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The Secret Stats Your Follower Numbers Hide

This guest post is by Courtney Mroch of Haunt Jaunts.

Statistics and their interpretation is often a popular topic on ProBlogger. One of my favorites about the subject was a guest post by Mark Seall called Who Cares How Many Subscribers You’ve Got?

I loved the way he pointed out that some, if not most, of us will never reach 20,000 subscribers, based purely on the nature of our niches. He created a color-coded diagram of measures we should analyze our success by instead. They included both things we bloggers can directly impact, as well as those we can’t. His point was to focus on what you can influence and not get hung up on, or weighed down by, the rest. Good advice.

On the other hand, Deb of Science@home wrote a guest post called Do You Spend Enough Time Looking at Your Stats? in which she defended the importance of paying attention to them. Namely, she suggested using stats to see who’s visiting from where, and what topics tend to pique their interest most. Then you can cater your posts more to their liking to retain your audience.

I’ve adopted a bit of advice from both Mark and Deb into my stats analysis and blog post development. However, what I’m most concerned with these days is how wisely I’m spending my precious social networking time.

Which social networks are really driving readers to my blog?

When I first started tracking my blog’s stats and paying attention to referral sources, Google, Facebook, and Twitter, respectively, were always the top three referral sources. They drove in a significantly larger amount of traffic than any of the other top ten referrers.

However, at some point I decided I wanted more followers. That’s when I discovered StumbleUpon. Shortly after, my stats revealed something startling, something Marcello Arrambide of Wandering Trader touched on in his ProBlogger guest post A Blog Traffic Strategy: Quality vs Quantity: follower numbers can be deceptive.

Large follower numbers don’t necessarily translate into big visits

In no time flat, StumbleUpon blew Google, which had been Haunt Jaunts’ top referral source, out of the water traffic-wise. Not only that, it brought in more traffic than Google, Facebook, and Twitter combined. Where Google, FB, and Twitter brought in 1,200-1,500 views a month together, StumbleUpon was bringing in 7,000-8,000 all by itself.

But what was even more shocking was I had maybe 20 followers on StumbleUpon at that time. Haunt Jaunts’s Twitter followers were nearing 3,000, and its Facebook page had several hundred. You’d have thought that, together, they’d be bringing in the most traffic. Not even close.

Noticing trends, tracking down followers

These days StumbleUpon is still Haunt Jaunts’ top referral source. However, it’s dropped considerably. I noticed it after SU made some changes. People got mad and stopped using it as much.

Instead, I saw more people flocking to Tumblr, as well as Pinterest. The former seemed to appeal to many ex-Stumblers because it let them do a lot of what they used to be able to do on StumbleUpon, yet have a little more individuality. The latter seemed to appeal to those who especially liked Stumbling photos.

Facebook traffic also dropped. Coincidently, that happened around the same time Google+ became available.

And then there was Twitter. It dropped off my Top 10 Referrers list entirely. In fact, it wasn’t even in the top 50 anymore. It’s since dropped off as a referral source altogether.

Adapt or die

After analyzing my stats, it was time to re-evaluate my social networking strategy. I thought of Dona Colins’s guest post Is Twitter a Waste of Time?, since I found myself having to contemplate that question, not just for Twitter, but for all my social networks.

Where was I going to spend my time? How much effort should I continue putting into the old sources? Which new platforms should I take a gamble on?

I decided to stick with Twitter. It doesn’t bring in any hits, but I do continue to make valuable connections that lead to other projects. Facebook continues to hold strong in the Top 5, so I’ve also kept it.

I decided to expand into new-to-me social networks, including Google+, TBEX (a travel writer community), Pinterest, and Tumblr.

I’ve found a group of fellow TBEXers who also use StumbleUpon. We’ve sort of banded together. I’ve seen a slight increase in SU’s referrals thanks to this. Not like the results I was once getting, but it’s still my number one referral source.

