Archive for August, 2011

Source Citation Blog Posts – the Link List

This blog post is a response to the series “31 Weeks to a Better Genealogy Blog,” at the Tonia’s Roots blog. This series is based on the Darren Rowse (ProBlogger) e-book 31 Days to Build a Better Blog.

This week, Tonia gives the following reasons for why bloggers should write “link posts”:

  • Linking out gives something valuable to your readers.  There is a lot of great information out there, but who has the time to sort through it all?  When you share a post or a site that you have found valuable, your readers will be appreciative.
  • Linking out builds your credibility.  Building on the above bullet point, by sharing the valuable information you have found, you establish yourself as an authority.
  • Linking out builds relationships with other bloggers.  They’ll appreciate that you are sending traffic their way and if your post builds on their ideas, it could lead to a continued dialogue and ongoing interactions.  Plus, it’s just a great way to support others in our community.
  • Linking out may help your search results.  Search algorithms consider outbound links to related content as a positive thing, so it could help you appear higher in search results.

These are very good reasons. I would like to emphasize the second.

Writing a “link post” – a collection of online resources, whether blog posts or others – helps to establish your own interest in the subject. Eventually this interest should develop into a specialty, and the specialty becomes expertise.

For example, many of you have read my posts on Source Citations:

But have you read the other blogs that have written recently on the subject of source citations? Not all of them agree with my philosophies and formats, but these posts should still be read. When blog posts do not agree, in fact, I feel that it is more valuable to the discussion. So go ahead and read all of these posts, and make up your own mind.

[UPDATED, 6 Jan 2012. I have verified that all of the links below still work, and added several new posts (some older, some newer).]

For this to be a real resource of value, I will continue to update this list as new posts are published!

On the transformation from Footnote to Fold3

On 18 August 2011, the popular subscription genealogy database Footnote.com announced two major changes.

For nearly five years, Footnote was the strongest competitor to the market-dominating Ancestry.com. The site made available improved images of several federal census enumerations, as well as improved image viewing and tagging capabilities. Over time, Ancestry and Footnote became complementary competitors, as separate agreements with both the U. S. National Archives and Records Administration and the Family History Library/FamilySearch provided different record groups to the two sites. Throughout this time, I have consistently recommended Footnote to audiences in my lectures on the U. S. Civil War, specifically because of the site’s strength in records of this era.

Almost a year ago, on 23 September 2010, Ancestry.com announced the acquisition of iArchives, the parent company of Footnote. Until the 18 August announcements, there were no noticeable changes to the site.

Two major changes have now occurred, according to the announcement:

  • The site will now focus entirely and exclusively on military records.
  • Footnote has been renamed Fold3.

In my opinion, the first of these two changes is a wise move. Especially now that Footnote is a subsidiary of Ancestry, it simply does not make sense to have two separate teams (e.g. the Ancestry team and Footnote team) both working to increase record holdings without focus. There are already several duplicate databases between the two sites. It would be inappropriate to increase this number. What Fold3 has done is recognized its strengths and chosen a focused path.

As a professional genealogist (or aspiring professional) we must do the same. I wrote before about being “Primary Care Genealogists,” that is, strong in the basic universal research skills that can be applied to any problem in any location. This does not mean that we should not define ourselves more specifically. In fact, most professionals eventually become known for a specialty–geographic, ethnic group, record group, time period, methodological, etc. This specialty can be either a conscious decision or a natural development of personal interests. But once a professional becomes a recognized expert on some subject, the amount of business relating to this content will increase (and consequently the amount of business not relating to this specialty will decrease).

So from this perspective, Footnote did what every professional must eventually do: they have created a focus by which they can become known.

The flip side of this coin is that Footnote.com was already known, and had many loyal subscribers. Yesterday’s announcement has upset quite a few of these subscribers. Just take some time to read the comments left on the Fold3 blog. There were quite a few subscribers, including institutions with small budgets, who were attracted to Footnote due to its lower subscription price, as an alternative to the rather pricey Ancestry subscription. Prior to its acquisition by Ancestry.com, Footnote was marketed as a competitor and an alternative, with the promise to someday rival Ancestry. The more specific–and more limited–focus puts an end to the site’s existence as a cheaper alternative.

