10 Advanced Blog Writing Techniques Used By Professional Bloggers

Anyone can write a basic blog. It’s not that hard. And I’ve talked for hours, whether at seminars or at a one-on-one “brain picking” session about basic blog writing. But I rarely get the chance to talk about advanced blogging, the secrets that I use to improve my blog, and make it stand out from the hundreds of thousands of basic blogs.

Cover of Corporate Blogging for Dummies book

This is a good book to use for advanced blogging. At least until I write my own.

Here are 10 advanced blog writing techniques we use for our clients and ourselves.

  1. Use WordPress.org: I don’t have anything against platforms like Blogspot.com, WordPress.com, or Posterous.com (I have blogs on all three). But WordPress.org is what a lot of the pros use, because it’s extremely customizable and you can improve its functionality with a few plug-ins.
  2. Use a search engine optimization plug-in: We use All in One SEO Pack and Zemanta. Both of these let us do some additional optimization on our articles, which is something the other blog platforms don’t do as well.
  3. Choose 1 – 2 keywords or phrases per post: Stick with the mantra, “one idea, one keyword, one post, one day.” This post is about the keyword phrase “blog writing techniques,” and nothing else. Not about choosing topics, not about winning readers, not about whether video or photos help with readership, it’s just about how you actually write posts. By doing this, I not only boost my SEO efforts, but I don’t overload people with information.
  4. Write catchy, dramatic headlines: Your headline needs to be catchy, interesting, and compelling. Include phrases like “10 Secrets” or “5 Tips” to fire peoples’ interest. Also, be sure to use your exact keyword phrase in the title for better SEO.
  5. Use keywords in your anchor text: If I’m writing about blog writing techniques, I need to link that phrase to another article about that phrase (which I just did. Sneaky, huh?).
  6. Watch your keyword density: Density means the percentage ratio of keywords to copy. This particular article has about a 1% keyword density (1 keyword every 100 words). If the number is below 1%, search engines might not realize what your post is about. Anything over 2 %- 3% could be seen as keyword stuffing, and the search engines could drop you. Shoot for 1.5% – 1.99%. Divide the number of keywords by the total number of words to figure density.
  7. Automate your cross-posting: Use services like Twitterfeed.com and Ping.fm to promote your posts to your Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn accounts, and 40 other social networks. It will save you several minutes every time you publish a post.
  8. Use analytics to determine how your effectiveness: This lets you see where your traffic is coming from, what brought them there, and how long they stayed. You may learn that a particular keyword is getting a lot of traffic, so you write about that topic again. Or that a particular website is sending a lot of traffic, so you work to get published on that site again. I like Google Analytics for solid analytics.
  9. Publish your blog 2 – 3 times a week: Everyone who starts blogging has great intentions, but life intrudes and this resolution gets broken like it’s January 3rd. If you want to excel at blogging, you must write more than once a week. Schedule an hour a day to write, or schedule a three hour block, and write all your posts in advance.
  10. Become a fast writer: Writing fast means being able to find the best words and assemble 400 of them in 20 minutes. If you can’t do this, focus on those things that are holding you back, and work to overcome them. Being able to write fast will also help you publish more frequently.

5 Questions to Ask Your Social Media “Expert”

The term “social media expert” is thrown around and debated so much, it has nearly become a punchline.

Someone told me once that when the economy recovers and the bartenders and waiters get their old jobs back, the number of social media experts will be cut in half. And I keep reading lately that a lot of advertising agencies are starting to embrace digital media as one of their new offerings.

Meanwhile, there are real social media firms who have been using the product for more than a few weeks, don’t limit their Facebook time to playing Farmville and Pirate Clan, and don’t think that ROI is the name of that Canadian goalie playing for the Colorado Avalanche.

So when you go to hire your next social media consultant, ask them these questions, and pay careful attention to their answers.

1. How long have you been blogging? How often do you publish? The correct answer is anything longer than a year. People who write about a particular topic have to know something about it. And your social media expert can and should be blogging about some aspect of social media. Basically, if they’re not blogging, they’re probably not doing their job correctly.

They should also be publishing at least once a week. More is better, say, 2 – 3 times per week. But if they go for a few months without publishing anything, they’d better have a good reason why. “We’ve been executing some national campaigns for our clients, and I barely have enough time to sleep” is a pretty good excuse. A blank stare and a mumbled “I dunno” is not.

2. What blog platform do you use? The correct answer is “WordPress dot org. If they say WordPress.com, Blogspot.com, or anything else, ask them why. Anyone who has the technical knowledge to use WordPress.org will have the technical know-how to use the other tools you may need for your campaign.

I say this as someone who has different blogs on different platforms. I really like Blogspot.com for my personal blog, my favorite short blog platform is Posterous, and I will acknowledge the existence of Joomla. However, I embrace my elitism and snobbery when it comes to WordPress.org for client blogs.

