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9 New Productivity Tools to Simplify Your Online Life

This guest post is by Leo Widrich of Buffer.

After Google+ entered the social networking scene not so long ago, the number of online distractions hasn’t really decreased.

At the same time, innovations and smarter solutions to handle your actions online have fortunately continued to thrive too. Instead of the usual to-do lists, news readers, or sharing tools, they tackle things in new and more helpful ways.

What’s most important for me, is that they slot right into my workflow, and allow me to become more efficient without changing my behavior. A few apps recently managed to do so brilliantly.

Here are my favorite new tools to help you stay focused and use the Web more innovatively.

1. SimpleNote

Do you ever have that feeling of random thoughts and ideas floating around in your head, but there is no optimal solution to jot them down? With SimpleNote, I found a fantastic way to finally write down things in a very intuitive manner. The Chrome extension lets me write things down fast and easily. On top of this, it stores it very intelligently in folders, simply by adding tags.

Workflow tip: The app integrates with a lot of already existing apps to make note-taking inside them even easier.

SimpleNote

SimpleNote

Try it out here: SimpleNote

2. Let’s Crate

If you think the likes of Dropbox or Box are making filesharing easy already, you might be surprised as what Let’s Crate can do. Without any signup or signin process, you can start adding your files right on the landing page. The service automatically generates a link that you can share, embed in blogpost, or send via email. It truly simplifies my online life.

Workflow tip: If you do decide to get an account with the app, you can easily turn it into your online storage system, add folders, and use it as a backup.

Let's Crate

Let's Crate

Try it out here: Let’s Crate

3. Coolendar

This is one of the smartest inventions I’ve seen recently. The app is actually a to-do list that automatically turns into a calendar based on the entries you make. It uses super-simple syntax to understand the time and creates a calendar as you type a new to-do item. So, say for example, you write “Tomorrow, 5pm, blogpost due for Mrs. White” and the app automatically detects it and creates an entry in your calendar as well as a to-do item.

Workflow tip: The best part here is that you can set up a bot inside Google Talk, which will remind you right inside Gmail whenever a task is due.

Coolendar

Coolendar

Try it out here: Coolendar

4. Mockflow

As a full time blogger, my skills in design and programming are very limited. Yet, being able to express myself clearly is more vital than ever. A better blog layout is a crucial component of blogging success these days. With Mockflow, you can create powerful wireframes that facilitate working with designers and programmers a great deal. There exist a wide range of tools and templates to make them look pretty, and are easy to implement.

Workflow tip: What I like best is that the app also works offline, so if you are wireframing on the go, you never have to worry about connectivity.

Mockflow

Mockflow

Try it out here: Mockflow

5. StrawberryJ.am

As a blogger, my main focus is to produce the best content I can write each day. Of course, keeping up with the great posts my favorite blogs write is vital here. Yet knowing what the really good bits are is sometimes tricky. Help comes from StrawberryJ.am. The app orders all the Tweets from your stream on the basis of most mentioned and retweeted. So at one glance, you will see the hot and most-discussed news items in your timeline.

Workflow tip: If you really don’t want to open another site each day, simply subscribe to your own top news and the app will deliver updates straight to your inbox.

StrawberryJ.am

StrawberryJ.am

Try it out here: StrawberryJ.am

6. Do it Tomorrow

This is a piece of innovation I would never have thought could be useful. Yet Do It Tomorrow slots perfectly into my workflow. I am usually the kind of person that puts way to many to-do’s on the list for one day. With this neat Android app, I create a simple to-do list of the things I need to get done and never worry about putting too much on my plate.

Workflow tip: By simply tapping on the little arrow, a to-do gets pushed onto the next day. You’ll never lose to-do’s you didn’t get to.

Do It Tomorrow

Do It Tomorrow

Try it out here: Do it Tomorrow

7. Oh Life

You will most likely know that the benefits of writing are plentiful. One of the most important factors for me is to order my thoughts. Oh Life takes a very new approach to making it easy for you to write down your thoughts about life. Every evening, the app will send you an email asking “How did your day go?” By hitting Reply, your entries will be safely stored as an online journal.

Workflow tip: Going through my personal Oh Life stories every once in a while helps me a great deal to focus and recap what I am working on.

OhLife

OhLife

Try it out here: Oh Life

8. Rapportive

I found that one of the most important things when speaking to someone via email is to really understand what the person is all about. Rapportive is a Chrome extension that slots right into Gmail and gives you a new tab of information all related to the person you are speaking to. This includes recent tweets, information from Facebook, LinkedIn data, and much more. You can build a rapport with them immediately and fully understand what they are all about.

Workflow tip: Very recently, the app has added a functionality to allow you to reply to tweets right from inside Gmail. This facilitates interaction a lot, I’ve found.

Rapportive

Rapportive

Try it out here: Rapportive

9. Skinnyo

This is my extra tool for you, as, different from all the others, it focuses on your physical shape. For a healthy online workflow, the Latin saying of “Mens sana, in corpore sano” (healthy mind, healthy body) is something I follow very closely. The app allows you to enter into online challenges with others, keep track of your weight, and have fun staying in shape with others. You can create teams, challenge each other, or use it strictly for personal use to keep track of your exercise.

