Close
Close

How to Nurture Your Creativity

This guest post is by Ali Luke, from The Creativity Toolbox.

How creative are you? A lot of bloggers feel that they’re not very creative people. Perhaps they come from a technical background. Perhaps they’ve never picked up a paintbrush in their life, and think that means they’re not creative. Perhaps they see creativity as something for other people.

The truth is, if you’re blogging—or even planning a blog—then you’re already much more creative than a lot of folks.
As a blogger, you’re not just creating content (though that’s the biggest area where you’ll be exercising your creative muscles).

Right from the start, you’re also creating:

  • the brand for your blog
  • your business plan and blogging strategy.

And if you’re bootstrapping your blog (almost all of us are, when we start out), you may well be creating:

  • your logo and site header
  • the look and feel of your blog (the fonts and colors you choose, for instance).

If you’re a little further along with blogging, you’ll be looking at creating extras like:

  • a regular email newsletter
  • ebooks
  • audio programs
  • physical books
  • membership content.

All that involves a lot of focused thinking, hard work, and a few sparks of inspiration.

Why creativity is so important for bloggers

When you visit a new blog, what encourages you to stick around? I’d guess it’s the quality of the content and the overall design.

If the posts are original and well-written, the blog looks good, and the topics fit together, then you’ll probably read on.

But if the posts comprise scrappy content, or long quotes from other people’s blogs, you’ll be gone within seconds. If the blog’s design looks like something from 1995, you probably won’t stay long. And if there’s no sense of cohesion—no plan or brand—then even if the content is good, you’ll probably not want to read yet another post about that cute thing the blogger’s cat did.

Your blog will succeed or fail on the strength of your creativity.

Blogs start to fail when bloggers:

  • get burnt out and carry on posting substandard content out of a sense of obligation
  • get tired and just post links to other people’s content
  • get bored and stop posting for weeks on end.

You don’t have to be wacky and weird in your creativity. It’s fine if your style is quite straight-laced, or casual and laid back, rather than humorous. You don’t have to have a complex metaphor or a really neat hook for every single post.

But you do need to create. Which means crafting your blog posts, not dashing them off. It takes energy, focus and dedication.

How to be creative—all the time

A lot of the folks I talk to seem a bit scared of creativity. They’re convinced that it’s something mystical or magical, like a bolt of lightning from the heavens.

The reality is that we’re all naturally creative. Not convinced? Think about your dreams: we’re all capable of making up wonderful stories and vivid pictures in our minds.

It’s important, though, to nurture your creativity—especially as you go further and further with your blogging. You might well feel hugely excited and motivated when you’re getting started with your blog, only to gradually lose that sense of inspiration and run out of steam. There’s nothing wrong with you—you just haven’t been focused on keeping your creativity bubbling away.

Write on topics you care about

This is crucial for me, and for many of the bloggers I talk to. You’ll find it tough to write consistently on a topic which bores you.

Sure, celebrity blogs might be big business. But if you couldn’t care less who’s sleeping with whom, then you’re better off writing about something else. Comic books, fine art, food, personal finance—whatever interests you.

If you’ve got a blog on a topic in which you’ve lost interest, see if you can find a particular angle that gives you a way back in. Maybe you’re fed up with writing about the technical specifications of the latest gadgets, but you could easily create a series on the innovative use of technology in the developing world.

Keeping learning more

Whenever I go to a conference, like BlogWorld, I come back with a bunch of ideas. There’s something invigorating about learning new things—and it often gets me back into a creative mood if I’ve been in a bit of a rut.

Of course, you don’t need to go to conferences to learn (though if you can make it to South by South West or BlogWorld, they’re well worth the investment). There’s a huge amount of learning material available for bloggers, including:

I’d suggest setting aside one hour, twice a week, just for learning. That might mean listening to an audio program, reading a section of an ebook, or browsing through blog archives. Use a notebook or blank document on your computer to jot down your thoughts.

Write down all your ideas

Ever had a great idea when you were out walking, on the bus, or watching TV?

Often, ideas don’t crop up when you’re at your computer. They’re sparked off by something which you see or do, and they pop into your head at the oddest moments.

It’s so easy for those ideas to slip away, or to end up half-remembered. If you’ve got a notebook in your bag, you can just scribble them down—you may even find yourself outlining a whole blog post or an entirely new strategy.

In fact, any time that you’re fleshing out an idea, try writing it down. It’s often easier to think things through when you start to put them into a physical form, rather than trying to hold everything in your head.

