Category Archives: Blog Startups

What comes first, a blog or social media

What comes first, a blog or social media

Most people use social media and read blogs as they have become fantastic ways to communicate with your immediate colleagues, friends and family.

What if you want to start leveraging blogging or social media to grow your visibility online and reach connections outside of your existing network. Maybe you’re itching to break out from being just a content consumer and into a content creator but you’re not quite sure if you should start blogging immediately or focus on growing a social media following first. It’s a relevant question to have, but it’s good to consider how blogging and social media fits into your overall plan.

Reading up on the web is a good start, that’s probably why you’re here! But don’t let too many how-to pundits drive you in the wrong direction. One explainer post might offer advice to just start writing blog posts. Others might instruct to setup a Facebook Business Page and spend dollars on promoting your pages. Maybe your internet savvy niece told you to post photos in some ultra high trafficked hashtags. Or your colleague at work is going Live on Periscope in 15 minutes. Yikes!

Where do you really start!

At some point during your internet marketing endeavor, you will need to explore all of the above blogging and social media opportunities and maybe even ones that are not yet invented. Unfortunately, there’s no easy way to build visibility online, especially without a large advertising budget. What doesn’t need to happen is you losing sight of what you’re trying to accomplish.

Spend a calculated amount of time exploring each platform and begin to identify ones that you are most comfortable with and that seem logical to your endeavors. Everyone has to crawl before we learn to walk. By experimenting you will expose why you even want to embark on this journey and which platforms will help you get there.

Start with why.

Marketer and author Simon Sinek exposes in his bestselling book “Start with Why” how companies build culture. Consumers often become loyal to a company because of why they do what they do and the persona their brand represents rather than simply because of what the company offers or the product features.

The process for starting a blog or social media following is similar.

If you’re looking to start a blog or really ramp up your social media presence, then you must first dig deep into your soul and decide how you want to portray yourself online. If someone is going to consume your content then what should they take away from it? Think about what type of content (mediums) will best fit your persona and what will you be most inspired to create? It may be easier for you to create video rather than writing, etc. Go with what works best for you.

Why are you trying to build a following in the first place? Click To Tweet

Ask yourself what type of content – either in blog posts or social posts – will best reach your audience and what will they find the most value in from you. Who will be the most receptive to your content and how can you best relate yourself to them? It’s always about how you can help the reader, so find a balance between what is creatively you and what will appease your audience. The answer can only be found by trial and error, so don’t give up after a few posts!

Building content is your true starting off point.

Blogging and organic social media are almost always powered by content. Whether in video, photos or written from, content is the ingredient that will make someone want to consume your material. Having a repository for your content, such as a blog or website, is essential in the digital marketing process.

Anyone just doing social media is really missing the opportunity to build website conversions. Or the act of taking a website visitor and turning them into a subscriber. Just doing social may accrue followers but the content creator has little to no control over the syndication process to followers on what they will see.

Most social profiles are also relatively limited in terms of how you can portray your brand image upon visitors – people looking at your profile. On social media, you must follow the profile mold of everyone else. On your website or blog, you can control the complete experience – from design to delivery.

Blog vs. Social Media

Your blog is where you have the most control over the process and the opportunity to turn site visitors into email subscribers. You can also tell a complete story, in your terms, not limited by characters or algorithms.

Without a social following, your blog will not have much of an audience to promote your new content too. You can write the most fantastic post content, but without a following you might as well just write it on a piece of notebook paper.

Social media and blogging really work in tandem. Your blog is where your content lives and where users will best engage with your brand. Your social profiles are the digital embassies of your brand, as they provide a digital oasis for your brand where users can drop in while they cruise the social networks.

You can’t focus on just one.

Just blogging or just social media is like going to the gym and the only lifting weights with your right arm. After a while, you will see some results and your right arm will get stronger but it will be lopsided. By working both a blog and a social media following, you can then take advantage of a digital marketing strategy to help you build your visibility online.

You have an idea for a blog… now what?

You have an idea for a blog… now what?

I meet with new bloggers that seem to have this magical perception that with little effort or investment they can start writing a few blog posts and the world will appear at their virtual doorstep.

If you think blogging will be a cinch and you’re about to start a blog to promote yourself. Stop.

It’s not your fault, people selling blogging courses use rather misleading headlines such as “blogging is easy” or “5 dead simple steps to an influential blog”. I’m not pointing fingers but in reality building and maintaining blog strategy is not easy and often underappreciated.

Thanks to a handful of open source tools such as WordPress, starting a blog can be a low-cost investment, but it will require a significant time commitment. Because there’s no magic button, some give up before the fun even begins.

Most people won’t see the actual power of blogging because they won’t make the initial effort to even try. Just coming up with a name and what to blog about is challenging enough to disqualify most, not to mention learning any new skills.