Workflow tip: I particularly like the Social Network behavior of Skinnyo. It makes it easy to see how others are doing and keeps me motivated.

Skinnyo

Skinnyo

Try it out here: Skinnyo

These are my favorite tools to make the most of my day online. How about you? Do you think some of them could be useful for you too? Are there others you can add?

Leo Widrich is a blogger and Co-Founder of Buffer, a tool to share Tweets and Facebook Updates at optimal times to get 200% more clicks and engagement. He writes more Social Media Tips here. Reach out to him @leowid anytime.

How to Email Your Blog Updates Like a ProBlogger

This guest pst is by Martyn Chamberlin of Two Hour Blogger.

“When you work with words … words are your work.”—Don Knotts

I assume you know a lot about blogging.

You know how to set up a blog, you know how to write. You know how to tweet and share.

Most importantly, you know how to build your email list.

Maybe you’re not as fanatical as I am. Maybe you haven’t hidden your RSS feed. Maybe you offer alternatives to email. But you understand the best results come from your emails. You baby your list.

email

Copyright Tommi - Fotolia.com

The email list is important … but what are you doing with it? You’re sending your blog broadcasts to it? How are you doing it?

I’ve got a sneaking suspicion you aren’t doing it right. Don’t take it personally—some of my most brilliant clients weren’t either. It’s not your fault. No one’s ever told you how, that’s all.

Are you handling your email subscriptions in Feedburner?

When people subscribe to your blog via email, where’s that email address going? I hope it’s not going into Feedburner.

See, Feedburner is pretty lousy when it comes to email marketing.

  • You can’t easily customize the subject line
  • You can’t customize the design
  • You can’t utilize auto-responders
  • You can’t know who’s subscribing in real time
  • You can’t know the open rates
  • You can’t completely control when the broadcast goes out

Maybe you’re thinking, “I don’t care that much. Feedburner’s free. This is deep and scary, and I’m not going to worry about it. I’ll just blog.”

Let me remind you that your blog’s success hinges on how effectively you master email marketing.

This is important. Quit using Feedburner.

What are the other options?

I’ve worked with a lot of email marketing tools, but the best are MailChimp and AWeber. There are other options out there, but I recommend one of these two.

Which one should you chose? Mailchimp’s free for the first 500 subscribers while AWeber costs from from the start. They’re both excellent tools, but if you can possibly afford it, go with AWeber. It’s slightly better, and after all, ProBlogger uses AWeber.

Once you migrate your list to one of these services, you’re ready to send emails. Whenever you publish a blog post, you want to send it to your list.

You can always do it manually, of course. Whenever you publish content, you can copy and paste the article from your WordPress dashboard and blast it away. While it’s fun doing it this way for about two months, it starts getting old after a while. Really old. Trust me.

Here’s a better way

Unfortunately, this is where most bloggers run into trouble. If you don’t know what you’re doing, you’ll frustrate yourself.

Luckily, I’ve done the heavy lifting for you. After successfully implementing this for myself and clients, I’ve put this article together for you. You’ll be rocking with the big boys in no time flat. I’ll even help you in comments if you get stuck. Deal?

Step 1: Prepare thyself

If you haven’t done so already, you’ll want to burn a feed for your blog at Feedburner.com.

Okay, I told you to quit using Feedburner. You’re probably confused.

While Feedburner is lousy at email marketing, it’s a great tool for creating a feed URL. You’ll use this feed’s URL in your email campaign, so this step is important. Since Google owns Feedburner, you only need a free Google account to use this service.

You may have already created a Feedburner feed and don’t know what the feed URL is. Log into Feedburner and click the grey RSS icon to the left of the feed title. The link it sends you to is your feed URL.

Make sure your feed URL shows the full content version of your posts. If you only see excerpts on this page, it means your email subscribers will only get excerpts in their inbox (usually a bad idea).

To change your blog’s feed to full content, log into WordPress and head over to Settings > Reading Settings. Make sure you’ve selected Full text instead of Summary. It can take Feedburner up to fifteen minutes to recognize these changes, so be patient if you don’t see immediate results. (Yes, I’ve learned this the hard way!)

If you’re using MailChimp …

  1. Log in.
  2. Click the large, orange button in the left column titled Create campaign. A drop-down menu will appear. Select RSS-driven campaign.
  3. This will take you to a page where you enter your RSS Feed URL. Paste your Feedburner URL and hit next.
  4. Select the list you want to send your campaign to. Hit next.
  5. In the Message Subject field, paste this:

    *|RSSITEM:TITLE|*

    That pulls the title of your latest blog post into the email subject line. Fill out the other details and hit Next.

  6. Select your template and edit the body copy. The default prose says “Heading 1 Heading 2″ etc. After deleting all this, select the Source tab and paste the following:

    <a href="*|RSSITEM:URL|*">*|RSSITEM:TITLE|*</a><br /><br /> *|RSSITEM:CONTENT_FULL|*<br /> <a href="*|RSSITEM:URL|*">Click here to leave a comment</a>

    This funny-looking code dynamically pulls the the content from your latest blog post into the email. To see the magic in action, just hit the preview button to view how it will look in your inbox. Nifty, isn’t it?

    Hit Next.

