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Archives for June 2008

Naming Your Blog: How to Create Catchy Blog Names

Naming your blog is an important aspect of blog branding, or blog success for that matter. It seems very important to my visitors too. Ever since my original “What’s In a Name?” post, people have been asking for advice on how to select the best name for their blog.

As I said in the first post,

When choosing a domain name there are some factors to consider:

  • How original and unique is it?
  • How descriptive is it?
  • What image does it convey?
  • Would you remember it after seeing it once?
  • Could you spell it after hearing it once?

All these factors add up to a catchy blog name, but thinking up a catchy blog name is only getting more difficult as the best .com domains get more and more scarce.

Tips for Creating the Best Blog Names

When I chose my domain name I went for “me”, brevity and spelling. So many people get my surname wrong (even good friends of mine), keeping ‘Garrett’ (two r’s, ‘e’, two t’s) out of it seemed a good idea at the time.  This site is about branding me, and by extension my business. I also registered my company name (which was one of the last remaining four letter .coms!), and of course Authority Blogger which is used for my forum, newsletter and the online blogging course and service selling coaching product I am developing.

In my last post on blog naming I said:

A good name is

  1. Readable
  2. Pronounceable
  3. Spellable
  4. Memorable
  5. Concise
  6. Unique

In addition a good blog name evokes or describes what it represents, but how much it describes directly or over time with exposure is up to you and your advertising budget.

chrisg.com represents me, Authority Blogger a product. One is very much in the short and descriptive, the other is somewhat descriptive, but more into the brand zone.

The way I often select brandable names is to not go so far into invented names that you need massive buzz or huge budget for people to know what it is.

Think Flickr, Zooomr and Plurk. Authority Blogger, CopyBlogger, ProBlogger, FreelanceSwitch don’t need quite as much imagination.

Developing a Descriptive and Brandable Blog Name

My simple technique for a descriptive but brandable domain is to combine target audience with benefits.

Your Audience + Benefit = Targeted and Attractive Name

So Authority Blogger shows bloggers how to grow their authority. RemarkableParents teaches parents how to be remarkable parents. OK, some great names are all benefits, but if you think about it they also select an audience, because the audience who wants those benefits is specific, such as ZenHabits.

Avoid the Generic

While it might be tempting to use generic words such as “World”, “Place”, “Thoughts”, “Central”, and they can get you out of a naming-hole, try to aim for specific and unique words that will hold firm in the brain of your audience. You will find it much easier to gain traction by communicating a unique and specific benefit to a targeted audience rather than something wide and loose such as “widget world”.

About Using Keywords + ‘Blog’ in the Name

Some names are all target audience, SEO keywords, or very plainly descriptive, for example my DSLRBlog is a blog about DSLR cameras and photography. Actually I now think “blog” might be as bad or worse than the generic names I list above and the combination of keyword+blog, though initially seeming a good idea for search traffic, is probably holding the site back. You see, I believe nobody searches for “DSLR Blog” apart from people who are looking for my blog. So while keywords do have an SEO benefit, I wonder if branding combined with killer content has as much or more benefit longer term.

Lately I’m actually steering away from “blog” in the name because I come across more and more people who are put off or confused by the word. Also I see those domains not aging or expanding as well. It could well be in a few years we don’t call it blogging, or you might want to develop your blog into a member site.

Have Fun With Your Name

If your blog is not going to be mega serious then have fun with it. Fun, humor, are incredibly effective for both getting noticed and being memorable. A perfect example in my mind is MenWithPens, it’s both evocative of their service and fun. Another is RottenTomatoes.

One thing to avoid though with humor or fun is inside jokes as they have a tendency to exclude rather than attract.

Summary

When inventing names for your blog, think about

  • Who your blog is for
  • What the reader benefit will be
  • The personality you want to evoke
  • Where and how you want to use the name
  • Possible future directions
  • How you can position against the established names

Got any more tips or examples of brilliant blog names? Please share in the comments …

Writing Lessons from Obama and Hilary

Obama and Hilary have been a dominant force in the news since they started campaigning. This is saying something, as I am not even American. Their long battle has taught me a couple of related lessons that I wanted to share with you.

