Thursday, July 28, 2011

Where Does Your Imagination Take You?

I remember when Little Miss was just turning two, a friend of mine gave her some dress up clothes for her birthday. She had a daughter six years older and wisely told me that though she'd gotten rid of the majority of her "baby" toys, the dress up clothes were the ones that she kept no matter what because children of all ages loved them, even when they didn't fit so well. That has stuck with me over the past four years.

And it's really true.

I remember playing dress up all the time as a kid, with my friends and by myself. I had a favorite pair of shoes that I'm pretty sure I rarely shared with anyone. I remember them as hand me downs from my mom when she grew tired of them - which is where most of our dress up clothes were acquired - though she insists we went to a store and I picked them out.

They were beautiful. To me. They were high heeled wedges that I somehow managed to walk in. And the elastic type straps that went across the tops to hold your feet in? They were perfect. They were rainbow colored from red all the way to violet. I had a belt that matched. I was in love (fortunately, my tastes have matured), and those shoes were the basis for every outfit and adventure I had with my dress up trunk.

I remember being a doctor, lining up all my Cabbage Patch Kids in the waiting room and calling them back one by one to cure their mysterious ills while wobbling back and forth in those wedges. Then there was the school teacher who taught neighborhood children in the basement, always wearing those precious shoes because teachers had to dress up, you know. I was a veterinarian caring for stuffed animals abandoned at an animal shelter, carefully stepping around the messes they left behind that my assistant (my sister, usually) was required to clean up. I'm pretty sure I was even a fire fighter in those shoes, pretending that the unfinished stairs of my basement was the ladder I needed to use to save the babies from the burning building before successfully putting out the fire.

I find it interesting now that so many of my games with dress up involved various career choices that I wanted to explore. I was never one who wanted to be a ballerina, fortunately, as I'm not sure how those shoes would have done during that exercise. Ultimately, I didn't become any of those. My imaginations in the basement with my dress up clothes and my precious shoes were enough for me to decide that maybe that career wasn't really what I wanted to do, but boy my imagination was stretched and I came up with some really great stories along the way.

I wouldn't trade my dress up trunk or my rainbow wedges for anything. I love that the wee ones continue to use their imaginations as they dress up, as well. You never know where it will take you. Where did yours take you when you were growing up?

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In the interest of full disclosure, I was provided with a copy of the book "Paddywhack Lane's The Costume Trunk" by Bob Fuller for review as a part of the From Left To Write book club. We do not write traditional reviews but rather write posts inspired by the books. I received no compensation, and all opinions expressed are my own.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Wordless Wednesday - S'Mores!

Seriously? This is summer. Hanging out at the bonfire, roasting marshmallows, chomping away, and hopefully not running out of chocolate. Oh, and did I mention giant multi-forked branches?


The only sad part? I'm beginning to wonder if these children are my flesh and blood. Little Miss ate half her s'more and said she was full and ran off to play. Mister Man ate his whole (giant) s'more and then handed me his plate, saying he was full. No one wanted a second s'more. Really, these are my children?

I have lots of work to do, I can see now.

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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Tasty Tuesday! - Authentic Carbonara

Last week, I posted my orechiette recipe that I learned while in Italy. Yum. So yum. We made it twice more while in Italy after our cooking class, and I've now made it twice again since I've been home. Let me repeat - in the middle of an obnoxiously hot summer in Chicago, I voluntarily boiled water in my home. This is the time when the stove and oven goes off in my house and we cook everything on the grill. That's how good these are.

I was planning to make my orechiette last week with carbonara, as it was so yummy and easy - again, a five ingredient sauce, yay! - but someone in my house had used up all the eggs, so I was "forced" to make a tomato sauce for it instead. Thank you, Costco, I have since replenished my stock of eighteen cage free eggs and was able to make my carbonara. The amount of sauce I made was good for five to six servings of my orechiette recipe. Because of that, I'm adjusting measurements here a bit to make enough carbonara for a double recipe of orechiette, which is plenty to serve two people as an entree dish.

Authentic Carbonara
And yes, I'm calling it authentic since I learned it in a cooking class in Italy

1 T olive oil
1/2 small onion (no more than 1/2 cup or so)
2 oz pancetta, diced (in Italy it comes in great packages prediced, but I bought mine from the butcher, which required me doing the cutting - yet another reason to move to Italy)
2 eggs
1 c Pecorino Romano (if you use Parmesan, it won't melt as well and will taste ... different)
pepper to taste
some water from the boiled pasta - maybe 1/4-1/3 cup

After you've diced your pancetta, place it into a hot pan with the olive oil and saute it at medium heat until it's softened and started to turn a little translucent. At this point, add the onion and cook until the onion is soft, about five minutes or so, stirring periodically.

Once the onion has softened, remove the pan from the heat. In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs until fluffy. Add the pecorino and pepper and whisk again until well combined. It won't look pretty, but trust me, you're on the right track.

Take some of the water you boiled whatever pasta you're making in (traditionally spaghetti, but the orechiette is awesome with it, too) and slowly add it to the eggs and cheese while you're whisking to ensure it doesn't scramble the eggs. Add this mixture to the pan with the pancetta and onion and stir well until the cheese has melted.

Stir in the pasta into the pan to coat and let the sauce thicken a bit more - you can cook it on low heat for a bit while stirring if need be. Serve immediately and wait for the applause. (And yes, do it the traditional Italian way: have your pasta bowl preheated by using more of the pasta water to heat it while you're making the sauce, then dump the water just before you add your pasta.)

Notes: You need no salt because the cheese is already so salty. Also, if you want to make this creamier, add extra cheese. I always grate extra just in case and have it on hand. If I don't use it for this recipe, I'll use it for something else soon. I love my cheese! This is a very rich dish. It doesn't take a ton to fill you up, so pair it with a salad or something lighter!

Enjoy this and more with Blessed With Grace and Tempt My Tummy Tuesday. Also posting now with A Southern Fairytale and her Mouthwatering Monday.

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Monday, July 25, 2011

What Do You Do When The Birthday Girl Leaves The Party?

You remember the song "It's My Party and I'll Cry If I Want To" - how can you not remember that classic? But what do you do when the birthday girl really is crying? And she has to leave her own birthday party? What's the etiquette there?

What, you've never faced this dilemma before? Lucky you.

I did mention that Little Miss broke her arm at her own birthday party earlier this summer, right? When it first happened (she was jumping in a bouncy place and a friend pushed her - she landed wrong), I knew it was broken. I could tell just looking at it. And the party was just thirty minutes in. Of course it was late enough that all the doctors' offices had already closed, so we'd have to go to the ER regardless, but there was a small hope that she could stick it out and head to the ER after the party was over.

I say this only knowing that setting a broken arm immediately or setting it in a few hours won't change anything with regards to healing.

It wasn't going to happen, however, as she was miserable and in pain. My husband and mom took Little Miss to the ER, leaving me behind with the party and 18 children still racing through the bouncy house.

Ummmm. What are you supposed to do in that situation? The birthday girl is gone. Do you send everyone home? Do you still have the birthday cake? Uhhh....

The first issue was figuring out what to tell the other kids. They had all gathered around Little Miss as she sat in my arms sobbing and holding her arm. They knew something was up, and they saw when she left. I figured they already knew something was up so the truth was the best - we were taking Little Miss to the ER because she hurt her arm, but we didn't yet know if it was broken. And yes, the party would go on.

When we got to the party room, we handed out the food we'd previously arranged to have served. That wasn't a problem. The cake was still a dilemma though. Do you simply cut it up and hand it out, or do you not serve it at all when the birthday girl is missing?

