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Blog Comments Aren’t Really a Two Way Street.

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Getting comments on your blog is a great thing. All those hours spent putting together posts feel somehow more productive and worthwhile when you have visitors who comment, whether it’s on the failure of your 8th grade English teacher or the travesty of your having been ignored by the New York Times. Unfortunately, in order to get noticed it takes more than hitting the publish button and then sitting back and basking in the warm glow of a job well done. You may be getting plenty of visitors, but if they don’t comment it can sometimes remind you of those relatives who stop by and leave only empty candy dishes and a dry liquor cabinet as evidence of their passing.  

Proof of this is all over the blogosphere. We have blog hops, chain awards (similar to chain mails, only you have to graciously accept the award then visit ten other blogs and award it in turn to pass the “Guilt Visit Curse” on to your unsuspecting victims), blog catalogs, blog groups, and every other manner of blog promotion imaginable. Each has one unifying theme. Provide a way to get your blog noticed and get other bloggers to visit and comment. Bloggers list their blogs, ask for comments, and in turn visit others who are doing the same. These are noble endeavors although they seem to all eventually succumb to the natural laws of entropy. They start out great, but the energy dissipates quickly as the list of blogs to visit and comment on grows and the ability of the participants to keep up peters out.

You learn rather quickly that unless you happen to enjoy consuming an endless supply of Bolivian cocaine and powdered donuts, or have the metabolism of an ADHD afflicted squirrel, there is no way you can follow, visit, and comment on everyone’s blogs. Very often, many of the blogs in these groups simply die off as owners give up or decide to put their energies elsewhere. Part of the reason why many give up, is because the effort it seems is required to get and keep your blog popular is simply too enormous. No one has the time to leave a comment on a hundred blogs every other day, and if you do, then it’s likely something else is being neglected.

Part of the equation that is being ignored with these groups is also the crux of the problem with decline in participation. While blogging groups are fine and a great way to expose your blog to others and kick start the comment process, until your blog begins maintaining a visitor base on its own, these solicited comments are only a band aid. To this end, bloggers need to remember consistency. We tend to get so caught up with building exposure and commenting on so many blogs, that we forget all about many of the blogs we found that truly appeal to us in some way. Think of these groups as training wheels for your blog. They’re good for getting you started while you learn how to perfect your balance, but eventually they have to come off.

If we want to keep the comments flowing, if we want the blogging community to remember us, it’s necessary to genuinely be a part of that community. One of the things I have done to address this is somewhat arbitrary, but is based on the true ideals of blogging as a whole. I play favorites. Yup. Teachers pet, Mom likes you best, all that. Sure you can bookmark and subscribe, but you still end up with an impossibly long list that does little to help in directing your commenting efforts, and it’s not exactly productive if you subscribe and then ignore every update that drops into your inbox. My own list of favorites is ridiculously bloated, and trying to find something specific is now an exercise in futility. I don’t care how organized you are, 100 files is 100 files, and the last thing I want is some automated program to find files for me and add a new way to help me screw things up. So something more efficient is called for. That something is letting go of the perceived obligation to comment on each and every blog.

When I get comments to my blog, I visit the blog owned by each and every commenter. If it’s possible, I’ll leave a reciprocal comment. I think it’s safe to assume that most of us do this. However, I take it a step further. Every blog I visit, if it appeals to me in some way, gets its title and url saved to a specific file for later reference. This file is an integral part of my overall plans for self promotion. A couple times a week, I’ll pull up this file and pick out several of these blogs to visit. It keeps me up to date with their latest posts, and allows me to maintain some sort of consistency as well.

 The important part though is this.

They are in this folder because I made the deliberate decision to make them a part of my end of the blogosphere. Whether it’s because they help to fill the seemingly endless gaps in my writing knowledge, or I simply find the owners personable and worth getting to know better or something in between, they go in the visit and comment folder. While it may seem an obvious idea, I’ve noticed that the general trend in blog groups is to try to visit each and every active blog regardless of its focus, or dare I say it, quality. Let’s face it, not every blog is going to tickle your fancy. Many will not be around in a month or two. Some are just plain poorly done. Sure these observations are for the most part subjective, but the truth of the matter is, it all comes down to content and quality. Either your blog is going to be like fly paper and glue its visitors in for the long haul, or its going to be made out of rubber and send them bouncing away as fast as they come in. That’s why some of you have noticed and even remarked that you were surprised when I visited and commented although you hadn’t even listed your new post yet. I don’t rely on comment requests, I like your blog and I visit. The comment requests are simply how I find new blogs to visit. Isn’t that what we are after?

