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Which Blog Post Will Hit It Big?

Published January 9, 2017 in Blogging - 0 Comments
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It’s very difficult to predict if any given blog post will hit it big. Sometimes you can kind of call it. I had a pretty good idea that my Women of DragonCon 2016 post would be big. Even so, I didn’t expect it to account for a full 9.25% of my 2016 traffic. But I expected my post on choosing a niche for your blog to do better than it did. And I had no idea that my Shady Rays sunglasses review would become so popular.

But let’s focus on the two popular ones for a moment. That will help us understand two factors – out of many – that help make a post popular.

The popularity of the Women of DragonCon post needs little explanation. Sensationalism and titillation sell. That post has a bit of both. Even better, it has pictures of attractive women in interesting clothing. Bingo. I also posted links to it in several relevant forums. That earned it a lot of attention.

The Shady Rays post has a simple explanation, too, although less obvious. As of this morning, that single post has brought in more traffic than this entire blog earned in all of January last year. That’s right – nine days of one blog post generated more traffic than the entire blog did in a full month in a comparable period. What happened?

Google.

Key in a search for “Shady Rays review.” That post is currently the number four result – and number one is the Shady Rays web site itself, with numbers two and three being YouTube videos. How on earth did I achieve such a feat? Well, I used the “Yoast SEO” plugin for WordPress to optimize the post for search engines… but I do that for every post. Why was this one special?

Because there aren’t very many product reviews for Shady Rays yet. I know. I looked for one before I bought mine. The Internet let me down. I found a very small handful – but I couldn’t be sure that they weren’t plants from the company itself. My sunglasses broke again, so I needed new ones – and I took a chance. Then I wrote a review about it, and now my post is one of the top results for that term.

It will probably stay there for some time. This sort of thing tends to be self reinforcing. Other people looking for Shady Rays reviews will find mine and share it with their friends. Because I’m early, I have a head start on the link building game. It’s too bad they don’t have an affiliate program – I could probably make a bit of money this year off of referrals.

Even so, ranking high on the search results doesn’t guarantee a lot of traffic. I have other posts that rank high on search results. My post on Ted Cruz’s Asperger’s Syndrome ranks highly as well. But while that post does bring in a steady stream of traffic from Google, it’s a small stream. The difference is that Shady Rays is advertising heavily on social media, and they’ve got a good sales pitch. People are interested in the product. What they’re missing is a solid set of user reviews to seal the deal – but people are looking for that.

So although I may rank high on the search phrase for quite some time, the traffic will probably ultimately level off. I can’t rely on that forever. But sooner or later I’ll write another post that does equally well – or better.

There’s a lesson here, and it’s worth pointing out. This is why I write a general topics blog rather than a niche blog – and I recommend that you do the same. You never, ever know when you’re going to write that tiny throw-away post that blows up big and doubles your traffic – and you never know which post it’ll be. That’s also one more reason why quantity is so important. The more posts you write, the more traffic draws you have.

What are your biggest surprise hit posts?

Seriously, Blogging is Your LONG Game

Published December 28, 2016 in Blogging , Business , Philosophy - 0 Comments
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I have to admit that this post from The Daytime Renegade got me down more than a bit. I read it before Christmas, but it took me some time to formulate my thoughts in reaction to it. An excerpt:

I know that if you don’t promote or believe in yourself, no one else will but my God man, over the Internet, anybody can say they’re anything! Why should you listen to anyone or swallow advice whole without thinking critically?

There are people who pass the sniff test, of course–professional athletes and trainers, business people and parents–who have a proven record of success, have clearly thought their ideas through, and show themselves, warts and all. Take them more seriously.

And maybe that’s the way forward. My problem with blogging is this: I don’t think I really have any great insights into anything.   

I’m not saying this to get sympathy, because that’s pathetic. I am just being honest and self-reflective.

I harbor no illusions about being particularly good at anything or writing useful “self-improvement” type stuff. I have a very short track record of proven success, and it seems silly writing as though I were THE MAN. 

So what’s next for my little on-line adventures?

I don’t know, but I am going to take a blogging hiatus and really think about what I want to do with this.

First of all, I’m honored and flattered to have been linked on that list as a successful business person. At least I’m good at playing one on the Internet!

However, I think Daytime Renegade is using the wrong metrics to judge himself – as so many others do. And this stems mostly from ignorance of true realities – not just of blogging but of many other factors.

I’ve posted about it before, but it bears repeating: blogging is your long game. And I do mean long. There are a handful of successful bloggers who made the leap to “stardom” very quickly: Instapundit, Andrew Sullivan, James Joyner, Megan McArdle, Markos Moulitsas. Want to know what they all have in common? They got started in the early days of blogging, in the 2000-2005 time frame. Blogging was new, they were early entrants, and they managed to ride the wave.

Very nearly every blogger who made it big after that period has something else in common: they all slugged it out for a very long time. Either that, or they were already famous for something else.

