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Prepare for a Custom Blog Redesign in 5 Simple Steps

This guest post is by Josh Mullineaux, co-founder of Highlighter.com and Unique Blog Designs.

Over the past four years, my business has completed over 500 custom blog projects and through that experience, we’ve learned the ins and outs of a what contributes to a successful blog design.

Today, I wanted to share the five key factors I believe you should consider before hiring a blog designer. Thinking about these five factors in advance will help you make the most of your experience.

1. What are your goals for the project?

This sounds like an obvious question, but being able to communicate clearly your reasons for wanting a blog design will be extremely helpful for your designer, and will contribute to a more successful project.

I recommend having one or two main goals or objectives. Then, if necessary, create a subset of several more. For example, when I ask potential clients what their goals are for their projects, it isn’t usual for the blogger to respond with a really abstract answer: “I want my blog to look better,” or “I want my blog to be more visible.” Neither of these goals are specific enough to help us create a great blog design, so it’s my job to ask more specific questions at that point.

Get a head start by really thinking about what your goals are for the blog design. If it’s a new blog, you may have specific goals around branding either yourself or your blog business. If you’re redesigning an existing blog, you may have goals such as increasing the number of daily opt-ins to your email list, or changing the layout so your visitors are able to read the content they want more easily.

Again, the more specific you can be with your goals, the more successful your project is going to be.

2. Which sites do you like? What do you like about them?

Having a list of sites and blogs that you like and can reference is a huge help to your designer. This doesn’t mean that you have to have examples of sites that you want to copy, or sites that you like everything about—actually, the contrary is true. The best thing to do is gather sites that you like specific elements of. For example, you could really like the header of one site, the color scheme of another site, and the footer of yet another site.

I recommend having a list of at least three to five sites that you like. As with my first point, the more specific you are with what you like about the sites, the better. If you like the header of a site, think about what it is that you like about the header. There are usually multiple elements within the header of the site; you may like the position of the logo, or the way the navigation looks, or where the RSS icon is located, or that it’s tilted sideways, and so on.

3. What’s your budget?

Have a budget in mind for your project—this may determine who you hire. There are many possibilities for designing a blog interface, and a wide range of pricing options.

The least expensive option is to go with a premium WordPress theme that closely suits your needs. Expect to pay in the range of $50-$150 USD. For improved branding, you can also have a custom logo designed, which will usually cost you around $300 USD.

There are other options, such as 99designs.com, that can be less expensive than engaging a design agency or even a well-known freelance designer. The upside is that you’ll get good value for your money, but you will also have to put a lot more effort into preparing a great design brief, creating a layout description, and giving feedback on designs. A reasonable price to pay on 99designs for a custom blog design is around $1100 USD.

Going with a custom design firm or a well-known freelancer is going to be more expensive, but you will have the experience of working with a professional, and can expect customer service to be top notch. I would recommend speaking with at least three different agencies or designers before you select one. This way, you’ll get to know the process, get an idea of what they charge, and have a feel for who understands your needs and who doesn’t. For a professional custom blog design, I’d expect to pay a minimum of $3,500—more likely, closer to $5,000 USD.

4. What’s your timeline?

The timeline for the creation of a custom blog design comes down the schedule of the person or company doing the creative work. Designers usually have lead times of at least a couple weeks for starting new projects. For example, we estimate that a custom WordPress blog will usually take eight to 12 weeks from start to finish. If you need it quicker than that, you can expect to pay extra for rush delivery.

Some individual freelancers may be able to complete a project faster, and options like 99designs.com can also be quicker. The best advice here is to plan as far in advance as possible, get multiple quotes, and choose the one that works for your timeline.

5. Which sites has the designer created that you like?

There is no doubt that you have selected several possible designers for your project, and that you’ve selected them at least in part because of their past work. It’s important that you can identify which sites they’ve done that you like, and what you like about them, for referencing purposes when you are speaking with the designer.

Conclusion

Whichever route you choose to go through—agency, freelancer, 99designs.com—just remember that the more thought and work you put into the project before approaching designers, the more successful your project is going to be. Getting a custom blog designed can be a headache or a great experience, but fortunately you can do a lot to influence which way the project goes.

Josh Mullineaux is a co-founder of Highlighter.com and Unique Blog Designs.

Boost Traffic and Trust by Giving Back

This is a guest post by Joshua Noerr of JoshuaNoerr.com.

It’s clear that social media, specifically blogging, is about so much more than making money. Sure, we all want to be compensated for our time and our talents, but if the only goal was to make money, blogging would certainly not be our first choice.

If you’ve been reading ProBlogger for any length of time, the message will be clear to you: blogging is not a get-rich-quick kind of deal. There are certainly a few stars that rose to prominence quickly, but they’re the exception, not the rule.

The truth is, blogging for dollars is a slow process that requires many different factors to click into place before it produces a dependable income. One of those key factors is trust. The bottom line here is that your readers absolutely must trust you in order to buy from you, or to subscribe to your feed or newsletter.

I remember reading a book on sales a few years ago that said, essentially, “The prospect does not have to like you, he or she just has to trust you.” I don’t know about you, but I can’t recall any time I’ve said, “Wow, I don’t like that guy, but I sure do trust him.” Likability and trustworthiness have a tendency to go hand in hand.

Give back to build trust

Giving selflessly is a very powerful way to build the trust that you need to boost your repeat visitor levels, and your traffic overall. I’m going to share with you a way to do exactly that, but first I want you to consider something.

Have you ever noticed that most large corporations have either a foundation established in their name, or a department that handles charitable giving on behalf of the company? Think about that. I could name ten corporations that do just that off the top of my head. Consider why they do it. If you answered “to build trust,” you’re right!

What I’m proposing is that you donate a small portion of your online real estate to a good cause.

I know that the thought of giving even a small portion of your sidebar to charity may seem painful at first. For many, that means less space for direct advertising or AdSense promotion. It might even mean removing a featured affiliate product.

What I promise you is that the trust you get in return, while impossible to place a dollar value on, will be worth it. The good that you do in the world will become a part of your legacy.

Get started giving

Head over to FirstGiving.com. This website sets up free donation pages for thousands of charities and non-profits. After you set up your giving page, you’ll be able to create a widget that displays the amount of money you’re trying to raise, the organization you’re supporting, and how far you’ve progressed in your fundraising.

Place this widget somewhere on your blog. Now, you’re almost done, but there’s still one more step.

I suggest that you announce what you’re doing, which charity or cause you’re supporting, and why you’re supporting them (if you would like to see an example, take a look at my post asking for help to cure multiple sclerosis).

Writing this post is key, because it’s highly likely that it will be Stumbled, Dugg, and Tweeted, drawing attention to the cause, as well as your blog.

