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Escaping from Desktop: Online Document Editing Tools for Bloggers

This guest post is by Nina Gorbunova of TeamLab.

I first faced the problem of document immobility a couple of years ago, when I was far away from my PC. I lost my flash stick and realized that I didn’t have my documents stored anywhere in the cloud. That’s what we call epic fail. Of course, “it’s not the end of the world,” you may say. But being a freelancer, sooner or later you realize the importance of round-the-clock access to your files.

Another problem I faced was appropriate document management—in terms of document creating, storing, editing and sharing. Being an active blogger, I deal with document editing almost 24/7 and have strict requirements for the software I’m using. I need it to have an intuitive interface, rich toolset, and flexible sharing features.

Microsoft Word and Pages were pretty much enough for me formerly, but since I decided to step into the world of SaaS, I needed something different.

It took me half an hour to find more than a dozen services that promised to help me with remote working in the cloud. However it took me several days to figure out that most of them were not what I was searching for.

Google Docs

The most popular online document editor deserves to be covered first. Google Docs‘ interface tends to be minimal. As for the toolset, although in comparison with desktop editors it is not that rich, I believe it can suffice for an average user.

Google docs

Your Google Docs document can be downloaded as ODT, PDF, RTF, text, Word and HTML formats. Despite its popularity I had quite a few troubles when it came to inserting an image and huge problems with editing tables.

The Sharing feature is simple enough: as well as the options shown below, you can share the document with anybody and set up access rights to let them edit, comment, or just view the document. The only hindrance that might bother your collaborator is that they’ll need to be logged into your Google account to access the document (unless you use private sharing, which is preferable).

Google sharing

As a positive, the Comments feature is amazing and appears to be a huge advantage. However, I had troubles uploading and editing large docs and docs that contained several images.

Zoho Documents

Zoho is another well-known giant in the world of collaboration software. From the first glance I was impressed by its colorful and bright interface. On the other hand, it appeared to be a little bit tangled and confusing.

Zoho docs

It has a custom dictionary, word count and Thesaurus—though I’m not sure how many people would use these features. Zoho developers did their best to put some fun into tables and even included Table Themes. Unfortunately, though, even those didn’t let me make the table look the way I wanted.

Zoho tables

Working with images went smoothly. One thing that was difficult me was pagination, because when I downloaded the document (you can see available formats in the screenshot), the number of pages was different from what I expected it to be.

Sharing was another feature that left me confused. The terms of sharing are standard, but the document didn’t look the same on my screen and that of my colleague; moreover, he couldn’t edit it even though I gave him “read and write” access. That’s a serious problem that might be a stumbling block for many users.

Zoho sharing

On the plus side, the toolset is extremely impressive. However, an average user would find many of the tools superfluous, besides, some of them, like tables and headers, seemed to have serious bugs.

Microsoft Office 365

Office 365 hasn’t gained as much popularity as Google Docs yet, but the service definitely looks promising. Its interface is close to what most of us are accustomed to, and the basic toolset reminds us of a desktop application.

Office 365

The number of fonts and styles significantly exceeds that available in other online editors. Furthermore, users have the ability to switch to the desktop version of the software using the Open in Word button.

What confused me most of all—and it can be seen on the screenshot—was working with images and tables—there was no drag’n’drop functionality at all. For me, this is on the “must have” list, but its implementation is probably only a question of time since Office 365 is still quite a young solution.

The application does not provide sharing capabilities, though SkyDrive by MS enables users not only to share the document with a others, but even post it directly to social networks. I’m sure this software has a bright future, being a part of such a strong suit, but for me currently it’s not functional enough—I would prefer to use SkyDrive or some alternative app.

Office 365 share

Central Desktop

The tendency of software engineers to include document management capabilities in collaboration and project management platforms has become widespread these days, and Central Desktop is an example of such a tool. A user-friendly interface and basic features, however, don’t make the service unique.

Central desktop

Document editing is inseparably linked to the other parts of the platform—Project Management, Calendar, and People, which is a benefit if you are planning to collaborate with your colleagues using this tool. If not, it may be a serious obstacle, since the sharing feature is available for system members only.

That said, the Central Desktop Document Editor can’t help but produce a good impression. The drag’n’drop deature works great, and editing tables is convenient. There does seem to be a poor number of fonts and font sizes, though.