I came up with a better solution. I put the candles on the cake and asked all the kids to sing happy birthday to Little Miss and blow out her candles together, and I'd capture it on video so that she could watch it later when she was feeling better. It worked wonderfully, with lots of the kids wishing Little Miss better after the singing was finished. So sweet!

That made it easy to then pass out the cake and pretend like this was a normal birthday party. The one factor I hadn't counted on? As parents arrived to pick up their children, they came up to me asking "Is it true?" Oh. Oops. I hadn't thought about the fact that each child would immediately run to a parent and tell the whole story. Eh, they would have found out anyway.

And yes, I made it to the ER in time for the doctor to read the X-rays and determine that yes, it was a break. And both bones in her forearm were broken. At a pretty severe angle where she had to be sedated to straighten the arm before putting he cast on. Poor kid.

My hope is that you're never in a situation where you need to figure out what to do when the guest of honor has to unexpectedly leave his own birthday party, but just in case... I've figured out how you handle it at least.

PS Yes, she's doing fine and the cast will come off soon. No weight bearing activities for three months, however.

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Sunday, July 24, 2011

BlogHer Book Club - The Beach Trees

Books to me are always the relaxation and escape, the time for me to step away from the world and instead focus on what isn't happening in my life. While I love reading all year round, the escapist books seem to be primarily focused on summer reading - the time most people take for their vacations and escapes. I had the opportunity earlier this summer to read The Beach Trees by Karen White. Again, this is an author I haven't read previously, and it isn't a super light book, but that doesn't mean it isn't a good fit to sneak into your beach bag along with that suntan lotion and towel. Want to know what I really thought? Check out my take on it with my BlogHer Book Club review of The Beach Trees.

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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Brands And Bloggers Summit Recap - Catching Traditional Media’s Air Waves – Beyond Press Releases

As bloggers, the majority of bloggers have received pitches for all sorts of things. Personally, I also receive a ton of PR press releases from news organizations looking to have me promote their new product or event or ... something. But that can go both ways, especially in the news business. I was actually just asked to do a segment for a local news show - that I turned down because I had to be in their studio in the city at 5:15am. But when you have your chance to be in front of the camera or you have a pitch for a news organization, you want to do it right. Nancy Loo (@NancyLoo) from WGN in Chicago presented her tips on getting the attention of news organizations at the Brands and Bloggers Summit on Saturday.

You have your online "face" - have a professional profile picture. Don't use inappropriate images. Don't use inappropriate language. Whenever you're pitching something, she wants to see who you are, not your brand not your logo. She wants to deal with you face to face.

A journalist is so accessible. nloo *at* tribune d*t com - you can find them easily through social media. Email them first. Social media is a good way to do it. Call but only if you must. She hates voicemail and hasn't checked it in probably a week. She is a field reporter and doesn't even go to her office many days and won't touch base with the phone while she's out of the office. The stories pitched on voicemail tend to be the traditional sources that aren't stories she would cover, so she tends to ignore them.

Once she makes that connection and knows that there is a good source, she'll give you her cell. Developing a relationship is key. You can develop relationships with local journalists. They are on Twitter; they have a website with reporters listed. There are always "contact us" links through news websites. Use those avenues. Once you establish yourself as a source, you'll be turned to when there's news.

Where can you find journalists?
Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Instagram
News websites - share your content and become a source
List yourself at HARO - Help a Reporter Out (and list your niche) - list yourself there, even more specific than HARO

In news meetings, they ask: Is this topic a talker? Will people talk about it? That's the goal.

Is it news? How do you know?
Is it timely?
Is it unique and interesting?
Is there online credibility?
Don't waste anyone's time. Your kids are really cute, but is it news? There are tons of bands that go every year. What's a unique angle to make it news?
Don't be offended - there are so many

Address who you're pitching to. Research that person - say Hi Nancy, not just something that looks like it's a generic pitch going out to everyone. Include a personal connection to show that you know who you're talking to.

What to Wear if you're being interviewed?
Don't go crazy - don't go buy a new wardrobe, go do a pedicure (your feet won't be on tv!), don't pile on a ton of makeup. Primary colors look great on tv. Don't do lots of prints or anything that's going to distract people from listening to what you say. You want people to recognize you and not be completely done up. You don't need to do a huge hairstyle updo, etc. Don't distract people away from your message - the Notre Dame tie where the viewer now starts thinking about who he knows who went to Notre Dame instead of what you're saying.

What To Say
Do not over rehearse before a television crew comes to your house. Through the years, I've noticed that people who do get stuck with what you're going to say can be helped with a reference card with bullets. If you know your stuff, however, you don't need anything because you know it. That's the ideal situation. Don't deliver a speech, rehearsing with your husband the night before. Then you won't be answering the question Nancy asks you but will instead go off on your speech. The natural reaction that happens in a conversation is genuine and that's what makes a good interview. Humor and keywords make things memorable. It lightens the load when there's humor.

Webcam Glam
Now more and more news organizations use webcams and google hangouts, so it's almost like a roundtable discussion live on the air - yay budget cuts. If there are no crews available, you can pitch yourself as available via Skype; it's almost like there's no excuses then, although the camera crew still has to get into the control room to record it because of union regulations.

You want to look good then. You want a contrasting background. Don't put yourself against a wall unless you want to look like you've just been arrested. The google hangout feature is great because it gives you an idea of what you look like before you go live. You want a laptop off your lap. You want to shoot down at yourself and not up at your chin. The most flattering shot is slightly above your face. Get your laptop higher! You also want the station to see you and think that you look good and they want to use you again.
No one is going to see the lighting. You need light on your face, which will set you apart from the background - a desk lamp works just fine.

Don't have a white background.

Connect already!
If Nancy is your first connection in the media, that's fine. It's all about connections, and she's connected to others. She knows a lot of journalists. If you want to talk about organic foods, Nancy doesn't cover it, but she knows who does. Or you can search out the person who does talk about it on Twitter or elsewhere. Be resourceful and think about how you can reach through and push your niche.

How do you deal with the we want your content from news media, but don't want to pay?
The news media won't pay. If you don't want to do it, someone else will. It's free content and plenty of people who are willing to share for nothing or for clicks. Nancy doesn't foresee anyone contributing and making money from it. If you aren't interested in this part of it, then just don't do it.

Here's hoping this is useful to you - and that you need to take advantage of it. One more session from Miss Lori tomorrow, chock full of acrostic poems.

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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Tasty Tuesday - Homemade Orechiette

Did I mention that I just got back from ten days in Italy? And a week of that was spent in a bedroom on a mountain in Tuscany? And that we had wine tastings and tours and oh yeah, a cooking class? No? Eh, there's a post or three coming about that. But ohhhh that cooking class. It was good good, and the foods were actually really easy. Some of them were a little time consuming, but that's not always a bad thing in my book.

I wrote last week about the Tuscan Beans we made. My other favorite was the orechiette we made - and yes, I've made it three times since that class. It's surprisingly easy, and it tastes great. This is one of the semi-time consuming recipes, simply because you're making the pasta by hand, but the wee ones helped out with the rolling of the orechiette which made it go much faster. I was also going to make the carbonara sauce to go with these, but someone (read: my husband) used up all the eggs and didn't tell me. Oh well, I'll just have to make this again!

