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Spiritual River Blog Critique

Spiritual River

Spiritual River

Patrick Meninga, aka skinnyninja to forum members, won this blog critique in the Blogger of the Month competition. If you would like to win a blog critique or Authority Blogger membership there is still time to win the June prize, you just need to participate in the forum by being friendly, asking excellent questions that spark discussion, or answering questions well.

The blog is called Spiritual River and is about addiction, or rather I guess is more about sobriety by being more spiritual.

By using the Thesis Theme, many of the techy things you need to do are handled already, so in terms of SEO and having a good web framework, this is well sorted. Patrick has used a basic Thesis install and added a custom header and some adsense for monetization.

There is nothing wrong with the base Thesis look but you get better results by properly skinning it to your own, unique appearance. You should avoid looking like every other Thesis install on the planet! That said, the header looks good.

Another issue design wise is it is not very obvious for a first time visitor what they are being offered. You must communicate where the visitor has arrived, what they can see and most important, why they should be interested. This is fundemental, as a confused visitor is not likely to hang around.

Put some text in the header, a benefit focused statement, such as

How to achieve sobriety through spirituality

(although having just read that back, you might find a phrasing that suits your audience better!).

A key part of your differentiation is that you are a person who has been through it. You have been there, done that, and lived to tell the tale. I often say to my coaching and Authority Blogger clients that “you are your secret sauce”, and here it is especially true. The people in your audience will likely have well-meaning experts telling them what to do but someone on the exact same wavelength, just a bit further ahead of the them on the path, will be a valuable person to know.

Keeping that in mind, you need to personalize a little more. Your about pages are excellent, but even better would be a small about box with your image in it right in the sidebar. You can link to your main about page and bio from there.

As well as this, engage the reader more in a conversation. If you go back over your recent posts, most end with a statement. Switch that up and instead end on a question. You will see wherever I write I normally end with a question of some sort, it is rare that I do not. Something like “What do you think? Please share in the comments …” works a treat.

The key to getting comments is to spark the conversation using questions that have no right or wrong answer. Everyone has an opinion, but not everyone dare answer a question in case they end up looking dumb or worse. So make a good, welcoming environment, where people feel safe to respond, and also make sure that people know they can be anonymous as much as they need to, because it is a sensitive niche.

If people do not want to comment you still need to engage them. Really push your contact form as a place where people can interact with you. Ask questions and ask them to ask you questions. Some of my very best content ideas are simply questions I have been asked by readers and customers. These are beyond precious.

As well as reaching out to readers, also reach out to other bloggers. This networking will help you boost your link profile (although you are already doing pretty well in that) and help you raise your referral and search traffic. It might also lead to profit opportunities.

This can start with Twitter connections, and guest posting, which can also lead to paid writing gigs which is something you mention on your site.

If you are serious about getting paid writing opportunities then you need a service page and to mention this in your sidebar, about page and when you guest post. You could list experience/appearances, how to book you for writing and the kind of work you do. Of course you do not have to stick to only writing on addiction sites. You have a particular frame of reference that would allow you to write personally on many subjects and a writing ability that would allow you to write on topics that you have not personally experienced but could research. After all, I have written about rehab without experiencing rehab or addiction!

Consider the related subject areas you can connect to:

  • Spirituality
  • Self help
  • Health
  • Life Coaching
  • Hypnosis
  • NLP
  • etc

All of those are topics that you could expand to or network with but also when you look over those again, they are all areas where there are products and services that can be reviewed or joint ventured. You could make advertising deals, affiliate commissions or partner to develop products.

When you look at your blog as aimed at an audience rather than a subject, your opportunities expand.

Speaking of which, I am not sure how much money you will be making with Adsense, but consider getting sponsor ads (Thesis allows you to add a column easily) as I imagine rehab could be a high paying niche, but also look closely at making money via affiliate and your own products. For the affiliate side, because people in your audience will be vulnerable, you need to be even more open and honest in your recommendations, but there is a lot of potential there. I know that rehab leads are worth a lot of money, and are not as ugly as Adsense 🙂

Finally work hard to show your subscription options and provide a call to action that shows why someone should sign up. Why should they subscribe? Also provide subscription links under your articles as this is where someone who has enjoyed your content will want to see them.

