October 22, 2014

About Contributor Stephan Spencer

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62
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Stephan Spencer's Scatterings
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Profile
Stephan Spencer is Founder and President of Netconcepts (http://www.netconcepts.com), an 11 year-old multinational web agency specializing in search engine optimization, e-commerce, web application development, website auditing, email marketing and blog strategies. Clients include Verizon, REI, AOL, Kohl's, Home Shopping Network and InfoSpace, among others. Stephan is a sought-after speaker, presenting globally, and is a contributing writer to publications such as DM News, Multichannel Merchant, Catalog Age, Practical Ecommerce, Unlimited, and NZ Marketing magazine. He is a Senior Contributor for MarketingProfs.com and co-author of the analyst report "The State of Search Engine Marketing 1.0" published by Multichannel Merchant. In his "spare time" Stephan blogs at StephanSpencer.com and NaturalSearchBlog.com.

Posts by Stephan:

Three Cheers for Author Bloggers!

Posted by: of Stephan Spencer's Scatterings on on 09/8/10

In my opinion, blogging and book writing go hand-in-hand. All it takes to bridge the gap from blog to book is a bit more forethought, discipline, and structure, and of course a publisher, and BOOM! you’ve got a book. Well, there’s a bit more to it than that. My experience co-authoring a book (The Art of SEO) was nothing like that. But still, it’s nice to romanticize the process — simply assemble your blog posts into a cohesive structure and send it off to a publisher. What could be simpler?

More often than not the author’s blog is an afterthought. The book came first. Then the blog came second as the book’s marketing vehicle, a complement/supplement. I’m not knocking it, but it’s great to see a high-quality blog turn into a high-quality book.

As both an author and a blogger, I can really appreciate when a blogger succeeds in transforming their blog into a book. It’s inspiring. One of my favorites is PostSecret, which was turned into a whole series of books. More prototypical examples of blog-to-book projects are The Long Tail (blog / book) and The Search (blog / book). Both are excellent blogs, and excellent books. Sometimes Twitter feeds turn into books too, like S*it My Dad Says. That’s some funny stuff. Now it looks like CEO blogger Steve Spangler is coming out with a book too. His is called Naked Eggs and Flying Potatoes. A curious title. In actuality I think his book is more of an amalgamation of his video content than his blog posts, but nonetheless the finished book looks impressive. Congrats Steve!

Folks often ask me if I’m going to write another book. My answer: I doubt it. It’s too painful (like birthing a baby, though, as a man, I can’t truly appreciate the pain of childbirth), and it pays less than minimum wage if you work out the numbers. Folks will then chime in with “Yeah, and why bother with a physical book anyways when everybody’s migrating online!” That I don’t agree with. There are a very large group of holdouts — me included — who still prefer the feel of printed books, who enjoy the experience of curling up with a good book rather than a laptop or ebook reader. And yes I own an iPad, but I don’t read books on it. And I don’t plan to anytime soon. Call me a Luddite.

Business Blogging for Realtors

Posted by: of Stephan Spencer's Scatterings on on 07/7/10

With the decimated housing market fueling the Great Recession, savvy realtors have realized they needed to “up their game” with their online marketing in order to keep food on the table for their families. Where did they turn? Why, blogging of course, among other things.

I had an opportunity recently to sit down with one such forward-thinking realtor-blogger, Jamie Miller. She’s actually a former employee of my former company Netconcepts, and she’s the agent for this beautiful property in Madison Wisconsin (yes, it’s my home). I asked her to share some pointers for realtors who want to get into blogging. Here are Jamie’s tips:

  • Use your blog’s name to target geographic locations. I named my blog Madison Wisconsin Living.
  • Also consider optimizing your blog around condo communities, like Miami Condo Lifestyle does, to target Google searchers. Individual posts can be condos for sale within their respective communities.
  • Post all your property listings to your blog, and have a separate property listings category. This provides an excellent source of regular content for readers and the search engines.
  • Don’t remove properties once they’ve sold. Simply update the listings with the word “Sold” — it’s a great way to communicate to prospective clients how many properties you’ve sold.
  • Develop an authoritative voice in your local market for all things home sales. For instance, The Boston Real Estate Blog publishes local real estate news and stats.
  • Leverage your blogging content into Social Media sites, such as your Facebook pages or Twitter profiles. It takes time to source and author content for blogging, this content should be shared across additional marketing channels in order to get the most bang for the buck and maintain message consistency.
  • Don’t forget to also incorporate typical Real Estate Website features and functionality into your blog, such as Featured properties to highlight the agents own properties for sale, a Property Search that pulls from a MLS (multiple listing service), and informational pages on buying and selling homes. For example, My Westside LA has great posting categories that feature content targeted to buyers and sellers.
  • If you’re a blogging newbie, it’s really easy to get started. Simply purchase a domain or use an existing domain you own (don’t just use a subdomain of wordpress.com or blogspot.com), purchase a hosting package (Ed. note: Bluehost is the one I use), and perform the famous “5 minute WordPress install” (actually it’s more like 5 seconds!)
  • There are some great, cost-effective real estate-specific themes for WordPress you can choose from, including RealEstateThemes.com, Agent Press, and Villa Grande. Or, just Google for “wordpress real estate themes“.
  • Install the following WordPress plugins: SEO Title Tag, Breadcrumb navigation, Google Analytics, and WPtouch iPhone Theme.
  • Before you start writing, first outline your content plan for the blog. The plan can include things like new listings, local real estate news, tips on home selling, etc.

Where Did All the CEO Bloggers Go?

Posted by: of Stephan Spencer's Scatterings on on 02/22/10

CEO blogs used to be all the rage within the business blogging community. Remember when we’d hear blog consultants gush about CEOs who dared to blog with transparency and authenticity. I rarely hear much talk about CEO bloggers anymore. Do you?