I don’t know how much traffic Google+ is responsible for yet, but it didn’t even take Tumblr two weeks to climb into my Top 10 referrers once I started using it regularly. I’m curious to see if it will continue to climb.

And then there’s Pinterest. So far it’s generated zilch traffic. I have, however, found it’s a delightful way to spend time that could be better utilized researching, writing, or social networking elsewhere. It’s a dangerous one for me to linger on very long.

What about you? Does your biggest referral traffic come from your social network with the most followers or not?

Courtney Mroch is a writer who wears many blogging hats, among her favorite is being the Director of Paranormal Tourism for Haunt Jaunts, a travel blog for restless spirits.

Attract 100,000 Pageviews in 1 Month Using Slideshare

This guest post is by Joel Runyon of Impossible HQ.

How do you stand out and differentiate yourself online when more and more people are starting blogs every day?

Sure, you need to write stuff that’s gong to stand out, but a lot of blogging advice focuses just on writing. Sometimes to really stand out, you need to go beyond writing and create something different. You need to create content (not just writing) that helps you find new audiences to speak to by using new mediums to spread your message.

One of those new media is Slideshare, an online slide sharing community.

The spark

In 2011, my friend David Crandall released a project titled Inspiration Squared on Slideshare. He sent it to me before he posted it and as soon as I saw it, I knew it was going to be big. David is one heck of a designer and his work combined with the inspirational content behind the piece convinced me right there that it was going to blow up and that I needed to do something about it. I didn’t know anything about Slideshare at the time, but he told me he was going to release it there. Sure enough, as soon as he put it up, he got on to the front page of Slideshare and got about 20,000 views in just a few days.

Over the next few months, he released a few more projects, got them all front-paged on Slideshare and consistently grabbed around 20,000-30,000 views in just a few days after each launch.

David was killing it and I wanted in.

The plan

As soon as I saw David’s first presentation, a light bulb went off and I realized that this Slideshare thing could be big—really big. I sent him an email and told him I wanted to do one. I didn’t know what it would be yet, but I knew it would have two main characteristics: inspirational and beautiful.

Inspirational

I talk about doing impossible things, but I can’t control anyone’s actions other than myself. In other words, I can’t make people act, but I can create the impetus for them to do so. Inspirational pieces not only allow you to do that but also tend to be wildly popular. I knew that in order for this presentation to spread, it would have to be incredibly inspirational.

Beautiful

I wanted the piece to be beautiful as well—this is where David came in. I know exactly what I like, but I know absolutely nothing about making design work. I could have attempted to do this on my own in Microsoft paint, but I knew the only person who would actually pass that along would be my mom.

I knew I couldn’t do it myself, so I called David up and asked him if he would consider doing those presentations for other people. After his track record on his presentations, it was a no-brainer and I commissioned him to do a piece based on one of my most popular posts ever—25 Impossible Quotes—a year-and-a-half-old post that gets crazy amounts of Stumble Upon and social media traffic.

Manufacturing viral

I realized if I could make it both inspirational and beautiful, we could get some serious traction in the Slideshare community as well as the other social media channels, and it would have the potential to go viral. I’ll be the first one to say that it sounds really dumb to say you can manufacture something going viral and for the most part you can’t if you’re trying to create massive viral wins of 1,000,000+ views. But, if you just want to do 50,000-100,000 views, it’s much more doable and I knew with David’s track record, we could easily get 20,000-30,000 views and build it from there.

Since the piece was going to be a presentation and downloadable booklet, we decided to beef it up and double the amount of quotes in it, pulling some more impossible quotes from another article until we ended up with a total 50 impossible quotes. With those set, David went to work and did his thing.

(I mentioned before that you could probably do this yourself if you’ve got serious design chops. If not, and you’re serious about this, find someone like David who’s work you’ve seen before and like. It’s worth it to invest in this to make it truly epic.)

The marketing

There were a few different methods we planned on getting traffic from.

