Watch television and read newspapers from a marketing perspective and look for media trends.
Every day for at least a month, watch as much television news and talk show programming as you possibly can, and read at least one national newspaper and your local daily paper. Pay close attention to which news stories are making the most headlines, and the names of the reporters and producers covering those stories. If you’ve authored a book, ask yourself if there’s anything in your book that relates to these current hot topics, and pitch yourself as an expert to the press on that subject.
For example, I was publicizing a book on divorce and getting little response from the news media until the Donald Trump divorce broke in the press. I immediately started calling every television and radio show in the country, telling producers that I had an expert who could make sense of New York’s most scandalous breakup. The author got so many bookings that the book hit bestseller lists coast-to-coast. The same goes for getting a book deal.
Publishers are always looking for book proposals that capitalize on current media trends. If you can cleverly tie a book idea to a hot media topic, your chances of getting a publishing deal are increased exponentially.
While I was getting my divorce-expert author on television, literary agents were getting book deals for writers who had manuscripts on the subjects of relationships and divorce law, among many other related topics.
Think creatively about how you can position yourself and your subject to tie in with current events.
Think beyond the obvious. When a front door is dosed, you can usually find a side door that’s open. Look at the big stories the press is covering, and develop an unusual approach or an intriguing take on a hot topic.
For example, let’s say you’ve written a cookbook called Comfort Foods, featuring recipes for higher-calorie dishes such as macaroni and cheese or chocolate cake. If you wanted a publicity placement in your local paper, the obvious reporter to pitch would be the food writer. If the food writer says no, how could “working the headlines” help you snag the coverage you want? Suppose you’re doing your media research as described in Step 1 and you come across a huge feature article about stress written by the psychology writer at your local paper. You could custom-design a pitch for him that focuses on the emotional importance of comfort foods.
Perhaps the article could be entitled “Food for the Soul.” Taking this idea one step further, that article could even become the genesis for another book that you write with a psychologist or that very same psychology writer on the value of comfort foods, why we love them, and their place in culinary history. The point here is not just to be creative, but also to be creative in a whole new kind of way.
I remember once doing publicity for a novel written by a former U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agent. The publisher was struggling to obtain coverage because the media kept insisting that if the book were nonfiction they would do something, but a novel wasn’t news from their perspective.
So what did I do? I turned to a beat reporter, who rarely gets any attention from publicists, whose work–covering high school sports–often has been taken for granted.
To me, the tie-in was obvious. The author was an expert on drugs. Where else is the threat of drug abuse more disturbing than in America’s high schools, particularly among young athletes who want to improve their athletic performance? I pitched the high school sports reporter at the Chicago Sun-Times about interviewing the author on this topic: “10 warning signs a student may be using illegal drugs to enhance his/her game, and what to do about it.”
The reporter was thrilled, because his readers were parents and coaches. I agreed to give him a great interview and he did a boxed review of the former DEA agent’s novel.
When the piece ran, it was a two-page spread that not only went out on the wire and ran in over 500 papers nationwide, but generated so much buzz that the author was then sought after by all the country’s top talk shows.
Look for opportunities in your hometown news.
Following media trends and headline stories not only generates book publicity and book proposal ideas, it can also lead to exciting and lucrative collaborative projects. It’s all about looking at the world from a new vista.
As you’re reading newspapers and watching TV news shows, keep a creative eye on big, unfolding local stories with national potential. They could lead to book deals and commissioned articles. Here’s how. Often, a story will emerge in the press that has tremendous human-interest appeal. These are small-town dramas that over time capture the attention of the entire country. They can range from bizarre murder cases, dramatic legal battles and major corporate debacles to medical stories, unusual personal tragedies and triumphs, and intriguing local mysteries. Frequently, these stories can be fodder for successful books and major magazine articles. Stay alert when it comes to big news stories in your hometown.
Several years ago, a college football star made local headlines because “boosters” (college football fans who give star players money, girls, cars–you name it) were lavishing such riches on this particular player that it drew the attention and ire of the FBI. It also landed this kid in prison. The debacle became an unprecedented scandal. A local journalist who followed the story decided it had enough juice to make a good book. He approached an agent who agreed, and within weeks he had secured a generous publishing deal. The book, which I then publicized, made headlines, too.
If there’s a particular story that’s dominating local press and it’s something you’re genuinely interested in, seize the reins. You could approach individuals directly involved in the story and ask if they’d like to explore the possibility of doing a book with you. Or, pay attention to the name of the reporter who’s covering the story in the paper and contact him about the possibility of co-authoring a book with you. Many journalists who cover these prominent stories would love to author a book but don’t have the time to do it on their own, and would be happy to have a collaborator.
Watch what’s happening around you. Use the local news as your guide and barometer. If you see a story that could be told in a book or magazine article, jump on it. You have a gift. Offer it, use it and feed it.
Hooks from the headlines
Mayflower Madam Sidney Biddle Barrows given jail sentence for running bordello
Possible book spin-offs: a novel featuring a debutante who turns into a criminal; a nonfiction book on good girls who go bad and why; the history of famous American madams.
New England Journal of Medicine study says eating chocolate can lower cholesterol by 80 percent
Possible publicity angles for books already published: If you’ve written a cookbook, pitch food writers on succulent chocolate recipes; if you’ve written a history book that touches on the history of certain foods, pitch the cultural reporter on the history of chocolate; if you’re a romance writer, pitch the relationship reporter on how to use chocolate to sweeten up your love life, or write a romance novel featuring chocolate in the plot.
Research your subject and use that knowledge. Author Bill Warner, whose articles on model aviation have appeared in publications in the United States, England and France, does extensive research before interviews. He refers to related newspaper and magazine articles, press kits and the person’s Web site, if any. He also talks to people who may know the potential interviewee.
All of this can help in formulating a list of questions you want to ask. The person may be an expert from whom you need facts, statistics or an authoritative opinion. Knowing something about the subjects–their work, talent or whatever makes them special in your eyes–can open doors to a great interview. People love talking about themselves, and your subject will share more if you show you care enough to do advance research.
Don’t be afraid to send a few questions in advance. I once interviewed a famous author who was media-shy. He had been burned by being misquoted in another interview and felt he had been depicted unfairly. By faxing him a short list of three to five questions, showing him the general direction I was heading with my article, I eased his fears and got my interview. Doing this can give your subjects a chance to consider a few responses in advance and reduce some of their own nervousness. Shojai, who interviews almost exclusively by phone, says that she doesn’t mind the subject knowing questions in advance, because the answers are usually more usable when the subject is “calm, collected and prepared.”
Choose open-ended questions that require some thought in answering, A question that can be answered with a simple “yes” or “no” is going to make for a very short and dull interview.
E-mailed interviews are gaining in popularity. Yasmine Galenorn, author of numerous metaphysical books, including Embracing the Moon, finds that e-mailed answers allow for more detail, rather than just a few short quips. She feels e-mail allows the person “to think about what the questions mean to them and to elaborate on things they otherwise might gloss over when they are fumbling for quick answers.” If time is an issue and you are having difficulties reaching the person for a phone interview, e-mail may be the answer for you.
