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10 Ways to Pimp Your Blog

10 Ways to Pimp Your Blog
Pimp Your Blog

    A couple months ago, I wrote a newbie’s guide to blogging to help you get started with blogging. If you’ve been blogging for a little while now, you might be looking at how you can take the next step. To that end, this post offers 10 ways to “pimp” your blog, both in the sense of “tricking out” your blog to make it more attractive and more useful, and in the sense of pushing your blog to earn more readers, subscribers, and (hopefully) fans.

    Getting over the hump (or is it a Dip?)

    Launching a blog can be a heady experience, especially if it’s your first blog. Suddenly, what you have to say is “out there”, potentially available to millions of readers. You feel something like the pamphleteers of the French and American Revolution must have felt, sending your ideas forth into the Great Wide World.

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    Pretty soon, you might see a few readers, even get a comment of two, and that feels pretty good. After a couple of weeks of watching your statistics slowly inch into the double digits and waiting anxiously for the next comment, though, the initial enthusiasm fades a bit, and the realization sets in that blogging is long-term work. The Internet is littered with thousands, maybe millions of blogs that were abandoned after a few weeks or months.

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    If you’re writing good content and actively marketing your blog, though, there’s no reason why you should get discouraged as you slide into your first dip. Although it can be frustrating to commit your brilliant thoughts to the ether knowing only a handful of people are reading it, you’re doing important work for the long-term success of your site. You’re building up an archive of content that search engines will eventually be directing traffic to (Google, for instance, likes to see several months to a year of content on a blog before it starts bumping it up in search results), you’re building up a reputation, and you’re building a core readership — people who will link to your blog, bringing it to a slightly larger audience, who will also link, increasing the audience a little bit more, and so on.

    If you’re serious about blogging, the only thing to do at this point is to power through the dip. Spend some time buttressing your site’s functionality to make it more useful to your future readers (and avoid having to do much renovation later when the number of people it will confuse is vastly greater). And commit about the same amount of time you spend writing your blog to promoting it to keep that growth process moving forward.

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    Gussy it up a bit!

    The first group of tips are ways to add functionality or improve the way your blog looks. The idea is to turn your factory-stock ’04 Taurus into a lean, mean, street-racing machine. Let’s get started:

    1. First things first: UNPIMP YOUR BLOG! That’s right. Like a pimply-faced teen with no money who puts plastic wheel covers and fuzzy dice in his grandmother’s Civic hoping to impress the hot rod babes, beginning bloggers tend to put a lot of cra… er, “stuff” on their blogs. Counters. Chat rooms. Off-site forums. Badges for every web service and social network imaginable.  LOL-Cats. Glitter art.

      Most of this stuff isn’t making your blog any quicker, easier to use, or (let’s be honest) more attractive. It’s just cluttering it up and making it harder to find the good content your readers came to read. Be vicious in decluttering your blog — if a particular element adds no useful function for your readers, either a) lose it, b) move it to your “About” page (if it says something meaningful about you), or c) move it to a private page that only you have access to.

    2. Install a new theme: While you don’t want to get into the habit of changing your site’s layout all the time, now that you’ve been driving it for a couple of months it’s a good time to ask whether your theme is everything it could be. Most popular blogging platforms offer hundreds, if not thousands of free themes — Google the name of your blogging platform and the phrase “free themes” and check out the first few search results. Put some thought into the mood you want your site to convey — is it serious and professional, fun and whimsical, tech-savvy, homey, country, urban? There’s bound to be several themes for any mood you can dream up.
    3. Revise your “About” page: New bloggers tend to give short shrift to their “About” page. If your writing is at all good, people will want to know about the person behind the voice. Flesh out your bio with information about your background, experience, and reasons for blogging. This is also the place to put all those links to your profile on various social networks that you stripped from the front page while un-pimping.
    4. Create an “Archive” page: Most blogging software will automatically post links to monthly (or even weekly) archive pages into the sidebar of your blog. While this can look pretty neat when you’re just getting started, after a while that list starts getting pretty long — and it’s debatable whether it’s useful to let your readers browse by date, anyway. Before the list gets too unruly, move it to its own page (put a link to “Archives” in its place on the front page). Better yet, create a page with links to your archives by category or tag as well as by date.
    5. Add or update your logo: Most blogging programs create a nicely formatted header with your blog’s title and maybe a tagline, which is good, but if you’re in it for the long haul, you’re going to want a stronger brand image than just a title. Create — or have a graphics-savvy friend or even a professional create for you — a cool logo that says something interesting about you and your blog. This can be as simple as the title or its initials in a cool font that expresses the tone of your site, or an actual graphic (think: Nike’s “Swoosh”) that sums up the way you want your readers to feel.