Remember Jonathan Schwartz? He was the poster child of blogging CEOs, the now former (as of February 3rd) CEO of Sun Microsystems. All you could hear was crickets on Jonathan’s blog from May of last year until finally Jonathan’s farewell post on January 27. Clearly he had a few things going on; Oracle was in the process of acquiring Sun. When you’re selling your company that is pretty much all that occupies your mind. I know that first-hand, as I’m happy to say my company (Netconcepts) was acquired by Covario last month.

The thing that most struck me was the name of Jonathan’s new blog. It’s titled “What I Couldn’t Say”. Hmmm. I guess transparency within a corporation only goes so far.

With the economy is in freefall, perhaps the tolerance of various boards of directors for CEO transparency has lessened? Or it could be simply that CEOs are just too busy and blogging isn’t such a priority, now that “blog” isn’t Word of the Year anymore.

Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, is another CEO blogger who was acquired and who we don’t hear from any longer in the blogosphere. His last post was July of last year, and that wasn’t so much of a blog post as it was a copy of a letter that was sent to all the Zappos employees announcing the acquisition by Amazon. Before that, Tony last posted in January 2009.

I’m guilty too. My own “CEO blog” hasn’t seen any activity in over a month — no posts since Covario acquired us. But the reason for my ‘radio silence’ has nothing to do with the acquirer. I may no longer be a President/CEO, but I am still encouraged to keep blogging. The reason I don’t blog frequently is the same one as last year (when I was only posting a few times a month at best): I’m preoccupied running around speaking at conferences all over the U.S., writing for magazines, etc.

Then there are the corporate blogs where the CEO occasionally chimes in with his/her own post. My acquirer, Covario, fits into that group with its “Actionable Insights” blog. Trinity Road, an etailer of religious products like first communion dresses and rosaries, has a corporate blog, but you rarely if ever hear from the CEO on it.

Then there are the CEO blogs where you wonder if it’s actually the CEO who’s blogging because it’s so polished. Steve Spangler the science toys e-tailer, I think fits into that category. If you look at the posts on Steve’s blog you’ll see a gradual evolution to a style that is more and more polished.

Chris Baggott, CEO of the Compendium Blogware, has one of the best CEO blogs out there, in my opinion. It’s full of valuable content, it’s not overly polished, his personality really shines through, and he blogs regularly. It figures though. If any CEO would have that kind of a CEO blog, it would be the CEO of a business blogging software company!

Las Vegas is for Bloggers: Blog World Expo, Cirque du Soleil, America’s Got Talent

Posted by: of Stephan Spencer's Scatterings on on 10/20/09

I had a great time last week at Blog World. The turnout was great, at several thousand attendees. The show was buzzing the whole time, even on Day 1 which is normally a light day in terms of attendance. The sessions were *solid*. It was a “who’s who” of bloggers presenting. The networking (in the speaker lounge, in the hallways, at the receptions, etc.) was excellent. The WiFi worked great (at least for me). The only real negative in my opinion: the food was not vegetarian-friendly (grrr).

I had my 18-year-old daughter Chloe with me. She and I both were speakers at Blog World, she was on a panel about blog monetization and I was on a panel about SEO. Chloe monetizes traffic to her Neopets cheats site/blog with Google AdSense, and spoke a bit about that. I did impromptu site critiques in my session.

Then there were the shows. All I have to say was “Wow!”. This is one thing that Blog World is known for — is for hooking up bloggers with free tickets to shows (“Bloggers Night Out” I believe is what they call it). We did FOUR shows in two days! It was fun but exhausting. The first night was America’s Got Talent Live! and Blue Man Group. The second night was Jersey Boys and Cirque du Soleil “O”. My daughter and I had a blast.

All four shows were excellent. Jersey Boys is my favorite musical now. It was awesome. My new favorite Cirque du Soleil show is “O” (and I’ve seen 6 Cirque shows). It was spectacular! If you haven’t seen a Cirque show, you absolutely *must*.

Cirque du Soleil O, Eugen in Umbrella

Blue Man was bizarre and amazing. Surreal. I loved it! And America’s Got Talent Live was great too — I have to admit I had no idea what to expect with that, and I was pleasantly surprised. My favorite AGT acts were Recycled Percussion, Nuttin’ But Stringz, and Barbara Padilla (here’s a picture of me and Barbara, below). But honestly, they were all great. (I can’t believe how low Lawrence Beaman’s voice goes!)

Barbara Padilla

Even though Vegas is not a family friendly town, my daughter and I had a great, clean time. As much as I wanted to see Zumanity, I passed on that one (not really an appropriate father-daughter activity!).

I also wish we weren’t forced to walk through the cigarette smoke filled casinos so much. No matter what, it seems, you have to walk through the casino to get *anywhere*.

My sincere thanks to the three shows that provided me and Chloe with the comp tickets — America’s Got Talent Live, Blue Man Group, and Cirque du Soleil. It’s brilliant blogger outreach to treat us bloggers to such great shows.

Anatomy of a Successful Blog Contest

Posted by: of Stephan Spencer's Scatterings on on 09/18/09

Links are the foundation of Google’s ranking algorithm, and so, link building is a crucial part of SEO. To be really successful at link building you need creativity, because without a great buzzworthy idea, your “link bait” will fall flat. One way to bait for links is a blog contest. If you do it right, even the most un-sexy of products (like stationery) can become sexy.