If they’re able to surpass the initial hurdles, some will write a few posts but fail because they don’t follow through or have a solid plan for keeping it up. Not prioritizing your blog writing efforts is a sure bet for failure. Sadly, I’ve experienced this on some of my own endeavors.

What pains me the most is when people give up on blogging because of unnecessary hurdles caused by not knowing the correct way to set themselves up for success. Or worse, they don’t understand how blogging fits into an overall digital marketing strategy.

Anyone can write a blog post and publish it to the web, but the ability to acquire readers and build authority online requires marketing strategy. Blogging and content creation is one part of a larger marketing strategy and only when the entire ecosystem is deployed, then blogging becomes a marketing tool. Without promoting your content, blogging is simply just a personal journal on the web.

Attend: Content Academy Blogging Workshops

A select few will go on to reap the rewards of blogging because they make it a priority and find opportunities to sustain their efforts through monetization.

It’s highly recommended to identify an income source that will come from your blogging efforts. Revenue could come in the form of advertising or by using the publicity to sell other services or products. Regardless of the model, the ability to make money from your blog is essential. Without it, your blog is just a hobby and not a sustainable business model.

The need for a blog monetization plan comes from personal experience. I loved blogging about country music – and it could easily be just a hobby – but I couldn’t sustain my blog because it became cost prohibitive to maintain while not providing income. If I had identified a steady income stream from the beginning, then I would have been more motivated to continue to produce high-quality content and not had to pay out of pocket for maintenance.

Take the time to plan for your blogging success story and make it your job to adhere to that plan. Acquire the right tools and knowledge before you embark on your journey and remember that it takes commitment to endure.

All success is born out of action. - Barbara Corcoran Click To Tweet

You too can join a rather small pool of successful bloggers as long as you dig deep and decide this is something you need to do for yourself.

Another critical reason for web image optimization

Another critical reason for web image optimization

Optimize your images for social mediaYou can’t just upload images you take on your camera to your blog or website.

Cameras and camera phones try to cram as many pixels into each image as they possibly can. For a good reason. When you take a photo, you want it to look sharp and great for that 8″ x 10″ photo hanging on the wall.

The problem is, the web is exactly the opposite.  As a blogger, we want our images to look great but we need to make sure the file size of each image we upload is as small as possible. This will reduce our users’ load time of a given web page and it’s a best practice for good citizenry of the interweb. You don’t want to slurp up all of your reader’s mobile data!  Nor do you want to lose them because of something that is rather simple to do.

Image optimization is often associated with website speed and bandwidth, but recent interactions with a popular social media sharing tool gave me yet another reason to not be lazy and spend the time reducing my blog’s images.

Bloated images can have implications on social networks.

buffer-failed-image
Epic fail! Keep your images under 3mb in total size.

An important reason to upload optimized images is for social sharing of your content. I’ve noticed several times over the last couple of months that tweets in my Buffer queue failed because the image attached to the post was too big.

Keeping your images right-sized

Keep your images looking great and on a pixel diet by using a program such as Adobe Photoshop to save the image in the correct size and file type.  Open the image and select the “Export -> Save For Web” function to optimize your images.   Work this feature until the image looks good but is as small of a file size as possible.

Full-size images in high-resolution will take up a large portion of space on your hosting server. The more space you use, the more bandwidth your site will consume which will equal the more likely your host will charge overage fees.

Optimize your images so they appear on social networks properly! Click To Tweet

I recommend optimizing your images before you even upload them to your site but there’s also a great image optimization service with a WordPress integration called imagify.io. They crunch all of your images as you upload them and will even go back and bulk optimize! If Photoshop isn’t in the cards at the moment.

Reasons your blog strategy didn’t take off

Reasons your blog strategy didn’t take off

Blogging Strategy Tips imageBlogging is a great way to get noticed on the internet and to grow your authority on a particular subject matter. The problem is, blogging can be very time-consuming and often under appreciated.

There’s nothing worse than spending several hours crafting a post for no one to read it.

For most, the minimum blogging tasks of collecting post ideas, writing a few hundred words, editing, and then publishing can equate to nearly a full-days work. Sad thing is, even with that level of dedication it is often not enough in today’s crowded content marketing space. Successful bloggers rise to the top by putting in the extra mile into every piece of content they publish. They have to in order to make it worth their time investment.

If you are reading this because you’re having troubles gaining reader traction, then I recommend auditing your basic content creation mechanics. I’ve outlined seven key blog post creation fundamentals to review before writing your next post.

