Polls are a great way to engage your readers. While page view counts are a good indication of how many people made it to your page, polls help you gauge how many people are actually reading your content. And their responses help you to get to know your audience better.
I’ve been writing poll questions for websites for about six years. Some have yielded lots of votes; others were duds. Based on my experiences, I have developed a knack for what poll questions work and which ones will flop. Here’s what works:
1. Keep it short and simple
Try to keep the questions to 50 to 60 characters or fewer, including spaces. If you need to get really wordy, cut yourself off at 100 characters. And only ask one question. No compound questions; that just confuses people.
2. Quiz opinion, not knowledge
If you want the poll to generate enough responses to be useful, the question(s) should require almost no thought on the part of the responder. The less someone has to think, the more likely he or she is to respond. And there should be no wrong answers.
Here is an oversimplified example: Do you prefer green, red or blue?
3. Offer 4 responses or fewer
More than four responses to choose from can cause two negative things to happen: indecision and inaction. You want the user’s response to be a quick, knee-jerk reaction. Keep the length of responses to a minimum: 25 or fewer characters. When possible, leave no neutral option. If too many people select it, the results become virtually useless to you.
Online quick polls are a great way to engage your readers, if done properly. For best results, keep ’em short, ask for opinions, and limit their choices.
I won’t bore you with all the details leading up to the moment I decided to sell the truck I loved on Craigslist. Let me just say it was a painful process and a difficult reality that took me far too long to embrace.
The truck’s title arrived in the mail earlier that day, three weeks after I had paid off a small title loan. In all honesty, with over 215,000 hard-earned miles and repairs becoming routine, it had become a liability to our tight family budget. I no longer needed the truck and we really needed the money.
Sidenote: We had also been experiencing major issues with my wife’s vehicle, as in the engine seized up when the shop neglected to put oil back in it during a routine oil change and we had to have the engine replaced. When you get a minute, read How I got a new car motor for the price of an oil change.
Finally, it was go time. At about 11:45 p.m. on a Tuesday evening, I sat down to compose the ad, complete with a dozen or so photos and just enough of a description to sell it without exaggerating. I clicked the “Publish” button and made my way out to the hot tub for a little stress relief.
About 15 minutes later, just a little after midnight, I heard my phone ringing inside the house. I sprang from the spa to see who was calling. It was a Phoenix number I did not recognize. The call log showed it was his sixth attempt to reach me since I published the ad. I also had three text messages from him, and two from others interested in the truck. He wanted to meet me right then so he could buy the truck. Surely he was a scammer, I thought. Who asks a seller to meet for a test drive in the midnight hour? So I turned off my phone, pulled the ad and went to bed.
The prospective buyer resumed his pursuit at 6 a.m., with both phone calls and text messages. Let me remind you the ad was no longer visible. Finally, I responded with “Sorry, I inadvertently published the ad too soon. I’m not ready to sell the truck yet.” I just wanted this huckster off my back.
We exchanged a few more messages and agreed to meet at his bank, just down the street from me, on Friday morning. He showed up alone, with cash, and we made the trade.
Selling the truck has been a HUGE weight off my back, and has brought great peace to our home. Since this was my fastest Craigslist sale ever (basically 15 minutes), and maybe the fastest anyone has sold a vehicle online, I feel compelled to share my secret.
There is one thing I did before posting this ad that I have never done before, and I believe it made all the difference. I prayed. In the days leading up to my posting the ad, I caught myself griping about what a pain the truck was becoming. When I heard how negative I sounded, I nipped it and turned myself around. I began to thank God for the awesome experiences I had with that truck over the previous six years. Eventually, I asked God to deliver me from the truck and bring forth someone who can benefit from it. And that’s just what He did.
If you are a non-believer, you may choose to discount my explanation as hogwash. However, there are all sorts of stories in the bible of God providing ample blessings to his faithful believers. The moral of my story is summed up by the guidance in Chapter 21 of the book of Matthew, verse 22: You can pray for anything, and if you have faith, you will receive it.