We have to remember that although these blogging groups are great for improving exposure and kick starting our communities, they are made up of other bloggers who are just as busy as the next guy. We visit and comment out of a sense of community and obligation to help each other, but at some point we have to begin letting our blogs find their own wings and fly on their own. Of course this all means that some blogs don’t go into the comment and visit folder. This is unavoidable. However, it is how it is supposed to work naturally with blogs. Visitors find you, they bookmark, and they come back. More find you and do the same until you find yourself with wild success and riches beyond imagining. Ok that last bit is just daydreaming, but you get the point.

I’ve had several blog group members ask me which post I would like them to comment on in return for a comment I made on their blogs. My answer is always the same. Comment if you see something you want to remark on. If not, catch me tomorrow or maybe next week.

 The focus is supposed to be on your content, not how many comments you can generate. Comments will come eventually if everything is going well and you’re following at least the basics of good blogging practices.

I prefer visitors leave a comment because they want to, not because they feel obligated. That’s not what makes a blog successful. That’s just your training wheels at work. Eventually you have to take them off, and hope like heck you don’t crash into the thorn covered brambles at the end of the street.

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Reprint and Site Directory

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Below is a reprint of my entry into the Comluv Blogging contest from a couple months ago. It got me 10th place out of 30 odd entries, but I don’t put much stock into the results since they had little to do with the article itself.

****** I’ve also added a link directory to my site. In the menu bar above you’ll see an “Add Your Blog” tab. Go there and you can add your site to one of the listed categories, no reciprocal link required though if you want to I wont complain.********EDIT/Directory is active and available for listings.

 Don’t Leave Your Blogs Success Up to Blind Luck

My blog represents little more than a way for me to expand my horizons and touch on only a small part of the world that is available to all of us online. Most of my freelance writing involves solidifying and manifesting specific subject matter for others which really isn’t personally satisfying. My blog however allows me to run with my own thoughts from time to time and perhaps share some of what I learn as I continue to progress and develop my own creative focus. If I get a job inquiry then great, but really I just want the enjoyment. This doesn’t mean however that I don’t care if no one ever notices my blog.

One of the most challenging aspects of blogging is creating content that inspires action. While some of us may be concerned with prodding visitors into visiting sponsors and affiliates or buying something, and others could care less, just about every blogger wants comments. No matter who you are, if no one ever comments, it isn’t too long before you find yourself wondering if the effort is worth it.

If you look at the majority of opinions on the subject of blog comments and how to generate them, you’ll notice that there are a pretty standard set of suggestions floating around. Most will tell you to try working with controversial subjects or to make sure you respond when people leave a comment and little more. That’s generally ok and common sense advice, but the truth is that it is pretty generic and rarely very effective.

What you are trying to do is sell something. That something is your content. The currency is notice. And like any other sales, the best way to make a sale is to put your merchandise in front of people who are interested in buying it.

One of the most effective and proven methods for sending traffic to your blog is to comment on other blogs, which is also one of the usual recommendations given by the knowledgeable. However, just commenting and having a poster profile with a link to your blog is not enough. In order to really generate traffic and encourage comments you have to spend some time first putting together a cohesive plan of attack.

Be On Top of Your Content

First and foremost, have your content nailed down. Make sure it is well written and easily digested. Avoid fluff and make sure that you know something about your subject and have a defensible position you can build on. That will come in handy later if you are working with controversial subjects. Don’t just post something because you think it’ll incite someone to action, post about something that incites YOU to action and give it some detail.