Don’t force yourself to create

Some days, you don’t want to sit down at the computer and write. But you drag yourself there anyway. You open up a document and stare at it for a bit. You resist the urge to check email, or play on Twitter.

You make yourself write.

You think you’re doing the right thing—after all, isn’t this what all the productivity experts would advise?
So after a couple of miserable hours, when you’ve finally managed a half-hearted post, you shove it onto your blog and go and do something fun.

You don’t get as many comments as usual. You don’t get retweets or links. And the next day, you feel even more fed up. But you sit down to write anyway…

I’m hoping you can see why this is a mistake. Creativity isn’t something you can force. Sure, you can probably apply a bit of self-discipline when you need to get the dishes done or clear your emails—but writing blog posts takes energy, and a certain amount of enthusiasm.

A number of the bloggers I talked to at BlogWorld said that they’d rather not write a post at all if they’re really not inspired—and I agree with them.

Don’t force yourself to create. Give yourself a regular time and place to write, but if you’re really not in the mood, take a break and do something else instead.

When you need inspiration

Sometimes, you’re keen to write, but you’re just not sure where to start. You want to write a blog post, or come up with an ebook outline, or get a brilliant headline for your latest piece—but that creative spark needs lighting first.

Here are four easy ways to find that inspiration.

Start with an image

If you use images for your posts, you probably write the post first and choose the image afterwards, right?

When you’re stuck, head over to Flickr, looking for a great image, then write the post to go with it.

As soon as you start looking at an image, your brain will begin to make connections and see possibilities. The picture you choose doesn’t have to have any obvious relationship to your blog’s niche—in fact, a seemingly-unconnected image will usually work best for sparking your creativity.

Brainstorm on paper

Staring at a blank Word document or the text box in WordPress?

Grab a piece of paper and a pen, and start jotting down ideas. If you’ve no clue where to begin, write down your blog’s name or topic in the center, or use your list of categories.

Don’t judge your ideas at this stage—write them all down, however unoriginal or boring they might seem. You’ll find that the ideas start flowing after a few minutes, and often a weak idea can lead to a great one.

Read news articles in your area

This works better for some niches than others, but often a news report can bring you a new idea. If you’re writing about health and fitness, you might look into some of the latest scientific research. If you cover techy topics, there’ll always be something new to write about.

Even evergreen content can be inspired by a news article. A report on average happiness levels, for instance, could lead to a thoughtful post on why we’re less happy today than in the past—despite generally having a better quality of life than people living 50 years ago.

Do something else entirely

When you’re waiting for an idea to develop, try getting away from your computer. Go for a walk, take a shower, tidy your office—anything that doesn’t require much mental effort. The thoughts you’ve been playing around with will continue to develop, and you’ll often find that a great idea comes effortlessly into your mind.

Just don’t forget your notebook so you can write it down…

What could you do, today, to bring the best of your creativity to your blogging?

Along with Thursday Bram, Ali Luke created The Creativity Toolbox—a set of three action-focused guides and seven powerful interviews with creative practitioners and experts. Want a huge creativity boost? Check it out…

Count Your Mobile Device Traffic

Last week, I talked about how I’ve been experimenting with monetizing mobile traffic using the WPTouch mobile theme and AdSense.

Another great feature of WPTouch is that it allows you to post metrics code into the the ads, so you get a true picture of how many people are viewing your site not only on the normal theme, but also on the mobile one.

I’ve been using WPTouch for a number of months now, but I’d never added Google Analytics code to it. As a result I was undercounting visitors to my site.

A few days back, I added Google Analytics code to my WPTouch theme, and was amazed to see just how many of our viewers are viewing the site using that theme. Following is a chart of mobile device viewers accessing Digital Photography School. Up until I added the Analytics code, it was only counting mobile device users who were using the normal dPS theme—it wasn’t counting those using WPTouch.

Since I added the code, the stats skyrocketed from an average of 700 a day to around 4000 a day! That means about 5% of the blog’s readers now view it on mobile devices.

mobile-traffic.png

Again, this isn’t an increase in actual traffic: it’s just a more accurate count. But it’s worth noting that if you are using a mobile version of your site, you should pick a theme that you can measure.

Personal Blogging in the 2010s

This guest post is by Karen Andrews of Miscellaneous Mum.

Personal blogging has changed a lot in the last two years. Some writers now run blogs or social media campaigns to extend their profiles for current (and future) readers; some bloggers are using their reach to find or be offered writing work.

The line between ‘writing’ and ‘blogging’ is blurring, which is terrific, but can also be confusing. I know this first-hand. So today I’m going to share with you some points I try to keep foremost in mind. Maybe they’ll help you too.

