Close
Close

Use Photos to Stand Out in the Facebook News Feed

This guest post is by Tommy Walker, Online Marketing Strategist and owner of Tommy.ismy.name.

A picture is worth a thousand words, right? This old cliché has become especially true in blogging. It’s statistically proven that by inserting compelling photographs into your blog posts, you’re able to better retain your reader’s attention.

So what if photos are also exactly what you need to stand out on the world’s most popular social network?

On Facebook, Photos are the most used features of the site (after status updates of course). You may have already known that, but did you also know that Facebook is one of the most used photo sharing platforms on the entire Internet?

So how can we tap into the power of Facebook Photos to separate your Page from the rest of the noise on Facebook?

If you’ve been using Facebook ads to perform inception on your blog, you’ll have a good idea of the psychographic profile of your readers. We can use this information to create (or find) compelling images that will resonate with your audience.

Let’s imagine I run a blog about creating Hollywood movie props on an indie movie budget. Normally I build simple props that are pretty general, like ray guns, or jet packs. But lately I’ve been running Facebook ads and I’ve learned from the Responder Profile report that the majority of the people who clicked on my ad have listed “Iron Man” as a favorite movie in their profile.

Knowing this, I create a tutorial for my blog that gives instructions on how to make an Iron Man mask.

To really draw attention to this step-by-step tutorial and stand out in my fans’ news feeds only requires a little extra thought and attention to detail. Just a little more work, and I get a result that looks something like this:

Now let’s break down what I did here, so you can create results like this, too.

Step 1: Breaking up the image

Take the main image that you would like to show up in the News Feed and break it up into two or three parts using a photo editor. For the Iron Man album, I broke one photo up into two separate images, with each image highlighting a different element of the build.

The original image looks like this:

To break it up, I simply opened the image in Gimp (although you could use Photoshop or even Paint!) and selected the Battery and Arc Reactor. Then I copied and pasted it into its own image file, and did the same for the mask.

I then very quickly created the album cover by typing “Become” over the Iron Man logo, and saved that as its own image file> I then saved everything to its own folder on my desktop.

Here are two quick notes about album covers. Firstly, selecting the right image is important for two reasons:

  1. The album cover is the first thing people see when someone clicks on the Photos tab on your page. By default, Facebook also displays the two most recent photo albums on the left-hand sidebar underneath the list of people who like your page. When they visit a page, it’s only natural for people to check out the number of people who like that page — for social proof. Take advantage of this curiosity by creating an eye-catching album cover. Even with a small number of likes, you’ll appear to be ahead of the game, as this is valuable real estate that most pages simply aren’t taking advantage of.
  2. The album cover will always appear in the furthest left-hand corner when you publish an album to the news feed. Selecting the wrong image for the album cover can make the entire update completely pointless. take a look at the images below. By default, the photo titled “Step 5″ would be the album cover here, but it’s not a great image. To have the most impact on the News Feed, you’d want to make sure that the album cover shows the image titled “Step 10.” We’ll talk about this more in the next section.

Step 2: Selecting the album cover and organizing your photos

Go to the Photos tab on your Business Page and click on Create a Photo Album.

A dialog box will appear, giving you instructions on uploading your photos.

Click Select Photos and choose the photos you would like to be included in the album.

Click Open once you’ve selected all of the photos for your album. The photos will begin to be uploaded to the album. By default, the album is named with the date and time that you’re uploading the photos. Change the name to reflect the contents of the album. Also, check the High Resolution button (just because you can!).

Once the photos have finished uploading, click Create Album.

From here, select the image you want to use for the cover of your album. Also feel free to add descriptions to your pictures. If it makes sense, insert links to relevant pages within your blog (this will depend on the content of your album).

Once you’re satisfied with your Photo descriptions, click Save Changes. A dialog box will appear prompting you to Publish or Skip.

Do not click publish!

Click Skip. You will be brought to the album and all of the images will appear in the order in which they were uploaded. This isn’t always ideal if you’re really looking to stand out in the news feed.

It is vital to note the arrangement of the photos in the album, as it will determine their order in the news feed.

As I said earlier, Facebook automatically puts the album cover as the far left image of the three in the album preview in the news feed—regardless of how the images are arranged in the album. Facebook then takes the two images after the photo that’s designated as the cover, and assigns them as the middle and far-right images in the news feed.

So if the photos are arranged like this in the album:

They will look like this in the news feed:

To achieve this landscape effect in the news feed, simply drag the two images that are meant to follow the album cover in the order in which you’d like them to appear in the news feed.

Then, your album will look like this:

And the feed will look like this:

Once you have your photos arranged the way you’d like them to appear in the news feed, all you have left to do is create an album description and publish the album.

Step 3: Entering your album’s description

Underneath your photos, you’ll see an Add a Caption link. Click it to open the popup where you can describe your album and include any external links.

Facebook will allow a total of 320 characters (including spaces) in your album description before it hides the content and adds a See More link to the end of your description.

Keep your descriptions around one to two lines, and always put a line break between your description and link so that the content appears cleanly in the news feed.

After you’ve clicked Save, click Edit Album Info to see the Album Description page. Click the Edit Photos tab on the top right of the gray box. Then, click Publish Now.

And there you have it! Your album will have a good chance of standing out in the otherwise really crowded news feed!

What’s that you say? You don’t make props? There are all sorts of other creative ways to use Facebook Photos to promote your business. What are some ways you’ve used this tool? Are there other Facebook Photo ideas you can share?

Tommy is an Online Marketing Strategist and owner of Tommy.ismy.name. He is about to release Hack The Social Network, the ultimate guide to Facebook Marketing, and is currently developing a “mind hacking” course.

Everything You Need to Import and Display RSS Feeds with WordPress

WordPress makes it super-easy to publish your own content, and even easier to import and display content from other great sites around the Web. Just as other people are displaying and reading your feed in their apps and devices, you can use external RSS feeds to supplement and strengthen your site’s primary content.

Whether you’re displaying feeds from similar sites or aggregating news from around the world, importing feeds means taking advantage of the best that the Web has to offer. In this post, you’ll see how easy it is to grab external RSS feeds and display them anywhere on your WordPress-powered site

Why do it?

No website is an island, and with a virtually infinite assortment of content and services around the Web, there’s no reason not to take advantage of content that will benefit your readers and help improve the overall quality and content of your site. Feeding external RSS content to WordPress:

  • adds relevant, useful content for your readers to enjoy
  • adds relevant, targeted keywords for search-engine robots
  • keep visitors on your site by giving them the content they want.

Depending on your niche, using external content opens up many possibilities. Here are some concrete examples to help illustrate some common ways RSS feeds are used to create and supplement content:

  • news sites importing weather feeds to display current conditions
  • sports sites importing news feeds reporting the latest sports news
  • investment sites displaying current market values and stock prices.

For blogs, the possibilities are only limited by your imagination. I’ve seen some great independent sites that make excellent use of external feeds. Here are some examples:

  • blogs that display their social media feeds, such as Twitter and Facebook
  • bloggers with more than one website displaying posts from their other sites
  • news-portal sites that aggregate the best blogging and/or web design feeds.

And the best part? WordPress makes it so easy to integrate external RSS feeds that it’s almost funny. Depending on your goals and experience with WordPress, there are several ways to go about doing it: using widgets, plugins, or manual coding. Let’s examine these different techniques and explore everything you need to import and display RSS feeds with WordPress.

Displaying feeds with the default RSS widget

Right out of the box, WordPress includes a handy RSS widget that can be used in any widgetized area on any widgetized theme. Just drag the widget to your widget area and choose your options:

The default RSS widget

As seen in the screenshot above, the default RSS widget provides several basic options, including number of feed items and which elements to display. Yes, it’s super-easy, but your customization choices are limited. As a general rule, the more stuff (e.g. post title, post date, author name, and so on) you include with each feed item, the more cluttered it tends to look.

Seriously, a linked title and post excerpt is all you really need to display, and doing so keeps things looking clean. Unfortunately, even after limiting our display options to only “title and excerpt”, the output using the default WordPress theme looks sloppy:

The default widget output

…and the posts just continue all the way down the sidebar. If you’re handy with CSS, adding a few rules to your style.php may be all that’s needed to slap things into shape, but clearly more control is desired for better customization.

Displaying feeds with WordPress plugins

For more control when you’re working with external feeds, there a number of excellent plugins available. Let’s have a look at the best plugins for importing and displaying external RSS feeds. Note: all plugins have been tested/reviewed with current versions at the time of this posting, and working with the latest version of WordPress, 3.0.2.

FeedWordPress

A good sign of a reputable WordPress plugin is how many times it has been downloaded. So with over 300,000 downloads, FeedWordPress by Charles Johnson is definitely worth checking out. It’s an incredibly powerful, flexible plugin that makes importing and customizing feed content extremely easy. Here’s a screenshot of the Settings page:

The FeedWordPress Settings page

But FeedWordPress does way more than just display external feed content on your site—it actually creates a post for each imported feed item. So, for example, if I want to back up my latest Twitter tweets, I can either create an entire tweet archive, or I can let FeedWordPress do it for me. FeedWordPress installs easily, and imports any number of feeds using the following default settings:

  • Auto-updates are turned off by default; cron may be configured, or just use manual fetching.
  • Auto-import and create categories, tags, and even authors (as contributors) for each feed item.
  • Titles for feed items are auto-linked to the source, so there are no single-page views or comments.

Of course, all of these options may be configured to your liking using the FeedWordPress Settings page. Other useful settings enable you to mark imported posts as drafts or private, update posts to match changed feed content, and much more. To get started, check out the FeedWordPress Quick-start Guide.

WP-o-Matic

Another incredible plugin for importing feed content as posts, WP-o-Matic is very similar to FeedWordPress, but with some different features and slightly easier configuration. After installing the plugin, hit the Settings page for an easy, four-step configuration process:

  1. Run compatibility check.
  2. Configure time-zone settings.
  3. Configure cron settings (via WebCron, crontab, unix cron, or manual fetching).
  4. You’re done!

After configuration, you can begin importing feeds by creating a new Campaign and setting the following options:

  • feed title, slug, URL, and category
  • any regex pattern-matching on key terms (optional)
  • configuration of optional Custom import/post template and polling frequency
  • setting discussion preferences and whether to send pingbacks
  • setting whether title links should point to single-view page or content source.

In addition to importing and customizing any number of feeds, WP-o-Matic also enables image caching and provides some great import/export tools. Also worth mentioning is that WP-o-Matic doesn’t import any categories, tags, or users by default. Here’s a screenshot of the Settings page:

The WP-o-Matic Settings page

For importing feeds as post content, WP-o-Matic and FeedWordPress are excellent plugins that make things easy while providing much control over the configuration and customization of the entire process.

RSSImport

If you want to display external feeds without creating posts, the RSSImport plugin is really all you need. RSSImport enables you to import and display feeds using a shortcode, widget, or PHP template tags. And it does this using WordPress’s built-in feed-parsing functionality, via MagpieRSS (for WP 2.8+) or SimplePie (for older WP).

RSSImport makes it seriously easy to display any feed anywhere in your theme—and with massive flexibility. Here are three ways to do it with RSSImport:

Display feed content using the RSSImport widget

To display external feeds in the sidebar (or any other widgetized area), just install the plugin and visit the Widgets page. There you will find options for everything under the sun, giving you full control over many configuration options. Here is a screenshot showing a few of the widget’s many settings:

The RSSImport Settings page

Setting things up with the widget is really just a matter of going through the options and making sure everything is exactly how you want it. Bada-boom, bada-bing, as they say.

Display feed content using a shortcode

RSSImport also makes it easy to display feed content right in your posts and pages using a shortcode. Here is the simplest example, showing the five most-recent feed items from Digging into WordPress:

[RSSImport display="5" feedurl="http://feeds2.feedburner.com/DiggingIntoWordpress"]

That works perfectly, but there are many parameters available for customization. I’ve included a more involved example, using as many parameters as possible, in the downloadable code for this post.

So with the widget, RSSImport lets us display feed content in any widgetized area. And now with the shortcode, we can display feeds right in your posts and pages. But if we still desire even more control, we can get our hands dirty and modify our theme template files directly.

Display feed content anywhere in your theme

Direct modification of theme (or child theme) template files isn’t for everyone, but for complete control over configuration and customization, you may need to go there. I’s really no big deal, though—just pick a spot in your theme and add the following line of PHP code:

Just like with the widget and shortcode methods, you can use any of the RSSImport parameters to customize feed display any way you wish. Check out RSSImport at the Plugin Directory for complete details.

Displaying Feeds with WordPress’s built-in functionality

WordPress has a built-in way of displaying feeds using the fetch_feed function. Using the fetch_feed function means we have one less plugin to fiddle with and maintain, so if you feel comfortable working with basic PHP and WordPress template tags, then you’ll love how easy it is to import and display external feeds. To illustrate, paste this snippet anywhere in your theme (e.g. sidebar.php). Note that this code is also included in the download:

…and we’re done. Just specify your feed URL in the first line, and you’re up and running.

Way back when, importing feeds was a more complicated process, but over the over the years WordPress has evolved to make it extremely easy.

Here is a more complete example that shows how to grab different parts of the feed and display them as a nice definition list (this code is also included in the download):

The easiest way to understand this code is to just plop it into your theme file and look at the results on your site. Some of the highlights include:

  • an error-check in line 5
  • use of $rss->get_title(); to display the feed title
  • use of $item->get_permalink(); to display each item’s permalink
  • use of $item->get_date(); to display the post date for each item
  • use of $item->get_title(); to display the title for each item
  • use of $item->get_description(); to display the content of each item.

When working directly with template code, you have full control over the markup used to display your feeds. Throw in a little CSS and you’re equipped to rule the world.

SEO and other considerations

In closing, here are some things to keep in mind when working with external feeds:

  • Don’t steal, get permission—if in doubt, contact the publisher of the feed and ask.
  • If using WP-o-Matic, you may want to link target keywords and phrases using the regex feature.
  • Give proper link credit to the source of any feed(s) you use—otherwise it’s too shady.
  • Linking titles back to the source is good practice, but feel free to strip links from excerpts.
  • Don’t auto-fetch feeds more than once or twice per hour. If you need to update more frequently, get permission.

Bottom line: if in doubt, get permission. And always link back to the source. Everything else is up to you!

Jeff Starr is a web developer, graphic designer and content producer with over 10 years of experience and a passion for quality and detail. Jeff is co-author of the book Digging into WordPress and strives to help people be the best they can be on the Web. Read more from Jeff at Perishable Press or hire him at Monzilla Media.

A Note from Darren: I can only really echo the call to ‘get permission’ when importing other people’s feeds. I’d also warn against simply reposting other people’s feeds in full – particularly if that’s all you do primarily on your blog. To do means you’re not really creating unique content – this isn’t great for readers but also signals to search engines that you’re just creating duplicate content (meaning you’ll never really rank too high for that content).

Keep in mind that successful blogs are built on unique and useful content. Importing feeds might seem like a quick way to generate content – but it does little to build your authority, voice or a relationship with readers.

How to Ajaxify Your WordPress Site

This guest post is by Jeff Starr, co-author of the book Digging into WordPress.

Injecting a dose of Ajax into your WordPress-powered site is an excellent way to enhance functionality and streamline the user experience. Without touching a line of code, you can harness the power of Ajax to boost performance, improve usability, and fill your site with win.

Ajax enables your web pages to respond very quickly and smoothly to user input by loading only snippets of data instead of the entire page. The WordPress login/registration screen is a perfect example. Without Ajax, logging into the WordPress Admin requires a URL redirection and complete page load. With Ajax, users can log in from anywhere with no redirection or page load required. This translates into a more luxurious, sophisticated experience for you and your users.

Beyond the “coolness” factor, Ajax can also improve the responsiveness and performance of your site. Instead of loading new pages to leave comments, view posts, and share content, Ajax empowers users to interact with your site with greater intimacy and efficiency than ever before. By eliminating page loads, Ajax helps to save valuable server resources and bandwidth, resulting in improved performance for your site. And you can “ajaxify” just about anything: from logins and comments to navigation and updates, Ajax can speed things up, save resources, and make your site better than ever.

WordPress + Ajax = Awesome

Using WordPress, implementing Ajax functionality couldn’t be easier. By installing and configuring a few choice plugins, you can ajaxify your entire site (or any part of it) without touching a single line of code. The trick is choosing only the best plugins for your site, and only what’s needed. There are a zillion Ajax plugins available, but only a handful of them really work as advertised (or at all). Let’s check out some of the best WordPress plugins for adding Ajax to your site from within the comfort of the WordPress Admin.

Ajax plugins for WordPress comments

A majority of the Ajax plugins listed in the Plugin Directory are aimed at improving the commenting system. Here are five of the best plug-n-play Ajax plugins for your WordPress comments area:

  • WP-Comment-Master: Put simply, WP-Comment-Master ajaxifies the entire commenting system: comment display, comment paging, comment submission, and posting. It features a great Settings page for easy integration and configuration and is definitely one of the best Ajax-comment plugins available.
  • iF AJAX Comments For WordPress: Another excellent plugin for ajaxifying the comment-submission process. iF AJAX Comments enables users to preview and post their comments without refreshing the page. It includes a ton of options for fine-tuning required fields, CSS styling, status messages, and more. It also features a host whitelist for tighter security.
  • AJAX Comment Page: AJAX Comment Page is a nice little plugin that ajaxifies the display of your comments with a fancy slide-in effect. It works great for paged or unpaged comments and includes a simple Settings page to control the number of comments per page.
  • Ajax Comment Preview: So far, this is the best plugin I’ve found for true comment previews. Ajax Comment Preview enables your users to see exactly what their comments will look like when submitted. This plugin uses Ajax to send the preview through WordPress’ “inner voodoo” and then instantly display the results. The plugin features a nice Settings page to control functionality and integrate the comment preview with your design.
  • AJAX Report Comments: One of my favorite Ajax plugins, Ajax Report Comments enables your visitors to report inappropriate comments with a single click. The Admin page includes basic settings and an email template. This plugin offers truly tight functionality and amust-have for sites with tons of user comments.

Ajax plugins for user login and registration

Ajax can literally revolutionize the user login/registration/lost-password experience. Instead of requiring multiple clicks and page loads to log into the Admin, here are three plugins that ajaxify the entire process into a single click.

  • Login With Ajax: Login With Ajax is a popular, well-ranked plugin (it has over 45K downloads). It enables users to log in, register, and recover lost passwords from the sidebar (via widget) or anywhere in your theme (via the login_with_ajax() template tag). It features a great Settings page with role-specific redirects and custom registration email templates.
  • iRedlof Ajax Login: Much more than a login widget, iRedlof Ajax Login adds a complete user dashboard to the top of the screen. The dashboard is pre-styled and includes complete login functionality as well as links to random posts and admin menus personalized to each user according to their role. Downsides: there’s no Settings page, and you need to add updateHeader() to your theme template.
  • AJAX Login Widget++: Another good plugin for Ajax-powered login, registration, and password functionality, this one also features login redirect. The login form can be placed in your sidebar with a widget, or anywhere else with add_ajax_login_widget().

Ajax plugins for the WordPress Admin area

On the other side of WordPress, the Admin area is another excellent place to enjoy the smooth and sophisticated comforts of Ajax. Unfortunately there aren’t quite as many Ajax-based Admin plugins to choose from, but here two that are both fun and useful.

  • Ajax Plugin Helper: It’s simple: save time while keeping up with WordPress plugin updates. Ajax Plugin Helper lets you activate, deactivate, delete, and upgrade plugins without leaving the Plugins page. Very smooth stuff, and there’s even an “Upgrade All” feature for knocking out multiple upgrades with a single click! Nice.
  • Admin Ajax Note: Ever wish you could leave notes and stuff for other admin users? Admin Ajax Note makes it easy with an Ajax-powered notepad in the upper-right corner of the Admin area. Create, edit, and delete as many notes as you want, and share with all users, one user, or none. Good stuff.

These two plugins are great, but it would awesome to add more to the list. If you know of any sweet Ajax Admin plugins, please share them in the comments!

Ajax plugins for other cool stuff

Here are some other keen plugins for ajaxifying different parts of your WordPress site:

  • DynamicWP Contact Form: The DynamicWP Contact Form puts a floating Contact button on the upper-left side of the page. Click the button and the dynamic contact form slides into view. Messages are sent via Ajax to keep the user on the same page throughout the process. Snazzy indeed, but the styling is distinct and may need to be tweaked to fit your design.
  • AJAX Calendar: An ajaxified version of the classic WordPress calendar, AJAX Calendar enables you to browse the months without reloading the page. It features a link to display all posts for the current month, as well as a caching option to enhance performance. If you’re already using the classic WP calendar, this plugin is highly recommended.
  • Ajax Category Posts Dropdown: This plugin is perfect for sites with lots of subcategories. Ajax Category Posts Dropdown lists your categories in a dropdown box. When a user clicks on a category, all posts from that category are displayed via Ajax. Easily display the list in your sidebar via widget, or anywhere in your theme via the acpd_display($acdp_title) template tag.

Ajax plugins to ajaxify everything

One of the coolest things to ajaxify is your WordPress navigation, so that when users click to the next post, it’s loaded instantly and on the same page, without a reload. Here are two awesome plugins that use Ajax to load posts, pages, comments, and archives to basically ajaxify all default functionality on the public side of your WordPress site.

