Last week I attended the Build Your Blog Conference 2014 in Salt Lake City, Utah. Roomed with my buddy, Andrea, from I Get Ready. (Um, yes, I did discover that amazing URL for her. Call me a genius.) Met some great people, connected with vendors, networked, attended some great breakout sessions, and had a good time all around.
Plus Waffle Luv. To die for.
Below I’m going to leave a brief summary of the workshops I attended. (When the recordings of the other sessions are released, I’ll add summaries to those as well.) This is about brevity, so no great detail, but perhaps you can still glean some important facts.
10 Ways to Get Traffic to Your Site
Jill Nystul of One Good Thing by Jillee
My expectations were pretty low going in. I didn’t know anything about Jill except that she was a TV host turned blogger. I knew she was good at marketing herself, but she hires out her blog tech. Having personally studied this stuff for 20+ years, I didn’t think I’d learn anything new.
I was pleasantly surprised. OK, so I didn’t learn anything completely new, but Jill did throw in specific insights and ideas on some of the topics that were helpful. Here are my chicken scratchings from her talk:
#10 – Giveaways
We’ve all seen blog giveaways and see the amazing traffic spike they cause. But that’s the problem. Hits spike…and then generally fall back just about where they always were. (Even viral content posts can do that, in case you’re wondering.)
New Info: Rather than just write up a giveaway post, she suggested writing a regular, on-topic post that fits your blog, and find a segue that makes a giveaway within the post make sense.
That way you add real quality content for the new visitors to see. This makes return visits much more likely.
#9 – Email Subscribers
I hope you’ve been collecting readers emails (opt-in, of course) all along. If not, this is a personal business funnel that can be a consistent source of income in the future.
See the email newsletter sign up in the sidebar? That’s how we do it. That link sends the data right to my subscription service. (I use Direct Mail, which is an easy to use, inexpensive piece of software that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg by charging per email address like most services.)
New Info: Publishers and sponsors look not only at your subscriber rate, but your open rate (the percentage of subscribers that actually open the newsletters). Keep this number handy. (Your service should provide it.)
#8 – Design and User Friendliness
Have you ever gone to a website only to be baffled about how to find anything? Web tech folks call this “mystery meat navigation.” Like the ingredients in a hot dog or a school lunch, your guess about how to find your way around is as good as mine. And they usually include flash.
Jill’s advice was to make websites easy to navigate and find what you need. She is particularly peeved when she has to “search for the search bar” and when music plays automatically. I get peeved when sites have light text on dark background and/or tiny text.
#7 – Consistency
Don’t get me wrong. I’ve heard about writing consistently. And I read other blogs (what?), so I know that it’s beyond frustrating to find a blog you really, really like only to discover that they add a new post only once-in-a-while-when-the-author-is-in-the-mood.
For some reason, though, I never applied this to my own blogs. Why? Most of my posts are based on current events. Not necessarily news-events, but things that are happening at the time. For example, on this blog I tend to write up either tech things that happen or tech questions that I get in multiples from clients that are more efficiently addressed at one time. On another blog I write about current political issues, timely offers, seasonal issues, etc. So I’ve always let the situation dictate when I write, not some random calendaring.
But — as I know myself — if I can’t depend on new posts going up, I tend to forget about blogs, even blogs I really like.
New info: Jill said that she blogs every single day. (I did this for a 100 Day Challenge early last year and it was brutal, I tell you.) And when she missed one day, readers freaked out, sure she had died. But it’s not that we need to blog daily, rather that we need to blog consistently and (read below in the YouTube class notes) predictably.
This helps establish the writer/reader relationship and forms a sense of accountability in your work.
#6 – SEO
This is where the content gets a bit dicey. When a blogger is using hired guns to run the tech and work SEO like Jill is, they don’t (in me experience) tend to know that much about it. They do what they are told, but the whys and wherefores — and most importantly, the updates to the whys are wherefores — are off their radar. That happened.
Jill talked about the usual stuff:
- headlines (with keywords
- alt name for photos
- good content
Then she mentioned guest blogging as a way to get traffic and backlinks. That’s when I wanted to distract all the newbie bloggers to keep them from writing it down on their notepads.
I’ve written my share of guest blog posts in the past. A couple of examples:
But that might not be such a good idea anymore. There’s been blog buzz for months now about how Google has smashed down on guest blogging. But if you don’t believe the industry gossip, take it directly from Matt Cutts: The decay and fall of guest blogging for SEO. There are dissenting opinions — and some make very cogent caveats — but make an informed decision.
New info: Coming from her broadcast journalism background, Jill has learned how to use a catchy headline and incorporate that along with a keyword rich headline. As bloggers we tend to go for one or the other. Smart to use both.