Making money is possible, but prepare for tough decisions

Here’s a description: you’ve built up a pretty healthy traffic flow, or a solid RSS subscriber count. Long before that, you signed up to an ad network, thinking that by this stage the money would be steadily coming in … except it’s not.

You think about selling private ad spaces, but worry that would be a turn-off for your audience. You’re hesitant about doing sponsored or affiliate-related posts for the same reason. And as for all those opportunities out there in waiting, the longer you’re stuck, the harder they seem to be to grab.

Does this scenario sound familiar? Well, I’ve got a message of hope for the personal bloggers out there. You have one thing on your side. You’re making decisions that matter every day. Here are just a few: how much or little do I reveal about myself or my family? What are some ways I can frame or contextualize a story for effect? What is the best response I can give if I’m challenged about an issue?

What’s needed to answer those questions? Integrity. Look into that part of yourself when asking yourself how far you’re willing to go to make money from your blog. The answer is often there waiting.

Making sure ‘I’ am enough

Here’s another description: you’re chatting to a friend who also blogs, but does so in more traffic-heavy niches (such as entertainment and technologies). You compare the time you spend and your blogging tactics, and are roughly doing it the same way. The difference is that your friend’s site’s hits are triple yours. You start to feel discouraged.

Does this sound familiar? My message this time is a little more sobering. Yes, it can be hard, but this is the time when you need to decide if you are enough. Does it really matter if your traffic isn’t like so-and-so’s? Perhaps your ambitions can be channeled differently, or your goals need redefining.

It never hurts to stop, take a step back, and see what personal bloggers have achieved in recent years. People who live with or are affected by mental or medical challenges, for example, have been able to raise their voices to advocate the networks which support them and are, in turn, worth being supported by others.

Personal blogging isn’t easy—you might be surprised how many other people feel the same way. This is why meetups and conferences are so important: they create opportunities for open discussion and learning among like-minded peers. It’s also worth remembering that your blog will go through its ups and downs, just as all lives do.

If you’re struggling, perhaps take a day—or a week—off to clear your mind and refocus. It might make the difference between two or three mediocre posts or one terrific one. It might make the difference between quitting or sticking it out. At these times we need to take care of ourselves. We’re all worth looking after.

Karen Andrews is an author, publisher, speaker and blogger at Miscellaneous Mum.

How Article Frames Show Readers a Clearer Content Picture

Consider these two ideas: tennis and your lounge room. These ideas appear disparate. Tennis? My lounge room? So what? Put a Nintendo Wii into the picture. Now you have a frame—or context—for the two ideas. Within the frame provided by the Nintendo Wii, tennis in your lounge room makes sense.

A frame is a great way to communicate information. In journalism, it’s called a hook, or story angle. In marketing, the frame is provided by a product’s unique selling proposition. And a frame is something that bloggers can use to immediately draw users in and keep them reading.

Image by stock.xchng user pale

A frame is what makes the difference between the headline “Three things bloggers should consider in writing a post” and a headline that reads, “Blood, Sweat and Tears: Writing Advice I Learned the Hard Way.”

A frame is what makes the difference between an unfocused collection of disparate thoughts about setting up a home gym, and a post whose clear structure takes the reader on a journey through your experience setting up your own home gym.

A frame is what gives readers a reason to read: it promises a deliverable or outcome that you can highlight in your headline, promise in your teaser or opening paragraph, and shape your entire piece around. It lets your readers know what they’re getting—and how they can fit that information into their existing knowledge bank—before they even click the link to the full blog post for the complete picture.

As you can see, context—a frame—is an incredibly valuable tool for the blogger.

How does it work?

How can you put a frame around a basic idea that you’ve had for a post? Different authors take different approaches, but here are a few of the most common that I know of.

Headline first

Some authors choose to write a headline first, then use it to frame their content. They might know they have a content gap in their blog—say, on the basics of birthday cake decoration—and they might write a snappy headline first: “Dragons to Dragsters: Breathtaking Birthday Cake Ideas”, for example.

Then they’ll plan the article around that theme. Perhaps they’ll have a section on organic-shaped cakes, and one on cakes that look like man-made objects. Perhaps they’ll shape the post for different age brackets, starting with the dragon for young children’s birthdays, and working through different possibilities, arriving at the dragster cake last, for adults.

As you can see from this example, a headline can offer a number of possibilities for framing your article. It can provide a great starting point for a frame.

