How to Leverage Your Assets to Build Your Blog Audience

There is a special name for folks who start a blog and expect it to flourish in a matter of days. They are called disappointed people.

What’s wrong? I posted my blog to Facebook and Twitter. I used a clever hashtag and everything! I even had four ‘Like’s’! Why is no one coming to my blog?

 If this sounds like you, you’re not alone. Many a bloggers have been where you are and felt what you’re feeling. The question is: how do you get out of it? How do you go from having your only comments be from your proud mother to actually garnering new and interested traffic?

Have you considered SEO? 

 While the primary point of this post is not about SEO, it would be foolish to leave this point out.

Is it easy for you to find your favorite blogs on any given search engine? What you may not know is that there was a lot of time and energy put in to making that blog easily accessible.

If you are unfamiliar, SEO (search engine optimization) is the process by which someone seeks to make their website highly ranked on search engines. The higher a website is ranked, the more likely individuals will find and go to that site.

That is why SEO is important for building your blog audience. If you are wanting to have any chance of strangers finding your blog, you need to take SEO seriously.

I’m not going to go into SEO in this post. However, if you are interested, Matt Wolfe has laid out a great tutorial for SEO and steps you can take to get your blog noticed.

A bolder approach

While SEO is a very important factor in building an audience, it is not the only way. In fact, if you’re just starting out, there is probably a underutilized tool in you marketing arsenal that you need to wield: your friends and family.

A few years ago I worked for a non-profit organization called Cru. While working with Cru, I had to raise my own salary to be a part of their staff team. That meant I had to interact with individuals, churches and groups, tell them about what I was doing and ask for financial support.

This was one of the harder things I have ever done, primarily because I couldn’t be passive about it. I had to put in the effort to see results.

Posting a message on Facebook did very little, as it was easier for people to ignore my status. Sound familiar?

So what did I do? I made phone calls, set up appointments, practiced my pitch and made the ask. Through personal contact, I was able to meet my goal.

Why do I tell you this?

I tell you this because many aspiring bloggers try many  of the same tactics. They think that if they just keep posting to their Twitter and Facebook pages, their blog will explode. It’s as if we have perverted the famous Field of Dreams message to “If you post it, they will come.” And that’s not the case, not quite.

Consider this: your friends and family are a lot more supportive than you think. They just need you to ask them for support. And with the right kind of support, you can get promotions and referrals that will significantly grow your readership.

What does this look like for an aspiring blogger?

 1.    Be prepared- As you get ready to market yourself to the people you know and love, make sure things are on the up and up with you and your blog. Some of the things that you should have prepared are:

  •  A clean layout- Does your blog look professional? Professional does not mean sterile or uptight, but fitting to your core audience. There are far too many websites that look like they were made by the Taliban on a busy day. A good looking site will give you credibility.
  •  Interesting content- Don’t make your friends and family be embarrassed to promote crappy writing. If you are in a place where you want to see your blog grow, make sure that your writing is solid. If it isn’t, not only will your group of friends and family be less inclined to share your blog, but those people that are referred to your site will probably not come back.
  •  A subscribe option- Whether it is a landing page, sidebar widget or separate page, you need a subscription option. Subscriptions are great because they will keep your readers informed as to when you have a new post, do affiliate marketing or things of the like. Like I mentioned above, if you can contact a person directly, you will have a higher chance of getting them to come to your blog.

2.Work Up Your Pitch

 In a lot of ways, your first pitch to your family and friends is the most important. It will set the tone for other favors you may ask for in the future. That is why it is important that your message is clear, concise and has all the information that they will need.

Here is an example of a message I sent to some people in my circle:

…I hope you’re all doing well. I need to preface, this is not spam, it’s really Dominic 🙂 I am writing you because I recently started my own freelance writing/blogging business. I started a website called cheerupgreg.com and have published many posts that I am excited about. I would be greatly appreciative if you could take some time right now and look at my website and some of the articles. I am trying to gain more recognition and add credibility to my blog, so if you could subscribe to it (there will be a button on the right) that would really help me gain some momentum! Additionally, if there are articles that you like, would you please leave a comment and/or share it on your social media pages? Thanks so much in advance!

 My message was as short as it could be, while at the same time touching on why I was writing them, what I was asking them, why their support would be helpful and thanking/trusting them to help.

 Make sure to use your own words and make it unique to you!

3. Send the message

 It may sound obvious, but the first two steps are useless without step three. You actually need to build up the courage and send the message.

There are a few different ways that you can send this message, but a quick tip is this: the more personal, the better.

If you sit down with a friend and ask them for their support, they have nowhere to go. They have to give you a yes or a no. And they will probably give you a yes. But if you send a group email, they will be more inclined to ignore it, delete it or put it off (and eventually forget about it). Speaking to  the latter option, most friends and family have good intentions about getting back to you, but simply forget.

A word of caution: a “blanket status update” on Facebook is going to be the quickest way to get your request ignored. Not only will it be easily ignored, Facebook will only show it to a few people.