Choose Your Targets

Next, pick and choose carefully where you comment. You’re looking to generate comments on your blog here and the best places to find them are other blogs that get a lot of comments themselves. You’re not just looking for volume though. You want to target blogs or posts that deal with content related to your own even if only peripherally. Remember, you are targeting an audience and you want it to be the RIGHT audience. Sending visitors from a blog about hiking to your blog on politics is not going to do anything but increase your visitor bounce rate. One of my most visited and commented on posts was one about the recent changes made to the U.S. space program. With one comment to a popular ex astronaut’s blog post on the same subject I generated a weeklong surge in quality traffic and several interesting comments.

Comments Come From Everywhere

Don’t confine your comments to blogs. Most newspapers and magazines allow comments on their articles and stories. Several consistently generate hundreds upon hundreds of comments and are fertile ground for comment hunters. More than one blogger has found themselves with some unexpected success after a few comments to an online magazine or news outlet. While you may be thinking this is obvious, you’d be surprised how many bloggers never think to frequent newspaper forums and magazines and fill out a profile.

Keep Them Interested

Don’t be afraid to ask more of your visitors. Chances are, if they are interested enough to comment, they are willing to expand on what they’ve added. When replying to comments on your blog ask questions, look for ways to elicit more information, prod them into support of their own positions. When you simply say thanks and leave your reply at that, you are in essence saying your subject has nothing else to offer.

Never EVER Spam

One of the best ways to keep traffic and comments from flowing in is to spam other blogs. Never post short little “Love your site” comments. Put the same care and consideration into your comments as you would on your own blog posts. Add to the discussion and give other visitors something to chew on that’ll make them want to know more about you. Don’t bother with commenting to 20 different blogs. Commenting on 3 quality blogs with quality comments will negate the need to engage in quantity commenting and generate far more traffic than comments to 20 obscure blogs. Plus, it will keep you from appearing desperate even if you are.

Those are some of my own humble suggestions that I’ve learned the hard way. Of course there is no guarantee of instant success, but I can tell you with complete confidence that these tactics work and work very well. Spend a week trying them. Take note of your site statistics and after a week of commenting to other blogs and outlets in this manner compare your more recent stats with the old ones. Pay special attention to your bounce rate and traffic sources and you’ll see some pretty significant improvements. Even if you’re comment rate doesn’t go through the roof, the improvements in traffic and comment quality alone are worth the relatively small effort it takes to implement a cohesive comment strategy. Like anything else, if you want to experience any success then you have to plan for it and put those plans into action. If you don’t, then you are leaving your chances up to blind luck, and luck has never been a very reliable path to success.

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Dammnit Jim, I’m a Writer not a Developer!

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Oops. Sorry. After 12 hours of reading code and playing with changes, then enjoying that wonderful sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach when the system decides my changes are not what it wants to do, I’m having a time getting my brain back into the world of the living. One of these days I am going to remember to save original copies of files before I muck them up. Organizational skills why have you shunned me?

Since I am running pell mell into yet another quixotic endeavor I haven’t done much writing. I’m lucky in that my current clients are on a regular two week schedule that allows me some flexibility, but as anyone who knows web development can tell you, two weeks is NOTHING when it comes to bringing an online idea to life. I’m working towards a three week development period, but to be honest, that’s not very realistic. Judging from the answers to my last post, there is a great deal that folks want out of working online, and they aren’t getting it. Well, maybe to an extent, but it’s clear it could be a whole lot better. This of course means I have a lot of things to cover if I’m going to have a chance at knocking this windmill over.

 On top of that, who the hell am I to think I can make a difference in something as huge, important, and complex as online employment?  That one I can answer. I’m one of those looking for that difference. I’ve been hitting that wall of disappointment and frustration and frankly, as thick as my skull is, it can’t take the pounding. It shouldn’t be that hard. It shouldn’t cost a ton of money. It should be fair. But right now it’s a ridiculous morass of inconsistency and throat cutting idiocy. $5.00 an article Charlie, I’m gunning for you!

Don’t worry, I’m not going to design a cutesy button to look like a wound on your website and ask you to join any ridiculous movement. I wouldn’t even know what to name it. Arlo Guthrie I am not. I’ve gotten a ton of help just from you the readers willingness to slog through my last posts questions and humor me as I ride headlong towards stomach churning, inevitable, flaming balls of predestined disaster  my date with success. I’ll beg for help later when I’m ready to bare my soul and new project to the world.

