Category Archives: Blog

You have an idea for a blog… now what?

You have an idea for a blog… now what?

I meet with new bloggers that seem to have this magical perception that with little effort or investment they can start writing a few blog posts and the world will appear at their virtual doorstep.

If you think blogging will be a cinch and you’re about to start a blog to promote yourself. Stop.

It’s not your fault, people selling blogging courses use rather misleading headlines such as “blogging is easy” or “5 dead simple steps to an influential blog”. I’m not pointing fingers but in reality building and maintaining blog strategy is not easy and often underappreciated.

Thanks to a handful of open source tools such as WordPress, starting a blog can be a low-cost investment, but it will require a significant time commitment. Because there’s no magic button, some give up before the fun even begins.

Most people won’t see the actual power of blogging because they won’t make the initial effort to even try. Just coming up with a name and what to blog about is challenging enough to disqualify most, not to mention learning any new skills.

If they’re able to surpass the initial hurdles, some will write a few posts but fail because they don’t follow through or have a solid plan for keeping it up. Not prioritizing your blog writing efforts is a sure bet for failure. Sadly, I’ve experienced this on some of my own endeavors.

What pains me the most is when people give up on blogging because of unnecessary hurdles caused by not knowing the correct way to set themselves up for success. Or worse, they don’t understand how blogging fits into an overall digital marketing strategy.

Anyone can write a blog post and publish it to the web, but the ability to acquire readers and build authority online requires marketing strategy. Blogging and content creation is one part of a larger marketing strategy and only when the entire ecosystem is deployed, then blogging becomes a marketing tool. Without promoting your content, blogging is simply just a personal journal on the web.

Attend: Content Academy Blogging Workshops

A select few will go on to reap the rewards of blogging because they make it a priority and find opportunities to sustain their efforts through monetization.

It’s highly recommended to identify an income source that will come from your blogging efforts. Revenue could come in the form of advertising or by using the publicity to sell other services or products. Regardless of the model, the ability to make money from your blog is essential. Without it, your blog is just a hobby and not a sustainable business model.

The need for a blog monetization plan comes from personal experience. I loved blogging about country music – and it could easily be just a hobby – but I couldn’t sustain my blog because it became cost prohibitive to maintain while not providing income. If I had identified a steady income stream from the beginning, then I would have been more motivated to continue to produce high-quality content and not had to pay out of pocket for maintenance.

Take the time to plan for your blogging success story and make it your job to adhere to that plan. Acquire the right tools and knowledge before you embark on your journey and remember that it takes commitment to endure.

All success is born out of action. - Barbara Corcoran Click To Tweet

You too can join a rather small pool of successful bloggers as long as you dig deep and decide this is something you need to do for yourself.

Reimagine your future digital skills

Reimagine your future digital skills

 

It has maybe been awhile since you heard from me but I’m very happy to announce the launch of Content Academy.

We’re building a one-of-a-kind learning center because we believe in learning by doing with help from experienced instructors.

Over the last year, I’ve spent a lot of time reimagining how we teach our WordPress workshops because I realized how important these skills have become to the modern marketer and entrepreneur. Your future depends on the ability to publish your work and ideas to the web with WordPress.

Since I began using WordPress in 2007, the demand for content creators and website managers has grown exponentially. This demand changed the needs of our typical student, therefore, we updated our offerings to best reflect your needs.

New WordPress Workshops

Today, I’m happy to announce to you the relaunch of our WordPress workshops, which are now part of a larger series aimed at helping you gain digital marketing competence.

Learn more about our new Blogging, Digital Marketing and Applied Content Strategy Class, taught by experienced instructors.

Beta Testing Community Sharing

We’re also in the midst of launching a user community for sharing ideas and collaborating. If you’re interested in beta testing with us, please signup on our join page.

There is nothing more attractive to a future employer, client or team than confidence about your skills and knowledge of current trends. I hope you can join us at an upcoming event.

Class sizes are limited so please consider signing up now to reserve your seat.

Connect with me if you have any questions.

Scott Winterroth
Co-Founder & Instructor
PS: Get $50 off your first workshop

Use code at checkout: neverstoplearning

Class size is limited to give you personal attention. Register now otherwise you may have to wait until the next session.

Another critical reason for web image optimization

Another critical reason for web image optimization

Optimize your images for social mediaYou can’t just upload images you take on your camera to your blog or website.

Cameras and camera phones try to cram as many pixels into each image as they possibly can. For a good reason. When you take a photo, you want it to look sharp and great for that 8″ x 10″ photo hanging on the wall.

The problem is, the web is exactly the opposite.  As a blogger, we want our images to look great but we need to make sure the file size of each image we upload is as small as possible. This will reduce our users’ load time of a given web page and it’s a best practice for good citizenry of the interweb. You don’t want to slurp up all of your reader’s mobile data!  Nor do you want to lose them because of something that is rather simple to do.

Image optimization is often associated with website speed and bandwidth, but recent interactions with a popular social media sharing tool gave me yet another reason to not be lazy and spend the time reducing my blog’s images.

Bloated images can have implications on social networks.

buffer-failed-image
Epic fail! Keep your images under 3mb in total size.

An important reason to upload optimized images is for social sharing of your content. I’ve noticed several times over the last couple of months that tweets in my Buffer queue failed because the image attached to the post was too big.

Keeping your images right-sized

Keep your images looking great and on a pixel diet by using a program such as Adobe Photoshop to save the image in the correct size and file type.  Open the image and select the “Export -> Save For Web” function to optimize your images.   Work this feature until the image looks good but is as small of a file size as possible.

