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Blog Exercises: What’s the View Through Your Binoculars

Blog Exercises on Lorelle on WordPress.One of my favorite things is a framed picture by Matt Mullenweg of an old set of mounted binoculars. The eye pieces are worn and the blue paint on the metal binoculars looks like it’s not the first coat of paint it has seen. It’s wonderful, and I find new meaning in it every time as I look over my computer monitor at it hanging on the wall.

I often wonder what I would see if I could put my eyes up to those binoculars and look at the great beyond. A peaceful golden grassland rustling in the soft breeze, the song birds singing songs of joy and love. Maybe a glimpse of a lion taking down an antelope in the safaris of Africa. Dark storm clouds coming over the horizon, a threat that makes us turn away and run for protection. Some days I don’t see places, I see dreams. Wishes. I’m free to let my imagination pass through those lenses to see a new world of possibilities.

Matt Mullenweg's photograph of a safari viewing station binoculars - copyright Matt Mullenweg

Clearly my perspective is influenced by my moods, but also by my character, my personality, the events and people that sculpted the definition of who I am and what I do, and my view on the world around me.

What Do You Do that Influences Your Work?

I’ve been reviewing a number of responses to one of the first Blog Exercises called “What Do You Do?,” the second step in these exercises to help you define what you do, specifically what you do on and with your blog.

The purpose of the exercise was two fold. First, able to quickly and professionally respond to the question “What do you do” at social and professional gatherings. The better you can concisely explain what you do with your blog, the more likely you are to engage the person’s interest and create a memorable connection.

Second, put it on your site. You can put it on your About Page, the bio that defines who you are, what you do, and why we should trust you on this site, your sidebar, footer, and author description, anywhere it is needed to help clarify your purpose and value to us, the reader.

In my Prove It! article series, I worked with several people to improve that statement on their sites with strong bios, author descriptions, and statements. For some it was easy to see what lens they used to view the world around them on their sites. For others, it was like looking through a vast fog.

One of the participants in this blog exercises series, Marion Winall, came to me frustrated because her view is unclear about what she does on her blog. She is and does many things and writes about many things, from relationships to historian to naturalist to storyteller.

Here is one attempt:

I have been thinking about exactly what to say here…what are my qualifications for being Me? I have been: Wife (several times over which will lend itself well to some very funny stories), Office Manager, Realtor, Property Manager, Civil Clerk, Mother, Historic Shopping Center Manager, Legal Assistant, Entrepreneur, The Boss, Married to the Boss while at the same time Working For The Boss, Perpetual Student and Last but certainly not the least of these is Mimi, our affectionate word for grandmother.

There is one thing that a reader wants from their blogger: focus. Focus and commitment. Focus to stay basically on topic, and commitment to stay focused and keep publishing as we want more, more, more!

I advised Marion to point her mental binoculars toward her blog, and defining the lens she is looking through as she blogs about her world and experiences.
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Blog Exercises: Organize Your Content – The Sequel

Blog Exercises on Lorelle on WordPress.In the previous blog exercise, “Blog Exercises: Organize Your Content,” you were to create a giant lists of all the posts you have published in a link list organized by topic.

If you have been blogging for a while, that exercise may have taken some time and work. If you’ve been blogging a short time, it could have also taken a considerable amount of time and work as you poured through your content to categorize it and look for the missing parts and pieces.

Blog Exercise Task from Lorelle on WordPress.In this blog exercise, let’s explore what you can do with that list beyond changing post categories and site structure.

Let’s take that giant list of all your posts, grouped by category, and find ways to make this list work harder for you. All it takes is a little imagination, and if I know one thing about you, you have tons of the stuff!

Article Series

Example of the giant, categorized link list of these blog exercises on Lorelle on WordPress.Did you find some connections between articles? I often do, realizing that I was working along a single thread of thought and goals as I published the posts, sometimes over weeks, months, or years.

Bring them together into an article series.

  1. Create a list of the articles in the series and put them in a link list.
  2. Edit each post in the series to indicate this is part of an article series.
  3. At the bottom of each post in the series, publish the link list under a heading with the article series name.
  4. When all the posts are linked together, publish a new post promoting the article series with the link list.

Related Posts Lists

Publishing a new post that belongs in a specific grouping of posts from your giant link list? Connect the dots for your readers among the related content.

  1. At the bottom of the post, add a heading titled “Related Posts” or something similar.
  2. Under the heading write a short sentence recommending the following links for more information on your site.
  3. Paste the link list for that category of posts.
  4. When you publish, trackbacks will be automatically generated, connecting those posts with this one for reference.