Although I haven’t tried to collaborate with this platform, it seems to me that the opportunity of inserting Calendar and blocks of Group Activity might comes in handy especially when it comes to reporting—as you might do within a blogging team.

Central desktop 2

There’s no opportunity to use Central Desktop for free, so it’ll be a closed book for many bloggers. Prices start at $99 per month for 20 users—again reflecting its team focus. Initially you get a 15-day trial for free.

Teamlab Document Editor

This is another tool that includes an editor as a part of an online collaboration service. But I intentionally put this one to the very end of the list because—cards on the table—I work for TeamLab. Now you might say that every cook praises his own broth, so I’ll do my best to stay as impartial as possible!

Among various online document editors this one looks the most like your favorite desktop application—Office 365 is probably the only alternative that would compete with TeamLab in this realm. The toolset is also impressive—Teamlab Documents provide you with a large number of styles and fonts, using those already uploaded to your computer.

Teamlab view

Image editing is good. Images stay exactly where you put them and can be shifted easily. Tables offer the same flexibility and nice designs. The editor has its drawbacks, of course. The lack of a spell checker and drag’n’drop text pasting are the biggest issues I’ve found so far.

One of the most noticeable advantages of the application is the “document identity,” which became possible with the usage of HTML5 canvas technology. Technically, this means there are no more formatting losses when you convert your doc into another format (which is the most irritating thing about most online editing tools). You can download your document as PDF, text, DOCX, DOC, ODT, RTF, HTML, or EPUB, and it won’t change a bit.

Sharing is available for those who are registered to use the platform as well as for third parties, which means groups of collaborators aren’t dependent on the platform.

Teamlab sharing

This option also offers Dropbox, Google Docs, and Box.com integration. However, right now, Teamlab can process text documents only, as it is still in beta. Spreadsheets, PDF files and presentations are on the way, according to the developers.

Jacks of all trades, masters of none?

Though we can find a dozen services for online document editing, many users still have to admit that most solutions lack functionality and remain far behind the best offline editors, such as MS Word and Pages.

If you’re working with all document types—spreadsheets, texts and PDF files—neither Google Docs nor Central Desktop can be called a full-featured editor, though they reach the furthest of the options we’ve looked at here.

Do they offer additional tools for file processing? Yes. Are they desktop editor replacments? No. Nevertheless the younger generation of editing apps already gets closer to perfection.

Do you use online document editing tools in your blogging? Why, or why not? And if you do, which ones? I’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments.

Nina is an active blogger, a marketing manager at TeamLab and CeBIT 2012 participant. She is interested in technology advance and believes HTML5 is the future technology.

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

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

Synthesis hosting

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

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

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

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

A number of things attracted me to Synthesis:

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

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

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

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

This guest post is by David Masters of Social Caffeine.

I’m a stats addict.

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

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

The dangers of obsession

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

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

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

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

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

That’s when my stats obsession began.

Diagnosing the problem

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stats—the healthy way

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

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

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

10 Vital Stats for Blog Health—and How to Track Them

This article is by Dan Norris of Web Control Room.

As an active blogger, I’m always looking at various stats to help me understand how well I’m doing. I’m not particularly fond of the idea of blogging for years without knowing whether things are going in the right direction. I’d rather know as I go whether my posts are having an impact and whether things are travelling in the right direction.

Luckily, one of the best things about being a blogger is that pretty much every stat you want to look at is available online and not stuck in outdated offline software programs. And better still, most of the tools are free!

The challenge is that, with all of the information out there, it’s difficult to know what stats to keep your eye on. In this article we’ll look at the top ten ways bloggers can measure their efforts.

1. Revenue and profit

While writing is fun, I’ll assume you are trying to earn some money at the same time. One of the best ways to have easy access to your financial data is to use an online accounting program like Xero, Saasu, or Wave Accounting—I use Xero, and it rocks.

These programs make it very easy to capture all of your financial data in the one place.

In addition to that you can look at the various ways you monetize your blog by reviewing the information available from these sources (PayPal, Adsense, Clickbank, etc.). The best part of having a central system for the accounts is that you can aggregate all of the revenue streams in the once place, to give you a whole picture.