Full-size images in high-resolution will take up a large portion of space on your hosting server. The more space you use, the more bandwidth your site will consume which will equal the more likely your host will charge overage fees.

Optimize your images so they appear on social networks properly! Click To Tweet

I recommend optimizing your images before you even upload them to your site but there’s also a great image optimization service with a WordPress integration called imagify.io. They crunch all of your images as you upload them and will even go back and bulk optimize! If Photoshop isn’t in the cards at the moment.

Reasons your blog strategy didn’t take off

Reasons your blog strategy didn’t take off

Blogging Strategy Tips imageBlogging is a great way to get noticed on the internet and to grow your authority on a particular subject matter. The problem is, blogging can be very time-consuming and often under appreciated.

There’s nothing worse than spending several hours crafting a post for no one to read it.

For most, the minimum blogging tasks of collecting post ideas, writing a few hundred words, editing, and then publishing can equate to nearly a full-days work. Sad thing is, even with that level of dedication it is often not enough in today’s crowded content marketing space. Successful bloggers rise to the top by putting in the extra mile into every piece of content they publish. They have to in order to make it worth their time investment.

If you are reading this because you’re having troubles gaining reader traction, then I recommend auditing your basic content creation mechanics. I’ve outlined seven key blog post creation fundamentals to review before writing your next post.

Post Intent

Before typing a word, always ask yourself for whom am I writing this post and what will provide the most value to them? It is very critical to identify your ideal reader by first guessing what types content they will either need or be most receptive to. For example, how-to posts and personal stories can lend advice when in need and interviews can spark ideas and encouragement while driving attention from known names.

In order to potentially identify what “they” want, we must first identify their needs.

How to identify a target reader:

Target audience identification is often based off of assumptions. We assume someone who would read this post will care about or might be in the process of something. Assumptions are often based off of the following high-level examples:

  • Lifestyles
  • Gender
  • Age/Demographics
  • Values
  • Attitudes
  • Recent product purchases

Audience identification is nothing new, the media has utilized identification tactics to measure and sell across all types of mass mediums. Extensive studies were performed on many different types of demographics from everything from the “2000’s Soccer Mom” to the “Boomer” and “Millennial Market”. If you are seeking to target one of these traditional demographics then review existing research within your space for ideas and direction.

Use your existing data

Great audience data is probably right under your nose. Review your existing website tracking data such as Google Analytics or Jetpack Stats. This data represents metrics such as time on site, what type of device is most used on your blog and what locations from around the world are most popular. Use this data as a general rule and guide to then learn about how you can best feed your audience’s needs and customs.

Quantcast is a powerful resource for audience identification and advertising. Their reports dial into website traffic by gender, age, income, education level, and ethnicity. These are great metrics for audience identification and useful not only for content strategy but for building blog media kits. If your blog is not yet listed in Quantcast’s network, then review blogs within your space that might have similar audience profiles.

Take a guess; you will probably find someone like yourself.

I think it is safe to say, we often write for ourselves. Think about recent experiences, things you are into, and what you would find value in. If you would read it, others will likely feel the same.

Originality

On the web, there is a lot of what I call follow-the-leader and idea swapping. Someone creates a blog post, then someone else takes the topic and makes it their own by re-posting it with a slightly different headline

Readers do not need the same information from a different source. They seek new information. Period. It’s ok to write on what is trending, but work towards injecting your own value proposition or perspective into the topic. Especially if you’re looking to acquire readers from search engines.

“What is really the future isn’t more Charlie Roses [Interviewers], because we don’t, what we need are more people who actually have a point and are worth following for themselves … The win is to become your own distinct voice.” Episode 15 – Distinct and Direct, Seth Godin’s Startup School Podcast

Leverage your ideas, personal strategies and experiences to create uniquely new content. Mix in other content as it makes sense but always strive for something original to you.

Frequency

Here’s the thing with posting frequency, I can’t say I’m an expert on this topic. In fact, I often write blog posts simply when I’m creatively able. I wish I had a solid content creation schedule because there are proven benefits to consistent blogging. Frequency builds traction and valuable learning experiences.

On the other hand, if you’re writing to simply meet deadlines then you might not be putting out the best content possible.

I spent one month blogging every day on my personal blog to test this strategy. I concluded that for now, that daily blogging was not for me. While I managed to create what I considered rather inspirational content, it was mostly in the form of “thin” content or stuff that was not search engine ready. I learned, the content I shared maybe made sense to me but didn’t build much traction. Therefore, it wasn’t providing my readers enough value and I didn’t have the time to promote it to new ones. I eventually burned out – especially with a lack of solid results.

I recommend putting yourself on a goal path for posting something of major substance at least a few times a month. Go the extra mile to make that one post awesome, not just a bunch of random thoughts. When planning your schedule, make sure to account for time to promote your content after posting it.

Distribution/Promoting

Successful bloggers are also community builders. They focus not only on creating content but on strategies for building a following surrounding their brand. Obtaining measurable results from social media and email marketing requires a commitment to learn how they work and the time investment to build your reach.

It’s a bit of a chicken vs. egg scenario because most social networking and email marketing strategies require content to build a following but on the flipside, your blogging will require a following to make it worth its time investment.

What drives me crazy are bloggers who come to me and say they stopped blogging because they would post content and no one would read. Most often, they didn’t have a distribution strategy. I would ask them about their email marketing strategy and I would get some sort of response equalling they didn’t have one.

Independent blogging is not news writing in the sense that you can simply post and article and walk away. Writers and journalists can do this because their employer likely has generations of brand credibility and reach. When you’re going it alone, every piece of new content needs to come paired with a promotion strategy.

Publish your content then post to social, send in a newsletter, and ask others to share your work if they like it.

