Aug 12

List of Essential Tools for Bloggers

In the highly competitive world of blogging, you need tools that help you stay ahead of the competition. Here are 8 of them:

1. Google Analytics: Google’s free analytics suite is, by far, the most comprehensive suite of tools to gauge and measure each and every aspect of your blog’s performance. From traffic numbers, to traffic sources, conversions, AdSense statistics, bounce rate, visitor demographics, search engine optimization, search statistics, content statistics, keyword statistics… it’s all here! In fact, there’s so much information that it can even be a bit overwhelming for the new user. Nonetheless, an invaluable tool, especially considering that it comes for free! Use it to your advantage by monitoring your blog’s vital stats and tailoring your SEO strategies accordingly.

2. MaxCDN: CDNs or Content Delivery Networks give your blog a nice speed boost by distributing its content to various parts of the world. MaxCDN works precisely on this principle; it delivers your blog’s static files through hundreds of servers present all across the globe, instead of putting load on a single server every time someone access your blog. This means that content is distributed to your readers through the server that is closest to their location, decreasing access and load times and greatly increasing your blog’s speed, which is beneficial from an SEO perspective as well. Signing-up takes seconds, and the service is fairly simple to use as well. The service is not free, although their plans are quite cheap and everyone should be able to find one that suits their needs and budget.

3. W3C Link Checker: Broken links are not only bad news from a visitor’s perspective, they are one of the worst thing that can happen to your blog in terms of SEO. For a blog that has a fairly large amount of content, and is being run by a single person, it is an impossible task to manually check all links to see if there are any broken ones. That’s where W3C Link Checker comes in. The web-based tool will take anywhere between a few seconds to a couple of minutes to check your entire blog for broken or dead links, and report back with all such links and their location.

4. Google Alerts: Google Alerts is a tool which allows you to ‘monitor the internet for interesting new content’ by setting up alerts for any keyword or key phrase out there. You can enter a search query, which then presents you with options on what kind of results you’d want back – results from blogs, news, videos, books, discussions or all of these. You can also choose how often you’d like to receive the email, and how many results you’d like. You can set up alerts for as many queries/keywords as you want. It is an invaluable tool to find articles, pages and resources that you might otherwise never be able to find.

5. CloudFlare: Blog security is essential, however it remains one of the most ignored aspects of blogging out there. Hacking into a WordPress or Blogger account, using common alphanumeric password is pretty easy, and those who have had their accounts hacked would know what sort of danger this poses – you can lose your content, have it stolen and posted on some other website or simply have your website destroyed. CloudFlare, which also acts as a Content Delivery Network, greatly enhances the security of your blog by protecting it from hackers, spammers, DDOS attacks, and other forms of malicious web-bots and attacks.  The service comes with tons of features, and for new bloggers, you can even get basic-level CDN and security features for free!

6. CreativeCommons: Images are the life and soul of any blog. Images, graphics and photos greatly enhance the content of your blog, and every blog post should have at least one or two (relevant) images added to it. However the problem that most bloggers face when it comes to images is that (a) it is nearly impossible to know whether images off a random Google Image search are free to use and reproduce on your own blog or not, (b) people might not have the resources (or might not want to) pay for images, and (c) creating your own images can be a time consuming task (unless you are a Photoshop expert or an experienced and talented graphics designer). Creative Commons gives you access to all sorts of ‘free to use, reproduce and distribute’ images from all across the internet. You can choose from a lot of sources, and use a ton of filters in order to get free images.

7. Watermark Tool: The name probably gives it away, right? Watermark Tool lets you do precisely what its name implies – watermark your images and videos easily. Putting a text-based watermark on your images (for free) protects them from being stolen, and prevents someone else taking credit for your original work. With the Watermark Tool, you can put a customized text-based watermark on your videos before uploading them on Youtube, and on your images before you upload them on your blog. Text color, size and of course its position can be changed, and you can even put an image-based watermark by paying a small monthly fee.

8. Fast Blog Finder: Personally, I’m a big believer in blog commenting as being one the best, most Google-friendly way of SEO and getting a valuable (at times, a do-follow) backlink to your blog. Posting a comment or two on a relevant blog is an immense source of getting some much-needed exposure, promoting your content, spreading the word, and of course, networking with other bloggers in your niche. However it is not an easy job, and often a time-consuming one, to be able to find blogs that are relevant to your niche. Fast Blog Finder is a software that analyzes your blog, and returns with a list of relevant blogs for you to comment on. Google only rates backlinks that are relevant, so this is a great way of generating relevant backlinks, and it is also an immense time-saver. It also allows you to keep an eye on blogs that are similar to yours.



Aug 12

A List of Things to Consider Before Settling for a Webhost

One of the first, most important decisions that you’ll have to make before starting a (self-hosted) blog or website, is choosing a webhost. This will be one of the initial-most decisions you’ll have to make. A good, speedy and a reliable webhosting service provides your blog with a strong foundation to do well in the longer run.

It is a base on which you can build a strong online presence.

Webhosting is like a long-term investment that you make for your blog; you’ll be stuck with it for a long amount of time (at least a year), which makes it all the more important to ask questions and do your research, before taking the plunge.

For most people out there, the deciding factor when it comes to choosing a webhost is the cost. There is a lot more to choosing a good webhost than just the cost considerations.

Here is a list of 9 things that should always be considered before choosing a webhost (in no particular order):

1.  Space – Amount of disk space might or might not matter to you initially, depending on whether you’re starting a new blog or moving a large website by switching webhosts. It all depends on the amount and size of files that will make up your website or blog. You might choose to go with a limited-space package initially. However as your blog grows, or if you intend on hosting more than a single blog, it might become an issue in the future. Unlimited hosting space eliminates this potential problem, by giving you an unlimited amount of disk space to host your files.

