Monday, September 13, 2010

What I Learned at Bloggy Boot Camp in Philadelphia

What did I learn at Bloggy Boot Camp? A lot!  I wrote about some of things I learned here. Hopefully, you learn something new just like I did. 

Invest in business cards.
Have business cards professionally made.  You can get them really inexpensively at Vistaprint (under $10) or win them on another blog!  I hadn't wanted to shell out the money when I was moving to Wordpress but one of the women had put "coming soon..." on her card which I thought was ingenius.  My business cards were the do-it-yourself variety.

I had a stack of business cards by the end of the conference and couldn't remember half of the faces of people that I had met.  Linda from Blind Curves had a great idea.  She took a picture of everyone at the table so she could match faces with business cards.

Your blog represents YOU as do your comments on other blogs.
Jill from Scary Mommy gave great tips about what makes a good blog, maintaining your readership, and do's and don't of commenting.  What resonated with me and something that I sometimes forget is that your blog is your space and not anyone else's.  A common mistake of newbies is not filling out their Blogger profile so make sure your blog and email address are listed so others can visit you.  Payback the comment love in some way when people do visit your blog.  When finding your "tribe" of fellow bloggers, find other bloggers who are also starting out to so you can learn from each other. Hoping that an already successful blogger will be part of your "tribe" may be unrealistic so don't take it personally if they don't seem interested in joining your tribe.

Guest posting is a great way to put yourself in front of new readers.  Guest posts should always be new material!  Don't be afraid to approach other bloggers and offer to do a guest post for them.  Reach new readers or connect with those you already have via social media such as Facebook or Twitter but don't try to use every single one out there.  Pick and choose those outlets that work for you. I have been guilty of trying to utilize everything because that is what "works", or so I thought.  In reality, that just isn't the case.

The look of your blog matters.
Cynthia Wheeler, the, talked about blog design.  On her site she also has some great design resources listed. Many bloggers use iStockphoto images or other stock images on their sites.  Keep in mind other bloggers may use these same images on their sites.  Change some of the features of the image when you do use them so you can make them your own.

Your header sets the tone.  It only takes seconds for your blog to make an impact on a reader.  Bring the design elements from your header into the rest of your blog.  Don't forget about your text either.  Use only two to three fonts on your blog.  Be consistent with your designs on all of your social media pages.  If you don't want to spend a lot of money on your site design and don't want to do it yourself, use someone new to blog design.  They may be willing to do it for free in order to use your site for their portfolio or they may offer a cheaper price since they are just starting out.

Know how to use your camera to take better pictures.
This is actually common sense but many of us (myself included several times over) never pick up those manuals and just point and shoot.  I am guilty of never opening my camera manual.  In fact, I don't even know where it is.   After hearing Laura from Better In Bulk speak, I need to find it pronto. She talked about the different modes and the best time to use them.  She also talked about the Rule of Thirds which can help you take better photos.  Basically, don't be afraid to have your subject off-center when snapping pictures.  Experiment. 

She had a useful suggestion when organizing photos.  If you are like me and you download all your photos onto the computer and have to wade through them when you want to print them or use them for a project, star them when you download them.  Windows Photo Gallery has a star rating system.  You'll know that those with more stars are the better pictures. This will make sorting through your pictures easier.

I wish my pictures looked as amazing as the ones on Lolli's site, especially the adorable pictures of her new little niece!  I do need to make it a priority to get a new camera instead of just talking about it with my husband.  Maybe I'll invest in Photoshop to while I'm at it.

Know your motivation for writing and what makes what you have to say unique.
I loved hearing Cecily K from Uppercase Woman speak.   Her presentation was called "Finding Your Voice"and it was amazing.  One of the most valuable things she said I felt was that you shouldn't try to control your message.  Let your readers get to know the real you and what you have to say and draw them in in your own personal but original way.  Be consistent with what you write and let your voice speak for itself.  They will love you or hate you but you need to be you and you need to be real.  What makes you stand out from the crowd?

Use SEO to your advantage.
Tara from Feels Like Home gave a presentation on SEO (search engine optimization).  Her  "10 More Things You Can Do to Improve Your Blog's SEO" can be found on her blog.  I think if there is one area where I know the least, it is probably SEO.  I have read articles about it but I often found them to often be over my head.  Tara really broke it down in a way that was easy to understand.