Attacks and Negativity Damage All

While attacks are one way to get attention, and also serve to position yourself relative to your competitor,  in the end the damage is not localized and you end up soiling your own reputation.

Think about it, what do we say about someone who campaigns this way?

“They stooped to a new low”

“She is fighting dirty”

“Smearing the other candidate”

“Sowing the seeds of discord and dissent”

Is this the kind of thing candidates want to be associated with?

What has this to do with writing?

  • How many blogs do you see that go on the attack, as a content strategy or as a means of self promotion?
  • When you see someone ragging on someone or something popular to make a point, how do you feel?
  • Do you see community leaders saying “you are with us or against us”? (eg. why shouldn’t an Apple fan respect Bill Gates? Why is it not OK for an open source advocate to recommend a piece of proprietary software if it’s the best for the job?)
  • The whole “we don’t like these people, we are better than them, because”, does that work with you or make you think the worst of the writer?

Sometimes we do have to criticize to make a serious point, but that does not mean we should label the person. Always, if you must criticize, try to criticize behavior.

Positivity and Solutions are Persuasive

When I see two people argue like Obama and Hilary, I look for the person who is offering ideas and solutions, and I do the same in my reading and learning.

It’s impossible to make a good decision long term based on fear-mongering and negative attacks. Hate and bashing only serves to remove choices, not help make the right one. Positivity and inventive solutions provide you something to get behind, something motivating and enabling.

Ideas Bind, Attacks Divide

When you write you can say what you don’t like or you can offer ideas for a better way. I try to do the latter, though of course being only human it doesn’t always come through like that. My idea of something better today is to try to spin a criticism into an offer of positive advice and see how different the reaction and results can be.

Summary

The main point is, what do you want to achieve with your piece of writing? If you want to make someone or a whole group feel bad, then go on the attack. If on the other hand you want to help, provide answers, then you are far better giving real advice and ideas. Offer something constructive, it is best all round.

What do you think? Have I mis-read the situation, have I just alienated half my readers? Am I being unfair? Do you agree with me about my point of being positive and offering solutions? Please share your thoughts in the comments

How to Build a Useful Site

Usability ScentWhat are visitors arriving at your site for?

It’s a question worth asking because if you don’t know, how can you provide it?

Search stats will tell you, as will some of the visitors if you ask.

In general your readers have followed a scent, a trail that will lead them to their goal. What is their goal likely to be?

Understanding Reader Missions

There are several missions a reader will be on, and while the specifics will be as unique as the individual person, people are always looking for …

  • Specific information
  • A solution to a problem
  • News and commentary about current events
  • Ideas, concepts, tips, education
  • Further details of the information they have found
  • General information on the subject area
  • More entertainment
  • Just something interesting – “surprise me”

The person who lands on your homepage will be in a different mode than the person who lands three levels deep on a specific article.

Mission Accomplished?

Once they have arrived, you need to deliver what they were looking for. Knowing how this works will let you understand why

  • You only get one page view per visitor
  • Some comments get more clicks than the article itself sends
  • Adsense works for some sites and not for others
  • Brand banners get fewer clicks than Adwords and contextual ads
  • “Click Here” can work to drive more link clicks than product names
  • Some people spend only seconds on your site and never return
  • While other subscribe and visit regularly
  • While further others give you feedback that you are writing about “the wrong things”

You need to get into the mindset of each type of visitor to your site. Take your own browsing behavior as a guide. Here is my standard browse session:

