Sunday, February 23, 2014

Learning MORE about blogging from the Perth Problogger Event 2014

I have lamented (often) that my lovely home city is the most isolated and oft-neglected city on the planet, but today, a megastar in my universe was here. Yes, "the" Problogger, Darren Rowse, came over to run a small Problogger Event (big shout out to Kelly Exeter for convincing him) and it was marvellous.

In all honesty, I was expecting to feel inspired by whatever Darren had to say, because he's an inspiring speaker, but knowing that it was just a 2-hour event for bloggers of all kinds and stages, I didn't expect to actually learn a lot. But I did! I have pages and pages of notes, and while most of it I "know" (and quite a lot of it I have even told my students and clients in the past), I don't actually always DO it. (Which is a point Darren himself made in his talk.) I think that my new emphasis on my own travel blog and my plans to monetise it probably had me sitting there with a completely different perspective to usual and I really did learn a bunch of things that I want to share - both as a reminder to me and for those poor pals of mine who couldn't make it today.

Darren Rowse aka Problogger speaking at the Perth Problogger Event
Darren shared a huge number of lessons and tips from his own blogging experience and I'm going to pick out the best - well, I'll admit, the ones that are most useful for me, and are sitting in my notebook with a big asterisk next to them:

  • Your blog won't become big overnight - it's about lots and lots (AND LOTS) of small, consistent actions over a long time. (A tweet here, a Facebook update there, a connection here, and of course, a post there ...)
  • Whatever your goal is for your blog (income generation, world domination, whatever), take it seriously and take the next step towards your goal (right now).
  • Take time to properly identify who your readers are. Darren suggested creating profiles/avatars of your typical readers and I can see how this would really shape the content you write and, well, pretty much everything you do with your blog. It made me realise (big whack in the head moment) that I actually have very little idea about the audience for Not A Ballerina and it's intensely obvious that I should figure this out.
  • Darren talked about how a blog post should either inform, inspire or encourage interaction. Some might do more than one but I can see the value of focusing on just one at a time. And your particular blog might have a bias towards one of these. But he spoke about how they do this on Digital Photography School and on Problogger - eg a post early in the week which is a "how to" about a topic, a mid-week post showcasing an inspirational version of that "how to" (an interview; some amazing photos; whatever) and then a late-week post encouraging the readers to get involved - setting them a challenge, encouraging a discussion or debate, or something.
  • As usual Darren talked about what I call the soft side of blogging - the human side, perhaps - stuff like figuring out what really gives you energy about your blog and doing more of that. So important, I think.
  • And finally, another point about the readers - focus on the readers you already have, aim to have a big impact on them, and (basically) getting new readers will arise from a lot of those efforts anyway. A lot of bloggers are focused simply on getting more readers. Don't be. Excellent advice.
Bloggy friends at PBevent
So, those are the big tips I got from this afternoon's talk - but of course the talk wasn't the only important part of the event. We all carried on to the sundowner part of the event and I got to talk to many of the almost a hundred bloggers who'd showed up. There was a big bunch of my former students (I confess, when I arrived I got slightly nervous that I had basically bullied about 20 or so people into coming to the event, I really hoped they liked it - thankfully, they did, of course), a bunch of people I knew from Twitter, and even a famous-to-me travel blogger who's just moved to Perth (hello Chris!) yet I hadn't caught up on that news! I think only fellow bloggers will really understand that there's nothing quite like being in a room full of people who actually know what a blog is. I enjoy myself thoroughly every time.

And so - a huge thank you to Darren Rowse for making the trek over here - as Kelly mentioned in her introduction, we are so lucky (and proud) that one of the biggest bloggers on the world stage is just a normal Aussie bloke from Melbourne. She also made the point that she thinks it's because of Darren that the blogging community in Australia is so friendly and cooperative, and I agree. Here's to many more years of blogging and Problogger events!

Thursday, February 20, 2014

How to: Add an Instagram feed to your blog

This post about how to add an Instagram feed to your main blog page is for my dear blogging friend Rae, because she asked nicely. And it's for anyone else who wants to have a go at this. It's funny, actually, how often people see my Instagram feed on my blog (somewhere over there ---> or maybe down a little!) and ask me about it.

