May 31, 2009

Tim Ferriss: Tips on what works in a blog

Tim Ferriss

JD LasicaYesterday was my first WordCamp, held all day at the Mission Bay Conference Center in San Francisco. I’ve been caught up by WordPress fever since early this year when I switched from TypePad.

Some 730 people turned out at WordCamp, about double last year’s number. Here’s a Flickr set of WordCamp photos I took.

The biggest learnings came right at the outset, when Tim Ferriss (pictured above), author of The Four-Hour Workweek, gave a deep dive into what has worked and not worked on his well-trafficked blog. (I finally got to meet Tim and invited him to attend a future Traveling Geeks trip abroad.)

Learnings: What works in a blog post

Ferriss’s suggestions were useful not just for beginning bloggers but also for veterans who like to pick up a trick or two.

• He uses CrazyEgg (which has plans at $9, $19, $49 and $99 per month) and Google Analytics for all his blog metrics and checks them religiously.

• For archived blog posts, just a simple change in the title wording from the default “Categories” to “Topics” increased click-throughs significantly. (I did this on my blog years ago.)

• Tim uses Slinkset as a polling mechanism to ask his readers questions, and they in turn vote options up or down. He calls it “a personal Digg.”

• He finds RSS “less and less valuable” because it reduces traffic (and thus, presumably, the potential for advertising income) and gives uers an easy excuse for staying away from his site.

• Ferriss likes to experiment. He added the word “Gear” to the top nav of his Four-Hour Workweek blog and it quickly became one of the most-clicked links on the site — even though it’s just a holding page. Now he knows that putting up content there will attract visitors. Smart.

• He deemphasizes the display of the date on his older posts. “New visitors are biased against old posts,” he says. Absolutely.

• For new bloggers, “the most important thing is to have a voice” — that is, to identify a writing tone and style that reflects the real you rather than trying to write the way you think others may want you to.

• Write about things that get you excited. “Passion beats polling and focus groups.” Also, if you don’t overdo it, he cited author Po Bronson‘s suggestion to “write about makes you angry” — as long as you don’t attack anyone and write about the problem, not the person.

• Here’s a tip I never heard anyone else suggest: Ferriss says to create a lot of drafts of blog posts — and publish only 5 to 10 percent of them. “Put your resources into drafts,” and then flesh out the posts that will have an impact.

• Get in touch with your biorythms. That is, find what time of day or night works best for your writing. Tim is most productive at 1 am to 5 am. (I’m a late-night owl, too.)

• Ignore search engine optimization (SEO) for first drafts. Circle back when you’re nearly ready to publish and add in terms to draw higher search engine rankings. Otherwise your posts will sound phony and artificial.

• To find those key terms that users are looking for on Google, use Google keyword search and check the last three months of keywords on the topic you’re writing about. Make sure to include the most popular search terms.

• Make sure your post focuses on just one idea. If you dilute your post with multiple topics, it won’t have the same impact.

• If you use video in your post, make sure you summarize the highlights of what the video is about in text in the blog post. “Nothing travels faster than text,” Tim said.

• Don’t chase topical news. “That’s a losing proposition,” he said. Those kind of posts don’t have much evergreen value and other sites are probably doing it better.

• Make use of the millions of free Creative Commons photos on Flickr to dress up your site. (That’s exactly what we’re doing at Socialbrite.org.)

• He mentioned two WordPress plug-ins he likes: Popularity Contest (determines which of your posts are most popular) and Redirection (website management).

• Be ruthless in zapping the lunkheads who leave vitriolic, off-topic or offensive comments on your blog. “There’s enough negativity in the world, you have no obligation to put it on your blog.” Agreed.

• Take user suggestions with a grain of salt. “The sure path to failure and misery is to try to please everyone.”

• Ferriss suggested using Seesmic Desktop to get the pulse of conversations around particular topics.

• He uses Media Temple for hosting his blog.

WordPress’s explosive growth

Matt MullenwegI tweeted some of the session but kept my powder dry for this blog post.

Some metrics from WordPress founder Matt Mullenweg (I interviewed Matt and will post that soon).

• There are now 5.5 WordPress.org blogs (such as this one) and 3.4 million hosted WordPress.com blogs.

• There were 58 million WordPress blog posts this year compared with 31 million last year.

• WordPress blogs had 22 billion page views over the past year, about double from the previous year.

• 42% of downloads came from international users, compared with 27% last year.

• WordPress’s Akismet plug-in (which Matt wrote) killed 4.9 billion spam comments and trackbacks this year, up slightly from last year (when Matt said “this year” I assume he means June 2008 to May 2009).

JD Lasica, founder of Socialmedia.biz, is now co-founder of the cruise discovery engine Cruiseable. See his About page, contact JD or follow him on Twitter or Google Plus.

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