I also recommend that you choose a charity that’s near and dear to your heart. I decided to support the MS Fund because I have a wonderful friend who struggles with the disease. I can’t wait for the day when this disease no longer affects so many people. I’m sure you have a similar story, and I encourage you to share it with your readers.

Can blogging change the world?

Blogging has already changed the world in so many ways. It has changed the way news is reported, the speed at which information travels, and the way we get that information.

But I believe it can do much more than that. I truly believe that with so many wonderful, giving people out there in the blogosphere, blogging will change the world for the better in the years to come.

Please share your thoughts in the comments. What other ways can we give back and make the world a better place through blogging? Is there an organization that fits perfectly into your niche that you would like to support?

Joshua Noerr is a former competitive fighter turned blogger. He owns, or is partnered in, several blogs in different niches including personal development and fly fishing. He has one simple mission that drives all of his blogs: to change the world.

Online Marketing … Without the Arrogance

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

There are many less-respectable professions than internet marketing, but even today I get a glare—“so you’re one of those guys”—when I’m introduced to someone for the first time.

For many, the word “marketing” conjures images of people whose sole job is to convince others to spend money they don’t have on products they don’t need, using every tactic possible—no matter how sneaky. The business owners I speak to all the time consciously ignore all forms of marketing because of this.

But I’m here to tell you that you can be a marketer without being a die-hard, arrogant salesman, and the secret is simple: you just need to know where the lines are.

Silence or the megaphone?

You or your product may be the very best, most valuable product in the marketplace, but if you sit in the corner in silence, no-one will ever know your name. On the flip side, if you stand in that corner on a box, and scream how awesome you are into a megaphone, everyone will remember you—but as that irritable person who just wouldn’t shut up!

The secret here is engagement. Be ready to start or join a conversation, and be prepared to listen as much as you contribute. Engagement is a two-way street, and it requires you to get out of your cave not just for face-to-face conversations, but in all your forms of marketing communication. Your customers have a voice. Seek it out, listen, and show you care.

The moral: engage, engage, engage!

Over-deliverer or over-promiser?

Do you write, “This product is going to make you a billionaire!” or “I’m going to share with you all my secrets to becoming a six-figure blogger”? These are two very different approaches to tag lines that I’m sure you’ve seen, and it’s not hard to guess which is more credible in most peoples’ eyes.

When it comes to taglines and copy, it’s very easy to overstep the mark. You’re told time and time again to focus on benefits, not features, and it’s so attractive to launch into the most outrageous, fantastical benefit you can—without thinking about whether it has any credibility, or your product can deliver on the promise.

Keep your messaging benefit-focused, but don’t claim to be able to better the human plight forever—unless you’re convinced your product actually does this. Focus on the benefit for the specific problem your product solves, and you’ll be set.

The moral: promise something great—and deliver.

Humble or egoistical?

A company that I believe has walked very close to the line when it comes to being confident in their product, but not egotistical, is Apple. They were brave with their Mac vs. PC campaign, and initially they focused on what the Mac could do that the PC couldn’t—and it was a great success. Over time, as it became harder to find new points of difference, their approach did devolve into an all-out attack on the PC, but they backed off that tactic pretty quickly.

When looking at the brand you project, as well as your products, if you can instill confidence, it can give you credibility. Arrogance will only project insecurities. Darren and Brian Clarke http://www.copyblogger.com/ are two people who are perfect examples of this philosophy in action.

The moral: be confident, but not arrogant.

Marketer or con artist?

In my mind, the difference between a marketer and a con artist is honesty. If you’re being told that the key to marketing success is to lie to your customers or leads, then you’ve crossed a line—it’s as simple as that. There are also laws designed to protect consumers against exactly that kind of behavior.

The moral: honesty is the best policy.

Friends or profit resources?

If you believe that your customers are your friends, you’ll look at what you do as a gift to the world, nothing more. And if that’s truly what you want to do, then no one will question you. The other extreme is to see people purely as resources from which to extract as much cash as you can; you judge their value by how deep their pockets are.

If you want to run a business, you need to be somewhere in the middle of this continuum. Again, it comes down to solving a problem for someone, and more importantly, solving a problem they’re willing to pay for.

There’s nothing wrong with asking people for something you value—money—in exchange for something they value—your product. It’s been happening for a while, and we’re doing okay so far.

The moral: ot’s okay to ask for money, but not to bleed them dry.

Does it feel wrong?

I have a very close network of people who act as my arrogant-web-marketing-o-meter. I seek them out when something I’m planning feels a little wrong. Just the fact that I feel I need a second opinion is usually warning enough, and in most cases, my suspicions are confirmed by a group of people I trust. Because the reality is, if it feels wrong, it probably is.

The moral: go with your gut feel for what’s appropriate.

Don’t cross the line

In my history I’ve done things that pushed the envelope on every single one of these points. Some I regret, some I don’t, but by doing this I’ve been able to more effectively understand the balancing act that exists between being a marketer and being nothing more than an arrogant salesman.

It’s something that you’ll only really understand over time as you conduct marketing yourself, but all I ask is that you don’t let the worst cast scenario prevent you from using online marketing to help your blog or your business grow.

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

7 Self-doubts New Bloggers Can Beat

This guest post is by Scott McIntyre of Vivid Ways.

You’ve just launched a shiny new blog and you’re buzzing with excitement about sharing content and building an audience. At first, it requires a lot of time and effort to get things off the ground, but your confidence is sky-high that this blogging thing will take off and push you straight up to the A List.

Sometimes I believe I can fly

Image by R'eyes

Then, slowly but surely, you begin to doubt what you’re doing. Success doesn’t come quite as quickly as you’d hoped, despite your hard work. Disappointment sets in. You lose motivation. After a while, this lack of self-belief causes you to ask yourself if it’s even worth publishing another post.

Did you ever feel this way?

Perhaps you’re a more experienced blogger who still remembers when you questioned what on Earth you were doing and whether you were any good. Or, maybe you’re facing this crisis of confidence right now.

If that’s the case, you need to tackle these self-doubts before they sabotage your blogging dreams!

Self-doubt and the New Blogger

I recently started my first blog, and one of my initial articles looked at how to conquer self-doubt in general. This got me thinking about the specific doubts new bloggers come up against, and the ways in which a lack of self-belief can negatively affect our blogging activities.

Feelings of self-doubt have little to do with how good a blogger you really are—they’re about how not-so-good you perceive yourself to be. There’s a crucial difference.

So, there’s no shame or weakness in admitting that you experience self-doubt (I’m sure even top bloggers suffer from the occasional wobble in confidence). In fact, the opposite is true: you have to be willing to recognize and shine a light on your doubts so you can deal with them head-on.

Here are seven of the biggest self-doubts you can face as a new blogger, and useful tips on how to beat them before they crack your confidence.

