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How I use Google Analytics ‘Compare’ Feature to Motivate Me to Grow My Blog

This morning, a reader asked me this question:

“How do you motivate yourself to grow your blog traffic from day to day?”

We’ve covered a whole heap of techniques for growing the amount of traffic you attract to your blog in our Blog Promotion category (also check out this ‘how to find readers page‘ and listen to my recent finding reader webinar) but one thing that has helped me on the ‘motivation’ front lately is the report below in Google Analytics (click to enlarge).

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What you’re looking at is the traffic so far today (the blue line) on Digital Photography School compared to the traffic on the site one week ago (the orange line) – arranged by the hour.

I’ll tell you how to get this report below but first, the reason I love this report is that it tells me whether I’m on track to get as much traffic to my site today as I had this time last week.

Having something to compare traffic keeps me motivated to better the previous week’s result.

Note: I always choose to compare traffic from exactly 1 week previous because on our site we see quite distinct rises and falls in traffic on different days of the week.

In the chart above you can see the day’s traffic started well, with the first 4 hours between 1.7% and 18.1% higher than the previous week.

This all happened while I was asleep so when I checked in at 9am I was pleased! However, I also saw that from 6am-8am that we were beginning to slip behind.

Knowing this gave me a little bit of motivation to find some ways to drive more traffic to the site today.

I took a look at the schedule of Facebook updates that I had planned for the day and decided to move a status update I thought would drive some traffic to be earlier in the day.

That status update went live at 9am and resulted in a nice bump in traffic to get the blue line trending up above the orange again.

I also identified some older posts from my archives that I then scheduled to be tweeted throughout the next 24 hours (based upon my advice from last month to promote old content), which I thought would help us to keep nudging the traffic up higher for the rest of the day.

Having this report open is a great little source of motivation to keep working not only at writing great content but also driving traffic to it.

I also find that having this comparison open during the day (and watching ‘real time’ stats) helps me to spot anomalies in traffic. It helps me to quickly spot if there’s a problem (server issues) or on the flip side it shows me when a post might have been shared on a big blog or social media account.

Knowing this information helps me to react quickly to fix a problem or leverage a traffic event.

UPDATE: here’s how the traffic looked at the end of the day in the comparison view:

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Things slipped for the last hour or two but over the full day visitor numbers were up by 4.22%.

While a 4% increase in traffic isn’t the most spectacular result I see it is a small step in a larger race I’m running. I know if I can see even a 1% increase in traffic each week that over a year or longer that it’ll significantly grow the site over time.

How to Get This Report

For those of you new to Google Analytics here’s the easy process to get this report (it will only take you a couple of minutes).

1. Login to your Google Analytics Account

2. In the menu click on the ‘Overview’ link under ‘Audience’

Audience_Overview_-_Google_Analytics.png

3. By default you’ll be looking at the last months traffic. You want to drill down now to today so in the top right corner click on the date range and a calendar will open up like this:

Audience_Overview_-_Google_Analytics-6.png

4. Select today’s date.

Audience_Overview_-_Google_Analytics-5.png

5. Check the ‘compare to’ box and then in the new date field that opens up underneath you can put in last weeks date by clicking on the day you want to compare it to. Once you have – click ‘Apply’.

Audience_Overview_-_Google_Analytics-7.png

6. You’re almost done now. You should be looking at a report that compares the two days but by default it’ll be showing you the total of the days in the chart as two dots. You want to view this now as ‘hourly’ so hit the ‘hourly’ tab.

Audience_Overview_-_Google_Analytics-8.png

You now should be looking at the comparison of today’s traffic with the same day last week (note: your current days report won’t yet be complete unless the day is almost over and it does run an hour behind).

Variations on this report to check out

This comparison tool is really useful for a while heap of reports.

For example you can choose to compare one week with another:

Audience_Overview_-_Google_Analytics-10.png

In fact, any period of time can be compared with any other period.

Also, with a date range locked in you can drill down into many other metrics.

For example, earlier today I was doing some analysis comparing this last week with the corresponding week in September, which was just before we did our new redesign on Digital Photography School.

A day by day comparison showed a great improvement in overall traffic.

Audience_Overview_-_Google_Analytics-11.png

Drilling down further, and viewing the two weeks by the hour, was also fascinating and showed that the two weeks had remarkably similar patterns in traffic from hour to hour – so the increase in traffic was very even across the week.

Audience_Overview_-_Google_Analytics-12.png

Under that chart was some interesting data:

Audience_Overview_-_Google_Analytics-16.png

Not only were Visits and Page views well up – but being able to see that bounce rate was slightly down and that average visitor duration was up was encouraging. Seeing Pages Viewed Per Visit was down showed we have an area to improve on (we’re already working on this) and seeing that we had a good rise in ‘new’ visitors was something that should be investigated further.