Topic first

Sometimes, the topic itself will offer you a frame for the content. Writing a post on your favorite golf courses? Why not make your list contain either nine or 18 courses, to reflect the number of holes in a game?

Perhaps your post on mixing the perfect Martini could be structured to reflect the steps in the process: icing the glass, rinsing it with vermouth, preparing the garnish, and so on. Or perhaps you’ll shape it around quotes about Martinis from celebrities, books, or movies.

Clearly, the topic of your post can provide you with a plethora of hooks or angles. Don’t just go for the most obvious ones: though. Sometimes, it’s the least-common aspect of a topic that provides fresh ground, and a new perspective for writers. Instead of reviewing the latest sci-fi flick like every other film blogger, you might choose the aspect you felt was the best in the movie—perhaps the soundtrack, or the cast—and use that as the viewpoint from which to review the film.

Content first

This is usually the approach I use: I write the content, the process of which gives me a few ideas for angles. Then I select the one that I feel is the strongest, and reshape my post around it.

It may sound like double-handling, but the way I see it, I’ll have to edit the post anyway, so the review is no big deal. Also, the hook I choose is usually the one that’s been made clearest by the content I’ve written, so the post usually already leans in the direction in which I want to take it.

As I write this post, it’s now that I’m beginning to think, “Okay, I know what I’ve said here. What angles can I see?” I’ve got three options in this list, so I could use the number three in my title. I’ve also talked a lot about hooks and frames; I could pick up on that theme in my title, calling the piece something like “How an Article Frame Gives Readers a Clearer Picture”. That works well with the picture reference I used in the post’s opening. I’ve used the word “context” a lot, but it’d be easy to change those references to “frame” to fit this angle.

Alternatively, I could work with the hook angle, changing my opening to talk about grabbing readers’ attention, and reeling them in with the bobbing lure of a promised post deliverable. I could call the article something like “Land Readers Like a Pro Using Catchy Article Hooks”.

Again, this is a fairly open-ended approach—the options are many, but because you already have your content drafted, they’re not quite as unlimited as they may seem when you’re starting with a headline or a broad topic. I find this approach gives a bit more direction than the others. That said, it’s important to take care to work your context into the post very well, so that it’s seamlessly integrated, and cohesive with the rest of the content you’ve prepared.

Not just posts

A content frame doesn’t have applications in posts or articles. You can just as easily and effectively use it to create a strong selling point for other information products: ebooks, reports, tutorial series, email newsletters, and so on.

Examples? 31 Days to Build a Better Blog is a great one. This content could simply have been pitched to readers as a list of essential tips, or master-blogger’s secrets. But as concepts that clearly identify reader deliverables, those options are pretty hazy.

31 Days to Build a Better Blog, on the other hand, says what the reader will get. The content is structured accordingly. Readers know what to expect, and they receive it. That leads to customer satisfaction, and builds Darren’s reputation for honesty and integrity in the process.

See how beneficial a good frame can be for matching your content to your readers? How serious are you about framing your content? Do you do it often? What tips can you share?

FeelGooder: the Backstory Behind My Newest Blog

Earlier this week I launched a new blog: FeelGooder. This post will give some of the backstory behind it (expect another one next week with more).

feelgooder.png

What? Another blog? Are you crazy?

One of the most common reactions I get when I mention that I’m starting a new blog is something along the lines of, “How are you going to fit that in?”

Two months ago I wrote about the process I’d gone through to hire Georgina Laidlaw to work on content development and strategy for me. One of the reasons I expanded my team in this way was to create for myself some head space to dream and develop new projects.

You’ve already seen some of these rolled out (the Free Getting Started Blogging course (with over 5000 participants already) and the soon-to-be-released ProBlogger Academy).

I can’t tell you how much I’ve enjoyed having a little extra head space over the last month to dream. It’s led to all kinds of ideas, collaborations, and opportunities (as well as a little more life balance). It’s been one of the best things I’ve done in the last few years of blogging.

Another long-term goal that I’ve had is to run a blog on a much wider niche than my previous blogging endeavors. FeelGooder is that blog.

What is FeelGooder?

Let me start by saying that what you see of FeelGooder today is very much a stage one of where I’m hoping it’ll go. I’ve described what we’ve done so far as a “soft launch” but perhaps a better description would be that it’s FeelGooder v0.1 (beta), and that my hope is for it to expand well beyond what you see on it today.

As I describe in the Welcome to FeelGooder post a couple of days ago, the blog’s focus is pretty wide. In some ways it’s niche is Life (how much broader could you get?). It’s a bit of a departure from my previous blogs, which were quite focused (on topics like Blog Tips, Photography, and Twitter).

