The Professional’s Guide to Blogging
©2008 SEOmoz This article serves as a guide to defining and understanding what blogging is and how a new blogger can create, write, and promote a blog of his or her own. It covers how to choose an appropriate blogging platform, how to optimize a blog for search engine rankings, provides tips on how to brainstorm appealing blog content, and identifies how to promote and measure the success of your blogging efforts. Additionally, at the bottom of this guide are two comprehensive appendices that provide links out to valuable blogging resources, software, tools, and plugins.
Table of Contents
Section I: Why Blog? Research and Statistics on Blogs 1. The Growth of Blogging as an Online Platform 2. Blogging as an Online Influencer 3. How and Why People Consume Blogs Section II: Choosing a Blogging Platform
1. Blog Platform Features and Functionality
2. Notes on Specific Blog Software 3. Hosted Blogging vs. Registering a Domain Section III: SEO for Blogs 1. 2. 3. 4. The Principles of SEO for Blogs Search-Friendly Platforms Plugins and Options for Bloggers Keyword Research, Selection, and Usage
Section IV: Writing for Blog Audiences 1. Crafting a Blog's "Voice" 2. Techniques and Tactics Section V: Content Strategies for Bloggers 1. Discover Interesting and Worthwhile Topics 2. Beyond Text: Images, Multimedia, and Widgets 3. Involve the Audience
4. Syndication Options and Strategies Section VI: Creating & Launching Viral Content 1. 2. 3. 4. Pros and Cons of Viral Content Predicting Viral Worthiness Strategies for Helping Content Become Viral Launch and Promotion Tactics
Section VII: Measuring Success: Blog Statistic Software Applications 1. Free Analytics Options 2. Paid Analytics Options Section VIII: Promoting Your Blog 1. 2. 3. 4. Blog & Feed Directories Blogrolls Memes, Contests, & Community Projects Comments, Trackbacks, Guest Posts, and Other Participatory Strategies
Section IX: Monetizing Blogs 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. Choosing When to Monetize Display Advertising Pay Per Click Text Links Affiliate Programs Sponsored Posts / Advertorials Other Monetization Techniques
Section X: Closing Thoughts 1. Appendix A: Valuable Resources 2. Appendix B: Recommended Software, Tools, and Plugins
Section I: Why Blog? Research and Statistics on Blogs
The Growth of Blogging as an Online Platform
First of all, what is a blog?
A blog, which is short for “weblog,” is a website that is usually maintained by individuals or groups, and more recently, businesses, which offer commentary and ideas for a larger audience. A typical blog features an entry, often sprinkled with graphics and video, followed by comments by readers. The entire layout of the blog is displayed in reverse chronological order with the newest entries posted first. Blogs are different from static websites because they also incorporate social elements. Most, if not all, blogging software includes RSS (real simple syndication), which is a format that allows content to be shared among many publications. Blogs often invite users to comment, and an ensuing dialog can occur which can generate hundreds to thousands of responses. Why should you start blogging? Let’s take a look at the statistics. In April of 2008, the Technorati blog search engine was tracking 112.8 million individual blogs. In the previous year, Technorati chairman Dave Sifry released his State of the Blogosphere, where he acknowledged that there were 70 million weblogs with 120,000 new blogs arising daily. Every second, 1.4 new blogs are being created from scratch, with 1.5 million posts per day or 17 posts per second. In one year, from 2007 to 2008, the size of the blogosphere increased 62%. While the number of blogs is growing, however, the number of regularly updated blogs is approximately 13 million. In 2005 (and later updated in 2008), Business Week wrote a fascinating piece on how blogs – coupled together with social media – allow individuals to actively participate in online communities. Business Week calls the blog “simply the most explosive outbreak in the information world since the Internet itself.” In 2004, a Pew Internet & American Life Project report was released that stated that at least 32 million Americans consume their news through blogs. That’s more than 25% of Internet users. Another report from 2004 found that nearly half of internet users have contributed their thoughts and files to the online world. Whether by blogging or by social media, content creation is preferred by more than 53 million Americans. The report finds that the average age of content creators is 25. These are your influencers, and these are also your customers.
In 2006, blogging wasn’t dying down. Pew Internet & American Life Project found that bloggers are the new authors, with 54% of writers only using the blog, and no other form of media, to share their thoughts with the rest of the world. Fifty-seven million Americans are reading blogs on a regular basis. Millions of people are adding blogs to their daily news consumption. But how are blogs used? A large percentage of individuals utilize the blog as an online journal. Only five percent of blogs in the world are dedicated to business, which is why a blog is a great opportunity to market your product and business and to establish yourself as an authority in your niche. Why, then, should you really blog? In another Pew Internet & American Life Project study, 58% of people turn to the Internet to address problems and issues. Fifty-three percent consult with professional advisors, many of whom may actually already be on the Internet). The entire chart is below:
Figure 1: Sources of Information
Traditional media (newspapers, magazines, television, and radio) are playing a much smaller role in shaping decisions. The Internet is it, and it is now.
The statistics may be astounding, with the numbers not appearing to add up. Indeed, a large percentage of blogs today are splogs (otherwise known as spam blogs). What’s left, then? Your blog, with your voice, where you can be engaging your customers and talking about your industry and your business. In a nutshell, blogs give you power and exposure that was never envisioned before. With blogs, you can know what people are saying about your company, actively encourage a dialog that can improve your business and its products and services, and create a sense of satisfaction by empowering your customers and giving them a voice by allowing them to offer feedback and by responding to their concerns on your website. In essence, blogs provide new trustworthy relationships with your customers.
Blogging as an Online Influencer
Bloggers today are more than just writers. In a world where so many people turn to the blog for advice, feedback, input, and commentary, bloggers are not just people who are writing for themselves; they are assuming the role of a journalist. In the past several years, a new trend has emerged where blogs have been more successful at breaking news faster than traditional media outlets. In fact, traditional media outlets have used blogs for their own material. In order for traditional media to thrive, the “old school journalist” has no choice but to turn to the blogosphere for the latest news. Additionally, user generated content is here to stay. In Figure 1 in the previous section, we see that 58% of people consult the Internet for advice. Whether that means they’re referring to blogs to read about products or to engage in the discussion, Internet users everywhere want to have a voice in the process. It no longer is about you, the company. It is about you and how you can work with us. Anyone can quickly sign up for a Blogger or Typepad account and have their blog running in minutes. Others are active participants on already-established blogs.
Figure 2: Credible Sources of Information about a Company
In April of 2008, eMarketer released The Growing Influence of Online Social Shoppers. According to the report, bloggers are only influential 12% of the time. However, 60% of shoppers are influenced by their peers. This large percentage speaks volumes about how powerful a discussion on your website can influence your brand and products. Like-minded individuals will often flock to common ground (such as a blog that addresses their wants and needs) to engage and discuss the products and to make it better. Opening the dialog on your website increases user trust and a belief in your product. It indicates that you, as a producer or service provider, are interested in knowing what others have to say about your product and are open to feedback. If you don’t blog, someone else will. They may talk about their product in the form of a review. They may consider your service ineffective for their goals. By starting your own blog, you bring the conversation to your territory, where you open the floor for your consumers and address other concerns posted throughout the Internet. Blogs are perceived as direct communication and can instill trust within your customers. When customers know their advice is being listened to, their satisfaction increases. As a transparent blogger, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Furthermore, some of the more prolific bloggers who keep their audience entertained and who post frequently are starting to be considered experts in their subject matter. Not only does this help the blog itself become more of a known brand, but it also gives the blogger an opportunity to “coach”
traditional media journalists. Today’s news features more quotes from bloggers than ever before. This is a trend that continues to grow to this day. Perhaps most importantly, blogs are a tremendous asset to building a brand empire. With the right content and the right approach toward your audience, you can build strong links that will help build a solid reputation online. As you continually churn out more content, you will continue to grow a user base of readers who will check your site frequently (or subscribe), build search traffic, and as a result, gain significant links.
How and Why People Consume Blogs
In today’s day and age, news consumption comes from traditional media and what is now known as “new media.” Traditional media is what you’ve all grown up hearing about: newspapers, television, magazines, and books. New media, on the other hand, is a relatively new term that has emerged within the past two decades and deals with electronic services, such as podcasts, email, mobile communications, software, blogs, video, and more. Today, new media has become increasingly more significant: anyone can become a content publisher without a heavy financial investment. All you need is a computer and a connection to the Internet. It’s no wonder that blogging is a growing phenomenon without any signs of stopping. While blogs themselves are over 10 years old, they have only recently become influential. More and more journalists today are using blogs as a source of news, and so are the consumers. Last year, for example, popular gadget blog Engadget had published a piece on how Apple planned on delaying their Leopard OS as well as the iPhone. The unsubstantiated rumors cost Apple an astounding $4 billion dollars when their stock plummeted after the news broke. If anything, this story goes to show that the word of the blog is powerful and can make or break businesses. It also illustrates another important point: Engadget was the only news source to have posted on this Apple finding, yet Apple lost a whole wad of cash due to its publication. It goes to show that all sorts of people, from the average student to the stock holder, are reading the blog to be updated with Apple and tech information. The blog proved to be authoritative enough to be able to dramatically influence business decisions. As journalists turn to blogs for insights, it appears that the blog is becoming a tool for up-to-date news. Due to the nature of blogging software (and in many cases, the editorial hoops that don’t exist when posting content on smaller blogs), blogs can be updated with breaking news sooner than later.
That is why people are beginning to trust the blog more than traditional media. Other reasons why blogging has become more of a mainstay in today’s new media world is because blogs, without a doubt, are an incredibly useful tool for marketing your product or service offerings. Once you share a story, you can engage in a conversation that may not necessarily end on your blog – but it will usually get people talking. As many people say, no publicity is bad publicity, and therefore, blogging should not be a strategy that companies are afraid to employ. How, then, does one read a blog? There are a variety of tools available that can provide you with the latest information, from email alerts about updates to RSS feeds to visiting the page on a regular basis. These options are briefly discussed below:
Email Alerts: If you want to be notified immediately about specific news topics, you may want to subscribe to email announcements, such as Google Alerts. Depending on your desired settings, you can receive an email as soon as Google is notified about a particular topic (or once a day/week as customized). The following are examples of both the Google alert sign-up screen and the alert itself:
Figure 3: Create Your Google Alert
Figure 4: An Example Google Alert
RSS: Real Simple Syndication is by far one of the most commonly used ways to consume blogs. Most blog software applications will incorporate some sort of RSS functionality, though Feedburner may be a recommended option (as it affords the subscriber many more powerful features and is totally free). Those who consume content ported through RSS often use Google Reader, Bloglines, or Netvibes. These tools often include a left-hand panel that lists the blogs users are subscribed to, with a right-hand panel that includes the content (as pictured below):
Figure 5: Bloglines v2 Reading Pane
Figure 6: Google Reader
Figure 7: StumbleUpon
Figure 8: Digg
Figure 9: Mixx
Figure 10: del.icio.us
Figure 11: FriendFeed
Blog Searches: Another way to discover and read blogs is through blog search tools like Technorati, Google Blog Search, and Ask’s Blog search. While the latter two sites are more search-engine centric, Technorati advertises “what’s percolating on blogs right now,” and as such, offers links into rising news stories and blog posts that people are discussing within the blogosphere.