Homemade Orechiette

1 heaping cup of flour
1/2 t or so (no need to measure) salt
1 T plus 1 t olive oil (or 4 t, they're equivalent)
1/3 c water

Note that this will make enough pasta for a light course for 2 people. If you're making it as the main course for a family of four, I would strongly recommend tripling this. Not that I forgot this when making it for myself and the wee ones on Sunday and they got a decent size serving, I got barely any, and we all wanted more or anything like that.... Nope, not me.

Get a heaping cup of flour. You may not use all of it, but that's fine. You just want to make sure you have enough to start. Note that I'm doing this on a sil pat. It's just easier to work with, but you can also do it on your counter if you don't have one, and it'll be just fine.

Make a well in the middle of your pile of flour. Make sure your sides are high enough and not too thin - trust me on this one!

Add a bit of salt. This is optional, but it does add flavor to your pasta. I didn't measure. You want more than a pinch but not a full teaspoon. Just sprinkle it across your flour. Everything will get mixed together, so don't worry about that now.

Add your oil and water to the well in your flour that you made. Make sure it doesn't overflow!

Use a fork to mix it all together. Start with the oil and water and just slowly incorporate the flour walls.

When the dough starts to really come together and isn't very liquidy anymore, it's ready for you to knead it by hand. Scrape the dough off your fork with your hand and get to work. Note that if you're wearing a loose dangly watch, you'll want to remove it. Again, not that I speak from experience or anything!

To knead the dough, simply squish it together in your hands, and then push it across the sil pat. Turn it slightly, resquish it and keep going. You'll begin to incorporate more flour as you go to get it to a good texture. You may not use all of it though, and that's fine. You don't want it too dry! It should be similar to the texture of sugar cookies after they've sat in the fridge if that helps.

Keep kneading until it starts to feel soft and plastic like, which should take around five minutes or so. That's when you're ready to start the next stage of "kneading" the pasta dough.

Roll out your dough until it looks like a thick snake.

Start rolling up the snake onto itself. Then roll it into a snake again (think vertically instead of horizontally) and repeat seven or eight times.

Once it's all nice and smooth again, wrap it in plastic, and let it rest on the counter for twenty or so minutes.

Break off a hunk of your dough - maybe one quarter or so - and roll it into a thin snake this time. You want it the diameter of your pinky or so.

Cut it into small pieces, no more than 1/2 inch wide. If you make your orechiette too big, they'll be gummy. Ick.

The fast way to do this is to simply take each little piece of dough and push down with your thumb at a slight angle...

which will make a shape that looks sort of like a little ear - which is where the word orechiette comes from!

We made ours using a gnocchi board (which we picked up for 2 Euros, you can find them in the States, too, though slightly more expensive but still a fun little kitchen gadget to have on hand!), which makes them look a little more fancy. For that one, the concept is the same. Simply put the little ball of dough on the board, push down with your thumb as you roll it across the board, and it makes an awesome shape. Think it's hard? After I did the first three, Mister Man did the rest for me. Little Miss would have done them, but she still had her cast on.

As you make each piece of orechiette, put it on a dry towel so that it doesn't get sticky or icky on the bottom touching a non porous surface. This also makes a great tool to carry your pasta to your boiling salted water. See, I'm always thinking!

Add the orechiette to your boiling water, and let it cook. It will rise to the surface as it cooks, but check it to be sure it's fully done. I have had to let mine go two or three minutes past rising to the surface before it was truly done. It's a real chore to have to taste test it to ensure it's done.

Once it's cooked, traditionally, you put it into a prewarmed bowl. That means you take a bit of the pasta water into a dish and let it sit to warm the dish while you're combining your pasta and sauce - because sauce isn't poured over your pasta in Italy. Nope, you make your sauce in another pan, then put your pasta into the pan to cook it and coat it together. Then you put it into your prewarmed bowl (having dumped out the water, of course).

Yum. It's the only word for it. The wee ones want me to make it again. And again. And again. Enjoy this and more with Tempt My Tummy Tuesday and Blessed with Grace!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Brands And Bloggers Summit Recap - FTC Guidelines

I was going to post a really funny - in my mind anyway - story about Little Miss, but ... I didn't want to delay sharing some of the conversation about FTC regulations and what we should be - and are required to be - doing as bloggers.  This was one of the best and most concise presentations I've seen on this topic. And yes, we all learned a lot. There were tons of tweets along the lines of "oops, I haven't been doing this" which at least makes me feel better because though I do my best, there apparently is more I need to do, too!

Read my first recap from the Building Brand and Blogger Relationships.

FTC Guidelines and Overview and How It Impacted the PR and Blogger World

Sarah Evans @prsarahevans was the presenter and is an absolute wealth of information. Blog conferences out there? Have her some speak again. She was wonderful, and I know there's lots more that she has to share.

Disclose disclose disclose. Why should I disclose? Because it's the right thing to do. I really believe in ethical conduct, and it's important to engage in ethical behavior. You want people who are reading your blog or the product to trust you and your blog. If you find out later, they may discount you and your review entirely.

The Top 3 Takeaways
Advertisements that feature consumer and convey his or her experience and "typical" are required to disclose the results consumers can generally expect

If a company refers in an advertisement to the findings of a research organization that conducted research sponsored by the company, the advertisement must disclose the connection between both.

A post by a blogger who receives a cash or in kind payment to review a product is considered an endorsement.

"The FTC guidelines are about deceptive practices in which what appears to be an honest opinion is, in fact, a biased perspective." - Joe Chernov (@jchernov), co-chair WOMMA Ethics Committee

It's the responsibility of each and every blogger to be familiar with the best practices.

There are certain expectations and rights that PR firms are responsible for on behalf of the brand:
It's the brand or advertiser's responsibility to inform campaign participants. That said, ultimately YOU are responsible. Explain to members of your network what can - and can't - be said about the product
Set up reasonable monitoring program to check out what your people are saying about your product and be proactive. Follow up if you find questionable practices.

That means that brands have to monitor what bloggers are saying, particularly bloggers that they've provided product to or asked to post. They need to check out those posts and make sure that the bloggers are doing the right thing, disclosing properly, not making inaccurate claims, etc. You can't just close your eyes.

Case Study: Ann Taylor LOFT
To promote the launch of its summer collection, Ann Taylor LOFT invited bloggers to attend an exclusive preview of its 2010 summer collection. All bloggers who attended received a gift, and those who posted about the event were eligible to win a $500 LOFT gift card. In small print on invite: all bloggers must post within 24 hours to be eligible.
Thereafter someone reported to the FTC that many bloggers failed to disclose that they received gifts for posting content about the event. The LOFT pointed to the small print on the invitation that stated that disclosures needed to be made, but that was all they had done. The FTC issued a statement saying they were concerned with Ann Taylor's practices, but the FTC ultimately determined not to recommend an enforcement action because there was the disclosure and they changed their practices going forward. Going forward, the LOFT will not issue a gift card to a blogger without first telling the blogger that the blogger must disclose the gift on the blog, and the FTC expects that the LOFT will monitor bloggers' compliance with the disclosure obligation.

We should all have an online disclosure policies on our sites. Refer to this disclosure whenever you talk about products.

It's the brand or advertiser's responsibility to inform you. However, it's your responsibility to familiarize yourself with online endorsement guidelines. Set up an online disclosure policy page. Push back where you're not comfortable with what they're asking. It's ok to do that.

