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Why I Switched Blog Hosting Companies (and Who I’m With Now)

One of the most common questions I’m asked about how I run my blogs is, “What web host do you use and recommend?”

Synthesis hosting

Over the past ten years I’ve used around eight different hosting services, ranging from the very early days of relying upon free host Blogger, through to my more recent use of Amazon’s Web Services. The challenge has always been that my blogs have constantly changed in terms of what they require, given new designs, added features, and growing traffic.

As a result, we’ve had our fair share of nightmares: numerous periods of blogs crashing due to load problems, and a couple of security issues that required a lot of time, energy, and money to resolve.

Synthesis Managed WordPress HostingIn the last six months, I’ve made a switch in the hosting of all of my blogs, which has resulted in the most stable period for my blogs in the last decade.

The switch was to move over to Synthesis—a managed hosting service created for WordPress users by the team at Copyblogger Media.

A number of things attracted me to Synthesis:

  • It’s designed for WordPress: All of the hosts I’ve used over the years were certainly WordPress-compatible, but when problems arose and I sought support it sometimes became apparent that WordPress was just one of many many platforms that they could work with. As a result, functionality and processes were sometimes were clunky, and to get set up well, I often had to bring in experts. The Synthesis team knows WordPress inside-out. Not only have they designed a service that works with it from the ground up, they’ve been very supportive in helping iron out some bugs I’d not been able to resolve previously.
  • Genesis support: I had recently moved ProBlogger over to the Genesis framework, which is also created by CopyBlogger’s StudioPress team. While they’ll host non-Genesis sites, their familiarity with it gave me confidence. I’m moving dPS to Genesis in the short term too, so I’m excited about having everything running on compatible and well-synced systems.
  • Security: I’ve had my fair share of security attacks over the years, so finding a secure host was key for me.
  • Support: I’ve got people on my team who are able to offer support on some levels, but the Sythesis team have added to this incredibly—particularly when it came to migrating from my old host to their services. Being in Australia isn’t an issue, either—their support desk is open 24/7 and their response time is super-quick.
  • Expense: This is the first server switch that I’ve done where I ended up paying less than I was with the previous service. While I’m sure you can get cheaper services, for the features you get, I find this service very reasonable in comparison to what I was paying. View their pricing plans here—plans start at $27 per month.

All in all, my blogs are now faster, more secure, and more reliable, and they’re experiencing just a fraction of the problems that they were on other system. I sleep a lot easier these days with Genesis and Synthesis!

Disclaimer: I am a proud affiliate for Synthesis and Genesis. They are two of the few services I use and have no hesitation in recommending.

How a Collaborative Critique Changed My Brand … and My Future #QLDBLOG

This guest post is by Kara Williams of The Vacation Gals.

When I found out I’d been chosen as one of the ten Queensland Blogger Correspondents, I was as excited to scuba dive in the Great Barrier Reef as I was to get some hands-on blogger training from the ProBlogger himself, Darren Rowse.

Kara and koalaI’d read ProBlogger for years—since co-founding The Vacation Gals in 2009—and couldn’t wait to learn not only from Darren, but from other successful bloggers from six different countries.

In the hot seat

Indeed, the two, three-hour workshops we enjoyed during our short stay in Queensland were fascinating, fun and oh-so helpful. My favorite part was the first interactive workshop, where each of us bloggers was in the “hot seat” for 15 minutes.

Seated at tables in a big U shape at a Green Island Resort meeting room, we all watched as Darren pulled our blogs’ home pages up on a large screen. One at a time, we each chatted a little bit about our blogs: why and when we launched it, our goals for the blog, and a challenge or question we had for the group at large to address.

As I watched other bloggers go before me, it was so great to see how tactful and gentle, and genuinely constructive, everyone was, offering advice to one another. When it was my turn, I asked for general first impressions of my blog, and I got an earful of candid suggestions.

Constructive criticism

Most significantly, a couple folks questioned why my co-founders and I went by “Gal” nicknames: our bylines on each of our blog posts were ColoradoGal, TwinCitiesGal and SoCalGal, signifying where we live in the United States.