What do you think of Spiritual River? Please help Patrick by adding your feedback in the comments …

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Comments

  1. Chris, The screen shot of Spiritual River you post has obnoxious Google ads all over it. I had thought that to be an obvious improvement area. However, once I clicked over to the website they are not present – so problem solved, for now! If Spiritual River does wish to monetize through ads, your suggestion to have sponsors would be great. However, if Patrick needs to build a bridge between AdSense and sponsors while he works on getting the traffic quality sponsors needs, why not make a custom template for the blog posts and put AdSense in the middle of the article?

  2. Chris, The screen shot of Spiritual River you post has obnoxious Google ads all over it. I had thought that to be an obvious improvement area. However, once I clicked over to the website they are not present – so problem solved, for now! If Spiritual River does wish to monetize through ads, your suggestion to have sponsors would be great. However, if Patrick needs to build a bridge between AdSense and sponsors while he works on getting the traffic quality sponsors needs, why not make a custom template for the blog posts and put AdSense in the middle of the article?

  3. Wow – it’s hard to add additional feedback to this post when the critique itself already includes so much excellent advice. I particularly agreed with the poster’s advice to engage the users in conversation, and that’s a goal I’m going to set for myself as I blog. (I need to blog more often too, period, but that’s a whole other story, I guess.)

    I liked the header image quite a bit, but I agree that you should include a tag line clarifying what the site’s purpose is.

    I noticed at the end of your posts that you have a boilerplate sentence that reads, “If you found this helpful, please share it with others.” That’s great, but even better would be to include some kind of functionality like ShareThis, which is a javascript button you can add to your posts which will allow your readers to share your content any way they like. (Via email, Delicious, or whatever.)

    Hope that helps!

    Randy

  4. Wow – it’s hard to add additional feedback to this post when the critique itself already includes so much excellent advice. I particularly agreed with the poster’s advice to engage the users in conversation, and that’s a goal I’m going to set for myself as I blog. (I need to blog more often too, period, but that’s a whole other story, I guess.)

    I liked the header image quite a bit, but I agree that you should include a tag line clarifying what the site’s purpose is.

    I noticed at the end of your posts that you have a boilerplate sentence that reads, “If you found this helpful, please share it with others.” That’s great, but even better would be to include some kind of functionality like ShareThis, which is a javascript button you can add to your posts which will allow your readers to share your content any way they like. (Via email, Delicious, or whatever.)

    Hope that helps!

    Randy

  5. This is the second one of the blog critiques that I’ve read and it’s kind of like watching game films with a coach…very interesting.

    I’ve been doing a local real estate blog for about a year and it’s given the me the confidence that I can generate the content and have the discipline to launch a more ambitious project and try to claim a niche in real estate, that is, developing best practices for selling houses.

    Most real estate agents are taught to generate leads and sell themselves, not market homes. I set out to create some “Killer Flagship Content” and wrote an ebook that I’ll offer on the site. This leads to my question about the critique of Patrick’s Spiritual River blog. He too has created an ebook. I was surprised that downloading it did not require me to register. One of my motives for writing the ebook was to have something of value to offer in exchange for permission to continue communication. Is this a special case where the intention is to get valuable information into the hands of people who need it and may want to maintain anonymity? In any case, are there pros and cons to the approach of exchanging the ebook for a subscription sign-up?

    My own plan for monetizing is to try to build a following and gradually involve affiliates that offer quality products that listing agents can use to market homes and possibly develop some training and info products too.

  6. This is the second one of the blog critiques that I’ve read and it’s kind of like watching game films with a coach…very interesting.

    I’ve been doing a local real estate blog for about a year and it’s given the me the confidence that I can generate the content and have the discipline to launch a more ambitious project and try to claim a niche in real estate, that is, developing best practices for selling houses.