2. Bandwidth – Also check for bandwidth limitations. Most webhosts offer different packages according to bandwidth – anywhere from unlimited bandwidth to a few GB’s a month/week. If you’re starting from scratch, once again this might not be a big consideration, since you probably won’t be getting anywhere near the amount of traffic that maxes out your bandwidth or crosses the allowable limit. But if (or rather when) you start getting a lot of traffic down the road, bandwidth might become a big issue. I suggest sticking with limited bandwidth initially (if only it comes cheap), and opting for an upgrade later on when you start getting dangerously close to your limit. Bandwidth usage can be monitored using your webhost’s User Control Panel.

3. Features – Webhosts offer a whole slew of features to lure potential customers into using their services. These include site-building tools, website templates, shopping cart tools, free WordPress installation, security tools, domain purchasing services, discounts on domains, online file storage and sharing, backup facilities (VERY IMPORTANT!), and Google and Facebook marketing credits to name just a few. How useful or useless might these be to you depends totally on you. But it’s always good to have these features at your disposal.

4. Support – Good webhosts strive to provide 24/7/365 support to all of its customers. This means that they provide technical support to their clients round the clock, every single day of the year, and are professional (courteous and solution-oriented) with the assistance, and prompt as far as response times are concerned. Above all, good webhosts offer support through multiple channels – phone (multiple phone line), email and webchat being the three most common channels.

5. Existing Clients – Webhosts will make it a point to let anyone who comes to their page know who their biggest clients are. Check who their existing customers are; if the hosting services provides hosting to large organizations, they automatically earn points for reputation. A good webhosting company would attract good clients, as it would mean that they can handle the needs of large organizations and large website, especially in terms of bandwidth and support.

6. Uptime Guarantee – Be prepared for this: all webhosts will experience downtime. For some, it will be more frequent than others. This is why webhosts always advertise ‘guaranteed uptime of 99.9%’; it’s never a 100% because no webhost can give you that guarantee. For instance your website might be unavailable for short periods of time because of maintenance. There’s no way to truly check whether the ‘99.9%’ claim really is true or not; reading up on some reviews is your best bet here. Alternatively, if you do sign up with the webhost, and find yourself in the middle of excessive outages, it might be a good idea to check the webhost’s…

7. Refund Policy – Most webhosts nowadays offer a no-strings-attached, avail-anytime refund policy, which means that they’ll give you your money back for the amount of months remaining in your contract. The assurance that you can opt-out at any point makes your investment much safer.

8. Multiple Domain Hosting and Subdomains – This can be a deal-breaker for some, especially those who intend on hosting multiple blogs on a single server, or maybe even resell web space. Most of the webhosts provide this as a standard with their unlimited space and bandwidth packages, while some charge extra for this feature.

9. Money – Last but certainly not the least by any means, is the small matter of money. Price should NEVER be your top-most consideration or your priority, which is why I’ve listed it at the very end. When it comes to money, remember that you always get what you pay for. Some webhosts might offer you unlimited-everything and throw in a bunch of free goodies in the mix as well, all for a dollar-a-month. While it might seem like the bargain-of-the-decade, don’t fall for it. If it’s too good to be true, it probably is. Also check payment plans – monthly, quarterly, or annual plans. For starters, go with a 1 month plan to test the waters, and if you’re satisfied, go for a long-term contract which will almost certainly be cheaper than short-term plans.



Aug 12

10 Surefire Ways of Improving Your Blog’s PageRank

Google PageRank, or PR for short, is a mechanism developed of course by Google, which determines your blog’s authority, and its indexing frequency. It is measured on a scale of 0 to 10, with PR 0 being the lowest – assigned to new websites and blogs, and PR 10 being the highest – assigned to some of the biggest, most authoritative websites out there. This score is based on the number of websites that are linking to the page, and the quality (PR) of these links.

Therefore, a lot of SEOs use PR as a benchmark when determining a website’s ranking, however many industry specialists argue that it should never be exclusively used to determine the value of a page. This is mainly due to the sporadic nature of PageRank updates; it means that at any time, the PR value of a page might not be accurate since the PR is updated infrequently and its values might be outdated.

Another reason is that PR values are easy to manipulate and artificially augment, by simply purchasing high-PR backlinks. This would give the page a PR value larger than what it should probably have. However websites caught using such methods are at risk of being penalized and deindexed by Google.

PageRank also has absolutely nothing to do with your SERPs.

Nonetheless, the fact remains that PR is an important metric – it shows the authority and reputation of your page, and the number of inbound links that link to that page. If your website has a high PR, it means that a lot of high-PR sources are linking to it, indicative of the fact that you’re putting up valuable content on your blog.

A good PageRank also contributes to your website’s indexing frequency – high PR websites and blogs are re-indexed very regularly and new content is indexed within a matter of seconds, as compared to low-PR websites which Google doesn’t deem worthy of being crawled as frequently as high-PR ones.

PageRank should be used by webmasters as a metric to determine how well they’re doing in terms of their overall SEO strategies. For instance if the PR of a website continues to improve, you’re on track. If you’ve seen a dip in your PR, it might be time to reevaluate your SEO strategy.

Here are some of the best, Google-friendly ways of increasing your PR:

1. Compelling Content

Create unique content that is so good, so valuable and so absorbing, that it automatically urges people to link to it, and forces them to share it on their own blogs and websites, as well as on social mediums. Value is the key word here; your content should be valuable enough for others to like, share and link to. Writing such posts might automatically get you high-PR links. For instance one of my clients got linked by LifeHacker, as well as by the NYTimes.

2. Guest Posting

Along with posting comments (more below), guest posting is one of the best, natural ways of increasing your blog’s PR very quickly, and getting some valuable backlinks in the process. I recommend guest posting on blogs which have a high PR, get tons of traffic, have good visitor engagement (comments, social media shares, etc), and will be willing to give you a couple of do-follow links to your blog. Write interesting and high-quality guest posts, just like you would do for your own blog!

