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Designing a Custom WordPress Theme – Working with a Designer

Today, Amir Helzer from WPML (WordPress Multilingual) shares his experience building a custom WordPress theme.

When you’re designing your blog all sorts of options are open to you – starting with a free theme (that you can later edit), through a premium customizable theme (like Thesis or Revolution2) and ending with a custom theme, created just for your site.

In January, Web Designer Matt Brett talked here about how to redesign a blog (and part 2). These posts covered the design goals, functionality and implementation. I’d like to talk about the process of working with the designer – the person who’s going to create your theme.

If you’re thinking about getting a custom theme, following these steps can make the process shorter, more productive and more enjoyable for both you and the designer.

1) State what you need and define the scope of the work

We’ll start with a list of everything that we need from this design:

A WordPress theme – sounds obvious, but you don’t want the designer to supply you just the PSD files, or a HTML file that you can turn into a theme yourself, right? Specify which version of WordPress you’re going to use it with.

Logo – a professionally designed logo can be expensive by itself, so make sure it’s included. When you ask for a logo, remember that you’ll also want to use it in printed material (like business cards or in magazines). This means asking for a high resolution version of your logo with transparent background.

Copyright – make sure it’s crystal clear that you have full copyright and exclusivity. This implies that the designer cannot use anything that violates the rights of others.

The discussion about copyright should clearly mention back-links. Web designers often give away free themes in exchange for credit links. If you want to link back to your designer’s site, that’s great, but you should decide that. You can instruct the designer to get your approval for any outgoing link placed in the theme.

Testing – ask the designers to supply a preview of your theme on their server. Normally, you can’t test their work on your live site. You might need to supply contents for this, or just do with the standard Lorem Ipsum.

2) WordPress theme basics – which elements to ask for

WordPress is evolving and theme design is more than just putting HTML in pages. You need to specify what kind of functionality you expect to get from your website.

List everything that you know you need. Here is what I told my designer when we started:

My design should include:

  • Front page
  • ‘Regular’ internal pages – for general purpose texts.
  • ‘Features’ internal pages – these pages should have a unique template that lets me highlight special features.
  • Posts (with threaded comments)
  • Category pages
  • Search

The design should have site-wide navigation including top tabs with drop-down menus, breadcrumbs trail navigation and context-dependent sidebar navigation. There should also be room reserved for the language switcher (inside the header).

The sidebar should be widget ready. Comments in posts and pages must support threading. Every page in the website must be HTML clean (pass HTML validation).

This list doesn’t tell the designer how I want the site to look, it just lists which things I need. Since she was doing a redesign for an existing site, I didn’t need to explain much about the contents for each page. If you’re getting a theme for a new site, there’s more explaining to do.

3) Prototypes come before the design

Even though you’ve chosen great designers, they’re not mind-readers. Ask the designer to provide prototypes before building any HTML or coding the theme. This way, you can approve the design concept before too much work has been put into it.

A prototype is normally delivered as an image (JPEG or PNG). During your work on the prototype, you need to take care of all the design issues. This includes the color scheme, look and feel, layout and content arrangement.

When you’ve accepted the prototype, know that this is how your site will appear. There’s not much room for design changes later on in the process. The designer’s job changes from design to implementation.

4) Payment and delivery terms

Last, but not least, before the project kicks off, you should agree on both payment and delivery terms.

Design work is not like building a railroad. You can’t pay per mile. However, there are some checkpoint on the way:

  • Prototype / wireframe design
  • Working draft
  • Completed and polished design

Both you and the designer would feel better if payment is split per delivery. You can make an initial payment, release payment when each milestone is met and the final payment is left for when the work completes and is fully reviewed.

Ready to begin your custom theme design? Here’s a quick checklist of what we talked about:

  1. Project overview
  2. Detailed scope of work
  3. Payment and delivery terms

In the next part of this post (tomorrow), we’ll talk about how to help the design go smoothly and make sure you’re getting everything you asked for.

This post was written by Amir Helzer, founder of WPML, a mega-plugin that aims to turn WordPress into a fully featured multilingual content management system.

Chitika Mega Units – Publishers Reporting Massive Increases in Earnings

Chitika (the #2 way that I make money blogging) have come out with a handy new ad unit option for publishers wanting to monetize traffic arriving on their blog from search engines – the ‘mega unit’ premium ad unit.

