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The 8 Most Greatest Tips to Write Unstoppably Killer Headlines Guide Ever

This guest post is by Eric Cummings and Michael Cummings of On Violence.

Nearly a year and a half into making small strides in one of the smallest niches on the Internet—the MILblog (military blog) community—our traffic started going up. We had one question.

Why?

Our guess is that—in addition to some great guest posts—we started writing better headlines. People want to read articles with great headlines. From the very beginning, we knew we should have been writing good headlines—it was one of the first tips we read. So why did we avoid writing analytics-crushingly good headlines?

Because of the tabloids.

We’ve all been at the check-out counter, looked over and seen the tabloids screaming, “Snooki Sex Tape!” What? Or, “Brad Leaves Angelina!” Double what!? “Obama is an Alien!” Triple what! So you pick up the magazine, and none of that is in there. Snooki just got drunk. Brad is on vacation. Obama is still human. You’re understandably disappointed: you’ve fallen for the tabloids.

I think bloggers do the same thing. In an ever busier, fuller blogosphere, we battle one another with our headlines. We fight each other to write gripping, sticky headlines, clawing over one another with more outlandish declarations of greatness like, “The 10 Tips To Guarantee Blogging Success” or “How to Make A Billion Dollars Blogging, Today!” Bloggers are, in the words of Cmdr. “Stinger” Johnson, writing checks their butts can’t cash.

And the average member of the public is sick of it. Even John Stewart has made fun of it.

If every post you have is turned up all the way, your readers will go deaf. Take “Please RT,” for example. Asking your followers to retweet a post will almost guarantee your tweets get more views. But if you “Please RT” every other tweet, as opposed to just the occasional special tweet, “please RT” loses its meaning. You’ll lose followers, or your tweets will just get ignored.

So when we started blogging, we wanted to avoid misleading headlines, writing only straight-forward, descriptive titles. And it was boring. Post titles like, “War Without Meaning” and “Rainbow” just don’t attract readers. They aren’t creative or fun.

Every headline needs to do two things:

  1. Explain honestly what is in the article.
  2. Make you want to read that article.

There are boring headlines that aren’t honest, boring headlines that are honest, exciting headlines that are dishonest, and exciting headlines that are honest. If you don’t know which is the best, it’s the last one.

So we went from writing “Violence in context” to writing “Haters Want to Hate or: If You Haven’t Been to Afghanistan, Then F*** You Hippy and Get Off My Internets.” That title is fun, ironic, and snarky; it was also our most popular post ever.

This wouldn’t be ProBlogger if we didn’t offer tips on how to “crush” headlines, and we have ‘em:

  1. Avoid exclamation points, or titles that feel like they need exclamation points. Seriously. Calm down.
  2. Avoid non-ironic hyperbole. It probably means your claiming something you can’t follow up on.
  3. Put accuracy before excitement.  We still don’t turn every headline up to eleven, because some don’t need it. Accept this, and say what your post is about.
  4. Embrace creative limitations. To paraphrase Robert McKee, limitations force writers to be creative, to look for novel solutions. So be honest, don’t overstate or over-claim. Then apply the creativity to get a great title on that post.
  5. Take five minutes on every post and brainstorm a better title.
  6. Don’t use the word “Secret.” Because guess what? There are no secrets to great writing/blogging/making money/losing weight/whatever. It’s the Internet. Someone, somewhere already posted that data. Which means it isn’t a secret. In the words of Darren Rowse, “There is no secret and there’s no one way to do this.”
  7. Read this series on headlines by Copyblogger. It’s really good. “Many people feel that a great headline is bombastic and full of hyperbole, but that’s usually not the case.” Brian Clark writes. “If people don’t believe you can deliver on your promise, they won’t bother reading further, and your over-the-top headline fails.”
  8. Be funny. If you’re funny. Otherwise, avoid it.

What other headline tips can you add to this list?

Eric Cummings and Michael Cummings write for “On Violence,” a blog on military and foreign affairs, art and violence written by two brothers; one a soldier and the other a pacifist.

The Ultimate Guide to Creating Your Blog Logo

This guest post is by Liane of the Blog Design Team.

After almost three years of blogging, and about the same time spent discovering my addiction to graphic design, I’ve come to realize that both of my passion go hand in hand. Blogging and design is a match made in heaven. And my favorite project to work on? Logos, of course.

Sure, I’ve made designs for both online and offline business, but when a blogger knocks at my mail box, I give them special priority. That’s because, in truth, designing a blog logo is one of the trickiest things to do. Of course there would always be clients who’re easy to deal with and just give me free reign in creating the design (not recommended!), but more often than not, bloggers are particularly nitpicky (as you should be) at every step in the process. And I don’t blame them. I’ve been there, done that—I actually used my previous blog as a guinea pig for countless logo experiments.

In this post, I want to cover all the bases with regards to designing a blog logo—from its importance to a blog, to the process of creating your own. Even if you’re already happy with the logo you have right now, who knows? Within the next few months or years, you might revamp your blog or create a new blog altogether—and then, this guide ought to be useful.

What’s the big deal with a blog logo?

I know a lot of non-believers out there. These bloggers do away with logos and rely on other branding techniques such as their name as a brand (e.g. the blogs of Seth Godin and Matt Cutts). These cases are exceptions to the rule. If you are Matt Cutts or Seth Godin, would you even need a logo to begin with? In reality, the blogosphere is split on this issue. While some bloggers consider their own logo a requirement for branding, for others, it doesn’t really add any value.

At the end of the day, I think it’s a matter of personal choice whether or not you think a logo is something you want on your blog. But eventually, most bloggers realize they need to have one to help build their blogs and their reputations, for a number of reasons:

Branding

Among the sea of blogs out there, being noticed can be a challenge—especially for new blogs. And it won’t make it any easier if you just leave your blog’s name in plain text as your header. A logo is also useful once you start developing products and services, as using a logo in your ebook or videos, for example, looks much more credible than just using your domain name.

Recognition

Blogs gain popularity the moment they’re recognized and remembered by an audience. This is where logos play an important role—they represent you, and make it easier for readers to connect to your blog.

Authority

Okay, maybe logo isn’t much of a factor to your authority. Though that doesn’t mean it should be completely set aside. In terms of authority, I think a good logo should act as an important symbol of your authority and credibility.

The makings of a great blog logo

There’s no concrete formula for creating a great blog logo.

Most of the time, it’s just the blogger’s and/or the designer’s discretion that comes into play. Being both a blogger and a designer gave me a good perspective on this issue, and based on the clients I’ve handled, these criteria have proven to be standard for every blog logo design.

A color scheme that works

Don’t just randomly use any color you believe is nice. Aside from the aesthetic value, remember that your logo has to be coordinated with your blog theme. Make sure you use not only the right color, but the right shade as well. Otherwise, it may seem a bit out of place or, as I said, uncoordinated.

There are some bloggers who do it the other way around: they start with a logo, then build their blog. I guess that makes you freer to conceptualize the logo. But of course, if this is the case, you have to consider the theme you plan on using for the blog anyway.

By the way, if you’re not good at making color schemes, try Adobe Kuler.