3. What are some automation tools that you use? You don’t really care what they say, you just need to hear that they have an automation process. They should talk about things like Twaitter.com, Twitterfeed.com, Ping.fm, TweetDeck, and HootSuite.

If they carefully craft each blog promotion (i.e. including yours) by hand, they either don’t have enough work — which means they’re new, and they’re going to learn how to do this on your dime — or they’re inefficient — which means your work may fall through the cracks.

4. What analytics package do you use? For measuring blog or website traffic, if they say “Google Analytics,” that’s acceptable. We use Google Analytics quite a bit on our client blogs. However, better yet is “Yahoo Analytics” or “Going Up,” or one of the many other professional-level packages. For social media tracking, if they say “you can’t measure social media effectively,” thank them for their time, and ask them to leave. If they say “Google News Alerts,” give them a B– for trying.

The real social media experts will either cobble together their own system (B+/A–) or use a paid service like ScoutLabs or Radian6 (A+). Just keep in mind that those services are pricey, so if you want top-notch analytics results, that will be added to your budget.

5. What kind of ROI should I expect? Trick question: they shouldn’t be able to answer right away. Anyone who promises you a specific increase is just guessing. We’d love to tell you that you’ll see a 25% increase in sales, but we can’t. We’d love to say that you will see amazing growth in just a few months, but we can’t. The truth is there are too many variables to make an accurate prediction, just like with any marketing. We can’t predict the future, but we can measure it when it happens.

Follow up question: What kind of ROI have you gotten for other clients? While you would like to see significant numbers, what you’re more interested in is whether there are any numbers. A good social media practitioner will be able to track what business came from their campaigns.

Most of the social media poseurs will not be able to give you a good answer to most of these questions. Your true social media expert will have more than just a deep understanding of the tools, but will understand how to find your target audience and be able to create the right messages to reach them. But they should also be able to answer these five questions satisfactorily.

Photo credit: Pro Blog Service generated by Wordle.net
Yewenyi (Flickr)

Accuracy in Web Metrics is a Myth. Go for Real Time Analytics

It’s online marketers’ dirty little secret: Web metrics are not very accurate. None of them.

Surprised? You shouldn’t be.

Users can block script and pixel based systems and proxy servers (servers that cache content to reduce bandwidth use on networks, like say, your ISP’s or corporate network) prevent your server’s weblog from recording every page view (I wrote in a little more detail on accuracy issues here). On top of network issues, there are some basic software limitations in browsers and metric packages that prevent every click and visit from being counted.

How bad is it? Somewhere between 4% and 12%. And it’s almost, almost always missing clicks, visits and page views.

So, do web analytics have value? Yes. But despite what you may think, their value isn’t counting every single click you get on your site. It’s for identifying trends. Knowing what is happening and what has happened in aggregate has great value. Even with a 6-12% margin of error.

The problem is, many web metrics solutions are on a time delay (like Google Analytics) that prevents you from seeing what is happening now. On the internet “NOW” means everything. And if you want to see what is happening minute to minute, your options are rather limited.

Here’s a situation that happened with one of my clients:

We had a client who had just started a $90,000, 48 hour advertising campaign for a major affiliate network. We didn’t realize it, but some bad code was preventing people coming to a landing page for step 3 in the registration process. A real-time analytics package allowed us to see the problem and fix it in about 15 minutes, but a once-a-day analytics package would have only pointed out the problem halfway through our 48 hour schedule.

Should we have tested the landing page better? Yes. Reality is that marketing sites are often done on much tighter deadlines than traditional software development and sometimes testing isn’t that great. That means real time metrics are critical.

If we had waited 12 hours for metrics to become available, my client would have lost 25% of sales and 25% of the money they had spent on the campaign.

Real time matters more than you think. If you’re not investing in it, you need to consider it.

3 Reasons Why Sports Marketers Need Social Media

Sponsoring a sports team or event is not just about signing a check. It’s more than just getting your name on the side of a car or a sign in the stadium.

Basically, if you want your sponsorship dollars to be an effective marketing tool, you need to double your total sponsorship budget just to promote the fact that you have a sponsorship deal. If your sponsorship is for $100,000, spend another $100,000 to promote it.

If you’re sponsoring a racing team, you need to tell your customers about it, and get them to cheer for “your” team. If you’re sponsoring a football team, you need to get your best customers into the luxury suite to see and hear the game. Even if you’re sponsoring a Little League baseball team, you need to find a way to bring the parents into your store or restaurant after a game.

Tomas Scheckter

I’ve been thinking about how sports marketing professionals can use social media to their benefit over the last several months. Last year, we brought a some Indy Lights team owners and sponsorship brokers — Gary Sallee, Roger Brummett, and Tyce Carlson — to talk about sports marketing at a Confluence networking event.

