Facebook Like Fraud Exposed

Evidence Facebook's revenue is based on fake likes.

I know first-hand that Facebook's advertising model is deeply flawed. When I paid to promote my page I gained 80,000 followers in developing countries.

They drove my reach and engagement numbers down, basically rendering the page useless. I am not the only one who has experienced this. Rory Cellan-Jones had the same luck with Virtual Bagel:

The US Department of State spent $630,000 to acquire 2 million page likes and then realized only 2% were engaged.http://wapo.st/1glcyZo

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Internet ID Technology Developed, Sold as Password Protection

Blog Tips

New technology launched today by Royal Holloway University, will help protect people from the cyber attack known as "phishing," believed to have affected 37.3 million of us last year, and from online password theft, which rose by 300% during 2012-13.

Phishing involves cyber criminals creating fake websites that look like real ones and luring users into entering their login details, and sometimes personal and financial information. In recent months, the Syrian Electronic Army (SEA) has successfully launched phishing attacks against employees of the Financial Times to enable them to post material to its website, and mass attacks were launched within Iran using a fake Google email, shortly before the elections.

Scientists from Royal Holloway have devised a new system called Uni-IDM which will enable people to create electronic identity cards for each website they access. These are then securely stored, allowing owners to simply click on the card when they want to log back in, safe in the knowledge that the data will only be sent to the authentic website. A key feature of the technology is that it is able to recognise the increasing number of websites that offer more secure login systems and present people with a helpful and uniform way of using these.

"We have known for a long time that the username and password system is problematic and very insecure, proving a headache for even the largest websites. LinkedIn was hacked, and over six million stolen user passwords were then posted on a website used by Russian cyber criminals; Facebook admitted in 2011 that 600,000 of its user accounts were being compromised every single day," said Professor Chris Mitchell from Royal Holloway's Information Security Group.

"Despite this, username and password remains the dominant technology, and while large corporations have been able to employ more secure methods, attempts to provide homes with similar protection have been unsuccessful, except in a few cases such as online banking. The hope is that our technology will finally make it possible to provide more sophisticated technology to protect all internet users."

Uni-IDM is also expected to offer a solution for people who will need to access the growing number government services going online, such as tax and benefits claims. The system will provide a secure space for these new users, many of whom may have little experience using the internet.


More information is available from: http://www.chrismitchell.net/Papers/aucbim.pdf

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Why "Investigations" of the NSA Spying Are DOOMED to Fail

By Mark M. Jaycox

Since the revelations of confirmed National Security Agency spying in June, three different "investigations" have been announced. One by the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB), another by the Director of National Intelligence, Gen. James Clapper, and the third by the Senate Intelligence Committee, formally called the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI).

All three investigations are insufficient, because they are unable to find out the full details needed to stop the government's abuse of Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act and Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. The PCLOB can only request—not require—documents from the NSA and must rely on its goodwill, while the investigation led by Gen. Clapper is led by a man who not only lied to Congress, but also oversees the spying. And the Senate Intelligence Committee—which was originally designed to effectively oversee the intelligence community—has failed time and time again. What's needed is a new, independent, Congressional committee to fully delve into the spying.

The PCLOB: Powerless to Obtain Documents

The PCLOB was created after a recommendation from the 9/11 Commission to ensure civil liberties and privacy were included in the government's surveillance and spying policies and practices.

But it languished. From 2008 until May of this year, the board was without a Chair and unable to hire staff or perform any work. It was only after the June revelations that the President asked the board to begin an investigation into the unconstitutional NSA spying. Yet even with the full board constituted, it is unable to fulfill its mission as it has no choice but to base its analysis on a steady diet of carefully crafted statements from the intelligence community.

As we explained, the board must rely on the goodwill of the NSA's director, Gen. Keith Alexander, and Gen. Clapper—two men who have repeatedly said the NSA doesn't collect information on Americans.