This ad unit is a 550×255 pixel sized ad – it’s not small but their testing has shown some pretty impressive results with publishers reporting big increases in earnings as a result of using this rather than their smaller ad units.

Here’s how the mega ad unit looks:

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How do Chitika Premium Ad Units Work?

  • As with all of Chitika’s ‘Premium’ ad unit range these ads only show to US/Canadian readers arriving on your site as a result of a search on Google or one of the other search engines.
  • If the reader is a loyal reader that is coming from your RSS feed or another site OR they are a reader from outside the US/Canada they won’t see them (note: there is an option to have an alternative ad shown for non search traffic if you wish but I don’t choose this option and have the ad collapse and not show at all).
  • The ads showing on the unit relate to the search that the person arriving on your site is doing – this significantly increases the chance that they’ll find the ad relevant to them and click the ad.
  • The ads can be customized to have different colors and fonts.
  • Chitika’s testing finds that this ad unit is converting best if you slot it above your content (as you’d expect) or below content (above or below comments would work). Remember this is only showing to search engine visitors so an aggressive ad placement won’t annoy loyal readers.
  • If this mega ad unit is too big or the wrong shape for you – Chitika’s premium ad units come in a large range of other sizes. You can see the add unit size options here (you can also check out what kinds of ads will show for different search terms on that page also).

How do they perform?

I have only started testing this new mega unit sized ad on my blog but have had a lot of success with other sizes of premium ad units for a long time now – I fully expect to see some great results with the larger ad unit.

I have a smaller ad unit showing on my photography blog above posts and have added a mega unit below posts to see how they perform.

What I particularly like about the premium ad units is that unlike previous Chitika ad units these convert on sites of all kinds of topics. Their previous ad units were very much suited to product/gadget related sites – but these ad units are converting for all kinds of sites and topics.

In a newsletter that Chitika sent to their publishers today they are reporting some fairly amazing results from other publishers who have been testing this ad unit. Here’s a screenshot (my highlighting):

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I’m sure results will vary from site to site but at the very least I think they’re an option to be testing if you’re looking to make money from your blog.

If you’re not a part of the Chitika ad network yet – sign up here today and give them a go for yourself.

Be Consistent and Useful – Thoughts on How Often to Publish on Your Blog

In the last task of our 31 Days to Build a Better Blog challenge I encouraged bloggers to set up a plan for the next steps in their blog. As an example I set up a hypothetical Blogging Calendar with an activity for each day of the next month. Here it is again (click to enlarge):

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The calendar was only ever supposed to be a hypothetical one (although a few bloggers have adopted it) but one of the pieces of feedback I had from numerous bloggers was that they felt they’d never be able to keep up with the type of posting frequency that they saw outlined on that plan.

How Often Should You Post to Your Blog?

The question of blog posting frequency is one that I see bloggers grappling with a lot. I’ve written a couple of pages on the topic in the ProBlogger book but let me touch on it again here.

There’s no ‘Rules’ when it comes to Post Frequency

Every blog is different and will be able to sustain different levels of posting. A variety of factors come into play (including):

  • Bloggers Available Time and Energy – depending upon your situation you might only have 15 minutes a day to blog or could have hours up your sleeve.
  • Style and Length of Writing – if the majority of your posts are ‘link posts’ where you’re linking to breaking news with short posts then you can probably get through more posts per day than a blog with more in depth original thought type articles.
  • Topic – blogs on topics with lots of breaking news or wide scopes of topics will need to post more frequently to be taken seriously as a source of information on those topics.
  • Reader Demographics and Thirst for Content – some blogs seem to attract readers who either have a thirst for a lot or a little content each day. Readers can burn out on too much content – watch out for their reaction to you upping your post frequency.
  • Source of Traffic – some blogs get the vast majority of traffic from search engines while others are much more about building loyal readers. Those with loyal readers will probably need to consider post frequency more than those with search traffic as if they post too much they run the risk of alienating readers. On the flip side, if your blog is largely visited by search engine readers a higher rate of posting can work in your favor as each post creates a new entry point into your blog.
  • Reader Participation – if you have a blog with a high rate of reader participation (eg. in comments) then you may find that as you increase your rate of posting that the amount of reader interaction decreases as readers have less time to interact before content falls off the front page.

