Zen Zoomie’s Place: Chronicles of a (Wannabe) Pro Blogger

Your Step-by-Step Guide to Building a Profitable Blogging Business

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Alexa Data is Golden Poo

August 28th, 2007 · 5 Comments

Alexa data is poo. Junk. Garbage. Completely detached from reality.

That’s the consensus among most bloggers and tech-oriented webmasters. The common claims are that Alexa is flawed because:

  • It’s easily manipulated (perhaps not as easily as some think)
  • It’s skewed towards Internet Explorer users (although there’s now a FireFox version of the toolbar)
  • It’s skewed towards Webmasters
  • It’s skewed towards Chinese users
  • It blows off secure websites (the toolbar turns itself off)

I won’t debate these points. They’re all mostly true. Just do a quick Google on "Alexa sucks" or "Alexa flaws", and you’ll have all the evidence you need to confirm that Alexa has its share of shortfalls. All of Alexa’s data is based on a selective sampling of all Internet users…and Alexa freely admits that it’s an imperfect sampling at that (see the important disclaimers and known biases posted on Alexa’s website). Unfortunately, because of Alexa’s flaws, many people completely discount Alexa as a useful tool.

What I’m here to tell you is that it doesn’t matter how flawed Alexa is—it’s still incredibly useful!

Alexa data is poo, but it’s GOLDEN poo!

To maximize the effectiveness of any tool, you have to be able to separate the wheat from the chaff..to discard the useless in favor of the useful. Alexa data may be near worthless for some applications, but it’s hard to beat for others. That’s especially true when you consider the cost (free!).

What Alexa Data Is NOT Good For:

  • Comparing relative traffic among blogs or websites with different target audiences
  • Drawing accurate conclusions about the actual traffic, number of visitors, or "reach" of any website

What Alexa IS Good For:

  • Identifying "events of interest" in blog or website’s history for further research. A spike in traffic = they did something right. A steep decline = they did something wrong!
  • Looking at macro trends in a particular website’s traffic growth (or decline)…independent of other sites. Although Alexa data is skewed, at least it’s pretty consistently skewed.
  • If you’re interested in advertising revenue, a good Alexa ranking is highly valued by some advertisers. So it can pay to figure out what others have done that has helped them increase their Alexa ranking.

The bottom line is that, despite all the shortcomings, Alexa data is a fantastic research tool. If you are a blogger or webmaster that’s interested in increasing traffic to your website, what better way than to learn from the successes and mistakes of those who’ve gone before you? Alexa data can lead you to the secrets of blogging success. It’s freely available and easy to access. Set your expectations appropriately and you may be pleasantly surprised by what you find.

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→ 5 CommentsTags: Case Studies / Profiles · Blogging Tips

Beware the Free WordPress Theme Update

August 27th, 2007 · No Comments

A few weeks ago, I wrote a couple of articles about the appearance of ‘hacked’ WordPress themes. Some Black Hat SEO practitioners have modified legitimate WordPress themes, plugins, and other software by adding hidden links to them and making the tampered version available for download. Although the distributor I highlighted in my original article (templatesbrowser.com) has long-sense packed up and moved on, hidden links in WordPress themes are still a very real problem.

Court Tuttle, who runs a free WordPress theme search engine optimization service at his blog, is still reporting that about half of the themes he reviews are crammed full of spammy hidden links.

The principal reason that you should be wary of hidden links is that they can get you banned or otherwise penalized by Google.

Here’s what Google has to say about the practice of using hidden text and links.

The best way to avoid this problem is to only download your WordPress themes and other software from an original, trustworthy source. Avoid third-party theme repositories unless you’re certain they’re reputable. And if you’re not sure of the trustworthiness of a new theme, follow Court’s advice from his post and take the time to manually review the code for hidden links or unfamiliar links yourself.

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→ No CommentsTags: Blog Security · Blogging Tips

Saturday Site Stats Report #5 – Aug 25, 2007

August 26th, 2007 · 3 Comments

It’s that time again…time to reflect on the progress Zen Zoomie’s Place has made in the past week. My main goal this week was to break into the Technorati Top 200,000. We turned two months old on Aug 20, 2007, and achieved a Technorati rank of 177,547. Not bad!

Thanks Lorelle!