Good typography

Blog logos usually follow the symbol-and-text design style, since they’re also used as the header image. This is why you’ll need one good, stand-out, typographical font. Of course, the type of font that’ll be suitable will vary with your blog niche (personal blogs tend to have more artsy fonts, while professional blogs tend to go for bolder, simpler typefaces) and your personal preferences. I suggest that you steer away from complicated fonts like grunge or macabre options unless that’s really the image you want to portray.

An original concept

This might sound obvious, but you have no idea how often bloggers want to replicate a logo of an A-list blogger. Some of the bloggers who want to emulate a popular blog’s logo seem to think that, as a prerequisite to being great, you have to look like someone who’s already great. But really, when did someone ever achieve greatness through imitation?

Good resolution

Always ask for your logo to be created at high resolution. That you if you want to make it smaller, you can just resize the original logo. The trouble arises when the resolution is poor, the logo’s too small, and it gets pixelized every time you make it bigger. Not a good thing!

Conveys your blog’s or your personality

It’s easy to get carried away by designing for the sake of an awesome design. But never forget that your logo is not a painting: it’s there to serve a purpose, and that is to be a symbol of your blog.

On creating your blog logo

Okay, so now that we’re done with the reasons and essentials of logo-making, it’s now time to get into the meat of the story—making the logo itself. You have two ways to make this happen. You can either do it yourself and take full control over what happens to your logo, or hire a designer to do it for you.

Whichever way you choose, I have prepared a set of guidelines that’ll make the process a bit easier—or at the very least, familiar—so you’ll know what to do and what not to.

The do-it-yourself (DIY) logo guide

A cold, hard truth first: you’ll need, at the very least, basic design and editing skills to do this. In my experience, bloggers who goes this route either have no spare funds to pay for the design service, or they’re confident that they can create the logo without professional help.

If you have only the most basic design skills, don’t worry. Who says logos should be complicated, or loaded with effects? they don’t! Simplicity is your best asset. If you have average-to-above average design skills, lucky you! However, if you don’t have any knowledge at all in the field of design, don’t lose hope yet. There are many fool-proof design software products out there: just search for a few basic tutorials, and you’ll get the hang of it.

Here are the steps you’ll need to follow to design your own logo:

Step 1. Get hold of a Photoshop or a similar product

If you don’t have one, be resourceful and look for free online alternatives. Just Google for “free online alternatives for Photoshop” and you’ll soon find a ton of them.

Step 2. Conceptualize

What do you want your logo to look and feel like? If you’re stuck for ideas (like most clients I’ve met), it helps to check out competitor sites. Not that you should copy them, but this can help to get your creative juices flowing. Consider the elements of your design, the font you want to use, the colors you want to use, and even the logo’s dimensions—especially if you’ll use it as your header.

Step 3. Check for originality

This is the step even designers often forget. While this step is a no-brainer, it’s very important. You wouldn’t want to be accused of being a copy-cat, would you?

Step 4. Execute the design

This could be the hardest part, especially if you have no or little knowledge of design. Here’s a little tip though: create the logo one section at a time. Execute your symbol first, before you start thinking about the text, or vice versa. Make sure you use a good font. If you desire certain effects or elements, you can always Google for tutorials (it never fails to amaze me how people frustrate themselves with software when they could so easily just Google for a tutorial!).

Be sure to save the file every now and then. There’s nothing more frustrating about creating a design than losing unsaved changes, or worse: losing the whole file. Back-ups help too. Once you’re done, convert the logo to .png or .gif image files. These are the files that are best for use on the Web.

In creating your own design, you are obviously in full control of everything. The down-side is that your blog logo design is limited to your own designing ability (or lack thereof). Back when I ran a blogging tips blog, I never paid a cent to designers. I did everything on my own, and that’s how I acquired the skills of logo design. Who knows, you might end up on the same path too!

The hire-a-designer logo guide

If you don’t trust yourself with anything that has to do with art and design, I guess it’s best to leave these things in the hands of good designers. Of course, you’ll need to have some funds to take this route.

It’s a common misconception that hiring a designer means that you need to shell out hundreds of bucks. In reality, the competition in the design industry makes the pricing competitive. In fact, you can have your own professional logo designed for under $100. So really, if you believe a great logo is a great investment (which is true), then justifying the fee isn’t really an issue.

If you plan on hiring a designer, or using the services of a design company, here are a few pointers that you should consider:

Always check the designer’s portfolio samples

Designers often use a set of styles that can be seen in action through their portfolio. It’s best if you check their previous work to ensure that you can trust them to make your logo to a standard that you’ll be happy with.

Ask to see client testimonials

From a designer’s perspective, I’d say trust the portfolio more than the testimonial. We all know stories on how testimonials can sometimes be manipulated, though there are of course designers that have genuinely good feedback for their excellent service. Nevertheless, it’s at least a good thing to make sure that clients speak highly of the designer. If you can, see if you can find any familiar names (or research them) to make sure that the testimonials are authentic.

Read the design policy, and terms and conditions

How will the designer create your design? How fast will they design it? What are the packages or offerings involved? What are the terms for revisions? Before you order, make sure that you know how the designer operates and how much the finished product will cost you (watch out for hidden fees!). If it’s a good design service then you don’t need to dig around their pages to figure out how the process will work. It should be transparent.

When you order, be specific about details and/or instructions

There are still a number of clients out there who provide one or two sentences of “instructions” and then expect the designer to come up with a design that’ll blow their minds. Let’s face it: designers are not psychics! They only do what they’re told to do (because it’s all about what the client wants) and would hesitate to venture beyond those instructions. Of course, you can always say to your designer, “I’ll let you do whatever you want,” but that’s the most frustrating instruction ever! It’s always better if you have a clear vision for your logo. It makes our job easier, it speeds up the process, and it so much lessens the need for revisions.

If you can’t tell the designer what to do, at the very least tell them what not to do

Okay, so maybe you’re really out of ideas. There’s one thing a designer will at least be grateful for—if you remind him or her of the things you don’t want to see in your logo. Then at least they’ll be aware of the major no-no’s of the design and can avoid obvious mistakes.

For revisions, make up your mind, and be nitpicky

It’s stressful if a client keeps on changing his or her mind about the design. First, it’s counter-productive. But you’ll also be very lucky if the design service offers unlimited revisions—if not, ongoing revisions will likely cost you extra. Be detail-specific if you ask for revisions. Trust me: your designer will want to get the job done to your satsifaction as soon as possible.

Happy with your design?

Thank your designer, and give them a testimonial. Not happy with your design? Perhaps you’ve chosen a design service that offer a second concept re-design, or a 100% refund policy. Again, this explains why it’s better to pick design services that are credible, reachable, and accountable.

Put your logo first

Whether you design it yourself or hire someone to help, a good blog logo can deliver a lot of benefits in the long run. It doesn’t really have to be expensive—all that matters is that you get to build a symbol of what your blog is all about.

Last but not least, remember that logos do not posses any magical abilities, so don’t expect that having one will immediately catapult you to success. You need to work hard for your logo and brand to become known, not the other way around.

