Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Customize Your Genesis Site With The Genesis Extender Plugin

If you use the Genesis Theme Framework for your site, then you know that it provides a lot of customization potential. But most of this potential can only be unlocked if you are a developer who knows how to code. Meaning you can edit PHP code in a code editor and upload it back to your server via FTP.

But what about for non-coders? Well, luckily you guys have an option as well. And that option is called the Genesis Extender plugin. Genesis extender was created by Eric Hamm of CobaltApps who also produced the excellent Dynamik Website Builder child theme.

Installing Genesis Extender works like any other wordpress plugin. Once you install it, you will see two additional settings under the Genesis Menu: Extender Settings and Extender custom.

Extender Settings

Under Extender Settings, you will see some General Settings and some Import/Export settings. The most interesting aspect of the General settings are the options for your EZ static homepage. What this does is let you create a static front page for your site. So instead of having a front page consisting of a blog showing all your latest posts, you can have a static front page that displays anything you want. See this article by Keith Davies on how to use this.

Genesis Extender gives you many different layouts you can use for this static homepage. And you can fill each layout using whatever Wordpress widgets you like.

Extenders export settings gives you a chance to save your changes and use them on many different sites. So it's quite useful for site builders.

Extender Custom

Extender custom is where this plugin really makes its mark. First is the custom CSS builder. This basically allows you to make changes to your CSS and see the changes update live. If you've ever done the CSS edit, save and browser reload cycle then you can see how much of a time saver this is.

There's also a section for creating custom hooks. Instead of having to find your child theme's function.php, you can put your php code in in the text box. There's also a dropdown with a list of all the Genesis hooks which makes it simpler to find the hook you want.

Similar to custom hooks, you can also create custom widgets very easily with the plugin. There's a tab for creating custom hooks so select that and then choose the hook you want for your widget. Now when you go to your Widgets page in the dashboard, you should see a new widget area that will get displayed in the hook area that you chose.

Finally, Genesis extender introduces the concept of labels. Think of labels like tags. Every post or page you write can have a label associated with it. With labels, you can target your Hooks or Widget areas to only work with specific labels. This gives you a lot of flexibility in how you design your site.

Want to see more about Genesis Extender? Here's a video by creator Eric Hamm:

Final Thoughts

The Genesis Extender plugin is a must have if you are using the Genesis Theme framework on your site. It makes customizing your child themes very easy, and you will wonder how you ever developed without it. It's only $49.95, so give it a try.

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Tips To Starting Your First Business Website

If you own a company, then you should create a website for your business. This online presence will help you increase your revenues and also allow your customers to connect with you.

The first thing you have to decide before building your business website is, "what will my website be used for?". Some example answers include:

  • Collecting opt-ins for qualified leads.
  • Showcasing your products.
  • Selling your products online.

This is super important as once you've decided the goal of your website, then you can start building it with your target audience in mind.

Getting started

The first thing you need to do is register a domain name for your new business website. Hopefully, that will be yourcompanyname.com. It's important to make sure that the .com TLD extension is available for your chosen domain name. If it's not, then you should pick another name.

Once you see that your domain name is available then you'll need to register it at one of the many available registrars. My preference is either at Namecheap or Godaddy. For more details on registering domains on those two sites, you can check out these two links:

Next you will need to get web hosting for your company website. Your goal is to get the fastest and most reliable web hosting available. The type of hosting you will ultimately get though, depends on how much traffic you expect to get at your site. For low traffic websites, shared hosting is acceptable. Bluehost and Hostgator are common recommendations.

If you are expecting a lot of traffic however, it would be definitely wiser to invest in a VPS or Dedicated Server. They are certainly more expensive than shared hosting, but they can handle the load a lot better.

Designing your site

You want your business website to look professional right? If you use Wordpress, then there are a great number of Wordpress themes available for you to choose from. I would recommend browsing around at Wordpress theme gallery sites like WPArchive or WPThemeGallery.net and pick a theme you like. If you filter by Corporate themes, you can find lots of nice looking themes that would be suitable for your business website.

If you are interested in learning more about Wordpress, take a look at this interview by WP founder Matt Mullenweg on CNN here:

Getting Traffic to your site

This is the hard part for most people. However, if you already have a built in audience of customers, then you should start from there. Let them know that you have setup your website and ask them to come visit. You have their email addresses right? If not, make sure to add an opt-in form to your website as well. If you are using an autoresponder like AWeber or GetResponse then this is actually pretty simple since they both give you the code you need to add to your website.

