Year End Blog Assessment and Goal Setting for the New Year

With 2007 drawing to a close, I’m sure many of us are doing informal blog reviews, namely looking at the goals wet set at the start of 2007 and seeing how well we did at meeting them. The reviews will help us dream up our goals for 2008.

Certainly, the most obvious thing to track is how much money a blog has made over the past year. Personally, money isn’t my primary goal: I didn’t start blogging as a business venture. There are many reasons why people blog, and each will define a different set of criteria for success.

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A Friendly Reminder: Back Up Your Blog

Last week, I had a major freak-out when my blog suddenly became inaccessible. There was nothing wrong with its WordPress install, but the MySql database behind the scenes was stuck – I couldn’t access it via phpMyAdmin or SSH – breaking my blog completely and leaving me helpless.

While this was happening, I kicked myself for not backing up in the past few months, and sadly wondered if I would have to create a new database and recreate posts from scratch.

I eventually contacted my host (I don’t know what they did) and they got things working again – now all is well.

But my panic was a wake up call – a reminder that it’s important to back up your blog’s database – where all the posts you write actually reside. The files within your WordPress directory contain the code that serves up the pages, the themes, and plug-ins. But the heart of the blog – the actual content made up of hundreds of posts – is stored in a MySQL database that lives only on your server.

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Blog Roll Surfing: Do Some Web Wandering

Here’s a simple activity that each time I engage in, afterwards I feel refreshed and rejuvenated for another week of blogging.

Whenever I’m stuck in a rut, an activity I enjoy for a “reboot” is a brisk walk or short hike away from civilization. There’s something refreshing about wandering in unfamiliar territory, the change of scenery, and enjoying the change of perspective.

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Real Artists Ship: The Value Of A Firm, Hard Deadline

Blogging is by and large a solitary activity. The average, self-employed blogger writes out of the comfort of home in their pajamas, thankfully miles away from a grumpy manager fretting over a deadline and micro-managing each click of the keyboard.

Granted, lack of a boss can initially feel like freedom – but as the initial fun fades away and blogging begins to feel like work, that blogger soon realizes that they must become their own manager.

Over the past few weeks I’ve taken on more freelance work than usual (in addition to the day job), while still managing to squeeze out a blog post or two a day. But whenever I get to a place where I’m managing several long-term projects simultaneously, I’m quickly underwater with each in a state of incompleteness, their resolution at some point just out of reach. This is when work really, really feels like work, and there simply aren’t enough hours in the day.

But I do have a short bit of motivational advice that I find inspirational at times of overwork. It’s a simple, short phrase attributed to Steve Jobs while pushing a team of worn-out engineers to complete the original Macintosh:

“Real artists ship”.

I first read the phrase in the book Insanely Great by Steven Levy (it’s about the history of Apple Computer):

Perhaps the most telling epigram of all was a three-word koan that Jobs scrawled on an easel in January 1983, when the project was months overdue. REAL ARTISTS SHIP… One’s creation, quite simply, did not exist as art if it was not out there, available for consumption, doing well… to make a difference in the world and a dent in the universe, you had to ship.

It’s a philosophical question that states all our pre-planning, best intentions, well-meaning efforts, and dutiful toil are for naught – if at the end of the day, nothing “ships” and there is no end result.

Personally, I find the phrase a great way to combat the specter of procrastination and also the morass of good intentions – saying I’ll do something but never quite getting around to it, or getting ninety percent there and then throwing up my hands in frustration. The phrase means that by giving up early, or never meeting the deadline, I’ve failed.

And there is an interesting side result of putting this phrase into action: you absolutely must have a deadline – and one that is firmly set in stone. There is no point in a deadline that aimlessly shifts.

(If your goal doesn’t really have a firm deadline… just lie to yourself.)

Learning to ship just comes down to action and results:

1. Write down what you want to achieve.
2. Pick a firm (but realistic) deadline.
3. Come up with a plan to put into action that can be broken down into clear, measurable steps (milestones).
4. Just do it.

Easier said than done; I know. I certainly don’t have everything totally under control. But because I have a deadline, a plan, and the knowledge to complete each project, I feel like I’m making progress on a daily basis.

Soon, the milestones will begin to fall away, largely due to the firm deadline and imaginary vision of Steve Jobs scribbling on an easel.

New Features In Mac OS X Leopard That May Help You Blog

For those with a Mac, you’ve likely read tons about the newest version of OS X, Leopard – or merely rushed out as soon as it was released and bought it – as I did. After playing around with this new operating system for a few days, I’ve already settled on a few features that will definitely help my blogging efficiency – in fact, I used some to write this post.

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Getting Back To Basics: Blog Decluttering

When Web 2.0 first began with Google and Craigslist, one of the “innovations” was simplicity itself – empty, uncluttered designs that allowed users to get what needed to be done with a minimum of design elements.

I feel this basic concept has been forgotten recently, what with widgets, ads, videos, monetization, polls, spam, and splogs. Some blogs are so obscured with extra stuff that the content – the post itself – is nearly impossible to find.

