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The Systematic Blogger’s Manifesto

This is a guest post by Shaun Connell from Live Gold Prices.

I remember when I first began reading about “passive income”. It seemed brilliant: work hard and make sure you leverage your time and capital so that instead of being paid once, you’re paid a little bit every month into the future.

At the time, I was just running a blog for fun, and decided to go ahead and start a blog for profit. It’s been about five years now, and I’ve been doing this full-time for about four years. I’ve learned a lot about blogging, passive income, internet marketing, SEO—the whole works.

The most important lesson I’ve learned?

Forget passive income: focus on systematic income

For most people, blogging is a bad way to get to a passive income. Most bloggers work hard the entire time they have the blog.

A passive income is an income you can just set and forget. And any successful blogger will tell you that for the vast majority of blogging experiences, the work never really stops—it just changes form. You can minimize the workload, but for the most part, it’s just about cutting the load without ever actually making it to a full-on passive status.



Is this a bad thing? Absolutely not. Those who understand that blogging is about finding repeatable systems are the most succesful bloggers on the Internet today. It’s all about learning how to create the right design, the right headline, the right path to success—those are systems that generally work regardless of who the blogger is.

I’ve written here before about systematic blogging and blogging for passive income.

A systematic blogger knows how to leverage usability, other people’s content, and good ideas in such a way that every bit of their work gets as much done as possible.

The following principles are some of the most important concepts one can ever understand in order to make one’s blogging as systematic as possible.

Blogging is just a “regular” website with a specific structure

In the end, the only real difference between the vast majority of websites is how they’re organized. They’re all still pretty much about the same thing—they’re a platform for connecting viewers with information of some sort. When we understand this, we’ll see why that’s important.

Facebook, Wikipedia, and About.com are all platforms for connecting content with viewers in a way that makes each network unique. The content is different, of course, but even if they had equally valuable content, each network would have a very different approach to connecting users with that content.

Once this is understood, the challenge of organizing one’s blog should suddenly present a plethora of new opportunities. For example, it’s alright for a blog to have sales pages as part of the design, or even a static homepage to make it easier for first-time visitors to see all of the most important concepts first. It’s alright to borrow structure ideas from other websites.

The vast majority of my websites—especially my gold prices website—now have the same basic structure: a static homepage, a newsletter page that I link to when saying “subscribe”, newsletter optin forms on every page, an autoresponder with several months’ worth of emails lined up for turning subscribers into repeat visitors and pitching them products, and a “blog” widget or page where users can see the latest articles.

The website structure, along with the other principles listed below, makes my business much more systematic. As long as I find a way to acquire new visitors to the site every day, I’ll end up with more people subscribed at the end of every month. And that’s half the battle: automation.

Blogging for profit is about retaining income, not just traffic

Traffic is just a tool. In the context of profit, it’s just fuel for the engine. That’s why some people are able to make great money with a little traffic when they’re writing about investments, while some websites can have ten times the traffic and barely pay the bills when they’re writing about lolcats.

Understand that traffic is just part of the process, and not the entire goal of the process.

Just because people are reading, that doesn’t necessarily mean the writer is earning. Don’t worry, this isn’t necessarily bad news. For people who understand that building systematic income is all about figuring out what it takes to get to profits in a “repeatable” format, everything is easier.

This is one of the reasons I entered the gold prices and rates niche, and one of the reasons the investment niche is so crowded—the results are generally harder to get, but often exponentially rewarding when achieved.



For example, understanding SEO and guest posting makes the entire process easier. There have been numerous courses teaching the same powerful principle of using proper SEO, proper keyword choices, and setting up one’s blog to be as usable as possible—and then guest posting to put traffic into one end of the “machine.” It’s all the rage because it works.



The systematic blogger understands that his blog is a machine, and if he takes care of it to make sure it’s running as well as possible, it’ll take care of him. By figuring out how to juice every visitor for as many pageviews as possible, to impress them with the best content displayed where it can be easily found, and to reward the visitor with plenty of goodies via an autoresponder, and then using the right keywords and consistent guest posting, the systematic blogger will succeed.



It sounds like a lot of work because, of course, it is. But after a while it becomes a type of routine and becomes simpler and simpler. After all, that’s the point of having a system in the first place—to generate simple, predictable, and powerful results.

What do you do to make sure your blog is as systematic as possible? 
Do you regularly guest post for other blogs? 
Do you have any tips for people looking to make their blog more systematic?

 Share them with us in the comments.

Shaun Connell is a systematic blogger who writes over at Live Gold Prices, his latest project where he discusses both the rate of gold and the future of precious metal overall.

The Grace of Communication

This guest post is by Lisa Johnson of LisaJohnsonFitness.com.

Social media has changed my life in a fundamental way that I never saw coming. My first innocent forays onto Twitter had not prepared me for the ride I was about to go on.

Through social media I have started a new career, grown more close to my husband, been able to spend more time with my son, and still managed to help provide for my family.

But those are the perks to what I do. They are not why I do it … there is grace in communication.

As a Pilates Instructor I live for those moments that seem to descend out of nowhere. I’ll be teaching a class and we’ll all just click, every movement has flow, my voice allows my students to focus more deeply, and we dance in a way, their bodies and my voice weaving together intricate patterns. The sweat builds, hard bones and sinew become fluid, and an awesome, amazing thing happens: my class and I find grace. It’s powerful to all of us.

It brings me to tears and embarrassed giggles. My students know what I mean, and then hurry out into their busy lives. It’s why I’ve taught Pilates for longer than I’ve ever done anything in my life—fifteen years now—to hit those random moments of grace, of being able to give my clients a small taste of empowerment.

