Have you noticed some changes to this blog? They’re all a result of what I’ve learned in the A-List Blogger Club. I joined a month ago, and promised to report on whether I thought it was worthwhile. For the uninitiated, this bloggers’ learning community is run by super-successful bloggers Leo Babauta of Zen Habits and Write to Done, and Mary Jaksch of Goodlife Zen and Write to Done.
I’ve been using the club materials nearly every day, and I think the club is a terrific value for anyone who wants to learn about how to make their blog pay. I got in for $20 a month, and it’s all-you-can-eat content and participation in their forums.
The course materials are a combination of articles and video “masterclasses” on various topics related to themes such as creating your blog or ramping up subscribers. You can also absorb the content grouped in other sets, such as if you want to learn about branding, or affiliate marketing. I found I don’t relate very well to videos — but I’m sure some folks don’t extract information from articles well, so it’s nice that they have content in both formats.
To give you a little free dose of the A-List club, here is what I’ve changed on my Web site as a result of the courses I took in October. I learned there were a lot of small, subtle things I could do to make my blog more shareable, usable, and enjoyable for readers. Maybe they’ll help your blog, too.
- New theme colors. Learning more about design, I found out having a white background is pretty strongly recommended. I tinkered with my simpleX theme and discovered it had another version with a white background and some nice warm, fall colors. I personally love green, but the green background was more distracting.
- Added email contact. There was previously no way to contact me directly from this blog! I feel dumb now. There was just a link over to my writer site, where you could then find my email. But I rectified that with a big email text link in the sidebar.
- Added Facebook fan page. I’ve only read umpty-million articles about how important Facebook is as a social-media marketing tool…but I’d resisted. Now I have a Facebook fan page where I can leave goodies, discounts, and bonus posts for Make a Living Writing fans. If you haven’t joined over there, you might want to, as discount deals will be popping up for fans soon. Have a question about freelance writing? Leave it on my wall, and I may answer it in one of my mailbag posts.
- Added “most popular posts” widget. I learned that one of the ways readers check out your site is to see how many comments your blog gets. If the top post doesn’t have many, they may move on. The popular posts tool keeps your busiest posts on your front page forever, so people can see yes, this blog does have a lively community.
- Collapsed archive. My blog archive was taking up a lot of real estate in the sidebar and I felt not adding much, so I shrunk it to a toggle bar. That made room for better stuff such as popular posts.
- Expanded blogroll. I realized I hadn’t updated my links in a while and my list didn’t have many of the sites I really like, so I added to this section. Blogroll links can help you connect with other, more prominent bloggers, who might notice you’ve got them in your ‘roll.
- Added more social sharing. I would have added Sexy Bookmarks (the cute one where little icons pop up out of bar) but I couldn’t get it to work, so I added the AddtoAny tool you see at the bottom of this post. Maybe I’ll improve on that, but for now it gave me the ability to let readers easily share posts through one tool on Reddit, Digg, StumbleUpon, Facebook and several other sites I’d wanted to add.
- New “About” page. I’d been faking it with an ‘about’ tab that was really just a link to my writer site. But I learned the ‘about’ page is really important, that potential subscribers do read it and it figures into their decision whether to subscribe. So I added a new ‘about’ page just about the blog and why I write it. See what you think.
- Bigger RSS buttons explained in plain English. I learned your RSS and other subscription buttons should be BIG. I’d always been frustrated by my teeny button, so I finally broke down and paid a coder to get rid of it. Then I added a text widget in the sidebar with nice big buttons. I also learned that you have to be careful with the word “subscribe,” because many people associate it with paid magazine subscriptions, and think you’re asking them to pay for something. So my link now says “click here for your free email subscription.” More changes will be coming here, as I hope to soon add a free download subscribers will get when they sign up.
- Added Commentluv. I’m sure many of you have already noticed the addition of this great tool, which automatically snatches up your latest blog post title and puts it at the bottom of your comment. I’ve been in love (or is that luv?) with this widget for ages, and find I leave way more comments on sites that have it. Finally — ding! — the light went on. “Hey, wouldn’t it be awesome if my blog had Commentluv, too?” Yes, it would.
- New header. I quickly noticed many other Club bloggers had fabulous, graphical headers, while mine was a slab of boring, plain, chocolate brown. Broke down and hired a designer to insert my graphic above. To me it says, “I love what I’m doing, making money with my computer as a writer.” Eventually, I want to add a snappy cartoon graphic instead, but I consider this a huge improvement for now.
- Tried to improve tag cloud. And discovered SimpleX doesn’t do tag clouds…it does tag lists, as you can see in the sidebar. So that’s a stumbling block I’m still working to overcome.
- First sentences are also SEO bait. I’ve been very focused on writing sharp headlines, but a guest video from Darren Rowse of ProBlogger enlightened me that the first sentence of your post has a lot of SEO potential, too. Duh — took a look in my RSS reader version of my blog and you can see the first sentence of the post. So I’m trying to focus more on making that sentence something that might make readers click over to the site.
- Going to three times weekly posts. I learned that to draw more attention to the blog and grow readership faster, I needed to think about increasing my post frequency. So starting next month, I’m aiming for three posts a week on this blog. Wednesday posts will be a combination of mailbag answers, guest posts, and a new regular feature on the best 10 articles for writers online that month.
- Adding A-list affiliate deal. In looking at possible ways to make my blog earn its keep so that I can spend more time offering you free tips on earning more from writing, I’ve considered and rejected quite a few options, including slapping AdSense ads on the site. I feel comfortable with my Amazon affiliate deal, recommending writing books I really like. Now, I’m adding one more affiliate deal — for A-List Blogger Club and its close relative, the A-List Blogger Bootcamps.
As with the books, I feel good about recommending the A-List materials to readers, because I’m using them myself. As you can see above, there really is a wealth of tips in their materials that can improve your site.
So now I get credit for recommending it with the A-List folks. If after you read it, you decide to buy one of their classes, I get a cut of the fee. You don’t pay a dime more for the club or class. I feel like these are products readers of this blog might well want to use. If having these affiliate deals on my site bugs you, I’m sure I can count on you to let me know.
The final change to my blog was unexpected. Being in the club gave Leo and Mary a chance to get to know me and my blog. Mary visited the blog and left some positive feedback, and A-list has since retweeted several of my posts and a discount deal on my Make a Living Writing ebook, which I know led to some sales and new subscribers. She also gave me feedback in the forums that led me to change the new ‘About’ page. I didn’t realize being in the club would be a chance to get individualized feedback and marketing help directly from the club founders, so that’s been a bonus. So this is not one of those clubs that’s running on autopilot while the founders are off skiing or something — they are actively involved and interacting with members. Also, you can bounce ideas off 700+ other members in the forums, which is useful as well.
I bring all this up just now because I just got a memo from Leo that the current Blogger Club will close to new members on Oct. 31. I consider the Club the better deal because you get the bootcamps included with your low monthly fee — though if you’d prefer an intense one-shot of blog-growing info, maybe the Bootcamps are more your speed.
A-List Results: I about doubled my subscriber base in the course of the past month, which is my immediate goal. I also saw some steady sales of my ebook. Hard to say how much of it is from A-List-related activities and how much from my Copyblogger guest post. But between the two, I feel like this blog is on its way.
What’s your reaction to the changes here at Make a Living Writing? Leave a comment and let me know.
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Photo via Flickr user Hugo90