#5 – Photography
I love blogs with great photos as much as the next gal, but I’m just horrid at taking pictures. Not just because I’m inept at taking them, but because I just don’t care about taking them. I do not want to be a photographer. I like blog tech. I like writing. I like speaking and singing and organizing and ballroom dancing and all sorts of other things. But I’ve just never, ever dreamed of being a photographer. And I’m kind of annoyed that the web has morphed from an entirely text-based universe to one full of pictures and images that I can’t possibly create.
So, here I am, stuck in an industry that is forcing me to do something unsavory. Gah. The injustice of it all.
No new info here, Jill did point out that photos are now in the blog domain. Plus Pinterest. So there.
Use a slower shutter speed to keep action shots from being blurry.
#4 – Collaborations • Sponsorship • Networking
I’m very interested in collaborating and working with other bloggers, but often have a hard time finding others with the same target audience.
One of my blogs, for example is about lifestyle design with a family emphasis . Now “lifestyle bloggers” are a dime a dozen (no offense intended, there are just lots of them!). But lifestyle design (see 4-Hour Workweek) is a completely different animal from “lifestyle blogs” (which, from what I can tell are an undefined, blog-about-whatever-I-feel-like-as-long-as-it-is-“authentic” genre)
Most lifestyle design bloggers are young and either single or married with no kids. So wedging lifestyle design into a home-owning, married with six kids, lifestyle is kind of unusual. Thus, much of my angle doesn’t fit with the others in my little corner of the blogosphere.
New info: Jill talked specifically about how seeing other blogs — even within your niche — as allies instead of competitors will tend to help all those involved. I suppose it’s a bit like gas stations on opposite corners where both do better, because everyone starts to think of that area as “gas station corner” or “the place to go for gas.”
I’m hoping to work on collaboration in the coming year for a couple of my blogs.
#3 – Influencers
New info: Don’t be afraid to reach out to the influencers in your niche. Don’t be intimidated by their status, you never know what good things might result.
#2 – Social Media
This segment of the presentation was pretty much a love affair with Pinterest. Barely mentioned in passing were Facebook, Twitter, and Google+. (Her advice on Googe+ was, in its entirety, “It’s Google. Just do it.”)
My biggest problem with social media right now is being overwhelmed. When Pinterest became yet another must do social media site, I despaired. Just how much time can I devote to this stuff? And when you multiply each service by the number of blogs I have, the sheer number of presences to manage becomes overwhelming.
While at the conference — and because of this session — I decided that I simply can’t keep up the many, scattered spaces I manage. My intent is to select one presences on each “essential” social media site, rebrand it under my name, and do my best to manage and distinguish content there.
New info: Jill gave me an idea for managing them all under one account on Pinterest. She suggested having a board for each blog, so that all the pins that come from a particular blog go on that board, and readers will know they aren’t missing any.
On Google+ (where I’m just getting started), I’m creating circles for each blog where pertinent info will be disseminated.
If you have ideas for implementing this strategy on Facebook (where I want to manage only one “fan page,” Twitter (where I want to reduce to one account), and/or Instagram (that I just signed up for at the convention (under pressure!)), please add them to the comments!
#1 – Content
As they say, content is king. No matter what else you are doing, you need to have information that is interesting, entertaining, practical, or otherwise useful to your readers.
New info: “Don’t just Google it, do it!”
Taught by Kristen Duke from Capturing Joy with Kristen Duke
Per my photography hate fest (see above), I broke down and took this class on how to take pictures of things that have something to do with your blog post to make people want to read and pin and hang out and be your friend.
To be honest, this was totally out of my league. When she flashed a list of lenses on the screen, I hung my head in shame. You see, I “only” have a Panasonic Lumix 20x — and I haven’t even figured out how to work that — so obviously I’m not a real photographer.
So I’m going to skip all the ISO and F-stop jargon (that I learned in my Introduction to Photography class I took my freshman year in college (1982, if you must know) and promptly forgot), and tell you the things I actually understood and believe might be helpful to me in my remedial blog-photo efforts.
Photo Shoot Tips
- Use a slower shutter speed so action shots won’t be blurry.
- Natural light is best, but not direct light. Shooting next to a window or open door inside works great. Open garage door works, too. Use a sheet to diffuse harsh light.
- Use a tri-pod and slow shutter speed for low light conditions (1/125 lowest recommended).
- Try different and unusual angles (birds-eye, worms-eye, etc.).
- Put focused object in front with blurred background; put focused object in back with foreground blurred.
- Use actions shots, with people doing something or interacting.