Social media is often maligned by the uninitiated as a place of misfits and people who can’t have “real relationships” in their “real lives.” I suppose for some that’s true, but that hasn’t been my journey at all. I have found it a place of true connection.

Keyboards click, screens flicker and millions of people pour a torrent of words into the stream. Most of it washes over us in ones and zeros, never recognized into existence.

But then a stray comment will catch an eye, a conversation will start—maybe it’ll be a cascade of back and forths, or maybe it’ll be a few comments here and there over time. But there is a connection.

I have my people on social media that I depend on for a joke, a pick-me-up, or a kind word. Sometimes I don’t even know their real names, just a Twitter handle and a sentence or two of biography. I try to give back in the same way with an atta boy/atta girl or a warm phrase when needed.

I have experienced everything through social media: humor, fear, failure, redemption, even death, have all come at me through the screen. I have made real true friends and been humbled when I was able to help someone. Many of these connections have spilled into “my real life”—and these are people I would never meet any other way.

There is grace in that. Our disconnected lives, blown apart from generational family ties, have found a new way to connect, to find a tribe, to belong.

Social media has evolved into a business. The software companies are our conduits, advertising the currency, and brands online jumping up and down for attention, looking to win eyeballs and wallets. But it is still all driven by humans, sorting ourselves by hashtags and groups, by geography and hobby. So we find our people and connect.

How brilliant is that? How truly, truly brilliant?

It’s magical that we tap keyboards and stare at screens and find humans tapping back at us. Have you reached out and found a connection waiting for you? Have you been changed, even in a tiny way, by your social media life? How do you tap your connections?

Lisa Johnson went from Pilates studio owner to one of the top fitness people on social media with her popular blog, LisaJohnsonFitness.com. She balances teaching at the studio with working with social media clients through Healthy Dose Media, a company she founded with her husband, Greg Wymer. She is frequently found on Twitter @LisaJohnson.

Build a Successful Blog by Creating a Content Musical

This guest post is by Brad Smith of fixcourse.com.

So you want to make money blogging?

You want a popular blog that gets thousands of visitors each day, and the attention and respect you’ve been looking for.

So what’s stopping you? What’s holding you back? You’re cranking out content, just like Mashable, about the latest news stories in your industry. You get traffic, but it doesn’t convert or stick around.

Or maybe you have a unique perspective, and you share research and facts to back everything up. But no one reads your posts, or takes the time to comment.

The problem isn’t your topics, but the type of content you’re creating.

The trick to building a popular blog is to create content that appeals to a mainstream audience, but that is unique enough to stick around for years to come. That’s how you get more traffic, and actually start making money from your blog.

How to make money in music

Let’s take a look at another content producing industry: music.

There are many different types and genres of music. They range from simple and catchy (“pop music”), to complex and deep (classical). With the long tail of music, people can choose what they like to hear. But there are a select few major genres of music that are commercially successful and make money (while most barely get by).

What’s the difference? Why is some music more profitable, or why do some artists succeed, while most fail?

The difference between classical and popular music

People need classical music. Not only is it “better” (in terms of talent and complexity), it has actually been proven to make you smarter.

However, it doesn’t sell very well. The problem is that it’s too dry and complex. It just doesn’t appeal to a mainstream audience.

Now compare that to pop music. It’s light, catchy, and likeable enough to attract a mainstream audience. But much of it isn’t very good—a lot of pop music blends in with every other song on the radio, and you never hear from these artists again.

These artists have no legacy. They aren’t unique and important enough to stand the test of time. So they’re forgotten about as soon as they’re created.

How you can find success by creating a content musical

If we compare the music analogy with blogging, you could say we have the Huffington Post and Mashable on one side (popular and light), and the Harvard Business Review (classical and complex) on the other.

People won’t flock to your site because you’re writing the same news stories and light opinion pieces. The Huff Po and Mashable already have that covered. And you can’t just create content filled with research, facts and science. You’ll never out-research Harvard.

So what’s the solution?

The trick in content marketing is to find a middle ground.

You need the catchy nature of pop music and the topics that you know work well with passionate audiences. But at the same time, you need to add a layer of depth and make it a little more interesting. Otherwise people won’t remember who you are. So instead of creating pop music that’s forgetable, or classical music that’s too complex for a mainstream audience, you can create a content musical—a whole new category in between the two.

Content musicals work well because they’re made to stick. They’re deep enough to offer insight, yet catchy and clever enough to appeal to a mainstream audience. So how do you create a content musical?

Create a content musical by making your ideas stick

All good musicals have a voice. They have a unique story to tell, and they present it in a clever way. It could be the plot structure or how each event unfolds. But there’s always a profound lesson or epiphany in a musical.

That epiphany is what people need. It’s why the musical exists in the first place. The thing is, people don’t always want to hear about what they need, they want to hear about what they want. So when you’re selling your blog’s value to people, you have to make your message easy-to-digest.

If you’re knowledgable about your niche, you already know what people need. Instead, you have to learn how to give it to them in an interesting way, and make your idea stick.

Brothers Chip and Dan Heath broke down the anayomty of an idea in their 2007 book, Made to Stick:

  • Simple: Before an idea will become successful, it needs to be boiled down to a core meaning. What are you trying to get across, and why is it important? At the end of the day, what is the driving force behind your blog?
  • Unexpected: Make connections between unexpected things. People like novelty, because it’s new and fresh. So try making comparisons between unrelated topics, like blogging and music for example.
  • Concrete: Ideas become tangible when you use concrete examples. You can make a post stand out by using real-life examples that everyone knows. Your idea immediately becomes clear in the minds of readers.
  • Credible: Before people will spread an idea, they need to believe in it. You can use external research, vivid details, or a “see for yourself” test to lend some credibility to each post.
  • Emotional: People don’t care about something until they’re emotionally connected. The goal is to get them to buy into your post by appealing to their self interest, or using a common association to their identity. For example, every blogger one day wants to make money and have thousands of subscribers, right?!
  • Stories: Stories are one of the best ways to package ideas. You can make the narrative compelling enough so people are sucked in immediately. Some of the best stories involve a hero triumphing over evil, or explaining how to solve a problem in a unique way.