Consider for example the overnight printer of stationery and business cards OvernightPrints.com. Creating a buzz which drives a torrent of traffic to that type of website could be challenge. We at Netconcepts rose to the challenge, dreaming up a brilliant (if I do say so myself!) and inexpensive contest that involved the Internet celebrity and Technorati Top 100 blogger Jeremy Schoemaker. The contest was: Win business cards for life by designing Jeremy’s new business card. Here’s the winner, which is one sweet business card IMO:

Shoemoney's business card

Let’s take a closer look at what makes a blog contest such as this a successful link building strategy…

  1. Come up with an impressive prize (or at least one that sounds impressive). In the above, the prize was a lifetime supply of business cards. A “lifetime supply” of anything sounds impressive. You can use the fine print to put some limits on it — like OvernightPrints.com did by capping it at 1000 business cards per year for a maximum of 20 years. That adds up to, well, peanuts. ;-)
  2. Get a partner with some name recognition who’s willing to promote your contest. If you’re a blogger, try to land a partner organization that you can piggyback off of their brand recognition. If you’re a brand, get a well-known blogger to partner with you. Jeremy Schoemaker was great; he has a massive following. Ride on the coattails of that partner’s brand by enlisting their help in spreading the word about the contest. They need to be willing to hawk your contest on their blog and in social media. Jeremy posted multiple blog posts (with good keyword-rich links) and a YouTube video and some tweets on Twitter, for example. (Thanks Shoe!)
  3. Promote the heck out of the contest yourself too. Don’t just rely on your partners to do it for you. With the above contest, we reached out to a bunch of design sites. And they took the bait. They loved the contest and promoted it to their community and linked to our contest page. What a great thing to add to your resume if you’re a designer, that you came up with the winning design of the business card for a famous blogger — out of over 400 entries no less!
  4. Make sure the contest entry pages lives on your site. Not on your partner’s. You want the link juice flowing directly to the site you are looking to promote in the search engines. As you might guess, the contest entry page was on OvernightPrints.com, not on Shoemoney.com or anywhere else.
  5. Keep it simple. There are numerous ways to run(ruin) a blog contest. If you want it to be a success, create a contest that is easy for users to participate in. People online are lazy and impatient — even if they aren’t like that in the real world (Something about being in front of the computer triggers it!). So, the more effort a contest requires, the lower the participation level. OvernightPrints.com kept it simple: “Design ShoeMoney’s business card”.. and win a lifetime supply of business cards.
  6. Make it relevant to your business and to your targeted search term. It wouldn’t have made any sense for OvernightPrints.com to run a contest where you write a letter to the President and win a trip to Washington DC. For Overnight Prints, their money term is “business cards”. Being on page 1 in Google for that term is worth big bucks to Overnight Prints. This contest moved them onto page 1, and in fact, onto the top half of page 1.
  7. Involve the community. Jeremy narrowed it down to 7 finalists and then asked his readers to help him decide. The participation factor is huge. It makes the blog’s readers much more invested in the outcome.

A good contest has synergy — it’s a win-win for all parties (blogger, brand, contestants, readers) and having the right partners means that overall the whole is greater than the sum of the parts (i.e. everyone does much better than if they had embarked on it individually). Yes this contest was a huge success for everybody involved. Of course OvernightPrints was the biggest winner of them all: they got relevant exposure, buzz, links, rankings and traffic. Use the above 7 step formula and hopefully you will have similar success yourself.

Wiley Reaching Out to Bloggers by Mailing Books

Posted by: of Stephan Spencer's Scatterings on on 02/7/09

Got a package from J Wiley, the publisher, last month. It contained a copy of Personal Finance for Dummies and a letter. Here’s what the letter said:

Dear Stephan,

It’s a new year, a start of new beginnings, challenges, and opportunities.

Maybe you’ve resolved to try something new, to challenge yourself, and expand your horizons. I hope we can help with that.

When you attended BlogHer last year, you indicated that you would like to take the Dummies challenge. With this book, I invite you to do so. Whether you choose to tell your readers about your project is up to you. I do hope that you experience the success that millions of other For Dummies readers have.

If you want to try even more, consider stopping by Dummies.com. For Dummies is already the most widely recognized and highly regarded reference series in the world. Now, Dummies.com is bringing the how-to brand you know and trust online, and whether that means directions on how to set up a new PC, make dinner in your slow cooker, knit your first sweater, or load your new iPod, you can trust Dummies.com to tell it like it is, without all the technical jargon. However you like to learn – by watching how-to videos, looking at photo step-by-steps, reading articles, or following our team of expert bloggers — Dummies.com will make everything easier.

Please share your experiences, for better or worse, with me. You can find me on Twitter (@elleinthecity), Facebook, or you can email me at —–@wiley.com.

Best regards,
Ellen Gerstein
Marketing Director
Blogging at trueconfessions.wordpress.com

I edited out her email address as otherwise the spammers with their email address harvesters will grab her email address from this post.

I vaguely recall opting in for something book-related at BlogHer. So I’m pretty confident that this wasn’t a completely unsolicited reach-out. But even if it had been, I still wouldn’t have minded. What blogger would mind getting a free book, especially if it’s relevant/useful to them?

I congratulate Wiley on this blogger outreach campaign. I think it was tastefully done. And hey, you got a link out of it. Actually I gave you three. So it worked. ;-)

Anything Wiley should do differently? Hmm, well I found the letter quite dry. I didn’t really read it, just scanned it, as it was clearly marketingspeak. It would have been great if the letter was truly personalized to me and it was clear she had visited my blog. Now *that* would have been impressive!

How to Be Constructive in your Blog Commenting

Posted by: of Stephan Spencer's Scatterings on on 02/1/09

Ever gotten an overly critical (perhaps vitriolic) comment, and decided to just delete it? I know I have. When I moderate comments, I don’t think of myself as a censor; I’m simply keeping the spam out. But sometimes, a comment just rubs me the wrong way. Usually I let it through, but I don’t give the author the satisfaction of responding to it.