1. Have I chosen the best topic to blog about?

At some stage early on, you nervously wonder if you’ve chosen the right topic to blog about. Of course, you’ve done your research and opted for a subject that’s a good match for your knowledge, experience, and passion. But, until you start seeing results, how can you be sure it’s the best niche for you?

The fact that you decided upon a topic based on your interests is a reasonable indication that you’re on the right track. As you’ll be producing content for a long time (hopefully), you need to maintain an enthusiasm for the subject matter from the outset. That way, you’ll want to learn more so that you can pass on new insights to your readers in the future.

If, however, after only a few months of blogging you find yourself struggling to come up with ideas for posts, or you haven’t the heart to publish regularly, this is usually an early warning sign that you have to rethink your first choice of blog topic. Do a reassessment of your current interests against a range of different niches.

Don’t panic too much if you decide to change to another topic. Your blog is still in its infancy, and it’s better to alter your course sooner rather than later.

2. What if no one wants to read what I’ve got to say?

When you start off blogging, you could very well find that there’s a readership of only one: yourself! It’s all too easy to become disheartened when you see your carefully crafted content languishing with no comments and very few visitors.

Don’t be tempted to throw in the towel quite yet. Rather than it being the case that no one is interested in what you’re publishing, it’s more likely that you’ve yet to reach your target audience. It’s your job to get out there and help those ideal readers come across your blog.

People always want to discover fresh, useful, and thought-provoking content online and that’s a huge opportunity for you to tap into. No one, however, says that attracting readers is easy—it’s not.

There are, fortunately, many tips and techniques you can use to help increase your readership. Experiment with these proven methods, or be brave and go do something unique that draws in your special crowd. It’s far too early to give up until you’ve done everything you possibly can to entice those ideal readers back to your blog.

3. Am I just saying the same old stuff in the same old way?

You’re concerned that when you follow the trail of links to other blogs within your niche, everyone seems to be talking about exactly the same things you are. With so many blogs creating so much content, it can be very difficult to come up with original ideas that haven’t been explored a million times before.

The blogosphere loves original thinkers with fresh perspectives. Any blogger can gain popularity when they stand out from the crowd by both a) what they say and b) how they say it. When you deal with a subject, remember that it’s never been addressed from your viewpoint before. That’s why telling your own personal story and sharing your opinions breathes energetic life into what could simply be run-of-the-mill content we’ve all seen before.

There’s always going to be a unique angle on whatever topic you look at, because the knowledge and experience you bring are different to those of the next blogger. With practice, you’ll learn how to build your blog’s voice in a way that sets it apart from all the other sites out there.

4. Is my writing all right or all wrong?

You’re eager to get your thoughts out there, but you’re afraid that people will criticize the amateur writing style and rip apart the spelling and grammar.

It’s reassuring that writing content for blogs is very different from anything you’ve ever written before. Every new blogger can learn how to adapt these tried-and-tested techniques for themselves.

Sure, some folk will point out your mistakes—there will always be critics lining up to take a shot. Correct spelling shows you care about attention to detail, while good grammar helps the reader more easily grasp the points you want to get across. Bear in mind, though, that what you write is just as important as the way it is written.

Put it this way: wrongly spelled words and awkward grammar can hinder the reader’s understanding and enjoyment of your post, so try your best to get it right. But don’t allow this concern to stifle your creativity or limit what it is you desperately want to say. The more you write, the more confident you’ll become in expressing yourself through the medium of a blog post.

5. Am I getting too personal?

Sharing your experiences in life is a critical part of connecting with an audience on a deeper level. Readers respond well to a blogger who can show first-hand that he or she understands the challenges they face. Yet, how can you be certain that you don’t reveal  “too much information?”

Personal story telling works best when it brings home a learning point that the reader needs to know. The lesson has to be relevant and appropriate to help someone solve a specific problem or deal with a particular issue. In other words, the personal information you share has to be of benefit to the reader in some way. Otherwise, it could be seen as irrelevant and self-indulgent.

Ultimately, it’s down to your individual judgment: you choose exactly what you tell your readers about your life in a blog post. Before hitting the Publish button, ask yourself this: “Do I really want the whole world (literally) overhearing that fact about me, or my family and friends?” The old saying holds true: If in doubt, leave it out.

6. I’m nervous about networking

You realize that it’s essential to build relationships with other bloggers to get ahead in blogging nowadays. However, this is easier said than done: you feel awkward about getting in touch with them. What could a newbie like you possibly have to offer a big-name blogger?

Well, if you feel like this, instead of contacting A-list bloggers straight away, reach out to others who are at the same stage of their blogging journey as you. You’re bound to have a lot in common, giving plenty of opportunities to assist each other as you grow your blogs together.

The main priority of a blogging-based relationship is to provide mutual value and benefit to each of you. That’s why linking up with bloggers in a similar position can work so well—each can appreciate the other’s situation and provide the same kind of support.

Forming strong bonds with other bloggers online is basically no different to the way you’d get to know someone in the real world. Courtesy, genuine interest in what they’re doing, and offers of help go a long way! Don’t be shy to make the first move, as it could very well be the start of a very productive partnership.

7. Will I ever be a success?

This is probably the biggest single doubt that keeps popping into your head as you try hard to kick-start your blog. After all, it’s the reason you’re doing all this work, isn’t it? Constant worrying over whether you’re ever going to make it gradually eats away at your self-confidence. How you define “success,” and how long you’re prepared to wait for it, will help you cope with this doubt—one that’s felt by nearly every new blogger.

What success means to you will be different from the criteria set by another blogger. Getting subscribers, attracting thoughtful comments, reaching a target of earnings, and establishing a reputation as an industry expert are only a few examples of possible performance benchmarks that you might use. Pinpoint your own measures of blogging success. This exercise provides concrete facts on which to assess how well you’re doing, rather than having to rely on your own opinion and impatience.

Successful blogging also requires a considerable investment of your time. While we’d all love quick wins, overnight success is rare. It’s much more realistic to assess your blogging activities over a period of at least six to 18 months, rather than a few weeks. Adopting a longer-term view relieves the pressure on you to meet an overambitious deadline, and lessens the likelihood that you’ll become depressed when you fail to meet it.

Beating self-doubt as a new blogger

We’re most vulnerable to self-doubt at the beginning of our blogging journey. When you feel a lack of belief in yourself, take time to identify the knowledge and skills you need, as well as the practical steps you can take to overcome that doubt. Have a browse through the archives here on ProBlogger to get ideas and encouragement.

Your loyal readers of tomorrow will appreciate that you stuck around and persevered…

Have you faced any self doubts as a new blogger? How did you beat those doubts to keep on blogging? Please share your experiences in the comments section. Let’s encourage each other!

Scott McIntyre aims to encourage ordinary people to do great things every day. You can learn how to live a colorful life—right now—at Vivid Ways. You can also add color in your life by following Scott on Twitter.