Other ways to get more traffic to your site include SEO. This is the process of trying to get your website ranking high in the search engines for your chosen keywords. For a good guide on how to do this, check out this guide by Jason Acidre titled, How I get quick wins in SEO and Content Marketing which is a very good guide to SEO.

Otherwise, you may choose to go with a strategy like guest posting. This is where you write blog posts on other blogs in hopes of getting more traffic that blog's visitors. If you are a prolific writer, then this is definitely a viable option. Here's a good article on Think Traffic about guest posting and making your guest post stand out.

Final Thoughts

Did you get all that? If you follow the steps in this article, you will be able to start the process of building your website, and more importantly, get some traffic to it as well. Hopefully people will like what they see on your website, and you will start making more money as well.

Monday, 27 May 2013

Some Solid Email Marketing Tips To Try

What is the best ways to market your latest product? Not SEO, not social media, but email marketing. Email marketing is the best way to reach your customers hands down. So how do you make it work for you? Below are a couple of my favorite email marketing tips.

When developing an email marketing plan, make sure that every customer on your email list has voluntarily "opted in" to be on that list. Usually your leads do this through a process called double opt-in. Otherwise, you may get spam complaints and get your account suspended by your chosen autoresponder. Don't know what an autoresponder is yet? Then make sure to read this post by Gail Gardner to learn more.

Always have a crystal clear message with each email message you send. You do not want your customers to become bored or overwhelmed by the amount of content in your marketing email. Focus on one topic per email and go straight to the point. Don't forget to be interesting and tell stories in your emails. It helps keeps your readers engaged and looking forward to your next email.

Keep in mind that your ultimate goal is making sales. That means that every single email should bring readers closer to buying. You can do this by plugging your produce or service in every email you write. It doesn't have to be blatant, but make sure you include your link somewhere. And make sure to always keep tracking your email marketing engagement metrics to ensure that people are actually reading your emails.

This tweet from AWeber explains what some of these metrics are:

Putting an emphasis on email marketing is the smart way to run your business. Take what you learned today in this email, and start putting this information to good use.

Saturday, 5 May 2012

How to Measure Email Marketing Success Rate

There are a few specific metrics which need to be measured in order to determine the success (or failure) rate of your email marketing campaign.

If you’re using a tool for your email marketing efforts, such as Aweber or an alternative, are using the services of an Email Service Provider, or are using Google Analytics to gauge the metrics of your email marketing campaign, you’ll have access to certain stats and data about your campaign. All of which will make up a stats pack which will help you ascertain how well your email marketing is doing.

So what exactly are these metrics? Here are six that should help you determine the success of your email marketing campaign:

1. Bounce Rate

Another word for delivery-success rate, bounce rate can be defined as the percentage of emails that went undelivered, as compared to the total emails sent. The resultant number is the bounce rate.

Use these to determine issues with your mailing lists, for instance if you have a high-bounce rate, why is it high? Why are your emails not being delivered. In order to determine these, make sure you know the difference between hard and soft bounce rates. Soft bounce is a result of a temporary problem with the recipient’s email ID, such as problem with the server or a full inbox. Hard bounce are those emails which repeatedly bounce back, and hence points towards an issue such as an invalid email ID, to which an email will never be delivered.

Remove hard bounce email IDs immediately, in order to have an acceptable bounce rate, otherwise you might be flagged a spammer by your ISP or email service provider.

2. CTR (click-through rate)

The number of email recipients who ended up clicking on one or more of the links within your email. This can be measured as a percentage of unique clicks per emails sent/delivered, or total clicks per emails sent/delivered. However only one of the aforementioned should be used, and not interchangeably.

CTR is easily one of the most important and useful statistic when it comes to online marketing, and especially email marketing campaign. Why? Because CTR tells you straightaway how relevant, interesting, related, compelling, appropriate and above all, valuable your message was to your recipients. An email with a high CTR would indicate an interesting and relevant email, and would mean that your subscribers and recipients found it to be compelling enough to open and click on the links within it.

3. Conversions

Conversion rate is simply measured by looking at the number of people who clicked on a link within an email and performed a desired action, which is ideally an action you wanted them to take with the help of the email. This could be anything – form reading your newsletter, to filling out a form, to reading your post, to liking your Facebook page, to purchasing a product off your website.

Conversion rate is another important tool in assessing the effectiveness of your email marketing campaign. Some would even argue that it is the most important tool when it comes to email marketing, as conversions are directly proportional to your success. A higher conversion rate would mean your offers are compelling, and all your marketing efforts are effective.

It is important to note that a successful conversion is one which completes the process.