Typical Components of a Brand Ambassador Program
What are some of the things that are typically asked for as part of an ambassador program or in a contract with a blogger? This is typical, but not all programs include these or include only some of these.
Get the tools - purchase/download/use product
Join the ambassador program for a period o time
Use the product, document the experience
Create content - blog or vlog - disclose compensation
Social sharing of the review
Follow the brand content on Twitter/FB

As a blogger, we also have certain responsibilities. We need to have a disclosure policy on the blog or website. There are disclosures you should use when sharing information on social networks (Twitter, Facebook, and other). And you need to have documentation of your partnership with the brand - as a protective measure for the bloggers, this is important.

We played a fun game of True or False. There are all sorts of myths out there, and Sarah debunked many of them.

1) A comprehensive online disclosure policy on your website fully covers you - false. You must disclose on your site and networks. You must disclosure your affiliation with a company or product on your site and social networks.

2) If a restaurant comps you a meal without you asking for it and you write about it, you aren't required to disclose it - false. You should at least acknowledge that you were gifted this meal.

3) Adding the hashtag #spoon to your tweet covers the acknowledgement that you were compensated in some way for the post - true.
WOMMA's official guidelines
#spoon sponsored
#paid paid
#samp sample


Acknowledge it upfront - maintain your credibility, too

Incorporate the hashtag into Google+

4) Bloggers not in compliance with guidelines may be fined up to $11,000 - false. There was an initial uproar when the guidelines came out, and Mary Engle from the FTC dispelled this rumor. You won't be fined - but just don't do it!

5) You do need to disclose if you review a product and then returned the product - it depends. If you were given a product for an extended period of time, then you should disclose that you were given the product, for how long, and that you returned it. That said, it goes back to the trust your gut, trust your judgement. If a vehicle company gave you a car for a month, it's important to disclose that you had some in kind compensation. If you say that there's a special/deal discount, then disclose you once had an in kind thing, but if you use the product daily and happen to mention it without having a call to action for them or driving traffic to them purposefully, then no.

Example of a Disclosure Policy
This policy if valid from July 14, 2011
This blog is a personal blog written and edited by me. For questions about this blog, contact email address.

This blog does not accept any form of cash advertising, sponsorship or paid topics. However, we can and do accept and keep free products, services, travel, event tickets, and other forms of compensation from companies and organizations.

The owner(s) of this blog will never receive compensation from this blog.

This blog does contain content which might present a conflict of interest. The content may not always be identified. We are employed or consult with Company 1, Company 2, etc. We serve on the following corporate or non-profit boards: Example 1, Example 2, etc. We are active in a political party which influences our blog: Affiliation 1, Affiliation 2, etc. We blog about people to whom we are related. These people include: My mom (name). We have a financial interest in the following that are relevant to our blogging: Investment 1, Investment 2..

6) A company with a new app hires you as part of an ambassador program. They require you to write a positive review in an app store along with leaving positive comments. You do not need to disclose that you were compensated - false. Sarah recommends in general that companies don't require a review, but can say that if you liked it, and you are able to provide one if you want - but disclose that you were paid.

If a company has not asked you to tweet or FB it, but you are being compensated for the review to begin with you should still disclose when you put it out there. Don't freak out if you've been doing it, but disclose going forward. Disclose even when there's just a headline and it's referring people to a link where there is a disclosure policy.

It is a judgement call of when you disclose your relationship. If you are saying it's a great company or product, etc. maybe not. When you're promoting the company, use a hashtag. When using the product as a consumer, then don't need to hashtag it. If you're guiding people to the brand, disclose.

If you are an enthusiast of a brand and shareholder, if you aren't being paid for it don't need to disclose on each post/tweet. However, maybe put something in your disclosure policy about being a shareholder since you do well when they do.

If do a Tweetup, need to disclose the relationship - #sample or #client whatever the case may be.

If you're questioning at all, err on the side of disclosure.

If you are asked not to disclose, take an education route. Teach the brand, and if you don't agree with what they're asking you to do, simply explain that you're sorry you can't participate. If see other people doing it, you might follow up with them individually and privately. It is the brand and advertiser's responsibility to educate the bloggers. If it's a large brand impacting an entire perspective of the brand, may need to go to FTC because it is a large scale deceptive practice.

Should bloggers get some level of professional insurance? This is an evolving area right now. It's starting to grow right now. Social Media insurance for brands - some big brands have fired people who have said or tweeted things that negatively impacted the brands.

Sarah also shared some tools with us:
Disclosure Generator -
Good resources if you have questions include:, WOMMA,, FTC
You can also send specific questions to
Revised Guides provides more than 35 examples of how guidelines apply in practical scenarios

I love all this info, and I'm sure there is so much more out there yet to discuss. I'm looking forward to seeing Sarah present again, and hopefully soon! What are your big ahas?

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Bloggers And Brands Summit Recap - Bloggers And Brands Panel

Wow, I feel like all I've been doing lately is posting recaps from conferences I've attended, and today is no different. I promise, I have more "typical" content to come. However, yesterday I spent the day at the Brands and Bloggers Summit in Chicago, and there was lots of great info I want to share. It's a one day conference focused on getting brands and bloggers to connect and more effectively communicate in each other's world. The first session of the day was a panel between several brands who are sponsoring the summit and some well known bloggers. There was a lot of interesting discussion, which I am sharing below. These are the notes I took, so again the recap is very rough and unedited - but enjoy the conference recap!

Brands and Bloggers Panel

The panelists featured were:
Barbara Rozgonyi from @wiredprworks
Beth Rosen @bethrosen
Duong Sheahan @duongsheahan
Dwana De LaCerna @houseonahillorg
Meagan Francis @meaganfrancis
Stephanie Precourt @babysteph
Wendy Piersall @emom
Clever Girls Collective/Ubisoft - Sheila @clevergirlscoll @ubisoft
Flatout Bread - Nicole @flatoutbread
GMC - Connie Burke @thisisgmc

Connie - this is not a one time thing. Once I get you in the family, I want to keep you in the family. This is not a one night stand. I'm into that keeping the relationship going type thing. I don't pick people to work with based on numbers. It's not a popularity contest. To me, I look for if you're authentic. Passion is contagious. If I feel you coming through, that's what I get excited about.

Sheila - The blogosphere has really changed from, send me diapers? SURE, I love diapers. Of course I'll write about them. And then you write and promote and do their marketing for them in exchange for some Gummi Bears. Now it's grown into a whole industry where there needs to be so much more to it. In a lot of ways, bloggers should be paid. We are doing their work now, and it's about your influence. If you can get 60 people to do something, that's huge! Clever Girls is like for bloggers, putting those relationships together and making sure they're good relationships.

Duong - An ordinary blog can turn your lives around. We need to become a better community, develop a better relationship with brands and have just strong strong connections.

Wendy - Brands and bloggers live in two different worlds and don't speak the same language. Brands live in a world of spreadsheets where we need to show the results of what they did and what they got from their money. As bloggers, we're friends. Our influence isn't measured in numbers. Our influence lives in our hearts, and we care about each other. As you come and be a part of our community, we embrace you. Bloggers are the social part of social media, and brands are the media portion. We need to coexist, however. How do we take this passion and love and mesh that with dollars and sense? That's the goal.

Stephanie - I go back and forth about whether to work with brands at all. I like the freedom of just having the opportunity to write about my family and what I want to do. But if

Duong - Why is she being picked and I'm not? Guess what, not all companies are connected to the Internet. There is enough for everyone to get around, you're not going to be left out. You need to focus on who you are and what you're doing for you. It will work out. Just because you have smaller followers doesn't mean you don't produce better results because you're more authentic and powerful. Some of the large numbers can be generated by bots and are not authentic followers. Sometimes deciding who I want to work with and who my niche is means that I need to walk away from a brand opportunity because I am who I am and now who I appear to be.