Next time you offer criticism to a blogger, think about how that comment will be received. Are you building rapport or burning a bridge? Unless you are being an anonymous coward (which I don’t recommend), you’re associating your name and reputation with that comment. Are you willing to stand by that comment and have it represent you in the blogosphere?

One way to be constructive in your criticism is to structure the comment as a “criticism sandwich“. This method involves sandwiching the constructive criticism between two constructive compliments. Think of the compliments as the bun and the criticism as the meat inside.

Another way to think of it — and this will appeal to you geeks out there — the criticism is “nested” within the compliments. Like this:

<compliment>
    <criticism></criticism>
</compliment>

How might this work in practice? Well let’s come up with a hypothetical comment that is a response to this very post…

Thanks for raising the issue of unconstructive commenters; it’s an important topic and relevant for all bloggers. I can’t help but feel you’re leading your readers down a path towards dishonesty in their blog commenting. The tenets of operating in the blogosphere include transparency and authenticity. You’re not advocating either here. That said, I find your posts in general do espouse those tenets, so thank you for that and keep up the good work.

As the blogger I’d take that criticism on board more readily than if it just “cut to the chase”:

Yeah, nice one. You’re advocating dishonesty, when instead you should be advocating transparency and authenticity. Jackass.

Got an opinion? Please chime in.

How Interactive is Your Blog? Measure It!

Posted by: of Stephan Spencer's Scatterings on on 08/25/08

One of the coolest things about business blogging is the social interaction and community that is built when readers leave meaningful comments. Like a good story, a post elicits a response from the reader. As your community develops, the value of your brand increases. But this warm and fuzzy feeling that people get about your brand as they interact with you on your blog can be hard to measure and quantify. That’s where blog interaction metrics come in.

Building a blog to one or more interaction metrics can help you focus on what’s important – brand engagement.

Do you measure a successful post by the number of readers, bookmarks added to del.ic.ious, diggs, comments, number or quality of backlinks, or a combination of all the above? Some metrics have a place in your blog marketing scorecard, like number of comments. And some do not, like number of trackbacks (unless you like counting spammers — and that you could do all day!). Because the last thing you need is just more data for the sake of data.

Avinash Kaushik came up with some really nifty blog success metrics that really resonate with me. I bet they’ll resonate with you too. They are:

  • Raw author contribution (posts per month and words per post)
  • Audience growth (onsite & offsite, visitors and unique visitors)
  • “Conversion” rate (comments per post)
  • Citations (blog inlinks, Technorati rank)
  • Ripple Index (# of unique blogs linking to your blog)
  • Cost (time, hardware/software technology, opportunity cost
  • Benefit / ROI (comparative vs. direct vs. “non-traditional” vs. unquantifiable)

As you start measuring the above and then gauging the success of what you’re doing on your blog based on these metrics, you can tie your activities back to something more meaningful than just the “hits” you’re generating.

If you want to learn more about metrics, I encourage you to watch the archived recording of a “Website Metrics and ROI” webinar that Avinash and I presented last year. No registration required. Just click and watch (or download). It’s 100 minutes of the two of us talking about our favorite metrics — not just for blogging, but also email marketing, web marketing, search marketing, and more. And if you just want to scan over our Powerpoint slides before you invest 100 minutes of your time (and I don’t blame you — time is precious!), here’s the PPT file. Enjoy!

FeedBurner Blog Metrics

What blog metrics do you value most? How do your readers interact with you? Do you have any particular reporting tools you recommend? Your interactivity is welcome and invited.

Sun CEO on Communication through Blogging

Posted by: of Stephan Spencer's Scatterings on on 05/16/08

Sun Microsystems CEO Jonathan Schwartz gave a great keynote interview at the Web 2.0 Expo last month. He was interviewed by Tim O’Reilly. The 30 minute-plus interview covered a wide range of fascinating business- and technology-related topics, not the least of which was business blogging. The first five minutes after the introduction concentrate specifically on how Schwartz — whom O’Reilly called “One of the most senior bloggers around” in terms of business leadership — uses his blog to reach both employees and potential clients.

Jonathan Schwartz accepts blogging wholeheartedly, but rejects the word itself. “‘Blogging’ will at some point be a little anachronistic. I communicate. My number one job as a leader of a company is to communicate. You used to communicate by being the celebrity CEO, you flew around and spoke with heads of state, and got local media to cover it, and got your message out in an inefficient and environmentally irresponsible way. Then the Internet came along and gave you access to the whole planet all at the same time. So why not use the Internet as a way to communicate directly and authentically to the marketplace? Then I will have satisfied at least one portion of my job.”

Blogging doesn’t just communicate with the marketplace, though. Sun’s CEO also uses his company blog to communicate with the more than 32,000 Sun employees. When they have questions about business decisions, Jonathan can respond to both the company and the marketplace via his blog. “If you are going to lead, you must communicate,” he said in the interview. “You can communicate in many different ways, through your actions, through your products. The way I communicate is by using the spoken and written word.”

Schwartz is a genuine blogger — he’s very much against having the PR people do any writing for him. But do they mind that they’re not in control of his message? “I don’t think I’ve ever terrified our PR department, but I’ve terrified our securities department once or twice, and they’ve been very quick about telling me to put in a safe harbor statement at the beginning of the post, and then they make an SEC filing based on what I just said, but now we’re very practiced about this and that’s no longer the norm. I can get away with a link to a safe harbor statement now.”