  7. Finalize your plain-text version. Hit next.
  8. You’re now looking at your entire setup with all the glamorous details. Scroll to the bottom of the page and hit the orange “start RSS campaign” button. You’re all set!

If you’re using AWeber…

  1. Log into AWeber
  2. Hover over the Messages tab and click Blog Broadcast.
  3. This sends you to a page with a green button that says Create a New Blog Broadcast. Click it.
  4. Chose the list you want to use and prepare your email template. I recommend keeping the design as simple as possible, but you’re welcome to customize it to your heart’s content.
  5. In the RSS feed URL, paste your feed URL you got from Feedburner.
  6. In the subject line, paste this:

    {!rss_itemblock}{!rss_item_title}{!rss_itemblockend}

  7. In the HTML message, paste this:

    {!rss_itemblock} <p style="font-weight: bold; font-size: 30px; margin-bottom: 0px"><a href="{!rss_item_link}">{!rss_item_title}</a></p><span>{!rss_item_content}</span><br /> <h2><a href="{!rss_item_link}">Click here to leave a comment</a>.</h2> {!rss_itemblockend}

    Be sure you’re on the Source tab when pasting this content. It won’t work in the design tab.

  8. Hit the save button and you’re off!

Let’s wrap it up

In case you’ve wondered how the pro bloggers do it, now you know. It’s not that difficult, but no one tells you how to do it. Funny, isn’t it?

Let’s face it—getting your email campaign off the ground can be tricky. I remember when I first started doing this stuff, I had so many questions and I couldn’t talk to anyone (for free).

But today, it’s different. If you have any questions, I’ll answer them in comments. Let’s get started!

Martyn Chamberlin is a full-time web guy who blogs about the importance of web design and builds web sites that enhance great blogging. Learn what it takes to succeed online and join the growing number of passionate writers becoming better bloggers.

How to Optimize Your WordPress Database for Better Performance

This guest post is by Lior Levin.

Optimizing the databases of your WordPress blog sounds like it might be a difficult task, but it’s a lot easier than it sounds. In most situations it can be done in just one or two clicks—no need for complicated steps or terminology.

You’re probably wondering why you would even want to optimize your database tables. Well, that’s easy: it can drastically speed up the load time of your blog. On top of that, it can help you with SEO and improve your rankings because “Google, along with the majority of other search engines, continues to place a high value on user experience.” We have seen this profound impact at a psd to html company I work for. No matter how old your blog is, there is sure to be some clutter in your MySQL database tables. If you’re not cleaning them on a regular basis, the backup can have a huge effect on your blog and slow it down drastically.

So, we’ll briefly look at five simple ways that you can quickly optimize your WordPress database for better performance.

WP-Optimize

This is a WordPress plugin that helps you clean up your database tables and optimize them within a few clicks. It does all of this without the use of phpMyAdmin (a program used to handle the administration of your MySQL servers). It will show you which tables are already optimized and the ones that need to be optimized.

WP Optimize

WP Optimize

TentBlogger Optimize WordPress Database

With TentBlogger Optimize, you can quickly free up space and optimize your databases for faster loading, with just one click. It will let you know how much space you can free up and you can even view your databases if needed. That’s all there is to it. Additionally, it will also let you know if you ever need a “tune up” with a quick message.

TentBlogger Optimize

TentBlogger Optimize

WP Database Optimizer

This is another plugin similar to WP-Optimize and TentBlogger Optimize, but with the addition of automatic scheduling. You can go in and set WP Database Optimizer to automatically optimize your tables every certain number of days. You’ll be able to see all of your tables and whether or not they have any overhead (in other words, whether or not they need to be optimized).

WordPress Database Optimizer

WordPress Database Optimizer

Via phpMyAdmin

The WordPress Experts has a great tutorial on optimizing your database tables using phpMyAdmin. While the plugins above focus on not using this method, it can be done without having to install any plugins on your blog. You’ll need to sign into phpMyAdmin and check your tables for overhead.

Via WordPress Database Repair

Many users are not aware of this option, but you can repair and optimize your database right from within your blog’s dashboard. This is done by going to /wp-admin/maint/repair.php on your blog and inserting the code shown at that page into your wp-config.php file.

WordPress Database Repair

WordPress Database Repair

Once you do that, you’ll see two options on that page: repair database, repair and optimize database. Simply click the option of your choice and WordPress will do the rest. If you’re looking for a step-by-step guide on this, you can find it on WPveda.

Now that you have five different ways of optimizing your WordPress tables, you’re well on your way to even faster blog. As a reminder, be sure that you always backup your databases before optimizing them. This way if something goes wrong, you can restore your databases back to the way they were before you changed them.

This was a post by Lior Levin who is a marketing advisor to Internet startups and companies. Lior advises to a neon signs store and many other business online.

Getting Started with Webmaster Tools: Fixing 404 Errors

This guest post is by Dave Taylor of AskDaveTaylor.com.

Whether you’re writing about changing diapers, improving your bowling score, finding a job in the travel industry or how you get pictures off your cellphone, I think it’s a universal truth that if you’re writing online, you want better search engine results placement.

Most likely you’ve installed some SEO plugins that promise to improve your results and they might even be working, but if your site’s been up any length of time, it’s quite probable that things have started to break behind the scenes and hurt your results without you ever being notified. A scary prospect, really, and if it’s dramatic enough, you can start to really sink down the search results without any further explanation.

