Archive for the ‘Genealogy blogging’ Category

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.

31 Weeks to a Better Genealogy Blog Catchup, Week 3: Promote a Blog Post

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 definitely one that I am at least experienced with, if not mastered. Tonia presents a list of eleven ways to promote a specific blog post, originally noted in Darren Rowse’s e-book. My thoughts on these promotional ideas follow.

Pitch to other bloggers: ask another blogger to consider linking to your post. This gives me the heebie-jeebies. I really don’t like asking people to do things for me.

I have never asked another blogger to link to one of my posts. On the other hand, I believe that providing quality content will inspire other bloggers to link to your posts of their own accord. For a list of mentions of this blog in other blogs, see http://haitfamilyresearch.com/blog.aspx, at the bottom of the page, where I have linked to all of the posts I have found that link to this blog. Others may exist–please let me know about them if you find them in the comments here.

Social Messaging: use Twitter, Facebook, and other social networks to promote your post. Darren says “the key is not to incessantly spam your followers and your friends with your link.”

This blog is a part of the Networked Blogs application on Facebook. My settings automatically post links to new posts to both Facebook and Twitter. The one drawback to this is that it is not always entirely evident that my posts on Twitter relate to genealogy. To amend this, I will often re-tweet the automatic NetworkedBlogs tweet with the added hashtag “#genealogy.” I would recommend that anyone tweeting any content related to genealogy always use the #genealogy hashtag to set that content apart.

I also have a WordPress application attached to my LinkedIn profile, so new posts are automatically added to my profile. And of course (like so many others) I have recently joined Google+ and have been submitting links to my posts on that site as well.

Social Bookmarking: promote selective links on sites like Digg or StumbleUpon.

I used to use Digg for all of my articles, and this might prompt me to start doing it again. I also like StumbleUpon, and have already submitted some of my blog posts to the site, but should probably do the rest as well.

I would also add another similar site to the assignment: Reddit.

Internal Links: what posts within your own site can you link to a given post? Have you written on a topic before? Are you writing a series? Link them up. Another way to do this is to use automatic apps, like a related-post plug-in if you are on WordPress, or a widget like LinkWithin, which I believe works on both WordPress and Blogger. You can also add a section in your sidebar with “Latest posts,” “Popular posts,” “Featured posts,” etc. WordPress makes this very easy to do; I’m not sure about Blogger.

I do this all the time, as you can see from the “pingbacks” that appear in the comments of many of my blog posts.

Newsletters: shoot an email out to your newsletter list, if you have one. (Does anyone do a newsletter? I’d like to hear more about how often you do that, what kind of content you include, etc.)

I don’t have a newsletter, and probably will not create one for the purposes of promoting a blog. In my opinion, blogging has replaced the very “Web 1.0″ email newsletter list.

Other Blog’s Comments Sections and Forums: leaving good-quality comments can help drive traffic to your site and leaving a link can be appropriate if it is germane to the discussion. (Just a note here, I use a plug-in called CommentLuv that automatically inserts a link to each commenter’s last post, if they’ve signed up for the service. And since, I’m signed up, my links are left on other bloggers’ sites, if they use CommentLuv.)

Unfortunately, the free version of WordPress that I use does not allow the installation of plug-ins, so I can’t use CommentLuv. It sounds great, though! I am a little wary of blatant self-promotion in the comments of other blogs, but I have done this on occasion if it is appropriate and on-topic. One non-intrusive way to accomplish this would be when links are invited, such as with this blog series or with Randy Seaver’s “Saturday Night Genealogy Fun” posts at Genea-Musings.

Email signatures: Darren suggests including links to recent posts, instead of just your blog’s front page URL.

Not a bad idea, but not one that I will do. I would hate to have to change my signature every time I post a new article. I write a lot of emails, though so this would certainly get the word out to a lot of people.

Follow-up posts: write a new post that picks up where another left off, like a series, or adds new information to a previous post, then inter-link them.

I love series of posts. In this blog, I have written several popular series, including “Source Citations: Why Form Matters” and “Source Citations: Getting it ‘Right’.”

