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How to Know Which Plugins are Killing Your Site’s Performance

This guest post is by Matthew Setter of Malt Blue.

You know the situation: your site’s been slowing down for a while, but you just can’t put your finger on why. Then you get a tweet, an email, or a comment on your Facebook page mentioning it. Even worse, you see someone talking about your site in your niche’s main online forum—they’re not impressed with your sites performance.

What was once an amazingly quick-loading site has slowed and slowed to a crawl. Your visitors are growing unhappy and may even be starting to look for alternative sites. To be honest, who could blame them for wanting to seek out someone else that serves their needs better, in less time?

What makes things worse is that you’re not really a geek or a tech-head and you don’t know what to do about it.

You ask yourself:

  • How can I find out what’s killing my sites performance?
  • How do I know where the issues are?
  • How can I give someone the right information to help me?

Well in this post, I want to help you do just that, by giving you a quick introduction to analyzing your site’s performance using one of the simplest, free, tool package of all—Google Chrome’s Developer Tools.

Now I appreciate that we’re not all geeks or tech heads, and that more than likely, this isn’t something that you’d do on a regular basis. But that needn’t stop you. You can be partially autonomous without being either a nerd or programmer.

So I am going to show you, quickly, just how easy it is to use the developer tools available in Google Chrome, to work out which components of your blog are causing you issues. With that information, you’ll be able to take action yourself if you host your own blog, or report this to your tech support if you don’t.

What are the Developer Tools?

The official Developer Tools blog describes them as follows:

The Developer Tools, bundled and available in Chrome, allows web developers and programmers deep access into the internals of the browser and their web application … The Developer Tools are organized into task-oriented groups that are represented by icons in the toolbar at the top of the window. Each toolbar item and corresponding panel lets you work with a specific type of page or app information, including DOM elements, resources, and scripts.

Now okay, there’s a bit to take in there, but if you’re not comfortable with all that, don’t worry: it simply means that these tools provide a way of finding out specific details about each component of the web page that you’re currently viewing.

They allow you to filter by category, and sort the available information by a simple set of key criteria, such as size, time and type. The image below shows you a working example.


 

Step 1. Open Developer Tools

The first thing that we want to do is to display the Developer Tools window in Google Chrome. After opening Google Chrome, click on the wrench icon on the right-hand side of the main Chrome window. In the menu that pops up, move your mouse over the Tools option and in the next window that pops up, click Developer Tools (this is second from the bottom).

Step 2. Get familiar with the Developer Tools window

All being well, you’ll see the Developer Tools main window, which looks similar to the screenshot above. You’ll see a set of tabs across the top, including:

  • Elements
  • Resources
  • Network
  • Scripts
  • Timeline
  • Profiles
  • Audits
  • Console.

The one that we’re focusing on is Network, so go ahead and click that tab. Now you’re going to see what seems like a large amount of information, but don’t worry—before you’ve finished this article, you’re going to be an ace at making sense of the parts that are most important.

Step 3. Filtering options

Now, take a closer look at the footer> of the window, right down the bottom. You’ll see a set of menus, which include:

  • All: Displays all the components in the page
  • Documents: Displays only HTML output
  • Stylesheets: Display CSS stylesheets
  • Images: Display all images (.png, .jpeg, .gif, etc.)
  • Scripts: Display all Javascript (inline, external).

These options allow you to filter the components that make up the current page. In this case, it’s the Facebook fan page of my first blog, Malt Blue.

By default, the All option is selected. This shows you everything in the page. This is a bit much to work with, so go ahead and click each option and notice how the list can dramatically change in size.

Now take a closer look at the row under the main menu. It has a series of columns that allow you to sort the available information. They include:

  • Name: the name of the HTML page, image, stylesheet, etc.
  • Method: whether the item was requested with GET or POST
  • Status: some information about status of the item
  • Type: a text description of the item’s type
  • Initiator: what requested the item
  • Size: the size of the item
  • Time: the time taken to retrieve the item displayed in text
  • Timeline: the time taken to retrieve the item displayed as a graph.

The key columns, however, are Name, Size, Time, and Timeline. By focusing on these columns, you can see that of the eight displayed, the first one took 1.57 seconds to load with a size of 65.40KB. Not too bad overall. If you’re a visual person, like me, then sort using the Timeline tab.

Okay, so you’re now more familiar with the available options. But for the quickest assessment, the two key columns to look at are time and size. Let’s consider each in turn.