If you have any logo-making stories, insights, of nightmares, I’d love to here about them in the comments.

Liane (blogger of 3 years) is now the Founder and Team Head of the Blog Design Team, the design service behind every blog and blog businesses. And btw, she’s just 18 :) Follow her in Twitter @HeyLiane.

How to Harness Your Email List to Help Pay Your Rent

This guest post is by the Blog Tyrant.

Wouldn’t it be nice to send out an email or two and pull in $10,000+ to pay your rent or mortgage payments for the year? It is actually possible using your own products or those of selected affiliates. And while some of you will be thinking that word “affiliates” sounds dirty and underhanded, I’m here to tell you that affiliate marketing is actually one of the most honest ways to make money on the Web.

In this post I am going to show you how you can make $10,000+ a year using your email list and a product or affiliate program. I’ll even do a bit of math to prove it.

eMail
Creative Commons License photo credit: Esparta

How it works

Let me start by giving you a little overview of how this all works, in case you’re totally new to the idea. I’ll go in to more detail later on.

  1. Use your blog to grow an email list
    If you’ve read any of my other guest posts on Problogger you will notice that I have a pretty (un)healthy obsession with email lists. I’m constantly telling my readers to focus on growing a list of active, engaged, and interested email subscribers. It should be the main focus of almost every blog.
  2. Provide value
    The most important thing to remember with this process is that you need to provide value. You need to enrich the lives of your subscribers. You need to solve their problems. Without this step you will find that your list grows largely unresponsive.
  3. Create a product or find affiliate programs
    The next steps is to create a product of your own (ebook, ecourse, etc.) or find a product of someone else’s that you can promote and sell to your email list. It needs to be highly relevant, valuable, and helpful.
  4. Promote it to your email list
    This stage is actually rather complex and can involve a pre-launch and launch, as well as automated messages and so on. The net result is that you make a lump sum of money during a launch period, or an ongoing stream of income from automated sales that happen over time.

The whole thing can be a very exciting process and, if it’s done correctly, it is an extremely ethical way to make good money while enriching the lives of your subscriber list.

Doing the math

Now, let’s do a little math to see if $10,000 per year is really possible. In fact, if you really catch a hold of this concept you’ll find that $10,000 is actually rather conservative. The possibilities with this type of marketing are endless.

Let’s take a look:

  1. Capture four email subscribers per day
    Let’s assume you are able to capture four email subscribers per day. It is a very small amount that any one can do with ideas like this and this.4 x 365 = 1460 subscribers per year.
  2. Sell a $37 ebook to 20% of your list
    If your followers are loyal and engaged you should be able to sell to around 15% to 20% of them.1460 subscribers x 0.2 = 292 sales @ $37 = $10,804

Now, for those whose lists are significantly larger than this, the estimates are conservative. For those who have smaller lists, this can serve as inspiration to keep going with your blogging work. Remember, an ebook is just one example of the multitude of things you can promote to your list.

How to make $10k+ per year with email subscribers

George is Keeping an Eye On You!
Creative Commons License photo credit: peasap

The wonderful thing about this process is that it can be expanded upon to incredible levels. For some bloggers, $10,000 is a tiny sum of money. My hope is that this post serves as a catalyst for you to learn more about the field and really take your blog to its full potential.

1. Grow the email list

The email list is the backbone of all good blogging income sources. If you can capture a large number of email addresses of readers who love what you write, trust your advice, and look to you for help and new information, then you are setting yourself up to be in a very profitable situation.

I know what you’re thinking: “But isn’t it rude/annoying/spammy to sell stuff to my followers?” This is a very common question. I encounter so many people who don’t want to sell anything to their subscribers but, to be honest, the logic doesn’t make sense to me. Why? Because, like everyone else, you also have bills to pay, you aren’t trying to rip anyone off, and with the right products, you can help your subscribers to better their situations.

Don’t get me wrong: some people abuse their lists. I don’t condone this at all. But guys like Darren, who only sell high-quality ebooks or training courses that can help you grow a bigger and better blog, are helping their subscribers. Why shouldn’t Darren make some money selling a product that has taken him years and years to acquire the knowledge to create—and helps you in a big way?

How can you grow your list quickly?

  • Focus on value and quality information
    Your blog needs to publish high-quality content that adds value to the lives of your readers. Every time someone sees a post on your blog, they should leave feeling like a problem is solved. This is important.
  • Have an angle
    There are hundreds of millions of blogs out there. You need an angle. Why should people read your stuff over someone else’s? Without an attached story or angle, you give a person no reason to subscribe to your blog.
  • Use Aweber to add subscription boxes and send a free ebook
    I recently wrote a post about why I switched to Aweber and the reasons are simple: you can add a subscription box to your blog in about five minutes, you can send out a series of automatic follow-up emails and, best of all, you can send out a free ebook automatically. This is a tried and tested method for capturing a lot of email subscribers: write a highly valuable ebook that appeals to your niche, and give it away in exchange for their subscription.
  • Write guest posts related to your niche
    Once your free ebook offering is up and running, get out there and start guest posting on as many of the top blogs as possible. Darren has a thorough post on how to do this, so the only thing that I’ll add is that you should make your posts as good as possible, and in some way relate them to your free ebook. This ensures that all the visitors that trickle through to your site are interested in your stuff.
  • Engage people in email, Twitter, comment threads, etc.
    If you want your email subscribers to be loyal and engaged, you want to make sure you engage them in as many places as possible. As a general rule, I reply to every comment on my blog, and Twitter and Facebook accounts. I work from home so it’s easy for me to do this, but even if you work in an office, you should make an effort to reply to contacts and commenters each evening when you get home.

As a general rule of thumb, the number of email signups you attract is a good indicator of how successful your blog is. You might be getting all the traffic in the world, but unless you can convert it somehow, you probably aren’t making much progress. Capturing as many email subscribers as possible is the first and most important step in affiliate marketing.

2. Create a product and/or find an affiliate product to promote

This section is broken up in to two parts—your two different options. The first option is to create your own product and sell that to your list. I prefer this option because you can tailor it to suit your readers’ needs and wants. The second option is find someone else’s product to promote to your list for a commission (i.e. an affiliate program). Let’s take a look at both.

Creating your own product

The wonderful thing about the Internet is that it allows you to create your own product without much in the way of difficulty or start-up costs. In a recent article on how stay-at-home moms can make money, I said that a product launched off the back of an expert blog is one of the easiest and most rewarding ways to make an honest living online. This is true.

Your product could take one of many forms:

  • an ebook
    Creating an ebook is one of the simplest ways to make money from your blog. All you do is brainstorm a concept, write it out in Word or Open Office, tizzy it up with graphics and pictures, and then convert it into a PDF. Instant product. The problem? There are a lot of them out there. People have become a bit blind to them. If you are going to sell an ebook, you have to make sure it is of an outstanding level of quality and addresses a problem that’s massively relevant to your blogging audience. Ideally, it will cover a topic that hasn’t already been heavily written about.
  • an ecourse
    Another popular option is to develop an ecourse that teaches your readers how to do something. It could take the form of a series of emails sent out every week, or it could be an ebook mixed with video and delivered in module form. This is sometimes a better option because, the course content can be created or amended on the go, to respond to the feedback you get from users.
  • a membership site
    This is new black: it seems like everyone is creating membership sites nowadays. A membership site is basically a password-protected area of your blog that people can only access by paying. It could contain tools or courses or a forum of experts, for example. Some of the more successful membership sites are SEOBook and SEOmoz.
  • a physical product
    If you are one of these talented people who have an actual real-world skill like painting or designing clothes, you might want to make your product a physical one. This can work extremely well if you have a big list of people who admire your work.