Figure 12: Technorati
Figure 13: Google Blog Search
Figure 14: Ask’s Blog Search
There are other ways to consume blog content. In fact, the email newsletter isn’t entirely dead: FeedBlitz, for example, delivers your blog content directly to a user’s inbox. The aforementioned tools and techniques are just a few
ways people have opted to read blogs and keep abreast of the current happenings within their industry and around the web.
Section II: Choosing a Blogging Platform
So, you decided to take the plunge! That’s great! There are a number of blogging platforms available, and some provide features that are not offered by others. In this section, we’ll discuss the popular options and review the pros and cons of each. Keep in mind that you should consider the decision of choosing a blogging platform carefully. You may want to go with a free solution now, but in the future, your blog and brand will grow and you may want to migrate to a different type of platform and host. While there are tools that make this transition relatively easy, this is something you should try to avoid if at all possible – if you’re really enthusiastic about blogging, the ideal solution is to flesh out the details now, because the costs may be aplenty later (from the time investment to the development and migration).
Features and Functionality
Blogs make it easy for website publishers to create content. Most blogging software makes it ridiculously simple to add links and images without the content creator possessing considerable knowledge of HTML. Some blogging platforms are WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) editors, but without the miscellaneous extraneous code. In other words, blogging software makes content updates really easy. Additional benefits of blogs include the integration of RSS without the overhead of setting up syndication channels yourself. The biggest benefit, though, is probably the built-in software that contacts a variety of servers (specified by you, often provided by the blog software) and informs them that content has been updated. This action, called pinging, occurs when a new update is pushed out by publishers. When blogs ping servers, the servers get a notification that your blog has published new content – and almost immediately, search engines may begin to crawl (or “spider”) your blog in an effort to index the content. (In fact, even content on small blogs has been known to get spidered within an hour of publication.) Furthermore, once a blog post is published and a ping is sent to servers, aggregators are updated and show your readers the most recent content. In other words, blogging is like instantaneous publishing without the need to hit Shift-Refresh to see the page or to find the information.
In stark contrast, static websites don’t come with RSS features or pinging services. If you update content, you may have to wait until the spider finds you and then crawls your content. That can take weeks or months, depending on the frequency of your website updates. With blogging software, your content crawl time is expedited. What blog platform should I use? There are a variety of blog platforms available. Some are free but require your own maintenance. Others are free but are hosted on a centralized server and give you little administrative control over the backend. Yet others are full-fledged paid solutions that boast security updates (and are not as often hacked because they are not dominant players in the blogging market). For low maintenance but high cost, the following blog platforms may be a solution you’re seeking: WordPress (wordpress.org) is by far one of the most popular blogging platforms available. It is probably the most customizable of the blogging bunch and has hundreds of thousands of developers behind plugin and theme development. WordPress is a download that must be installed and maintained on your web host, but at that point, it is completely modifiable. In fact, some websites are powered by WordPress and don’t even look like blogs. WordPress (wordpress.com), not to be confused with WordPress.org, is a hosted solution on WordPress’s site for those who do not have their own domain and hosting solutions. Interested parties can sign up to wordpress.com and get blog running in seconds on a domain similar to mysite.wordpress.com. However, because the solution is hosted on WordPress’s servers, you have a lot of less flexibility in customization, plugins, and theme support. If you choose to move your site from wordpress.com to a self-hosted site using wordpress.org, you will not be able to 301 redirect those links to the new blog as you do not have administrative control over the wordpress.com servers. Keep this in mind should you choose to use a free solution and then move to a self-maintained solution. MovableType (movabletype.com) is a professional publishing platform and requires a local download. It features multiple weblogs, which is especially useful for managing several blogs from one interface. It also offers customizable templates, user management, tagging, file management, and more. Contrary to WordPress which is hosted with PHP and MySQL, MovableType is a Perl-based solution with most (if not all) of the same features offered by WordPress and support for MySQL, Berkeley DB,
PostgresSQL, or SQLite. Interestingly, MovableType offers static page generation, dynamic page generation, or a combination of both. TypePad (typepad.com) is the hosted version of MovableType which does not require your own hosting. The TypePad interface is very much like MovableType (as it’s owned and operated by the same company, Six Apart), and costs between $4.95 a month (for the basic version) and $89.95 (for the business class version). The basic version enables a single blogger to maintain one blog, unlimited photo albums, and more. However, it doesn’t allow you to map your URL (which will likely be something like myname.typepad.com) to your domain name, as that is a feature that is offered in the next pricing level. Ideally, having your own domain name is most optimal, so this is a consideration you should make early. If you end up moving to another host and opt in for your own self-maintained blogger solution, you won’t be able to implement 301 redirects (if necessary) unless you start with your own domain name. Also, the link value will not be maintained when you do make the switch. Blogger (blogger.com) is Google’s hosted blogging solution and allows users to set up blogs using a subdomain on blogspot.com. Blogger is most popular for those who are not in need of much modification, because there’s less control over the hosted solution. You will be unable to specify 301 redirects, for example, when you move to another domain. Additionally, you won’t have full control over your meta tags without modifying the code first. Bear in mind that a large percentage of Blogspot blogs are used for spammy purposes, so you might want to diversify by using another platform. ExpressionEngine (expressionengine.com) is another blog publishing application that gives you a lot of customization, control, and first-class support (which is useful as the license is $99.95 for the personal solution or $249.95 for the commercial solution). ExpressionEngine advertises a complete set of web publishing packages, a powerful template engine, an integrated mailing list, powerful spam deterrents, tracking, plugins, built in utilities, and more. Part 2: Notes on Specific Blog Software If you’re not sure where to host your blog, consider the following questions:
Your goals: Is this something you see yourself doing for the long run? Will it be used for yourself or for your company?
Your budget: Do you have a budget for hosting and domain registration? Do you have a development budget for a customized redesign? Your technological skill-set: If your blog software stops working or if the application is exploited, could you fix it immediately, or do you need to get the IT department to patch that vulnerable blog software?
Based on these answers, you should get an idea of what kind of software you should opt in for. Below, we’ll discuss some of the considerations you may want to think about or discuss among your company. Depending on your needs, you may want to go with blog software that’s simple to manage and does not require much IT overhead. If that’s the case, a hosted solution may work. On the other hand, if you want to host the software locally, MovableType may be your solution. Keep in mind that you may have little leeway on adding advertisements to your blog, so if monetization is one of your goals, you may want to opt in for a solution that gives you more control. WordPress is an incredibly popular blogging platform, but that doesn’t come without risks. Because of its prolific platform, WordPress is vulnerable to attack and must be upgraded on a fairly consistent basis (approximately once every two months or even more frequently, depending on the severity of the vulnerability). Likewise, the plugins associated with WordPress also have consistent updates, though fortunately, in version 2.5 and up, you can upgrade these plugins within the WordPress administrative panel (also known as the Dashboard). While WordPress and MovableType are both extremely customizable, WordPress goes the additional step to include thousands of themes for download (and again for further modification). Moreover, newer versions of WordPress support draggable widgets. To apply widgets to your blog theme, one must have a widget-compatible theme, WordPress 2.x and up, and the widget plugin must be activated. At this point, WordPress may seem to be a viable choice, but before you sign up, note that WordPress is extremely heavy on MySQL queries and a heavy load on your blog can crash your server. On the other hand, MovableType serves static pages that don’t typically encounter this problem. Check with your hosting provider if you have questions about whether it supports
WordPress (Windows IIS users should definitely inquire with their hosting company to see if WordPress can be supported since WordPress works best on a LAMP – Linux/Apache/MySQL/PHP – solution). Among all blogging platforms discussed in the previous section, ExpressionEngine (probably due to its cost) is the least popular blogging platform above the rest. The pros of this arrangement are that Expression Engine is least likely to be compromised as often as WordPress or MovableType. The cons are that there are very few people using the application, so themes and plugins are fewer and farther between. Spam comments are typically a concern when it comes to starting a new blog. Fortunately, there are software applications (notably, Akismet) that employ algorithms to filter out bad comments. The aforementioned blog applications give you power over your comments as long as you activate the plugins and the application using a special free API key.
Hosted Blogging vs. Registering a Domain
Many people wonder whether it’s worth it to opt in for hosted blogging (Blogger, WordPress.com, TypePad, or the hosted ExpressionEngine solution). While it makes the technical overhead a lot less cumbersome, having full ownership over your domain is a more valuable investment, both from a professional perspective and from a branding perspective. Having complete control over your domain and hosting gives you an unlimited amount of possibilities to grow your domain and brand. If you host on your own site and server, you have endless possibilities to customize the blog (from a graphic design perspective, a coding perspective, and even for plugin support). Registering your own domain and hosting gives you control and flexibility not offered by the blog hosting providers. If you have a technical team at your disposal, domain registration plus paid hosting with a custom solution is by far the best choice to make. What if you already have a domain? Then the answer is easy: use your existing host and create a brand new folder to support your blog. You’ll likely need to have your host set up a database to maintain the blog, but otherwise, by all means, go for it. It’s suggested to host your domain on www.mysite.com/blog rather than blog.mysite.com, but this is a choice you should discuss internally within your organization to determine the best solution to fit in with your current hosting infrastructure. For additional considerations, see what Matt Cutts has to say on the matter. He explains
that subdomains are best used in situations when the content is completely different (e.g., news.google.com versus gmail.google.com). In a nutshell, hosted domains (that you do not need to purchase) do have many positive aspects. They’re easier to set up (most free blogging platforms require you to sign up and you’ll be ready in minutes), they’re cheaper (most are free), and are typically more stable because of the network infrastructure provided by the service providers. There are various platforms available as discussed in the previous sections and you can pick and choose (without risks) to find which software works best. These platforms have simple functionality with built-in features. Finally, most of the popular blogging platforms are community-based, so you won’t be the only one utilizing the software and can turn to others for assistance. Hosted domains, however, also have some negatives. As stated earlier, you have lack of control and custom software. While you may not be able to envision this reality, what would happen if your hosting provider goes out of business? Where would your domain name go? What about the content? Additionally, if your blog gains momentum and gets an influx of traffic due to promoted viral content, the number of simultaneous connections you may have can become throttled by your hosting provider. On the other hand, registered domains give you the opportunity to integrate your blog better with the products you have on your site because you have full control and have flexibility to install whatever you want, from custom plugins to specific themes or designs. If you’re aiming to build your brand, this will provide a more credible experience to your readers; your business will be taken more seriously with its own domain. Registered domains don’t come without a catch. You still have to pay hosting fees to a service provider and you have to renew your domain name yearly. Your blog software will have to be updated in the event of new software upgrades (as they often are required to close up known and dangerous vulnerabilities). In the end, you’ll be held responsible for any bugs in the software.
