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The Lyrics Don’t Always have to Make Sense

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Usually, celebrity deaths don’t really get to me. Sure, they can be tragic or even a little sad, but I’ve never been someone who’s felt a strong connection to specific celebrities. Well, except Freddie Mercury. I still sometimes cry because he’s dead. Yes, my roommate thinks I’m nuts, considering that he died when I was still to young to even know who Queen was.

But I digress. Yesterday, I was overwhelmingly sad to find out the singer-songwriter frontman of LFO, Rich Cronin, lost his battle with acute myelogenous leukemia. LFO has some success in the 90s, but they certainly weren’t a power boy band like N*Sync or the Backstreet Boys. I was sad because some of my favorite memories hanging out with my best friend at that point in my life involves singing and dancing to their most popular song, “Summer Girls.”

Yes, I know all the words to “Summer Girls.” All the…horribly weird lyrics. If you listened to the radio at all in the late 90s, I’m sure you heard this song at some point. But did you realize that, as catchy as it is, the lyrics are downright ridiculous? Let me recap some of my favorite lines:

You’re the best girl that I ever did see
The great Larry Bird Jersey 33
When you take a sip you buzz like a hornet
Billy Shakespeare wrote a whole bunch of sonnets

Um. What?

Oh it gets better:

There was a good man named Paul Revere
I feel much better baby when you’re near

Paul Revere? Really? Really?

Yet, this song was all over the radio. In fact, this song made it as high as #3 on the charts, was named on Billboard magazine’s list of top summertime songs of all time, and was certified Platinum by the RIAA. Those are some hefty achievement for a song that has incredibly bad lyrics.

Earlier today, I posted about the need to challenge yourself to be a better blogger. It isn’t ok to write posts that are mediocre, with the mindset that, “eh, they’re good enough.”

But at the same time, the lyrics don’t always have to make sense.

“Summer Girls” wasn’t a success because it had a life-changing message. It was a success because it was catchy. It was a success because it fit the overall cultural mood of that summer. It was a success because people like me associate it with good times with their friends. “Summer Girls” wasn’t a song that LFO released because it was “meh, good enough.” It was a song that fit their style, what they wanted to convey with their music. I know a lot of people make fun of silly pop music, but say to anyone, “You look like a girl from Abercrombie and Fitch,” and they’ll probably get the reference.

I do want you to challenge yourself, but at the same time, you don’t need a life-changing message with every post. If the lyrics don’t make sense, that’s ok – as long as you have something that’s catchy and fits your style. Don’t get too caught up in writing a prize-winning post every day. Don’t get so paralyzed with trying to be perfect that it takes you weeks to write a post.

It’s a fine line, to challenge yourself and also realize that not everything you write is a 10 out of 10. Look for the sweet spot between complacency and perfection. If all else fails, repeat after me:

“There was a good man named Paul Revere.”

RIP, Rich Cronin. May your afterlife be filled with fun dip, cherry coke, and girls who laugh when you tell a joke.

Is Your Blog Content Compelling?

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A perennial complaint from bloggers is that they don’t know what to write about. But is that really the case? I think the challenge is less about finding something to say and more about finding interesting ways to present their ideas in a blog format.

Options abound, but to deliver content in ways that will engage your audience, it’s important to think not only as a writer but also like an editor. If your blog is writing-centric, consider this: while the style and clarity of your writing matters, the way in which your ideas are presented is equally important in gaining readers or in wowing your current audience.

Here are 3 ways you can produce compelling content on your blog (plus a word on archives):

1. Create Post Types. It’s easy to get into a rut and think that every blog post has to be similar. To vary your content, create several different post types that fit with the topic of your blog. For example, a “News Roundup” post can be used to share 4-5 links to timely and interesting articles in your area of interest. For each link, provide the author name, publication, and a short summary. Or you might want to have “Ask the Experts,” in which you allow experts to offer competing opinions on an important topic. To help your readers get acclimated, put together one post that defines your several post types and make it sticky somewhere on the front page sidebar.