Step 4. Sort by time

This one is probably the best one to use when it comes to finding rogue components. It was a god-send recently when it was able to tell me that a MailChimp sign-up widget in my sidebar was taking over 15 seconds to fully load.

So click on the Time column until it has a downward facing arrow next to it. Then, you’ll see the components in the page, displayed from slowest to fastest. In the column, you’ll see two numbers for each component, one in grey and one in black.

The number that you want to focus on is the top number in the black font. This shows you the total time that the component took to load, right from when it was requested by the browser, to when it was displayed on the page.

Step 5. Sort by size

This is probably the second-best option to sort by, especially if you’re more of a numbers than a graphics person. As you did with sorting by Time, click on the Size column until it has a downward facing arrow next to it.

Then, you’ll see the components in the page, displayed from biggest to smallest. In the column, you’ll again see two numbers for each component. Once again, focus on the number in the black font. This is the total size of your component.

Step 6. What To Do

So far, we’ve opened the Developer Tools, familiarized ourselves with the Network window, played around with its key options, and finished up by getting to know the components in our web page.

But what do you do now?

Based on time and size, take an inventory of the biggest and slowest loading elements of your page. Then look to see what you can do to reduce these points. To save you time, here are my top suggestions for speeding up your site with this new knowledge:

  • See if the elements relate to plugins or widgets that you’ve installed. If so, consider disabling them or finding an alternative that loads faster.
  • Look at the slowest loading or biggest images. Maybe you’ve set the width and height to make them appear smaller. Could you:
    1. optimize them for displaying on the net?
    2. scale them down in size without losing quality?
    3. remove unnecessary parts of the image?
    4. use another image format, producing a smaller file size?
  • Do you load a lot of CSS stylesheets or Javascript files? Could you:
    1. combine them in to one file?
    2. load some from external, faster, sources, such as Google?
    3. shrink the Javascript and CSS files with online services such as jscompress.com or minifycss.com?

Don’t manage the site?

What if your site’s managed for you by someone else?

In that case, get in touch with your tech support and tell them all that you can about the slow components that you’ve found. Tell them what they are, how long they’re taking to load, the size of them, and so on. An even simpler option may be to send them an annotated screenshot of the developer tools window where you’ve highlighted the results that you’ve found.

Experiment!

Like all new things, give yourself time to become familiar with the tool. As you do so, you’ll grow a proper appreciation for what’s fast and what’s not, what’s a good size for a file or an image and what’s not, and so on.

Then, as this knowledge builds, you’ll be increasingly autonomous and better informed about the state of your site.

I hope that you’ve found this helpful and that in future, when your site’s exhibiting poor performance, you’ll be in a much better position to perform the initial diagnostics yourself. You’ll be both better informed and more able to let your tech support know when issues need to be addressed and where.

Matthew Setter is a passionate writer, educator and software developer. He’s also the founder of Malt Blue, dedicated to helping people become better at web development.You can connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or Google+ anytime.

Get StudioPress Themes and Premise Landing Page Plugin for Big Discounts Today

I’m excited today to let you know of two great Black Friday/Cyber Monday deals from the team at CopyBlogger. I use and love both of these products and know that they’ll help a lot of you in your blogging efforts. Note: For both deals the coupon code is ‘Thanks’. Don’t miss out!

StudioPress Themes: 25% Discount

Nitrous Theme - High Energy Theme for WordPressI’m often asked about the design here on ProBlogger and who created it. The answer is simple – it’s built upon the Genesis Framework by the team at StudioPress (a Copyblogger Media creation).

Genesis is a highly secure, fast loading and highly adaptable framework and the StudioPress designs are fantastic. I don’t regret switching to them earlier in the year at all. As a result I have no hesitation in recommending them and letting you know about their 25% off offer over the next few days.

Using the code THANKS at checkout, you can save 25% off of anything you’d like at StudioPress. For example you can get the following deals:

  1. Get the Genesis Framework for only $45.
  2. Snag most Genesis / design combos for a song and save close to $20.
  3. Wipe the entire shop clean and get the StudioPress Pro Plus All-Theme Package. Get Genesis plus every design they’ve made, plus every design they make in the future, and save more than $74 off the regular price and over $875 off the retail price — and that’s just the existing 43 designs!

All you need to do is use the code THANKS when you check out and you’ll save 25% on anything and everything at StudioPress.com.