Zen Zoomie’s Place jumped 68,000 positions in the Technorati rankings this past week, thanks in no small part to a feature article by Lorelle of the fantastic Lorelle On WordPress entitled When Your Comment Inspires Posts. If you haven’t stopped by Lorelle on WordPress, I highly encourage to do so—her stuff is absolutely one of the consistent "must reads" about blogging.

The Power of Comments

Blog comments don’t typically have the drastic impact of being Dugg or Stumbled, but they are powerful social networking and marketing tools! Check out Lorelle’s article for one perspective on how good comments can inspire a blog’s author to write a new post (as one of Lorelle’s excellent comments did on this very blog!). In her article, she gives a number of tips for writing your own inspiring comments. There’s one thing you can do to make your comments many times more powerful.

Be Ready..Be First!

I was recently lucky enough to spot a brand new post on one of my favorite blogs—almost immediately after it was posted. I jumped into action, posting a well-thought out, relevant comment within minutes. When my comment posted, it was in the #3 position…behind only two other short comments. Within minutes, high-quality traffic started flowing into my blog. I’ve never seen so much traffic flow into my blog from a comment before! Yes, it was a very popular blog, but I never would have guessed that a mere comment could attract so many visitors in such a short time!

A few hours later, some other comments that had been awaiting moderation were approved, and my comment was dropped from the #3 position to #8. Referral traffic immediately slowed to a trickle. Lesson learned: The closer you are to the top of a stream of comments, the more likely you are to have your comment read. No rocket science here—just pure common sense. So it pays to always be on the lookout for fresh posts.

Summary for the week ending August 25th, 2007:

Alexa Traffic Rank: 294,573
Technorati Rank: 177,547
Yahoo Inlinks: 1,570
One Week Incoming Traffic Referred from Search Engines: 52
Google PageRank: 0
(As of August 18th, several of the Google PageRank prediction tools were predicting that Chronicles of a (Wannabe) Pro Blogger will soon have a PageRank of 4. Let’s hope they’re right!)

 

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→ 3 CommentsTags: Weekly Stats · Blogging for Money

How to Blow $2 Million in One Day

August 23rd, 2007 · 12 Comments

In my last post, I asked what you would do if you were given this choice:

Option #1:

A guaranteed annuity worth $2 million at the end of 10 years (that’s about $41 thousand per year in today’s money with annual adjustments for inflation). However, you’re going to be told where to live, have very limited say in what you do, be required to move 3-4 times, will probably be separated from your family for extended periods (4-12 months) on multiple occasions, and your work could occasionally be very dangerous.

Option #2:

Not option #1. You have the choice to do whatever you want, but you’ll have to find a new job.

You might have guessed, but this wasn’t just a hypothetical question. It’s an actual decision I made this week. You see, I have over 10 years towards a military retirement. If I were to stay in the military for 10 more years, I’d receive a pension of about $41k per year (plus annual inflation adjustments) for the rest of my life. That’s a pretty big carrot any way you look at it. Think of the freedom you’d have with a risk-free retirement income that started when you were 42 years old. It’s pretty compelling, huh?

Freedom Now or Freedom Later?

The allure of any retirement is that after you’ve worked enough years—you’re home free! You’ll have the financial means to do whatever you want. The military retirement system is an extreme example because you can retire as early as 37 years of age (for me it’s 42). But in general, the principal is the same. Work hard while you’re young so you can enjoy the spoils of your efforts in your golden years.

My Favorite Tim Ferris Four Hour Work Week Quote


[Retirement] is predicated on the assumption that you dislike what you are doing during the most physically capable years of your life.

This is a real doozy. Many people make extreme personal sacrifices in pursuit of the day they can begin doing what they really want to do. The military, in particular, demands a high level of sacrifice from its ‘employees’. But is the sacrifice today worth the payoff at the end?

What did I choose?

After a lot of thought, and with the support of my wonderful wife,
I chose Option #2
.

Here’s why I chose to give up a $2 million nest egg (it hurts to say that…and probably will for a while!):

  • The freedom to choose what I want to do and when and where I want to do it. If you’ve never served in the military, this might be difficult to grasp. In the ‘civilian’ world, if you have a regular job, then yes—there’s always someone there telling you what to do. But you always have the freedom to walk away. If you walk away in the military, they put you in jail. And who says you have to have a regular job?
  • The freedom to structure my life in a way that means I’ll be able to spend more time with my family, and no one can ever force me to spend 4-12 months away from my wife and children again.
  • The freedom…to make my life into anything I want it to be.