    Most real estate agents are taught to generate leads and sell themselves, not market homes. I set out to create some “Killer Flagship Content” and wrote an ebook that I’ll offer on the site. This leads to my question about the critique of Patrick’s Spiritual River blog. He too has created an ebook. I was surprised that downloading it did not require me to register. One of my motives for writing the ebook was to have something of value to offer in exchange for permission to continue communication. Is this a special case where the intention is to get valuable information into the hands of people who need it and may want to maintain anonymity? In any case, are there pros and cons to the approach of exchanging the ebook for a subscription sign-up?

    My own plan for monetizing is to try to build a following and gradually involve affiliates that offer quality products that listing agents can use to market homes and possibly develop some training and info products too.

  7. Patrick says:

    Thank you so much for this blog critique, Chris. Lots of actionable advice here.

    Just to clarify, the Adsense is not on the home page, and I’ve also removed it from about 30 other posts and pages, including some of the navigational pages.

    I tried having “share this” for a while but it did not do well. My traffic is 80 percent from Google and they are a low-tech audience. 95 percent of them have never heard of RSS.

    I get 1 to 3 emails every day from people asking advice directly. Another 1 to 3 in the comments as well. I have turned a lot of that into “reader mailbag” posts.

    Question: does anyone think I should try to build a community? I have a unique slant on recovery ideas and could possibly add a forum.

    Thanks Ted and Randy for your feedback. I appreciate any comments you guys can give me!

  8. Patrick says:

    Thank you so much for this blog critique, Chris. Lots of actionable advice here.

    Just to clarify, the Adsense is not on the home page, and I’ve also removed it from about 30 other posts and pages, including some of the navigational pages.

    I tried having “share this” for a while but it did not do well. My traffic is 80 percent from Google and they are a low-tech audience. 95 percent of them have never heard of RSS.

    I get 1 to 3 emails every day from people asking advice directly. Another 1 to 3 in the comments as well. I have turned a lot of that into “reader mailbag” posts.

    Question: does anyone think I should try to build a community? I have a unique slant on recovery ideas and could possibly add a forum.

    Thanks Ted and Randy for your feedback. I appreciate any comments you guys can give me!

  9. Hello Chris…great critique…fabulous advice. You are, as they say, spot on the money sir.

    Hello Patrick…I most certainly do think you should build a community. Adding a forum would be a fantastic move since it would allow visitors to communicate with one another…great idea since, as you know, no one recovers alone. It has been my experience that helping others in their personal recovery helped me with mine. It gave me a sense of accomplishment. When you spend a long time wrecking your life, that sense of helping and accomplishment is priceless. You know this. I particularly like that you offer the ebook sans strings. Classy touch my friend.

    Chris mentioned the importance of comments and I would like to build on his premise. Now, I am by no means an expert on blogging, not even close, yet, I know people and I seem to have a knack for understanding things intuitively. You need to let your readers know how important they are to you. There are simply not enough bloggers doing that one simple thing. If they are your inspiration, tell them so. For example…when requesting a comment, you might add something like…”You, Dear Reader, are my primary source of inspiration!” or “You, Dear Reader, are the voice that guides my pen!”. You see…let them know.

    Peace and Peace

  10. Hello Chris…great critique…fabulous advice. You are, as they say, spot on the money sir.

    Hello Patrick…I most certainly do think you should build a community. Adding a forum would be a fantastic move since it would allow visitors to communicate with one another…great idea since, as you know, no one recovers alone. It has been my experience that helping others in their personal recovery helped me with mine. It gave me a sense of accomplishment. When you spend a long time wrecking your life, that sense of helping and accomplishment is priceless. You know this. I particularly like that you offer the ebook sans strings. Classy touch my friend.

    Chris mentioned the importance of comments and I would like to build on his premise. Now, I am by no means an expert on blogging, not even close, yet, I know people and I seem to have a knack for understanding things intuitively. You need to let your readers know how important they are to you. There are simply not enough bloggers doing that one simple thing. If they are your inspiration, tell them so. For example…when requesting a comment, you might add something like…”You, Dear Reader, are my primary source of inspiration!” or “You, Dear Reader, are the voice that guides my pen!”. You see…let them know.