The CEO isn’t the only blogger at Sun — more than 4300 people at the company, from marketing and HR staffers to high-level engineers and managers have blogs on the Sun Microsystems corporate site. Some of them are in languages other than English, and many of them are fascinating not solely as an insight into the internals of one of information technology’s founding companies, but as a collection of smart people who love to share ideas about a wide range of subjects. “The most terrifying day for me as a blogger was when our general counsel started writing a blog,” Schwartz said jokingly. “Actually that’s not true — he’s very thoughtful. And guess who reads his blog? Other general counsels.”

The rest of the interview covers Sun’s MySQL purchase and the integration of two businesses into one, Sun’s open source strategy, cloud computing, how giving away products for free gives insight into the market and access to potential hardware and services customers, utility computing, the evolution of high-performance computing, the “black box” data center, efficiency and power consumption (“[electricity] is the number two expense, next to people”), and how blogging helps inform people about all of these issues.

Good stuff!

If you’re a CEO, you’d do well to emulate Jonathan’s approach to business blogging.

Brand Yourself on Your Blog, in Your Feed, with a Photo and Sig Line

Posted by: of Stephan Spencer's Scatterings on on 05/15/08

In my blog post about the importance of your avatar in social media marketing, I included my headshot photo to show folks what I use as my avatar on social media sites:

Stephan Spencer avatar

Seeing this in my post gave one of my readers, Dave Dugdale, the idea to append his photo to the end of posts on his blog’s RSS feed. That is a great idea. That headshot image of me appears only in my aforementioned post because I added it by hand. It certainly wouldn’t be hard to automate it so that your image (and byline, and links) would appear on ALL your posts. Then, folks using RSS readers and website aggregators like Bloglines and Google Reader will see this photo and byline while reading your post, helping brand you and letting people know who you are. You, as the author, will appear more real, more tangible, more human, to the reader. S/he will relate to you more as a fellow human being, take notice of you, remember you, and listen to what you have to say. S/he may even then recognize you at conferences and introduce herself/himself to you (this has happened to me on many occasions!).

Another important benefit of this tactic is that it somewhat thwarts content thieves who “repurpose” your blog post content on their blogs. If they are scraping from your RSS feed, they will be putting up your photo, byline, and links on all the posts they stole from you! (By the way, if they are scraping your HTML — which won’t be nearly as common — then the photo and byline would need to appear on your blog site, not just your feed.)

So how do you accomplish this — putting a sig line containing your image/avatar on all your posts? You could add the sig line to your template (theme) files. But there are other, easier ways. For instance, if you’re running WordPress, there’s the RSS Footer plugin or the WP-Avatar plugin.

Or, if you’re using the excellent Feedburner service for your RSS feed, there’s the “Feed Image Burner” tool.

You can also put a tiny image of yourself into your blog’s favicon too, which will cause it to show up next to your blog’s name on many RSS readers. That’s what I’ve done on my blog. Here’s what it looks like: favicon

If you don’t have a custom favicon, don’t know how to create one, or don’t know what I’m talking about, then you should read my post Favicon and Robots.txt – Must-Haves for your Blog.

Secrets to a Faux Blogger’s Success: Fake Steve Jobs

Posted by: of Stephan Spencer's Scatterings on on 04/29/08

Usually faux blogs get lambasted on the blogosphere for violating the unwritten business blogging rules of transparency, openness, and authenticity. (Remember Raging Cow?) Not so with “Fake Steve Jobs,” aka Forbes columnist Daniel Lyons, who gave a hilarious speech at the Web 2.0 Expo last Friday. The 25-minute video is embedded below:

Lyons’ main points about his successful blog are:

  • It’s material he’s excited about
  • He has fun writing on FSJ
  • He embraces audience participation
  • The mystique behind FSJ’s identity helped build the blog’s readership

Lyons covers three “Whys” behind the Fake Steve Jobs blog: why he got into blogging (fear and boredom), why he chose Steve Jobs (he’s narcissistic, Apple has bad PR, and Apple fans tend to be so, well, fanatic), and why it works (it’s the audience!). When he first learned of successful business blogs like Jonathan Schwartz’ at Sun Microsystems, Lyons thought it was a great idea. But what if one of those blogging CEOs went crazy and posted all kinds of un-photogenic, not-approved-by-PR material? Thus Fake Steve was born, and readers found it interesting. He had 90,000 monthly readers within 6 months of launch.

“I think what’s happening in media is profound and interesting. This thing [Fake Steve Jobs] is all very wrong, obviously very stupid and primitive, right? But it’s a great way to learn about how new media might work. I think the biggest change we’re going to have is the involvement of the audience. Where Internet media is going to get interesting is when we start really exploiting the uniqueness in it rather than paving a cowpath. First generation Forbes.com was, take the print magazine and put it online. Hulu was take TV shows and put them online. But when we start involving the audience, and having people form a group to entertain themselves, I think that’s going to get really interesting.”

Passion’s the key ingredient in successful blogging

Posted by: of Stephan Spencer's Scatterings on on 04/17/08

Not getting as much marketing power out of your blog as you’d hoped? The rules for successful blogging are the same whether you’re writing for personal or business reasons. First of all, you have to write about what you love or what you’re passionate about. When you write about what you are passionate about, readers will feel it too, and the entire process of writing will be more enjoyable as well. If you’re running out of topics or your blogging feels like a chore, then you should find a new angle on your work — one that you’re passionate about. Hopefully you love your work and your job, so it shouldn’t be too difficult to find things that are fun to write about, but sometimes it’s better that you concentrate on a specific aspect of your work that you’re particularly interested in.