My site

I figured my decent sized readership would give the presentation the initial boost we needed to get traction in the Slideshare community and I was right. After a few thousand views from my site, we hit the front page of Slideshare.

Slideshare front page

Getting on Slideshare’s front page is usually good for 10,000-20,000 views depending on how long you’re up there and how compelling your presentation actually is. Ours went up and got us 25,000 views within the first couple days. That was enough to put at the top of the charts for most popular category, which gave the project even more longevity.

I was pumped, but I knew we could do more. I reached out to a few more people and we started to inch up towards the 30-40k mark. Still good, but I felt there was more potential.

The inflection point

Michael Hyatt is the CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishing, the seventh largest publishing house in the US, and runs a blog with close to 200,000 visitors. We simply wanted him to take a look at it and through a series of twitter messages we got it in front of him and he loved it. The next thing I know I got a message from Michael, “Cool, I’ll post it on my blog.”

A couple of days later—BOOM.

He posted it and it took off: 60k, 75k, 80k views. Within a couple weeks we doubled the amount of views on the presentation and within a month of the launch, we cleared 100,000 views on the presentation (not to mention several thousand direct downloads both from Slideshare and Impossible HQ). Not too bad for a little outside-the-box thinking.

Make your own Slideshare presentation

Fortunately, Slideshare is a new enough platform that you can get some serious traction without being a superstar. After all, if I did it, so can you. Here are a few tips on making your own Slideshare presentation go viral.

Make it simple, stupid

The highlight of Slideshare pieces that go viral is simplicity. You don’t need to make it complicated. You should have one main thought per slide. Don’t over think this.

Choose the right type of presentation

The types of posts that will do really well on Stumble Upon will also do really well on Slideshare. If you have any posts on your blog that have done particularly well on Stumble Upon, you should probably be able to convert it into a popular Slideshare presentation. Other post types that do well:

  • inspirational posts
  • lists posts
  • compilations of quotes (people really love quotes)
  • simple explanations of complicated things.

Anything that is simple, easy to understand and apply do really well in the Slideshare format.

Note: Please do not do a PowerPoint presentation. It will not go over well and no one ever wants to read 5-7 bullets on a slide. Remember: keep it simple!

Find a Slideshare Insider

I compiled the quotes and knew it would have certain traction with the backing of my branding, but the secret sauce of working with David is that he’s already been established in the Slideshare community. He’s done a lot of the heavy lifting of making connections and getting known because he’s good at what he does. He’s built up a reputation so people pay attention when he creates something.

Don’t underestimate the value of working with someone great. Scan the top creators of Slideshare and find someone whose work you like and see if you can commission them for your project. Not only will their knowledge help you make a better looking presentation, but once it’s made, you’ll have more traction within the community.

Market the heck out of it

Share it with your audience. Share it with people you know. Talk to people who know people and share it with them. If you’ve done your work and made your Slideshare presentation awesome, share it with them and ask their opinion and you’ll make it easy for them to pass it along.

The hidden benefits of Slideshare

The best part of creating content Slideshare is that it’s a whole new audience. Guest posting and interviews can always bring in different amounts of traffic, but it’s often hard to avoid incestuous blogging—blogging to the same audiences that read the same blogs over and over and over.

Slideshare is a whole different medium than blog readers. Similar to podcast listeners, Pinterest users and YouTube users, they’re an entirely different market that may or may not read blogs. By using your content in a different way, you can reach these audiences where they’re at and draw them in.

The flip-side of this is that most of your blog readers have never heard of Slideshare either. So, when you create a killer presentation, it looks incredibly impressive—even if you’re simply repurposing your content into a new arena. It’s a whole new medium with a lot of wide open opportunity, so don’t wait.

Have you used Slideshare yet? Tell us how it went in the comments.

Joel Runyon is the creator of Impossible HQ and the Blog of Impossible Things where he pushes his limits by doing the impossible.  You can follow him on twitter.