  • BBC News – I want to know what is happening in the world, and will look through the front page and entertainment for interesting headlines. Sometimes I get all I need to know from the headline, sometimes I will click through to the article, sometimes I will click through to the further information links.
  • Blog Reading – Again, it is all about interesting headlines, but also it might be an image or a subhead that grabs my attention and pulls me in. Each blog will have a different reason to be in my reading list, some are friends I want to keep up to date with, others are topics I want to learn more about. For example, I subscribe to a couple of blogs just because they will let me know when there is a new piece of photography equipment available, but I won’t read every article as I have a loyalty to Canon cameras and not Nikon or Sony.
  • Digg/Reddit/SU and BoingBoing – I will generally take a look at several sites just to take a break and see what is out there that is interesting. Although I am saying “surprise me”, I know from referral or past experience that these sites contain the sort of stuff I like to read about. A personal blog could contain the same sort of stuff but is going to have to work extra hard to convince me that they can do a better job, so would need to provide something unique and special.
  • Forums – I visit forums to read and ask questions, or answer them. Most people are going to be in the former category more often than the latter, simply because human nature is such that we focus on our own needs or passively consume media most of the time, just as there are more listeners on radio than callers, and more readers than commenters on blogs.
  • Searching – When I search I want the answer to the question I asked. It’s very rare I will search for anything general, it is almost always looking for something specific. That specific question though might get more detailed as I find answers and follow the scent. Think of researching a purchase, you might have a problem, then find products exist, then find reviews, then look for outlets, then find the best price. While you are making progress and the scent trail is there you will keep following it until mission achieved, even wading through swamps of spam to get there. If we lose the scent we change searching strategy.

I hardly ever visit directories. The way I discover more sites on a topic is to follow links, and usually it is through a specific article that has been linked rather than “go look at this blog it is great”.

Your own behavior might well be different, as might your audiences, so understanding how your niche works and the kind of reader missions they might be on is important to knowing if you are going to serve them or frustrate them.

Frustrating Browsers

Much that has been written about traffic is about getting the visitors to arrive. The problem is, by only focusing on attracting people and not serving them we can often create more problems than we solve.

Consider the searcher who thinks they have found the perfect “Britney Lohan” site only to see a bunch of advertising links. They might well click the links, but only because this site hasn’t got the information they want but the adsense headlines look promising. That site is going to only receive one visit per visitor but they don’t care as all they are about is driving more people in so more people leave via the clicks that pay them. The more people they disappoint the more money they make.

Think also about the blog that starts off promising to be “the number one walrus polishing resource” but has a front page full of politics and election stories.

Make Your Site Useful

The key to a happy, return visitor is to

  1. Promise benefits in your titles and headlines and actually deliver on it.
  2. Make your navigation suit the missions your readers are on.
  3. On your homepage provide links for first time visitors who want to explore and long time visitors who read via the web and not RSS.
  4. Individual articles should provide the content they promise, then provide links to more on the same subject.
  5. Add clear signposts to all your best stuff, and your subscription options, while keeping your visitor on the scent of their hunt with series, related articles and category links

Track where your visitors come from and what they are after, and if you can actually talk to them. If you know why visitors arrive you will be in a better position to make them happy.

Thoughts on Reciprocation

Reciprocation is where you feel inclined to do something for someone else because they did something for you. It’s about returning a favor, I help you, you help me.

A great deal of modern marketing is based on reciprocation. It’s a natural impulse and probably something that keeps society bound together.

The classic example is where a charity “gives” you something, anything from a sticker through to greetings cards, and you feel compelled to make a donation.

In the online sphere we give free information so people will feel inclined to sign up for a newsletter or RSS, as in the case of my free Creating Killer Flagship Content ebook.

It also happens a great deal in social media, and in fact works pretty well in those cases. I vote for you and maybe you will feel more inclined to vote for my next story. People re-tweet your message and you feel a lot warmer to them next time you see their name.

Lately I have seen a growing number of people using it in networking or to gain favors or a leg up. Emails saying “Is there anything I can help you with?”, contacts saying “I submitted your article to Reddit and StumbleUpon”, and so on.

The thing is, even when you suspect what is going on, you still feel indebted in a way. I wonder how much of this is acceptable and when it becomes, well, just wrong.

Where should the line be drawn. When do simple favors become manipulation or trickery? How can we maintain the favors while protecting ourselves from the frauds?

Please let me know what you think in the comments …

How to Create a Deeper Connection With Your Target Audience

With any business you have two choices if you want to make a decent profit:

  1. Sell lots of lower margin stuff to lots of people
  2. Sell higher margin stuff to fewer people

Of course if you can sell lots of high value stuff to lots of people then you will do even better.

Value Versus Visitor Count

Websites and blogs have a similar choice but rather than being about sales think of it with value instead. You can provide a small amount of value to a huge audience or a deep and lasting value to a smaller audience. While some manage to provide a huge value to lots of people, in most cases, at least when starting out, you have the choice of wide or deep.