You may be using a Related Posts WordPress Plugin to do the same thing, but a manual list is personal. You may be including posts vital to the reader related to this post not found by the Plugin.
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WPEngine Offers Special Discount for WordPress Hosting and WordCamp San Francisco

Rarely will you find me promoting anything commercial here on my site, but I have to give a big round of applause about my incredible, life-saving and life-changing experience working with the amazing team at WPEngine web hosting.

I’ll tell the full story later, and it’s one of love, hate, passion, murder, and espionage, but until then, you need to know that they are giving WordPress fans $250 off all annual prepaid plans for hosting your WordPress sites as part of their celebration of WordCamp San Francisco 2013 this weekend.

WPEngine is for self-hosted sites. Managed by WordPress experts, many of them long time contributors to the WordPress Community and development, they harness the power of WordPress MS to give you a protected site with the capability to add WordPress Plugins and Themes of your choice. Automatic backups, restore points (in case you mess things up) come with every install. They do most of the heavy lifting for you, making installation as easy as signing up for for most site configurations. They offer a wide range of plans, including single self-hosted WordPress sites for all levels of need, from simple individual admin sites to multiple users and high traffic commercial sites.

I adore WPEngine. They had the courage to tackle one of the oldest websites in the world, Taking Your Camera on the Road, clean out all its ills, and make it a living, useful resource as it has been since 1993. It’s been a joy to work with them, and I say this without any benefit. I just love them that much!

If you have a WordPress site and you are not happy with your host, which applies to most of us, take advantage of this plan today. And hurry. The offer expires July 31, 2013, at midnight Pacific Standard Time (San Francisco time).

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Copyright Lorelle VanFossen.

Blog Exercises: Organize Your Content

Blog Exercises on Lorelle on WordPress.In “The Giant Blog Exercise Check List Part 1” I presented you with a giant list of all the posts I’ve published in these Blog Exercises so far in 2013. It was an amazing exercise and it is now your turn to do the same exercise.

Your blog exercise today is to create a link list of all the posts you have ever published on your site, then organize them by topics.

Before you freak out over the magnitude of the task, there are some easy ways to do this.

My favorite post list-making technique involves the Firefox Web Browser and a powerful Text Editor.

I use the CoLT Firefox Add-on in Firefox. Before using CoLT or another HTML linking tool, ensure it is set up properly to capture the link in the legally required HTML link format.

I combine CoLT with the AutoCopy Firefox Add-on and a text editor such as NoteTab Pro and its powerful Paste Board feature which acts as a clipboard to preserve all text copied from web pages and elsewhere. While there are other ways to accomplish the same process with different tools, these three tools make up my powerful speed blogging work horses and have served me well for many years of blogging. (There is a free “light” version and an inexpensive paid version. Get the paid version of NoteTab Pro if you choose to use it. The light version has only one undo, which can be painful.)
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The Giant Blog Exercise Check List Part 1

Blog Exercises on Lorelle on WordPress.July is the midway point of these Blog Exercises and time for a Giant Blog Exercise Checklist to help you keep score of the exercises you’ve done, and what’s left undone.

I’ve arranged the blog exercises by similarity, tasks related to each other, rather than chronologically. If you are playing catch up, you might wish to work on all complementary assignments together. For those who still wish to do this chronologically, I’m including the monthly summaries in a list.

The posts in this list go up to July 1, 2013.

Site Organization

The following blog exercises deal with the organization of your site, both by look and feel and content strategies.

The starting point is to review the purpose and goals of your site before you make decisions about content and design.

Blog Purpose, Goals, and Focus

I consider blog purpose, focus, and goals the maps to your site. Without them, you have no idea where you are going or what it will look like when you get there.

Blog Structure and Organization Basics

These blog exercises are the starting points for your site, to begin fresh or refresh an existing site.

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Blog Exercises: When to Hit Publish

Blog Exercises on Lorelle on WordPress.In this ongoing series, Blog Exercises, you’ve been exploring your site stats to determine where your audience is coming from and why. Now is the time to explore the when.

When do the majority of your site visitors arrive on your site? Is there a pattern?

When is the Best Time and Day to Post on Your Blog?” and the follow up to it, “When is the Best Time and Day to Publish a Blog Post” I reported upon my own research as to when was the best time for me to publish on this site and other sites I’ve worked with over the years. In the first post, I talked about understanding your community, your audience, the ebbs and flows of their lives through your site, using examples from within your own community.