Why Your Blog Is Not Going to Make You Rich (Or Pay the Bills)

This guest post is by the Blog Tyrant.

$100,000 a year? $500,000 a year? A million? These are figures I bet most of us think about from time to time. But I’m here to tell you a sober truth—something that you probably won’t like the sound of.

Your blog is not going to make you rich. It might not even pay the monthly bills.

But don’t lose hope yet. There is a (very shiny) silver lining to this article: I am going to show you what you need to do to get up to those wonderful figures. In this post I’m going to give you a few important facts and tricks that my multimillionaire uncle passed on to me; facts and tricks that translate to the blogging world very very well.

Aston Martin V8 Vantage
Creative Commons License photo credit: Ed Callow [ torquespeak ]

The millionaire’s advice

Let’s start this post with the advice that my uncle gave me. When I first heard it I think I probably told him to “go away” under my breath. But as I got deeper into my own business I realized how insanely important the advice had become. Especially because I learned the hard way. Let me illustrate.

My first blog was a fitness blog that I ended up selling for $20,000 after just eight months. Before that time, however, the blog paid my bills with a consistent AdSense income. It wasn’t a lot of money but it met my needs at the time. That was until Google banned it from the search results without warning, and without reason. I woke up one day and my excellent rankings for some super-high traffic keywords were gone. And so was my money.

Right at the moment my uncle’s advice came floating back to me:

You must always have a short-term source of income that pays the bills, two medium-term projects that supplement the income, and one long-term project that’s a year away from fruition. Always.

It is powerful advice that every rich person I know pays attention to (consciously or not). I, however, had totally ignored it in my youthful arrogance. I had put all of my eggs in to one basket and as such I had nothing to fall back on, and nothing to look forward to. I was in trouble.

Applying the advice: diversifying my business

So what did I do? Well I went out and cleaned toilets. I worked at a gym as a cleaner for over a year while I built up a new empire. I worked at the gym in the mornings and then came home and, after sleeping for an hour, plugged away at blogs and my other online businesses.

It was different now. Now I was applying the advice. Instead of just building up one blog, I was working on several while building small product websites. I was also working on ideas for the long-term project so that I had something to look forward to.

And this part is important. As the medium-term projects began to fall into the short-term income category, I created new medium-term projects. The trilogy of short-, medium-, and long-term must always be in play. I am trying very hard to remember that.

Why you need to diversify to be rich and safe

Adidas Pro Model
Creative Commons License photo credit: Julien Menichini

Your blog, as it is today, is not going to be enough to make you rich and safe. Okay, you might get lucky and be the next Huffington Post or Mashable and never have to worry about money again. But the chances are good that you’ll be like me; you’ll have to be smart about your future and your income. And to be smart you need to develop projects: one short-term, two medium-term, and one long-term project.

1. The short-term income

The short-term income is the work that pays the bills while you work on your other projects. The important thing to remember is that it doesn’t need to be blogging. It doesn’t even need to be glamorous. Like I said before, I worked as a cleaner at a gym in the mornings. It was one of the smartest business decisions I ever made, because it allowed me to still have a full work day to devote to the other projects, since I worked from 6am to 11am.

It also got me a free gym membership, which, trivial as it might seem, allowed me to work out daily and completely de-stress my system. That is a very important thing to do when you’re worried about money. Lift weights and run. If you just sit at home all day in your own company, you won’t realize how stressed you’re actually becoming.

2. The two medium-term projects

The medium-term projects are those that you’re working on to eventually take over your current short-term income. Remember, it’s a good idea to generate your short-term income from more than one source: the more diverse it is, the better. These medium-term projects should be no more than a year away from turning consistent revenue. They can take the shape of:

  • blogs
  • product websites
  • affiliate websites
  • content creation deals
  • partnerships
  • etc.

As they start to make money, you can put them into the short-term category and begin to create new medium-term projects. Perhaps these will come from your long-term category or perhaps you will see new opportunities that you can place directly into the medium-term area.

3. The long-term project

Your long-term project should be ambitious but achievable. It should be one of those ideas where you sit down and think about how much money it would make if only you could get it off the ground. Well, partner, the money coming from your short- and medium-term gigs is what you’ll use to get this idea running.

What I’ve come to discover is that it’s all about these long-term projects. The toilet cleaning, the short-term, the medium-term—all this is a method that gives me the finances and experience to get my big ideas happening.

Blog Tyrant is actually a long term project of mine; it earns me no income at the moment, but I have something absolutely massive planning, which will be launched in a few months’ time. At that point, the blog will fall into my short-term group.

How to make it all happen

Picture 020
Creative Commons License photo credit: Brian K YYZ

Sure, this approach sounds good, but how do you get it to work? How do you divide your time, and how do you manage all of the different problems that arise during the process?

Here are a few of my own suggestions but I would love to hear any advice that you might have — please leave a comment and let us hear your thoughts.

1. Focus on helping others, always.

The very first thing I want to mention is that you have to focus on helping others. This is both a marketing and an ethical concern.

Why is this important? Firstly, the products and websites that do the best are the ones that solve a need in a person’s life. I talked about this a lot in my article on how to make your blog addictive. Today a lot of products are created that don’t solve a need — instead, they create a new one. Forget it. Help people.

The second reason why this is important is because if it all fails you will have no regrets. And if it succeeds, you will spend your life helping people.

2. Take risks.

When you go to invest money in the stock market, the broker will say something like “the biggest returns come from the biggest risks”. At some point you have to decide whether or not you are a risk-taker. If you want to be making $100,000+ a year from the Internet, you’ll need to take some risks. You need to risk your time, maybe some of your savings, and definitely some of your sleep. But these risks should be managed and controlled — and well thought through. This isn’t like buying a lotto ticket: it’s like making an investment in the near future.

3. Stick to a routine.

Make a routine and stick to it. Don’t deviate from it at all — if you do, sooner or later the whole thing will fall in to a heap. Divide up your day or your week into the different categories. For example, I spend the weekends working on long-term projects, the mornings on medium-term projects, and the afternoons working on my short-term stuff. It works well. It works best when I stick to it.

4. Don’t give up early.

One of the biggest mistakes I’m guilty of is giving up before I’ve seen an idea through. For example, a few years ago I bought a whole bunch of domain names with the intention of creating a little group of product sites to dominate one particular niche. It didn’t pay off right away so I put less and less time in to it. Now, when I look back, I realize that these websites would be making a huge amount of consistent money without much work at all. The problem was that I didn’t keep my long-term motivation in check.

5. Use verticals.

A vertical is a product that you launch to compliment another product that you already have. A good example of this is the iPod, which makes Apple more money from iTunes, product cases, headphones, etc. If you can use your existing projects to help launch new products, you can cut out a lot of the hard work.