So here I am. I’ll remain in the military for about 10 more months, and then I’ll be out on my own for the first time in 15 years (counting my time at the academy). It’s a big, big change for me. But an exciting one at that!

Will I be able to turn my entrepreneurial dreams into a reality? I have 10 months to find out…to create a profitable and successful online business. My goal is to completely replace my full-time income with income from my internet-based businesses by June 20th, 2007. If I can succeed at that, then I will truly have won my freedom to choose. If not…well, then it’s back to another regular day job…but this time it will be one that I choose.

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→ 12 CommentsTags: Motivation

Would You Give Up 10 Years of Freedom for $2 Million?

August 22nd, 2007 · 1 Comment

What would you do if you were given these two choices?

Option #1:

  1. You will be required to stay in your current job for 10 more years.
  2. You will be paid well, and receive annual pay raises roughly equal to inflation.
  3. You will be told where you will live and what your specific job responsibilities are.
  4. You will probably be separated from your family for extended periods of 4-12 months on multiple occasions.
  5. You will be asked to move your family to a completely new location 3-4 times.
  6. Your work could be very dangerous from time to time.
  7. You cannot "quit" at any point during the 10 years.
  8. At the end of the 10 years, you will receive an annuity worth $2 million, or approx. $58k per year starting in 2017 with annual adjustments for inflation.

Option #2:

  1. You give up the $2 million annuity in return for freedom of choice in where you will work, who you will work for, where you will live, and the opportunity to spend significantly more time with your family.

What will it be? Take the guaranteed $2 million dollars, or choose freedom? What would YOU do?

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→ 1 CommentTags: Motivation · Blogging for Money

The Courage to Commit

August 21st, 2007 · No Comments

I admit it. I’m completely ignoring my own advice tonight and spending way too much time on the 80% of my tasks that only contribute to 20% of my results. No, I wasn’t compulsively checking my stats. I’m watching TV when I should be focusing on the 20% of my tasks that give me 80% of my results.

Tonight was the finals of America’s Got Talent, and I was in the mood for some serious motivation. What better motivation than watching people achieve their lifelong dreams??

The Courage to Commit

It’s one thing to have a dream. It’s quite another thing to completely commit yourself to your dreams and risk everything. Before entering the competition, most of the contestants thought they were good. Really good. Maybe even good enough to win the competition and the $1,000,000 prize.

But, can you imagine the type of courage it takes to put your dreams on the line in front of several million people? With judges like Piers Morgan ready to crush you like an insect?  That takes some serious gutzpah!

Committing to Your Dreams

Realizing your dreams takes commitment, courage, and willingness to risk failure. Saying that you want to do something "someday" isn’t enough. You’re just as likely to drift through life without ever going after what you want. You have to set goals and go after them!

If your dream is to earn a full-time living working from home, you don’t have to do anything as drastic as entering America’s Got Talent. You can start by setting some well-defined near-term goals that will move you towards your big-picture dreams.

When the time is right, and you’ve adequately prepared yourself, don’t be afraid to take the plunge and go for it!

P.S. I was absolutely blown away by the last two contestants. Congrats to the world’s greatest ventriloquist, Terry Fator, for pulling off the win! I suspect you’ll be hearing a thing or two out of Cas Haley in the near future as well.

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Recognizing Top Blog Commentators - Balancing the Reset Period

August 21st, 2007 · 1 Comment

Recognizing your blog’s top commentators is a great way to recognize those readers who have spent their valuable time contributing something back to your site. It’s a win-win proposition, especially for newer blogs. You encourage some feedback and interaction among your readers, and in exchange they can get a free site-wide link from your blog. I started recognizing my top commentators Webgrrrl’s WordPress Widget back on July 15th for just that reason.

I initially thought about setting up Webgggrl’s plugin to reset weekly or monthly, but as a relatively new blog (only 1 month old at the time), I felt that resetting the "Top Commentators" listed on the side of my blog to a big fat ZERO would probably actually discourage people from commenting rather than encouraging them. So I settled on keeping a running count of all comments.

Now that I’ve accumulated quite a few posts and comments, I have the opposite problem. Readers can also be discouraged from posting comments if they have to post 15 comments to get recognized as a top commentator!

