Thursday, October 25, 2007

New Blogger feature: Readers can now track post comments by email

I just noticed a new, or perhaps new to me, Blogger feature. When you post a comment as a reader of a blog, you now have the option to track any future replies to the post via email. This is nice because it can bring back your commenters or the people who are interested in a specific post disucssion. Thank you Blogger for adding it!

Alternately a reader can also subscribe to the RSS feed of all the comments posted on your blog, but that usually is used by hardcore fans of a blog, not the average internet reader who just wants to see if his/her question or comment is answered in a particular blog post.

This on top of the existing option for blog writers/owners to be notified of all comments posted on their own blog(s). To get to his option, logon to your Blogger account, then click on Settings and then Comments for that.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Tip #11: Add a SiteMap to the Google Webmaster Tool for Blogger blogs using Feedburner

This tip is for people who use Feedburner to burn their feeds, Blogger to write their blogs, and Google's Webmaster Tool to check up on their blog's health and status in the Google Search engine.


The Setup
It is common for Blogger users to submit their RSS.xml (or atom) file as a Site Map on Google's Webmaster tool. This works just fine, but when you use Feedburner to burn your feed, and you redirect Blogger's feed to point to Feedburner, then this approach stops working as a SiteMap option for the Google Webmaster tool.


The Solution
Step #1: Logon to the Google Webmaster tool and under Sitemaps, delete the existing rss.xml sitemap

Step #2: After it is deleted, select "Add a Sitemap" as usual, and instead of typing rss.xml, you type rss.xml?redirect=false. This allows the Google Webmaster Tool to access your original Blogger feed, before it gets processed by Feedburner.

Step #3: Follow the usual steps and you are done!


The "feeds/posts/default" approach won't work
Please note that some websites and blogs suggest that you use "feeds/posts/default". This won't work because the Google Webmaster Tool wants you to submit a file at the highest directory level. It will not let you enter this. So if you've already tried this and it didn't work, it's not you, it simply doesn't work :) Instead try the redirect=false approach and you will be fine!

Tip #10: The real star of the new Amazon Widgets

Those participating in the Amazon Associates program or those who use the Amazon widgets on their blogs and websites may be aware that recently Amazon added a new wave of Web 2.0ish widgets. Among them were the obligatory (and versatile size-wise) Cloud, the Unbox videos, and the attention grabbing the Slideshow. All these get the attention of the affiliate because they are new and shiny and they grab the attention of the reader, at least the first few times they see them.

But the real star of the show is the one that got the least attention because it is so quiet and unassuming. It is the Quick Linker!. That's right, among all the Web 2.0 widgets added, the most practical and effective one is a text based "widget".

What's so special about the Quick Linker? It makes creating affiliate links a lot easier and allows you to create links that are an organic part of the content, instead of an after-thought advertisement.

Before the Quick Linker
Before Quick Linker, you had to go to another browser window, bring up Amazon.com, search for the specific product, copy its url, open up Amazon Associates, go to Text Links, paste the link in the appropriate box, add a title and your tracking ID, create the Amazon affiliate link, copy it and return to your blog and paste it.

And while you were doing all that, what happens to your train of thought? What happened to the time? Is it five minutes later already? Are you churning on mundanes instead of actually writing your content?


Installing the Quick Linker
The first step is to install a small script that Amazon creates for you on your blog. This is the script that will activate all the Quick Linker tags throughout your blog. This is a simple cut/paste.

The second part is to create the tags that will become links once the Quick Linker script runs. You can enter these tags as you are writing your blog posts. They are similar to creating HTML links. If you can create HTML links, you can use these too. They are very simple! For detailed step by step instructions visits the Amazon Widgets or Amazon Associates if you are an associate member.


Example
This is very easy to do and does not disrput your train of thought. Here is an example of how it would happen in a hypothetial blog post about movies. Let's say you are wtiting this sentence:

"We all love special effects, but sometimes they can get really predictable and over the top, but then a movie comes along like the 300, that changes everything."


