Starting a New Blog: Worth the Effort?

I can’t tell you anymore how many blogs I have been a part of, and during the last few years, I have started and stopped numerous blogs on my own. The fact is that building a blog from nothing is very difficult, and depending on what you want out of blogging, it can be very limited in its rewards.

I have watched as many great blogs have been bought, sold, started up, and shut down, and it is always interesting to see which people make it out on top. Sometimes though, it seems like there are already so many amazing people in every niche, that it can feel overwhelming to join in and put your opinions, thoughts and time out into the blogosphere.

The biggest word of advice I have for anyone starting a new blog, in hopes of creating something that will get them from an office slave into a full time blogger is to be passionate. I have built blogs in very crowded niches (e.g. Xfep.com) to what I consider a successful level, I have watched as bloggers sell off some of their best blogs, just because they aren’t passionate about the subject anymore.

In any and every niche, there are spots open for passionate people to rise to the top given enough time, energy and determination. I have seen this countless times. I have watched bloggers come from no where, to being read by thousands of people every single day.

While it does seem like some people are hitting their digital saturation point, I have to admit that the hunt for the best content is always still going, and if you are going to start a blog, make sure your passion for the subject shines through, or it won’t be worth the effort.

Regaining Your Focus After the Holidays

So everyone I know is preparing to step away from the blogosphere as they celebrate one holiday or another, and with New Years at the tail end of all the fun and relaxation, some of you might not be thinking about how you will get back on track once it is all over. I mean, who cares, right?

Well, if there is one thing I have learned over the last few years, it is that routine and consistency can go a long way to making or breaking a blog. If you don’t plan ahead, then you might not be able to get back into any sort of routine that you may have set up.

For me, I am hoping to spend some extra time before I take time away, to get some posts done for my absence, nothing major, as I am sure traffic will be at an all time low, but for those readers that check their RSS feeds in front of the fireplace as their children open their presents, I want to make sure they have something to read.

Not only that, but I am setting some extra time aside after this whole mess is over to regroup, reorganize and revitalize my blogging efforts. I want to make sure I find ways to hold myself accountable for my blogging, and to make sure that I get a good pace going, I have told my wife that I will be spending a little extra time on the computer in January, and her stipulation was that I have to drink more water. (This is a weight loss technique, and part of her New Years resolution for me.)

So, if you are gearing up for some time away, make sure you have things in place when you come back. Sit down and write down dozens of things you would like to cover in the new year. Check over your archives, and see if any topic could use another post, or an update. Beef up or trim down your daily RSS feed reading list. And hold yourself accountable in your blogging. It can mean the difference between success and failure in 2008.

Please be safe, as I would like to see all of you back reading The Blog Herald in 2008.

Advantages of Blogging For a Network

So I have been a full time, network paid blogger for the last two and a quarter years now, and one thing I have realized is that there are many advantages to working for a network.

I realized early on that I wasn’t the type of person that could get to the full time earnings level working for myself. I am not very good at monetization, or search engine optimization, and when I first started blogging, I really wasn’t very good at anything. Slowly, as I have gone along, my abilities have grown and evolved, but I can still remember how things were when I first started, and I am glad I took the route that I did.

Time

One of the things that many bloggers don’t realize is how much time is used up doing things outside of just writing posts. There is marketing, hosting, software, search engine optimization, editing, research, networking, promotion, and a whole slew of other tasks that can quickly eat up your day. Having a team, like we do at Splashpress Media, helps spread the work around, and lets people concentrate on their specialties.

Knowledge

I didn’t know about all the extra things that need to happen on a blog. I figured I research, write, and publish, and things would eventually take care of themselves. I knew a bit about WordPress, and plugins, but to no where near the extent that I have to deal with the popular blogging platform today. Also, securing advertisers was never my job, and so I just kept on pushing out posts. Without the support of others, I doubt the blogs I wrote on ever would have gotten some serious traction online.