19 Essential WordPress Plugins for Your Blog

This guest post is by Eric Siu of Evergreen Search.

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

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

SEO plugins

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

Social plugins

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

Analytics plugins

General plugins

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

    Post Ender

    Image via ConversionXL

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

Maintenance plugins

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

Conclusion

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

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

Install Your First WordPress Plugin

This guest post is by Karol K of ThemeFuse.

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

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

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

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

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

What are plugins, and what’s their job?

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

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

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

Where can you get plugins from?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Installing a WordPress plugin manually

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

1. Getting the ZIP file

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

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

2. Uploading through FTP

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

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

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

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

3. Activating the plugin

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

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

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

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

Adjusting plugin settings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s the next step?

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

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

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

What You Need to Know Before You Start a WordPress Blog

This guest post is by Matt Hooper.

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

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

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

Finding a home: web hosting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Moving in: installing WordPress

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

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

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

Painting the walls: installing a theme

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

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

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

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

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

Choosing your art: creating content

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

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

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

Home sweet home: everything else

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

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

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

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

Tips from the Trenches: Best Blogger Productivity Tools

When we put together Blog Wise, I thought I would be the only blogger who didn’t use many (okay—any!) of the productivity apps I downloaded. As it turned out, very few of the pro bloggers we spoke to relied on any apps or tools other than Gmail, Google Calendar, and Evernote.

So I decided to ask some of my connections on social media what kinds of tools they use, and I got a great response. Here I’ve compiled the list so that, if you’re interested, you can try some of these tools for yourself. Of course, if you have other time-savers you’d like to add, let us know in the comments.

Software

WordPress plugins

Blogging software

Other services

Hardware

Don’t forget to give us your recommendations for productivity-boosting tools and tips in the comments!

Review: How to Start a Blog that Matters

I put Corbett Barr on this year’s list of bloggers to watch because he is brilliant. He knows how to draw a lot of attention to a new blog and sustain that interest over a long period of time.

That’s something that a lot of people struggle, including myself, so I was really excited when I heard he was developing a course on starting a blog that matters (aff. link). I was so impressed that I decided to write about it.

What is it?

How to Start A Blog That Matters is a course that will guide you through starting a blog that matters over 90 days.

You’ll start with choosing a great topic and setting up your blog and end with building your audience and spreading your influence.

Each of the 13 lessons contains a specific action plan for you to follow each week.

In addition to the lessons and videos, you’ll also get direct access to ask Corbett questions. This is a great way to pick an experts brain during the launch process.

Who is it for?

I believe that this product is for people who are in a position to leverage a launch beyond just attention. To get the most out it I would recommend:

  • That you have a rough business plan for your blog. The techniques will result in extra traffic, but it may not lead to extra income unless you have distinct monetization goals.
  • That you have done some basic branding exercises so you target the right audience.

Other types of bloggers, including new ones, will get a lot out of this. However, if you are in the experimenting stage of blogging you may not get a financial ROI.

Do I recommend it?

I sure do.

However, at $97, this may not be an option for a lot of you. That’s cool.

If you can’t afford this product, and you are unfamiliar with Corbett’s work, then I highly recommend you check out Think Traffic. It has enough resources to help you grow your blog and earn a modest income. You can also undertake the million dollar blog project.

If you are in a position to take advantage of his teachings then check out How To Start A Blog That Matters.

Blog Smarter: Invest in Your Own Success

This guest post is by Jeff Nickles of MySuperChargedLife.com.

My blog grew by leaps and bounds in 2011.  It was exciting! But it wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t made a few smart investments in my blog—investments, you could say, in my success.

I’m a regular guy and a part-time blogger just like many of you.  I’ve learned how to grow my site through trial and error.  Over the last four years, I have probably made more mistakes than the average joe.  I’ve done a lot of the wrong things, but occasionally I get it right. I’ve benefited tremendously from the experience of others since I started, so I want to share with you the tactics behind my success, hoping they will help you.