The name change has also received mostly negative reviews. The most frequent objection is that no one knows what it means. According to the announcement,

We wanted a name that would show respect for the records we are working on and for the people who have served in the armed forces.  The name Fold3 comes from a traditional flag-folding ceremony in which the third fold is made in honor and remembrance of veterans for their sacrifice in defending their country and promoting peace in the world.

This makes complete sense to me as a man whose brother is currently in Afghanistan after having already served in Iraq in the past three years. As a business owner, I feel that, with the new focus on military records, a new name reflecting this focus also seems warranted.

The down side of changing the name to reflect the new focus is that, where Footnote had become a recognizable brand, Fold3 is not yet recognizable. The name change erases years of marketing by Footnote. This is usually bad, but in creating a new name and a new focus, the company has ultimately created an entirely new entity. For some genealogists, this entity will not have any interest. Other genealogists–as well as new markets possibly uninterested in genealogy, such as military historians and reenactors–will continue to find Fold3 useful.

Changes are difficult to accept. But sometimes they are for the best of everyone involved.

The official announcement appears in the following blog post:

“Footnote is now Fold3 (updated),” Fold3 HQ blog, posted on 18 August 2011 (http://blog.fold3.com/ : accessed 18 Aug 2011).

 

The 5 Most Misused Words and Phrases in Genealogy

Over the past quarter century, the field of genealogy has developed its own vocabulary to describe the evolving standards. Unfortunately, some of these terms are used in other fields with slightly different meanings. Here, in no particular order, are the top five most misused words and phrases in modern genealogy.

1. “Research”:

Especially to beginning genealogists, the term “research” is equivalent to “looking for records.” The more experience one gains, the more one becomes aware of how little of the research process is actually involved in physically looking for records. Far more research is conducted after a document has been located. Research also includes

  • learning more about the record itself–its creation, background, and purpose;
  • identifying the information the record holds;
  • determining how this information applies to our research problem;
  • assessing the reliability of the information;
  • correlating the information with that held in other records previously located;
  • and deducing what clues in the record point to potential sources for more information.

In all, I would estimate that about 20% of all research is actually conducted in the physical search for records. The remaining 80% involves the forming of conclusions based on the information turned up in that physical search.

2. “Primary” and “Secondary”:

You will often hear researchers in other fields refer to primary and secondary documents or records. In genealogy, we differentiate between original records and derivative records. These terms generally correspond with what other fields call primary (original) and secondary (derivative). Since many of us learned these terms in these other fields (or even in genealogy years ago, before the current definitions evolved), it is common to hear genealogists refer to “primary” and “secondary” records.

In current usage, reliable eyewitness testimony is considered primary, while information provided by someone who was not a witness or participant is considered secondary. Experienced genealogists, who always strive to review the original record rather than a derivative source, understand that any single record can contain information of different natures. A death certificate might provide both birth and death information, for example. In most cases, while the information about the death may be primary, the birth information is secondary. This is why we discuss primary and secondary information, as opposed to primary and secondary documents.

3. “Evidence”:

The term “evidence” refers to how we apply information to our research problem. There are two kinds of evidence, as defined in modern genealogy: direct and indirect.

Direct evidence refers to information that directly answers our research question. For example, if our research question asks, “when was John born?,” then a record containing the information, explicitly stated, that John was born on 4 July 1826, would be considered as containing direct evidence.

Indirect evidence refers to information that is relevant to our question but does not directly answer it. For example, using the same question about John’s birth, we examine a series of annual tax lists. John does not appear on any tax list until 1847. We then review the tax laws of that time period, and discover that men were required to pay taxes beginning at the age of 21. The tax records do not explicitly state John’s date of birth, but we can infer that he was at least 21 years of age at this time. This appearance on the tax lists therefore constitutes indirect evidence of his date of birth.

The term “evidence” is not synonymous with either the terms “information” or “proof,” but this is how it is most often used by many genealogists. Information is held by records. Evidence is how we apply this information to our research problem. And proof is …

4. “Proof”:

We often hear from other genealogists that a certain record proves a certain fact. This is a common misunderstanding of the concept of “proof.” No record contains proof. Records contain information.