A prime example is Vox Day. His two blogs this year have hit a combined traffic metric of over four million page views per month. That’s a huge amount of traffic – more than some “major” news outlets get. But he didn’t get there overnight. His blog has been around since roughly 2001. I know. I was reading it very occasionally then – mostly on the occasions that Instapundit linked to it. As I mentioned on my previous post on the topic, his prime blog now has roughly fifteen thousand individual posts on it (maybe more by now). That’s a lot of content for search engines to comb through, for people to link through, for new users to read through, etc.

By comparison, this will be post number 306 on this blog when it goes live. I’ve got a long way to go. I, too, was blogging in the roughly 2001 time frame – and I wish that I had continued that blog through to the present day. I am not as prolific a poster as Vox Day, and I probably wouldn’t have 15,000 posts. But I’d still have several orders of magnitude more content than I have now.

Quantity isn’t the only thing that time and persistence give you, however. They also help you build an audience – regular readers who continue to come back and read your works. Such a readership grows geometrically, not linearly. I’ll go into more details in another post later this week, but my blog traffic is up more than sevenfold from last year. That particular growth rate is somewhat high – but doubling or tripling blog readership year over year is the norm, not the exception. At those growth rates, readership eventually becomes quite high. Remember the old tale of the man who wanted one penny today, two tomorrow, four on the third day, eight on the fourth day, etc. On the 30th day his payment due is over $10 million – or four million page views.

There is another thing that happens over time. You set yourself apart from those who lack persistence. Very few bloggers are still blogging after one year. Even fewer are still blogging after five years. Vox Day has won because he’s still blogging after fifteen years – a feat that puts him in the company of perhaps a few hundred other bloggers worldwide. What special skill did he require to achieve that? None – only persistence.

[To be clear, I’m not claiming that persistence is the only skill that made Vox Day’s blog so popular; many other skills contributed to that feat. Rather, it is the only skill that made his post count so high. As I’ve already explained elsewhere, that does indeed have a massive impact on blog traffic.]

As Christopher Lansdown mentioned when he interviewed me earlier this week, very few highly successful people are young. Most of them don’t achieve true success until their late forties or early fifties. Why? Because success often requires many years of hard slogging, setbacks, persistence, and getting back on your feet.

Blogging is an extremely useful marketing tool. But for most people it’s not a short term one. The short term payoff is almost always low – and usually trivial or negligible. But even low payoff blogging often becomes very useful in the long run.

I would offer three more thoughts to Daytime Renegade as he reconsiders his blogging goals.

First, as with so many other things in life, blogging success follows a power law curve. My 2016 levels of blog traffic are pretty low (I’ve had considerably more traffic in the early years of blogging). Even so, they probably put me in the top 15% or so of all bloggers. At a guess, I would wager that 3,000 to 5,000 page views a month probably put you in the top 10%. 10,000 to 15,000 page views a month probably put you in the top 5%.

What’s the point? Compared to all other bloggers out there, Mr. Daytime Renegade, you are probably far more successful than you realize. In one sense that’s depressing. But in another sense, it should be inspiring. Because you, too, can at least double your blog traffic in 2017. In fact, you can probably increase it by a factor of 5 to 10 – which would move you far further up that chain. Unlike many of the bloggers you’ve already left far behind, you have not yet reached your peak – especially if you remain persistent. You can climb much further up the charts.

Second, you are overrating the value of originality and your own unique insights. You feel like none of your thoughts are new – but this is precisely because of all the time you spend reading: reading books, reading news, reading other blogs. You make the mistake of assuming that your readership is already familiar with all of the ideas you’re familiar with, because of course everyone else has read all the stuff you read. Doesn’t everybody?

In a word, no. Even other highly intelligent, highly educated people haven’t read everything you have. They can’t. There are hundreds of thousands of blogs on the Internet today. Roughly 1,000 new books are published every day on Amazon, with roughly five million already available in their Kindle catalog. Nobody can possibly read all of that, even if they’re independently wealthy and all they ever do is read. As I’ve said before, originality is overrated. To perfectly illustrate the point, even that post wasn’t original – and yet I’ve gotten direct feedback from readers who found it extremely useful and had never thought about it in those terms before.

You have knowledge of value to your readers, even if it isn’t new and insightful. Most major bloggers aren’t passing on their own major insights – they’re passing on insights they’ve read elsewhere. Occasionally they’ll ad some insight or synthesis of their own, but mostly not. And I don’t mean that disrespectfully to them. True originality and insight is rare. Fortunately, it’s also usually unnecessary.

Finally, but perhaps most relevant… I have followed you on Twitter, Gab, and other social media for months. In that time, we’ve actually interacted quite a lot – and I’ve enjoyed it. Even so, I had no idea you even had a blog until my wife pointed out this particular post to me. I am not alone.

Morgon tires of hearing me say it, but she also knows it’s true: the single largest problem, by far, with all of our small businesses right now is that too many people don’t even know we exist. It is the single biggest problem for this blog as well – and yours. Unless you have the money for a major marketing blitz a la Disney or a major party Presidential campaign, the only cure for that problem is time and persistence. Word of mouth works, and it works well… but it’s agonizingly slow.