We launched our blog with those handles because we thought we were being creative. In the About Us section of the blog, we shared our real names with our bios.

Also, each of our guest posters was given a “Gal” nickname—one of our friends who covered outdoor activities was AdventureGal, one who had a thing for Italian ice cream was GelatoGal, another was CruisinGal, for example.

But as some other Queensland Blogger Correspondents pointed out, it was confusing to the new reader who the owners and authors were. Not only did the reader not know our real names right off the bat, when they’d land on an individual article or the home page, but it wasn’t clear if a “Gal” was a blog owner or a guest poster.

I didn’t like the sound of that at all!

A small change … but a big difference

Upon arriving home in Colorado from Australia, I procrastinated a bit on changing our nicknamed bylines, even though my business partners agreed that it was a good idea—not only to make it more understandable to our readers, but to further our own personal brands as travel writers.

I thought it would be an epic ordeal to change the bylines not only on our posts, but on our guest posts as well. So I emailed our friends at Desperately Seeking Word Press, a team that has helped us with WordPress questions over the years, to get some insight on how to deal with the change on more than 1,000 posts.

Turns out, all I needed to do was go into the User section of our WordPress dashboard and change the “Display name publicly as” field to our real names. A simple fix!

I did something similar to our 46 guest posters’ profiles, for whom we’d opened individual Contributor accounts, since we’d originally wanted to give them specific “Gal” nicknames. I changed all of their display name fields to Guest Author.

To make it easier on us in the future, I created just one Guest Author user, and now we use that user name and password for loading all guest posts.

It’s a small change to our site, but one that pleases me so much. I’m proud of my blog posts about family travel, romantic escapes, and girlfriend getaways on The Vacation Gals, and I’m so glad that my own name is clearly associated with my work moving forward.

What small changes have made a big difference to your blog? Share them with us in the comments.

In addition to co-running The Vacation Gals, freelance writer Kara Williams covers travel (mainly in North America) for magazines, newspapers and websites. She makes her home in the Colorado Rockies with her husband and two school-aged children.

Why Every Writer Needs an Online Community

This guest post is by Nicolas Gremion of Foboko.com.

As a kid, finding writing inspiration and confidence was easy. From picking out the right green pen to recounting your puppy’s every move, it was simple to delve into your own life to create work that was fascinating (if not to the rest of the world, at least to you and your mom).

As we get older, however, the writers’ sphere seems to close tightly. Workshops are meant for “serious” writers, books on the craft of writing focus on how to snag an agent, and people doubt that anyone but a full-time, paid writer needs a creative outlet.

None of this could be further from the truth. The vast majority of writers are people with day jobs who write and blog for fun. Rather than sequester themselves away in order to write the next Great American Novel—or blog!—these people need supportive communities in order to develop their craft. And they don’t have to look any further than the very computer they’ve been composing on.

The social element of writing

While writers and bloggers may have a mystic reputation as hermits, they need people. Bloggers want people to love our blogs. Who better to tell you what’s good—and what’s not—than your audience?

Likewise, most blogging inspiration comes from real-life experiences; we have to talk to people, not sit alone in a room. As part-time authors, we tend to think we don’t “deserve” help; our fear of failure or ridicule outweighs our need to tell our stories. But it’s not fair to our stories—or our readers—to avoid doing the hard work of improving our storytelling abilities.

That’s where online communities come in.

Online writing communities, like Writers’ Café, Writers’ Beat, or my company’s Foboko, enable bloggers to get help throughout the process of creating an ebook, a short story, a report, or any other blog post.

Writing isn’t the only thing that goes into creating a post: choosing the perfect title, brainstorming, researching, storyboarding, editing, developing artwork, and inserting backlinks all play a part. No one excels in all these areas, and soliciting feedback from people with more expertise can help you overcome any obstacle.

