As each year passes, blog marketing techniques evolve. What worked in 2011 may or may not be as effective in 2012. If you’re a business, you may have the luxury of hiring an awesome Internet Marketing Company to keep up with the trends, but as individuals managing a blog for as a hobby or for profit, it’s up to you to not only maintain that blog but keep up with ways to increase traffic.
Photo Credit: Alexander Henning Drachmann on Flickr
I receive a lot of questions on a regular basis about blogging, online marketing, and traffic generation, so I thought I would share my answers in this post. Enjoy!
This one is simple. If someone asks me what blogging platform to use, I am always going to say self-hosted WordPress. It gives you full ownership of your blog & its content, full control over design & functionality, lots of support because of the number of people using & writing about WordPress, and an overall professional presentation. If you plan to monetize or market a business, this is a must.
Comments are the life of your blogging community. Here’s how to moderate them effectively and provide benefits for your comment authors.
How do you moderate spam?
Spam is a tough when it comes to blogging. I employ the following plugins and tactics to combat spam and make comment moderation manageable on the WordPress platform.
- Akismet – This WordPress plugin automatically detects spam and sends it to your spam folder. You have to keep an eye on your spam folder as it does tend to mark some good comments as spam.
- GASP – This WordPress plugin adds a checkbox captcha to your comment form. No one complains about it being difficult and it cuts out some of the software automated spam. You can read more about why it is a good option here on Growmap.
- I shut off trackbacks and pingbacks. You can still see who links to your blog posts (legitimately) in your dashboard under Incoming Links.
- I shut off comments after 30 days. It kind of sucks that I had to do that, but in combination with the above measures, it has drastically cut down on my comment spam. Drastically.
Why do you use the default WordPress comment system?
For the most part, WordPress doesn’t change the functionality of their comment system that often. It’s always been Name, Email, Website URL, and Comment. With their system, I have the option of backing up my comments because they are stored in my database and if I decide to move a few posts to a new blog for whatever reason, when I export the blog post, they are imported into the new blog with comments attached.
Plus, you can use lots of great plugins with the default comment system including the following.
- CommentLuv – This allows comment authors to leave a link back to their latest post beneath their comment. There is a free and premium version available.
- MaxBlogPress Subscriber Magnet – This plugin helps you add additional opt-in boxes for your mailing list in various areas around your blog including a checkbox within you comment form. Alternatively, if you have Aweber, you can use their plugin for similar functionality on the comment form.
- Subscribe to Comments – As opposed to third-party systems that just automatically subscribe people to comment threads, this plugin lets people choose. As an added bonus, you can see who has subscribed to the most post comments and which posts have the most subscribers in your dashboard. Subscribers can unsubscribe anytime.
Does having CommentLuv hurt your blog, SEO-wise?
I’ve been using CommentLuv with dofollow enabled comments for about three years now. Since then, my PageRank has increased from 0 to 5 and keywords I have targeted have moved up in search results from nowhere to the first page and stayed there. So I would have to say that no, CommentLuv and dofollow comments do not hurt your blog’s search value. Just make sure to be vigilant about moderating your comments – linking to good blogs and blog posts doesn’t hurt, but linking to bad sites might.
Content is the heart of blogging – without great content, your blog will certainly fail. Here are some content-related questions when it comes to blog marketing.
How long should my blog posts be?
There are several schools of theory when it comes to blog post length. Some people say that the length of a blog post doesn’t matter so long as you have thoroughly covered a topic. Others say that if a blog post is too long, it will turn off readers.
Here is my experience. Blogs with a lot of traffic, huge audience, and posts with tons of social shares fall into the following categories when it comes to blog post length vs. frequency.
- If they tend to have shorter posts (500+ words), they post multiple times a day.
- If they tend to have longer posts (900+ words), they post either daily or a few times a week.
- If they tend to have super long posts (1,500+ words), the post infrequently – maybe once a week or even a few times a month.
What it all boils down to is quality content and knowing your audience. Blogs that post multiple times a day have hit or miss topics, but will usually get the attention of most of their readers at least once a day with a particular topic. Blogs that post lengthier content less frequently know what their audience wants and build the types of posts that lures their readers in almost every time.
As a freelance writer specializing in the online marketing niche, I can say that the blogs that consistently publish longer content (900+ words) are the most successful. The ones that mix and match longer and shorter posts are moderately successful. And sometimes the ones that only do shorter posts are successful, but they are typically few and far between.
My typically recommendation is that you go with 500+ word count as a minimum for your blog posts. It gives you enough room to be meaty and to demonstrate to search engines that you have worthwhile content on your blog.