Whatever you decide to create, you have to make sure it appeals to your readers and continues to add value as you’ve done on your blog. People simply will not pay for something unless they know that it will add to their lives in a meaningful way.

Promoting someone else’s product

If you don’t have the time, energy, or ideas to create your own product, you can start out by promoting other people’s—by becoming an affiliate. For example, if I created an amazing Blog Tyrant ecourse, I would offer people the opportunity to sell that ecourse on my behalf and earn a commission (usually 40% to 80%) on every sale. If you believed in that product (trust me, it’d be awesome!) then you could sell it to your list. Money for jam.

There are a few prerequisites to generating an income through affiliate sales:

  • The product must be relevant.
    If you run a dog-training blog there is almost no chance that my amazing Blog Tyrant product would sell to your list. You need to find affiliate products that are highly relevant to your blog.
  • You must believe in it/use it yourself.
    Personally, I never promote an affiliate product unless I use it myself. My site is all about helping people dominate their niche and grow an online business that allows them to work from home. Why would I risk my reputation (and in some cases friendships) promoting a product that I’ve never used?
  • It must be reputable and safe.
    Some affiliate programs out there really do not offer good protection for their customers. It’s getting rarer and rarer, but every now and then you come across a program that gets people involved with spam, or makes it difficult to get a refund. If you are going to promote something to your list, you want to make sure it comes from a reputable source that you know and trust. Shoemoney says that he never promotes an affiliate unless he has met the owner in person. This is a good rule.

Please do not think that affiliate programs are all dirty. They aren’t. There are some really solid brand names out there who are promoting very valuable tools and information. Darren’s one of them. With a little bit of research and planning, you will be able to find something great for your crew.

Finding affiliate products to promote
There are so many different places to find affiliates out there—some good, some bad. What you often find is that it is best to locate the product you want to promote first, then figure out what company that product creator is using to sign up affiliates. Some of the main ones you might want to look at include:

A lot of the larger companies run their own affiliate programs. In this case you want to visit the sites of the sellers themselves, scroll down to the very bottom and look for the Affiliates link that will direct you to the signup page.

3. Sell the product to your email list

The final part of this post is all about selling your product, or your chosen affiliate product, to your email list. This topic could be studied for a lifetime, but here, let’s look at a rough game-plan.

Pre-launch

The first step is to generate some interest among your subscribers around the product launch. You want to prepare your readers for the big sale day. There are lots of different ways to do this, and many different schools of thought as to what works and what doesn’t. Some ideas include:

  • a free give away
    Having a free give away that is related to your product launch can be a good idea because people circulate the free part to their friends and on their blogs. It can also help you capture more email addresses to use for the actual promotion.
  • a time-sensitive signup area
    Something else that can work is to have a time-sensitive signup area. For example, if you are releasing a membership site you might only want to release it to 100 members. Having an earlybird signup area on the blog a week in advance can get people motivated to join, rather than risk missing out.
  • create an affiliate program
    Around this time, if you’re selling a product you’ve created yourself, you also want to set yourself up as affiliate seller so that other bloggers can sell your products. Email your list of high-profile blogging contacts, letting them know about the product launch and the affiliate program, and ask them to help you out.

Whatever you decide to do, make sure it really does generate some buzz. The idea is to get as many people talking about the product, and sharing news about it, as possible.

Launch

The launch stage is where you actually send out the email to your list promoting your new product. You should also do a post on your blog to ensure your RSS readers hear about what’s going on. Make sure your launch email:

  • has a strong call to action
  • details all the specs of the product
  • uses social proof
  • focuses on benefits, not features.

As I said, this is only supposed to be a rough game-plan. There are some amazing articles out there that give you specific details on this process. I’d recommend starting with Copyblogger’s landing pages tutorials, Darren’s video on product launches, and Yaro’s article on creating an ebook.

Automate follow-ups for affiliate products

One thing to remember is that if you’re promoting someone else’s product you don’t have to do all this launch stuff. You can actually just set it to be entirely automatic. How? Well remember we talked about Aweber’s automatic messages earlier? What you can do is create a series of follow-up emails that go to every subscriber that you get on a sequence of set days.

For example, let’s say you subscribe to my Dog Training blog. On day one I might send you an automatic email thanking you for subscribing. Then on day three, you get an email with a highly useful dog training tip or tutorial. A week later, you get another training tip and then, maybe a day after that, I send you an email with an affiliate product that relates to the tips and tutorials, and really helps you solve the problem. It’s all automatic, and it works extremely well.

Remember, don’t flood your subscribers with emails, and don’t send anything out unless it’s highly valuable and useful to your subscribers. Don’t risk compromising your relationship.

Have you done it? Will you try it?

I’d really like to open up the comments now and ask you guys for any advice from your own email campaigns. Have you tried these kinds of approaches before? Did they work well? I’d also really like to know whether you will give this a try on your own blogs. Do leave a comment and let me know.

The Blog Tyrant is a 25 year old guy who makes a full time living from blogs and online businesses. He has sold several blogs for $20,000 plus and answers every comment he gets on his blog. Subscribe by email or follow him on Twitter, Facebook or RSS.

Bible Thumping, Brainwashing, and Pimping—Your Keys to Blog Success!

This guest post is by Jason Towne of TopThreeDaily.com.

I’m new to the blogosphere, but thanks to tips from ProBlogger and a few others, I decided to make the plunge and start my own blog. It’s only been a little over a week. The day after my site went live I had nearly 2,000 pageviews and 500 unique visitors. Within the next 24 hours those numbers doubled and then I soon passed 8,000 unique visitors and 20,000 pageviews. In the week that we’ve been up, the site rose over 2.4 million spots on Alexa.

Keep in mind I had no experience whatsoever with blogging, social media, or technology. How did I do it?

Optimizing the WTF? factor

The first and most important thing I did was to research what, and how, blog posts go viral. I began by researching the concept of linkbaiting, starting with ProBlogger’s classic post, and then continued to study Buzzfeed, Popurls, and other sites to get a feel for what gets spread around. One thing I learned is that titles that make people say WTF? are winners. For instance, my first viral article, 6 Bible Thumping Tips that Will Save Your Butt!, only had a chance because the title was so intriguing. I know this because I sent out that exact same article twice, with two inferior titles, and it went nowhere. When I changed the name, it took off like a rocket.

Now that I’ve had several viral articles in a row, I’m confident that a quality title is everything. Here’s a trick that I use.