3. Blog Comments

A lot of blogs allow you to put (do-follow) links along with any comment that you post. CommentLuv, for instance is a popular comment plugin that rewards commenters for posting a comment with a do-follow link. Every time you post a comment, you get a free do-follow link to your blog. Do a Google search on CommentLuv enabled blogs for your niche (e.g. “CommentLuv enabled internet marketing blogs” for instance) and use to power of do-follow to your advantage. Remember to post good comments which add to the conversation, and never spam.

4. Directory Submitting

Another good way of getting some high PR backlinks is submitting your website to directories, such as DMOZ, Yahoo Directory, Business.com, Google Directory, and a whole host of others. Simply submitting your website on these directories gives you high-PR inbound links, and a boost to your own PR as well. Many directories offer free listing, however some charge a fee for it. Make sure that you review each directory’s guidelines before submitting, so that your application is not rejected.

5. Internal and External Links

All external links on your blog – links that direct your visitors to a page outside of your blog – should be no-follow. Do-follow external links simply pass away all your link juice to the external source. Internal links should ALWAYS be do-follow; internal links point to a page or post present inside your own blog, and hence internal links preserve and rotate link juice around your own blog. In short, the rule is simple: no-follow external links and do-follow internal links.

6. Social Bookmarks

Social media websites such as Twitter, G+, StumbleUpon, and of course Facebook give you a free backlink to your blog, as well as a constant stream of traffic. Make a separate page/profile for your blog, get people to like your page, or follow you, and share your content on your blog’s page, and on your own personal profile with your friends and followers on a regular basis. Some of the best social bookmarking websites, apart from the ones mentioned above, are Digg, StumbleUpon and Reddit.

7. Getting Linked from High-PR Websites

While you may or may not have a say in this, getting linked from high-PR sources will do your blog a world of good in terms of your own PageRank. In a way, this point is related to the first one; creating content that is so good that authority blogs link you. Getting even a single link from a PR8 source will give you a nice PR-boost, and quite possibly a ginormous amount of traffic! For instance if you’re a sports blogger, and you get a link from ESPN, it would give your blog a huge boost.

8. Quality, Relevance Matters

Don’t go link-crazy: posting links, leaving comments or participating in link exchanging programs wont do your blog any good at all, if those links aren’t of high-quality and are irrelevant. Relevance and quality is key; Google looks at the quality of the links instead of the quantity, and hence it is important (and much more beneficial) to get a few relevant links than a large number of random backlinks.

9. Forum Posting

This too works in a similar way to posting comments, and guest posting. Essentially, what you want to do is put a link to your blog in your signature, so that every time you post something on the forum, your link automatically accompanies your post. The more active you are, the more the exposure you get. Once again only post on relevant forums (relevant to the industry/niche your blog belongs to).

10. Patience

PageRank is heavily dependent upon the age of the domain. The older the domain, the better its PR will be. Be patient, create great content, spread the word on social media, enhance and strengthen elements of your off- and on-page SEO, and stay away from any and all blackhat SEO practices. With the passage of time, your PR will most definitely increase.



Aug 12

Things to Consider Before Buying a Website

A website is like an investment, it is important to evaluate each and every aspect that might affect your investment before taking the plunge.  A lot of people purchase websites that have a high amount of traffic (referral and organic), good page rank and a steady stream of ad earnings. While these factors might be important to the website’s health, there’s a lot more to it.

1. Traffic

One of the most important metrics when it comes to determining a website’s health and its well-being, traffic is the lifeline of every blog or website out there. It is one of the main things that need to be considered and evaluated when buying a website. Traffic should be targeted, as simply having a lot of traffic simply isn’t good enough. Targeted traffic is what really matters. Look at detailed traffic statistics of the website that you intend to purchase (including conversion rate, bounce rates and average time spent), preferably through an analytics suite such as Google Analytics. Never trust quotes or screenshots. Seeing is believing here, as numbers and images can be easily manipulated and greatly exaggerated.

2. Organic Traffic

While a website with thousands of visitors-per-week might be impressive, it is also important to break that figure down – especially in order to determine what proportion of that traffic is coming from organic sources. It is very easy to artificially blow traffic figures using paid sources of traffic, however this sort of traffic not an accurate indicator of the health of the website. If the website gets a very small portion of its traffic through search engines (aka. organically) or none at all, it may have been penalized or even banned by Google.

3. Page Rank

The jury’s still out on how effective a benchmark page rank really is, or if it should be given significance when it comes to your website’s standings. PR is determined by the amount of backlinks to your blog/website, and can hence also be manipulated easily by buying links to your website. However a lot of affiliates, people looking for paid reviews, and ad networks look at your website’s PR as one of the first things in order to determine its standing. Therefore that means that it is also important for you to check a website’s PR before buying it – the higher, the better. Some high-PR domains, for instance, sell for thousands of dollars!

4. Backlinks

Use a tool such as SEOMoz tool to check the website’s backlinks. Keep an eye out for irrelevant, suspicious or spammy backlinks. Check for natural and paid-for backlinks as well. A website which has natural, relevant backlinks in abundance would indicate that it’s content is freely shared on the internet, and will be a much better prospect. High-PR and authority backlinks would be absolutely invaluable, especially if they’re natural high-PR backlinks – this would speak volumes about the website’s content.

5. Social Metrics

Check for referral traffic coming on from the likes of Facebook, Twitter and the lot. If it’s a large proportion of the traffic, it means that not only is the website getting a healthy amount of page views off social mediums and driving inbound traffic through the likes of Facebook and Twitter, the content of the website is also being shared on these website. It also means that the website has been able to build valuable backlinks on social media websites – nofollow backlinks of course, but backlinks nonetheless.

6. Seller’s Reputation

Before getting into any deal and/or agreements, conduct a quick background check of the seller in order to avoid the prospect of any frauds. This is especially important if it’s a big-money, four or five-figure transaction. Check the seller’s history, especially if he’s sold any websites before and how those deals went.

