Week 4 – Content

This week the course diverges into various paths depending on what interests you the most. Don’t feel like you need to cover all of this, just pick the ones that make sense to you.

I don’t have a video intro for this weeks content, but thought you might find a video I made for my Emerging Technologies class introducing blogging to be useful (you’ll see what I looked like before I had chemo hair!): https://youtu.be/ZgxR9G8OZIs

Click the title to open the content.

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Where Do You Find Inspiration?

I started serious blogging when my husband and I took 16-months off to ride our bikes around the world. The blog not only gave us a place to journal, it also opened our eyes to new experiences. We found ourselves looking for those bloggable moments (sort of like teachable moments – those experiences that happen that are worth writing about). When you start to look for them, you notice that them throughout your day. You become more aware of what is happening around you, but also within you. It is not dissimilar to how a photographer sees the world through the lens of a camera, a blogger sees the world through the lens of their blog.

Here are some thoughts on where to find inspiration from the Cancer Blog Mentors:



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Tracking Metrics

Tracking metrics tell you how many ‘hits’ you have on your blog in a given day. Depending on how your blog is setup, you can do some things to increase the hit count (e.g. if posts are read one at a time, then each time the reader changes the page, a new ‘hit’ is measured). One way to increase your daily hits is to ensure that you have a menu that chronologically lists your blog posts – so that when someone new comes to your blog they can read from the beginning.

Blogger.com and WordPress.com automatically show you the number of page hits for your blog. If you click the link to see detailed metrics (Blogger it is the hyperlink that lists the number of pageviews; WordPress.com is on your Dashboard), you can see how frequently your blog is accessed, which posts people find interesting, which part of the world they are posting from, which sites referred them to your site, and much more. I recommend exploring your blog metrics at least once a month. If you are interested in making money from your blog (see below) knowing some information about your blog audience is important. Metrics also help you know what type of blog posts are of most interest to your audience. If a particular post is getting a lot of hits, then you know that is the type of information that is more likely to drive traffic to your site.


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Integrating Your Blog With Social Media

When I asked the Cancer Blog Mentors about integrating their blogs with social media, many of them said that they do not do it. They prefer to keep the blog and social media separate. Others use social media as a way to increase traffic to their blogs. Personally, I use social media as a way to advertise blog posts, as that is how many of my readers know that I’ve posted something new.

Creating a FaceBook Page

One of the easiest ways to integrate your blog with social media is to create a FaceBook Page for your blog. A Facebook page can be ‘liked’ by anyone – so there is no need for the readers of the blog to be your Facebook friends. Once you have created the page, you can setup WordPress to automatically post your blog post to the Facebook page when you click Publish. This announces to anyone who has ‘liked’ your Facebook Page that you have new content on your blog.

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Increasing Your Followers / Readers

In my experience, there are a few things you can do to increase your followers:

  • Make it easy for them to know you have new posts. Some blogging platforms allow people to sign up for email alerts. Most platforms support RSS (you don’t need to do anything to make this work).
  • Use social media to advertise your new posts. Most blogging platforms allow you to connect your blog to both your Twitter and Facebook accounts, as well as other social media sites such as Google Plus and LinkedIn. I’ll talk more about this in the social media section below.
  • Leave comments on other peoples blog that link back to your blog. You can also create links within your blog post directly to someone else’s blog. This is especially useful when you are replying to something someone else said. In this way you are participating in the community of bloggers (we call this the blogosphere).
  • Create blog posts that reply to something trending in the news. There are plenty of cases where some major news organization (e.g. the New York Times) post an article relating to the type of cancer you have. When they do, if you have an opinion, you can write it on your blog and then submit it to the news agencies website. My single most read article is one I wrote in response to a New York Times article about the over prevalence of bilateral mastectomies (commenting that women are acting out of fear rather than acknowledging that women are intelligent and make informed decisions) – http://bcbecky.com/2014/07/bilateral-mastecomies/.
  • Participate in an online event, such as a free online course, and blog about it. There are many free open online courses offered on platforms like EdX, Coursera, NovoEd, etc. If there is a course related to what you blog about – in my case, the course I participated in was Patient Engagement Design – then writing about it and tweeting links to your post can help increase your readership.
  • Join online communities and share your posts with them. This course, for example, has an online community for the Cancer Blog Mentors. Most of the bloggers advertise their posts within the community. I will note, however, that you need to do more than just broadcast your posts. In order to be part of the community, you also need to read and respond to others. You don’t need to read everything, you just need to read some things and join in the conversation.


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Tips for Improving Your Blog

This section contains random tips to help you make your blog better:

  • Include a menu that shows your posts in chronological order. Since your blog demonstrates a ‘journey’ people may find you at a later time and what to start back at the beginning. Try to make it easy for them to start at the beginning. (See WordPress tips for how to do this in WordPress).
  • Choose a theme that works on mobile devices. Many of us read blogs on our phones or tablets while waiting for doctors appointments. When choosing a theme, see how it looks on a tablet or phone.
  • Avoid dark background colours. For anyone with a visual disability, white text on black can be really difficult to read. Chose a theme that keeps the text looking clean and avoids background distractions – this way, your readers can focus on what you are writing, and not your theme.