Personally, I’m glad to see that there are new posts on your blog already, and that this post doesn’t mean you’re giving up. Here’s to 2017 and beyond, to exponential growth, and to persistence!

Don’t Get Hung Up on Originality

Published June 29, 2016 in Blogging - 0 Comments
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originalityI know a lot of folks who are, shall we say, “attempted bloggers.” They have a blog. It exists. They’ve even made a few posts. But they haven’t updated it in forever – sometimes years. They tell me that they plan to get to it. Eventually. Yet they never do.

Almost all of these friends are hung up on “originality.” It’s not the only thing holding them back, but it’s a big one. And it’s common among writers of all kinds. “I want to say something original.” Fair enough – we all want to say something original. But originality is hard. It’s also overrated.

Most people honestly can’t process truly original thoughts. To the average person, when you say something original they just hear crazy talk. That’s because truly original ideas don’t yet have enough conceptual framework to introduce them to the masses. A truly original idea often requires a large body of supporting knowledge that the masses simply don’t have. Even educated people – even highly educated people – often don’t have the specialized domain knowledge necessary to process something truly unique.

That’s ok – you probably don’t have very many truly original ideas, anyway. Don’t beat yourself up for it. Neither does anybody else, really – or at least, very few people.

Those famous bloggers you read – the ones whose blogs are overflowing with great new ideas? They didn’t come up with those ideas on their own, either. Well, mostly. I know a couple of bloggers who have come up with some truly original ideas. Which is great. Until you realize that those same bloggers have written 14,000+ blog posts. How many of those were truly original ideas? Maybe a dozen.

And that leads to the key insight that I want to share with you today. Your audience doesn’t know everything that you know. Not by a long shot. I fight with this constantly. I’ve read thousands of books in my life. I’ve seen hundreds of movies, and thousands of hours of television shows. I’ve read tens of thousands of online articles, blog posts, reviews, stories and more. Possibly well over a hundred thousand. On all kinds of topics – fiction, non-fiction, politics, religion, philosophy, psychology, sociology, math, science, programming, language, history, and more. I have both a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree, and they’re not in the same field.

I’m not saying any of that to show off. I will have readers who have been exposed to more raw knowledge than I have. I probably already do have readers like that. The point isn’t the quantity of knowledge I’ve accumulated. The point is that there’s nobody else out there – nobody – who has read the exact same combination of books that I have. Nobody else has seen the same combination of movies. Nobody else has the same background knowledge.

And that’s true for you, too. You know many things that your readers don’t. Don’t be afraid to share that knowledge. It might be obvious to you. It might even be obvious to some of your readers. But it’s not obvious to everybody.

I have the opposite problem of what I’ve describe above. Whereas my friends don’t feel they have anything to talk about, I have plenty. But I also have a strong tendency to forget just how much background knowledge my readers don’t have. I’m aware of this, and I tend to write with this fact in mind. But I don’t always succeed. Even when I focus on it, I often leave out important details.

Either way, it’s very valuable to keep in mind just what it is that you know that many others don’t. Share that knowledge. Sure, you might not write it as elegantly as your favorite big name blogger. But as crazy as this may sound, not everybody reads that famous blogger’s work. And one or two of the folks who don’t might just stop by your blog someday.

Amazon Giveaway Follow-Up

Published June 14, 2016 in Blogging , Business , Social Media - 0 Comments
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BetweenTheWallAndTheFireLast week I ran an Amazon giveaway and reported on my initial results. Here’s a bit more of an in-depth analysis a week later. First, a brief look at what happened overnight:

Within an hour and a half I’d gained 100 Twitter followers. To put that in perspective, I gained 147 followers throughout the entire month of May. As of this morning when I write this, I’ve increased from 436 Twitter followers to 631, a total increase of 195 followers or a 44% jump. The contest is not yet over as of this writing – there’s still one more eBook to give away.

Book sales are up – and by more than the units that I paid for. This experiment happened as part of the book launch, so I can’t tell for sure that it’s directly related to this giveaway. But book sales are actually up as compared to the previous day.

Good results, right? Yes – and I’m definitely glad I did it. However, the rest of the week didn’t live up to that first rush.

I scheduled the giveaway for 3 books, with a 1-in-100 chance of winning. That should have netted between 200 and 300 followers – and it did. My follower count went from the 436 followers noted above to a peak of 702 followers over the weekend. However…

The first two books went quickly, with 195 followers literally overnight. That was great. But it took another five days to finish the giveaway and award the third book, and also to hit that peak.

What does this tell us? Does that mean this is a one time deal? I don’t think so. I think it tells us two things.

First, a large portion of that gain in followers likely came from people who already followed me retweeting it. In other words, it was friends of friends. This is good and bad. Many of those followers are likely to stay, which is good. On the other hand, that resource is probably tapped out for the near future – until I gain significantly more new followers, or manage to convert a large portion of this batch of new followers into actual “fans.”