I was able to learn from these people that surrounded me. I began to learn more about server administration, search engine optimization, marketing, advertising, and promotion. These skills continue to help make me a better blogger, and while I would have had to learn them on my own if I wasn’t in a network, I doubt that I could have spent as much time refining them as I have been able to.

Money

Of course the biggest advantage for me was the immediate transition. Unlike most bloggers, I went from a full time job, right into full time blogging. To me, that was huge! I used to blog during my free time, but now, with a network supporting me, I could blog all day, and during my free time, I could blog some more. Sure it was long hours, and the income was fairly small at first, but being able to transition how I did was a very liberating and rewarding experience in and of itself.

Conclusion

If you are looking at becoming a paid blogger, being backed by a network or company is a really great feeling and just might get you to your dream of working part time or full time as a blogger faster than you would be able to on your own. Check out BloggerJobs.biz for opportunities that might suit your interests.

Quality Doesn’t Matter If No One Reads Your Post

There has been a huge shift in blogging, and blog promotion over the last few years, and that is in part due to the many great writers flooding the blogosphere with amazing content. See, quality doesn’t matter as much as it did two years ago, where if you wrote good content, you got traffic. Word of mouth about how great your articles were would spread across the net. Today, it isn’t like that.

Don’t get me wrong, content is still key, but if you write the best articles in the world, and no one reads them, will you still feel motivated to blog in the long term? I highly doubt it.

In today’s marketplace, if you don’t already have a huge readership, you need to promote your best articles to create that initial readership. I have met people that think they are “better” than social bookmarking and social news promotion, but most of them have been blogging for a long time, and built up their massive readership back when it was easier.

Competition for readers these days is fierce. I have watched bloggers who are experts in promotion gain traffic, readers, and money faster than those that only wrote good content, and it really got me confused. I come from a world where “content is king”, and so to see articles making the front page of popular sites, or getting linked to by everyone, it really made me wonder where the focus should be: marketing or writing?

People are starting to hit their saturation point when it comes to online content and the new “in” thing is not to tell the world that you have thousands of RSS feeds in your reader, but instead how much you have removed from your daily reading. It is all about finding the creme of the crop, and sites like Digg, Reddit, TechMeme and others allow us to easily do that. If you don’t syndicate your content to these popular sites, you are missing out on a large pool of potential visitors.

Add to that the shift away from users just looking for raw content, to what James Cogan and I recently talked about: content and context.

You realize this more and more when you are searching for information on the web these days, especially for blogging related news. It isn’t the post from two years ago that will help you, but instead the most current article on a given topic. Without the proper context, even the best articles become useless.

So while it may seem odd to be taking the time to update instructions on how to secure a WordPress blog against spam, the plugins, their settings, and even the download locations of these tools may have all changed, and without the proper promotion, the article won’t be found, and people might not get the answer they are seeking. Instead, they might find one from before Akismet was created, and follow the tips and instructions from back then. If you have used WordPress before Akismet, you will understand how ineffective this could be.

Again, I do want to stress that quality articles are important, because without a certain level of quality, you probably won’t be able to promote your article, post or idea very far, but quality in and of itself isn’t enough to grow a blog to a successful level in the current world of blogging. I think people that believe otherwise are not in touch with the current state of the blogosphere and probably have a little too much traffic already. Promote your articles well, and promote them often. The creme will rise to the top, and those that don’t use the systems put in place will be left behind.

nextMEDIA: Branded Entertainment

Renee Hill of eyeReturn started by saying that if you bought advertising executives a PVR or TiVo for their home they would never buy a thirty-second spot again, instead taking that money, and spending it online, and that really made sense to me.

David Carson, Co-CEO of Heavy.com talked about branded entertainment, an area of advertising that doesn’t shill the brand endlessly, rather trying to find ways to get the word out there while still making it fun for its users.

His presentation was amazing, funny, and had some of the best slides from the whole event. They were well designed, and weren’t as text heavy as some other companies. One of the more interesting things David did was to remind us that the Internet is nothing, and if you weighed the data in the internet as a single bubble of electricity, it would only weight two ounces. Saying that someone has actually gone ahead at one point and time to measure it.