Conclusion

Every great blog post starts with a pearl of wisdom. You think of a clever lesson, unique story or interesting insight, and you have to share it with the world. It’s what people need to hear.

The problem is, it’s not always what they want to hear. So you need to make it easy to understand and digest. That way, it will stick with a larger audience. You need to find the sweet spot between content that’s too light, and too complex.

When you do, your blog will appeal to a mainstream audience, and be original enough to stick around for the future.

Brad Smith is a digital marketing consultant who focuses on lead gen for businesses by getting more traffic, leads and sales online.

Build Blog Products That Sell 1: Match a Unique Idea to Your Audience

This guest series is by Greg McFarlane of Control Your Cash.

How do you get readers to part with their money, especially when said money is scarce?

As the worldwide recession enters its umpteenth year, it’s difficult for most merchants of any kind to make a sale. It’s particularly so if you’re a blogger who wants to advance from engaging readers about your subject of interest to getting those readers to buy something. In an average-to-booming economy, it’s easy to get people to part with their discretionary income, and not that much of a deal if they don’t.

Putting money in the bank

Image courtesy stock.xchng user RAWKU5

But when belts are tightening across the globe, how do you get readers to buy from you?

This post is the first in a series. Every Friday for the next six weeks, we’ll systematically prescribe a foolproof way for you to create worthwhile, lasting products that your readers can actually use—and that they’ll pay for the privilege of owning.

If you’re blogging regularly, and are the kind of blogger who reads ProBlogger, it’s safe to assume that you’re at least amenable to the idea of a digital storefront. Yes, maybe you consider your blog to be strictly a labor of love: something that serves solely to convey your thoughts about woodworking, or Pacific Island languages, for the sheer satisfaction of sharing such with your readers. If that describes you, great.

Yet if you could monetize your blog—sell a product or service of your own creation—you’d at least think about whether any profit you’d make would be worth the effort, right?

We all want a bigger audience. Even J.K. Rowling and Stephenie Meyer would gladly accept more readers. But how can we turn regular readers into paying customers? Having half a million unique visitors means a lot more if even 1% stop to buy what you’re selling. Of course, that implies you’re selling something in the first place.

But what should you sell? Where do we begin?

You need an idea

It all starts with an idea. Really, it does. That’s not just an empty axiom.

(Apologies in advance. The next couple of paragraphs might read like an end-of-chapter exercise from a self-help book. That’s not the intention. Take them literally and don’t read between the lines.)

Answer the following questions, one series at a time. Explanations to follow:

1. What do I have to offer?

  • How am I different?
  • What makes me unique?
  • What can I offer to readers/customers that’d be hard for someone else to duplicate or automate?

Obviously you can only answer these questions for yourself, but I’ll walk you through it with my own set of answers.

My blog, Control Your Cash, is one of a few dozen personal finance advice blogs in existence. But “personal finance” is a wide umbrella. Most of my competitors can be placed into one of several subcategories. Some blogs focus on listing inventive ways to save money; others talk about personal finance exclusively from a Christian perspective; still others do nothing but spend every post comparing different credit cards.

Then there’s mine, which is probably most distinguished by a tone that readers have described as everything from “uncompromising” to “snarky”. Also, Control Your Cash explains complex and arcane personal finance topics in something of a readable and not altogether unfunny style, a skill that took a few years to develop.

That isn’t bragging. That’s determining what makes my site different, and what makes its author’s offerings of potential interest to a customer.

Understanding difference

My blog’s central feature is its thrice-weekly posts, there for the reading and delivered free to whomever subscribes to the site’s RSS feed. I also sell a full-length book on the fundamentals of personal finance for people who know that they know nothing about money, and a series of inexpensive ebooks, each of which deals with a particular topic. (How to read financial statements, how to buy a house, etc.)

The wonderful thing about taking the steps to create products is that few of my competitors, and presumably few of yours, are going to bother. The discipline required to write something 6000 words long, let alone 75,000 words long, intimidates most bloggers. The majority would rather just throw a bunch of unconnected thoughts on the page, run spellcheck (or not), then publish.

One of the elite bloggers in my field of interest is Mike Piper of Oblivious Investor. Even though we both write about personal finance, I hesitate to call him a “rival” because there’s little overlap in what we do. Mike’s tagline describes his site succinctly: “simple, low-maintenance investing.” To that end, he’s written a series of books—one on income taxes, one on accounting basics, and so on. As a certified public accountant, but one who can write captivatingly and with minimal jargon, Mike knew he could own that niche with little fear of serious competition.

You answered the questions, right? The ones at the start of the section?

If it took you more than a few seconds to answer them, stop. If you can’t effortlessly determine what makes your blog and your perspective unique, you can’t very well expect your readers to do it. Remember that they aren’t in the market for a faceless product that had dozens if not hundreds of hands in its creation, like a car or a jacket.

For better or worse, they’re buying you and whatever it is you’re identified with.

Accepting an ugly truth

If you answered the questions and came away with the conclusion that your blog just isn’t that distinctive, save yourself hours of frustration now by acknowledging that. It’ll be far better than creating a suite of products that hardly anyone will buy.

There’s no shame in coming to this realization at the outset. If anything, it gives you a chance to start afresh and establish your point of differentiation before you embark on anything else.