Your goal with this exercise is to time posts to publish your posts before your audience arrives. If the majority of your site’s traffic comes from the east coast of the United States and you live on the west coast, the starting time for most working folks is 8-9AM. If you wish your post to be there before they hit the Internet, you need to publish your posts by 7AM in their time zone which may be 4AM in yours. Don’t you love being able to schedule posts in advanced, timed to the minute, in WordPress.

Look at the time, but also look at the day of the week. If you live in a city, there is often no time out. It is 24-7. Maybe you have people arriving 24 hours a day with no dips or peaks. If you live in a farming community, “free time” is saved for weekends, most often Sundays. In Muslim regions and countries, the week begins on Saturday. In Jewish communities, the work week begins on Sunday while in North America, it is Monday.

Every culture has their own schedule, as does your blog and your audience. Which days of the week are your most popular days?
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Blog Exercises: What Makes You Special?

Blog Exercises on Lorelle on WordPress.A client greeted me with an over-enthusiastic hug yesterday.

“I’m so glad to be working with you! You made me find myself again.”

“Were you lost?”

“You have no idea how lost I was.”

I was confused. He lives in my neighborhood, walking distance from my front door.

“Here.” He handed me a huge stack of files stuffed with newspaper articles, 8×10 photographs, and odd-sized scraps of paper. As a professional web consultant and designer, I work with digital – all digital all the time. Holding ten pounds (4.5 kilos) in my arms of traditional media, I was even more confused.

Whether or not a client has a resume (CV), portfolio, old website, or a glossy brochure or two, I have all of them create a new resume, bio, and compile a collection of self-portraits and news articles published about them if they have them. For most people, this process is a challenge, often depressing. Many tell me they feel like they haven’t accomplished enough. Never have I been greeted with so much paperwork – and joy.

Digging through thousands of photographs of his projects, through newspaper articles dating back to the 1970’s, certificates of accomplishments, degrees, awards, testimonials – decades of evidence of a life lived well and richly, his self-confidence was restored. He realized that he had done something with his life and it was fantastic.

When was the last time you felt that way?
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Blog Exercises: Where is Your Audience?

Blog Exercises on Lorelle on WordPress.In this ongoing series, Blog Exercises, you’ve been exploring your site stats to determine where your audience is coming from and why. Now is the time to explore the where.

Using whichever as stats or web analytics program you wish as discussed in the post introducing you to blog stats and analytics, check out the maps and geo-location data.

Visitor Locations for Lorelle on WordPress from stats WordPress Plugin.

Where are your visitors coming from geographically? Your country? Another? Your region? Your state? Your community?

Explore the big picture, then drill down to the small picture. Are most coming from a specific city? Where?

Now look at why.

Where are those visitors going?

Do you find most of your visitors from the UK are looking at a specific post or category on your site. What about those from Australia, Ireland, the United States, Canada, Uganda, Israel, Turkey, wherever? What are they most drawn to on your site? Can you tell if more people from a specific area visit specific types of content then other groups?
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Blog Exercises: How to Respond to a Copyright Violation

Blog Exercises on Lorelle on WordPress.While I know that you would never violate anyone’s copyright and publish other people’s content without proper citation or permission, there are hundreds of thousands who think that if it is on the web, it’s free to use and abuse.

Accusations of copyright violations are big deals. Some top journalists, writers, photographers, musicians, software developers, and others are famous not for their original art but for being caught plagiarizing, so much so, there is a Wikipedia article featuring a list of plagiarism incidents. Sometimes these people are infamous for how they responded to the accusation rather than the fact that they ripped off someone’s original content and ideas.

I’d like to share the lessons learned from two recent encounters with copyright violators recently, making this blog exercise a lesson in how to respond properly and politely when you are accused of a copyright violation.

I’ve written “What Do You Do When Someone Steals Your Content,” so consider this the how-to-respond-to-that-post complementary article.

Act Now and Apologize

The first person copied my entire blog post including graphics with no citation or reference to the fact that this was not his own material. As usual, a trackback in my Comments Panel caught my attention to the deed. I left a comment with my copyright violation copy-and-paste request for proper citation within my copyright policy or removal of the article. They responded within a few minutes without a clear apology, just a plea that they didn’t want to get into trouble. The content had been deleted, and not to report them for their bad behavior.
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Blog Exercises: Statistics and Web Analytics

Blog Exercises on Lorelle on WordPress.If you have been following these Blog Exercises for the past six months, your site should be rocking. I asked you early on to define what you do clearly as it helped to clarify your site purpose and goals and your reason for blogging. You were to define your specific audience, part of identifying like minds, those you wish to have in your online community and as customers. In the process, you were to also focus on developing relationships with other bloggers, with those who influence your own work, and how to write about others using proper citation within copyright laws, and how to group people together complemented by association and reputation, and how to become a fan blogger, passionate about your subject matter.