    Peace and Peace

  11. Great critique! I think the advice you gave is a great and simple way to tweak an existing blog. I think it’s easy to become narrow minded when creating a blog and think that the reader will immediately know what he’s looking at. Which also makes it easy to forget how the little things like including a tag line or engaging your audience will impact the blog’s performance. Thanks for your advice!

  12. Great critique! I think the advice you gave is a great and simple way to tweak an existing blog. I think it’s easy to become narrow minded when creating a blog and think that the reader will immediately know what he’s looking at. Which also makes it easy to forget how the little things like including a tag line or engaging your audience will impact the blog’s performance. Thanks for your advice!

  13. I haven’t read all of Patrick’s posts but from design point of view I’ve got to say that his blog looks pretty cool.

    Maybe the Google Ads block on the 2nd page is a tad to big. But I am sure you will soon find a balance between usability and revenues here 🙂

    The homepage itself may need some more teaser texts to attract readers’ attention and to drag them into the subpages. Can’t you provide a summary of your 10 latest blog posts on your homepage? That way more people may want to explore your site.

    Otherwise, good job!

  14. I haven’t read all of Patrick’s posts but from design point of view I’ve got to say that his blog looks pretty cool.

    Maybe the Google Ads block on the 2nd page is a tad to big. But I am sure you will soon find a balance between usability and revenues here 🙂

    The homepage itself may need some more teaser texts to attract readers’ attention and to drag them into the subpages. Can’t you provide a summary of your 10 latest blog posts on your homepage? That way more people may want to explore your site.

    Otherwise, good job!

  15. Hi Patrick,

    I read your post on Everything You Know About Addiction is Wrong when you first published it – and I still remember it!

    I agree with Chris – you need to show more clearly what people will get from your site: offering support as you recover from addiction, or, information to help you stay straight, or whatever. Also that you could point up your difference a bit more, I really like your emphasis that recovery is a spiritual process (I might be very untypical but it’s worth finding out (if you haven’t already) whether this could be your uniqueness).

  16. Hi Patrick,

    I read your post on Everything You Know About Addiction is Wrong when you first published it – and I still remember it!

    I agree with Chris – you need to show more clearly what people will get from your site: offering support as you recover from addiction, or, information to help you stay straight, or whatever. Also that you could point up your difference a bit more, I really like your emphasis that recovery is a spiritual process (I might be very untypical but it’s worth finding out (if you haven’t already) whether this could be your uniqueness).

  17. Hey Chris,

    While I have little to add to your comments about Spiritual River. I am more appreciative with stumbling across your site and learning something about how I should move forward with my own site. I have two already and finally doing the site I always wanted. I think your advice helped even though I am doing nothing similar to this critique.

    Thanks,
    devin

  18. Hey Chris,

    While I have little to add to your comments about Spiritual River. I am more appreciative with stumbling across your site and learning something about how I should move forward with my own site. I have two already and finally doing the site I always wanted. I think your advice helped even though I am doing nothing similar to this critique.

    Thanks,
    devin

  19. I found this critique interesting since I run a blog in a similar niche (although just getting started). I came across SpiritualRiver several weeks ago and found the Author Bio extremely honest. Which I’ve tried to include in my site as well.

    One thing I didn’t like is the Google Adsense on the site. I don’t know, for some reason that immediately turns me off on most sites. It gives the flog feel to me. I do use feedburner and have adsense in my feeds (which I’m thinking about removing) but not on my site. I too use the Thesis theme but have customized it quite a bit, kept it simple. Originally I intended to use Adsense or ads but reconsidered and decided to concentrate on content and building relationships and readers. I still have trouble with the “I’m here to help so let me sell you something” feeling. That’s just my take… and if I’m to do it full time or benefit monetarily from it then that opportunity will present itself in time.

    I agree about adding additional areas of focus, self-help, personal growth (although that’s a HUGE niche). But Patrick hits a great point in his The Creative Theory of Recovery Explained with “You’re either creating a new life for yourself or you are sliding back towards relapse.” I’m either moving towards the solution or spiritual growth or away from it. In every decision I make. His creative theory can apply across many areas of personal well-being.