Second, as small as it was this singular giveaway probably saturated the market. That means that running one every day or even every week is going to hit diminishing returns very quickly. My guess is that the sweet spot will be running one once a month or even once a quarter. I think that once a month might work OK if you’re giving away multiple products and can cycle through them. Once a quarter would work a lot better if you only have one product. Even with multiple products, once a month might be too often. I plan to experiment further to nail this down. Either way, I don’t expect to pull of overnight 44% growth again. I believe that getting that kind of growth was largely a function of having such a low follower count to begin with.

So far I’ve maintained an overwhelming majority of those followers – but they have started to trickle off. I’m down into the low 690s now, so I’ve lost about 10 followers of the 266 I gained during this event (about 4% of them). I expect to drop more over the rest of the month, although it might be hard to tell as they trickle away and I continue to gain new followers on a day-to-day basis. I expected to lose many of these followers, and 4% after one week isn’t bad at all. It’s actually far better retention than I’d expected.

The units that I paid for did count as actual sales. They showed up on my KDP sales dashboard, and they did effect sales rank on Amazon. However, this effect was diminished due to the length of time it took for the contest to end. All three sales showed up at once at the very end of the giveaway. Had they shown up at the beginning – when sales were already good from our launch – they might have propelled the book into the top 20 for its category. As it was, they didn’t even push the book back into the top 100.

Given this, and the way Amazon’s sales rank algorithm works, I think the best use of this kind of giveaway is during a product launch. Experiment beforehand and get a good idea of the right way to setup your giveaway to ensure that it ends early and the sales show up in your launch ranking, helping to propel you to a better slot as part of your launch. But realize that if you try to game the system by buying a particularly good sales rank, you’ll probably have to buy far more copies than you’ll sell as a result. In other words, the value of this is likely to be limited.

At the same time, you’ll want to make sure that you have a good number of reviews up early. If we’d had more reviews up when the giveaway happened, I think we’d have had far more success with it.

The final verdict is that this is an immensely useful tool when used properly. But don’t let my click-bait headline from the last post fool you – it’s not going to cure all of your sales woes, at least not on its own.

Where I Find Time to Blog

Published June 7, 2016 in Blogging , Business , Writing - 0 Comments
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timeSomebody asked me recently where I find the time to blog. Actually, people ask me quite often where I find the time to do a lot of the things I do. I usually answer with something snarky because most people don’t actually want to hear the real answers. The question isn’t actually a question, it’s an emotional expression – of what I’m not quite sure. But on the off chance that one or two of my readers actually care (occasionally someone does), here are the real answers. To help, each one is preceded by one of the snarky answers that I give.

Sleep is for the weak. I honestly probably don’t sleep enough. I average six to seven hours of sleep a night. But this isn’t because I’m busy – it’s because I can’t sleep. I’ve had trouble with sleep for as long as I can remember. I can definitively recall having trouble getting to sleep as young as seven years old. Before that I can’t remember. But my six year old son has the same kinds of trouble sleeping that I do, and he has for years. I strongly suspect that I’ve had trouble for just as long. I sleep better now than I ever have before. A combination of better eating, exercise, and nightly melatonin supplements has made a world of difference. But I still don’t sleep more than seven hours most night. Exception: occasionally it catches up with me and I sleep for extended periods. Exception 2: about once or twice a year I have bouts of insomnia where I can’t sleep more than two hours a night for three to five days in a row. These have become less frequent since I started taking nightly melatonin.

If I don’t stay busy I get bored. This is actually true as stated and not just snark. My mind does not shut down, ever, except in two circumstances: when I finally manage to fall asleep or when I’m exercising with extreme intensity. Neither of those circumstances guarantees it, either. Those are just the only times it actually happens. I might as well put it to use. But that’s not the real truth. The real truth is that if I don’t stay busy I get depressed. And that’s far worse. Human beings are not meant to be idle. Most depressed people would be better served by six weeks of boot-camp style intensity than by medication. I know you feel tired, but that’s not because of too little rest: it’s because of too much. Get off your butt and do something real.

I don’t watch much TV. This is another one that’s generally true. The average American watches four hours of TV a day. I struggled to figure out where they find time for that; then I remember that 41% of the adult population doesn’t work… and what else are they going to do all day? But I digress. I watch an average of four hours of television a week – and that only during the prime TV season. And that’s actually high for me this year, and it’s all because of the DC TV Universe. More generally: I don’t do a lot of other things that people like to do for fun. I write blog posts and troll Twitter instead.

There are some other answers, too, beyond the snark.

I spend far less time on this than you might think. My average blog post is less than 1000 words. Many are less than 500. I rarely edit them. I never proofread them. I seldom even read them through when I’m finished. Half the time I know what I’m going to write before I start it. The typical post takes me about 10-15 minutes to write – tops. It’s a blog for crying out loud. If it takes you more time than that, you’re doing it wrong. Yes, I have the occasional word vomit – like my series on converting to Catholicism. On the other hand, I wrote that entire series five years ago. Which leads me to my next point.

I recycle content whenever I can. Like this morning’s post, which was literally copied and pasted from my newest book and then reformatted. Or the aforementioned series on Catholicism. Or my series on Orbital Mechanics, which has been submitted to another publisher for possible inclusion in an upcoming anthology (no word back yet; we’ll see). Or submitting “The Fourth Fleet” for re-publication in There Will Be War: Volume X. I like to get the most I possibly can out of everything that I do.