By the way, there are all kinds of different ways to do this (you know, like the whole skinning a cat thing, except without the animal cruelty) but this is the way I've done it. I use SnapWidget because someone recommended it ages ago and it has worked ever since. (I am big on the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" theory.) So, here goes Rae!
  1. Go to SnapWidget and scroll down a bit until you can see the stuff about "Basic Widget". I use the free version and it has been everything I need.
  2. Choose the options you want in the "Customize your widget" section. You can put in your Instagram username (eg @amandakendle) or you can choose a hashtag instead. Most of the time you'll probably just want to use your username, and that's what I do on this blog. Sometimes you will want to use a hashtag instead - like I do on my travel blog where (at the moment) I'm displaying photos from my Penang trip using the #amandaspenangtrip hashtag I used. If you do use the hashtag version then remember that if someone else uses the same hashtag, their pictures will show up too.
  3. You also need to choose the Widget Type; most of the names are self-explanatory really - if you want one to sit in your sidebar like mine then Slideshow works well. You might need to adjust the Widget Width (for example, mine is 300 pixels wide).
  4. Click on "Get Widget" and you'll get a fancy chunk of html code. Copy it.
  5. Now you need to add it to your blog. If you're using Blogger like Rae is, go to Layout, click on Add a Gadget in your sidebar, and choose HTML/JavaScript, and paste the code into it. The process is similar in WordPress.
  6. Voila! You should now have your lovely Instagram feed flowing into your blog. Here's mine at my travel blog.
So, fingers crossed that has worked beautifully (especially for you Rae!). I'm still all excited about Instagram and its possibilities and you will definitely hear more about it from me this year. If you're not on it, try it out quick - it is heaps of fun and has so much usefulness as well.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Monetising my travel blog - come along for the ride

I've got a big and important goal this year: to turn my nearly nine-year-old travel blog Not A Ballerina into something that doesn't just sit there on the internet looking pretty, but actually puts a decent amount of food on the table.

I am really keen to monetise my blog properly - for lots of reasons:

  1. It is OLD in blog terms. Nearly nine years - that's nearly retirement age in dog years, and positively ancient in blog years. All of those hours spent playing around with it over the years really should amount to something.
  2. I need to earn a bigger chunk of my income online (and preferably, passively - in other words, without me doing too much!). There are several reasons for that, but the main one this year is that my son has started kindergarten and between the school days being much shorter than daycare and the scary regularity of school holidays, I'm going to have a lot less working hours available to me for face-to-face consulting and training. I'm also looking ahead - I'd like to keep increasing the amount of travel I do (usually with my son, since I'm training him to be a star traveller!), and perhaps even spend a half a year or so back in Germany so that he can go to school there. To do that, I would definitely need to have a decent online income.
  3. I actually love my travel blog, and the messages I try to broadcast there - about why travel is important and what we can learn from it - are messages that I really want to spread. I actually believe lots of things about the world could be better if more people travelled, and did it in meaningful, open-minded ways. 
So, I've got lots of reasons, but do I have a strategy? Well, not yet, to be honest. But I thought you'd all like to come along for the ride and so I'm giving you the real behind-the-scenes info. First off, my travel blog has made me a decent (if irregular) income over the years. Initially, it was a basis for getting freebies (usually hotels and museum entries) when I lived in Europe. Later, before selling links was frowned upon, I did that and it certainly helped me pay the mortgage. In the last couple of years, I've done sponsored posts (but only (a) for companies that I deemed OK and (b) if I was able to write the post in my own normal style); I've experimented with some sidebar advertising; I've had a couple of affiliate programs running; and I've done a few reviews in exchange for lovely stuff that I actually needed. But in most cases, the sponsor/advertiser/link buyer came to me, rather than me going looking, so obviously, there are plenty more opportunities out there.

Now, I've long been a big fan of bloggers who are really transparent about how they monetise their blogs, especially because we can learn so much from them. My favourite is actually from a food blog called Pinch of Yum, where they publish a monthly post about income, traffic and blogging tips. Given that they've increased their monthly profit from around $5,000 a month to $17,000 a month in the past year, I figure they are onto something, plus they break it all down so you can see their diverse income streams, traffic sources, and more. My idea is to do something similar as I work on monetising Not A Ballerina - although I think I'll report back on a quarterly basis.

So, some brief facts via Google Analytics so that we have something to compare next time round:

At first I thought - oh no, what a terrible month for my blog (my first post FOR THE YEAR! was just this week) but I've realised this is really a good thing: next time I report in, I should have (fingers crossed) considerably better figures than this and I'll be able to demonstrate lots of improvements! But yes, to be honest, bear in mind that I've had a blogging break over the summer school holidays, so when my figures rise next time it may not be as wonderful as it sounds - it could just be a result of actually blogging! In any case, my traffic figures are really low for a PR4 (Google Page Rank of 4, if you've been in my classes but forgotten what PR means) and I would hope to really increase them during 2013.

In terms of income, given that I didn't blog in January I haven't made much money at all - I still have a unit of Google Adsense on (I don't expect it will stay there long-term) but with little traffic it made less than $10 this month! My sidebar advertisers expired late last year and I haven't done any sponsored posts this month. That makes for a quick and easy report!

Over the next few weeks I'm going to devise a more detailed strategy for monetising Not A Ballerina, and I've made some great bloggy friends to mastermind this with, both face-to-face in Perth and in other parts of the world - it's so handy to be sharing our wisdom and exchanging ideas. So - check back in a few months and you will see the results of all these discussion and planning sessions!
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