Interview with your readers in mind. Having been trained in religious history, I began my own writing career in the Christian press, doing mainly historical and travel pieces and interviewing leading religious figures. When I decided to expand my markets to include secular publications, the learning curve was steep. My audience changed, and it was important to find out who my readers were so I could interview with questions of interest to them. Are you writing for a popular women’s magazine? A science bimonthly? A children’s newsletter? Vocabulary, slant and tone will differ in each case, and the best way to prepare is to read past issues of the magazines you intend to write for.
Consider the publication’s demographics when formulating and asking questions. To whom are the advertisements geared? A trade or specialty periodical may be more technical, while a consumer magazine may be a lighter read and more service-oriented. Knowing your market will help you ask the kinds of questions your readers want answered. And don’t be afraid to ask your subjects for clarification if their answers are too technical, vague or jargon-filled.
Develop an easy rapport with your subject. Dress comfortably and professionally, so you feel at ease. If you’re tense because you just noticed a button missing, it can throw off the entire interview. If you are well-groomed, the interviewee will take you more seriously. Also, an unkempt appearance can be distracting. The attention should be on the interviewee, not on you.
Remember, you are both human and likely to be somewhat nervous. A warm greeting and some light conversation the first few minutes allows everyone to take a few deep breaths before getting down to business. Giving your undivided attention and positive feedback to their responses will go a long way toward getting the person to loosen up. Your goal is to get them to talk, so don’t hog center stage. If you help them feel comfortable enough to be themselves in your presence, your problem won’t be getting them to open up, but rather, getting them to stop!
Be ready to wing it and deviate from your initial questions. There is a poetry to interviewing that can only be learned by doing it. Sometimes, an interview will change direction as a result of something your subject says. I once interviewed a woman who had recently lost her close friend and had taken over that friend’s business. She shared heartfelt emotions about the extensive process of learning how to run a business in the face of grief. This was unexpected, but turned out to be the highlight of my article. Gems like these could have been missed if I had ignored her wistful sighs or allusions to sorrow. If you clue in to what is being said, you will learn to pick up on body language that bespeaks of powerful stories untold.
Balancing spontaneity with the necessary questions you simply must ask can be a gamble. You will need to trust yourself to wander into uncharted territory. Leaving room for spontaneity can mean the difference between lifeless facts and information borne out of human experience.
Spontaneity can, however, also lead to an interview spinning out of control, where the interviewee’s own agenda snakes its way into the interview. The person may insist on getting colleagues’ names in print, expect to tell you how and what to write, or insist on discussing topics outside your scope. While you want to be courteous and not cut the person off, it is important that you swing the discussion back to the subject at hand. Remember, you are the writer.
Get comfortable with telephone interviews. No doubt about it, there’s no substitute for being there and putting your personal experience and authority to work. But if time and geographical limitations are issues, the telephone is quicker and cheaper than an air ticket. Take detailed notes during the call, or invest in a telephone taping system. Shojai, who interviewed more than 80 experts for her latest book, prefers telephone interviewing and swears by her tape-transcription machine, which has a phone coupler that allows both sides of the conversation to be taped. With headset and foot pedal for transcription ease, it is an ideal tool for a writer who often interviews by phone.
If you interview infrequently, less expensive equipment–even a regular tape recorder placed beside your speakerphone–can suffice. Regardless of which machine you use, be sure to also take notes as an emergency backup.
Kelly James-Enger, a lawyer turned freelance writer, found her written notes invaluable when her handheld tape recorder failed to record during a phone interview. (See article about recording snafus on page 42.) She was faced with a nightmarish 30 minutes of dead air on the tape. With note-taking skills honed during years of legal hearings and depositions, she was able to piece together the untaped interview with just her own notes.
Be sure to ask the interviewee if it it is OK to tape the call to ensure accuracy. Some states legally require you to tell callers that you are taping them. Legalities aside, it’s also the ethical thing to do.
To tape or to take notes–that is the question. In person, it is preferable to do both. When I sit down with my subjects, I place my tape recorder in the open, off to the side, and ask if they would mind if I tape our conversation, as it would allow me to concentrate on them more fully. No one has ever refused my request. Taping the conversation allows you to watch your subject, focus on what is being said, and clue in to their body language.
Taking notes is especially handy for recording proper names. Don’t guess. Ask for the correct spellings, titles and other factual details.
Equipped with tape recorder, extra batteries, notepads, pens and–if you use them–your calling card, you will show that you are a pro, even if you’re a bit nervous.
Engage with your subject. Emotional connection isn’t always necessary or even desired, but sharing a personal moment can lead to a more rewarding interview.
“The emotional impact adds incredible value to the work,” Shojai believes. “It puts the information in a real-life context with which readers most easily identify.”
I once interviewed a religious leader who was also an author. Our meeting had been originally scheduled for one hour, but our time together stretched to two and a half hours as, afterward, I was invited to see a new chapel built on the property. Entering that serene world for a brief time gave me an additional connection with the author, which helped me write a deeper, more layered feature.
Another time, my interviewee brought his dog to our meeting, and Rover’s presence among us unabashed dog-lovers made for a very easy interview.
Galenorn remembers special emotional moments such as interviewing a female athlete who relayed how she walked the rough final miles of a marathon in memory of leukemia victims. “That was a poignant moment that you just can’t fake or invent,” Galenorn says.
Berridge agrees. “Without the personal moments and emotion, my books would be flat. Human interest is what it’s about.”
Finish up on the right note. All your questions have been answered and the interview is winding down. A great way to end interviews is to ask your interviewees what they would most like readers to know about them, and offer them the chance to add anything that may not have been covered.
Given permission to open up, interviewees can provide unexpected treasures. They may want to clarify earlier impressions or show a softer, more human side. These special moments can add zip to your article.
The end of the interview is also a great time to ask to take photographs, if needed. Pulling out your camera on arrival is likely to make people clench their teeth and turn shy. Few people love having their photos taken, but they will be more willing if you have already shared some time and put them at ease. Thank the interviewee and offer to send a copy of the published article. Follow up with a brief thank-you note.
Working at home also means having more time to spend with your family. “I love being with my children every day,” says Shirley Kawa-Jump, who divides her time between writing freelance articles and marketing materials. “I see them off to school, go on the field trips, bake the cookies, read them stories at night.” Briggs has been able to save money by keeping her four horses on her property, instead of at a boarding stable. “This is a wonderful luxury, even if it means a lot of time spent with a pitchfork in my hand,” says Briggs.
Drawback: Isolation. Working at home, however, can also mean working alone. If you’re used to lunches with coworkers, chatting around the water cooler or regular face-to-face meetings with clients and customers, you may find the writing life rather lonely. “When the FedEx guy shows up, it’s an event!” says Briggs. Peter Vogt, who writes primarily for electronic markets, agrees: “You know you’re lonely when you walk to the gas station just to talk to someone.”