I will say though that I can’t remember a time where I worked so much. In all seriousness, we are talking an average of 10-12 hours a day spent sitting in front of the computer doing three things at the same time. I’ve watched the sun come up at least three times in the last two weeks and the cat is going neurotic from the screwy hours I’m keeping. Which leads me to softball this post and simply ask, how many hours a week do you spend on your online work? Do you keep track and average your time out to an hourly income rate? Does it even matter?

And with that I’ll take my leave and open up this new batch of code I just got. An innocuous looking file,  it’s sitting on my desktop containing within its folder a couple thousand lines of script just begging me to screw it up. How could I possibly pass up such an opportunity to boost my blood pressure?

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All Work and No Pay

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I’ve been busy. Really busy. Normally that’s a good thing, and it means money is coming in and jobs are in plentiful supply. As is usually the case with me, nothing is ever normal. I’ve been working, but the things I am doing won’t see any ROI right away. If you’re a freelancer or independent marketer I’m sure you know what I’m talking about.

 Although I am a freelance writer, I also do a fair bit of web development and dabble occasionally in online commerce. To that end I am restructuring a commerce site which really, is unrelated in any way to my freelance work, but if I don’t get it done I could very well end up single in short order. So of course that one’s a priority job. Love you too honey… Ahem.

Next on the list is something that to tell the truth, I am somewhat excited and optimistic about. This really worries me because any time one of my ideas gets me excited and optimistic, I start having those visions of Lucy and the football. Despite this, I am rushing headlong into a new venture. Although I’m not ready to present it or even let Google find it yet, (those damn bots are persistent little buggers), I can say that it’s very much related to freelancing and online employment.

I’ve heard a consistent complaint lately that work and clients are hard to come by, no one wants to pay decent rates, and all the job sites like E-lance are overrun with fly by night operations that are driving down the rates. I know from my own experience that these complaints are all too true. In fact, they are worse than they appear because on top of all this, finding the work often costs money on top of it all.

I’ve also been asked frequently about how I find work, how I get paid, and what can people do to improve their own efforts.

So, with these complaints and questions for inspiration, I am working on a new endeavor that I hope will address these complaints and more. Much more.

To that end, I’d like to use this post to ask some questions. You don’t have to go into detail although I’m very much interested if you are willing to. I just want some candid feedback which will help me to narrow my focus and put together something truly useful and of benefit to the freelance and professional online entrepreneur. Thanks in advance for helping me out here. I’ll toss out a little bit of intrigue before listing my questions and say that I have some of you in mind specifically, and how you reply may have some unexpected results.

Without further ado, here we go.

1. What has been the biggest challenge when it comes to working online?

2. On a scale from 1 to 10, how difficult would you say finding work as a freelancer or independent business person is?

3. Do you hold a paid membership, free membership, or subscription to any job services like E-Lance, Demand Studios, I-Freelance, Guru and other similar job outlets? 

4. If yes to number 3, what is your biggest disappointment with them, and what do you like most about them? 

5. What do look for in a business resource? Advice? Leads? Free programs? Network capabilities? 

6. What is your biggest disappointment with working online?

7. Do you believe that online job services should be free like free classifieds, or do you believe that job services are justified in charging fees and taking commissions from the work their patrons perform? 

8. Have you made substantive connections and found work through any social platforms like Facebook, Linkedin, or Twitter in the last 3 months? 

9. This one is probably a bit difficult and I’ll understand if folks decide to skip it.  What do you think needs the most improvement in the world of freelance employment and online business? 

10. Do you think the independent online worker is going to become increasingly in demand in the near future, or do you see them finding the market for their services becoming smaller as commercial business continues to increase its online presence? 

   That’s it folks. I appreciate your taking the time to answer these for me, and I hope to have something to show for your effort within the next three weeks. I’ll be attempting to post regularly now that I have an actual agenda and schedule figured out. Of course, I could end up operating out of a Frigidaire box come next year instead so I can’t make any promises. I’m keeping all my landscape equipment in operating condition just in case.

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