    Work the streets

    Making your blog friendlier to readers won’t do much good if you don’t bring more readers to the site for a look. To build up traffic, you’re going to need to reach beyond your site and put links in places where your potential readers are likely to see them. Here are a few ideas:

    1. Add links to all your profiles: It seems obvious, but so many people don’t even fill out a profile on social networking sites — leaving a great resource untapped. If you participate to any significant degree on networks like Twitter, Pownce, Digg, StumbleUpon, Facebook, LinkedIn, and so on, people will check out your profile to find out more. Those are exactly the people you want reading your site! Make sure you give them a link that’s clearly marked as your site (so many people put their favorite sites in their profiles; make sure yours stands out as yours).
    2. Recognize active commenters: Respond to as many comments on your site as possible. Then, click through to your commenter’s sites and leave comments there. Build up a community of like-minded readers — ideally with your site as the “hub”. Some people post weekly or monthly “thank you” posts with links to the top 10 or 20 commenter’s sites — this not only helps build up a sense of warmth and goodwill, it makes it more likely that your readers with websites will link back to you.
    3. Write at least one valuable comment a day on someone else’s site. This is basically the above tip, inside-out. Leave good, insightful comments on other people’s sites — a sort of “mini-version” of your own site’s content — to get people interested in you. Remember, some people recognize quality commenters, by linking to their site and even by creating new posts around the points made in their best comments.
    4. Invite someone to guest post: In my newbie guide to blogging I suggested approaching well-established bloggers about writing a post for their sites. Once you get a little traction in your niche, you can also ask other bloggers if they’d like to do a post on your own blog — maybe as an exchange. You post on their site, they post on yours — you’ll both enjoy the opportunity to write for a slightly different audience, and of course you’ll both link to the other blogger’s site where your new post can be found.
    5. Create a massive resource post: Put your knowledge of your niche to work creating a massive resource — the 50 best sites in your niche, 100 great posts on your topic, 25 great web tools, etc. Make sure that you keep the filler to a minimum (there’s nothing wrong with posting the best 47 sites, instead of adding 3 more so-so sites to make it an even 50). This kind of post is often referred to as “linkbait”, because if it’s useful, a lot of people will link to it and/or bookmark it to return to later.

    Of course, you can always pay for traffic — you can buy StumbleUpon hits and Google ads and place banners on other people’s sites. It’s uncertain how powerful this kind of promotion is — some experts believe that on-line advertising doesn’t help anyone, and blogs are a special case even among online brands. While you can build a short-term spike in traffic through paid placements, it’s much harder to build long-term return traffic — that is, “fans” — in any way other than providing quality, meaningful stuff for them to read, both at your site and around the Web.

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    In my experience, the people who go for the quick burst of traffic rarely offer any reason to stick around. The ones who write well, show they’re serious, and have some staying power — the ones who manage to get over that first bout of doldrums a month or so into their blog’s life — those are the ones worth following. Follow some or all of the tips above, and you’ll be part of that select group.