I’m under no allusions that such a broad niche will be easy, but this is something I’ve always wanted to do—partly because it connects with where I’m at personally, partly because of my own values and passions, and partly … just to see if I can pull it off.

The goal is to produce daily posts that are a mix of information (tips, guides, help), inspiration (stories, uplifting, and hope-filled articles), and interaction that will help people better experience the richness of their lives.

The blog will initially focus upon five topics:

  1. Health: fitness, diet, emotional well being, and more
  2. Relationships: family, friendship, romance, etc.
  3. Work: careers, entrepreneurship, and developing skills for the workplace
  4. Finance: tips and stories to help look after the hip pocket
  5. Social Good: sustainable living, generosity, and making the world a better place.

In time, these topics will expand (and I would like to see some of them splinter off into more targeted topics, too).

What’s the business model?

Another departure for me with FeelGooder is that I’m launching it without any type of advertising. That’s not the model I want to use here (at least, not initially).

Long-term ProBlogger readers will know that my focus of late has moved a little to incorporate monetizing my blogs by developing my own products. I’m not giving the ad game away, but I see growing opportunities in the development of products (so far this has been around ebooks, courses, and membership sites).

FeelGooder is a bit of an experiment for me on this front, and I intend to develop a series of FeelGooder products to monetize the site. I’m not completely closed off to the idea of other forms of monetization (including advertising) down the track, but at least initially I’d like to experiment elsewhere.

Having said that, monetization is not my main focus at this point. My initial focus is more around:

  1. developing quality content
  2. building an audience
  3. building community.

In my experience, monetization comes more easily once you’ve got those other three elements in place. So while I’m certainly thinking about monetization and the possibilities that might emerge there, I’m not currently putting a great deal of energy into that.

What do you want to know?

I hope that sharing some of the backstory behind this project has been of interest to you. Next week I’d like to continue looking at this case study by talking a little about some of the logistical elements of the site, including the design process, some of the thinking behind the editorial strategy, and some of the lessons I’ve learned.

I’d also be happy to answer as many other questions as I can about my strategy and the processes I’m going through with FeelGooder. So if you’ve got anything you’d like me to cover, please leave a comment below and I’ll attempt to get through as many of them as I possibly can.

How to Ajaxify Your WordPress Site

This guest post is by Jeff Starr, co-author of the book Digging into WordPress.

Injecting a dose of Ajax into your WordPress-powered site is an excellent way to enhance functionality and streamline the user experience. Without touching a line of code, you can harness the power of Ajax to boost performance, improve usability, and fill your site with win.

Ajax enables your web pages to respond very quickly and smoothly to user input by loading only snippets of data instead of the entire page. The WordPress login/registration screen is a perfect example. Without Ajax, logging into the WordPress Admin requires a URL redirection and complete page load. With Ajax, users can log in from anywhere with no redirection or page load required. This translates into a more luxurious, sophisticated experience for you and your users.

Beyond the “coolness” factor, Ajax can also improve the responsiveness and performance of your site. Instead of loading new pages to leave comments, view posts, and share content, Ajax empowers users to interact with your site with greater intimacy and efficiency than ever before. By eliminating page loads, Ajax helps to save valuable server resources and bandwidth, resulting in improved performance for your site. And you can “ajaxify” just about anything: from logins and comments to navigation and updates, Ajax can speed things up, save resources, and make your site better than ever.

WordPress + Ajax = Awesome

Using WordPress, implementing Ajax functionality couldn’t be easier. By installing and configuring a few choice plugins, you can ajaxify your entire site (or any part of it) without touching a single line of code. The trick is choosing only the best plugins for your site, and only what’s needed. There are a zillion Ajax plugins available, but only a handful of them really work as advertised (or at all). Let’s check out some of the best WordPress plugins for adding Ajax to your site from within the comfort of the WordPress Admin.