Premise Ultimate: 42% Discount

Readers of ProBlogger know that I have taught numerous times on the importance of ‘landing pages’ to help you convert readers to different types of actions. Landing pages are specifically designed pages to call your readers to action (whether that action might be to ‘subscribe’, ‘buy’, ‘advertise’ etc. I’ve written about the importance of landing pages here.

I’m also a big fan of Premise – a WordPress based software for developing landing pages by the team at CopyBlogger Media. Premise was very recently updated to version 1.2 and includes heaps of refinements including a new landing page type – the social sharing page.

Premise Ultimate usually sells for $165, as it gives you a heap of value:

  1. All the landing pages you can build
  2. Use on as many domains as you want
  3. Access to ongoing optimization seminars
  4. Copywriting advice from inside WordPress
  5. 1,100+ custom graphics by Rafal
  6. Unlimited technical support
  7. Unlimited updates (you’ll thank yourself for this next year)

During their Thanksgiving sale, you can get Premise Ultimate for only $95.

Just use the code THANKS when you check out and you’ll save $70 on the best landing page software available for WordPress.

Both of these deals ends promptly at 7:00 pm Pacific time on Monday, November 28, 2011. Hurry up and get claim your new WordPress theme and Premise Ultimate before the CopyBlogger team come to their senses!

What Blog Platform Do You Use Most? [POLL]

It’s been a couple of years since we ran a poll here on ProBlogger about the blogging platform that readers are using, so I’m keen to see the results on this one.

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What Blog Platform Do You Use Most?
Total Votes: 1655 Started: 11/9/2011 Back to Vote Screen

Please answer for the platform you use most if you have multiple blogs (one selection per person). I’d also love to hear some of your “why?” responses below in the comments, along with mentions of any other platforms not listed here.

What Google Search’s SSL Change Means for Your Blog

This guest post is by Oz of OzSoapbox.

Secure Sockets Layer (or SSL to you and me) is an encryption standard most of us are familiar with using whenever we do something over the Internet that needs enhanced security.

security

Image copyright Evgeniya Ponomareva - Fotolia.com

Whether it be banking, email, signing into a personal account, purchasing something, or any one of the dozens of things we do online daily with the potential to have our private data compromised, most Internet users are familiar with that little padlock symbol that appears every time we use SSL.

How SSL affects blog owners

In a recent update on their official search blog, Google has outlined plans to apply SSL to user search queries. Under the guise of privacy, Google claims that the addition of SSL will:

recognize the growing importance of protecting the personalized search results we deliver.

Increased privacy is all very well, but what will that mean for your blog?

Previously an opt-in option, it’s important to note that Google’s implementation of SSL in performed searches at this stage will only affect logged in users. That is, people with a Google Account who are logged intot hat account while searching.

So what kind of affected traffic are we talking about here?

Google’s Matt Cuts (head of web spam) told Danny Sullivan, editor-in-chief at Search Engine Land, that he “estimated even at full roll-out, this would still be in the single-digit percentages of all Google searchers on Google.com.”

Less than 10% of Google search users have a Google Account? I can’t help but seriously question that.

Between Gmail, iGoogle, YouTube, and more recently Google+ (over 40 million at last count and climbing), pretty much anyone who uses a Google product has an account and, more than likely, will be signed in. Is this SSL implementation really only going to affect less than 10% of internet searches?

Leaving that doubt aside for a second, let’s get back to the question at hand: again, what does all of this mean for your blog?

The one thing you, the problogger, needs to take away from all this is that if you’re tracking your users via keywords (that is, seeing which keywords bring in the most traffic), the accuracy of your stats is going to take a massive hit.

Once Google flip the switch on SSL searches, logged in Google Account users who wind up your site via Google will no longer be passing on any keyword referral information.

In an industry where even a few percentage points can result in massive changes to SEO campaigns and blog content strategies, losing up to 10% of your keyword referral data is huge!

And you don’t need me to tell you how important traffic monitoring tools like Google Analytics are in managing and analysing your blog.

What can you do?

As a blog owner, what can you do about these upcoming SSL changes?

Unfortunately for now, not much.

Google seem to have made a final decision on this and will implement SSL searches for logged in Google Accounts over the coming weeks. Interestingly enough, despite Google citing increased privacy reasons as the backbone of their decision, keyword referral data will still be available to advertisers.

It appears that while your privacy is seemingly important to Google, it’s not important enough to cut off your search queries from advertisers’ prying eyes.