Many of these blog exercises involved improving your commenting and response skills, learning how to create polls and surveys,

You should also now be familiar with trackbacks and backlinks, understanding their power to encourage visitors to and from your site, and how to response to them.

You’ve been working on a consistent workflow, developing your editorial calendar to schedule posts during the year with attention to seasons, anniversaries, industry events, and monthly events and holidays.

With all this excitement on your site, you should be generating consistent content and activity. Right?

It’s now time to start examining all this activity, learning how to evaluate and measure it.

Blog Exercise Task from Lorelle on WordPress.It’s time to talk stats.

Stats from the original stats program for Lorelle on WordPress.Today’s blog exercise is to introduce you to the concept of stats, better known as site statistics, and the basics of web analytics.

Let’s begin with some basic terminology.
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Blog Exercises: Timey Whimey Tangents

Blog Exercises on Lorelle on WordPress.As I was saying yesterday…was it yesterday? No, it was the day before. I was at the college yesterday. I have no life on college days. It’s all college all the day. So it must have been the day before. It was sunny and hot. I don’t like heat. Don’t have the system for it. I come from strong Pacific Northwest stock. Webs between my toes and moss on my back. Hate heat.

What was I talking about? I was trying to make a point…

We’re all guilty of this when we speak, especially in informal situations with friends. That’s how conversations go. When it comes to hitting the publish button, all this dribble must go.

Example of exercise in web writing - underlining the key points in a story - Lorelle VanFossen.Pick a post from the last month and examine it closely.

Print it out. Take a highlighter or red pen and carefully circle the point where you got to the point.

Draw a line under the point until you stop making your point.

Lift the pen and drop it down when you get back on track again.

Keeping doing this through the article until the end.

What do you see.

This technique is the reverse of traditional red pen editing. Red ink across the page is a sign of corrections, things that need to be fixed. This exercise is the reverse. If you mostly see red, you did fantastic. The underlined areas are the things to keep. If you see only a little red ink, you are in trouble and have more tangents than points.

It is often a shock to see the red not bleeding all over the page. As a professional writer, I think I’m an excellent writer. I believe that I have a way with words, not a perfect way, but a talent and skill all the same. When I see a page with four spots of red against 800 words, I realize that I lost my way along the story.

This doesn’t mean that everything that isn’t underlined must go. It is an exercise in concise editing, focusing on the words and phrases within your article that are required essential to the story you are telling. If the words not highlighted in red don’t count, toss them. If they support the point you are trying to make, underline them.
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Blog Exercises: July Current Events

Blog Exercises on Lorelle on WordPress.Been watching the news lately? It’s time to blog the news and current events for July in our Blog Exercises.

School is out for many countries and vacations are planned and in progress. People are moving all around the country with the warmer temperatures, looking for fun, excitement, or peace – a change from the daily struggle.

If you are one of those moving around the country, expand your current events research to news in the community you are visiting or exploring. Is there something there that relates to your blog?

If you are staying home this month, what travel or tourism oriented newsworthy topic is out there that might apply to your blog?

Blog Exercise Task from Lorelle on WordPress.As part of our monthly current events Blog Exercise, you do not have to cover travel, vacation, or tourism in your task for today, but consider it. These exercises are meant to literally expand your blogging potential and skills. Stretch a little.

As usual, make it connect with your audience and your blog topics.

Remember to include a hat tip link back to this post to create a trackback, or leave a properly formed link in the comments so participants can check out your blog exercise task.

You can find more Blog Exercises on . This is a year-long challenge to help you flex your blogging muscles and honor the tenth anniversary of WordPress.

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Copyright Lorelle VanFossen.

Blog Exercises: Connecting All the Pieces of Your Site Together

Blog Exercises on Lorelle on WordPress.The concept of the World Wide Web is based upon linking, the web of connections that link web pages together like a spider web. There are external links, connecting one site to another, and intrasite links, connecting web pages together within a single site.

Today’s blog exercise is focused on the latter, intrasite links.

Intrasite links serve multiple purposes. As described, they connect your web pages together. Web pages without an incoming link are often referred to as orphan pages, lacking a link to direct someone to the web page. Search engines rarely index these orphan web pages as there are no links to follow.

Intrasite links create reference links. In the next paragraph I offered a link to help you learn more about how trackbacks work. Lower in this article I mention plagiarism with a link to an article I wrote on the subject, giving readers a chance to learn more about how to deal with copyright violations if they are interested in the subject. Such links not only connect web pages to each other, they connect readers to related content.