Ajax plugins for WordPress comments

A majority of the Ajax plugins listed in the Plugin Directory are aimed at improving the commenting system. Here are five of the best plug-n-play Ajax plugins for your WordPress comments area:

  • WP-Comment-Master: Put simply, WP-Comment-Master ajaxifies the entire commenting system: comment display, comment paging, comment submission, and posting. It features a great Settings page for easy integration and configuration and is definitely one of the best Ajax-comment plugins available.
  • iF AJAX Comments For WordPress: Another excellent plugin for ajaxifying the comment-submission process. iF AJAX Comments enables users to preview and post their comments without refreshing the page. It includes a ton of options for fine-tuning required fields, CSS styling, status messages, and more. It also features a host whitelist for tighter security.
  • AJAX Comment Page: AJAX Comment Page is a nice little plugin that ajaxifies the display of your comments with a fancy slide-in effect. It works great for paged or unpaged comments and includes a simple Settings page to control the number of comments per page.
  • Ajax Comment Preview: So far, this is the best plugin I’ve found for true comment previews. Ajax Comment Preview enables your users to see exactly what their comments will look like when submitted. This plugin uses Ajax to send the preview through WordPress’ “inner voodoo” and then instantly display the results. The plugin features a nice Settings page to control functionality and integrate the comment preview with your design.
  • AJAX Report Comments: One of my favorite Ajax plugins, Ajax Report Comments enables your visitors to report inappropriate comments with a single click. The Admin page includes basic settings and an email template. This plugin offers truly tight functionality and amust-have for sites with tons of user comments.

Ajax plugins for user login and registration

Ajax can literally revolutionize the user login/registration/lost-password experience. Instead of requiring multiple clicks and page loads to log into the Admin, here are three plugins that ajaxify the entire process into a single click.

  • Login With Ajax: Login With Ajax is a popular, well-ranked plugin (it has over 45K downloads). It enables users to log in, register, and recover lost passwords from the sidebar (via widget) or anywhere in your theme (via the login_with_ajax() template tag). It features a great Settings page with role-specific redirects and custom registration email templates.
  • iRedlof Ajax Login: Much more than a login widget, iRedlof Ajax Login adds a complete user dashboard to the top of the screen. The dashboard is pre-styled and includes complete login functionality as well as links to random posts and admin menus personalized to each user according to their role. Downsides: there’s no Settings page, and you need to add updateHeader() to your theme template.
  • AJAX Login Widget++: Another good plugin for Ajax-powered login, registration, and password functionality, this one also features login redirect. The login form can be placed in your sidebar with a widget, or anywhere else with add_ajax_login_widget().

Ajax plugins for the WordPress Admin area

On the other side of WordPress, the Admin area is another excellent place to enjoy the smooth and sophisticated comforts of Ajax. Unfortunately there aren’t quite as many Ajax-based Admin plugins to choose from, but here two that are both fun and useful.

  • Ajax Plugin Helper: It’s simple: save time while keeping up with WordPress plugin updates. Ajax Plugin Helper lets you activate, deactivate, delete, and upgrade plugins without leaving the Plugins page. Very smooth stuff, and there’s even an “Upgrade All” feature for knocking out multiple upgrades with a single click! Nice.
  • Admin Ajax Note: Ever wish you could leave notes and stuff for other admin users? Admin Ajax Note makes it easy with an Ajax-powered notepad in the upper-right corner of the Admin area. Create, edit, and delete as many notes as you want, and share with all users, one user, or none. Good stuff.

These two plugins are great, but it would awesome to add more to the list. If you know of any sweet Ajax Admin plugins, please share them in the comments!

Ajax plugins for other cool stuff

Here are some other keen plugins for ajaxifying different parts of your WordPress site:

  • DynamicWP Contact Form: The DynamicWP Contact Form puts a floating Contact button on the upper-left side of the page. Click the button and the dynamic contact form slides into view. Messages are sent via Ajax to keep the user on the same page throughout the process. Snazzy indeed, but the styling is distinct and may need to be tweaked to fit your design.
  • AJAX Calendar: An ajaxified version of the classic WordPress calendar, AJAX Calendar enables you to browse the months without reloading the page. It features a link to display all posts for the current month, as well as a caching option to enhance performance. If you’re already using the classic WP calendar, this plugin is highly recommended.
  • Ajax Category Posts Dropdown: This plugin is perfect for sites with lots of subcategories. Ajax Category Posts Dropdown lists your categories in a dropdown box. When a user clicks on a category, all posts from that category are displayed via Ajax. Easily display the list in your sidebar via widget, or anywhere in your theme via the acpd_display($acdp_title) template tag.

Ajax plugins to ajaxify everything

One of the coolest things to ajaxify is your WordPress navigation, so that when users click to the next post, it’s loaded instantly and on the same page, without a reload. Here are two awesome plugins that use Ajax to load posts, pages, comments, and archives to basically ajaxify all default functionality on the public side of your WordPress site.

As with any plugin that greatly modifies WordPress, these plugins involve a lot of options. You’ll need to spend some time to understand and configure them properly. Most of the other plugins mentioned so far are plug-n-play, but Ajax-everything plugins like these require some time to familiarize and customize.