7. Website Design

Website design is one of the most important considerations – a priority for many people out there. Make sure that the website doesn’t use a cheap or a free theme, and uses a premium theme framework that has been tweaked to perfection over the period. Otherwise you might need to invest in website design, and pay extra in order to purchase a good theme framework and for the design and development of the website. You can use this to negotiate the price, especially if the seller is asking for a lot of money.

8. Revenue

Last but most certainly not the least by any means, is the amount of money that the website earns. In my experience, this is something that will solely determine how much a website sells for – websites earning a few bucks tend to go for cheap, however website raking in thousand in ad money each month might even go for hundreds of thousands of dollars, maybe even more. Look at the revenue figures, click-through rates, and conversion rates for the last 6 or 12 months, and once again, be wary of doctored figures or screenshots – anyone with even the most basic Photoshop skills can expertly manipulate and fake these figures. Revenue through ads, affiliate marketing efforts and/or other sources will be the single-most important factor for a lot of buyers out there – it might even be a deal breaker.



Aug 12

6 Ways of Monetizing Your Blog

Blogging can be heaps of fun, and writing online – the ability to put your thoughts on paper and speak your mind – can be a very satisfying activity. Having said that, I’ve personally come across a lot of bloggers out there, who put making money online on top of their priority list. In my opinion this is the wrong approach to take. Making money online should never be your priority; it should be one of your priorities.

A large portion of bloggers out there have been able to monetize their blogs, and to great effect. Some are even making six-figure incomes through their blogs! It’s totally ok to earn an income off your blog. In fact, I encourage people to do it.

The ability to monetize your blog is one of the biggest advantages of having a self-hosted blog.

The good news is that there are literally tons of ways through which you can monetize your blog, and make a buck or two (or even much, much more) out of your blogging efforts. Here are some of the best ones. And just about any blogger out there can do it.

Here are a few ways on how you can monetize your blog effectively:

1. Advertisement Networks

Quite possibly, one of the best ways of monetizing your blog is through ad networks. The concept is pretty simple: you apply for ads, add a few lines of code to your website wherever you want the ads to appear, and the network does the rest by displaying the best ads for your keywords there. It is as simple as that, however there’s a catch.

Most ad networks pay by the click; visitors actually need to click on your ads in order for you to make a buck. This means that you need a large amount of traffic, as it will make it more likely for people to click on your ads. You also need to determine the best place for your ads on your blog – header, sidebar or someplace else.

Google AdSense remains one of the biggest ad network, by far. Almost every blog out there is using and making money off AdSense, although there are tons of alternatives available as well. Leave us a comment in the comments section below if you want to hear about some of the best AdSense alternatives.

2. Selling Advertisement Space

WordPress plugins such as WP125 allow you to put up a 125 x 125 pixel ad space on your blog. You can place this plugin anywhere on your blog, and sell ad space by putting up 125 x 125 ads on your website. Putting up such ads will allow you to earn a fixed amount of money – most likely anywhere between being enough to cover your hosting costs, to supplementing your income, depending on the sort of traffic levels your blog gets.

You can get in touch with bloggers, corporations and organizations in your niche about whether they would be interested in buying an ad on your blog.

With the passage of time, as you gain more authority in your niche, you might even see people interested in posting an ad on your blog get in touch with you.

3. Affiliate Marketing

Another very popular form of making money online, affiliate marketing is one of the simplest yet most effective ways of marketing out there.

Affiliate marketing requires you to sign up for an affiliate, and promote your affiliate’s products (or services) through your blog. Every sale made through your affiliate marketing efforts earns you a percentage of the sale. All you are responsible for is the marketing aspect of it – everything else is the responsibility of your affiliate.

Amazon’s Affiliate program remains one of the most popular affiliate marketing programs out there. You can choose a ton of products from the amazon store, choose literally any kind of product, advertise them on your blog, and each sale that you make though your marketing earns you money.

There are tons of other affiliate networks out there. Chances are both your hosting company and domain registration service have their own affiliate programs. All you have to do is put up a banner or a badge on your sidebar and every time someone signs up using your link, you earn money. Even the premium theme that you’re using would allow you to sign up as their affiliate. Clickbank is a popular Amazon Affiliate alternative.

As an authority bloggers, you can also promote other people’s products – such as those of fellow bloggers, marketers and developers.

With affiliate marketing, it is important to be knowledgeable about the product you’re promoting. It is important to that you use and like the products you’re promoting yourself. This will make your reviews more genuine and believable, convincing your readers to hit that ‘buy now’ button.

Reviews can be text-based, although the concept of video-based (Youtube) reviews is really catching on!

4. Sell a Product

Ebooks, a plugin, a premium theme, membership or subscriptions on your website, website development services… the sky’s the limit here!

ProBlogger, for instance has sold a ton of eBooks and there are a lot others out there selling books online. Not only can you put your eBook up for sale on your website, you can also put it up on Amazon, eBay and iTunes store. Write a good book, give out valuable information and market it like crazy; it could earn you a large sum of money.

Similarly, you could start selling WordPress plugins or widgets, premium membership or members-only access to your blog if your blog has content that is valuable-enough (eg. SEOMoz or BYOBWebsite). Alternatively, offer a service that you think you can marketing online, for a free of course. For instance a graphic designing service, or a Thesis Theme redesigning services. To quote The Joker from The Dark Knight, ‘if you’re good at something, never do it for free!’

5. Paid Reviews

Not only is doing paid reviews a great way to earn a bit, it can also get you some excellent freebies!

Essentially, you offer to do a review of a product or a service in your niche. Any interested parties allow you to ‘test drive’ their products, and it is important to be as thorough as possible here, in order to write a good comprehensive review. You get the word out and spread the word about said product or service, and are paid money to do so.

