WordPress Themes: A Twelve-Step Program for Easy Installation

published on December 12, 2007

The following is a guest post from James Cook of StudioJMC.com

In the course of developing a custom WordPress theme and testing it with numerous installations, I’ve realized that even well designed themes may contain hidden traps. In order to avoid as many of these as possible, I’ve created a 12-step program to minimize potential problems.

  1. Use the latest version of WordPress: Whether you’re starting from scratch or updating an existing blog, make sure you have the latest version of WP before installing your new theme.
  2. Set/update/check your WP options: Even for existing blogs it’s a good idea to double-check all of your settings.
  3. Choose your theme: Check for:
    • Compatibility: Make sure it works with the latest version of WP.
    • Widgetization: Your theme should support widgets (specialized plug-ins that make it easier to add functionality to sidebars and other “widgetized” areas). Generally widgets are easier to use than plug-ins and, fortunately, the most popular plug-ins are now available as widgets.
  4. Check it out in action: It’s nice to know a theme really works as advertised. If possible, find a site using the theme and see how it performs in the real world. If you can get feedback from someone who has actually installed, customized and used the theme, so much the better.
  5. Plan your customization carefully: Make a list of the changes you want to make (colors, fonts and text sizes as well as plug-ins and widgets) and where they apply. Other people’s coding and style sheets are notoriously difficult to decipher, the more help you give yourself the better.
  6. Select plug-ins and widgets: You can install plug-ins and widgets any time but now is the best time to begin planning how you will incorporate them. Start with the plug-ins/widgets that are required by your theme and then select any optional ones you want to incorporate.
  7. Upload your files: Upload the folder containing your theme to the wp-content/themes directory. Upload your plug-in/widget files and folders to the wp-content/plugins directory.
  8. Activate and test your theme: With only the required plug-ins and widgets activated, test your theme. The more thorough you are here the better. There’s nothing worse that wasting hours undoing your work only to discover the problem was built in to the theme.
  9. Activate and test optional plug-ins/widgets: Conflicts caused by up-to-date plug-ins/widgets aren’t common but they do occur so it’s best to activate and test them one at a time.
  10. Use a text editor/ftp program to edit theme files: WP’s built-in, online theme editor is clumsy and has been known to add stray characters to files and break themes. Use a text editor with built in ftp (or an ftp program with a built-in text editor) to update your theme.
  11. Customize systematically: In step 4 you made a list of your planned changes. Now implement them systematically and test your site often. It’s easier to track down a problem created by your latest change than one created over the course of your last several changes.
  12. Test thoroughly: There’s a reason I’ve used the word “test” a half dozen times in this article. Errors are easy to introduce and easy to overlook. Test your completed theme in multiple browsers and operating systems. If you are applying a new theme to an existing site, be sure to take a quick look at ALL of your old posts.
    Here’s a rundown of things to check:

    1. Page layout: Make sure the following display properly:
      • Blog home page
      • WP pages
      • Single posts
      • Comments
      • Category pages
      • Archive pages
      • Search results pages
    2. Comments: Test your comments form and check that comments display properly after being submitted.
    3. Search form: If you’ve included a search form (and why wouldn’t you?) make sure it’s working.
    4. Buttons and links
    5. Feedburner: If you’ve added feedburner (or similar) links, double-check the code and test to insure the buttons direct to the correct pages.
    6. Tracking scripts: If you’ve added Analytics, MyBlogLog, etc, make sure you’ve inserted the correct tracking code and are seeing results. There’s nothing like enduring a couple days of no traffic only to discover your hits have been credited to the wrong account.
    7. Wrapping: Check for wrapping problems associated with long URLs or wide images. Explorer 6 is especially prone to these problems and it’s easy for them to sneak in if you are updating an existing blog.

The Simpsons: Lessons on Blogging

published on December 11, 2007

After all the drama of yesterday I figured it was probably time to lighten things up a bit around here. Thankfully, Adam, from The Comp Zone, selected The Simpsons as the next show to be covered in the Lessons on Blogging series and you don’t get much “lighter” than a healthy dose of Homer and Bart. So, without further ado, I present to you The Simpsons: Lessons on Blogging!