SEO considerations for ajaxed content

As you ajaxify your site, keep in mind that search engines aren’t yet crawling or indexing ajaxed data, so make sure you’re enabling Google et al to find your content. There are numerous solutions to this challenge, the easiest of which involves the use of a well-linked sitemap and actual HTML content delivered via noscript tags.

Also consider SEO when ajaxifying your comments. User comments add content to your web pages, but they won’t be crawled, indexed, or considered in page rank if they’re served with Ajax. For many sites, this shouldn’t be too big a deal, but it is something to think about.

For more information on Ajax and SEO, check out Scott Allen’s article, AJAX, Web 2.0 and SEO.

Wrapping up

These are the Ajax gems that I’ve managed to find, but many other great plugins are available. If you know of any good WordPress Ajax plugins (or themes!), please share them in the comments. Thanks!

Jeff Starr is a web developer, graphic designer and content producer with over 10 years of experience and a passion for quality and detail. Jeff is co-author of the book Digging into WordPress and strives to help people be the best they can be on the Web. Read more from Jeff at Perishable Press or hire him at Monzilla Media.

How I Monetize Mobile Traffic on My Blogs

Over the last few days, I’ve been experimenting with monetizing my blogs for mobile readers who view mobile versions of my sites.

Those who read ProBlogger on an iPhone, Android phone, Palm, or Blackberry Storm will know that you’re given the option to view this blog within a theme designed for mobile devices. I use WPTouch to serve this up—it’s a WordPress plugin that I’ve found incredibly easy to use. I have it installed both here on ProBlogger and on Digital Photography School.

I had to switch it off recently while making some server changes, and I was amazed how many complaints I received. It seems a lot of readers these days read my blogs on mobile devices!

WPTouch offers a lot of great features that I won’t go into here, except to say that it lets you customize your display far beyond what I’ve done to date.

One feature that I will mention quickly is that the plugin offers those who view your blog on an iPhone a way to actually add a web app to their iPhone homescreen. This will increase the number of people checking out your blog on mobile devices.

One of the other great features WPTouch offers is the ability to monetize your mobile theme with advertising. Once you’ve got it installed on your WordPress blog, all you need is to open up the WPtouch area, and look for the Advertising tab.

wptouch-advertising.png

In this view, you can select a variety of options. You can see here that I’m testing AdSense, and that I’ve put the ads below the header (you can also put them in the footer), and that I can select a variety of positions for them.

I did try the ads in the footer area initially, but they end up so far down the page that I doubted they’d ever be seen (note: it’d be good to have the option to display ads in the header and footer).

The ads are not the prettiest in the world, but here’s how they look on both the home page of the theme, and in individual posts.

wp-touch-ads.png

The ad position is prominent, yet they don’t completely take over the page, and the ads are contextual—all a good recipe for performance (at least, it is in theory).

WPTouch also gives you a way to use AdMob ads on your blog, or even to show custom ads (so you could advertise your own products or sell ads directly to advertisers—something I’m yet to test.

I’ve had these ads working on the ProBlogger and dPS mobile sites for a few days now, and the signs are promising. Obviously their success on your site will depend a lot on how many readers you have and how many of them are reading your blog on a mobile device. However, already I’ve seen my ads earning more for each day of my test than I’m earning through RSS ads with AdSense.

In fact, the eCPM that I’m seeing is around five to six times what AdSense earns on normal ads on my pages. While the actual traffic numbers to my mobile site aren’t as high as traffic to the blog via computers, I’m excited to see the potential of this tool.

I’m averaging around $30 per day so far in earnings from mobile visitors, so the WPTouch plugin paid for itself in 24 hours. While that revenue figure isn’t huge in comparison to other earnings on my blogs, it adds up to over $10,000 a year. That’s $10,000 which was gained simply by installing a plugin and adding my AdSense account—certainly some low-hanging fruit that I’ve been overlooking.

Note: This post contains affiliate links to WPTouch.

How to Use a Manifesto to Spread your Blog’s Message

This post is by Clare Lancaster, of WomenInBusiness.com.au.

Ever since I read Chris Guillebeau’s manifesto, 279 Days to Overnight Success, I’ve been inspired to create one for my own blog. The way that it communicated the message of his blog, packaged in an attractive, shareable, valuable asset that cemented his place as a niche leader, was enough to make this blogger gush.

After nine months of blogging I decided to create a manifesto for my blog. I can honestly say it was one of the best things I’ve done.

