August 16, 2011

Is Your Blog Being Junked Up By Comment Spammers?

Filed under: Blogging — Tags: , , , — Meredith @ 2:40 pm

One of the biggest problems with having a website or blogs is dealing with spammers. These semi-literate bottom feeders are out to junk up the web and they want to use your web presence to do it. Comment spammers go around the web in search of blogs to leave comments on, or in many cases, have bots that do this. They have nothing of value to add to your blog’s conversation, they just want to get a link from your site to their site, for their own half-assed attempted at search engine optimization.

So first, here are the signs you are dealing with a comment spammer:
– The leave vague comments like “nice post” without actually referring to anything specific about your post.
– They fill in their “name” as something like “Treatment For Teeth Grinding”
– They are a hit and run commenter, they stop by once, leave a comment with no substantive value and never return.

Why you should delete their comments:
– They are junking up your comments section with no value to contribute
– You’re rewarding their spammy behavior by even allowing them to use your site for their gain
– It makes it look like you don’t have truly engaged readers on your site
– It gives more spammers the idea that your blog is spam-friendly and gives search engines the idea that your site is a haven for spam.

How to keep their comments off your blog:
– Use askimet, it’s the best comment spam blocker out there. Installing askimet means your blog will delete most of the spam comments for you, without your having to even see them.
– Don’t auto-approve comments on your blog. Hold comments for moderation and delete any that look like spam.

Although it’s tempting to allow these spammers to leave comments, since it makes it look like your blog is getting interaction, these comments deliver no value to your site and look like junk to legitimate readers. Keep the spammers in the trash where they belong, keep creating good content and the real readers will eventually chime in.

P.S. For those that follow me on Twitter, you may have seen I’ve been working on a viral marketing campaign. You can take a look at what I’ve been up to here. I’ll have a more detailed post on how this is going some time next week — hopefully inspiring you to try some viral marketing of your own.

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June 20, 2011

Why You Should Guest Post and How to Do It

Filed under: Blogging — Tags: , , , — Meredith @ 5:11 am

A lot of Smaller Box readers often want ideas on how to market their business for “free”. Before I go any further, let me just dispel the myth of “free” marketing. All marketing is going to cost something, if it doesn’t cost you cash, it is going to cost you time, and your time should have an hourly wage attached to it. As long as we’re clear on that, let’s talk guest blogging, because it is a great marketing tool that doesn’t cost any cash.

The idea with guest blogging is that you write a post on some else’s blog. This is usually unpaid writing work, but the goal is to get a link to your website and awareness for your brand. I’ve personally done guest posts on sites like Design Sponge and Crafting an MBA. It’s a great way to help potential Smaller Box readers find out about this site.

Although guest blogging is especially great for business-to-business brands like Smaller Box, this strategy can also be used by creative entrepreneurs who sell consumer products. Guest blogging is great for brand awareness and link building, which is an important part of search engine optimization (SEO). Below are some guidelines to use as you try to incorporate guest blogging into your marketing mix.

1. Pick the right blog
You want to guest post on a blog that reaches your target market. In my case, I try to guest post on blogs that are popular with creative entrepreneurs, since that’s my target market. Make a list of sites you wish you could advertise on, or sites that you know your customers frequent. Select blogs that have a good amount of traffic. (See to get an estimate of how much traffic a site gets.)

You’ll also want to make sure it’s a blog that accepts guest blogger submissions. Choose a site that’s got an active readership and updates often. You may be able to get an idea of how engaged a blog’s readers are, based on how often the blog’s posts get comments. A site with a really engaged audience is likely to deliver you quality traffic.

If you need more detailed help on finding blogs to approach about guest blogging, check out Scoring Publicity for Your Small Business. The book has en entire chapter on building a press list, and many of the same techniques described in the book would apply to finding blogs to guest post for. Plus, it’s a must-have resources for DIY publicity.

