15 Small Changes to Turbocharge Your Blog

Carol Tice | 40 Comments

Turbo Charged Writing BlogHave 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.

 

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. Added more social sharing. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. 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.
  12. 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.
  13. 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.
  14. 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.
  15. 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.

Looking to spice up your blog? Subscribe so you don’t miss next week’s list: 20 different types of blog posts.

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Photo via Flickr user Hugo90

 

40 comments on “15 Small Changes to Turbocharge Your Blog

  1. Coach Comeback on

    Had been talking about joining the AList blogger club for over a month now. Quite frankly I am not even sure myself what I am waiting on. I have paid more than $20 for items that were quite useless!

    It sounds like the forum members alone will make up for the price. Thanks for helping me make up my mind!

  2. Nichole J. Staples on

    My blog is some kind of boring but I just want to hear advises from a pro like you. Is it okay if I will put some plugins which is just for fun but its not really related to my blog. Some kind of a fun scramble puzzle or something else who can make my blog attractive and not boring. Just want to know How to get rid of anything bore on my page.

  3. Hayley on

    I’m mostly missing the Facebook fan page!

    I didn’t know about the simpleX theme, it’s really appealing!

    Thank you for all these great tips!!

  4. smcopywrite on

    your tools and content are wonderful. thank you so much. as a new blogger with a freelancer writing blog, i cannot believe how much information i have received in just a few of your blogs.
    keep them coming. i love them!

    • Carol Tice on

      Hey, India, if it works for you, great! But it does seem like in general white backgrounds are most restful on the eyes. There’s a reason newspapers aren’t yellow or blue or green. But I think it really depends on the blog and the mood you’re creating. I’m much happier with the design of this blog than with my writer site — one of my 2011 to-dos is to redo caroltice.com!

    • TiceWrites on

      Hi Renee — thanks for visiting the blog!

      The trick to me was finding some useful post types that were easy to execute, such as my best-of articles post monthly. Mix in some guest posts, and it gets easier to add posting frequency.

      When I did the blog review day a couple weeks back, one of the most common issues I saw was people slapping ads up — sometimes it was the very first thing in the right-hand bar — even though they had basically no audience yet. If your ads aren't bringing anything in, take them down, and find other ways to earn from your blog — maybe consulting, or a tools & products I love page like I have above.

    • TiceWrites on

      Hi Matt!

      Thanks for visiting. I too, try to buy my way out of many tech issues, as that is definitely something I have no natural aptitude for at all! It's sort of a wonder I can blog at all.

  5. Erika on

    Another big THANKS for sharing all this. You’ve written your own case study. I love the RSS suggestion — got to figger that stuff out!

  6. Carol Tice on

    Hi Lynn —

    The blog is actually 2 years old…it’s just that it has a new look, thanks to some of those nifty tricks detailed above. And it used to be over on my caroltice.com writer site. Where it looked like total crap.

    Go ahead, take a look. I had a teenage Web designer at the time. It worked, but barely. I had no way to block spam was one of the biggest problems. And that green background. No idea how to get rid of anything over there, which is why I switched to WordPress over here.

    Actually, that was fun for me, comparing the original old blog with where Make a Living Writing is now…made me feel like I’m actually making some progress in life. Or at least in blogging.

  7. Carol Tice on

    @Susan — haha! Michelle and I have a couple of clients in common…and she IS my client for one Web site I write for. So I definitely know her…but hadn't thought about adding her to my blogroll…great idea.

  8. Carol Tice on

    @Susan — done!

    Thanks for pointing out another site to add to my Blogroll…really want to make it more robust.

    With the About page, I just thought hey – they can go on over to my writer site and read all about me. But really that is a different me, the one that gets publications and companies to pay me for articles, white papers and blogs. Where over on this blog, I have a mission to help writers earn more. So there needed to be an About page about that.

  9. Susan on

    Great tips, Carol! I think having an “About” page is so, so important, especially for a blog like yours where you want to convey authority. Even for bloggers whose content is more personal or opinionated in nature (like a hobbyist blogging about food or fashion), it’s nice for readers to know a bit about who they are and what they’re all about.

    Speaking of blogrolls, I just added you to mine. Any chance you’d be interested in reciprocating?

  10. John Soares on

    Carole, the blog looks really good. I’m new here, so I can’t compare it with its predecessor, but it has a clean feel and it’s easy to read. I just had two blogs redesigned within the last month. I’m looking at your suggestions and thinking about ways I can improve what I’m doing.

  11. Kyle Clouse on

    Carol, this is a great list! I recently made some major overhauls to my blog and I'm glad to see that I hit some of the key areas. With that being said I need to make some final tweaks according to your post. Thanks for sharing.

    • Carol Tice on

      Glad to hear everyone's finding the tips useful…and think the blog is looking better. I do, too. And I'm loving reading everyone else's blogs through Commentluv. I just think that is the greatest tool for encouraging comments, and learning more about who is commenting on your blog.

  12. Carol Tice on

    Glad that's useful for you, Colette!

    I've just never paid that much attention to design — I'm kind of a word person, if you know what I mean. So for me the Club helped me learn a lot more about good design and how to make it useful for readers.

    I'd like to think it's working better now. We'll see what I learn next month!

  13. Judy Sizemore on

    Carol,

    As always I am amazed at the generosity in the writers’ community. Thank you for sharing your expertise with us.

    I love your new look for the blog as well. Very user friendly.

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