You're Invited: Alt for Everyone Fall 2014 Pinning Party

By: Laura Trevey Photos by Alt Summit

Who is excited for our first ever Alt for Everyone Pinning Party! (hands clapping…) It is going to be so much fun! And the best part is that everyone can participate. 

If you are registered for Alt for Everyone and/or Alt Summit Winter, you will be receiving an invitation to join the shared Alt for Everyone Pinning Party Pinterest Board pretty soon, so be on the lookout.

Our Pinning party will begin at 8AM PT/12PM ET Saturday, September 27th while Alt for Everyone is taking place so the ideas are fresh and the creative juices are flowing. Throughout the day, Alt for Everyone speakers and attendees will be pinning on the Alt for Everyone Pinterest Board. As you listen to our wonderful speakers, feel free to pin blogging tips, design and inspirational content from your own blogs, our blog--the Alt Summit blog, and other relevant sites. 

If you have not signed up for Alt for Everyone or Alt Summit Winter, no problem. You can participate by heading over to the Alt for Everyone Pinning Party Pinterest Board to repin your favorites. Be sure to include #AltforEveryone and #AltSummit.

Mark your calendars and plan on joining us Saturday, September 27th! The party will begin at 8AM PST and will go until 8PM PST. By the end of the day, the board will be full of tips and inspiration for subjects like networking with fellow bloggers, pitching brands, improving your content, and diving into Google Analytics. You definitely will not want to miss it!

The Do’s and Don’ts of Making Your Blog Irresistible to Brands

By: Cynthia Zamaria  Photo by: Ciera Design

During my working hours, I’m a marketer agency in Toronto. Part of my role is helping clients identify people like you who they can collaborate with. So I have an interesting perspective when it comes to matchmaking bloggers and brands.

As a blogger, I know we all do this for various reasons – to create, to connect, to make money. Indeed, studies indicate that a large majority of bloggers are looking to gain some form of compensation from their labor of love. This is a good thing because increasingly companies are ready to pay you for your efforts.

So when brands look at all the talented bloggers out there, what sets you apart? With the benefit of sitting at the table where we evaluate bloggers on behalf of some pretty cool brands, here are some do’s and don’ts to keep in mind if you want to stand out.

• Do focus on driving traffic to your site. Brands look for bloggers with good influence and high unique monthly visitors.

• Do work on your social networks. Companies want to know you have extensive reach and are engaged on other social platforms outside of your blog like Pinterest, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

• Do spend time designing a professional-looking site with lots of beautiful visuals.

• Do amplify the reach of the content on your blog by pushing it out on other platforms like Twitter and Facebook.

• Do guest blog on blogger networks to increase your exposure.

• Do be an active blogger. Post regularly. Answer comments. Link to other blogs. Participate in conferences.

• Do enter blogger contests or submit your blog for awards so you can get additional credentials.

• Do be true to yourself. Brands want to work with you because you have a point-of-view and are happy to share it.

• Be transparent. Ethics are as important to brands as they are to you. Be clear about the companies you are working with so your readers know.

• Do establish a social voice. Think about your personality, tone and style of writing. Deliver it consistently.

• Do follow, comment and engage with the brands you are interested in. If you love a particular product or company, become a fan and be a part of the conversation.

• Don’t try to be all things to all people. Keep your interests focused as brands are often looking for expertise in specific topics like food, home, family.

• Don’t get stuck in your ways. Continue to evolve your blog so it looks fresh and current.

• Don’t expect to get paid for everything you do. Not all brands are willing to offer compensation for your input but they may offer other benefits like product or exposure through their network.

• Don’t sell your soul. If you promote every brand that comes your way, your authenticity will be diminished in the eyes of a potential sponsor.

Rebranding Your Blog: DIY

By: Susan Brinson Photo by House of Brinson

Can you believe it's almost the end of the year? Are you getting pumped about what you want to accomplish next year? I know it seems a bit early for all this jazz, but if you are getting ready to take on a big project and it's just you driving the bus, you need all the lead time you can get. Rebranding your blog is a big project that can take several months if you are squeezing it into your normal schedule.