That month, I also had a chance to talk to Mike Micheli, PR director of Dale Coyne Racing, who was also a great guide and mentor when I became one of the first ever race bloggers at last year’s Indianapolis 500. (He also hooked me up with Tomas Scheckter for a quick interview.)

The Problem: You Just Can’t Effectively Measure Traditional Marketing

One thing both the team owners and Mike Micheli explained is that sports marketing is no longer just about soliciting checks from big companies. Now, team owners have to be able to demonstrate the ROI of a sponsorship.

I can’t imagine anything harder in the measurement and analytics world. It’s just as hard as measuring regular marketing outlets. You don’t know which TV commercials increased sales, and which ones lost money. You don’t know which billboards brought visitors to your website.

And good luck trying to figure out which logo placement or interview plug was responsible for the bump in sales. You’re trying to figure out which made money and which lost you money, whether it was the car sponsorship, or the special event tent. Or the t-shirts. Or the ad in the race program. Or the — you get the picture.

But social media can do all of that, and then some. Here are three things social media can do for sports marketers.

1. Social Media Can Prove ROI in Sports Marketing

The great thing about social media is that it’s easy to demonstrate the ROI. Thanks to simple tools like Google Analytics and bit.ly, it’s possible to come up with a basic system to see how many people found your website, requested additional information, or bought something. With a paid solution like Yahoo Analytics, you can actually get more specific information, as well as deeper stats and real-time results.

You can measure a campaign’s success and figure out which variables, messages, and even time of day brought the best results. See if you get spikes in traffic before, during, or after an event. And whether the spikes are taking place in the event’s city, or if they’re spread out. You can even set up different URLs and landing pages, and do A/B testing to see which variables brought the best results.

Take it a step further and use products like Radian6, ScoutLabs, or even Vocus to monitor the social media discussion about your brand and your team. Now you can pay attention to who’s talking about your brand, and interact with the ones who are the most vocal, whether positive or negative. You just can’t do that with a billboard or a TV spot.

2. Social Media Can Grow a Sports Marketing Audience

There are more social media tools than you can shake a stick at. Suffice it to say, there are plenty of ways to connect with your customers online. For a good start, get Twitter Marketing for Dummies (affiliate link). (Full disclosure: I helped Kyle Lacy write this book. Shameless plug: We’re working on another one.)

Use tools like Twitterment, NearbyTweets, and even Twitter’s own search function to find people who are interested in your team. Use Twitterfall or TweetDeck’s search feature to watch for dicsussions about your team or the event.

Connect with those people, and discuss the team, the players/drivers/crew, and the event itself. Don’t sell them anything or talk about your company. if you have to, hold a special contest or make a special offer. “If our team finishes in a certain place or higher, the first 500 people to tweet us gets a coupon for a free widget.” But other than that, talk about the thing that interests the fans (hint: it’s not you).

3. Social Media Can Deepen Relationships With Fans and Customers

Enhance your customers’ experience on race day by live blogging, tweeting, and video streaming from the stands, the sponsor’s tent, or even Victory Lane.

  • Get some behind-the-scenes looks (assuming you get permission from the team) at what it looks like in a garage or locker room.
  • Hold a special Twitter chat with a driver or crew member.
  • Have a player give a special video greeting or tour for fans.
  • Ask different team members to blog about their experiences over the season, complete with photos and videos.

Social media lets fans see the things they might be missing, but help them feel like they’re part of the experience. By doing this, you help them feel more like a part of the team. They’re insiders, with special knowledge about the team, the athletes, and the event. By feeling like they’re connected, they’ll become more of a fan, not only of the team, but of the organization or brand that helped them get there.

A Year in Review

Professional Blog Service started a year ago out of Indy Associates to assist companies in generating content they need for most of their Internet marketing activity.

While at Indy Associates, we always recommended blogging as a good Search Engine Optimization (SEO) strategy. With the popularity of social media sites like Linkedin, Facebook and micro-blogging service Twitter, the strategy has become even more important. The challenge for most of our customers was the blog content generation. Most companies do not have trained content writers that are able to develop conversational blog content, while writing for the search engines. Most important, many of clients have great ideas with no time to share them.

So, what have we learned in 2009?

Most companies still do not have the resources, or the time to write their own content.

2009 saw the unemployment rate hit 10% in November. It was reported that many companies laid off many in their workforce leaving those left behind with more work to do and little time to get it done. The last thing on anyone’s mind is getting blog content written, even though everyone agrees that marketing is still important in a down economy.

Blogging and Social Media continue to evolve from AOL of the 90s to Facebook, Linkedin, and Twitter heading into a new decade.