Also, a lot of different factors contribute towards a successful or unsuccessful conversion rate – factors such as the quality of your landing page, problems with your conversion process and so on. Most importantly however, having a strong, effective and clear CTA (call to action) would ensure that you have a strong conversion rate as well.

For instance a bug in your form, or a dead URL would adversely affect your conversion rate.

4. List Growth

Simple, and pretty self-explanatory: This is a measure of how quickly your list is growing. This can be measured by adding opt-outs and hard bounces and subtracting the result from the number of new subscribers and dividing the resultant number by the total list size.

A good list needs to have a good growth rate, add new members and email IDs constantly and at regular intervals. This is especially important because many email IDs on your list will probably end up being unused to be closed down, as people switch to other providers, change service providers, switch jobs, forget their passwords, etc.

5. Forwards

In simple terms, the number of people who forwarded an email to friends, coworkers, etc, or clicked on the share button to share it on their social media profiles.

This also demonstrates the relevance and interest-level of your email among its recipients. For instance if your emails are interesting enough, and recipients find your newsletter, offer, etc interesting and compelling enough to share with others, they will most likely do so. Emails with interesting content, such as videos and images are likely to be forwarded and shared a lot, giving you the potential to go viral. Likewise emails that are forwarded a lot can end up being chain-emails.

6. Revenue

Return on Investment, or ROI, of your emails and your email campaign in general. Revenue and ROI gives you a clear picture of the success of your email marketing campaign in general, and in monetary terms as well.

While measuring ROI is important for all marketers, as well as all email marketers, ROI is particularly useful for ecommerce email marketers, who would want to determine the sales generated from email campaigns. However measuring ROI usually goes hand-in-hand with measuring bounce-rates, CTR and conversion rates.

Friday, 4 May 2012

How to Deal with Blog Comments

Blog comments comes in all shapes and sizes (well, not literally), all forms of goodness or nastiness, spam, trash, useful comments, long essays, offtopic, completely nonsensical, and what not!

I’ve been blogging for a while now, so trust me, I’ve seen them all!

If you’re a blog owner, the question then really, is how do you deal with some of the comments and the commenters? I’ll be looking at 5 different types of blog comments and how you, as a blog owner, can and should deal with these comments:

1. Spam

Spam comments are usually totally random, completely off-topic BS, stuffed with links which are meant for promoting commercial websites. Usually, these links direct you to porn or pharmaceutical websites. Spam comments are often bot-generated comments, and spammers are actually getting sneakier and finding clever ways of getting through, when once it was as simple as using a plugin to block spam. Solution? Delete on sight! If you’re on Wordpress, use Akismet or other plugins for the purpose.

2. The Troll

Troll is someone who takes particular pleasure in posting inflammatory, controversial or off-topic comments, and on purpose, with the sole purpose and intent of provoking others into an off-topic or emotional response. In addition, trolls often criticize people, products, the blog or just about anything else, and end up instigating people as well. Dealing with trolls can be tricky. You could choose to ignore them (aka. ‘do not feed the trolls!’), and/or simply ban them (by banning their IP) from posting on your blog. Your call! But remember that sometimes trolls too might have something useful to say, even if they don’t say it how they should!

3. Legit Commenters

These people are a rare commodity! Something that every blogger hopes he can get. Legit commenters, as the name implies, are people who post genuine comments, which are on-topic, thoughtful, relevant, and above all, add value to the post itself. And even when these guys disagree, they tend to do it respectfully. In short, they’re every bloggers dream! The only way you could deal with these guys is making sure you respond to any and all their comments, each and every time that they comment.

4. Skimmers

Once again, as the name implies, skimmers do not read the entire post, rather tend to skim through a post, picking up a couple of things in the 2 minutes that they took to read a 1000 word post, and base their comments and/or argument on the few keywords that they picked up during the process. So how exactly does one deal with skimmers? Well, for starters, you could tell them to read the whole post before commenting. However as a blog owner, be polite when doing so! The fact is, if they didn’t read it the first time, they probably won’t do so again.

5. Generic Commenter

Generic comments include annoying comments and one-liners like ‘Interesting post, thanks for writing’ or any one of its variants. Honestly, if I had a penny for each of these comments, I’d be a billionaire by now! Generic comments, while being polite, add nothing to the conversation, and lack substance of any sort. The only purpose that they do serve is acknowledgement. Such comments can also be spam, simply written to include links in the comment. The best way to deal with such comments, is to add a ‘like’ button to your blog, and delete all ‘nice post thanks’ comments, since the like button basically serves the same purpose.