My main advice on posting frequency is to be consistent and keep the quality of your posts as high as possible.

There are successful blogs who post 20 times a day and others that are lucky to post 20 times a year – any level of post CAN work.

The problems tend to occur for bloggers when they either

  1. change their frequency (by either suddenly upping their frequency drastically or disappearing completely)
  2. or when the posting frequency begins to impact the quality of the posts

Develop a rhythm of posting that readers will become accustomed to and that you are able to sustain. If that means you post 10 useful posts a day and readers love what you’re doing then that’s fantastic. If that means you post one high quality and thought provoking post a week that gives readers something meaty to think about then that’s great too.

Further Reading: What is the Ideal Post Frequency for a Blog?

Should I Add a Donation Button to My Blog?

Donate.jpgA question that hits my inbox or is sent to me on Twitter from time to time is – ‘Should I Add a Donation Button to My Blog?

When I first started blogging 7 years back it was not uncommon to see bloggers attempting to add an income stream to their blog with some kind of a donation button or invitation on their blog. Often these buttons were tied to a PayPal account that enabled the readers of the blog to send the blogger a little money as a thank you and/or as an encouragement to keep blogging.

Many bloggers tried the reader donation model as a way to make money from blogging but few made it work.

Example of Someone Who Made it Work (For a While)

One of the few who was able to sustain himself completely via donations was Jason Kottke who in 2005 famously quit his job to focus upon his blog solely funded by the generosity of his readers (see his supporter list for 2005 as an example of the large numbers of gifts he received).

His model was simple and worked to at least some level – one month a year he called for people to become micropatrons – he limited these calls for donations to a week long campaign so as not to overdo it with readers over a full year. You can read some reflections on how it went in the first year here – he actually did make enough from the donations to keep his income to a level he could live off but in his reflections admitted that it might not be a feasible model in the long term.

Jason proved that it was possible to make a living from your blog solely on the back of reader gifts – but it is worth noting that these days he has sold advertising on his blog (via the Deck) since 2006 and in his RSS feed.

I’m not completely sure of the reason that Jason switched his model to an ad based one back in 2006 but in chatting to quite a few other bloggers who went down the donation model route I suspect it was a pretty difficult model to sustain – even for a blog with large traffic like Kottke.

Can Donation Buttons Work?

So in answering this question of whether donations ‘can’ work on a blog I guess we’d have to answer with a ‘yes’ – at least in theory. However the reality is that they are not likely to work on the vast majority of blogs.

If they were to work I suspect the blog would have to have some or all of these factors:

  1. a very large readership – a small % will always be willing to donate but to get enough to live off you’d need a large readership
  2. a very loyal readership – obsessed readers who simply couldn’t live without the blog who were willing to dip into their own pockets to keep it running. Of course to get this high loyalty you need to provide readers with something that they can’t live without whether that be some kind of service or fulfillment of a need of some kind.
  3. no other forms of income – I think sites with lots of other income streams (advertising, affiliate programs) would be likely to see a decreased chance of readers contributing as there would be a perception that the blog was already making money

Donations as a supplementary Income

So making a living solely from donations is not likely unless you have a lot of raving fans – but this doesn’t mean it is a model with no merit at all. I do know of a couple of bloggers who are using it as a secondary income source. They know they’ll not make a lot of money from it but are still able to supplement their other non blogging income streams with the donations that their blog brings in.

One of those bloggers just uses a PayPal donations button and another uses a ‘Buy me a Beer’ WordPress plugin under their posts. Neither sees big money but both are happy to let this help earn them some extra dollars instead of running advertising on their blogs.

Adding Value to Supporters

Let me finish by saying that one way that I think donations could work for some bloggers is if they gave extra value to those who made donations. Whether this be by giving away a free ebook with donations, allowing donators to be listed somewhere, giving them larger avatars and a signature in their comments….. etc. This is a model that I’ve seen quite a few forums use successfully. It’s not purely a donation in that the person paying gets something in return but it is a low cost way for those using the site to give something back but also get something to acknowledge their gift.

Have you Ever Asked for or Received Donations on your Blog?

Got some experience to share on this topic? I’d love to hear your story of asking for and/or getting donations on your blog in comments below.