To investigate the rise in ‘new’ visitors I moved into the ‘Acquisition’ menu on Google analytics. The same date range and comparison is still selected so now I’m able to compare the two periods when it comes to different sources of traffic and see why we’ve had rises in traffic:

It turns out we’ve seen increases in a few area:

Search Traffic is up:

All_Traffic_-_Google_Analytics_and_Preview_of_“Untitled”.png

Facebook Traffic is up (due to my recent experiments):

All_Traffic_-_Google_Analytics-2.png

But interestingly Feed traffic is down (giving us something to investigate).

All_Traffic_-_Google_Analytics-3.png

There are many other areas you can drill down into with the comparison tool – almost anything that Google Analytics has a report for you can compare from period to period and get a great overview of how that stat compares very quickly.

Have a go yourself – do some comparisons and let me know what you find in comments below!

5 Affordable Image Creation Tools that I use In My Blogging

Earlier in the year I published a post where I shared links to 13 tools and services that I use every day in my blogging business.

Today I wanted to add a four – particularly ones that relate to creating images for my blogs.

NewImage

PicMonkey

I use PicMonkey every day to help me create images for sharing on social media.

If you head to the Photos on the dPS Facebook page you’ll notice that most days we share at least one or two ‘collages’ of images from posts on the blog. Almost all of these were created with PicMonkey.

It’s a free web based tool (although there is an upgrade option that I’ve not used myself) and is really easy to use.

It also has some image editing tools that you might find useful for editing single images.

NewImage

Canva

I’m newer to Canva… because it is a newer tool but I’m using it more and more. It’s currently in beta but if you use this link you can get a VIP account (that’s just for ProBlogger readers).

Canva is similar to PicMonkey in some ways in that you can pull in images and text to create great visuals – but it comes with a lot of cool templates for different types of documents to get you going. It’s free to use but if you choose to use some of their images in your designs you will pay $1 per image for their use (I have only ever paid once and use my own images the bulk of the time).

It is all drag and drop and while it probably has a slightly steeper learning curve than Pic Monkey I think it’s definitely one to check out.

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Skitch (by Evernote)

I used to use Skitch a lot but for one reason or another stopped – until recently. A couple of my team members use Skitch a lot, particularly when we’ve been doing the redesign of dPS to communicate with each other. It’s great for creating screen captures and then adding notes with arrows or highlighting particular areas that we want our developers to work with.

I don’t tend to use the images Skitch creates too much publicly but it’s a handy tool for our internal communications.

It’s got a cool smartphone app too for doing these things on the run too!

NewImage

MindNode

This is a tool for creating mind maps. I use both an iPad and desktop app and it is how I created the ProBlogger Money Map that outlines how bloggers make money.

I use mind maps more for internal planning and communication than for creating images to share publicly. Having said that – I also have seen a number of people use mind maps like this for diagrams in blog posts as well as for powerpoint presentations.

MindNode is easy to use and creates lovely looking mindmaps.

Imagewell

ImageWell

I’ve mentioned this a few times in the past but continue to use it.

It’s a light weight mac image editing tool that I use mainly for resizing images and a little editing.

You can add borders, text etc. I will say I’ve used it less since discovering the two tools above but for quick edits when I am not actually online it is handy.

What Would You Add?

What other image creation and editing tools do you use in your blogging? I’m sure I’m just scratching the surface here – looking forward to seeing your suggestions!

How to Protect Your WordPress Site Before the Hackers Lock You Out!

This is a guest contribution from Caleb Lane, WordPress security expert.

Fool proof lock and chain

I am sure you already have on your to do list that you need to respond to emails, return phone calls, show up for meetings, write more content, and a whole lot more.

But, what if I told you that the effects of being hacked could cause all of your work to be destroyed and you would have to start over?  I bet your to do list would change a little bit if all of the work you have done on your website was gone forever.

That is why WordPress security is very important and you need to add it to the top of your to do list.

For those who use WordPress there are some things that you can do to make sure your site is as secure as possible. Here are 11 things that you should do to help ensure your site is as safe and secure as possible:

1. Create Strong Passwords

This is one of the easiest things to do to ensure your website is secure. Many people make excuses due to it taking too much time, but should be taken very seriously. Each of your sites should have a different password.

  • Every password should be at least 15 characters long, and it’s best if your password does not contain a real word.
  • You should use capital and lowercase letters, numbers, and special characters such as a question mark.
  • Your password is your first form of protection against hackers, so make sure you come up with a strong one.