If sitting down with friends and family is less of an option, I would recommend an individually sent text message or email. Start by adding the persons name (Hey Steve! How’s it been going?…, etc) and pasting in your subsequent message. This will make your communication feel more personal, and thus less likely to be ignored.

Using what you’ve got

 You might be having some mixed emotions right now. Perhaps this feel like cheating. Perhaps you want your subscribers to follow you without having to ask them. Perhaps you want subscribers other than your friends and family.

Asking your friends and family for this kind of support is not a failure,nor is it some metaphorical “move back in with the parents”.

What you are doing is asking your close circle of relationships to help you take your blog to the next level. You are asking them to promote you to their family and friends, who will hopefully share you content with others in their circle.

Don’t let your family and friends stay an unused tool in your arsenal. Ask them for support and see your blog flourish! If you have taken these steps, how has marketing to your close relationships benefited your blog? Or do you have a difference in opinion? Please leave a comment and share your experience!

The 10 Best Secrets to Blog Post Titles that Attract Readers and Get Noticed

With so many blogs existing in the world, you have a very short amount of time to catch the attention of your valued readers. Your title is what most readers will see first – in an RSS feed, in Google or Bing or embedded in an email. If your title is clunky, too long or plain lackluster, your blog post will likely be lost, forgotten and just plain not seen. With so much pressure to perform, you may find your title writing skills flagging when it matters most. If your goal is to create blog post titles that attract readers, whip their heads your way, and click on your latest blog posts with fervor, here are the ten most well-kept secrets for optimizing your blog titles that every blogger should know.

Enticing Blog Subject Matter

If you are stuck on what to write about, these three title categories are sure to lure new readers to your blog in droves.

  1. Provide a Benefit: Titles that get clicked on the most promise a clear benefit to the reader. They solve a pressing problem, they offer advice from luminaries in the field and they generally seek to improve readers in one way or another.

Whether readers are trying to improve conversions, lose weight or train their dogs to sit and play fetch, get to the heart of their passions, desires, apprehensions and fears and craft blog titles that speak to your readers and promise results; and make those results fast if possible. A good example of this is the blog title How to Eradicate a Zit in a Single Evening.

This will require extensive research in order to accurately analyze the psyches of your reader base, but today’s social networks and popular forums make that research easier than ever before.

  1. Spread the News: Some of the most popular blog titles are those that strive to keep your audience informed of updates and happenings as they relate to your niche. Scour the news, read the latest press-releases in your industry and write blog titles that keep your readers on the up-and-up. A good example of a title for an IT blog might be Ten Industry Updates All IT Professionals Should Know. 
  1. Pique the Curiosity: Attempt to write blog titles that are different than everyone else’s and that resonate with your audience. Use odd but relevant word choices, personal experiences, funny anecdotes and quirky subjects that no one else is using. Your readers won’t be able to help themselves but click and read. An example of a title for a construction blog might be Hammers and Hamburgers: A Day in the Life of a Construction Worker.

Proper Title Construction

Use the following tips to develop titles that drive traffic and attract comments.

  1. Set Expectations and Tease: Your blog title should let readers know exactly what they will get out of reading your blog in its entirety. For best results, tickle your readers with a hint of what’s to come and force them to commit to experience the true payoff.

Consider this title for a weight loss blog: See What Happens when Weight Loss Happens Too Quickly. Notice how the title doesn’t say what happens, it just urges readers to continue reading and pay attention.

  1. Concise is Nice: The shorter your title happens to be, the better. Remember, you only have a very short window to reach your audience. Not only that, but your readers will typically have very short attention spans. Long, drawn out titles get ignored more often than shorter ones. A short and sweet title for a gardening blog might read 7 Plant Watering Secrets.
  1. Optimize for Search: Use your primary keyword very early on if you want to beat out competitors that are optimizing for that same term. For example, if you are writing for a cosmetics blog and your keyword is ‘eye shadow’, your title might read Eye Shadow Tips from the World’s Top Makeup Experts. While not a sure way of improving rankings, there is always the chance that this technique will give you an edge against other bloggers that are using the same term keyword term a little later on in their titles; so this tip is always worth considering. 
  1. Beat Competitors: Once you get a good idea of the title you would like to create, get online and start searching for others who are writing about the same subject. Take their titles in, process them and then use what’s available to make yours even better. 
  1. Use Active Language: Stay away from passive verbs and instead use plenty of action words to get your readers’ hearts racing. Instead of the title How the Best Athletes are Running and Jumping Today, it would be better to use the title Run Faster and Jump Higher Just Like Today’s Best Athletes. 
  1. Lists Bring the Clicks: Blogs that contain numbered or bulleted lists tend to always perform well. Readers prefer blogs that contain easily digestible content, and lists provide exactly that. For instance, 10 Mistakes All New Police Recruits Should Avoid. 
  1. A Strong Title Never Lies: Your titles should always come through on the promises you make. In other words, if your blog title promises to help readers Change a Car Tire Quickly, Even in the Rain, make sure you provide exactly that advice. If your readers are ever made to feel misled, you may lose those readers forever.