Plans Will Fail

Homer after gaining enough weight to be considered disabled.Part of the reason I like Homer so much is because no matter what happens, he always thinks his next idea is a great one. Naturally almost none of them work out as he had planned. Homer once decided he would gain enough weight to become disabled which would allow him to work from home (and wear mu-mu’s). Of course, gaining that much weight had some seriously adverse effects that Homer hadn’t considered and he ended up having the have liposuction. In another episode Bart and Homer happen upon a wrecked sugar truck. Homer decides to take the sugar home to sell as his own brand. The plan begins to fall apart when Marge points out he lost more money by not going in to work that day than he made selling his second hand sugar. But when the sugar started attracting valuable bees and scientist hoping to buy said bees, it looked like Homer might have stumbled into a windfall of cash. In typical Simpson style though, the plan is foiled at the last minute when it begins to rain, washing away the sugar, the bees, and Homer’s potential cash as well.

The first lesson of blogging that we get from this hilarious animated family is that not all of your plans are going to work like you expect them to. Hopefully your plans will be more thought out than Homer’s harebrained schemes but no matter how much planning and preparation you put in, things just don’t always work out like we think they should. As I mentioned in House: Lessons on Blogging you can’t be afraid to be wrong or in this case fail. As long as you’re willing to keep trying and keep plugging away, eventually you’ll find success. If you need more convincing, consider that Shoemoney, one of the most successful internet marketers around, recently wrote about the 10 worst ideas he had to make money online. If Shoe makes that many mistakes, you can bet not all of your plans will work out quite like you’d hoped… even if you’re not quite as dumb as Homer J. Simpson.

Get the Community Involved

The Simpsons has a large community of charactersPart of what has made The Simpsons such a successful show is the incredible cast of characters the writers have to pull from. Obviously this is one of the benefits of having an animated cast, but the point remains, the ancillary characters are a huge asset to the show. Characters such as Milhouse, Sideshow Bob, Groundskeeper Willy, Otto, etc make the show what it is. Could you imagine the Simpsons without Ned Flanders? Could you picture Springfield Elementary without Principal Skinner? While the Simpson family is undoubtedly the star of the show, I don’t think the show would still be running if they hadn’t gotten the community characters involved.

Similarly, no blog will be successful without the support of the community surrounding it. I’m sure some of you are saying that you run a blog, not a community site like a forum or a social network. Well I’ve got news for you, whether you realize it or not, a blog is a community, and your readers, subscribers, commentators, and contributors are all part of it. If you don’t believe this, try running your blog for a while without these people. You won’t make any referrals, you won’t get any advertising, you won’t get any comments or links. Without your community, you’re just talking to yourself.

Conversely, if you manage to properly leverage and involve your user base, tasks like social media, word of mouth marketing, and affiliate marketing are made that much easier. Active community members become advocates for your site and are MUCH more likely to purchase products on your recommendation, link to your site, or share your content. You might also end up getting guest posts, or even regular contributors from your member base. In one case I had a subscriber email me and ask if they could help guest blog when I was busy or out of town. That person ended up being a great writer and took over a large portion of the content creation. Best of all, they did it all for free, just because they enjoyed my site. So, while you might not have as diverse a cast of characters as Apu, Selma & Patty, Krusty, and the rest of the Springfield gang, you absolutely have an asset that can and should be leveraged for your blog’s success.

Attention to Detail

Bloggers should include details like Bart's chalkboard writingsAnother signature of the show through the years has been the incredible number of “easter eggs,” subtle social references, and cameos which give the show depth. No matter how many times you’ve seen an episode, chances are you’ll notice something new each time you watch it.

While often subtle, things like what Bart writes on the chalkboard in the intro, or parody characters (Drederick Tatum a convict boxer with a high voice ala Mike Tyson, etc), have inspired entire websites and even books. Quick references like Homer shooting the Winter brothers in a Treehouse of Horror episode after mistaking them for zombies (the Winters were albinos) are often not caught in the first watching and they provide repeat viewers something new and exciting.