Should I accept guest posts on my blog?
Yes, but be vigilant about guidelines. Especially in the day of Google Panda when search engines are trying to rid their index of sites with low-quality content, you need to make sure that guest posts are up to speed with the quality standard of your blog. It’s a little easy to start accepting just any guest post that comes through your inbox in an attempt to increase your posting frequency, but in the end it just isn’t worth it.
I created what I consider a rather extensive list of guest post guidelines, although I have seen sites with a more comprehensive list. Anytime someone asks to be a guest blogger, I send them those guidelines. And anytime someone sends me a post that doesn’t fit, I refer them back to the guidelines.
Don’t let anyone try to guilt or bully you into accepting bad content – it’s your blog, and if you want your blog to represent a certain standard, then your guests have to maintain that standard as well.
Can I republish content from another blog?
First off, you shouldn’t want content from another blog on yours. Google looks down on duplicate content and typically ranks the original publisher first for content anyway.
If you still feel like publishing content from another blog, don’t do it without permission. There are blogs that release their content under Creative Commons licensing which basically means that you can repost it if you give them credit, but be absolutely 100% certain that is the case before republishing something. Otherwise, ask. Ask both the author and the site the content was originally published on.
This includes content that you have written on other blogs as well. Some blogs have a grace period where they want to be the first publisher for a certain time frame, after which you can repost your content on your own blog. Other blogs expect to be the sole publisher of the content. If you plan on republishing your content elsewhere, check with the blog owner to make sure they allow that sort of thing first.
Note that the above does not apply if the blog you originally published content upon shuts down. It’s always good to keep your content saved on your hard drive, just in case a blog you contributed to no longer exists – then you are free to update the content and repost it on your own. This, of course, only applies to your content, not someone else’s.
Aside from blog posts, what other content should my blog have?
There are certain pages that most blogs should have, some depending on your blogging goals. These include the following.
- About Page – This is where you share a little about yourself and the blog. This one is required for most, if not all blogs.
- Contact Page – This is where you let people know how they can contact you. You can include a form to make things convenient, an email address, or both plus links to your most active social networks (or ones that people can contact you through). This one is required for most, if not all blogs.
- Guest Post Guidelines – If you accept guest posts on your blog, give people the guidelines on what you expect.
- Advertise Page – If you want to offer any advertising options on your blog or your newsletter, let people know what you have to offer plus any statistics that would be relevant for advertisers. This includes your traffic, overall audience (include RSS subscribers & social followers), SEO stats, and any other data you wish to share.
- Hire Me Page – If you offer any services, be sure to list them on an obvious hire me page so people can get to know more about your business.
- Store Page – If you sell products, be sure to list them on an obvious store page so people can easily find and purchase from you.
- Pillar Pages – These are pages that people can go to as a first stop to see what content you have to offer. I created pillar pages to market my writing across all blogs on topics including blogging, business, SEO, and social media.
- Archives Page – In lieu of pillar pages, you can create one main archives page that shows your blog post history by date, category, and latest posts to help new visitors find things easily.
- 404 Page – When someone goes to a bad link on your blog, they’ll be directed to a 404 page that tells them the page they were trying to get to doesn’t exist. Capitalize on that missing page by making your 404 page informative, directing them to other areas on your blog instead.
- Resources Page – If you happen to get a lot of questions about the technology, plugins, themes, etc. that you use on your blog, create a reference page where you list all of those things that you can direct people to. Since most of my resources revolve around WordPress, I turned my list of resources into a blog post.
Design & Layout
Think of the design of your blog like making a first impression.
Does my blog design really matter?
Absolutely. I always think it’s better to have an out-of-the-box template that is clean vs. a “unique” design that is out of date, cluttered, or otherwise distracting from the main feature of the blog – the content.
What are the most important elements of a blog’s layout?
Be sure that your blog has the following.
- An easy to find navigation bar that includes links to the most important pages and categories on your blog.
- A sidebar that includes a brief description about your blog including your name as the author, ways to subscribe to your blog including mailing list, RSS, and top social networks, and a list of categories your blog covers, assuming they are not already in your main navigation bar.
- A clean, easy to read font. Please note that colors are important too – grey font on a black background is not conducive to easy reading.
- Pagination at the bottom of your homepage and archives so people can easily navigate back through older posts.
Should I have a mobile theme for my blog?
I always say yes as many people are now using smartphones to browse websites and social networks. To see if you qualify for needing a mobile-friendly theme, go to your Google Analytics and look under Audience > Technology > Browser & OS. Then switch to Screen Resolution under Primary Dimension. Here you will see if you have lots of traffic coming via smartphones (320×480) or tablets (768×1040). If you do, then you probably need a mobile-friendly theme. I use WPtouch plugin for WordPress, but there are many more out there, both free and premium.