Test Your Titles for Better Results

The above advice should help you develop titles that get results, but don’t stop there. Keep testing your titles, feeling your audience out and start looking for patterns of most-read blog posts by studying your analytics data. If you notice that some titles get more clicks than others, replicate your results for even more blog conversions.

They say that your choice of title can make or break every blog post you write. With these ten tips, your posts are sure to strike a nerve with every reader you target.

How to Start a Content Curation Blog

In a recent post, we took a look at what content curation can do for bloggers as well as the audience you’re intending to reach. In today’s post, we’ll give you a blow-by-blow on the basics of curation in order to teach you how to start a content curation blog.

To begin with, it’s important to note that curation is a time-intensive activity which should be done consistently for weeks at a time if you’re ever going to see any results. You should use it as an adjunct to your content creation efforts to ensure that you’re giving your readers a variety of media to maintain their interest in your blog.

There are 3 major steps to start a content curation blog:

  1. Seek
  2. Sense
  3. Create and Share

We’ll take a look at the three more extensively shortly; however, let’s first outline a few things every blog curator should have or know.

First of all, it’s important to know your audience. You could have a blog that’s visited by a specific group of people but not know the details behind these people. Things you need to find out include the following:

  • The median age of the people reading your blog.
  • The gender makeup (do more males than females read your blog?)
  • The peak times when it comes to blog traffic.
  • The socioeconomic makeup of your audience.

One of the ways you can find out this kind of information would be to use the Google Analytics tool found here. A good analytics tool will give you real-time information regarding your blog audience makeup which will in turn help you target them in such a way that they’ll feel as if you really know them as well as understand their needs. This is, in essence, content marketing at its best.

Here are a few other analytics tools you can use in conjunction with Google Analytics:

  1. Crazy Egg
  2. Performancing Metrics
  3. Enquisite

Once you have your data ready, you can start curating your content.

The next step is to identify sources for curated content. The internet is a living organism with thousands of pieces of content of varying types being produced every minute. Your responsibility is to identify valuable and relatable content pieces and place them in your content box so you can sift through them. This discovery process is known as seeking.

Here’s a screenshot illustrating how to discover more niche ideas as a pastry blogger:

curation 1

By searching for the term ‘pastry blog’ via www.google.com/blogsearch, she’s able to find out what the trending topics are as well as the industry leaders as far as pastry blogs are concerned. With this in mind, she can check out various blogs to see what kind of posts are eliciting major reactions and stimulating conversation. This blogger can then copy these post links and put them in a spreadsheet for future sifting.

At the same time, you can use Alltop to look for trending news items. What’s great about Alltop is the fact that you can personalize your content search feature by using my.alltop.com.

Here’s what the MyAlltop signup page looks like:

Alltop

All you have to do is sign up, agree to the terms and you’re all set.

Twitter is also a great way to find trending topics which can, in turn, help you curate timely content pieces. The almighty hashtag is a godsend for all content curators. However, you should use the hashtag in combination with tweets to find the meat and not just the bones. You can also use Twitter Search which is essentially Twitter’s Google.

When collecting your sources, you should always be careful to pick only high quality ones. Additionally, you should scan more than you capture, and you should make it a habit to define topics and organize sources as you go along. Seeking should generally be done for 15 minutes at least twice daily.

When used in a synergistic manner, you’ll be able to collate and collect content from all parts of the Internet in order to successfully move on to the next stage of the curation process: sense.

After collecting your articles and placing the links and relevant clips in a central place, you can begin to sift through them and find meaning and relevance in most of them and then discard any that might not be relevant for what you’re trying to communicate.

For example, if you have a blog which focuses on celebrity style and fashion, you could figure out how to tie that in with current trends and draw parallels in order to come up with an interesting pictorial conversation with personal commentary added in to give it a bit of your personality.

Making sense usually involves distilling and condensing information in order to streamline it into one theme.

Here are a couple of questions you should ask yourself to help make better sense of collected content:

  1. Will this content add value to my reader’s lives? Curated content has to appeal to your readers from an emotional standpoint. Whether your blog covers accounting or new developments in interior design, you need to make sure that each curated post is identifiable and if possible applicable to your audience’s daily life. This will help you create a bond with your audience on a long-term basis.
  2. Does the content I’m about to curate establish me as a thought leader in the blog circles? The last thing you want to do is copy what everyone else is doing. This will make people overlook you and you might get washed up in the sea of content because there are other bloggers out there who’ve perfected what you’re trying to do.

Here are some of the things associated with the sense stage of content curation:

  • Put your blog post together by merging links with your own commentary and maybe one or two photos or videos to give the post some pizzazz.
  • Annotate where necessary, archive articles and links, and apply changes within your blog if needed.
  • The sense stage of content curation should typically take you about half an hour to an hour every day. This might take longer if you decide to include different forms of content to your blog post because you have to find a way to make the curated content work for you and your audience without creating disconnection or confusion.