Post Intent

Before typing a word, always ask yourself for whom am I writing this post and what will provide the most value to them? It is very critical to identify your ideal reader by first guessing what types content they will either need or be most receptive to. For example, how-to posts and personal stories can lend advice when in need and interviews can spark ideas and encouragement while driving attention from known names.

In order to potentially identify what “they” want, we must first identify their needs.

How to identify a target reader:

Target audience identification is often based off of assumptions. We assume someone who would read this post will care about or might be in the process of something. Assumptions are often based off of the following high-level examples:

  • Lifestyles
  • Gender
  • Age/Demographics
  • Values
  • Attitudes
  • Recent product purchases

Audience identification is nothing new, the media has utilized identification tactics to measure and sell across all types of mass mediums. Extensive studies were performed on many different types of demographics from everything from the “2000’s Soccer Mom” to the “Boomer” and “Millennial Market”. If you are seeking to target one of these traditional demographics then review existing research within your space for ideas and direction.

Use your existing data

Great audience data is probably right under your nose. Review your existing website tracking data such as Google Analytics or Jetpack Stats. This data represents metrics such as time on site, what type of device is most used on your blog and what locations from around the world are most popular. Use this data as a general rule and guide to then learn about how you can best feed your audience’s needs and customs.

Quantcast is a powerful resource for audience identification and advertising. Their reports dial into website traffic by gender, age, income, education level, and ethnicity. These are great metrics for audience identification and useful not only for content strategy but for building blog media kits. If your blog is not yet listed in Quantcast’s network, then review blogs within your space that might have similar audience profiles.

Take a guess; you will probably find someone like yourself.

I think it is safe to say, we often write for ourselves. Think about recent experiences, things you are into, and what you would find value in. If you would read it, others will likely feel the same.

Originality

On the web, there is a lot of what I call follow-the-leader and idea swapping. Someone creates a blog post, then someone else takes the topic and makes it their own by re-posting it with a slightly different headline

Readers do not need the same information from a different source. They seek new information. Period. It’s ok to write on what is trending, but work towards injecting your own value proposition or perspective into the topic. Especially if you’re looking to acquire readers from search engines.

“What is really the future isn’t more Charlie Roses [Interviewers], because we don’t, what we need are more people who actually have a point and are worth following for themselves … The win is to become your own distinct voice.” Episode 15 – Distinct and Direct, Seth Godin’s Startup School Podcast

Leverage your ideas, personal strategies and experiences to create uniquely new content. Mix in other content as it makes sense but always strive for something original to you.

Frequency

Here’s the thing with posting frequency, I can’t say I’m an expert on this topic. In fact, I often write blog posts simply when I’m creatively able. I wish I had a solid content creation schedule because there are proven benefits to consistent blogging. Frequency builds traction and valuable learning experiences.

On the other hand, if you’re writing to simply meet deadlines then you might not be putting out the best content possible.

I spent one month blogging every day on my personal blog to test this strategy. I concluded that for now, that daily blogging was not for me. While I managed to create what I considered rather inspirational content, it was mostly in the form of “thin” content or stuff that was not search engine ready. I learned, the content I shared maybe made sense to me but didn’t build much traction. Therefore, it wasn’t providing my readers enough value and I didn’t have the time to promote it to new ones. I eventually burned out – especially with a lack of solid results.

I recommend putting yourself on a goal path for posting something of major substance at least a few times a month. Go the extra mile to make that one post awesome, not just a bunch of random thoughts. When planning your schedule, make sure to account for time to promote your content after posting it.

Distribution/Promoting

Successful bloggers are also community builders. They focus not only on creating content but on strategies for building a following surrounding their brand. Obtaining measurable results from social media and email marketing requires a commitment to learn how they work and the time investment to build your reach.

It’s a bit of a chicken vs. egg scenario because most social networking and email marketing strategies require content to build a following but on the flipside, your blogging will require a following to make it worth its time investment.

What drives me crazy are bloggers who come to me and say they stopped blogging because they would post content and no one would read. Most often, they didn’t have a distribution strategy. I would ask them about their email marketing strategy and I would get some sort of response equalling they didn’t have one.

Independent blogging is not news writing in the sense that you can simply post and article and walk away. Writers and journalists can do this because their employer likely has generations of brand credibility and reach. When you’re going it alone, every piece of new content needs to come paired with a promotion strategy.

Publish your content then post to social, send in a newsletter, and ask others to share your work if they like it.

Content Optimization for Search

I’m hesitant to bring this up because the world of search engine optimization is rapidly changing. I want to say, make sure your content is saturated in keyword rich terms but I’m afraid this is sort of a passing fancy. I’m going to stick with what I’ve always recommended, focus on creating great content with a purpose and with value.