Content Optimization for Search

I’m hesitant to bring this up because the world of search engine optimization is rapidly changing. I want to say, make sure your content is saturated in keyword rich terms but I’m afraid this is sort of a passing fancy. I’m going to stick with what I’ve always recommended, focus on creating great content with a purpose and with value.

My approach to search engine strategy is broad. I don’t think of it as one post or one page at a time. I try to imagine an entire web property surrounding a core topic. For me, this is the only way I have been able to obtain high-quality search ranking and maintain that placement. It’s a much more of a robust strategy with a lot of moving parts but it seems to work for now.

You have to think about how your users will search for content within the search engines, then create content surrounding those search queries. Make sure that whatever you post to your blog Google and the other search engines can crawl it. Always provide them with additional information such as Meta Titles and Meta Descriptions,  these will only help Google make a better decision on where your content should be categorized.

Readability and Flow

The web is a fragmented place where inconsistency is the norm. Why, because nothing on the web is uniform – by design. Every website and blog abides to its own design and style, equalling a virtually unlimited amount of possible font and color combinations. This is one reason why video content became so popular.

In the days of newsprint, if the reader couldn’t read the paper because of the vision difficulty, they would put on eyeglasses or use a magnifying glass. Today, if they can’t read your website, they will find what they are looking for elsewhere.

The website architecture term User Experience (Ux) refers to the overall quality design and user-centric experience when loading and viewing a site. Which, by the way, isn’t really an easy to benchmark and set a standard. While overall site design, mobile friendliness and site load time – or in lay terms putting yourself in your customer’s shoes – are paramount. The actual readability, clarity, and message of the content is often overlooked.

There so much talk about how important website content can be to an online marketing strategy yet when it comes to building a website I feel the following is almost always true:

  • Designers care about design.
  • Programmers care about code.
  • Marketers care about analytics.
  • Writers care about … getting paid.

No one is really focused on the writing, which in reality is the most important public-facing aspect of any website or blog. It’s often “good enough” because writing is one of the hardest skill sets of them all.

“The idea that anyone can do anything is true. But you have to make sure you really want to do it and then dedicate yourself to accomplishing what you want to do. Have to and want to are two different kinds of activity,” wrote Joan Margau, a professional copywriter, in her post Are you a Writer.

The web and blogging have really opened doors for anyone to create content. Which is amazing but that does not mean high-quality writing is not important. I encourage everyone to try their hand at it.  If they feel writing is their destiny, then like any trade, they should work towards continuously improving their skills. I try to practice what I preach.

Posting just anything was possible during the early stages of content marketing but it proves much harder today. Profound ideas and quality writing will always prevail.

Value

I can’t say it enough. Content that gets shared is content that provides a value to its reader. Of course, value has different meanings across different audiences but as a blogger one must work to provide content that will meet a need. If you think it is something that you would share, then others will hopefully feel the same.

The simple value test:

Ask yourself, would someone pay me for this information? If no, then don’t expect someone to share it with their following.

Blogging is a long-term strategy

If you are reading this, and you are only a few posts into your blogging strategy then keep it up! Blogging is not a quick fix to a marketing problem. It’s a long-term solution that will live well beyond any one post. Be prepared to stick it out for a few months or years, depending on how often you post.

Most importantly, every post is a learning experience. The more you post, the more you will learn. Take it one step at a time and start honing your blogging by testing ideas and strategies. You will be surprised, sometimes best-practices don’t work; silly mistakes become proven winners.

In the end, you will become a pro.

WordPress Page Builder Plugins on a $100 Budget

WordPress Page Builder Plugins on a $100 Budget

wordpress-page-builder-plugins-review

The fundamental concept behind WordPress is to enable users to publish web content without knowing code.  Which, in my opinion, it does just that in exceptionally well.

The core WordPress interface provides a simple way to login and add a new page or post to a website. Simply select Add New then add a title, images and write a long chunk of content within the post content editor.  Hit publish and post added to website.

By default WordPress standards, you can layout your post content however you want so long as it fits within the post content rectangle.  

Sort of reminds me of the famous quote from Henry Ford. “They can have it in any color, so long as it’s black.”

henry-ford-quote

Breaking out of the mold.

WordPress launched as a blogging platform but it has evolved into what we call content management system or CMS for short. Therefore, most WordPress themes follow the blog format and come with only one default page and post layout.

The default layout typically includes a header, footer a content block area and a sidebar with widgets.  This is often referred to the two-column layout.  Pretty nifty for blogging (Circa 2009) and simple about page.

sample-2-column-wordpress
An example of a two-column layout.

As more non-coders begin using the project, the demand for easy to manipulate templates is also on the rise.  What if you want to create a service page or something that showcases a lot of fascinating information and you don’t want to hack into your theme’s code files?   Welcome to page builders.  

What are page builders for WordPress?

Since about 2011, page builders have gained momentum as a codeless way to style up your page and post content visually.  Either from the backend or even with special tools that appear on the front end when logged in.  

Page builders do exactly that, they allow to manipulate the page or post content area within WordPress. Not the entire theme.  Although they’re becoming more flexible and powerful, you might not use a page builder to design an entire website but rather work in conjunction with a WordPress theme.   

The active theme provides the heavy lifting in terms of logo placement in the header, the footer, and the overall style.  The page builder is used to layout content within a post or pages in a drag-and-drop fashion.  Meaning, literally, you can select and drag blocks of content from one column and row to another.

Page Builders allow for laying out all types of pages and posts, providing more flexibility for the content creator to visualize how a reader should consume their content.  