Beth - She had 7 blogs for each aspect of her personality. It was too much. You know what you know and you know how to use it. Be true and authentic to who you are, and the brands will find you because they realize that you fit a niche of theirs (and yours!) and are authentic about it. You may have influence in another way. You may have a great Twitter stream or Facebook following or have another way of connecting.

Who makes the first move? Who pitches who?

Stephanie - I usually will wait for brands to come to me and see if that works for me. There have been times when it works the other way, though. What do I have to offer in return - for example a GM car for a road trip. I could wait and hope that a car company pitches me, or I could go and pitch them because I have an angle for something I needed. I feel like it's totally ok to pitch brands, as long as it makes sense. I'd love to have a lot of luxury items, but it doesn't fit me.

Connie - It's a case by case basis. Sometimes I need you, and sometimes you need me. It's about getting to know you, and the referrals from people who I've worked with in the past are great. If I get to know you and know your interests and what you're all about, then things will happen where I'm not the owner or project manager of and the lightbulb goes off and you're a known entity who's proven that you deliver. You speak in an authentic voice, and that comes through. Your blog is your brand and your business, and we can find a way to meet in the middle. A great end result will come from it. It's been proven every time we've done thing.

Meagan - If you pitch a brand, you may have to wait a long time because they may have used their budget for this year. Or they need to get approval elsewhere. Or it may turn into another idea or opportunity altogether by the time it all comes together. It takes them sometimes a long time to make it work and put together the package and proposal. It was worth the wait to get the braces that are now sponsored - a year and a half in the making.

Nicole - We like to take a step back. We develop a calendar. What are we doing - a product launch, is it back to school or Super Bowl or grilling season? From there, we try to identify what we want to achieve in that time period and what will be the benefit of reaching out and developing blogger outreach with that campaign. We will reach out to bloggers to work with them. We like to be contacted by bloggers, as we're a small company and can make decisions quickly and come up with unique opportunities. We aren't paying attention just to your numbers - your Klout score or followers. We look at it on a case by case basis with the goal to create people who want to be brand ambassadors. Bread isn't the sexiest thing out there; it's bread after all. But we're fresh, healthy, homemade, and we want to find people who are into that, too.

Sheila - It's sort of like a dance. I agree with Meagan that it can take a long time, but sometimes it works where you fit perfectly and you're dancing all night. From the blogger perspective, you have to know your stats and know what you're pitching. I'm also here with Ubisoft which makes Just Dance line of video games. People will come up all the time and say "I love that game. I have an Xbox, and you should give that game to me!" Just because you're a blogger doesn't mean you deserve to get something. As bloggers, we have expectations that brands are going to treat us as professionals, and we need to present ourselves that way, too. If you tell me you have a Klout score of 75, then yes, we will check that and you should be telling the truth. If you say you're going to do a post, then do it. So far as pitching goes, it's fair to say that it's happening both ways. You're fully within your rights to go to a brand and say this is what you're thinking about doing and pitch it. At Clever Girls, we put together scholarships to send as many members of the network to conferences as possible. We received over 200 responses, and the pitches were fantastic. They said what they were going to do and what they were going to get out of it and what Clever Girls should expect. It was amazing. If you do this, then yes, you can absolutely get a brand to work with you - if there is a good fit and good timing.

Duong - I will only pitch a brand if it's something I'm absolutely passionate about. I lots of time pitch companies who aren't yet on social media and offer to help them get on social media. There are times that I'll not hear back from them because they just aren't ready but then get an email a year or year and a half later from them when they are ready to make that move. They obviously got my pitch and filed it away under the "hmmm this is interesting" file and then contacted me when they were ready. You can easily go to the website and find the PR department and contact them.

Stephanie - I've had great success with googling PR or Social Media agency and the brand name. That and looking at the press releases that frequently have the contact information and email for this type of thing.

Beth - Join the different networks that are out there. There are lots of opportunities there to connect with various brands through there. Make sure you talk to people and create connections. When you're sitting at a table, you get to know people who are sitting around you. this is how I've primarily gotten a lot of the relationships and jobs that I've had.

Nicole - We find people on Twitter frequently. It's a great way to start a conversation and get to know people proactively. After a few tweets, we can take it offline and then see what comes from there.

Stephanie - You don't need to keep any contact information and things you receive to yourself and hoard it. It takes a quick email to share with a friend to do an introduction and get the door open.

Blogger Partnerships and Brand Ambassadorships - How Should That Relationship Work?

Connie - It has to grow organically. Dwana is a great example of that. I ended up giving Dwana a vehicle loan. she really loved her time in that vehicle and wrote about it. She came up a great idea where they could get a bunch of vehicles back to back to shuttle kids from one school to another for a mentoring program in a less advantaged area. It was a huge success, a very creative idea. Doing a vehicle for a vacation is great, but it's been done. I love the new angles and creativity of it - especially where we're all doing good.

Wendy - A lot of times, the ones that are the truly creative pitches that aren't the ones of been there done that are the ones that come from bloggers. Because you know who you are and the assets you have to work with, you can find what's magical and how you can work together, though it's a little harder pitch to develop. It's worth it, however.

Sheila - I've been a brand ambassador and brand champion for several companies, luckily. The best programs, however, are the ones where relationships are being built. Brands are getting better at this now, though. It used to be just where they wanted you to say that you were an ambassador or to put a badge on your site. Now they want you to provide feedback or beta test products, etc. A lot of times they're now also compensating you either in cash or via product. What is the benefit for me as a blogger? Will they take it seriously - taking the notes down on what we say or market it differently because of our feedback. Clever Girls is only one network out there - from One2One Network to Collective Bias and more. Look at some of those companies that are working with the brands that you really like that would be a good fit for you.

Effective Social Marketing Tactics for Companies - Blogging relationships is the most effective but also the most difficult - how can we make it easier?

Dwana - You also have to have fun with your groups. I do a lunch bunch. We go from restaurant to restaurant, and it was under the radar for awhile. Then restaurants started asking us about Twitter and Facebook, and we started to educate them and work with them. It isn't that you want to take on the position of being that person with them, but you can learn about what they're trying to do and how they can maybe get there.

Wendy - Brands and bloggers come from very different worlds. It works best when a blogger can walk into a brand's world and talk statistics and numbers effectively or when a brand can get past the spreadsheet way of thinking and walk into the blogger world of relationships. It's hard to get outside that comfort zone and push ourselves beyond the emotional limits we place on ourselves. We need to be more comfortable tooting our own horns sometimes.

Connie - I come to events like this all the time. It works both ways. It's all about networking. You create fans and friends and followers one tweet at a time. It's all done on a one by one basis. We mass produce vehicles but sell them one at a time. Every person I meet is an influencer. When you're making a big ticket purchase like a car, you ask your friends and neighbors and that's how you make your decision. I need to see what you've got, and it works from there. If you put together something great for me, that's when I think about you for someone to send to the Auto Show or to a sponsored event or a media backgrounder. This is where it starts.

Nicole - To give our brand to you as a brand ambassador is a scary thing for our company. We want to make sure you will take care of our brand like we take care of our brand. WE have to be accountable internally, not just for the success metrics but also the brand standards in place and how you'll represent it when we're working together. As a new blogger, you may not understand or be comfortable with shifting how one brand likes to work one way and another one likes to work another way. Where are they? What are they doing. We want you to be an extension of us. We are thrilled to work with bloggers because that's another person working for who we are, but we also need to make sure that it's going to protect our brand and who we are.