Solution: Writers have found many ways to overcome this isolation. Some keep up “virtual” connections and stay in touch with friends and other writers by e-mail. Or they join online critique and discussion groups. “I rely heavily on e-mail for human contact and work-related discussions and gossip,” says Briggs. Other writers make a special effort to get out of the house and meet colleagues for breakfast or lunch, or they keep in touch by phone. “I don’t have any rules about not chatting with friends during working hours,” says magazine writer Barbara Stahura. “When I get a little twitchy from lack of face time, I go out to lunch or for an evening with friends.” Several writers recommends taking a class at a community college, signing up for exercise classes at a gym, or taking one’s writing to a local coffeehouse.
Patricia Fry, author of 11 books and articles for more than 160 magazines, has solved the isolation problem by incorporating human interaction into her work. “I do a lot of interviews, for example, and I work with an occasional client. I speak publicly to promote my book. I belong to writers/publishers groups and attend book fairs and other events. I also get out and do some volunteering locally. And I have the company of four lovely cats.”
Variety, flexibility and self-esteem
Benefit: “It simply would not be possible to write for such a wide variety of audiences in a salaried job,” notes Suzan St. Maur, who divides her time between business and corporate clients and writing nonfiction books. “It is this variety that keeps me interested, perky and inspired.” Stahura reports that her magazine topics range from spirituality to technology, including personal essays, radio essays and poetry. “I get to talk with interesting people I’d never otherwise have the opportunity to meet … [and] to indulge my curiosity about a wide variety of subjects and get paid for it.” Sobczak’s writing ranges from speculative fiction to nonfiction coverage of a variety of social topics (including minority relations, ethics, business law and history), as well as “nongenre works centered on relationships and modern means of communication.” Lawrence Schimel, who left New York City to pursue his writing career in Spain, publishes fiction and poetry and edits a variety of fiction anthologies.
A writing career is psychologically rewarding as well. “Any success is sweeter because it is based solely on me expressing myself,” says Nobleman, who divides his time between magazine articles, nonfiction books and cartoons. Briggs feels that writing puts her in “control of her destiny.” Another magazine writer, Amanda Vogel, enjoys “the sense of accomplishment I feel when I complete an article or score a plum assignment–and the opportunity to constantly set and achieve new goals.”
Drawback: Your job is now “9-to-forever.” That sense of accomplishment often comes with a price: When one’s home is one’s office, it can be very difficult to “leave” the office. “There is almost no line at all between my business and home life,” says Turk. “I take a weekend day off very reluctantly. I constantly check e-mail after hours and on weekends and work on projects until late in the evening, on weekends and vacations.”
While some writers (notably those who were single) don’t consider this a problem, those with families note that work often interferes with family time. Kawa-Jump notes that in her ease, family was actually the cause of her erratic work hours: “With a 3-year-old, I work around his schedule, which means lots of early mornings, late nights and working weekends. Clients and interviews happen during the day, so there really is no time when I am not working.”
The temptation to take on more work than you can handle (or handle on a “normal” work schedule) can be hard to resist, especially when income is tight and every new assignment can mean a much-needed cheek.
Solution: Experienced freelancers advise that you choose your assignments carefully. A $500 article offers a much better payoff for your time than five $100 articles. Another suggestion is to learn to say no, especially when
editors make unreasonable demands. One writer, for example, was asked to proof her book-manuscript galleys over the Christmas break. Yet another is to learn to recognize, and turn down, “bad” clients–clients who don’t know what they want, or keep changing their minds, or ask for endless revisions.
Another solution is to take physical steps to “close the office door” at the end of the day. One way to do this is to set an alarm clock for a particular time–for example, 5 p.m. When the alarm rings, your workday is over. Granted, there will always be times when an important assignment requires “overtime,” but this should be the exception rather than the rule. Another approach is to change into “work clothes” during the day, and back into “casual clothes” at night. A simple change of wardrobe can mean a change of attitude as well. Finally, if you find it hard to resist the temptation to check e-mail, actually turn your computer off at the end of your workday.
What it takes to succeed
If you want to be a successful freelancer, forget the 40-hour work week. Most respondents work at least 45 to 55 hours per week, and nearly a third work more than 60 hours. In addition, the majority of those hours (generally as much as 80 percent) were spent writing, rather than in other tasks such as marketing or bookkeeping. Respondents offer these additional tips for success:
Don’t quit your day job right away. Rather than plunging directly into full-time freelancing, start by freelancing in your spare time, while keeping your regular job. “It may initially mean late nights, weekend work and missing some social engagements,” says Nobleman. It also means, however, building up a client list, building skills and work habits, and determining whether this really is viable and something you want to do full time. In addition, keeping your day job will help you build a financial reserve. Medical writer Turk recommends having at least six months’–but preferably a year’s–income stashed away before you “make the break.”
Diversify. Several writers recommend finding more than one type of market area. “I’ve found diversification instrumental in growing my business–I’ve written for Web sites, corporations, hospitals, magazines, newspapers,” says Amy Sutton, who has been freelancing for just under a year. “Don’t limit yourself by saying `I only write for magazines.’” Schimel agrees. “Some years I make scads of money from writing poems, and other years it’s the anthologies, and other years it’s my own story collections. I think it’s exactly that versatility that lets me be a full-time freelancer, because whenever one of the genres bottoms out or if my muse in a particular area dries up (last year it was fiction), I can still make a living writing in other arenas.”
Specialize. Even as you diversify into different market areas, it may be a good idea to pick a subject specialty. Pick an area in which you have particular expertise, so that you can sell editors on your credentials as well as your writing ability. “You’re more appealing to editors if you know what you’re writing about,” says Vogt, a career counselor who writes about career development issues. “Figure out what you’d like to write about, and then find markets for it.”
Work hard. “Be prepared to work harder at this than any other job,” says Kawa-Jump. Again, most respondents report working far more than 40 hours a week. Keep in mind that as a freelance writer, you also have to handle all the administrative tasks that would normally be handled by “other departments” in a corporate office, including marketing, bookkeeping and billing. In the office, you get paid “even when you’re having a nonproductive day,” Sobczak points out; as a freelancer, if you’re not working, you’re not earning.
Learn to market. In the corporate office, work lands on your desk whether you want it or not (and often, you don’t!). The freelance life is just the opposite; work doesn’t come to you unless you go out and find it. This means learning how to write effective queries, how to conduct good market research and find opportunities, how to negotiate contracts and payments, and how to follow up.
Some writers make a commitment to send out a specific number of queries per week–five, 10, even 20. “I think many freelancers underestimate the time and effort involved with marketing themselves,” says Briggs. “They don’t feel comfortable selling their work, but they need to come to grips with the fact that editors aren’t going to come swarming to their door, begging them to write for them for large sums of money!”
Be professional. “Your reputation is everything,” says W. Thomas Smith Jr., who specializes in everything from military science to Southern culture and history, and also teaches a senior-level course in magazine writing at the University of South Carolina’s College of Journalism and Mass Communications. “Never lie or misrepresent anything to an editor. Never make excuses about anything. Meet your deadlines. Don’t be afraid to send flowers and thoughtful notes to an editor, but very sparingly, and never in a fawning, kiss-up manner. It’s all about commitment.” Good writing may bring in your first assignment; qualities like reliability and responsiveness are what keep editors coming back.