Once you have secure passwords for all of your sites, you should never just write them down.

The only two places your passwords should be are in your head or within a password manager with a strong master password.

If you are going to use a password manager, LastPass or KeePass should do the job for you. LastPass offers a free version and a premium version for $12 a year, while KeePass is open-source and completely free. If you decide to use KeePass, make sure you keep a backup of the password database file in case the file becomes corrupted or your hard drive fails.

2. Keep Your Site Updated

When it comes to WordPress, many people do not want to take the time to make sure they have all of the current updates.

Remember WordPress is not releasing these updates just so they can get media attention. The updates are released to fix bugs, patch security holes, and to introduce new features.

Will any solution always remain a step ahead of the hackers? No, but when there are security holes that are known and there are patches available, you need to implement them on your site. There are no excuses for not keeping up with the updates.

You should also make sure to keep your plug-ins and themes up-to-date.  Also, if you have a VPS or dedicated server, keep all of the things associated with the server up-to-date as well.

Now you may be thinking, how do I do this with all my websites?  Thankfully Infinite WP and Manage WP allow you to manage and update all of your sites from within one dashboard.

3. Changing the WordPress Login Username 

Change the username that is provided as the default admin user when you first set up your account.

Since most brute force attacks on your website are automated, they most likely will either use “admin”, “administrator”, “manager”, or your domain name to try to hack into your account, so use a random username instead. Of course the username should be backed by a strong user password using the guidelines that were covered earlier.

4. Guarding Against Brute Force Attacks

Many people do not realise that most sites have at least a few hundred unauthorised login attempts each day.

In addition to the possibility of successfully hacking into your blog, these attacks can also put a strain on your server resources. To guard against these brute force attacks, make sure you have taken the steps listed above. You can install a plug-in such as Limit Login Attempts that will lock out the hacker after a certain number of failed login attempts.

5. Malware Monitoring

You need to have a solution in place that will constantly monitor your site for malware.

A perfect free solution for this is WordFence which will scan your WordPress core, plug-ins, and themes for changes against the files in the WordPress repository. If there are changes to the files it will send you an email notification if you provide an email address within the plug-in options page.

Another malware monitoring solution that includes server side scanning as well as a variety of other features is Sucuri. Although it costs some money, it is well worth it for the additional features it provides.

6. Fix Malware Issues

In addition to your efforts to prevent malware from infecting your blog, it is always a good idea to find a way to clean up any malware issues that are detected. One of the costs that many blog and website owners tend to overlook is the cost of downtime that is associated with security problems and the time it takes to clean up those issues.

A good solution that will remove malware in the event that you are hacked is Sucuri. If you have been hacked already, you can sign up for their service and they will remove the malware even if you were hacked before signing up.

7. Choosing a Hosting Provider 

A substantial security risk comes from having your blog on a server that is shared. Consider the risks of your single blog and then multiply it by the number of blogs and websites on the same server.

If you choose shared hosting, it is likely that you are going to be lumped in with hundreds of other sites. The reason shared hosting is a big risk is because if another website on the same server as you gets hacked, your website can possibly be hacked as well.

While your own VPS or dedicated server may not be the right choice for you due to the knowledge to manage it and the cost, managed WordPress hosting may be a good alternative. They offer hosting that is more expensive, but well worth it considering the risks that comes with generic shared hosting.

With managed WordPress hosting you get better security, a faster site, better support, and full backups done automatically for you. The 3 managed WordPress hosts that stand out are WP Engine, Pagely, and Synthesis.  All of them are slightly different and have different benefits, so look into each one and pick the one that fits you best.

8. Clean Up Your Site

As well as protecting your blog you need to make sure you keep your blog tidy. Get rid of any old plugins and themes that you are not using anymore.

This also includes separating websites that are in production and still being developed by having them on separate servers.  Often times you will be working on a new website, but then forget about it for a few months. This causes the website to become out of date and vulnerable to being hacked. For this reason, it is always a good idea to separate websites on different servers that you are still working on from live websites in production.

9. Control Sensitive Information 

When you are cleaning up your blog files make sure that you are not leaving any important information available for the world to access. Check your phpinfo.php and i.php files. These are like roadmaps to your set up and a hacker will be able to use this information to break in.

Another area of caution: don’t store backups of your site directly on your website’s server.  This is just inviting potential hackers to download the backups and hack into your website without any work!

Disabling directory browsing is a good idea to prevent a hacker from browsing your blog site’s folders and files for information that could lead to them finding a way to exploit you.

You can disable directory browsing by adding (without the quotes), “Options –Indexes,” to your .htaccess file.