Sheila - Things are changing. That's it ultimately. things in PR are changing. I remember my first job where I was handed a list of people to call for people to write on the product. There's still a little of that but even the term of blogger outreach and blogger relations - some companies are scared of bloggers and don't know what this even is. They're trying to figure out how do you do this, how do you do it well, and how do you do it credibly, and it's a scary thing for a lot of companies. The smart brands come to the party though. The smart brands are the ones who want to be a part of the conversation, whether they're here at a conference or are on twitter. They will look to see who is tweeting about them - the biggest things for brands and PR firms to do is to listen. The smart blogger invites the brands to join them and work with them - bring them to the party.

Meagan - We are the very public face of our blog. When we come to events, people forget how they're coming off when they act at conferences and other public events. You need to act how you want to be perceived. I used to get really frustrated by brand ambassadorships. I felt like they didn't do much research into who they were asking. they just wanted as many people doing it as possible. It seems like they're now cultivating smaller groups that are a little more targeted, and that's a step in the right direction. It's much better to have ten good people writing fantastic things about my brand rather than a hundred who are so so.

What do bloggers want from compensation/terms/what we're going to do?
Wendy - before you even think about money and what you can get out of it, before you think of how it's going to work, think about if you want to work with a brand. It is going to stick with you like glue. Think if you're willing to stake your personal reputation on something, because that's what you're doing.

Stephanie - A lot of times, I'll google the brand name and controversy. It's a good way for me to know if it's something that I'm not comfortable with and want to step away.

Duong - Sometimes you get so excited to work with a big brand. You go back and forth and you forget to do some of your research. When the product arrives and you look at the product, it may not match your criteria. You want to earn something, but if it isn't a good fit, Duong will protect her brand and integrity that she can't support and tell them that she can't do it. Sometimes, it's easy to point fingers that they didn't disclose enough, but you are the one who needs to do the research on products to ensure that it fits with who you are. The brand needs to know that there are bloggers out there who do have that integrity, and that they will follow through.

Meagan - It's better for everybody when there is serious money invested in campaigns. For me to work a product in, I need to do it into campaigns that I'm doing already. I don't do reviews. If I can have a few flagship things that I'm working on, then I don't have to dilute my efforts so much. I can really invest in my campaigns. A blogger might do something for no money, product, or a small amount of money. If they're trying to earn an income, then they have to do a lot of that. If you have to do that all the time, then it dilutes the effectiveness of this for everybody.

Wendy - When I was a Blog World, I heard someone say "It's easier to sell a $20K advertising package than a $200 package." In their world, dollars equal results. If you pitch a brand, I can offer 10 million impressions and high engagement with my readers and here's this amazing campaign, and it'll cost $200. What will they think about this? Wow that's great, but $200 - what's the catch? Is it really worth it? That doesn't mean that you now have license to charge $20K, but put a real time value and fair price on your work. What would a corporation pay for 10 million impressions? What would they pay for 10 evangelists that you've just converted for them? That will start to lead you to a number of what you're truly worth to them.

Barbara - I like when I can show how I can bring them up in rank with Google. I went somewhere and did a post that had really high rankings for lots of search terms.

Stephanie - I think it's important to have an agreement with what the payment will be. I advise to find out ahead of time how you'll be paid - do you need to send an invoice, will it come in 30 days, etc. I've definitely had things happen in the past where a company has said they'd do something and have ended up waiting. I may have chosen something different if I found out how it worked earlier.

Sheila - I don't do anything without a contract, both as a business and as a blogger. It's not that hard to send a contract that says this is what we're doing to do and how it's going to happen. I want a contract with you that you're going to do it. And as a blogger, you want to know the details. When it's just a review program, it's not always the same though. When something just arrives on your door or it's sent out to a thousand people, they know not everyone will.

What doesn't work?
Stephanie - Say you're going to work for a brand and you put yourself out there. They need to have the damage control in place. There can be drama or implications. Does someone have your back if something comes up. If you're going to align yourselves with a brand, is their fan page stagnant? Is it going to make you look bad, or are they going to stick up for you?

Nicole - From a brand perspective, we've had minor failures - predictably. Failures come from all of us when we make decisions too quickly when we don't do our homework. When it is a major event or capital investment or a product launch that has an opportunity to have a lot of publicity. The more professional your pitch or idea, the more attention it will get. Just because we're a small company doesn't mean that you shouldn't be professional. That said, you may have a fantastic idea, but we just can't afford you as a blogger right now.

Meagan - One thing I always look at in the contract is the content. I always look at how long they get to use the content and own it. How long do they get my name and likeness. What if they go down a whole different path or get bought out by someone who you do have an issue with. You want to make sure that they don't own it forever.

Connie - If you don't write about it, I'm left to assume that it's not a good fit. I try to come from it from the perspective of "what do bloggers want?" You want loyalty to be rewarded. You want access to our brand. You want fast, friendly service. I think it's good to give you a peek behind the curtain. To give you first drive opportunity to do something, it's a learning.

Sheila - If it's something that maybe you get and doesn't fit you perfectly, let the brand know. Get back to them and have a conversation about this. Maybe the pitch can or should be adjusted. Maybe they find a different product that is a better fit. This is great for PR firms who work with multiple brands. They will take you seriously and see you as someone who wants to partner with them. They have brand or products that might be a better fit. No one wants to have a blogger who just complains about everything and knocks down every product. That's very different from a fair and balanced review that has the good and the bad or talks about why it isn't the best fit for you.

How do you turn things from a niche and getting product to getting paid?
Beth - You need to develop a pitch for the brand that talks about what you're doing. What will you bring to the table and how you can prove this to them, then build the relationship with them to go back and put together a larger program.
Nicole - Pick the top three to four brands where you like their products and the company and look at what they're doing in the blog world, social media world. See what they have coming down the pipeline and see how you can insert yourself into that. Put yourself out there and show them the metrics that you can deliver. Hopefully then you have one of the brands that will come back and be interested in this. You will have to stop reviewing other teas then, but where do you want to go with this? You can also then start writing for tea trades. Go to events and start talking about tea. Start a consultancy for this, where you can be on retainer with them.
Sheila - Think about what your goal is overall? Are you trying to reposition yourself? Do you want to earn an income from it? What are you trying to do?

When you're new and/or don't have a niche, how do you get in with brands?
Wendy - If you don't have a niche, you aren't standing out from the crowd. If you want to be successful, you need to find your niche. If you're in it for the personal thing, you don't need a niche.
Nicole - From a brand perspective, if you don't have a niche (or three that you're passionate about) then you haven't become someone who's an expert in a field that a company feels they can attach themselves to.
Meagan - You can write about a lot of other things. Just tie it together with a larger view, for example improving motherhood writing about cleaning and wellness etc etc. That's how you can write on a variety of topics.

How important are numbers? Klout score, etc
Sheila - When I know what you write about, your personality, and your metrics, it's easier for me to know that you're a good fit for a particular campaign. The overall page views doesn't matter as much as it sometimes appears. When there's a campaign, a lot of times they are looking for aggregate numbers or they're looking for a very specific demographic.

What was your big aha moment?
Beth - NBC contacted her saying they wanted to carry her podcast on their site. You have to still stay true to your niche, but something appealed to them. Let people know that you're out there and creating this content beyond just the blogosphere - the radio stations, what's happening in the news. Can you bring another audience or another viewpoint to the media? They are looking for content and for bloggers. You may be able to get a radio gig or something else.