Creation and sharing is the last stage of the content curation process and perhaps the most delicate one. Presentation is everything, and you need to know what forms of sharing will resonate with your target audience.

There are various ways that you can use to create and present your content, with the first one being lists.  People love lists as it helps them get information in a compact manner, lessening the time in which they’ll have to go all over the internet looking for content.

A great tip here would be to look at the top 15 trends in your niche and come up with a great list linking out to the best posts on the web talking about these trends. Make sure to use appropriate attribution and keep the commentary short but meaningful. You can also ask your readers what kinds of lists they’d like to see in the coming days and weeks.

Another way in which to present your curated content would be through the use of infographics. These are usually data-based with a touch of visual esthetic thrown in. Infographics help you convey less than interesting information in a fresh an exciting way without taking away from the subject at hand.  Get into the habit of saving interesting and impactful data snippets as you go about reading and curating content around the web. Every once in a while, streamline these data bites and create a curated post based on them.

Yet another light and popular way you can use to create and present your curated content is through the use of humor. People like to laugh as it makes them feel good. At the same time, humor helps with information retention and is found all over the internet. For example, if you’re a food blogger, you could come up with a blog post where you feature a video snippet by a standup comedian lambasting the paleo diet. After the video, you can add your own commentary and then add a couple of memes to break the monotony of the post. Finish off with a snippet of an article extolling the virtues of the paleo diet and then invite your readers to leave you their opinions and thoughts in the comment section.

Here are a few closing tips on what to pay attention to when curating content for your blog:

  • Create a Tumblr page so you can have an account you can use to curate rich media such as videos, high resolution photos and sound clips.
  • You can curate social updates and comments to help stimulate or start a conversation regarding your blog. This can be a great way of getting to know your audience at a much deeper level. These can also be used to add depth and validity to your curated content.

At the end of the day, you need to consistently be on the lookout for new content as well as consistent with your efforts if you want to build a following, a unique voice and be considered as a go-to blogger for knowledge and information on a specific topic or genre.

Stop Blogging in a Vacuum: How to Increase Engagement

Blogging Alone

You know those motivational posters your middle school teachers had plastered all over their classrooms? The ones that featured a set of whales leaping out of the ocean with the caption, “TEAMWORK” and included a little quote that was supposed to convince you not to hate all your group-work assignments?

These made easy targets for the parody “demotivational” posters that have long been popular as chain email fodder. While most of them were clearly made by individuals who have a sense of humor that got stuck in the 7th grade, there’s one I’ve seen that, as a blogger, made me stop and think. The picture is of two people on a desert ledge, dwarfed by the landscape. The caption says, “BLOGGING: Never before have so many people with so little to say said so much to so few.”

The reason this got my attention is because the caption is, unfortunately, based on a kernel of truth. It’s wonderful that anyone with an idea and an Internet connection can fire up their own blog and start producing posts. It’s not so wonderful that so many of us who want to run a blog don’t have any direction, knowledge on best practices, or understanding of how to translate thoughts into engaging posts. Too many bloggers out there are lacking killer content and the knowledge of how to share that content properly with the world. As a result, they’re lacking readership and engagement is nonexistent. They’re also adding to the noise and making it harder for readers to find and engage with great blogs

This is a problem, because I believe each of us does have something to say. You do possess something that you can share via your blog will add value to a reader’s day. We simply need to uncover exactly what that is. Offering something of value to the world will be the foundation to your well-read blog that attracts readers and builds engagement within your community of followers and connections.

Don’t be the blogger who has nothing of real substance to discuss, and who is projecting their posts out into that desert canyon where the only response they get is the sound of their own voice echoing back at them. It’s time to stop blogging in a vacuum, learn how to create content that an audience wants, and increase your engagement to grow your tribe.

Increase Engagement by Offering Value to Build Loyal Followers

Before we even dive into what good content looks like or how to draw more eyeballs to that content, you need to identify what it is you have to say that other people want to hear about, learn about, or talk about. People want to come to your blog and engage with your content when you have something to offer them. When you offer value, you build readership, and when you build readership, you can build engagement.

This might sound intimidating, but the value you offer to others can be anything – really! – so long as you are:

  1. Passionate
  2. Articulate
  3. Respectful of what the audience wants. It’s about your readers, not you.

That last point is extremely important. You want to empathize with your readers, show you understand their wants and needs, and provide something for them. This could be information, knowledge, a solution, or even an idea or image that provides happiness or inspiration. This doesn’t have to be complicated – keep in mind that at its most fundamental, what you provide should either take away someone’s pain, stress, or confusion, or add to their happiness, knowledge base, or quality of life in some way.

It’s Not Your Topic, It’s Your Presentation

Let’s look an example to provide some more clarity on how to offer value. Say you are passionate about your pet cat. You love talking about your cat, sharing cute pictures or funny videos, and telling stories about what your furry friend does and why. So, you blog all about your cat and (unsurprisingly), you’ve found you’re blogging in a vacuum. You have all this fun content about you and your cat, but you’re blogging into empty space.