As you develop new post types, be sure to consider the timing of the post; you might want to post a “News Roundup” on Friday, to summarize the previous week’s news. But you don’t necessarily want to use it every week, unless you have enough other weekly content to offset it. “Ask the Experts” should probably be used even less often, but will likely generate significant attention for your blog because it will help your readers get a grasp of more complex subjects. Both of these types of posts have the added benefit of enhancing your blog’s reputation as informative and useful. So don’t be afraid to experiment!

2. Peg Your Post to the News. Inspired by an article you’ve read? Angered by a news report? Act as a commentator on the news. Use a bookmarklet like Press This (if you use WordPress) or something similar to highlight content from other sources and then add your original thoughts and ideas to the post. As a general rule, highlighting more than a paragraph or so is excessive—better to quote briefly and comment extensively. Remember, this kind of post doesn’t have to be especially lengthy (though it can be). You can toss out a one-liner sort of commentary or write up a few hundred words, or more if you’d like.

For this sort of post, you’ll need to stay abreast of trends in your subject matter. Sites like Google Trends can help you find out what’s hot in Google Search; if there’s a topic that fits with your blog, you can develop a timely post on the issue or else track the trend. You can also stay up-to-date on current events in your field by using Google Alerts to notify when articles or blog posts with keywords you’ve chosen appear on the web. The upshot: you’ll be well informed about current events in your area of interest and so will your readers.

3. Say It With a Slideshow. Many bloggers use jQuery slideshow plug-ins to highlight specific content on their sites. But slideshows can actually be the content for a post with the addition of some additional commentary. Whether you want to highlight several gadgets, top women leaders, or great vacation hotels, using photos is a great way to tell a story—TheDailyBeast does this really well. Your best best: find a slideshow plug-in that has an area for commentary (preferably on the left or right side of the image), and a visible navigation button so that readers will know exactly how to advance the slides. Images are always popular with readers and slideshows make for excellent evergreen content which you can repurpose or promote year-round.

One caveat: don’t forget to get relevant permissions for the photos that you use in the slideshow, especially for photos of celebrities, which may be restricted. For more generic photos, use stock photography (select photos that have the model’s release), or try open photography sites, like Flickr. If you go this route, remember to confirm the photographer’s attribution and use requirements before using anything you download. Helpful hint: if you have a photo you like, and can’t remember where you found it, this site can help you identify the author (for Flickr only).

Finally, a Word on Archives. What do you think when you see a blog archive with five or six years worth or blog posts? My guess is that you’re more inclined to take that person seriously because they have demonstrated a level of commitment to blogging. So why do so many bloggers neglect to setup a user-friendly archive page on their site? Not just a listing of archives in the sidebar (let’s face it: looking at years in calendar form isn’t exactly inviting), but a more user-friendly page that includes fun categories like “Best Of”, “Most Controversial”, or “Mea Culpa.” Anil Dash has done this to great effect on his blog, which has well over 10 years of content. If you have more than a year or two’s worth of content, this is a great way to generate interest in some of your older content. After all, as the not-so-old saying goes, good content never goes out of style.

Jessica Faye Carter is the CEO of Nette Media and a frequent speaker on women, culture, and social media. She blogs on her own site and at Technicultr.

Image Credit: iStockPhoto

How to Blog with a “Roommate”

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Me and my roommate - both literally and at Binge Gamer.

Having a roommate is tough. On July 1, I moved in with my best friend, and even though we have similar hobbies, share a need for privacy, and fully respect one another and our space needs, we still get frustrated with one another at times. It’s bound to happen, no matter how much you like your roommate. Even spouses fight sometimes.

A blog is kind of like a home for many people. It’s a safe space where you can say what’s on your mind, connect with other people, and feel comfortable. So, moving in with a blogging “roommate” is tough. That is, it’s hard to be part of a blog with multiple authors.

Sometimes, having a blog with multiple authors just makes sense. Maybe you want to build a business, but your knowledge is limited in certain areas of your niche. Maybe in your niche, multiple perspectives on a topic don’t just add value, but are nearly necessary. Maybe your niche is so news-centric that one person can’t possible cover it all. Maybe you have great ideas but aren’t the best writer. Multiple bloggers on a single blog can make a lot of sense for some people.

The problem is that when you have multiple bloggers, you have multiple viewpoints, and these view points don’t always line up. Arguments happen. Feelings get hurt. I’ve seen blogs destroyed because partners can’t agree.And I understand that, because a blog isn’t just personal, but also a source of income. It’s hard to get on board with a decision if you don’t agree and think it will compromise your message or cause you to lose money.

