August 2007


Much like front-runner political candidates, mainstream social media sites often get more attention than up-and-coming ones. There are, however, compelling reasons to look at newer beta and/or less well known sites. Some sites provide new services or features, or recombine old ones in unique ways. Others compliment or build on the functions of existing social media or other sites. The following four websites are ones that social media site users and bloggers alike should be aware of, and that already successful social sites should look to for new ideas.

(1) Romlet is a great way to build a reputation online as well as valuable PR and traffic via (free) backlinks. The Romlet widget combines and condenses some of the best aspects of a variety of useful and successful widgets. It also has the potential to develop into new kind of social network. The widget itself is part stats counter, part brag badge and part social bookmarking tool. Similar to the MyBlogLog recent visitors widget, the Romlet widget shows where visitors came from. These sources are displayed as favicon links to the referring source, which also work like AddThis bookmarks. Romlet users can also choose to display the number of visitors from each source, like a FeedBurner stats widget. Users can also visit their custom Romlet homepage to see more information and statistics about their own site or about other Romlet user sites and articles. Click here to see an example of Romlet in action.

Romlet

Romlet is still short on some potential community-building functions, a by-product of how new the site and widget are. Over time more functionality should certainly be added to encourage greater interaction between Romlet users. Social news and bookmarking options could potentially build on the already successful aspects of the widget. As with Peopleized, however, Romlet‘s creators continue to develop new functions based on user feedback.

(2) Peopleized is a relatively new social networking site where people interview one another in order to build up popularity and network with other people in an area of interest. Many of the site’s current users are bloggers, but not all. People can post or quote their interviews or others on their own website or social networking profile. These interviews serve multiple functions: building up PR on an established website, getting exposure to new audiences and developing press release information and skills for future use.

Peoplized

Probably the biggest limitation of Peopleized right now is that the functionality is not completely built out for hosting interviews and other information on remote sites. Most of the action takes place on the site itself, which is a good start (considering the site’s high levels of traffic) but could be expanded upon. Fortunately, the creators of Peopleized are already working on expanding its capabilities on major social networking sites such as Facebook.

(3) Plime is a social news site with a fairly complex and successful system for organizing and presenting content in various categories. First, there are more ‘offbeat’ categories than on most social news sites, including WTF and weird. Each story submitted can be easily tagged with an image, something Digg and Reddit would do well to take notice of. Plime voting also works in a fairly innovative way: votes are automatically given to new stories based on how many users have upmodded the user who submitted that story. Like StumbleUpon, users can also indicate categories of interest. In short, Plime integrates some of the best features from major social news sites.

Plime

The biggest downside right now is that, due to a lack of users, the site seems to recycle a lot of the material presented on said major social sites. The biggest upside for content creators is that the site doesn’t seem to put a lot of weight on where a story is submitted from – favoring content over existing URL popularity, making it a great place to submit stuff (yours or that of someone else) from lesser-known websites.

(4) Shoutwire is another social news site that has been around for some time but is relatively under-appreciated, particularly by people who want to get their content out into the world. The site works a lot like mainstream social media sites, but is perhaps less well organized. To compensate, however, it offers more options for user-submitted content – including forums for discussion and on-site editorials. Also, ShoutWire sends a significant amount of traffic to sites that successfully get voted to the front page. Admittedly, the traffic volume doesn’t compare to sites like Digg, but anywhere from a few thousand to over ten thousand hits from 20 votes is nothing to scoff at.

ShoutWire

Usability and ease of navigation seem to be the major drawbacks of ShoutWire. It is somewhat hard to find anything but the front page and almost-popular or newly-submitted upcoming articles. Something like Digg’s cloud view or more obvious category searches would greatly improve the existing site. That being said, for someone either casually looking for front-page news or hoping to get some traffic to a less-established site: ShoutWire is easy and user-friendly.

