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Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Blog Comments and Input

Comments and Input

In order for your readers to return again and again, it’s important to make them feel like your site is their site.  You need to make them feel at home in your Blog Empire.  One way to do that is by allowing them to make comments, ask questions, and provide information through timely feedback.  This can be done either through the blog-supplied comments, through special free add-ons such as Haloscan or by adding an attached forum through a free service such as ForumUp. Be aware, however, that on the internet as in life, there’s no such thing as a free lunch.  Free service providers are actually providing the same service to advertisers that you are by putting ads in front of your readers.  If you send your readers to a forum on someone else’s server, you will generally not receive the advertising revenue that traffic creates.  That’s their payment for providing the service to you without cost.

The comments sections of popular blogs are “where the action is.”  Arguments can last for days, even weeks, and provide consistent fodder for updated or pointed entries.  If you’ve stated something controversial on the front page, your readers will certainly let you know what they think, providing the perfect opportunity to clarify, modify, or expand your argument.  If you’ve listed ways that a certain software package can be modified, knowledgeable readers can provide additional information, making your blog that much more valuable to your other readers.  Comments can also provide valuable feedback to you, and what is sometimes more important, encouragement to let you know that your efforts are appreciated and worthwhile.

If you decide to allow comments and feedback, it’s important to decide how much time you want to spend monitoring the traffic it generates.  If discussions get “off track,” you may need to publish (and enforce) forum rules, which may be as simple as editing content for bad language or as complicated as ensuring – if your blog is related to the stock market, for example - that information presented is not in violation of a myriad of SEC regulations.  Remember, your readers, like the author they read, always come with their own agendas.  If your comments section gets wild and crazy, that’s great for your traffic.  If it becomes a haven for spammers or stock manipulators, you may have to spend more time reading and editing than that traffic is worth.

Banning Readers

Once your comments section takes on a life of its own, you’ll certainly meet a lot of well-informed and interesting people who will make your job easier and your content more valuable.  You will see relationships develop and blossom and you’ll get to know your most faithful readers as far more than just words on a screen.  Getting to know your readers will provide encouragement as you see how the content you provide them helps them in real life.  It’s one of the finest pleasures of the job.

But you’ll also attract those readers whom you would rather not deal with.  They may be spammers who use your forums to promote their own sites.  They may be ne’er-do-wells who simply show up to gainsay everything and abuse their fellow readers.  And that means that you may have to ban readers, making it impossible for them to post on your site.

Banning readers is not something that ought to be done lightly.  However, for your forums and comment sections to succeed, they must conform to the goals you have set for your overall site.  If after several warnings, a reader insists that the rules do not apply to him, it may be best for the rest of your readers to remove that reader from the discussion.

Visiting And Reading Other Blogs

Visiting And Reading Other Blogs – Meet the Competition

Once you have staked out your little corner of the blogosphere, it’s time to really size up the competition.  You may have met a few of them through blog rings and traffic exchanges, but now it’s time to really read their sites and – gasp – get to know them.  Just because a blog is a competitor does not mean the blogger is an adversary, and an excellent way to build your reputation and increase your traffic is to introduce yourself to your fellow bloggers and their readers through the comments section of their blogs.

Bloggers love comments because readers who are engaged in a discussion in the comments section will return to a page again and again. Some popular blogs have hundreds of comments on some entries, and for every commenter you can be sure there are dozens who are following along but who do not care for whatever reason to get involved in the discussion.  Comment areas will usually allow you to enter your email address and blog address in addition to your name, so for every comment you make, you’re insuring that another link to your blog is placed in front of people who might be interested in what you have to say.

However, avoid “comment spam,” the practice of dropping comments just for the link or blatantly advertising your site without adding anything useful to the discussion.  It’s not only a good way to alienate potential readers; it’s a good way to get you banned from a site. A good commenter will often earn a link from the host, and if the host has more traffic than you (and it’s a good idea to comment only on those blogs that are more established than yours) you’ll often pick up readers who see your site linked from that blog.  Be sure to reciprocate quickly and thank the other blogger for linking.  You’ve made a friend who will consistently send targeted traffic your way. If a site has an established link policy, be sure to follow it to the letter.  You want to give other blogs every reason to link you and no reason to cut you off.