As a blog owners, all we can do for now is sit back and take the hit. A monthly report (30 days) of the top search queries that brought traffic to your site will be made available via Google Webmaster tools, but it’s a far cry from the level of data analysis most blog owners are used to.

That’s even more of an issue when you consider there’s only so much you can do with WebMaster Tools when compared to proper traffic analysis tools like Google Analytics.

Looking at the long-term effects here, if SSL encryption doesn’t cause any hiccups for logged-in users, I imagine it’s only a matter of time before it’s implemented permanently for every search Google processes.

Google themselves are clearly hinting at this on their own blog;

We hope that today’s move to increase the privacy and security of your web searches is only the next step in a broader industry effort to employ SSL encryption more widely and effectively.

What appears to be shaping up is a future divide between the needs of blog owners and the financial relationship between advertisers and search engines. And we all know who’s going to win that battle.

As blog owners, do we have a right to demand keyword referral information from the visitors browsing our blogs? Or, as the value of this referral information is slowly quantified and sold to advertisers, is it only a matter of time before we too will have to start paying for the stats we need to run our blogs as best we can?

Updated daily, OzSoapbox is a blog cataloguing life in Taiwan, the good times and the bad. Interrupted only by social commentary on current events facing Taiwan, feel free to drop on by and join Oz on his journey through this beautiful island.

How to Increase Conversions With Google Website Optimizer

This guest post is by Joe Burnett of Who’s Your Blogger?

“I have a pretty (un)healthy obsession with email lists. I’m constantly telling my readers to focus on growing a list of active, engaged, and interested email subscribers.”—Blog Tyrant

You can capture emails with only one ethical plan: the visitor will have to give you his or her email by typing it in.

How do you get your readers to type in their email addresses? Will you use a pop-up lightbox, a sidebar subscribe form, or a subscribe form below your posts? Maybe you’ll give your readers a small, ethical
“bribe.”

What do I use? All of them! Each and every one of my past and present blogs went through a quick elimination process to find which tactic captured the most emails.

Never ask someone which email capturing tactic works best for them. The answer depends on the style of your readers, and the niche your blog is in. Is the readers’ attention span short, do they get annoyed, and do they take time to look at their surroundings?

But on your own blog, there is a reliable way to find out which tactic works best.

Testing your email capturing tactics

Google Website Optimizer is a great tool you can use to increase email opt in conversions. It’s surprisingly easy to use and produces great feedback, graphs, charts, and results.

How do you get started? First, you obviously need to login, or create a Google account. Click the Get Started button, agree to their terms and get ready to capture so many emails other bloggers think you’re stealing them.

Getting started

Currently you should be at your dashboard looking something like this…

Google Website Optimizer dashboard

Google Website Optimizer dashboard

Once you’re at the dashboard, click Create a new experiment.

You have two option here, and one is a lot easier to use than the other. The first option is called the A/B Experiment. You shouldn’t choose that, because it will involve completely changing the page you test, and for this exercise, we only want to change the opt-in form on our page.

The Multivariate Experiment gives you the ability to change specific section(s) on the page in isolation. In this case, we want to change our subscribe form.

Google Website Optimizer multivariate experiment

Google Website Optimizer multivariate experiment

Next, you need to enter in the URL of page that you’re trying to test. This could be your blog’s home page or a specific post or page you’ve created. If you’re really daring go straight into your themes files to edit them, allowing the testing to be done on your entire WordPress blog!

The Conversion page is the location where new subscribers land after the subscribe to your blog. Both Mail Chimp and Aweber give you the option to redirect visitors back to your website after subscribing.

Setting up the experiment

Setting up the experiment

Now Google Website Optimizer knows the pages that are used in the conversion process. We need to give the service access to those pages by using a little bit of JavaScript. Google will give you some code snippets, and all you need to do is paste it inside the pages you specified above.

Google Website Optimizer provides the code

Google Website Optimizer provides the code

Once, you’ve added all of your JavaScript tags, click, Continue to verify the tags. A small lightbox should pop up to let you know that Google found the tags on your blog.

Click Continue to verify the tags

Click Continue to verify the tags

Making changes to test

Now it’s time to make changes to the areas of the page that you specified. You can change your opt-in form to produce a higher conversion in many ways.

