Undoubtedly one of the most important aspects of running a blog is keeping up with design trends. You can write amazing articles and share the best tips on the web, but if your blog looks like a run-down 1990’s ripoff or some generic WordPress template, chances are you won’t be attracting many visitors to your site. The most famous and successful bloggers realize how important a custom design really is, and no expenses are cut when it comes to design.
Pro Blog Design is a fantastic WordPress blog focusing on just that – how to build a pretty blog. I got an interview with the creator and main writer on Pro Blog Design Michael Martin, and he discusses how Pro Blog Design came to be, and also shares some wise clips of wisdom about blogging and creating an attractive design.
An absolutely must-read for blogger’s of all levels, Michael’s words of wisdom serve as a great inspiration to me as an up and coming blogger. I would expect anyone else interested in blogging, either at a personal or professional level will take away some great information from our interview.
Could you explain a bit more about Pro Blog Design for readers who aren’t familiar with your blog?
Pro Blog Design is my blog about WordPress design and development. The majority of our posts are focused on tweaking WordPress to get more out of it, and the nice thing about it is that while some of the posts are of more interest to web developers, the majority could be worked through by anyone!
How did you initially come up with the idea for the site? Were there any other blogs or websites which influenced the development or design process?
When I started Pro Blog Design (August 2007), there weren’t many other blogs in the niche. There were a lot of web design blogs of course, and a lot of blogging blogs, but there weren’t many on designing blogs (That was actually going to be the original name, designingblogs.com, glad I changed over now!).
One blog which started at around the same time as me and focused on similar topics was Steven Snell’s Vandelay Design. And 2 and a half years on, he’s still writing awesome content!
How often do you *try* and post new content to Pro Blog Design? Do you ever find yourself with writers block and struggling to get new posts?
To be honest, I don’t try as much as I really should anymore. I used to post regularly (Daily for the first month, then gradually down to 2 or 3 times a week, and now we aim for twice a week, though I rarely write both myself, and I often miss the 2 a week goal).
I love to write, but with client work increasing steadily, writing time has just gotten more and more cut down. Obviously that’s poison for a blog, which is why I started hiring writers (But I noticed that was a question further on so I’ll pause for now).
How has Pro Blog Design grown since you initially launched? Have you noticed any particular articles you’ve written that have really helped improve the popularity of PBD and drawn in a lot of traffic?
In terms of raw traffic, sadly it’s the list posts that seem to get the most attention through social media (e.g. http://www.problogdesign.com/wordpress/40-free-premium-quality-wordpress-themes/). But I like to survey my readership from time to time, and the last survey highlighted that I’d gone too far towards list posts over the previous few months. In the end, it’s the well thought out, original content that gets people to subscribe and keep coming back.
Which is a good thing; when I do sit down to write, it’s so much more fun to write something that’s truly useful!
What do you think are the most popular types of blog posts? Not related to how many comments, but to how many visitors it’s gotten to your blog.
It would definitely be the list posts, but one important thing is that being a list isn’t enough. The list still has to add value, e.g. If you check out that post I mentioned in the previous question, every single item has a description and bullets on what makes it different.
That makes it a combination of both an easy-to-scan list, and a very informative post, which was the real reason for that post in particular doing great!
What types of marketing do you/did you perform on the blog in order to get your link out there?
My marketing at the start was all done by commenting on other blogs. My trick was to load up a massive blog in a similar niche (For me, it was ProBlogger.net), then click the link to every commenter’s site, and leave a good comment on their blog. And of course that applied to my own blog too, I replied to every single person who left a comment! And still do reply to everyone who comments on a new article. Can’t keep up with all the comments on older posts though.
This worked really well because a lot of the people were new bloggers like me, so they were interested in clicking back to my site to see who I was as well.
Since then, Twitter has been my main platform. It’s a lot of fun to use and you get to just be yourself, but in doing that, the audience you build up can be a very powerful tool. I have around 5500 followers there at the minute, and I tweet a link to each of my posts. That brings a fair bit of traffic in.
What do you think of popular social networking sites like Digg and StumbleUpon? Have you used any of these in marketing campaigns for Pro Blog Design?
I love StumbleUpon. The awesome thing about it is that every one or two stumbles will bring you a little bit of traffic. I never did much in terms of sending my links to other people (I didn’t know the people, so it seemed a little pushy to want them to stumble my site), but I sure did share the SU links with people via my webpage, and even Twitter the odd time!
I used Digg every day for a year or two, but I’ve never had much success on it. Never once hit the frontpage. Had a few stories get close, and one that I wrote for a different website made it, but Digg is all or nothing. That makes it awesome for huge blogs that have a good chance of getting to the front, but for smaller sites, it’s not worth the effort I find.
Again though, my personality and preference for not being too pushy may have been part of that. There are far better people at building up a network on there and using it to their advantage.
I noticed you use BuySellAds on your blog, which is a very popular ad platform related to bloggers. Have you had a lot of success with them, and could you give us your opinion on their ad network?
Yep, BuySellAds have been awesome!
I used to sell the adverts directly because I felt that 25% was too large a cut to take. I normally had 2/4 slots sold, but when I swapped to BSA, I had them all sold out within a week. And they’ve been sold out ever since.
BSA is great because its hassle-free for me, but it’s even better because it’s hassle-free for the advertiser. It seems that advertisers are much happier to buy a BSA advert because they can do it in about 5 minutes, instead of emails to the blogger! It also sets the ads up as subscriptions, so advertisers can stay for quite a while. Elegant Themes have been with me ever since from the week I swapped to BSA well over a year ago!
What are some tips or tricks you could share related to making money blogging? Any secret steps you’ve followed to get where you are today?
Make something you’re proud of. That applies to everything.
If the blog post you’ve just written isn’t something you’d love to see in your feed reader, then scrap it and write a new one. And the same for your blog design; if you don’t think it looks great, no-one else will.
Even to little things like, which advertisers will you accept? It even influenced my decision not to be too aggressive on sites like Digg and SU; I was happier being more passive, so that’s what I did. And it seems to have worked well enough!
How does guest writing for your blog work? I noticed you pay your guest bloggers very nicely, how did this get started on PBD?
It started up because I was finding more and more that I couldn’t meet my posting schedules for the blog. Web work isn’t my full time job just yet, so there really is a limit on what all I can do.
I chose to focus on the design services side of things, with the blogging second. With the profits from the design services, I was able to hire writers and increase the payment rate to what it is now.
The design services are going great at the minute and I’m looking to go back to having the website come first, and let the design services take care of themselves a little for now(again, by bringing more people on board to help me out!). That’s part of growing a business I think, as great as it would be to do everything, you have to work out what the priorities are and find ways to automate the less important tasks.
Looking back on your journey with Pro Blog Design, what was your favorite moment and why?
My proudest moment probably came right at the start, about a month after I began the blog. After reading ProBlogger for so long, I got to publish a guest post there! Was fairly chuffed about that! http://www.problogger.net/archives/2007/08/30/the-right-width-for-your-blog/.
If you had any advice for someone creating their own blog to make money online, what would it be?
My advice would be to not worry too much about the money side of things; just focus on making something valuable. If your content is valuable and useful, your audience will grow, and when you have a large audience, money-making opportunities will start to present themselves.