That’s why Google has its Webmaster Tools and while they’re primarily designed for people who have complete control over their Web site it can even be useful if you’re on blogger.com, wordpress.com or typepad.com. in fact, you don’t need to be a blogger to find it helpful: problems hurt any site, regardless of its structure.

Proving your own site

The first thing you need to do with Google’s Webmaster Tools is verify that the site you want to analyze is your own. This is typically done by adding a special line of HTML to the head of your home page, as I detail here.

If you can’t change your header, there are some alternatives that Google offers, but if you have zero administrative rights on the site, you might well be out of luck. If so, check with your hosting company to see if it offers alternative administrative tools that let you know about broken links, etc.

Key elements of a Webmaster Tools report

Once you have verified ownership of your site, you’ll see on the left side that the major areas are Site configuration, Your site on the web, +1 Metrics, Diagnostics, and Labs. Below it there’s some help that really highlights what you can glean from the Tools: Crawl errors, Search queries, Links to your site and Sitemaps. All good stuff.

Webmaster Tools report

Google Webmaster Tools overview for APparenting.com

There’s good analytic data that appears to be somewhat of an overlap with what you can get from Google Analytics (or your favorite analytics package if that’s not your particular cup of tea) and sometimes it reveals things that perhaps you didn’t want to know, like “sexy girls” is the #1 search for people who get to my Attachment Parenting Blog. Yikes. Not what I write about on my site nor anything I want people to be seeking when they arrive on my blog.

The heart of the Webmaster Tools, however, are the diagnostics because it’s the primary way we can learn what Google’s search spider finds broke on the site. Go to Diagnostics and it further breaks down into Malware, Crawl errors, Crawl stats, Fetch as Googlebot and HTML suggestions.

All good stuff, but let’s go into Crawl errors as it offers great bang for your proverbial buck.

Webmaster Tools crawl errors

Crawl errors Webmaster Tools reports for APparenting.com

Not too bad. This blog has a few hundred pages but I’m only seeing 36 of the hated 404 not found errors. Look closely and you’ll see that the format is bad link, error encountered, linked from and date detected. The first one is illustrative:

Link: http://www.apparenting.com/cosleeping-cpsc.html
Error: 404 (Not found)
Linked From: 10 pages
Detected: Jul 30, 2011

The real value is that if you click on the link that shows how many pages have a link to the bad URL, it’ll show you exactly what pages need to be fixed on your site and, sometimes, on other sites too. Here’s an example:

Webmaster Tools specific crawl errors

Specific crawl errors for APparenting.com

The first link is from another site called bubhub.com.au but all the other pages that link to this bad URL are on my own site. That’s something I can fix immediately.

Where to go from here

You can see we’ve just touched on the tip of the iceberg with the Google Webmaster Tools. It’s deep, it’s complicated, but even if you just poke around and look at the 404 errors generated for your own blog and fix as many as possible, you’ll be pleased to see how your ranking improves and, perhaps even more importantly, you’ll be happy to know that you’ve just improved your readers experience. And in the end, there’s nothing more important than happy readers, is there?

Dave Taylor has been blogging since the tools first appeared online. This is his 31st year online. His primary blog is the popular Ask Dave Taylor! offering up free tech support on a wide variety of topics including blogging and SEO. You can find him on all the major social networks through DaveTaylorOnline.com.

FeedBurner vs. Aweber: Do You Really Need an Autoresponder for Your Blog?

This guest post is by Aman Basanti of Ageofmarketing.com.

When it comes to turning casual visitors into regular readers there are two main options—FeedBurner and Aweber.

FeedBurner uses Feed-based technology (RSS and Atom) to send updates to your blog subscribers. Owned by Google (Google bought it in 2007 for $100 million), FeedBurner is one of the biggest feed syndicators on the Internet.

It works like this: a site visitor subscribes to your feed and every time you add a new post, a message is sent to them alerting them of the addition. The subscriber needs special software (a feed reader) to access the feed.

For more information on feeds, see Darren’s post, What is RSS?

Aweber is email-based technology that allows you to send automated email messages to your subscribers. It works similarly to a feed but does not require special feed-reading software, only an email address to subscribe to a blog.

Aweber is the most popular autoresponder software system on the Internet. Other popular brands include Infusionsoft, MailChimp, and GetResponse.

Advantages of FeedBurner

  • FeedBurner is free, Aweber costs money: The key advantage of using FeedBurner instead of Aweber (or other auto-responders) on your blog is that FeedBurner does not cost anything. Aweber, on the other hand, can cost $20-$100 a month depending on the number of subscribers you have.
  • FeedBurner take less effort: Most popular blogging platforms (WordPress, Blogger, TypePad etc.) publish feeds automatically. There is nothing more to do on top of publishing a post. With auto-responders, however, you have to manually setup the messages and sequence them (but you can now set up a blog broadcast in Aweber, which creates an automatic email newsletter).
  • FeedBurner supports both feed readers and email subscribers: The key advantage of auto-responders like Aweber used to be that you did not need special software to subscribe, only an email address. As millions of people still do not have feed readers or prefer email, this meant that you still needed an aut-responder to capture those readers. But FeedBurner changed all that by allowing people to subscribe to a feed using an email address. This means that while an autoresponder only supports email, FeedBurner supports both feed readers and email.