The results I achieved

First, let’s look at the results I achieved. My blog’s experienced what I’d call explosive growth in the last year:

  • 353% increase in number of email subscribers.
  • 103% growth in number of pageviews (doubled in one year!).
  • 141% increase in AdSense earnings.

I want to assure you that these numbers are a reflection of consistent increases over the course of many months.  I’m not just comparing a freakishly bad month from a year ago to a freakishly good month now.

The investments I made

As you can see, I saw big boosts in the number of subscribers, pageviews, and earnings on my site.  These are the key measures of success that I’m always looking to improve.  I attribute the growth of my blog to some important investments that I made about a year ago.

1. I changed my WordPress theme

Not all themes are created equal.  This is especially true when it comes to search engine optimization (SEO).  I’ll admit that I don’t understand all the minutiae behind this art, but I don’t have to, and neither do you—assuming you’re running a self-hosted WordPress blog.

You can significantly increase your site’s ranking with search engines by using a theme that optimizes this for you.

A little knowledge of SEO will certainly help, but the more you get out of the box with your theme, the better.  Just over a year ago, I invested in a premium WordPress theme that had a strong commitment to search engine optimization.  Yes, I had to pay a little money for my theme, but boy has it been worth it.

Before I made this purchase, I ran a different premium theme and used a popular WordPress plugin to supposedly optimize my SEO.  I’m sure the plugin helped, but I can tell you that changing to a different theme—one that was already optimized—helped a lot more.

My traffic has doubled in the past year, and all of the extra traffic has come from search engines.  On top of that, my AdSense earnings have gone up almost 1.5 times on what they were just one short year ago, all because of this increase in traffic.  That’s a nice return on investment—and a clear justification for investing in a good theme.

Investment #1: Catalyst Theme
Cost: US$77.00.

2. I moved to a better email subscription management service

Previously, I used Feedburner to manage my email subscribers.  The thing I liked best about Feedburner was that it was free, but it lacked some key features.  As I learned more about blogging, I discovered what Darren and others say about the importance of building an email list.  Therefore, after three years of puny email subscriber growth, I decided it was time to get serious about how I handled this aspect of my blog.

I want all the new search engine visitors coming to my site to become email subscribers.  One powerful way to encourage this is to offer a first-time visitor an incentive to subscribe.  In my case, I put together a free ebook called The Super-Charged Guide to Smart Living.

The new email subscriber service gives me the ability to use autoresponders.  When someone subscribes, the service automatically sends them a specific Welcome email that I have set up.  I can include links in these emails.  Therefore, I can offer all these new search engine visitors a free copy of my ebook as an incentive to subscribe. This definitely works.

Furthermore, once they become subscribers, I can send them a series of auto-responder emails walking them through a complete sequence of strategic interactions with my blog.  By the way, I got this idea from Darren in What Process Do You Want to Lead Repeat Readers Through?  Excellent advice!

Again, I have to invest a little each month to get these features, but after just one year, I certainly see the advantages.   This new service allows me to engage strategically and proactively with my email subscribers.  It also gives me the ability to brand the emails so I look more professional, credible and consistent.  I believe all of this has contributed to my site’s growth.

Investment #2: FeedBlitz
Cost: US$13.95/month (when I signed up).

3. I implemented a pop-up lightbox

In my first three years of blogging, I had only accumulated about 800 email subscribers.  This is very puny, I know.  I now have over 3,600 valid email addresses on my opt-in list.  Here’s a chart that shows the phenomenal growth I’ve experienced.

Isn’t this amazing?!?  It is to me!

How did I achieve this kind of growth?  Well, I implemented a pop-up lightbox that offers visitors my free ebook in exchange for their subscription. That lightbox looks like this:

I configured this pop-up to appear to first-time visitors.  This really seems to work.  I’ve been averaging around 250 new email subscribers per month since I turned it on about a year ago; before I used this, I averaged around 20 per month.