You don’t necessarily need a dedicated following to sell products—many of the people who buy my ebooks do so on their first visit to my site. (Which makes sense. What would compel an 89-time visitor to finally break down and buy something on his 90th visit?)

Now that you’ve determined what makes you different, consider your audience.

2. How can I build a following?

The speed with which people blog and get feedback makes it easy to confuse traditional roles in commerce. Just because someone leaves an insightful comment on your site doesn’t make him your confidant.

Keep it professional. Many bloggers forget that their customers, their advisors, their test marketers, and their collaborators should not all be the same people.

All too often, I’ll see bloggers make this dangerous transition when conversing with their readers. Don’t be afraid to solicit feedback, but on the other hand, don’t cede the responsibility of initiative by asking your readers, “So, what would you like to see?” That’s the equivalent of the chef coming out of the kitchen, wooden spoon in hand, going up to the couple awaiting dinner and saying, “Here, taste this. Tell me what you think.”

The above “strategy”, or non-strategy, is pervasive among bloggers, yet bears little fruit. Name a successful company—any company. Nike, for instance. Their research and development is a little more sophisticated than asking potential customers, “Would you like to see a running shoe with a waffle sole?” Or “How about workout gear that wicks away moisture?”

Sell yourself

If you’re going to sell via your site, you have to be bold. It starts with you, not your customers. Say “I’ve got a sales method that will revolutionize the industry. Here it is in four easy lessons.” Or “Sick of not knowing how to work on your car? Stop putting yourself at the mercy of repair shops. Download my series of instructional videos instead.”

Personalize it. Add value. Sell yourself. Take the examples from the preceding paragraph. Theoretically anyone could offer them. What makes your methods different? Is it your style and demeanor? Have you done research that no one else has done before? Are you creating a service or product that people don’t even know that they require, but won’t be able to live without once you’re done with them?

Ultimately, you want to understand what your readers want and need. But how urgently do they need it? When money is hard to come by, will they pay to have their pain assuaged? (People are much more interested in reducing pain than in embracing pleasure.) How can you improve their lives, and/or make their businesses more profitable?

Know your audience, and get inside their heads—specifically, the product-buying part of their heads. Read the comments they leave. Gauge their interest in and commitment to your blog. Only then can you create and sell content that resonates with and delights your readers, while staying true to your unique voice.

Key points

  • It all starts with you. Work out what’s unique about you and your blog.
  • Don’t be afraid to start again if your point of difference isn’t easy to define.
  • To build a paying clientele, offer something to your readers to gauge their interest.
  • Build yourself—your unique point of difference—into what you offer.
  • Use these offerings, and your blog as a whole, to get inside your readers heads, and understand how you can uniquely meet their needs.

Next time out, we’ll discuss how to research your competitors, and how to stand out from among them when readers are counting every penny. But later today, Darren will be sharing his secrets for securing reader feedback that can help you develop your next product. Don’t miss it!

Greg McFarlane is an advertising copywriter who lives in Las Vegas. He recently wrote Control Your Cash: Making Money Make Sense, a financial primer for people in their 20s and 30s who know nothing about money. You can buy the book here (physical) or here (Kindle) and reach Greg at [email protected].

3 Reasons No One Comes Back to Your Blog—and How to Fix It

This guest post is by Alexander Heyne of Milk the pigeon.

You do a series of incredibly useful posts that get a great response, or you get some massive traffic spikes from guest posting, Stumbleupon, Youtube, or your content randomly going viral.

Your content teaches people something useful, it’s immediately applicable, and you get tons of comments and feedback, so you know it hit the spot…

Yet no one comes back.

Your next post goes into the black hole of the Internet, with little to no response.

What gives?

There are three main reasons why people don’t come back to your site after they initially find their way to it, whether that’s via a guest post, Google, or social media:

1. Your readers are confused

Your blog lacks an underlying, coherent theme that is obvious to readers.

For example, you run a series of posts on exercises to fix back pain.  It’s educational, useful, and best of all, it works. There’s a ton of quality information in the series, and it gets rave reviews.

But on your site, you also publish information on how to improve your golf swing, diet products and recommendations, weight lifting guides, and an online class on biofeedback.

What happens when a new person comes to your site? They arrive from a search engine or are referred from some other site, they read the piece of content they came for, and they look around and go “Uh, what is this place?” They don’t really understand what’s going on. Is this site about health? Is it about diet and fitness? Is it about alternative health?

They don’t really know why’d they’d come back, so they just go ahead and Google the next thing they’re searching for instead. Instead of digging around your site further, they go right back to Google.

Having a blog that contains random content, or posts without a coherent idea or reason behind them, may be useful content-wise but it won’t be a motivating reason to subscribe, since people can’t really tell what they’ll get in their inbox.

If your blog’s theme includes a variety of subjects and topics, you can unite them under one idea. Aside from knowing what to expect, readers will return because they know what problem your website solves.

The fix?
Re-evaluate your unique selling proposition. Then make sure when you write a post, it relates somehow to your underlying theme, and that it obviously supports what your site is about as a whole.

2. Your story isn’t present or strong enough

I want you to think back to folk heroes of the old days: people who fought for a cause and whose names we still remember. Remember any? I’m thinking of Robin Hood, William Wallace, Joan of Ark, Davy Crockett, Che Guevara. Does anyone know the specifics of their lives? Not sure about you, but I don’t. All I remember is their message.

That’s what you want your audience to leave with once they’ve read your content: a feeling.

Even though your content may be good, and it may be useful, if people aren’t coming back, it may be because they just don’t feel anything when they visit your site. There’s likely no background story, no excitement, no purpose beyond just the usefulness of the information.