The last thing you have to be careful with is using the file manager within CPanel and having it save temporary copies of important files such as wp-config.php. That is why it is always better to use secure file transfer protocol (SFTP) with a program such as FileZilla.

Bonus Tip: Never store your passwords within FileZilla because they are not encrypted. If you were ever to get malware on that computer, it is very common for malware to search for passwords stored within FileZilla and use them for malicious intent.

10. Backup Your Site 

It is always a good idea to backup your blog site in case your site gets hacked or even if you made the wrong change to a file and want to restore a prior version.

The two best solutions for backing up your site are BackupBuddy and VaultPress. If you are using another backup solution already that is fine just make sure it isn’t overwriting the previous backup and that you have backups going at least a few weeks back. It’s also very important to test the backup to make sure it works even if you don’t need it.

11. Be Vigilant 

This is fairly simple to explain. You need to stay on top of everything that is going on in the WordPress security world.

Remember, preventing issues in the first place is better than detecting and fixing them later. While a managed WordPress host will have your back, it is also important that you have your own back as well.

Take the steps that are listed above to help make your WordPress site as secure as possible and keep an eye on stories about website security as well. Never think that the security issues are only affecting other sites… they can just as easily affect yours.

Caleb Lane is the WordPress security expert for Lockdown 2013, where you can learn how to secure your WordPress website.  He spends his time consulting with companies about their website security and keeping his clients updated about the latest changes and news in website security.

How To Stop Your WordPress Blog Getting Penalized For Duplicate Content

This is a guest contribution by Felipe Kurpiel, an internet marketer

I came across this topic by accident. One day I was monitoring my analytics data I noticed a big drop on my traffic stats and I didn’t understand why.

Actually, I had a hint because I was starting to interlink my posts. That gave me a clue that the problem was internal which I thought was a good thing. But that is not enough because then I had to analyze what Google is focusing on now.

If you have been involved with SEO at all you know that duplicate content is a bad thing. But how can you identify the duplicate content on your site?

Ok, let’s get started with that.

Identifying Internal Duplicate Content!

That is a little advanced because we are about the crawl our website the way Google does. That is the best way to analyze the source of any problems.

To do that I like to use a Free Tool called Screaming Frog SEO Spider. If you never used this tool it can be a little complicated but don’t let that scares you.

You just have to follow some steps. Actually you can analyze a lot of factors using this tool but for our example, we are just considering duplicate content.

First Step: Add your URL website into the software and let it run.

It can take a while depending on how big your website is, but after that we are ready to filter what we are looking for.

Screaming Frog tabs

Second: Go to the Page Titles tab and then filter by Duplicate

If you are lucky you will not have any result showing when you choose this filter. But unfortunately that was not my case and I saw dozens of results which were the proof that my website had internal duplicate content.

Third Step: It’s time to analyze what is generating the problem

You can do this on Screaming Frog or you can export the file to Microsoft Excel (or similar) in order to deeply analyze what you have to do to solve the issue.

In my case, the duplicate content was being generated by comments. Weird, isn’t?

That is what I thought and I also noticed that the pages with comments were being flagged by Google because they disappeared from search results.

When that happens, you have no turning back but fix the source of the problem.

Understanding Comments

Every comment on my website was generating a variable named “?replytocom”.

You don’t need to understand exactly what this variable does but put it simple; it is like each comment you have on your posts has the ability to create a copy of this particular post in your site. It can be considered as a pagination problem. And that is terrible because when Google crawl your website it can see that your site has the same content being repeated over and over again.

Do you think you are going to rank with that blog post? Not a change!

How to solve this problem

More important than to identify this issue is to create a clear solution to get rid of this pagination issue.

In order to deal with this variable there are two solutions. The first is really simple but not so effective and the second can be seen as complicated but it’s really the ultimate solution.

But let’s cover the easy solution first.

I run my blog on WordPress and one of the few essential plugins I use for SEO is WP SEO by Yoast. If you are using this plugin you just have to go to the plugin dashboard and then click on Permalinks. Once you do that just check the box to “Remove ?replytocom variables”.

Permalink Settings

This is really simple but sometimes you won’t get the results you are expecting, however, if you are having this kind of problem with comments you MUST check this option.

Second Option

After that you can run your website URL using Screaming Frog to see if the problem was solved. Unfortunately this can take a while but if after one day or two you are still noticing problems for duplicated content you have to try the second option.

Now we just have to access Google Webmaster Tools and select our website.

Then under Configuration we must go to URL Parameters.

We will see a list of parameters being crawled by Google in addition, here we have the chance to tell Google what to do when a parameter in particular is affecting our website. That is really cool.

For this replytocom problem I just have to click Edit and use the following settings.

Parameter replytocom

Click Save and you solved the problem!