These are, of course, just a few examples. What underrepresented or under-appreciated social news, networking or bookmarking sites do you enjoy? Do you use some of these already? What is your take on them?

Advertisements

Single-minded SEO can be an easy and dangerous trap to fall into. Many bloggers fixate on a single strategy when it comes to search engine optimization. Some bloggers frantically scramble for backlinks instead of focusing on good content. Others try to pack every post with keywords, resulting in keyword density at the expense of legibility. The real key to white-hat SEO in blogging is balance. With that in mind, here are seven strategies every blogger should be aware of and use in conjunction with creating good content.

(1) The headline is the most important part of a post. In my experience, the single most important factor in ranking for a keyword or keyword phrase/string is the headline. One good strategy (employed in this very post!) is to ‘introduce’ the headline in order to increase the number targetting words and phrases. The first phrase above (Blogging Search Engine Optimization) is a good string to target. The second string is debatable. What would turn up the right result? ‘SEO Strategies Blogger’ is an unusual search string. It might have been better to go for ‘Blogger SEO Strategies,’ but a compromise was reached for the sake of making more sense to a reader and for this example.

(2) Backlinks should be built up naturally over time. Creating comment spam or buying lots of links really isn’t worth your time, energy or money. Greater rewards come from links you could never buy, from high-profile blogs or websites that are attracted to your content. Moreoever, search engines take notice if a relatively new site suddenly gets powerful backlinks and that site might be penalized for purchasing such links. Don’t expect strong, high-PR backlinks overnight. Be patient, write well, and they will come.

(3) Keyword density is important, but so is long-string keyword or phrase order. It isn’t enough just to target the keywords you want to rank for in every single sentence. In fact, though 3-5% is what most people recommend, that is a tough thing to accomplish. Instead, shoot for longer-string keyword phrases (e.g. ‘longer-string keyword phrases’!). Mixing up the order from phrase to phrase will not only make for a better blog read, it will also increase the likelihood that you will rank for unusual strings of keywords you may not have thought of (did you notice the variety of search string orderings in this paragraph?).

(4) Latent semantic analysis/indexing in a nutshell: write naturally and use relevant terms. Even if you’re not trying to rank for every word or phrase you use, search engines do look to see if you are using phrases that other sites are using when writing about certain topics. For example: this post is about SEO and mentions latent semantic analysis. That lets the search engines ‘know’ that I am aware of an important factor in search engine optimization. Using related phrases can help you rank above even more established and higher-PR sites for similar terms. It is a way of ‘rewarding’ people for writing better content, even if the competition is targetting similar keyword strings.

(5) Search engines look beyond your blog on the web – buzz may be important. Various people have analyzed (for example) Google patents and patent applications, and some experts have concluded that Google looks in emails and forums not only for links to blogs but also mentions of them. Applying latent semantic analysis, it is entirely possible that Google also pays attention to what words are used in conjunction with your blog’s title or url. In short: search engines may even use ‘buzz’ about your site – even if there are no links – to determine what your site ranks for.

(6) Relevant outgoing links are important, just like relevant incoming ones. Search engines look not only at who links to your site, but also who you link to. If you consistently link to sites about something unrelated to what your site is targetting you may, over time, start losing your rank for the keywords you are targetting. Some off-topic linking is fine, but it is best to keep in mind and link to other sites in your field or niche often. This shouldn’t be too hard to manage, as it makes sense to link to relevant sites!

(7) Most importantly: SEO isn’t everything! While all of these strategies are good to keep in mind, focusing too much on SEO will lose you readers (and respect) over time. Diversification is the key. Always be thinking of your multiple target audiences: regular (usually feed) readers, social media visitors, those coming via natural backlinks and search-engine users. So, whenever you write a new post or page, think about SEO but don’t forget to also think about the diverse visitors who come to your site from all over the web and for all kinds of reasons. SEO is important but content (cliche:) is still king.