Given that FeedBurner is free, easy to set up, effortless to use, and supports both feed readers and email, why would you want to pay for an auto responder?

The fatal flaw in feeds

The key thing that you cannot do with a feed is sequence messages: you cannot create a series of messages to be sent to your subscribers. This means that your subscribers only get alerts for posts that are added after they subscribe.

For example, say you post four articles over four weeks, and a visitor subscribes to your blog after week three. This means they will only get alerted about the fourth post, and will not receive posts one to three, as shown in the image below.

Feedburner alerts

In FeedBurner, you cannot send alerts for older posts

Now, if you post time-sensitive information (news or latest developments) on your blog, this doesn’t matter. But if you publish evergreen content, or you want to take your blog readers through a specific set of messages, the ability to sequence is crucial.

Autoresponders allow you to do just that. You can create a sequence of messages, set how long the wait is between each message, and the autoresponder will execute that for you for each subscriber, regardless of when they join, as shown below.

Aweber sequencing

Aweber allows you to create a sequence of messages

Then there are the other benefits of auto-responders like Aweber—customization of look and feel of emails, personalization (“Hi John”), controlling the wait period between messages, solid delivery rates, split-test multiple lead capture forms, and so on.

The audience factor

A third factor in deciding which system to use is your audience. If you have tech-phobic audience, then an email-based system like Aweber is likely better for you.

For tech-savvy audiences, on the other hand, FeedBurner may be better. Technically inclined people are more likely to use and prefer to get their blog updates through feeds. Feeds also have the added benefit of allowing another blogger to include your feed on their blog, creating free exposure and traffic for your blog.

The best way to find out what your audience wants is to have both options on your site for a month and see what your readers prefer. You may even find that it is useful to have both.

The bottom line

If you have a small budget, publish time-sensitive information, and/or cater to a tech-savvy audience, FeedBurner will be sufficient for your blog.

If, on the other hand, you want to take your subscribers through a sequence of messages and control the wait periods between the messages, then Aweber is better suited to your blog.

What are you using: Aweber, FeedBurner … or something else? Tell us how you do it in the comments.

Aman Basanti writes about the psychology of buying and teaches you how you can use the principles of consumer psychology to boost your sales. Visit www.Ageofmarketing.com/free-ebook to get his new ebook—Marketing to the Pre-Historic Mind: How the Hot New Science of Behavioural Economics Can Help You Boost Your Sales—for FREE.

Take 5 Minutes to Make WordPress 10 Times More Secure

This guest post is by David Wang of The ClickStarter.

Hacktivist groups Lulzsec and Anonymous are on the prowl again. Their actions have generated lots of attention for hacking, and you can be sure that many bored kids and shady characters are interested to start hacking too.

What if your blog was the target of a rookie hacker, honing his skills to make it to the big leagues? All of your hard work building a better blog, growing traffic and readership, and making money with your blog would be jeopardized—or, worse, lost forever.

Thankfully, WordPress is pretty secure out of the box and they provide frequent security updates. Even better are the following super-simple actions that you can take to make WordPress ten times more secure. (Not scientifically verified! Your mileage may vary.)

Move wp-config.php up one level

The wp-config.php file contains all of your WordPress configuration information and settings. It’s game over if hackers gain access to this file—they would be able to inject malware into your blog pages, or *gulp* delete all of your blog content.

A little-known feature of WordPress is that you can move the wp-config.php file one level above the WordPress root. On most Linux servers, wp-config.php would be located in:

~/home/user/public_html/wp-config.php

Simply FTP into your server, and then move wp-config.php above the public_html directory so that it is located in:

~/home/user/wp-config.php

This way, wp-config.php is outside of the public-facing web root, and no longer accessible to scripts and bots that hackers may employ over the Web.

There are no other settings to configure—WordPress will automatically know to look for wp-config.php one level above. Easy, right?

Caveat: This tip will not work if you install your blog in a subdirectory (e.g. public_html/blog) or as an add-on domain in cPanel (e.g. public_html/yourblog.com).

Time required: 1 minute

Delete the ‘admin’ account

The default Administrator account on WordPress has a username of ‘admin’. Every n00b hacker would know that, so using ‘admin’ as the username is like having a back door to your house that every thief knows about. Do not ever use this as the main account. Choose a different username when installing WordPress.

If you have been using the ‘admin’ username, go into the Dashboard » Users » Add New User screen. Create a new user with the role of Administrator. Now log out, and log back in as the new user.

Go to the Users screen again and delete ‘admin’. You can transfer all of the content created by ‘admin’ to your new user account before confirming deletion.

Time required: 1 minute

Update WordPress, plugins, and themes

WordPress makes it so easy to update itself, plus plugins, and themes, to the latest version. It’s so easy that you (almost) deserve to get hacked if you don’t stay updated. Spending one minute installing updates will save you hours or days of frustration and headaches if you ever do get hacked.

Plugins and themes should also be updated regularly. All plugins and themes from the WordPress directory integrate with the automatic update feature. Many premium plugins and themes also have automatic updates, which is another great reason to invest in a high-quality theme framework for your blog.