    Many of us in recovery and working a program have often wished for those not recovering from addiction (but still struggle with accepting life on life’s terms or finding serenity) had some type of program based on spiritual principles. We’ve found happiness and serenity and simply want others to experience it. Although its hard to practice “attraction rather than promotion” in the online world. I guess which is one reason I try to use “me” and “I” for the most part in my posts and not tell my readers what they should do. I’m simply talking from experience. After all that’s all I have, I don’t have the answers, just my experience of what worked for me. Sorry, got away from the subject.

    I noticed there’s no real Categories, topics, or way to navigate the topics on the site other than the Archives tab at the top. Maybe give the readers more clear sense of “Hear what I have to say on this topic.” Which reminds me to take a look at my own site.

    Thanks for the critique and great site Patrick! Keep coming back!

  20. I found this critique interesting since I run a blog in a similar niche (although just getting started). I came across SpiritualRiver several weeks ago and found the Author Bio extremely honest. Which I’ve tried to include in my site as well.

    One thing I didn’t like is the Google Adsense on the site. I don’t know, for some reason that immediately turns me off on most sites. It gives the flog feel to me. I do use feedburner and have adsense in my feeds (which I’m thinking about removing) but not on my site. I too use the Thesis theme but have customized it quite a bit, kept it simple. Originally I intended to use Adsense or ads but reconsidered and decided to concentrate on content and building relationships and readers. I still have trouble with the “I’m here to help so let me sell you something” feeling. That’s just my take… and if I’m to do it full time or benefit monetarily from it then that opportunity will present itself in time.

    I agree about adding additional areas of focus, self-help, personal growth (although that’s a HUGE niche). But Patrick hits a great point in his The Creative Theory of Recovery Explained with “You’re either creating a new life for yourself or you are sliding back towards relapse.” I’m either moving towards the solution or spiritual growth or away from it. In every decision I make. His creative theory can apply across many areas of personal well-being.

    Many of us in recovery and working a program have often wished for those not recovering from addiction (but still struggle with accepting life on life’s terms or finding serenity) had some type of program based on spiritual principles. We’ve found happiness and serenity and simply want others to experience it. Although its hard to practice “attraction rather than promotion” in the online world. I guess which is one reason I try to use “me” and “I” for the most part in my posts and not tell my readers what they should do. I’m simply talking from experience. After all that’s all I have, I don’t have the answers, just my experience of what worked for me. Sorry, got away from the subject.

    I noticed there’s no real Categories, topics, or way to navigate the topics on the site other than the Archives tab at the top. Maybe give the readers more clear sense of “Hear what I have to say on this topic.” Which reminds me to take a look at my own site.

    Thanks for the critique and great site Patrick! Keep coming back!

  21. Great Post Chris. Some of my thoughts were:
    – Cut down you google ads into 2 (side bar and top content)
    – make the content adsense size a little smaller
    – use the 3rd adsense as a display link at the bottom of the content as if they are your “related post”.
    – Take off your subscribe me rather use am email subscription from google feed

    As far the forum:
    – If you do start then make sure to go with vbulletin. Paid but great resources
    – Make sure to have a same header for both blog and forum. its tough to get this part done but if you ask around then you should be able to get it done cheap. ( An example will be my Cell Phone Forum.)
    – You can monetize you forum at that point as well

  22. Great Post Chris. Some of my thoughts were:
    – Cut down you google ads into 2 (side bar and top content)
    – make the content adsense size a little smaller
    – use the 3rd adsense as a display link at the bottom of the content as if they are your “related post”.
    – Take off your subscribe me rather use am email subscription from google feed

    As far the forum:
    – If you do start then make sure to go with vbulletin. Paid but great resources
    – Make sure to have a same header for both blog and forum. its tough to get this part done but if you ask around then you should be able to get it done cheap. ( An example will be my Cell Phone Forum.)
    – You can monetize you forum at that point as well