Here's some tips and tricks for ensuring success when you start a big project:

Write a high-level level timeline

Life happens, so when I'm working on a big project, I like to write a high level (not too detailed)  timeline. This keeps you on track, and allows you to focus on one step at a time, rather than being overwhelmed with a big project.

Form a 'success group'

Staying motivated is key! Choose two people who will stick with you through your entire project. I like to pick one person who is highly engaged in the project I'm working on (like a fellow blogger if your working on a blog project). And second, a friend who is not as close to the details of the project, and will have an objective opinion (a friend who reads your blog). 

Organize your thoughts and inspiration

I use Evernote to stay organized and break out my notes to match my timeline actions. Working on your brand is tough! You have all these ideas and thoughts racing through your mind. Jot them down in Evernote until it's time to work on that area of your project. This will record your fab ideas, and keep you focused in the immediate task at hand.

When I started this, I didn't know where to begin. I knew how to work with large complex brands with a team, but didn't know where to start for my two person blog team! I took a complicated process and simplified it so a one or two person team can find success.

What Is Branding And How Does It Apply To My Blog?

 By: Susan Brinson  Photo by: House Of Brinson 

For a moment, let's take a step back and say: what is branding? For those of us in the advertising industry, it's a word that is used a lot. Dare I say, it might even be over used. 

Back in the day the term 'identity' was used, and that referred to the visual assets of a company. Logos, fonts and color would be the visual identity or assets. But what about the rest? What about the core values, voice and tone of a company? Where do we define that? That's part of the brand. If we compare a company to a person, the brand is the personality: how they speak, their values. Their identity supports their personality with items like how they dress. Luckily, for us as bloggers we have a great brand to start because we're people and our brand is so deeply engrained in ourselves, we already know what it is. I can say from personal experience that I know my blogging brand well, but I always stumble when someone says: what's your blog about? Or how about the panic inducing project: writing your about page. Now it's time to make a change and redesign your blog. Where do you start?

Here's a quick exercise you can do before looking at your own brand:

First, find three blogs that you love! I'd say these are the blogs you fan-girl out when you read them. Write down everything you like about these blogs, about 3-5 things. Later, when it's time to review your own blog, you can see how much of those shared items you have in common, and what you can work on creating for your blog.

Here's an example: I have a blog I really like the typography on (ok, I LOVE it). When I started looking at my favorite blogs, they all had great typography. So when I redesigned our blog, typography was a focus. I knew, deep down this was important to me.

Blog Branding And Design Resources

 By: Susan Brinson  Photo By: House Of Brinson

One thing blogging has taught me is the art of staying inspired, constantly. It's a lot of work to keep up with the latest info, or find a trusted resource. Here are my favorite resources for staying informed and inspired about blogging, branding and design. 

1. Braid Creative

If I'm in a dumpy mood, and don't know if I can write one… more… post…, I hope on over to the Braid Creative Blog. They 'get' creative people and are wonderfully inspiring. I like their topics because they generally address bigger, and deeper issues.

2.  Inward Facing Girl

Melanie's blog has some wonderful posts about storytelling, which is a component of branding. We'll chat more about this in class and how it all ties together. In the mean time, cruise over to Inward Facing Girl for story telling inspiration. 

3. VMAC and Cheese

Victoria not only has a beautiful blog, but great advice for bloggers las well. She's partnered up with Meg Briam to for The B Bar where you can download 'cocktails' about blogging, like creating a media kit. 

4. Behance

If you need a designer or design inspiration, Behance is a crazy amazing resource. You can look at designers portfolios from around the world, and this helps be broaden my horizons and not get stuck in a rut. 

5. Ad Age

Industry design and strategy news. There's some great insight into the moves big businesses are making. I often find inspiration with how larger businesses are using social media and where they are choosing to spend their advertising dollars. 

6. Brand New

If you want to learn more about branding and design because you're considering making a change, look no further. Brand New shows you the before and after of redesigns, and the comment section will give you the real deal opinion if the design community liked it. 



 

My Favorite Tools For Creating An Editorial Calendar

By: Chris Gardner  Image by:  Seyed Mostafa Zamani

Here’s my system and why it works for me. If you don’t already have a organization system in place, follow these three rules to get started, and keep track of all your brilliant ideas.