Some of these may be old (white) hat to many you, but it’s good to practice a bit with every post. The trick is to have SEO be second nature – a natural extension of your writing. Think of the Googlebots as another member of your audience, just like your regular readers and other visitors! Communicating with them well is just another thing to keep thinking about.

WTF

From someone eating only cereal for 30 days to a site featuring tree porn, Romlet users span the spectrum of webmasters and bloggers. With over 1,000,000 Romlets served up on user sites, the time has come to announce the winners of the Romlet Awards! Prior to the Romlet beta release the widget only existed on a few select websites. Since then, Romlet ‘blog-boosting’ widgets have spread throughout the blogosphere like a virus. Bloggers and site owners have been using it to gain popularity via backlinks. Each Romlet user has customized their widget to suit their blog – with everything from elegant to bizarre results. The Romlet Awards are designed to highlight the best widget examples as well as the weirdest uses and strangest users.

The Bikini Zone

Sexiest Widget: How can you go wrong when you put a simple white-on-black widget next to such attractive ladies? This is a bit of a spoof award to be sure, but The Bikini Zone seemed worth an honorable mention!

Cerealize Me

Most Outrageous: Many people blended the design of their Romlet widgets with their site. Other sites, however, such as Cereal Wednesday chose the opposite approach. It is perhaps fitting that the most garishly outstanding yellow Romlet would be found on a site whose author is eating only cereal and milk for 30 days.

Daisy the Curly Cat

Most Pink: Inevitably, someone was going to make a bright pink Romlet. A few sites already have. The Romlet on Daisy the Curly Cat is not only nicely fit to the site’s design and colors, it is extremely extremely pink.

No Direct On

Double-Romlet: With two Romlet widgets to choose from, someone was inevitably bound to use both. NoDirectOn went an extra step and used the maximum widget size for each of their two, then merged the two into one. If that isn’t dedicated fandom what is?

Life of a School Bus Driver

Best Integrated Colors: This Romlet is particularly well-integrated into the color scheme of the site, and put in the same area in relationship to a MyBlogLog widget. It almost seems to be a plugin or built-in site feature on The Life of a School Bus Driver.

Win Extra

Best Integrated Stats: So far the ‘stats’ version of Romlet is somewhat less used than the ‘favicon’ version. However, this site owner and others find the stats-Romlet useful to see not only where visitors are coming from but also how many visitors they are getting. This particular widget fits the colors and overall site theme well.

Shop Like Us

Best Integrated Widgets: The owner of ShopLikeUs managed to get the MyBlogLog, BlogCatalog and Romlet widgets to line up quite nicely and all appear as part of a group. This is one of the tricks to successful widget design: integrating various widgets in a single theme or even area within a theme.

Pure Blogging

Best Integrated Sidebar: Pure Blogging has taken an extra step in cleanly integrating the Romlet widget into their design. The created a sidebar section and unique ‘referrers’ label to call out Romlet as an element of the site.

Webmania

Best Foreign Language: Romlet went international quite rapidly, popping up both in European and South American websites within days, and Asian sites shortly after. Webmania has done a great job of cleanly integrating the widget next to their MyBlogLog equivalent.

WallStreetFighter

Most Scandalous Surroundings: The Romlet on this site has dubious company, from almost-naked women to tree porn. So far WallStreetFighter is the most scandalous and off-beat site using the Romlet widget.

Web Urbanist

Most Prominent Widget: Blogs are often cluttered with widgets all over, but this popular site (which has had over 300,000 widget views!) has its Romlet right in the upper right for all to see. The Web Urbanist widget is also fit well to the sidebar and overall site them.

disassociated.jpg

Best Overall Design: Nothing at Dissassociated seems out of place – least of all the Romlet widget. In fact, the site only has two widgets (Romlet and Flickr) and both are cleanly integrated into the brilliantly simple site layout.