Conclusion

Your blog is not going to make you rich unless you diversify. Darren does it, Shoemoney does it, and my multimillionaire uncle does it. If you want to have longevity in any business, you need to make sure you’re diversifying your assets so that you’re not left high and dry if one of those income streams suddenly dries up.

If you have any stories about this approach, or advice on starting new businesses, I’d love to hear them in the comments.

The Blog Tyrant has sold several blogs for large sums of money and earns a living by relying solely on the internet. His blog is all about helping you dominate your blog and your blog’s niche and only includes strategies that he has tried on his own websites. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook or subscribe to his feed for all the juice.

The Big Decision: Personal or Corporate Brand?

This guest post is by Luke, an IT-and-business nerd from Melbourne, Australia.

I started dating my wife when we were both pretty young and she still lived at home. My wife’s dad, Bob, was a very successful businessman and his daughters all inherited their dad’s intellect.  The dinnertime conversation often turned to their studies, and one of Bob’s favorite theories was about personal branding at school and university.

The theory went like this. The most important thing to do initially is to get noticed by the teachers.  It doesn’t matter what you do.  In fact, it might be easier to do something wrong in order to gain attention.  Once you have attention you then have something to work with, and it’s easier to do well when the teachers know who you are.

I think I recall this advice because it seemed highly unorthodox to me at the time.  If I’m honest I probably still wonder if it’s wise to instruct your children to misbehave.  But, if you stop and think about it—he was probably onto something.

In a society obsessed with celebrity, you don’t have to look far to find individuals who have turned themselves into household brands.  And it’s often the case that their brand achieved prominence because of bad behavior (yes Paris and Lindsey, I’m thinking of you).

That there is incredible power in brand is something I’m going to assume is agreed.  What I’m more interested in at the moment is whether it’s better to build your blog around your own personal brand, or is it smarter to establish a separate brand for your blog that is not directly attached to your personal identity.

The benefits of the personal brand

I think the most obvious benefit to a personal brand, is that it is easier to make personal.  Most people easily empathize with other people.  By putting yourself out there it gives readers something to connect to that is easy to understand and relate to.  It is easier to agree (or disagree) with a person than it is with a faceless company.  It is a smaller step to engage with a person than it is to leave a comment for a logo.

A good personal brand is a clear projection of you, what makes you an individual and what makes you different from others.  Done well, it will consistently convey your unique personality and approach to those you encounter.  It will help you stand out from the crowd, and hopefully mean that people think of you first when they start thinking about becoming a customer or partner.

Hopefully you don’t need to spend too much time formulating what you stand for before embarking on a mission to establish your personal brand.  I believe it works best when rooted in authenticity.  People have a sixth sense for what is credible and what is not.  The contrived approach will ultimately smell a little bad if you’re faking it.  The good news is that being yourself should be easier than working to a script—which is what you’ll have to do to some extent when inventing a corporate brand.

Fame can also be a benefit.  It’s a two-edged sword for sure, but who’s going to deny that it’s nice for your ego to have a personal fan base? Who out there doesn’t enjoy a little bit of attention? Before you tell me that it’s not your thing, how often to you check Google Analytics to see how many people tuned into your last post! If you’ve never had your name on the door at an exclusive party, I’ve heard that it feels great to walk past the queue.

If you become popular enough, there are also other perks out there.  If your personal brand is strong enough, others will pay simply so you can be seen to be endorsing another brand or product!  More of this goes on than you might think, and if you’re smart about disclosure and being ethical about it, why not enjoy the fruits of your labor?

But back to the business upside.  Because your brand can and will help you open doors—if you want to approach another company, website, or blogger, and you’ve established a strong personal brand—you’ll find that it’s a little like being on the guest list at that exclusive party.  Once you learn to leverage that brand power, a momentum can be built that continues to lever your business up from one level to another.

The drawbacks

Human Frailty

I am not perfect all of the time.  In fact, forget perfect. I’m not even close to being consistently good or bad at the same things.  The only reason I haven’t given up entirely is because, thankfully, most of the people I know share some or many of my faults.  I also think life would be pretty boring if there was nothing left to work on.

“Why use this post as a confessional?” I hear you ask. Well, if I’m doing the personal brand thing and people have a sixth sense for authenticity, this reality does not bode well for me.  Sooner or later, I’m going to do something stupid, say something insensitive or just screw up royally in front of everybody.  And my personal brand is going to suffer for it.

If I have taken the time to establish a corporate brand and one of the staff does bad, there is an inbuilt form of containment that offers more protection than a personal brand offers.  Ultimately a corporate brand has some redundancy.  The implication is that any single screw-up is just the action of an individual.  It doesn’t make sense to extrapolate one person’s actions into a statement about a whole corporate brand.  Do you think this could ever be true for Tiger Woods?

Scaling up

If your blog is based on your personal brand, and you are fortunate enough to enjoy success.  The day might come when you can employ others to run your blog.  You might now have a challenge.

Chances are that your audience is there because they like something about what you do.  They relate to you.  They are your fans, your tribe.  When that first guest post goes up, even though you think it’s better writing than you ever did, it flops.  The first comment asks when your next post will be, and the next five chime in supporting the sentiment.  There go your plans for that extended vacation, because what you just learned is that it can be hard to scale a personal brand.

Said another way, it’s very difficult for a personal brand to truly outgrow the person.

Privacy and personal exposure

If you’re going to enjoy fame, it’s probably a good idea to start getting used to the idea that your privacy is going to take a hit.  This will bother some people much more than others, but privacy is something I think we should be taking more seriously.  After all, as Mark’s ex-girlfriend explains to him after he blogs her bra size on The Social Network, “Everything on the internet is written in ink” (If you’re a Sorkin fan like I am, go see it).

A friend who follows my wife on twitter (@drcris) remarked to me the other day that he was amazed at how I had no privacy.  Cris talks about our home life a lot on twitter.  It initially struck me as a strange comment because neither of us have that many followers.  I suspect many of them don’t listen anyway.  Who wants to know about how our house cleaning is going, seriously!?  I also made the observation that I had always pretty much shared more than I should have whenever somebody would listen, so I guess it made little difference.

I wonder if I had 200,000 followers, would my attitude to privacy change?  It probably would.  I suspect your first stalker changes your attitude as well.

If you take the time to establish a corporate brand, you will likely have a lot more control about what you can keep personal and private.

The other thing many bloggers know all too well is that putting yourself out there can have its downside.  Those snarky comments can sting badly.  If you don’t have a thick skin, it might be a good idea to hide from the trolls behind a more generic brand.

The big decision

I haven’t decided if there is a right answer about whether or not you should pursue a personal brand or start work on a corporate brand. There are upsides and downsides to both, and ultimately I think it comes down to what it is you’re trying to achieve.