Since you are mentioning the movie 300 in this instance, it would be a great candidate for a Quick Linker. Here is what you would write including the tag:

"We all love special effects, but sometimes they can get really predictable and over the top, but then a movie comes along like the <a type="amzn">300</a>, that changes everything."


After you save your blog post and reload your blog pages, the script will automatically convert the <a type="amzn">300</a> into a valid url link to an Amazon.com search for the word "300", which when clicked will return all related material to "300" (eg various DVDs, high definition dvds, etc).

You also have some extra options, you can specify a product by ASIN number, and you can specify which search to run on the keyword, so you can have a short link, but the search can search for the product using its full name. You can also restrict the search using some of the pre-defined Amazon product categories. For details and step by step instructions check the Amazon Widget and Associates pages.

Amazon search is fairly reliable and usually can find the right product when searching for its actual name, but there are cases where totally different things have similar names and the search results might not be ideal. In those cases, you can just try the search and see what it produces and adjust your tag accordingly, or try the search beforehand if you think it's a difficult one (eg if you are talking about "A1", which could be a hundred different things). Wordsmithing comes in hand :)

Tip #9: Create AdSense ads on Adsense, use Blogger to get the right color scheme

If you are using a Blogger blog, and you are also using Adsense, this tip is for you!

As things stand right now, you can insert Google Adsense ads on your blog using the new Blogger Page Elements interface. This is easier as you just add the Page Element, select the ad size, and color scheme and you are done. There are two automated color scheme options where you can select to Match or Blend the ad into the blog's existing template. Those are very helpful options, especially for those of us who are color-matching challenged. However, the Blogger Adsense interface does not offer the use of Channels (tracking information). This is a deal killer if you are trying to analyze, optimize and monetize your blog. As it has been repeated by AdSense and many successful AdSensers, tracking is one of the big keys to sucess.

And the only way to add Channel information is if you create the Ads on Google's Adsense page. However, with this approach you have to either manually come up with the color scheme or using one of the default color schemes (palettes) which may be okay for your blog, but it may not likely be as optimum as a matched or blended palette. So what to do?

Bringing them together
Step 1: Start creating the Ad on Google's Adsense Setup page as usual, and add the Channel tracking information.

Step 2: Open Blogger, go to Template, select "Add Page Element", and select "AdSense" from the list. There select the Match or Blend option and see what colors are selected by the computer in the little preview box. Please note that this depends on where the ad will go, which is the top of the column/area that you selected "Add Page Element" from. If the ad will go to another place in the blog that has different formatting and color schemes, then you may have to save the Blogger Adsense ad, save the template, and open the Blogger Adsense ad again at its new location and see what you get in the automated Match and Blend options.

Step 3: Go back to the Google AdSense Setup page, and cut/paste the colors from the Blogger window. For convenience you may want to save this palette in the AdSense Setup page so you can reuse it later on.

This can be used for both AdSense for Content and Link Units, and the same approach can produce colors for the Referral palettes.


Caution!
If you already have the maximum number of AdSense for Content or Adsense Link Units on your blog, be careful not to save an extra one while using the Blogger color matching technique mentioned above.

For example if you already have three AdSense for Content units live on your blog, and zero Link Units, and you want to save a temporary one on Blogger (in order to get better color matching from the actual location), select the Link Units for your temporary Blogger experiment instead of the Adsense for Content. And vice versa.

AdSense News: Changing ads from the AdSense Setup page (coming soon)

The latest post in the official Inside AdSense blog, has some very promising news for Adsense users: Coming soon: Make ad changes without replacing code.

Those familiar with AdSense know that if you want to make any adjustments to your AdSense code you have to edit your blog or website manually.

As things are right now, before the new changes take place, those using Blogger have it a little bit better since they can currently add/edit/delete Google Ads using the new Blogger's Page Elements interface. However, the Blogger Adsense code does not have an option for using Channels (tracking information), so it's not helpful if you are trying to analyze and optimize your blog. But the Blogger Adsense has the benefit of computer-suggested Blend and Match Template color-matching schemes, particularly helpful to those of us who lack the ...ad ...sense to get them right manually :-) As you can there are some pros/cons either way.