    If you’ve been blogging for a while, let us know: how did you manage that first plateau — and all the slow periods since? What are your tips for bloggers whose feet are wet but they want to make sure they’ve built a strong enough foundation to make it for the long haul? Tell us your tips in the comments!

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    Published on May 18, 2021

    How To Improve Listening Skills For Effective Workplace Communication

    How To Improve Listening Skills For Effective Workplace Communication

    We have two ears and one mouth for a reason—effective communication is dependent on using them in proportion, and this involves having good listening skills.

    The workplace of the 21st century may not look the same as it did before COVID-19 spread throughout the world like wildfire, but that doesn’t mean you can relax your standards at work. If anything, Zoom meetings, conference calls, and the continuous time spent behind a screen have created a higher level of expectations for meeting etiquette and communication. And this goes further than simply muting your microphone during a meeting.

    Effective workplace communication has been a topic of discussion for decades, yet, it is rarely addressed or implemented due to a lack of awareness and personal ownership by all parties.

    Effective communication isn’t just about speaking clearly or finding the appropriate choice of words. It starts with intentional listening and being present. Here’s how to improve your listening skills for effective workplace communication.

    Listen to Understand, Not to Speak

    There are stark differences between listening and hearing. Listening involves intention, focused effort, and concentration, whereas hearing simply involves low-level awareness that someone else is speaking. Listening is a voluntary activity that allows one to be present and in the moment while hearing is passive and effortless.[1]

    Which one would you prefer your colleagues to implement during your company-wide presentation? It’s a no-brainer.

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    Listening can be one of the most powerful tools in your communication arsenal because one must listen to understand the message being told to them. As a result of this deeper understanding, communication can be streamlined because there is a higher level of comprehension that will facilitate practical follow-up questions, conversations, and problem-solving. And just because you heard something doesn’t mean you actually understood it.

    We take this for granted daily, but that doesn’t mean we can use that as an excuse.

    Your brain is constantly scanning your environment for threats, opportunities, and situations to advance your ability to promote your survival. And yet, while we are long past the days of worrying about being eaten by wildlife, the neurocircuitry responsible for these mechanisms is still hard-wired into our psychology and neural processing.

    A classic example of this is the formation of memories. Case in point: where were you on June 3rd, 2014? For most of you reading this article, your mind will go completely blank, which isn’t necessarily bad.

    The brain is far too efficient to retain every detail about every event that happens in your life, mainly because many events that occur aren’t always that important. The brain doesn’t—and shouldn’t—care what you ate for lunch three weeks ago or what color shirt you wore golfing last month. But for those of you who remember where you were on June 3rd, 2014, this date probably holds some sort of significance to you. Maybe it was a birthday or an anniversary. Perhaps it was the day your child was born. It could have even been a day where you lost someone special in your life.

    Regardless of the circumstance, the brain is highly stimulated through emotion and engagement, which is why memories are usually stored in these situations. When the brain’s emotional centers become activated, the brain is far more likely to remember an event.[2] And this is also true when intention and focus are applied to listening to a conversation.

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    Utilizing these hard-wired primitive pathways of survival to optimize your communication in the workplace is a no-brainer—literally and figuratively.

    Intentional focus and concentrated efforts will pay off in the long run because you will retain more information and have an easier time recalling it down the road, making you look like a superstar in front of your colleagues and co-workers. Time to kiss those note-taking days away!

    Effective Communication Isn’t Always Through Words

    While we typically associate communication with words and verbal affirmations, communication can come in all shapes and forms. In the Zoom meeting era we live in, it has become far more challenging to utilize and understand these other forms of language. And this is because they are typically easier to see when we are sitting face to face with the person we speak to.[3]

    Body language can play a significant role in how our words and communication are interpreted, especially when there is a disconnection involved.[4] When someone tells you one thing, yet their body language screams something completely different, it’s challenging to let that go. Our brain immediately starts to search for more information and inevitably prompts us to follow up with questions that will provide greater clarity to the situation at hand. And in all reality, not saying something might be just as important as actually saying something.

