh.” It happens. But keep in mind that every post you write could be the very first post someone reads on your blog. If a post doesn’t represent your blog well, don’t publish it.

The Second Date

Remember, just because there’s a second date doesn’t mean there will be a third. Ultimately, you want your readers to “marry” you – subscribe to your blog and become loyal fans, not just semi-regular readers. So focus on long-term design, consistency, and post quality if you want readers to put a ring on your finger.

Getting Through the Gate: How to Connect with Popular People in Your Niche

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Everyone has a wall built around their personal life. Some people have very low walls, the type you can step over easily, while others build nearly impenetrable fortresses with gatekeepers stationed at every entrance. Reaching these people is difficult to say the least.

That doesn’t bode well for you if you’re trying to score an interview, like we recently discussed on this blog. Interviews are my favorite source for free content, but your best intentions to post this kind of content will fall flat if you can’t find anyone to say yes.

Now, of course, you have people that respond quickly to interview requests and are happy to accommodate you. But as you try to reach the more popular people in your niche, you’ll probably notice a decreasing likelihood of response. Some people don’t even take the time to send a negative response. No matter how you spin your interview request, the most popular people in your niche need you to go through their gatekeepers if you want a slice of their time.

Traditional Gatekeepers

You probably have already thought about the more traditional types of gatekeepers a person might have. Virtual assistants, secretaries, and other lower-level employees are often the people answering the emails and setting up interviews. These people get dozens – sometimes even hundreds – of requests every day, so you can see how it would get overwhelming pretty quickly, even if answering emails is their main job.

So how can you stand out?

  • Do your research and call them by name. Gatekeepers like to be acknowledged as important too.
  • Keep your email short and to the point. Longer emails that look like more work are more likely to get put in the “I’ll answer it later” pile.
  • Be specific with your request. Don’t say, “I’d love to connect with Mr. Important about an interview at his convenience.” Instead, say, “I’d love to interview Mr. Important via Skype about his recent comments on Twitter at some point next week.”
  • Be flexible. “If Skype is not possible, email would work too!”
  • Remember to say thank you. You’d be surprised how many people forget this point.

You should definitely follow up if your first email doesn’t get a response – but you have to give the person a little time. Don’t be a burden, DMing on Twitter to say, “Did you get my email” an hour after sending it. Wait at least a week; then, if you haven’t heard back, send a friendly reminder.

Non-Traditional Gatekeepers

Don’t forget that you can look beyond the traditional gatekeepers as well. Other “gatekeepers” include:

  • Personal friends
  • Coworkers
  • People who have worked on join projects with the person in the past

I will caution, however: do NOT get chummy with these people because you want the hook up. Not only is it rude, but people can usually smell when they are being used. If you’re already friends with a friend of the person you’re trying to interview, though, it never hurts to ask! Just make sure you do so respectfully and remember to return the favor.

And remember a conference can serve as a “gatekeeper” as well. At a conference like BlogWorld, you can connect with experts in your field without the barrier of email. So don’t be afraid to set up interviews with these people when attending BlogWorld. Many are happy to carve out some time to meet you. You just have to ask!

The #1 Way to Get Exclusive FREE Blog Content from Experts in Your Niche

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Free Blog Content Wouldn’t it be great if you checked your email one day to find a message from a leader in your niche? And I don’t mean their latest email newsletter – I mean an individual email with free blog content they wrote, exclusively for your blog?

When I first started blogging, I had a hard time catching the eyes and ears of other bloggers. I was the new kid on the scene, and even back then, there were thousands of other bloggers out there, also vying for the attention of the top names in my niche. But if you can make a big-name blogger aware of your content – and that content is great, of course – they might share it with their followers. So I was frustrated. I felt like I was spinning my wheels, just hoping to get noticed.

But there’s a fool-proof way to get almost any expert out there not only to notice you, but also to send you free content – and even promote it! Who doesn’t want that?

My Secret Way to get Free Blog Content Exclusively for Your Blog – FROM EXPERTS

Ready for the secret? It’s actually a pretty simply concept – but first let me tell you what DOESN’T work:

  • Asking for guest posts – most popular bloggers are way too busy to write content for you
  • Publicly tweeting at experts – it’s rude to put people on the spot publicly when you ask for a favor unless you know them well
  • Post an excerpt from their work – you can do this (as long as you abide by fair-use laws and properly credit the work), but the posts won’t be exclusive for your blog

What does work? Are you on the edge of your seat? Okay, here’s my secret: Tell the blogger you’ll be featuring them on your blog and ask for an email interview.