Comment elements of page builders plugins that I reviewed:

column-rowsColumns

The default WordPress format for posts is 2-columns.  Meaning, your post content is one column and your widget area is the other.  With page builders, you can throw away the two-column format for practically any number of columns you need.  

For example, you might want 3 columns because you’re looking to list a pricing table for your services.  Or, you might want to nest columns within a larger column to create a grid of photos or text boxes.  

Rows

With page builders, you can create rows for your content, making layers within the page or post.  This allows for fancy ways to display content with sidebars and content alternating to the left and right to make it visually engaging.  

 

MotoPress provides some default page templates which then can be manipulated.

 

visualcomposer
Visual Composer provides lots of elements that can be dragged and dropped into rows and columns.

Related:  A thing or two about WordPress Widgets 

Downside of Page Builders:

Destroys WordPress’ default editor

The default WYSIWYG Editor within WordPress is a beautiful thing. Over the years, I’ve become more and more comfortable writing within the editor and using it as my main ways to write content. Most page builders remove or destroy the standard editor by replacing it with their layout interface.   

If they don’t remove the editor, they typically fill it up with plenty of shortcodes which make it hard to navigate without using the page builder’s editor.  

divi-screen
The Divi Editor replaces the default WordPress WYSIWYG content editor

Function vs. Performance:  

Adding page builders and their add-ons provides non-code-savvy users with fantastic ways to manipulate content within the WordPress editor.  Like any plugin, the more plugins you add to your WordPress, site the greater chance of it loading slower.   While I didn’t specifically test for speed degradation within any of the plugins, there were sometimes noticeably longer loading times as most of these plugins add many lines of code to the browser load.   I recommend using a page builder with a caching plugin such as WP Super Cache or WP Rocket.  

Forward thinking

Page builders are sometimes a great shot term solution to laying out pages and posts but there is one long term problem that most users don’t consider.  Let’s say a few years from now you decide to use a new theme on your website. For whatever reason, that theme is not compatible or you no longer want to use a page builder.   You would then have to go back and reassemble all of your content back to either the default WordPress editor or into a new page builder or theme. 

Incompatible with Yoast SEO

Many WordPress bloggers use plugins to help optimize content.  Yoast SEO, for example, will not be able to provide an appropriate score with a page builder since the content is placed outside of the standard post content area.

Final thought on Page Builders

Page Builders provide flexible solutions for the non-coder but they have their complexities of their own. I recommend not diving into a page builder until you have a solid understanding of how WordPress and your active theme works. It’s likely you will need to spend some time understanding all of the new features to make a decision on how you will use it.

Page Builder Reviews:  

In the spring of 2016, I found myself looking to purchase a page builder for a couple of projects I was working on.  I didn’t want to spend more than $100 on any given plugin and I wanted to something that was relatively stable and would not take a ton of hours to learn.

Here are the results of my research, I hope it will assist you with deciding on which page builder is best for you.

Some of the following links may contain affiliate links where we get a small commission in exchange for your purchase. We only recommend products we would use and your purchase will help the community grow!

Review: Visual Composer for WordPress
8.5 Reviewer
0 Users (0 votes)
Pros
Low entrance cost
for core plugin
One of the first
mature code
BuddyPress Addon
Gravity Forms support
Cons
Too many addons and
fragmented
some free some not
WooCommerce Addon $17!
Easily blow by $100 budget
Summary
Visual Composer by WP Bakery comes packaged with many themes on ThemeForest, a WorPress theme marketplace, and is widely one of the most popular visual page builders within the WordPress community. It is also one of the oldest since it's been around since 2011. Visual Composer is sold on CodeCanyon.net, which is part of the Envato marketplace, therefore, a community of developers have build "add-ons" and have made their plugins compatible offering a very robust offering of features to fit almost any need.
Useability
Active Development
Cost

Repond and read full review here:  Visual Composer for WordPress

Review: Beaver Builder Page Builder for WordPress
7 Reviewer
0 Users (0 votes)
Pros
Helpful for columns,
images, widgets
and sidebars within
content blocks
One of the simplest
Cons
Lacks fancy styling
such as block quotes; testimonials
Lacking features
Costly compared to competitors
but total price is clear
Summary
Beaver Builder came to me highly recommended but I just don't see the value in it compared to the other page builders. It's more expensive yet lacking some of the core features that make other page builders great. Will keep my eye on this plugin to see how to progresses but I'm not quite sold at this point.
Useability
Active Development
Cost

Respond and read the full review here:  Beaver Builder for WordPress

Review: MotoPress Page Builder for WordPress
8.3 Reviewer
0 Users (0 votes)
Pros
Easy, layer like, interface
Members content area,
only logged in users
Tables
WooCommerce support
Cons
Shortcode Mania
Limited BuddyPress features
Slider extra plugin $8
No clone, duplicate or export.
Summary
Starting at just $29 for a single site license, MotoPress is our recommended Page Builder plugin for getting started. It's relatively easy to understand and it comes with may core features that are useful.
Useability
Active Development
Cost

Respond and read the full review here:  MotoPress Page Builder for WordPress

Review: Divi Builder for WordPress
7.7 Reviewer
0 Users (0 votes)
Pros
Nice user interface
Relatively easy to understand
Well documented
Global styles
Cons
Limited functions, no addons
Completely blows up the visual editor
Felt like some features are missing
like a testimonial slider
No access to basic WP editor
Summary
Divi is a powerful page builder by Elegant Themes. Probably works best with their themes but overall I had a pleasant experience using it on a client's website. I'm not a huge fan but would consider Divi for future projects. My main dislike is the fact it completely deletes the core visual editor within WorddPress.
Useability
Active Development
Cost

Respond and read the full review here: Divi Builder for WordPress

Review: SiteOrigin Page Builder and Widgets
9.2 Reviewer
0 Users (0 votes)
Pros
Prebuilt layouts
cool button editor with font icons
pretty awesome for being free
Column resizing eazy
Spent none of my budget! Lean.
Easy to implement, no loss
if I change my mind.
Cons
Layers of plugins
Feels limited compared
to others
Summary
SiteOrigin Page Builder is pretty nifty, especially since it's free! Might want to give this one a try first as it provides a great introduction to how page builders work. Also, make sure to install their widget bundle for more features. If you're just looking to make one or two page-layouts here and there, this is a good one to check out.
Useability
Active Development
Cost

Respond and read the full review here: SiteOrigin Page Builder and Widgets

Did I miss anything?