What’s the problem here? If you said, “no one wants to read about your stupid cat,” you’re wrong. It’s not that no one wants to read about someone else’s cat. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the topic of “my cat.” This is a niche millions of people around the world can relate to, and want to read about because they’re passionate about cats, too. What is wrong is that there is no value being offered. The problem is that in this example, this blog is presented in a way where the content serves the blogger and not the reader.

So what can be done to change this? Remember, you want to either take away bad things like stress or add to good things like enjoyment. Solve a problem or increase happiness. Our cat blogger can offer value and increase engagement by creating posts like “Why Your Cat Scratches Your Couch and What To Do About It,” “7 Signs Your Cat Needs More Attention – and How to Provide It”, or “Top 10 Cute Cat Moments Around the World from 2013.”

Now the blog has begun to serve the reader instead of the blogger. With each of these post ideas, the blogger can include pictures of their own cat and share personal stories to illustrate widespread problems or universal reasons to feel joy amongst cat owners. Readers can now relate to the content, because it’s offering to solve one of their problems or it was created for their enjoyment. The audience can engage now; the blog is all about them and they want to take part in the discussion

Value Isn’t Without Personality

Focusing on providing value doesn’t mean your blog has to be divorced from what interests you. It simply needs to be packaged and delivered in a way that makes it all about the reader. As you saw with our cat blogger example, the blogger didn’t need to stop sharing stories, pictures, or information about their cat. They simply needed to incorporate these elements into posts that served the needs and wants of the people visiting the blog.

You can do the same. Your blog should offer something of value, but it shouldn’t be void of your opinions, thoughts, and interests. These are elements of what makes a blog stand out and be heard over the noise of people who have nothing to say yet publish post after post of boring fluff. Your individual, unique voice is what will help draw readers in. The value you offer them encourages them to not only come back for more but also to share with others.

If you remember, the number one thing you needed to turn your idea into valuable content for your following is passion. You should be passionate about your topics or the niche you’re in. What you should not do is ignore the people you’re relying on to engage with you and eventually become loyal members of your tribe.

Creating Engaging Content

Once you establish what it is that you can offer your followers that they will find valuable, you need to actually round up those followers and convince them to join your tribe. Yes, having an SEO strategy will help you rank better in search engine traffic and this is an important component to getting your blog seen by others. But there is something else you should be doing that is actually much more crucial to increasing engagement. If you consistently publish high-quality, thoughtful, valuable content that promotes discussion and keep that going long enough, you will develop a loyal base of followers that love you and your blog and will be happy to join your community and promote what you’re doing to others.

If you are lacking incredible content that fails to engage the people that visit your blog, you’ll never gain a foothold in your niche. Throwing a jumble of your thoughts into a post and calling it a day is, unfortunately, not going to be good enough if you want your blog to engage and retain an audience that consists of more people than just your mom.

To create content that increases engagement, your post needs to meet the following criteria:

  • The post should be empathetic; it needs to acknowledge what readers want or need.
  • The post should be helpful; it needs to provide the information required for readers to obtain what they want or need.
  • The post should always provide value in some way; it should solve a problem, offer a solution, allow readers to build knowledge, or serve as a source of joy.
  • The post should be written in your own, unique tone and voice; this is what hooks a reader, encourages them to engage by joining the discussion or sharing your content, and gets them coming back for more (a good rule of thumb: write like you talk).
  • The post should be relevant; it needs to somehow connect with your chosen blog topic or niche.
  • The post should end with a call to action to encourage engagement; ask readers a question and invite them to post responses and opinions in the comments or provide an awesome quote and turn it into a click-to-tweet link.

If your posts adheres to these guidelines, you’ve likely got a thought-provoking, interesting piece of content ready to be published. This is an incredible step forward, but your work isn’t quite done.

You need to provide your audience with an easy way to join in the discussion and to quickly and painlessly share your blog posts. Ensure you have a simple, functional comment form in place so that readers can add their thoughts to the post and engage with other members of the community. Don’t make your readers jump through too many hoops to prove they aren’t spammers; this is what good spam-blocking plugins should do for you.

Additionally, provide social media sharing buttons for your readers so they can easily click on the platform of their choice and hit “share now.” Again, these buttons should be simple and functional. Don’t shoot yourself in the foot at the finish line by making sharing buttons tiny (or obnoxiously everywhere) or hard to find. Remember, you want to make engagement as easy as possible for anyone wanting to connect with your blog in some way. Confused minds don’t buy – and frustrated users don’t bother wasting time trying to figure out how to leave a simple comment. They certainly won’t do you the favor of sharing your content if you make it difficult for them to do so.

Put It All Together and Replace Empty Space with A Vast Readership

By putting the above information and advice into practice, it’s extremely likely that you’ll be able to stop blogging in a vacuum and start sharing content with your own dedicated audience. Taking these steps will make your blog a more accessible, thoughtful, and pleasing space for others. You have something to say, so ensure you have an audience to say it to and a tribe that wants to engage with what you’ve provided for them. If you offer value, produce excellent content, and make it easy for others to engage in a variety of ways, it’s a guarantee that will not only increase your readership but also increase engagement for your blog.