For instance many computer hardware firms send their latest and greatest to hardware review websites and blogs, and these websites do paid reviews for them, including performance benchmarks and the like.

Word-of-mouth marketing remains one of the most effective marketing techniques out there, and paid reviews leverages this form of marketing to great effect. If you have a blog which gets a lot of views each month, you can certainly give paid reviews a go. It’s a win-win for both parties that are involved.

6. Donations

Donations are the most effective when you’re providing a product or a service for free. For instance a lot of Google Chrome plugin developers ask for donations, since all plugins on the Chrome store are free to use.

While there is no harm in asking for money, it needs be done politely. Ask your readers to contribute whatever they can – even a dollar – if they find your products useful or find the content of your website useful. Anyone who values your work or the information that you provide will also be willing to help support you through donations.

Even Wikipedia asks for donations every year. And that’s the thing, people give them money. They raise thousands of dollars each year through donations, as people value the service that they’re providing.

The most common way of accepting donations (or any kind of money) online is PayPal. PayPal even allows you to place a donation button anywhere on your blog. Alternatively, you could ask your readers to buy you items off your Amazon wishlist, or just a cuppa coffee.

It is important however to not look like you’re begging for money.



Aug 12

5 Main Reasons Why Bloggers Fail

Creating a basic WordPress or Blogspot-based blog is about as easy as turning on the TV. Everyone’s a self-proclaimed ‘blogger’ today, and the blogosphere is a saturated place. The competition is tough – and it is this competition that often pushes people to excel, become popular and reach blogging nirvana. However serious competition also means that a vast majority of bloggers out there fail with their blogging efforts, losing motivation and abandoning their blogs or simply close-up shop. This usually happens when bloggers fail to be rewarded for their efforts (financially and otherwise).

Here are 5 of the biggest reasons why bloggers fail (and how it can all be avoided):

1. Lack of Quality Content

By far, the biggest reason when it comes to failing online, is failing to produce quality content. Remember that you can have the best looking, visually-appealing and the most attractive blog on the face of the internet, with strong on and off-page SEO, but all of it won’t matter one bit if you’re just putting poor content on your blog. Take a page from the book of any successful blog – they are putting high-quality, high-value and unique content on their blogs on a consistent basis. Here are a few ground-rules to follow when it comes to content:

  • Content should provide readers with value,
  • Content should be grammatically-correct,
  • Content should never be ‘spun’ or copied,
  • Content should be interesting to read,
  • Your thoughts should be well-organized and the content should reflect that,
  • Your content should be updated regularly.

My advice: always create content for people, not for search engines. Create content that has the tendency to be shared and the potential to go viral. Take your time when writing and write well.

2. Lack of Passion, Desire or Hunger to Blog

Another reason why bloggers fall flat on their face is because their own passion for blogging was borne out of seeing other bloggers ‘make a lot of money’, or get popular through blogging. They might have zero passion for blogging, but started their blog because everyone else was doing it, and they wanted in on the action too.

The sad reality is that many such bloggers are destined to fail. Blogging requires writing, and devoting a fair bit of time to your blog. Very few people out there have the natural desire and ability to do this.

3. Blogging Just for the Money

In addition to the second point above, most bloggers start blogging solely for the money. This is the wrong approach to take. The sad reality, once again, is that setting off with the sole purpose of making money off your blogging efforts means that you’ve started on the wrong foot. Yes, money can be ONE of the reasons that you start blogging, however it should never be the main reason, or the sole reason for that matter.

Instead the main aim should be providing readers with valuable content, and trying to establish yourself as an authority in your industry; an industry-leader if you will! Doing so takes time (years even!) but it sets up a base for you to make some money in the longer run.

4. Lack of Short/Long-term Goals

Lack of planning, lack of goals, and a careless approach almost guarantees failure. You simply cannot expect to be successful if you don’t have short-term and long-term goals. It means that you have failed to take your blogging efforts seriously, and if you don’t take your blogging seriously, no one will. It also sets you up for failure.

I personally recommend setting up goals – a list of things to achieve with a specific time frame. You should have short-term goals, such as getting to an x number of page-views daily, or writing at least 5 posts per week, and doing a well-researched, long post on the weekend. You could also have long-term goals – for instance getting to a 10,000 total views in 3 months, reaching 1000 unique page-views by the end of the year, and making at least an x amount of money after 2 years have passed… so on and so forth.

Setting goals provides you with vision, and a clear path to achieve those goals. Beginning with a set of goals sets you up for success!

5. Lack of Basic SEO Knowledge

You simply cannot hope to be successful if you chose to ignore SEO best-practices. First off, the ability to get organic traffic from search engines is necessary. Google, for instance, gets a massive 3 million unique queries every day. It is important to rank well for your keywords on Google, from a traffic perspective. Organic traffic is one of the largest sources of traffic and the best kind of traffic for any blogger, however in order to get organic traffic, you need to ensure that your on-page and off-site SEO elements are strong.

SEO is not just about optimizing your content for search engines – it is also important from a visitor’s perspective. To effectively market your content online, to humans, requires your SEO to be as strong as possible. For instance SEO best-practices require your blog to be easy to navigate and browse, and for your visitors (and search engine crawlers) to be able to browse your website easily. This can be accomplished through on-page optimization.

You don’t need to be an SEO expert, even the basic knowledge will get you through, however being completely SEO-averse will get you nowhere. 



Aug 12

Free Themes vs Premium Themes (with Pros and Cons)

Yes, the age-old debate of making the choice between free or premium themes for your shiny new blog. For a lot of people, this is not any easy decision to make by any means, mostly because there is plenty to choose from out there when it comes to blog themes. For instance WordPress’ very own free themes directory has thousands of free themes to choose from (1568 to be exact, and counting)! And that doesn’t even begin to take into account the plethora of premium or paid-for themes available out here.

Safe to say that you’re spoiled for choice!