I have seen numerous pleas by Major League Baseball on social media asking fans to sign a petition that would make Opening Day a national holiday. As much as I love baseball, there are three good reasons why I feel opening day should not be a national holiday.
1. Ballpark attendance will not increase
Ask any fan of their city’s Major League Baseball team what the biggest challenge is with Opening Day and they will tell you it is getting tickets. Most MLB teams require fans to sign up on a waiting list about six months before the regular season begins in hopes that their name will be drawn from the lottery to buy tickets for opening day.
In other words, every team that has a solid fan base is currently selling out their stadium on Opening Day. Sold out is sold out, and declaring a national holiday won’t change that.
2. Viewership will not increase
In most MLB markets the local media creates more hype and it generates greater anticipation around Opening Day than any other game during the year. Of course, there is at least one local station in each market that is likely to broadcast the game. So many of the people who were unable to buy tickets will be watching on TV. Even if they are working, in this day of cable sports TV and digital recorder’s most real fans can watch the game at their convenience after work.
3. More people will suffer than benefit
In America, a national holiday usually means that federal offices, banks and in many cases schools will be closed. While it seems that this may be a benefit to Major League Baseball since more people are free from other distractions to focus on the nation’s pastime, my hunch is that more people will be affected negatively than will benefit. Think of the people that you know that work at any of the institutions that normally close on national holidays and how their income is affected when they cannot work. And think of how many business transactions cannot take place when banks are closed. Now you see what I mean.
Don’t get me wrong. I love baseball and I wish I could be off every year on Opening Day to take part in the festivities. However, we should keep in mind as a people that Major League Baseball is a business and they will continue to do just fine without Opening Day being declared a national holiday. Our government should not declare a holiday for the benefit of one industry at the expense of the general population.
There is a lesson all of us would be independent authors can learn from Walter Swan.
I met Swan in December, 2013. Not in person. That would be tough since he passed away in the 1990s. I picked up an autographed copy of Swan’s book “How to be a Better Me” at a Goodwill store in Tempe one evening. When I first saw the book, I couldn’t help thinking, “There is no way somebody could market a book like this” and “If this guy can sell a book, so can I.”
You know the old saying: You can’t judge a book by it’s cover. That was certainly true with this book.
I cracked open the book to get a taste of the author’s style. What I discovered intrigued me: Short chapters of two to three pages with lessons on how to be a better person, written in the language of a good ole boy. I plunked down my dollar-fifty for the book, zipped over to the nearest Starbucks and dug in. Walter had me hooked. I felt like my grandpa was telling me these stories.
After reading the book for a few days, I decided to Google the author and find out more about him. (You should too.) Swan was a retired plaster contractor in southeastern Arizona with no higher education and no prior experience as an author. He couldn’t find a publisher to pick up his book, so he decided to publish it himself, with the help of a printer in Tucson, AZ.
Only a few stores would put his book on their shelves, so he rented retail space in downtown Bisbee, AZ and opened a store to sell his book. He called the store “The One Book Store.” Any guess as to what he sold in that store? It wasn’t the book I picked up. His first book was titled, “Me n’ Henry .” Turns out “How to be a Better Me” was one of many he went on to publish, although it’s hard to pin down all his titles. One person blogged about meeting Swan in 1994 and mentioned he had sold over 35,000 copies. I’m not sure if that’s in reference to his first book or all books combined. Nevertheless, it’s an inspiring number.
Walter has inspired me not only to be a better person, but also to become an author. I have several book ideas and one book that’s about 90% written. I have been sitting on it for about three years since I didn’t feel like I have enough clout. Neither did Swan.
What independent authors can learn from Walter Swan:
If you have good stories (and who doesn’t?), people will read them
Previous experience is not required; nor is advanced education
We don’t need the approval of a publisher to publish a book
These days it’s easier than ever to self-publish books in electronic format with the help of sites like lulu.com and etsy.com. All we have to do is have a vision, a story to tell and the determination to follow it through. It’s that last item that Walter Swan has inspired me with.