Accept rejection. Rejection is an inevitable part of the writing life. “Don’t get discouraged by rejections; learn from them,” says magazine writer Vogel. “Let the negatives roll off,” Smith agrees. Keep in mind that rejection often has nothing to do with the quality of your work; editors can accept only a limited number of articles, which means even very good work must often be turned away.
Have faith in yourself. If you don’t believe in your writing ability, you’ll have a tough time trying to “sell” yourself to others. It’s important to keep a realistic perspective: Success in the writing business rarely happens overnight. “Work diligently; be patient,” says Stahura. “If you’re following your heart, success will come.” Smith agrees: “Be persistent. Never quit, because that’s when you lose.” Successful freelancers are those who stay with it in spite of the rejections and the setbacks.
Success can also take time. Though half the respondents became self-supporting in less than one year, nearly a third found that it took two to five years to become fully independent.
Follow your heart! “Don’t become a full-time freelancer unless it is a compulsion,” says Fred Bortz, who left a 25-year career as a physicist in 1996 to pursue a career in writing. He notes that freelancing is a perilous venture; it isn’t for the easily discouraged. But if writing is your joy and your passion, freelancing can offer an opportunity to do what most people only dream of–the chance to earn a living by doing what you love!
Great posts are hard to do consistently on a day-to-day basis. Probloggers really have to work at it. I thought about all the different ways and angles a blogger can approach choosing posting topics. Here are 101 different ideas that I think are great to stimulate your mind and jumpstart your blogging.
- Brainstorm by matching up your readers wants and needs using the Visitor Grid method of brainstorming<.
- Write a post by examining the pros and cons of an issue.
- Write a tutorial.
- Do an interview with key people in your niche.
- Create a mock head-to-head competition like what Daniel did.
- Do a case study like what Read/Write Web did with the hot topics on Technorati 100.
- Take an alternate position.
- Write a long comment.
- Pick a topic by reading business book titles.
- Research a topic by doing research on Amazon.com.
- Drill down on a topic using Ask.com‘s search feature.
- Do a post that answers your readers’ questions.
- Create a comprehensive list.
- Create flagship content.
- Interview controversial people in your niche.
- Post about current events in your niche.
- Invite your readers to submit articles.
- Instead of exchanging links, get together with other bloggers and review each others’ blogs.
- Connect with bloggers around your same level and share ideas.
- Do a “speedlinking” post.
- Post about posts made by others in your My Blog Log community.
- Be opinionated in your post.
- Turn off the nofollow attribute to encourage comments.
- Do a “tag” post and have other bloggers who are tagged add to a list.
- Do an “IM” PPC campaign and then post about the results.
- Be a guest blogger and share ideas with new readers.
- Review your statistics to see what keywords referred your visitors to your site and post about those.
- Answer your readers’ questions with more questions (i.e., have you thought about…?).
- Contrast two or more positions in a post.
- Make a post that solves a problem.
- Make a post that is inspirational.
- Make a satirical post.
- Write a series of posts.
- Post your research findings.
- Post an “advantages/disadvantages” post.
- Update an old post for new ideas/findings.
- Link ideas from different genres in your posts (e.g., Celebrities and the gadgets they own).
- Debunk a myth in your post.
- Make a post for beginners.
- Make a post for advanced readers.
- Invite experts to comment on your post.
- Ask your readers to Digg your best posts.
- Change up your posting style (e.g., tutorial, reviews, etc.).
- Write a funny post.
- Create a huge list of your best posts.
- Add to a list started by another blogger.
- Create a mission statement for your blog.
- Make a post simplifying a complex problem for your readers.
- Create a guide for your niche.
- Make a post turning a negative into a positive through humor ( e.g., tell a joke: “My parents tell me I’m autistic. I tell them they have an attitude problem.”).
- Browse through a thesaurus and see if synonyms help spark ideas for your posts.
- Respond to criticism in a post (e.g., respond to the Wall Street Journal’s criticism of bloggers).
- Write a post like you are telling a story.
- Spruce up your posts with pictures.
- Post about frequently asked questions in your niche.
- Pose a rhetorical question in your post.
- Post about what’s popular and why it’s beneficial ( e.g., “Twitter” for tech blogs).
- Pose a hypothesis and conclusion in your post.
- Support your post with related post links.
- Make a [blank] for dummies post.
- Post a picture that speaks a thousand words.
- Buy a how-to book from a bookstore and use some of the ideas from that book to generate ideas for posting (e.g., a book about Photoshop).
- Look at the archives of your niche competitors and see if any of their old posts can be expanded in an “update” post on your blog.
- Post with a personality (e.g., John Chow is evil).
- Write about how to do something more efficiently in your niche.
- Write about generally unknown secrets in your niche.
- Write about how to use a product in an unconventional way.
- Do a post transcribing live events (e.g., Macworld conference).
- Dissect an argument in a post.
- Make a post summarizing someone else’s post.
- Make a post about how things have changed from the past.
- Make a post that expands on someone else’s post.
- Create a post that incorporates the words, “desperate” and “futile”.
- Make a post alleging a conspiracy (e.g., Is there a Digg Bury Brigade?).
- Make a post that encourages visitors to subscribe by offering a reward.
- Make a post that involves New York City, London, San Francisco or Sydney. For example, review a local business like this one about New York movers.
- Make a post that incorporates in the title the word “crossover”.
- Create a post that utilizes a bar chart or pie chart.
- Create a post that has a cliff hanger to be answered in a later post.
- Make a post about pitfalls in your niche.
- Participate in a reciprocal guest blogging scheme where you blog on someone else’s blog and that other person blogs on your blog.
- Do a paid posting targeted to your readers.
- Profile the competition in your niche.
- Post linkbait.
- Make a post about your fellow bloggers’ top posts.
- Make a post about your most popular posts.
- Read some sports (or other genre) magazines and incorporate some of the writing styles in your posts.
- Write a post that pinpoints similarities and differences.
- Write a post giving a free recommendation.
- Write a post about something that is merely “good” but not “great”.
- Write a post about a hack for your niche.
- Make a post that constructively criticizes someone else’s post.
- Run a poll and post the results of that poll.
- Ask your loyal readers to email you links to their best resources and make a post about what you found.
- Write only about a particular theme for a week.
- Designate each day of the week as a theme day where you will always post about a particular topic on that day.
- Review your blog’s (weekly, monthly, yearly) performance and post the results.
- Write an “attack” post by setting up an argument and then shooting it down.
- Combine some of your best posts from your archives into a new series.
- Hold a conference via blog posts.
- Make a “101 ideas” post.
Nicole Burnham Onsi, a freelancer in the Boston area who specializes in bridal-related topics, makes an effort to stay up-to-date on the bridal industry by reading magazines and lurking on message boards where soon-to-be and recent brides post their experiences. She then often takes an “evergreen” topic and gives it a new twist.
“You’ll notice that most bridal magazines do all the basic planning articles in-house. If you pitch a story on the different types of invitations brides can order, how to select flowers, etc., you’re likely to get a rejection letter,” Onsi says. “Look at the less obvious issues brides face, then be as specific as possible in your query. For example, `Getting Along With His Family’ might not work, but `Five Strategies for Getting Along Better With Your Future Mother-in-Law’ might.”