An example? You write about location independence. That’s great—you teach people how to build a business via the Internet or other means that doesn’t require them to be in one place. You may have readers, but perhaps they’re not people who really feel what you write about—people who really know what it feels like to hate their job day after day, who hate showing up to the cubicle environment, and who crave the autonomy of location-independent work.

If, on the other hand, you communicate your background story—former cubicle dweller that hated her life, and became a living-on-beaches business owner—suddenly, your content resonates with readers.

If you can communicate that position in every post you write, your readers will think, “Man, I really need to get out of here because it’s sucking the life out of me! My life feels pointless and is seriously lacking the adventure I want!” every time they go to your site. This way, you become like a folk hero, as people remember what they feel—the “why” behind your story—and stick around to hear more.

This is where the power of branding comes in, because a brand is an experience. Your blog can be a brand too.  If you establish your “why” and your story strongly enough, people will get the same feeling every time they come.

The fix?
Figure out the background story behind your blog. People relate to stories not only because they’re personable, but because there’s emotion behind the story that connects us as people. A story or brand is an experience—it makes people feel a certain way and is incredibly powerful for unifying your audience.

3. Your personality doesn’t come through.

Business is all about differentiating yourself, right?  There’s so much competition (and millions of blogs)! You need to find a way to stand out.

Some people fail to realize that you can be your unique selling proposition.  You are the spice in the recipe.

When I first started blogging, my writing was way too formal. It was just bland—there was no sense of conversation to it.  As soon as I cut loose and starting writing like I talk in daily life, people started emailing me to say they love the way I write, and how my personality comes through.

Be personal—it’s a unique selling proposition in and of itself.

There’s another big reason you should let your personality shine, though. When people read 500 blogs about “how to blog” or “how to start an online business” how do they choose which one to read? They’ll often choose the one with character.

The person who can make them laugh while talking about blogging, the person who can make sewing sound sexy, or the person who is so neurotic about working out that they get you inspired to hit the gym.

The fix?
Cut loose and let your personality show. Sometimes that’s all it takes to differentiate yourself, and have people flooding back to your site.

The secret ingredient

At the end of the day, establishing a repeat readership comes down to one simple thing: “hits” on your blog are people.

The second you acknowledge that people—not eyeballs—come to your site, and you adjust your strategy accordingly, engagement will steadily build and people will come back. Because beyond what you are giving people, the most important thing is how you make them feel—it trumps logic every time and will have them coming back for more.

Milk the pigeon is about killing that lost feeling, standing out in the crowd, and living a life of greatness.  Download a free copy of Milk the Pigeon’s manifesto here: Killing Your Old life and Living the Dream.

19 Essential WordPress Plugins for Your Blog

This guest post is by Eric Siu of Evergreen Search.

WordPressers are always looking for helpful plugins for their blogs, and if you’ve been following today’s posts on ProBlogger, especially Install Your First WordPress Plugin, you’re probably in the same boat.

So I thought I’d compile a list of the most popular to get you started. To make things simple, the plugins in this post have been broken into different categories.

SEO plugins

  • WordPress SEO: If there’s one plugin from this list that you should get, this is the one. It sets up title tags, breadcrumbs, meta robots control, XML sitemaps, Google Analytics, Google Webmaster Tools, and much more.Wordpress SEO
  • Broken Link Checker: This handy plugin will tell you which links on your site are broken – an automated problem spotter.
  • WPTouch: Easily create a mobile version of your site.
  • nRelate Related Content: Make it easy for people and search engines to find related content around your site.
  • WP Editorial Calendar: Make blogging more manageable by setting up a blogging calendar with this plugin. Very simple drag-and-drop editing on a calendar.
  • SEO Auto Links & Related Posts: Autolink words to URLs of your choice—great for internal linking.
  • WP Super Cache: This plugin will speed up your blog—and site speed is an SEO factor. While not necessary for smaller blogs, bigger blogs will definitely want this plugin.
  • Blogging Checklist: Sometimes you might forget to include some important steps while blogging. Blogging Checklist allows you to add a list of helpful reminders before you place a blog post. Forget no more!
    Blogging Checklist

Social plugins

  • Social Analytics: Want to see which users are logged in via Google, Google+, Facebook, or Twitter? You can do it with this plugin.
  • Social Sharing Toolkit: This flexible plugin allows you to add “social bling” to your posts or pages. You can add buttons from various social networks in a clean and minimalistic manner. Here’s how it looks:
    social sharing tool kit
  • Tweet Old Post: If you have content that you’d like to resurface to your audience every now and then, Tweet Old Post lets you do it.

Analytics plugins

General plugins

  • Subscribe to Comments: Gives your audience the option to subscribe to comments so they will be alerted when people are posting new comments.
  • Outbound Links: Automatically makes all outbound links open in new windows. Helpful in the sense that you don’t lose your audience completely. These clicks can be tracked in Google Analytics.
  • Post Ender: Add a message at the end of each post—think email subscription and RSS subscription opt-ins, like this:

    Post Ender

    Image via ConversionXL

  • Akismet: Eliminate comment spam. This plugin is already installed—all you need to do is enable it and get an API key.
  • Widget Context: A custom sidebar widget. Sometimes you might need to rotate in different ads or use different widgets for various pages or posts. This plugin helps you accomplish that.

Maintenance plugins

  • WP Database Backup: Backing up your blog is extremely important—you don’t want a freak accident to destroy all your work. This plugin allows you to schedule backups. I personally send them to different gmail accounts for each blog.
  • WordPress Backup to Dropbox: Back up your WordPress files to your Dropbox account.

Conclusion

There are a ton of great WordPress plugins out there—this list is intended just to help you get a head start. You’re sure to find some incredible plugins that suit your needs down the line. What are some other essential WordPress plugins that you use?