2. RSS subscribers

Hopefully you’re using Feedburner to manage your RSS feeds—if so, you’ll have a clear idea of how many people are subscribing to your blog via RSS.

I like to keep an eye on these stats particularly after I release a post, publish a guest post on another blog, or have a guest poster on my blog. Often, their sharing of the post and the content reaching a new audience will cause a bump in subscribers. Showing the number of RSS subscribers on your blog can also be great social proof of your blogging chops.

3. What are others talking about?

One of the most important strategies for bloggers is engaging with other people (bloggers and others) online. This is a measure of performance, because if you are doing the right things then people will be talking about you. There are four ways I do this.

  1. Comments: An excellent way to see if you are having an impact is to look at the comments on your site. Are they genuine? How many comments are posts getting? This gives you a good idea of what is hitting the mark and what isn’t.
  2. Trackbacks: If these are turned on in WordPress, any time someone links to one of your blog posts (i.e. not to your homepage) you will see the link in your comments list—and then go back to their sites and engage with them.
  3. Google Alerts: With Alerts, Google will email you every time someone mentions your brand, product, website, and so on. I like to get them via RSS instead of email, so I check them in Google reader each morning.
  4. Twilert: This service does the same thing as Google Alerts but for Twitter. You get a daily email that lists every time someone mentions your site or brand or your Twitter handle you’ll get an email.

All of these are great ways to engage with your audience, but also to measure the impact you’re having, and which posts are having more impact than others.

4. Traffic

It’s a good idea to monitor both your monthly rolling traffic (last 30 days) against the previous month, as well as traffic peaks around the release dates of your posts. The former figure will give you a good idea of overall recent trends, and the latter will give you immediate feedback on specific posts.

For this I, like most others, use Google Analytics. If you do notice changes that you didn’t expect, it’s time to delve further into the tool to see what has caused those changes—it may be something related to search rankings or referring sites (which we’ll look at separately in a moment).

5. Google ranking for keywords

Most of the time, bloggers get a significant amount of traffic from Google. You can either sit back and hope for the best or you can actively try to rank for different keywords.

Unfortunately, visiting Google and searching for your keywords doesn’t work! Google knows which websites you have visited and puts them higher up the list just for you, so this won’t give you an accurate rank for your keywords. This is a mistake made by almost everyone with a website at one time or another (including me).

Particularly if you are trying to rank for certain keywords, it’s a great idea to use a tool to monitor where you are ranking on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. Using the new incognito window in Chrome will also provide a more accurate ranking, but rank-tracking tools will show you rack-tracking from different countries, for instance, and many keywords at once.

6. Other referring sites

In Google Analytics, you can also check out your top referring sites. This can give you great information about a number of things. For example, if you are active in social media or a particular forum you can see if these efforts are resulting in extra traffic to the site.

Similarly, guest posts on other sites would be expected to bring some traffic, so you can monitor whether these sites make it into your top referring sites list.

Pretty much every marketing push you make online should show up in your top sites list, so it’s a good place to look particularly for things you aren’t specifically tracking as campaigns in Analytics.

7. Keywords

There are two types of keywords to look at in Analytics. You can look at your top keywords—these would generally be big-ticket keywords that you are trying actively to rank for. If they are ranking in Google and your keyword research was sound, then it will be validated with traffic.

It’s also a good idea to keep an eye on how many keywords are bringing you traffic. This is a simple measure of how effectively you are targeting the long tail. The more you write, particularly if you deliberately target long tail keywords in your posts, the more keywords will bring you traffic. Looking at the number of keywords is a quick way to get some sort of idea of how well it’s working.

8. Email newsletter info

Getting an email opt-in is still one of the main ways bloggers engage with their audience. Tools like Mail Chimp and AWeber will give you some great information on things like how effective your site is being in converting visitors to opt-ins, how big your audience is and how engaged they are with your newsletters (unsubscribe rates, opens, clicks etc).

It’s also a good idea to measure opt-ins as goals in Analytics so you can look at more information about the origins of those opting into your list.

9. Server uptime

Having your server go down is kind of like having a power outage at a traditional business. You can’t do business without your website, and all of the effort you have put in to generating traffic is wasted every time there is an outage. For this reason, make sure you are notified whenever there is an outage and you monitor it each month to ensure uptime is reasonable.