How to Get Out of a Blogging Rut When You Are Feeling Stuck

Anyone who writes a blog for an extended period of time hits a point where they feel as though they’ve run out of words (or a blogging rut).  We work so hard to create engaging content and build an audience.  We gain the audience, they’re excited for each post and hungry for more. Then, suddenly, the word flow runs dry.  Panic time!

Actually, you don’t need to panic.  You need to take a deep breath.

According to WordPress, I’ve posted over 2100 times on my blog on the writing life, Ink in My Coffee .  I blog most weekdays, and have for nearly a decade.  Ruts exist — but you can overcome them.

Freelance writer and veteran blogger Lori Widmer, of Words on the Page suggests, “Whenever I’m finding myself in a rut, I cut down on the number of blog entries I post in a week.  Also, I draw from current situations.  An example this week is when a client and I didn’t mesh.  I found a teachable moment in that circumstance.”

Adds Erica Rodefer, of the long-running, excellent blog Spoiled Yogi, says, “Of course I get into ruts!  Sometimes I find ideas by browsing other blogs or scrolling through my social media feeds.  But the best thing I’ve found I can do when I feel uninspired is to step away from the computer!  I go outside to take a walk, call a friend, get on my yoga mat, or meditate and do something (anything!) that will take my mind off of it for awhile.  Often I’ll get an idea while I’m doing something completely unrelated–and if not, when I come back to it with fresh eyes things make more sense.”

I tend to push through, but there are times when I walk on the beach, get back on the yoga mat, and I’m known to have many of my best ideas in the shower.

What is the focus of your blog?

Most blogs are created to deal with something specific — writing, food, politics, someone’s unique personal view of the world.  Our lives grow and change, our professions grow and change.  Our blogs need to grow and change with us.

The focus with which you started may change over time.  Do you still want to write about this topic?  Or is it time to move to something else?  Is it time to start an additional blog on the other topic while keeping the current one?  Or should you wind down the current blog and start a new one?

That’s an individual decision, and you need to make the decision that best serves your vision.  However, if you decide to stop writing a blog, break the news gently and honestly to your readership.  Don’t just say, “I don’t have time to blog” — which is a slap in the face to your readers.  They MAKE time to read your words; if you tell them you “don’t have time”, you tell them that they are not WORTH the time it takes for you to write the blog.  It’s an insult, and most readers will realize it as such.  Now, you’ve lost them forever.

If, however, you tell them that you feel like you’ve said all you have to say about this topic and are either taking a break or writing about a new topic (inviting them to join you), you are considerate of the time they’ve invested in you, while still being true to your needs.  It’s a thoughtful and diplomatic way to bring about positive change.

Hang gliding

Try Something New

If you’re writing about the same topic in the same way, over and over, maybe it’s time to write about something new.  If you write a gardening blog, try growing something a little different.  Prove the “experts” wrong, through you care and nurture of an unusual plant (as long as it’s non-invasive and won’t hurt the local eco-system).  Interview the owner of a gardening center.  Take a field trip to a botanical garden and write about it.  If you write a food blog, write about a new restaurant or take a class out of your wheelhouse and share your experiences.

I admit it — I sometimes force myself out the door to go and do something so I have something to write about.  But, once I’m OUT the door and DOING — I have a terrific time, and creative ideas for articles, stories, and scripts beyond the blog posts flow.

“I keep a running list of ideas,” said Erica Rodefer.  “I add to the list anytime I get a new idea, no matter how silly it seems at the time.  That way when it’s time to write, I have a few different avenues I could explore.”

Reassess

Are you writing only for yourself or only for your audience?  The best blogs do both — they serve the writer’s vision, while conveying information that’s both useful and entertaining to the audience.

Erica Rodefer agrees.   “It’s always helpful to reassess what you’re writing and why,” she says.  “It’s important to me that the things I’m putting out there are relevant to the people who read my blogs — because if I’m just venting about my personal feelings I might as well keep a private journal instead. So, yes, I look to see what people are responding to most, what Google searches bring them to my page, and I try to create as much content as I can around those topics.”

To Vent, or not to Vent?

Wise words from Erica, above.  I still keep a personal, handwritten journal, where I can do my venting.  I do vent publicly on particular issues, especially when they have political and social relevance tied into my writing.  I don’t believe in “going along to get along.”  I’m a big believer in taking action against injustice.

However, in a case where I read a book and it doesn’t work for me AT ALL — I don’t vent about it on the blog and trash the writer.  I know how much it takes to write a book.  If I’m a paid reviewer for a publication, I will be honest, but I will not trash a colleague on my blog, even if that particular outing doesn’t work for me.  It’s a challenging balance.

Remember to Have Fun

Blogging is a way to share passions.  What fascinates you?  What intrigues you?  What makes you excited to get out of bed every morning?  Ultimately, if you’re passionate about and dedicated to a topic, you can engage your audience.