Bear in mind however that unless you are absolutely certain that the comment is spam, deleting it could actually put off genuine commenter and/or a visitor, adversely affecting your traffic.

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Effective Email Marketing

Any blogger would know the importance of email lists, and how important a tool email marketing really is.

Email marketing, if done right, is the fastest, easiest and potentially the most effective way of increasing sales.

Visitors, who have subscribed to your emails on their own accord, would ideally want to hear from you via email.   

However email marketing comes with two major pitfalls: (a) it is anything but easy to build mailing lists in the first place, and most mailing lists takes months, if not more, to be built up to a sizeable number, and (b) email marketing tends to have a rather small ROI, a low CTR and an even lower conversion rate.

However there are ways with which you can create a successful email marketing campaign. The first process involves building a list, and taking the right steps towards ensuring people open your lists and do what you want them to do, i.e. having an effective conversion rate.

List building

Easily one of the toughest parts when it comes to email marketing, and the first hurdle you’ll encounter during your email marketing efforts. In order to be an email marketer, you need to make sure that you have a list of people and email IDs to market (send emails out) to!

The bigger the list, the more people you’ll be able to reach out to, the larger your potential clientele will be, consequently allowing you to achieve a higher conversion rate with your CTA.

But building a sizeable list is easier said than done. But do-able nonetheless, here are some tips on how to build a list:

  1.  Making it easy and straightforward to subscribe – put a banner on your homepage which asks people to subscribe – on the top or on the sidebar, add a static form on your about page or contact page for the same purpose, send out updates on your Facebook and Google Plus pages and Tweets reminding people to subscribe to your posts (but don’t be too annoying about it, once every couple of days would do). Make sure that you let people know what benefit(s) they would get by signing up.
  2. Popups and opt-ins – even opened a website or a blog, only to be met with one of those annoying pop-up messages asking you to buy, like or subscribe to something? That annoying box that you always close? While it may be true that almost everyone closes any and all of those annoying boxes the instant they pop-up, they still are more effective than static forms to build lists and get subscribers. Aweber is one service that offers such pop-up boxes.
  3.  Incentives and benefits – you could also try your hand with giveaways or similar promotions, aimed exclusive at your subscriber/email list. For instance you could give away a free copy of your Wordpress plugin, your eBook, a free guitar lesson, a rebate coupon with 50% off on membership, or just about anything else applicable to your website. Sky’s the limit here. All these incentives could be offered to every 50th subscriber, the first 20 people to subscribe to your newsletter or to a random 100 subscribers. Give people an incentive to subscribe. Your incentive could even be something as simple as a series of posts that you do on your blog, and asking people to subscribe to your series.

Emails That People Open, Not Spam

Once you’ve built up a list (small or large), the next step would be to start sending out emails. However most of the email sent by email marketers don’t get through email spam filters, and most often simply end up in the junk.

And even those that aren’t categorized as spam, but as legit emails and do end up in people’s inboxes are usually not read or simply ignored or overlooked. Remember, people usually get a lot of emails every day, some even get hundreds of emails daily (if not more), so you’re facing some stiff competition here.

So what can you do in order to ensure that your emails (a) don’t end being categorized as spam and don’t end up in the junk folder, and (b) don’t end up being ‘just another email’ in people’s inboxes?
  1. Subject – make sure you absolutely nail that subject line. Use proper grammatical sentences, and keep it short when it comes to the subject line. In short, write your subject line the same way that you would write a subject line for any other professional email you would send out to, say, your boss or your coworker. Try to be honest, convincing, but sound less like a salesman. Be creative and innovative here. Put yourself in your subscriber’s shoes: what would you categorize as a good subject line if you were a recipient of such an email? What would make you want to instantly open an email as soon as you read the subject?
  2. Creativity – be creative with your newsletter. Provide your subscribers and recipients with value – something that they would want to see and would appreciate in your newsletter. Give them something extra, going the extra mile is usually a good idea. Use pictures and videos in your emails. There are tons of email marketing software and apps out there that let you design some extremely interesting and attractive-looking emails. Even Aweber does that for you.
  3. CTA – As with any of your marketing efforts, make sure that you have a clear and precise CTA in your emails as well – what action do you want your subscribers to take?
  4. Value – provide your subscribers with value. Provide help, tips, advice, and ask questions in your newsletter, feature the best answers and responses in the next edition. Give discounts, giveaways and the like. Make your newsletter an ‘experience’ for your subscribers and it will garner more interest and hence more subscriptions as well.
  5. Ask people to add your newsletter email in their safe-lists – most newsletters and subscription forms already come accompanied with this warning, make sure you ask all subscribers to add your newsletter’s email ID to their email safe-lists, or mark your emails ‘not spam’, so that they end up in their inbox instead of their junk email folders.