While I’m not suggesting you fill your content with easter eggs or call backs like The Simpsons episodes, the attention to detail that illustrates would serve any blog well. I’m not just talking about fairly obvious details such as spelling mistakes, formatting, and accurate information. Taking the extra time to find a few extra resources to include at the end of a post, or providing definitions for words and phrases someone new to the field might not be familiar with will add that extra layer of depth to your site. These activities will not only give your site a more polished and professional feel, they’ll also allow your blog to appeal to a broader range of people with different levels of knowledge and ability. One of the things that I believe will ultimately make this blog a very useful resource is the fact that by the time I’m done I’ll have content for anyone whether they’ve just decided to try blogging, or they are trying to make more money blogging, or they are an expert looking for new inspiration. Obviously not every blog will have a format that lends itself to this, but there will always be ways to add extra value to your site and I’d wager every blog (including this one) could improve in this area.

Brand your Content

Brand you content like Homer's Doh!Over the years the characters on The Simpsons have had several catch phrases and most of them found their way into the general public’s vocabulary. Phrases such as Eat my shorts! (Bart), Doh! (Homer), Eeexcellent (Mr. Burns), Ha Ha! (Nelson), and my personal favorite Mmmm Beer…(Homer) have all become catch phrases and a large percentage of the public associate the phrases with the characters and the show as a whole. T-shirts, bumper stickers, and all sorts of other memorabilia have been created using these memorable words (or in some cases sylables). In fact, it’s so wide spread that you can’t say Doh! in a group of 2o something men without at least one of them busting out their best impression of Homer.

So what does that have to do with blogging? One word: branding. What the creators of The Simpsons have done is created an incredibly strong brand. Whole generations associate certain phrases with the show and will even imitate the characters. That’s the kind of marketing that no amount of money can buy. While it’s not necessarily easy, the same can be done with your blog. Need proof? When I hear the phrase flagship content I immediately think of Chris Garrett. When I read about copy writing I think Copyblogger.com. When I hear “make money online” I think of John Chow or Shoemoney.

The point is, these bloggers have created their own brands through their content. Chris Garrett’s example is a great one in that the concept he discusses isn’t all that unique. But, by calling it “flagship content” rather than pillar content or cornerstone content, he’s created a phrase and idea that most people in the blogosphere now associate with him.

Another example, although admittedly on a much smaller and not nearly as successful (yet) scale, would be these Lessons on Blogging posts. I’m willing to bet someone before me compared blogging to a popular TV show. However, a couple of weeks ago when Christine from Movie Snobs read this post on Copyblogger about TV teaching writing techniques, she immediately thought of me and this site. That’s the kind of branding that we as bloggers should be striving for. When people begin to associate your blog with ideas and concepts, you’ll start to benefit from the same type of valuable marketing that has made The Simpsons the longest running American sitcom in history.

With a show that’s been running as long as The Simpsons has (19 years), there’s bound to be more than just four lessons we as bloggers can learn. Please feel free to share some of the likely many lessons I’ve missed, in the comments below!


Is Blogging Experiment Breaking the Law?

published on December 10, 2007

Last night I logged in to Blogging Experiment to set the schedule of posts for this week and noticed a comment awaiting moderation. The comment was from David Peralty, the author behind the popular BloggingPro.com blog. The comment was this:

Most of the code of this theme, as well as the graphics comes from the Blogging Pro Theme which is not GPL, it is Creative Commons. Which means you can’t sell this theme. You are profiting off of code you do not own. A quick look at the graphics, CSS, and even theme structure compared to the Blogging Pro theme will let you know this is the case.

Please do not sell this theme any longer, and I will be contacting the creator of the Blogging Pro theme, Design Disease, as well as the owners of the copyright, Bloggy Network LLC.

Obviously this is not the type of comment that any blogger likes to see. However, I didn’t want to just sweep the comment under the rug as it raises several questions that should probably be addressed.

First and foremost, yes, the Blogging Experiment theme does integrate portions of the BloggingPro theme. However, it is hardly “most of the code.” Our theme has gone through SEVERAL extensive modifications and best I can tell, the only aspects of the BloggingPro theme that remain are the comment images. So, does the use of those images prevent us from selling the theme?

The answer to that question hinges on the type of license the BloggingPro theme was released under. As Mr. Peralty states in his comment, the theme mentions that it is released under a Creative Commons license. Unfortunately for Mr. Peralty and Design Disease, just because you SAY you release something under a specific license, doesn’t mean it actually applies. You see, WordPress is distributed under the GNU GPL license and stipulates that products (including themes) that are based on WordPress be distributed under the GNU GPL license, rather than the Creative Commons license that would prohibit us from selling the Blogging Experiment theme.