Doing interviews is no secret, but if your experiences have been anything like mine, when you email popular bloggers or companies and ask for interviews, a lot of the time, you won’t even hear back. You have to spin your email the right way. I don’t just recommend asking for an interview, which is easy to ignore.

Here’s how to go about writing an email that is much harder to ignore:

Step One: Identify leaders in your niche who need promotion.

At any given time, there will be people in your niche who are hungry for promotion, and they’re more likely to give you the free blog content you really want. Maybe they just launched a new company. Maybe they got some bad press recently and need to set the record straight or tell their side of the story. Maybe they recently published a book. Whatever the case may be, there will be certain people in your niche looking for press. Those are the people you want to target. (For example, I interviewed Rick Kats from Pinerly, since they recently launched a new Pinterest-related company.)

Pro tip: If the person you’re interview is an extremely popular blogger, I recommend trying to find out who their “people” are and email them instead. Virtual assistants, managers, and others who work directly with your target interviewee are more likely to answer your emails. That might actually be their job. So work with them directly if you can. Assistants love when you actually send them an email directly because it shows you’ve done your homework and you know who you’re supposed to be emailing. These people spend every day answering emails addressed to their employer; sometimes it’s nice to read an email addressed to you.

Later this week, I’ll be publishing a post specifically about working with these “gatekeepers” in your niche, so make sure you’re subscribed to our blog if you don’t want to miss that post.

Step Two: Start the email with what you will do for them, not asking them to do something for you.

Popular bloggers get several requests every day, and they just can’t answer them all, even if they want to. Unless you know one another, an email that says, “Hey, would you do an interview with me for my blog?” is not a good idea. Yes, you’re getting free blog content, but that’s not what you want to highlight in your email. I have no motivation to help you, if you send that kind of email. Instead, here’s a better example of what you can say in your email:

Hey Joe Blogger,

I’m a huge fan of your work, and I’d love to feature your new book, How to be an Awesome Ninja Guru Expert Rockstar Blogger, on the BlogWorld blog next week. Our community is filled with bloggers from over fifty different countries, and I think they’d really love to hear about your book, since they’re always looking for advice about blog monetization. Would you have time to answer a few quick email questions about your work and where they can buy it (or we connect on Skype if that is easier for you)?

Best,

Allison

I do not  recommend that you copy this example word-for-word (yes, even if you change out the specifics). When you send an email with a request, the person deserves and individual email, in my opinion. But the take-away concept that I’m trying to show is how you should focus on what you can do for the blogger, not what they can do for you.

A few other things this email does:

  • Show that you know their work by mentioning their work and what it is about.
  • Use their name. (Many PR companies don’t take the time to do this.)
  • Tell them something about your readers/community so you can show how this will benefit them.
  • Make it clear that your questions will only take a few minutes to answer.
  • Reiterate in some way that this is for their benefit, talking about money/sales if possible. (For example, in my sample email, I talk about sharing how readers can buy the book.)
  • Give the person options for answering your questions.
  • Give a deadline passively. Avoid demanding a reply by a certain deadline, but make a time reference. (For example, I noted that I’d like to publish my feature “next week.”)

Follow up with this email if you don’t receive a reply, but wait at least a week for it to be answered. In my experience, 90% of the time, you won’t have to follow up at all. I’ve never not  received a reply with this kind of email, and usually I don’t have to follow up at all.

Step Three: Watch your email like a hawk.

The moment you receive a reply, respond with your questions or set up a time to chat on Skype (most people prefer emails). If you can catch the person while they are still at their computer, your interview questions will be less likely to fall through the cracks. In fact, if you catch the email the moment it is sent and are prepared with your questions, you might even get a response right away.

From there, also post the interview as quickly as possible. Sometimes, it makes sense to hold the piece (for example, posting at 4 AM on a Monday morning might not make sense), but in general, the sooner you can post it, the better. People don’t want to spend time replying to your questions only to wait to reap the benefits.

Don’t forget to email the link when the post is published or tweet the link with an @ reply when it’s published. You need to somehow alert the person that the content is live on your blog. And definitely do work to promote the content as much as possible through social media channels and your email list. If you do your part, the person you interviewed will likely help as well.

Why This is an Amazing Source of Content

So why is a “few quick questions” an amazing source of content for your blog? Because people love to talk about themselves. If you ask interesting questions (not the same old stuff that everyone is asking), people will send you LONG answers. Most of the time, when I send five to seven interview questions, I get 1000+ words back in return! And this is all exclusive content for your blog, as good as if the blogger had written a guest post for you. So don’t be afraid to start sending out email interview requests, even to bloggers who haven’t taken notice of you in the past. There’s no better way to get free blog content from the experts.