As genealogists, we identify, evaluate, and correlate the information in these records, through which process we discern each piece of information’s individual value as evidence. Eventually, we hope to reach a soundly reasoned conclusion. “Proof” refers to the documented summary of the evidence that leads to our conclusion.

The Genealogical Proof Standard, itself an often-misunderstood concept, is the measure by which we judge our proof arguments. In its most common phrasing, the Standard contains five parts: conduct a reasonably exhaustive (or extensive) search for all relevant records, completely and accurately cite all sources used, correlate and evaluate all evidence, reconcile all contradictory evidence, and form a soundly reasoned, written conclusion. The extent to which each of these parts is demonstrated and documented in the written proof argument helps to determine the probable reliability of the conclusions.

Because it is most often phrased as five “parts,” many researchers begin to think of the Genealogical Proof Standard as a five-step process: first we do a search, then cite, then correlate, etc. On the contrary, in the course of our research, these “steps” are rarely completed in order. While searching for relevant records, we must cite and evaluate each individual record as we find it. Certainly, one begins by searching for relevant records and ends with the written conclusion, but the rest of the Standard is an ongoing process. How we define relevant itself evolves with each new record located.

As we begin to form conclusions, we should honestly assess our research against the Genealogical Proof Standard to determine whether or not our conclusion is warranted by our research.

5. “Report”:

This is a dangerously misused and misunderstood term for aspiring professional genealogists. Unfortunately, the misunderstanding stems most often from genealogical software programs, which are using the same term in a different context.

When one inputs one’s information and conclusions in a genealogy database program, it is common (and recommended) practice to periodically print out this information. In all database software, the output of data into a readable format based on specific parameters is called a report. Genealogy software most often includes the ability to print this data out into a rudimentary compiled genealogy in either NGSQ or Register formats, or compiled pedigree in Sosa-Stradonitz format. These are called, by the database, “reports.”

The research report provided by a professional genealogist–and even those reports one writes for one’s personal research files–are generally not in the form of a compiled genealogy or pedigree. A compiled genealogy or pedigree may be part of the research report, but not necessarily. In my reports, genealogies or pedigrees are most often used as a system of organization or summary of conclusions rather than the body of the report itself.

A professional research report, in general terms, is a detailed, documented report of the research conducted. This would include discussions of all of the processes described above under “Research,” as well as the formation of proof arguments and full conclusions. It also includes all negative searches conducted, that is, those indexes, databases, and record groups searched where no relevant results were located. All of these would be contained in the body of a report.

Professional genealogist’s research reports also contain other sections: a reiteration of the stated goals (both long-term and short-term, if applicable), a summary of all information provided or known at the beginning of the research, a brief summary of the conclusions reached within the report usually located before the main body, and suggestions for further research.

In other words, a research report simply does not resemble the reports printed by database software. The two terms are not synonymous at all–and given the very different contexts of their usage, should not be misunderstood to be so.

These are the words and phrases I see and hear misused most often by other genealogists. What are some other terms that are commonly misused?

If you would like to cite this post: Michael Hait, “The 5 Most Misused Words and Phrases in Genealogy,” Planting the Seeds: Genealogy as a Profession blog, posted 19 Aug 2011 (http://michaelhait.wordpress.com : accessed [access date]). [Please also feel free to include a hyperlink to the specific article if you are citing this post in an online forum.]

Follow Friday: Historic Wanderings

It is Follow Friday! This is a blogging meme in which authors recommend other blogs, websites, repositories, or anything else. In keeping with the theme of this blog, I will spotlight different resources for professional and aspiring professional genealogists each week: not only genealogy-related, but also others of interest.

This week I would like to spotlight the Historic Wanderings blog by my friend Maddy McCoy.

Though Maddy is a genealogist, Historic Wanderings is not a genealogy blog. At least not in the traditional sense.