Time required: 1 minute

Install WP Security Scan and Secure WordPress

Finally, plugins that deal with security are another great way of reducing the likelihood of your blog getting hacked. Two really good plugins that do this are WP Security Scan and Secure WordPress by WebsiteDefender.

WP Security Scan comes with several tools to help make your blog more secure:

  • The Scanner checks the permissions of the WordPress files and highlights any with the wrong permissions. FTP into your server and change the permissions accordingly.
  • The Password Tool tells you the strength of your password, and also generates random and super-strong passwords that you can use.
  • The Database tool allows you to backup the WordPress database and change the database prefix. Use it to change your database prefix to something like ‘7yhj2_‘. This makes it difficult for hackers to guess your database table names when trying to perform SQL injections.

Secure WordPress takes a different approach and helps improve security by removing clues that can help hackers detect vulnerabilities in your system. The plugin’s settings screen is a simple list of checkboxes that do everything from removing login error messages, removing WordPress version numbers and even blocking malicious URL requests. I recommend activating all the checkboxes, unless you have a specific need for one of the features that it blocks.

Time required: 2 minutes

Stay vigilant

The steps above will drastically improve your blog security and prevent it from becoming a target of opportunity for rookie hackers. However security is an ongoing process, and also involves practicing security as a habit.

Stay vigilant and make it a point to keep up with the latest security news for WordPress, especially if you use it to run your business. You should also learn as much about security as you can. The ProBlogger archives are full of great posts that contain much more information on keeping your blog hacker, spammer and spyware-free and even planning for a blog disaster!

Now, please take five minutes and perform all of the steps above. I wish you good luck and hope your blog stays hacker-free!

David Wang blogs about his journey to generate the majority of his revenue online at The ClickStarter. He is also a WordPress evangelist and recently launched a free online course called Getting Started with WordPress. Follow David on Twitter – @blogjunkie

How I Use BuySellAds to Monitor Blog Traffic and Goals

This guest post is by Kevin Muldoon of WordPress Mods.

One of the biggest mistakes new bloggers and webmasters make is to check traffic stats and affiliate reports too often—often enough for it to stop them doing real work on their projects. That being said, it is still important to check stats from time to time.

A quick review once a week, and a slightly longer recap once a month, is more than sufficient for most bloggers (affiliate marketers will obviously check stats much more because of how closely their income is tied to converting campaigns). It’s very important to check your blog’s progress, particularly within the first year or two of its life. Tracking important metrics can not only show you how your blog is progressing, it can also highlight what needs to be addressed in order for your site to grow.

Tracking can also be a fantastic motivational device. By tracking your site correctly and setting achievable goals, you can spur yourself to work harder and make things happen.

Everyone uses different scripts and services to track traffic. Here, I’ll show you the metrics I track for a blog I’m developing, and how BuySellAds indirectly helps me achieve my goals.

What to track

The BuySellAds ad network lists the following information for websites that sell banners ads through them:

  • Alexa Rank
  • Compete Score
  • number of Delicious bookmarks
  • number of Yahoo inbound links
  • number of RSS subscribers
  • Twitter followers
  • Facebook Fans
  • Page Rank.

Basic metrics

It is possible to add your blog to the BuySellAds network without adding any banner zones to your pages; if you do, you can automatically track these metrics with ease.

These stats are useful for two reasons. Firstly, by keeping note of your own score on a regular basis (e.g. via a spreadsheet), you can see the progress your site is making over time and predict future growth.

Secondly, by tracking metrics which are publicly listed in a directory, you can quickly and fairly accurately compare your blog to hundreds of competitors within your niche.

The BuySellAds metrics can be divided into three types:

It’s really up to you which metrics you track for your site. For example, if you are actively trying to increase the number of inbound links then you would track your Yahoo inbound links score.

I like Alexa and Compete to give me an external view on how my traffic is growing. Their figures can be quite erratic and unrealistic for low-traffic websites, however these are reliable metrics for established blogs. RSS subscribers is a metric which I also like to track. Like any metric, it’s not 100% accurate, however it’s one of the best ways of seeing how popular your blog is and how fast it is growing.

I don’t feel so strongly about some other metrics, though—search engine presence, for example. I do try and make sure that my blog design is SEO friendly, and link internally and externally frequently, however I strongly believe that for most bloggers it takes care of itself. That is, if traffic and readership grows, and you continue to write good content, your inbound links will increase. This is also true for social media bookmarks. Every single post on high-traffic blogs gets shared, dugg, retweeted, and stumbled; therefore it’s not something I believe you need to actively check (I know social media junkies will disagree with me on this, though).

I have, however, come to the conclusion that while I may value some metrics more than others, it’s worth tracking everything, as over time these values may prove incredibly useful and highlight areas which need to be addressed.

Another metric which I always track for myself is the number of daily uniques. For this I use Google Analytics and Webalizer (a traffic script which most hosting packages offer).

Once you have decided on what you are going to track every week or month, you should create a spreadsheet to store all this info. Spreadsheets are better than simply noting details down, as you can compare figures from month to month more easily, and you can import the data into charts for further analysis.