In order to conduct a full investigation, the PCLOB will need access to all relevant NSA, FBI, and DOJ files. But the PCLOB is unable to compel testimony or documents because Congress did not give it the same powers as a Congressional committee or independent agency. This is a major problem. If the NSA won't hand over documents to Congress, then it will certainly not give them to the PCLOB.

The Clapper Investigation: Overseen by a Man Accused of Lying to Congress

The second investigation was announced by President Obama in a Friday afternoon news conference. The President called for the creation of an "independent" task force with "outside experts" to make sure "there absolutely is no abuse in terms of how these surveillance technologies are used."

Less than two days later, the White House followed up with a press release announcing the task force would be led by Gen. Clapper and would also report to him. What's even worse: the task force was not tasked with looking at any abuse. It was told to focus on how to "protect our national security and advance our foreign policy."

And just this week, ABC News reported the task force will be full of thorough Washington insiders—not "outside experts." For instance, one has advocated the Department of Homeland Security be allowed to scan all Internet traffic going in and out of the US. And another, while a noted legal scholar on regulatory issues, has written a paper about government campaigns to infiltrate online groups and activists.

In one good act, the White House selected Peter Swire to be on the task force. Swire is a professor at Georgia Tech and has served as the White House's first ever Chief Privacy Officer. Recently, he signed an amicus brief in a case against the NSA spying by the Electronic Privacy Information Center arguing that the NSA's telephony metadata program is illegal under Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act. Despite this, and at the end of a day, a task force led by General Clapper full of insiders—and not directed to look at the extensive abuse—will never get at the bottom of the unconstitutional spying.

The Senate Intelligence Committee Has Already Failed

The last "investigation" occurring is a "review" led by the Senate Intelligence Committee overseeing the intelligence community. But time and time again the committee has failed at providing any semblance of oversight. First, the chair and ranking member of the committee, Senators Dianne Feinstein (CA) and Saxby Chambliss (GA), respectively, are stalwart defendersof the NSA and its spying activities. They have both justified the spying, brushed aside any complaints, and denied any ideas of abuse by the NSA.

Besides defending the intelligence community, the committee leadership have utterly failed in oversight—the reason why the Senate Intelligence Committee was originally created by the Church Committee. As was revealed last week, Senator Feinstein was not shown or even told about the thousands of violations of the spying programs in NSA audits of the programs. This is in direct contradiction to her statements touting the "robust" oversight of the Intelligence Committee. Lastly, the committee is prone to secrets and hiding behind closed doors: this year, the Senate Intelligence Committee has met publicly only twice. What's clear is that the Intelligence Committee has been unable to carry out its oversight role and fresh eyes are needed to protect the American people from the abuses of the NSA.

A New Church Committee

All three of these investigations are destined to fail. What's needed is a new, special, investigatory committee to look into the abuses of by the NSA, its use of spying powers, its legal justifications, and why the intelligence committees were unable to rein in the spying. In short, we need a contemporary Church Committee. It's time for Congress to reassert its oversight capacity. The American public must be provided more information about the NSA's unconstitutional actions and the NSA must be held accountable. Tell your Congressperson now to join the effort.

This article first appeared on EFF.org.

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Who Uses Social Media to Monitor Their Romantic Partners?

With the widespread popularity of social networking sites such as Facebook, it is increasingly common for people to use interpersonal electronic surveillance to monitor the activities of current and former romantic partners. They can gather information on partners anonymously, view past and current photos and audio and video clips, and look for clues to explain any "suspicious" behaviors.

Why some individuals engage in this type of behavior more than others is the subject of an article in Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, a peer-reviewed journal from Mary Ann Liebert, Inc., publishers. The article is available free on the Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking website.

The article "Social Networking Sites in Romantic Relationships: Attachment, Uncertainty, and Partner Surveillance on Facebook," describes a study to determine what individual characteristics might be predictive of using electronic surveillance to gather information about a romantic partner.

Authors Jesse Fox, PhD, Ohio State University, Columbus, and Katie Warber, PhD, Wittenberg University, Springfield, OH, explored several variables including a partner's attachment style, the role of sex, and a partner's level of relationship anxiety, which is likely to be higher among more preoccupied and fearful individuals.