How Not to Promote Your Blog: Top 10 Broken Blog Promotion Strategies

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Image by nickwheeleroz

This is a guest post by Kevin Geary from This is Broken Blog, a blog exposing important things in our daily lives that are broken and need to be fixed. It’s entertainment and education. Come visit us to see more of what’s broken (and even submit your own ideas).

For every great blog promotion strategy, there are five that suck. Really suck. They suck so bad that using them can get you blacklisted by real bloggers, ignored by annoyed readers, unfollowed on Twitter, and possibly placed on the terrorist watch list.

Being successful is not just about doing the right things. Avoiding the wrong things is just as important. Nobody wants to take two steps forward and three steps back; especially in blogging where success is few and far between, often takes a long time to become successful, and has a gigantic Dip.

If you’re to have any chance at success, you need to protect your blog from yourself. Protect it from your lust for quick success, your desire to become a ProBlogger in six months, and your general blogging ignorance (if you’re new).

10 Blog Promotion Strategies to Avoid at all Costs

1. Leaving “great post” comments on other blogs.

One of the best ways to get readers to your blog early on is to leave comments on other blogs. Of course, there’s a right and wrong way to go about this. Here is an example of a good and bad comment, using ProBlogger’s comment section as an example.

Patrick O’Keefe recently wrote a guest post on ProBlogger titled “Enhance and Grow Your Online Community Through Appreciation“. Here are two comments from that post:

Shane wrote:

Very good post, thank you for writing it.

Baker Wrote:

I saw this first hand, but really I stumbled into it unintentionally. I put up a bumbling video of myself thanking everyone for allowing me to have over 6400+ visits in my first full month blogging. The video wasn’t great quality or presentation, but people realized it was very genuine and I received several comments and e-mails. Again, I wasn’t out to really benefit like this, but I realized a side benefit from my regular reader’s really connecting with the video. Thanks again for 31DBBB, it helped me so much in having a great start!

Shane, you’re comment is broken. Obviously, you got one of the top 3 spots (which drives a lot of traffic on a successful blog like ProBlogger). But where’s the sincerity? Where’s the realness? It’s a fake comment meant to do one thing, drive traffic. It’s a waste of everyone’s time and it’s a big no no.

Baker did it right.

When you leave comments on other blogs, remember these three things: sincere, relevant, and valuable.

2. Emailing random blog authors and asking them to link to one of your posts.

I made this mistake early in my blogging career. Needless to say, I got a lot of hate mail in return.

You never get a second chance to make a first impression. If your first impression is a spam-looking (no matter how good your intentions are) email to a random blog author trying to get them to link to your posts, you’re not going to make any friends.

Instead, find a way to add value to their blog and engage them with that in mind. They call it “link love” for a reason. Very few time-tested bloggers have sex on the first date. Build relationships slowly over time and you’re in like Flynn.

3. Asking random blog authors for a link exchange.

This goes along with number 2. Usually new bloggers will write to other bloggers and try to get them to place a link to their site in their blogroll in exchange for a link back. It’s a good way to build pagerank and get recognition, especially if you’re in the blogroll of a highly trafficked site.

But what’s a blogroll for? It’s to help readers find other quality sites on the same topic. Insincere link swapping devalues the goal of a blogroll.

Again, build that relationship. Add value. You get rewarded for being genuine, not for being hyperfocused on getting traffic.

4. Making Twitter all about you and your blog.

Twitter is a great way to drive traffic to your site. Darren recognized that early and started TwiTip, a site that gives you tips on using Twitter effectively. Unfortunately, as Twitter gets more mainstream it’s going to lose value. That’s just the nature of free networking and exposure.

Twitter is my third highest source of traffic and I don’t have all that many followers. What I do have is important followers. Relevant followers. And I only follow relevant people who I actually care to hear from. That’s what Twitter was designed for. That’s what makes Twitter effective.

The people who are breaking Twitter (yes, it’s being torn down in terms of value as we speak) are the ones who use it to promote only themselves and only their blog. They’ll throw a retweet out there every once in a while and join in on a #followfriday session, but that’s about it. Their main goal is to drive traffic without adding any value. And who can blame them? It’s free and easy.

Let me give you a tip. Free and easy asks for abuse. Abuse is a great short term strategy. So is eating donuts for energy. But what happens when you get a big sugar spike? Crash. If you abuse Twitter and Facebook and others you’re going to crash as soon as people catch on to your antics. Shamless self-promotion on Twitter and social networking sites is a horrible long term strategy.