Putting your draft post in front of people is like having a test audience for a movie. You have a built-in opportunity to fix what isn’t working, which can make the difference between writing a mediocre post and an outstanding one. Online platforms take it one step further and eliminate a range of other worries you might be having.

Why online groups are best

The transfer of information online is seamless. Whereas traditional workshops involve taking notes, exchanging emailed documents, and sending revisions back and forth, sites like Foboko allow you to send images directly, access others’ work to edit, and provide recorded feedback.

Everything’s stored in one place; it functions like an online document that tracks every change made by every user. Collaborations are instantaneous, and you can always refer back when you have questions or doubts. (If you already do your writing online in a blog or personal website, you’ll especially feel the benefits of these systems.)

When you’re concerned about your professional reputation as a blogger in your industry, getting feedback from friendly readers is essential.

The size of online communities is limitless. People from all walks of life can see your work, and you can gain feedback from people who belong to different ethnic groups, geographical areas, industries, and religions. Think that won’t lend authenticity to your finished product?

Best of all, online groups allow you to work on your writing skills anonymously and affordably. There aren’t expensive fees to join. Instead, you can start building a list of potential readers; by building an online following, you have proof of demand, to encourage a traditional publisher to pick up your book idea or simply to encourage you to keep writing your blog.

The ease of collaboration online makes the process efficient and helps you go further. DeviantArt, for example, is a community that helps artists tweak and improve their work. Rather than receiving feedback from a single artist, the participants get perspectives from a wide range of artists. They take into account the styles and tendencies that fit them best to create a stronger work of art.

Online writing communities can do the same for your blog.

The value for first-timers

If you’re still skeptical about how an online community can help an inexperienced blogger, think about this:

  • You don’t have to travel to attend these events. You can actually get more work done at your desk while collaborating with others.
  • Your anonymous status will alleviate any anxiety about going public with your work.
  • Your requests for help can be archived and referenced later. This goes both ways—you can also see how other newbies worked through problems previously.
  • You can avoid pitfalls and overcome writer’s block when learning from others who’ve gone before you. You can learn about everything from layout to legal agreements to work habits.
  • Your confidence will never grow from hiding in your home office. But it will blossom when you’re mentored by a more seasoned blogger or writer. S/he can motivate you to blog regularly and get out of your own way.

Writers all wonder one thing: am I any good? The only way to know is to ask others. Opening yourself up to feedback can help you see where you do excel—and get help in the areas where you don’t. With the assistance of an online community, you’ll eventually produce work that someone other than your mom would like to read.

Nicolas Gremion is the CEO of Paradise Publishers, Inc., and founder ofFoboko.com, a social publishing network where members get support writing their books from peers and connect directly with readers.

How Letting Go of Expectations Improved My Blog #QLDBLOG

This guest post is by Jess Van Den of Epheriell Designs.

One of the great joys and terrors of blogging is that a blog is never finished. This is an exciting and inspiring reality. It is also fraught with second-guessing syndrome.

Should I put this widget here? Should I change my banner/font/colours/posting frequency? …and so on.

Most of us learn what works for our blog through trial and error, which is a never-ending process.

We also learn from watching what other bloggers do—particularly those in our niche. If we see something working for others, chances are we’ll give it a go on our own blogs.

This can be extremely helpful—but it can also be limiting.

Setting the wrong expectations

In my niche—craft and design—there is a heavy emphasis on having blog sponsors—a whole lotta pretty ads in your sidebar for fellow indie businesses.

This has become such a norm that many bloggers in this niche don’t feel like they have a “proper” blog unless they have sponsors. That it gives their blog an air of credibility—that they’ve
“arrived.”

The number of ads (and the price of them) has become a litmus test of the popularity of their blogs.

I went through this stage on my own blog—I’ve run sponsor ads in my sidebar on and off for the last two to three years. That was partially because I wanted the money that ads could bring in, but if I’m honest with myself, the main reason was because I was concerned that if I didn’t offer sponsor spots, my blog would be seen as not being good enough. That I wouldn’t be a “proper” design blogger.