If you are a bargain shopper, your ship is about to come in. Four of the best bargain hunting days of the year on Ebay are just around the corner: December 24, 25, 31 and January 1.
Here’s why: Ebay is an auction site. There is only one thing that makes prices go up with an auction. People. If you are shopping on Ebay when hardly anyone else in the country is, you can pretty much have your way with prices. What are people doing on the aforementioned dates? Answer: Not shopping on Ebay.
My top tips to save big on Ebay this holiday season:
Set up an Ebay and Paypal account in advance. Many sellers only take payments by PayPal these days. Trust me, it’s super safe and convenient.
Know what you want to buy and what you are willing to pay. Don’t let your ego cost you money. If somebody happens to outbid you, don’t sweat it. Just move on to another seller or the next item on your list.
Narrow your sights on things that are easy and inexpensive to ship or mail. If you pay $1 dollar for an item you could buy locally for $10 and it costs you $20 for shipping, you haven’t really saved anything.
Place your max bid on the items you desire just minutes before the auction closes. If there are no other bidders, you won’t have to pay your max price, but it helps you automatically outbid other bargain hunters.
This concept only works if you are trying to win auctions that are closing on the dates I highlighted above. Don’t bid on items that will be closing on days after the dates listed above. Set your top price low and be okay with spending not a penny more, even if it means losing the item to someone else who read this post.
I discovered this tactic as a seller over 12 years ago when I inadvertently listed an item for auction that closed on a holiday. I didn’t get near the money that I was asking for the item but I learned a lesson that has paid me back greatly over the years. Few sellers put much thought into when the auction will close. Usually, they are just happen to get the item listed.
If you follow these tips and score big, please come back and leave a comment.
I heard that the Ironman Triathlon competition was being held in nearby Tempe today, so I had to have a look.
I remember watching highlights from the Ironman in Hawaii on ABC’s Wide World of Sports when I was a kid. The graphic images stick with me today of people crossing the finish line and having virtually no control over their muscles after a day of grueling exercise consisting of a 2-mile swim followed by a 112-mile bike ride, followed by a 26.2 run (i.e. marathon). Today I witnessed it in person.
The Tempe course is great for spectators because you can see the athletes at numerous points in their journey, such as the start and end of the swim and bike ride, plus the run portion at the 4-, 12- and 26 mile points. Hat’s off to these amazingly driven individuals.
I’m a man with simple entertainment needs. Give me a bag of chips and a few thousand 90-second clips of people making fools of themselves at the boat ramp and I’m set.
Boat Ramp Follies was first recommended to me by YouTube after I searched for videos of Lake Havasu, to which we were planning a family vacation. Good call!
As it turns out, “Boat Ramp Follies” is not just a video, but more of a genre; not unlike the categories of Action, Thriller or Drama that we generally find movies organized by. A YouTube search for “boat ramp follies” resulted in over 28,000 videos.
Far better than any other types of sports follies videos that became popular with the advent of VHS tape players, boat ramp follies is reality tv at its finest. These people aren’t there to perform. They just want to have a nice day on the water.
Getting there is half the fun, right? Or half the battle – depending on how you look at it. Mix in steep, wet surfaces, poor driving skills and a little alcohol and you have the perfect recipe for drama.
So intriguing are boat ramp follies that crowds of people are known to line edges of the Site 6 boat ramp at Lake Havasu to watch the spectacle. Thankfully for me, they also post much of the comedy to YouTube.
If I had to pick a favorite, it would have to be the redneck in Missouri who didn’t even make it to the lake. He jack-knifed his rig on a dirt road when trying to avoid a puddle of water. The truck ended up in one ditch and the boat in the other.
I can’t stop watching these boat ramp folly videos and just wanted to open your eyes to a whole new entertainment experience. Here is one video for starters (PG-13 warning for profanity):
But please, don’t stop there. If you experience the same internal chemical reaction I did, try searching YouTube for phrases using any mixture of these words: boat, ramp, launch, idiot, comedy, drunk, folly blooper, etc. You won’t be let down, I promise.