It may be time to get back to basics. This week, I noticed several articles about clutter reduction, enough to say that excesses may be reversing and we’re entering a “clutter-reduction equals increased productivity” trend:

  • Blain at Stock Trading To Go did a guest post at Zenhabits called Getting Productive, and a Clean Desk. He has some good suggestions, namely a daily task list (in order to avoid distractions), waking up earlier, and discipline to avoid procrastination.
  • An article from The Consumerist suggests one way to feel richer is to remove clutter, suggesting that “unnecessary objects steal energy and attention”. This could be a reference to the wasted time cleaning, things, looking for things, or maintaining things – all time that could be spent being productive. Now imagine how visiting a cluttered blog is like entering a cluttered room.
  • Newsweek: The Latte-Era Grinds Down: A sagging economy is goading people to refocus their lifestyles toward the essentials.

Since upgrading to WordPress 2.3 I’ve been on a quest to “declutter” my blog: cleaning it up for the specific purposes of increasing readability, removing distractions, and improving load time. Here’s a short list of what I’ve achieved so far:

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Making A Long-Term Commitment To Blogging… Don’t Break The Chain

As a result of writing for the Blog Herald, I’ve become a regular reader. Last week, Lorelle wrote the article “What Does it Really Take To Blog?” that had me thinking. So this week, I thought I’d offer my own, personal answer to Lorelle’s question.

Q: What does it really take to blog?

A: The ability to make a long-term commitment.

Much blogging advice contains an over-arching theme of preparing for the “long haul.”

Now, what do I mean and what does this have to do with a chain?  Read on.

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If Your Blog Doesn’t Have Ads, Are You Evil?

Mark Evans has written a few posts about how AdBlock Plus, an ad blocker for Firefox, is “evil.” He argues that readers who block online advertising are cutting off a major source of revenue for the sites they visit. The subject is worth considering in regards to blogging and priorities – to both your readers and advertisers.

I’d like to flip things around and critique “intrusive” online advertising – the main reason why ad blockers exist. I feel disrespected as a customer when I encounter ads that excessively waste my time or annoy me. Here’s a short list of “intrusive” advertising types with specific examples:

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Four Baiting Types: Click, Comment, Link, And Bookmark

We all write blog posts to elicit a response from our readers. In the web world, this usually means reader clicks, comments, links, and bookmarks. Perhaps instinctively, when we do want to inspire a response, many bloggers seem to write four types of content:

  1. Click bait.
  2. Comment bait.
  3. Link bait.
  4. Bookmark bait.

I use the word “bait” in the friendliest light – content that is attractive to readers. Let me define each content type:

Click bait: A post with an attractive headline that inspires people to click the link to read the full article.

Characteristics:

  • Interesting headlines like “Why I Can’t Stand Hairless Cats”
  • Headlines with superlatives like “Best” or “Worst”.
  • Headlines promising brevity like “Top Ten” or “Five Steps”

Example: Valleywag: Loser-Generated Content

Comment bait: A post that inspires a reader to leave a comment on your blog.

Characteristics:

  • A direct question.
  • A strong, emotional opinion.
  • A controversial point of view.
  • A cry for help.

Example: Essential Keystrokes: What To Do About Hotlinked Images?

Link bait: A post that inspires people to link to it from their own blogs.

Characteristics:

  • A breaking news item.
  • A half-baked opinion that could stand to be elaborated upon.
  • A question that is too difficult to answer via a brief comment.
  • A blog meme or link train.
  • A blog contest.

Example: Brent Evans: 17 Year Old Girl Turns MySpace Themes into Million Dollar Business

Bookmark bait: An post that is so compelling or chock full of information that the reader is inspired to bookmark it to return to at a later date.

Characteristics:

  • Technical information: A tutorial on how to complete a technical task with step by step instructions, images, example files, and links to further learning resources.
  • Reference information: A top 100 list of restaurants of a particular area and the recipes for their best dishes.
  • Passion: A unique, personal story that comes from the heart.

Examples: Skelliewag: 101 Essential Blogging Skills, Lorelle At WordPress: Hundreds of Resources for Finding Content for Your Blog, Internet Duct Tape: 76 Romantic Flicks for Guys and Girls

Each content type, while attractive to readers, has its disadvantages:

Click bait could describe a post where the headline is the only useful thing about it. At worst, the snappy headline leads to a blog post containing just two sentences, a blockquote from some other blog, and scads of sad ads.

Comment and link bait can easily lead to sensational content: either controversial (possibly offensive) for the sake of attracting attention or time sensitive posts that have a very short shelf-life.

Bookmark bait requires the most work and actual expert knowledge or tons of time-consuming research regarding the subject.

So what can one learn from organizing posts into these four categories?

  • As I browse through my feed reader, the vast majority of blog posts I encounter fall into the first three categories. I read most blog posts once. 99% of the time, I don’t feel any need to read them again. For me, bookmark bait is rare.
  • A post can be a combination of several of the above content types – or all four simultaneously. The ultimate blogging quality goal may be a mythical high quality post that inspires clicks, comments, links, and bookmarks all at once.
  • If my goal is to generate more traffic, I might focus on click and comment bait.
  • If my goal is to generate more links, I might focus on link and bookmark bait.
  • Different content types will influence posting frequency. A blogger that produces quality bookmark bait could retain me as a loyal reader even if they only posted once a week. A blogger focusing on click and link bait must post many times a week (or day) to make up for the lack of quality.

In conclusion, your personal blogging goals should dictate your writing style. For me, organizing the content I read into categories helped analyze my own writing and inspired some strategies I plan to use in the future.