5. Joining forums simply for promotion.

See point number 4.

Forums are a great way to drive traffic to your site if you do it right. Don’t be a broken forum user. Put a tasteful link to your site in your signature and then make it your mission to interact the way the forum was designed. Be on the forum for the benefit of others and to further your own education, not to promote your blog. If you add value (see the trend), you’ll get the traffic.

6. Submitting all your posts to social media sites.

Are you a social media spammer? Do you have 70 social media buttons below your posts? Do you submit every post to most of them? It’s cheesy. Again, things that are free and easy get abused. It’s your job not to abuse them. Write great content and you’ll get recognized in time. If you force it, you’ll get recognized as the spammer you are and you can kiss success bye bye.

Instead, join the three most relevant social media sites and work to build value. Promote 10 times as much of other people’s material as you do your own. And don’t forget: sincere, relevant, and valuable.

7. Writing for search engines.

I want you to achieve the top spot on Google. Really, I do. But as a reader, I’m hungry for good content that’s sincere, smooth, and easily ingestible. Your keyword soup gives me the runs, in like, I run far away very fast.

If you write for the search engines and not for your readers, you’re going to get the top spot in Google. You’re going to get a lot of traffic and your adsense revenue is going to be great. But you’ll never have a great blog. You’ll never have a dedicated tribe of readers. You’ll never be a respected resource.

Search engine spiders aren’t going to give you good word of mouth. Neither are the strangers that find you on google who visit you once, hate your content, and leave.

Good content can and should be keyword dense. The trick is to do it without making my head spin. Copyblogger will teach you how it’s done.

8. Loading your site up with badges to all the social media communities you joined overnight.

Have you ever been to a blog that has a sidebar full of social media and social networking profile links? They’re on just about everything. On top of that, they throw in a big mybloglog widget and an entrecard widget.

You can be a jack of all social media sites, but you’ll end up being a master of none. Besides that, it’s just a bunch of clutter to your readers. Google beat out Yahoo because Google was simple and Yahoo was hectic. Do you want your readers to focus on the content or to focus on everything BUT the content?

Zen Habits is the master of simple. You have no choice but to read his content because there’s nothing else to do. And look at his subscriber count. Take a hint. There’s no way you can add value to a hundred social media profiles. Be selective and go for clean.

9. Copying someone else’s style or idea.

The easiest way to look creative is to not be creative at all. There’s enough creative out there that you can just copy and paste and people will probably never be the wiser.

And I’m not talking about lifting content from other blogs. That should be an obvious no-no. What I’m talking about is finding a successful blog and copying their overall style and even parts of their design. If I look like them, I’ll have their success. No, you won’t. You can never be more original than the original. Think about how that affects readers…

If they like the original, they’ll stick with the original. If they don’t like the original, they’re not going to go for a copy cat. You lose both ways. When you copy what your competitors are doing, you ensure that you’ll never pick up any market share.

If you want to be the best, you have to stand out. Figure out what everyone in your niche is doing and do the opposite.

10. Using search engine auto-submitters.

Have you seen these things? Get your site indexed on 50000000000000 search engines instantly!

This isn’t particularly bad, it’s just a waste of time and money. It’s not necessary. The only search enginge you need to target is Google and getting your site indexed is free and easy.

Use Google’s Webmaster Tools, get a sitemap plugin, write great titles and great content, and get “link love” by building relationships and adding value to other people’s projects. That’s all you have to do to own Google search. Throw the gimmicks out the window and focus on sincere, relevant, and valuable.

I know there are more broken strategies out there. I had fun talking about the top 10. Now I want you to expose more of them in the comments section. Let’s see how many we can come up with. Go.

Interview with Blogs.mu founder James Farmer

blogs.mu.pngEarlier today I posted about a fantastic new service by the name of Blogs.mu – a service that enables you to set up your own blog network. Now I’d like to post a quick interview with James Farmer – co founder of Incsub, the team behind Blogs.mu and the company that runs the WordPress MU hub WPMU DEV and the industry news blog WPMU.org. He’s also the founder of Edublogs.org. He (like me) is based in Melbourne, Australia.

He caught up with me over email last week to talk about Incsub’s brand new offering: Blogs.mu.

So what’s the difference between, say, Blogs.mu and WordPress.com?