  • Change the headline.
  • Add a picture.
  • Reduce the amount of textboxes. (Instead of Name and Email fields, try just an Email textbox.)
  • Change the background color.
  • Edit the text.
  • Change the Submit button to something less standard.

Once you’ve made the changes you want to test, you can sit back and wait to see which opt-in form converts the most visitors into subscribers.

The results

Below are the results for testing the opt-in form on my website. When I ran the test, I decided that whichever combination of visuals achieved the best results would be the combination I’d use on my blog.

Google Website Optimizer test results

Google Website Optimizer test results

As you can see, I created five different versions of my opt-in form. During this test, the original actually performed better than all of my other combinations, with an almost unreal 41.7% conversion rate. That’s almost one out of every two visitors signing up.

The combinations were different because of the headlines and descriptions I used. I used three different headlines along with two different descriptions:

  • Headline #1: How Does It Work?
  • Headline #2: Guest Blogging Rocks!
  • Headline #3: Guest Blogging Never Fails.
  • Description #1: Who’s Your Blogger is an online guest post exchanging platform. We make it easy to accept guest posts, and find blogs to guest post on. Best of all, it’s fast, easy, and free!
  • Description #2: Who’s Your Blogger has helped me land my guest posts on ProBlogger, Copy Blogger, and even John Chow. Trust me, Who’s Your Blogger has tripled my guest post production rate!

The results were:

  • Original: Headline #1 & Description #1 – Conversion Rate: 41.7%
  • Combination #1: Headline #2 & Description #1 – Conversion Rate: 20%
  • Combination #2: Headline #3 & Description #1 – Conversion Rate: 30.4%
  • Combination #3: Headline #1 & Description #2 – Conversion Rate: 25%
  • Combination #4: Headline #2 & Description #2 – Conversion Rate: 31%
  • Combination #5: Headline #3 & Description #2 – Conversion Rate: 21.4%

As the results show, my original message outperformed all of my other combinations, so it would make no sense to change the headline and description.

What can I do now? Of course there are many different tests I can run on my site. I might want to do the same test over again, but spend some more time coming up with headlines and descriptions that really rock!

Have you used Google Website Optimizer before? How do you like it? Leave your opinion below…

Joe Burnett is an amazing guest blogger. He created Who’s Your Blogger? to help increase your chances of landing guest posts on popular blogs by over 534%, and to find free unique content to publish on your blog. He teaches you exactly how to guest post and build a popular blog at the Who’s Your Blogger? Guest Blogging Blog!

Make an App to Engage Your Blog’s Readers

This guest post is by Leah Goodman of AppsGeyser.

A few months ago, when I started working for AppsGeyser, a friend asked me if I could turn her blog into an app, to which I responded, “Yes.” Then she asked me the more important question: why would she want to do that?

There are loads of reasons. Here are just a few ways you can use an app to bring new readers to your blog and give more value to your current readers.

Raise the level of engagement

Make a blog app

Copyright taka - Fotolia.com

Mobile users can read your blog on a mobile RSS reader, but reading a blog through an app means that they’re coming to your blog specifically. It’s a different level of engagement. They’re looking for this blog’s icon. They’re looking to interact with this blog each time. It’s not just one of a bunch of publications.

Be found where mobile users are looking

Regular readers will have your blog in their RSS feeds on their mobile devices, but new mobile readers are much more likely to find your blog by searching for apps than by searching the Web. Having an app gives bloggers a whole additional avenue for discovery.

Form a “secret society”

Once people have downloaded the app, you can engage them in some really great ways, too. Provide unique content for app users, creating the sense that they’ve joined a “secret society,” just by downloading the app. Utilize the fact that it’s not just an RSS feed, and have them vote, fill out forms, and leave comments without having to use a different interface.

Push your message

Last, but definitely not least, is the idea of push messaging. With an app, it’s easy to send messages to people who’ve downloaded your app—even if they’re not checked in.

Push messages are just like text messages to everyone who has the app installed. For a craft blogger, this might be the way to tell people that the project everyone’s been asking about is finally completed, and the instructions are up.  Are you a mommy blogger in her ninth month? Push messaging is a great way to instantly let everyone know it’s a girl! Financial blogger? This is the way to tell everyone the mortgage is finally paid off! The possibilities to connect more closely are right there, the moment a blog becomes an app.

How to make your blog into an app

There are a number of ways to make a blog into an app.