You find the time to do what you prioritize. This is the biggest issue, and it’s the one that people don’t want to hear. We all have the same twenty-four hours a day. The things you do and the things you don’t do with that time are your choice. I’m not criticizing you for it, either. But if you’re not finding time to blog, or run a dojo, or start a publishing company, or edit an anthology, or write a novel, or whatever it is that you haven’t gotten done… at the end of the day it’s because you don’t want it badly enough. That’s fine if it’s your honest choice. We can’t do everything. I’m not going to be a filmmaker or an award winning cake decorator or an artist. I haven’t dedicated the time to those. What are you dedicating your time to?

How I Increased My Twitter Followers By 44% Overnight

Published June 6, 2016 in Blogging , Business , Social Media - 0 Comments
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BetweenTheWallAndTheFireLast night I decided to run an experiment as part of the book launch for Between the Wall and the Fire. I tried out Amazon’s “product giveaway” promotional tool. The tool has some nice features. You can give away very nearly any item in the store and use that for promotional purposes. It lets you pick the way that prizes are awarded and how many to award. And it gives you four nice options for how to use the contest to promote whatever it is you’re promoting.

Obviously, in this case, I chose to give away Between the Wall and the Fire. Amazon will let you give away almost all physical products. Ebooks are now eligible as well. It looks like most other digital products are not eligible at this time.

Amazon offers three variants of the contest. First is the “random” type. You select the number of prices to give away and the odds of winning. I gave away three eBooks and selected a “1 in 100” chance of winning. Amazon doesn’t give details of their algorithm, but it seems like this works by giving each entrant a 1% chance of winning. Once all prizes are given away, the giveaway ends. As you can see, this doesn’t guarantee any given number of entrants. They also offer the “lucky number” version. I could have selected this and enforced that every 100th entrant would win. That would have guaranteed me 300 entrants. Finally, they have the “first come, first serve” model. I could have had the first three people win. In my case, that wouldn’t have done much for me.

Amazon actually gives you five ways to let people enter, but one is of minimal utility. The first is to require entrants to “follow” your author page on Amazon. This has some nice benefits. The biggest is that Amazon e-mails your followers every time you put out a new book. I’ll be using this option in the future, but this time I skipped it and opted for the second option: require entrants to follow a Twitter account. I could also have chosen to have them watch a video, either through YouTube or Amazon. Finally, I could have opted to have no extra requirements, but that wouldn’t have been particularly useful.

There’s one big downside to Amazon product giveaways: you have to pay full price for everything you giveaway – even if it’s your own book. Thankfully, Between the Wall and the Fire is only $2.99 right now, so I only spent about $9.00. Also, I believe that each of these counts as a regular sale of the product, so we should get the 70% royalty rate on that, making the effective cost about $2.97.

When I’m experimenting, I like to keep it cheap!

So, how well did it work?

Within an hour and a half I’d gained 100 Twitter followers. To put that in perspective, I gained 147 followers throughout the entire month of May. As of this morning when I write this, I’ve increased from 436 Twitter followers to 631, a total increase of 195 followers or a 44% jump. The contest is not yet over as of this writing – there’s still one more eBook to give away.

Book sales are up – and by more than the units that I paid for. This experiment happened as part of the book launch, so I can’t tell for sure that it’s directly related to this giveaway. But book sales are actually up as compared to the previous day.

What about the long term effects? I don’t know yet. I do know that the extra sales have helped push us into the top 100 for our category, and that will probably have some good effects for at least the next few days. Unfortunately, I suspect that a lot of the new Twitter followers will unfollow me by the end of the month. But I also think that I’ll keep some portion of them as long term followers.

A few downsides: contest entries slowed way down after the first two hours. The first two books were already awarded before I went to bed last night. As of this writing, the third still hasn’t been. I have no idea how long it will take for it to go.

For the tiny price I paid, however, this has been an unqualified success. It’s definitely a tool that I’ll be using again.

Choosing a Niche for Your Blog

Published June 1, 2016 in Blogging , Business - 0 Comments
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niche-researchA while back I mentioned that you should seriously ask yourself if your blog even needs a niche at all. I stand by that. But let’s suppose that you have decided that you need a niche, for whatever reason. How do you pick one?

First of all, if your niche isn’t obvious then you need to go back to step one and seriously consider a general blog again. Having a niche that’s obvious to you is one of the best indicators that a niche actually is the right thing for your blog. It’s not the only one, but it’s the strongest. Of course, if your niche is obvious then you don’t need this post at all. So if you’re looking for a niche, here are some factors you should consider.

Your topic should be something that you really know something about. If you’re a world-class expert in something then this is pretty obvious. But most of us aren’t world class experts. That’s ok. Your readers won’t be, either. The important thing is that you can provide them with new and useful information that they don’t have. So it’s good for it to be something you are actually well versed in.

Another option, though, is to pick something that you want to be an expert in and use your blog as an opportunity to study it. That’s how my last niche blog started off, and it worked pretty well – both as a blog and as a learning tool.