Is there a Page Builder I should try? Let me know in the comments below.

How Guest Posting Benefits Your Blog

How Guest Posting Benefits Your Blog

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image image=”1554″ img_size=”full” alignment=”center”][vc_column_text]New bloggers are often preoccupied with creating content for their own blog. This is a good strategy to focus on initially, but I’m going to suggest something that’s going to seem counterintuitive – just hear me out.

Once you’re on a roll with posts for your own blog, you need to start creating content for someone else’s blog. In the blogging world, this is known as guest posting and is a necessary long-term strategy for promoting yourself and your blog.

Ideally, you’re creating a blog post each week. The purpose of this is to always have fresh content to share with readers through your newsletter and social channels. Constantly updating content is also a positive signal to Google that your website is active and high-quality.

Your challenge moving forward is to, at minimum, create three posts for your blog each month and use the fourth post to guest blog for someone else’s audience.

Let’s talk specifically about how guest posting benefits your blog.

[/vc_column_text][vc_text_separator title=”Create powerful partnerships with other bloggers”][vc_column_text]If you’ve successfully negotiated a guest blogging opportunity (more on how to do that in a future article), you’ve created an ally in your journey to better blogging. Assuming that person has connections to your niche or related interests, they may have connections to other relevant bloggers and brands they can connect you with. Just make sure that you put as much effort or more into the guest post you create for them so they want to help you network!

[/vc_column_text][vc_text_separator title=”Create links back to your own blog”][vc_column_text]There are two benefits of creating links back to your own blog that occur when guest posting for another blog.

The first is that interested readers are a great audience for your own content. Guest posting is an effective way to build your audience in a quality way.

The second is that links back to your own website and content creates positive SEO benefits for your website. The power of backlinks are largely related to the pagerank and domain authority of the website you’re posting on. Try to keep this in mind when pitching different blogs you’d like to guest post for.

Unfortunately, some author bios (where most put their own blog’s link) contain a “no follow” link attribute, which basically means that search engines won’t count it as an authority-building backlink. Ask if this is the case before committing to a guest posting opportunity. Even if it is, you may be able to still create an authority-building backlink by linking to a specific blog post or resource on your website within the body of the blog article.

[/vc_column_text][vc_text_separator title=”Create expertise in a topic”][vc_column_text]When people start to see published articles with your author bio on high-authority blogs across the world wide web, they start to create an association between the topic and you. Whether or not it’s true, you start becoming perceived as an expert. This is useful in building credibility with your own blog audience, as well as potential clients if you’re trying to monetize by using your expertise to coach or consult with clients (to give one example).

Also, If you’re trying to monetize in the freelance writing space, guest posting benefits your blog by creating published samples you can share to show writing competence and social proof for the work you do.

There are so many ways in which guest posting benefits your blog. We certainly haven’t covered them all here, and would love to hear your own opinions on the topic in the comments below!

And if you need help figuring out the WordPress blogging software, make sure to check out our courses on related topics![/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

A thing or two about WordPress Widgets

A thing or two about WordPress Widgets

wordpress-widgets-explained

Does anyone care to explain a WordPress Widget?

When I ask students to explain WordPress widgets, I often get either a blank stare. If anyone is daring enough to answer it’s typically along the lines of well they’re these things.

And, that’s not a bad answer.

A widget in general terms describes something that’s name is unknown. It is often also used to describe something in a broad general sense, a placeholder of sorts. We kind of know what it does, but we haven’t got a good name for it. Thus, widget joins the ranks of similar nouns such as doodads, gizmos, and thingamajigs.   

Trying to explain a “thing” to someone who is new to WordPress is the tricky part.  Now, if I only had something to help me explain it.   

WordPress Widgets live in sidebar areas

Widgets reference the fact that users can select features of their liking and drop them into a sidebar area to add functionally to their theme.  Sidebars are flexible columns commonly found to the right side of a blog post. They contain widgets including subscription signup forms, advertisements, and social media buttons.

website-widget-mockup

Sidebars have been a part of the WordPress since its initial release. How users interacted with sidebars changed with the launch of widgets in 2007. Prior, it would require hacking into the code directly within the theme or stick with the default.WordPress Classic Theme

With the introduction of widgets in version 2.2, this whole process became easy. Site admins could now add and rearrange widgets in the sidebar without knowing code and in a nondestructive way.  Now, when a theme updated or switched, the widgets were stored for safekeeping and not washed away with the updates.

With the launch of widgets, a user interface within the WordPress Dashboard was also added to allow for moving and adding widgets.  While the interface has changed a bit over the years, the concept behind it stays relatively the same.

Adding a widget to a sidebar area:

To add and change widgets on self-hosted WordPress site, the widget control panel located within the appearance menu. It is only accessible if you have administrative access to the site.

For WordPress.com users, widgets are located in the “Customizer”  within in the “Personalize” section.