My approach to search engine strategy is broad. I don’t think of it as one post or one page at a time. I try to imagine an entire web property surrounding a core topic. For me, this is the only way I have been able to obtain high-quality search ranking and maintain that placement. It’s a much more of a robust strategy with a lot of moving parts but it seems to work for now.

You have to think about how your users will search for content within the search engines, then create content surrounding those search queries. Make sure that whatever you post to your blog Google and the other search engines can crawl it. Always provide them with additional information such as Meta Titles and Meta Descriptions,  these will only help Google make a better decision on where your content should be categorized.

Readability and Flow

The web is a fragmented place where inconsistency is the norm. Why, because nothing on the web is uniform – by design. Every website and blog abides to its own design and style, equalling a virtually unlimited amount of possible font and color combinations. This is one reason why video content became so popular.

In the days of newsprint, if the reader couldn’t read the paper because of the vision difficulty, they would put on eyeglasses or use a magnifying glass. Today, if they can’t read your website, they will find what they are looking for elsewhere.

The website architecture term User Experience (Ux) refers to the overall quality design and user-centric experience when loading and viewing a site. Which, by the way, isn’t really an easy to benchmark and set a standard. While overall site design, mobile friendliness and site load time – or in lay terms putting yourself in your customer’s shoes – are paramount. The actual readability, clarity, and message of the content is often overlooked.

There so much talk about how important website content can be to an online marketing strategy yet when it comes to building a website I feel the following is almost always true:

  • Designers care about design.
  • Programmers care about code.
  • Marketers care about analytics.
  • Writers care about … getting paid.

No one is really focused on the writing, which in reality is the most important public-facing aspect of any website or blog. It’s often “good enough” because writing is one of the hardest skill sets of them all.

“The idea that anyone can do anything is true. But you have to make sure you really want to do it and then dedicate yourself to accomplishing what you want to do. Have to and want to are two different kinds of activity,” wrote Joan Margau, a professional copywriter, in her post Are you a Writer.

The web and blogging have really opened doors for anyone to create content. Which is amazing but that does not mean high-quality writing is not important. I encourage everyone to try their hand at it.  If they feel writing is their destiny, then like any trade, they should work towards continuously improving their skills. I try to practice what I preach.

Posting just anything was possible during the early stages of content marketing but it proves much harder today. Profound ideas and quality writing will always prevail.

Value

I can’t say it enough. Content that gets shared is content that provides a value to its reader. Of course, value has different meanings across different audiences but as a blogger one must work to provide content that will meet a need. If you think it is something that you would share, then others will hopefully feel the same.

The simple value test:

Ask yourself, would someone pay me for this information? If no, then don’t expect someone to share it with their following.

Blogging is a long-term strategy

If you are reading this, and you are only a few posts into your blogging strategy then keep it up! Blogging is not a quick fix to a marketing problem. It’s a long-term solution that will live well beyond any one post. Be prepared to stick it out for a few months or years, depending on how often you post.

Most importantly, every post is a learning experience. The more you post, the more you will learn. Take it one step at a time and start honing your blogging by testing ideas and strategies. You will be surprised, sometimes best-practices don’t work; silly mistakes become proven winners.

In the end, you will become a pro.

How Guest Posting Benefits Your Blog

How Guest Posting Benefits Your Blog

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image image=”1554″ img_size=”full” alignment=”center”][vc_column_text]New bloggers are often preoccupied with creating content for their own blog. This is a good strategy to focus on initially, but I’m going to suggest something that’s going to seem counterintuitive – just hear me out.

Once you’re on a roll with posts for your own blog, you need to start creating content for someone else’s blog. In the blogging world, this is known as guest posting and is a necessary long-term strategy for promoting yourself and your blog.

Ideally, you’re creating a blog post each week. The purpose of this is to always have fresh content to share with readers through your newsletter and social channels. Constantly updating content is also a positive signal to Google that your website is active and high-quality.

Your challenge moving forward is to, at minimum, create three posts for your blog each month and use the fourth post to guest blog for someone else’s audience.

Let’s talk specifically about how guest posting benefits your blog.

[/vc_column_text][vc_text_separator title=”Create powerful partnerships with other bloggers”][vc_column_text]If you’ve successfully negotiated a guest blogging opportunity (more on how to do that in a future article), you’ve created an ally in your journey to better blogging. Assuming that person has connections to your niche or related interests, they may have connections to other relevant bloggers and brands they can connect you with. Just make sure that you put as much effort or more into the guest post you create for them so they want to help you network!

[/vc_column_text][vc_text_separator title=”Create links back to your own blog”][vc_column_text]There are two benefits of creating links back to your own blog that occur when guest posting for another blog.

The first is that interested readers are a great audience for your own content. Guest posting is an effective way to build your audience in a quality way.