Your topic should be something that’s underserved. Even on today’s saturated internet, these topics still exist. This doesn’t have to mean that there aren’t any blogs on the subject. It doesn’t even mean you have to be the best blog on the subject. But there should be relatively few of them. The main benefit of having a niche is to dominate search engine traffic for keywords related to your topic. With a well selected topic and good SEO you very likely can actually monopolize certain keyword combinations. By extension, if there are already a thousand blogs out there on that subject, don’t bother. Pick something else or go general.

Also, if your niche is too specific then even monopolizing those keywords won’t bring you enough traffic to be worth it. For example, I currently dominate Google search results for my own name. All but one of the first page results go to pages or profiles that I control. The second page is almost as good. Anybody searching my name is going to find me, and that’s intentional. But nobody’s actually searching much for my name as of yet, so it doesn’t bring me a lot of traffic. My dojo, on the other hand, does better. I’ve done very well with SEO there, and anybody searching within the right geographical area is very likely to come across my site first or second on the list. That does a lot better for bringing me traffic, and it’s very targeted traffic so it’s helpful.

Speaking of which, if you’re selling something then your niche should be closely related to what you’re selling. The one thing that would help me more than anything for actually selling stuff would be to blog more about the martial arts. I’ve seen a few good blogs that do it. I actually run a separate blog for my dojo, and I’ll have occasional posts here about that. But I already spend a lot of time teaching that and it’s very difficult for me to keep motivated writing out the same information over and over again. My dojo blog is seldom updated as a result, and I just can’t keep motivated to do it. I do far better here. The successful martial arts blogs that I’ve seen tend very strongly toward repeating the same information over and over. I’m not criticizing them – I get why they do it. All niche blogs eventually do, or else they die. But that’s just not my thing.

In summary, we have three criteria we should be looking for:

  1. A topic you either are or want to become an expert on.
  2. An underserved topic where there’s little competition.
  3. Something closely related to what you’re selling.

If you can’t meet at least one of these criteria, don’t even bother with a niche blog. It won’t help you. If you want to get good results, you really want at least two. As for myself, I probably wouldn’t do another niche blog unless I could meet all three. I’d need to see that kind of benefit to overcome what I view as the tedium of exhausting one topic. Not everyone views that as a burden, though, so maybe a niche blog is right for you.

Automate Your Social Media

Published May 31, 2016 in Blogging , Business , Social Media - 0 Comments
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If you’re using social media to promote yourself or your brand, you need to be taking advantage of automation. You can’t live on social media all day. Well, you can – but then you won’t be doing any of the other things you need to do to keep your brand value high. Most of all, you won’t be making the products or performing the services that you actually get paid for. But social media doesn’t stop and it doesn’t sleep. So automate it.

As human beings, tools are our birthright – so put them to use for you. There are lots of choices on the market. I currently have Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn accounts for myself and three businesses. I use HootSuite because it lets me manage multiple social media accounts on multiple platforms from a single control panel. It allows me to schedule posts in advance, bulk upload posts, use auto-scheduling features (it schedules based on historical data to maximize engagement). I can send the same post to multiple social media accounts or tweak them all individually. I also use the SNAP (Social Network Auto Poster) plugin for WordPress for this blog.

You’ll want to experiment and read up to decide what the best social media schedule is for you. But to help you out, here’s a brief outline of what I do, followed by some results. First, I use built-in WordPress functionality on this blog to write posts ahead of time and schedule them to go live when I want to. I strive for 2 posts a day Monday through Friday, although I don’t always meet that goal. My experience so far has been that weekends are a slow time on blog traffic. It’s also a time when I have important things to do (like relax!). And although I sometimes write posts days ahead of time, often I’m only running a night or so ahead. So I don’t worry about weekend posts unless I just have a burning need to get a post out. I also use the SNAP plugin to make sure that these posts are pushed out to all of my personal social media accounts at the same time that they go live on this blog.

For Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn, I leave it alone there. By the nature of those feeds, doing more than that is somewhat spammy. Twitter is a different beast altogether. Remember when I said that social media is your short game? Twitter is the extra-extra short game. Twitter is the “blink and you miss it” game. So I use HootSuite to schedule five Tweets a day on my personal Twitter feed linking back to this blog. Monday through Friday I usually focus on recent content. On the weekends, I focus on older but “timeless” content – posts that are still relevant even if I wrote them months ago.This may seem a bit spammy at first. But if you use Twitter regularly you know that most people will only scroll back through their feed for an hour or three when they log in. Then they’re done and they’re off – most likely until the next day. That’s as many as 23 hours that they’ve completely missed! So retweeting your content throughout the day won’t actually bother most users – it just means that they’ll actually see it.

On my dojo’s Facebook, Google+, and Twitter feeds, I make it a point to have some sort of picture posted daily. Typically I’ll mix it up – some will be funny memes. Some will be motivational. Some will be commentary on martial arts related things. Others will just be cool pictures. Those have gotten me a pretty good bit of interaction. On the Silver Empire feeds, I mostly keep a stream of Silver Empire related news going – calls for submissions, new products, etc. There’s room for improvement on both of these business fronts.