It’s important to note, not all WordPress themes provide a sidebar areas to add widgets. On the other end of the spectrum, some themes can overly depend on widgets with many sidebars and theme specific widget options.

Refer to your theme’s documentation for where the sidebars are located and how they work. If you are new to WordPress looking to grasp the concept of widgets, activate a default theme to test out widgets. 

 

WordPress widget control panel screenshot
WordPress widget control panel screenshot

Within the Widget control panel, WordPress will display the available sidebars to the right for which widgets can be added.  For most themes, this typically includes at least one sidebar labeled Primary Sidebar.  On the front end, or visitor facing side of the website, this primary sidebar area is often located to the right of the post or page content area.  Or at least this is true when viewing on a desktop computer. The primary sidebar on mobile devices will typically fall below the page or post content area. The viewing area has become too small to display both the content and the sidebar on a mobile screen.

To add an available widget to a sidebar with the widget control panel, click the widget then drag and drop into the sidebar area. Once in the sidebar, clicking on the widget titles will display any available options for that widget. Sort order of the widgets will autosave but be sure to click save if you may any widget option changes.  

Now head over to the front end of your site to see the new widget in the sidebar.  

Self-Hosted WordPress Default Widgets

widgets in sidebar

By default, WordPress enables the following widgets within the primary sidebar upon install:

  • Search
  • Recent Posts
  • Recent Comments
  • Archives – Show your posts in archives by month.
  • Categories – Show a list of your blog’s categories.
  • Meta – Displays a login, logout link.

You can remove these widgets by hovering over them and selecting delete, or you can keep them and move the order by click and dragging them up or down. There are also a couple of default widgets to note that are available but not active.

Text Widget

One of the most popular default widgets is the Text widget which allows users to add HTML.   For example, you could add a simple image or copy and paste the code into this area.  Just remember, the text widget only accepts plain text and HTML code.  

Calendar Widget

The calendar widget displays a nice month view calendar in the sidebar, but it is not to be confused with an event calendar.  The calendar widget displays links to blog posts by the date posted.  It allows readers to see what you posted on a particular day in the past.  

Custom Menu

Custom Menu allows for a  page or post menu to appear in the sidebar as opposed to the theme’s menu areas.  

Tag Cloud

The tag cloud shows a list of your post tags in a density format to highlight which tags are used more than others.   

Extending Widgets

Alright folks, a quick note.  Pretty much the rest of this article will focus on the self-hosted version of WordPress. AKA the .org version.  

Now, if the default widgets don’t meet your fancy, there are several ways to add different widgets to meet your needs.  

Widgets from themes

When active, some themes will install their own widgets to be used with the active theme.  For example, they might provide users with a different way to display recent posts or provide a simple way to show the author profile.  

It is almost impossible to know what themes will create certain widgets. I recommend reading your the theme’s documentation to determine if it will install helpful widgets.    

It can be ideal when a theme provides its own widgets as they typically come styled to match the rest of the theme’s design making it appear more seamless.

Widgets from plugins

If you can’t seem to find a default or theme widget to meet your needs, then you can search the WordPress.org plugin directory for additional widgets.

A plugin is a way to insert new code to your website in a nondestructive way and it can be easily turned on and off.

This process can be a bit tricky if you don’t know what you’re looking for. There are thousands of plugins within the directory to search.  I recommend starting with a few search terms surrounding the functionally you’re looking to achieve.  Examine the plugins that come up within your searches and determine if they will meet your requirements. If yes, then install and test.

This process will become easier as you become more familiar with WordPress and start to build your knowledge of what plugins work for different needs. If you get stuck or don’t know what to do, you can always ask me!

To get started, here’s a link to the plugins within the WordPress Directory tagged with widget.

Jetpack Widgets

JetPack is a suite of plugins and functionality provided by WordPress.com and made available to self-hosted users. Within Jetpack, there are several widgets including many social media integrations such as Facebook Like Box and a Twitter Timeline. They also provide a simple and free email subscription widget where if users enter their email address they will get an email with your recent post after you hit publish.  It’s called Blog Subscriptions.

Related: Useful Jetpack WordPress Plugin Features

I recommend Jetpack widgets as they are well maintained.  Since the Jetpack plugin overall provides a host of many great features, you might as well take advantage of the widgets made available by this plugin rather than install more plugins that are maybe not necessary.

Notable JetPack Widgets:

  • Social media icons
  • Facebook Like Box
  • Twitter timeline
  • Blog Subscriptions
  • Contact Info – Display your location, hours, and contact information.
  • Display WordPress Posts
  • Top Post and Pages
  • Gravatar – Show your gravatar profile
  • Image Widget – Use to display an image in the sidebar

JetPack also provides a cool little feature called Widget Visibility. Let say you only wanted to show certain widgets on select pages of your site.  This module provides a conditional logic functionally to say IF this page, THEN show or hide this widget.

Popular Plugins that create widgets

Here are some popular plugins that create widgets. Plugins are available on self-hosted WordPress sites.

Going beyond the traditional post sidebar usage.

Footer widgets

Many themes use widgets in what are called widgetized footers.  The sidebar is displayed horizontally rather than traditionally in a vertical rectangle.  Most themes will indicate footer widgets in the admin panel with sidebars labeled Footer Widget Left, Footer Widget Center, and Footer Widget Right.  The widget column is broken up into three small widget areas rather than one long.

TIP: Show me the sidebars!

When there are many sidebars, I recommend orienting yourself with each by dragging a text widget into each sidebar with something like I’m here! Then, it makes it easy to see visually and map out where each sidebar is from the front end.  Once you’re good, delete the text widget.   