7 Ways To Blog With Google In Mind

Google SEO? Seriously?

At this moment you might be literally pulling your hair out – wondering how, after getting so much of your life sucked into your blog, you will have time to learn about writing for Google too?

Your blog is not just about what you write about.

For your blog to be successful it also has to be about people seeing what you write.

Nobody knows your blog exists until they encounter it – and for most the middle man between you and your potential readers is Google.

As Rand Fishkin of Moz mentioned, “According to the Statcounter data (the only source I really trust)…Google has maintained 80% of search in the US, and 90% plus around the world.”

Yes, Bing is a good search interface. Yes, people go other places. 80% (Did I mention 80% of search….80%!!!!).

Luckily, I have seven simple tips to help you make friends with Google!

How can you start making friends with Google?

1.  Use Title Tags

You only have a few organic ways to get click-through to your blog: 1) Showing up in search and 2) Having the most magnetic Title and ‘Snippet’ on the page when people see you in search

When you do a search in Google – each organic result that turns up has three parts: a Title; a URL, and a Snippet.  I call this area “Snippet Space.”

You have heard the saying, “You only have one chance to make a good first impression?”  Snippet space is that one chance in search. And the title tag is the most important part of Snippet Space.

Your HTML title tag is what forms the “Title” part of snippet space when your site shows up in Organic Searches.  If the keywords a person is searching for are in your HTML title tag – those words will be bolded in the results (obviously a benefit to standing out in relevance to the searcher).

Automation Google Bots

When Googlebots crawl your website/blog and try to determine how important your site will be to potential searchers the Title Tag is one of the ways they determine if your content will satisfy searchers.  It is important to write the way Googlebots read.

Title Tags are also one of the ways you can use Snippet Space to attract people to your page.

Imagine that every time your site shows up in search the snippet space is free advertising space – but it is only as valuable as it is magnetic.

How many times have you done a search and immediately passed over whole pages of results that did not immediately catch your eye?

How many times have you simply ignored an advertisement on television or the radio because it did not command your attention?

Snippet space is Showtime for your blog.  If you do not get attention here – you will not grow your readership through search.

Don’t just take my word for it, Part one of Google’s “Search Optimization Starter Guide” is titled: “Create unique, accurate page tiles.”

Some Title Tag Best Practices

  • You can write your title tags using your blog platforms SEO tool
  • Experiment with writing these tags just like you practice writing headlines for your blog posts. – Don’t publish a post without optimizing it
  • Title tags ought be a maximum of 70 characters, including spaces
  • When you write your title tags, separate the things you write using the pipe symbol “|” (it’s located right above the enter key).  For instance, if I were writing a title tag for this post, and I wanted to include the blogs name it would read:  7 Ways to Blog with Google in Mind | Learntoblog,com
  • Try to put the most important keywords early in the title and if you are working on local SEO also include where you are located.
  • Create unique tags for every page that accurately describe the content of that page
  • Try to avoid ‘stop words’ – words that have no possible keyword value

2.  Use Meta Descriptions

Your Meta Description most often is what forms the Snippet – the description of the webpage below the URL.  Think of it as another opportunity to hook the searcher.  If you caught their eye with your title tag – you can move them down the funnel with the description.

The important thing here is not to ignore the opportunity to control your snippet space.  Always fill these tags out for every post/page on your site.

Some Meta Description Best Practices:

  • You can write your Meta Description using your blog platforms SEO tool
  • Experiment with writing these tags just like you practice writing headlines for your blog posts. – Don’t publish a post without optimizing it
  • Google will display up to 150 characters of your description
  • Try to include structured data that might get attention and would not be in the results otherwise
  •  Write your descriptions as calls to action
  • Try to answer the questions you think represent the reasons people are searching for you

3. Alt Images Tags

Googlebots are pretty smart (for algorithms), but they cannot always see pictures or interpret what they represent.  In order for you to get credit for the value of your images to your content, you need to label them (explaining succinctly what they include).  This is fairly important because images matter in how Google values your content.

Some Alt Images Best Practices:

  • You can write your Alt Image Tags  using your blog platforms SEO tool
  • Experiment with writing these tags just like you practice writing headlines for your blog posts. – Don’t publish a post without optimizing it

4.  Anchor Text

Anchor text is the colored and underlined clickable text that can be clicked on to take the reader to another site.  Anchor text is one of the ways Googlebots try to match your site to the importance of its content.

Anchor text wears many hats in online publishing.

It is the main way you give credit to the people you are quoting or referencing in your writing and it is a means of generating links between your blog and other sites (which is important to establishing the authority of your blog)

You can make your anchor text be an exact match of the site you are quoting from, you can tie the anchor text to keywords or long-tail keyword phrases you are targeting, or you can have the anchor text say “click here” or something similar.