It will also be interesting to see whether these new changes will affect in any way the Blogger-created AdSense ads. Of interest to me as well since I am using Blogger :-)

Tip #8: Be like Mozilla, use the Google Search box

I know, I know very few of us can be like Mike or Mozilla, but check this out. According to the latest Mozilla financials according to the ZNet blog, Mozilla made most of its $67 million dollars in 2006 from the tiny Google Search bar on our Mozilla browser.

While obviously we can't expect anyone else to make millions out of a tiny search box, it is still a good idea to have it on our blogs. You can also give your users some flexibility by allowing them to search either your own blog or the world wide web. The button has some level of customization as well and you can add your own logo. To monetize from the Google Search box you need to participate in the Google AdSense program. Details at the Google Adsense site.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Tip #7: BuzzBoost your blog, use the Blog Post Footer Luke

One of the comments found on blogs about blogging is that it might be a good idea to showcase some of your content at the end of a post, especially on individual post pages. The idea is that you want the reader to stay on your blog and discover more of your stories. This is particularly useful when a reader arrives to an individual post-page of your blog instead of the front page, and they may not be familiar with your blog. Having a few pointers at the end of the post may help the reader become more familiar with your stuff.

There are many ways to do this. You can create a list of links and put it in the footer using HTML. For example, the best of blog. You can also use scripts to find revelant posts, especially if you are on a blogging platform that is plug-in friendly. You can also put RSS feeds there, or use one of the RSS-to-Javascript services to post it right there.

But what caught my attention as an attention grabbing way to do this is using the BuzzBooster feature of Feedburner. For the purposes of this post I am assuming you are familiar with Feedburner. If not, please google it out, and pick it up from this sentence onwards :)

What's the benefit?
BuzzBoost allows you to present your feed as HTML. You can use this to promote your recent posts on your own blog or on some of our other blogs or even on some of your friends and partners blogs. BuzzBoost allows you a lot of flexibility. You can publish it as a list of posts, or a list of posts with a few words from each post, or even display the full feed. You can also add a link for people to subscribe to your feed which is always nice. You can also choose how many of your latest posts to feature, as few as 1 and as many as all. "All" being either "all" or the maximum your blog allows you to publish in a feed (eg Blogger has a limit of 25 but there is a workaround if you use "max-results=...").

Activating and Configuring BuzzBoost
To get to BuzzBoost, logon to your Feedburner account, then click on "Publicize" and then look in the left column for BuzzBoost. Click on that and you will find yourself on the BuzzBoost configuration page. By default this service is inactive, so you have to configure it and activate it. There are a number of customizations you can make as per that page. Don't be afraid to try them out and see how they look on your blog.

There is one downside however, the code is generated as a script whose configuration is stored on Feedburner, not the script/HTML on your blog. So can only you have one configuration per feed. This limitation is a bit disappointing because you could have created different types of BuzzBoosts depending on where your Feed-to-HTML is appearing.

Possible Configurations and Uses for your BuzzBoost

  • Promote your recent posts in a column of your own blog by only displaying a list of post titles
  • Promote your blog on one of your other blogs, or a friend's blog by displaying a list of titles and a few words per post.
  • Promote your feed at the end of your individual-page post. Here you can publish the entire feed since the page is much likely to be shorter compared to your columns. This has great potential. The reader has just finished reading or skimming the article and they are paging or scrolling down. If all they see is blank space in the middle of the page they may disappear. But if you post your latest posts, nicely done BuzzBoost style, the reader may start exploring more of your blog. You may gain a new regular reader with this! I know it may sound counterintuitive at first, but try it out and see how it looks both to your and to your readers!

    Update
    Please note that in some blogs such as Blogger there is a difference between the blog footer and the blog post footer.

  • Monday, October 22, 2007

    Tip #6: Blogs are not the new Start-Ups (but dare to dream)

    While there have been a few cases where a blog or website created and operated by one person or a very small group of people became instantly rich and famous (or richer and more famous) when a bigger company purchased them for a very significant amount, the chances of this happening to you (or me) are slim. That's a realistic view. However, that doesn't mean you won't or can't be very successful.