I’ve mentioned what I think are some obvious points, but I’m hoping many more come out in the comments and any discussion.  Is your brand a personal one, or a corporate one? Why did you choose it? And do you have any regrets?

Luke (@lukie) started life as a young corporate IT nerd, who then got interested in running a business. He spent the last five years as CEO at SitePoint, and has just made the move to start working on something of his own. Luke is an Aussie who lives in Melbourne and is married to Cris (@drcris). They have three kids under five and no spare time!

Why Social Media Is a Better Investment than SEO

This guest post is by Gary Arndt of Everything-Everywhere.com

As a blogger, you probably do not have the luxury of having a staff of people to work for you. As such, your time is very valuable and you need to spend it where it will do the most good. We have reached a point in late 2010 where the work required to generate traffic for a normal blog via search engines is much greater than that required to generate an equal amount of traffic via social media.

My thesis is simple: for the majority of bloggers, the time and effort invested on social media is better spent than time spent on SEO.

This post will probably generate controversy. There are an army of people out there who make a living selling SEO products and services. To use an old adage, when you only tool is a hammer, every problem is a nail. To them, SEO is the beginning and end of traffic generation.

To be sure, search engines do drive a lot of traffic, however, with the increasing pollution of search engines with content farms, Google’s love of big brands/big media, and the increasing amount of work required to rank for ever longer keywords, SEO is no longer worth the effort for most bloggers.

The power of brands

Google loves brands. The reasoning behind this actually makes some sense. An easy solution to the problem of spam websites was for Google to give extra authority to sites that have large, established brands. This doesn’t bode well for bloggers, however.

To given you an example of how much authority brands are given, several months ago I conducted an experiment. I had an article that I had done some link building on. After several months the article ranked #3 for the keyword I was targeting (behind two large media properties). I had an opportunity to put some content on the website of a very large media brand. I put that article, word for word, on their site to see how they would rank for the exact same keyword. Within an hour, they were ranked at #4, just behind my original article. In a day, they were ranked above me, even though the same content had been on my site for months and I had gone through the effort to do link building.

I realize there is a new content bonus that Google will give articles for a while, but the fact they were able to rank so high, so quickly, even against a previously indexed article with links, shows just how much the deck is stacked against blogs. Google can’t easily tell the difference a legitimate blog from a made for Adsense spam site. If they could, there would be no spam.

If you are in a niche that doesn’t have a large traditional media presence (niches like Internet marketing, SEO, or social media) you might not notice this because there is little media competition. However, if you are in a niche with a large traditional media presence (like travel, politics, news, sports, or food) you might see on a regular basis how difficult it can be.

Brand vs. individual authority

You might think that Darren Rowse has a great deal of authority on the subject of blogging. You would be correct. However, in the eyes of Google, Darren doesn’t have any authority; ProBlogger.net does. This is a fundamental problem with how Google works. People invest trust and authority in other people while Google puts authority in URL’s.

As a thought experiment, lets say Darren sold ProBlogger.net and started up a new blog called The-Blogging-Pro.info (a horrible domain name, but just stay with me). Everyone who reads this site, subscribes to the newsletter or follows Darren on Twitter would know to now go to the new site to get Darren’s advice on blogging. The authority that Darren has developed over the years would stay with him, even if he moved to a new domain. Google, however, would still put its trust and authority in ProBlogger.net, even though the real authority has moved to a different domain.

Social media solves the authority dilemma. You know who is authoritative and isn’t. I often ask people how many people they can name who have written an article for National Geographic in its 122-year history. Most people can’t name a single person. Yet, if I ask them who is behind their favorite blogs, almost everyone can give me a name. We trust the New York Times or National Geographic because of the reputation the brand has developed over the years. Even if the author of a given article knows nothing about the subject (which does happen), they are assumed to be authoritative just because of the brand they are writing under.

Writers will usually give a list of the publications they have written for as their credentials. Their authority is a second hand authority derived from the publications they have written for. (“I am a successful author because I have written for large, successful publications.”)

Blogger authority is first hand authority. It comes directly from the reputation they have developed over time from their audience.

The power of individuals

The fact that people know who bloggers are is exactly the reason why blogs have a comparative advantage in social media. The New York Times Twitter account might have millions of followers, but they can never do more than pump out links to articles. It can’t have a conversation, talk or listen. If it did, who would be the one doing the talking on behalf of the brand?

The part of social media that actually builds trust and authority is totally absent from most large media properties. They are simply not able to engage in a conversation as a brand. Some companies like ESPN have banned their staff from using Twitter precisely because they didn’t want their employees to develop their own authority outside if the network. If they did, they’d become too valuable and they would have too much leverage when it came time to negotiate contracts.

Bloggers have the ability to do an end run around traditional media precisely because we are capable of having a conversation. That is something a faceless brand can never do.

SEO is time consuming

Critics of this article might point out that if you just worked harder, you could rank for anything you want. They are probably right. It isn’t a question of what is possible. It is a question of the return on your investment. The concept of time ROI is absent from almost any discussion on SEO.

As I stated above, the deck is stacked against the little guy in SEO. Google loves brands and can’t associate authority with individuals. To just keep pace with media brands, you have to put in much more work. The New York Times doesn’t have to bother with link building. You do. That alone should tell you how fair the playing field is.

Bloggers have a comparative advantage in social media. We can appeal to human notions of authority, not algorithmic notions. We can have discussions and conversations, and brands can’t do that. Moreover, it isn’t hard to do. All you have to do is talk and most of you are probably doing that now.

Already you are seeing a shift in some media outlets to superstar journalists. What is happening is the same thing you are seeing in the blogging world. People are putting their trust and authority into people, not the brands they work for. It will only be a matter of time before the superstar journalists realize they don’t need their media masters anymore.

Writing for humans vs. writing for machines

Despite what Google says, the key to good SEO isn’t writing for good content for people. This is a bald-faced lie which anyone who has spent time trying to rank for a keyword knows. Human beings enjoy alliteration, puns, jokes and other forms of word play, which are totally lost on an algorithm. What makes for a good article from a content farm is exactly the thing, which you should not do if you want to covert readers into subscribers. Content created with SEO in mind is more often than not fun to read.

Google’s original rational for the “create good content” argument was that people would naturally link to good content. That is no longer true. People share good content on Twitter and Facebook, which is either closed to Google, labeled as “nofollow”, or doesn’t have anchor text. The world Serge and Brin wrote their seminal paper for in the 1990’s doesn’t exist today.

Traffic as a means vs. traffic as an end

Newspapers have developed an obsession with visits and page views. Many bloggers have the same problem as well. They view raw traffic as the end game because they view the world though an advertising model. Under this paradigm, the more traffic you have the better, regardless how you get it or for what reason, because it will lead to more ad clicks.