Instead, Maddy takes photos of historic buildings and locations–often in Virginia or Maryland, but also in Washington, D. C., Delaware, West Virginia, and (due to her attendance at IGHR this past June) Alabama. These photos are absolutely beautiful. If you have ancestry or research interests in any of these states, you are likely to find photos of interest on this blog. Maddy’s most frequent photo subjects are historic mansions, churches, and cemeteries. Especially sites of significance to African-American history and genealogy, betraying Maddy’s interest in the subject as creator of the Fairfax County, Virginia, Slavery Inventory Database.

Some of the most recent subjects have been Barratt’s Chapel in Frederica, Delaware, the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Virginia, and Thomas Jefferson’s historic Monticello mansion and its “burial ground of the enslaved.”

31 Weeks to a Better Genealogy Blog Week 6: Must-Read Tips

This blog post is a response to the series “31 Weeks to a Better Genealogy Blog,” at the Tonia’s Roots blog. This series is based on the Darren Rowse (ProBlogger) e-book 31 Days to Build a Better Blog.

Genealogy bloggers are ultimately writers. Our posts may be very personal. They might relate to our own families, showing how we have broken down a “brick wall,” or describing a brick wall yet to be broken. Or our posts may be general. They might offer advice to beginning or even more advanced researchers. They might describe a new (to us) or little-known record group, or may simply offer some news related to genealogy.

Despite the focus on genealogy, however, our blogs can learn much from other blogs and bloggers in other subject matters.

Consider, for example, the advice provided by the article “A Sample Blogging Workflow,” by Chris Brogan. Mr. Brogan describes several “Goals for [specific] blog POSTS (versus goals for the blog overall).” Those he identifies are:

  • Seek link traffic;
  • Seek advice [in other words, start a conversation];
  • Establish thought leadership [blog about subjects that no one else has discussed];
  • Promote something interesting;
  • Link love to others.

These goals will inform individual blog posts, but should be considered in the terms of the larger goal of your blog itself. In my earlier post in this series, “31 Weeks to a Better Genealogy Blog Catchup Week 1: Elevator Pitch,” the larger goal and purpose of the blog was discussed.

Mr. Brogan continues to provide several tasks that we should consider completing for every post we write. A few of these tasks include:

  • “Read material first.” Mr. Brogan suggests not only reading other blogs related to our topic (genealogy), but also reading blogs on unrelated and even “fringe” subjects.
  • “Consider pictures.” There are quite a few websites available that offer photo content with Creative Commons licensing. These photos are free to use as long as we properly cite the source. As genealogists, of course, we would never dream of doing otherwise.
  • “Announce your best posts.” Mr. Brogan suggests using the same methods as were discussed in “31 Weeks to a Better Genealogy Blog Catchup Week 3: Promote a Blog Post.”
  • “Check traffic and logs.” Mr. Brogan also recommends that we search for mentions of our blog, and add to the discussion there as well by adding comments.

Once we have an idea for a blog post, and understand its purpose in the context of our blog’s larger goal, we will need to actually write the post. Sarah Fudin wrote “How to write a perfect blog post: 10 tips,” in Ragan’s PR Daily. The ten tips she provides are:

  1. “Pick the ideal title/headline.”
  2. “Make the main point clear right away.”
  3. “Compile a list.” List posts were discussed in my earlier post “31 Weeks to a Better Genealogy Blog Catchup Week 2: List Posts.”
  4. “Make it link-worthy.”
  5. “Make it attractive.”
  6. “Include multimedia elements.”
  7. “Stick to the point.”
  8. “Use keywords.”
  9. “Keep length in mind.” Ms. Fudin recommends that blog posts always be less 1000 words, but generally between 500 and 800 words.
  10. “Be original.”

Writing blog posts, of course, is not the ultimate goal. Ideally, someone will read the posts.

Pamela Wilson wrote “8 Incredibly Simple Ways to Get More People to Read Your Content,” in the Copyblogger blog. This post reveals some very interesting information about the way people “read” online content. Citing a 1997 survey, Ms. Wilson informs us that 79% of web users scan content rather than reading it. The rest of this article describes the best way to take advantage of this knowledge, by creating content that is easily scannable.