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Well, the main difference is that at Blogs.mu you become the blog provider, and you have a huge amount of flexibility and functionality that you just won’t get anywhere else.

It’s like WordPress.com in a box really, only better! Once you’re up and running you can create and host as many blogs as you want, at your own domain.

You’ve been able to do this for a while using WordPress MU but that’s been pretty hard as you need to setup hosting, run installation, download and configure themes and plugins etc.

Now though, we do that all for you… and you are free to grow your blog network or community in whatever niche you like – and, of course, run your own advertising!

It’s white label blog networks if you will… kinda like Ning.com for blogging.

So, you say users can run their own advertising, how does that work?

Blogs.mu Supporters (starting from 5 cents per blog per month) can run their own advertising across the entire network just by dropping in any ad code – it’s simple and very effective (or at least we like to think that!)

Every blog theme has 4 ad ‘spots’: under the post title and above the content, under the content and above the comments and at the top of each sidebar – as well as across a footer slot, for running JS contextual ads like Kontera or similar.

And you can set display rules for your ads too – like ‘only show them to IE browsers’ or ‘only show them to search engine visitors’ so you can make money like WordPress.com too… without annoying your users.

So what’s with the MU, are you big in Mauritius?

Heh, very funny, the MU actually stands for MultiUser – as in WordPress MU – also known as WPMU. We love the platform and have been on it from the start – one our WPMU Sites (Edublogs) is older than WordPress.com by 3 weeks… so we know what we’re doing.

And yeh, we did the obvious as well and setup WP.MU too – it’s an installation service for people who do want to get down and dirty with the guts of it all.

So we hope we’re covering every base!

And how do you think Problogger readers could best use Blogs.mu?

Well, I’m hoping there are a heap of ways that established and aspiring probloggers could use Blogs.mu. First up, if you’ve got an active community then this is a great way to get them writing in your space (you could even configure your site to a subdomain of your existing site!)

Another way would be that it’s a really affordable and powerful way to run your own 10 or so blog network.

Either way there are tons of advertising opportunities – and we’re looking into incorporating eCommerce, membership subscriptions, ‘pay to blog’ features and more pretty shortly.

Also, we’ve got some forums up and running for existing and prospective users (it’s completely free to join) at forums.blogs.mu so if any of your readers would like us to consider or build in specific features – we’d love to hear from them!

Check out Blogs.mu for yourself.

Start Your Own Blog Network or Community with Blogs.mu

blogs.mu.pngIf you’ve ever dreamed of running your own blog network but have been put off by the idea of setting it up and managing it you you’re not alone. As someone who has co-founded blog networks I understand the challenges.

It is for that reason that I’m really excited about a brand new service that has just launched – Blogs.mu.

Blogs.mu is essentially your own blog network in a box. It allows you to set up your own WordPress.com type community using the powerful WordPress Multi User platform – this opens up many possibilities both for existing and new bloggers.

There’s a lot to be said about Blogs.mu so I’ll let you peruse their site to learn whether it fits with your needs but a few highlights include:

  • Let your readers start blogs or just limit it to starting your own on sub domains
  • Run advertising on it
  • Using it on your own domain
  • Lots of Themes built in
  • Plugins pre installed
  • Import previous blogs into Blogs.mu
  • Support forums

The service is free with loads of features but you get extra capabilities and unlock some of the above features (and others) by becoming a Blogs.mu supporter. Support packs start out at $9 a month for a 10 blog pack.

Blogs.mu has been developed by Inscub – a team with a heap of experience using WordPress MU who have helped set up and run some massive WPMU blog networks. I’ll have an interview with James Farmer from Inscub later today to talk more about Blogs.mu – but in the mean time it might be well worth your time to sign up and reserve your Blogs.mu community name and preferred url before someone else does.


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What Blog Platform Do You Use Most?

This is a poll I run two years ago – I’ll be interested to see how (and if) the results differ. I’ve removed the least popular categories from last time and added an ‘other’ option. If you’ choose ‘other’ please let us know what blog platform you run in comments below.

If you have more than one blog and more than one platform running them choose your most used platform.

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What Blog Platform Do You Use Most?
View Results


Looking forward to seeing what your responses are.

Why You Need a (Blogging) Business Model

Today Shaun Connell from Learn Financial Planning shares some thoughts about blog business models.