If you have no passion for what you are writing about, why are you writing at all? Your entries will come across as boring or flat and you will not gain the readership your writing skills deserve. When you write about what you love, it is a lot easier to sound like an expert in your field. If you are not sure what you are passionate about, take the time to figure it out. You owe it to yourself, and your potential readers, to know and write about what makes you get out of bed in the morning. If your goal is to make money with a blog, write about what you love and the money (or sales) will follow… You will have more readers and will write better posts. Great content brings traffic/conversions and when you write about something you love it is difficult to write poorly.

What’s it like to read your favorite blogs? I’d have to say my all-time favorite blogger from a writing perspective is Fake Steve Jobs. Sure, he’s not even real, but he “keeps it real.” Every post is witty, and I love his creative use of language and his invented words (e.g. MicroTards, Freetards). The blog provides a little window into Steve Jobs’ psyche. Well okay, maybe not, since it’s actually being written by a Forbes magazine journo, but wouldn’t it be cool if it were the real Steve Jobs?

FSJ may not be the real Apple CEO, but Jonathan Schwartz definitely is the real CEO of Sun Microsystems, and his blog is an excellent example of great blogging. Jonathan posts about Sun projects that he finds exciting, and technology trends that he has an interest in. As a top-level industry insider, Jonathan makes you feel like you’re getting a unique perspective on information technology.

In the past I’ve held up science teacher Steve Spangler’s blog as an excellent example of business blogging, as well. Steve’s blog helps establish his expertise and showcase his brilliance, which keeps him busy in his various adventures. If you like science and haven’t visited Steve’s site yet, you’re missing out.

What are some of your favorite examples of passionate business or marketing blogs?

Need More Time to Blog? Here’s Your Answer!

Posted by: of Stephan Spencer's Scatterings on on 04/10/08

Do you ever feel like no matter how well you plan your day, you never seem to finish all of your scheduled tasks, including all the blogging you wanted to do? I know I do! There is an answer! …it’s “GTD” (Getting Things Done), a time management, or more appropriately, life management methodology developed by best-selling author David Allen. This methodology is outlined in great detail in one of my favorite books, Getting Things Done.

Recently I had the distinct pleasure of sitting down for a fascinating discussion with David Allen; that discussion is available for download as an MP3, or just hit the Play button below:

I’m a big fan of David’s, having attended one of his workshops in Chicago last year. I’ve written before about how GTD works, but this interview goes into some of the areas I struggle with the most. David gave me some excellent answers on how to…

  • eliminate time-stealing distractions,
  • how avoidance affects success,
  • how crisis negatively impacts your ability to think intelligently,
  • how sometimes waiting until the last minute is the best way to get things done,
  • the importance of emptying your email inbox,
  • the usefulness of virtual assistants,
  • and how the biggest barrier to self-expression and self-actualization is our own selves.
  • “You can’t manage time,” David said. “You actually only manage what you do during time. So the management issue is not so much about time, it’s more about how you manage your focus, how you manage your actions and your activities in terms of what you do. That’s one of the problems with that whole field of time management — they mislabel the problem. Because they label the problem as time, everyone thinks that the calendar is going to be your solution, and it isn’t.”

    In a deadline-driven, time-sensitive, stress-filled world, having the right strategies to deal with your blogging and all your other responsibilities is essential to avoiding burnout and remaining permanently productive. With some elements of your professional life, David’s advice is simple to apply, such as merely paying attention to what has your attention. With other things, you may find yourself facing off against tightly-held, self-destructive habits and behaviors that will prove difficult to disown.

Upcoming Blogger Conferences

Posted by: of Stephan Spencer's Scatterings on on 03/18/08

WordCamp Dallas is later this month — March 29-30. Netconcepts’ own Chris Smith will be speaking on SEO for blogs. There’s a great lineup of speakers, including WordPress founder Matt Mullenweg. Registration is only $20. There’s no reason not to attend! Even if you blog on a different blog platform, you should still attend. The networking with fellow bloggers alone is worth the travel costs. I speak from experience, having attended WordCamp in San Francisco last summer and I loved it.

Blog World Expo is another fabulous conference to attend. Their inaugural year was last year. It took place in Las Vegas and will be back in Vegas this year — September 20-21. At last year’s conference I spoke on an SEO panel with SEO gurus Aaron Wall, Andy Beal and Vanessa Fox. I stayed to the very end of the conference, and I was glad I did. I got to hear billionaire blogger Mark Cuban speak during the closing keynote of the conference.

Then there’s BlogHer 2008 — a conference for and about women bloggers, taking place July 18-20 in San Francisco. All the speakers are women. My 16-year-old daughter Chloe Spencer (the Neopets blogger) was privileged to speak on their Professional Blogging panel at BlogHer 2007. I attended last summer and really enjoyed it, even though I wasn’t the main intended audience (i.e. women bloggers).

One guy I spoke to during a cocktail reception at BlogHer last year told me that BlogHer was a great conference for single men like him to attend. He said it was “like shooting fish in a barrel.” Haha, I laughed when I heard him say that. Contrast that with WordCamp Dallas, which is projected to be 75% male.

Any other conferences for bloggers out there that I’ve missed?

Is Your Monitor Size Holding You Back?

Posted by: of Stephan Spencer's Scatterings on on 03/18/08

Bloggers are information workers. And information workers need a big screen monitor — and/or multiple monitors — to be optimally productive. The Wall Street Journal blog recently posted about a study by the University of Utah that found that folks using a 24-inch screen completed tasks 52% faster than those with an 18-inch screen. And folks using two 20-inch screens completed tasks 44% faster than those with an 18-inch screen. So size (and quantity) really does matter. This conclusion was affirmed by most of the commenters to that WSJ post.

So… what monitor size are you blogging with? And are you using two monitors, or just one? That one single small monitor you’re using for blogging is holding you back!