My niche is X. How do I identify brands that fit it, and how do I approach them
Stephanie - Look at magazines or other media that cover your niche and see what they're doing there. What brands are advertising or mentioned? Start identifying them through there and then move forward.
Dwana - Reach out to other social service agencies. Community based programs often have grants that can help support your niche - especially in the case of a minimalist decluttering.
Nicole - Brands are everywhere. You probably just haven't thought of all them. Look at what products you use on a daily basis or are involved in that space in any way. Google every brand you are passionate about and try to find the relationships with them. Linked In is a great way to find out who's doing what at various brands, too.

What's in a proposal?
Wendy - The simplest way is - what's in it for them, whether it's numbers or something else.

How do you go from getting info from companies regularly to getting paid?
Stephanie - You could maybe purchase an ad in the sidebar or do something different rather than constantly just writing unpaid reviews.
Sheila - Make friends with the PR people. And don't feel like it's wrong to say, I love working with you and how can we further our relationship? A lot of PR firms are having in house ambassador programs - this is a new and growing sphere.

In the interest of full disclosure, I received a complimentary ticket to the Brands and Bloggers Summit. I was not compensated, nor was I asked to post any content. All opinions expressed are my own.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Type A Conference Recap - Traffic Building Bootcamp

Yes, there is still more from Type A Conference to share. This was one of the sessions that was really jam packed with information, enough so that I will admit that it's more choppy than some of my other posts, but the content is there. This one was a great discussion about how to build your blog traffic. As with so many of the sessions I attended, we easily could have spent more time on this topic to truly cover it, but this was a great start.

The facilitator was Heather Solos (@heathersolos) from Home Ec 101.

Both a really cool sign in Asheville, and what you want you blog to present to the world

How To Succeed
Host your own site, not just using a provider or using Facebook as your site. If you don't, it could be gone someday if the hosting service goes down, the server has a bad day, Mark Zuckerberg deletes it, or whatever. It's gone. If you host your own site, you are then also responsible for backups. Make sure you do it frequently and in multiple places. Protect your own data. Make sure at least one backup is off site, in case something happens in your home. Cloud backups are a great option. Hosting your own site on your own server doesn't have to be expensive. More on that later.

Content is king. That's what's going to drive traffic to your site, especially repeat traffic. High value content needs to be useful, entertaining, and/or informative. It needs to be abundant - keep building it and keep writing about it. Write about it in multiple formats - if people ask a question, answer it in different ways. Don't necessarily just point to the old post. Or if you're getting the same question repeatedly, you may need to tweak how it's getting referred to. You need to be thorough. Link to other people, don't just give the quick answer or half of it. If you choose a niche, stick to it. You need to be an expert in that area.

Invest in your design. If you put up a crappy design, no one will take you seriously. They don't have to be complicated. Simplicity is the way to go, but make sure they're nice.

Google, Yahoo, Bing all want you to succeed. They don't want spammers to succeed. They want legitimate sites to succeed. Take advantage of the tools they offer. It's on the web for free. Register your site with each of the major search engines. That's really simple. Add your URL to Google, Yahoo, and Bing. If you're already listed but have never done this, it doesn't hurt to do this again. It speeds up the process of the spiders finding you, and it shows the search engines that you're serious about your site.

Traffic - amount of people coming to your site
Hits - call to your server for something. Each page of your site may have many calls to your server. When you write in html (hyper text markup language). If you have 3 images on the page and it has to call each of those images and each will count as a hit.
Unique visitors - people who show up at your site. They aren't recounted in a specific amount of time
Returning visitors - people who return to your site over a specific amount of time
Bounce rate - people who show up on your site, get distracted, then go elsewhere or close the browser. No action happens; you can't tell if they read it or anything else. If you have low traffic and a high bounce rate, what you are doing isn't engaging or relevant. It's a problem, for example 30 hits a day and a 98% bounce rate. Millions of hits and a 99.9% bounce rate, it becomes irrelevant. Heather's is 80% but has 3,000 unique visitors a day.
Click throughs - someone who takes an action that leads them off the page
Call to action - something that is placed on the site somewhere that you want someone to do, sign up for newsletter, follow on twitter, go to next page, etc Don't want too many calls to action, and want them in the right place
Spiders - crawl through the web and mine data. This is the same as bots, crawl, slurp - google penalizes slow sites, you will rank lower if it's slow
Periodic table of SEO rankings - it's laid out graphically and explained - look it up created by Danny Sullivan Content Quality
html tags - don't use pictures with the numbers that are automatically assigned when you download your photos. Make sure you rename the photos to describe what's in them to tell Google what you're writing about. People search for images, so you'll get more hits that way.

You also want to put titles in your pictures in your posts themselves to make them accessible to the sight impaired. To be verified to meet the ADA standards, you have to do this.

Use the Google external keyword tool. You can use it for keywords in two different ways. Your blog in general is targeted to a specific set of key words. Each page and each post can be related to a subset of related key words. They have to relate but can also expand. Targeting keywords for posts that have a lot of searches and high CPC means you can increase your hits (and your income if you use adsense) - You can also use this to create more content, additional blog ideas, etc. Don't just keyword stuff - it has to be good writing, as you'll have no long term benefit. It goes back to the good writing. Don't annoy people with bad writing due to the keyword stuffing.

Don't sell text links. Don't do links in posts with the random links. It actually goes against Google's terms of service, and they will penalize your site's page rank. If you do anything, use the "rel = no follow" so that you show that you don't trust the site, and it won't hurt your ranking. You can tell advertisers you'll have their ad but you'll do the "rel=no follow" bit, except of course then the advertisers aren't interested in this because all they want is your page rank.

Always delete the garbage links that show up on your site. You don't want those links going out from your site, and it can also trash the page ranking of the company it's linking to.

If you switch from blogspot to your own site hosting, this will take time to update your page rank. It may not officially change for awhile, though it used to be updated quarterly. So long as you're getting traffic steadily growing, then you're fine even if your rank isn't officially updated. To help improve how search engines see your site is to make sure you don't let your domain name get anywhere close to expiring. Make sure it is always at least 1-2 years out, as that shows your commitment to your work. It makes a difference, as you could otherwise sell your site and then have it filled with spam - or so goes the logic, so they want to see that you're serious about what you're doing. All of the "bad" sites want to be in and out - they want to make their money and run before they get caught. Showing commitment helps show that you aren't spam - back to who the search engines want to have succeed.

Watch Out for Violations
Thin content is a big problem - this is if you've written a paragraph, maybe 200 words in a post. Make sure even if you have a video embedded, you have text anchoring it. This will help search engines find you. If you are participating in a meme, that's different because you aren't wanting people to find you via search engines. You're looking to have people click through the meme.

Pictures - alt is what shows up when you hover over the photo. Title is what you need for ADA and the visually impaired. When you load your image in WP, the spaces are there to fill it in. You don't have to go back into your html. Otherwise, you need to fix the thousands of pictures you have already loaded.... This is a good project for a rainy afternoon. Outside WordPress, Heather didn't clarify how to add titles into the photos - e.g., for Blogger.

Watch your plug ins. Watch were you get your designs from, as they frequently have links back to porn sites or other type such nonsense. Scan it on a regular basis.

Cloaking - where text is the same color as background. Google doesn't differentiate the color of the text, it alters what the page is about. Don't do this - infraction!

To make the best impression and follow how the eye moves across the page, there are certain thing you ought to do. Your logo needs to be in the upper left of the page - first place the eye goes. Subscription needs to be on the top right. People tend to start at the top center, move down, go to the left and up, then down to the right, etc.