    These commonly overlooked non-verbal communication choices can provide a plethora of information about the intentions, emotions, and motivations. We do this unconsciously, and it happens with every confrontation, conversation, and interaction we engage in. The magic lies in the utilization and active interpretation of these signals to improve your listening skills and your communication skills.

    Our brains were designed for interpreting our world, which is why we are so good at recognizing subtle nuances and underlying disconnect within our casual encounters. So, when we begin to notice conflicting messages between verbal and non-verbal communication, our brain takes us down a path of troubleshooting.

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    Which messages are consistent with this theme over time? Which statements aren’t aligning with what they’re really trying to tell me? How should I interpret their words and body language?

    Suppose we want to break things down even further. In that case, one must understand that body language is usually a subconscious event, meaning that we rarely think about our body language. This happens because our brain’s primary focus is to string together words and phrases for verbal communication, which usually requires a higher level of processing. This doesn’t mean that body language will always tell the truth, but it does provide clues to help us weigh information, which can be pretty beneficial in the long run.

    Actively interpreting body language can provide you with an edge in your communication skills. It can also be used as a tool to connect with the individual you are speaking to. This process is deeply ingrained into our human fabric and utilizes similar methods babies use while learning new skills from their parents’ traits during the early years of development.

    Mirroring a person’s posture or stance can create a subtle bond, facilitating a sense of feeling like one another. This process is triggered via the activation of specific brain regions through the stimulation of specialized neurons called mirror neurons.[5] These particular neurons become activated while watching an individual engage in an activity or task, facilitating learning, queuing, and understanding. They also allow the person watching an action to become more efficient at physically executing the action, creating changes in the brain, and altering the overall structure of the brain to enhance output for that chosen activity.

    Listening with intention can make you understand your colleague, and when paired together with mirroring body language, you can make your colleague feel like you two are alike. This simple trick can facilitate a greater bond of understanding and communication within all aspects of the conversation.

    Eliminate All Distractions, Once and for All

    As Jim Rohn says, “What is easy to do is also easy not to do.” And this is an underlying principle that will carry through in all aspects of communication. Distractions are a surefire way to ensure a lack of understanding or interpretation of a conversation, which in turn, will create inefficiencies and a poor foundation for communication.

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    This should come as no surprise, especially in this day in age where people are constantly distracted by social media, text messaging, and endlessly checking their emails. We’re stuck in a cultural norm that has hijacked our love for the addictive dopamine rush and altered our ability to truly focus our efforts on the task at hand. And these distractions aren’t just distractions for the time they’re being used. They use up coveted brainpower and central processes that secondarily delay our ability to get back on track.

    Gloria Mark, a researcher at UC Irvine, discovered that it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds for our brains to reach their peak state of focus after an interruption.[6] Yes, you read that correctly—distractions are costly, error-prone, and yield little to no benefit outside of a bump to the ego when receiving a new like on your social media profile.

    Meetings should implement a no-phone policy, video conference calls should be set on their own browser with no other tabs open, and all updates, notifications, and email prompt should be immediately turned off, if possible, to eliminate all distractions during a meeting.

    These are just a few examples of how we can optimize our environment to facilitate the highest levels of communication within the workplace.

    Actions Speak Louder Than Words

    Effective communication in the workplace doesn’t have to be challenging, but it does have to be intentional. Knowledge can only take us so far, but once again, knowing something is very different than putting it into action.

    Just like riding a bike, the more often you do it, the easier it becomes. Master communicators are phenomenal listeners, which allows them to be effective communicators in the workplace and in life. If you genuinely want to own your communication, you must implement this information today and learn how to improve your listening skills.

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    Choose your words carefully, listen intently, and most of all, be present in the moment—because that’s what master communicators do, and you can do it, too!

    More Tips Improving Listening Skills

    Featured photo credit: Mailchimp via unsplash.com

    Reference

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