But don’t just take my word for it. You know the license that you get when you download WordPress? It states

You must cause any work that you distribute or publish, that in whole or in part contains or is derived from the Program or any part thereof, to be licensed as a whole at no charge to all third parties under the terms of this License.

Also, over in the WordPress forum, Matt Mullenweg states clearly that

themes link and use lots of internal WordPress functions, which make them linked under the GPL and subject to being a GPL-compatible license.

If a theme (or a plugin) used no internal WP functions or APIs, then it could probably be considered independent, but that would be really really hard for a theme.

In light of all of this information, I’m fairly confident that we are well within our rights to sell the Blogging Experiment theme. However just to be safe, the sale of the Blogging Experiment theme will be suspended until the issue is fully sorted out.

Update (From StudioJMC):

Now that I’ve had time to do a bit of research, get some advice and sleep a bit, here’s what I have:

1. If it was a pure copyright issue, the button graphics would definitely be an issue. The XHTML related to the buttons might be an issue although they’d have to jump through a lot of hoops to prove or justify that. The CSS might be copyrightable as part of the design of the pages.

Since the graphics have now been replaced in the version for sale and the XHTML in question removed, that should no longer be an issue. As several people have stated, the design differs so substantially that no one would confuse the two, so I don’t believe the CSS issue has ever been a valid one.

2. In the case of the Creative Commons license, under the Share Alike 3.0 License which Blogging Pro claims is applicable:

“This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work even for commercial reasons, as long as they credit you and license their new creations under the identical terms. This license is often compared to open source software licenses. All new works based on yours will carry the same license, so any derivatives will also allow commercial use.”

from: http://creativecommons.org/abo…..e-licenses

So commercial use is clearly allowed under the Creative Commons Share Alike license. If they did not intend to allow commercial use they could have chosen the Attribution Non-commercial Share Alike license.

BTW, the phrase “license their new creations under the identical terms” replies to the terms of the Share Alike license not any additional terms that someone might want to apply.

A credit has been added to the style.css file (that’s where it goes in WordPress themes) of the for-sale version as follows:

This theme was designed by James Cook of studioJMC (http://www.studioJMC.com/) and incorporates elements from the Blogging Pro Theme by Elena G (http://blog.designdisease.com/) as well as elements from the Default WordPress theme by Michael Heilemann (http://binarybonsai.com/) and others.

That is based upon the attribution information in the Blogging Pro theme and should resolve that issue.

3. Of course if the GPL applies, as I still firmly believe, none of that makes a difference.

Speaking strictly for myself and not Blogging Experiment or Ben, I believe I am now in compliance no matter what standard is applied and I feel comfortable resuming sales of the theme when I choose to. Out of deference to the Blogging Pro folks I won’t offer the version with their button graphics.

Update (from BloggingPro):

First off, I want to say that the theme was released under CC-Attribution. With the added text to your CSS, changing the graphics, and whatever else you have done, I don’t see ANY reason why I would want to continue to press this issue, and honestly, I am VERY sorry that it went down the way it did.

All of these exchanges should have been done privately, and they should have been done between myself, you, and Ben.

I am very happy to see that you have complied with the changes I originally asked for. And while I don’t like seeing the theme sold, I do agree that you guys are now within your right to do so.

With this latest change, I would like to put out an olive branch and let you know that despite how everything went down, I would like to mention the Blogging Experiment theme release on Blogging Pro, if you guys are interested.

This did bring up some very interesting and heated issues and discussions, and despite not resolving the bigger issues, I hope I can say that we have reached a conclusion to our back and forth on this whole mess.

Update (from Ben):

Whew. That was quite a bit messier than I had hoped for but in the end it looks like all parties are agreed and comfortable with the Blogging Experiment theme being sold. With that said, the Blogging Experiment theme is once again for sale!