Remember when I said I’d post results? Two weeks ago I shared a snapshot of my Twitter analytics showing that my tweets had made 107,000 impressions in the previous 28 day period. That’s an average of 3800 impressions per day. Here’s the results from this morning:

TwitterAnalytics_05_2016

In two weeks, I’ve raised that up to 251,000 impressions – an average of 8,900 per day. That’s two and a half times higher.  Measured in pageviews, blog traffic in May was nearly three times higher than April. If you compare to the screenshot 15 days ago, you’ll also see that my follower count has increased by 19% in two weeks. Google analytics shows that a full two thirds of my traffic in May came from social media. At the same time, “direct traffic” (people coming here just to come here) has doubled in May as well – which means that at least some of those readers are now coming back of their own accord. In other words, these strategies are clearly working.

I only started rolling out these strategies over the month of May. And they weren’t completely implemented until just a week or two ago. That means that June should continue to show strong growth over May in all of these areas as the full effect of automation hits. Best of all, I have also seen a small uptick in book sales in May as compared to April, although this effect is definitely lagging the other changes. I expect that effect to be even bigger over time than it has been so far.

Don’t try to automate everything. You need to still have personal interaction in your social media. But automation can reap huge rewards. If you’re not using it, you need to be.

To Niche or Not To Niche

Published May 25, 2016 in Blogging - 0 Comments
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More than once I’ve been asked, “What niche should I choose for my blog?” Sometimes I get another variation. “How do I choose a niche for my blog?” Too often these people haven’t even asked the one question that should come first.

Do you even need a niche?

This isn’t just a rhetorical question that I’m asking as I set up the post to tell you that you don’t need one. I’m serious: do you need a niche? There are good reasons to run a niche blog – but you should be sure you understand what they are before you decide it’s the path for you. There are also good reasons to run a general blog, and I think you should understand those, too.

I’ve run both niche blogs and general blogs in the past, and I’ve been moderately successful with both. Back in 2002 when I started my first blog, pretty much all blogs were general. Specialization came gradually – one or two blogs at first, and then others following as they saw a path to success. The key to their success then was the same as it is now. Specialization can make it easier to stand out from the crowd. We live in a world that’s absolutely overflowing with content. I have no idea how many blogs are out there today, but I know it’s a lot – probably in the millions. Your big challenge as a blogger is to make sure readers know about your blog and to give them a reason to read yours rather than somebody else’s.

Specialization can help with that. From about 2008 until 2010 I ran a very specialized blog – a niche within a niche. Since I participated in the larger niche community, I knew that the particular sub-niche was underserved. I was also able to get the word out fairly quickly that my blog existed, and that let me build up a nice, regular readership in a short time. Sorry, I’m not going to give details of that blog. I ran it pseudonymously so that I could discuss some very private issues. The blog no longer exists.

On the other hand, I eventually ran into a very real problem that I now think is common to all specialized blogs. After a while, I’d said everything I had to say on the topic. Then what? Some bloggers solve this by repeating content, and there’s justification for that. New readers haven’t seen the old content. It’s easy to think that everybody out there knows everything you know. They don’t. Repeating information that you’ve written before or read elsewhere might be doing a service to that poor guy who needs the info but has never seen it before.

But that wasn’t for me. I couldn’t bring myself to keep writing on a topic that I’d (mostly) exhausted. The blog went un-updated for quite some time before I finally pulled the plug on it altogether.

The readership base that I’d built was nice, but it would have been hard to do anything with it. The blog title and URL was very specific. Changing it to a general purpose blog would have just made it feel weird to readers, new and old alike. And the fact that I’d run it anonymously meant it wasn’t particularly useful for transitioning to this blog.

I’ve found that general blogging is by far the better fit for me. It’s easier for me to keep the content coming – there’s always something I can talk about, and content flow is very important. If I ever feel like I’ve exhausted a given topic, I just move to a new one. And while niche blogs are great for growing an audience initially, they tend to put a limit on you eventually. Only so many people care about your highly specialized sub-niche.

But one of the nicest things is that you never know which posts are really going to catch on. There are literally hundreds (maybe thousands) of sites out there with blogging advice. It never occurred to me that very many people would have found mine to be particularly more useful than those. Yet they’ve proven quite successful by the current standards of this blog. They’ve netted me links and retweets from some major influencers, which brought a surge in new traffic, but also a steady flow of new readers from “long tail” sources. So I’ve written more, and they’ve continued to be popular. That never would have happened on a niche blog.

So before you think about finding your niche, think twice about whether you really want one at all.


What, you still want one? OK, come back later this week and I’ll have some advice on choosing one.

Blogging is Your Long Game

Published May 24, 2016 in Blogging , Business , Social Media - 0 Comments
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blogging2As I discussed last week, social media is your short game. It’s important, and you can’t neglect it. But if you’re trying to build a lasting web presence, blogging is equally critical. It’s your long game, and you’ll pay the price if you neglect it.

