Thursday, June 21, 2007

How to Write a Killer Article, Part 1

Your eyes are wide, fearful, and fixed ahead. Your hands are tense, twitching, mere millimeters from your keyboard. Sweat starts to form on your forehead, cold and foreboding.

Your face is bathed in an eerie, pale glow from the monitor in front of you. On it is an open word processor, its entire expanse filled by an emptiness, deep and white. All that is there, besides the scroll bars and the unused tool buttons, is a single flashing line. It dances in the upper left, mocking you, taunting you, daring you to write something. It challenges you to write on the empty page, like an open field of new snow. “Come on, you know you want to…”

You know how important it is to fill your site with good content, and how you need to share articles and blog postings to help draw search engine attention and clickthrough traffic to your site.

But you hesitate, fingers frozen, held back by one gripping thought.

You have no idea what to write about.

Well, relax. It happens to us all. Even the most experienced writers face the horrible “Blank Screen of Doom” once in a while. I, myself, sat in front of it but a few moments ago. But, nonetheless, I found my topic, and I can now move forward.

I can help you write your articles.

It seems to me that the single most difficult part of writing an article is that whole “Getting Started” thing. And the key to that is figuring out what you’re going to write about. Once that key is found, the words tend to flow, or at least flow more easily. Let me give you some pointers that can guide you and get you writing.

First of all, it’s a good idea to read. Go out and read the paper, read blogs, read books.

Whenever I’m short on ideas, I head out on the ‘net. Usually, I can find something that someone has written that I either agree with or disagree with enough to write something of my own about it.

Second of all, I keep notes. Throughout my days, I see something, and it sparks an idea. Rather than lose it forever, I jot it down in a little spot I’ve labeled “Blog Ideas” in my PDA. A notepad, or a card in your wallet can work just as well. Then, when you sit at your computer and it’s time to write, pull that out and review the ideas you’ve accumulated.

Then you pick a topic for the article or the blog posting. A good article will cover only one topic, and cover it well. Too many ideas, and it not only gets too long, but it gets too scattered. If you have a lot of good ideas in the same subject, make it a multi-part article. In fact, if you scroll back to the top of this article, you’ll see the words, “Part 1”. That was a hint!

The topic you’re writing about should be something in which you have some confidence, knowledge, or experience. Notice I did not say “expertise”. By that, I mean that you do NOT have to be an expert. You don’t have to CLAIM to be an expert, either. I have a lot of experience raising my children. Am I an expert? Not even close! In fact, my kids remind me of that daily. Still, I can share my experiences and observations, and that will be of value to my readers anyway. I have confidence that I can share something of worth, even if that is an example of one of my mistakes.

The topic should be relevant to my audience. This would seem to be a no-brainer, but there are no guarantees, you know… Communication happens when I say something and someone else listens. If I just say it to no-one, it’s like the tree falling in the forest that makes no noise. So, if I write something that is of no use or interest to the people I’m trying to reach, then it’s really not worth writing, now is it?

It also needs to be relevant to my website. Ultimately, in the strategy of articles marketing and blogging, my goal is to entice people to come to (or come back to) my website. So, if my articles or blog postings have nothing to do with the site, then there’s little enticement to click through, and my effort is ultimately wasted.

The “Blank Screen of Doom” can be conquered, and, in reality, without much difficulty. It does help to have some clear steps to follow first, though.

Mark is the co-director of, the search marketing consulting arm of Clickincome ( Mark also has other sites and blogs, including and his MoBoy blog.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

When to Buy, When to Sell

My first computer (I’m going to show my age, here) was a Tandy. It was made and marketed by Radio Shack. It wasn’t quite cutting edge at the time that I got it, either. I acquired it on my father’s upgrade plan. That means that when he got a bigger, badder computer, I got the old one. That worked for us for many years.