Freelancer Leslie Gilbert Elman, who writes about bridal and travel topics, agrees that coming up with unique story angles is essential. “In a sense, you’re not coming up with new ideas. You’re repackaging the ideas that work,” says Elman, who lives in Woodbridge, Conn. “Say you’re writing about managing money as a couple, which is a perennial bridal magazine topic. One time you might cover the subject using real-life case studies of three or four couples and how they handled their finances after the wedding. When you’re asked to revisit the subject, you might repackage it as a his-and-hers money management quiz. For a third time around, you can spin it in another direction by writing a Q&A with a financial expert. The information in the article won’t change substantially, but your treatment of it will.”
Target the market
While they may look similar, bridal magazines each have their own unique voice. Show you’ve captured the magazine’s essence in your query and you’re more likely to nail an assignment. “I like to see that the writer has taken the effort to look at the magazine and study the material and style to see what we’re all about,” Canole says. “So many times, writers propose articles that are inappropriate for this magazine.”
Most editors prefer queries over finished manuscripts, which they simply don’t have time to read. “The best way to break in is to be targeted, specific and persistent,” Schipani says. “For example, a writer might see we have done features using real brides to illustrate a point–say, on how brides have planned their long-distance wedding. Using that info, she might query me on a story to do with saving money for the wedding, and propose an idea in which she talks to four recent brides who have spent varying amounts on their weddings, and will profile them as well as write a sidebar on wedding budget tips. After a brief description of how she would handle the story, she should then tell me what her experience is, and then enclose clips. That’s the perfect query!”
Track down compelling sources When writing for bridal magazines, you’re also expected to come up with both expert and “real people” sources. You may interview former and future brides, wedding consultants, psychologists, financial professionals, religious officials and vendors like caterers, florists and musicians. Finding the best sources may also require a little legwork, depending on the nature and complexity of the story.
“This can be tough. In the past, I interviewed friends or friends-of-friends. However, now that I’m at the age where I don’t know too many newlyweds, I have to be a little more creative,” Onsi admits. “I talk to bridal consultants to see if they’ve had clients who fit the profile I’m looking for, I occasionally ask people I’ve `met’ online on bridal message boards if they’re interested in being interviewed, and finally, I ask neighbors and relatives if they know someone who fits my criteria.”
Elman also casts a wide net to locate sources. “I network with people I know, and that includes people on the Internet newsgroups I read,” she says. “I always try to find a geographic mix of interview subjects. Weddings and attitudes toward weddings are quite different from region to region in the U.S. For experts, I go to associations such as the American Psychological Association. They generally provide lists of experts who are good interview subjects and who are amenable to talking with the press.”
There are also similar associations for financial planners, wedding consultants, florists, photographers and other wedding professionals–try searching on the Internet or check the Encyclopedia of Associations, which is available at your local library, for relevant groups.
Pulling it together
When you’re writing the article, keep the bride’s perspective in mind. Don’t be preachy or suggest that there is only one “right” way to do things. While you’ll want to offer plenty of service-related information, your articles shouldn’t be stuffy or boring–keep the tone light when appropriate.
“Brides are stressed out as it is,” Canole says. “Adding some humor to an article, whether it’s dealing with relationships and in-laws, planning a reception when your parents want to invite everyone and his mother, and even a honeymoon travel piece can reveal it’s OK if some things don’t go as planned.”
Be aware of the stress the typical bride is under and what she wants and needs to know. “Brides face the same problems year after year, generation after generation. Though most of them have little experience in planning events, they are faced with planning the biggest event of their lives,” Elman says. “They have to manage their stress. They have to cope with difficult family relationships (which seem to become ever more difficult in the months leading up to a wedding). They have to set up house–maybe even buy a house–decide how to manage money as a couple, and plan for the future.”
One of the benefits of writing for bridal magazines is that many of the articles are timeless, and offer reprint opportunities. (Make sure you read your contracts carefully to confirm you’re retaining reprint rights to your work first.) Smaller circulation or regional publications may be interested in purchasing reprint rights to stories that were originally published in national magazines–I’ve resold many articles this way. While reprint fees are usually lower than the original fee, it’s easy money for little additional work.
As a bridal writer, you may be constantly covering the same ground, but don’t forget that your audience is always new. “Most women read bridal magazines only in the 18 months or so leading up to their weddings,” Elman explains. “After they’re married, they’re pretty much through with bridal magazines, and a new crop of readers takes their place.”
The bottom line? Even if you’re dedicated to a single lifestyle, you should enjoy writing about weddings and bridal topics to succeed in this field. “Your readers consider this the most important time of their lives,” Elman reminds.
“You have to feel the same way.”
If you, as I do, operate an enterprise online, you know that one of the things many people obsess about is keyword rankings in the search engines. Since it is virtually impossible to be noticed without being visible in the search engines, a whole science has emerged with respect to getting sites ranked for certain keywords. For example, if your site is about movers, ideally you’ll want to rank number one in Google whenever someone’s searches include the word “mover” in context.
The problem is that there are only ten listings on the first page by default (you can change this to some greater number but the vast majority of people casually searching for stuff on the Internet do not) and there are oftentimes millions of search results. In addition, we all know that there are more than one keyword to which any one product relates. People might search for “movers” as well as “New York movers,” “NYC movers,” “New York moving companies,” and so on. In order to engage in proper monitoring of these long-tail keywords, you need the right tools to check your keyword rankings from time to time.
While there are a number of free tools available to help you check your site’s keyword rankings, I recently came across two tools from a company (Caphyon) that have become invaluable to me to help in both monitoring my website ranking as well as managing my link popularity (a necessary process to move up the rankings for virtually all your most important keywords).
Advanced Web Ranking
The first tool is Advanced Web Ranking. Basically, it is a rank monitor on steroids. Unlike the free rank monitors available as Firefox extensions or otherwise available at any number of websites that specialize in search engine optimization, AWR is search engine ranking software that sits on your desktop and tracks your keyword rank across hundreds or even thousands of keywords on both a present and historical basis. You can even compare the keyword rankings of your competitors across the same or a different set of keywords. All of this can be set to automatically engage on a set time schedule.
If you are serious about your online enterprise, it is absolutely critical to be aware on a regular basis the status of your keyword rankings. Unless you have a seriously large marketing budget in the nature of certain large corporations, the only real way people will find out about your business will be through searches at engines like Google. Since it is virtually certain all your serious competitors are actively engaging in methods to improve their keyword rankings, you need to also be aware of the status of your keyword rankings.
Besides simple monitoring, AWR will help you spot trends. If it appears that your ranking on certain keywords are improving, you’ll know that whatever you are doing to improve your ranking is working. Alternately, if it appears your rankings on certain keywords are deteriorating, you’ll know that you need to either stop doing what it is you are doing to try to improve your rankings or else do something to counteract that deterioration.