1) Separate Your Personal Calendar and Your Blog Calendar Your editorial calendar belongs to your blog, not to you, or even your personal brand. In the best case scenario, you can use your actual calendar to record notes and keep track of ideas, and that can be tough to do when they’re all mixed in with time-specific events. Plus, at some point, someone besides you will see your editorial calendar, and it can be confusing to have your original content mixed in with your dentist appointments and bill pay reminders.

2) Use Whatever System is Most Accessible An editorial calendar is only helpful if you actually use it. So, pick the software or app that is most accessible to you. I’ve found that Google apps work best for me. I like that they’re online and I can keep them open in browser tabs next to my current projects, instead of having to switch back and forth between software. I use Calendar to keep track of my time and dates, but my editorial calendar is actually a spreadsheet. Sometimes I’ll write down ideas and brainstorms in Documents, but most of my time in spent in the cells of a spreadsheet. I can then share these with collaborators, and everyone has access to the current version of a document. I also use Google+ ‘s hangout feature to do the majority of my business calls and planning with my team, since you can create documents right in the call. To keep track of tasks, these days I prefer TeuxDeux, but I’ve also used Todoist to great success. On particularly busy days or weeks, I like to just use pen and paper, so I can keep track of all the projects and roles I play.  All of the apps sync with my phone, which is essential when you work from home/the coffee shop/wherever you please.

3) Spreadsheets (or Grids) are Your Friend Whatever system you use, take advantage of some sort of visual organization. Headings and bullet points are too limited to  keep track of ideas over long periods. Spreadsheets, or some sort of gridded system, are much more useful when planning things that have both aspects of time (left to right) and of variety of content (up and down). Columns and rows are your best buddies. The ability to resize cells and format them into tables and units has really streamlined my process. Color-coding types of posts (how-tos, narrative, shopping guides, roundups, etc) allows me to make sure there’s a diversity of content published each week. It takes a little while to set up, but once you’ve got it, you can use it for years to come.  I find it easy to see a month all laid out in a spreadsheet, but you can add each piece as color-coded events to a calendar to see patterns in your publishing and to make sure you keep things fresh.

How to Leverage New Blog Traffic When It Comes In

By: Kelly Beall  Photo by: Justin Hackworth

 So maaaybe you took my Expanding Your Audience class, took advantage of all the action items, and now have more readers than you know what to do with. (You totally did, right?) The next step might be a little bit more challenging, getting all of those new eyeballs to hang around can be tricky. Here are some great links that can help you hang on to that audience you've worked so hard to build up.

How to convert casual visitors into dedicated subscribers.

Drive visitors to your archives for a more in-depth experience on your blog.

Now this is interesting, 34 reasons why readers unsubscribe.

How to surf those "traffic tsunamis" that show up on the best days.

Get readers to spend more time on your site and increase page views.

Rely on the relationships you've already built.

Be sure to check out Kelly's class in October, Expanding Your Audience.  

Using An Editorial Calendar To Plan Your Holiday Content

By: Chris Gardner  Image by:  Barbara Miers

An editorial calendar is a useful and necessary tool throughout the year, but it’s absolutely essential during October, November, and December. Creative inspiration is everywhere, your traffic will be up, and you want to set yourself up for the season as best you can. Here are five tips to follow to help you stay productive:

1) Plan them all at once. Set aside a day, an afternoon, a weekend, and layout the rest of the calendar year. Why? Because a lot of your content will interact with each other. A fall DIY tutorial can work for during October and November, and you’ll want to know what’s coming up so you can reference a Halloween-time harvest post around Thanksgiving, for example. A table scape or centerpiece project can work for both Thanksgiving and Christmas, or even New Year’s, etc.

2) Get started early. Everyone knows the grump who always remarks that the Christmas stuff comes out immediately after Halloween, and grumble, grumble, grumble. Ignore them. There’s a reason the media (that’s you) needs to get a head start on the holidays. The content has to be ready and accessible in time for your readers to find it, engage with it, and (hopefully), do something with it: make the projects, try the recipes, buy the goods, use the designs, etc. You want your content to be shared on social media and reblogged on other sites, etc, so give your peers time to find it.