This one was interesting. It had two 5.25” floppy disk drives, and no hard drive. It’s RAM was still measured in kilobytes. We didn’t even talk about processor speed, because it was all slow. Modem technology was there, but complex and, did I mention it was slow?

It had a command line interface, which meant no mouse. You had to memorize instructions and type them in. No clicking. The monitor was all text. No pictures. It wasn’t even color. Unless you consider green letters on a black background to be “color”.

Well, that worked for a number of years. It worked well, because I didn’t have any other options. I couldn’t afford to buy one of my own, so I just used what was there. Soon, however, my dad upgraded a few times, and I got a new one. It was an 80-88 (and we called them IBM clones). Still had RAM in the K, and still had a monochrome monitor. However, this one had a mouse, and was running an early version of Windows. It also had two 30 MB hard drives. I was in heaven!

My next one skipped a few versions to a 486 with a 210 MB hard drive. Full color monitor, 1200 bps modem, and plenty of WOW to spare. I was dazzled. I thought I was in heaven, until one day, I was doing something and I went to save it. “Drive C: full” it said. “How can it be full!?” I thought, “I’ve got 210 Meg, here!”

But it was. I’d hit my ceiling.

Throughout the years that have followed, I’ve bought and dumped many pieces of computer and electronic gear. Buying, selling, giving away, receiving, it all comes and goes.

It’s interesting to watch the progress. I now carry on my key ring more storage than I had on that 486 by about 100 MB. It was much cheaper to buy, too. The tiny card in my cell phone, that’s no bigger than my thumbnail can save about as much as 10,000 of those 5.25” floppy discs. And neither of those two devices are particularly huge, nor cutting edge any more.

It cost me about $40 for that 1 GB flash card. Now a 2GB one costs about $30.

It begs the question, when should I buy? It seems that the moment I get something, it’s obsolete. There’s something better just around the corner. If I just wait a few days/weeks/months, I’ll get something more incredible and more amazing for the same amount of money, or even less.

What does “Obsolete” mean, anymore?

Well, a long time ago, I found that I have to base the answer to that question on my own needs, rather than on the needs of WalMart and Best Buy to make their quotas that month. I don’t have to buy the latest and greatest. It leads me to “Mark’s Law of Practical Obsolescence”. Here it is:

Something is obsolete, and requires upgrading, when it no longer does what I want it to.

In other words, if you have a computer, and it accomplishes all your needs at a comfortable pace, it doesn’t matter that it’s five years old. Should you upgrade to the newest version of Windows? Of Internet Explorer? Do you need more RAM? A bigger hard drive?

The questions you should be asking yourself are more like this:

  1. Do I find that I go to websites, and I can’t access the features I want, like streaming media or interactivity?
  2. When I try to work, do I find that I spend a lot of time waiting for my computer to process what I’m doing?
  3. Do I get frequent messages saying that I’m out of disc space, or that the computer is low on RAM?

I don’t care how old or new a computer is. If it accomplishes what you need and want, it’s not obsolete. On the other hand, if it’s not doing what you need, then it’s time to upgrade.

Needs and wants can change, too, so you’ll want to be flexible. The trick is not to get caught up in the hype of a new gadget, or a new feature. Just because it exists, doesn’t mean you need it.

Mark is the co-director of, the search marketing consulting arm of Clickincome ( Mark also has other sites and blogs, including and his MoBoy blog.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Putting Out Flames

Imagine that there’s an empty house. It’s built of wood, siding, sheetrock, all the typical building materials. Then imagine that someone comes in and scatters some extra 2x4’s throughout the house. After that, someone puts a lot of papers up on the walls. There’s an old, dead Christmas tree in the corner. Next, someone walks through splattering gasoline throughout each room. Finally, someone lights a match and throws it through a window. Guess what happens?

What caused the fire?

See, some would say the match did. But if someone dropped a match into an empty house, it wouldn’t necessarily catch the whole house on fire. Is it the gasoline? Or the papers and the wood? Without the match, they’d just sit there.