Now if you tried the first option using the plugin, then you used Webmaster Tools to tell Google what to do with this parameter and after a few days you still see duplicate content, there is one more thing you can try!

Now I am talking about Robots.txt!

Don’t worry if you don’t have this file on your website, because you just have to create a txt file and upload it on the root of your domain. Nothing that complicated!

Once you have created this file you just have to add a command line in the file.

If your Robots.txt is blank, just add these commands there:

User-agent: *

Disallow: /wp-admin/

Disallow: /wp-includes/

Disallow: *?replytocom

If you already had this file, just add the final line: “Disallow: *?replytocom”

It will for sure take care of everything!

Final Thoughts and Monitoring

The best way to avoid this or similar problems is monitoring your data. So here are my three tips to keep your website Google friendly.

  • When working On-Page be careful with the settings you are using on Yoast WordPress SEO plugin. Don’t forget to review Titles & Metas tab and check the “no index, follow” option for every little thing that can be considered as duplicate content.

An example is the “Other” tab where you MUST check this “no index” option so your Author Archives will not be seen as duplicate content when Google crawls your site. Remember, you have to make your website good for users and for search engines.

  • At least twice a week, analyze your traffic on Google Analytics. Go to Traffic Sources tab then Search Engine Optimization and keep an eye on Impressions.

You should also use an additional tool to track your keywords rankings so you can see if your search engine positions remain intact or if some of them are facing some drops. When that happens you will know it’s time to take some action.

  • Every two weeks, use Screaming Frog to crawl your website. This can be really important to check if the changes you made on-site already had the impact you were expecting.

When it comes to duplicate content the most important tabs to monitor on Screaming Frog are Page Title and Meta Description. However, in order to have a website that can be considered Google friendly it’s vital to analyze the Response Codes as well and eliminate every Client Error (4xx) and Server Error (5xx) you identify when crawling it.

Felipe Kurpiel is an internet marketer passionate about SEO and affiliate marketing. On his blog there are great insights about how to rank your website, link building strategies and YouTube marketing. 

4 Tools for Creating a Bulletproof Idea Capture System

This is a guest contribution by Charles Cuninghame is a freelance content writer.

Have you ever experienced the terrible frustration of remembering you’ve had a great idea for a blog post or e-book you’re writing, but not being able to remember exactly what the actual thought or idea was? ‘

Don’t you hate that!

Every blogger knows that ideas are the lifeblood of a successful blog. But ideas rarely come all in one magnificent burst of inspiration.

They’re usually drip fed by your unconscious, one here, one there. And often at the most inopportune times: in the middle of a conversation, riding public transport, walking your dog, and, frequently, when you’re taking a shower.

So if you’re going to trap all those flashes of genius and store them for later use, you need to create a simple idea capture system.

Swiss Army Knife of blog tools

Here are four of the most useful idea capture tools I’ve used, from low-fi pen and paper to cutting edge apps:

3 X 5 inch index cards

Cheap, convenient and effective, the “hipster PDA” is the simplest but possibly the most useful idea capture tool. To make one you just clip a bunch of 3 X 5 inch index cards together with a bulldog clip.

Whenever you have a great idea, jot it down on a card.

Restrict yourself to one idea or topic per card. That way it’s much easier to file your ideas, notes, and to-dos in the right spot when you’re back at your desk.

It’s also a good practice to create multiple hipster PDAs and put them in different places e.g. in your backpack or purse, your jacket pocket, your car, and one on the hall table next to where you leave your keys, so you can pick it up when you leave the house.

This way you’re more likely to always have an index card at hand when inspiration strikes.

Voice recorder

Nowadays almost every mobile phone has a voice recording feature. Which means most of us have an idea capture tool close at hand every waking minute.

The beauty of “talking” your ideas instead of writing them down is you can capture a lot of material very quickly. You can also use a voice recorder in situations where you can’t write e.g. while you’re driving your car or going for a walk. It’s also easy to record a brainstorming session with multiple people – even over the phone.

If you record a lot of ideas (or hate typing!) it may be economical to get your recordings transcribed. This is one of the easiest ways to go from idea to rough draft.

Postie WordPress Plugin

The beauty of the Postie plugin is that it allows you to capture all your ideas in the same place as you’re going to use them: your blog.

Once you set it up, Postie allows you post to your blog via email. Given how easy it is to compose and send email from your mobile devices these days, posting to your blog via email is often easier than logging in your dashboard.

When you use Posite to capture random ideas and links to research material you find on the web, and draft outlines and posts, you build a repository of raw material for your blog. When you next log in to WordPress, you can cut ‘n’ paste your snippets and polish up your rough drafts into finished posts.