Free Themes

Free themes, especially the ones hosted by WordPress itself, are great – they offer some visually attractive layouts for all kinds of blogs, suitable for every type of blog, and some of them even offer a great deal of flexibility and an impressive set of customization tools … all for nothing!

However the age old adage ‘there’s no such thing as a free meal’ applies here, as there are certain downfalls when it comes to using free WordPress themes.

For starters, free themes offer nowhere near the amount of customization as premium ones. For instance take the Thesis theme, which is widely regarded as one of the best premium themes on the WordPress platform and retails for around $87, and compare it with some of the best, most powerful free themes out there. I’m willing to put good money on the fact that Thesis will walk all over it in terms of customization options!

Then there’s the small matter of security. With free themes, there are always concerns about hidden or embedded code running in the background, often embedded to get backlinks. Often times, developers embed such code in (the footer of) free themes (which is why they’re able to offer these for nothing), and could potentially spam your website visitors. Not only is this adversative from a traffic point-of-view, it will also affect your blog’s load speed, and will most certainly have you penalized by Google, especially after Google’s Penguin update. Any attempts to remove the code will simply disable the theme.

Free themes also don’t lack any real support; since these themes are being offered for nothing, providing after-sales support is simply not on the priority of the theme-developers. Having said that, help and assistance can be sought by either paying for it, or via online communities, web forums or through Google.

Having said that, let me make it clear that I’m not trying to say that one should stay clear of all free themes. If you do your homework, free themes can be a great starting-point, especially for those on a budget. Besides, free themes such as those hosted on WordPress itself go through a rigorous review process before they’re uploaded, and hence might be much safer than those being offered by third parties, and hence might be of much better quality than these themes.

Pros of Free Themes

  • They cost absolutely nothing!
  • Perfect for the budget-conscious WordPress users.
  • Most of them can be used, modified and redistributed at will.
  • Free themes are usually backed by excellent community support (WordPress forums is a good example of this).
  • Free themes can be upgraded easily.
  • There are no compatibility issues, since free themes are built for the platform. Plugins work out-of-the-box.
  • Backward compatible with all versions of WordPress.

Cons of Free Themes

  • Lack of customization options.
  • Third-party solutions might be unreliable in terms of security.
  • May contain hidden code, which may spam your visitors and gives Google grounds to penalize you for spam.
  • Limited/unreliable support or no support at all.
  • Lack of SEO options.

Who Should Use Free Themes

  • Small business owners and new entrepreneurs
  • Personal bloggers and writers
  • Anyone looking to get started with their blog as quickly as possible without worrying about customizability.
  • Essentially anyone on a budget
  • Anyone who might want to wait before he starts making money to buy a premium theme.

Premium Themes

Premium themes are superior to free themes in almost each and every aspect – well, apart from the fact that you have to pay for them!

For starters, premium themes come with excellent customization and flexibility options aplenty. Themes such as the Thesis Framework, the Genesis Framework and Elegant Themes are perfect examples of this. You can design your website to look exactly how you want it to, tweaking and changing each and every aspect of the theme – from the main elements down to the smallest ones. You can easily and conveniently make your blog appear how you want it to, according to the kind of blog you’re running. For instance the Thesis Framework comes with a ‘hooks’ system, which lets you hook any element of the theme anywhere on the page.

You might want a customized interface if you’re running a sports blog, an affiliate marketing blog, a gossip blog or a personal blog. Go premium if you want these options. Also check this list of themes designed using the Thesis Framework, you might be (pleasantly) surprised to see some of the biggest names out there using Thesis – and to great effect too!

What I personally really like about Premium themes is their superiority when it comes to search engine optimization. Almost all premium themes are SEO-friendly, and offer a lot of optimization goodies out-of-the-box, without the need of any third party apps or widgets. It is therefore much easier to rank well on search engines (and get more traffic) with premium themes. For a list of features offered by premium themes, check Elegant Theme’s features page.

In addition, premium themes are not only Google-friendly, they’re extremely safe and secure from a security point-of-view, and since you actually pay for premium themes, you receive priority support in return.

However the fact is that all premium themes are paid-for. Some themes can be pretty expensive, the Thesis Framework for instance costs upwards of $150, and concerns remain that some developers might be overcharging for their work. However considering development costs, and the fact that you get after-sales support, better search engine compatibility and a much larger canvas for customization, I’d say it’s a fair price to pay.

Pros of Premium Themes

  • Excellent customizability with a ton of options
  • Include plenty of visual, layout and back-end customization options – including arranging/rearranging sidebars, changing colors, adding widgets, etc.
  • Search engine-friendly, come with a plethora of on-page SEO options.
  • After-sales support
  • Come with features not usually available in even the best free themes
  • Can be used with just about any kind of blog.
  • Offer better browsing experience from a visitor’s point-of-view, as premium themes have better navigation and search functionality built right into them.

Cons:

  • Price – budget-conscious bloggers might simply be priced out, or may not be willing to pay.
  • While premium themes might offer a lot more customization, all of it isn’t simple ‘drag-and-drop’ customization, users might require HTML or CSS knowledge.
  • Might come with unnecessary or unneeded features (bloatware).

Who Should Use Premium Themes

  • Professional bloggers
  • Business owners and entrepreneurs
  • Freelance photographers
  • Corporations, organizations and large multinationals.


Aug 12

4 Ideas for Creating Interesting Content

Content is key; it is one of the most important aspects of your SEO.

In fact, content is very much the king!

While creating quality content comes naturally to some, a large portion of the people out there struggle when it comes to this. And while it also depends on the industry you operate in, it becomes a much bigger issue when it comes to producing ‘interesting’ content for ‘boring’ niches like industrial or manufacturing industries.

Nonetheless, creating interesting, fresh, valuable, quality content on a consistent and regular basis can be an issue for even some of the best, most accomplished writers in the world.