Fast-forward to June, when I was lucky enough to be one of the winners of the ProBlogger Great Barrier Reef Competition. It was one of the most remarkable experiences in my blogging career.

Along with making me fall in love with my home state all over again and giving me the chance to befriend an amazing group of people, the workshops helped me see my blog from a fresh perspective. It’s not often that you have ten successful bloggers sitting in a room with you critiquing your site. In fact, it’s not often you get anyone to sit down and critique your blog, is it?

Talking to all the other bloggers about their monetization strategies, I realised something profound—most bloggers struggle with monetization because they don’t have a product to sell.

They experiment with selling advertising, sponsored posts, affiliate sales, and other similar revenue streams. Even if they do create a product, it may only be a single ebook or course (at least to start with), and that isn’t enough to bring in the money they need.

I, on the other hand, do have products to sell. My blog is actually not my main business—that honour goes to Epheriell, my handcrafted, contemporary, eco-friendly sterling silver jewellery range. I also publish bespoke—a tri-annual independent print magazine for creative and crafty people.

It hit me like a bolt out of the blue: why on earth was I selling my key blog real estate to other people when I could be using it to promote my own products?

Why was I sending people away from me and my work?

I’d fallen into the trap of what was expected in my niche. Or—perhaps more to the point—I’d fallen into the trap of what I believed was expected in my niche.

Making changes, and getting focused

Since having that realization, I’ve phased out sidebar advertising, and put my own products above the fold, where they belong.

I’ve done away with the cognitive dissonance I was constantly experiencing when it came to balancing promotion of my own products with the promotion of my advertisers’ products. I have also cut out a whole lot of work that I was doing to organize and promote my sponsorship program, which has left me free to focus on other aspects of my business.

I consistently turn down people who contact me looking to advertise on my site, and I no longer feel the twinge of, “Oh my gosh I’m leaving money on the table,” because I know that the focus and integrity of my blog are more important that a few dollars.

My blog is stronger and more focussed, and I have let go of the fear that I’m not “doing it right.” I have the confidence that I’m doing what’s best for me and my business, and that’s what matters.

So, I’m curious—is there a blogging “should” that you’ve imposed upon your blog that isn’t really true to what you’re trying to achieve?

Jess Van Den is full-time creative entrepreneur – a jeweller, blogger, and an independent publisher. When not crafting sterling silver jewellery in her solar-powered studio in the countryside north of Brisbane, she blogs about beautiful things and bountiful business at Epheriell Designs.

A Surefire Way to Suffocate Your Blog (And Your Passion)

This guest post is by David Masters of Social Caffeine.

I’m a stats addict.

Whether it’s my Twitter feed, an email newsletter, my latest blog post, or my overall blog subscriber numbers, I’m constantly checking the stats. I’m obsessed. Comments, retweets, Likes, clickthroughs, I check them all.

Of course it’s important to check your stats. Without them, you wouldn’t know if your readers like what you’re doing. But, in a painful lesson, I’ve found out that obsessing over them is dangerous.

The dangers of obsession

I first discovered the joys of blogging in 2007 and I launched my first blog in 2008.

I did everything right. I chose a clear niche, which I had a deep passion for. I set up a self-hosted WordPress acccount and bought my own domain name. I devoted myself to following the advice of the best in the business, including ProBlogger, Entrepreneur’s Journey, and Skelliewag.

I launched my first posts, commented on other blogs, and promoted my content on social media. Within a week, I had my first comment.

I set myself a schedule to post twice a week, and my blog continued its upwards trajectory. After three months, I had over 100 subscribers, and most posts got ten or more comments.

Yet all around me I could see blogs with thousands or tens of thousands of subscribers. I compared myself to them and I felt small and stupid. What right do I have to blog, I thought, with all these amazing bloggers around me? How will I ever be as good as them? I also wanted my blog to make money, and I couldn’t see how it ever would.

That’s when my stats obsession began.

Diagnosing the problem

I started spending more time checking feedburner than writing blog posts. I’d gaze at the subscriber growth chart with a potent mix of hope and hatred, like a jilted lover.