I do not go for the big traffic option but try to provide advice that will resonate with a subset of the overall “market”. Although I have more subscribers than some, I am actually choosy about how I grow my subscribers because I want a certain group of people that actually want to hear what I have to say. I leave certain subjects to other bloggers even though I know it would grow my readership.

Consider my free flagship content ebook. People do not search for that term, and it is not something that will ever get a Digg front page. In fact, it is something I think people should read if they want to know how to create valuable and compelling content, not something people are scrambling to read because there is an untapped desire.

Conversation Creates Deep Connections

Deeper connections start with how you approach your audience:

  1. be very visible to the people who want/need you most,
  2. where they want you to be,
  3. in the way they want.

Concentrate your time to craft one or two very good posts a week rather than lots of fluff, and make yourself available to follow up with answers and conversation. Yes, I charge for consulting calls because if I didn’t I would be never doing anything else, but many people have found that I always try to answer quick questions in comments and emails. An authentic desire to help is paramount.

Interaction is key. It’s not just about broadcasting your expertise but making the conversation two-way. If you are truly interactive you will learn what people respond to and how, and they will get to know you better and trust you more. The more positive impact you have in your niche community the more referrals and word of mouth you will generate.

The main point is who do you want to attract and why. Traffic with no purpose is vanity, much better to gather readers and prospects you can truly serve in a substantial way. 

How to Fix Wrong StumbleUpon Categories

Wrong StumbleUpon categories are quite common and need to be fixed. You might think this is a trivial issue, and in the scheme of things probably not a major priority, but if you have been mis-tagged by mistake you are missing out on traffic, but malicious mis-categorizations also happen (eg. marking as adult theme etc).

StumbleUpon Category Mistakes Happen Often

When someone discovers your post they set for everyone the category it will be found on. In most cases this is a good thing, you get a little traffic boost and you are happy. If they put your article in the wrong category though the wrong people see it, and that means either you don’t get a traffic boost or worse, get thumbed down.

Later reviews can add tags that allow your article to be seen by more people, but it is the discovered category that does the heavy lifting so it is important that is correct.

Putting a stumble in the wrong category is easily done, I have made mistakes myself. In most cases it’s just a slip up in the drop down list.  Putting it right is not so obvious, so after seeing my LinkedIn tips post mis categorized as “socialism” by mistake, I thought I would put these instructions together.

You can notify StumbleUpon, and they do have a team of volunteers who set these things right, but it can take a while and why bother them if you can sort it out yourself? It might be your only choice, especially if you suspect foul play, but it is worth making an attempt before going through official channels.

If You Mis-Categorize

Your mistake is easy to correct if you know how.

  1. Find the page you stumbled
  2. Click the speech bubble in your StumbleUpon toolbar
  3. Scroll to bottom right of the SU page to find the drop down and change it

Fix StumbleUpon Wrong Category

If Someone Else Discovered Your Post With Wrong Category

Fortunately for me, my mis-categorized post was by a helpful and kind person who I already had some contact with via Twitter, yay for me. I simply worked with him to get it changed and it is all resolved nicely.

Who Discovered?

You can see who “discovered” your post by clicking the speech bubble button on your SU toolbar and taking a look at the top of the page that appears. In this example “ecahoon” discovered my blog in “Weblogs”.

Clicking the persons name will take you to their StumbleUpon profile where you can send them a message and ask them to tweak the category. The ideal scenario will be they are online now and respond positively right away. That’s obviously not going to happen in all cases.

SU last logged inSometimes the person just hasn’t logged in for a while. Many times people start using StumbleUpon then give up on it, and you might discover your mis-categorized post only after a random friend warns you or you do a Google search with the SU toolbar switched to add Stumble info. In that case, see if they have a website listed in their profile, you might be able to contact them through that.

Have You Been Mis-Categorized?

SU in GoogleTo see if you have been put in the wrong StumbleUpon category, do a search in Google using site:yourdomain.com and with search results switched on in the toolbar (tools, toolbar options, configuration).

You will see the category for each page that has been stumbled and see if they are appropriate.