It doesn’t have to be that way. I blog with multiple people here at this blog, and I also blog with multiple writers at Binge Gamer. In both places, it’s working out pretty well, and I think that’s the case because of policies we have in place. If you’re going to blog with a roommate, here are some tips to help you make it work:

  • Set clear job duties. Who’s in charge of what on the blog? Who has final say on blog issues? How will the work be split between people if there are multiple owners? Give yourself job titles and clear tasks, so there’s never a question as to who handles what.
  • Discuss profit. You might not be making money right now, but when you do, who gets a cut? Will you split it, and if so, will you do so evenly? Will one person own the blog and pay everyone else? Who gets to make decisions about how money is spent on the site for things like hosting, themes, etc.? Money is important, so discuss it early.
  • Compromise. I can’t stress enough how important it is for you to compromise. Yes, standing up for your point of view is honorable, but like I’ve said here in the past, compromise makes the world go ’round. If you’re a stubborn person, blogging with others may not be a good choice.
  • Hold one another accountable. If you both say that you’re going to write x number of posts or bring in a certain number of advertisers or otherwise do a certain amount of work, make sure you’re holding one another accountable. If you let things slide one week, it’s easy to continue to let them slide until one equal partner is putting in a lot more work that the other.
  • Sign a contract with one another. There’s a saying that you should never do business with friends. I don’t necessarily agree with that, but what I think you should take away from that quote is that you should never treat a business like a friendship. As soon as you decide to work together, sign a contract that covers what you’ve determined, especially in terms of amount of work and money.

Sometimes, it doesn’t work to blog together. If you can’t make it work, go your separate ways amicably. It isn’t worth ruining a friendship, especially because you could network with one another in the future. Just because it doesn’t work to blog together doesn’t mean that you can never work together or associate with one another in any way.

Take Out your Blogging Trash

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Earlier today, BlogWorld asked on Facebook:

Do you blog on the weekends? If so, does it significantly raise your traffic?

So far, most of the answers have indicated that no, many of you do not blog on weekends, either because you think that those posts won’t get as much traffic or because you need a break from work. Obviously, I do blog on weekends – this post is evidence – but I understand why some people don’t. If I could make a suggestion though? Use the weekends, or another day when you’re not doing writing-related blog work, to take out your blogging trash.

In a traditional job, your office trash can fills up with papers and junk during the work week, and if you (or your janitor) didn’t empty it, your office would soon be overrun with garbage. Unfortunately, that sometimes happens with our blogs. Readers don’t necessarily see it, but your dashboard can become pretty cluttered in a hurry.

So, if you don’t blog on weekends, take a moment to do the following work on your blog:

  • Approve pending comments, empty your spam comments, and make sure that none of the comments that got through are actually spam.
  • Delete any posts that are in draft form, but which you have no intention of actually completing.
  • Clean up your categories. Simplicity is good, but your blog’s navigation also needs to be functional. Use the parent function to create a better hierarchy than the one you have right now.
  • Update plugins has necessary and get rid of any that do not work or that you are no longer using.
  • Delete any pages you aren’t using and don’t need anymore.
  • Read over you About page and update it if necessary. Add a more recent picture if the one posted is over a year old.
  • Connect your blog to any new profiles you may have since you first started your blog.

You can extend this “taking out the trash” exercise to your social networking profiles as well. If you’re anything like me, your Facebook page, Twitter profile, and other accounts start to get dusty every few months, not from lack of use, but from lack of updating the information listed. Clean house this weekend.

If your blog is spic-and-span, so other behind-the-scenes work you could get done this weekend include:

  • Brainstorming post ideas for the coming week.
  • Return emails.
  • Retweet others’ links on Twitter.
  • Rearrange your sidebar to get rid of widgets that aren’t working for your blog.
  • Catch up on your feed reading.
  • Write some guest posts and approach other bloggers.
  • Email your mailing list with some links to your favorite recent blog posts on your own blog and other blogs.
  • Do some research on things to do in Vegas while attending BlogWorld!
  • Comment on others’ blogs.
  • Post a poll on your blog.
  • Design some business cards if you don’ t have them.
  • Delete emails you don’t need and organize the ones you do.