  1. “Embrace the line break.” In other words, write small paragraphs, creating a lot of white space. White space makes the content less daunting and more easily read.
  2. “Break up your content with compelling subheads.” Ms. Wilson recommends writing your headlines and subheadlines first. To me, this seems like a great way to organize your writing, and keep yourself on track.
  3. “Use bulleted lists.” Another blogger has recommended using lists. This tip seems to be consistently recommended by all professional and well-established bloggers.
  4. “Use deep captions.” A deep caption is a two to three sentence caption, and should ideally be paired with a striking image. This may entice browsers and scanners to read the whole article.
  5. “Add highly relevant links.”
  6. “Use strategic formatting.” Use bold formatting to highlight only the most important concepts being discussed. Just be careful not to highlight too much. Highlighting everything is about the same as highlighting nothing.
  7. “Harness the power of numbers.” “You can often make a post more compelling just by numbering your main points.” If you want to see this in action, take a look at the most popular blog posts at some of the more popular blogs.
  8. “Check your dual readership path.” Once your post has been written, read it again, but only looking at the highlighted material: the headings and subheadings, bolded points, bulleted lists, etc. Can the reader understand the point of the article? I believe that this is an extremely interesting way to view your posts: it offers the perspective of the casual scanner, rather than the deep reader.

Using these tips and many others, blog writers can certainly improve the quality of their content and the number of readers.

Articles cited:

31 Weeks to a Better Genealogy Blog Catchup, Week 5: Contact a Blog Reader

I recently discovered a series entitled “31 Weeks to a Better Genealogy Blog,” at the Tonia’s Roots blog. This series is based on the Darren Rowse (ProBlogger) e-book 31 Days to Build a Better Blog. Unfortunately, I am coming into this about a month late, so I am playing “catchup.” Once caught up, however, I plan to keep up with the series.

The activity for this assignment involves interaction with one’s readers. There are four ways suggested:

  • Directly email new readers who leave comments on your blog;
  • Leave a comment on the blog of a reader who comments on your blog;
  • Follow a reader on Twitter;
  • Respond directly to comments on your blog.

I already read, and if appropriate, comment on the blogs of those who leave comments on my blog. I truly enjoy reading about genealogy from different perspectives.

I also follow many of my Twitter followers. Unfortunately for some, I have been trying to limit the number of people I follow. I currently have over 1500 followers and follow over 1100. It is simply not useful to follow this many people, and I have tried to go through and clear out all of the people that are either no longer active on Twitter, or do not often tweet items of interest to me. This is a long process (as you can imagine with 1100 following), so it happens in spurts, with no end in sight. But whenever I am able to finish the process of making this a more manageable number, I will probably spend just as much time building it back up again. I’m a glutton for punishment and social media.

I try to respond to most of the comments I receive on my blog, other than those that do not say anything more than “Great post” or other kind words. It is not that I do not appreciate all of these compliments, and I certainly enjoy knowing that certain posts are useful, educational, or just interesting to my readers. Perhaps a short “Thank you” note would be appropriate.

A different kind of comment, though, provokes more active responses from me. In general, I do not post ideas that are not thought-out ahead of time. I try to edit myself pretty thoroughly before I push that “Publish” button, including often scheduling them a day or two after I write them, so that I can go back and edit them again if further thoughts arise. These are habits from my non-blog writing. I always let an article sit before submitting it to a magazine publisher.

So when a commenter challenges one of my posts, I feel justified in arguing my position, always respectfully. In some cases, I will change my mind based on the points of the commenter. In other cases, I will convince the commenter of my point. Sometimes we can simply agree to disagree. This is ok too. But I feel that the constant dialogue between the blogger and his audience is the primary benefit of blogging. When two opposing sides are able to argue their respective opinions, it allows each to view the issue from a new perspective. If done productively, this can add to the continued development of our field.

I would add a fifth suggestion related to this last point, as a way to engage one’s readers: the “response post.” A response post is a post that either originates as a response to another blog or a comment on your blog. I have written several response posts to both other blogs that I have read, sometimes agreeing and sometimes disagreeing, as well as to comments left on posts in my blog. These response posts allow me to directly address opposing viewpoints or objections to a certain way of doing things.

This is the last week that I missed, and is therefore the last of the “catchup” posts. This series will now be posted on the set schedule that appears on Tonia’s blog, every Sunday. I look forward to learning more about my blog and other successful blogs as I work through this series.