David also said that innovations come from big ideas that are put into action. The ideas don’t have to be amazing, as even the most mundaine product or idea can allow room for innovation.

He then brought up the videos featuring the Blentec blender. Most people would think that a blender is a blender, and choose one with the feature they want, or a brand they trust, but Blentec decided to do something different, and showcase their brand by creating online videos that were funny, interesting, and crazy.

David also brought up the Eepybird video with Diet Coke and Mentos. While not being created by either Coke or Mentos, it instantly made both brands “fun” and interesting.

It is all about finding new, and powerful ways to get your brand noticed, and sometimes the best way is to use a form of branded entertainment. I really enjoyed this session, and while not answering the “how” of creating a campaign that would work, it did remind me that if others can do it, I should be able to as well.

Tips for Attending Conferences

Over the last two years, I have attended a few conferences, and while I haven’t been a guest at nearly enough in my opinion, I do have some early lessons and information to hand out to bloggers thinking of attending conferences.

So far, I have been fortunate enough to attend two BarCamps, Northern Voice, Mesh and nextMedia.

Pack Light

With the crazy weather in Canada, you would think that you need tons of gear to deal with anything the city you are visiting decides to throw at you, but moving around a hefty bit of luggage, as well as any technology you bring with you can be a nightmare.

Bring only the essentials, and deal with whatever mother nature decides to throw at you. If you are going for a three day event, and bring three sweaters, just in case it gets cold, you will be lugging them around for no reason if the weather stays nice, or you go from the event, to a cab, to the hotel without spending more than thirty seconds outside. If for some reason, you do end up needing a sweater on the second or third day, then pick up an inexpensive one, or take it as a sign you needed to shop for a new favorite.

This leads me to my next point.

Make Sure You Have Somewhere to Store Your Gear

I have been a bit silly before, and not arranged somewhere to put my suitcase before going to the conference, and so far I have been fairly lucky, with the facility either having somewhere for me to store it, or just having a place to tuck it out of the way, and hope no one walked off with my clothing.

If you have come into the city of the event before hand, and have a hotel, you already have a place to put your stuff. Otherwise, pay the fee to get storage at the airport, bus or train station, as most of them seem to have some coin operated storage. It can be a little annoying to come back and pick it up later in the evening, but it can be better than carting it around to different rooms at the conference.

Write Down Lots of Bullet Points

If your memory is anything like mine, you will want to be sure to write down lots of bullet points from each session you attend. Key information about the presentation can mean the difference between being able to write a comprehensive article, and just doing a summary of an entire day.

I don’t know about you, but I like coming away from conferences being able to create at least three great posts per day of the event.

Have Business Cards Made

When I went to my first conference, I didn’t have business cards yet, and so when I talked to people, I felt a little silly not being able to join the trading system that seemed to be at the end of any new meeting.

Even if you only blog for yourself, it never hurts to have business cards made, so that you can hand people your name, and contact details for reference later.

Network with People

One of the first things I have noticed at conferences is that people like to stick to their groups. If you go with a few people, you will probably spend the whole time talking to each other. I have been known to stay within my comfort zone as well, but you won’t build a great contact list if you sit and wait for people to come up to you.

Don’t be shy. They are all there to network and learn, just like you. If you see someone alone, walk up, introduce yourself, and ask which company they are from and what they have thought of the event so far. If none of the sessions have begun, ask them why they are at the event, and what they are hoping to learn. These are easy ice breakers that will quickly give you a sense of the person you are talking to.

If you see a group, and they seem rather casual, walk close to them, and see if you can join in. Don’t interrupt, but listen for key opportunities to break into the conversation and join in.

Take a Day Off After Returning

Even if the trip is only a few hours away, when you go to a conference, there is no one doing your work, and even if you only blog for yourself, you will still feel behind. When you get back, give yourself a little time to recharge, and let everything from the conference sink in.

I use this time to organize the rest of my week, file away the business cards I received, and organize my notes from the event.

You will be surprised how draining conferences can be, or how exhilarating they can be. Getting back into the working, writing, publishing groove can be fairly difficult.