And don’t forget to have some fun this weekend. I really agree with the comment that we all need to take a break sometimes. So, take out the trash, but relax a little too!

What are you doing to clean up your blog this weekend?

Allison Boyer is a writer for BWE’s blog and the owner/manager of After Graduation. She has done some cleaning up on her own blog and is now heading out to enjoy the sun.

Image credit: sxc.hu

Sharing the Knowledge of Better Bloggers

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I know it may come as a shock to you, but some bloggers are better than you are. Yes, you are a rock star, I’m sure, but when it comes to blogging in a certain niche, you just can’t know everything. When that’s the case, don’t leave gaps on your website. Show some link love and share the knowledge of better bloggers.

Recently, I wanted to write a post on After Graduation about publishing your book. As I started writing, I realized that I was way over my head. I’ve never published a print book. Hell, I’ve never even finished writing a book, though I am a professional novel-starter. Who did I think I was, giving advice to my readers on a topic that I knew nothing about in the practical sense? Sure, I’ve taken some publishing classes, but just because you take a class doesn’t mean you know what you’re doing.

Yet, this was an obvious hole on my website. It was something that my readers needed to know, and without covering publishing at all, it felt like my blog was incomplete. So, I created a post filled with links. The post has 18 resources for my readers who are interested in print publishing, many of which are websites specifically covering the subject, not just single articles. I even learned a few things about publishing when perusing websites, even though that’s not an interest of mine at the moment.

In other words, I found people who were experts in an area that I’m not, and I directed my readers there.

Now, you can look at this in a bad light if you’re so inclined. Every time I give a list of links instead of writing a post filled with my own advice, I’m saying to my readers, “Hey, I don’t know much about this topic.” Does that discredit me? Maybe a little.

But the fact of the matter is this: I know a lot about freelance writing in other areas. If you have a question about becoming a web content writer, I’m 100% your girl. I’m even developing a course for professors to teach this topic in the classroom. Admitting that I don’t know anything about a related topic (in this case, print publishing) doesn’t mean that my advice on online writing is worthless.

You should also consider that link love lists do send the reader away from your site. Even if you set the links to open in new windows, the reader could easily get lost in someone else’s website, never making it back to yours. This happens all the time. I should know – I have Internet ADD just like the rest of you, and a short trip online to check my email often turns into a three-hour surfing session where I end on the Wikipedia page for drum machines or Richard Rodgers.

So, you have to ask yourself, “What will bring my readers back to me?” Be memorable, and hook your readers so they sign up for your RSS feed or mailing list. Be an “ultimate resource” by listing dozens of links on a topic, so they come back to you again and again or even bookmark your page. Share the knowledge of better bloggers, but be a better blogger yourself.

Allison Boyer is a writer for BWE’s blog and the owner/manager of After Graduation. She’s ashamed to tell you how many hours per week Wikipedia sucks her into its devious web.

Image credit: sxc.hu

Posts that Take Your Blog to the Next Level

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Read any blogging 101 guide or blog about blogging and the authors will tell you to write list posts, reply to interesting comments as new blog posts, and report relevant news in an interesting way. Yeah, yeah, we know already. If I hear one more time how important it is to write lists posts, I’m going to throw up into my coffee. And I don’t like to waste coffee.

So what can you write to take your blog to the next level? These types of posts are great for engaging readers and draing traffic to your blog:

Event Coverage

Booths at an industry event for my video game blog

You need to be going to the major events in your niche. Not only is this a great way to network, but readers who can’t go to these event love to hear about the booths, keynotes, and after-parties. Make your readers feel like they were there too, and take advantage of the opportunity to be first to report on stories when industry news is announced at the events. Otherwise, you probably wouldn’t have the opportunity to be first. Remember, others in your industry are also posting about the event, so entice readers to check out your blog by putting a unique spin on every post you write.

Reviews

Many new bloggers and even some established bloggers don’t do reviews simply because they aren’t offered products. While it is nice to get freebies, the lack thereof shouldn’t stop you from posting reviews on items and services you were going to buy anyway. Doing reviews is a great way to establish relationships with companies in your niche, and if you write a good piece, even if it isn’t positive, the company is more likely to contact you with free products in the future to review.