My passion for my blog fizzled out, and I started posting twice a month instead of twice a week. My subscriber count plummeted, and I got even more disheartened. My posts dropped to one a month, then even less often.

Eventually I gave up, let the domain name expire, and archived my blog at wordpress.com.

I loved that blog dearly, and I look back in regret at the way I let it languish and die because of my obsession.

I’m now learning to manage my stats addiction. At Social Caffeine, my new blogging home, we check the blog stats once every two weeks. That’s healthy. It’s enough to check out what’s working (and what’s not) without wasting time every day mulling over numbers.

As a recovering stats addict, I now know that obsessing over stats is a surefire way to suffocate your blog and your passion.

You can, however, use stats healthily to find out what your readers want and to help you grow your blog.

Stats—the healthy way

  • Set aside a time each week (or each month) to check your stats. Check your stats too often, and you’ll find it more difficult to notice overall trends.
  • Look for trends. What topics are the most popular? Which received the most comments? Page views? Tweets? These are the topics your readers want to know more about.
  • Use Google Analytics, and ignore the built in stats counter on WordPress and Blogger. You’ll get a more in-depth (and useful) stats report.
  • Don’t change the core of your passion because of your stats. Your most dedicated readers come because they like to read what you care about. Make your mission chasing readers, and your blog will lose its soul.

Are you a stats addict, or have you got the addiction under control? How do you use your blog’s stats in a healthy and productive way?

David Masters is a writer, blogger and social media consultant. He writes about how to buzz up your social media soul at Social Caffeine.

11 Heads Are Better Than One #QLDBLOG

This guest post is by Jodi Friedman of MCP Actions.

When it comes to the world of blogging, multiple people working together almost always achieves better results than just one. So you can imagine the energy that happened when ten lucky, talented bloggers from around the world were selected by Tourism Queensland to join Darren Rowse in Australia in June. We discussed, brainstormed, critiqued, and networked with each other about the topics of blogging and business.

Since I own a blog for photographers about post-processing in Photoshop and Lightroom, I typically attend photo-related conferences and workshops. A blogging get-together was new to me.

In addition to the amazing excursions to see wildlife, marine-life, and incredible views of the Great Barrier Reef, we had plenty of time to interact with each other.

We had two blogging workshops, one of which included critiquing each participant’s blog. I listened closely to the observations and advice given about my blog and company. I took notes and then made to-do lists and processes to implement the changes that were suggested.

I also asked questions of the other bloggers about how they run aspects of their businesses. Again, I documented things that I could apply to my company, MCP Actions.

Here’s what has happened since the trip.

1. Blog design

Critique 1: The text on my blog was hard to read.

I was told that the lines of text were too close together, and the text was slightly too small. Great suggestion. I adjusted the sizing and spacing of the text on my blog.

Critique 2: It was hard to find my products from the main blog.

My blog has two goals: to educate photographers on photography and editing, and to lead people to our Photoshop actions and Lightroom presets.

Up until now, I had a slideshow at the top of the blog with links to some older posts. A few people said to me, “How do we get to your products to see what you have to offer? Nothing exists for this above the fold.”

Since the trip, I have gotten rid of the large images leading to older posts and replaced them with buttons that take you to our actions, presets, and training classes. As others mentioned, this is a much better use of the real estate at the top of the blog. The key here is to make it easy for people to get to where you want them to go.

2. Social networking on more platforms

Critique 1: I put too much time and energy in Facebook and not enough in other social networking platforms.

MCP Actions has a large presence on Facebook—it’s approximately 124,000 strong. Since Facebook made drastic changes to its service, our posts are shown to fewer fans. So some of the bloggers suggested I build a stronger presence on more sites.

Since the trip, I have increased my Twitter presence slightly and started building communities on Pinterest and Instagram.

One challenge I face is that it’s difficult to keep up with so many social networks. I am still working on the best way to manage so many. I still have not integrated Google+ as I leave frustrated every time I visit it. I’m unsure the best way to use it for my business, but I am open to suggestions.