Unfortunately hosting companies often don’t provide this service, however Pingdom.com does, and it’s free. Once you sign up, the site will notify you of any outages, and provide reports on monthly uptime percentages and so on.

10. Social media measures

For bloggers more so than any business, social media is critical. A lot of relationships with readers and other bloggers, guest blogging opportunities, JVs etc come through relationships facilitated by social media. A few things I like to keep an eye on are:

  • Klout.com, which gives you an overall idea of how you are influencing others via Twitter, Facebook, and so on. You can also use Klout to give you an overall summary of figures from the major social networks (Likes, shares, +1’s etc).
  • If you are active on Twitter, you can keep an eye on your number of followers, your ratio of followers to people that you follow and the number of interactions.
  • For Facebook pages, Facebook insights are there to provide useful information on likes, reach, who’s talking about the page and more.

So how are you progressing—and how do you know? I’d be interested in knowing what you like to keep an eye on to track how you’re going. Let me know in the comments.

Dan Norris is the founder of Web Control Room a free tool that enables bloggers to understand their data and make better decisions. By talking to the sources you love (MailChimp, Xero, Analytics, PayPal etc) it provides a scannable 1 page chart showing what is going well and what isn’t so you can understand your performance in seconds.

SoundCloud: for Bloggers, Not Just Musicians

Have you tried podcasting on your blog?

SoundCloudNot long ago, Carol Tice wrote a couple of posts on the topic for us, covering the benefits of podcasting and how to get your first podcast up and running.

I know Carol advises against using a hosted service for your podcasts, but after listening to this podcast on—and about—SoundCloud, I began to wonder about the hidden benefits of using a service like this.

The podcast is an interview with Evan Tenenbaum, SoundCloud’s Audio-content Manager, and although it’s pretty basic, it is a good introduction to what the service offers for writers.

Why give it a try?

This podcast really reminded me of what we bloggers know only too well: online services that make technical tasks easy really do reduce barriers to entry.

By the end of the podcast I was thinking, this service really makes sound recording and distribution easy. If you wanted to try your hand at podcasting, this would be a great way to do it. Record something and link it from your blog. Simple. There’s no real learning curve and no commitment—if you decide you don’t like it, don’t do it again.

Also, since streamed podcasts like these don’t require downloads onto users’ computers, tablets, or phones, they set low barriers to entry for the user who’s never listened to a podcast before. So this kind of technology can work well on both sides of the equation.

As the podcast reveals, SoundCloud is its own community—like YouTube—so by hosting your podcast there, you can reach an audience whose attention you might struggle to get otherwise. Users share links to material within the platform, so it’s yet another way to build a profile and a following that you could easily lead back to your blog.

What do you have to say?

Some bloggers tend to shy away from ideas like podcasting, because they don’t think they want to make it a regular part of their blog offering.

The thing is, it doesn’t have to be. As Evan suggests in the podcast, you could use SoundCloud to give your readers a sample of your latest ebook or training course. You could use it as a faster, more personal way to create a blog post than laboriously writing it all out in text. And as in the case of the example SoundCloud file I’ve linked to in this post, you could us it to record a quick interview—a great way to add value to an every text-based blog post.

Depending on your niche, there could be any number of possible applications for this kind of technology.

So rather than thinking of using SoundCloud as something you need to “take on” and “adopt” in your blogging, why not just give it a try and see how it sits with your next post?

Or are you already using SoundCloud to add value to your blog? I’d love to hear what you think of it in the comments.

Should You Use a Third-Party Commenting System on Your Blog?

This guest post is by Syed Balkhi of WPBeginner.

If you’ve been blogging for anything more than a few months, you probably have come across blogs using third-party commenting systems like Disqus, Livefyre, Facebook Comments, Intense Debate, and more. You may have asked yourself, “Why do other blogs use these systems? Are they helpful? Should I use a third-party commenting system on my site?”

I have used both the built-in WordPress commenting system and a third-party commenting platform for an extensive period of time. In this article, I will share the pros and cons, from my personal experience, of using a third-party commenting system, and point you to some of the plugins that I use to extend the power of built-in WordPress comments.