Summary

As I say above, this doesn’t happen all the time and when it does it is usually a mistake.  Officially you should notify StumbleUpon to get one of their volunteers to fix the category, but from what I read this can take a while. Better to contact the reviewer, or at least attempt to, yourself.

The best way to avoid this happening in the first place, especially on very important articles, is to get a trusted contact with a good StumbleUpon account to discover it for you. Some would suggest this is “gaming” StumbleUpon and that you should allow people to randomly stumble if they like your stuff. I wouldn’t say this is gaming if you only ask on your best stuff and if the contact agrees because they like it, not just out of friendship.

If you have anything to add or any tips, please share in the comments …

Good Questions Make Great Content

It’s OK to not have all the answers. Let’s face it, everything changes so fast, it’s hard to keep up with absolutely everything. Sometimes though we have burning questions that Google can’t solve. What should we do?

Well, as bloggers, a great thing to do is to ask the question and publish the answers.

If you don’t know the answer, it could well be lots of people want to know too. Plus, if you can’t find the answer in Google then you just might have an idea that will bring you regular search traffic if you implement it right. It’s always a good thing to get your audience thinking and involved. Even if their response is “I don’t know, but good question!” :)

Sometimes there is no right or wrong answer, but opinions can create valuable discussions which are still attractive content, thought provoking, community building and good for entertainment and engagement. Just look at Liz’ Open Mike discussions.

The question does not always have to be asked on your blog either. It might be that you know a forum or discussion list with topical experts on board, or it might be that you need to cast your net wide and get the biggest possible response by asking in multiple places.

Here are five ways to get answers outside of comments that jump to mind: 

  1. Twitter – For my post about getting the most out of LinkedIn I asked for suggestions on Twitter. Twitter, after my blog, is my go-to place for getting quick answers as I know I will get a response. Of course you need a few followers first!
  2. LinkedIn – I have only asked one question on LinkedIn and just got the one response, but it was a good one. Others have far more success. LinkedIn is chock full of business people, and is probably more appropriate for those kinds of issues, but also those people have lives outside of business so might be worth a try.
  3. Yahoo! Answers – Same kind of deal as LinkedIn answers but wider in audience and more general purpose and more consumer oriented.
  4. A survey/poll – Rather than just ask a question and get responses in comments, surveys and polls can be useful for narrowing the answers for quantitative results as I have done in my blogging survey (still a chance to win a book or blog critique!)
  5. Email – If you know certain people will have the answers you need then email them. If you make it easy and quick to answer you might be surprised at the responses you get. I did this with my Cluetrain Social Media article and is something Jonathan Fields does routinely to great effect.

Make sure you always credit the people who provide answers. Also try to give people credit even if you disagree with what they say, show all sides.

Got any tips to share? Do you ask questions in your blogging? How? Or do you prefer blogs to be about answers? Please share in the comments …

The Art of Nonconformity Blog Critique

Chris Guillebeau is one of those people who absolutely lives his philosophy. His blog is about travel and “Nonconformity” and you can believe he follows his own advice 100%. Recently Chris and Reese Spykerman worked up a fresh design and asked me to provide some feedback, so here is their critique.

Note on Blog Critiques

If you don’t have the funds right now to buy one of my critiques, you can still win one by filling out the survey. Also you can pick up tips for your own blog right here. While reading any of my blog critiques, see if any of the advice could apply to you. I find that many bloggers could make the same improvements, and it is amazing the difference even small changes can make.

The Critique – Initial Impressions

The first thing I always do when looking at a blog for a critique is to note my initial impressions. This is useful because a visitor to a new blog is going to give you seconds before deciding to move on or look further. Consider a visitor arriving through stumbleupon, what is going to hold their attention before hitting the stumble button once more?

I find overall the blog looks very nice, clean, clear, professional while still friendly, if a little “shy”.

What I mean by that is I feel it is a touch restrained. Everything feels polite and quiet, from the colors to the navigation. The fonts are small, even in the header. Never be afraid to spell things out, never over estimate the reader, make everything simple and plainly obvious. Your audience will no doubt be clever, but that doesn’t mean they have the patience to figure stuff out. So buttons with clever little pictures? Put captions with them that SAY “Travel”, etc. Right now the tooltips say the same thing by the way, which is confusing until you see the URL changes.