3. Figure out a way to better manage my time

My concern: I don’t have enough time to get everything done.

The recommended solution? Outsourcing. When I returned, I finally took the big step I’ve wanted to take for a long time: I hired a virtual assistant company. They helped me implement blog changes and helped me put some other systems into place so I can work more efficiently. This is a work in progress as I decide which responsibilities I can turn over to them.

My concern: I have too many emails taking up too much time.

This time, the solution that was recommended was to create a support desk. On the trip, I discussed with some of the bloggers how every email for the company gets filtered through me. After returning, I researched help desk software and set up a database of FAQs along with canned responses. The virtual assistant now filters my email. She answers some basic ones about downloads and unzipping. She forwards me the Photoshop ones to answer. And she forwards other team members the ones for their area of expertise. This has helped immensely.

My concern: Blogging and social networking take a huge chunk of time.

The solution here was to hire people to do these things. I utilize guest bloggers, in addition to my own posts, but blogging and social networking are a huge portion of what I do every day. And the truth is that I need to do more.

I have not implemented a solution at this point as identifying the best person for the job will be extremely hard. I am also not 100% sure how to “let go” or be less involved in these two areas. I will be on the lookout to contract with someone who is well versed in photography, Photoshop, Lightroom, and writing. The hard part is finding someone with all of those skills and an entrepreneurial spirit, who can both follow directions and work independently. But someday I may find this person… Until them, I will juggle these responsibilities myself.

4. Exposure for Queensland, Australia and my photography

The Tamron adAfter I posted some images from my trip to Australia on Facebook, one of my contacts at Tamron lenses asked to see some contact sheets of the images I’d taken with their new 24-70 2.8 lens.

The outcome is that two images from the trip, along with some quotes of mine, are in a Tamron Advertorial in the September issue of Popular Photography.

With a little help…

As you can see, many of the things I have accomplished in the past few months are the result of interacting with ten other bloggers from around the globe. The insight they provided made a difference in my business, and hopefully my ideas helped some of them too. I will also have lasting friendships and collaborations with many of them both now and in the future.

So next time you are thinking you can do everything alone, consider reaching out to other bloggers. You never know where it will lead.

Jodi Friedman is the owner of MCP Actions. Her company makes photo editing easier and faster for photographers with their highly acclaimed Photoshop actions, Lightroom presets, online training and an active photography blog. Jodi lives in Michigan with her husband and twin daughters and loves photography, travel, and teaching.

New Series: Where Can Blogger Collaboration Lead? #QLDBLOG

We’ve been talking a lot about the value of blogger collaboration recently. Most recently we looked at how it can help you to boost traffic to your blog over the longer term. But I mentioned also that the benefits of networking and collaboration can be subtle and difficult to “measure.”

The Queensland blogging team

Over the coming days we’ll be looking a little more deeply into the ways collaboration can help bloggers. Six of the bloggers who joined me in Queensland earlier this year have put together insightful posts that reveal some of the good things that came of that experience. They are:

Those advantages are varied and, as you can probably guess, each blogger has used what they learned in a different way. One thing that always amazes me about those kinds of group collaborative efforts is that while everyone’s being presented with the same material, they can take completely different messages and learnings from it.

And I expect that as you read their posts you’ll take different messages from it, too. We’re all coming from the perspectives of our own individual experiences and blogs. So different ideas appeal to us.

In a way, I think this is what makes blogging itself such an involving, addictive thing to do. As the blogger, you’re collaborating with audience members through your blog. I’m always surprised to see what speaks to readers in my posts, as explored in their comments and emails.

Collaboration is big. And as we’re about to see, the benefits of real-time collaboration with other bloggers can be literally blog-changing, if not actually life-changing.

I mentioned in a post last week some of the people I’d been grateful to collaborate with in my life as a blogger. I’d love to hear who you’re collaborating and networking with, and how those efforts are changing your blog for the better. And don’t forget to keep an eye on the blog later today for the first in our series of daily posts on the topic.