Many bloggers have wised up to the fact that advertising isn’t the best way to make money. CPM rates keep falling and will keep falling so long as ad inventory grows faster than online advertising budgets. It has reached a point where to make money via advertising you have to either have an enormous media property or have an incredibly targeted site devoted to a very niche keyword.

Most blogs don’t fit into either category. They don’t have millions of page views per month, and they don’t niche themselves into talking about only instant coffee makers. In this middle space, what matters aren’t raw page views to generate advertising revenue. What matters is growing a loyal following of people who view you as authoritative in your area.

In this model, traffic is just a means to an end, not an end in itself. The real end is getting traffic to convert to subscribers and loyal followers. You will be more likely to get a follower from someone who views you as having authority rather than someone who is just looking for bit of information with no idea of who you are.

Google-proofing

Google changes their algorithm all the time. There are companies who have been destroyed by changes made at Google. Fortunes rise and fall based on how Google decides to rank sites. A major question you have to ask yourself is “how dependent do I want to be on Google?”

All the hard work you put into SEO can be destroyed, or at least significantly altered, but changes at Google. Authority and reputation with other people, however, doesn’t change on a whim.

Also, knowing that Google is going to change in the future, in what direction do you think it is going to change? My bet would be towards a greater reliance on social media and less reliance on links. I’m sure there are engineers at Google right now trying to figure out how to translate the authority and trust that individuals have into their search results.

Choose social media for greater ROI

I am not saying you should block Google from indexing your site. I am not saying search engine traffic is bad. In fact, there are blogs out there that would be best served by an SEO strategy.

What I am saying is that outside of a few things you can do in the creation of your blog, don’t worry about SEO. Make sure your permalinks make sense, create a site map, install the appropriate plugins … and then stop worrying about it.

Invest your time where it will give you the highest return. Today, I believe that place is in social media. Do you? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Since March 2007, Gary has blogged from over 70 countries at Everything-Everywhere.com. He was also named by Time Magazine as one of the 25 Best Blogs of 2010.

UPDATE: Darren has added his thougths on the SEO vs Social Media debate here.

Which Domain Is Right for You?

This guest post is by Karol K of newInternetOrder.com.

If you’ve ever wondered about domain name selection, you probably already know that there are basically only three main types of domain names. And they are:

  1. semantic names
  2. unusual names
  3. combined names

Which will be best for your next blog? If you’re not quite sure yet, read on! In this post, we’ll consider each of these options in detail.

A semantic name

This is a name created from one specific word, or several words put together. What’s important is that the domain uses existing, well-known words. Here are a few basic examples:

  • Cars.com
  • Pizza.com
  • Toys.net
  • VintageElectricGuitarBlog.com

There are a number of advantages to using such a name:

  • It specifies the theme of the website/blog.
  • It clearly defines the niche which the blog touches upon (everyone knows what they can expect to find at toys.com).
  • It’s easy to memorize.
  • It makes your job easier when it comes to getting good ranking in the search engines for the keywords that are included in the domain name.

Of course, there are some disadvantages to using a semantic name:

  • Many basic semantic names are already taken.
  • There’s often no direct connection between the domain name and your company brand, which can make the task of brand-building more difficult. Blogs using this type of name can be literally replaced overnight with different blogs on the same topic and many people wouldn’t even notice.
  • A semantic name makes it hard to expand the theme of the blog to other areas. It’s very unlikely that we’ll see a catalog of garden furniture on pizza.com anytime soon.
  • Semantic names don’t assist with building trust, since they don’t define a brand: they’re usually very generic. For example, if I name my website WeWillStripYouOfAllOfYourMoney.com, I probably won’t gain as much trust as I would have if I’d given it band named like BWin.com. The difference is similar to making a statement like, “we’re a sports betting site” rather than “we’re BWin.com, a sports betting site.”

An unusual name

Unusual domains usually employ a brand name. Think of domains like:

  • Google.com
  • Amazon.com
  • Yahoo.com
  • Mashable.com

To create such a name, you need to find or create a semantically empty word—a word that has no meaning among the target audience—and give meaning to it.

As you can see from the list above, some of the biggest players in the online game use semantic names.

So there are, obviously, some advantages to this type of domain name:

  • It’s characteristic. It can’t be confused with the competition. Google is Google, and Bing is Bing—there’s no way of mistaking these two even though they both do the same thing.
  • It doesn’t create a brand—it is the brand!
  • It’s easy to get good rankings in the search engines for the name itself. And if the word you’ve chosen doesn’t already exist, the competition won’t be too strong for the domain name itself.

As you’d expect, there are disadvantages to using this type of name:

  • It doesn’t define the niche, nor the theme of the blog. If this kind of name is attached to a new blog, and no one really knows about it, it can easily be overlooked by a potential visitor—even if they’re looking for the kind of content that the blog publishes—simply because they won’t be able to guess what the blog’s about.
  • Since it’s usually harder to say or communicate the name orally, it’s easy to get it wrong. When my friend first told me about ebay.com years ago, I fired up my browser and typed “ebuy.com.” I’m sure I wasn’t the only person who made this mistake.
  • It’s harder to gain good rankings in the search engines for specific keywords using an unusual name than it is with a semantic name. If you write about computer hardware, then it would probably be a little easier to get good rankings for the keyword “computers” if you had a domain like “computers.com” rather than “compunationgeorge.com.”

A combined name

  • Facebook.com
  • Problogger.net
  • Friendfeed.com

…are all combined names. These domains combine semantic and unusual names. Although the name may have little meaning on its own, as soon as you visit the site, you grasp what’s going on—and recall the domain—very quickly.

I think that these are the hardest types of names to come up with. You really have to think outside the box to find an existing word or several words, and then give them a unique meaning that binds them somehow with the theme of your blog.

If you succeed, you can expect some benefits:

  • A combined name defines the brand in a unique way that’s similar to an unusual name, only better.
  • Visitors can quickly grasp the concept of the blog even though it’s not as obvious as it is with semantic names.
  • A combined name clearly differentiates your site from the competition.
  • It’s usually easy to memorize.

And as for the disadvantages:

  • A combined name can make it harder to get a good search ranking for specific keywords (similar to having an unusual name).
  • It’s easier for your competition to imitate this kind of name. This usually happens when we’ve used an obvious framework to  create the name. For example, if our car-related blog is called “4wheeldrive.com” then somebody could try to copy our success with a domain like “rearwheeldrive.com”.

Which one is the best for you?

Here’s my advice. If you want to create a small blog targeted at the members of a small, precisely defined niche, then I think it’s probably best to use a semantic domain name. You have a better chance that interested people will find your blog in the search engines, and that they’ll actually visit it, because the URL itself will tell them what the blog is about.