Section III: SEO for Blogs
The Principles of SEO for Blogs
It goes without saying that search engine optimization is just as important for blogs as it is for websites. However, fortunately, blogs integrate software
that pings search engines to inform them of new content (as discussed in the previous section), and consequently, blogs are usually crawled a lot more often than a static site. In this section, we’ll discuss some of the important considerations you must make when choosing a blog platform for SEO and tools that will make SEO much easier. You’ll also learn a little more about how to create content that is SEO friendly, especially with regards to keyword research. When you are considering SEO for blogs, you’ll need to think of employing numerous on-site techniques so that search engines can discover your content. The critical piece is keyword-rich content. Beyond that, make some considerations for:
Usability and ease of navigation: Make it easy for your readers to access the various parts of your page without difficulty. Be sure to add important information in visible areas. One mistake often seen with blogs and blog designs is the lack of a “Previous Posts” or “Next Posts” link on the bottom of the page. It makes sense to flesh out all these details as soon as possible. Regular content updates: Search engines crawl websites more often if they are frequently updated. Content updates are userfriendly as well – readers have a reason to keep returning to the site. Creation of XML sitemaps for search engines (and HTML sitemaps for user navigation): An XML sitemap is a file that contains a list of URLs that informs search engines when new content becomes available. You can also put numeric values to indicate weight/priority on specific content. When content gets updated, your XML file is updated. As long as you register your sitemap with the various search engines, the search engine spiders will discover new content by looking at your sitemap file. Adding an XML sitemap is usually easy with numerous plugins available for blog platforms. Duplicate content: Your category pages may have the same exact content as your monthly archives. If this is the case, be sure to employ rules (such as in robots.txt) to filter out the duplicate content. For example, in the case of WordPress, you may want to add rules to disallow crawling of category page. This ensures that
search engines find the proper page (typically the main page) and crawls that (and indexes it) instead.
Linking (both internally and externally): Link to your important pages internally, and use appropriate anchor text to direct your readers (and search engines) to content that you feel is important. Link externally to diversify your content and link to other recommended sources for information. For example, if you are talking about search engine optimization and have a page dedicated to SEO on your site, you may want to link to your SEO page (internal linking). But if you want to talk about social media marketing and don’t have a relevant page on your site, you might want to point your readers to a better authority source on another website (external linking). Also, when employing linking techniques, use appropriate and descriptive anchor text, not “click here” to pass the best link value to these pages. Choosing a name that is easy to remember: Like any website or brand name, your blog should not be difficult to remember (see #3). Keep it simple.
Thankfully, numerous blog platforms meet the 12 basic SEO issues, but choose wisely and be careful. To recap the CMS post, your blog platform should give you the ability to make the following choices and customize your site with some basic SEO elements. As indicated in the list below, some blog platforms fall short and others give optimal control. Again, consider the pros and cons of every blog platform you are weighing on before actually choosing a platform.
1. Title Tag Customization and Rules: Unfortunately, being able to
customize your title tag isn’t always built in for some blogs. In fact, the self-hosted version of WordPress requires an external plugin (to be discussed) to customize the title tag. MovableType’s title tag will have to match the post title (though a capable developer may be able to circumvent that). In all likelihood, it will not be possible to make these changes on a free blogging platform.
2. Static, Keyword-Rich URLs: Without a doubt, WordPress is the best
choice for keyword-rich URLs if configured properly. In fact, the keyword-rich URL (otherwise known as a slug) can be customized to
your needs. MovableType and TypePad, on the other hand, do not have keyword-rich URLs. The standard URLs have numerous digits in the filename. ExpressionEngine, like WordPress, gives you the option to add keyword-rich URLs with a small change: the delimiter between words is an underscore instead of a dash. While this doesn’t typically make a big difference on SEO, many people do suggest that dashes are better between keywords. Even Google’s Matt Cutts suggests dashes. (While the dashes-versus-underscores debate is evolving, the recommendation is to stick with dashes.)
3. Meta Tag Customization: While not critical to search (and
consequently of small importance to choosing your search-friendly blog platform), meta tags have always been a problem for blog owners. You can specify tags (descriptive labels to websites) which work well with blog search engines like Technorati and help for bookmarking purposes with del.icio.us and StumbleUpon, but on the other hand, meta tags are not easily defined. As in the case of title tag customization, WordPress has this feature only as an external add-on.
4. Enabling Custom HTML Tags: Fortunately, all blog platforms give
you the freedom to add “nofollow” to URLs that you don’t want to give outright endorsements to, and depending on the features defined in your CSS stylesheet, you can use header tags such as H1, H2, etc. Be advised that adding optional tags to your standard HTML tags is not something you can do in Visual or WYSIWYG mode – instead, you will have to edit the source of the blog post to make such changes, as nofollow is only added if you hand-code it into the post yourself.
5. Internal Anchor Text Flexibility: As this blog post states, “In order to be ‘optimized’ rather than simply search-friendly, customizing the anchor text on internal links is critical. Rather than simply making all links in a site's architecture the page's title, a great CMS should be flexible enough to handle custom input from the admins as to the anchor text of category-level or global navigation links.” Internal anchor inflexibility is typically not a
problem with many blog platforms as you can change the anchor text as needed. However, as an aside, you may want to work with your developer to employ page sculpting for less-important pages or add nofollow to links to which you do not want to pass much link juice.
6. Intelligent Categorization Structure: Thankfully, most blog
platforms give you full control over categories and subcategories, and the number of categories available is limitless. Furthermore,
depending on the software used (WordPress is great at this), you can specify a different URL slug for your categories and even write a description which will appear on the category pages.
7. Pagination Controls/Duplicate Content: Depending on whether
you’re hosting your blog software on your server or if you’re hosting with a free option, the amount of control over pagination varies. If you host the software yourself and have a development team editing and updating the source code, you’ll have full control over the source code and stylesheets and can add nofollows or noindex tags to any pages that you do not want search engines to crawl. The recommended suggestion is to use robots.txt, which is something that is only available if you host the blog yourself. As such, there is a lot less flexibility on these features when it comes to free hosted solutions. Refer to this blog post for more information on how to deal with blog pagination and duplicate content issues.
8. 301 Redirect Functionality: Of course, this functionality is best
employed within your own hosting environment. WordPress has its own 301 redirection plugin as well in case you are changing your file structure and have hundreds or thousands of blog posts that will need to be altered.
9. XML/RSS Pinging: All of the platforms discussed in this article have
XML and RSS pinging; without them, it would be debatable if it really meets the criteria and is considered a “blog.”
10. Image Handling and ALT Tags: All blog applications mentioned in
this article also give you control over image handling. Keep in mind that the hosted TypePad application has storage limitations depending on the solution you have purchased, and the same applies for your own hosted solution (check your quota with your hosting provider if you have any questions). WordPress gives you incredible control over ALT tags as you upload the image to the server through the software, but all other platforms make it possible through editing the code by hand.
11. CSS Exceptions: If you are hosting the blog yourself, you’ll have
complete control over your stylesheet and can add any CSS rules as appropriate. Blogger.com also features CSS control, though WordPress.com does not (and TypePad has this feature available only for higher-priced subscriptions).
12. Static Caching Options: This is one feature that free bloggers (using
Blogger, WordPress.com, or TypePad) don’t have to worry about. Since free hosted solutions are typically incredibly scalable, simultaneous database connections during a traffic surge should not impact performance on other blogs and won’t bring down your website either (especially as it’s hosted elsewhere). On the other hand, if you host MovableType, a static page is created when you publish your post. WordPress does not offer static caching options out of the box and can be troublesome because of the constant PHP/MySQL queries (though there are a variety of third-party plugins to augment caching). Still, when it comes to WordPress, your hosting configuration and server resources ultimately determine how stable your WordPress blog will be under hundreds of concurrent connections.
Plugins and Options for Bloggers
Since WordPress is by far the most prolific blog platform with plugin support, this section will discuss a number of WordPress plugins available for making SEO easy.
All in One SEO Pack: If you have to choose one plugin for WordPress to use,
this is the one you need. The All in One SEO Pack gives publishers the ability to customize the title tag (and make it different from the actual post title) and to add meta tags to individual posts and the blog’s homepage itself.
Google XML Sitemap: This plugin gives you the ability to create a sitemap that
is search-engine friendly. When a blog post is published, it also automatically notifies search engines of changes via pinging. As soon as you publish a new post, the XML sitemap gets updated.
Dagon Design Sitemap Generator: You already have a sitemap for search
engines, but what about for visitors? Dagon Design’s sitemap generator is a fully customizable sitemap generator that you can add on a single page for ease of navigation for those human readers. It also allows you to view the number of comments your blog posts have received at a glance.
Objection Redirection: Making a big page structure overhaul? Use this plugin
to redirect pages without having to edit your .htaccess file.
WP Super Cache: If your server is stressed under an intensive load of
concurrent database connections, WP Super Cache kicks in to serve static HTML files without processing the heavy PHP scripts. While this is may
suffice as a viable solution and will keep your website up during a traffic spike, your hosting environment may still have problems with this setup, so stress testing is absolutely imperative. Disqus: If you don’t want to manage comments yourself, the Disqus comments plugin is a social community that also serves as a WordPress plugin. WordPress has thousands of plugins available, and many of them support additional features, including analytics, social integration, and more. The official WordPress plugin directory can be found at http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/. Note: Upon starting a new WordPress blog, be sure to set up the permalink structure appropriately. By default, your URL may be something to the effect of www.mydomain.com/?p=302. Change this as soon as you get started to reflect a keyword-rich URL structure and to employ slugs rather than post IDs within the URL.
Keyword Research, Selection, and Usage
We have already discussed keyword research in our Professional’s Keyword Research Guide. To summarize key points, keyword research is important because it builds search traffic, improves the user experience, and exploits areas of opportunity. You can use a number of tools, including WordTracker, Google AdWords Keyword Tool, Yahoo! Search Marketing, Microsoft adCenter Keyword Generation Tool, KeywordDiscovery, KeyCompete, Spyfu, and Keyword Intelligence (by Hitwise) to brainstorm keywords for your blog content. Additionally, note the trends and popular keywords using tools such as Google Trends, del.icio.us, and StumbleUpon (check buzz.stumbleupon.com). By using these tools, you can get a better idea of what the average computer user typically searches for. Identify these keywords and phrases and put them in the content, title, page slug (if applicable), meta tags, alt tags, bold tags, header tags, and more. As always, keep in mind that blogs need to be human-readable, so don’t overdo it – as Darren Rowse puts it, “do not sacrifice your readers’ experience of your site just for the sake of SEO.” If your website is focused on a specific niche, you’ll be able to apply the necessary keywords in later articles and posts. For more tips on how to incorporate appropriate keywords into your blog posts, refer to this post: Headsmacking Tip #3: Run Your Blog Post Titles Before Keyword Research Before You Hit Publish.