Too many people start a blog to promote their business or brand without knowing why they need one or how it will help them. Without these crucial elements, blogging is nearly pointless (from a business perspective). You must know what it is that you’re trying to accomplish. I’ve already written several posts discussing why blogging is important. I’ve talked about why building blog traffic is both harder and easier than it used to be. I’ve talked about why both inbound and outbound links are critical for your blog’s success. I’ve explained why your blog should be ad free. But why does blogging actually work? What is it that you’re actually trying to accomplish with your blog?

A well run blog will help you on two fronts: it will help you build a relationship with your readers and it will help you gain visibility with search engines such as Google.

Blogging is all about building a relationship with your readers, but I’m going to gloss over that part today. People have written a ton about it. The only point I’m going to emphasize is that this is a process that takes time – lots of time. You can’t expect overnight results from it.

Today, though, I’m going to get a bit more technical and focus on why blogging helps you so much with search engines. Inbound links are important for this – critical even. But I’ve already written a whole post about that. Here’s the other big reason blogging helps you so much: content quantity. Raw quantity is important. Everyone tells you that you should set a blogging schedule and keep to it. I’m going to tell you that that schedule should be as aggressive as you can find the time for. Get as much content out there as you can – but not all in one post.

A high post count on your blog will help you in many ways with the search engines. First, as I mentioned before, outbound links from your blog are huge – especially those sidebar links. The more posts you have, the more pages Google sees. The more pages Google sees, the more times it sees those sidebar links. This post will be my 183rd on this blog. So those sidebar links show up 183 times, right? Wrong. Due to the nature of blogging software, Google recognizes the sidebar links on this blog at least 367 times (based on information from Google Webmasters). Holy cow! How did that happen?

Let’s consider WordPress because it’s what I use for this blog (but realize that pretty much all blogging software works the same way these days). When I create a new post, that’s not the only thing that happens. My main page is updated. But my main page only shows up to 10 posts on it. When post number 11 goes live, WordPress now creates a second page. You can see that if you scroll all the way down to the bottom of the main page and find the link that says, “Older Posts.” When I hit post 21, it has to create another page. And so on. 183 posts means 19 pages, just in the main stream. See all those “categories” listed on my sidebar? Each one of them has at least one page of their own. But for each category, when the magic is hit then another page gets created. Click my author name at the top of this post and another multi-page stream is created, showing all the posts written by me. Since this is a single author blog, it won’t look any different than the main stream – but Google sees an entirely separate set of pages.

Each of these pages gets to “vote” by linking other places. In a well setup blog, each of these pages will link back to your homepage. And they’ll usually link to other important pages on your site. And, of course, if you’ve followed my advice they’ll link to your business pages. Pretty nice, isn’t it?

It gets better.

Google likes big sites. All else being equal, a large site will rank better in Google’s search results than a small site. So the more raw content you create on your blog, the more Google will like it. The bigger your site is, the more often Google will check it for updates. That means that anything new you add will make it into Google’s results faster. Pro tip: Google also likes it when you update frequently, so posting regularly will help trigger Google to scan your blog more frequently, too. Not too shabby!

But there’s one last reason that’s a biggie – perhaps the biggest of all. Every author has a unique writing style.

Try this test:

  1. Pick one of your blog posts at random.
  2. Pick a paragraph of text at random.
  3. Copy that text.
  4. Paste it into Google – but be sure to put quotation marks around it! (This triggers Google’s “exact match” functionality)
  5. Hit the search button and check your results.

I bet you a dollar that the only result you got was your own page (or somebody quoting you directly). Leave a comment here if you get different results. If I can verify it, I’ll pay up! Now try the experiment again with three sentences. Two. One. Your writing is unique. How little of it do you need for Google to uniquely point to you?

OK, you’re thinking, what’s the point? The point is that sooner or later somebody is going to come along and search for a topic you’ve written about using a particular combination of words that nobody other than you is using. With a whole paragraph, your writing style is unique. But for a small sentence fragment, it’s merely rare. It doesn’t matter if there are ten million pages on that subject. Google thinks that yours is the match because your word choice matches that person’s choice for that topic. So that person sees your page on his search results, clicks it, loves your post, and boom, you’ve got a new long-term reader!

Great, but that’s just one guy. Right? Sure – if you’ve only got one page of content. But what if you had hundreds of pages? Thousands? And then what happens when those readers start sharing and linking to your blog content, or effectively “upvoting” it to Google? Over time the search engines come to love you, and more and more traffic comes your way.

As I mentioned, this blog has fewer than 200 posts. Yet I now get a very steady stream of daily traffic from Google and other search engines. I’ve upped my schedule recently to two posts a day (on weekdays). So far I’ve managed to hit it. Don’t stress about it too much if you miss it every now and then. At that rate, I’ll double my current post count in less than 19 weeks, or about five months. Based on previous experience, I expect that to more than triple my incoming traffic from Google.

Now imagine that spread not over months but over years. Not hundreds of pages but thousands – maybe tens of thousands. The power that has on the search engines is massive, and it’s yours for the taking.

But it isn’t going to happen overnight. And that’s why blogging is your long game.