Learn from My Mistakes: Eggs in One Basket

published on December 6, 2007

Last week I introduced a new feature series called Learn from My Mistakes in which I discuss some of the mistakes I’ve made along the way and how to hopefully avoid them. While the series will usually deal with mistakes I’ve made here on Blogging Experiment, this week’s mistake was actually made on a different site completely. However, I think there are valuable lessons to be learned so I decided to just post it rather than make the mistake over again on this site simply to stick with a week old tradition ;).

The Mistake

Don't put all your eggs in one basketThe mistake, as you probably figured out from the title, is putting all your eggs in one basket. This topic has been discussed several times in regards but is usually applied to monetization methods. For example, many prominent bloggers will warn you that making all your income from one single source is a dangerous game. If your site depends on Google AdSense for example, what happens if your account is banned? If you have one very large advertiser what happens if that advertiser goes out of business or has fewer funds for advertising?

The premise has also been discussed in terms of traffic sources for your site. Most SEO’s will tell you not to depend too heavily on search traffic from Google because the search leader is notorious for changing the way they rank sites, making it an unreliable source of traffic. A great recent example would be John Chow’s site. Although he ranked quite well for some very popular terms, if his site had depended solely on the traffic from those search terms, he would have lost all of his traffic when Google decided to penalize him.

So as I said, the over arching principle has been discussed many times in regards to blogging. However, today I’d like to apply the age old lesson to a slightly different area of blogging… your topic.

An Example

Mike MartzBack in 2005 the St. Louis Rams had a head coach by the name of Mike Martz. I won’t bore those of you who aren’t sports fans with all the painful details but suffice it to say that I was less than fond of Mr. Martz. In fact, I pretty much hated the man. Well not so much hate as loathed really. Maybe despised… I think you get the point. Anyway, I launched a website called FireMartz.com which was entirely dedicated to, you guessed it, calling for Martz to be fired. I went all out. I modified the Declaration of Independence to state my grievances against Martz and made it an online petition people could sign. I started a blog for the site and I even had t shirts printed up and began selling them on the website. One of the local radio stations found out about the site and liked it so much they mentioned it a couple of times on the air. I got in touch with the station and provided them a few shirts to give away as prizes and things were going well.

Then, mere hours after I delivered the shirts and the radio station was set to start giving them away, Martz checked into the hospital with serious heart problems. He temporarily stepped down from the head coaching position and was in the hospital for several days. Needless to say, that put a bit of a damper on the site. It’s all fun and games until someone’s health is in question. The radio station obviously never gave away the shirts and Martz never returned as the head coach of the Rams. I did get interviewed by a local TV station when Martz was indeed fired (after he regained his health) but after that naturally the site was dead. Martz went on to become the Detroit Lions’ offensive coordinator and I’m stuck with 15-20 semi-vulgar t-shirts.

In hindsight, obviously basing the entire site around the tenure of a troubled coach was a bit foolish. It was certainly fun while it lasted but I didn’t ever make a profit off the site and I hadn’t positioned the site to be able to continue after Martz was indeed fired. More recent examples of this same mistake would include all the sites that were created exclusively to promoted Agloco. I would venture a guess that those sites aren’t doing so well these days. I’ve seen fashion sites dedicated to trends that end as quickly as they began. I’ve seen blogs centered around a single movie or game that do well while the topic is popular but die out as interest fades.

The Lesson

Had I created a Rams fan site, with a section dedicated to getting Martz fired, there’s a good chance my site would still be going strong today. I would have been able to leverage the momentary popularity of the subject into long lasting success for the site as a whole. If a fan of Agloco positioned their site as one about making money online, even with an emphasis on Agloco they would be able to continue after Agloco crashed and died. The lesson here as I said earlier is to not put all your eggs in one basket. When choosing a topic for your blog or website, make sure you’re not in a position of reliance on one person, company, or trend. Or, at the very least choose more stable topics (Apple, Google, the President) that will last for a while and know that at any time, that topic could disappear and take interest in your site with it.


How to Succeed with Sponsored Reviews

published on December 5, 2007

Sponsored ReviewsAfter my latest income report I’ve received several emails asking what I did to make money from Sponsored Reviews (SR). Granted, the $260 from SR doesn’t seem like a whole lot, but when you consider that I made it from only three posts it becomes a pretty good return on the time investment. Over the 7 months I’ve been using Sponsored Reviews, I’ve made more than $1500, so it has definitely been a good earner for me, however, I didn’t think my experience was all that unique. But judging from the emails I’ve received, SR may not be performing that well for the rest of you.