31 Weeks to a Better Genealogy Blog Catchup, Week 4: Analyze a Top Blog

I recently discovered a series entitled “31 Weeks to a Better Genealogy Blog,” at the Tonia’s Roots blog. This series is based on the Darren Rowse (ProBlogger) e-book 31 Days to Build a Better Blog. Unfortunately, I am coming into this about a month late, so I am playing “catchup.” Once caught up, however, I plan to keep up with the series.

This assignment is to examine a specific blog, see what they do right, and apply these lessons to your own blog (without losing your own identity and voice, of course).

Choosing a blog for this analysis is difficult. For one, I read quite a few blogs, but some of them are more limited in their genealogical focus, and thus have relatively small audiences, and others are completely unrelated to genealogy. It may be interesting to choose a top genealogy blog and compare my analysis to that of a non-genealogy blog.

Now, how do I define a “top genealogy blog”? There are several high-profile genealogy blogs, like Eastman’s Genealogy Newsletter, GeneaBloggers, DearMYRTLE, and Genea-Musings. These blogs are very similar in some ways, and very different in other ways. They all post several times a day, and often cover genealogy news and current events, but each has their own voice. Dick Eastman, for example, often covers topics on the forefront of technology, such as his recent posts on “Windows is Dying… and so are Macintosh and Linux” and “Edit Photos In the Cloud.” Thomas MacEntee’s GeneaBloggers blog generally covers genealogy blogging topics, including posts covering each day’s blogging memes. Randy Seaver’s Genea-Musings blog covers a large range of topics, including Randy’s personal ancestry as well as reviews and tests of the genealogy software like RootsMagic and Family Tree Maker. However, these blogs are also quite different from my own.

Instead, I will analyze a blog whose purpose and outlook is very similar to my own: Marian Pierre-Louis’s blog Marian’s Roots and Rambles. Marian is also a professional genealogist, and I have mentioned her blog on several occasions in this blog. (See “What Exactly Do I Research?” and “The top 5 books on my bookshelf.”)

For the non-genealogy blog, I will analyze one of my favorite writing blogs: Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen’s blog Quips and Tips for Successful Writers.

Content

  • What topics are they covering?
  • What topics are they ignoring?
  • How often do they post?

In Marian’s Roots and Rambles, several recent posts have discussed books and publishing (“The Top 5 Books on My Bookshelf,” “Authors – Get Strategic,” “Is it worth transcribing for publication any more?,” “Is There a Disconnect with The History Press?,” “Essential NON-Genealogy Books about New England,” and “Why Do Authors Bother with Publishers?“). I can only hope that this trend indicates that Marian will soon be publishing her own book. She has also discussed other issues related to genealogy, such as the Boston University genealogy certificate program and “Planning a Research Trip.” She does not, on the other hand, cover general genealogy news that does not affect her own personal or professional genealogy interests. In terms of frequency, so far in 2011 she has posted every 2-4 days. (More specifically, the blog archives show the following numbers of posts per month: January, 13; February, 13; March, 15; April, 8; May, 9; June, 15; July, 8; and so far in August, 3.)

Quips and Tips for Successfuly Writers is not organized in chronological post order, but in categories on her home page. In addition to her “Featured Articles” and “Recent Articles,” the following topical categories appear: Freelance Writing, Writing Skills, Making Money Writing, Blogging & Web Writing, Interviews with Writers, and The Writing Life. A few of the recent articles that interest me are “How to Improve Your Blog – A Quick Website Review,” “5 Tips for Getting Things Done Before the Deadline,” and “Tips for Bloggers Who Want to Help and Inspire Readers.” One of the reasons that I have followed this blog for almost three years is that Laurie is not simply a writer, she is a freelance writer in the Internet age. Of course she writes about blogging, but she did not start there. She (like myself) started writing for paper publications, but has migrated into web writing for further avenues of publication. It is virtually impossible to determine exactly how often she posts by looking at her website, because the posts are not individually dated, and are not organized chronologically. However, I can say that she posts a few times a week since the posts show up in my Google Reader about that often. ;)

Reader Engagement

  • What topics generate the most comments?
  • What styles of posts seem to connect with readers the best?
  • Are they using any tools to connect with their readers (i.e. forums, Twitter, newsletters, activities, etc.)