Balancing Your Top Commentators Reset Period

Ever since I installed Webgrrrl’s widget, I’ve thought "Gee, it’d be nice if this plug-in would let me recognize the top commentators from the last __ days!". After a little more fiddling, I discovered that this plugin actually does exactly that.

All you have to do is type in the number of days in the box directly below the "Reset list every _____" list box. For some reason, I couldn’t click directly on that text box to enter a number. I had to click on the list box above it and then hit the Tab key to get my cursor in the "..specify number of days" field.

Giving Free Backlinks for Comments with Webgrrrl's Top Commentators WordPress Widget

Starting today, I’ll be experimenting with a running reset period. I’m initially setting the period to 14 days, and I’ll adjust that based on how many people actually comment in the coming weeks.

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→ 1 CommentTags: Step-by-Step · Blogging Tips

Life Without Digg (and Google!) at JohnChow.com

August 20th, 2007 · 3 Comments

This is the third and final post in my series dissecting the success of JohnChow.com. To see how John got his start in blogging, check out his first post ever in How the Great Blogs Began: The First Posts.

Last week, you saw how John Chow was able to leverage Digg.com to increase his blog traffic by 1600% in one week. Unfortunately for John, his success with Digg was relatively short-lived. He got himself banned just 3 months after Digg put him on the blogging map. Although the ban has now been lifted, JohnChow.com hasn’t made it to the Digg front page since. Take a look at his historical Alexa reach again, and you can see exactly where the ban occured:

When all was said and done, John Chow had 22 posts Dugg (more than 20 Diggs) in the three month period between September and December of 2006. Quite a few of his posts received 1,000+ Diggs. Since John openly prides himself on his "evil" marketing techniques, you can speculate about exactly how he obtained that feat. However, even during those three months, John’s traffic fell a bit from its peak, despite receiving massive Diggs during that time. From November on, John’s Digg traffic dropped off a ton as the Digg mafia started marking his posts as spam.

Digg gave John’s blog its start, but his success in late 2006 was hardly due to Digg alone. Check his article on the breakout of where he was getting traffic from in mid-November. Only 15% came from Digg. 33% was from Slashdot—another great social sharing site. In December, only 3% of his traffic came from Digg (that’s when the "Digg mafia" as John calls them, began marking his posts as spam).

That’s when John started what he calls his most successful marketing tactic ever. He announced that he would exchange a link from his blog for a review. You just link to his blog with the text make money online and to the rules for the exchange, and John will link back to your blog. Thanks to this one brilliant marketing scheme, John accumulated over 870 high quality (posts dedicated to his site) contextual links from this offer.

Note: The last batch of "Making Money Reviews" John posted was on June 27th. That was batch 87, and he said he was accepting reviews for batch 93 at that time. Unfortunately for those of us who haven’t got our links yet, Google decided to penalize John around that time, presumably for his aggressive link-building tactics. He no longer ranks #1 for "Make Money Online"…or even "John Chow" for that matter. You actually have to look through several pages of JC results to find his blog! We’ll see if this series of posts is enough to entice a link from J.C. anyway…

What You Can Learn About Building Traffic From John Chow

  1. INCREASING BLOG TRAFFIC IS LIKE EARNING MONEY. It’s a whole lot easier to generate traffic when you already have traffic. The more you have, the better you can leverage it. It’s easier to make the front page of Digg, Reddit, Slashdot or any of the other social news sharing or bookmarking sites when you already have a well-established readership. If you’re just starting out, you might want to focus on building a solid base of readers through social networking on other blogs and forums, posting comments, or getting another major blog author to feature your blog on their site before going for the big bang.
  2. DON’T PUT ALL YOUR EGGS IN ONE MARKETING BASKET. You have a lot of different marketing tools at your disposal. Use them all, and don’t rely too much on any single one.
  3. USE YOUR BRAIN. My absolute favorite thing about John’s site is the creative ideas he comes up to increase traffic and revenue on his blog. Some of the ideas are downright ingenious. Others are, as John himself says, a bit ‘evil’—so use your discretion when putting any of them into practice. As John has proven twice now, if you press the system too much, it’ll push back. Digg’s ban and Google’s penalty speak for themselves. Let’s see how John recovers from the Google fiasco in the long-run…

P.S. I had fully intended to do a more ‘technical’ breakdown of what has made John Chow’s postings so successful, but somemakemoney.com beat me to it. Check out his analysis of John’s posting strategy by length of post, frequency of post, and linking strategy. Now that’s what I’m talking about! NICE SERIES!