Assuming I know how to work Sponsored Reviews perfectly would be a bit idiotic considering I’ve had almost 2/3rds of my proposals reject. However, I know precisely what things I’ve done so in keeping with the spirit of this experiment, I figured I’d share with you the steps I take when registering a new blog on SR and how I go about bidding on opportunities.

Sponsored ReviewsThe signup process is fairly straight forward, however, you are allowed to write a brief description of your blog and I try to make the most of it. Typically I’ll list any statistics I think advertisers would be interested in. For example, I’ll list my Technorati authority and rank, my Alexa rank, my Google PageRank (if I have any), my RSS feedcount, and possibly even some traffic numbers. I’ll also give a brief description of what topics I cover on the blog but this is usually secondary to the stats. I’m not all that sure whether this step helps or not, but it definitely sets my blog apart from most of the other sites in the marketplace. I figure that’s got to be worth something right?

The next step is to bid on the different opportunities available. Once again, this is a pretty straight forward process but there are a few things I do to try and maximize the effectiveness of my bids. I rarely if ever make a bid that’s at the top of the advertisers price range. I figure if I put my site at the top of an advertiser’s price range they’ll be looking at it very critically trying to make sure they are getting the best value possible and chances are they’ll find a reason to reject the bid. Also, I always try to give advertisers a “discount” from my posted price. For example, if I’m looking to make $65 per post I write, I’d probably set my price at $150 so I could then give advertisers a $50 “discount” while still making the $65 for the post like I wanted.

The last step in the process is of course writing the post. Most bloggers feel that they can only bid on opportunities specifically suited to their blog. I’ve always found that a bit limiting so I look at things a bit differently. I try to find a way to do a review, while still providing my readers valuable and useful content. Sort of a win, win, win situation. For example, on my SEO blog I’ll do SEO site reviews. I explain clearly in my blog description that I’ll review the site and offer suggestions of changes to make to the site perform better in the search engines. Then when I review the site, I discuss one specific site but my readers also get a glimpse into the broader principles of SEO and hopefully get a few tips they can apply to their own sites. That approach has allowed me to review all sorts of sites, not just those related to seo, the internet, or even technology. Another approach I’ve seen is to present the reviews as sort of blog commercials. Readers understand it’s a paid or sponsored post, and reviewers can cover all sorts of different topics or sites. Basically a little outside the box thinking will open up a lot more opportunities which will in turn allow you to make more money.

So there you have it, the process I’ve used to make more than $1,500 through Sponsored Reviews over the past 7 months. If you have other tips, questions or care to share your experiences, please feel free to chime in through the comments below!


Sneak Peak Inside Blog Mastermind!

published on December 4, 2007

It’s been a while since I have talked about Blog Mastermind but that’s not because I haven’t been enjoying the course and finding it extremely useful. Unfortunately, Yaro has decided to close the doors of the program to new students on Monday, December 10th.

So, if you’ve ever thought about joining, now is the time. I’ve been a paying member for several months now and have learned a TON. I’ve printed several of the lessons off so I can reread them and full obsorb all the information being presented. For most of you, the fact that I’ve continued to pay the monthly membership will be a ringing endorsement in and of itself. However, there are always skeptics out there that want to see it for themselves and luckily, you don’t have to just take my word for it. Yaro has done something new to try and give you the best idea possible of what you’ll be signing up for, or what you’ll be missing out on if you don’t.

He’s provided this link for anyone that’s interested to get a completely free glimpse into the Blog Mastermind program. This is the complete Lesson 11 from within Blog Mastermind as well as a welcome video from Yaro. If you’ve ever been curious about what BM actually is, or if you’ve never heard about it until now, click here and find out for yourself the value of the course.

I’m not going to push it or promote it anymore, I’m not going to tell you to hurry up, you never know when Yaro might decide to close the doors early or anything like that. Just read the lesson and watch the video and decide for yourself whether Blog Mastermind would help you achieve your blogging goals.