As Google moves from keyword driven search to semantic search (where it uses all available information to determine exactly what people are searching for by using contextual devices like search history, geo-location, or what fits your personal history best) – for blog writing, it makes the most sense to choose your anchor text where it makes the best sense naturally in your writing.

In addition, there is a great deal of debate among SEO experts right now over if anchor text will begin to be less valued by Google’s algorithm.  However, this change certainly hasn’t entirely devalued anchor text – and making sure your anchor text and your content is connected to ideas that show the value of your content to a searcher is what likely matters to Google.

In other words, Google wants everything to be written and marked up in the most conversational style possible.

In the old days of SEO you could game the search engine by simply loading up content with irrelevant anchor text and links, now Google is committed to making search serve the searcher and not the site.

The most important thing to remember about anchor text is to use it whenever it is appropriate.

I like to use anchor text to allow the reader to get more context and deeper information about anything I am writing about.

You should be able to apply anchor text using your blog platforms SEO-tool.

5.  Sign up for Google+

Google Plus

In 2013 Google changed drastically, deciding to connect all of their projects and platforms through their Google+ social network.  In other words, the universe of Google is now connected through the Google+ network.

A few months ago, a friend asked me to give him just a few easy to ideas for getting his business website higher in search results.  The first question I asked him was:  Are you a Google+ member?

Long story short, just by having him sign up for Google+ and having him tie his site to Google+ his site jumped from page three to page one for his local targets..  There is debate over how important Google+ is but there is pretty solid evidence connecting Google+ and optimization.

Worst case scenario, it’s a pretty small price to pay for a potential SEO benefit.  Best case scenario, it is another route for people to use to find your content and one that gives your blog an SEO boost.

Google+ Best Practices

  • Make sure you fill out all your information in sync with how it is filled out on your website – Inconsistent listings cause ‘Googlebot confusion’ and can actually hurt your SEO.
  • Fill out your profile completely
  • Link your website to your Google+ profile (the option for this is in settings)
  • Add Google+ badges on your blog and +1 clickable icons so that people can click to add you
  •  Input your blog URL in the intro section, provide a call to action giving people a reason to check your blog out, add your blog again in the links section
  •  Search and join circles that would appreciate the content you provide through your blog.  Participate when possible so that people see you as an active community member
  • Write teaser versions of your blog content and publish them with links to your blog through Google+

6.  Sign up for Google Authorship

One of the biggest new concepts Google deepened in 2013 was Authorship.  Google wants to be able to ensure that the content the search engine points to is written by real people.

The first step to getting seen by Google as a credible real-person is signing up for Google Authorship. Obviously, there are some SEO benefits to being seen as an author by Google.  One of the biggest benefits occurs in “Snippet Space” – Google authors often appear in search results with an addition to the snippet – a Rich Snippet which includes the head shot from your Google+ profile – and a count of how many Google+ circles you belong to.

How Google says to sign up for authorship:

  • Put a profile photo on your Google+ account
  • Make sure a byline with your name appears on every page of your content and that that byline name matches your Google+ name
  • Have an email address from the same domain as your content.  If you publish in places that are different than your domain (guest blogging) make sure there is a link to your Google+ profile in your author bio space in that content.
  • If you do blog for other sites, there is a place on your Google+ profile where you can enter up to 10 sites you publish for and want to get authorship credit for (in the ‘contributor to’ section of your profile)
  • If you have a business that publishes through your blog also sign up for the rel=publisher attribute

7.  Sign up for Google+ Local

iphone google plus

There are some confusing things about the recent changes to Google’s architecture for local search.  In particular, Google recently moved everyone from “Google Places” to “Google+ Local Pages” and “Google+ Business Pages.”

It is, however, important to keep up with these changes to Google’s architecture and maintain a presence in local search – especially if there is a relationship between your blogs relevance and the area you live in.

In addition, with people spending more and more time on mobile devices, Google+ local becomes increasingly important even if you do not have local intent (Local has a ton to do with how Google is adapting to mobile).

You should also have a Google+ business page.  There are real benefits from integrating fully into Google+ – everything from SEO to how you turn up in search.

However, you should be really careful to not make Google+ a substitute for your blog.  It is important to remember that all of your peripherals (social media sites etc.) are ways to get people to your blog not a substitute for your blog.  It is called “inbound marketing” for a reason – the goal is to own media and bring people to your own space.

Google’s instructions for signing up for Google+ Local Pages are here

Google’s instructions for signing up for a Google+ Business Pages are here

Bringing it all together

Google Plus

It can be frustrating keeping up with a blog. It is hard enough to find the time to keep enough content on your blog to make it relevant much less learn all the tricks necessary to bring people to your blog.

As hard as it is, you have to remember that there is more to blogging than writing.  Unless you are writing only as a creative outlet, your main goal should be to get eyes to your posts.

At least 80% of the time Google is the middle-person (middle-algorithm?) between searchers and your blog content – It is critical to your success that you write with Google (and Googlebots) in mind.

Hopefully, these tips will help you please Google!

What did I leave out?  Please take a second and share your own best tips for keeping your blog prominent on Google!