Using Lists to Stay Productive

I’m naturally a list person. I love the feeling of crossing things off – and getting to the end of a mighty long list of things I’ve accomplished.

But beyond having this achiever mentality, lists are actually what keep me organized and productive – in every aspect of my life. I use digital lists to track my clients and my work, magnetic lists on the side of my fridge to stay on top of all the household items we need on our next Costco trip, a whiteboard full of ideas for different blogs and articles I’m writing and pitching.

I have daily lists. Weekly lists. Monthly lists.

To say this is how I run my life is a bit of an understatement.

But here’s the thing: for my mommy brain, lists are essential. Especially now that I’m pregnant again and have the short-term memory of a mouse.

Anyway, you’re here for blogging tips: so let me tell you all the ways I use lists to manage my blog.

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Google Docs
I feel like I’ve been preaching the whole Google Docs thing a lot lately. But the reality is that I LOVE this product. It’s so easy to manage every project I’m working on from any place I’m at. I keep track of my editorial calendar (yes, this is basically a list), what my contributors are working on and any guest posts I have in the works all from one spot. It’s genius.

So Rick put this giant white board in our office – it’s like eight feet by four feet…huge. And I use my half of the board to keep track of what I’m pitching to different sources, what’s been picked up (aka what I need to write) and when I’m waiting for payment. Now that I’m writing full time, I’m transitioning to a combination of the whiteboard and Quickbooks – just because I need something more formal to manage my process. But there’s something about putting it on the whiteboard and seeing what I’ve got going that motivates me to get my next article done – and keep going after more work.

I also use the whiteboard to track my monthly goals. I make a list with empty check boxes next to each item – and as I accomplish things throughout the month, they get checked off. It’s a great way to stay on track and keep pushing to get things checked off earlier in the month (because then I get to look at my nice, clean list for a longer time before all those check boxes go back to empty).

Pen and paper
So, it’s super old school. But there is just something about physically writing down my daily and weekly to-do’s that makes me happy. I think that it’s being able to make that nice line through each line item as I accomplish it. But if I didn’t have my written list, I’d be totally lost – because I’d never remember when I need to post this or details about that.

Bottom line: I love lists. They’re awesome for helping me manage my work – and best of all, they’re awesome for managing your blog. No matter how you work best there’s an option for you. So get out there and figure out how you work best – and then tell me how much more productive you are after a week of keeping yourself on track with your new method of organization!

How to Find Brand Partners

I’ve gotten several messages over the last week from readers asking me one thing: how do I find the right brand partners for my blog? The truth is, there’s not one fit that works for everyone – but there’s certainly similar steps every blogger can take to find partners within their niche. So that’s where we’ll focus this week’s blogging tips: how to find great brand partners for your site.

1. Identify your niche.
This sounds basic, but it’s actually a step that most bloggers skip. This is because you go into blogging thinking that you’re a tech writer. Or a fashion blogger. Or, in my case, a mommy blogger. But you need to take it a step further. To identify great brand partners, you need to figure out who your core target market is. I know what you’re thinking. You’re probably looking at the screen, ready to tell me…well, my market is people who love technology. Or, my market is parents. Wrong.

For simplicity’s sake, I’m going to explain this from the perspective of my own site. I’m a mommy blogger, yes. BUT: most of my content is geared towards parents of babies and toddlers, moms who are pregnant and parents who have been through baby loss. That’s primarily what I write about – and while I certainly have a secondary audience outside of that primary group, these are the people who find my content most useful.

Thinking about my content in terms of my audience, I can better identify potential brand partners to reach out to. Clearly, the latest thing in teenage technology isn’t a great fit for my primary audience. But a great stroller? That’s perfect.

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2. Reach out to the PR people.
Actually, back that up for a second. You need to identify a list of ten potential brands you’d like to work with. Now I want you to go on each of those brand’s websites and find the contact information for their public relations team. Send them an email explaining who you are, what your site is about, who your core reach is and your stats.

Yes, you’re going to have to share your site stats. It’s the way this process works. And don’t forget to throw in some details about your social media presence!

In a week, follow up with those you haven’t heard from. One week later, follow up again. Then stop. If you’ve reached out three times with no response, it’s time to move on to another opportunity.

3. Get on the intermediary sites.
No matter what industry you blog within, there are sites that act as the go-between for brands and bloggers, setting up campaigns for content marketing campaigns. So get out there and start searching for the ones that fall within your own demographic. Use search functions in Google, sure – but you’ll probably have a better tine finding the right networks to list your site on by looking at other bloggers within your niche. Check out their social media feeds – oftentimes networks (life FitFluential) will ask people to use a particular hashtag to promote their affiliation – it’s a great way to discover new brands for your blog to work with.

4. Get listed on PR networks.
I’ve mentioned this before, but you need to get your site listed on the major PR networks – like Cision. These are networks that help connect you with brand partners that are looking to do a blogger outreach campaign. You’ll start getting emails right away – many of them are likely junk – but every so often you’ll find a great opportunity (I got two today, if that helps clarify). If you’re not promoting your site, you won’t be found. So do this one today.