    It is important to frame things and put them (and keep them) in perspective. Blogs are not the new start-ups, although it may feel that way with the waves and waves of blog-millionaire schemes and hopefuls out there.

    Expecting to become a blog-millionaire just like you would hope to become a start-up millionaire is not realistic. And becoming a start-up millionaire is a low probability to begin with. The number of start-ups that don't make it out-numbers the ones that make it significantly. So you can imagine how much slimmer the chances are for a blog. And by blog I mean the blog being it, not a product or service that uses a blog as its outlet.

    Having said all that however, it doesn't mean you don't hope and plan for big things and success. You most certainly do. And think big. Don't limit yourself or shoot yourself on the foot. Follow your insticts (at times) and try to get out of your comfort zone on occasion. Experiment. Explore. Dare to dream :)

    Saturday, October 20, 2007

    Tip #5: Site Statistics without spending a penny

    Obviously if you have a big website or blog and you want to thoroughly analyze your site stats it may be a good idea to get a custom or for-pay site statistics package. But if you are just starting over, or you are on your way to having a popular website or blog, you already have a number of sources of free site tracking information.

    Google Analytics, formerlly Urchin, is one of them. It is free to sign up and gives you comprehensive statistics. You can combine this with signing up for Google's Webmaster Tool for complimentary blog information.

    But you may already have Site Statistics collected on your blog and you just didn't realize it. For example if you are using Feedburner and you have installed FeedFlare, you already have the code necessary to collect site statistics. All you need to do is activate it in the Feedburner settings. While their statistics may not be as elaborate as Analytics, they are very easy and quick to browse through. This is great for those of you who don't want to spend hours disecting weblogs.

    Another one from the you-may-already-have-it category is those who have installed MyBlogLog (now a Yahoo company) code on your blog. Their service however is pretty basic. You get the full product the first three days you activate it, but then if you don't subscribe, you default to the basic service that gives you tape-delayed data.

    Also in the you-may-already-have-it category, if you have Google AdSense ads or any other ad service that tracks impressions, you already have visitor counts per site or page depending on how your ads and your site is structured. This is obviously not a complete solution, but it's yet another source of data. Its main function here is to double-check your other counters. Don't expect them to be in lockstep as there are inherent differences in the way they count, but if one counter shows 2000 and the other shows 1000, then you know something is wrong!

    Another free tracking site with extra benefits is AffiliateBrand.com. Included is also a tool that shows the most popular posts in your blog. You can install that as a blog widget. Their site statistics cover the basics, and they are available on a daily basis.

    Another website that offers a very very basic look at incoming traffic is e-referrel.com. This text-based widget shows on your website the list of websites that people came to your blog from. The list is in reverse chronological order and you can also chose to show totals. One of the benefits of this is that you don't even have to open a separate website to take a quick look. It's right there on your blog :)

    Of the specific traffic tracking websites I have tried, my favorite is StatCounter.com. At the free level of service you get the last 500 visitors per blog, and an unlimited number of blogs and websites to track. A close second is SiteMeter. If you don't mind a flashing button instead of a static GIF, AddFreeStats has some interesting statistics with more visual representations. All of them ask that in return you place a small button on your website/blog. Which is a fair exchange since you are getting a free service.

    Granted it is important to go through your site statistics because there's a lot of valuable information you can get out of it and based on those you can make adjustments to improve your blog. But there is a trap here, you may fall into an endless cycle of statistical analysis and lose track of the bigger picture: The blog content is what really matters!

    As always, finding a balance is the answer :)

    Thursday, October 18, 2007

    Tip #4: Give the Blog Rush widget a try!

    Blog Rush is a new idea from John Reese. His idea is simple to understand but difficult to implement: create a blogger syndication network. Each blogger posts a widget on their blog that contains five links to other blogs that have a similar theme. Thus every blogger gets exposure on other people's blogs. It also allows bloggers themselves an opportunity to network with other bloggers featured on their blog and vice versa.