Just make sure you set Postie’s “post status” setting to “draft” so you don’t inadvertently publish your brainstorming.

Evernote

Evernote is the Swiss Army Knife of idea capture tools. It allows you to write notes, snap photos or record audio and store it all in one place. You can even forward emails and save PDFs (e-books for example) into Evernote.

Because it’s a cross-platform app, all your notes are synced and accessible across all your touch points: your computer, smart phone, tablet and on the web.

The Web Clipper browser extension allows you to clip snippets of text, images or even whole web pages as you browse the web. These clips are permanent snapshots of the page that preserve navigation, text, images and links. You can then write you own notes right into the clips.

Evernote’s excellent search function means you’re always able to find your notes and ideas when you need them. With its OCR technology you can even search text contained in images.

You can also organise your related notes and clips into notebooks.

The “best” idea capture system

Ultimately the best idea capture system is the one you use.

So don’t get too hung up on finding the “perfect” tool – just start with something simple. Because the most important thing is to always have something handy to record your ideas when they arrive.

If there are any idea capture tools that you’ve found particularly useful, please tell us about them in the comments.

Charles Cuninghame is a freelance content writer and the author of the Website Content Cheat-Sheet. His favourite idea capture tool is the hipster PDA.

6 Tips for Managing Multi-Author Blogs Without Losing Your Mind

This is a guest contribution from  Alexis Grant, an entrepreneurial writer and digital strategist.

Managing multi-author blogs can be a lot of work; you’re juggling contributors, an editing funnel, your calendar and maybe even promotion on social channels. But if you put certain systems in place, stay organized and know where to focus your efforts, you can decrease your time spent on the project while significantly increasing your blog traffic.

Because my company, Socialexis, manages several large blogs, we’ve discovered a few handy tips for being both efficient and effective. Here are six ideas for handling posts from a variety of contributors in a way that will help you grow your traffic and your community:

1. Create contributor guidelines.

Putting some work into this up front will make your life much easier later. Rather than explain again and again what you’re looking for and how to submit, create guidelines and post them on your site, so you can refer potential contributors to that page.

But don’t stop there. Over time, make note of questions potential contributors ask, and add the answers to that web page. My team also likes to create bit.ly links for contributor guidelines, so we can easily remember and share the links.

For solid examples of contributor guidelines, check out guidelines for Muck Rack and Get Rich Slowly. If you can let your publication’s voice and personality shine in those guidelines, even better.

2. Take advantage of free tools.

There’s a huge range of blog management tools out there, but you can usually get by with free tools, especially if you’re not running a high-volume site. We use Google Calendar as an editorial calendar and share it with anyone within the organization who needs to know when certain posts will run.

We also use WordPress’s Editorial Calendar plug-in, which lets you drag and drop drafts if you need to change your schedule. And Google Docs — also free — is a great tool for collaborative editing, so the author can see what changes we’ve made.

3. Use Canned Responses.

This Gmail Lab is brilliant when it comes to emails you send again and again.

Keep receiving requests to write for your blog? Create a Canned Response that says you’d love to consider a post, with a link to your guidelines. Get a lot of pitches that aren’t a good fit? A Canned Response that says something along the lines of “Thanks, but this isn’t right for our audience” will do the trick.

To add Canned Responses to your Gmail, navigate to Settings, then Labs, then search for Canned Responses.

4. Create a database of writers.

To avoid finding yourself without solid blog posts, keep track of quality writers, and encourage one-time contributors to submit again. We ask writers to add themselves to our database of freelance writers, but you could also keep track via a simple Google spreadsheet. (If you’re a writer who wants to add yourself to our database, go ahead.)

This works whether you’ve got a particular topic you want someone to blog about (you can ask a blogger to write that post) or if your pitch well has gone dry (you can email the list letting them know you need submissions).

5. Optimize your headlines for SEO.

This is one of the best things you can do to help new readers find your site, and once you get the hang of it, it only takes a minute or two per post — putting it smack in the middle of the big-bang-for-your-buck category.

Sometimes, your SEO efforts will only send a trickle of traffic to the site until… BAM! One day, a post catches on in Google, and you land hundreds or thousands of new subscribers. Be consistent about tweaking your headlines so readers can find you via search, and your efforts will pay off in the long run. The increase in traffic will bring more potential contributors to your site, which makes your job as editor easier.

6. Work ahead.

When we respond to writers and let them know their post will run in three or four weeks, they’re often surprised to hear we schedule content that far in advance. But working ahead is the best way to minimize stress, increase quality and, yes, maintain your sanity.