In web publishing platforms such as WordPress, when you link to a web page, a trackback is automatically generated to the web page link destination. Trackbacks work across external sites and internal web pages. A reader of the linked-to post can see the linking post in the trackbacks list with comments, possibly discovering related content using this article as a reference and resource. It adds to the relevance and importance of the web page content.

Self-generated trackbacks to previously published intrasite links on your site - Lorelle VanFossen.Intrasite links also serve as a warning sign if your content is copied and plagiarized on another site. Once published, any intrasite links to your site would create a trackback from that post displayed in the Comments Panel in WordPress. Click the trackback link to find out how they are using your content. Using it against your copyright policy, you can leave a comment informing them of the copyright violation, telling them what they need to do to resolve the issue. Without intrasite link trackbacks, you may never know if anyone is using your content elsewhere.

Most importantly, intrasite links create continuity. “As I was saying yesterday” becomes a link to help the reader find out what you were saying yesterday and follow the story line. Give the reader every chance to catch up so they don’t feel left out, lost in the dark as to what you are talking about.

With the weight of so much responsibility on an intrasite link, I make it a standing policy to never publish a single post on any of my sites without an intrasite link in it. Consider adding that to your publishing checklist as well.
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Blog Exercises: Blog Your Mistakes

Blog Exercises on Lorelle on WordPress.Some say that Dr. Brian Goldman helped to change the medical industry with his Ted Talk about how doctors make mistakes, taking a huge risk exposing one of the most known and rarely discussed topics: how doctors make mistakes and kill patients.

When was the last time you heard somebody talk about failure after failure after failure? Oh yeah, you go to a cocktail party and you might hear about some other doctor, but you’re not going to hear somebody talking about their own mistakes…

…On my show, on “White Coat, Black Art,” I made it a habit of saying, “Here’s my worst mistake,” I would say to everybody from paramedics to the chief of cardiac surgery, “Here’s my worst mistake,” blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, “What about yours?” and I would point the microphone towards them. And their pupils would dilate, they would recoil, then they would look down and swallow hard and start to tell me their stories. They want to tell their stories. They want to share their stories. They want to be able to say, “Look, don’t make the same mistake I did.” What they need is an environment to be able to do that. What they need is a redefined medical culture. And it starts with one physician at a time.

The redefined physician is human, knows she’s human, accepts it, isn’t proud of making mistakes, but strives to learn one thing from what happened that she can teach to somebody else. She shares her experience with others. She’s supportive when other people talk about their mistakes. And she points out other people’s mistakes, not in a gotcha way, but in a loving, supportive way so that everybody can benefit. And she works in a culture of medicine that acknowledges that human beings run the system, and when human beings run the system, they will make mistakes from time to time. So the system is evolving to create backups that make it easier to detect those mistakes that humans inevitably make and also fosters in a loving, supportive way places where everybody who is observing in the health care system can actually point out things that could be potential mistakes and is rewarded for doing so, and especially people like me, when we do make mistakes, we’re rewarded for coming clean.

My name is Brian Goldman. I am a redefined physician. I’m human. I make mistakes. I’m sorry about that, but I strive to learn one thing that I can pass on to other people. I still don’t know what you think of me, but I can live with that.

We all make mistakes. The mistakes bloggers make rarely risk lives, but they may impact lives, changing opinions, perspectives, attitudes, and influencing life decisions. Read More »

Blog Exercises: How to Tag Posts – The Quiz

Blog Exercises on Lorelle on WordPress.In “Blog Exercises: How to Tag Posts,” I covered the basics of how to tag your posts.

The following blog exercise is a quiz to see how you would tag the following post.

Be prepared to defend your choices. If you would like to discuss why someone used specific terms or phrases as tags, you are welcome to do so. That’s how we learn.

Her fingers trembled on the keys. I can do this, she thought, chewing her lip.

Site name. Name of site.

The pain of the moment struck her chest, pressing the air out with a wheeze. Curling around the pain, each click of the keyboard a Morse code of dread, she typed the name.

The “Get a Blog” blue button pulsed a beat then drifted across the screen. She smeared her left hand across her watering eyes and stabbed the button with the mouse in her right.

“An email is flying across the web to your email inbox. Please check it to verify your site registration.”

The gentle, lighthearted tone helped her breathe a little easier, An unexpected kindness. She switched to the email tab in her web browser and reloaded the page, her new-found patience serving her well…

Continue reading The Story of How a Blog Was Born


You can find more Blog Exercises on . This is a year-long challenge to help you flex your blogging muscles.

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Copyright Lorelle VanFossen.


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