Eric Siu is the Vice President of SEO at Evergreen Search, a digital marketing agency in los angeles. He’s also written about Minimum Viable SEO: 8 Ways To Get Startup SEO Right and 10 Immutable Laws of SEO. In his free time, he likes watching football, playing poker, hiking, reading, or eating ice cream. Feel free to follow him on Twitter: @ericosiu :)

Install Your First WordPress Plugin

This guest post is by Karol K of ThemeFuse.

WordPress is a platform that’s rather easy to use, for the most part. Publishing new posts is easy, creating new pages is easy, and moderating comments is—again—easy. And that’s great because, this way, the platform can be used by anybody. As Matt Hooper explained earlier today, in his post What Your Need to Know Before You Start a WordPress Blog, no web development or programming skills are required.

There are, however, some aspects that are not that obvious for people who are new to the whole blogging thing, and who are trying to get their WordPress site running for the first time.

Just to make one thing clear, WordPress doesn’t need any additional software, tools, or plugins to operate. Once you get a clean version you are well-off to join the blogging world. However, if you want to include some extra features in your blog, make it SEO friendly, or enable just a simple contact form, in most cases you’ll have to use plugins.

The word “plugin” sounds like a piece of code or software that needs to be included manually in your WordPress by a professional. This isn’t the case, however.

I admit, if you want to work with other platforms then you might stumble upon some difficulties while installing plugins, but with WordPress you can get any plugin installed in less than a minute.

What are plugins, and what’s their job?

There are almost 20,000 plugins available (at the time of writing) in the official directory, and they enable you to turn your blog into whatever kind of site you like.

To quote the WordPress team themselves: “Plugins can extend WordPress to do almost anything you can imagine.” A simple definition, but accurate nonetheless.

Among the things plugins can do for your blog are: improve its typography, tune the SEO structure, help you to proofread and edit, take care of backups, check for broken links, provide a contact form, protect against spam, connect your site with social media profiles, display social media share buttons, enable Google Analytics, cache recent posts, enable AdSense, make it possible to display different forms of advertising, and many many more.

Where can you get plugins from?

The official WordPress plugin directory can be accessed at: http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/

You can use the search engine to find any plugin you want by its name, or to use keywords that describe the functionality you’re after. For example, here’s how you’d find the “coming soon” plugin by ThemeFuse:

Now, in this post I’m using ThemeFuse Maintenance Mode —the “coming soon” plugin—as an example to guide you through the whole process of installing a plugin. The process is universal and you can follow it to get any other plugin installed as well.

There are two main ways to “get” your hands on a WordPress plugin, so to speak. You can either:

  • download it from the official directory (or any other website) as a ZIP file
  • have it put straight into your WordPress blog.

The latter is, of course, a much easier way, and a much faster to go through. However, I’m going to tell you about both to make the picture complete.

Install a WordPress plugin through your admin panel (the easy way)

I know that it sounds like a big deal, but this is actually the easier way to install a plugin, and one that can be done in less than a minute.

First, you need to log in to your WordPress panel on an admin account. Installing new plugins always requires admin access rights; it can’t be done through author accounts.

Next, go to Plugins > Add New, as shown below.

There’s a search field in the center of the page. It works almost exactly the same as the one in the official directory available at wordpress.org. You can use this search field to find a plugin by name, or you can use keywords to describe the functionality you want.

In our example, we’ve decided that we want to get the ThemeFuse Maintenance Mode plugin, so this is what we’re going to put in the field. Inevitably, the first result shown is the plugin we want to install.

Now, to the best part. You can have the plugin downloaded to your WordPress and installed just by clicking the link labeled as Install Now, that’s next to the plugin’s name.

The installation itself is pretty quick, and if everything goes well you should see something like this:

The only thing left to do now is to click the link labeled as “Activate Plugin,” shown above. By default, every plugin that gets put in your WordPress blog is deactivated. If you want to use it you have to activate it first.

If the plugin activates successfully it should be visible in your Plugins section and marked as active:

At this point, three main links are visible: Settings, Deactivate, and Edit.

  • Settings: This is where you can set the basic things about your new plugin. Usually, it’s where you start working with a plugin.
  • Deactivate: You can deactivate your plugin if you don’t want to use it anymore.
  • Edit: It’s not advisable to go there if you’re a beginner. This is the place where you can edit the source code executed by a given plugin.

That’s it. Your new plugin is up and running!

Now let’s take a look at a more complicated way of installing a plugin.

Installing a WordPress plugin manually

In this approach, you’ll have to get the ZIP file of the plugin you want to install (1), upload it to your blog through FTP (2), and then activate it in your WordPress admin (3).

1. Getting the ZIP file

As usual, start by searching for a nice plugin in the official directory at wordpress.org. Once you stumble upon something interesting you can download it to your local hard drive.

When you’re at the plugin page (http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/themefuse-maintenance-mode/, for example) click on the Download button and save the ZIP file somewhere on your computer:

2. Uploading through FTP

For this step, you’ll need a piece of FTP (file transfer protocol) software to transfer the files to your blog hosting directory. Thankfully, there are some free ones, like FileZilla.

Before you can use FTP, you need to take the ZIP archive of your plugin and extract it to a location on your hard drive.

Now, in your FTP software connect to your site (your host will be able to give you the details you ned to be able to do this) and navigate to the wp-content/plugins directory.

Next, upload everything that has been extracted from the plugin’s ZIP file to that location.

3. Activating the plugin

Once you upload the plugin via FTP, you should see it listed in the Plugins section of your WordPress admin panel. But this time it’s deactivated.

The only thing left for you to do now is activate it. Simply click the Activate link, as shown above.

At this point, your new plugin is active and ready to be used, and the same three links (Settings, Deactivate, Edit) are displayed under the plugin’s name.