Here are some additional features of AWR that make it more useful and efficient than the free alternatives:
- Triggers can be set to automatically alert you to certain events that occur (e.g. a decrease in ranking on certain money keywords)
- Advanced filtering can be set to get you information that is most relevant for your needs
- You can export the data to manipulate in external programs such as Excel
- You can monitor keywords on a local basis limited to results for a certain city or region
- AWR can help you generate a list of keywords
- AWR runs on Mac, Windows and Linux
Advanced Link Manager
The second tool is Advanced Link Manager. This is a tool that lets you monitor the links that are pointing to your web site. You can also set it up to monitor the links that are pointing to your competitors’ web sites.
Before moving into the features of ALM, it’s useful to discuss why links are important. The veteran Internet entrepreneur will know that besides the traditional PR one gets from mentions on the Internet by other web sites and authorities, the search engines such as Google consider links to be a proxy for “citation” authority. Thus, in determining where a web site should rank for any particular keyword, a large determinant is the number of links (i.e. link popularity) pointing to that particular website.
Besides pure link quantity, another determinant of keyword rankings is link quality or authority. A link from a respected educational institution is considered to be of a higher quality than a link from a site without any links pointing to it and without any apparent authority itself.
Although not a perfect gauge of the quantity/quality mix, you will hear webmasters often refer to the “PR” of a site or a page on that site. PR in this context merely refers to Google’s PageRank indicator which runs a scale of zero to ten. The more links and the more authoritative links a web site or page has, the higher the PR. For example, CNN.com has a PR that fluctuates between 9 and 10. This reflects the number of other web sites that have linked to stories from CNN. Similarly, Adobe.com has a PR of 10 which is most certainly due to the millions of sites that use Adobe Reader for PDF documents and link to Adobe.com.
Now that we have a good sense of the importance of links, it should be obvious why a link manager like ALM is pretty useful. With ALM, you can automatically determine which sites are linking not only to your site but also to your competitors’ sites. This will allow you to monitor your own link building progress as well as compare your efforts to your competitors.
Here are some features of ALM that make the tool critical to my link building process:
- You can monitor multiple sites including your own as well as your competitors’
- You can set an automatic schedule for checking links
- You can set triggers that automatically alert you to changes in links
- Links can be sorted by PageRank to determine link quality
- Links with “nofollow” are shown
- You can export the results to be manipulated into an external program, such as Excel
- You can find broken links
- You can monitor the anchor text of links pointing to your site
- ALM runs on Mac, Windows and Linux
Running a successful enterprise online is not just about throwing up a site and hoping that the world will come. Besides engaging in traditional marketing, you need to have a reasonably solid understanding of how your site will be discovered on the Internet. I have found both Advanced Web Ranking and Advanced Link Manager from Caphyon critical tools to have in my virtual toolbelt.
I read this article with interest from the New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/13/business/smallbusiness/13freelance.html?sq=elance&st=cse&scp=3&pagewanted=all.
In this tough economy, how many of us have considered turning to the web as a source of work? If you have the skillset of a professional but can’t find work in the traditional markets, why not consider leveraging some of your skills you’ve acquired over the years as a provider on Elance? And, if you are really ambitious but don’t have the skills, why not learn a skill and make money while you do it?
I know how to ace interview questions like the back of my hand and can whip out a snappy “Knock ‘Em Dead” resume in about 3 hours. I see some of those services being offered up for $300 or more. And it doesn’t take much for me to pick up a business proposals book from Barnes and Noble and offer up my services writing proposals as well after a little brushing up on the basics.
We all spend time on our blogs, why not also spend some time being paid to provide writing services for others? It might be even more lucrative than earning a few dollars on Adsense while blogging…
I just wanted to point a link to Tom and Kerrie Everett in Vancouver, Canada. They’re real estate agents in the Vancouver market and started doing short, simple and fun videos on their real estate website. Over the course of less than 6 months, they’ve grown their business and audience by setting themselves apart from their competition with these short videos.
What is so great is that you’ll notice they’ve been featured by two television stations – one national (CTV) and one local (City TV) and have only done 11 episodes! Also note that, while not really professionally produced, the videos are fun and informative.
Here is the takeaway:
- you can do videos easily with a digital camera
- you don’t need to make them fancy
- you do have to post regularly
- make them fun and short and you will probably be surprised at the results!
- OH, Kendra Todd (of Apprentice fame) is in one!!
More videos over at ThinkTom.com. By the way, I went to grad school with Kerrie.
I’ve found that, on Twitter, I’ve been befriended by people who claim to be either well-known (like Barack Obama) or people I know. Problem is, they are fake profiles. Even the Dalai Lama had his profile faked. Often, the only thing that’s changed is the addition of an underscore or a middle initial.
Two reasons why this is a problem:
1) They may phish me at some point by responding to my Tweets, for example, and then asking for info I would only provide to people I trust.
2) They may be legitimized by being followers or being followed by others not wise to their scheming. So, when someone else sees that these scammers are friends with someone they know, that third person may be fooled into befriending the scammer.
This whole development reminds me of the AOL chatrooms and instant message clients from the last century where random scammers would overrun the services and try to defraud you. It drove me, and perhaps others, into services that were more secure.
Twitter needs to nip this in the bud before it gets out of control.
At the University of Utah, Prof. Juliana Freire is working on DeepPeep, an ambitious effort to index every public database. Now, check out the screen–Mac OS X 30 inches * 6 across * 4 down = 720 square inches and 98,304,000 pixels of resolution.
David Lat of Abovethelaw.com writes a brief note about cyber-bullying, slander and libel on the Internet.
Simple rules everyone should abide by. It’s too easy to be offended by someone and lashing out without regard to consequences. I can safely say with confidence that we’ve all done it at one point or another and regretted it almost immediately.
Basically, don’t make a false statement about someone else that is malicious, false and damaging to that person’s reputation. Also, don’t think you can hide behind an anonymous comment.
It wasn’t that long ago that if you wanted to develop a website or web application, it would potentially cost you hundreds of thousands of dollars before you even had a prototype. So, you probably needed investors willing to step up to fund your venture. For a chance at a healthy return, wealthy angels or companies would plunk down enough change to get you through to market.
Problem is, it seems that as time and technology progresses, it becomes cheaper to actually develop for the web. There are now enough standards, backend modules (both open source and paid) that allow a lean startup team to get a product to market for a fraction of what it would have cost earlier. That means the later venture, compared to a similar venture started up several years earlier, could be more profitable earlier and wouldn’t be saddled with the startup costs of the earlier venture.
Result: lower cost to market; higher return on capital invested. Consequently, the newer startup has a healthy chance at displacing the earlier startup in both market share and profitability. I think only way to avoid this situation is if the earlier startup has become so dominant in its industry that that itself becomes a barrier to entry.
I set up a trial account on TypePad recently and tried to port my blog over there. Unfortunately I failed; there were some serious flaws that made porting difficult or impossible. So, I’ve decided to stick it out with WordPress hosted on my own server after all. It all started when I decided to restart this blog (I know, it’s been a long time since I last wrote; more on that later). That’s when I realized that WordPress had gone through a couple of major iterations since my last install. When I installed the latest version (version 2.7), I noticed that plugins broke down, templates broke down, and the interface had changed. Rather than try to relearn everything and try to fix my broken down WordPress install, I decided to take another look at TypePad.