- Sneak peak looking shooting through a cracked door.
- Use ladder, chair, table, stool, person to display an item.
- Avoid too much ceiling in a room shot (or put text there when posting)
- Declutter the surrounding areas.
- Add text and watermark to photos.
- Make collages for interest.
- Show step-by-step processes.
- Show before and after projects.
- Try shooting raw or using raw plus JPEG
Most Common Photoshop Usage
- color pop
- patch tool
- healing brush
Favorite Photography Tools
- tri-fold foam board (behind objects)
- flat form board (under objects)
- craft paper (especially neutrals — avoiding looking overly seasonal)
- frog clips
- wood boards
- stacked books
- elements of project being described (nails, hammer, pot, spatula, etc.)
- Canon or Nikon, top choices
The Ins and Outs of YouTube for Bloggers
Taught by Mindy and Shaun McKnight from Cute Girl Hairstyles
Overall, this was my favorite class of the weekend. While it’s true that I’m a YouTube novice, having only posted a handful of videos — most of which are recordings of my children performing (amazingly, I might add…) — I see great potential.
I have no idea how I would use YouTube in my blogging, and I have no desire to be in a video myself, but this class gave me a lot to think about.
Things You Need to Be a YouTuber
- good idea
- HD camera
- YouTube account (included with free Gmail account)
- internet connection
- simple editing software
Top 5 YouTube Tips
- Read the YouTube Creator Playbook.
- Create quality content that people want to watch (generally in the 3–5 minute range).
- Optimize your video with: keywords tags, title, thumbnail, annotations, call to action.
- Maintain a consistent schedule.
- Engage with your subscribers, focusing on the 20% who are super-fans (you can get this info from Google).
Cross Platform Engagement
Mindy and Shaun have become masters at generating traffic and income from varied social media sites and in interlinking them in the most profitable way. I wish I had taken a picture of their traffic funnel. My notes are pretty scratchy. They had figured out the optimal way to link back and forth. A few notes:
- YouTube description can link to blog post.
- Annotate videos with link to blog.
- Add a call to action at the end of the video (ask viewers to follow, share, tweet, comment, go to site, and/or subscribe)
- Add a YouTube subscribe button on the top of your blog.
- Add still images and embed video on blog.
- Add an Instagram bio link that goes to your blog
- Embed the video on Pinterest.
- Add video to Twitter, Google+, and Facebook feeds (like most of us, they are hating on Facebook right now)
If you attended this session and remember more details, please add them in the comments. This was very practical info!
Addendum: My roomie saw this post and texted me her photo of the McKnight’s traffic funnel. It was skewed due to the angle (and included the top of someone’s head), so I recreated it. As I look at it closely, I realize it needs to be refined. For example, traffic also flows from the blog to Google+ and Twitter and traffic also flows back from Google+ and Twitter to YouTube (otherwise, there’s not point in the update, right?). But here is the funnel mostly as they presented it, with just a bit of cleanup.
Other Notable Information
- Advertisers covet the mommy blog demographic.
- Video ads pay substantially more than CPC or CPM on blogs.
- Embed your vids on a blog post that either describes the content or is related to the content.
- The McKnights stressed consistency in posting. They post every single Sunday at 7:00 pm. Always. If they want to blog during the week, it’s a “bonus video” and does not interfere with the regular weekly post. This info took the idea of consistency and predictability to a new level for me.
- In order to encourage subscribers, followers, etc., reward them! They send a private link to all new videos to Twitter followers one hour before the video goes public, so followers get a sneak preview.
- They have a Power Hour for one hour after their weekly posting where they comment live on the new video YouTube thread to interact with their die-hard fans. You could also use a Google hangout or other venue for this personal interaction.
Blogger Open Discussion
This was a Q&A panel discussion with some apparently really amazing blogging women. The rest of the audience seemed to enjoy it but, well, I had a screaming headache and put my head on the table and slept through most of it.
My favorite part of the session that occurred during my wakefulness would have to be when Shelley Smith (from The House of Smiths) read a text her husband had just sent. I didn’t write it down, but here’s my best effort at a reasonably accurate quote:
The dog got in the mud. Needed a bath anyway. Are you done with that blogger thing? Do you still have on your fancy clothes? What color sweats do you want when you get home?
Shelley, I apologize if I butchered that, but the version in my head made me laugh.
Stay tuned for the recap of the other great sessions when they are made available.
Do you have other valuable information you gleaned from these sessions? If so, please leave it in the comments! If you’ve written a post with your conference impressions, send me an email and I’ll link to your post below!
Other Bloggers Chime In
Please check out what some other bloggers have to say about their experience at BYBC 2014!