Since there’s not much more we can say about the installation process itself, let’s take a minute to follow the Settings link mentioned above and see what a standard plugin configuration page looks like.

Adjusting plugin settings

ThemeFuse Maintenance Mode lets you welcome your visitors with a sort of “coming soon” message. This comes handy if you haven’t finished working on your blog yet, and you don’t want anyone to see it half-baked.

Here’s an example screen that a reader will see when they visit a site where the plugin is active:

The best part is that a user who’s logged in to the site’s admin section (wp-admin) sees the blog normally, so they can work on it without any problems. The screen above is what normal blog visitors see. Now let’s go back to the settings section:

This is what you’ll find when you navigate to Settings > ThemeFuse Maintenance Plugin from the left-hand menu of your WordPress admin area.

Many WordPress plugins provide a small set of initial options that need to be set, but then the rest is done without any additional attention on your part. With this plugin, everything is pretty much set up right from the get-go, and if you want to, you can take care of some adjustments to make the plugin fit your needs perfectly.

The plugin provides some basic customization regarding the way it looks. The first two fields (Upload Logo and Upload Background) let you give the plugin a little branding. I advise you to change at least the logo to one you’re going to use on your site once it’s live.

The easiest way of changing the logo or the background is to upload these files through your blog’s media library, and then copy and paste the file links to the aforementioned fields.

In order to do this, just go to Media > Add New (the left-hand menu of your WordPress admin area):

Click Select Files. After your files are successfully uploaded, you’ll see a screen similar to this:

The marked URL is what you need to copy and paste into either the Upload Logo or Upload Background field.

The remaining fields enable you to customize your welcome message even further:

  • You can input the date on which your site is planned to be completed.
  • You can set a label for the loader bar.
  • You can set the percentage of completion, to give some visual representation of what’s going on.
  • You can include any content you find suitable through the standard WordPress visual (or HTML) editor.
  • Finally, you can set your Twitter username if you want to display a follow button along with your latest tweet.

One important thing you have to remember is that if the plugin is active, everyone who visits your blog and is not logged in will see the Coming Soon page instead of the blog’s normal appearance. When you are done working on your blog, and ready to launch, always remember to deactivate the plugin.

What’s the next step?

That’s all for this guide. I hope that you’ll visit the plugin directory and get yourself a nice shiny plugin right away. Later today, we’ll be publishing a list of some of the more popular plugins for you to check out.

For now, though, what other things about WordPress do you find challenging for a beginner to take care of? Let us know in the comments!

Karol K. is a 20-something year old web 2.0 entrepreneur from Poland and a writer at ThemeFuse.com, where he shares various WordPress advice. Contrary to what you might think, he doesn’t want to be the worst blogger on the planet. Don’t forget to visit ThemeFuse to get your hands on some original WordPress themes (warning: no boring stuff like everyone else offers).

What You Need to Know Before You Start a WordPress Blog

This guest post is by Matt Hooper.

After reading through Darren’s census of ProBlogger results, a couple of numbers stood out to me.

  • 8.7% of ProBlogger readers haven’t started a blog of your own yet.
  • Only just over half of the respondants are on the WordPress.org platform.

The latter caught my attention since you will find a lot of tips and tricks for the WordPress.org platform here on ProBlogger. From looking at these two numbers, you could make a relatively educated guess that there are still a lot of people out there looking to start a WordPress blog.

Finding a home: web hosting

Before you can even start writing your first post, you need to figure out where your online home is going to be. This will be the place that all of your files will live online.

There are different kinds of hosting but they can essentially be classified into three types.

  • shared hosting
  • virtual private server (VPS)
  • dedicated server.

Shared hosting is where most people start out and it is usually adequate for new site owners. Shared hosting is where different users are all on the same physical hardware. This can be compared to roommates. Everyone has their own room but there could be times when someone has a party and nobody gets up early. Like I said, this is good in most cases but if you or one of your roommates gets too much traffic, then the whole server could become slow.

A VPS is the next stage. You are still on a shared machine, but you are more isolated from your neighbours. This usually gives you more processing power and more RAM so that when your traffic spikes, your site isn’t likely to go down. Think of this as having your own apartment where there is a shared building but you can lock the door, and your noisy neighbours really need to have a shaker of a party to disturb you.

Finally, when your traffic is at massive levels, you might consider moving to a dedicated server. As the name implies, this is a dedicated piece of hardware that is entirely yours. All the RAM, the processing power and disk space is yours to do as you wish. This is your own house on acreage and you have no neighbours to worry about. However, the mortgage can start to put a dent in your finances. If you’re at this point, the rest of this post probably isn’t for you.

There are many hosts online, and I’m sure that someone will recommend a good host if you ask nicely. Make sure that you do your research and know what you’re getting into, though. Some shared hosts are crippled in their abilities and will only let you have one domain hosted with them, for example. Or, once you sign up, you discover that “unlimited” isn’t really unlimited.

Moving in: installing WordPress

After you’ve found a place for your blog to live, you’ll need to install the software that will be managing your posts and pages. If you’ve gotten to this point in the post, I’ll hazard the guess that you are probably going with WordPress.

Most shared hosts that are worth their weight will have something called “one-click” installs (it’s actually more than one click, but not much more) or something similar. The “one-click” software varies a bit depending on hosting provider, but they all do the same thing.

This gives you the ability to install WordPress with a few clicks of the mouse. You’ll still need to fill out a username for your site, passwords, site name, etc., but it’s a relatively painless process. The one-click software will set up the database for you, so you don’t need to worry about messing around with that. If you do encounter any problems, the support team at your host should be able to help you out.