  1. You can have an app developer create a custom app for you. This is the most expensive option, but it will give you an app that looks perfect, works beautifully, and gives you all the special features you want to offer your readers.
  2. You can use a service that turns an RSS feed into an app, such as Android Apps Maker or Mippin.
  3. Our recommendation (and yes, we’re slightly biased) is to use AppsGeyser, because it gives you the full power of your blog in an app.

Distributing your app

Your blog app needs to be distributed in two main ways.

The first is on the blog itself. This is achieved by taking the app’s link information and adding it to the blog. It’s important to copy the QR code to make it easy for readers to download the app easily with just a click of their phone camera.

The second avenue of distribution is the Android Market. This is how new readers will find the app and, by extension, your blog. When adding the app to the Android Market, pay special attention to the app’s name and description. The name and description are what prospective readers will search when they are looking for new apps to download. Be especially careful about the name, as it’s a problem to change it later. You can change the description later if you’re not happy with it.

Don’t skimp on your icon and screenshots, either. We’ve put together a post on making an attractive icon without hiring a designer. An attractive-looking app is an important part of reaching a wider audience.

Does your blog have an app? How has it affected your readership? Share your experiences in the comments.

Leah Goodman is a Content and Community Manager at Abel Communications, managing the blog and community for AppsGeyser.com. She believes in a t-shirt economy and is an amateur juggler.

Run an Awesome Blog Contest in 5 Steps

This guest post is by Kiera Pedley of Binkd.

Running a contest on your blog can be a great way to generate new readership, reactivate stagnant subscribers, and increase the engagement of your readers.

Competitions can be a lot of hard work for little or no results, unless you run them to a plan and have a clear objective in mind.

Here are five tips for running an awesome blog contest campaign.

1. Set a clear objective

As bloggers we love readers, we love engagement, we love community—a contest can help you achieve any or all of these things. When planning your contest, set a goal as to what you need to achieve.

Do you want more:

  • email Subscribers
  • RSS readers
  • social media fans
  • sales of your product
  • comments and engagement?

Set your goals as numbers—if you wish to increase your email subscribers, how many do you want?

The true measure of a successful competition is in its metrics, and without a clear, numerical goal in place, you won’t know if your hard work is paying off.

2. Don’t go it alone

If youíre hoping to attract new readership to your blog, you want your contest to be seen by as many people as possible. You can do this using a few strategies:

Use a third-party social media competition platform to help send the contest viral

Increasing your contest’s visibility is the key to success, and the easiest medium to send your contest viral is social media.

A third-party app helps you to encourage your fans to share their entries on social media. You can either use a blog plugin to run your contest, or use a Facebook based application such as Binkd or Wildfire App. (Full disclosure here, Binkd is my product!)

Joint venture with partner

Leveraging someone else’s list is a powerful way to attract a fresh audience. Team up with a non-competing colleague in your niche and share the rewards of your contest. In exchange for the cross promotion, you could allow them to market to the list generated by the contest.

Approach sponsors

Getting a high-profile sponsor of your contest to assist in the promotion or in the donation of a prize is another way to help market your contest. It also adds credibility to your contest by transferring trust.

3. Choose your contest carefully

If you’re using a competition app, there are several types of contests available:

Skills contest

A skills contest requires your entrants to perform a task to be elligible to answer. Short story contests, answer a question contests, and write a jingle skills contests are popular. Entrants can then either be drawn randomly, or encouraged to share their entries to get their friends to vote. Skills contests are similar to sweepstakes, but the entrants can influence their success or failure in the competition.

You can select to have the entrant with the most votes win, or have each vote count for an entry, and drawn similar to a sweepstakes contest.

Photo contests

A visual form of skills contest, here, your entrants upload a photo, and then appeal to their contacts to vote for the photo. This is a really good way to visually promote your brand. Getting a photo of your fans using your product, or performing a stunt related to your brand spreads the word about you far and wide!

Challenge contests

A challenge contest can send your entrants on a virtual scavenger hunt around your site and social media pages, searching for answers to your questions. This type of contest is powerful for creating engaged and interactive entrants.

Sweepstakes

Your entrants submit their entry, and the winner(s) are randomly drawn. Sweepstakes are a game of chance, not skill.

4. Build engagement

Increase the stickiness of your contest by increasing the engagement of your entrants.

Multiple entry steps

Statistically, contests with multiple entry steps deliver more engaged and sticky entrants. A challenge contest gives your entrants the opportunity to explore your site, and interact with various articles on your blog.