Genesis Theme

Some theme frameworks use Widgets as a way to customize the home page.  One notable framework is the Genesis Theme by StudioPress. Most of their child themes rely heavily on widgets and custom theme widgets to position content within the theme.  For example, a recent post widget is used to create a blog layout on the homepage while the user can define how many posts to show.   

Visual Page Builders

Page builders allow users to design visually are become more and more popular. Don’t like the default sidebars? A page builder plugin can let you add and move sidebars.  Popular page builders include Visual Composer, Divi, PageBuilder, and MotoPress.  They allow for almost unlimited flexibility for where your sidebars (and widgets) will show. Plus, it allows for users to create multiple sidebars to display on different pages or categories within the blog.  Useful if you want to show different ads for certain types of content.  I recommend mastering your current theme first before you dive into a page builder. Consider this option only if you’re not happy with the default formats.

The future of WordPress Widgets

There is conversation and speculation the future of sidebars as being a thing of the past.  There might be some truth to it as responsive design often removes or pushes sidebars down the page when readers log on via mobile devices.

If no one is going to see the sidebar and widgets, then why have them?

Clutter is distracting. When a reader visits your blog post, the ideal course of action would be for them to read your content.  Ads and other obtrusive widgets vie for their attention and make it harder to read. Determine if that is something you want them to experience.

On the other hand, widgets can provide value to the reader by offering simple ways sign up for more updates from their new favorite author. Recommend more posts and resources or showcase supplemental information to the story.

Widgets provide ways to visitors to interact with your WordPress site.

They can enhance your content marketing efforts by providing ways to drive engagement, enhance user experience and when used wisely can set your blog up for growth.

Your turn, tell us your Widget story!

Do you have any creative ways you use WordPress widgets on your site or can you recommend a widget or plugin? Let us know in the comments below and link back to your site to showcase your work on Content Academy!

The Built in SEO Juice of WordPress

The Built in SEO Juice of WordPress

The SEO Juice of WordPress

Out of the box, WordPress is a Content Management System that plays well with Google in terms of SEO best practices. Our last article shared some of the built-in tools that help with SEO. In this article, we’ll share additional features on WordPress that help bloggers rank high on search. As these specific WordPress features show, it’s not just about keywords, but proper website structure.

Permalinks

WordPress offers the ability to customize permalinks, which is the URL structure of blog posts. It’s possible to edit specifics by going to Settings > Permalinks when logged into the WordPress dashboard.

Your options will look something like this:

The first option (“Plain”) is the worst bet for SEO – it uses an arbitrary numbering system, not keywords, to name the URL of a post.

You may be tempted to embellish your URL structure by appending categories or dates, but beware – these URL additions are bad for SEO. One of the main tenets of SEO is speeding up your website so that Google can quickly search it and suggest it as a top result. By adding unnecessary extras to your URL structure, you’re creating one more thing to slow down your website.

The best option is the simple “Post Name” – which should be rich in the keywords you’re optimizing for!

Interested in learning more? A2 Hosting shares an in-depth guide to how WordPress permalinks affect SEO

Breadcrumbs and Related Posts

Depending on your theme and it’s implementation, there are a lot of built-in internal linking opportunities. Internal linking helps with SEO by showing Google the relationship between pages on your website, and how they connect with each other. The more (relevant) connections you create, the more positive effect on SEO.

Breadcrumbs are a standard implementation on most WordPress themes, and are basically navigational elements that help visitors understand where they are on your website, and where they came from.

To give an example, say you initially landed on a blog’s home page, then clicked on a post about tacos in the food category. The breadcrumb structure displayed near the top of the page would look something like this:

Home > Food > Tacos

Breadcrumbs help from a user experience standpoint, but also create more internal links between pages on your website.

Another easy way to create internal links on WordPress is by using a related posts plugin. Related posts plugins show search engines additional similarities between pages, and also suggest relevant content that keeps visitors on your website for longer. More time on your blog and more pages visited results in positive feedback to Google that assists with SEO.

Pingbacks

If internal links are bronze for SEO, then external links from other relevant blogs are gold (or platinum, if that counts as being higher than gold).

If you’ve turned on pingbacks, you’ll be able to see what websites are linking to your blog content, and approve that link. Being able to approve pingbacks is a control you shouldn’t give up (don’t just automatically allow pingbacks), because spammy links from unrelated websites and blogs can actually hurt SEO.

Besides being good for SEO, pingbacks also represent a great way to start a relationship with a high-quality fan. If someone is willing to link to your blog, that person deserves your thanks and will hopefully continue the practice!

Automatic 302 Direct

Most of the time, the http://yoursite.com and www.yoursite.com.
look like the same thing, but if someone is linking to your site using one prefix over another (http vs www), it’s unevenly distributing the weight of those external links on different “versions” of your website.

Luckily in cases like these, WordPress applies an automatic 302 direct, which consolidates the weight of the links to benefit your blog as a whole. This, however, is only “temporary” and should be changed into a permanent redirect for optimal results. Viperchill has a tutorial on exactly how to do that.

WordPress has plenty of built-in SEO benefits that start with the software itself, and are expanded by the ability to use different plugins to detect and fix mistakes. Are you ready to take your blog to the next level?

The Built-In SEO Tools of WordPress

The Built-In SEO Tools of WordPress

wordpress-seo-tools

Over 2 million blog posts are published each day, which represents an unreal amount of content for a search engine to sift through and recommend to those searching for answers to their questions. As a blogger, in order to even get to the point where Google begins recommend your posts, your site must first be optimized properly. 