Pros of third-party commenting systems

1. Single login (authenticity)

There are a lot of trolls on the web leaving anonymous comments. By using a third-party commenting system, you can require the user to register before the comment, and so cut down on trolling.

If you’re using a popular third-party commenting system like Disqus, Livefyre, or Facebook Comments, then the chances are that the user already has an account with those services. Users can surf from one website to another while staying logged in to the commenting platform, and this allows them to easily track all of their comments—and those of others—throughout the blogosphere.

2. Expanded social media presence

Almost all third-party commenting platforms offer some sort of expanded social media presence, Facebook Comments being the leader because it gives you the viral aspect. Your users’ comments can be posted on their walls, as long as they leave right the checkbox checked.

Other platforms allow users to integrate with Twitter and Facebook. Livefyre, in particular, allows the user to tag their Facebook or Twitter friends within the comments. This tagging sends a tweet or Facebook message to their friend(s) notifying them about your post.

3. Spam control

Requiring a commenter to log in to comment virtually eliminates the chance of a spam bot attacking your site.

4. Increased engagement

Most third-party commenting platforms claim to increase engagement. Some do it by making your comments appear in real-time, simulating a chat-like feel within comments. Others allow users to easily subscribe to comments via email to keep up with the conversation.

Cons of third-party commenting systems

1. Change and frustration

While the concept of using one login across all websites sounds noble, it doesn’t always work.

If your current commenting system doesn’t require user registration, then your users will likely be frustrated when you introduce a new system. This change “forces” them to create an account with a third-party service to leave a comment on your site—and that may seem as if they’re losing their freedom to comment on your site. This can drive some of your most loyal users away.

2. Lack of control

If you are the kind of blogger who likes to fine-tune and tweak every aspect of your blog, then third-party comment systems probably aren’t for you.

You will lose control over most aspects of your commenting platform in terms of formatting and design by adopting these systems. Your users will also experience slower page loads while the third-party commenting platform loads (especially during maintenance and occasional server outages), which is totally out of your control. Last but certainly not least, you will not be able to add features, such as lead-generation option or comment policy text links, without mastering the commenting system’s API.

My choice: default WordPress comments

After using a third-party commenting system, Livefyre, for over a year, I decided to switch back to the default WordPress comment system. While I could go into the excruciating details about why I switched away from Livefyre, the main point was the cons outweighed the pros. I wanted more control over the look and functionality of our comments, and I also wanted to keep our users happy. Lastly, I was able to replicate just about every advantage of a third-party commenting system using WordPress plugins.

So let’s go through that pros and cons list again, and see how it caused me to switch to WordPress comments.

  1. Authenticity: While requiring users to register is one way to ensure authenticity, it was really annoying. So we just use Gravatar, which allows others to recognize the same commenter over multiple platforms. No need to use a plugin for this! WordPress has built-in support for Gravatar as long as your theme is properly coded (most good themes are).
  2. Expanded social media presence: I was able to add Sign in with Twitter and Connect with Facebook options to my blog fairly easily while leaving the default method as is. I used the plugin called Simple Twitter Connect which allowed me to add the Sign with Twitter option. I used the plugin called Simple Facebook Connect to add the Connect with Facebook option for my comments.

    Social comment integration

  3. Spam control: While requiring registration can reduce spam, it is also very annoying. I thought of a less annoying method that has been working great for us—the awesome Akismet plugin, which comes with every WordPress installation and does a fairly decent job of detecting spam comments.

    I noticed the main reason why people leave spam comments is to get backlinks. Well, I decided to get rid of the link feature altogether. This required me to edit the comments.php file, but it wasn’t very hard. All I had to do was get rid of the Website field from the comment submission form. Then, I just edited the way our comments were displayed in the theme by removing the hyperlinks from the name and Gravatar image. This takes away the backlink incentive for most spammers. Another thing I did was disabled pingbacks/trackbacks on all posts. I noticed a lot of folks were trying to send trackback spam on our site, hoping for a backlink from posts. However by doing this, I totally avoided that issue.

  4. Increase in engagement: You can add the Subscribe to Comments feature to your comments using a popular plugin called Subscribe to Comments. I also added an opt-in checkbox to our comments that allows readers to subscribe to our newsletter using Newsletter Sign-Up.