When you schedule blog posts in advance, you’re far less likely to fall into the trap of publishing sub-par content just to get something on the blog by your deadline. This also gives you time to put posts aside and look at them with fresh eyes, which is one of the best ways to catch grammatical errors. Working ahead sounds simple, but it’s a great strategy for reaching your goals.

Follow these tips — along with offering valuable, relevant content — and you’ll be on your way to an awesome multi-author blog.

 Alexis Grant is an entrepreneurial writer and digital strategist. She and her team manage several large blogs, including a new site for writers, The Write Life.

Optin Skin Plugin Review

In June, Darren shared 3 Ways to Get More Subscribers for Your Blog. In that post, he identified the area under the blog post as being one of the ‘hot zones’ for calls to subscribe.

This area is a solid location to place a call to action, but it can require some effort to style a subscribe form that fits with your theme. In this post, I will be reviewing a plugin that helps you easily create appealing opt-in forms and social share boxes to your blog.

It’s called Optin Skin (aff) and it’s pretty swanky.

I bought this product in 2011 and definitely believe that it’s worth the money. It was really easy to figure out and use. I have no statistics about whether or not it increased the size of my list as I stopped blogging shortly after I installed it. This review is primarily based on ease of use.

The features

Skin Design:

Creating a skin is simple. You simply click ‘Add New’ after hovering over the text for Optin Skin in the sidebar. This will take you to a page where you get to customize the design and skin placement.

You have the choice of about 18 skins, which may be limiting if you don’t like any of the existing options. Customizing the design elements – font, text, size – are easy. You may need to consult design palettes to find colours that complement your theme. The designs are split between being perfect for the sidebar and perfect for below a post.

There are four options for skin placement:

  • Below a post
  • Below the first paragraph
  • At the top of posts
  • Floated right of second paragraph

Once the skin is created, a widget with the skin will be available for sidebar use. You will also receive a shortcode to insert the skin. This makes it so easy for you to put the form (or forms) wherever you like.

You also have the option to redirect people to another page after they sign up, which is perfect for a thank you page.

Split Testing

Split testing is one of the features that really excited me. I’m not technical at all, so will often resort to the default opt in form. I don’t have the resources to get two forms designed to do testing and am not comfortable with the HTML.

This plugin makes split testing easy but you are limited to testing designs rather then locations. You have the options to split test a plugin in the sidebar, or within content, but the optin form has to be in the same area.

I recommend that you test this out. It is so much easier then other form of split testing and can give you lots of useful information.

Statistics

The interface allows you to easily visualize data about sign up, impressions and conversion rates. This is a really nice touch as it gives you more data points to base decisions on and means you don’t have to leave your blog.

Usability

It was pretty easy to figure out what to do – it was really user friendly. I’ve purchased a lot of products that are promoted as being easy to customize, but require a lot of HTML knowledge. The only HTML knowledge you really need is knowing where to put the shortcode if you choose custom positioning.

I really appreciated how easy it was to set up.

My recommendation:

I believe Optin Skin is great value for money. It has given me the incentive to actually test things with my mailing list rather then relying on “hope marketing”.

It removes a lot of the scary-factor that prevents people, like me, getting off their butt to implement new designs and split testing. I just don’t have the time or mental energy to add something else to my to-do list. This takes about half an hour to set up and then you can tweak as required based on the data.

Editorial Note: ProBlogger is an affiliate for this product but this review is a genuine recommendation by someone who uses the product.

13 Tools and Services I Use Every Day to Build a Profitable Blogging Business

Yesterday, during our Q&A webinar, we received a lot of questions about the tools and services we recommend for different aspects of blogging. While we touched on a few, there are quite a few more that I wanted to touch on.

Not all are strictly ‘blogging tools’ but all are things we regularly use as a team.

Note: I am an affiliate for some of the following tools and services but am also a daily user of all of them and have been for a minimum of 12 months.

Note 2: I’ve updated this list with 6 more tools that I use!

Of course there’s plenty more but they are the main things that come to mind!

What tools and services would you add to the list that make up part of your core online business toolbox?

How to Use Multivariate Testing to Build the Ultimate Opt-in Form

This guest post is by Adam Connell of Bloggingwizard.com.

There’s a testing technique out there that’s not being used to its full potential—or even used at all by most website owners.

Today I want to show you how you can use it to create the ultimate high-converting opt-in form.

So what is multivariate testing? It’s essentially very similar to split testing. The difference is that it takes into account a lot more variables.

Many site owners avoid multivariate testing as it seems overly complex, and most of the services on the market that provide multivariate testing are paid services, which leaves bloggers unsure of the potential ROI.

In this post you will learn how you can use Google Analytics content experiments to conduct multivariate testing on your own opt-in forms in an easy and controlled way that will allow you to maximise your conversions.