Should I use free or premium themes?
If you’re on WordPress or another blog platform that has the option of using free or premium (paid) themes, I would usually suggest premium from a reputable vendor. While free themes can be good, premium themes generally give you the option for support and regular updates. With free themes, if anything goes wrong, it’s usually up to you to fix it. Also, I’ve found that some free theme creators release free themes in an attempt to build links – if your blog has random links that you didn’t place there in the footer, then that’s an example. And those links are hard to get rid of too!
With WordPress I always recommend Thesis, StudioPress, or ElegantThemes. You can see my reviews of Thesis vs Genesis and Elegant Themes to learn more. I use these for almost all of my WordPress blogs.
Email marketing is not just for businesses, or those who want to make money online.
Should I have a mailing list for my blog?
If your blog is 100% for fun and you never have any plans to make money from it for any reason, then it’s probably OK not to have a mailing list. Or is it?
There are lots of good reasons to have a mailing list. A mailing list simply gives you a different way to communicate with your readers – directly to their inbox. If you have an important message to get out to your readers, you don’t have to worry about whether they are subscribed to your RSS feed, checking their RSS reader, watching their Twitter stream, or seeing your update on Facebook. Instead, you can get directly into their inbox.
You can use your mailing list for lots of other reasons besides just promoting your own products or affiliate products including the following.
- Promoting your content from your blog and other sites you contribute to.
- Sending out a special, personal message to readers.
- Sharing exclusive tips with readers.
Isn’t Feedburner my mailing list?
Feedburner only delivers your latest blog posts to a subscriber’s inbox. A real mailing list allows you to email customized messages beyond just your blog posts at any time.
Who provides great mailing list service?
I usually suggest two services.
- Mailchimp – If you do not plan to do any affiliate marketing or belong to certain industries as listed in their Terms & Conditions, #11 Section f, then you can have up to 2,000 subscribers with the free plan. Note that there are a few key features missing with the free plan vs. monthly plans to make sure you don’t need something more robust.
- Aweber – This is the service I use which is affiliate marketing friendly. You can also use it to send out emails with your latest blog posts.
There are other great services out there. In fact, I tried one just recently who wanted me to switch to them instead of Aweber. I stuck with Aweber in the end – I like their form designs, autoresponder service, blog RSS to email ability in case Feedburner does tank, and other features.
If you want your hobby to bring in a little side income or you want to turn your blog into your main source of income, monetization is the key.
What are some ways to monetize your blog?
There are tons of ways to make money online in general. Here are the ones I use.
- I offer freelance writing services.
- I wrote an eBook on Blog Post Promotion and plan to add more titles to the eBook store soon.
- I include affiliate links in blog posts for products I use. This includes premium themes like StudioPress, plugins like Scribe SEO, eBooks like Build a Better Blog in 31 Days, conferences like BlogWorld, and courses like the Video Traffic Academy.
- I sell banner advertisements and am experimenting with Sponsored Posts.
- I participate in blogging contests. These include the SMB Contest (top prize of $4,000) and Blog Engage Contests.
- I started two paid directories, one for dofollow blogs and the other for infographics.
Is AdSense a good way to make money through blogging?
AdSense is a great place to start IF your blog has no other monetization goals. In my case, I would much rather make $25 when someone buys my eBook or $19 when someone buys a theme off of one of my affiliate links vs. get $1 for a click on an AdSense ad. Basically, AdSense will take people away from your site, probably for less than a dollar a click unless you happen to have some high paying AdSense keywords.
That said, some people have done quite well creating niche sites and then monetizing them with AdSense. Since I only make about $50 a month off it, I can’t say much about making a huge income from AdSense. There are several industries that will pay a premium for click throughs, some of which include lawyers, banks/mortgage providers, insurance agents, payday loan providers and even online colleges.
Search Engine Optimization
SEO doesn’t have to be complicated. There are simple things you can do to help ensure better rankings in search.
What is the bare minimum on-site optimization I need for my blog?
The bare minimum SEO for your blog should be the following.
- Create SEO title tags and meta descriptions for your homepage, top pages on your blog, and your blog posts.
- Include ALT tags for images within your post.
- Use header tags (H2, H3) within your post content. It helps break up the post for easier readability and can also help with search if you include important keyword phrases.
This is literally about all I do for my blog’s on-site optimization. Could I do more? Sure. But this is, of course, the bare minimum. The key to SEO for your blog is not to focus more on SEO than on your content and readers. Create titles, descriptions, and headers with readers in mind first, SEO second.