And as a side note? Email interviews with leaders in your niche are awesome, but video content is even better. In just over a month, experts across several niches will be gathering in New York for BlogWorld’s East Coast event, which makes it possible for you to connect with people like Peter Shankman, Jenny Lawson, Jim Kukral, Tim Street, and tons of other content creators who might otherwise not have time to reply to emails, even using the above technique. If you’re going to the event, set up interview times with these people now to make sure they can fit you in.

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.

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall, is Blogging a Fairy Tale After All?

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Today, I spoke at Marywood University about using social media to find a job. The topic is one that I’m passionate about, and it was cool to get my first speaking gig. Standing in front of these students who have their entire careers ahead of them made me reflect upon my own career as a freelance writer, which has really evolved into working as a blogger, both for myself and for other people. I started blogging in 2006, so it’s been over five years now.

And yes, the blogging lifestyle is still a fairy tale. All the time, things happen to me because I’m a blogger that make me want to pinch myself. I’ve met the most amazing people, had the most amazing opportunities, and seen the most amazing things, all because I’m a blogger. I’ve gotten to travel, try new products, and connect with people I never would have met without blogging. Blogging has been good to me.

But there’s a flip side. Every fairy tale has a dark part, the evil queen or the horrible curse or the crooked witch that lures you to her house with candy. Blogging is a fairy tale…but don’t make the mistake in thinking that it’s all about the happily ever after. If you’re thinking about starting a blog, there are a few challenges you need to be prepared to face.

It takes a while for Prince Charming to find you.

Prince Charming is a recurring character in most fairy tales, and let me tell ya – that man needs a freaking GPS. It takes the entire story for him to find and/or rescue the Princess. In blogging, “Prince Charming” is that elusive level of success where people, especially other bloggers in your industry, begin to recognize your name. Work hard, be patient, and most importantly, be persistent. You will get there if you do good work. Prince Charming just needs some time.

Without some sidekicks, you won’t get anywhere.

One of the biggest challenges as a new blogger is to find others who share your beliefs and want to get to know you. But it’s necessary. Find these people. Connect with them. Build a tribe together and help one another. Just like Snow White had the dwarves and Cinderella had her fairy god mother, you need people on your side to help you succeed. When you have people in your corner, becoming a successful blogger is much easier.

Evil is sometimes disguised as good.

Who knew an apple could be so dangerous? Who would ever think the a rose help the secret of a cursed beast? In a fairy tale, seemingly innocent items and people are often very evil – and the same thing is true in blogging. On any blog about blogging (including this one) you’ll read tons of advice about how to be a better blogger, but you need to question everything. Sometimes well-meaning people give horrible advice, but what is even more common is that the advice is great for some, but awful for you. Always question whether or not a piece of advice is right for your blog and your situation. Not everything applies to every person.

Lastly, the final point of advice is this: Happily ever after is rarely the end of the story. Lots of fairy tales have sequels or epilogues that tell you about how the perfect life of the princess and her prince wasn’t that great after all. Blogging is kind of like that. You can get your happily ever after, but things will never be perfect. It’s like a marriage – you have to constant work on it to stay on your a-game. Complacency has killed great blogs in the past, and you definitely don’t want to join that graveyard after all the hard work you put into building your blog.

If You Aren’t Offending Anyone, This Will Be The Result…

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Photo via twob under the Creative Commons license.

Earlier today, a friend of mine posted a silly quote/picture on Facebook. I won’t repeat it here because it admittedly was a little risque, but it did make me giggle. And within an hour or so, ten people had liked it (keep in mind, she isn’t a blogger or social media person, just a typical user with 200 or so friends), so I guess it made others giggle too.

Then, one of her friends left a comment saying, “This really isn’t funny. Shame on you.” I’m paraphrasing, but the woman was clearly very offended. The original poster immediately responded with, “I’m so sorry! This just made me giggle and I have a long day! I certainly didn’t mean to offend anyone, though!” Again, paraphrasing.

Was the picture a little offensive? Okay, maybe. But it was also hilarious.

Another story: I was surfing some blogs about *nerd alert* video games, as I often do, and I came across a strongly-worded post about whether or not one console is better than another. For those of you who aren’t gamers, this has been a hot debate for years upon years in the gaming industry – “hardcore” gamers are usually either fans of Microsoft (Xbox 360) or Sony (PlayStation). It’s a debate comparable to Mac versus PC.