Section IV: Writing for Blog Audiences
Crafting a Blog’s “Voice”
Why is this necessary? The reason why blogs are popular is because most of them – or the most successful ones – offer a level of transparency between the reader and the writer. Instead of seeing a corporate voice, you often learn about individuals in executive corporate positions as humans. Blogs have a different overall feel, and posts are better received when they convey your thoughts regarding your business in a more informal and humanizing way. The best corporate bloggers have voices that are heard above the crowd. Face it: every big company has a website. Among those, though, how many big companies engage in blogging or social media to communicate with prospects? The answer: not very many. Blogging, then, is a great way to influence hundreds of thousands of web surfers who may be interested in your product offerings. Above all, since social media is an entirely different beast than traditional marketing, blogs are a terrific way to be more direct and have realistic relationships with readers rather than focusing on a sales approach (which nowadays is being rejected, as the number of people who are skeptical in traditional media outreach is growing). Because most bloggers are looking to open the doors to conversation and participants on comment-enabled blogs feel more welcome and appreciated, those who participate in the conversation may feel as if they’re contributing to the overall business strategy. Blog comments empower users and give them the ability to voice their concerns on a website that they know is being moderated and watched by executives and business owners, which makes the community (rather than the “audience” or the “customer”) feel good about their investment in the product or service offering. Above all, though, giving readers the sense of entitlement by allowing them to participate has often given community members a strengthened belief in the business model. Not everything has to feel “corporate,” after all. How do I craft the voice of my blog? In many ways, the blog voice needs to come from the heart. Beyond thinking about your sales goals, think about how you can relate to your community: your “audience” may not necessarily be buying your products (yet), but with the proper tone, you can convert these people into readers,
subscribers, buyers, or to achieve whatever goal you’re aiming for. Forget the corporate jargon in your personal blog. It needs to be all about your readers and yourself. Speak to your readers on a human level and open up. Blogging is about conveying ideas to your readers, but it is also about appealing to your readers emotionally. One of the most highly-acclaimed blogs that achieves this very goal is an extremely successful corporate blog, Nuts About Southwest (by Southwest Airlines). Recent blog posts should explain why. In one post, an employee talks about her youth as a Vietnamese American in honor of Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month. In another, a father reflects on his son’s duties to safety while recounting a recent policeman’s murder. In yet another posted on Valentine’s Day, the airline shares a story of love and integrates it with how they operate the business. To the point, it’s evident that Southwest Airlines is not just thinking about its own goals but also about its readers. As a result, the readers feel more part of the “Southwest Airlines” family. The blog has been an incredible success for Southwest Airlines as indicated in a recent interview, and it won the best blog of 2007 from PR News. If nothing at all, the Southwest Airlines blog should explain how blogs are successful within the corporate world. It succeeded because the blog was extremely personable and the writers were directly interfacing with the customer (and valuing the customer by allowing for conversation) while incorporating human elements, particularly emotions. In the case of the father reflecting on his son’s work as a police officer, the story itself is touching and gripping at the same time. This was a brilliant and very successful way to bring in additional readers who may want to read more about personal heartwarming stories (and also to learn about the business – because, after all, that’s the true goal of the blog). The Nuts About Southwest blog is a professional corporate blog that reflects the attitudes of employees so naturally that it doesn’t even feel corporate anymore. If Southwest Airlines, a Fortune 500 company, can achieve success with a blog, anyone can do the same if they put their minds to it and ensure that they devote time to the task of blogging. This is not something you’ll be able to achieve overnight; typically, your blog should not be officially “launched” (publicly) until there are a good number of posts to show readers you’re serious and will be committed to the task in the long run. If you are determined and are willing to go the next step, you’ll need to know some useful techniques and tactics that are articulated by several “A-List” bloggers.
Techniques and Tactics
When you compose a blog post, appearance is everything. Since blogging is a form of social media, it’s important to consider techniques that ensure that the blog posts are well-received among social media influencers and other readers. Here are a few key points to consider:
Visual elements are important. Text alone isn’t cutting it anymore;
a blog post lacking images of any type reeks of the “traditional media” smell. Spice up your posts with video, images, icons, or anything that can visually enhance the blog. Visual cues are only a subtle implementation but can make a world of difference. Using graphs and charts also offer a nice change of pace as well. Additionally, ordered lists and bullet points break up blocks of text for ease of reading and skimming. (In the next section, we’ll cover this in more detail.)
Consider your writing style. Stay on point and break up your posts
into several concise and readable paragraphs. Don’t turn the post into a ramble and don’t deviate from your main idea. Blogs aren’t formal essays, but your readers’ attention doesn’t need to be overloaded with information that is not relevant, especially because most people are skimming rather than reading articles in their entirety. If you’re unsure about how to proceed in this regard, don’t hit Publish immediately after you finish writing. Take a break and return to your blog post after you clear your mind, and then proofread your post to make last minute changes that you feel comfortable with.
Link generously and appropriately to outside sources. Instead of being an insular blogger, focus on networking by linking out to other
blogs. The biggest benefit to linking out is to share with your community other resources that you think are valuable and also to build your blogging network. Linking to outside sources often alerts the original blogger of the inbound link and can help foster long-lasting professional or personal relationships.
Use emphasis where applicable. Use bold and italics to emphasize the more important points of your article. As stated earlier, you may want to cut the post into brief paragraphs. On top of this, break the blog post into sections (an introduction, the “body,” and a defined “conclusion”). ReadWriteWeb.com does an excellent job of breaking up posts into sections that are easily absorbed.
Some tactics that help with blogging include using certain handles to draw your audience. These include:
Powerful headlines: A headline can make or break your readers’ interest in your story. Brian Clark at Copyblogger explains that the best
headlines give you more opportunities to have your content read by a larger group of people. If your content is compelling but your headline is bland, it may not be received well (nor will it be read). It has been proven on social sites that headlines are very important: if two different headlines are pointing to identical content, the stronger and more compelling headline will attract the attention of the reader. When you consider your headline, try to ask a question, explain how to do something, provide a list, or give your readers something to think about. Those are the more engaging headlines that will prompt the readers to stop and think about your post.
Lists: Since we’ve established that most individuals skim blog posts
rather than read them in their entirety, lists are important to utilize in your blogging structure for many reasons. For one, lists are more easily digestible than the standard paragraph format. Make it work for you by using emphasis on the introduction of the list and then elaborating upon the list item in the sentences that follow.
How-To Articles: Blogs are informative in and of themselves.
However, most people want to know how to achieve something. As Brian Clark says, “If you think you’re giving away too much information, you’re on the right track.” Don’t be afraid to provide as much information as possible because this just compels your readers to read and learn more (and possibly employ you for your service offerings).
Storytelling: Lure your readers in by telling a story about yourself. As
indicated in the previous section, storytelling was an extremely powerful way to grow the Southwest Airlines blog. Again, one of your primary objectives may be to appeal to your readers on an emotional level, so make your blog more humanizing and approachable. The more open you are about yourself, the more likely your readers will be receptive to you and may open up as well. In kind of a “pay it forward” way, blogs are creating a means for people to be a lot more transparent and open about who they are. (There are obviously boundaries to this, though, and each blogger adheres to his/her boundaries. Some may talk about politics but will never blog about
their family lives. Others will talk about their families but will never talk about worker relationships. Each blogger has his or her style, and based on user feedback – which is critical to listen to – he/she will make it work.)
Interviews: Interview posts can work in many ways. You can run a
series of interviews with a variety of experts on a topic, or you can engage your readers by allowing them to participate in interviews (and make them feel good about themselves) by asking questions and letting anyone participate, regardless of their level of expertise. Most interview posts perform well, as individuals are quick to share information about themselves. At the end of the day, blogging is about you, me, and us.
Reviews: Talk about products that are pertinent to your readership,
especially if they make your audience’s lives easier. If you have had a particularly empowering experience with something that you think can benefit your readers, share it. Additionally, if the user must sign up and pay to utilize the product/service, you may be able to monetize off these posts by using affiliate programs. Problogger editor Darren Rowse introduces affiliate programs and elaborates upon many options in his post entitled Affiliate Programs for Blogs.
Regular features: A successful feature that covers a specific topical
area is also something that will drive visitors. You may have a section called “Ask Mr. X” where you take readers’ questions and provide answers. You may have a video cast twice a month that summarizes the news of the week. You may have a book review that goes out every Wednesday. Regular features drive user expectations for specific types of content.
Scheduled postings: Somewhat related to regular features is a
blogging schedule. On the SEOmoz blog, our Whiteboard Friday posts are extremely successful among our readers. Readers know exactly what to expect and when. If you convey the expectation of providing certain content on a certain day, you’re likely able to get a boost of readers during this time and these readers will come back on a continual basis. Once you’ve sucked them in, they’ll definitely be coming back for more. How do I create and fulfill expectations?
If your blog grows in popularity, your readers are going to expect more from you, from regular columns to regular insights. They’ll be seeking information on a fairly regular basis (through RSS, email subscriptions, or direct visits to your website), so ensure that you fulfill their expectations by meeting their needs and wants. Always have a backup plan if you’re unable to write for a prolonged period of time. If you have a big blog and cannot attend to it while you’re on vacation, for example, don’t let it just sit there. You may end up losing readers; they’re not going to stick around if you appear to not be there for them. Instead, invite readers to be guest bloggers or ask experts to share their thoughts. Let any reader have a voice; empower your community. Most bloggers aren’t looking for compensation and just want a bit of the spotlight. They’ll be eager to participate. Another option is to write posts in advance and have them scheduled for particular dates, so that when you’re away, your readers (who will likely still be hanging around) will still have something to come to. When this occurs, it’s often useful to inform your readers that you’ll be away (especially as it may relate to responding to comments) but that you’ll be back as soon as possible. Darren Rowse recently ran a series on bloggers’ tipping points and asks many prominent bloggers about how their blogs eventually made it to the “A-List.” It may take several months to turn an idea like this into fruition (which all depends on the responses and timeliness of your audience in addition to your network and contacts), but start ahead of time and then schedule the posts for when you’re not available. Once you know exactly what topic your blog will cover, don’t deviate from the focus. If you’re blogging about travel, don’t talk about clothing one day and the radio the next – unless you have a good way to tie in both to the main focus of your blog. The best blogs are those that are focused on a specific niche.
Section V: Content Strategies for Bloggers
Discover Interesting and Worthwhile Topics
You want to dive in and write a blog, but you feel that your ocean of ideas will soon dry up into an oasis (and you’ll need to keep your readers intrigued
with updated posts so as not to lose your audience). Where can you find ideas for your content? Thankfully, you’re not alone. There are hundreds of places where you can get ideas for content, from using blog directories to news articles and then some. Let’s outline a few of the popular ones:
Google Alerts (http://www.google.com/alerts): Use Google Alerts to get
email as soon as new content (news articles, blog posts, or web mentions) based on a particular search phrase is discovered by Google. You can receive emails daily, weekly, or be notified as soon as Google finds the new content. Be advised that if you’re blogging in a popular niche, you’ll be receiving tons of emails regularly if you opt in for the latter option. If you use Google Apps for your Domain or Gmail, you might want to create Filter or rule for the handling of all these emails.
Figure 15: Creating a Google Apps/Gmail Filter
Blogs: Chances are you’re not the only blogger covering a particular
topic. As you may know, the SEOmoz blog is not the only blog on SEO and social media marketing. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of blogs covering the search industry. Likewise, your industry will probably also have similar blogs. Look at those for inspiration and get ideas. Naturally, one of the biggest pitfalls of beginner bloggers is to regurgitate news; this isn’t a bad thing (especially if you can pump out the news as soon or shortly after it happens), but to give your blog more of a personal touch, add some opinion and insight. Write a
detailed commentary and cite your sources (linking out is critical here!).