As you can see, I was able to get almost all of the benefits of a third-party commenting system that people want while still using the built-in WordPress comments. Not to mention that I was able to customize the look of our comments, so they look good and are in keeping with out site.

Do you use third-party commenting systems?

Despite my experience, third-party commenting systems work perfectly for some bloggers and their blogs. I’d be interested in hearing your experiences of using a third-party commenting platform—or choosing to use the default system that came with your blog.

Syed Balkhi is the founder of WPBeginner, the largest unofficial WordPress resource site that offers free WordPress videos for beginners as well as other comprehensive guides like choosing the best WordPress Hosting, speeding up WordPress, and many more how-to’s.

Top 5 Google Chrome Extensions For Bloggers

This guest post is by Anthony Wijaya of techexperience.

Today, I’m going to share with you some of the Google Chrome extensions that have made my daily blogging tasks easier.

These are my top five.

1. SEO For Chrome

SEO For Chrome allows you to check, well, pretty much everything about SEO in your site. All you need to do is type in your URL and tons of information about your site’s SEO will pop out, from your indexed pages in Google and Bing, to your Pagerank and traffic levels.

SEO  for Chrome

Another good idea to use this extension for is to check your competitors’ SEO status—do a little competitive analysis. You can also do some quick keyword research within the extension itself!

2. Evernote Web Clipper

Have you ever seen an interesting article or piece of news that you might want to post about later? It’s quite easy to get sidetracked and forget all about it while you’re browsing.

I usually take note of any ideas I see while browsing through the Evernote Web Clipper extension. Basically, all it does is note down the link for you through a darn simple click-and-drag selection function.

Evernote Web Clipper

The Evernote Web Clipper also doubles as a handy screen capture for occasions when you see that awesome screencap you want to take.

3. Google Dictionary

Nothing is more embarrassing than a grammatically incorrect word or sentence in your article. Not only can readers see it, you might even get criticized for those errors!

For safety’s sake, I use the Google Dictionary extension.

With this extension, you can:

  • double-click any word to view its meaning/definition
  • view the complete definition of a whole phrase.

Google Dictionary

It supports a myriad of languages, including German, French, Italian, and so many more.

4. Ruul screen ruler

I use this for, well, those times when I need to measure something in my browser. The Ruul Screen ruler was quite handy in my blog’s first week, since I want to have images on my blog at the perfect size.

Ruul

You can also use it to find out which font size works for you without doing any trial-and-error corrections. Just use the extension and measure, on a blank page, how much space you want for your font. The result (in pixels) will show you your perfect font size. Mine is 13px.

5. G.lux

This is actually the Chrome’s version of F.lux, which is a tool for the desktop. G.lux functions basically the same way, changing your screen color’s temperature to the warmer side for easier viewing at night (midnight typing anyone?).

G.lux

Ever notice your eyes getting tired in front of that monitor? It’s probably because of blue-ish monitor rays. This extension will at least reduce those blue rays to some effect, but keep in mind that it’s still not the perfect excuse for midnight blogging. If you want its big brother for the whole desktop, check out f.lux.

Do you use Chrome extensions in your daily blogging tasks? Show us your favourite options in the comments.

Anthony W. is a 17 year old who starts out blogging for fun and writes tips, news and reviews about technology in techexperience. He hopes that every post he write will be useful to that particular someone out there. Subscribe to his blog here or follow him on Twitter (@AnthonyNotStark) to get more of him.

Use Email to Post to Your WordPress.org Blog

This guest post is by Anurag Bansal of Techacker.

Owners of WordPress.org blogs don’t get the flexibility to post by email through a WordPress service. It’s very surprising to see that such a popular platform doesn’t offer a native way of creating blog post by sending an email—especially since WordPress.com owners can update their blogs using native WordPress functionality.

If you have a blog on Tumblr or Posterous (which was recently acquired by Twitter), you know how convenient it is to update your blog using email. It naturally increases the frequency with which you update your blog.

Today I’m going to introduce you to an easy way to post by email to your WordPress.org blog using a service I am a big fan of—ifttt.

ifttt stands for If This, Then That. This service, which was introduced recently on ProBlogger, makes it really easy to do many online tasks, some of which are mentioned below.