Don’t forget that you can ask for products to review, too. The worst a company can say is no, and many companies will gladly send you product samples in exchange for your promotion. All you have to do is ask. Going back to my previous point, events are a great place to ask for samples to review. Company employees are usually authorized to give away x-number of their products at industry events, so you can score some major swag in exchange for reviews if you just ask. It’s also a lot harder for people to say no to your face!

Personal Stories

Believe it or not, people really do want to hear about your life. Stick to topics related to your niche, but don’t be afraid to tell your readers about your day or share a story from your childhood. It makes us all feel more connected. Even if you have an “about” page that shares your blogging journey, dish a little from time to time to keep us interested. Remember, people don’t just visit your blog to get information; people visit your blog to get information from you. If we feel like we’re emotionally invested in your life, we’ll come back, the same way people watch soap operas every single day.

Allison Boyer is a writer for BWE’s blog and the owner/manager of After Graduation. She thinks it is hilariously ironic that this is, essentially, a list post.

Four Ways to Protect Your Blog from Plagiarism

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Plagiarism is no better than breaking into someone home and stealing their physical belongings.

Plagiarism is the bane of every freelance writer, but many people who get into blogging initially aren’t writers and don’t actually understand plagiarism laws or why this is such a problem. Let me emphasize one thing before I go any further: Even if you don’t personally care that someone is stealing your work, plagiarism hurts us all.

It’s kinda like not yelling at your kid when they do something wrong just because it is so darn cute or funny. Yeah, junior looks hilarious covered in the chocolate pudding he used to write all over the wall, but if you don’t reprimand him now, it’ll turn into a slippery slope, and before you know it…well, your child becomes this.

Plagiarism isn’t in any way cute or funny, but some bloggers just let things slide or sweep problems under the rug. I’m begging you not to do this, as your fellow writer. It only gives the plagiarist the impression that it is OK to steal work from other people. Slippery. Slope.

If for no other reason, consider this: when there’s duplicate content online, it negatively impacts your search engine rankings, which means that your earning potential decreases. Every dollar the plagiarist makes is a dollar you could have been making yourself.

I’ve found that most people don’t do anything to stop plagiarists simply because they don’t know how to do so. Here are four tips you can use to combating this crime:

  1. Check your site regularly on Copyscape. While there are paid services on this site, it’s free to add your URL and do a quick scan of the Internet to see if anyone is stealing your work.
  2. Watermark your pictures. Unless you’re OK with other people using your picture, consider adding a watermark, either lightly in the background or at the corner of the picture. This probably deters 99% of people who would otherwise use your picture.
  3. Learn what is allowed. People aren’t allowed to steal your work, but they are allowed to quote you, as long as you are given credit. However, they aren’t allowed to use your work just because you don’t have a copyright notice listed at the bottom your post. Know the law.
  4. Don’t be afraid to contact hosts. When you notice that someone has plagiarized you, send them a letter to ask them to stop. If they ignore you, don’t be afraid to contact their post. By looking at their page source, you can find out who is providing their hosting, and contact that company directly to let them know that one of the sites they’re hosting is using copied content. Most hosts will require the website to remedy the situation to avoid being banned. Don’t just let it go. Remember, slippery slope.

In addition, I hope that it goes without saying that you should never plagiarize someone else’s work on your own blog. Use pictures that are uploaded with permission to be reused, and if you truly love someone’s text, contact them and offer to exchange guest posts or ask if you can repost something on your own website.

Also keep in mind that it is easy to make mistakes. If you see someone else posting your work, give them the benefit of the doubt. Maybe your picture was uploaded somewhere incorrectly, making it look like you offered it for free use, or maybe they truly don’t understand that it is wrong to copy and paste someone else’s text. Ignorance of the law certainly doesn’t make you innocent, but be polite in your request for them to remove the content, rather than attacking.

In closing, I’d just like to leave you with a list of other blog posts dealing with this subject, since many of you out there have written much more in depth about plagiarism:

Allison Boyer is a writer for BWE’s blog and the owner/manager of After Graduation. All this slippery slope talk has inspired her to buy a Slip N Slide. She doesn’t have kids. It’s just for her.

Image credit: sxc.hu

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