Advertise Your post: You might consider a small ad campaign for a post you are particularly proud of, using AdWords, StumbleUpon, or similar services. This probably isn’t something most geneabloggers would consider, but it might be worthwhile for those who are professional genealogists.

Not too interested in buying ad space for a blog post. For one thing, as a professional genealogist, my blog is to a certain extent as much a marketing venture as it is a communications venture.

Pitch Mainstream Media: You might want to do this for a really interesting post. Again, I think this would be more suitable for the pros.

I have never pitched to mainstream media, but my posts have occasionally been picked up on their own. Most recently, my post “Five things you have to know about every record” was mentioned in the online edition of the American Library Association’s American Libraries Direct.

Article Marketing: Rewrite some key articles and submit them to article marketing sites.

I am not really sure what an article marketing site is, but I have a feeling that it is what is often negatively called a “content mill.” I already have two columns on Examiner.com, which is at least a few steps above a content mill, but I have a little more integrity than to submit to some of the lower-quality sites. I have read quite a few of the genealogy-related articles on these sites, and they are generally not very good.

So, I do have a few tasks to work on in conjunction with this assignment. Most notably, to submit some of my articles (if not all) to Digg, StumbleUpon, and ReddIt.

31 Weeks to a Better Genealogy Blog Catchup, Week 2: List Posts

I recently discovered a series entitled “31 Weeks to a Better Genealogy Blog,” at the Tonia’s Rootsblog. 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 second task required in this series is to write a “list post.” A list post is exactly what it sounds like: a post that is a list of something. Anything.

I am relieved to see that I must be doing something right with this blog! I have already written a number of “list posts” in the past few months:

There are also quite a few small lists held within other posts.

And, by writing this post, I have created another one. This fits the definition of the third type of list post, as noted in Tonia’s post on the subject:

Lists within posts – in this post-type, the list (or lists) is a way of breaking up the text. There may be some narrative in paragraph format, then a list, then another paragraph, etc.

The catchup will continue in the next post…

31 Weeks to a Better Genealogy Blog Catchup, Week 1: Elevator Pitch

I recently discovered a series entitled “31 Weeks to a Better Genealogy Blog,” at the Tonia’s Rootsblog. 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.

An “elevator pitch” is the common name for a brief summary of what you offer. All salespeople, business owners, and authors, among many other professions, are encouraged to create an elevator pitch. This summary should be just a few sentences, and describe in precise (and memorable) terms exactly what it is you do.

For a blog, an elevator pitch would be somewhere in between a tag line and an “About” page, in both length and detail.

Tonia offers the following tips for creating your elevator pitch, derived from Rowse’s e-book:

  • Define your audience – who are you writing for? You may have more than one elevator pitch that you use for different audiences.
  • Keep it short – no more than 100-150 words. “Get to the point, eliminate unnecessary words and make it punchy!”
  • Be energetic – show people that you are passionate about what you are doing.
  • Know what you are trying to achieve – your goal is not tell everything about your blog, but to interest people in visiting – or staying – and reading.

I created an “About Me” page when I recently revived this blog as “Planting the Seeds,” from its earlier incarnation as “Tricks of the Tree.” The short summary of this blog reads,

This blog will discuss issues relating to professional genealogy, including research methodology, educational opportunities, best practices, and other subjects. Will also periodically discuss case studies and ‘Ask a Professional’ questions/answers.

This is already in the form of an elevator pitch. It is brief, to the point, and quickly summarizes exactly what this blog is about. I actually had the idea of an elevator pitch in mind when I wrote the paragraph.

I have also, in three months of regularly writing for the blog, pretty much stayed within the confines of my original vision for the blog. This actually surprises me, as my mind (and writing) tends to wander at times.

So, rather than making any changes, I would like to ask my readers:

What would you change about my “elevator pitch”?

This is the Face of Genealogy

For the inspiration for this post, read “The Face of Genealogy” at Thomas MacEntee’s Geneabloggers blog.

This is my great-great-grandmother, Mary Francis (Connell/O’Connell) Reittinger, shortly after immigrating to Newburyport, Massachusetts from County Galway, Ireland.

This is the Face of Genealogy.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,874 other followers

%d bloggers like this: