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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.

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