3) Order things logically. Think about the ways holidays progress. What’s the order most of your readers will live into the season? Which elements come first? Decor? Clothing? Gifts? Costumes? Event planning? Food? Plan your content so that it publishes a week before you think your readers actually need it. For example, your December gift guides need to be done before Thanksgiving, but your wrapping tutorials and ideas can come a little later. Your cookie recipes can happen in mid-December, but the majority of your garland, wreath, and other decor tips need to happen at the beginning of the month.

4) Reuse and interact. The biggest benefits of planning all your content at once is that you can repurpose and reuse. So, if you publish a great gift tag idea, find several more, and publish a DIY gift tag idea roundup the following week with yours as an entry. If you make an ornament and a tree garland tutorial, you can photograph the feature images (i.e. on the tree) at the same time, and then reference the other tutorial in your post copy. Publish your own handmade gift ideas, and then share your giving list, linking back to your project, etc.

5) Promote. Like crazy. Make sure all your images are Pinterest friendly, and take the extra time to create collages, add text to your photos, and include a couple feature photos that other bloggers can use. Try to do a content exchange with your peers. And most importantly, email blogs that are bigger than you and share your original content. Trust me: they want it this time of year. In fact, if you come up with something amazing, I invite you to share it with me for consideration on my site, Curbly. Just send along a photo and a link to Chris@curbly.com.

On October 7th, I’ll be teaching a whole course on content planning and editorial calendars, with special attention to using your calendar to grow your blog. Come join us.

Why Every Blogger Learns The Secret Code

By: Joy Laforme  Image by: Twoems

Steve Jobs once said, “Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.”

Bloggers are constantly challenged to understand what good design is. Whether it is wedding stationery, interior fabrics, table settings, or floorboard materials, bloggers are often are very visually creative, and constantly seeking out better and better designs – from each other and themselves. Many have an expectation of what good design should look like, right down to their own blog. Not understanding how your blog’s back-end functions can leave you feeling powerless, in a space that should make you feel empowered.

Blogging platforms like Wordpress, Blogger, Squarespace, and Typepad have obviously made managing a blog incredibly simple, and there are certainly code-less options for managing a theme as well, like Thesis and Genesis Frameworks. But these often lack the unique quality of a theme that comes with something that is custom made, and many bloggers still opt to hire a custom designer. Here are five reasons why you should understand HTML and CSS.

#1. Change is coming

Grace Bonney spoke at Alt NYC about change, and how it is inevitable. It is important to understand that certain versions of HTML and CSS will be able to do more than others, and these languages will continue to evolve over time to have greater capabilities. This will equip you to ask the right questions of your web designer or developer as they create your new blog.

#2. Know thyself, know thy plugins

Plugins can be essential to your theme’s design, and knowing which ones do what, where, and how, could be the difference between getting 1800 spam comments per day, or none at all. When your blogging platform begs a plugin upgrade, don’t just blindly upgrade and expect it to work – read what is being updated with the latest version. It may contain important information as it pertains to your theme’s design, and spare you (and your web designer) a gigantic headache and long night of de-bugging.

#3. Working with Ad Networks and Sponsors

If you want to cozy up with Ad Networks and Sponsors, it’s time to get technical, and know the details of where to put those trusty “scripts” that Ad Networks hand you when you sign a contract. Most Ad Networks contain instructions on where in your blog to place the magical Ad code to make ads appear, but knowing that before you even sign with them takes the stress and burden off of installation away, and places the focus on maintaining those ads with organization and professionalism.

#4. It will save you money. Possibly a lot of money.

When you are starting out blogging for the first time, chances are the money’s tight, and it is hard to justify spending money on an hourly rate for a designer to help fix some basic changes you want to make to your blog. You may still choose to go with a professional designer or to spend money on a theme you found that suits you perfectly, but making basic changes gets a lot easier with a little bit of knowledge and background on the subject.

#5. Being creative

 The best reason (and my favorite), is that there are no limits to what you can do with your own blog design with some time and investment into learning the ropes. 

Links And Tips For Blog Planning

Adding Ads and Sponsor Links to your Blog

By: Joy Laforme  Image by: Eric Cahan

 There are a lot of great opportunities for bloggers in Ads and Sponsorships. If you’re making a career out of blogging, it’s important to know the ins and outs of how to place ads and sponsors links in your blog’s sidebar, as well as the footer, in between posts, and the leaderboard sections of your blog.