Learn From My Mistakes: Store Evergreen Posts

published on November 29, 2007

Part of any experiment is tracking your results, both good and bad. However, up until this point I haven’t discussed any of the mistakes I’ve made along the way. Now I know what you’re all thinking “But surely you haven’t made any mistakes, this blog is a reflection of you, and you’re perfect!” Now, now, I know it’s surprising but it’s true. I’ve made more than my fair share of blunders since I started this blog and this experiment wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t cover the mistakes or failures as thoroughly as I do the successes. With that in mind, this post is the first in a new feature that I’ll do as often as I have mistakes to cover (read as, at least weekly if not daily lol). That being said, let’s jump right in.

store your evergreen postsThe month of November didn’t go quite as I had planned. Looking back there are going to be a few posts in this series to come out of this month but the first I’d like to talk about involves preparation. Usually I sit down during the night and type up the posts for the next day and on occasion the next two days. While that had been working out well for me up until this point, life butted in and decided to happen. Someone once said “Life is a hell of a thing to happen to a person” and in a sense it’s true. Life has a habit of just happening. I got busy with my day job (like really, REALLY busy) and just for good measure, the holidays (and my in-laws) jumped into the mix as well (as if I didn’t own a calendar). Anyone want to take a guess as to how my routine of writing posts the night before ended up?

Yeah, not so hot.

The first option I turned to was guest posters. I invited a couple over and asked them to contribute on days when I knew I wouldn’t be able to crank out a post due to other commitments and time restraints. That worked well as all of my guest authors did a great job, however, you can only keep that up for so long. After I had burned through the small cache of guest posts, I was back to having to speed through posts which resulted in at best a hurried feel to my writing and more likely, sub-par posts. Now not all of my posts were that way but enough that readers began to notice and the growth of the blog began to stagnate.

So, what could I have done differently? Back toward the very beginning of this blog I wrote an article called Wait! Write before you Launch. Basically my premise was that you should build up a reserve of posts that you could use while you started promoting your blog and doing some of the other activities rather than spend all of your time writing. While that article was talking about doing that before you launched your blog, the truth is you should continue to do that as you go along. Obviously some posts are going to be time sensitive but there are likely posts that would still be relevant three weeks from now. Those are what’s known as “evergreen” posts and in crunch time, they can be worth their weight in gold.

The idea is simple, when you get in the groove and start cranking out good content, rather than posting more frequently or taking a break from writing after that, store any of the posts that you think would be evergreen content. I hadn’t been doing nearly enough of that and when life happened, I was scrambling to keep up with it. If I had been able to pull posts from a reserve, it would have made things MUCH easier on me, I wouldn’t have had to burn through my cache of guest posts, and I still wouldn’t have sacrificed any of the momentum I had built up the month before. Even if you’re a full time blogger, storing evergreen posts will allow you to take a vacation, spend more time with friends and family during the holidays, or act as ready made posts to use as guest posts on other blogs. It just makes life easier.

Do you store away posts for the proverbial rainy day? Have you made this same mistake? If so, how did it affect your blog? Please share your thoughts and ideas with us in the comments below.


House: Lessons on Blogging

published on November 28, 2007

If I had to pick my favorite show on TV, House would be way up on the list, if not sitting at the top. Being a fan of British comedy I was already a big Hugh Laurie fan but this show has sealed his spot as one of my favorite actors of his generation. The rest of the cast has really grown into their roles and how can you not like a show with Neil from The Dead Poets Society (Dr. Wilson) in it? Anyway, in keeping with my recent trend, I’ve studied the show and come up with a few lessons bloggers should learn from the pain-killer addicted jerk of a doctor who ironically is one of the most likable characters on TV.

Question Everything

House questions everything and so should youIn the first couple of seasons this lesson probably would have titled “Everybody Lies” but this year the writers have stopped pounding that point home and it’s morphed into the “Question Everything” you see now. However it’s phrased, we see the lesson in every episode. Whether it’s a patient lying about having an affair or using drugs, or it’s a life long deformity that’s actually a symptom of the underlying illness, House and his team have to question everything to find the cure.