Achievable goals

Make the contest goals achievable for your entrants to complete. For example, if you’re running an article contest to generate some awesome new articles, don’t set word counts or criteria too high or tight.

Don’t make your challenge contest questions too difficult to answer, or be too cryptic in your clues.

5. Automate the process

You can effectively run a contest just on your blog, or by a forum and email management system, but it’s a lot of hard work and can be an administrative nightmare!

There are several applications on the market that automate running a contest and allow you to keep the list of entrants to market to during and after the contest.

Some of the most popular are:

  • Binkd a contest platform that offers a WordPress plugin and Facebook Sweepstakes and Challenge contests
  • Wildfire App, for Facebook Sweepstakes, Photo Contests, and Vote to Win
  • Bulbstorm, for Facebook Sweepstakes, Photo Contests, and Vote to Win.

Running a contest can really help you build up your readership and drive quality, qualified fans to your email subscriber list and social media platforms. You can simplify the job by using a third-party application to handle the grunt work of administering the contest.

Have you used a contest to promote your blog and engage readers? Share your experiences and tips in the comments.

Kiera Pedley is the CCO (Chief Caring Officer) at Binkd home of the Binkd Promotion Platform.

A Dash of Analytics Takes the Guess Work Out of Guest Posting

This guest post is by Joe of the New Customer Workshop.

Guest posting is a great way to market your brand. When you guest post you are able to demonstrate you expertise to a new audience. The short term benefits are a bump in traffic to your website. Longer term benefits are sees through quality backlinks which will help with search engine optimization.

One of the questions that comes up when guest posting is “Where should I post?” For me, the answer is often “Whoever will take me!”

As you begin to build a reputation you may become more selective on where you guest post. Part of your process might include research to find sites that are aligned with your brand.

Let’s say you’ve done the research and authored some guest posts. Now what? Well, like any good marketer, you must measure the results of your campaign. If you have Google Analytics installed, this is a snap.

Google Analytics

All of you should be running some analytics software on your website. If you’re not, stop reading and go install Google Analytics.

If you aren’t running Google Analytics, the fundamentals of what I’m explaining are the same even if the mechanics are different.

The secret sauce: campaign variables

When you insert the link back to your website you are going to add some extra information tags on the end of the link. This data will help you classify the traffic. Google calls these tags campaign variables.

Using campaign variables you can add extra information to your posts which will help you to answer questions like:

  1. Which guest posts drove the most traffic to my site?
  2. Which websites with guest posts drove the most traffic to to my site?
  3. Which posts resulted in opt-ins to my email list?
  4. Which websites gave me more opt-ins to my email list?
  5. Which source of traffic is better for me? Facebook, guest posting or search engines?

This is really just the tip of the iceberg. Once you start using campaign variables on your guest posts you will come up with all sorts of cool ways to look at the data.

Tag your links

Google provides a number of campaign variables that you can use when you tag your links.

The following tags are available:

  • Source: utm_src
  • Medium: utm_medium
  • Campaign: utm_campaign
  • Term: utm _term
  • Content: -tm_content

There isn’t a hard set of rules for what to put in these tags. What I’m going to show you is how I use the variables.

  • utm_src: I set this to the website I’m posting on. In this case it would be problogger.net. Once I do this, then I can compare problogger.net to my other traffic sources, not just other site’s I’ve posted on but also Facebook, and Twitter.
  • utm_medium: I set this to guestpost. Then, I can compare guest posting as a whole to my other marketing efforts.
  • utm_campaign: I use the name of the article. If I post a couple of articles on problogger.net I can see how they compare to each other.

I can also look at all of the articles across multiple sites to see which ones are more effective. You might want to abbreviate your post title but that’s up to you.

I don’t use utm_content or utm_term.

Put together, the tags look like this:

?utm_src=SITENAME&utm_medium=guestpost&utm_campaign=POST-TITLE

I then apply this to each link back to my website:

http://www.newcustomerworkshop.com/about?utm_src=problogger.net&utm_medium=guestpost&utm_campaign=dash-of-analytics

If you don’t want to do this by hand each time Google provides a link building tool that will take care of all the messy work for you.

Check your data

After you publish your guest post, you’re going to want to look at your analytics dashboard to see what type of traffic the post is giving you. If you are using the new Analytics dashboard, you can find the information under Traffic Sources > All Traffic.

Select All Traffic, and you will see a report that shows visits by Source/Medium.