Nancy Stordahl shares her 20-tips for maintaining a blog: http://nancyspoint.com/20-tips-for-writing-maintaining-a-blog/


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WordPress Tips

This section contains a series of tips for those who are using either WordPress.com or a self-hosted WordPress instance.


Jetpack is a WordPress plug for anyone who is self-hosting a WordPress instance. It allows you to get access to a bunch of features that are provided by default on WordPress.com. One of the most useful of these features is Site Stats – which tells you how many people are accessing your blog on any given day.

WordPress Shortcodes

Short codes are a way to tell WordPress to do interesting things. They are computer commands (like code) that tell WordPress to display your content in different ways. The shortcodes that are available to you will depend on where your site is hosted and which plugins/features you have turned on. For example (using WordPress.com), if you want to have a list of all your blog posts in chronological order you can add the following short code to any page:

[display-posts include_date=”true” order=”ASC”]

Tip: Note that when you cut-and-paste the quotes need to be straight quotes – some word processors will make them smart quotes (where the open and close are at angles – these don’t work well with codes).

For a full list of Shortcodes supported on WordPress.com: https://en.support.wordpress.com/shortcodes/

Note that when you have a self-hosted version of WordPress, you can install a variety of Plugins (may of them are free). Many of the plugins use Shortcodes to help configure different options.


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Making Money With Your Blog

I will start by saying that I am not an expert in this area. I have done some research in preparation for this course, and this is the first time I’ve set up any form of advertising or affiliate programs for any of my blogs. That being said, my research showed that:

  • It is easier to get free stuff than it is to make actual cash
  • You can make more money selling books than you can on your blog
  • Google Ad Sense is more lucrative than affiliate links, however, it involves showing ads on your site
  • Amazon Affiliate links are easy to setup and are “invisible” to your readers

Getting Free Stuff

First, you need to know your numbers. People who sell products are usually interested in having bloggers post reviews of the products, but first you need to demonstrate your credibility as a blogger. It appears that the magic number is 100 hits / day. It took me over a year to reach that point on my academic blog. I got there a lot faster with my breast cancer blog – in part because I write a lot – in part because there are more people interested in reading about my experiences with breast cancer than there are people interested in reading about my experience in educational technology and academia. When Goingeast.ca/blog went live, it took about 6-months to reach the magic 100 hits / day, however, that blog has dropped off significantly because we post to it very infrequently.

Once you have hit the magic number, the next step is to look for your favourite niche brands that align with the site content – e.g. your favourite body wash or face cream – and then look at their website to see if they provide the option to review. You might need to send them an email saying how you love their products and would love to write a review for your blog, could they send some free samples. If you are authentic, and your blog is authentic, then those who create the products are often happy to oblige.

Writing A Book

Several of the cancer blog mentors can tell you about their experiences with writing a book. Books will reach more people than blogs – in part because people often like the page flipping motion and progress of a book. When I asked about how to make money with a blog, I learned books can make you more money than affiliate links and Google Ad Sense can. Similar to blogging, there are many tools out there to help your write and self-publish your own books.

Here are some of the books written by Cancer Blog Mentors:

Google Ad Sense

Setting up Google Ad Sense requires multiple steps – with pre-approval from Google. Once you have been approved, you add a snippet of code to your website that causes the ad bar to be displayed. Anytime someone clicks on the ad, you make money. For example, I’ve added an Ads window at the bottom of this page and to the Donate page.

Adding the actual ad text can require some technical playing around with things. It is code, which may or may not play nice with different themes. It is easiest if you have the ads on every page, but you may not wish to have them displayed that way.

When deciding whether to advertise on your website, you should consider what your readers will think of the ads. Will the ads detract from your message? Are they worth the small amount of money you will get for them?

Amazon Affiliate Links

Affiliate links are special hyperlinks that allow you to receive a small fee when someone purchases somethings based upon a referral that you made. Unlike Ad Sense, you do not get anything if the person simply clicks through to the Affiliate link – you only get something when the person buys something. The most common affiliate program is the Amazon Affiliate program. For example, if you recommend a book you like and one of your readers follows your affiliate link and purchases the book, you get a small amount of money for making the referral. If you have a large reader base, then this small amount adds up over time.


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Becoming a Cancer Blog Mentor

If you enjoyed this course and found it worthwhile, consider volunteering to be a cancer blog mentor. Cancer blog mentors provide help in designing this course by answering my various questions and writing blog posts on the various weekly topics. By providing their expertise, you get a much richer experience. In addition, the blog mentors provide a network of support for each other. If you blog and want to be a blog mentor, please email me: rhogue@pobox.com with your blog URL so I can add you to the blogroll on the side of each page. Most of our communication is done through the the blog mentor Facebook Group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/393745844127891/ (send me an email before requesting to join, as I screen all new people in the group).