"Prior to social networking tools, it was more difficult to monitor a former partner's life," says Brenda K. Wiederhold, PhD, MBA, BCIA, Editor-in-Chief ofCyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, from the Interactive Media Institute, San Diego, CA. 

"While social networking provides many positives, the ability to conduct interpersonal electronic surveillance may lead some individuals to suffer with prolonged feelings of uncertainty after a relationship ends. These results presented here should, however, be interpreted with caution, since the sample was comprised of heterosexual college students and may not extend to other groups."


About the Journal
Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking is a peer-reviewed journal published monthly online with Open Access options and in print that explores the psychological and social issues surrounding the Internet and interactive technologies, plus cybertherapy and rehabilitation. Complete tables of content and a sample issue may be viewed on theCyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking website.

About the Publisher
Mary Ann Liebert, Inc., publishers is a privately held, fully integrated media company known for establishing authoritative peer-reviewed journals in many promising areas of science and biomedical research, including Games for Health Journal, Telemedicine and e-Health, and Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychopharmacology. Its biotechnology trade magazine, Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News (GEN), was the first in its field and is today the industry's most widely read publication worldwide. A complete list of the firm's over 70 journals, books, and newsmagazines is available on the Mary Ann Liebert, Inc., publishers website.

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Best Places to Sell Your Swag for Bitcoins

J.P. Hicks
Blog Tips

Millions of people make their living as eBay or Amazon sellers. They pay high sales fees and their profit is taxed. Imagine avoiding all of that by selling your stuff for bitcoins.

For those new to Bitcoin, it's a peer-to-peer digital currency with no central authority. Instead it's decentralized, run by an open source protocol. Nor does it require a bank middlemen to make transfers anywhere in the world making moving them around practically free. Bitcoin is secure, private, and has much lower transfer fees.

And the bitcoin marketplace of goods and services is expanding exponentially. You can order local pizza, have a beer at local bars, buy cars, or even illegal drugs. There's almost nothing you can't buy with bitcoin.

See the brief video for a concise introduction to Bitcoin:

All Bitcoin users must first get a wallet. The easiest way to get a wallet for Windows, Mac, or Linux is to go here and follow the instructions.

Then you'll be probably want to get some Bitcoins.  The easiest way to buy them is through Coin Mama. Or you can sell some of your swag to get your first Bitcoins.

Selling your swag for Bitcoin has never been easier. A few great self-serve marketplace websites have sprung up offering an eBay-or-Amazon-style service to buyers and sellers.

Let's take a look at some of the best places to sell your stuff for bitcoins:


Bitmit.net is the most established of the bitcoin marketplaces and auction sites. They allow users to sell just about anything; from digital products to real estate. Their interface is simple to use and sellers just list the price of their product in dollars and real-time conversions to bitcoin (BTC) are automatically calculated.

Bitmit offers an escrow service for buyers and sellers to both confirm their side of the order before funds are released. Bitmit has been referred to many times as the eBay or Amazon for bitcoin, except memberships and listings are free on Bitmit and they only charge a 1.90% commission on sales. Compare that to Amazon's fees which range from 8% to 25%.


Coingig.com is a relatively new bitcoin marketplace and auction site with a very nice user interface that makes it simple to list and buy products of all kinds. It is very much like Bitmit in that it is free and easy to use, it automatically converts prices from the seller's local currency to bitcoin (BTC), and they offer an escrow service. All-in-all they're very similar, but Coingig is a bit more attractive, has an affiliate program for individual products (See ad below), and charges a 2.5% commission fee.

Bitcoin Classifieds

BitcoinClassifieds.net is a place where anyone can post free classified ads for goods or trade services using Bitcoins.  Bitcoin Classifieds updates bitcoin prices everyday with daily 24-hour average value against dollars or euros. The don't process sales or receive a commission. They're more like a CraigsList-type service, than a store front.