This will show you traffic from all referring sites and uses the value set in utm_source.

Select Medium to the right of Viewing, and you can see all of your guest posts.

This allows you to roll up your reports and compare guest posts as a group with your other traffic sources.

If you want to see what articles drove the most traffic, it’s easy. Click Other and then type Campaign in the Traffic Sources box.

This is just a very high-level overview of the kinds of reports you can create. Check out the book Advanced Web Metrics with Google Analytics if you want to learn more.

Conclusion

Google Analytics is a great free resource that, when used effectively, will help you zero in on the effectiveness of your guest posting efforts.

Armed with this knowledge, you will understand which articles and websites drive the most traffic to your website.

I’d love to learn how you measure your guest posting efforts. Please share them in the comments.

Joe writes at New Customer Workshop and offers training for small business owners who want to increase their business through Internet marketing. Visit his blog for more information.

Do You Spend Enough Time Looking at Your Stats?

This guest post is by Deb of Science@home.

Do you spend enough time looking at your stats?

What a statement to start with, given that the mantra seems to be to check once a week and don’t waste too much time on your stats. And I agree with what seems to be the reasoning—if you are spending all that time looking at your stats, what else could you be doing that’s more productive? There also seems to be an underlying feeling that for us little guys the stats might be just too darn depressing, so staying away might be good for your mental health and motivation.

Readers are people

Readers are people (image is author's own)

But I’m going to fight back for the little guys and stats junkies and say that if you use them right, stats are an extremely useful tool for building your community. Because for most of us, most of our community doesn’t talk to us. The number of comments, Facebook likes and Twitter replies is miniscule compared with the daily number of hits on our blogs, and when no one’s answering your questions you need another way to learn what makes them tick.

Your stats are the key to finding out what is important to all those people who have found you and like you but aren’t saying anything. I know it’s traditional to try to talk to those people and get them talking to you, but to get those comments in the first place you need to learn about the silent majority. The more you find out about them, the more likely you are to hit on what’s important to them.

Here are four ways your stats can help you learn about your community.

Nationality

It’s obvious, but can be important. Do you need to be aware of the seasons, holidays, and traditions of your readers? Even though I’m Australian, many of my readers come from the US and a large number are from Europe. This makes me consider how to balance my stories of running around in the bush and make sure I offer indoor activities too when my readers are snowed in. Plus it determines when I post and tweet—my posts go live in the early morning to catch US readers in their evening.

Origin

The big players are search engines and social media, but sometimes you get a spike in traffic from a specific forum or web community. If it’s public that’s great—you can get in and talk to the people thinking of visiting your site. But even if it’s private, it tells you something about your visitors—if you’re getting hits from a site on baby names, can you do some posts aimed at babies to capitalize on their interest?

What’s happening in their world?

One day I had a spike on a post called “13 Things to Do When it’s Raining.” Sometimes you can capitalize and sometimes you can’t. But the image of mothers all over the US East Coast being stuck inside and searching for something to do with their kids struck a chord. It made them into real people with real lives and problems that I could relate to, rather than “readers” or “hits.” And that’s at least as valuable as knowing which social media network they prefer, because it makes me write for them, rather than numbers.

I had another spike just after the earthquake in Japan on a piece I’d written earlier about plate tectonics and earthquakes. That was emotionally confronting—at once I felt horrible it was happening, and guilty for doing well out of it, but at the same time I was glad I could help explain it to people searching for an answer. It reminds me to take responsibility for what I write, because you never know when it might stop being interesting and fun, and become important.

What do they want?

One of my most popular posts of all time is about starfish babies. A bit of digging showed me that most of the information out there about starfish either doesn’t mention babies, or is fairly static. Looking at this and my other long-term popular posts taught me a lot about my audience and what they want to know. They are parents, teachers, people who are looking for understandable explanations of the quirky details kids demand. And they’ve secretly always wanted to know but none of the “official” information sources would give the information to them! The strange searches that bring people to your site are not just cause for amusement (although that can be fun too)—they tell you who your readers are and what they want from you.

Once you start getting readers who aren’t personally related to you, just looking at numbers is a waste of time. But don’t avoid your stats completely, because if you learn to listen they are your community talking to you.

If you’ve ever wondered why Daddies are bigger than Mummies or other weird and wonderful questions, Deb has the answer at Science@home. Plus lots of things to do with babies, toddlers and kids whether it’s raining or not.