According to a Google employee who commented, Google engineers get to choose between a single 30-inch HP LCD or two 24-inch monitors, and employees in other departments get one 24-inch.

My office setup is 3 screens — my MacBook Pro laptop screen which is 15-inch, a secondary, 17-inch monitor plugged into my laptop, and an iMac with a 17-inch built-in display. The iMac and my MacBook Pro are set up to both use the same keyboard and mouse. To accomplish this, I use a free software program called Synergy. It is amazing! I can move my cursor across the three screens with one long swipe of my mouse. I can copy text on my iMac and paste it onto my laptop, and vice versa.

When I went from one screen to three screens, I definitely saw a productivity benefit across many activities, including email, blogging, article writing, and Powerpoint creation. Right now as I write this post, I have the “Write Post” screen on one display and the Wall Street Journal post open on another display. It makes it so much easier when I want to quote or reference bits from the WSJ.

Another interesting point that another commenter to the WSJ post made was that monitor size was a criterion he used in evaluating potential employers. He called it an “environment factor.” That was really good insight. We at Netconcepts are in the process of trying to fill 11 open positions. Seeing workstations configured with awesome monitors could very well influence a candidate’s decision to come work at Netconcepts.

Bloggers, What’s Your Hook?

Posted by: of Stephan Spencer's Scatterings on on 03/5/08

Whether you’re just starting out in the blogosphere or you write for an established blog, you’ll need an angle to set your blog apart from the rest. Ideally, this theme will carry through all your posts, injecting the blog with a unique style and personality (e.g. snarky, witty, professorial, egotistical to the point of humorous, self-deprecating, nihilistic, voyeuristic). Your angle could also be in the way you present your content, too. For example, you might offer video blog posts that are extreme close-ups or you might include hand-drawn illustrations with your posts.

An angle helps make your blog remarkable, which is a laudable goal for any marketer. In his book “Purple Cow,” marketing guru Seth Godin stated that being “remarkable” doesn’t mean you (or your blog) needs to be the best, it means that you need to “be worth remarking about.” Seth also said that the opposite of “remarkable” is “very good.” In other words, having a “very good” blog just doesn’t cut it — not when there are hundreds of millions of other blogs out there too.

Another way of thinking about a “hook” or an “angle” is to think about your blog as “link bait.” Link bait is content that is so funny, so interesting, and so useful that it becomes irresistible to other bloggers and site owners to link to and “remark” on. Nick Wilson revealed 5 “hooks” in his landmark post on link baiting:

  1. humor hook
  2. news hook
  3. contrarian hook
  4. resource hook, and
  5. attack hook

Link bait can take the form of Top 10 lists, humorous videos uploaded to YouTube, checklists, cartoons, tools, widgets and blog plugins — to name a few.

One business blog that I think really nailed this concept is Sparkle Like the Stars, a blog owned by jewelry retailer ice.com. The blog is snarky, irreverent, fun, voyeuristic, trendy and useful — all at the same time! This blog’s hook is paying off, in the form of a loyal following.

We, at Netconcepts, decided to follow in the footsteps of Sparkle Like the Stars to create a blog about shoes we affectionately named, “The Shoe Paparazzi.” The idea behind it was to fuse footwear with the “sport” of celebrity watching in order to capture and keep readers’ interest. At this point it’s still just an experiment, a pet project of Netconcepts that wasn’t commissioned by a client, but is something we hope can be used in the future to prove the case for the “celebrity watching hook” as a viable angle for online retailers.

As far as blogs go, I’m not 100% certain we’ve hit that right hook/angle yet to build that loyal following every blogger dreams of. I put it to you, my fellow bloggers, do you think our Shoe Paparazzi experiment is link-worthy? What’s your blog’s hook, and how’s that working out for you? Talk back via comments.

Blog carnivals – a link building secret weapon

Posted by: of Stephan Spencer's Scatterings on on 02/27/08

One thing which has been alluded to briefly here on BusinessBlogConsulting.com in a couple previous posts is blog carnivals — a relatively untapped opportunity for blog marketing and link building.

It was fellow Business Blog Consulting contributor Toby Bloomberg who first turned me on to blog carnivals. For those who aren’t aware of what a blog carnival is, it is a traveling column on a particular subject matter that is passed on from blog to blog, each blogger selecting a topic in that subject matter and including relevant resources accompanied by their own commentary about those resources. For example, there might be a blog carnival on nonprofit marketing and indeed there is. The members of the blog carnival rotate in and out, kind of like a column rotates. Here is an example post from a nonprofit marketing blog carnival.

Why should you care about blog carnivals? In short, because it’s a great way to grow your link popularity and thus your search rankings, and because it’ll also gain you visibility in the blogosphere amongst bloggers. This can be accomplished in two ways:

  1. First, by hosting a blog carnival, you garner links you wouldn’t otherwise have garnered from the other blog carnival hosts as well as other bloggers who follow that blog carnival (assuming of course your posts are of some value!).
  2. Second, even if you don’t join a blog carnival, you can submit your own posts to the current host for consideration in the next carnival post. For instance, in the example carnival post above on nonprofit marketing (which focused on “Creating and developing online communities through Web 2.0″), imagine if you had written a post on “How Nonprofits Can Use MySpace” and then gotten that post included in that week’s edition of the carnival — and all it would have taken is reaching out to the host via email to get on their radar.

Check out BlogCarnival.com, a directory of blog carnivals, to see if a blog carnival already exists for your industry or topic of interest.

Shorten Your Blog Post URLs So You Don’t Look Spammy to Google

Posted by: of Stephan Spencer's Scatterings on on 01/3/08

One of the great things about using WordPress is that it automatically creates keyword-rich, spider-friendly URLs for your posts (as long as your Permalink settings in the Options tab of the WordPress admin are configured properly). Many times, though, these URLs are TOO keyword-rich. In other words, the URL has too many words in it. That happens if you create a long title to your post, because every word in the title is worked into the URL automatically by WordPress.