Silk Road

Silk Road is an underground bitcoin marketplace on the Tor network. It's akin to a black market. On Silk Road you can buy or sell normal items as well as illegal drugs and paraphernalia. It is set up to be as anonymous as possible. To access Silk Road, you have to download the Tor Browser which has countless other privacy benefits. Then you register using their current domain:

In order to set up a vendor (seller) account you must post a bond of around $500 to insure against fraud. They also seem to have a very thorough buyer feedback mechanism to rate sellers.

There you have it, all of the places you need to sell you swag with bitcoin.  Please leave a comment of any good places I missed.

J.P. Hicks is an entrepreneur, info-activist, pro blogger, editor of BlogTips.com and author of Secrets to Making Money with a Free Blog. Follow @ Twitter, or like on Facebook.

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NSA Copies All Internet Data, Creates Dossiers on Every User

J.P. Hicks
Blog Tips

The Associated Press dropped a bombshell report yesterday that claims the NSA's secret Internet spy program Prism is just a small part of a much more "expansive and intrusive" digital spying effort.

According to the AP, the NSA copies ALL INTERNET traffic in and out of the United States for analysis by hoovering all data that passes through fiber lines.

"Tapping into those cables allows the NSA access to monitor emails, telephone calls, video chats, websites, bank transactions and more. It takes powerful computers to decrypt, store and analyze all this information, but the information is all there, zipping by at the speed of light," AP reports.

Prism was originally thought to be a program to force Internet companies to hand over private user data to the government. But it turns out that Prism is actually a filtering tool to "make sense of the cacophony of the Internet's raw feed...Prism takes large beams of data and helps the government find discrete, manageable strands of information."

It then manages those strands of data by creating dossiers on every Internet user, providing the government with "names, addresses, conversation histories and entire archives of email inboxes."

And, of course, all of this data is collected and kept on innocent people without a warrant or any probable cause.

This explosive report comes the same day that the NSA held a classified briefing for members of Congress where they admit to listening to phone calls within the United States without a warrant.

CNET reports:

Rep. Jerrold Nadler, a New York Democrat, disclosed this week that during a secret briefing to members of Congress, he was told that the contents of a phone call could be accessed "simply based on an analyst deciding that."

If the NSA wants "to listen to the phone," an analyst's decision is sufficient, without any other legal authorization required, Nadler said he learned. "I was rather startled," said Nadler, an attorney and congressman who serves on the House Judiciary committee.

Nadler told CNET that the "same legal standards that apply to phone calls also apply to e-mail messages, text messages, and instant messages." 

In other words, the NSA claims the authority to listen to any call or read any email based on the whims of an analyst, not a court order based on probable cause.

This is precisely the power Edward Snowden, as an analyst working for the private NSA contract Booz Allen Hamilton, claimed to have in his interview with The Guardian.

All of these recent revelations seem to confirm the worst fears of civil liberties groups. The American government is indeed listening to our phone calls and reading our emails without a warrant and little to no oversight to how this information is accessed or used.

What's even worse, they're building dossiers on all Americans to be tapped whenever one of the hundreds of thousands of analysts decides to, and all of it occurs in secret.

This is perhaps the most egregious breach of the public's trust in the history of the United States.  The government operates with complete secrecy while knowing all private information about its citizens.

Weren't we supposed to have a transparent government with individual privacy for citizens? 

J.P. Hicks is an entrepreneur, info-activist, pro blogger, editor of BlogTips.com and author of Secrets to Making Money with a Free Blog. Follow @ Twitter, or like on Facebook.

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Senator Not Sure Bloggers Deserve Free Speech Rights

J.P. Hicks
Blog Tips

Who knew the speech of the media and bloggers wasn't already protected?

The U.S. senate is working on a media shield law that would protect the media against government retaliation for exposing sensitive information.

I thought the First Amendment in the Bill of Rights made it quite clear that all speech was already protected: 

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Since the government has been on the rampage to punish whistleblowers who exposed government crimes perhaps additional clarity is needed.  However, it seems that the politicians are using the media shield law to decide who gets free speech protection and who doesn't.