Rather than a closeup picture of Chris there is quite a long shot. Perhaps replace with a more intimate picture showing head and shoulders? Right now we feel at waving distance, let’s see what you actually look like so we can feel more connected to you?

Usability

The Art of Nonconformity Critique
Blog Usability Advice [Click to Zoom]

What do you look for when you see a site for the first time?

Where am I?
What is here?
Why should I care?

Any blog should quickly and simply answer these questions, using for example

  1. The header – Does it tell you where you are and why you should bother?
  2. Headlines – Do they stand out and interest you?
  3. Navigation – Is there anything of further interest or should you move on?

In this case I think we get a good overall impression but until you work further down or dig into the content, it’s a little self-referential. I would suggest a small tweak to the tagline. Currently it says “Unconventional Strategies for Life, Work and Travel”. Perhaps alter that to something about the reader benefit, such as

“Learn Strategies for a More Unconventional Life, Work and Travel”

I’m sure with some thought you can improve on that, my point is purely to make it an active promise showing a reader benefit, not a passive content description or statement.

We also will look around the blog looking for cues of interest, read down the sidebar, skim the article after looking at the headline, and so on. There are certain conventions too, like having the subscription options top right, categories and more posts to the right, and about and contact in the top navigation.

Chris’ blog succeeds very well in several areas:

  • Site Summary – In the sidebar there is a nice summary of what the site is about
  • Buttons in Nav – While the header doesn’t speak “nonconformity” or “travel” to me, the buttons do represent the categories
  • The content – Read the content, it is excellent, and is presented well with basics and most popular

Tips for Improvement

  1. Make the header bolder and consider adding something visual that says “travel” etc. If you sent your header to 20 people who had never seen it before, could they tell you what the site is about? Yours is better than most, but consider taking it up a notch.
  2. Add text to the button icons in the top navigation and fix the tooltips. Never be afraid to be obvious. Obvious works better than cute or clever every time.
  3. Make headlines and the very top navigation text links bigger and more obvious, right now they are too easily missed. Imagine your reader has bad eyes and is in a rush.
  4. Move the “What would Seth do” box (“If you are new here”) to above the content. Readers want to go headline/skim, intro, content. Do not break the reading flow. Also consider removing the line that splits the headline from the article content
  5. Where you have subscribe by email, consider adding the actual form, you might see more signups
  6. Make articles skimmable, a good tip when you use images is you can add a caption underneath your pictures that both describes the picture and draws the reader in like another subhead
  7. Swap the globe picture in the “Summary” as a background image so doesn’t take up as much vertical space? Above the fold is still the most visible, even though now readers do scroll more than they did
  8. Put a link to most popular content up with (more visible) top navigation as well as sidebar – don’t be shy about promoting your best stuff!
  9. In the “about” sections try to find ways to make it answer the “so what?” question – what should the reader gain?
  10. You don’t monetize, which is fair enough, but is there a way that grateful readers can help you in some way? Donations? Freelance work? A place to stay? Readers can and do give back if you provide the opportunity.

Get More Subscribers and Traffic

Before I mentioned that the email subscription box should be made into an actual form, but then I noticed as I browsed around the box disappeared on certain pages? Subscriptions should be visible on every page unless that would mean duplicating them in a distracting way (eg. on a dedicated subscribe page).

My last tip is about a prime piece of real estate that is not being used to the full …

The Art of Nonconformity Blog Critique
Your Best Chance at a New Subscriber

Right after a reader has enjoyed your post is the best opportunity to get them to do something, send to friend, subscribe or vote in Social Media, but you can’t just “ask”, you have to make it as easy as possible.

So while you have the right idea, use Sociable or another plugin to put in social buttons, and links to your subscription options for RSS and email, and so on. It’s the law of reciprocation, get them while they still feel the warm glow of gratitude.

Summary

Don’t take my suggested improvements as a knock, this is a great blog and is now a fixture in my RSS reader. As I say in the introduction, it is clear Chris really lives this stuff and that shines through in the excellent content. Make sure you subscribe today so you too can learn to be more unconventional!

Have you got any tips for Chris? Do you agree/disagree with any of my advice or anything to add? Please share in the comments …