Your Blog Entries

Your Blog Entries

What stories are to a city newspaper, blog entries are to your Blog Empire.  And while your layout is important, readers will not return again and again to admire your layout or ruminate over your clever title.  They’ll return again and again to read your writing or view your artwork or check the links that you provide.  In other words, while they may read because of your layout, they will return because of your entries.

An entry is simply a published piece of material, and your readers will have definite expectations for your entries that you will need to meet, again and again, in order to woo them into coming back tomorrow.  Luckily, most of those expectations are set by you in prior entries. Those expectations are insight, relevance, timeliness, accuracy, and consistency.

Thoughtful, Insightful and Unique Content

Whether your blog provides photographs of the rain forest, reviews of Pacific Northwest restaurants, or the largest collection of ethnic jokes on the planet, your readers expect that every time they come there, they’ll find something new, unique, and worthwhile.  They’ll expect to find something they can’t find anywhere else or find by themselves without searching all over.  In short, they’ll expect you to provide insightful and unique content on a certain consistent subject or issue.  Your insight and your dedication to providing quality are what will draw them back.

Your Blog Links and Commentary

On a news blog, for example, your readers expect that your commentary will provide interesting and relevant news, probably with a link to an original story or a source site.  They will also expect you to provide expertise that they do not possess, information they have not found elsewhere, and an up-to–the-minute take on relevant trends and rumors.  They want to read the entry and come away feeling they now know more than they did, that they learned something interesting, and that they leave with a reason to return.

A blog that reviews restaurants will meet those same expectations in a different manner.  Timeliness is less a factor – restaurants don’t change as quickly as the daily news – but relevance and thoroughness become more important.  Your readers are not going to return for your reviews of Portland’s collection of Subway restaurants, nor for your fifth review of Kell’s Irish Pub, even if you think it the best place in the world to eat.  They demand an expanding collection of useful content, and they want each entry to tell them everything they need to know to make an enjoyable dining decision. They want you to be clear, honest, and thorough.

Perhaps your blog is a reference blog, collecting and publishing links by subject.  While readers may not have expectations for your commentary, they will expect the links to be accurate and present a thorough overview of the subject from all angles – or at least from the angle your readers have come to expect from prior commentary.  Consistency and thoroughness are again the watchwords.

Whatever the theme of your blog, your readers will expect every entry to be timely, relevant, and accurate.

Blogging With Consistency

Because your blog shares many attributes of your local newspaper, think for a moment about what the newspaper look like.  It has a masthead, headings, and stories.  It has a certain number of columns, fonts of a certain size and type, and stories categorized within sections.  It looks that way every day. It is consistent.

On the other hand, imagine what you’d think of a newspaper that placed random obituaries in the sports section, put the top story of the day in the classifieds section, or used random fonts and character sizes across an ever-changing number of columns.  You wouldn’t have a lot of respect for that newspaper, would you?  It would not be taken seriously by most readers.  They would ignore it, even though it may be incredibly informative and insightful once they get past the layout.  They will ignore your blog, too, unless you learn a lesson from the papers: consistency makes a good first impression.

That means your entries have to look smart and interesting, even before the reader scans a single headline. And your entries must be readable, especially if you are quoting a source and explaining or arguing with that source.  This can be done through the use of bolds, indentations, color (either font or background) or as many ways as you can imagine.  The only limitations are your imagination and a respect for consistency.  What works for one entry should be made to work for all.  If a specific layout does not work for most entries, keep experimenting until you find one that does.  Your readers will appreciate it.

Your blog entries, laying one after the other on a page, will present the same visual opportunity to make a first impression as the consistent fonts and columns of a newspaper.  That means your entries should all look similar.  They should have the same font in the same size.  The headlines and links should be treated the same way all down the page.  If you use images, they should appear in the same place in each entry.  The entries, at least on the front page, should be the same size, with no entry so large that it takes up the whole front page unless that’s the only story you’re doing for the day – and you do it every day.

But how do you do that, since you’ll not have the same amount to say about every subject or the same number of images to present?  Extra commentary should be handled, like newspapers do it, “behind the fold.” 

Take a look at a few of the favorite blogs you chose earlier and notice a linked line at the bottom of many stories. It may say, “More behind the fold” or simply, “Read more.”  Notice how each of the entries looks the same, with no long entries taking up the entire page.  Notice how if a story does not interest you (and not every one will) you can see the next story without paging down.  That blog realizes that if a long story does not interest a reader, she will most likely not skip to the next one unless she can see it; she will likely surf away instead.  If it does interest the reader, the rest of the story is only a click away.