Originally, I was hesitant to put something like this in place because I knew it could be a minor irritant to some.  However, the results speak for themselves.  I’m definitely glad that I did it.

I had to make a small investment in a premium plugin for WordPress to get the professional look I wanted, but this has more than paid off.  I’ve recouped this expense many times over already.

Investment #3: Popup Domination
Cost: US$77.00.

Make an investment to grow your blog

The growth I’ve seen in the last year has been awesome, although I haven’t had to work a whole lot harder to achieve these explosive results.

It just goes to show you that by investing in the right aspects of your blog, you can really make a big difference.  My total investment for my new theme and for Popup Domination was just a little over $150.  I would spend that money again in a heartbeat.

I started out only paying $13.95 per month for my FeedBlitz subscription, but now, because of my phenomenal email subscriber growth, I pay $49.95 per month.  I don’t mind it a bit—I can assure you that it has been well worth it.

Here’s my advice if you want to grow your blog: educate yourself on what works, and then don’t be afraid to make a few investments.  Not all of them will turn out exactly as you desire, but you’ve got to be willing to take the risk if you want the big payoff.  It worked for me.

Jeff Nickles is a regular guy on a quest to live life to its fullest. He began MySuperChargedLife.com in December of 2007 as a way to share his experiences and to learn more about life.  You can reach him by visiting his blog.

5 Reasons Why Dai Ling Ping is Going to Win On YouTube in 2012

This guest post is by David Edwards of A Sitting Duck.

I’ve just passed three years on YouTube and I’m really happy with what I’ve achieved so far.

But over the last few months I’ve become mates with a guy who owns one of the fastest growing channels in the UK—and he started just over a year ago. Dai Ling Ping has gone from zero to over 25,000 subscribers! It’s awesome for an individual to achieve this.

I’m blown away by how quickly his brand is growing and even though you may not be into video games, you will still be able to take some notes from his story and start something of your own. Get your pen and paper ready, here’s what Dai has done!

1. He uploads five videos a week

Most top YouTubers usually produce one video a week. I know that, within the animation industry, the top guys try to get one video live every calendar month, as their work is more time-consuming. But Dai is cranking them out. He’s not dwelling on the fact that some videos get a few hundred views and others are getting thousands, he just keeps on going!

2. He is part of something big

What ever subject you choose, you should always think of yourself as being part of something much bigger than you. For instance, Dai got involved with the Machinima network, which has a database of millions of gamers all over the world. If they like one of Dai’s videos, they can get it in front of hundreds of thousands of people very quickly.

3. He leverages his most popular video

Dai has a video titled “My House”—it even ranks top on the search engines, having racked up over 500,000 views. And his other videos are feeding off the success of this one.

On YouTube, you have two spaces beneath the video to promote your other works. Also, YouTube will line your other videos above and on the right hand side of the displayed video automatically. So, if you have a popular video, be sure to add others—don’t give those valuable spaces away to other YouTubers.

4. He is always looking for the next big thing

Because he’s organized with making videos, if something breaks out on the news, Dai can create a video on that topic within a few hours, and send it straight to his subscribers. Sometimes his videos rank next to the original news story on YouTube!

5. He is original

Many people are getting a bit stuck online now because they don’t know what information to read and what to do.

By keeping it simple, cranking out funny videos and illustrations, and chatting with his fans in the comments, Dai has built something that is growing faster than he could ever control. Because he invented the Dai Ling Ping character, he will eventually be able to make some big profits from original merchandise sales.

You may find some of Dai’s videos offensive, due to bad language. But if I was half as productive as Dai I would be sitting on a lot more subscribers today! Comedian Ricky Gervais once said “always produce more than you hope” and in the online market that has never been more true!

David Edwards is the founder of http://www.asittingduck.com and produces animations over at www.youtube.com/asittingducktv