The shield law is legislation would protect reporters' privilege, or the right of news reporters to refuse to testify as to information or sources of information obtained during the news gathering and dissemination process.

Lindsey Graham (R-SC)
South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, who is the leading GOP sponsor of the media shield law, made some disturbing statements that the law may not include bloggers. In doing so, he clearly shows his disdain for bloggers.

"You can sit in your mother’s basement and chat away, I don't care. But when you start talking about classified programs, that’s when it gets to be important," he said during a Free Times interview. "So, if classified information is leaked out on a personal website or [by] some blogger, do they have the same First Amendments rights as somebody who gets paid [in] traditional journalism?"

"Who is a journalist is a question we need to ask ourselves," Graham told reporters Wednesday. "Is any blogger out there saying anything—do they deserve First Amendment protection? These are the issues of our times."

Bloggers have been excluded from state shield laws in the past.  In 2011, an Oregon court ruled that an investigative blogger was not eligible for shield law protections because she wasn't a "journalist".  

"Although defendant is a self-proclaimed 'investigative blogger' and defines herself as 'media,' the record fails to show that she is affiliated with any newspaper, magazine, periodical, book, pamphlet, news service, wire service, news or feature syndicate, broadcast station or network, or cable television system," the judge wrote. "Thus, she is not entitled to the protections of the [Oregon journalist shield] law."

In the same light, bloggers have also been prosecuted for posting health advice without a government recognized license:

As the government draws scorn for prosecuting Private Bradley Manning to the fullest extent of the law for alleged leaking of classified information and the DOJ spying on the Associated Press and other news organizations, this media shield law is gaining a groundswell of bipartisan support.

Yet if this legislation is used to determine who is permitted, licensed or authorized to talk about "classified" programs and who isn't, it will likely do more harm to free speech than it protects.

Cynical, I know. But Graham is no stranger to destroying the rights of U.S. citizens.

Graham aggressively advocated for the destruction of due process for American citizens during the 2012 NDAA debate. He told people suspected of having ties to terrorism to "Shut up. You don't get a lawyer."  Sadly, Congress voted with Graham, so suspicion now equals guilt and indefinite detention without trial in America.

Graham said of the Boston bombing suspect, "The last thing we may want to do is read Boston suspect Miranda Rights." He applauded martial law tactics to hunt down the suspect and only wished there'd been a drone in the sky. He also said judicial oversight of targeted drone killings would be "the worst thing in the world."

I only point out Graham's recent history to illustrate that he isn't exactly the lawmaker I'd trust to protect the anyone's rights. And if Graham's attitude toward bloggers is any indication, bloggers' speech will not be protected in the same way that a "authorized" journalist would be.

Government transparency is as just vital to a thriving democracy as an independent media. I have a strong suspicion that this media shield law will lessen both transparency and independence. 

It will likely give the government more control over the flow of information through a more entrenched corporate media, while simultaneously forcing small bloggers to join larger organizations to gain this "protection" but lose their independence.

If bloggers don't demand the same protections as all journalists, they're not likely to get them.  All bloggers should contact their representatives to demand that they "deserve" free speech protections just like all Americans should.

J.P. Hicks is an entrepreneur, info-activist, pro blogger, editor of BlogTips.com and author of Secrets to Making Money with a Free Blog. Follow @ Twitter, or like on Facebook.

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How to Hide Your Digital Communications from Big Brother

J.P. Hicks
Blog Tips

Big Brother is hoping to eliminate anonymous digital communication, but a new messaging protocol may provide privacy advocates a way around their snooping government no matter where they live.

It couldn't come at a better time as governments increasingly demand access to private communications.

In fact, an FBI whistleblower recently revealed that all digital communications are being recorded and stored by the U.S. government.

Since most emails, instant messaging, and all voice calls (land line, cell or internet) run through central service providers that database all user activity, the government has easy access to this information upon request, secret subpoenas or even backdoors to these services to view private communications in real time.