2. Pick a great blogging topic and pitch
Once you’ve made your list of blogs that you’d like to write for. Select topics to write about for each of your prospects. You want to pick a topic that is highly relevant to the blog you’re trying to write for. For example, if you sell kids clothing, maybe you’d want to write for a parenting blog. You could pitch a guest post about selecting durable back to school clothing for children or a piece about back to school trends for this year.

The important thing to keep in mind is that you want to deliver real value to the blog you want to guest post with. You can’t pitch them a post that’s nothing but a giant ad for your business, and can’t pitch them regurgitated content that you’ve already posted elsewhere. You want to offer to write something fresh and genuinely interesting to the blog’s readers. This is probably the most important take away from this article and I can’t stress it enough. If you can’t produce great content for the blogs you want to work with, don’t waste your time or their time pitching them. I know I turn down several guest post pitches every week here at Smaller Box, because the content submitted to me isn’t up to my standards.

Once you’ve selected blogs to pitch and topics for each, send the blog owner a short but sweet message expressing your interest in guest blogging. Be sure to tell them what you want to post about, and why this topic is a great fit for their blog. (You can find samples of pitch emails within Scoring Publicity for Your Small Business, they are geared to pitching stories to media outlets that they would write, but the samples could be used as references to get ideas on how to pitch a story you want to write.)

3. Maximize the benefits of guest posting
Have an end goal in mind when doing guest posts. You may be trying to introduce a new product, get people to connect with you on social media, or join your mailing list. Make sure you’ve got your guest post linked to landing pages that are suitable for your end goal.

If you want to get the blog’s readers on your mailing list, be sure to include a link to a squeeze page. (A squeeze page is a page that is designed to get people to sign up for a mailing list — here’s an example of one.) If you want to get people to connect with you on Facebook or Twitter, include links to your pages on those sites. If you want people to buy something, link to your product page.

Ideally, your effort to convert traffic (to social media followers, newsletter subscribers, paying customers, etc.) should have a sweetener to really get them interested in converting. If you want them on your mailing list, offer a free useful download when they join. If you want them to like you on Facebook, use a reveal tab with something appealing behind it to get them to click “like”. If you want them to purchase a product, share a limited time coupon code just for the blog’s readers. These extra incentives should help increase conversions from the guest post.

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April 19, 2011

4 Examples for Company Blogs Done Right

Filed under: Blogging — Meredith @ 12:37 pm

One of my favorite pieces of advice about running your company blog is this:
“Your company blog should look and sound a lot like your dream ad venue. Imagine you had a few thousand dollars to advertise your company online. Where would you advertise? Got a place in mind? Good! Now take a look at their content and appearance, that’s what your company blog should probably be like.”

You company blog is your little slice of the internet that you can use to attract new potential fans and keep existing fans interested in you. That’s why your blog can’t be all ME ME ME! It needs to be about what’s interesting to your target customers. Below are four examples of companies that have done it right:

1. Silversport
What they sell: Fitness products, including fitness towels and yoga mats.

What they blog about: How to Choose Bikram Yoga Gear, How to Get Pilates Abs, Reasons to Start Running

Why this is smart: Not only are these topics interesting to Silversport’s customers that they’ve already won over, this blog is search engine optimization gold. It drives casual internet searchers interested in fitness right to Silversport’s blog.

What they sell: Pet supplies, including collars, leashes, toys, etc.

What they blog about: Dog Walking Tips, Preparing Your Dog for Your New Baby, Camping With Your Dog, Making Holidays Safe for Cats and Kittens

Why this is smart: Like Silversport, Petsolutions blogs about topics of interest to their customers and they’ve got terrific search engine fodder for attracting new fans. Their articles are written by animal experts, giving their blog authority in their industry. They’ve also interspersed fun content like contests, to keep customers engaged.

3. Sexy Period
What they sell: Cute panties specially designed for that time of the month.

What they blog about: A balanced mix of behind the scenes and a look at the relatable ladies who run the company, along with an eye catching selection of fashion finds.