The second is that links back to your own website and content creates positive SEO benefits for your website. The power of backlinks are largely related to the pagerank and domain authority of the website you’re posting on. Try to keep this in mind when pitching different blogs you’d like to guest post for.

Unfortunately, some author bios (where most put their own blog’s link) contain a “no follow” link attribute, which basically means that search engines won’t count it as an authority-building backlink. Ask if this is the case before committing to a guest posting opportunity. Even if it is, you may be able to still create an authority-building backlink by linking to a specific blog post or resource on your website within the body of the blog article.

[/vc_column_text][vc_text_separator title=”Create expertise in a topic”][vc_column_text]When people start to see published articles with your author bio on high-authority blogs across the world wide web, they start to create an association between the topic and you. Whether or not it’s true, you start becoming perceived as an expert. This is useful in building credibility with your own blog audience, as well as potential clients if you’re trying to monetize by using your expertise to coach or consult with clients (to give one example).

Also, If you’re trying to monetize in the freelance writing space, guest posting benefits your blog by creating published samples you can share to show writing competence and social proof for the work you do.

There are so many ways in which guest posting benefits your blog. We certainly haven’t covered them all here, and would love to hear your own opinions on the topic in the comments below!

And if you need help figuring out the WordPress blogging software, make sure to check out our courses on related topics![/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

How to Find Your Blogging Niche

How to Find Your Blogging Niche

How to find your blogging niche

One of the most polarizing decisions before officially starting a blog is trying to determine how to find your blogging niche. There are so many possibilities that it can be hard to decide! But being too broad is the worst thing you can do.

In an effort to help you think through the options, we’ve created a list of questions to answer for yourself when trying to figure out how to find your blogging niche:

What are you passionate about?

At the end of the day, you’re never going to put effort into something you can’t get excited about. And for many people, a blog is a creative release. It may not be your job, but it should provide some sort of positive benefit.

The easiest way to figure out your niche is to take a critical look at the things you’re passionate about. Is there something you’re excited enough about that you could write about it day-in, day-out? Would you consider yourself an expert on the topic? You may just have figured out your niche!

But there’s a few more questions you have to answer before you can determine if you’ll be successful with it.

Do you understand your audience?

This question has just as much to do with understanding your niche as it has to do with relating to people.

It’s one thing to have a passion and be able to write about it. It’s another thing to be able to connect with your audience and get them to share in your excitement.

Do you understand what makes them tick and what they want to read?

Can you come up with 50 post ideas?

50 might seem like a big number, but you have to realize that once you start a blog, you’ll need to be constantly coming up with new content ideas.

So before you make any big commitments, buy that domain name, the whole thing – you need to sit down and spend some time brainstorming post ideas.

If you’re having trouble thinking of specific topics people would want to read about after 10 or so bullet points, you’re in trouble. But this is a great exercise to weed out a good idea.

Problogger is constantly sharing content to help brainstorm post ideas once you’ve established your niche. Sign up for their emails for inbox inspiration!

Who can you partner up with?

Do you already have some connections that may come in handy? Great. If not, don’t sweat it.

Start doing some research on other bloggers in your niche or complementary niches. Take note of how they’re creating content and see if there are opportunities to partner up.

It’s also a good time to see what brands their working with. They may be brands you want to work with in the future!

This step isn’t critical to answering the question of how to find your blogging niche, but it is something good to know when thinking about the future of your blog!

Will it limit you in the future?

I’m going to tell you something that’s going to sound really counter-intuitive, but usually ends up being true.

Just as in art, sometimes restrictions can create the best work. Picking a specific niche may seem like you’re limiting yourself for future opportunities, but oftentimes the opposite is true. By creating a resource that draws in a very specific community, you can create hyper-relevant content and attract sponsors looking to take advantage of that.

Remember that once you get sponsors involved, you have to be careful of what you promote and make sure that it fits into your niche. Your readers will not take well to content that’s 100% sponsored, 100% of the time – especially if it seems unrelated.

Now that you have the tools you need to determine how to find your blogging niche, we’d love to hear what you decided on. Tell us about your blogging niche in the comments below!

WordPress Theme recommendations for the serious beginner

WordPress Theme recommendations for the serious beginner

theme-recommendations

Themes play a very important part in learning how to use WordPress as they control the appearance and feel of the public-facing side of the website.  Getting to know a theme is critical for new users as it will be where they will likely need to place their logos and select configurations to work towards making each one uniquely theirs.

Themes can also be a major pain point for new users as there isn’t a uniform standard as to how they work and how-to documentation can be somewhat cryptic for a newbie.

Fortunately, you can only use one theme at a time, so I recommend starting with a theme that is simple.  I recommend gravitating towards a theme with more options when you have a better grasp of how WordPress ticks.  The best thing about WordPress is that you can change your theme relatively easily as your content will, for the most part, stay in the same place.