Whatever blog software you choose (and we’ll review a few types later) should allow you to put data behind the fold, saving your front page for multiple stories, just like a newspaper does.  Remember, the New Media will take the best from the Old Media, and a consistent and serious presentation is one of the best lessons you can learn from them.

Designing Has To Be In Uniform With Blog Content.

Designing a Page That Complements Your Content

Many of us dream of going boldly where no man has gone before.  In the blog world, that’s done with content – creating a unique contribution to the blogosphere that readers will return to again and again.

In some areas, however, it’s safer to follow the well-worn path, sort of like following the Oregon Trail across the Old American West.  Someone found the best way to cross the plains and many others succeeded only because they followed in those muddy ruts.  The hard work was done, and the important stuff lay on the other side of the mountains. It would have been foolish for a greenhorn to try to seek a new pass through the mountains simply because others had already established one. So it is with developing the look of your blog, at least when you are getting started. Of course, once you are a seasoned explorer, you’ll want to seek out the newer and better paths that others overlook.

Earlier you chose the kind of Blog Empire you were going to establish, so now it’s time to take a look at a few other blogs that have successfully made the trek you’re setting out on.  We’re only going to look at the best (i.e. most successful) blogs to start with, though you’ll eventually want to follow a few blog rings to snatch up ideas that can help you build your site into all it can be.

If you haven’t already done so, do a web search using you favorite search engine, looking for the Top 100 blogs.  It doesn’t really matter how you search, just that you find blogs that have proven themselves in the eyes of readers and other bloggers, because there are many ways to measure the top: by traffic, by number of other blogs that link, even by awards.  You’ll eventually want to search them all.

Now take a look at their layouts, their colors, their images.  Focus especially on blogs that resemble yours in content.  How do they deal with long posts?  How do they link documents?  Do they have a list of previous entries?  What does their masthead look like?  How many columns do they have across the page, including links? These questions are important, not because you’ll be copying (you won’t), but because there are certain layout standards your readers will expect to see, just like you expect that all daily newspapers will share a similar format.


As much as your blog resembles others, there are ways in which your blog will be – must be – unique.  The first is, obviously, your title.  The second is going to be artwork that complements it.  On a blog titled, “The Privateer,” a ship would be a complementary masthead.  A German shepherd dog would not.  But whether your title is relevant to your content, your artwork should be relevant to your title if possible.  The image and title are part of your brand, the image you want your readers to remember and come back for more of.  They should send a single message to your reader at first glance.

That means professional quality artwork.  It does not have to be professionally created, but it must be of high quality. Create it yourself only if you’re good enough at it that people would pay you to do theirs.

A couple of examples from political sites will illustrate:

Power Line has its name, literally in lights, with lightning striking from each end.  Could it be any more powerful?

Red State shows a map of the United States with red from sea to shining sea.  It’s not only their masthead, but their goal.

Daily Kos goes for a more artistic look, with an orange-and-black picture background and the name in bold white. The picture need not relate directly to the title because the title is a personal name, but it must (and does) look professional.

What they have in common is professionalism and uniqueness.  Your Blog Empire should exude the same professional seriousness as the best blogs.  After all, you’ll be joining them! 

Figure 4 - A blog's header art illustrates the theme

Fonts and Colors

Blogs come in all fonts and colors, and there is no right way to handle them except that they ought to say something about your site whenever possible.  Red State, for obvious reasons, goes heavy on the red and light on the blue. Gizmodo, a blog dedicated to gadgets, uses a more “techno” color scheme, with soft blues and oranges.  Daring Fireball does the opposite of what you’d expect: there’s not an orange letter on the page; just unadventurous shades of gray. Each of them has a consistent scheme that makes it stand out from others, even while respecting the layout standards readers expect.

Less can be said on fonts, as most blogs use the popular fonts that come with blog software.  The only warnings are to be sure your font is of a readable size for most screens (from 800x600 to 1024x768), and to avoid using comical or whimsical fonts on serious material.  It’s also a good idea to stick with fonts that most people will have on their machines, because most browsers will default to a popular font anyway if they don’t have yours installed. Unless there’s a good reason not to, you should stick with a font that will not detract attention from your message.  That normally means Arial, Times New Roman, Georgia, or the like.  