First, focus on either list posts or how-to guides. Both of those bring amazing results over and over. Second, think of something that’s traditionally considered a “negative,” combine it with a “positive,” and you’ve built instant interest. For instance, “Bible Thumping” is usually used in a derogatory way, but “saving your butt” is a good thing. You could do the same with any negative and any positive. For instance, diseases are bad and money is good. So how about an article titled, 5 Diseases I Would Pay Money To Get. Then go research and find some rare, cool disease that has positive benefits. I would click on that.

Ask yourself this question when considering titles: “Would this title make a person say ‘WTF?’”

Befriending Reddit

Keep in mind that I was new to social media and blogging, so I was working by trial and error. What I’ve learned pretty quickly is that Facebook, Twitter, Digg, and StumbleUpon are great if you already have a presence on those sites. If you’ve been using them for some time and have a lot of friends and followers, then you should definitely submit your stuff. However, if you are a newbie like myself, then Reddit should become your instant best friend.

The reason is that Facebook and Twitter are only as good as the number of friends you have. If you have no friends, then you’re submitting your work to nobody. Digg and StumbleUpon are great if you already have some time put in. I didn’t, and when I submitted my articles to those sites they were seen by absolutely nobody. If you’re new, you’re better off not submitting your stuff to them—let someone else (who is established) eventually do it for you.

However, Reddit is a different story. The great thing about Reddit is that when you submit an article, picture, video, or whatever, it is posted instantly for all Reddit users to see. If they like the title then they click on it, and you’re in business. The better your article/picture/video is, the more they will then share it with their friends, and so it starts to go viral.

Here’s an example. I posted an article called called How Bad Boys Control Women (The Real Jedi Mind Trick) on Digg and StumbleUpon, and it wasn’t looked at even once. Then I posted that same article on Reddit and it blew up. I was swarmed with visitors and it began to spread like wildfire. Reddit gives you the initial chance that all the others just don’t offer.

Browsing the Web

Unless you’re a creative writing machine, you probably can’t write blockbuster linkbait articles every day, so the next-best thing is to browse the web for material. I found lots of good material that was a bit older, but very well written. I then got permission from the author to either repost it on my site in whole or repost part of it with a link back to their site. Since the article was out of favor anyway, everyone agreed. What this did was allow me to create a new post on a cool topic, reword my title, and submit it to Reddit. This gave me a massive pageview boost, and helped the original site the article came from get a new lease on life. Everyone won.

Here’s the best example. I was short on creativity the other day, but I remembered hearing on the radio about the police arresting this pimp and finding his business plan. I tracked it down online, put it in a brief article I wrote, then posted A Pimp’s Actual Hand-Written Business Plan. I then tossed it on Reddit and within 12 hours I had gained 15,000 new pageviews. Pimp = negative, business plan = positive. If you’re still not convinced the title strategy works, go back and take a look at the title of this article. You clicked on it. It works.

Have you tried writing titles like this? What title tactics have worked best for you? And what’s your experience with Reddit? Let us know in the comments.

Jason Towne is a published author and former Hollywood script doctor. He currently runs the best-of-the-web blog, Top Three Daily, which came online on Jan. 26, 2011 and is already starting to have an impact on the blogosphere. Towne is also a freelance article writer, consultant, father, and husband. You can follow his posts through his RSS feed.

How to Impress Blog Visitors Before they Start to Read

This guest post is by Darren of Findermind.com

Isn’t the best way to impress readers by providing great content? My answer would be yes, because most people come to your site for your content.

There are, however, some things you can do to impress and build credibility among your (first-time) readers even before they start to read what you have to say. How? Let me explain.

Provide quantitative instead of qualitative statements

People are not stupid. Messages like “we are the best blog providing blogging tips” won’t work. Your visitors are skeptical. They want evidence to show you’re the best blog for blogging tips. That’s why it’s important to provide quantitative instead of qualitative statements. Here are some examples of quantitative statements:

  • 116 new subscribers daily
  • over 56 new twitter followers every day
  • join over 170, 000 subscribers (this example’s from ProBlogger!).

In conversion rate optimization, using statements such as these is considered a best practice. Why? Because it consistently produces higher conversion rates.

There is, however, one good way to provide believable qualitative statements…

Let somebody else do the bragging for you

This concept is used a lot around products releases, where it’s known as “providing testimonials.” But, of course, you can use the same concept for your own website? If, for example, Darren mentioned something nice about your blog, why not showcase it to your readers? An example might be:

“Absolutely the most useful blog on WordPress Tips”—Darren Rowse, ProBlogger.com

As you can notice, this is a qualitative statement (without any specific evidence). People won’t believe you if you brag about yourself. “We’re the best, the greatest, the cheapest…” Sorry, that doesn’t work. Do you believe it when the author of a specific blog says they’re the best in their niche? One of the first questions that comes to mind after reading this is, “Why are you the cheapest, greatest, and best?”

There is some research, however, to support the claim that if you let another person do “the bragging” for you, then you can establish credibility quickly. In chapter 22 of his best-selling book 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive, Dr. Robert Cialdini mentions a study he’s done with Jeffrey Pfeeffer (you can view the study here in PDF format).

The pair asked study participants to imagine themselves in the role of a chief editor for a particular book publisher. Their current job was dealing with a particular author. To get an impression of that author, they had to read an excerpts of a negotiation for a sizable book advance. The results showed that the participants rated the author more favorably in every area when his bragging was done by his manager, than in those areas where the author bragged about himself.

If you mention a quote from someone else (like in the above ProBlogger example), then it’s best to put it above the fold—next to your logo, for example. There’s often a lot of empty space there, and some people use that for ads, but you can use it for building credibility among first-time visitors.

Put a universal Like button on your blog

The above screen shot is from Mashable.com. At the top of their sidebar, they display a universal Like button which is visible on every post and every page.

This can communicte significant social proof, and has one big advantage: it’s very easy to click on. Also, it’s very easy to locate—more on that later.

Why use this instead of the Facebook social plugin? After all, Problogger does:

The answer is that the Facebook social plugin has several disadvantages :

  • It has to be placed below the fold and in the sidebar. Space above the fold is most commonly used for ads.
  • The Facebook Like button is a lot harder to find, with so many elements competing for users’ attention. I would estimate that the single Like option on the universal button is at least three times easier to find because there’s a number next to it, and eyetracking studies tell us that people’s attention focuses on numbers (mostly because they are an indicator of facts, and people love to read facts online).
  • Why would I like to “Find the Blog on Facebook” if I’m already on the blog? That instruction simply doesn’t make sense. It’s not one of the things I want to do. The thing I want to do while on a blog is read its content, and if it’s good, I can either like it or not. As such, a simple Like button is more relevant to users’ intentions.

The universal Like button creates credibility very quickly. Everyone’s on Facebook. By seeing your Like button—and the number of people who like your blog—visitors will understand that there are real people reading your blog. This further establishes social proof: the bigger the number of people who Like your blog, the better.

When to apply these principles … and when to ignore them

Are these principles applicable to all blogs? No. It  all depends on what you blog is about, and who’s in your audience. For example, I blog about people search, and I can’t really apply these principles to great effect, because I can’t built a loyal audience. My audience members’ goals are pretty short-term: they are looking for a person’s details, and once they find that information, they’re gone.