Involve Yourself

One of the best ways to get noticed by people at an event is to participate and one of the easiest ways to participate is to ask intelligent questions if and when there are openings for them.

Any way you can involve yourself will help set you apart from others, and also derive more value from the conference. I have lost count at how many new things I have learned just by being able to get an expert to answer my question.

Also, I noticed that people that asked questions were more likely to have people talk to them between sessions, and anything that gets people willing to approach you, makes your job of networking that much easier.

Personally Thank the Organizers

One thing that I have found very helpful is to thank the organizers. If you can’t find all of them, any single one would do. Getting a business card from an organizer allows you an easier way to be invited back to the next event, get priority information, or even helps get you speaking at the next event if that’s your goal.

Also, it never hurts to let them know when they did a good job, so that they will feel just a tiny bit more compelled to do it again.

Have Fun

While all the other points are important, and hopefully helpful, this last point is the key to the whole article. Conferences are a chance to network with like-minded people and do something out of the ordinary. It is a chance to let loose a little, and make some great business connections.

Don’t let these opportunities pass without having some fun. You never know when it will all end and you will be doing reports at some desk somewhere.

nextMEDIA: Online and Mobile Media

This is continuing coverage of the nextMEDIA conference in Toronto. To find all the posts related to nextMEDIA, check out Splashpress’ Blog

The second session I attended was the Online and Mobile Media session, which was a panel discussion moderated by Robert Montgomery, CEO of Achilles Media.

In the panel were Kurt Kratchman, Chief Strategy Officer of Schematic, John Hadi, CEO of Brand in Hand, and Jeffrey Stier, Director of Business Growth at J. Walter Thompson’s Sector 7.

Early on, it was said that this session should have been entitled, “show me the money”, as it focused on how and why people are monetizing digital media.

The discussion started off with how television has moved to the web, with ABC being the first to jump on board with both feet and present full episodes via their website. It was an aggressive move for ABC, but they saw a return of fifteen times their investment in only nine months.

The online advertising platform has allowed them to create interactive, and interesting advertising that is nearly a website on top of the video.

It reminded me of intrusive advertising in the past, but I believe, unlike with most text content, users will be willing to deal with such advertising to enjoy their favourite television and video programming online.

What they did say though is that putting a thirty second spot, in the middle of a video is no good, as users don’t connect with the advertisement, and find it annoying.

This is something well known to most people though, as even television users continue to shun the thirty second spot, by skipping it on their TiVo like devices.

It was also noted that the web is better for advertisers than many other mediums as you could control what time of day things are show, as well as making sure to push each user to local contacts, distributors and dealers.

Another point that resonated well with me was that the “pay for download model is basically dead” including subscription models. Personally, I think what Revision3 did with their members getting premiere access, and bonus features is very close to a normal subscription option, but they found a way to make it work. I think other video services, could also do something in this space to innovate, and I look forward to seeing what happens over the coming years.

In the sixties, you could reach 80% of the population by putting a sixty second advertisement on the top three television networks. Today, it would take 120 prime time commercials to produce a similar result.

Virtually no one today is able provide any form of playback, or details from the ads they have seen without some form of aide, be it visual or otherwise.

Basically, it looked to me like all of these people knew that the online space, be it video or otherwise is very exciting, and while they are trying to tap the audience, they are having difficulty. They showed some great promotions and marketing campaigns they have tried, that produced amazing results, but it doesn’t seem like there is any formula for advertising online to gain a certain minimum response.

The takeaway from this session really seemed to be that we should all be tring various things out, producing ideas on the web can be fairly inexpensive, and one of them might just go viral, taking the message to a much larger audience than most expensive, structured, online campaigns.

Blog Your Passions?

So you are new to blogging, and have thankfully decided not to chase after high paying keywords just to make a quick buck. Instead, you are going to blog about your hobby or passions. On other posts, I have said this is a great idea, but after reading the article, my wife turned to me and laughed saying, “but you don’t do most of those things anymore…”

The sad part was, she was right. Since changing my passions into what amounts to work, I rarely get time to keep up on all the latest news, as well as taking the time to enjoy actually doing those things.