Here are some ideas for selecting your first starter WordPress theme:

Simplicity

Look for a theme that is simplistic and maybe not rich in features.  We, as consumers, love extra features, but whenever we are learning something new, those extras can just become a big burden.  Work toward sharpening your basics WordPress skills, and then building up to a fully-featured theme will become a lot easier and feel much more manageable.   Maybe even stick with the default showcase themes to get started; these are always a sure bet as they use the most current features of WordPress and are updated pretty much every year.

Be Careful of Themes with Page Builders

Page builders are WordPress plugins that allow users to layout pages and posts in ways that rely much less on knowledge of code and more on visual composition.  For some intermediate WordPress users, these can be a very enabling as they allow for more of a custom look and feel without a touch of code.

This growing popularity for content builders, such as Visual Composer, Divi Builder, MotoPress, and SiteOrigin are brilliant, but the problem I have is these content builders traditionally “break” the standard WordPress user experience and can add layers of extra complications that could be discouraging for  new users.  Before a new user begins to think about a page-builder plugin, know that this can require significant time learning nuances, and if you’re not experienced with the standard WordPress terminology, you have doubled the work ahead.

Support

In the world of WordPress themes, there are essentially two categories: free themes, mainly found on WordPress.org/themes, and premium themes that cost money to download and use.  Premium themes, or paid themes, can be found on sites like ThemeForest.net and from companies such as StudioPress and Elegant Themes.

When you purchase a theme, the owner is much more likely to provide support should you need help getting started.  If you’re new to WordPress or a theme framework, this added support from the theme company can be a lifesaver for getting started and is well worth the investment.

Become a theme investigator

Before you buy into any theme, free or paid, be sure to investigate the following:

  • When was the last time it was updated?
  • How many support items have been submitted (and resolved)?
  • How well documented are the help files?
  • Where do I need to go to ask for help?
  • Does it support the standard WordPress appearance customizer or something else?
  • Up to what version of WordPress is it compatible?
  • How does it work on mobile devices and other screens?
  • Does it provide support for popular plugins such as WooCommerce?

Most importantly, be careful of free themes that are not free but upsell to expensive premium features.

Style

I am often asked, what theme should I use for my blog or website?  I typically say I can tell you what I look for in a theme, but it’s ultimately up to your style.  You probably wouldn’t want me to pick out your clothes for you; themes are also a matter of personal taste.

Here are some items I suggest avoiding when looking for a beginner WordPress theme:

  • Huge images on the home page
  • Image Sliders and Post Carousels
  • Lots of content on the homepage, a.k.a. “Magazine” themes
  • Blog vs. Website themes

Just remember, theme developers are looking to do one thing – sell themes – so make sure that the demo theme is similar to what you envision your website might look like as if were to swap out their demo content for yours.

Savvy

Great bloggers and website owners know how to market themselves on the web.  A theme help users do this in a straightforward and savvy way.  Look for eye-catching call-to-action buttons, prominent social media icons, and easy newsletter subscription boxes that integrate with popular programs such MailChimp or Aweber.

Have an experience you want to share?

Post and comment and help others find great starter WordPress themes.

How far ahead should I plan blog content?

How far ahead should I plan blog content?

planning-blog-content-largeAre you proactive or reactive? Do you create content as you get ideas, or plan your content out days or weeks in advance? I asked a group of bloggers for their insight about how they plan and write content on their blogs.

I plan out 1-2 months in advance and I like to be 10 blog posts ahead.

I try to plan stories in advance, but lately these days I end up writing when both the mood strikes me and I have the time. Consulting makes up the overwhelming bulk of my income, so my clients have to come first. I do really enjoy sharing things that make me happy or am excited about, so I can’t bring myself to stop blogging completely.

I would love to say I plan far in advance  but I don’t. I have a running list of ideas and I pick a few each week to blog about. Since I write a lifestyle blog I try to balance my posts between interviews, event recaps, and style tips. Really the only method to my madness is be flexible. I don’t want to be so focused on what I want to write about and then forget to consider the feedback. Because it’s more important to me to deliver the kind of content my followers find most helpful.

I tend to organize my post ideas for the month then schedule out photo shoots and interviews. I try to plan at least a week in advance, and if I find I’m rushing or getting off track I give myself a break. People can tell when you’re half-assing your content and what’s the point of doing that? When it comes to my blog, I want to put out the very best I’m capable of doing. I’m active on social media every single day, so I’m always spreading the curd word – I just want to keep my blog the highest quality possible.

I have an editorial calendar and write my posts out the day before. I then schedule them for the next day at 5 am so that they are consistent and my readers know when to expect a new post. Sometimes I will have sponsored things due on certain dates, but mainly I choose topics from a running document of ideas that I have going on.