After managing a website or blog for a significant period of time, it becomes extremely easy to assume that because we do our business online, that we aren’t engaging in ‘real’ business, and all of the ‘real’ principles of business don’t apply. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

You need a (blogging) business model.

This post explains why you need to actually write out your own business plan – even if you’re ‘just’ running an online business. Without a specific business model, you’re chances of success are greatly diminished.

But first, let’s dig a little deeper before we talk specifically about blogging. Let’s look at the fundamentals of science, business, economics and the Universe itself.

How the Universe Works

The most important concept I’ve ever read about was explained in a book by Richard Maybury, a popular author, investor and economist. In his book, Maybury explained that the world operates in terms of what he called ‘models’, or systems.

There’s the solar system, the system of natural selection, the system of economics, the systems of business – everything operates in terms of a system. Everything from door knobs, to atoms, to TVs, to Wal Mart – there’s a system to everything.

Maybury explained if you want to accomplish a certain goal, the most important thing you can learn is how the systems operate, and implement them for yourself. Timothy Ferris has taken this to the extreme, deconstructing everything from learning a language, to wrestling, to building a business based on logical system.

I know, I know — the word “system” is often used by scammers to lend credibility to a get-rich-quick program. Feel free to think the word “plan” instead of “system” and we’ll both be on the same page.

In the same way the ‘system’ of a motor has fuel, a framework, pistons, etc – a typical business model has funding, a location, employees, etc. You’re blogging model will need content, marketing and monetization — a system.

Everything operates systematically. Everything.

Why Bloggers Often Fail

Let’s face it: most bloggers fail to earn a full-time income. Some spend literally years trying to make it. The statistics are “against” blogging success.

But it’s not because of a lack of information. Yaro, Darren, Brian and dozens of other successful people have poured their guts into free content and relatively inexpensive courses, explaining the ins-and-outs of building a successful blog.

Success certainly isn’t distant because of a lack of data.

But raw data is useless unless we know what to do with it.

A business is a business, whether it’s on a blog or in a ‘brick and mortar’ building. Blogging without a general business plan is akin to trying to start a ‘regular’ business without a plan. Success is possible, but much, much less likely.

How to Get a Blogging Model

A business “model” is basically just a plan — a roadmap that details every step and action you take in your business that leads to the end result of a profit.

There are dozens of popular ways to turn a profit online, with models based on affiliate marketing, pay-per-click advertising, search-engine marketing, social media marketing, etc. Most blogs mix-and-match the various tactics into a model they are most comfortable with.

As you write your own model, make sure to be as specific as possible without being restrictive. Here are some of the concepts your model will need to consider:

  • Content Model. Who will write your content? How often will your content be published? What’s the purpose of every article? Will you do straight-up blogging, or a little bit of traditional webmastering? Will you be doing “open-ended blogging” without an “end date” for your content to be roughly finished? Will you accept guest posts?
  • Marketing Model. Almost all traffic is good, but what kind will you focus on? Will you build links? Will you pay for ads? Will you write guest posts? Will you spend a majority of your time doing keyword research? Will you focus on social media?
  • Monetization Model. Some “gurus” claim the need to focus on content now, and think about monetization later. That’s risky, and for many small niches it’s a little naive. Will you use AdSense? What affiliate programs will you focus on? How will you get visitors from your “regular posts” to your money-making posts? Will you focus your web design on usability?

These questions are just the beginning. Most of us have a general idea of what the answers to these questions are, but putting them into concrete form helps “seal the deal” and gives us tangible steps to take in order to achieve our goals to make money.

Last Thoughts

Being a beginner blogger without a blogging plan is like learning to cook without using any recipes – success is possible, but not probable.

I’m not saying you should restrict yourself into a little box — that’d be counter-productive for obvious reasons. A good blogging model doesn’t restrict you, but allows you to focus on the important steps you need to take to achieve your blogging goals. That’s it.

This isn’t revolutionary material, and has been explained in literature from the Bible, to business textbooks, to self-growth books like “Think and Grow Rich.”

So what’s your blogging model? Have you ever spent a few moments to write down what your goals are? What your marketing strategy is? Any tips on writing a blogging plan that you’d like to share? Let us know in the comments.

This post was written by Shaun Connell, the webmaster of Learn Financial Planning, where he writes about everything from picking a savings account to learning how to make money online.