Here are a few tips and pointers that you can use in order to create extremely interesting, click-worthy and read-worthy content:

1. Watch or monitor the news. There’s something happening somewhere in the world every second. In fact, by the time that you’re done reading this sentence, a lot of newsworthy events would’ve taken place already. Harness the power of the internet, social media, Google Trends, Twitter, Google Alerts and RSS to keep a track of trends, news-worthy items, breaking news, latest developments, insight scoop, and other interesting events and happenings from all over the world. Every time someone newsworthy or interesting happens in the world, it provides you an opportunity to craft an interesting post. Be it the newest Youtube viral video that’s making the rounds, an update on NASA’s Curiosity Rover landing on Mars, Google’s search engine update or updates from an Apple iPhone 5 keynote – write a post on it.

2. Do an interview. For instance interview someone who is an authority figure in your niche, or a famous blogger, a celebrity or sports person, a famous or well-known person, someone who’s used your products and can give you an endorsement, or anyone who you think is interesting and who you might have access to. Send them an email or call them up to schedule an interview. If you cannot physically access these people, do so over Skype. Make a list of interesting questions you’d want to ask them beforehand, and ask your blog readers and Twitter followers if they’d want you to ask any questions. Interviews are a great way of creating a lot of interest and buzz, and engaging your readers and followers in the process as well.

3. Concentrate on solving people’s problems. ‘How-To’, ‘Tips On’, or advice-centric posts generally tend to do really well. Try to solve the problems of your readers by providing them access to information that they might need; things that would be genuinely helpful, and things that will make the lives of your readers easy. Go with topics like ‘ 10 Sure-fire Ways of Losing Weight,’ ‘The Importance of Strong On-Page Optimization’, or ‘How To Deal with Annoying Sales Calls’. Giving your readers help, advice or assistance – making their life easier in any form whatsoever – has the potential to get you a lot of traffic. Just make sure its related to your niche, and that you have enough authority and knowledge on the subject.

4. Stir up some controversy. Being controversial in your posts can get you a lot of traffic. Contradict with a popular viewpoint, or say something unexpected which totally goes against the sentiments of everyone else.  At the same time, it is important to (a) not be an internet-troll, (b) never attack a human being personally, (c) not be insensitive to other’s feelings, views and beliefs, and (d) not be rude, vulgar, blasphemous or downright offensive. It is important to draw the line. Being controversial will allow you to provide an alternate point-of-view and give your readers an opportunity to look at things from a completely different (opposing) perspective. However be prepared for the backlash!



Aug 12

How to Create a Successful Landing Page

The Importance of Conversions

The purpose of all SEO and marketing campaigns is said to be able to get on top of the SERP in order to generate the maximum amount of traffic or the highest number of visitors. But what purpose does ranking on top of Google serve? What is the reason that search engine optimizers and marketers focus their efforts on generating as much traffic as possible? The answer is simple: to generate as much revenue as possible.

Money comes from conversions – every time a visitor makes a ‘purchase’ on your website, it’s a conversion. A ‘purchase’ can be anything – from signing up for your mailing list, registering for a webinar, ‘liking’ your Facebook page, buying a product on your website, or clicking on an advertisement on your blog.

The amount of people you successfully convert, divided by your total number of visitors represents the percentage of your conversions. If, for instance 4 out of every 80 people respond to your CTA, or buy a plugin off your website, you have a 5% conversion success rate.

Therefore the ability to get a large amount of traffic is one thing, however SEOs and IMs need to focus their efforts on successfully converting that traffic.

Landing Pages Explained

If you intend on ‘converting’ the people on your website, you’ll need to have a page on your website specifically built for this purpose. That is where a landing page comes in.

A well-designed, purpose-built landing page makes the process of completing a transaction extremely easy for the visitor. It gives your visitors access to information that they might need in one place, and above all, it makes it simple, quick and straightforward to capture their information and close the deal.

In short, a well-designed landing page will greatly enhance your conversion rates (whatever your ‘conversion’ might be). You cannot force someone to buy a premium membership on your website, or sign up for your weekly newsletter, but you can optimize your landing page in order to tempt them into doing so. Here’s how:

1.  Relevance

Relevance in important; the keywords that you’re ranking for, the emails that you sent that link to your landing page, your products and services, it should all be relevant to the content of your landing page.

For instance if you’re trying to rank for the keywords ‘best free theme for WordPress,’ your landing page should not take your visitors to a ‘SEO consultancy’ page.

Relevant content increases clicks, enhances sales and puts more money in your pocket. Rank for the correct (read: relevant) keywords, and make sure that visitors always end up on your landing page when they look up the keywords that you’re ranking for.

2. Design

The design of your landing page will make it or break it for you. Outlook.com, and Dropbox are two examples of great landing pages: they keep it simple, they have a clear CTA and provide a visitor with all relevant information (without overwhelming him) instantly.

Refer to this Unbounce link on some beautifully designed Landing Pages.

As the article states in the beginning, what all of them have in common is that (a) they instantly make the purpose of page crystal-clear, (b) they have a prominent, clear CTA, (c) they are visually optimized for conversions (text, colors, etc), (d) they collect information through forms, which aren’t very long either, (e) all information is kept as short and to-the-point as possible and presented in bullets, and (f) they make use of a combination of text and graphics to make the page as visually-attractive as possible.

3. Speak to your Visitors

Speak to your visitors by giving them only the most relevant and important information (important to them!) on the landing page. The single thing that your visitors really care about is how your product or service can benefit them – how signing up for newsletter can make their life better, how getting a pro membership on your website will be of value to them, or how buying the weight loss product advertised on your blog will benefit them. Anything else is irrelevant information to them.

Tweaking your language slightly by writing in second person could have a profound effect on your visitors. Speak directly to your visitors by using words like ‘you’ or ‘you are’; doing so will allow you to interact and appeal with your visitors.