Why this is smart: They keep the info they present about the brand’s inner workings and its staff interesting, by sharing relatable tidbits like staff’s favorite PMS snacks and favorite tunes. When you shop with this company, you feel more like you’re buying a product from a trusted girlfriend rather than a faceless corporation. To keep the focus from being too me-centric, they keep things interesting with fashion finds from around the web that are sure to appeal to their target demographic. The blog ends up being half girl talk and half fashion mag — a perfect note to strike for the type of product the company sells.

4. Peanut Butter & Company
What they sell: peanut butter, of course

What they blog about: Peanut butter recipes from around the internet, producing a veritable recipe aggregator for all things peanut butter.

Why this is smart: It’s tough to keep a topic as narrow as peanut butter interesting, but by showing fans new ways to use the product, the blog stays on topic and provides value to peanut butter fans. The blog uses recipes from around the web, which means they bring the foodie blogger community into the mix. What a great way to get influential talkers in your niche cozy with your products. Everyone loves to have their ideas recognized, and by featuring food bloggers, Peanut Butter & Company is sure to win some points with these foodie writers and their fans.

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March 8, 2011

3 Places to Find Ideas for Blog Content

Filed under: Blogging — Meredith @ 7:35 am

Feeling a case of writer’s block? Cranking out great blog posts every day can be tough. That’s why today I’ve got 3 ideas for you to find inspiration for your next post.

1. Your Dream Ad Venue
If you had a million dollars to advertise online, where would you advertise? Would it be a certain online magazine, a blog, a message board? Got some ideas? Great, now to go those sites and see what they write about. I firmly believe your company blog should serve the kind of content your ideal ad venue would serve. Your blog is your place to advertise where you have 100% share of the voice. Make the most of it with content that your target market is drawn to.

2. Your Fans
Does your company have accounts on Twitter or Stylehive or Flickr or other social sites? Take a look at what your followers are discussing these days. Are they excited about a new movie that’s coming out? Are they psyched for margaritas with Cinco de Mayo around the corner? Are they obsessing over a celeb meltdown? Following their online conversations can give you ideas about what they want to read about. Write accordingly.

3. The Competition
Most retailer blogs are not good, they write about themselves too much, they post infrequently, their customers couldn’t care less about them. That’s all the stuff you don’t want to do. Every now and then though, you find a retailer blog that’s working. Their posts are getting Facebook likes and Tweets and comments, their customers seem genuinely engaged. Take a look at your competitors’ blogs and see if any of them are doing it right. If they are, take note of what posts are getting their customers’ attention. Write posts with a similar style or theme and see if you can engage your customers too.



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March 7, 2011

Make Your Blog 1047% More Readable

Filed under: Blogging — Meredith @ 7:24 am

See what I did there in the headline today? I made an outrageous claim about how to vastly improve your blog’s readability, instantly making this post more interesting, which leads me to my first tip of today’s post…

1. Write Juicy Headlines
Make sure the title of each blog post isn’t an afterthought, it’s the invitation to read the post. Make it alluring. Use numbers, make outrageous claims, say something that makes people want to read more.

2. Make Your Writing Skimable
If you’re a regular around here, you know that you can get the gist of most of my posts in a few seconds. I love bold, bullets and small paragraphs. I do this because it makes my posts easy to skim. According to Jakob Neilson, 79% of online visitors only skim the content they read online. If that’s how your readers want to absorb your content, make it easy for them to do so. You’ll be rewarded with loyal followers and return visitors if you’re writing is great and easy to digest.

3. Use Visuals
Images are even easier to absorb than text. Make sure your blog posts contain some imagery. It can be a photo that relates to the theme of your post or maybe even a chart or graph if you’re talking about numbers or statistics. These visual cues draw in readers and help them quickly make sense of your post. They also break up the text and give the eyes a break.

4. Link Relevant Content
If you want to bump up your blog’s page views or elaborate on a point without rehashing something you’ve written about before, link to previous content. If the reader wants to know more they can click, and if they don’t you’ve made the post a quicker easier read.