The writer was extremely critical of Sony, as his console of choice is the Xbox 360. He made some really great points, but the content was also pretty offensive for Sony fans – and they weren’t shy about letting him know that in the comments. He definitely had supporters as well, but several commenters were upset about his piece.

Now, my friend on Facebook could spend her days posting nothing more than G-rated jokes and politically correct comments and the game blogger could write a post entitled, “Why Microsoft and Sony Consoles are Both Awesome,” but let’s face it…those things are a bore.

If you aren’t offending anyone, the result is the above picture – a yawning audience.

Let’s make a few things clear. There’s good offensive and there’s bad offensive. Being “offensive” in the context I’m suggesting does not mean:

  • Being rude or being a jerk in any way
  • Being controversial for the sake of being controversial
  • Being snarky toward individuals or groups (i.e. attacking)

What it does mean is:

  • Posting your opinions even though you know some people will disagree
  • Recognizing humor, even stuff that makes you groan or blush
  • Not hiding behind “anonymous” but rather using your posts in conjunction with your name/brand

You don’t have to be in-your-face about it. You don’t have to be mean. Deb Ng is one of the most friendly, accommodating people I’ve ever met, but her blog posts on Kommein are often very opinionated and may offend or upset others. Pace and Kyeli at Connection Revolution are all about peaceful entrepreneurship, not aggressive snark, but I’m sure there are regularly readers turned off by their content.

There are a lot of in-your-face people out there as well of course. Johnny B. Truant. Ashley Ambirge. Elizabeth Potts Weinstein. Lots of other successful or up-and-coming bloggers. So yes, that’s one path to take on your honey-badger blogging journey. But the point is, you don’t have to be aggressive to be offensive. At least, not the good type of offensive.

In fact, I would go as far as saying the goal isn’t “to be offensive.” That word is a bit strong. The goal is to be thought-provoking, interesting, and original, knowing full well that there will be some people who will disagree and there might even be some people who are offended.

You cannot please everyone. And you shouldn’t try. If you write for everybody, your content will be too watered-down and boring for anybody. Write for “your people” – the people who are inspired by what you have to say, rather than writing to please everyone. The best content is always full of ideas and opinions we can discuss and debate.

How to Lose a Reader in Ten Seconds

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I’ll admit it. I can be a completely girl-girl sometimes. I like dressing up and doing my hair. I like a good shopping trip, especially if shoes or purses are involved. And yes, I like the occasional chick flick. How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days is one of my favorites.

In the movie, the main character writes for a women’s magazine decides to write an article about everything women do wrong when trying to snag a boyfriend. Of course, hilarity ensues when she puts her theories to the test and tries to drive a new guy away (who has unbeknownst to her recently made a bet that he can make a relationship work).

Sometimes, I feel like we’re all like the women in the movie – we’re actively trying to drive readers away. Forget ten days…if you’re not careful, you will lose readers in ten seconds.

Goodbye, readers...

We’ve been talking a lot about bounce rate here at BlogWorld recently, including compiling a list of links about bounce rate. One of the points several bloggers have made is that bounce rate is more significant if readers are only staying on the site for a few seconds (as opposed to remaining on your site for several minutes, taking the time to read a post). So what are you doing wrong? Well, I certainly can’t speak for everyone, but here are a few things that will make me leave a blog in under ten seconds:

  • Being smacked across the face with a pop-up

The great pop-up debate will likely rage on for decades to come. I’m currently not using them on my site, but I do understand why some people do. Whether you use pop-ups or not isn’t the point though – it’s about how you use them, if you make that choice.

If you smack me with a pop-up two seconds after arriving on your site, I’m probably going to click the back button pretty quickly. It definitely makes me trust your content less, since it seems like you’re just trying to sell me something, so even if I do get through the pop-up, I might click the back button pretty quickly unless your content is amazing. If you’re going to use pop-ups give me some time to like your blog first. Time your pop-ups well!

  • Content that doesn’t match the promise

Your regular readers aren’t going anywhere. They already love you. But to convince new readers to stay, you have to have great content. This goes beyond simply writing valuable content. You have to right valuable content that people want.