Blog Search: Technorati (http://www.technorati.com/) covers the popular
trends within the blogosphere and is a useful search engine to see what is popular right now. Alternatively, Google Blog Search (http://blogsearch.google.com) gives you some information based on a query and can be narrowed down to most recent posts, which is helpful for breaking news and information. In the example below, you can see posts that were published only within the last twelve hours:
Figure 16: Google’s Blog Search Showing Results from the Last 12 Hours
Social Bookmarking: One of the hidden gems within the StumbleUpon (http://www.stumbleupon.com) bookmarking site is the
ability to search based on specific tags. You can discover sites based on a search phrase (StumbleUpon Toolbar > All > Search) or perform a search based on tags by accessing http://www.stumbleupon.com/tag/searchphrase. Similarly, del.icio.us is another social bookmarking site that can provide you with some insightful information by searching tags, such as http://del.icio.us/tag/searchphrase or http://del.icio.us/popular/searchphrase.
Figure 17: StumbleUpon Tag Search (www.stumbleupon.com/tag/seo)
Figure 18: del.icio.us Tag Search
News Stories: While informative posts that teach users how to do
things and posts that provide vast lists of valuable information are priceless for bloggers (especially to share with a much larger audience), providing timely information is great too. You can use any news site to find updated information in your vertical, or you can look into websites that aggregate the most newsworthy content. For example, if you’re blogging about technology, you may find Techmeme (http://www.techmeme.com) useful. If you’re blogging about politics, you may find Memeorandum (http://www.memeorandum.com) a godsend. These sites aggregate both news media and social reactions through blogs.
Google Trends (http://www.google.com/trends): Google Trends is an
excellent way to see what’s hot right now and can break that writer’s block by giving you some information on the popular searches that are being performed all around the world. You can also search with commas to determine public interest in a particular topic (or topics) to see what is popular (and what may not be in comparison).
Figure 19: Google Trends
Beyond Text: Images, Multimedia, and Widgets
Now that you have your content, you may want to emphasize the blog as a social platform. The most successful way to do this is to incorporate relevant widgets to your site. There are possibly millions of widgets that cover anything from sports to campaign endorsements and even engage readers in social communities themselves. Some of the more popular widgets among bloggers are MyBlogLog (which also boasts an analytics package), BlogRush, and Romlet. How do you draw your readers in? It’s all about visual elements. Even if your readers are not reading everything you write, you can lure them in with the appropriate eye candy. A hilarious image or detailed chart will cause your readers to stop and take a second glance. The right pictures can make a solid first impression on new readers and keep them entertained. To locate images, use Flickr (make sure the images are
Creative-Commons licensed and be sure to give appropriate credit) or use a free stock image search engine like EveryStockPhoto (http://www.everystockphoto.com). While your great content may minimize the need for images, it doesn’t hurt to dress up your post with illustrations and make it more interesting. As with any SEO advice, keep your blog images small for faster load times and small screen resolutions, especially as many users are starting to read blog posts on their mobile devices. Resize them with an image editor for your blog post (don’t just force new height and width constraints; it won’t be aesthetically pleasing and will take longer to load). If necessary, link your readers to a full image. If your hosting plan doesn’t allow for images, you can use a service like Flickr, ImageShack (http://imageshack.us), or other sites to host your images. Flickr is a favorite among many bloggers for other social media benefits, but figure out which image hosting site works for you and go from there. Video is the future, so make sure to incorporate some video in your blog posts. They can be informative, humorous, or whatever suits your audience. Ideally, if you can transcribe the video yourself, it would be even better for SEO purposes (and not many blogs or video service providers take advantage of this). You can use sites like YouTube, Blip.tv, Vimeo, Jumpcut, iFilm (now Spike), and many other video service providers to host your videos. The sites will provide you with an embed code that you can place within your blog.
Figure 20: Whiteboard Friday – A Video Embedded into a Blog Post
Video comments are a relatively new phenomenon, and a site called Seesmic (http://seesmic.com/) is making it happen. The idea behind Seesmic is to converse with video. Recently, Seesmic (which is still in alpha at the time of this writing) released a WordPress plugin for users to embed video comments. It is brand new but has been well-received among those who have already implemented the plugin on their own personal blogs.
Figure 21: Seesmic Video Comment Login
Figure 22: Seesmic Video Comment Example
Involve the Audience
Your audience is your biggest asset, so take advantage of what they have to share with you. As a blogger with a readership, you’re in a fortunate position and can enlist in their help when you need them. Chances are, they’ll be eager to participate.
Ask the readers: If you’re looking for ideas, you can always run a
column where you ask the readers a question and invite their answers in comments. You may even choose to expound upon one of the ideas written in a comment and make it a separate blog post (or series, if there are just so many great comments). At the same time, you may want to let the readers ask you a question. Don’t be afraid to share information about yourself and open up.
Utilize contact forms: Ensure that you launch your blog with a
contact form so that your readers can contact you in some way. There are many plugins available that enable you to set up a simple contact form where your users can add questions and service providers can even send related pitches to your address. After you become an established blogger, you’ll likely be contacted by traditional media for quotes and you’ll likely even be asked to provide help on consulting for related businesses.
Keep the comments open: The biggest part of a blog from a social
media perspective is the ability for community members to be participants and to have a many-to-many relationship (rather than a one-to-many relationship that is so common in traditional media spheres). You can now share information and you can get feedback almost instantly. Engage in the discussion wherever you’re able; don’t just stop at the blog post and ignore the comments. Also, a word of advice: don’t make it difficult for your readers to post comments. Everyone should be able to write something without registration. If you are worried about spam comments, install a CAPTCHA. If you are worried about link drops, consider adding nofollow to commented posts (though be advised that nofollow is the default on most blogs) or moderate all comments before they are approved. Just don’t give off the impression that it’s hard for your community to partake in the conversation.
Contests: A great way to build an audience quickly is to hold a
contest. Ideally, run a contest while you’re still growing but aren’t too small, since you wouldn’t want to disappoint yourself if there’s little interest. Offer prizes (a free year of your service, a product offering, or in the case of an informational blog, you may be able to solicit prizes from sponsors). People love freebies, and this is a good way to keep them hooked.
Polls/Surveys: Engage your readers further (beyond traditional
question and answer and commenting) by holding polls related to your topic. You can use a number of tools to host polls and surveys, including PollDaddy (http://www.polldaddy.com) and Survey Monkey (http://www.surveymonkey.com). You can spend one post asking your readers for their inputs and then report on the findings in a follow-up post.
Figure 23: Polls Within a Blog Post
Syndication Options and Strategies
Everything is in order now, but you’re going to want to syndicate your content so that people can share it on their blogs, Facebook profiles, customized Google/Yahoo/AOL pages, or wherever else you can possibly think of sharing it. Since RSS is built into every notable blog platform, this is easy to set up. However, your readers may not necessarily be consuming your blog posts in an RSS reader. That’s where other options come in. Send your content to readers via email: Thankfully, there are a number of tools that will send recipients an email of your blog post as if it were an actual email newsletter. Popular services include FeedBlitz (http://www.feedblitz.com) and FeedBurner (http://www.feedburner.com).
Offer feeds based on category. Consider approaches for how you deliver content (especially from a larger blog to your diverse audience). If your blog pumps out tons of posts daily, you may want to offer category feeds. For example, the popular blog Lifehacker covers a variety of software-related topics, but not everyone wants to read about Windows or Mac; they just want to know about Linux. Offer feeds that fit what they’re looking for instead of letting them wade through your mountains of content to find what they’re interested in. Make it easier for your readers, not more difficult. Do I want full or partial feeds? One of the biggest questions in the blogosphere is a question about how much information you are willing to give that is off-site. Because RSS feeds are so prolific, it’s relatively easy for another blogger to “scrape” content and to claim your original well-thoughtout post as their own (usually so that they can make some money on the side through Google AdSense and other contextual advertising methods). Thus, one of the bigger debates among the blogosphere is the question about whether to provide full or partial feeds. This is a serious matter that you may want to think about before you take the plunge. Full feeds are preferred by an overwhelming amount of readers. Many people claim that they will unsubscribe from your blog if you don’t give them the full content in their RSS feeds. In cases of copyright theft, you do have recourse by filing a DMCA report through the various search engines. Before you take this measure, though, you may be able to contact the content scraper directly and ask that s/he stop syndicating your content. In many cases, the individual will be afraid to lose his/her blog and means for monetization and will thus be happy to oblige. Few blogs offer partial feeds primarily due to the fact that users simply do not like them. Full feeds do have risks, most notably related to copyright infringement, but if you take appropriate action and file a DMCA complaint, the content scrapers will often be penalized (though the process takes several weeks to complete). There are tools that can embed the original content link onto the scraped feed so that readers know where the original content has come from. One such tool is Joost de Valk’s RSS Footer WordPress plugin, which is also fully customizable.
Section VI: Creating & Launching Viral Content
Blogs are a terrific platform to launch viral content. Because the voice of blogs is more “natural” (in comparison to a corporate voice that many people
are used to on the typical business website), blogs are one good soundboard for perfect linkbait – that is, “the art of targeting, creating, and formatting information that provokes the target audience to point high quality links to your site” (source: SEOBook). Should you craft your blog posts to go “viral?” At times, yes. You will definitely need to consider strategies for why you should or shouldn’t proceed in this way. (For a more in-depth look at viral marketing, refer to our guide entitled Viral Marketing and Linkbait on the Web.)
Pros and Cons of Viral Content
Pros of Viral Content:
Traffic Boost: Without a doubt, if your viral content piece takes off,
you can get hundreds of thousands of visitors to your website in an incredibly short time span.
Figure 24: Traffic Spike Example as Per Google Analytics
The benefits of this are tremendous; beyond brand awareness, people may subscribe to your blog feed (if they find other content that is interesting), they’ll know what you have to offer, and the traffic will spread like a virus (hence the “viral” categorization) as they continue to tell their friends. When you think of traffic boosts, it’s not only about Digg; the longer tail (StumbleUpon and niche social bookmarking sites) also brings regular traffic, and often over a longer period of time.
Linkability: Great content gets linked to. People want to show off
their funny finds and share the best of the Internet with the rest of their readers. If you write something informative or hilariously funny, you’ll drive some valuable links to your site, which in turn will translate to better rankings. A note of caution, however: try to focus on content that is remotely related to your business or blog. Don’t write about the 30 largest hot dogs if your blog is about donating clothing to the needy. After all, while powerful links can cause other parts of your site to be
more trusted in the eyes of search engines, the most relevant links are the usually the most critical, so stay on topic. Cons of Viral Content:
Choose your linkbait wisely: Not everything you write is “Diggbait,”
so don’t overindulge in viral content strategies in a short period of time, as this can turn off your social media audience. It’s unwise to write every post with the intent of getting each promoted on popular social news and bookmarking sites (especially to a wary social media crowd who may see your brand new domain on these sites all too often and will discover your true intentions). Scatter your viral posts with normal posts that will engage a natural audience and subscribers. Each of your readers will have different wants and needs, so don’t tailor your message to one type of reader for a prolonged period of time and forget about the other group.
Don’t ostracize your community: As mentioned in the previous
paragraph, viral content is useful if done in moderation; if you always write for a specific audience (e.g., the “linkerati” – folks who own authoritative websites and blogs and are prone to linking to various content), you may lose your normal subscriber base. Focus on building both slowly but surely, but aim to keep the number of viral posts at a minimum, particularly when people least expect them. On the other hand, if you attract the minds of the Digg audience and post viral columns every weekday at 12:00 noon, they’ll already be waiting for you to post your content. This is a strategy you may want to consider as well. Just make sure that’s not the only piece of content you post on your site.