Okay, I can’t actually promise your blog will be 1047% more readable, but these tips will get you well on the way 🙂


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September 16, 2010

Your Blog as A Part of Your SEO Strategy

Filed under: Blogging — Tags: , — Meredith @ 7:47 am

On a forum I read, a fellow indie biz blogger said blogging is not that great for SEO. She said this in the context of asking small business owners WHY they blog. It’s an important question to think about, but the answer certainly can be SEO. The truth is a blog can be great for SEO, it depends on how you use it. So today’s post is about how to make your blog part of your SEO strategy.

1. Research
To really make your blog great for SEO, you’re going to want to do some keyword research. Let’s imagine I sell stationery, and I do a lot of business with wedding invitations. The first thing I want to do is hit up Google’s keyword tool and plug in “wedding invitations”. When I do this I immediately get two awesome things: ideas for blog posts AND keywords people in the market for wedding invitations use when they are shopping. Some of the phrases I get are:
– wedding invitation wording
– beach wedding invitations
– wedding invitation designs

I got lots of others, but we’ll just go with those 3 for now. They make for great blog post ideas and they are keywords we want to capture to attract customers from the web.

2. Come Up With a Plan
Now that I have ideas for phrases I want to optimize for, and ideas for posts, I want to come up with an editorial calendar for my blog that will incorporate those keywords. I also want to think about how I’ll promote my posts so I can get as much mileage from them as possible.

Let’s say I decide I’ll do one post called “Wedding Invitation Wording: 10 Great Examples from Traditional to Humorous” Then I write a post sharing examples of wedding invitation wording. My next course of action would be to find a few places to get links to this post. Maybe I’ll see if people are looking for ideas for wedding invite wording on Yahoo Answers or a message board about weddings. Hopefully I’ve networked with other people in the business like wedding photographers or florists and maybe they have blogs too. I can ask them to link my post in one of their posts.

I’ll want to plan posts around each of the phrases I want to optimize for just like I’ve described above. Maybe I’d write a post about “Beach Wedding Invitations and 5 Other Must Haves for the Perfect Beach Wedding” or “Wedding Invitations Design Inspiration Boards” and then I’d post some inspiration boards I used when designing my invitations. This gives customers eye candy, a look behind the scenes AND optimizes for my keywords. Again, I’ll want to work on getting links to my posts so I can get as much use from them as possible.

3. Balance
Blogs can be powerful SEO vehicles, and you’ll want to work target key phrases into your posts, but make sure your posts don’t come off as too calculated. If your post is clearly written for search bots and has no personality, search engines might find you, but people won’t want to read what you wrote. Not every single post has to be about SEO, but some of them certainly should be.

Every time you update your blog, you’re creating another page for search engines to index and more reasons for them to send traffic to your website. So every time you post to your blog, you’re essentially buying a ticket to the search engine lottery. Even if each ticket isn’t a million dollar winner, a ticket that scores you a dollar here and five dollars there eventually adds up to a pretty big win.

4. Maintain
Stick to a blogging schedule, even if it’s just two or three posts per week. This will give existing fans a reason to check your blog regularly and continue to create new fodder for the search engines.

Use a tool like WordPress so you can install your blog ON YOUR OWN DOMAIN. This is important because it makes your domain more credible with search engines and also helps keep prospective customers on your website. (Using a hosted solution like Blogger or Tumblr is okay, but you’re doing SEO work for a domain you don’t own or control, which is less than ideal.)

Make sure the blogging software you use is SEO compliant. This means your blog uses url names, h1 tags and title tags that incorporate your blog post name. Also be sure to link to your own posts when appropriate, doing this still counts as “links” as far as search engines are concerned.

Still confused by SEO? Here’s a beginner’s guide that explains the basics.

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March 25, 2010

You’re Doing It Wrong: 4 Ways You’re Not Marketing to YOUR Customers

Filed under: Blogging,PR,Promotions,Social Media — Tags: , , , , — Meredith @ 10:26 am

One of the biggest mistakes I see smaller businesses making online is that they often don’t understand who their target market is. As a result they don’t actually market to them. Developing a successful small business means having a very clear understanding of who your target audience is. You might be saying “duh” right now but consider these questions:

Does your media list mostly contain indie blogs?