5. Find affiliate opportunities.
Working through affiliate listings is a good way to build the money you make off of your website – the catch is that what you make is based on how much traffic your site gets – and how many people click through to purchase something off of the affiliate listing. Because of this, it’s important to have very targeted affiliate links (i.e. my stroller example above) for your audience. It’s also important to not make EVERY post about an affiliate purchase – that’s a “fake” blogging method and people will immediately be turned off by it. Don’t do it.

Now, before you go out and start throwing caution to the wind, pitching your site to anyone and everyone you come across, let me go over one last thing with you. Brands aren’t going to work with just Joe blogger off the internet. They want to work with bloggers who are going to produce results for them. To become a better candidate, start doing a few things today:

Make sure your site looks professional.
Build your social media presence (this is a forever, ongoing thing guys)
Post content consistently on your site
Track your success of working with different brands so that you have some numbers to back up your pitch
Of course, there’s a ton of other things you can do to improve your blog – but these are the areas you should immediately (and constantly) be working on.

Seven ways to incorporate longer content into your blog

Last week, my SEO cohort (Rachel Gold) and I recorded a little impromptu video on how to work SEO – and more specifically, how the Google Hummingbird update – will affect your blog. One of the big pieces of this update is the shift to incorporating longer content into some of your posts. Now if you’ve ever tried to go from writing, on average, 500 word posts to something more around the 1,400 word mark, you know that it’s not exactly an easy feat. And not every subject is actually worth writing that much stuff about. But because this bit of information is going to become more and more integral to your blogging success, it’s going to become more and more important to working longer content into your blog’s strategy.

I realize that if you’re newer to the blogging hemisphere – or if you just don’t think about strategy going hand in hand with your blog too often – this might be a foreign concept. And the importance of an overarching blog strategy is a story I’ll bring to you another day. For the sake of time, today I’m going to focus on a few tricks you can use to pull more content out of your fingertips and actually create some longer posts without the process feeling too painful.

1. Write a tip sheet. By creating a list of tips and building out each one as a line item (or short paragraph), you’ll create longer posts. When you’re a beginner at this, it typically works best to find a topic that you’re passionate about and then create ten tips that you can write three to four sentences about each. If you’re more wordy, narrow it down to five tips that you can go more in-depth with.

2. Write about a class you’re taking. I’m someone who absolutely LOVES to learn. And while I really don’t have time to add one more thing onto my schedule right now (having young kids does that – I’ve heard life frees up a bit once your youngest is four…basically I’ve got a while to wait), there are tons of free online classes – or inexpensive community ed classes – that I would LOVE to take when my schedule frees up a bit. I’m guessing that there are short courses you’d love to learn more about as well. So get going already and sign up for one! Then you can create a post for each week that goes into what you’re learning about, how you’re accomplishing your homework and what your progress has been. Your readers will love to hear about it and you’ll easily hit that longer word count with your weekly posts. Problem solved.

3. Start creating lists. The nice thing about lists is that they can be as long (or as short) as you want them to be. This means you can build a lot of content into one post. They’re also easy to read, because they’re broken down into smaller, more digestible pieces of information for your reader. So for people who like to scan content, they have the option. For those who are more analytical, they can read every last detail. And for the search engines, you’re displaying a lot of search value – which means you’re going to rank better in the long run for this type of content.

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4. Create a few guides. Think about the social network that has probably seen the biggest growth in the past two years. What is it? PINTEREST. And what are the most popular things women are pinning? Things they can do themselves at home. Many times what accompanies these photos are step-by-step guides that tell you how to create what you see in photos. These guides are great because, again, they break information down into digestible pieces of information. They require a lot of detail, so you’re going to have an easier time reaching a higher word count in your post. And since people are constantly searching to learn how to create things (or do things or how things work, depending on what you’re writing about), these topics are highly searchable. Which means a win from all sides.

5. Start with a large topic. The beauty of a larger topic – especially if it relates to something that you’re passionate about – is that there is a lot of information for you to share. You can break that information down into bolded categories (to again make it easier to read). For example, if I were going to write about my favorite baby clothes, I might start by talking about what makes a great outfit (like the style, texture of the material, weight of the item, how well it’s sized, etc.) I could then expand that by bolding my favorite baby clothes brands and adding quite a bit of information surrounding WHY I like those brands. The other nice thing about posts you can categorize is that it’s much easier to work several great keywords into the content, because you start by talking about a broad topic and then narrow it down within each category.

6. Add bullet points. Whenever you feel like your copy is getting too…copy heavy, work in some bullet points. It will break up the text, give you the opportunity to give the reader a little head space from reading an intense dialogue and allow you to expand your focus and work in some additional content after the bullets.