As with any plugin that greatly modifies WordPress, these plugins involve a lot of options. You’ll need to spend some time to understand and configure them properly. Most of the other plugins mentioned so far are plug-n-play, but Ajax-everything plugins like these require some time to familiarize and customize.

SEO considerations for ajaxed content

As you ajaxify your site, keep in mind that search engines aren’t yet crawling or indexing ajaxed data, so make sure you’re enabling Google et al to find your content. There are numerous solutions to this challenge, the easiest of which involves the use of a well-linked sitemap and actual HTML content delivered via noscript tags.

Also consider SEO when ajaxifying your comments. User comments add content to your web pages, but they won’t be crawled, indexed, or considered in page rank if they’re served with Ajax. For many sites, this shouldn’t be too big a deal, but it is something to think about.

For more information on Ajax and SEO, check out Scott Allen’s article, AJAX, Web 2.0 and SEO.

Wrapping up

These are the Ajax gems that I’ve managed to find, but many other great plugins are available. If you know of any good WordPress Ajax plugins (or themes!), please share them in the comments. Thanks!

Jeff Starr is a web developer, graphic designer and content producer with over 10 years of experience and a passion for quality and detail. Jeff is co-author of the book Digging into WordPress and strives to help people be the best they can be on the Web. Read more from Jeff at Perishable Press or hire him at Monzilla Media.

Awesome WordPress Plugins to Empower Your Visitors

This guest post is by Jeff Starr, co-author of the book Digging into WordPress.

Helping your visitors get the most out of your site benefits everyone. Visitors get more relevant and useful content, and you enjoy better statistics and more exposure. Unfortunately the game is set up to keep people away from your site. Think about it:

  • Search engines are used to find your content
  • Feed readers are used to read your content
  • Social media is used to share, tag, and organize your content

These are major obstacles, certainly, but they don’t have to work against you. People use search engines, feed readers, and social media because they provide functionality missing from most websites. By integrating some of that same functionality into your site, you empower your visitors to maximize its usefulness. This may sound like a tall order, but if you’re using WordPress, improving your site couldn’t be easier. Let’s look at some awesome WordPress plugins to make it happen.

Google-power your search results

People will always use external search engines like Google to find content on your site. That’s a good thing, but you also want to empower your users with the best possible search results. WordPress’ default search is limited in several ways:

  • does not do “exact-match” searching
  • only searches posts and post titles
  • only searches your current WordPress installation
  • can be painfully slow, gobbles resources

Fortunately, we can harness the power of Google and empower your users with the most accurate, comprehensive, and speedy search possible. Integrating Google Search into your site provides the following benefits:

  • exact-match searching (i.e., using quotes to match specific phrases)
  • searches your entire site plus any other desired sites or directories
  • usually works pretty quickly – much faster than WordPress default search
  • optional additional revenue through Google’s AdSense program

Sound good? Here are some of the best plugins to make it happen:

Google Search for WordPress

This beautiful plugin works silently behind the scenes to replace WordPress’ search results with Google’s search results. You simply install the plugin and enter your Google API Key in the Google Search Settings. If you don’t have an API Key, it’s free and easy to get one. The only other requirement is to include “Powered by Google” next to your search form and on the search-results page. Once it’s installed, all search results will be replaced by those from Google. No code-wrangling required.

More information and downloads are available at the WordPress Plugin Directory.

Google Custom Search Plugin

The Google Custom Search Plugin is another excellent way to integrate Google Search into your WordPress blog. Instead of signing up for an API Key, visit Google Search and create your own custom search engine by walking through the steps. After setting up your own form, grab the generated code and paste it into the plugin’s Settings page.

More information and downloads are available at the WordPress Plugin Directory.

More from Google

The More from Google plugin works a little differently by adding to your default search results instead of completely replacing them. After installing and configuring the plugin, your search results will include matches from both WordPress and Google. If Google has yet to index your entire site, this may be the perfect way to ensure that visitors are getting the best search results.

More information and downloads are available at the WordPress Plugin Directory.

Other Ways to Improve WordPress Default Search

If Google Search isn’t for you, don’t fret. Here are two additional plugins that will vastly improve WordPress’ default search:

  • Search Everything – literally searches everything in your database, based on your preferences
  • Better Search – highly customizable solution for improving WordPress’ default search

Regardless of how you do it, improving your site’s default search functionality is a great way to help your visitors use your site and find the content they crave.

Socialize and communitize your WordPress site

Bring the excitement of social-media to your WordPress-powered site! There are so many reasons to empower your readers to favorite, share, and rate your content directly on your website, and just as many awesome plugins to make it super-easy to do. Here are some of the best plugins for making your site fun, social, and more interactive.

WP Favorite Posts

WP Favorite Posts is a popular, five-star plugin that enables your visitors to add favorite posts to their own list of favorites. Installation is easy, and the plugin is straightforward and easy to modify and customize to fit any design. I use the plugin on my Angry-Birds fan site. You can see the “Add to Favorites” link in the upper-right corner of any post. There is also a link to “View Favorites”, where each user can view (and delete) their favorite links. And even cooler than all that, you can display a list of everyone’s most-popular favorites, very similar to how Delicious works.

More information and downloads are available at the WordPress Plugin Directory.

Star ratings and reviews

Post ratings are a fun and informative way to engage visitors and promote content. And there are many post-rating plugins to choose from.