One of my biggest passions is science fiction, and it has been since I was very young, but in the last two years, I haven’t taken much time to involve myself in the science fiction community, or really stay up to date on what is going on. Another of my biggest passions is technology, another thing I don’t really keep up with today. It seems I only involve myself in these things enough to blog about them, and there has been a shift in my perceptions due to that.

It is with this in mind that I recommend everyone use any time off they have to go back, and take the time to rediscover what made you enjoy your hobbies and passions so much because if all the things you enjoy in life become work, then what’s the point?

Blogging should be something you enjoy, and an avenue for expression. If it isn’t something you enjoy, take a break, re-assess, and come back with more knowledge and passion than before. We will all be here online when you get back, despite what the “experts” may tell you.

The Value of Free Information?

More and more I am coming to the realization that while people expect things to be free, they don’t necessarily respect, or place value on something that is free.

I recently set up a free online video chat where people could ask me blogging related questions. A few people I talked to thought it would be a great idea, and that people would love to participate in such an open discussion, as well as hopefully learning from my over two years experience as a full time blogger, but other than a few people, most of which I already know and stopped by to show their support, the video channel was empty. It really didn’t work out as well as I had hoped.

Sure, it could have been a number of other factors, but it really showed me that the community doesn’t really respect free things. I then added the video option to one of my paid consulting pages, and have had more requests for it since then, than I ever had when it was a free thing I was trying. As soon as I put a monetary value on my time and effort, people started to respect the offering much more.

A friend of mine, Mark, has decided that because of the community response, he is reconsidering giving away free PHP scripts for people to use. It seems that if the community doesn’t respect people willing to freely give out their knowledge, then they become disenchanted, and no longer take the time to create free things for people to use. And this is really understandable to me.

Flipping this around, there are so many online e-books that will set you back hundreds of dollars to teach you how to make money from your blog, rank well in search engines, or get super amounts of traffic, and people buy them in droves. Does that mean that the paid e-book would have more value than a free one? Or do people just assume that the higher the price, the higher the quality and value?

It is an interesting problem, and something I only see getting worse as the web continues to increase as a popular choice for business opportunities.

If you place a high value on free information, free blogs, free scripts, and free services, then make sure you let the creators know. A thank you from their user base might go a long way to continue to give them the drive they need to produce, support and otherwise create the things we take advantage of every day.

Teaching Bloggers

One of the things I love most about blogging and bloggers is how many people have taken up the cause to teach others. Many of them not really earning any monetary reward for the effort they put in.

Recently, I have become more enamored with the teaching concept, and have always told myself that if I ever left the blogging world, it would be to teach technology at some local community college. Thanks to Mark from 45n5.com, I have realized that I don’t need to leave the blogging world to teach, and have started broadcasting on a service called Ustream.

You might have heard of Ustream, as many important people have been using it for a long time, including Chris Pirillo, someone I have been a long time fan of. Recently, Darren Rowse, of Problogger.net, Mark Wielgus of 45n5.com, and a few others, including myself, took some time to create some channels and answer some questions. A great time was had by all, and there were upwards of fifty people between the channels.

This really spoke to me as a blogger. It showed me that there is a need for more ways for bloggers, both new and seasoned, to interact with their peers, get questions answered, and network. As such, I have decided to continue doing this for now. Darren is thinking about maybe making it a weekly event, and Mark keeps the camera on at all times, even if he’s not around. I really think Ustream could be used as a great teaching mechanism for bloggers, as well as an approachable means to connect with bloggers.

So if you are interested in interacting with some great bloggers, and want to get some questions answered either by me, or others in the live chat room, check out my Ustream channel from 6pm to 8pm EST tonight and tomorrow. I have saved the previous videos on there as well, but a word of warning, some are upwards of over an hour.

For some other great blogging related teachers, check out these blogs:
Copyblogger
Lorelle on WordPress
Problogger.net
Performancing