How I use BuySellAds advertisers to set my goals

You can of course track all of the metrics mentioned above without using BuySellAds (though adding your site to the directory will save you some hassle). What their marketplace does give you, though, is access to a lot of useful information on other blogs and websites within your niche. Not only can you easily view any website’s traffic, social media, and SEO presence, you can also see exactly how much they are making.

The BuySellAds marketplace has websites from a number of different niches including automotive, business, gaming, and travel. A high percentage of publishers are from the design and development niche, however everyone should be able to find at least a few websites within their own niche.

If you look at their advertising information page or a website you will see a description of the site, some traffic stats, and information about where you can advertise.

BuySellAds stats

Above is a screenshot from the AngryBirdsNest information page. The page confirms that the site has two ad zones: a 260 x 125-pixel banner area on the right-hand side of the page, and a 75 x 75-pixel banner area to the right of that.

BuySellAds ad information

The 260 x 125-pixel banner costs $300 for 30 days whereas the 75 x 75-pixel banner costs $50 for 30 days. There are six slots available for the larger banner area and seven slots available for the smaller one. All advertising inventory has been sold; therefore the ad zones bring in $1,800 and $350 respectively for a total of $2,150 per month. BuySellAds takes a cut of 25% of any advertisements sold, so we know that the owners of AngryBirdsNest make $1,612.5 every month through the two banner positions on their sidebar.

This information is incredibly useful. For every website listed on BuySellAds you can find out the approximate traffic levels and the money generated from ad zones (though most sites generate income from other sources too). If you also track your own traffic levels regularly you are in a great position to work how much money your blog could potentially earn once it reaches a certain point.

Bear in mind, though, that websites with similar traffic levels cannot always charge the same rates, so reaching a certain traffic level isn’t a guarantee that you will make a given amount of money. The more sites in your niche there are on BuySellAds, the more accurate your estimate is likely to be.

For example, let’s say you start a brand new blog and want to get a rough idea of the sort of income you can expect in the future. You could track competitors through a number of metrics, but the most reliable is number of impressions. If you looked at 30 websites within your niche and noted their monthly impressions and the money they earn through BuySellAds (using the method I noted above), you may find:

  • Those with an 50,000 impressions earn around $100 per month.
  • Those with an 250,000 impressions earn around $800 per month.
  • Those with an 1,000,000 impressions earn around $5,000 per month.

Once again, I remind you that stats from one source only tell you one part of the story, so it’s important to look at each website individually and see why some sites are selling ads and others aren’t.

Monitor your progress

It’s very difficult to gauge when your blog will start making good money, particularly if it’s in a niche you don’t have experience with. We should all be setting goals and tracking our blogs’ growth over time. What the BuySellAds marketplace does is give us an idea of the right time to start selling ads, and an indication of how much we could potentially earn at certain levels (BuySellAds could obviously be substituted with any ad network that displays ads and confirms the rates publishers are being paid).

It isn’t 100% accurate, but it’s a great way of monitoring your blog’s progress and I believe anyone who is still developing their blog will find this useful. It gives you a a tangible target that you can aim towards, which should inspire you and keep you focused on what you need to do to make your blog a success.

Kevin Muldoon is a webmaster and blogger from Scotland. His current project is WordPress Mods; a blog which focuses on WordPress Themes, Plugins, Tutorials, News and Modifications.

“Most Recommended” by Blogging Geniuses at WordCamp Boston

This guest post is by Marci Reynolds of marcireynolds.com.

The July 2011 WordPress WordCamp Boston rocked!  Hundreds of eager WordPress users gathered to watch more than 40 speakers who presented on topics from social media to themes to shortcodes to security.

WordCamp BostonI took detailed notes as I listened, watched and networked with blogging and WordPress geniuses and have gathered what I consider the most interesting tips and tricks.

Most recommended WordPress plugins

Plugins were a hot topic in every session, but only three rose to the top as the “most recommended”:

  • Yoast SEO: allows you to optimize page titles, meta descriptions, keywords, XML sitemaps
  • HubSpot Plugin: allows you to leverage HubSpot’s lead nurturing, website analytics and “call to action” post types
  • Google Analytics for WordPress: allows you to synch up information with your Google analytics account and allows you to track custom variables and meta data.

Most recommended WordPress SEO tips

In addition to the hearing about the importance of fresh, high quality content (“content, content, content”), a number of experts reinforced these WordPress SEO tips:

  • Change the Permalink default on blog posts to end with your post name, not the post number.
  • Use images to break up your content, engage readers and help with SEO.
    • Be sure you own the image, or choose them from “creative commons”, with appropriate credit (one of my favorites is www.freedigitalphotos.net).
    • Use relevant keywords in the image name and alternate text
  • Add an XML sitemap.
  • Monitor and improve your site loading speed.
    • Google’s Matt Cutts has stated that, “We want the web to be faster, we want sites to load quickly,” so it’s very possible that Google could be looking to encourage and reward this through their ranking of sites.
    • In May 2011, Google added a Site Speed Report in Google Analytics.
    • For more detailed info, check out the recent blog post on Search Engine Watch, Why Marketers Must Care About Site Speed.
  • Build link juice. Not random back links, but high quality links to and from other sites that offer relevant content. (One technique that has worked well on my Sales Operations Blog, is to build a page dedicated to linking to other sites with relevant, high quality content. Check out the Other Sales Ops Articles example. )

Social media … of course

I think it’s required that every 2011 conference, whether it’s about real estate, insurance, or cat food, must include several sessions on how to use social media, and WordCamp (WC) was part of that group.