In terms of functionality and customization, the GD Star Rating plugin can do just about anything, but the endless configuration options may be overkill. On the other end of the spectrum, you’ve got the elegant simplicity of the Vote-the-Post plugin, which is lightweight, flexible, and easy to customize code-side for tight design integration. I use this plugin to enable voting at Angry-Birds.net (see any post for example).

These plugins also enable you to display lists of top-rated posts anywhere on your site, so you can uninstall that most-popular-post plugin you no longer need.

Chat forum

Chat forums aren’t for every site, but when done right they’re great ways to build community and facilitate conversation. As with post-ratings, there are many chat plugins available in the Directory, but there are two that stand above the rest:

Both of these plugins are popular, highly rated plugins that provide flexible, customizable chat functionality. WordSpew is great because it uses Ajax to refresh everything automatically, keeping the chat window flowing in real time. Pierre’s Wordspew works without AJax, but it also uses a Flash .flv file that prevents it from working on devices like the iPad and iPhone. You can see a highly customized example of the WordSpew plugin at Dead Letter Art.

Show online users

Just like showing off counts for feed subscribers, Twitter followers, and Facebook fans, you can also show off the number of users currently online. An excellent plugin for this is WP-UserOnline, which provides several templates for easy configuration of how and where the user-online count is displayed. You can also set up a “Who’s online?” page that shows detailed statistics of where your visitors are on the site, who they are, and where they came from. This awesome plugin takes only minutes to implement using template tags and/or widgets.

Social media

Even after socializing your site, you want to make sure that visitors can easily share and bookmark your content on their favorite social-media sites. I tell you the truth, there are a gazillion plugins and widgets for adding every social-media site under the sun, but you really only need one plugin to do the job. Just install and configure WP Socializer and done. Any combination of social-media buttons, icons, links displayed virtually anywhere on your site. Tons of options yes, but they are all well-organized and easy to configure from the comfort of your WordPress Admin.

Wrapping up

No matter how awesome your website, there’s always room for improvement. With the techniques and tools described in this article, empowering your visitors to get the most from your WordPress site is as easy as installing and configuring a few choice plugins. As you go, keep an eye on site performance. Loading up with too many plugins can burden your server and slow things down for visitors. All the functionality in the world means nothing on a slow-loading website. A good strategy is to cherry-pick a few choice plugins and watch the results. Remember the goal is to help visitors get into your site and really use it for all it’s worth.

Jeff Starr is a web developer, graphic designer and content producer with over 10 years of experience and a passion for quality and detail. Jeff is co-author of the book Digging into WordPress and strives to help people be the best they can be on the Web. Read more from Jeff at Perishable Press or hire him at Monzilla Media.

5 Tools I Am Willing to Pay for [And Recommend] to Improve My Blogs

One of the great things about blogging is that it is very accessible to anyone with internet access. There are some fantastic tools around that are completely free that mean you can have a blog up and running within minutes of deciding to start a blog.

Free tools range from hosted blog platforms like WordPress.com and Blogger through to a myriad of plugins and themes around the web that can make blogging a breeze.

Of course while there are many many free options out there, sometimes to take your blog to the next level there can come a time when you need to spend a few dollars. I bit the bullet early in my blogging and did this first by paying for my own hosting and moving from Blogger to Movable Type (and later to WordPress.org). I also paid fairly early on for a custom design.

These days I continue to have a variety of expenses including hosting, design, paying a small team of writers (on dPS), paying for some admin support and some development costs.

There are also a number of paid tools that have become indispensable for me which I’d like to feature today. While there are free alternatives to some of them, I’ve found them to be of a standard that I’m more than happy to pay for.

aweber-logo.gif

1. Aweber

Perhaps the single most important decision that I’ve made in the last few years of blogging was to add newsletters to my blogs (particularly my photography blog).

I’ve outlined how I use newsletters to drive significant traffic and make money and have written previously Why I use Aweber so won’t rehash it all again – but this is a tool I’m more than happy to have invested in as it easily pays for itself and has been a key part of growing my blogs over the last 4 years many times over.

pro-1.jpg

2. Ustream Producer Pro

This is the latest tool that I’ve invested in. It wasn’t particularly cheap at $199 but enables me to take my video streaming sessions up a notch and do things like have more than one camera angle, do live screen capturing, add a logo to my ustream sessions, import movies and audio into them, have extra transitions, do picture in picture etc.

Some of this is in the free version and you might find you don’t need to upgrade unless you want a few more bells and whistles.

default_header_image.jpg

3. MindNode Pro

I’m a big fan of mind mapping. I used to do it without having a name for it on whiteboards and note pads but when I saw online tools that could help me with it I was in heaven. I’ve tried a lot of the Mac based tools (both free and paid) and the one that suits my workflow best is MindNode.

Their free version is brilliant and you might not even need to upgrade but I’m willing to pay for the Pro version simply because it adds the ability to fold down sections of your mind map and do things like add images to it.

market samurai.png

4. Market Samurai

I’ve not ever really paid money for SEO before until I came across the Market Samurai tool but it’s excellent. I may not use it quite to its fullest potential (yet) but have touched on how I find it useful for choosing a niche to blog about as well as optimizing a single post on your blog for search engines.