How to post by email to a WordPress.org blog

  1. Create an ifttt account if you don’t already have one.
  2. Activate and authorize the WordPress.org blog you want to post by email to. To do this, click on WordPress logo under Channels on ifttt. Then add the appropriate details to authorize your WordPress blog to use with ifttt. Once activated, you will see a similar screen to the one shown below.Authorize your account
  3. Activate the email channel connection to the email account from which you’d like to send posts. All you need is to click on Email icon and enter your email address. ifttt will immediately send a PIN to this email address. Copy that PIN from the email into the box on ifttt. Once your account’s confirmed, you’ll have successfully activated the email channel.Activate email channel
  4. Use this recipe to create a task. While creating the task, you can edit the details shown in the screenshot below to suit your needs.Create task
  5. Once the task is activated, all you have to do is send an email from the email account you confirmed in Step 3 to [email protected] with the specified # tag in the subject line. In ifttt terms, that tag says, “if email is received from the account specified earlier, then post it to the WordPress blog set up earlier.”
  6. ifttt will create a post on your WordPress.org blog, using the email details as follows:
    1. The subject of the email becomes the title of the blog post.
    2. The body of the email becomes the content of the blog post.
    3. Tags for the post are specified in the recipe. You can change these in the task details on ifttt.
    4. Categories for the post are also specified by you in the ifttt recipe.

There are many other recipes I use to update my WordPress.org blog, including:

  1. Post photos simultaneously on Instagram and a WordPress blog.
  2. Cross-post from a Tumblr blog to WordPress blog.

I have been able to successfully post many updates to my blog using this process. It’s easy, painless and quick. All it takes to update your blog is an email!

Stop postponing that great blog post idea just because you didn’t have the right tools at the time. Now, there’s no need to install any plugins—just use email.

How do you update your WordPress blog now? Do you think email updates would make it easier for you to update your blog? If you’re already using emil updates on another platform, is it helpful? Let us know in the comments.

Anurag Bansal is a technology enthusiasts and internet addict. He reviews various internet services, Android and iPhone apps and provide tips on many technology related topics on his blog at Techacker. Anurag also releases a FREE Monthly Magazine – THM – on his blog. You may follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

Video Starting Points: Make and Share Your First Video

This guest post is by Neil Davidson of My Web Presenters.

In November of 2011 David Hsieh, VP of Marketing at Cisco famously stuck his neck out by proclaiming that 90% of internet traffic will be viewing video in three years’ time.

The actual figure is already 51% of traffic, and it’s climbing fast. For bloggers like you and I, this has consequences. You can either bite the bullet and get started with video, or you can hide under the sheets and hope the storm passes.

For this post, I am going to assume that you are firmly in the “get on the train” camp.

At first sight it may seem that moving into video content production from textually based content is very difficult, as it requires a very different skillset. Also you may need to speak out loud or, worst of all, show your face on camera!

However, getting into video production and marketing is actually a natural progression for a blogger. Here are some ideas on how you can get started.

1. Video production

Use smartphones for impromptu interviewing

Hands up if you’ve got a smartphone. Many smartphones now have high-quality video cameras built in—some even have HD video. These can be highly effective for taking advantage of unusual situations…

Imagine that you’re at a blogging event and you find yourself standing next to Darren Rowse. You strike up a conversation that gets interesting. Suppose you were to pull out your smartphone, ask him a few questions on video, and post it to your blog. If the “interview” went well, chances are that Darren would be happy to tweet and share that content for you.

Suddenly you would be catapulted out of nowhere into the limelight—all through a chance five-minute meeting. A traditional interview would take a lot longer to capture, as well as to prepare and write up, and the chances are that busy people, like Darren, may well have to refuse an interview request. Compare these two approaches:

  • “Oh, wait a moment, I am really enjoying this conversation and I know the readers of my blog would love it too, do you mind if I just video you answering that question again?”
  • “That’s really interesting, do you mind if I just go and grab a pen and paper and note down the conversation that we are having?”

Use screencasting videos to show how something is done

Another very accessible form of video is screencasting. Essentially, this technique makes a video of your computer screen and films the actions you’re taking on it. This is very similar to the concept of a screen grab for obtaining a static image of your screen.