Do your Facebook statuses say “Just found a new source for fabrics on ebay.” and “Trying to figure out how to use Quickbooks for small business”?

Do you blog mainly about going to trade shows and how to put in a perfect dart?

If you’re guilty of these faux pas, you probably aren’t marketing to your target audience and you may not even understand who your target audience is. Don’t get me wrong, it’s okay to pitch indie blogs. There’s nothing wrong with giving customers a little behind the scenes peak at your day to day life. The problem is that’s all some small businesses do. Unless you sell supplies, most of your potential customers probably aren’t small business owners or artisans. They’re people who admire unique products, but can’t necessarily produce them on their own, and aren’t even terribly interested in how you do your magic. They just enjoy the end result.

So here are four places you can change your ways immediately and start marketing to potential customers instead of, well, yourself.

1. Blog
Blog about things that are interesting to your customers. If you sell dog leashes, blog about cute dog videos from Youtube. If you sell cosmetics, blog about how to achieve the perfect smokey eye.

2. Social Media
Stop spending all day on Etsy’s self-promotion forums. Stop tweeting about new Ebay seller policies, troubles with your merchant account and CPSIA all day. Start Tweeting and Facebooking about stuff your customers will find interesting, amusing or informative. If you want to socialize with fellow artisans or small business owners create TWO social media accounts, one for customers and one for peers.

3. Advertising
This is a biggie. There is a giant world of advertising to be had out there. There are niche publications for nearly everything. So stop spending all your ad dollars on publications mainly read by other artisans and business owners (again, unless you sell supplies or services for business owners or something). It’s okay to do a little marketing to that audience, but make sure the bulk of your ad dollars are being spent on publications that reach potential customers and not just your peers.

Check out sites like Blogads, explore Google Adwords and Adbrite. Think about who your target customers are and what publications they read and what websites they visit. Speaking of which…

4. Media List
Make sure your media list contains press relevant to your brand. A press list for a jewelry company should be different than a press list for a company that mainly designs housewares. Make sure you’re thinking about niche audiences that might like your products. A company that makes jewelry out of circuit boards should be pitching to geek publications. A company that makes pendants featuring different dog breeds should be pitching to pet publications.

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March 11, 2010

3 Reasons to Ditch the Ads

Filed under: Blogging,Ecommerce — Tags: , — Meredith @ 8:01 am
Photo by Alykat

In surfing the sites of some small businesses, I’ve noticed a trend I feel compelled to comment on. Some e-tailers are running ads on their blogs and websites! While it may be tempting to rake in a little bit of cash, this is why it’s a terrible idea:

1. It looks less professional
If you want wholesale buyers, press and customers to take you seriously your online presence needs to be professional. Ads for casinos and pharmaceuticals don’t help with that image.

Think about the larger more successful businesses you want to emulate some day. Would they ever run Adsense on their websites?

2. It’s not aesthetically pleasing
The balance of text to images and use of layout are important parts of web design. When you have a bunch of animated gifs or Adsense text running amuck on the page it’s just unpleasant to look at. The eye wants to go in too many directions and it’s impossible to focus on what you’re trying to sell.

3. You need 100% share of the voice
Your website or blog should be 100% dedicated to YOUR brand. I am not against cross-promoting with a hand-picked partner, but there is no reason to let competitors or unrelated businesses promote on your website or blog.

Note: I am only making this recommendation for e-tailers. If you make your money selling products you should lose the ads. If you are a blogger, and you make your money only by writing content, it’s much more understandable to have ads. You aren’t actually trying to sell anything and you have to make your money with ads.

Don't forget to enter out contest

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February 17, 2010

10 Ideas for Your Blog’s Content

Filed under: Blogging — Tags: — Meredith @ 5:11 am

Last month I wrote a post about my peeve with most indie biz blogs, they’re boring. Today I’m throwing out a few ideas for blog topics. Stuff that would be fun to write about and probably hold your customers’ attention.