    While it's too early to tell whether Blog Rush will become a supersmash hit, this is a good time to join in. You don't have much to lose. All you have to do is place their widget at a reasonable location on your blog. They are currently in the middle of an upgrade that is taking them longer than expected, but they promise more features and functionality with the 2.0 version. There is plenty of upside to this service if all goes according to plan.

    How does it work? For every time the blog widget is shown on your blog, you earn one credit (your blog is shown on other people's widgets). So if you have 1000 visitors per day, your blog will appear in 1000 BlogRush widgets throughout the day.

    But if you recruit people to sign up for BlogRush, you will earn bonus syndication credits, and the more people you refer earlier, the better, especially if this service becomes a big hit!

    If your blog is too new, or does not have a lot of content, it may not be approved right away. Ideally you should have about ten or so meaningful posts. Made for AdSense or Made for Advertising blogs without content are probably not going to fare well there.

    Bottom-line? Check their website, read the users/bloggers comments about the service, and if that's something that sounds interesting, give BlogRush a try!

    Tip #3: Amazon Associates affiliate program can boost your blog income

    Since Amazon is such a big internet presence, the obvious question is asked by bloggers who want to monetize their blogs. How can the Amazon Affiliates program help me?

    The program is free to join, and you have the freedom to create a number of different banners and text links. However, Amazon is an affiliate program, not a pay per click. So the only way you make money is if/when people make Amazon.com purchases through your links. And as with most affiliate programs, it is against the program rules to use your affiliate links to make your own purchases (with the exception perhaps of Buy.com which allows you to do that!).

    The program gives you a flat 4% on consumer electronics, and 4% to 8% on everything else depending on volume. Yes, volume, not dollar value. Amazon apparently wants to encourage people to move products, which led to this decision.

    Now how to make these work? The traditional banner ads are not particularly effective. The vast majority of internet users have become familiar with them and they have been programmed to ignore them, even if they don't want to :) What makes the Amazon program work more is to make the product links an organic part of your blog.

    And by that I don't mean force it, but find ways to blend it organically. For example if you are talking about the movie "300", insert a link to Amazon's 300 DVD product page. If you are discussing product X, at the end of the discussion include a link to X, or make the reference to X an Amazon link.

    Amazon recently introduced a new wave of widgets that make it easier to use their program. For example, their Quick Linker widget allows you to link a program without having to know its ASIN number. You just type its product name using a special tag. They also introduced product clouds, and other Web 2.0-like widgets.

    But ultimately it depends on a number of factors, what type of content your blog or website has, what type of items are you promoting, how well you are promoting, how much trafic you are getting, what type of readers you have (buyers vs browsers), etc, etc.

    Oh and one more thing, payment! You can get paid either by Amazon Gift Certificates or with cash. Cash can be delivered by check, but their preferred method is direct deposit to your bank account. If you don't want to use your regular bank account for internet purposes, a number of banks offer a secondary internet checking account that you can use for these type of purpose. Washington Mutual for example has an Internet checking account for this purpose, and the good thing is that it costs nothing to open, no fees, and no direct deposit requirements. Then you can just transfer your proceeds to your regular account and spend it or pay bill$.

    Any questions? :-)

    Friday, October 12, 2007

    Tip #2: Embrace advertising but respect your readers

    If you have any form of advertising on your blog, there is no reason to shy away from it. It's there and everyone can see it. Embrace it! Don't hide from it. This is the first step into building a more harmonious relationship between your ads and your readers.

    The next step is to look at your blog as a reader, not just as a writer/producer/creator. Think of one of your favorite blogs and imagine if they had your ads placed the same way. How would you feel about it? This can give you good insight on how some of your readers might feel :)

    Next, blog readers are becoming more and more sophisticated. They can spot MFA (made for ads, adsense, etc) blogs from a mile away - assuming they have 2000/20 eyesight. So how do you approach ad placement?