The cool thing is that they have a free trial of the tool which will give you access to its great features to try before you buy – you might find that that’s all you need to do some research and get your blog optimised pretty well.

icon-screenflow.jpg

5. Screenflow

This is a mac only tool which allows users to do great screencasting. I’ve used it more for private resources that I’ve developed for a couple of companies in consulting but it is a very cool way to show what’s on your screen in video as well as insert a view from a camera. A few videos I’ve made with it include –  

Note: I am an affiliate for Market Samurai and Aweber but am both a user and a fan of both.

Wibiya Toolbar [First Impression Review]

Over the last week I’ve been trialling the Wibiya Toolbar on my photography blog.

For those of you unfamiliar with it it is a little toolbar that appears at the bottom of the browser of those who visit your blog which allows them to do a variety of tasks. You can see it in the bottom of the screen shot below (click to enlarge).

wibiya-toolbar.png

The toolbar is customizable so there are a variety of applications that you can add to it.

On my toolbar I’ve enabled a number of applications including:

  • Search – allows readers to search your blog (or the web) via Google
  • Recent Posts – when clicked it shows the latest posts on the blog (while not as useful on the front page where these posts are already displayed it can help increase page views from single posts.
  • Real Time Users - shows readers how many others are online and what they’re reading
  • Random Posts - when clicked it takes readers to a random post on your blog
  • Link Menu - allows you to add in a variety of key links on your site (like a little navigation menu, I have mine pointing to key categories and sections)
  • Digg This - allows readers to digg your posts from the toolbar
  • Subscribe - allows readers to subscribe to your RSS feed
  • Smart Share - allows readers to share your posts via a variety of means including on social bookmarking sites, twitter, facebook and via email
  • Facebook - allows readers to see your facebook fan page without leaving your site via a popup
  • Twitter - allows readers to see your twitter stream as well as tweet a link out about your page without leaving your page

There are quite a few other applications/tabs that you can choose from and a number of options within some of them to different features.

You’re also abe to choose a color scheme to suit your page.

There are a variety of ways of installing it into your blog including via a WordPress plugin for those using WP.

The Results

I’ve been testing the Wibiya toolbar for about 10 days now so it’s time to look at the ‘result’ and stats that they provide publishers to see what impact (if any) using the toolbar has had.

Here’s a quick screenshot of the dashboard having selected stats for the last 7 days:

Screen shot 2010-05-25 at 3.38.28 PM.png

The top section of stats provides stats for each of the ‘tabs/applications’. You can drill down a little more on each one like this one for the ‘latest posts’ tab:

Screen shot 2010-05-25 at 3.41.40 PM.png

Worth noting – the stats in the first screen shot above do look a little more impressive than the reality as can be illustrated by the ‘latest posts’ stats which show that 586 people clicked the ‘latest posts’ toolbar tab but only 83 clicks on other posts were recorded (meaning less than 1 in 7 of the 669 people who clicked the latest posts tab actually visited another page). This is true for almost all of the other tabs. Here’s some examples:

Screen shot 2010-05-25 at 3.44.38 PM.png

Screen shot 2010-05-25 at 3.45.00 PM.png

Screen shot 2010-05-25 at 3.45.21 PM.png

Screen shot 2010-05-25 at 3.45.32 PM.png

A few comments about these results:

  1. people were clicking on the toolbar a lot without doing anything. I suspect this was partly a ‘curiosity factor’ at play as the toolbar is new and people are still working out what to do with it and how it works.
  2. considering the traffic of the site the ‘actions’ were pretty low. Wibiya doesn’t give you any stats on how many times the toolbar loaded (that’d be handy) but as the blog area of dPS (the area it was showing) does over 146,000 page views per day (over 1 million per week) I was a little surprised by the low numbers of actions. They recorded about 3000 actions in the week but considering that most of those were simply clicks on the tool bar the real conversions were not super high.
  3. the stats could be a lot more insightful – perhaps Wibiya will be adding a premium model where you pay for more detail but I didn’t find that some of the stats that they gave were that insightful. For example:
    • it’d be handy to know that not only 83 people clicked on latest posts but to also know which posts they clicked on
    • it’d be great to known which links in the navigation links tab were clicked
    • It’d be handy to know what those 255 searches were for
    • similarly it’d be cool to know which posts were Dugg
    • it’d be great to know which posts were shared
  4. the other considerations that I need to take into account is the fact that I also had reader feedback during the last 10 days about the toolbar. In fact we’ve had a number of threads in our forum area talking about it and the feedback has been mixed. Originally I had the toolbar installed in the forum area as well as the blog – but I removed this after members complained at a ratio of about 9:1. On the blog area I’ve also had both negative and positive feedback about it (something I’ll keep monitoring. It seems that those complaining about it just don’t like anything popping up or obscuring any part of their browser (not surprising – even though the toolbar is pretty slim and is on the least unobtrusive part of the page).

There have obviously been some benefits from having the toolbar. I’m not complaining about having new followers, subscribers and more page views…. however the question I have to ask is whether the results are enough considering the page views and interruption of readers.

I’m going to run it for another week to see what happens when the curiosity factor with readers dies off a little more before I make any final decisions.

Have you experimented with the Wibiya toolbar (or similar ones) – what impact has it had on your site?

ProBlogger Readable on Mobiles

One of the most requested featured by readers here at ProBlogger has been for the option to view this site more easily on a mobile device (at least some).

In the last few days we’ve added the WPtouch plugin to both ProBlogger and DPS.

I hope that this will enable a faster and easier to navigate user experience for readers on their iPhones and other mobile devices.

problogger-mobile.jpg

Of course if you’d prefer to view the site as normal you just need to scroll to the bottom of the page and flip the switch there back to the normal view.