Now obviously we as bloggers are not dealing with life and death issues and I certainly wouldn’t recommend you send someone to break into people’s homes the way House does, however, the lesson most definitely applies to blogging. Whether you’re brand new to the game or you’re a seasoned pro, you should be constantly questioning aspects of your blogging. Just because this affiliate program performs ok for you, are there better ones out there? Can you format your posts differently to improve readability? Are there other methods of monetization you haven’t thought of before? Would moving your subscribe button convert more visitors into subscribers? Basically, in blogging there should be no “sacred cows.” Just because your or someone else has always done something that way, doesn’t mean there aren’t better ways to do it. If you’re willing to keep your mind open and question any and every premise or strategy, you’ll constantly improve your blog’s performance.

Brainstorm

House needs someone to bounce ideas off ofSome of my favorite scenes in the show are the interactions between House and his team. Everyone gathers around a board with the list of symptoms and they try and come up with diseases or explanations that fit all the symptoms. Usually House lets his team do most of the talking and brainstorming, jumping in only to mock bad ideas and at the end to hand out the orders. Even when House has one of his “Ah hah!” moments, he’s almost always talking with someone else. Something Cuddy or Wilson says invariably triggers an idea for House and just like that, the case is solved.

This lesson illustrates what I view as one of the few weaknesses of blogging. When it’s just you and your computer it can be really difficult to keep your thought process from settling on one idea or one way of thinking. A lot of times I find I need someone else to help derail my train of thought before I can be creative and productive again and brainstorming is exactly that. Get together with a couple of other people (preferably in person but via chat or something similar if necessary) and bounce ideas off them. Post ideas, monetization methods, strategies, just talk about your blog and where it’s headed. Even if the people you’re brainstorming with don’t provide solid ideas, they’ll likely inspire a new idea that you hadn’t considered before and that’s exactly what you’re after.

Be Wrong

Even House gets it wrong sometimesA lot of people think House is some sort of infallible genius that’s never wrong. In reality, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Granted, he almost always figures out what’s wrong with the patient and cures them, but there have been a whole series of failures leading up to that point. In a recent episode House was recruited by the CIA to help cure an agent they believed had been poisoned. Rather than accepting the notion that the man had been poisoned (question everything right?), House decided his illness was in fact due to alcoholism. Unfortunately, House was wrong. Someone had actually poisoned the agent. While most of us would view being wrong as a bad thing, being proven wrong allowed House to eliminate one possible cause and hone in on what was actually making the patient sick.

House is certainly not the only example of this lesson. Oscar Wilde was quoted as saying “Experience is simply the name we give our mistakes.” Similarly, Thomas Edison once said “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” While neither of those men ever had a blog, the lesson is one that would serve bloggers very well to learn. Be daring enough to state your opinion on a subject. Be confident enough to try out a new idea or strategy. Of course you won’t always be right and your ideas won’t always work as planned but there are valuable lessons to be learned from failure. Not only that but if you never try new ideas, you will always miss the ones that would have been successful.

Well there you have it, three BIG lessons we can learn about blogging from watching one of the greatest shows on TV, House. Just remember, you’ll probably want to make sure you’re as good as House before you start acting too much like him. At least if you’d like to still have some readers. As always, if you disagree with me or want to add other lessons on that I didn’t cover, please feel free to in the comments below.


Reader Survey

published on November 27, 2007

It’s been a while since I last asked for a lot of reader feedback in terms of this blog’s performance. And, much like going to the doctor or the dentist, it’s rarely a good idea to go too long between checkups. So, I’ve prepared 4 quick questions that I’d love for you all to answer and I’ll have one more open ended question that you can respond to in the comments or if you’d rather, just sending me a quick email. The more people that participate, the better idea I’ll have of how I’m doing, and how I can improve this blog to help you more.

I think the next poll question could probably use a bit of explanation. I’ve been kicking around the idea of changing the posting schedule on this blog for a while. The options I’ve considered are posting more frequently but usually shorter posts, or posting less frequently but generating longer, hopefully higher quality posts such as the Lessons on Blogging or some the interviews I’ve done etc. So, when voting on this one keep those thoughts in mind as sort of the framework of the question.

And the last question I have for you would be what suggestions do you have for me in terms of this blog? Like I said, feel free to answer in the comments or drop me an email if that works better for you. Also, please keep in mind I’m not fishing for compliments but you also don’t have to make up criticisms either. I’m just after your honest opinions and I promise I won’t get a big head or let my feelings get hurt.

Thanks!