The Associated Press was recently violated by the Department of Justice who, with a secret subpoena, forced service providers to hand over phone records of AP's reporters and central offices.

The U.S. government claims the authority to track, trace, and database all electronic communications in order to keep us safe. Despite the obvious intrusion of privacy, it clearly has the intent to spy on all communications and is actively seeking expanded legal cover and technological advances for full spectrum digital surveillance.

Large central service providers make this nefarious goal possible.

But as the government cracks down on Web privacy, a new decentralized communication protocol called Bitmessage has emerged to offer an easy way for people to send and receive encrypted messages.

What is Bitmessage?

Bitmessage is a peer-to-peer encrypted messaging protocol that allows people to communicate anonymously.

Bitmessage's official description is as follows:

Bitmessage is a P2P communications protocol used to send encrypted messages to another person or to many subscribers. It is decentralized and trustless, meaning that you need-not inherently trust any entities like root certificate authorities. It uses strong authentication which means that the sender of a message cannot be spoofed, and it aims to hide "non-content" data, like the sender and receiver of messages, from passive eavesdroppers like those running warrantless wiretapping programs. (Source)

Based loosely on Bitcoin's open-source protocol, Bitmessage utilizes the computer power of decentralized users to process the messages making them essentially impossible to track. Addresses are made up of 36 random characters as opposed to a name and other personal information that email services require.

Example Bitmessage address: BM‐2nTX1KchxgnmHvy9ntCN9r7sgKTraxczzyE

In their white paper, the Bitmessage developers emphasize that privacy was their main motivation for creating it:

Hiding one’s identity is difficult. Even if throw‐away email addresses are used, users must connect to an email server to send and retrieve messages, revealing their IP address.

...if just one of those organizations is run by a government agency, and if they have certain network hardware in place between users and destination servers, then they would be able to perform a targeted man‐in‐the‐middle attack of ostensibly secure communications at will...

What is needed is a communications protocol and accompanying software that encrypts messages, masks the sender and receiver of messages from others, and guarantees that the sender a message cannot be spoofed, without relying on trust and without burdening the user with the details of key management.

The addresses not only emphasize privacy but guarantee sender verification:

While certainly more cumbersome than an email address, it is not too much to type manually or it can be made into a QR‐code. Users have already demonstrated this to be acceptable as Bitcoin addresses are similar in format and length. This address format is superior to email in that it guarantees that a message from a particular user or organization did, in fact, come from them. The sender of a message cannot be spoofed.

Though it may sound complicated, Bitmessage makes it easy for anyone to communicate anonymously. Once the program is downloaded on your computer, you just need to set "Your Identities", "Passphrase", and "Addresses" in your Bitmessage folder which is much like a Bitcoin "wallet".

Then it works similarly to email where you choose from one of your "From" addresses to compose a message to "Send" to another address. The message's encryption is then "processed" by the peer-to-peer network of servers and delivered to the recipient's "wallet" (Bitmessage folder) on their personal computer. The "stream" or "proof of work" takes roughly four minutes to process the message to the recipient.

Bitmessage also offers a "broadcast" feature for mass announcements. So if you run an organization, website or blog with a newsletter, you can send anonymous "broadcasts" to subscribers. Meanwhile, subscribers can sign up without giving out their email address or anything that links them to the information.

Just as Bitcoin has the potential to displace centralized currencies, Bitmessage may be the future of free and private communication. As the government increases its Big Brother spying on average citizens, Bitmessage proves that freedom will always find a way.

Watch the video below for more information about Bitmessage:

Get started with Bitmessage here.

Another great resource for how to get started with Bitmessage:

J.P. Hicks is an entrepreneur, info-activist, pro blogger, editor of BlogTips.com and author of Secrets to Making Money with a Free Blog. Follow @ Twitter, or like on Facebook.

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TPP Threatening Internet Freedom

Blog Tips

The Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement is being negotiated in secret between more than 12 countries around the Pacific region. One of the areas they seek to regulate is the internet, especially copyright laws.