Do let me know how the experience is viewing ProBlogger this way on your mobile.

Also – have you optimized your blog for mobile viewing? If so how did you do it?

How To Run Subscriber-Only Competitions on Your Blog

A Guest Post by David Cleland from TotalApps.

In 2006 I proudly started my first blog, DigMo! It was technology, it was creativity, it was music and it was education. Despite it being a bit of blog soup I was pleased at how quick the site grew but within a few years it reached a critical point beyond which I really couldn’t get the traffic to grow. The site was frankly far too general to appeal to a specific community.

totalapps

The site had a massive 80% bounce rate and taking advice from reading the great advice on this site I decided to take stock and critically re-evaluate the future of DigMo!

As a result I decided to split the site and create two separate niche blogs, DigMo! To focus on educational technology and I launched a new site, TotalApps, to focus on Mac and iPhone App reviews. The thought of starting from zero scared me and I looked at ways to get the site up and running quickly.

I decided the best way to draw attention to the blog was to offer regular site competitions. Finding companies willing to sponsor prizes was actually much easier than I initially expected. I tend to target companies whose product I have reviewed and especially if the review has been popular with readers.

With blog authors being urged to declare any products they are able to keep once a review is published what better way to retain your creditability but by passing the review samples on to your readers as a competition prize ? It seems to me like a logical benefit that will add value to your site and grow the community.

The Mistakes

I think it is best to share my mistakes with the Problogger readers and the initial competitions I ran simply required visitors to leave a comment on a post. This didn’t grow the site and managed to result in a massive 70% bounce rate i.e. the users came, entered, and left knowing we would email them if they had won.

The Successes

I decided if I was going to make competitions really work they needed to be of benefit not only to the visitor but also the site and thus I needed to limit entry to RSS subscribers (both email and reader)

The solution was simple and surprisingly successful and will basically work for anyone running a WordPress blog even with a custom theme.

Setting the competition up takes a tiny bit of code adjusting but nothing too difficult.

The Concept

The competition works by placing a code at the bottom of blog posts that will only appear when the entry is read in an RSS reader, i.e. it does not appear on site.

To do this I used a known solution that was pointed out to me by fellow blogger Thaya Kareeson.

There are a few versions of this idea around but this solution works brilliantly on TotalApps. As I haven’t come across any plug-ins that can run competitions this bit of code fiddling is the ideal solution for now.

Getting Started

Open the functions.php file in your current theme folder (I would back this up before adding the code just to be on the safe side).

Paste the following code into the text :

function contest_post_filter($content) { if ( is_feed() ) return $content.'TotalApps Competition Code (Please note it is case sensitive) : a12221s'; else return $content; } add_filter('the_content','contest_post_filter'); function contest_comment_filter($comment_text) { return str_replace('a12221s', '[code hidden]', $comment_text); } add_filter('get_comment_text','contest_comment_filter');

There are two lines you need to change – 1. the line that says TotalApps Competition Code and 5 lines down the code is repeated (a1221s).

I recently ran a competition where visitors could win a copy of Screenflow 2.0. The following screenshot shows the bottom of the post as it appeared in the browser.

1website

……. and this is how it looked in the RSS reader. You should note your RSS Feed must be the full article view (i.e. not just the abstract) for the code to appear.

2rss

When the competition closes as I generally ask the sponsor to select a number between 1 and the number of comments and then contact the lucky winners using the email address in the comment.

When a competition closes you can either comment out the code in functions.php by adding /* before the code and */ after or alternatively is simply change the text to “No competition at present”

Offering a reason to sign up to the RSS feed resulted in the number of TotalApps RSS subscribers growing in one month to double the number of readers DigMo! had after 3 years.

Tips :

  • Know what your readers want and try and target prizes appropriately.
  • Make sure you link to your RSS and RSS by Email Feeds in the post to make it as easy for visitors to subscribe as possible.
  • Make sure you make the rules clear and post the winner’s name publicly on site.
  • Where possible have the competition sponsors look after the postage. This not only saves you time and hassle but it is also assures the sponsor the competition is above board.
  • Don’t run competitions for more than a week as most of the comments tend to happen in the first week after that it dries up quickly.

I have to say I am certainly no expert in coding or blogging but am really excited to find a solution that really works for managing the competitions and I am equally as excited to see the number of subscribers grow.

There may even be better solutions out there and if you know of any I would be keen to hear them.

David Cleland is a teacher based in Ireland who runs three successful blogs (TotalApps, FlixelPix and Digmo.co.uk)

Speech Recognition for Bloggers – The Ultimate Guide

Speech recognition technology has come a long way in the last few years – in this in depth, informative and inspiring video which Jon Morrow (Associate Editor of Copyblogger and Co-founder of Partnering Profits) shares his first hand insights into speech recognition for bloggers.

Jon does all of his blogging via speech recognition so he seemed like the logical guy to ask to cover the topic – in the video (I’m glad he agreed). In the video Jon makes recommendations of software, hardware (the hardware is key) and even demonstrates how he uses them in his everyday blogging.

The video itself is also a great illustration of using video to communicate.

Speech Recognition for Bloggers — The Ultimate Guide from Jon Morrow on Vimeo.

Recommended in the video by Jon are a number of technologies including:

Bookmark this video today as it’ll be something you want to come back to again.

Jon Morrow is Associate Editor of Copyblogger and Cofounder of Partnering Profits. Get more from Jon on twitter.