Romlet helps bloggers boast and boost content and brag top referers. More examples of Romlet widgets in action can be found on Romlet’s featured users page. Bloggers and site owners: get your own Romlet widget!

Disclosure: I have sites hosted on Dreamhost.

Dreamhost had a severe outtage earlier today during peak traffic times, but declared it ‘resolved’ long before all of their sites came online. Comments continued to pour in from disgruntled users well after they made an announcement highlighting (as shown below) that everything was alright. Everything was not alright.

Network Slowness on Dreamhost

Now, I want to like Dreamhost, and most of the time I do. They pride themselves on being friendly and personable, and they are. You get a lot from Dreamhost for under 10 bucks a month. I can even understand the outtage.

That being said, if they are running at “95%” up then I think it’s reasonable to expect that my own sites won’t be 100% down. Also, if the situation is “resolved” then all customers should cease experiencing problems.

Dreamhost is not, as they say, such a nightmare most of the time. However, when nightmarish things happen, I believe their customers have the right to expect them to remain upfront about it. If their systems are mostly operational, then I would rather they spend time fixing the rest rather than updating their message to the equivalent of “mission accomplished.” That is all.

Recently a number of people have asked me how to get lots of visitors via StumbleUpon. To answer that question, I first need to make it very clear that I don’t see it as ‘getting’ Stumblers to ones sites per say. Instead, I share what I enjoy both what I find on other sites and (much more infrequently) what I write or create myself with others on StumbleUpon. I also send stuff to those I think will appreciate the material. StumbleUpon is a diverse site with millions of interesting, educational and entertaining pages and Stumblers of all ages and interests. Here are some steps for becoming an active Stumbler, contributing valuable pages to StumbleUpon and making sure that the people who see them are those who will appreciate them most.

(1) Familiarize yourself with StumbleUpon categories and tags. When you submit a new page to StumbleUpon (as shown below) some default popular categories appear right in front of you, though you can also look under the ‘Other’ menu to find more. The popular categories, if selected as the primary category, may lead the page to be seen by more people if it fits the category. However, if the page doesn’t fit into one of those categories and you submit under it anyway, you might find that no one appreciates it and votes it up – the submission is wasted. Your best bet is to submit to the most fitting category, then choose applicable tags. For example, I might submit a work of Graffiti by Banksy under ‘CounterCulture,’ but add the tags ‘Banksy’ and ‘graffiti’ (highly targetted) as well as ‘arts’ and ‘activism’ (more popular but also applicable).

StumbleUpon Tags

(2) Network effectively with like-minded Stumblers: One key to success StumbleUpon, just like any social networking, bookmarking or news site – is to find people who appreciate and will vote for your submissions. There are a few ways to do this.

(a) Start by looking at who votes for your submissions and add them as a Stumble ‘friend.’ If you feel up to it, you can even send them a message and see if they’ll add you back – though many will automatically. However, if that someone has hundreds of friends they may be over their limit and unable to add you back. At the opposite extreme, if they have just a few Stumble-friends they may be someone who never adds anyone back. If you want someone who will become a reciprical friend, look for people with around 50 to 150 friends. An extension of this: look for people with similar interests or who submitted pages you like.

StumbleUpon - People Who Liked

(b) Find Stumblers by Stumbling the keyword ‘Stumblers.’ Particularly if you’re relatively new to StumbleUpon, you may not have many Stumble-friends. A good way to start finding Stumblers (once you’ve input your own interests into the database) is to Stumble under the keyword ‘Stumblers.’ this will allow you to browse users’ pages and find people who are interested in similar subjects. You can add a lot of Stumblers with similar interests this way, and if you eventually have too many you can always remove people who don’t add you back.