But I would recommend these principles to owners of blogs that have a potential to build long-term audience relationships, like people trying to build a more successful blog, people trying to make money online, people trying to save money, and so on. I would recommend these principles for people trying to build a loyal audience—and I’m pretty most of you are doing that.

What other techniques have you used to impress visitors to your blog as soon as they arrive? I’d love to hear about them in the comments!

Darren loves to do guest posts on blogging/social media. His current project involves teaching people how to use social media to successfully re-unite with friends and family members. If you ever wanted to do that, start by reading this article, titled 25 Free People Search Engines to Find Anyone. Good luck!

Personal Blog Monetization Perils and Pitfalls

This guest post is by Brooke Schoenman of Brooke vs. the World.

I write for two blogs that are both travel-themed, yet very different from one another. Brooke vs. the World has been my personal travel blog for the past four years, while WhyGo Australia is more of a travel guide blog which is part of a larger travel network, and focuses on making money. Because of their different natures, I approach the way I write and promote each of these blogs in a different manner.

Brooke vs. the World has been around for a while now, and since I have a bit of clout in the online travel community, it does draw the attention of advertisers and has various avenues of making money. Lately, though, I’ve been trying to come to terms with whether or not I want to take it a step further to a point of it becoming a real money-maker. In considering my options, I’ve realized that this process would involve overcoming several challenges.

Prioritizing commercial topics over personal topics

Most personal bloggers choose to write about topics that only pertain to them, and do it in a way that requires them to talk about themselves. This approach can help build a following of people that truly can relate to you and what you’re doing, but it’s likely that focusing more heavily on broader topics that a more general audience can relate to from time to time will mean you can monetize your blog more successfully. There’s also the need to choose topics that fare better for SEO and purposely cause discussion. In other words, if you monetize your personal blog, you might have to blog about topics that aren’t as near and dear to your heart all the time.

For example, on my personal blog, I’d find it a bit bland to write an article on the “5 Best Budget Hostels in Antigua, Guatemala.” I’d much prefer to talk about my experiences with meeting new people there, perhaps in an article called, “The Amazing Friends I Met in Hostels in Guatemala.” Obviously, the first topic is going to appeal to a larger audience, maybe perform better with the search engines, and produce a better way of introducing affiliate programs with direct calls to action (think: “book your stay now”).

Censoring personal feelings

If you’re like me, you might use a personal blog as a way to vent and share your personal feelings. There’s nothing wrong with that—in fact, it can be a good way to connect with readers. However, if you monetize your blog, times may arise when it is best to not show your deep-down honest feelings—perhaps when you really dislike something. That’s a factor that can change in a blog when it starts to become a business: being openly judgmental can drive some potential advertisers away.

I let my personal feelings about traveling in New Zealand slip out on my blog last year. Sure, there were plenty of reasons why my feelings on the subject were negative, but by not censoring myself, I may have killed any chances of landing a media-related trip to New Zealand, or of working with New Zealand-themed advertisers in the future.

Broadening the horizons

Along with prioritizing commercial topics, the personal blogger looking to monetize their blog may need to broaden their scope. Talking about travel experiences and telling travel tales is one thing, but to gain a larger audience, you may try to provide experiences and tales for more than the countries that you’ve visited yourself. In addition, tackling list-style posts and easy-reading type articles can be a great way to draw in different types of readers. But are they your thing?

I think Darren touches on this point by talking about how his video posts do better when he has both the video and the transcription together. There are simply different kinds of audiences: some are visual (preferring photos or videos); others like to read about it. Some visitors are looking for a personal tale from a travel blog, while others want to know how exactly they can do the same things you did in a step-by-step guide. Each of these visitor types means that you may gain by branching out from your normal style. But personally, I find list posts and how-to guides feel less personal and unique (the majority of the time), and video blogs time-consuming.

Opening it up to others

Although it’s not necessarily essential, opening up a blog to focus more on others (another step in broadening the horizons) is beneficial when it comes to gaining more interest from your audience. You can achieve this by writing interviews, accepting guest posts, and linking more frequently to outside resources. Any way it happens, it will draw more attention to your blog. Yet it is a task that can be difficult to do smoothly if, so far, you’ve been focusing solely on your own story.

Brooke vs. the World, for example, has been a blog about my personal journey; the title pretty much says so. The objective has always been to share my travels, so the thought of adding another voice to the mix through guest posts would seem to break the continuity of what has now been years in the making.

Getting over the fear of selling

If a blog doesn’t start out to make money, it can feel as though the blogger is selling out by changing their focus to monetization later on. I think this is my number one issue with taking my personal blog to the next level—the fear that what I do and say will be only taken at face value, instead of genuinely. So, while I may feel strongly about the benefits of a certain product I’m writing about, I often fear making the initial call to action to achieve the response I’m looking for.

The fact that I struggle with this aspect could be all in my head, or it could be because the selling tone just doesn’t fit in with my personal blog’s voice. I’ve tried several times to write articles that are focused on the sale, but it just sounds out of place and inauthentic. I often worry that people will think that I’m only saying that I like a specific tour or travel product because I’m hoping to make some quick money from the sales.

Getting over the fear of selling yourself

Self-promotion is essential for making yourself stand out in a crowded niche such as travel, yet for many people, it’s not easy to do. You have to be able to tell people why you are interesting to follow and, most importantly, how they can gain from it themselves. Otherwise, you’ll be just another fish in the big Internet sea, swimming around waiting to be discovered.

Part of the process of drawing attention to yourself, however, can feel like bragging. Since most personal blogs have just a person behind them, there’s no business name to hide behind. So selling yourself seems very much like talking yourself up to others, which is what we were raised to think is impolite and annoying. I’m sure there is a fine line here, but I often find myself questioning whether it’s worth the risk of crossing that line.

I generally have no issues doing any of these activities with WhyGo Australia, since it’s a part of my job and I’m backed by a really awesome independent travel company. Overcoming these challenges with my personal blog is another story—and one that I continue to struggle with.

Have any of you felt the same when it comes to trying to make the change from personal blog to money-maker?

Brooke Schoenman is a long-time traveler and full-time travel blogger, originally from America but now in the process of becoming an Australia expat. For travel inspiration, subscribe to her feed at Brooke vs. the World, and for Australia travel tips be sure to bookmark WhyGo Australia.

Don’t Go It Alone: Relationship-building for Bloggers

This is a guest post by Jane from Problogging Success.

Let’s get it straight. Blogging is not a standalone job. You cannot blog in a space that doesn’t exist and to a group of virtual people. You need people—yes, living human beings, not just pairs of eyeballs—to read your
blog.

You don’t just need people to read what you write; you need people to:

  • agree/disagree with you
  • give you different perspectives/thoughts/suggestions
  • follow as role models/examples
  • endorse/recommend you to the public
  • share things with
  • buy your stuff and so on.

So you need people in the blogosphere. Period.

Blogging has evolved so far, so strongly, and in an awesome way because of relationships. Just imagine the number of people who hunt blogs for information these days. A big number is just on and around blogs. So you need to make good use of that number.

Let me give you three tips (surely the not-so-trivial kind) to get along with people in the blogging world.