“Two-thirds of the world’s Internet population visit social networking or blogging sites, accounting for almost 10% of all Internet time, according to a Nielsen report published in March of this year, “Global Faces and Networked Places.” These numbers keep rising as the year progresses. By 2012, IBM predicts that globally, a quarter of the global population will be using social media in some form.

Results still matter to most companies.

Learning how to play in social media is one thing. Getting people to interact with you is another. Your clients may or may not interact with you through social media. The challenge for all companies is finding out which ones they should engage. You may be able to sell like Dell, or respond to customer complaints like Southwest Airlines and Jet Blue Airlines have done. (Note to my former colleagues at American Airlines – take note!). Either way, Social Media and Blogging is measurable in some way depending on the strategic approach you take with it.

There are great tools like Yahoo Analytics (shameless plug as we are a Yahoo Analytics consultant). Radian6 and Scoutlabs can track who’s talking about you, and help you decide whether to act on the positive or negative media being generated.

We predict that 2010 will be the year of results with blogging and social media. In a nutshell, you are doing it to build your marketing list, or to generate interest in your products or services. To succeed, you will need:

  1. An understanding of how your market uses blogging and social media, if at all
  2. A plan to participate
  3. Execution and commitment to the plan
  4. Measurement of the results over the course of the year, not a month

If you can learn how to do it before your competition, you win. It will take them 12 months just to figure out what you have done.

Happy New Year from Professional Blog Service

Canadian Council of Public Relation Firms Shouldn’t Ask for Media Monitoring RFPs

I’m a little angered and disappointed by the Canadian Council of Public Relations Firms.

According to Joseph Thornley’s blog, they’re calling for a Media Monitoring RFP to ask media monitoring companies, especially those who provide social media services, to fill out an RFP so they can “propose the most comprehensive set of offerings they are capable of.

From there, they want to identify who has the best offerings, and then use that to compare costs to find the provider who offers them “the best value.”

We find ourselves dealing with a monitoring industry that has adjusted to the new environment in different ways and at different speeds. Following what’s going on has become a complex process that can involve setting up dashboards with several different suppliers. And each provides us with a unique view of different things.

Multiple offerings. Multiple methodologies. Increased complexity. Increased cost.

Thornley is the CEO of Thornley Falls, a Canadian PR firm, that combines PR with social media and word of mouth advertising. He’s also the president of the Canadian Council of Public Relations Firms (CCPRF). So, I’m sure he’s a smart guy. (And he’s Canadian. I love Canada.)

Which is why I’m disappointed in the CCPRF.

I’m not a big fan of RFPs. I think they’re mostly a waste of time, and an incorrect way to evaluate whether a company is good enough to do a project. In most RFPs, the vendor is not allowed to speak with the client, which means they may miss out on an important point that makes or breaks a proposal. (I’ve been on RFP committees. They were awful.)

RFPs force the vendor to start selling on price, not on value. I don’t know of a single large PR firm that will try to match the pricing of a small boutique firm. But if they offer the same services on paper, then the temptation of the client is to assume the quality and scope of work is exactly the same. Yet, this is what RFPs do to vendors who can’t demonstrate value over price, because they can’t speak with the client.

Finally, the companies submitting RFPs have no way of knowing if the client even knows what they truly want. I’ve known companies that actually spoke to the client, and found they not only put the wrong specs in the RFP, the client didn’t know enough about the problem to know what to ask for. Again, a simple meeting would allow a vendor to educate the client, and could make the whole process much easier.

So it sounds like the CCPRF wants to be educated, since they don’t know what the different media monitoring services can do. But it also sounds like they’re not sure what’s most important, since they’re dealing with different offerings, methodologies, and complexities.

I’m morally opposed to RFPs on general principles, but this almost seems a bad practice.

(Having said all that, the really smart media monitoring agencies will do whatever they can to educate the different PR firms about what “good” media monitoring looks like. And if they haven’t, they’re a big part of the reason this is happening at all.)

It sounds like the CCPRF is just information gathering. There’s no chance of winning a project. There’s no definite work that’s going to come out of it. It’s just hours of work that doesn’t really educate, answer questions, or teach people about what that particular company does. The agencies will put in several hours of work for which they will not be paid, only have an outside possibility of getting deals out of it, and the CCPRF is getting the benefits of the work for free.

If the CCPRF wants to learn more about media monitoring, they need to do it on their own time, or invite the media monitoring agencies to an educational session, webinar, conference, or white paper on what their particular agency does. And the CCPRF needs to pay for it.

CCPRF, you know how frustrating it is to spend time and money on projects and RFPs only to have them not make the final cut. You’re asking people to put time and money that will essentially be an RFP to another RFP, which you may or may not submit in the future.

Joseph Thornley says this RFP is an industry first. I hope it’s the last too.