StumbleUpon Stumblers by Keyword

(3) Send stuff to the right Stumblers: Use the ‘Send to’ button when you find or create something you think is suited to a particular Stumbler’s interests. Some things of general interest can be sent to many Stumble-friends, while special-interest topics might only be appropriate to certain people. Some Stumblers you will know well outside of StumbleUpon or interact with via Stumble-messages, and you’ll know what to send them as a result. Other Stumblers you might just remember what they have Stumbled or use their name to determine what to send them (e.g. FunnyFarts likes crass humor). In your ‘Send to’ message, give a brief description of the page, or write why you think they’ll like it.

StumbleUpon is a great way to both share what you like and what you create, but remember: it is a social setting like any other with etiquette. Don’t assume someone is going to like just anything you write – it has to be on-target with their interests. As a rule of thumb Stumblers like images and easy-to-read articles. After all, they are browsing the internet not reading a novel! Make your submissions to-the-point and add illustrations as appopriate, then submit them to StumbleUpon under the right tags and send them to Stumblers who will be interested in the material. StumbleUpon is a great way to find stuff and share stuff as long as you respect your fellow Stumbler and help them find things they will appreciate!

I, for one, am always happy to get great material from Stumble-friends. Join up, add me as a friend and send me your stuff – whether it’s yours or you just found it!

Here are some other bloggers to keep your eye on – a breath of fresh air from the types of things typically covered on this one. Start by checking out Disassociated and WallStreetFighter if you’re sick of reading blogs about search engines, ranking, blogging, and so on. Webomatica has content of all kinds, including posts about blogging but not an overwhelming number of these!

Also see Herebox and Hoodmonkey for all sorts of weird randomness – you really never know what to expect with them. For tips on life I’d recommend LifeLearningToday, and for interesting random stuff check out TheThinkingBlog.

You can’t miss WebUrbanist for amazing images of street art, graffiti and other such things. Also definitely have to check out the incredibly stupid blog: Allsux. If you host your own blog and want to widgetize it, be sure to get a Romlet! If I missed someone I should know about drop me a line and I’ll throw you a shout.

OK OK, so I can’t help myself … I have to send you to a few blogs about blogging too. You absolutely must read and subscribe to Alister Cameron’s blog – he is a great guy with excellent blogging tips, with a mix of post lengths much like Andy Beard (hint: check them both out!). You also have to check out Nate Whitehill – also a savvy blogger with well-organized tips, tricks and advice. Finally, though not just about blogging, check out TheArticleWriter for tips on writing and earning money at it as well. And one final meta-link: this is not a blog at all, but a way to get more exposure for your blog and well worth checking out for any blogger: Peopleized.

There are three great web tools for looking quickly and easily at how well your site is ranking for keywords you are targetting. Of course, there are many such tools, but these three in particular are commonly overlooked and each can help you assess and improve your site in different but valuable ways. Whether you are working on free SEO or paid PPC ads, these are all worth looking at:

(1) Website Grader is a great site that, as a free service, does a few valuable things all at once. First, it checks your site’s general statistics on Google, Technorati, etc… More importantly, however, it shows you how you rank for keywords you are targetting AND compares that to other sites which YOU define as your competition. The tool also looks for gaps in your page structure or other problems with your site that may be hurting your rankings or keeping you from turning up higher on search results. Of course, as the name suggests, it also creates an overall ‘grade’ for your site based on this combination of factors.

(2) Google Site Related Keywords is a great way to see what Google itself thinks of your site. You simply enter your domain name then wait for Google to browse your site and return what the GoogleBots decide are your top keywords of choice. If you aren’t turning up on search results, this can help explain why. This site, for example, returns top keywords like ‘page rank,’ ‘search engine’ and ‘blog’ – a good sign that I have targetted the right keywords and that Google has a good idea of what this site is about! Google thought this site was about funny and weird humor, which is partly true, while it originally thought this site was about fine art, not street art.

(3) Stealing Competitor Keywords is a great way to get ahead of whatever sites you may be competing with and outranking them on search engines by seeing what they use! As the linked article suggests, it might be best to sign up for a 1-day trial (quite inexpensive) and do a lot of searches in that first day.

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