Rule #1: Get your own domain name.  Otherwise, you are just giving your SEO away.  This is #1 on my to-do list. There is also a Google Keyword Tool where you can input keywords and it will tell you how often those words are searched and your competition (how many other sites have that keyword).  Keywords should be placed in your title and especially in your first paragraph.  Keep track of your stats to see if your strategic use of keywords is working.   This can benefit you whether you write posts about your everyday life or how-tos.

Some other tips she gave included writing about your vlog or posting a trasnscript since search engines do not see video or animations and do not duplicate content. If you guest post on someone else's site, do not repost something from your site.  If you repost an old blog post from your own site, change it in some way so it does not appear verbatim. 

Tara did warn against sacrificing content for stats.  Also, if your search rate increases, your bounce rate will increase also.  When people come to your site through search engine's, your site may not be what they are looking for.  Apparently 60% is considered a good bounce rate when looking at your stats. And as far as  SEO is concerned, a good blog post is apparently around 300-700 words.  As you can see, I broke that one in a big way here.

Do your research when working with brands.

Julie from Just Precious, Kelly Whalen from The Centsible Life, and Shannon Ott from Philly Burb Moms talked about how to work with PR professionals.  Before I started doing product reviews, I spoke to people who already did them and read about the relationship between PR and bloggers to learn more about the proper way to do things.  Even so, I found out that I was doing a lot of stuff wrong.

Do not ever tell a PR rep that you will send them your media kit.  It should be called a blog package. Even when you get proposals that you have no interest in, you should always reply to the PR rep.  If you are willing to do something else in lieu of their proposal, tell them.  They may just agree to what you have proposed. When pitching a company, be able to sum up your blog in 10 words or less.  For someone wordy like myself, that is hard, but necessary.  Finally, when you do reviews or work with companies in any capacity, keep a portfolio of your work.

The knowledge I learned on Saturday was invaluable.  I loved meeting some very talented ladies. The only thing I regret from Bloggy Boot Camp was that I didn't go up and introduce myself to some of my favorite bloggers who had not been at any of the tables where I had sat (and that I skipped the Virtua cocktail party)! If there was anything I learned it was that it's okay just to be yourself because that is who you are.  Even though I was somewhat timid about approaching some of my favorite bloggers because that just isn't me, there is always next year and another conference.  Would I go again?  Absolutely.


Megan (Best of Fates) said...

Such a thorough review - it makes me feel like I am reliving the whole conference!

It was great meeting you, I love finding new blog friends!

Emmy said...

Glad you had a good time. Thanks for the great tips and links.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for that, I always love reading tips on how to make my blog better! :)

parenting ad absurdum said...

Yay - thanks for sharing some great info! I so need business cards, given that I forget my blog address half the time...

The Drama Mama said...

I'm glad you went too! I'll have to wait til it comes around my area again (I just missed the Baltimore one), but I think I can utilize many of the points from your excellent synopsis.

I'm glad you enjoyed yourself. Maybe we will get to meet at one sometime.

Lourie said...

Well I have the business cards!! hahaha. A lot. I am going to take the next couple of days to explore your links. Thanks for sharing.

blueviolet said...

It sounds like it was a valuable trip!!!

Diabetic Snacker Reviews said...

Wow! Tons of great information available in this one article! Thank yo so much, I'm going to check out all the helpful links especially the seo one.

Buckeroomama said...

Thank you so much for recapping what you learned. I would so love to attend a blog conference. Maybe next year. :)

MommyLovesStilettos said...

I would love to go to Bloggy BOotcamp eventually!! Thanks for sharing the info :) :)

The Girl Next Door Grows Up said...

Excellent post!! Thank you so much :-)

Aging Mommy said...

If you write a summary like this every year I need never go and subject myself to all that socializing :-) Some great tips thank you.

Erin MacPherson said...

You're so lucky you got to go to Bloggy Boot Camp! I've read so many great blogger stories about it. I actually used to work with Jill at Nickelodeon and I had NO Idea she was such a rock star in the blogging world until I started blogging myself. Ha!

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