Ad Network Scripts

An Ad Network will likely give you a line or block, of JavaScript known as a ‘snippet’ to place somewhere on your blog so that it can generate the appropriate ad link and image for you. A simple ‘snippet’ looks something like this:

<script type='text/javascript' src='http://static.adnetwork.net/'></script>

You’ll likely want to place this JavaScript directly into your themes source code. If you’re adding it into your sidebar, you can place the JavaScript directly into the sidebar and widget area. Make sure you know what size you are enabling, as many standard Ads come in different sizes. Know the width of your footer, header, content area and sidebar by the pixel number, to ensure that whatever ad you decide to place on your blog is the appropriate size. Here is a great reference on Ad sizes and where you can place them, published by Google AdSense.

Sidebar Sponsors

Sidebar sponsors are the most common of the typical “sponsor links”. Whether someone paid you to add their image, or you decided to ad swap with another blog, this type of sponsor is the easiest to add to your blog.

You can simply add the image and link into your sidebar, using standard HTML, or you can manage your sponsors by adding a plugin that helps manage and track clicks for you as well. Recently, someone recommended U-Ads, Ad King Pro, and AdRotate for managing Ads through Wordpress*. If you’re running on a different platform, you can also sign up for Google AdSense to help manage your sponsor images, clicks, and impressions.

*Be sure to check with your Web Designer on the compatibility of these plugins with your current theme.

Check out Joy's class on the Alt Channel for more secrets to coding! 

Your Stories And Good Writing

By: Tracy Jackson   Image By: Coming To Grips

I’m with fantasy writer Philip Pullman, “after nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.”  Despite a full-to-overflowing and sometimes hectic life, I make room for stories.  I crave stories.  I’m unabashed about it, I’ll take narratives just about any way I can get them: telephone conversations, best books, posts, the news, letters, songs (rap if I have to), assignments I give to students, ticker or semi-encrypted notes doodled on yellow-lined paper. Oh, and just so you know, age is no restrictor.  Some of the best stories of late come from my five-year-old son Jonah; he tells tales that enthrall.  Recently, he worried that a houseguest of ours was going “to leave his world” because she had left the house.  (Insert automatic and slightly repressed chuckle here.)   In that moment I thought about how lucky I am that he shares his stories, they let me stay in his enchanting world even when I’m not physically with him. Stories are like oxygen to me—they breathe life into the familiar. 

Obviously, you revere stories as much as I do; after all, you chronicle your days.  When storytelling becomes your profession as much or more than your hobby, you have to flex your expertise.  So let’s talk about good writing since it’s inextricably intertwined with good storytelling.  Here are a few writing fundamentals to be mindful of when crafting your blog.  First, remember that literary economy is key.  Use the fewest words possible in your prose.  Composition theorist Peter Elbow preaches economy of words when he reminds all writers, “to avoid excess words.” Minify is a good writing motto.

My second tip is to search for the right word like you search for the prize in a cereal box.  It requires some digging and tilting, maybe even a disgruntled grrr.  Don’t be afraid wear your dictionary out.  Explore synonyms. Understanding the roots of words helps too.  The right word requires recognizing connotations.  Think about the emotional implications and associations that a word has, e.g., “stocky” connotes something different than “chunky” does—they’re not necessarily interchangeable words.  “Strapping” has a very different feeling to it; yet, all those words will be hooked together as synonymous.  Twain figured it out, “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.”

My last tip for today is one of my writing favorites: use vigorous verbs. Writing expert John Trimble underscores the fact that the verb, for better or for worse, functions as the power center of each sentence.  If you choose genuinely fresh and active verbs, your sentences will have snap.  Your prose will come alive, I promise.  Conversely, if your verbs are dull and diffident, your sentences will sag.  (And let’s be honest, no one aspires to sagging, do they?) In The Careful Writer, Theodore Bernstein speculates that The Declaration of Independence was strikingly powerful because it employed so many active, unequivocal verbs.  “[King George III] has plundered our seas, ravished our Coasts, burned our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.” Those verbs make me want to tote a musket around and join a cause!  There’s indisputable power in a well-selected verb.   