Predicting Viral Worthiness
Is everything you post viral? Probably not. Most of us are inherently imaginative but our creative juices don’t flow like a waterfall. Content that feels viral to you may not attract a larger audience. In social media, and when crafting your content for the community, you need to research the social media sphere and learn what works and what doesn’t. For inspiration, check social news and bookmarking sites to decide upon well-performing content. An excellent tool for this is Patrick Altoft’s Hot Topics lookup, which performs the research for you on Digg, Reddit, StumbleUpon, Google News, del.icio.us, and Technorati. Simply type in a search phrase (e.g., “blue
widgets”) and hit the search button. The tool will open 7 individual tabs to show you popular content with that phrase on a variety of social media sites. Once you learn what works, you can craft your content to work just as well as top-performing content, if not better. Ideally, if you’re going to blog about something, look into older topics rather than newer topics. The fresher the story is in the minds of social media users, the less likely they are to vote upon something that is similar (especially if they don’t read the content and the title and headline reads like a “dupe story”). This is more important for informational pieces of content rather than news stories. On the other hand, if you do feel that you have something compelling to say about an existing story, it is very possible that you can add your fresh perspective and new spin onto the newer topics in order to stand out above the crowd. For viral content to be worthy, it is incredibly important to offer original research or apply a brand new perspective on existing research. If you don’t find something that fits your blog directly, that’s okay. Brainstorm and generate ideas among friends, coworkers, or family. Write every single idea on paper, no matter how silly and outrageous it sounds. Sometimes, the silly and outrageous content is just what a social media audience needs. Your content still may not feel “popular,” no matter how hard you try to spin it. Apply some of those creative juices to your post and give it an angle that you may not have thought possible. For example, give your business-tobusiness content a tech focus – even if your B2B blog isn’t very tech-centric. Tie your viral content into current events that are of interest to the social media community. In these particular cases, look at what is popular on the front page of Digg, StumbleUpon, and del.icio.us today (and over the past few days) and work your content into a specific news story that was well received by the crowds (which you can determine easily by viewing the number of votes, thumbs, and saves that these content pieces have received).
Strategies for Helping Content Become Viral
When you write something and it sits there, it won’t get the recognition you want it to receive. Promotion is absolutely necessary. If you offer a newsletter, highlight the piece of viral content. If your blog is attached to a larger site, showcase that blog post under a “Featured Blog Entry” headline to direct traffic and attention to the brand new blog post.
Since most of you may already have “social media involvement” through media such as Twitter, forums, email, or IM, start promoting the content internally. Tell your readers that you have something you want them to see. Solicit feedback and seek additional advice if necessary. If someone really likes what you’re offering them, he or she will probably help promote it as well without you asking them, especially if he or she is a regular user of social media sites. If it’s truly “viral,” word of mouth travels and the opportunities for marketing this content are vast. The possibilities are endless. (For more tips on social media optimization, see our Social Media Optimization Strategies guide.)
Launch and Promotion Tactics
Once you have your blog post written, published, and ready to go, it’s time to focus on promotion. Since the greatest kinds of viral content may bring thousands of visitors to your site within a short period of time (often 5,00010,000+ visits within the first 2 hours), you need to be adequately prepared for this surge in traffic. In section 2, part 2, we discussed the possible danger from a surge in traffic on a WordPress platform. Because WordPress is a database-intensive application, if you are querying the database hundreds of times a second, you can easily crash your server. Make sure you have thoroughly tested your hosting environment before you promote your blog post. It would be a nightmare to work forever on a piece of content and lose the potential readers and visitors due to insufficient hosting preparation. As mentioned earlier in this article, there are caching options for WordPress. Before you activate a caching plugin and consider yourself safe, you will still want to test this out thoroughly before you go ahead and promote the content. Your hosting environment may feel safe under a medium load, but it may not be able to handle the heavy traffic, even if your hosting provider reassures you that your website won’t suffer an outage. Perform stress tests as much as you can. Static hosting features are still available, though if you have too many page accesses within a short period of time (and your content is media-heavy with hundreds of kilobytes of photographs hosted on your server), you may also run into traffic spikes, server outages, and worse, bandwidth allocation issues with your hosting provider. When in doubt, contact your host and be sure that they are prepared for a spike and you won’t incur penalties. (This is one of those times when it’s better to have a free solution on Google’s
Blogger, TypePad, or Wordpress.com, as maintaining your own hosting environment can be entirely unpredictable.)
Section VII: Measuring Success: Blog Statistic Software Applications
How much traffic is my blog generating? Am I getting visits primarily from social media sites, search engine traffic, or is the majority of my traffic coming from direct hits? What keywords are bringing me the biggest boost in traffic, and how can I improve my content to drive additional visitors? Where are my visitors clicking once they reach my site? These are all valid questions. Your blog should be launched with statistics code already integrated into the scripts so that you can accurately measure how well you are doing from inception and onward. Fortunately, there are many different analytics platforms available for blogs that will provide you with detailed usage statistics about your visitors. Most require a small code snippet to be added to the header or footer of your site. For the most part, these are all easy to set up. In this section, we’ll discuss the options available. Free Analytics: Some of the most powerful analytics tools are free and don’t require much tweaking or IT overhead. Once the code is integrated into your site, you need to log into the various analytics consoles to see popular content. Here are some tools that work very well:
MyBlogLog (http://www.mybloglog.com): MyBlogLog is a community in
itself with its embeddable widget, but it also boasts a powerful set of analytics. Users can choose to either use the widget (which is customizable) or embed a small line of code onto pages that they wish to track. MyBlogLog will tell you where your readers came from, what they viewed, what they clicked once they visited your site, and what other sites they visited. Additionally, since MyBlogLog itself is a social site, you can network with users and join other “communities” that represent blogs. Here’s an example of some statistics that have been generated by MyBlogLog. In this particular illustration, the time of the last referral is listed in addition to the referring link and the number of clicks from that link (which are blurred out).
Figure 25: MyBlogLog Statistics Pane
Figure 26: Google Analytics Dashboard
Clicky (http://getclicky.com): Free and paid options are available for Clicky, a web 2.0 real-time analytics tracker with a handful of nifty features. Clicky’s Dashboard includes a basic statistics table in addition to detailed information about daily visitors, daily actions, traffic sources (broken down into direct hits, search engine traffic, social media traffic, and traffic through links), top content, highest linked-pages, and popular searches. The free version of Clicky (featured) tracks 1000 page views daily, but paid options are available specifically for bloggers ($3.99/month or $23.99/year and up), integrating additional options including RSS tracking, “Spy” (which gives you live results about page views in real time), and more.
Figure 27: Clicky Dashboard
Paid Analytics: Not every analytics package is free, but that doesn’t mean that the paid options are not worth trying; in fact, some are extremely powerful.
CrazyEgg (http://crazyegg.com): CrazyEgg is unlike the aforementioned analytics options as it gives you a way to visualize how your data is being used and how users are interacting with your website, especially where they’re clicking. An example is the Overlay visualization, which shows you how many clicks each link has generated.
Figure 28: CrazyEgg’s Overlay Visualization
This can also be visualized in a heatmap form:
Figure 29: CrazyEgg’s Heatmap Visualization
Finally, CrazyEgg also provides you with a list of raw data, which shows you the type of element being clicked on (a word in a paragraph, a link, a DIV, etc.), the number of clicks, and the percentage of clicks. CrazyEgg has many different payment plans available and is a great choice for bloggers who want to understand what their visitors are doing once they access your site. It’s especially useful for blog monetization to determine the ideal placements for advertisements.
StatCounter (http://www.statcounter.com): StatCounter offers both free and paid services, depending on the number of visitors you expect daily (and want the service to record). It provides basic data in addition to a keyword analysis tool, most popular search engines (in a section called “Search Engine Wars”), browser/system stats of visitors, entry/exit/referring pages, and more. The summary is pictured below.
Figure 30: StatCounter’s Summary
One of the more unique offerings of StatCounter is the integration of visitors using the Google Maps API, as seen below. You can see the IP address, host name, ISP, and more information about the particular visit and the visitor’s computer specifications.
Figure 31: StatCounter’s Map of Visitors Powered by Google Maps API
Mint (http://www.haveamint.com): Contrary to Google Analytics and similar to Clicky, Mint is updated instantaneously so you can view visitors in real time. You can view visits, referrers, searches, pages, and more. Mint will set you back $30 per domain and only works on sites where you can manage IT and hosting overhead, as it requires you to create a database and upload files to your server in order to run. Here’s an example of what Mint has to offer after you’re logged into the back end.
Figure 32: Features of Mint Analytics Platform
This screenshot doesn’t do Mint justice. It’s a fully-featured analytics package for a really affordable price. A demo is available.
Section VIII: Promoting Your Blog
Your blog has been out there for a bit now, so it’s time to tell people about it. You can do the whole job of networking and participating on blogs, which is ideal, but there are a number of other participatory strategies that can be employed to get your blog’s name out there.
Blog & Feed Directories
You can submit your blog to a number of directories. There are hundreds and most are free, but we’ll review a handful and point you to additional resources should you aim to get complete directory coverage.
1. Best of the Web Blog Search (http://blogs.botw.org): This paid option
($39.95) is well worth the investment, as Best of the Web is one of the most well-respected paid directories on the Internet and employs human quality reviewers.
2. DMOZ (http://www.dmoz.org): The Open Directory Project is a free
directory submission and is heavily valued by Google and other highprofile partner sites. Editors review blog content based on quality.
3. Blogged (http://www.blogged.com): Blogged contains over 200,000
blogs and advertises tools that enable content discovery. An online community is also maintained where bloggers can interact with one another.
4. Zimbio: (http://www.zimbio.com) Zimbio is a resource for “online web
5. MyBlogLog (http://www.mybloglog.com): This analytics package has
more than just statistics: it also has a built-in user community. If you’ve spotted a widget that identifies recent visitors by their avatar, chances are that it’s a MyBlogLog widget.
Figure 33: The Official MyBlogLog Widget
6. BlogCatalog (http://www.blogcatalog.com): BlogCatalog is similar to
MyBlogLog in the sense that it also integrates community features with a very similar-looking widget. It also boasts a powerful API.
7. Bloggapedia (http://www.bloggapedia.com/): This is a blog submission
directory that features paid featured links ($29.99) and regular links that are free to submit.
8. Technorati (http://technorati.com/): As the premier search engine for
blogs, Technorati is a directory that you must submit your blog to. While Google Blog Search is incredibly effective, Technorati is often considered the “Google of the Blogosphere” with the familiar brand that all active and engaged bloggers know. Consequently, this is not a directory to overlook.
9. BlogPulse (http://blogpulse.com/): BlogPulse is a Nielsen BuzzMetrics
service that highlights trends within the blogosphere, similar to Technorati.
10. EatonWeb: The Blog Directory (http://portal.eatonweb.com/) is one of
the oldest blog directories on the web, with blogs ranked by strength, momentum, and an overall score. Additional blog directories are listed at TopRank Online Marketing Blog, Search Engine Journal, and MasterNewMedia.