I really liked TypePad’s administrative interface. The backend was quite elegantly designed and, once set up, posting new entries was really intuitive. I also liked their default template selections. There were 100 different designs and you also had the ability to customize your own from a default installation. The customization process was as easy as click, drag and drop. There was no noticeable lag like there were when I first tried using TypePad way back in 2005. Thus, I really wanted to like TypePad; it was elegant and polished. Compared to the WordPress backend, TypePad was, in my opinion, miles ahead.
Unfortunately, when it came time to redirect my existing posts that were well indexed in Google, that’s when I realized it wouldn’t be possible to port my blog. There were two critical TypePad flaws:
Flaw Number One - You can’t change TypePad’s permalink structure
TypePad doesn’t give you much control over how your permalinks are formed. That means that if you have anything indexed in the search engines and have any incoming links, you’ll need to do a meta-refresh to transfer visitors clicking on old links to your blog. So, unless you have a handful of blog posts, moving anything more than, say, 10 posts, becomes a real hassle.
Flaw Number Two - TypePad’s extensions are “.html”
WordPress extensions are “.php” while TypePad extensions are “.html”. I don’t think anyone these days should have webpages with the .html extension. Having that really limits how you are able to expand your webpages when it comes time to integrate with a database or otherwise interact with dynamic php code. Php code (the language on which many plugins and extensions are written) requires webpages that end in “.php”. In TypePad, you can’t change the extensions of your pages because, as Flaw Number One noted above, you can’t change your permalink structure in TypePad.
Stick with WordPress or another hosted solution (and on your own domain) unless you don’t care about losing your existing link equity or want to be locked into their system.
A Little Background
A few years ago, I read with interest the obituary of Bob Hope, one of the 20th Century’s legendary American entertainers. It was in the obituary section of The New York Times newspaper and you can read online here.
Bob Hope’s obituary was well written, reflecting a tremendous amount of research, covering his life and contributions spanning over seven decades. It discussed his work during World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War, entertaining American troops overseas, his career as vaudeville, theater and film, among his other detailed accomplishments. The obituary was supplemented with a picture slide show, audio sound bites, and a couple of film clips of his work in Hollywood.
Bob Hope died on Sunday, July 27, 2003 at the age of 100. On Monday morning, July 28, 2003, his obituary was featured on the front page of The New York Times newspaper and was read by thousands of its subscribers. Clearly the newspaper either had some really hard writers burning the midnight oil to research and write his obituary or, more likely, had Mr. Hope’s obit pre-written in anticipation of his eventual passing.
Well, it was pretty obvious which had occurred once you researched who the writer of the obituary was–a Mr. Vincent Canby. Vincent Canby was a prolific film and theater critic for the Times who, in October 2000, had himself passed away at the age of 76, nearly three years before Bob Hope. You can read Vincent Canby’s obituary here.
The Main Point
Now on to the main point of this post. What can we learn from how old-world media research and write obituaries that we can apply to our blog postings? If it isn’t obvious, it is that we, as bloggers, can pre-write many of our posts in anticipation of things that will likely happen sooner or later.
An Example–The Apple iPhone 3G
Taking a recent example, a tech blogger who blogs about cell phones would clearly have been able to anticipate that Apple Computer would eventually release an updated version of their world-famous iPhone. Well, this week, that event happened. Apple Computer released Version 2 of its best-selling phone, the iPhone 3G.
If you really wanted to be a cutting edge-, breaking news-type of blogger, you wouldn’t have waited until after Steve Jobs speech at WWDC 2008 to have started to write your blog posts.
Let’s pause there for a second. If you were a cool-as-ice, in-the-know tech blogger with the early “exclusives” on new products as they happen, what would you do (or, more accurately, what could you do) to make it appear as if you were a first to post, in-the-know, up-and-coming A-list blogger?
If that blogger were me, I would first make up a list of “likely” and “unlikely but wishlist” features that might appear on a new-generation Apple iPhone.
Among the likely:
- Built-in GPS
- Better battery power
- Third-party applications
- “3G” high-speed internet access
- Lower price
- Greater worldwide availability
- Multiple carriers
- Higher resolution camera
- Ability to record video
- Purchase quantity limits
- Long-term contract required
- Updated iPhone software
- Enterprise server access
- Integration with .Mac online services
Among the unlikely but wishlist:
- Video phone chat
- More than one carrier in the US
- Built-in physical keypad
- Wireless stereo headsets
- Redesign of physical form factor
- Multiple colors
While hindsight is always 20/20, let’s analyze the lists above as if we made them up well before the new iPhone 3G was revealed. What would we have been correct on? Wrong on? As it turns out, on the “likely” list, we were nearly right on everything except for the ability to record video and the lower price (phone cost was much lower but the monthly contract fee was $10 higher than currently). On the other hand, on the “unlikely but wishlist” list, none of the items were featured except for a minor redesign of the form factor and that there were two colors–black and white.
Having made those two lists and thought something about each feature well before the iPhone 3G actually debuted, I would have been well positioned to pre-write any of the following blog posts:
- Ten Features Missing From the Latest iPhone
- Five Disappointments of the iPhone 3G
- The Ultimate iPhone 3G Guide
- Three Reasons to Get/Not Get an iPhone 3G
Mix and a match the points in the lists above and you could have pre-written a number of blog posts. Just revise for reality (in case some of your predictions are wrong), add some illustrations, and release into the wild. Rinse and repeat; now you’ll be among the first to release breaking news blog posts about your favorite subjects as they happen.
A Couple of Other Examples
- Politics–Prewrite posts about who’s going to win the US election in November. Prewrite why a particular candidate lost.
- Sports–Prewrite posts about who’s going to win the US Open Golf Championship. Prewrite about the characteristics of the champion. Even though you don’t know who’s going to win, champions share some common characteristics–luck, determination, experience, etc.
I thought I would put up a domain I own for sale. If anyone is interested in BloggerForums.com, please let me know. If you always wanted to start a forum site for bloggers, here’s your chance! You can’t get any more specific than BloggerForums.com. The domain has been continuously registered since 1999. The asking price is [please email me].
Download Special Reports:
Stripe ads are a neat way to extend screen real estate to create additional advertising room. They are extremely popular with high traffic websites and are extremely visible to the website visitor since they are the first thing the visitor sees on the site.
As you can see, the reason they are so effective is because they are right at the top of the site, almost integrated with the browser’s navigation. So, they are not (at least yet) subject to visitor blindness so often associated with banner ads at the top of websites.
To integrate a stripe ad for your website, you can get a branded plugin for your Wordpress theme from certain Wordpress plugin developers or you can roll your own! In this blog post, I show you how you can roll your own. [To get the link to the full report, you must subscribe to my RSS.]
Why do you want to roll your own? Because:
1. It is free!
2. You don’t have to keep a visible link to the plugin developer’s website (e.g. “Powered by XXXX”) since that looks amateurish.