7. Use photos. Photos work very similarly to bullet points: they allow you to change your focus very easily. My recommendation is to create a post that allows you to discuss what’s going on in a series of photos, either how they differ, how they’re important or how they have an impact on other content on your site. Photos are also a great attribute when it comes to SEO – just make sure to include an alt tag on each one when you upload for maximum benefit.

And with all of that being said, there are still some basic blogging rules you need to follow with any content you write, long or short:

Don’t keyword stuff. You may hear all about the importance of including keywords in your posts, and yes this is true. But the keywords need to be very relevant to what you’re writing about and they need to fall naturally within the context of your post. If you’re a newbie, this is going to be a struggle, and that’s ok. The only way you’ll get better is with practice, so consider taking a writing workshop with an expert that focuses on how to write for Google while still writing for your audience.
Stick to content that’s relevant to your site. I write a mommy blog – so I’m not going to sit here and write about old English literature because it has no bearing on the rest of my content. Always keep in mind what your site is about and what you’re readers are coming to you for – because usability and how applicable your site is to the people who visit it will always far outweigh the length of your posts.
Realize that not every post works in long form. Certain topics can be long posts. Others will be 250 words at most. Like Julia Childs said, “everything in moderation – including moderation.” Don’t over do the long content. Pace yourself – long content is important, but GOOD content is more important.
Don’t get discouraged. Blogging is supposed to be fun, even when it’s work. You’re not going to be become an expert blogger overnight, like anything else it really does take hard work and dedication to get everything right. Hell, I’ve been blogging since 2007 and I still find myself losing my blogging voice and making mistakes on a weekly basis. But I keep trudging along, telling myslef that I really would be better off if I just consistently took my own advice. All it really takes to be a great blogger is a willingness to be open with your readers, true to your writing and put yourself out there.
Confused yet? I know, the world of blogging is complicated. Things are constantly changing and updating and overall, it really is a lot to learn. If you want to go pro – or if you just want to learn to blog better – you can check out more content here.

How to create content consistently

I have a lot of friends who blog. Some do it for fun, others to share their lives with family that lives across the country and others do it professionally. No matter who you are or why you do it, there’s one thing that seems to be a universal struggle for bloggers: being consistent with their posts. If you’re looking to take your blog more seriously – or looking for brands to take your blog more seriously – then you need to take note. Start looking around the ‘net at all of the successful bloggers you know of. None of them are perfect. But they all blog consistently.

Here’s what posting consistently on your blog will do for you:
1. It shows that you take your site – and your writing – at least semi-seriously. I can only say that with a half straight face, because most of the time I don’t write about overly serious topics. But brands want to see that you’re dedicated to your blog – because the more you write, and the more you write regularly, the more people will come back to your site for more. Which leads me to my next point.

2. You’ll get more traffic. This is for dozens of reasons: one, more content equals more posts for search engines to index. Two, more content means more pages for readers to click through when they’re on your site. And three, more content (posted regularly) means readers know when they can visit you for more of those great posts – and know that they won’t be disappointed when they arrive on your homepage to find nothing that they haven’t seen before.

3. It will improve your Google. Search engines value sites that offer lots of great content. The more often you post fresh content on your site, the more often the Google robots will come back to your site. All of this means you’re more likely to show up higher in search results (read: on the first page of Google) for better phrases – which works like a turning wheel, as more people see your site and more brands are drawn to your content.

Get it? Good. Don’t get it? Email me and I’ll try to explain.

Getting your blog into a rhythm isn’t easy – if it was, everyone would do it. And there isn’t a be all, fix all universal cure for this common blogging illness. But there are a few things that can help you get into the habit of blogging regularly. Try one or all of them, just find one that works well for your needs.

Create an editorial calendar. This is something that my clients love. It can be as detailed or as simple as you want it to be. You can include information on just what you want to write about on your blog, or what you want to push out on social media, too. By calendaring out your posts for a month or a quarter in advance, you take a lot of the work out of sitting down to write in your blog everyday – because you already know what you’re going to post about. If you’re the type of person who likes to check things off of your list, this is a great way to stay more accountable to your site.
Use the pre-post functionality on your blogging platform. By writing posts in advance and scheduling them a week (or even a month) in advance, you allow yourself to write when you have time and not worry about your blog so much on the day to day. Personally, I don’t use this functionality nearly as much as I should – because it’s amazing for busy mamas like this little lady. Or really, any busy person in the world. Worried about your social media? Invest in a program like Hootsuite (it’s free!), where you can pre-post all of your tweets and status updates in advance, too!
At the very least, brainstorm your topics in advance. I am a blogger that falls precisely into this category. I generally have too much going on to write more than one or two posts at a time, so instead I invest in blog brainstorming sessions once every week or two. I use the whiteboard in my office to keep track of my ideas and erase them once they’ve been used. This lets me plan out my posts for a week or two in advance, and helps me to avoid the “my week is too crazy and I just can’t think of anything to write!” nights. Which always seem to happen for three nights straight in one week.
Tell me in the comments: what are YOUR getting organized tips for content on your site?