But how long is “too long” for a URL? For the answer to this question, I went to the source: Matt Cutts, head of Google’s webspam team. In my interview with Matt Cutts, I asked:

“What is excessive in the length of a keyword-rich URL? We have seen clients use keyword URLs that have 10 to 15 words strung together with hyphens; or blogs – we have seen them even longer there. A typical WordPress blog will use the title of the post as the post slug, unless you defined something different and you can just go on and on and on. Can you give any guidelines or recommendations in that regard?”

Matt answered:

“Certainly. If you can make your title four- or five-words long – and it is pretty natural. If you have got a three, four or five words in your URL, that can be perfectly normal. As it gets a little longer, then it starts to look a little worse. Now, our algorithms typically will just weight those words less and just not give you as much credit.

The thing to be aware of is, ask yourself: “How does this look to a regular user?â€? – because if, at any time, somebody comes to your page or, maybe, a competitor does a search and finds 15 words all strung together like variants of the same word, then that does look like spam, and they often will send a spam report. Then somebody will go and check that out.

So, I would not make it a big habit of having tons and tons of words stuffed in there, because there are plenty of places on a page, where you can have relevant words and have them be helpful to users – and not have it come across as keyword stuffing.”

Based on this new information from Matt, you can see that even your blog post slugs have the potential to appear spammy and “keyword stuffed,” which doesn’t look great for your readers and may end up getting flagged as “spam.” So how can you prevent your blog from appearing spammy?

I’d strongly recommend that you curb the length of your URLs. There are a couple of different approaches to this in WordPress:

  1. Hand-craft your own “Post Slug” when you are writing the post. To do so, simply type in your desired post slug into the “Post Slug” field found on the right-hand side of the “Write Post” page in the WordPress admin (you probably will have to hit the + sign to see the field). You can mirror your post’s title but drop throwaway words like “the” and “and”. You can take the first four words or so of the title as your slug. Heck, you could even write something totally different that doesn’t resemble your post title.
  2. Use a WordPress plugin that will trim your post slugs down to a more manageable size, i.e. to five or six words. There are two plugins to choose from that will accomplish this: the WordPress Slug Trimmer plugin or the Automated SEO Friendly URL plugin.

For more great tips from Matt Cutts, I invite you to listen to my audio interview in MP3 format or read the full transcript. The interview is a little over 30 minutes long, and it has some invaluable advice.

Enjoy, and happy search engine optimized blogging!!!

Cirque du Soleil Does Killer Outreach to Bloggers

Posted by: of Stephan Spencer's Scatterings on on 12/17/07

Earlier this month I went to Las Vegas to attend (and speak at) PubCon, a conference renowned among search engine marketers. Many of my fellow SEO professionals in attendance were also bloggers. The organizers of Pubcon, including Brett Tabke and Joe Morin, had the foresight to offer the bloggers an irresistible offer, a “Bloggers Night Out“…

“So to put a twist on things, we are excited to announce that we have secured several hundred tickets to some of the best live theatre that Las Vegas has to offer. After years of having conferences in this town we’ve made a few friends and now these friends of ours at venues such as Blue Man Group, Cirque Du Soleil, MGM Grand, Treasure Island and The Wynn Las Vegas have graciously offered us tickets for our attendees in the hopes that they wouldn’t mind compiling a little review telling them what you think of their shows.”

KaI was really, really impressed with the generous offer. So I put my hand up. And I’m pleased to say that I was one of the lucky recipients to the Cirque du Soleil show called “Ka.” I’m a huge fan of Cirque du Soleil and had high expectations for this show. And boy it did not disappoint! I had a great seat and to take the show in. It was quite a different show from the ones I had seen in the past, such as La Nouba, Alegria, and Saltimbanco. It was a spectacle full of warriors swinging from ropes and jumping off balconies. They did the most amazing stunts on the stage as it rotated and tipped to the vertical.

It’s really forward-thinking on Cirque du Soleil’s part to agree to participate in something like this for Ka and for their other show, Mystere. Not only did I enjoy their show immensely, but I was clearly happy to blog about it to tell you what an amazing time I had (as you read in the paragraph above).

Now my challenge to you: can you emulate Cirque du Soleil’s marketing prowess by giving something of significant value away to bloggers? Reach out with this gift to bloggers in a positive, non-demanding way, and then get out of the way so those bloggers can spread the word about your quality service, product or, in this case, show.

Trick out your blog with a video Swicki

Posted by: of Stephan Spencer's Scatterings on on 10/25/07

You may have noticed (and hopefully used!) Eurekster’s Swicki widget on the right column sidebar of this blog (under the heaading labeled “Buzz Cloud”). A couple more examples of swickis can be found on my personal blog and on my daughter’s blog.

A swicki is a topically-focused custom search engine where you can define the topics and the sites that it focuses on.

My favorite feature of the swicki is the “What’s Hot” buzz cloud, which I’ve blogged about before. It’s a very cool feature that visually conveys popular search terms in a tag cloud format.

The swicki widget can do image-based buzzclouds too. So instead of displaying keywords, you (the blogger or website owner) can choose to display images instead.

This month Eurekster rolled out another major enhancement to their swicki widget: video-based buzzclouds! So now you can add to your blog a video buzzcloud widget with a custom social video search engine, which pulls from over 14 million hours of video content from blinkx.

See an example video buzz cloud on the right.

Sign up for a free swicki widget (text, image, or video) and build your free, Eurekster-powered custom social search engine here.

 

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