What are the best SEO plugins for WordPress?
If you use themes like Thesis and StudioPress, the SEO fields for SEO title tags, meta descriptions, etc. are built in to the theme itself and automatically show up in your theme’s settings and editor for posts and pages. If you use other themes, you may want to consider using the following.
- All in One SEO Pack or Platinum SEO Pack – Similar plugins that add fields to your WordPress dashboard to incorporate SEO optimized tags onto your homepage, posts, and pages.
- Yoast SEO – Haven’t used it personally, but have heard good things about it.
- Scribe SEO – This is a premium plugin that will actually help you come up with the best SEO optimized tags for your blog content.
How can I build links to my blog?
There are lots of ways including the following.
- Guest Blogging – Typically you will get an author bio with a backlink back to your website.
- Social Profiles – Most social profiles will allow you a place to link back to your website. Some social networks will even lead to backlinks from other sites. See this article on 15 sites that will duplicate your Twitter profile information, creating backlinks for your blog.
- Directories – There are lots of blogging specific directories out there. Some are free (with an insanely long wait period) and others are paid (but somewhat expensive). Good ones include Best of the Web Blog Directory, Technorati, Alltop, and Blogarama.
- Interviews – If you are asked to participate in an interview or roundup post where a blogger gets several people to answer one or two questions, do it. These almost always include a link back to a website of your choice. Just be sure to specify the website you want the link back to otherwise you might not get the link you desire.
- Forums – If you participate on forums and the forums allow signatures, add a link to your blog in your signature.
- Blog Comments – When you comment on blogs, you will usually get a link back to your blog. CommentLuv enabled blogs also include a link back to your latest blog post.
- Question & Answer Networks – When answering a question on networks like LinkedIn Answers, Quora, and Yahoo Answers, if you have a highly relevant post that could supplement the answer, include it as a reference link.
Note that not all of the above will give you “link juice” to help you with rankings, but they will drive traffic to your site. The more traffic you have, the more likely you are to receive links from other bloggers which will give you SEO valued backlinks.
Some things to avoid include the following.
- Link Exchanges – This is where a site offers to link to you (usually on a “resources” or “link partners” page) in exchange for you linking to them. These are typically bad news unless you’re talking about a blogroll link with a highly relevant blog.
- Link Buying – Excluding directories, you should never purchase a link. This is a big no-no in Google land and one of the things targeted by the recent Google Penguin update.
- Spamming – Leave behind valuable blog comments and valuable forum comments. Don’t spam blogs or forums just to get links.
- Article Spinning or Duplication – Submitting the same article to tons of article networks or using software to take one article and turn it into hundreds with slight variations is not a quality way to build links.
Don’t put all of your eggs in the search engine basket. Include social media for building your brand and traffic to your blog.
What social networks drive the most traffic to a blog?
It really depends on your blog and the topics it covers. If you can get organic submissions to social networks like StumbleUpon, Reddit, and Hacker News, you can get a TON of traffic to your blog, similar to the old Digg homepage effect. Note that organic submissions means submissions by people on those networks that have power vs. self-submitting.
For the most part, people with a good sized audience will get the most traffic consistently get traffic from the top networks like Twitter, Facebook, and Google+.
How can I get more fans/followers?
There are several ways to boost your social following through blogging including the following.
- Use official buttons from the top networks that allow people to connect with you without leaving your blog like the Twitter follow button, Facebook like button (for fan pages), Facebook subscribe button (for personal profiles), Facebook like box (for fan pages), and Google+ badge (for pages or personal profiles).
- Use the official Twitter retweet button. Make sure it is configured to include your name as part of the tweet and it will recommend that those who tweet your blog posts follow you as well.
- Include other blogger’s Twitter handle when you tweet their posts and tag them when you share their posts on Facebook or Google+. This way they notice you and are more likely to follow you. If the author of the post is not the blog owner, tag both the author and blog owner or include both of their Twitter handles in status updates.
- Use tools like Commun.it to discover people with similar interests to connect with on Twitter.
- If you have a Facebook fan page for your blog, use Facebook as your page when you comment on other fan pages to get more visibility.
How did you add the social sharing buttons on your posts?
I manually coded my social sharing buttons above and below post content using the code found in this post. You can also use plugins and add-ons like Sociable, Share This, Add This, WP Socializer, and Digg Digg. For best results, use the official sharing buttons and be sure that you can configure the official Twitter retweet button to include via @yourusername.
I hope that you have found answers to some of your questions in this post, or maybe even answers to questions you didn’t know you had. If you have any others, please share them in the comments!