3. You get to understand how xhtml and php works so you can custom tailor your stripe ad to your website needs.
You should know a little bit of how to write html and CSS. If not, follow the steps below and just do a Google search for parts you don’t understand.
Step 1 - Create a new “div”
Add the following div and message to each page you want the stripe ad to appear:
<div id=“stripe-ad-top”>[INSERT MESSAGE HERE]</div>
If you are using Wordpress or another blogging system, you can just add the div to the appropriate template file once and it will appear on all pages.
Step 2 - Modify your CSS file or style sheet
Modify your CSS or style sheet to add in the following styles:
[Subscribe to my RSS to get the link to the full report with all the codes.]
Step 3 - Modify your webpages for Internet Explorer
Because IE6 and below is not generally standards compliant with W3C guidelines, you have to enter the follow fix for IE:
Put this at the very top of each page (again, it is easier to just paste this into your templates):
[Subscribe to my RSS to get the link to the full report with all the codes.]
Then put this in thesection, right after the reference to your linked CSS stylesheet:
[Subscribe to my RSS to get the link to the full report with all the codes.]
That’s it! Enjoy your new stripe ad!
So you have a newsy blog. You want to get into Google News. You post regularly. Google News only accepts quality blogs with multiple authors. Why not create multiple aliases even though you are the only blogger.
Is that ethical?
Rel=”nofollow” was first introduced by the three major search engines (Google, Yahoo and MSN) in May 2005 as an answer to blog comment spam and other spamdexing techniques utilizing unauthorized link dropping. Since then, Google has tried to repurpose the rel=”nofollow” as a way to identify and de-influence the effects of paid links.
Paid links are primarily of three varieties–one, “sponsored” blog postings (like ReviewMe and PayPerPost); two, text-link paid advertisements (like text-link-ads.com); and three, paid directory listings. Matt Cutts, Google spam engineer, has publicly stated that all paid links should be marked with the rel=”nofollow” attribute because Google views these types of links as non-trustworthy and, therefore, these links shouldn’t be counted for purposes of search rankings.
But Google misses a crucial point, in my opinion, in getting webmasters to use the rel=”nofollow” attribute for things other than “true spam” links. That point is that in so trying to repurpose rel=”nofollow”, Google has told me what it thinks I should think.
The history of rel=”nofollow” indicates that it was used to address the blog comment and outside spam problem. By “outside” I mean the link dropping on a site by spammers not affiliated with that particular site. Google first marketed the whole concept as an answer to “untrustworthy links” (i.e. spam). Then, Google decided that all “paid” links are untrustworthy (in essence, “all paid links not marked nofollow = spam).
Since when was Google ever entitled to decide whether or not a link was trustworthy or not? Just because someone paid for a link, or I paid someone for a link to my site, doesn’t automatically mean that I don’t trust that link. Herein lies the problem–Google has made a value judgment for me that I don’t think it should have made. If I didn’t trust the site (because, for example, I didn’t believe in the product), maybe I wouldn’t have accepted the payment (even if offered) and wouldn’t have linked to the site regardless. Maybe I really do trust that site and they just happen to also pay me to blog about it or link to it. Why then should I be required to label the site “NOfollow” just because Google considered that all paid links are untrustworthy (no matter what I thought)?
My point is that Google has a right to determine what links should count for what in its index. It is their index after all. But, please, stop trying to make a value judgment for me on whether a link is trustworthy or not just based on whether it was paid for or not. Instead, ask me to identify which links have been paid and you, Google, decide whether that link is worth anything to you in your index. That’s fair.
While we’re at it, I have to mention that I think using a bunch of new rel= attributes for other types of link would really help make the web more semantic and transparent. For example (in addition to rel=”paid”), using rel=”affiliated” for sites owned by the same webmaster/person.
Recently, I made a seemingly off-topic post–”Would You Still Trust These People If You Knew These Secrets?” It hasn’t gotten a lot of attention yet for a number of reasons–off-topic for this blog, etc.
While the content was off-topic, the process for creating that content was very, very on-topic. Imagine that this blog was about consumer rights. Then, the post becomes very relevant in terms of its content–a comprehensive list of posts in the universe that reveals all the secrets of the people we entrust with our money and secrets.
And here comes the good part: You can use the same process that I used to create that list to create viral content for your blog on demand.
The content for the “Would You Still Trust These People” post was discovered in less than one second. That’s no boast, less than one second–using the power of Google. How did I do that? I used some creative search operators, a rudimentary knowledge of copywriting and the power and comprehensiveness of Google.
Here’s how I did it:
Step One - Use the right search operators
The * (asterisk) is your friend. In Google, it represents the replacement of a word or phrase. So, for example, if you entered “Popular * Ideas” in the Google search box, it will return the results “popular costume ideas”, “popular gift ideas”, etc. See here.
The ” ” (quotes) are also your friend. You probably know that placing a phrase in quotes means that a search will only return results with that phrase in that order. Thus, “popular * ideas” means that results will only have the word “popular” before the word “ideas”.
Understand how to refine your results with the “intitle:”, “inurl:” and “site” Google commands. The “intitle:” command is useful if you are obtaining many results and want to focus your results to those with the search phrase in the title. “Inurl:” is useful to focus results with the phrase in the url. Finally, “site:” allows you to focus your results to certain types of authoritative sites like .edu and .gov.
Step Two - Combine search operators with focused copywriting
If you don’t know much about direct response copywriting, head over to Copyblogger for some background. I also recommend you read the book by John Caples/Fred Hahn, “Tested Advertising Methods“.
Think about how copywriters in your niche would promote their content. What sorts of titles would they write? The beauty of copywriting is that the title are usually templates. For example, see how the following two titles, while dealing with two totally different topics, follow very much the same template:
- Ten things your doctor won’t tell you.
- Twenty things your mover won’t tell you.
Take that template and put the phrase in quotes. Then, using the asterisk, replace the words that are different with an asterisk. Add another asterisk for your niche and do a search.
For example, for this blog, I might formulate the following search query: “* things * about * blogging”. The results are here which I can use as a launch pad for creating blog posts. Mix and match the results to create viral content that’s unique.
If you find that you are getting too much “noise”, try using the “intitle:” operator, like this: intitle:”*things * about * blogging“.
Want to focus your results to government or educational sites? Add the site:.edu or site:.gov operators to your query and see what else comes up.
Using the two steps, I was able to quickly compile a list of useful links for a consumer-oriented blog (e.g. consumerist.com) for the “Would You Still Trust These People” post using this Google query: intitle:”* things your * won’t tell you“. In less than one second, I had a list of results that I used to make my post.
Want to create some tutorials for your niche but don’t know where to begin? Try this query: intitle:”how to * [keyword]“. For example, see the following results:
- intitle:”how to * iphone”
- intitle:”how to * linux”
- intitle:”how to * ubuntu”
- intitle:”how to * chess”
- intitle:”how to * move”
- intitle:”how to * lose weight”
- intitle:”how to * apple”
- intitle:”how to * mac”
- intitle:”how to * improve”
- intitle:”how to * ipod”
I hope you found this post useful! If you did, please bookmark the post at your favorite social media sites, stumble it or link to it!