Screencasting videos are fantastic for making “how to” videos. They allow you to visually and verbally take your viewers through a process to show them how something is done. Here are some ideas from Camtasia, the makers of video software, on how their technology can be used. In this video, they explain how the tool can be used practically:

Camtasia costs $99 for lifetime usage so it certainly won’t break the bank! Perhaps the second most popular screen casting tool on the market is ScreenFlow, which this costs the same as Camtasia and has pretty much the same features. The best thing to do with these products is to download them (both offer free trials) and practice using them to make videos.

One tip that will help you get up to speed more quickly is to write down a list of the steps that you will follow in your video and have it on the desk in front of you whilst you are making the video. With a written blog post it is natural to pause and think, and to go off researching something mid article, but with video, the research must be done beforehand. You need to film to a plan.

Be strict. If you’re not happy with your video, delete it and start again. It gets easier and easier—you will be very surprised by how quickly you speed up and improve your abilities. Before you know it, you will actually be enjoying it, wahey!

2. Video publishing

There are two places on the net where your video really needs to be:

  1. on your blog (or website)
  2. on YouTube.

Initially, you should publish the video to Youtube. If you use Screenflow to make a screencast video then you can publish straight from the platform to your YouTube channel. From Camtasia, you can go straight to Vimeo.

The reason that it is important to publish to Youtube is not just because it is so much larger than the other platforms and is so closely tied with both Google search and Google+, but also because it easily enables your video to be openly used by other bloggers through the video embed code shown here:

YouTube video

Once your video’s on YouTube, anyone who has a website can grab your embed code and plonk your video on their website. This gives you additional exposure via their audience and also gives you a link back to your YouTube video. A side note here is that the number of embeds of a video is factored into the ranking algorithm of videos on Youtube and Google.

When you’re posting your new video to YouTube, there are a number of tweaks that you can make to enhance its visibility both on YouTube itself, and within search engines. Here is a detailed overview of basic video SEO for YouTube.

Once the video is up on YouTube, you can then grab the embed code and put it onto your blog simply by pasting the code into the HTML of a blog post. Don’t forget to write a short textual piece around the video to explain the content of the video and encourage visitors to actually watch it. This little blurb will also enable search engines to understand the context of the video file, since they can’t read video files themselves.

3. Marketing your video

This is where your experience in marketing textual blog posts really comes into play. Great content is essentially great content, and the people you want to reach, whether you’re creating video or textual content, will not change.

There are however, a couple of new tools that will help you market your video effectively.

Oneload

Oneload (a.k.a. Tubemogul) is an online video distribution tool. The tool allows you to upload a video once and publish it to over 20 video platforms in one go.

Prior to your first use of Oneload, you’ll need to identify all of the video platforms that you want to submit your video to, and go and create accounts with each of them. You can then link them all to your Oneload account for easy distribution.

Realistically, you’re looking at around a day’s work to set up 20 accounts on video platforms and to enter your profile information, but once it’s done, it’s done.

Other distribution tools

Finally I will just go over some tools that you’re probably more familiar with, and highlight how they can be used to market your video content.

  • Hootsuite: This social media management tool allows you to manage your Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn communications all in one place. You can therefore submit your video to your Facebook page, plus your Twitter and LinkedIn accounts through this tool.
  • Shareaholic and Addthis: These two tools allow you to bookmark content to multiple social networks and social bookmarking sites with ease. They are also perhaps two of the most popular social sharing button plug-ins for WordPress. Install either one as a browser plugin (they work on all major browsers), then select the social bookmarking sites that you are interested in, and you have a one-click way to share your video posts on these platforms.

A word of caution here: don’t expect instant results. You need to build up a presence and some relationships with others in your niche who are active on these sites so that you content gets a kick-start once you submit it.

A wide variety of techniques are available to market your videos solely within YouTube, both to build up a following there and to push these people back to your site. That will have to be saved for another day though, as it’s a huge topic. If you’re interested, though, look into the topic of video annotations with links to other videos.

It would be fantastic to hear some tips from others who have experience with video blogging, as the starting points I’ve covered here really are just the tip of the iceberg. Let us hear your advice in the comments.

Neil Davidson is the Founder of My Web Presenters, who are a leading Online Video Production specialist. They create and market compelling and emotive video that helps businesses to grow. You can keep up with their video marketing blog here.