The process of optimizing a website for search is called Search Engine Optimization or SEO for short. The process is often technical and strategic in nature but, at the very minimum, SEO includes techniques to guide a user to your website through various forms of content such as blog posts. One of the most popular ways to get your name out on the web is with blogging and WordPress is both a service and a tool that can help you accomplish that with a lot of built-in functionality that conducive to better SEO.

Here are the built-in SEO tools on WordPress.

WordPress Makes it Easy to Submit to Search Engines

WordPress.com’s relatively new SEO Settings Panel takes care of a number of technical SEO needs, including:

  •       Front page meta description
  •       Site Verification Services
  •       XML Sitemap

Self-hosted WordPress users can also find this type of functionality with many great SEO plugins including Yoast SEO but it’s not technically needed. WordPress will automatically use to use your website’s tagline as the meta description for a blog. This front page meta description update makes it possible to use more keyword-rich text.

Site verification services make it easy to manage third party webmaster tools, including:

  •       Google Search Console
  •       Bing Webmaster Tools
  •       Pinterest Site Verification
  •       Yandex Webmaster

The XML Sitemap feature automatically generates a list of the pages on your site and tells Google how they’re connected. Combined with WordPress’s ability to automatically generate a robots.txt file, these technical elements are necessary for strong SEO.

If you’re self-hosting WordPress, you can still access these features by installing Jetpack.

Mobile Responsiveness

One of the main contributing factors to SEO is the ability to view and use a blog on a mobile device. Google has a tool that shows you how it interprets your blog and gives advice on how to improve the user’s mobile experience. For the technologically unsavvy, most themes offered for WordPress include mobile responsive options. Make sure to test out your theme of choice for this functionality before marrying yourself to it!

Page Load Time

Page load time is another extremely important factor when trying to rank on search engines. This has to do with the fact that people who grow impatient waiting for a page to load may leave before seeing your content or advancing to another page. By not visiting another page (a signal of interest), Google records a high bounce rate. A high bounce rate is interpreted by Google as a mismatch as the ideal search result.

Quicksprout also points out that WordPress code is without bloat (unnecessary white space, elements, etc.), which means it supports fast page load time. Of course, any WordPress blog can be slowed down with excessive use of plugins, images, and bad choices in general – so be careful what you’re adding to your WordPress blog.

Yoast SEO

Perhaps the single most useful plugin for self-hosted WordPress sites (at least as far as SEO is concerned) is the Yoast SEO plugin. Yoast provides a stoplight style list of to-dos regarding implementing keywords: green means go, red means you have some work to do. Yoast SEO takes what could be considered a complicated process of implementing on-page SEO and makes ranking for specific keywords accessible for everyone.

There are certainly other nuances and specifications that lend the WordPress software to being an easy way to win at SEO, but this list can help you understand the most important factors for ranking.

To learn more about WordPress and it’s powerful features for bloggers, check out our article about Jetpack, or plugin roundup posts, and of course, our step-by-step courses on learning how to use the WordPress software.

What are you most excited about regarding the built-in SEO tools on WordPress? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!

How to Find Your Blogging Niche

How to Find Your Blogging Niche

How to find your blogging niche

One of the most polarizing decisions before officially starting a blog is trying to determine how to find your blogging niche. There are so many possibilities that it can be hard to decide! But being too broad is the worst thing you can do.

In an effort to help you think through the options, we’ve created a list of questions to answer for yourself when trying to figure out how to find your blogging niche:

What are you passionate about?

At the end of the day, you’re never going to put effort into something you can’t get excited about. And for many people, a blog is a creative release. It may not be your job, but it should provide some sort of positive benefit.

The easiest way to figure out your niche is to take a critical look at the things you’re passionate about. Is there something you’re excited enough about that you could write about it day-in, day-out? Would you consider yourself an expert on the topic? You may just have figured out your niche!

But there’s a few more questions you have to answer before you can determine if you’ll be successful with it.

Do you understand your audience?

This question has just as much to do with understanding your niche as it has to do with relating to people.

It’s one thing to have a passion and be able to write about it. It’s another thing to be able to connect with your audience and get them to share in your excitement.

Do you understand what makes them tick and what they want to read?

Can you come up with 50 post ideas?

50 might seem like a big number, but you have to realize that once you start a blog, you’ll need to be constantly coming up with new content ideas.

So before you make any big commitments, buy that domain name, the whole thing – you need to sit down and spend some time brainstorming post ideas.

If you’re having trouble thinking of specific topics people would want to read about after 10 or so bullet points, you’re in trouble. But this is a great exercise to weed out a good idea.

Problogger is constantly sharing content to help brainstorm post ideas once you’ve established your niche. Sign up for their emails for inbox inspiration!

Who can you partner up with?

Do you already have some connections that may come in handy? Great. If not, don’t sweat it.

Start doing some research on other bloggers in your niche or complementary niches. Take note of how they’re creating content and see if there are opportunities to partner up.

It’s also a good time to see what brands their working with. They may be brands you want to work with in the future!

This step isn’t critical to answering the question of how to find your blogging niche, but it is something good to know when thinking about the future of your blog!

Will it limit you in the future?

I’m going to tell you something that’s going to sound really counter-intuitive, but usually ends up being true.

Just as in art, sometimes restrictions can create the best work. Picking a specific niche may seem like you’re limiting yourself for future opportunities, but oftentimes the opposite is true. By creating a resource that draws in a very specific community, you can create hyper-relevant content and attract sponsors looking to take advantage of that.

Remember that once you get sponsors involved, you have to be careful of what you promote and make sure that it fits into your niche. Your readers will not take well to content that’s 100% sponsored, 100% of the time – especially if it seems unrelated.

Now that you have the tools you need to determine how to find your blogging niche, we’d love to hear what you decided on. Tell us about your blogging niche in the comments below!