Looking to see what caused the fire is tough, and ultimately, doesn’t change the fact that the house burned down. If you want to save the house, wouldn’t it have been more effective to take better care of it all around? Maybe to not leave flammable and explosive things all over? Maybe to not throw matches in?

So, where’s the analogy, here?

I’ve been participating in internet forums for many years. Back before, in fact, the WWW really took off. Bulletin boards, email groups, newsgroups, communities, they’re all great places to meet people and to network. I’ve met some of my best friends in these groups, and many of them, I’ll never meet face to face. I’ve done some good promotion of my websites in forums as well (although to do it right, you have to be careful not to cross certain lines).

One thing I’ve learned is that the groups are filled with people, and since people are people they don’t always act like people. I know it will surprise you, but some people didn’t learn to play nice with others in kindergarten.

And any time you get a diverse group of people together, either online, or offline, there will be differences of opinions and ideas. That’s part of what makes these groups great. Unfortunately, these differences can often be the wood, the paper, and even the gasoline that explodes when someone, even accidentally, strikes the match.

So, here’s some advice on how to handle things in a forum.

  1. Remember that what you do and say (type) in a forum will establish your reputation within the community. Remember that the community is also your potential customers. Do you want to be viewed as a troublemaker, or a peacemaker.
  2. It IS appropriate to disagree, in fact that’s vital to a living and exciting forum. The question is, are you disagreeing respectfully, or antagonistically?
  3. When you disagree, keep the focus on the idea you’re disagreeing with, not the author of that idea. It’s better to say, “You know, I think that it’s more like this…” than to say, “What were you thinking!?” This is an important concept in communications and relationships. It’s better to use “I” messages, rather than “You” messages. Focus on your response, rather than the other person. “I see it this way”, rather than “You’re crazy!”
  4. Be careful of absolutes. You may strongly believe that your position is right, but consider the possibility that you might not be. If your language is phrased like “I am right and you are wrong,” what happens when you later find out it was the other way around? Tone it back and say, “It seems to me that…”
  5. Often we say things as if they are fact, when the really are opinions. “That movie was garbage!” is stated as fact, but isn’t it really an opinion? You can still express yourself, even strongly, but own the opinion: “I thought that movie was garbage!” That still allows someone else to like it.
  6. Sarcasm, in a medium where you can’t hear tone of voice or read facial expressions, is almost always lost in the transmission. Avoid it, or at least be very careful how you use it. Even in the best of circumstances, face to face, it can be tricky to tell when someone’s being sarcastic or literal. It could be very easy to tick someone off.
  7. Sometimes, when you’re in the moment, writing out a heated response to a flamer, it’s very easy to just hit the “Send” button. Resist that temptation. Take a deep breath. Rewrite. Revise. Regroup.
  8. Keep in mind a sense of perspective. Ten years from now, will it really matter if you win this argument or not?
  9. And what is the prize you’re winning? If you’re wrestling in the dirt, you might win, but you end up just as dirty as the looser. You’re certainly not winning friends and customers.
  10. Keep in mind that you don’t have to reply to or even read every message. There will be many postings in many groups that don’t interest you or don’t pertain to you or your business. That’s fine. Skim them and delete them. That’s what the button is for.
  11. If, after a time, you discover that a particular group is not the group for you, it’s best to simply quietly unsubscribe quietly than to make a big pronouncement. Don’t cause a scene. As a group moderator, I can remember many times, when someone would get up in a huff, and announce that they will leave the group and never darken that little corner of the ‘net again. A few weeks later, I notice that they’re still on the list, still lurking, still reading the messages.

In business, it’s so much more effective to put out the flames, or even better, to prevent them before they happen, than it is to be seen as the guy throwing the matches around.

Mark is the co-director of, the search marketing consulting arm of Clickincome ( Mark also has other sites and blogs, including and his MoBoy blog.