1. Comment

Commenting—not spamming, but giving out your genuine thoughts and views about a particular blog post—will help you to develop an excellent relationship with the author of the article. Everyone knows this. So how can you comment to build relationships (apart from links) effectively?

Reach out to growing bloggers and to those bloggers who are in the same stage as you in their blogging journey. Every comment you make on your favorite A-lister’s blog will indeed help you make friends, attract new visitors, and sometimes even attract subscribers. This is conventional wisdom.

My suggestion is to make a habit of commenting in the not-so-big, yet growing blogs (apart from the A-list blogs that are your favorites and those you comment for link-building purposes). Spend some time to find out a handful of blogs in your niche that are just growing, and comment in them in a consistent and useful way.

Your first friend will be the blogger, of course. And he or she will return the favor. You become blogging buddies and comment on each others’ posts regularly.

Here’s what you can do after that:

  • Communicate personally with the blogger. Give suggestions, ask for advice, help each other, and so on.
  • Trade off Tweets and Facebook shares. This works great for me. I share their posts, and the favor is returned. So if you have ten blog buddies like this, the exposure you’ll get can be fairly decent. I have also gained new subscribers and friends who are friends of those buddy bloggers.
  • Endorse each other’s products/services.

2. Guest post

Guest posting is great for link building and for traffic—quite true. But how about guest posting for developing strong relationships?

Among various other benefits of guest posting, developing relationships with others is one of the main benefits. How can you achieve that? Again, aim not only for the A-list, but go for the growing blogs. This time you need to filter a bit more. Find out blogs that are doing great with readers and comments, and simply forget about the PR for this moment (I say this because I personally know and follow many blogs that have excellent content, and a great number of loyal readers and fans, but the blog’s page rank is 0).

Write a very useful post (you know that!) and close it by opening the topic up for a discussion. Given that the blog has decent number of readers who comment, a call to action should work great. Now it’s your turn to build relationships. Make it a point to respond to every comment in your guest post. But go further. Encourage discussions in the comments. And give out additional tips and secrets in replies to the commenters.

Tip: Look for CommentLuv-enabled blogs. They normally have good number of people who comment.

CommentLuv is a cute little WordPress plugin that fetches the recent post of the commenter (from the website feed) as he/she types the comment, and displays it after the comment. If a blog has the CommentLuv plugin enabled, there should be a little checkbox below the comment Submit button, as shown here.

Checking the box will display the recent post. If you have registered your blog at the ComLuv website, you can choose to display any one of the ten most recent posts.

That ‘s not all. You also have a search option at ComLuv website. You can search for CommentLuv-enabled blogs in your niche by entering appropriate keywords.

Download CommentLuv plugin here, and register your blog at comluv.com.

3. Linking

Write round-up posts on your blog that link to other posts. Do this periodically: once in a week or two, write a round-up post. This time, you need to aim only for the big players: A-list blogs. Your post can be centered around one post from a particular A-list blog, or a collection of posts from different blogs with either the same or different topics.

You can follow any or all of the following strategies:

  1. Write one blog post agreeing/disagreeing/appreciating/casting your extra views on one popular blog
    post. Caution: Don’t be tempted to get dirty and disagree with popular bloggers just to gain attention.
  2. Write one blog post on a topic and quote four or five related blog posts to validate your thoughts.
  3. Pick four or five popular blog posts of A-list bloggers, not necessarily in a very narrow topic, and write a list post that ties them all together.

You have got to try it and see. You will get a lot of exposure, friends—and loyal readers.

The bottom line? You cannot blog alone. You need the support of nice people to blog successfully. Don’t just be obsessed with SEO and link building; rather, seek to develop true and long-lasting relationships.

Just ask this to yourself: “Why do I blog?” There can be many answers, but this will be surely one of your answers: “to create relationships with others.” Unless you’re writing a blog that’s entirely private, you blog for relationships. You write for people—your friends, your students, your clients, your community, your gender, or people with particular interest or issues. So make the most of those relationships.

What methods do you adopt to develop blogging relationships? And what works best for you?

Jane is a blog consultant and the founder of Problogging Success. She has authored two e-books Problogging Action Plan (winner of the Small Business Book Awards, 2012) and Guest Blogging Champion to help bloggers become successful in their blogging business.

6 Fiction Writing Techniques to Improve Your Blog

This is a guest post by Joanna Penn of The Creative Penn

Many people want to write a book and maybe you’re one of them. Perhaps you don’t want to write a novel, but these fiction writing techniques can still help you improve your blog.

1. Character

At its core, fiction is about characters and how they live, who they are and what they go through in the course of a book. If a reader doesn’t care about the character, why should they bother reading on? The same is true of your blog. If readers don’t care about you as the main character, they will go elsewhere. If your content is dry and devoid of personality, people will click away.

You can show character through the use of personal anecdotes about you and your life, either on your blog or through social networks. You can use video or audio to present a more rounded view and incorporate the rich variety of your life to infuse blog with character.

2. Setting

All books have a setting, and so do blogs. In fiction, it might be a faraway planet, ancient Rome or a vampire’s lair that give a sense of place. For blogging, the equivalent is your blog design including use of images, color and theme. This will set the tone for your blog or your book and is just as important for either.

A blog on finding true love is unlikely to have a dark, Gothic theme; a sports blog will probably not be pink and fluffy. Setting and blog design influence how the content is perceived before people even start reading so it’s critical to consider what people experience when they first arrive at your site.

3. Genre

It’s important when writing fiction to consider the genre you are writing in, because the rules and expectations differ widely. Consider romance, science-fiction, and horror. The readers are different. The books sit in different places on bookshelves. It’s the same with blogging. You can try to span multiple areas but you will find your message diluted. Decide on your genre or niche and stick with it. It’s the only way to make an impact.

4. Plot

The plot of a novel is the story that pulls a reader through the book to the climactic finish and leaves them wanting more.

On a small scale, every blog post needs to act this way. You want people to read to the end so try to pull them through with a story or save your best information to the climax. On a larger scale, your blog needs to have a plot that keeps people coming back over time. That can be a posting schedule based on delivering specific information on different days of the week. It can be categories of posts that spark areas of interest, or a series of blog posts that tie a whole subject together. It might also be sharing compelling aspects of your life that function as a plot over time.

5. Dialogue

Dialogue between characters is critical in bringing a novel to life. It allows us to glimpse the people behind the story and watch interactions between the characters. As a writer, dialogue can sometimes be surprising when your characters behave differently than you expected. You can also give a problem to characters to explore in dialogue and often find your writing issues solved.

Comments on your blog and interactions on your social networks are the dialog between you and your reader. You can use this dialog to glimpse your readers behind the text of your blog and use the information to adjust your content accordingly. You may be surprised at who your readers actually are.

6. Show, don’t tell

This is the cardinal rule of fiction writing. The point is to always demonstrate a character through action or dialogue, rather than exposition. So instead of saying “Jane was kind to animals”, you show Jane rescuing a wild bird from barbed wire, speaking in a calm voice while carefully separating the torn feathers.