Feel free to continue to sharpen the saw by taking Polly Scott’s Better Writing in Six Steps at atly.comYou’ll be glad you did.  Oh, and please know that because you are storytellers, we’d love your input on our blog.  Write for us for a day, won’t you?  We have good shelter, our bellies are full and we’re obviously in good company—it’s the stories we need most right now.  Spin us a yarn, and we’ll lend you a smile!

This post was written and sponsored by atly.  

Why Content Is King

By: Kelly Beall  Photo by: Oh Happy Day

You've heard it roughly one million times and chances are you're going to hear it one million more: Content is king. It's also one of the key components to growing your blog. Do it right and often and you'll find yourself with more readers than you know what to do with.

1. It's sharable.

When your readers like what you're creating, they naturally want to spread it around. And when your content gets pollinated your visibility grows exponentially.

2. It's a connection.

That's right, it's a great in to connecting on a deeper level. Whether that connection is the result of an uber personal post or a totally out of the box DIY, it resonates and reverberates.

3. It makes you stand out.

You're putting the extra thought and energy into creating something new and original, and that doesn't go unnoticed. Do it often enough and you won't be able to keep track of all of your new readers!

4. It grows trust.

By creating consistently original content, you're creating a lasting relationship with those who visit your blog. And a little trust goes a long way, making them more likely to spread the word of you far and wide.

5. It gives a reason to return.

Consistent, quality content is its very own reason for your readers to keep coming back to visit you and your blog. And to bring everyone they know with them!

Resources for your HTML and CSS Toolbox

5 (More) DIY Blogs You Should Be Reading

By: Melanie Blodgett

DIY blogs are exploding and I don’t know about you, but I’m hooked. I love that I can find a tutorial for just about any project I want to undertake from a pinata shaped like an ice cream cone to a new coffee table. Here are just five (of the many) blogs that I admire for their tutorial game:

Studio DIY

If there was one word to describe this blog, it would be happy. Kelly loves confetti, pinatas, color, and donuts - so all of her projects are smile inducing and party ready.

Mer Mag

Merilee is an expert at reusing materials to make cool kid-doable crafts that you won’t just want to throw away. Think gradient color blocks and toilet paper roll llamas. 

Mini Eco

Kate is insanely talented. I’m not sure I’m careful enough to recreate her brilliant paper crafts, but that doesn’t stop me from trying. They’re too beautiful not to!

Hank & Hunt

Okay, I know Jenny is an Alt team member but her blog is really good guys. Really good. Focused mostly on party crafts, she can crank out a garland faster than you can unload the dishwasher and everything she touches becomes instantly pretty.

Little Green Notebook

Jenny is a doer. The genius interior projects she churns out on a daily basis will inspire you to remake and decorate every room in your house.

Go read! Be inspired!

Four Mistakes Bloggers Make

By: Sara Urquhart. Photo by: Justin Hackworth

Blogging is a great job, but like any other industry, common mistakes can trip up the best of us. Keep your business growing in the right direction by avoiding these four common mistakes

Lack of innovation. Many people begin blogging because they’re innovative—the sort of people who are ready to try new things. But it’s possible to lose that innovation in the day-to-day process of running your blog. Successful bloggers continue to experiment: with new platforms, new features, and new ideas.

Solution: Get out of your rut and shake things up.

Take community for granted. It’s a mistake to stop responding to comments or feedback from your readers, or to remove features from your blog that allow for more interaction.

Solution: Remember your readers are the reason you have a job, and show respect and gratitude.

Become too busy to collaborate. When our plates are full, it’s hard to make time for collaborations, but the magic that happens when we collaborate is the stuff that expands our personal and business worlds in the most meaningful ways.

Solution: Even as you’re growing, make time to work on new ideas and projects with other bloggers or creative professionals.

Starve personal creativity. Bloggers are naturally creative, passionate people with a love for the subject you blog about. With daily demands and the routines of business, that creativity can slowly disappear. It’s up to you to keep it alive.

Solution: Do something fun even if (and maybe especially if) it doesn’t generate content. Enjoy something creative just because you love it.