The Construction Of Your Blog

Blog Construction Process

If the idea of sifting the news 20 hours a day for blog material gives you the willies, don’t panic: get a partner.  One of the most popular blog formats (or rather, the format of many popular blogs) is the multi-contributor blog.  I mentioned the Volokh Conspiracy earlier; it’s written by several legal experts who contribute in their areas of expertise to the blog’s main theme.  National Review’s “Corner” follows a similar format: NR’s columnists answer reader mail and contribute quips and opinions, making the page a lively read.  Creating a multi-contributor blog means that you’ll be sharing your Blog Empire with co-regents, and as history illustrates, this has challenges of its own.  But if you share a love of your subject with other experts, you’ll be doing your readers a favor by sharing divergent opinions with them.

A second possibility is to join a site that has multiple blogs on it, drawing traffic that may come to read others and stay to read you.  A number of newspapers like the Lawrence Journal World feature a stable of bloggers on their site and may even feature some of their bloggers in print or on their paper’s front page online.  For the blogger who wants to build an audience quickly, this may be an option.  Be aware, however, that writing under someone else’s banner means you will be giving up significant creative control: it may be a good starting place for you to build a name, but you’ll soon want to strike out on your own.

Well, What Do You Now Know About Blogging?

Now that you know what you can build, let’s take a look at what you want to build.  The first step in that process is looking at who you are, what and who you know, and what you love.  What do you have to offer the millions of potential readers who will join your Blog Empire while they sip their morning coffee?

To find out we’re going to answer the most important question for your future success: where you’re going to build your capitol, the headquarters of your own Blog Empire.  Basically, we’re going to brainstorm and free associate.  There are no right answers, no wrong answers, and nothing is too crazy to write down at this point.  Remember, if you love it, someone else probably loves it, too.

Take out a blank sheet of paper and get a nice, tall drink.  Then answer the following questions as best as you can. Some, like your age, may seem silly or irrelevant.  Some you may simply not have an answer to.  That’s perfectly all right. Just be as thorough as you can.

Question 1: Who are you?   What is your age?  What is your gender? What is your race? Are you religious? Are you a dazzling urbanite, a laid-back rural, or something in between?  Do you think about these issues every day?  Do they matter to you or to your friends? HOW do they matter? What languages do you speak? If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be? Try that last one again, honestly this time.

Question 2: What do you know?  What and who do you know? Where have you gone to school?  Where do you work and what do you do? In what areas are you an expert?
Who else shares your love, your passion, your expertise? What work, education, or hobby-related areas could you be said to have a reputation?  What do you have a reputation for? 

Question 3: What do you want to know?  When you log onto the internet, where is the first place you go?  What are you looking for? What do you expect to find? How long does it take you to find it? Is everything in one place? How many sites do you visit before you’re satisfied? What do you WANT a reputation for?

Question 4: What are you passionate about?  What makes your blood boil? What makes you jump up and click your heels?  Have you ever written a letter to the editor?
What was the subject? Did you check the paper every day for responses? What politicians or issues do you love enough to walk door-to-door for? Why? If you were king, what would be the first thing you’d do? If you won the lottery, what would be the first thing you’d buy?

Introducing The Most Powerful List Building Secrets. Lesson one

List Building Secret #1 - Making Your Content Relevant Keeps Your Subscribers Happy And Boosts The Amount Of People Who Will Recommend Your Newsletter To Their Friends.

One of the biggest problems I see newsletter and ezine publishers having online is that they write about subjects no one in their market is interested in. They just write about whatever they think people want to know about without doing any of the research, which is a huge no no.

Another problem is, publishers who have a market well defined don't then write the content in their newsletters that interests their readers. There is no use having an ezine on coin collecting and running articles on stamp collecting just because you couldn't be bothered finding the right content for your ezine.

This is easily overcome. Just send out an email asking your readers what they want to read. Also sign up for other ezines in your market and see what they are writing about.

List Building Secret #2

List Building Secret #2 - Add More Subscription Boxes To Your Website

Sounds simple enough, but few people actually do it. If you have a 100 page website, you should have 100 newsletter subscribe boxes on your website.

You can integrate a subscribe box just about anywhere in a website. You could add one just before an article starts, in the middle of an article or even at the end of the article.

As long as you have good content on your website, you won't have a problem getting people to subscribe to your newsletter.

An interesting way to do this for a content site is as follows.

Have a look at this website and see what he does to get subscribers, it's very clever.