The following recent posts in Marian’s Roots and Rambles have generated the most comments: “Planning a Research Trip” (10 comments), “The Top 3 Changes in Genealogy” (9 comments), and “Why Do Authors Bother with Publishers?” (8 comments). There is no common thread connecting these three posts, so the reason for their comment-popularity does not immediately present itself. As for connecting tools, I know that Marian is active on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+. Not only does she post links to her own blog posts, but also to other blogs and articles of interest to her.

In Quips and Tips for Successful Writers, the following posts (all appearing on the home page) have attracted the most comments: “What Does It Mean to be a REAL Writer?” (44 comments), “Online Writers – Should You Get Paid Per Post or Per Click?” (16 comments), and “5 Steps to Writing a Killer First Chapter – How to Wow Readers” (12 comments). One notable observation is that the top two comment-getters are both “Featured Articles.” The post with the most comments has a particularly catchy title–one that would immediately attract anyone who would be interested in this blog. The second post covers a topic that often provokes readers’ passions–money! Provoking reader passions is an obvious way to attract both readers and comments. I know that Laurie uses Twitter, and that she often responds on her blogs to reader comments, but I do not know any further detail concerning how she connects with her audience.

Design

  • What’s your first impression of their design?
  • What have they done well?
  • Is there anything that could be improved?

The design of Marian’s Roots and Rambles is extremely simple. It is your basic, run-of-the-mill BlogSpot blog design. The audience of this blog probably does not require much more. With most genealogists, content outweighs design.

The design of Quips and Tips is quite different. As already mentioned, the blog posts are not organized in a reverse chronological list from most recent to older posts, the way most blogs are organized. Instead, there are several categories that appear on the home page, with the most recent article for each category appearing on this home page. This works well, as Laurie touches on several different topics that can be easily categorized: fiction writing, blogging, freelance writing, etc. In writing, much like genealogy, timeliness is not crucial. It is not necessary for the posts to be listed with the most recent first.

Monetization

  • Are they doing anything to make money from the blog? Affiliate programs? Google ads? Do they have sponsors?
  • If yes, what kinds of advertisers are targeting this blog?
  • How do they implement monetization efforts on their site? Sidebar? Footer? Within the content?

Marian only includes a single revenue-generating element in her blog: Google Ads. The ads are contained in the right sidebar, among several other non-revenue-generating elements, like a list of subscribers, the blog archives, popular posts, and non-affiliate ads for GeneaBloggers and an upcoming New England genealogy event. She occasionally mentions or links to content on her professional website: Fieldstone Historic Research.

Laurie makes her full income from writing, and one can see that a significant portion of this income stems from her blog. She has static affiliate banner ads at the bottom of the home page, and several text affiliate ads in the sidebar, where they are indistinguishable to her blog posts. While this is a little sneaky, in my opinion, it is also probably relatively effective. She also uses the website to sell several e-books that she has authored, including “Want to be a Writer? 73 Ways to Fire Up (or Just Fire!) the Muse” and “Want to Earn a Few Bucks? 75 Ways to Make (More) Money Blogging.”

Summary

One notable difference between Marian’s blog and Laurie’s blog is that Marian’s was particularly personal while Laurie’s was not. Marian blogs about what she wants to write about. Her blog is not concerned with making money on its own. For Laurie, however, writing is her career. It is what she does to pay her bills. Even her blog. So Laurie’s blog provides content that readers want to read, not what she wants to write. She also includes far more options for her blog to generate income. While I cannot know how much comes from the blog through affiliate sales and ebook sales, it is certainly enough to make writing the blog worthwhile.

I can learn from both of these blogs. I should continue to write about issues and topics that I want to write about, but I should also bear in mind what my readers want to read. I should consider additional ways to earn income through the blog, aside from links to my home page, but these advertisements should not be intrusive.

One thing is certain, however: conducting a survey and analysis of blogs that I myself enjoy reading is a good way to gain insight into what my audience would like to read.

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