If you’re aiming at taking over the world with your blog, then you should probably choose an unusual or combined domain name. As I’ve already said earlier, the biggest players in the game use such names, and we can learn from them. There’s nothing better when it comes to building a brand than a good, unique name that’s easy to memorize.

So go on and try to choose one of these three types. And if you’ve already done it, congratulations. You’ve just started a marathon in which your domain name is the first step. This is just the beginning.

What do you think about this classification? What’s the type of your blog name?

Karol K provides blogging and marketing tips at newInternetOrder.com.

Awesome WordPress Plugins to Empower Your Visitors

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

Helping your visitors get the most out of your site benefits everyone. Visitors get more relevant and useful content, and you enjoy better statistics and more exposure. Unfortunately the game is set up to keep people away from your site. Think about it:

  • Search engines are used to find your content
  • Feed readers are used to read your content
  • Social media is used to share, tag, and organize your content

These are major obstacles, certainly, but they don’t have to work against you. People use search engines, feed readers, and social media because they provide functionality missing from most websites. By integrating some of that same functionality into your site, you empower your visitors to maximize its usefulness. This may sound like a tall order, but if you’re using WordPress, improving your site couldn’t be easier. Let’s look at some awesome WordPress plugins to make it happen.

Google-power your search results

People will always use external search engines like Google to find content on your site. That’s a good thing, but you also want to empower your users with the best possible search results. WordPress’ default search is limited in several ways:

  • does not do “exact-match” searching
  • only searches posts and post titles
  • only searches your current WordPress installation
  • can be painfully slow, gobbles resources

Fortunately, we can harness the power of Google and empower your users with the most accurate, comprehensive, and speedy search possible. Integrating Google Search into your site provides the following benefits:

  • exact-match searching (i.e., using quotes to match specific phrases)
  • searches your entire site plus any other desired sites or directories
  • usually works pretty quickly – much faster than WordPress default search
  • optional additional revenue through Google’s AdSense program

Sound good? Here are some of the best plugins to make it happen:

Google Search for WordPress

This beautiful plugin works silently behind the scenes to replace WordPress’ search results with Google’s search results. You simply install the plugin and enter your Google API Key in the Google Search Settings. If you don’t have an API Key, it’s free and easy to get one. The only other requirement is to include “Powered by Google” next to your search form and on the search-results page. Once it’s installed, all search results will be replaced by those from Google. No code-wrangling required.

More information and downloads are available at the WordPress Plugin Directory.

Google Custom Search Plugin

The Google Custom Search Plugin is another excellent way to integrate Google Search into your WordPress blog. Instead of signing up for an API Key, visit Google Search and create your own custom search engine by walking through the steps. After setting up your own form, grab the generated code and paste it into the plugin’s Settings page.

More information and downloads are available at the WordPress Plugin Directory.

More from Google

The More from Google plugin works a little differently by adding to your default search results instead of completely replacing them. After installing and configuring the plugin, your search results will include matches from both WordPress and Google. If Google has yet to index your entire site, this may be the perfect way to ensure that visitors are getting the best search results.

More information and downloads are available at the WordPress Plugin Directory.

Other Ways to Improve WordPress Default Search

If Google Search isn’t for you, don’t fret. Here are two additional plugins that will vastly improve WordPress’ default search:

  • Search Everything – literally searches everything in your database, based on your preferences
  • Better Search – highly customizable solution for improving WordPress’ default search

Regardless of how you do it, improving your site’s default search functionality is a great way to help your visitors use your site and find the content they crave.

Socialize and communitize your WordPress site

Bring the excitement of social-media to your WordPress-powered site! There are so many reasons to empower your readers to favorite, share, and rate your content directly on your website, and just as many awesome plugins to make it super-easy to do. Here are some of the best plugins for making your site fun, social, and more interactive.

WP Favorite Posts

WP Favorite Posts is a popular, five-star plugin that enables your visitors to add favorite posts to their own list of favorites. Installation is easy, and the plugin is straightforward and easy to modify and customize to fit any design. I use the plugin on my Angry-Birds fan site. You can see the “Add to Favorites” link in the upper-right corner of any post. There is also a link to “View Favorites”, where each user can view (and delete) their favorite links. And even cooler than all that, you can display a list of everyone’s most-popular favorites, very similar to how Delicious works.

More information and downloads are available at the WordPress Plugin Directory.

Star ratings and reviews

Post ratings are a fun and informative way to engage visitors and promote content. And there are many post-rating plugins to choose from.

In terms of functionality and customization, the GD Star Rating plugin can do just about anything, but the endless configuration options may be overkill. On the other end of the spectrum, you’ve got the elegant simplicity of the Vote-the-Post plugin, which is lightweight, flexible, and easy to customize code-side for tight design integration. I use this plugin to enable voting at Angry-Birds.net (see any post for example).

These plugins also enable you to display lists of top-rated posts anywhere on your site, so you can uninstall that most-popular-post plugin you no longer need.

Chat forum

Chat forums aren’t for every site, but when done right they’re great ways to build community and facilitate conversation. As with post-ratings, there are many chat plugins available in the Directory, but there are two that stand above the rest:

Both of these plugins are popular, highly rated plugins that provide flexible, customizable chat functionality. WordSpew is great because it uses Ajax to refresh everything automatically, keeping the chat window flowing in real time. Pierre’s Wordspew works without AJax, but it also uses a Flash .flv file that prevents it from working on devices like the iPad and iPhone. You can see a highly customized example of the WordSpew plugin at Dead Letter Art.

Show online users

Just like showing off counts for feed subscribers, Twitter followers, and Facebook fans, you can also show off the number of users currently online. An excellent plugin for this is WP-UserOnline, which provides several templates for easy configuration of how and where the user-online count is displayed. You can also set up a “Who’s online?” page that shows detailed statistics of where your visitors are on the site, who they are, and where they came from. This awesome plugin takes only minutes to implement using template tags and/or widgets.

Social media

Even after socializing your site, you want to make sure that visitors can easily share and bookmark your content on their favorite social-media sites. I tell you the truth, there are a gazillion plugins and widgets for adding every social-media site under the sun, but you really only need one plugin to do the job. Just install and configure WP Socializer and done. Any combination of social-media buttons, icons, links displayed virtually anywhere on your site. Tons of options yes, but they are all well-organized and easy to configure from the comfort of your WordPress Admin.

Wrapping up

No matter how awesome your website, there’s always room for improvement. With the techniques and tools described in this article, empowering your visitors to get the most from your WordPress site is as easy as installing and configuring a few choice plugins. As you go, keep an eye on site performance. Loading up with too many plugins can burden your server and slow things down for visitors. All the functionality in the world means nothing on a slow-loading website. A good strategy is to cherry-pick a few choice plugins and watch the results. Remember the goal is to help visitors get into your site and really use it for all it’s worth.

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