Another way to get noticed is to provide blogrolls for your readers and to be included on blogrolls of relevant sites. A blogroll is simply a collection of links that typically appear on the sidebar of a blog. If your blog is included on a blogroll, this is a good sign, as the link itself is usually an endorsement by the blogger. It’s one of the highest forms of praise since it’s a perpetual link that shows up on the front page.
Figure 34: An Example Blogroll, Broken Down into Categories
If you are active on other blogs and have established a relationship with the author of the site, it should not hurt to ask for blogroll inclusion. If you’re an active participant, you can ask if you’ve earned the privilege to be included on a blogroll. In some instances, networking alone may not be sufficient for blogroll inclusion. If your blog is stale and not constantly updated, your chances may be slimmer. If, on the other hand, your blog is updated frequently and provides valuable information on a regular basis, other people will take notice and those people may be the ones who eventually add you to their blogroll. They may not even know who you are (networking isn’t necessarily a requirement), but they love your content that much to endorse it. If your content stands by itself and can hold its own, it may be the perfect bait for a blogroll. Blogroll relationships don’t just happen like link exchanges. They’re a high form of trust, and as such, you usually need to be a proven blogger to get included on such a high-esteemed list. It all depends on the bloggers, however. Some have different criteria for how they update their blogrolls. If in doubt, ask.
Memes, Contests, & Community Projects
Several other ways to promote your content begin with blog memes, running contests, and holding community projects where your readership participates by writing posts on their own blogs. Run a blog meme. A great way to promote your blog and bring awareness to a specific cause is to run a blog meme (a “meme” being a unit of cultural transmission). The idea behind a blog meme is to start off sharing information about you and then tagging a number of people and asking them how they’d answer the same question. In hundreds of posts, people start spreading ideas and the original links get spread as well. Often, a blogger should contact the person he or she tagged to let them know they’re “it,” and they’ll pay it forward by tagging their friends (and linking back to you). Popular past blog memes include “5 Things You May Not Know About Me,” “My Favorite Charity,” and “What Magazines Do You Read?” SoloSEO has tracked popular memes in the past and illustrates how virally they can spread. A note about blog memes: try to tag people who occasionally blog about themselves. Some bloggers won’t create personal posts on principle, but others are very liberal with what kind of posts they choose to make. Many bigger bloggers have to satisfy a tremendous audience and may not necessarily respond to the blog meme for editorial concerns and fear that they’re ostracizing users since they would rather share the “news,” not “personal tidbits.” As a common courtesy, if you get tagged in a blog meme and cannot participate, let the tagger know so that they can tag someone else who can. Have a contest. If you are a big blogger (or even if you’re not), contests are easy to set up and require no major overhead. Giveaways can be relatively cheap and include iTunes music certificates or Amazon gift cards. In the case of larger blogs, numerous sponsors often chip in to provide books, cash, computers, cameras, and more, which is all the more compelling reason for your readers to participate in these contests. Some popular contests include photo caption contests (where you provide a targeted photo to your audience and let them write the most creative caption), asking a question about a particular technology and choosing the best answer (e.g., what is your favorite social network application and why?), and possibly using third party software such as SurveyMonkey to get detailed responses to questions in return for a nice prize (as long as you record the participants’ email addresses). One popular contest is Andy Beal’s SEM
Scholarship contest, where readers write guest posts for his blog on any topic
related to SEM and are eligible for over $10,000 in prizes. Hold a community project. If you have a large readership, a great way to build solid links is to hold a community project. Ask your readers to offer a bit of advice on their blog about some specific topic and then provide you with the links. After the project period expires, link back to all the post submissions. An example is the Daily Blog Tips Blog Writing Project, where editor Daniel Scocco solicited blog entries related to blog tips and received 122 posts for his blog in a short period of eight days. He then listed all participants’ blog posts in a final list and categorized them into sections for easy readability. The result of the community blogging project brings targeted traffic back to your blog, awareness of the project on the participant’s blog, and ultimately, a link back the participant’s blog as a gesture of “thanks” for participating. The relationship is, therefore, beneficial to both the community project hosts and to those who participate in the project.
Comments, Trackbacks, Guest Posts, and Other Participatory Strategies
There’s more you can do besides hosting the content on your blog for promotional purposes. The key to this strategy is all in networking. The more you network with like-minded bloggers, the more likely you are to have them discover your content and establish a relationship with you. After all, blogging is not just about sharing ideas but about being inherently social. Read other blogs and comment. One way to network is by reading other blogs and writing insightful comments on the blog entry. In this case, you can link back to your blog (the smart idea is to use your name, not some “Free SEO Newsletter” identifier for link value – it looks silly and there is no link juice as blog comment links are generally nofollowed). Engage in a real dialog with the blogger and they’ll recognize you, too. For promotional strategy, relate to the blog post and provide valuable commentary rather than “Great post!” Some spam filters actually disallow generic comments as a precaution. If you have a related blog post you’d like to point out, it may also suffice, but most bloggers don’t like too much self-promotion from guests/commenters, so use this tactic sparingly. If you’re a big fan and want to be made known, comment often. Eventually, even the biggest bloggers will know who you are.
Link out – and generously. Link out to relevant sites on related topics. While you may not necessarily feel that this is a benefit to you, as you may lose the reader to the other story, that’s usually not the case. (If readers navigate to the other story, it’s typically after they finish reading yours.) When you link to other blogs, upon publishing your blog post, a trackback will be generated that will alert other bloggers that your content has linked to them. Often, that is a way of letting the blogger know that you endorse his/her content. If the trackback is approved by the blogger you linked to (and the blogger displays trackbacks in their comments), your link will appear on the bottom of the comments. While trackback links are nofollowed, readers who seek out related material may click on that link. If they find it valuable, they may link to you, and so on. Here is what a trackback looks like on your blog. You’ll see a snippet of the text where you’ve been linked to among other text from the linked post:
Figure 35: Blog Trackbacks
Guest Posts: There are numerous big blogs out there that take guest writers, especially when the readership is so large that the primary blogger is inundated with email, advertising requests, and yet still has a need to update his readers with interesting content. Similarly, when a blogger goes on vacation, a backup plan should be in place. That’s where guest posts come in. Normally, the primary blogger will give you some sort of topic to write about (topical to the blog) and may invite you to contribute a post or two. Since you likely maintain a blog of your own at this time, you can provide a small biography for the blog you’ll be posting upon for additional recognition. In other cases, you’ll at least get a link back to your blog. Social Media: Other participatory strategies include the famous social media tactics. Blogs are inherently social, but so are sites like del.icio.us, StumbleUpon, Digg, Mixx, Reddit, and others. Share your blog posts with people through forums, Twitter, email, and solicit votes among your community for maximum exposure. If the blog post takes off on a social media site, you’re likely to get thousands of visitors in a short period. If it doesn’t, you’ll still get a handful of visitors who now know a little more about your content and may come back for more. If you become a solid social media networker, you’ll grow a fan base on your own. If you are always commenting on social media submissions and are always voting upon certain users’ content, they’ll take notice. They’ll likely see who you are and what you do and follow you back. This can be another great way of networking for some maximum exposure.
Section IX: Monetizing Blogs
Your blog has been up for awhile and it generates a fair amount of traffic. Now what? If you feel that offering advertising is appropriate for your audience, start monetizing that content. What kinds of monetization techniques are available to bloggers? This section will go into monetization techniques in more detail.
Choosing When to Monetize
When your blog is first launched, you’re facing a few new challenges. You’ll be asking yourself a number of questions:
How am I going to update the blog going forward?
Do I have enough content or strategies to obtain content for a few months? Do I know how to attract new members to my community and alert them to the presence of my blog?
These should be your first considerations before monetization comes into play. Consider strategies to get a stronghold on a user base before you try to make money off of your barely existent content. Establish yourself first before you proceed down the monetization route. If monetization is on the mind initially upon launch, it may give off the impression that you’re only blogging to make money. The community should trust that you’re adding value first. Worry about making money later. Like any initial investment, you’ll likely put a lot of time and energy toward your blog with no initial return. That should change if you keep at blogging. Successful bloggers can make anywhere from three to six figures a month.
Banner advertising is a popular option for bloggers. Sponsors can pay bloggers a monthly fee for display of a banner, or bloggers can use affiliate banners where they receive money from successful transactions. There are number of banner options available. These include the 728x90 leaderboard, the 468x60 skyscraper, the 300x250 rectangle, or the 125x125 square. Most blogs utilize the 125x125 banner ad and those appear predominantly above the fold (which is a typical requirement for advertisers for maximum visibility).
Figure 36: Display Ads
If you are monetizing your blog with display advertising, you’ll likely need to provide information to potential advertisers. Advertisers typically inquire about your demographic and the number of page views (and unique visitors, if possible). You should have this information handy if at all possible. Many advertisers often look at other metrics, including Alexa ranking and PageRank, to verify the popularity of your site and to determine how much exposure their ad will have. This may influence the amount of money they want to offer as well. If you choose to provide display advertising through a third party, you can use services such as Tribal Fusion (http://www.tribalfusion.com/), Right Media (http://www.rightmedia.com), and Advertising.com (http://www.advertising.com). In this way, you don’t have to handle the ad sale directly and it may be easier for you as a blog publisher.
Pay Per Click
Most beginners start monetizing their blog with Google AdSense (https://www.google.com/adsense/) or other Pay Per Click (PPC) advertising
networks, such as the Yahoo! Publisher Network (http://publisher.yahoo.com/), Chikita (http://chitika.com/), Clicksor (http://www.clicksor.com/), and Bidvertiser (http://www.bidvertiser.com/). The idea behind these programs is that you sign up on the network and receive a snippet of code (based on the size of your selected ad) that you need to place on your website. Google and other PPC providers will then serve contextual ads that are related to the content, and you will receive money for every user click. Be advised that if these systems are abused, you can forfeit your admission into the program, so never click on your own ads.
Figure 37: PPC via Google AdSense
Once your blog kicks off, you’re going to be contacted by numerous people to engage in link exchanges. Others will ask you about the ability to purchase links. The first process is discretionary; many bloggers ignore the requests due to the lack of research performed in the blogger’s niche. Most link exchange emails get ignored by all webmasters and you’re under no obligation to place a link on your site to another person’s website. If the information and content is relevant and educational, however, a link exchange may be helpful. In the second case, text links may very well work if targeted appropriately. Be aware that search engines can penalize you if they find out that you provide text links that are not targeted and do not carry the nofollow on them. However, many services, such as Text Link Ads (http://www.text-linkads.com), Text Link Brokers (http://www.textlinkbrokers.com), Kontera (http://kontera.com/), and LinkXL (http://www.linkxl.com) provide contextual ads within blog posts without you having to make any changes or additions to your website code. These systems can still be discovered by search engines and should be used with caution. If you don’t like a text link ad, you may want to opt out.