  1. Your favorite recipe
  2. Your sources of creative inspiration/artists you like
  3. Top Something List (comic strips, classic porn stars, travel destinations)
  4. A tour of your hometown (best shops, restaurants, hotels, neighborhoods, etc.)
  5. A photo tour of your house
  6. Cute pictures of your pets
  7. A How To (score points with the ladies, clean your entire house in under an hour, eat pizza without burning the roof of your mouth)
  8. A funny conversation or experience you had
  9. A cause you care about, how you got interested in it and how you support it
  10. Something amusing you found on the internet

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January 14, 2010

Your Blog is Boring

Filed under: Blogging — Tags: , , , — Meredith @ 1:22 am

I am not a seamstress. I am not a metal smith. I am not an electrical engineer. I like clothes and earrings and gadgets but that doesn’t mean I care how they’re made or who makes them. This is why I don’t want to read your blog. The vast majority of the blogs I’ve seen that belong to artisans or indie businesses are all about them and not enough about their target audience.

If you sell crafting supplies, by all means talk about new crafting techniques; your customers make stuff. If your goal is to sell a finished product, talk about stuff that interests your customers.

This isn’t to say a customer won’t enjoy the occasional peak behind the scenes. You can also argue that some customers do find your creative process interesting. Generally speaking, however, most people don’t care that you just got a bunch of new fabrics or that you’re too swamped with shipping chores to eat dinner. These boring personal details will not bring customers to your blog, Twitter, Facebook, Flickr or Youtube.

Think about all the stuff you read each day. You probably read those things for entertainment or information. If your communications to your customers offer neither they’re going to lose interest, no matter how much they may like your products.

So what should you communicate to your customers about?

1. Product news (sparingly)
If you’ve released a new fall collection it certainly makes sense to tell customers. However, do not make all of your communicaitons about product releases. People don’t want to feel like you do nothing but sell to them. Most of the Twitter feeds I see from Etsy shop owners look like this:

Did I put you to sleep yet? If you want customers to follow you, you have to give them a reason to do so. If you really want to post lots of mundane personal details to your blog or social media accounts set up separate accounts for business and personal use. Keep your business accounts focused on your customers’ interests.

2. Behind the Scenes (sparingly)
If you have a particularly funny anecdote about how you came up with a product name, share it. If your product is now available nation-wide at Whole Foods, tell people. Just make sure your communication isn’t all about you. Constant and uninteresting updates about your life will not keep anyone coming back.

3. Their Ideas (sometimes)
People like to be asked their opinions. It’s totally fine to ask customers to participate in your creative process. Ask them to suggest a concept for a new product. Ask them which color fabric they prefer for your new line of dresses.

You can even turn this kind of thing into a marketing effort. Tell your customers to suggest names for your newest product and let them know you’ll have a vote to see which name is most popular, with the winner getting a free gift. This gets your customers engaged in the process and encourages them to ask their friends to engage (i.e. vote for their ideas)

4. Information (often)
Giving customers useful information is a great way to keep them coming back to you. If you sell kids clothing why not blog about how to cope with colic or post a list of great craft projects to enjoy with the kids? Your target audience is parents, so give parents a reason to follow your brand and share it with their friends.

Providing useful information isn’t just a great way to keep existing customers coming back, it’s also a good way to improve your search engine optimization so new customers can find you.

5. Entertainment (often)
Everyone loves to be amused; my RSS feed is about 50% entertainment and 50% informative. If a website or twitter account makes me laugh I add them to my list of daily reads. This is why sites like Cuteoverload and Perez Hilton are so popular.

At Ex-Boyfriend, we aim to share one entertaining thing via our blog every week day. We have regular features like WTF Wednesday where we discuss news of the weird, and Fuzzy Friday where we share the cutest and funniest animal pictures and videos. We throw in the occasional tidbit about a new product or something funny that happened in our personal lives, but we try very hard to keep our focus on what will amuse our audience.

When you entertain people they tend to share your content with their friends. Providing entertainment is a great way to introduce some viral marketing to your mix while keeping current customers interested in what you’re up to.

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