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→ 3 CommentsTags: Case Studies / Profiles · Make Money Online · Blogging for Money

Stumble Your Way to the Trust Train

August 18th, 2007 · 2 Comments

StumbleUpon has the potential to generate some massive amounts of traffic to your site in a very short period of time. Zen Zoomie’s place has been stumbled a few times already in its short life. One thing I’ve noticed already is that the traffic coming from StumbleUpon has a very low attention span..visitors don’t typically stick around and read a lot of other content. But it’s one of many tools you have available to you to increase traffic, exposure, and visibility of your blog.

I came across the below idea at www.Darin.cc and it looks like it’s worth a try to me. If you want to add your blog to the StumbleUpon trust train, follow the directions below and when you comment on this post with your URL, I’ll add you to the list.

I’ll report my results in next week’s Saturday Site Stats Report for Chronicles of a (Wannabe) Pro Blogger.

******* Start Copying Here *******

Here are the rules:

1) If you don’t have a StumbleUpon account signup for one, if you do have a Stumbleupon account download the toolbar (it will make this much easier!)

2) Write a short introduction paragraph about where, and how you found the StumbleUpon Trust Train and include a link to the blog that referred you to the list.

3) COPY the Rules and ENTIRE List below and post it to your blog. To avoid duplicate content and increase the amount of keywords your site can be accessible for, go ahead and change the titles of the blog. Just don’t change the links of the blog.

4) Take “My New List” and move them into the “The Original List”.

5) Add 3 Blogs that you’ve just Stumbled to your StumbleUpon Trust Train to the “My New List” section.

6) Vote “I Like It!” for all the sites on the StumbleUpon Trust Train!

My New List

www.darin.cc

The Original List

Average Joe Blogger
Search Engine Marketing
Pure Blogging
John Cow
Gary Lee
Ms Danielle
John Buffalo
Shawn Knight
Edwin Lau
pyxlb0mb
Idiot Brain
Blogger Trail

******* End Copying Here *******

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→ 2 CommentsTags: Blogging for Money

Saturday Site Stats Report #4

August 18th, 2007 · No Comments

For new readers, a main goal of this Blog is to show you, step-by-step, how to build a successful blogging business from scratch. I report several metrics every 1-2 weeks so you can see how the site is progressing.

As you can see below, things are still improving, but the rate at which they are improving has slowed down a bit.

What I’ve Done Right

If you read very many blogs, you’ve heard this before. There’s one key above all others that’s critical to building a strong blog readership. Write pillar content, and traffic will follow! The How the Great Blogs Began series was the most popular set of articles yet, and I expect the follow-on articles to do just as well.

What I’ve Done Wrong

I made one huge mistake in the last two weeks. My mistake isn’t entirely evident from the statistics shown below, but it is obvious in the more detailed Google Analytics traffic logs I review daily. The How the Great Blogs Began series drew in quite a bit of traffic. Unfortunately, other obligations kept me from posting follow-up articles in a timely manner. As a result, I lost a lot of the momentum gained from that initial series of posts. All is not lost—and a valuable lesson was learned. If at all possible, you should always have several articles pre-written so that when life happens, you can keep posting fresh content.

If you know that you’re not going to be able to post for several days, you should use the WordPress timestamp feature to set up your pre-written articles to post to your blog at predetermined times.

What I’ll Do Next

I have two priorities for this week:

  1. Complete 2-3 follow-on articles to the How the Great Blogs Began: The First Posts along the lines of my Digging Your Way to Sustainable Buzz article.
  2. Create some buzz of my own. I haven’t decided for sure exactly how, but it’s time in this blog’s life to use some creative marketing techniques to gain traffic and increase backlinks!

My goal for next week: Break into the Technorati Top 200,000.

Summary for week ending August 18th, 2007:

Alexa Traffic Rank: 344,042
Technorati Rank: 245,854
Yahoo Inlinks: 1,089
One Week Incoming Traffic Referred from Search Engines: 52
Google PageRank: 0
(As of August 18th, several of the Google PageRank prediction tools are predicting that Chronicles of a (Wannabe) Pro Blogger will soon have a PageRank of 4. Let’s hope they’re right!)

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→ No CommentsTags: Weekly Stats · Step-by-Step · Blogging for Money