I generally plan my content calendar a quarter (three months) at a time. Not every detail is planned, but I know what topics I’ll be covering on which days for the next three months or so.

Details, such as who will contribute a guest post next month or who will be my guest on Better Freelancing (my video interview series), aren’t always finalized. But more often than not, I have my next 3-4 episodes of Better Freelancing pre-recorded.

When it comes down to actually writing the content, creating images, and getting everything scheduled, I do that the week before. The same goes for my email broadcasts and social media posts — I’ve prepared and scheduled them in AWeber and Hootsuite a week ahead of time.

It’s a good idea to have an end goal in terms of what we’re trying to accomplish. If not, and if we simply make up our content on the fly each week, what we end up publishing often ends up being a scatterbrained mess that serves no greater purpose. Our content should tell a story, and it should be part of a bigger picture… at least as often as possible.

Failing to plan means scrambling at the last minute to throw together a half-assed post that isn’t likely to benefit or speak to much of anyone.

– Brent Jones, brentjonesonline.com

I plan for the month or two depending on projects. I write about a week ahead!

We should prep further in advance but we tend to do 2 posts a week on Monday and Friday, with a tentative plan month by month. We write and photograph 2 days to 24 hours out.

I like to have things planned out a week or two in advance, but I’m typically tweaking and editing posts up until the night before I post them!

I mostly write the day before or at most the week of. Lol. I know some that write months in advance but I go by what strikes me.

I usually plan it a few weeks in advance but usually don’t write it until the night before. Some of it because my posts are very, “this is me today” and part of it is just not being able to eat food as fast as I need to be eating it!

On a recent ProBlogger podcast, Darren Rowse shared a useful strategy to answer the question, “How far ahead should I plan blog content?”

He recommended publishing content weeks before an event to ensure that your post gets indexed by Google and has time to show up on the search engine results page when people are actually searching for information about it. His example was a post about American Idol winner predictions that got a lot of heavy traffic on the last episode!

As for me? It’s a bit of a mix for both of my blogs: The Blogsmith and Chicago Cheap Ass.

I use this National Day Calendar to try and keep on top of social media holidays, and create content relating to them whenever possible. Doing this helps my content reach more people, by piggybacking on popular topics that generate a lot of buzz.

Besides that, I use the WordPress Editorial Calendar, a free plugin that allows you to place draft posts on a calendar to plan your content accordingly.

For the most part, I write content on a whim – there’s no rhyme or reason to how I plan it.

If you have problems with organization and planning, I highly recommend you check out the post I wrote about how to organize your blog workflow. Sometimes that’s half the battle of publishing content!

Time to turn the tables.

How far ahead do you plan blog content? We’d love to hear about your process in the comments!

Spring Cleaning: 10 Things to Remove From Your Blog

Spring Cleaning: 10 Things to Remove From Your Blog

ten-things-to-remove-from-blog

Is your blog due for a refreshed look and feel?

Although it’s usually better to launch an imperfect product than never getting started, it’s no excuse to ignore the things on your blog that aren’t doing you any favors.

If you’ve been blogging for several months to a year or more, it’s time to take a look back at your blogging so far. Here are 10 things to remove from your blog that make you look unprofessional, distract your readers, or are just plain annoying.

Content that isn’t yours

Guest posts are great, but are they original content that was created just for your blog, or are they copy/pasted from the writer’s blog? Stay with me – It’s an important distinction.

One thing that many bloggers don’t realize is that if they’re publishing duplicate content, or content that has been published first on another website, their blog may be hit with search engine penalties.

So if you’ve shared the exact text of another blogger’s recipe, or even a whole post that was originally published on their blog, get rid of it – immediately. Find other ways to incorporate other bloggers’ content without putting yourself at risk for duplicate content penalties.

Traffic counters

There’s this old trend in web design that’s past due to die out – traffic counters. Popular blogs like PostSecret perpetuate this trend and make it seem like an OK practice.

But do you really want the world to know how many (or how few) people have visited your blog? Save that information for brands who want to work with you and specifically ask for it. A counter on it’s own doesn’t really provide any useful data, anyways.

Auto playing music and video

There’s nothing more annoying than a video that autoplays when you visit a website – oh wait – except for music that auto-plays when you visit a website.

These things are becoming more commonplace and accepted on social networks like Facebook and Instagram, but really have no place on a blog. It’s more annoying than you may think.

Advertisements that don’t make sense or distract visitors

A really bad practice in blogging is allowing ads on your blog that have absolutely nothing to do with your content or audience. But what’s potentially worse than that are ads that completely distract visitors from your content.