    Well, this is not an easy question to answer, because you don't always have creative control over the ads, as far as their design and their content. But here are some thoughts:

    1) Try to make the ads organic to the content. And by that I don't mean stick the ads right in between your paragraphs or glue them to the first or last sentence of your blog. Sure, those may increase your hits, but look at it as a reader. It is extremely frustrating trying to read a story when you have to jump around ads from left and right, above and below.

    2) Instead segway your ads with the content. If you are talking about product X, you can suggest at the end of the paragraph they can buy it at retailer X (eg for affiliate programs). This is an organic way of providing functionality and an opportunity for revenue.

    3) Try to get ads that blend to your format and content. This can be done with unformatted text links ads and with ads that have an option to blend with your content, either automatically (Google Adsense, Blend Template as a Blogger Page Element) or can be manually configured (Google Adsense SetUp page on the AdSense website). Sure, the colorful ads and the cutesy animated graphics are nice, but your blog loses cohesiveness and looks like a carnival. Try an all-text link and see how much nicer it flows. Try this at least for Above the Fold because if you win the reader over ATF, then they are much more likely to page down and page down, bookmark your blog, subscribe to your feed, etc, etc.

    Thursday, October 11, 2007

    Tip #1: Use Labels to showcase only your latest post per category

    The principle behind this tip applies to all types of blogging services, but the syntax given here will be for Blogger blogger.

    Background
    Since we moved to the new version of Blogger, Labels were added. Labels, also known as tags, are a great way to organize (or at least mark) your content and make it easier for people to find what interests them.


    The problem
    A number of bloggers have weekly or monthly features, for example "Tuesday Tips" or "Monday Gossip" or "the week in review", or "favorite things on tv this week", etc, that they tag appropriately with the label. The problem with clicking on the label is that it loads and shows a number of posts. So if your blog has been around for a while, the reader will be loading stuff they already read.


    The solution
    The solution is using Labels to create HTML links that limit the number of results you get from a Label. For example, you want your readers to only read this week's tv listings, since the previous week's are gone already. So you create a link at the top of your blog that says "This week's TV listings" or "This week's review" or "This week's Gossip". Sure, you can do this manually by editing the HTML every week. But why do it manually when you can have Labels and HTML do it for you automatically every time?

    The trick is to append max-results to the Label. The syntax is ?max-results=1, where 1 is the any number, eg pick one if you only want the latest item to be displayed.


    How to do it?
    0. You need a basic understanding of creating an HTML link to do this.
    1. Open a browser window and visit your blog, for this example, let's say this one.
    2. Locate the Labels and find the label of your choice. Let's say "blogger" in our case.
    3. Move the mouse over the "Blogger" tag and "Copy Link Location" (or "Copy Link Address" or "Copy Shortcut") depending on what browser your are using. You are basically copying the link.
    4. This will result in the link being copied to your cut/paste buffer: http://1001blogtips.blogspot.com/search/label/blogger
    5. Go to the desired location in your Blog Post or Blog Template and create a standard HTML link.
    6. Paste what we copied in #3 in between the quotes after href. This will result in this: My Blogger Columns. As it is now, it will show all entries you have on the label blogger.
    7. And here comes the magic, we append the max-results=1 to the Label link, producing this: http://1001blogtips.blogspot.com/search/label/blogger?max-results=1. What you add is shown in BOLD. Be sure not to forget the question mark because it is part of the correct syntax. The resulting link will look like this: My Latest Blogger Column
    8. If you want to showcase your last two posts on the topic, change the number to 2, if you want to show your last 3, change it to three.

    Welcome to 1001 Tips!

    After spending a few years writing blogs, mostly on blogger, I have decided that it is about time to start a blog about blogging, where I write about the tips and tricks I find, along with the tools, utilities, best practices, strategies and ideas on blogging. I am by no means an expert, but I have spent enough blog-hours to share what I have found so far.

    Most of the how-to stuff will be focuses on Blogger, but the ideas and principles can translate to other blogging services as well. The other stuff, such as ideas, practices, strategies should apply to all blogging services.

    If you have any suggestions, recommendations and feedback please feel free to leave them! Thanks :-)

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