Find out why it's the biggest threat to the Internet you've probably never heard of by watching the video below put together by the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

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10 Tips to Fix Your Crappy Blog

J.P. Hicks

Many excellent writers maintain horrible blogs that look like they were started yesterday with some garbage default template, with no additional pages, no contact information, and no clear theme. There’s no excuse for this, especially if these writers are wondering why they don’t make any money from their blog.

It pains me to see that they don’t invest any time learning the skills to become a true blogger. A blogger is so much more than a writer. Bloggers must not only be able to create compelling content, but they must also acquire some basic skills for blog design, social media marketing, and business management. Bloggers are entrepreneurs that must handle all these tasks and more.

Good writers may have thousands of social media followers but they’ll rarely convert to blog traffic if it is inadequate. If you’re one of these bloggers, there are a few key ways for you to spruce up your blog to appeal to more people.

These tips and tricks can’t replace being passionate about your blog, but they will give you a significant head start or face lift needed to be successful.

1. Define Your Niche and Purpose:  What is your bog about?  What is its purpose? Many bloggers throw together random thoughts about many broad topics. This is great, but new visitors should be able to determine the general theme and purpose of your blog without too much trouble.  If your theme (niche) is not obvious, make it obvious.  People want to follow good blogs about narrow topics that they're interested in.

2. Change Your Design: If you’re someone still using a default template because you’re scared to cross the murky line into blog design, I assure you it’s not difficult or scary. In fact, templates have become so easy to upload and customize that there is simply no excuse to have a bland looking blog. Even if you just put in a little time customizing your default template, your trial and error time will be well worth it. Finally, if you absolutely can’t do it yourself, it is so cheap to hire someone to do this for you. Just pick a new look that works for your topic and hire a freelancer to drop it in for you.

3. New Logo: If you haven’t created a custom logo with your tagline, then shame on you. It’s free and easy and even if you think you’re not creative, anything you create will be infinitely better than the plain logo you currently roll with. Check out these resources for where to make free logos.

4. Pages: At the very least every blog should have an “About” page that eloquently describes you (or your blog), your background, your philosophy, and your mission. You should also have a “Contact” page for readers, advertisers, and contributors to reach out to you. You may also consider page tabs that lead to blog categories that some readers may seek to browse. You may want to add a store, forum, or product page, too.

5. Metatitles: It’s amazing how many blogs don’t have a metatitle. A metatitle is the short description of your blog that appears in the browser tab when people visit your site. It also appears in all search engine listings of your blog. If you hope to ever rank well for core keywords related to your blog’s subject, you’ll have to incorporate a keyword-rich metatitle, but one that also reads like an intriguing tagline.

6. Share Buttons: Make sure that you have the best share buttons for your articles that encourage sharing. Services like ShareThis offer free tools to customize share buttons to target networking sites most appropriate for your niche.

7. More Images: Everyone loves photos. Just a few well-placed attractive photos can really improve the design, and they can help improve impulse clicking on your articles. Create a folder of images that you are free to use; your own images, Creative Commons images, and paid photos from places like iStockphotos.com. Even if your topic is not a visual theme, find as many relevant images as possible. The images can also spark article ideas that can be written around them.

8. Find Contributors: If you can't add enough content by yourself to keep your readers visiting each day, find guest writers or other bloggers that you can syndicate at your blog.  This adds content diversity to your blog and gives you one more link to share through your network or in newsletters.

9. Engage Social Media: If you want your social media followers to grow and translate into blog traffic, you must engage with your followers.  There's no way around it.  Set aside a block of time each day that will be dedicated to social media maintenance and engagement and your numbers will increase.

10. Set Goals: If you don't know what you want, you'll never get it. Set goals for your blog: number of original articles to post each week, growth of social media followers, traffic growth, profit targets, newsletter signups, keywords to optimize and comments-per article are just some of the metrics to target.

J.P. Hicks is an entrepreneur, info-activist, pro blogger, editor of BlogTips.com and author of Secrets to Making Money with a Free Blog. Follow @ Twitter, or like on Facebook.

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