It’s helped me:

  • communicate the purpose and mission of my blog (which has helped keep my posts consistent in their message)
  • attracted the “right” people
  • built community and solidarity with those “right” people
  • spread my message to the networks of “right” people, attracting them to my blog.

It’s been blogged, shared, tweeted, emailed, and printed out. I’ve received emails of thanks, one woman wrote to tell me she had printed it out and given it as a gift to her (all female) staff.

So, what exactly are blog manifestos, and should you create one for your blog?

What is a manifesto?

A manifesto traditionally communicates the values and beliefs of a group of people or organization. The most common form of blog manifestos are ebooks.

A manifesto that offers special value for your readers can act as a viral marketing tool for your blog. It gives the reader an idea of the bigger picture and purpose of your blog, and empowers them.

A manifesto is a method of structuring your message in a way that your audience finds relatable, desirable and, most importantly, attainable. It communicates a set of ideals and invites a reader to join you on your journey.

How to create your own blog manifesto

Like any trend, the more popular manifestos get, the harder it is to break through the noise. Look to see what’s being produced in your niche and do something different. Be original: think about what your particular audience wants, needs, and will find irresistible.

I created my manifesto as a one-page poster designed to be printed and stuck to a wall. Find the best way to communicate your message to your audience. It doesn’t have to be an ebook. It doesn’t have to be a long story. It just has to have impact.

Give your manifesto away freely—you want it to spread. You also want it to be linked to your blog, so brand it strongly, but not obtrusively.

Don’t forget about your own assets when promoting your manifesto. Link to it from your email signature, add it to your navigation bar and your mailing list welcome email, and blog and tweet about it.

What’s your message?

Here’s the catch; you need a strong message before you even think about creating a manifesto.

If you haven’t already, taking the time to think about your message will improve:

  • your branding
  • how your audience relates to you
  • your value offer and niche positioning with your readers
  • your editorial direction and overall purpose

So my question to you is: what’s your message? How does your message help your readers? What’s going to make them share your message with their network?

Clare Lancaster offers blog reviews to help improve the business performance of your blog. She is passionate about helping people make their own path in work and life and can be found on Twitter most days (@clarelancaster).

The Money’s Not In the List, it’s In the Connection

This post was written by the Web Marketing Ninja—a professional online marketer for a major web brand, who’s sharing his tips undercover here at ProBlogger. Curious? So are we!

What impact will changes to the flow of communications on the Internet cause by the rise of new options, like social media, have on the old marketing adage, “the money’s in the list”? I was asked this recently, and I’ve been pondering the question ever since.

For quite some time, in all honestly, I dismissed the question, because I’ve literally made millions of dollars through email marketing—I’d be hard pressed to ignore that.

But then I thought about the main reasons I’ve been able to use that communication method as a monetization tool. The answer? It’s about the connection, not the practical outcome of having someone’s email address.

Then I realized that the money is not in the list, it’s in the connection with a customer.

We shouldn’t fear the changes new communications methods have brought to bear. We should see them as a great way to expand our channels to build even more connections with customers.

The same principles apply

It even gets better. You can take exactly the same approach you’ve been refining for your email list-building activity, and apply it to these new channels—the basic principles are exactly the same.

The four core attributes of successful email marketing are:

  • Make your email capture findable.
  • Provide incentives for people to sign up.
  • Craft well-written, engaging messages.
  • Give more than you ask from your list.

Now let’s look at how that might translate into a social media channel like Facebook.

  • Findable: Set up your vanity URL and Facebook page, and link to it from your site.
  • Incentives: Offer something unique to your Facebook followers (a coupon or ebook, for example).
  • Engage: Put together a publication schedule specifically for your Facebook page—don’t just syndicate your blog or Twitter feed.
  • Promote: Seed your promotional messages with real value, quality content, and so on.

The key here is to not treat the channel as a method to build your email list, but to see it as a new method to develop a connection with a customer in the place where they feel most comfortable communicating. If you’re trying to fit Facebook pegs into email holes, you might be able to jam a few in, but you’re costing yourself valuable leads in the process.

While these new channels need unique approaches, and different regulations govern what you can and can’t do in each, at their cores, they’re the same.

Patience pays

It took us all years to master the intricacies of marketing via email, so don’t expect instant income from these new channels. But stick with it, and you just might discover greater success was you step away from the norm and embrace new methods of connecting with your customers.

As long as the medium allows for me to communicate with my list, and my list to communicate with me, I’m happy.

Stay tuned from most posts by the secretive Web Marketing Ninja—a professional online marketer for a major web brand, who’s sharing his tips undercover here at ProBlogger.