Less is definitely more when it comes to ads, so be choosy with your blog real estate, and the advertisers interested in it.

Too many social widgets

If you have a Facebook like box AND a Twitter stream on your blog somewhere, you’re overdoing it. These social widgets are incredibly distracting from blog content, especially when used in tandem.

A better approach to directing followers to your social accounts is to incorporate social media buttons in your header, sidebar, and footer.

Badges

Many blog influencer programs require you to install a badge on your blog to verify that it’s yours. But most people forget to get rid of the badge once this process has been completed, and it just looks tacky.

Ask yourself what you’re really getting out of displaying badges. If you’re stuck on keeping them for whatever personal reasons, at least try to keep badges to a minimal number.

Tag cloud and long category lists

Have you ever seen a blog with a giant, annoying tag cloud in the sidebar or footer? What exactly do they do for visitors? For the most part, tags are an unnecessary element in blogging. It’s also a good idea to get rid of long, unsorted category lists. Instead, pick your main categories and add them to a specific menu.

Too many links in main navigation

Try to keep your main menu as simple as possible – there’s no reason to put a link to every page on it, especially if the category in question is not one you often create content for.

Dead links and unused plugins

Here’s a great blogging rule of thumb – if you’re not using it, get rid of it.

Dead links (to pages that no longer exist or with changed URLs) should be changed or completely deleted.

If you’ve downloaded a lot of plugins, but are only using some of them, completely delete (not just deactivate) the unnecessary elements. The same idea applies to old themes you’re not using.

Categories people don’t care about

When you first start your blog, you may create a category that’s a labor of love, but readers aren’t responding to. Now’s the time to take a critical look at what you’ve been writing, and what’s not worth the continued effort.

If there’s a category that isn’t working, delete the posts or move them to draft mode.

 

Discussion!

In your opinion, what are the most important things to remove from your blog? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!

The Unexpected Benefits of Creating a Blog Squad

The Unexpected Benefits of Creating a Blog Squad

Do you have a blog squad? You know, that group of contacts you can always talk to about blogging? Bounce ideas off of? Look to each other for inspiration?

If the answer is no, then you’re missing out. But better late than never! Here are the unexpected benefits of creating a blog squad.

First and foremost, being surrounded by successful bloggers is a great way to hold yourself accountable. Sometimes bloggers come up with great ideas, write them down… and never follow through on them. Maybe they don’t have enough time to address all the things they’re interested in, but more than likely they’re not sure that their efforts will lead to a successful outcome.

Having a blog squad means not only other having people to bounce ideas off of, but also forcing yourself to be accountable for the ideas you have.

It’s like telling someone about a fitness goal. The second the words leave your mouth, your blog squad is likely to hold you responsible for the things you said. And even if they don’t, you’ll still feel like you’re letting them (and yourself) down if you don’t at least try. Accountability is a great way to ensure that things actually get done, which will lead to a better blog, overall.

Shared Blogging Expertise

Besides the benefit of accountability, having a blog squad also means having some built in experts to tap for blog knowledge. It’s necessary to freely give of your knowledge in order to be able to expect someone else to want to help you.

It’s a great way to solve problems without shelling out money on an expert, or stumbling through them yourself. Most of your pressing blog questions can probably be answered by someone in your blog squad who’s been through the same thing.

A great blog squad has a mix of knowledge and experience that compliments all members. It’s beneficial to have different kinds of bloggers instead of just one type. An ideal blog squad is a mix of lifestyle, food, fashion, and other types of bloggers.

Having a blog squad is not so different than being in a mastermind group – it’s really just another word for the same thing (with a focus on blogging, in this case). To learn more about mastermind groups, check out the Mastermind Playbook.

Friendly Content Competition

Although diversity is necessary, it’s helpful to have at least one other person in your blog squad that has a similar blogging style to yours. This helps you to benchmark your performance against someone else.

Theodore Roosevelt said, “Comparison is the thief of joy,” it’s important to have some healthy competition in order to grow. Just don’t take it too seriously. Building and growing a blog is always going to be different for everyone. Don’t be jealous of someone else’s success – learn from it!

Mutual Content Sharing

Another reason why it pays off to keep successful people close and as a part of your blog squad is because you can use their platform to grow your blog (and reciprocate them on yours). You’ll never be successful if you’re just counting on your own social followers to visit your blog – there’s much more possibility in being featured on other people’s accounts through sharing. Just know that this must be a two-way street in order for it to be mutually beneficial!   

Check out my post on how and why to leave comments on other blogs.

At this point, the unexpected benefits of creating a blog squad should be pretty obvious to you.

Are you ready to take the next step? Do you have some bloggers in mind that you’d love to be a part of your blog squad?

Let us know in the comments!

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