If your content is related to service offerings (and there are hundreds of thousands of such offerings on the market), affiliate programs are a great way to monetize your content. The more common ones that you’ve likely experienced are book reviews with links to Amazon that include referral IDs. In the SEO sphere, you probably have also seen banner ads from the following affiliate programs:
SEOBook Text Link Ads Text Link Brokers AzoogleAds
Some affiliate program providers include ClickBooth (http://clickbooth.com), MaxBounty (http://maxbounty.com), Rocket Profit (http://www.rocketprofit.com), RevResponse (http://www.revresponse.com), PepperJam Network (http://www.pepperjamnetwork.com), Commission Junction (http://www.cj.com/), and Advaliant (http://www.advaliant.com/). Also, check your favorite online store, as they often provide affiliate programs just like eBay or Amazon do. Often, you can sign up for a larger network and choose among a list of merchants for niche-related advertisements that will be appropriate to your readers. With affiliate programs, you can talk about a particular service or product and add an affiliate link to the product so that your readers can look into the offering and choose to purchase the item or service. As a result, you earn commissions on the sale. In most cases, it’s best to have full disclosure that you are providing an affiliate link for full transparency as a blogger. Not all items and products you talk about will have affiliate programs. In that case, you may not make any commissions off the product. However, a large percentage of affiliate programs exist and there are many things that can be well-monetized if you consistently keep your readership up-to-date with content so that they trust you to purchase a product through your review.
Sponsored Posts / Advertorials
One of the most controversial blog monetization techniques is the sponsored blog post. Once your blog is listed in the marketplace, individuals looking for exposure on their product may contact you and ask you to write a review about a particular service offering. In return, you will receive money once
the review has been live on your blog for a certain number of days. Typically, you have a few days to accept the offer and you can decline reviews that you feel don’t suit your audience. It is important to note that there must be full disclosure on such sponsored posts. Additionally, reviews can be either positive or negative, and all pertinent links on sponsored posts should have nofollow appended to them. If this is not adhered to, search engines may penalize you. Besides the concerns about full disclosure and the requirement of nofollow links, sponsored reviews are often few and far between because of concerns about editorial credibility. However, it can make you a good chunk of cash if the reviews are targeted to your readership. Sponsored blog programs include ReviewMe (http://www.reviewme.com), SponsoredReviews (http://www.sponsoredreviews.com), Blogvertise (http://www.blogvertise.com), and IZEA’s PayPerPost (http://payperpost.com).
Other Monetization Techniques
There are other ways to monetize your content that may benefit you and your readers. These include:
Serving ads via RSS feeds: At the bottom of your RSS feed, you can add contextual links or images to the bottom of your post. Services that offer this advertising method include Pheedo (http://pheedo.com/), BidVertiser (http://www.bidvertiser.com/), and Feedburner (http://www.feedburner.com). An example RSS ad is displayed below:
Figure 38: Ads Served in RSS Feeds
Paid forums: On a subscription basis, offer private forums that are only available to members who pay a monthly fee.
Job boards: If you are targeting a specific niche (SEOs, bloggers, freelancers, web developers, etc.), you might be compelled to add job boards to your site to make additional money. Depending on your business model and goals, you may want to ask the advertisers to pay for the listings and have users apply for free. On the other hand, in the case of FreelanceSwitch.com (as seen below), the advertiser gets listed for free and the freelancer has to pay to apply.
Figure 39: Job Board
Ask for donations: Put a PayPal donate link on your website and ask people to donate to help motivate you to contribute content. There are plugins that also work in a similar way. The plugin below (available for WordPress) can be found at http://www.blogclout.com/blog/goodies/buy-me-a-beer-paypaldonation-plugin/.
Figure 40: Beerware Blog Monetization Strategy
These monetization techniques are only touching the surface. There are other creative ways to monetize content. A great post on additional blog monetization strategies can be found at Daily Blog Tips.
Section X: Closing Thoughts
Blogging is one of the most essential tools for high rankings due to the ease of content updates. It is also one of the premier tools to facilitate communication with customers, industry experts, members of the press, and to reach a wider audience who may stumble upon your site via search engines. Since trust is shifting away from mainstream media and professional outlets of communication, bloggers understand that being social and interactive with their readers is an incredibly valuable way to build trust and gain popularity. The successful blogger is often the one who actively updates content, engages with the audience, and offers a level of transparency that is not often seen in big business. Is blogging the right choice for my site? That’s a question that you need to investigate thoroughly. If you are ready to be communicative, receptive to feedback, and you have the motivation to keep your community updated with developments as they occur, then blogging as a solution may be a solid investment. Of course, if you may have to go through a lot of corporate hoops in order to get a single blog post published, you may want to revise your strategy or make an argument to your department with someone who understands the necessity for regular timely updates. The art of blogging, however, has been effective for small businesses and bloggers to achieve success to large blogs like Southwest Airlines to gain favor in the eyes of an even larger group of people. Where will blogging be in the next five years? Blogs already over 10 years old, and they’ve only begun to gain more momentum over the past few years. Will blogging be dead in 2013? Probably not. Instead, we’re likely to see additional multimedia components, such as video, interactive chat, and perhaps real-time virtual life through applications such as Google’s Lively on the blogs of the future. While the conversation is already beginning to shift to other mediums, such as microblogging platforms (Twitter, Plurk, Friendfeed, etc.), the blog will remain at its core and there will likely be tools that will be developed to integrate the microblogging discussion with the
blog platform itself. The conversation, therefore, will be discussed in different places but they will all lead to the same destination.
Appendix A: Valuable Resources
SEO and Blogs
The Blogger’s Guide to SEO (http://www.seobook.com/bloggers) The Definitive Guide to WordPress SEO (http://yoast.com/articles/wordpress-seo/)
Blogs about blogging: There are hundreds of blogs about blogging, but here is the cream of the crop:
Copyblogger (http://www.copyblogger.com) Problogger (http://www.problogger.net) Daily Blog Tips (http://www.dailyblogtips.com)
Social media resources: If you intend to use social media often when promoting your content, there are a handful of great blog resources on how to appropriately engage in social media marketing. These blogs are not necessarily social-media specific; they also discuss monetization techniques, blogging tips, and more.
Dosh Dosh (http://www.doshdosh.com Techipedia (http://www.techipedia.com) Chris Garrett (http://www.chrisg.com) Friendfeed’s Social Media Room (http://friendfeed.com/rooms/socialmedia)
Social Media Sites: Social media sites range from popular, multi-topic sites to niche sites for your particular blog topic. You can submit to as many as you want.
Digg (http://digg.com) Mixx (http://www.mixx.com) Reddit (http://reddit.com)
StumbleUpon (http://www.stumbleupon.com), which requires a toolbar download del.icio.us (http://del.icio.us) Shoutwire (http://www.shoutwire.com) Newsvine (http://www.newsvine.com) Metafilter (http://www.metafilter.com) Yahoo! Buzz (http://buzz.yahoo.com)
You can also promote your content on sites associated with your profile:
Facebook (http://www.facebook.com) MySpace (http://www.myspace.com) Twitter (http://twitter.com) FriendFeed (http://friendfeed.com) Plurk (http://www.plurk.com)
Video Sites: If you have a video or want to find a video that may be relevant to your audience, the following sites are great for video inclusion.
YouTube (http://www.youtube.com) Blip (http://blip.tv) Vimeo (http://vimeo.com) iFilm, now Spike (http://www.spike.com) Metacafe (http://www.metacafe.com) Break (http://www.break.com) Jumpcut (http://jumpcut.com)
Aggregates: These sites usually contain the best of the best content as promoted on a variety of social sites or as hand-picked by a team of editorial staff.
Alltop (http://alltop.com) Original Signal (http://originalsignal.com/)
Appendix B: Recommended Software, Tools, and Plugins
Here is a list of recommended software, tools, and plugins that have been mentioned in this guide, in addition to several other useful tools for blogging. Blogging Software: From the free software to paid software tools, there’s a solution for anyone.
WordPress (http://wordpress.org and http://wordpress.com) MovableType (http://www.movabletype.org) Blogger (http://www.blogger.com) TypePad (http://www.typepad.com) ExpressionEngine (http://expressionengine.com)
Here’s an at-a-glance graph of the offerings per platform:
Platform WordPress.co m Free/Paid Free installation on site Free download Domain Name http://name.wordpres scom Requires own host? No, host on the main wordpress.co m servers Yes, must find own LAMP host. No No Customizable? Some
WordPress.or g MovableType Blogger
Your choice, paid to your registrar Your choice, paid http://name.blogspot. com Vary on pricing, http://name.typepad.c om (with other TLDs to choose from) Your choice, paid
Free download Free installation on site Paid setup on site
Some, depends on pricing level
Paid only, on site hosting or downloadable
Yes, must find own
Tools: We discussed these tools in the previous sections, but they’re referenced here for ease of access. The numerous analytics platforms that can be used include:
MyBlogLog (http://www.mybloglog.com) Google Analytics (http://www.google.com/analytics) Clicky (http://getclicky.com) CrazyEgg (http://crazyegg.com) StatCounter (http://www.statcounter.com) Mint (http://haveamint.com)
In a nutshell, the summary of offerings are listed below: Name of Analytics Application Free or Paid JavaScrip t Code Embed Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes, but also must be hosted on one’s server
MyBlogLog Google Analytics Clicky CrazyEgg StatCounter Mint
Free Free Free and paid options available Free and paid options available Free and paid options available No, paid application download
There are many blogging tools available that make your job easier. Some of these include:
Ecto (http://infinite-sushi.com/software/ecto/) is a full-fledged Mac OS X application which supports a variety of weblog systems and helps you write and manage posts while being offline. Ecto costs $17.95 for one license. Windows Live Writer (http://get.live.com/writer/overview) is a free way to publish to major blog services as well and comes highly recommended by some top bloggers. If you’ve ever had to write the same text again and again, Texter (http://lifehacker.com/software/texter/lifehacker-code-texter-windows238306.php) for Windows and TextExpander (http://www.smileonmymac.com/textexpander/) for Mac can replace text based on specific designated hotstrings. Irfanview (http://www.irfanview.com) is a lightweight image resizing application that enables you to make minor adjustments to your images without having to open a full-fledged application like Adobe Photoshop. Irfanview is small and offers a handful of excellent tools. It is free for personal use and is available for Windows only.
Akismet, spam filter for both MovableType and WordPress: (http://akismet.com/) All in One SEO Pack for WordPress: (http://wp.uberdose.com/2007/03/24/all-in-one-seo-pack/) Joost de Valk’s SEO/analytics plugins for WordPress (http://www.joostdevalk.nl/wordpress/) Dagon Design Sitemap Generator for WordPress (http://www.dagondesign.com/articles/sitemap-generator-plugin-forwordpress/) Google XML Sitemaps for WordPress (http://www.arnebrachhold.de/redir/sitemap-home/) Live Analytics Tracking for WordPress (http://www.headzoo.com/live)
Objection Redirection for WordPress (http://www.webguerrilla.com/objection-redirection/) Subscribe to Comments for WordPress (http://txfx.net/code/wordpress/subscribe-to-comments/) Disqus Comments for WordPress, Blogger, MovableType, and TypePad (http://disqus.com) WordPress Database Backup (http://www.ilfilosofo.com/blog/wp-db-backup) Contact Form for WordPress (http://www.douglaskarr.com/projects/wpcontactform/) Share This social media plugin for WordPress, TypePad, Blogger, and others (http://sharethis.com/getbutton) Twitter WordPress integration (http://alexking.org/projects/wordpress) WP-Super Cache for WordPress (http://ocaoimh.ie/wp-super-cache/) PhotoDropper WordPress Plugin, to locate Creative Commons-licensed images you’re your blog (http://www.photodropper.com/)
Other WordPress plugins can be found at the official WordPress plugin directory.