The problem-solution formula usually works here too. People have problems in some form or the other, and you have the unique opportunity to provide them with a solution, through the newsletter. If you are successful in doing so, you will get more subscribers. Making your email marketing campaign worth the effort.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Optimize Images for Google

We live and breathe in a world of images and visual content today. Words, are mere words now, insignificant. Visual content is the rage, and apparently, images and pictures are the new black!

Marketers have jumped on the bandwagon and embraced visual content such as videos and images, and made it a part of any and all of their online marketing efforts. This is especially true when it comes to social media marketing.

Social mediums such as Facebook and Twitter have been altered to give preference to visual content – Twitter has natively integrated Twitpic and Facebook has done away with walls and introduced timelines.

And that doesn’t even begin to mention the emergence and popularity of relatively-new social mediums such as Pinterest, a social networking website based solely on sharing pictures and images. And Pinterest, mind you, the ranked 3rd right now in terms of total number of visits-per-month (just 80 million shy of second-placed Twitter), and also in terms of generating referral traffic!

Importance of Images

Images and pictures are important, for numerous reasons.

  1. They make your content more engaging and interesting, helping your content garner more interest! Users are more likely to comment on a picture rather than a boring wall of text, if you think about it.
  2. They give your brand a unique identity, which is instantly recognizable and identifiable.
  3. They provide a lot of information in a short space, for instance through the use of infographics (literally proving that the age old adage ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’ is correct!).
  4. They provide an opportunity for marketers to market their products, and get referral traffic. Pinterest, for instance, has just burst onto the scene, and is already generating more referral traffic than G+, Linkedin and Youtube combined!
  5. Enhances customer engagement by providing users with an opportunity to provide feedback and comment (such as on social mediums).

Google’s Image Indexing Criteria

Google’s crawlers and bots look at the following set of attributes when indexing images:
  1.  Image type – Google indexes all of the common image types, such as JPG, BMP, GIF and PNG.
  2.  Anchor text, image title and alt attributes.

How to Optimize Images for Google

According to Google, the following should be done with any and all images on your blog, in order to optimize them for Google and other search engines:
  1. Use supported formats – such as the ones mentioned above – JPG, BMP, GIF or PNG only, as Google will only index these file formats.
  2. Titles and Names – It is extremely important to name your files correctly, giving them proper filenames. For instance most camera pictures are usually titled DSC12498, or images could be titled IMG5423. Instead, name your articles something that would tell visitors as well as search engines what the image is about, e.g. football-player-tackle.jpg or iphone-5-concept.jpg or a similar descriptive title.
  3. Alt-Text Matters – Google does not have eyes and hence cannot ‘look’ at images. That’s where the alt-text comes in. Alt-text also helps describe images in a similar way as the title would, and in a similar way a human would ‘see’ the image. It gives Google the information about the image, and helps it determine which keyword(s) the image should be ranked for. Alt-text should never be left blank, and should be as descriptive as possible (in the least amount of words as possible), instead of simply a one-letter word. Bear in mind that according to Google’s recent changes, keyword stuffing should be avoided at all costs!
  4. Context – provide a few words about the image, around the image itself, for instance a few words describing the image and what it is.
  5. File size – no limitations or restriction. Image can be as small or large as desired!
  6. Image sitemap – similar to regular sitemaps (which is a list of pages on your website, telling Google about the pages on your website, it is also recommended to submit an image sitemap to Google, as it helps Google discover the images on your website.
  7. Image Protection – even though Google uses different ways to determine the original source of the image, it is difficult to do so, especially when multiple copies of the same image exist and hence it is important to ensure you protect your own images by providing as much information about your own images as possible. If you want others to use your original images, link to them and reproduce them on their own website, go for Creative Common License. If not, add copyright text and/or watermark your images. Similarly, if you use an image from another external source, do so with permission, and credit the original source/uploader.
  8. Create a user-experience for your visitors – use good quality photos, put images as high up in your posts as possible, create uniformity by specifying the same width and height dimensions for all your images and above all, optimize images so that they load quickly, and don’t hog down bandwidth and resources or affect your website load-times.

Additional Read

For a complete list of Google Image Publishing Guidelines, with additional image-indexing criterion and more details, do read up on Google’s Webmaster Tools!