Painting the walls: installing a theme

It’s not difficult to find WordPress themes on the internet these days, but you do need to be a little cautious. It’s widely know that the number one result in Google for free themes are full of malware and other nastiness that you’ll want to stay away from.

If you are interested in a free theme then you’re best to look in the WordPress theme repository. The people over at WordPress do their best to vet the themes before they make them available in the repository.

You may not be interested in any of the free themes; instead you might be looking for something with a bit more of a professional look and feel. If this is the case then, you are probably going to want a premium theme or framework. A premium theme or framework usually has a stronger development team behind it, and that team’s there to give you support when you need it. You won’t often get much support with a free theme.

These themes won’t often break the bank, but they will give your WordPress site a little more polish. Frameworks are becoming more and more common, and are probably your best bet. They take a little more work to set up than themes, but will provide you with a custom look without requiring you to drop the cash on a completely custom design.

When you are more established, you may decide that you’re bringing in enough income to justify the custom development costs of a one-off design. A custom design is a complete ground-up design, but in these days of custom frameworks, I think you really need a good reason to want to go with something like this.

Choosing your art: creating content

It’s often a good idea to have some content ready to go on your blog before you launch. This ensures that your visitors have more than just one thing to read when they visit for the first time.

I often recommend what I refer to as the “rule of fives”: launch with five pages, five categories, and five posts for each category. This rule isn’t etched in stone, so there is some flexibility for you to use your creative judgement; nevertheless, it gives you a starting point.

You don’t need to publish all of those posts on the first day—if you like, save some content to slowly roll out. It helps you set the theme of your blog and keeps your content focused. Keep in mind, too, that this doesn’t all need to be written content. It can be a mix of text, audio, images and video, for example.

Home sweet home: everything else

The above will get you started on your journey to blogging bliss, however there are other items to look at. WordPress is very extensible and things like plugins and widgets can really start to make your website your own. However, if you ask 100 different bloggers what their favourite plugins are, you’ll get a hundred different lists.

Later today on ProBlogger, we’ll be talking more about plugins. We’ll show you how to install your first plugin, and take a spin through some of the more popular plugins you might want to consider.

In the end, it’s all about building something that you can be proud of. If it isn’t enjoyable, you might be on the wrong path. Take your time and discover only what you need in order to get to the next step, just don’t sit around trying to figure out everything before you begin. Take action and push through the road blocks—and enjoy the process!

Matthew Hooper helps individuals, small businesses and organizations start blogs or websites as a step to building an internet presence. You can get his free guide on building an internet presence or check out his online WordPress course full of step-by-step videos so that you can learn WordPress in a single weekend.

Move Beyond Fear: Find and Keep Your Writing Voice in 10 Steps

This guest post is by Sean M. Madden of Mindful Living Guide.

I’ve been teaching creative writing, along with mindful living, for years now. And I can say, without hesitation, that fear is ubiquitous. Its presence, more than anything else, stops writers in their tracks.

All seems to be going along beautifully, words and ideas are flowing, characters and plots are taking shape, and wham! a certain self-consciousness seeps in. The flow slows to a trickle, we begin to falter, and, worst of all, we judge ourselves harshly, comparing our present writing to our glory days. Or we compare ourselves against other writers, those in our midst, or literary greats of times past.

Just a few minutes ago, I finished up an informal discussion which I was leading on the web. The talk shared the exact title of this article, and one of the participants is a long-time student of mine. He’s the sort of guy you’d never guess would be fearful of losing his writing voice. He’s a confident and successful middle-aged businessman, and he’s led an unusually creative life. He’s gigged as a singer-songwriter, owned and managed art galleries in London, has a lovely family, and travels widely.

Yet Alex has a lingering concern—the very one detailed above, whereby his writing seems to get off-track, falters and he starts doubting his abilities, whether he’ll manage to write with ease as he once did.

Fortunately, there are steps we can take which, if heeded, will do more than help us to find and keep our writing voice. These steps can help us to move beyond fear and to live more creatively.

Ten steps to help you move beyond fear and find and keep your writing voice

  1. Acknowledge your fears: don’t pretend they’re not lurking there behind the scenes.
  2. Face them: Face your fears with a simple, uncomplicated awareness of the corresponding bodily sensations. In other words, notice how your fears (and thoughts generally) make you feel, physically.
  3. But don’t feed them: As with online trolls who get their jollies trying to wreak havoc, your fears will lessen and eventually fade away if you stop engaging with them on their terms.
  4. Recognize that your fears are illusory: You can smile at their devilish innocence.
  5. Simply put pen to paper: Write through your fears. Write down whatever comes up.
  6. Notice our tendency to negatively compare ourselves with others: These crippling, judgmental thoughts are another illusion, another trick our minds play to limit our naturally creative selves.
  7. Realize that action trumps fear: When things get tough, go for a good long walk, take a yoga class, return to your breath. Do such things as these on a daily basis and things will not get so tough so often.
  8. Write down your inner truths: Do this with great courage and honesty. You’ll thereby find your voice.
  9. Take heart knowing you’re not alone: We, all of us, feel these fears. Don’t believe otherwise.
  10. Trust in the process: Nurture an awareness that everything, even fear, can be a great teacher!

What fears tend to squelch your writing voice, and what strategies do you use to overcome these fears? Please leave your comments below. Let’s get the conversation flowing.

As a Creative Writing & Mindful Living Guide, Sean M. Madden offers Writing, Literature & Mindful Living courses and workshops — and one-to-one guidance — worldwide. He’s also the creator of the new #mlmon and #wpthu communities. To keep apprised of Sean’s live web-based writing workshops (Next Up: April 8 & 15) and other online and in-person offerings, sign up to the MLG newsletter. You can also follow (@SeanMMadden) or  email him.