Why multivariate testing?

In early 2012 Econsultancy.com and Redeye conducted a survey http://econsultancy.com/uk/reports/conversion-rate-optimization-report that yielded some interesting results.

Multivariate testing came out as the most valuable testing method for improving conversions, despite only 17% of companies stating that they used it.

According to the same report, taking the leap from A/B split testing to multivariate testing can help you improve conversions by an extra 15%.

This shows a huge opportunity for those site owners and businesses that come on board and start using this testing method.

So let’s see how it’s done.

Step 1. Break down your opt-in form

In order to conduct any worthwhile experiment you need a plan and identify all of the different variables; but in order to come up with a complete list of variables you need to break your opt-in form into its various elements.

Here is a combination of the typical elements you may find in an opt-in form:

  • headline
  • subheadline
  • additional text
  • image/video
  • name capture field
  • email capture field
  • buttons
  • background.

Step 2. Define your variables

Now that we have all of the elements of your opt-in form mapped out, we need to break each element down further and plan out how we might want to vary each one.

Please note, the list below is not exhaustive, nor do you have to vary all of these when you come to experiment. The point is to show you all of the possibilities.

You may think some of these are minor changes, and they are. But the impact of some of these changes can be enormous.

For example, some marketers have tested opt-ins with name capture and email fields against forms with just an email capture field, and have managed to increase conversions by 20%. So it all makes a difference!

  • Headline: font, text size, text colour, capitalisation, alignment
  • Sub-headline: font, text size, text colour, capitalisation, alignment
  • Additional text: yes/no, font, text size, text colour, capitalisation, alignment, bullet points
  • Image/video: yes/no, image size, image content, video size, video content, video audio, video type
  • Name capture: yes/no, text in field, icon to the left
  • Email capture: icon to the left, text in field
  • Button: size, shape, text colour, text font, text size, background colour, rounded edges
  • Background: border, image, drop shadow, border.

Step 3. Plan the test

This is where it starts to get a little bit more complex: you need to come up with the original control version of the form for your test, and as large a number of variations as possible.

The downside to Google Analytics content experiments is that you’re limited to nine variations plus the original (or control) version.

You also need to be able to keep track of the variations and changes that you’re making; you can’t just throw something in and hope for the best.

To make this easy for you, we’ve put together a Google docs spreadsheet that will allow you to keep track of all your elements and variations.

Click here to access the spreadsheet

Please note: you must make a copy of this spreadsheet before altering it, otherwise everyone who visits will be able to see your testing plan!

testing-tracker

Due to the number of variations that may be needed in the future we’ve broken the document down into controlled groups.

Now just add the variations, which may look something like this:

testing-tracker-filled-in

At this stage it’s important that you only fill in the variations for group A as you need to use the results of each group’s test to inform the variations you select for the next group.

Step 4. Gear up to test group A

Now that you have planned out your variations for group A, you’re ready to get the test underway.

The test

The setup process here is fairly straightforward:

    1. Set up a new page for each variation.
    2. Add the pages to Google analytics content experiments. Log in to your account, then navigate to standard reporting > content > experiments.
    3. Set your goals. Note: the easiest way to do this is to ensure your opt-in form directs users to a thank you page, then find the URL and add this as the goal URL.
    4. Add the content experiments code to your pages.
    5. Let the experiment run.

It’s important to let your experiments run for as long as possible, so you can get data from the largest possible amount of traffic.

The more traffic you run this experiment on, the better, but if your blog doesn’t have as much traffic, then you will need to run it for even longer.

You are just looking for conversion rate here so, strictly speaking, you can run each test on different numbers of traffic. You need a statistically significant result for each test; you don’t need every test to involve the same amount of traffic.

Step 5. Review results and prepare to test group B

By now you will have had the results from group A, which means you can start thinking about the group B tests.

The first thing to do is to take the best performing variation from group A and add it as the original for group B (don’t forget to update your main page on your website at this point).

Now it’s just a case of rinsing and repeating the process above, tweaking and coming up with new variations to test each time.

A potential 15% conversion boost

Using this guide you will be able to create additional experiments for other parts of your sites, not just opt-in forms. You can easily tweak this method to use on sales pages, product reviews, squeeze pages, ad layouts or anything else you can think of.

The important thing is laying out your variations and keeping track of them. Then, just rinse and repeat.

Are you using any form of testing at the moment? We would love to hear about which methods you’re using and how much you’ve managed to increase your conversions in the comments.

Adam Connell is an internet marketing and SEO nut from the UK. He can be found blogging over at Bloggingwizard.com. Follow him on Twitter @adamjayc.