If I’m new to your blog, I’ve probably arrived there one of two ways – through a link or through a search engine. I click a link when the title looks interesting, and I visit via a search engine when your content looks like it might match with what I want to know. If I get to your blog and the content doesn’t meet my expectations, I’m going to leave. So:

  1. Make sure your content delivers on what your headline promises. Link bait is fine, but the content has to actually be good if you want people to stay on your site. (More on that here.)
  2. Look at the search terms people are using to find your blog. Are your posts actually covering the most popular terms or are some of your posts accidentally optimized for random keywords? (A good example: I once wrote a post called The Blog Sneetches, and sometimes people arrive at that post using the search term “sneetches” – which is probably not what they want!)

When I’m looking for specific information and I don’t get it, I’m going to leave pretty quickly.

  • You regurgitate content I’ve already read.

It’s important to write posts that are helpful for beginners in your niche, but if you’re basically rewriting what’s already been said, an reader with experience in your niche is going to leave pretty quickly. Personally, I think the best way to solve this problem is make sure you have some posts specifically for newbies (and named as such, like the beginner’s guide to bloggers basics I wrote) and some posts that answer specific questions (again, clearly titled), but then also write posts that are filled with original opinions, thoughts on news stories in your industry, personal experiences, and other things that your readers can’t find at any other site. The more original you are, the better.

I think a lot of the other things that make me leave quickly are more personal preferences than anything else. For example, I don’t like to see posts written by “admin.” What about you – what will make you leave a site quickly?

Are You Cheating on Your Blog?

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Do you make time for your blog?

Twitter. Facebook. Google+. LinkedIn. Pinterest. Email. Sometimes it feels that by the time I’ve checked all my social networks, I don’t have any time left to actually visit my own blog. It’s only a matter of time before I’m caught with lipstick on my collar, so to speak. I love my blog, but sometimes I feel like I’m cheating on it.

There are only so many hours in a day, and most of us suffer from shiny ball syndrome. I should really write some new posts today. Ooo, look at all those new pins. Ooo, someone sent me a funny email. Ooo, I have new messages on Facebook. Ooo….

Our blog feels stale and boring with all the interesting things to do online. And we tell ourselves that our blog will always be there, waiting for us when we get home.

But we all know that isn’t the case, don’t we? If we don’t give our blogs enough attention, one day, we’ll come home to find that the house is empty and there’s a note on the kitchen table telling us it’s over.

Now really, a blog can’t just get up and leave like a scorned lover, but if you’re “cheating” on your blog by spending more time on social media outposts, email, etc., any success you find will be short-lived and packing a suitcase before you know it. Blogs need to be nurtured, or readers won’t remember you.

A see a lot of bloggers saying, “I only write when I have something to say.” That’s great. You don’t have to have a blogging schedule to have a great blog. But if your blog isn’t in the forefront of your mind, you haven’t given importance to it and you’re not going to suddenly think of ideas. If you haven’t had anything valuable to say on  your blog for two or three weeks, why are you maintaining your blog at all? Put your blog first and you’ll probably find that the ideas start flowing.

More importantly, all the social media outposts that you love don’t actually belong to you. What would you do if Facebook suddenly disappeared? You don’t have control over whether or not your content stays live on those sites, and you certainly don’t benefit from advertising on other monetization efforts on these networks. You blog needs to be your home base and the place most important to you online. It’s cool to connect with readers elsewhere, but you want to always encourage them to interact with you most on your blog itself.

They won’t if you aren’t there. Be aware of the difference between not having time and not making time. Don’t lie to yourself. If you had time today to play Words With Friends, you had time to check your blog.

If you’re guilty of being a dirty cheater, the good news is that you can rebuild your relationship with your blog. Here are a few things you can do to recommit:

  • Right now, do all that maintenance work you’ve been avoiding. Update to the new WordPress. Clean up your sidebar. Add that new plugins you’ve been hearing so much about. Redo your header. All those little tasks that have been piling up in the corner aren’t going to do themselves. If you’re really short on time – hire someone to do them for you.
  • Write a post at least twice a week. I can appreciate the “only blog when I have something to say” mindset, but if you don’t have something to say about your niche at least twice a week, why are you even blogging about that topic in the first place? It’s about putting your blog to the front of your mind. When you do that, rather than just wait for ideas to strike like lightening, you’ll be amazed at just how much you actually do want to write about.
  • Start your day on your blog. Before you check your email, social networks, etc., check your blog comments and stats, get some writing done, and promote a link or two. Again, it’s about putting your blog in the forefront of your mind.

And don’t be afraid to let it go if your blog really isn’t that important to you. You aren’t a quitter and you certainly aren’t a failure by admitting that you just aren’t that into your blog anymore. Move on to projects you do care about instead.

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