However, there was an obvious division in the WC audience. Some WC attendees like me, were well versed in social media 101 and 102 and were looking for something new and advanced. The remaining attendees (seemed like 50% of humans) were beginners and were looking for advice on how to get started. One conference attendee was skewered on Twitter, hashtag #wcbos, for asking how to spell “Mashable.” Understandable!

The general themes on how to use social media to support your WordPress efforts were:

  • Make it easy for readers to share your blog content by including sharing buttons within your posts. There are many plugin options to facilitate that.
  • Use social media to share your content. You may only share it with 50 or 100 followers, but you need to consider the power of the retweet.
    • Per HubSpot, blog posts that are shared on Twitter have more page views, while blog posts shared on Facebook have more comments.
    • Try testing three headlines on Twitter and see which one gets the most clickthroughs.

Overall, WordCamp Boston was a great experience, and well worth the time and money investment. I saw some very talented speakers, networked with other WordPress users and learned many new things. I look forward to attending next year’s conference.

Have you attended a WordCamp event? What did you learn?

Marci Reynolds, based in Boston, MA, is an operations leader by day and an active blogger after-hours.

She enjoys writing about sales support, service operations, process improvement and social media best practices. Learn more about Marci.

WordPress Plugins that Make Your Blog Comments Social

This guest post was written by Neil Matthews of WPDude.

Have you noticed a decrease in the number of blog comments you get and an increase in Facebook likes and Twitter tweets about your posts?

Are you worried that you are loosing social proof about the validity of your posts to the social media conversation, rather than as direct comment on your site?

There is a way to get the best of both worlds and aggregate comments and social media responses on your site.

The problem

People are building social media presences, and part of that is sharing great blog content and their opinions on those posts.  It’s more public and gives better results to share on Twitter or Facebook than it is leave a comment.

Curating is the new black at the moment. Adding links to your own social media conversation adds great value to your followers, while leaving a comment on a blog where no-one but the avid readers will see it does not add any value to your social media stream.

Fewer comments seems provide less social proof that people like your content, but this is not necessarily true. People stil love your stuff, it’s just that they’re expressing their emotions in different places.

What’s the solution?

Th solution is to bring the comments made on social media into your comment stream so you can maintain all of that social proof in one place.

There are a number of plugins that will aggregate social media and traditional blog comments into one stream on your site. This post will focus on these plugins—specifically I will be focusing on WordPress plugins (sorry Joomla, Drupal and Tumblr people! Some of these pugins will work with your platform but I’m focusing on WordPress today).

Disqus

This is a cloud-hosted comment system, wich means that your comments are hosted on the Disqus platform, and by adding a plugin to WordPress you can show those comments alongside your posts.

Disqus is a complete commenting system that offers a number of social media functions including authentication using your Facebook and Twitter accounts, and the ability for people to add a comment to your post and their social media profile of choice. But more importantly it has a Reactions feature, which will search for and aggregate into your comment stream off-site comments from social media conversations about your post.

Intensedebate

Intensedebate is another hosted comment platform brought to you by the people behind WordPress Automattic.

Intensedebate has something it calls Social Commenting features.  Using these, users can log in with their Twitter or Facebook IDs, and post comments that are synced to their social media profiles.

LiveFyre

LiveFyre is another fully featured and hosted commenting system. Please note that this is a premium solution with  a free option for less than 20,000 page impressions per month.

This  plugin has the ability to post the comment onto your site and the social media platform of your site user’s choice.  It also has a neat function that lets them tag their social media friends in your comments.

Check out the social media options for more information.

A note on hosted comment systems

When you host your comments on a third-party site, you’ll need to export your comments into that service’s car. If you breach the service’s terms and conditions, there’s a chance you could be kicked off the platform and loose your comments.

I’ve not heard of this happening but it is a possibility, so think long and hard before you chose to have someone host part of your site.  I wrote about the same concept in my last post here at Problogger when I talked about loosing your email addresses in Are You Protecting Your Blog’s Most Valuable Asset?.

Facebook Comments for WordPress

If you want a solution that replaces your traditional blog commenting system with Facebook-only comments, then this plugin is for you.

It is a self-hosted solution that replaces traditional blog comments with something akin to a Facebook wall. People log in to Facebook, leave their comments on Facebook, and they’re replicated back on your site.

Twitter Mentions as Comments

This final plugin is again a self-hosted extension of WordPress. What is does is scan Twitter for any mentions of your posts, and pulls those tweets into your existing comment stream as if they were additional comments on your posts.

Other options

These are just some of the options available to you—there are many others. Check out the plugins under the Social Media tag on the WordPress plugin repository to see how vast your options are.

Make your comments social

Don’t worry that you’re losing blog comments to social media. Using these handy plugins, you can bring the conversation back from the social platforms, and retain social proof on your blog.

How is your blog faring with comments and social media? Could these plugins be helpful to you?

Neil Is  a WordPress coach and consultant, see his work at WPDude. He has also created a WordPress group coaching program called the WP Owners Club.