4. Simple Path

Remember that the sole purpose of your SEO efforts is maximizing revenues and money. For this purpose, the path that you want them to take should (a) be simple, (b) be straightforward, without too many interruptions, and (c) involve as less steps towards completion as possible.

Remember that the aim is to close the deal, and have a visitor successfully finish the transaction, without any interruptions and in as less time as possible. This is precisely why a lot of websites keep their ‘blogs’ entirely separate from other parts of their website, it reduces the amount of irrelevant information and clutter. It forces a visitor to focus on completing the transaction, and not browse/surf your website.

5. Keepin’ it Short

I’ve spoken about keeping your copy as short and precise as possible a couple of times now. Personally, I recommend keeping your CTA and all important information above the fold. Don’t unnecessarily have your visitors scroll down to find the ‘sign up’ button or find information that would help them in closing the deal, as this greatly reduces your chances of converting them.

I also recommend writing in bullets, and using as many graphics as your possibly can. Graphics are naturally more eye-catching than text, and because ‘pictures are worth a 1000 letters’, will provide your readers with a lot more information than plain old text.

Don’t go into writing large walls of text telling people how great your company is or a list of your long term goals on your landing page; Keep that stuff on another page. Design your landing page so the information on it can be easily scanned-through by a potential customer.

6. Privacy

If you intend on collecting private information, make sure that you include a link to the privacy policy. A lot of visitors might be reluctant when it comes to giving you their personal information (and rightly so), so it is necessary to be able to take them in confidence and reassuring them that any information that they provide is safe, protected and will not be, provided to, shared with or sold to any third parties whatsoever.

7. Testing

Okay, so you have this fancy landing page that looks stunning, shows up for the correct keywords, has a great CTA, provides all the necessary information that is required to close down the deal, and does so very quickly through the use of a form. But it would not only be a bummer if that form’s broken, or if your sign-up button leads people to a 404, it would also mean that you fail to convert people successfully, losing out on sales.

Needless to say, make sure that you test things out thoroughly before the page goes live.

8. Optimize with time

Optimize and enhance your landing page with the passage of time. Use analytics suite (such as the infamous and extremely capable Google Analytics) to monitor and track your progress, and tweak different elements of your landing page in order to increase conversions and enhance the performance of your page. Use analytics with A/B testing in order to determine what works best for you.

Good luck with creating a kickass landing page!



Aug 12

How to Increase Your Mailing List and Email Subscriptions Substantially

Any blogger, SEO or marketer would be well aware of the importance, and power of a strong mailing list, and building a base of subscribers through the power of email.

You could choose to promote your content through many other mediums – social media in particular. You could even have a large base of subscribers who receive your updates through RSS. You could even be getting a ton of traffic via Google and other search engines. But the fact is that you need to be focusing your efforts on building a sizeable email list that grows with the passage of time.

Email lists have some of the highest success rates in terms of clicks (CTR), inbound traffic and sales/revenue. This is simply due to the fact that traffic generated through email lists is extremely targeted – only people who are highly interested in your products and services will willingly give out their email address to you.

Remember that these people have voluntarily opted-in to hear from you. You are getting laser-targeted traffic, simply by taking a few seconds and sending a single email to hundreds of thousands of people!

Here are a few things you can do in order to substantially accelerate the growth of your email list … starting now!

1. It all about the looks! You may not know it, not realize it or may not want to admit it, but looks matter. Your website interface matters a lot more than you might think! Give your blog that much-needed interface overhaul, because the simple fact is that if your website looks good, not only will it attract more visitors but it’ll also urge people to subscribe to you.

2. Make your opt-in/subscription form as visible as possible. You want your readers and visitors to be able to see it wherever they might land or whichever page they might be on, on your blog. I recommend adding a widgetized header above your content which shows up on all pages of your blog. If that is not possible (if the theme you’re using doesn’t allow for it), simply put it on the sidebar of your blog. Whatever you do, avoid using one of those annoying pop-up style optins.

3. Optimize your optins for conversions. This includes placement and visibility, as discussed in the point above, as well as adding that extra bit of something to the optin forms to grab your visitor’s attention. Be creative with the text; try going for something other than the redundant ‘subscribe to my email updates’ – try something like ‘get our awesome updates by entering your email here’, or ‘subscribe below to get free tips right in your inbox!’. Use a totally different color scheme for your optin box than the rest of your website. However don’t use overtly-annoying or flashy colors, arrows or the like. Keep it classy!

4. Put epic, subscribe-worthy content on your blog. Your content should speak for itself when it comes to why people should subscribe to your blog. It should be a big enough reason for people to give you their email address. Concentrate on providing your readers with the best possible content, spend time creating and crafting your posts, and put up valuable and quality content that not only gets a lot of traffic, it is also shared by many people over Facebook, Twitter, G+ and the like. This involves coming up with catchy, attention-grabbing titles, a kickass opening and of course a grammatically and factually correct, informative and an interesting prose! Besides, Google too loves great content, so it’ll be like killing two birds with one stone!

4. Integrate your optin/subscription page with other pages of your blog – particularly the about page. Whether you realize it or not, the about page is one of the most important pages on your blog. All new visitors will almost always check your about page and this is why you need to integrate your optin with your about. Keep all information simple and straightforward, tell people about your blog and who you are, and add an optin form after every paragraph.

5. Give something to your subscribers in return. This is a sure-shot way of doubling, maybe even tripling your subscriber base within a short period of time! For instance most of the SEO and IM blogs usually give away free eBooks on generating traffic, or a free evaluation copy of their best plugin. Give your readers something of real value, something that they’d want, and something they’d probably have to pay good money for to get otherwise. From their perspective, it will be a big motivator for them to subscribe to you because everyone like a free meal right? From your perspective, you might be giving stuff away for free, but think of it as an investment for the future – you’re getting legitimate email IDs and the power to get in touch with people whenever you want, a massive selling tool for the future in itself!