You want to give people the option to subscribe via RSS and via email. Some people want one, and some the other. If you don't have the option that people use, they won't change just for you. Give them what they want. Put up the Facebook and Twitter, too. It's easier for people to use email, for example. Think about maybe having a Twitter account that is just for the site to announce new blog posts. That's in addition to your regular Twitter - maybe, but not as critically. Have subscription buttons on the left side, too, so that people can find them if they miss them in another spot. Maybe make the buttons look different in different places (stylized black icons v the traditional logos for each).

Don't underestimate the power of social proof. If there are already people who like something, more will like it because they feel it's "safe" to do so. If you only have 32 people, don't display your readers. If it's a larger number, go ahead and show it, as it proves your authority. That little subtle call says "this stuff is good" - text below that says "hey, thanks for visiting. We'd love for your to subscribe via X" which has the links.

Google +1 - when you are logged into your Google account. Whatever you click on is tracked (but hey - your ISP knows everything already and will report to law enforcement if there are issues). The data is aggregated and made anonymous. We can only control so much through key words because google shows different results to the same searches based on our history. Google +1 - you want to add this button to your site. Someone who likes your site can +1 you, and then your site is given more weight by google in searches. This is Google's play towards social.

Look at using Pinterest. There's also Facebook share. Make sure you do what fits your reader's tastes. Don't try to cram every single option onto your site. If the subscription button is hiding, people are less likely to find it.

Hosting Your Own Site
Plan for success. Don't go out and get a dedicated server right away. But understand those unlimited $9.95 plans aren't so unlimited. Once you start getting to a certain number of hits an hour (for Heather 200/hour, 1500 to 2000/day), your blog will start running slower. You'll need to upgrade at some point. ( is a great test to see how well your blog is working or not working, as the case may be.) has amazing details - keywords, how are people finding you, how they are you linking to yourself, and it can help you improve old content's appearance by the words you choose to link in new posts - talked about "how to get mold out of your washer" v talked about this "here" (don't use the link on here - linking on the specific term gets you better results). Use this site regularly, as it will tell you if you have any malware or crawler errors - and it will tell you where they're expecting to find something but aren't.

Choose a scalable hosting site so that it stays cheaper when you don't have the traffic but will not crash when you do. If you do this, make sure you have ads set up based on impressions so that the revenue will cover the cost. Make sure you also have a good caching system in place. She uses W3 Total Cache. There are some general settings - minify goes through your code and strips out every space. Computers don't need spaces, we do. Database and object caching helps. User agent groups - the browsers and other things coming into your site. As your site grows in traffic, things like pictures are going to take up most of your bandwidth. What you do is use a static site like Flickr or Photobucket - anything that's not making the call from your server (called a content delivery network). Your site should automatically put them to the content server so that it doesn't take time to load, etc. Once you set it up, it's automatic. WP Super Cache works well, too.

You don't need to save each photo to Photobucket or the like. Instead create a static database on your server via a caching system like this to host your photos so there aren't so many calls going to your server.

Other Tips
If you have a blog that's based on your specialized niche, you need to make it a network - respond to every single comment that appears on your site. You need to make it easy for them to share with the Twitter, FB, email subscription buttons. Look for the new people who don't have their plates full already and who can engage with you, as well. If you have friends, you can ask them to help promote posts. That said, this is something that will work only if you will ask to promote the most pristine, perfect post. They will get those first two or three shares that you need to start having that social proof to click for us. Don't pester them, just ask for the best ones.

Key word stuffing: Google pays attention to how you mark up your text - bolded terms, how high they are in the text, if it's in the heading, etc. You want to include the key words but you don't want to stuff them. And yes, you definitely want to highlight and mark up the key words for helping searching. Just don't abandon natural language to get your key words in.

Your social reputation matters - is it being linked to from Twitter and Facebook? It makes a difference. Are you being linked elsewhere? Being linked by name will result in being ranked high in the name. If you are being linked by topic, then you'll be ranked high in that topic.

Country - if you're searching in the US, you're more likely to pull US sites.

Don't use the All in One SEO plugin for WP - it will kill your site in terms of memory. It makes so many calls back to your server that it overloads the server. Yet another related post plug in will also shut down your server and penalize you. Way too many calls. If you take up more than your fair share of the server, especially for an unlimited hosting server, the server will shut you down so others will have a way to load and run. Use Microkids related posts where you can type in a keyword or title and search for yourself.

I'm working on incorporating many of these ideas and changes into my own posts, but I'm not all the way there yet. What else can you suggest for building traffic?

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Tasty Tuesday - Tuscan Beans

I just got back from ten days in Italy. Trust me, there's lots to say about the trip, particularly our inability to get anywhere without taking the scenic route, but the best part of it was how much we learned. Not only can I now tell a Renaissance door from a Gothic door (seriously - and I'm sorta proud of it), but I learned tons and tons about Italian wine, among other things. In fact, I may not ever again drink anything but Italian wine now. I'm convinced now that I absolutely must learn to make gelato, because of course we tried it at every place we possibly could.

As part of our stay, we also had a cooking class and a dinner cooked for us. They were simply amazing. I have so many new dishes to try out now, and I can't wait to begin doing so. Then again, that may be why I replicated two of them while we were still in Italy. This afternoon, I made one of them again in the hopes that the wee ones would love them as much as I did. Little Miss enjoys the Tuscan beans, but unfortunately Mister Man didn't like the texture so much. I'll still be making them regularly.

Tuscan Beans

2 cans cannelloni beans (white northern beans) - or you can do 3/4 c dried beans, as described below*
1/2 onion, chopped
1 small bunch of sage leaves
1/4 c olive oil
3 cloves garlic
salt and pepper to taste

Heat a pan on the stove on medium heat. Once it's hot (don't use a nonstick pan), add a tablespoon or so of olive oil and let it come to temperature - you want enough so the onions don't stick but don't want to cover the whole bottom of the pan. Exact measurements aren't critical. Add the onion and sage, and saute until it has just softened and turned translucent but before it starts to brown.

Add the cannelloni beans. Our instructor added the liquid in the cans, too, but I find that makes this too salty for me. I'd use maybe half the liquid or maybe a little less, then add some extra water. Add the remaining olive oil, along with the pepper. If you are using the canned beans, hold off on the salt for now. If not, add a bit of salt, as well. Mince your garlic, and add this, as well. Bring it to a simmer and let it cook down.

You want to keep cooking until it's become thicker, forty-five minutes or so. This can hold on the stove for a long time, just add a little water if it gets too dry. Before you serve, fish out the sage leaves. Taste it one last time to check to see if you need to add any more salt or pepper. Drizzle a bit of extra olive oil over the beans just before serving. Enjoy!

Yum! Find this and more with Tempt My Tummy Tuesday at The Well this week.

*I've made these both ways. The woman teaching the class made them with canned beans. I tried them first with canned beans and this time with dried beans. I'll be honest. The canned beans taste better and have a - shockingly - better mouth feel. If you want to use dried beans, you will want 3/4 cup of dried beans. Put them in a pot with 3 cups of water. Bring it to a boil, then turn off the heat and cover. Let the beans sit for an hour and a half, then pull out 2 c water in a measuring cup and save it for later. Drain the beans from the rest of the water, then follow the instructions in the recipe. You'll add the water you set aside to the beans at the step where I add the beans in the can and their "juice."

Win Chicken in the Car and the Car Won't Go, a Chicago Travel Guide

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