In blogging these days, you can use multi-media to show, not tell. For example, if you’re doing a post on how to perform a perfect golf swing, make a video that shows the exact steps instead of writing a text post. That will bring your site to life as well as providing valuable information for your audience. You can also create audio interviews and information on topics that demonstrate your expertise and enable your audience to know, like and trust you.

So embrace your fiction writing skills and improve your blog at the same time! How are your fiction writing skills coming along? Do you use these techniques on your blog?

Joanna Penn is the author of Pentecost, a thriller novel. Joanna is also a blogger at The Creative Penn: Adventures in Writing, Publishing and Book Marketing. You can connect with Joanna on Twitter @thecreativepenn.

How to Troubleshoot WordPress

This guest post was written by Neil Matthews, a WordPress consultant at WPDude.

Over the years, I’ve developed a troubleshooting methodology while working with my WordPress technical support clients.  My methodology helps  to solve the majority of WordPress crashed sites I’ve come across, and I wanted to share it with you, the good readers of ProBlogger.

I cannot claim that I invented the process, but I have brought together a number of useful tips from the WP community and combined them to create a repeatable and verifiable way to isolate and troubleshoot WordPress problems.

The process

This methodology isolates the various layers of a WordPress site one at a time, tests a layer by removing its component parts, and then, if the problem still exists, moves down to test the next layer.

Once you have isolated the problematic component, you can remove it from your site and troubleshoot the problem itself.

I recommend doing this in a slow and ordered manner, incrementally testing each layer as you go. Look at a layer, disable all of the components, and slowly restart them to find out where the problem lies.

The layers

I like to divide WordPress into four layers:

  • plugins
  • theme
  • WordPress core
  • database.

This methodology looks at the first three layers only.

What can this process fix?

This methodology can be used to fix a variety of WordPress issues including, bit not limited to:

  • the dreaded “white screen of death” where all you can see is a white screen and nothing else
  • “Header Already Sent” errors
  • “Fatal Plugin” errors
  • “Out of Memory” errors
  • …many other WordPress problems, too.

Back up first

Even if your site has crashed, it’s important to stop, take a moment, and back up your site as it is now.  You are about to embark on a journey which will make a lot of changes to your site.  Taking a backup of the site as it stands means you can fall back to your starting position if you need to, without making the situation any worse.

Troubleshooting plugins

I always start at the plugin layer when I’m troubleshooting a WordPress problem. In my experience, about 80-90% of system crashes are caused by plugin issues. This is because there are so many plugins (sometimes of questionable coding quality) available to WordPress site owners.  Combining these plugins with other plugins, themes, and WordPress itself creates an untested mix that can very easily crash your site.

This is how I troubleshoot plugins:

  1. Disable all plugins.
  2. Has the problem gone? If it has, you have an issue at the plugin layer, if not, move down to next layer the theme.
  3. Re-activate plugins one at a time.
  4. Test your site after each reactivation. Has the problem returned? If so, you have now found the suspect plugin: go to point 5. If not, rinse and repeat from point 3.
  5. Disable that plugin.
  6. Re-activate the other plugins to ensure you don’t have multiple plugin problems.
  7. If the problem is still cleared, you have isolated and remove the problem. Go to the Getting Support section below.

Sometimes plugins cause such a problem that when you try to log into the dashboard to disable them, all you get is the same error message. If you cannot log into the dashboard, all is not lost: I have a work-around for you.

What you need to do is connect to your site via FTP and navigate to the wp-content folder.  If you rename the plugins directory, to plugins_temp for example, WordPress no longer knows where the plugin files are, and stops running them.  Now if you try to log in to the site, you’ll find that the issue has probably gone.

If you then proceed to the Plugins section in your Dashboard, you will see an error message that the plugin files cannot be found and have been disabled. Rename plugins_temp and you plugin files will be available again. Now, incrementally start from point 2 above to see which one caused the problem.

Troubleshooting themes

Once you have tested the plugins to rule them out, you need to move down a layer to the theme. This is how I troubleshoot themes:

  1. Disable the current theme.
  2. Activate a default theme such as Twenty ten.
  3. Test. If the problem has gone, you know the theme is causing issues. If not, move down to the WordPress core layer.
  4. Re-activate all of the plugins individually to make sure there is not a composite problem. If the problem doesn’t recur, you’ve isolated the theme as the problem area.

Next, I’d try to rule out any changes I’d made to the theme by removing any code I had recently added. If I have updated the theme, I’d roll back to a previous version. If I have just added a new widget, I’d try to back this out.  As you can see, the process is all about back-tracking methodically so you can repair the issue.

Again, if you cannot log into the dashboard there is a work-around. Connect to your site via FTP, and navigate to the wp-content/themes directory. If you now rename your currently live theme directory to themdir_temp for example, WordPress won’t know where the theme files are. All you’ll see at the front end is a white screen, but the dashboard will be available. Go to point 2 above and activate a default theme.  Remember to change the name of themedir_temp back to themedir to help troubleshooting.

Troubleshooting WordPress Core Files

The last layer to check are your WordPress core files.  This is the last layer because it is the least problematic, but I have seen incidents where files have become corrupt, stopping WordPress from working correctly.  The easiest way to troubleshoot WordPress core files is to re-install a clean copy.

This is my process for troubleshooting WordPress core files:

  1. Download a clean version of WordPress from http://wordpress.org/download/.
  2. Connect to your site via FTP.
  3. Rename wp-admin and wp-includes to ensure you are uploading clean copies of these directories.
  4. Back up wp-config.php just in case. This files holds your database connection details (amongst other things).
  5. Upload your clean version of WordPress.
  6. Test. Is your issue fixed? If so, you have isolated the problem at WordPress core. If not, it’s time to call in the experts.
  7. Re-activate your theme and test it.
  8. Re-activate your plugins and test them.

Fixing the component

At this point, you have hopefully isolated the component of your site that was causing issues.  So what do you do now?  Here are your options:

  • Visit the plugin or theme developers’ site and check to see if they have a support forum to search or request support from. Any developer worth his or her salt will be only too happy to provide support, and premium plugins and themes should provide top-class support as part of your fee. Remember to be nice to them if it’s a free theme or plugin and they don’t reply in five minutes.
  • Find a replacement for the plugin or theme. There is usually more than one implementation of a plugin, so if you can, swap out the problematic plugin with another one.
  • Request some support from http://wordpress.org/support/. This is excellent for core WordPress problems, and you will often find forums for individual plugins there, too.
  • Set the social media monster to work on your problem. Sometimes it’s as easy as sending out a tweet to your network to find a solution to the problem.
  • Get the pros in—hire a WordPress technical support team or consultant to solve your problem.

Wrap up

I use this methodology on a daily basis—it’s proven in the field on crashed sites.  The key is to methodically work through the layers, eliminating as you go, until you find the root cause. Then, fix that issue.  Remember to constantly test, though, because sometimes there are composite problems with multiple plugins, or the theme and a plugin.

Do you have any WordPress bug horror stories you can share? Who solves your site’s bugs and problems—is it you?

Neil provides WordPress technical support services at WPDude.com. He has also created a mini video course on this methodology over at wptroubleshooting.com.