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You Are the Product: “Free” Hosting and What’s Wrong With It

First of all, I am a great fan of WordPress as a CMS and fantastic software package. Seriously, because WP is so much more than “just” a Blog (or Blogging software package) but — in case there’s anyone here who’s reading this and who did not already know that — it is a full-blown content management system, and then some! The mere fact that there are gazillions of Plugins available, some of which make WP a full-fledged online store, e-commerce site, or membership website etc., is proof of that. I am into this stuff since the early versions of Slash.org — I guess that’s when Matt Mullenweg still was in diapers… In fact, I have been into all kinds of “E-Business” and “Blogging” or, rather, virtual communities, chat forums, UseNet usegroups, BBS-ses (that is bulletin board systems) and “mailboxes” (as they used to be called back in the day, way-back in the day) since a very long time ago when I still was a little sixth-grader or something. And yes, I very soon figured out that I wanted and needed my own website (or forum or board or mailbox or whatever) in no time. I also got one (or two, and then more and more of them) and am running one sort or the other continuously for roughly 20 to 25 years now. So it should be pretty obvious that I know my stuff from an in-depth user point of view here. Also note, I always sticked with the Open Source variants of pretty much everything I used. I also still got my old Slash-org O’Reilly books flying around in the attic. I pretty much guess you get the picture. You can also find out that I am even using a WordPress.com Blog as we speak for (and despite) various reasons and although I am not so sure how “censorship-proof” that may be. All this brings us now to the point raised in the headline : despite all the great stuff that WP (or “WordPress-dot-org”, as it is increasingly called?!) is, there are very serious drawbacks to that WordPress-dot-com thing. First and foremost, and while it is 100% cost-free, it also means you are getting exactly that: nothing. You may have noticed that you accept some “fascinating” as they call it ( I mean, really!) Terms of Use. To be very brief here, these provide for basically everything in favour of WordPress.com and nothing for you. That’s exactly the problem: you own nothing 8and why should you when it’s free). Exactly, and if that’s so, then why should you use it (at least as a primary Blogging resource)?? Better go for your very own WP installation on a server you control or, even better, physically own and have sitting in your basement or home office or wherever. That — and only that — is the way to go. Everything else does not only make you lose control but it leaves you at the mercy of numerous outside interests (as in contrary to your own interests)!

Steering Clear: Major Shift Away from Google

For years, everyone is used to using Google — or even “googling” — when looking things up over the internet. Younger readers and web users will probably hardly know anything else than Google, will never have heard of AltaVista or Lycos, nor know that Yahoo used to be the old “New” for searching the world-wide web back in the day.

Way-way back in the day.

This era could be about to come to an end now. New developments are just over the horizon.

Web search in general, including but not limited to Google, feels increasing competition from Social Media. Although largely mistakenly, users seem to believe equally usable results can be had by skipping the search engines entirely. Obviously neither having a grasp of any internet technology nor able to use some common sens, these “netizens” fail to realize why Google could become, well, Google in the first place: because “doing a web search” is an increasingly important use case in most peoples’ lives these days.

This is not to say that Google, in particular, was necessarily the way to go, but I still believe that a Search should be done using a (as in any) real and functioning search tool and not some Facebook or Twitter stuff, or any other toy-style “solution”.

A search engine skewing results by operating on “different realities” for different users and re-arranging what’s showed to users based on their Google Analytics cookie information — deservedly — loses credibility and, thus, shoots itself in the knee. Google has done just that: users are displayed preferential results based on information about their general web usage behavior and interests as gathered through nearly-omnipresent cookies that come together with Google Analytics These are, unfortunately, used by most websites out there these days, except a very few (like yours truly’s, by the way).

By comparison, other biased results like the ones that are (more legitimately) adapted to user behavior, like Facebook’s EdgeRank algorithm), may all of a sudden appear “appropriate”. However, Google’s “search” algorithm isn’t.

Still this should not mean to skip search engines altogether because there are other search engines than Google out there doing a better and more honest job!

Digital: Photos and Video Footage Made Easy

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There was a time when photography was hard work.

Equipment was expensive.  Developing film took hours (sometimes days or even weeks).  You had to keep a journal of all your camera settings and the shots you took at those settings — to see which ones you got right and which were wrong when your pictures came eventually along after being developed — just to learn the craft.

How much easier we have it today: the advent of digital photography has brought leaps of development and improved technical features. Add (or rather subtract) the much lower prices charged for these nice pieces of equipment and you will see what we are  talking about.

The same is true for video. The advent of DV cameras (digital video as opposed to analogue video tape that used to come with clumsy tape recorders or, still clumsy but somewhat more portable, camcorders, let alone film cameras running on tons of expensive photographic film) has brought the same advantages to moving pictures, too. And the price factor is even more dramatic than in the world of still photography.

With today’s equipment, it’s a breeze to snap photos or produce video footage or clips in Venice… take pictures or videos of the mountains in Alberta… document your hometown for a Blog entry about your home town… and also even sell your photos to third parties for external use… for $100 to $500 (or even more, if you choose a more specialised approach) each. Videos are even more marketable, particularly when offered to micro-stock video or particular markets that exist for video.

All without formal training or expensive equipment.

In fact, these are the kinds of results some of our followers — people just like you — are taking.

They love the freedom that blogging on one hand and photography or taking videos on the other provide. They love the chance to essentially “play” all day and call it work… the absence of stress because they live life on their own terms… and none of them wake up miserable on a Monday morning wishing the day wasn’t a work day.

And, best of all, if you’re blogging and also can take reasonably quality photos (or videos), now it’s your turn.

Sure it means you’ll be working, but this kind of work will be FUN.

Whether the photography and video part(s) of it is meant to only complement your existing blogging business or is going to be an attempt on extra income alongside your blogging activities, it is sure worth remembering what you can do with photos or video.

Social Media Marketing: Time Is of the Essence

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Social media campaigns are very popular means of marketing and customer communications. Their efficiency and measurable results for your business need to be carefully crafted though. Much depends on whether or not you understand a handful of easy-to-learn principles.

Chief among those is timing. Whether or not a Post on Facebook, a tweet over Twitter or a Pin on Pinterest come at the right (or wrong) time will determine how successful they are.

A good time to post for US audiences is during the morning (Eastern Time). That way your updates are still fresh when people get up and go to work (very fresh in NY, not too bad in L. A. though “three hours older” there). Using mobile devices, it is quite common that your content is viewed while commuting.

Unless you like to get up at around 4 am or 5 am, it is a good idea to either have your updates posted by partners who are located in Europe or use some timing mechanisms and posting tools to go live at the desired time.

There are also two more time slots — often much overlooked, but still as attractive as the early morning thing: around lunchtime (particularly when there is fair weather to be expected and people tend to spend their lunch breaks outside) and during “drive time”. Again, these are also primarily targeted at mobile device users, but some after-hours office or home-office use may occur as well — so keep that time of day in mind as well.

Particularly drive time hours in the evening have proven to work very well and bring proportionally higher results, more activity, clicks, and Likes to our own campaigns. Use these insights, and do the same for yours.

Facebook Everywhere: Social Media Mistakes to Avoid

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Social Media is what everyone seems to be doing these days. Facebook is literally everywhere, Twitter too, even some garbage called Google+ appears to become more popular — this is how desperate people are to get their word out there for free and become rich and famous (or so they think).

Truth is, just starting some Facebook ad campaign won’t do much for you to arrive there.

Facebook does very little to provide useful guidance or show their customers how to get real value out of paid Fb advertising. And why would they: isn’t it just as nice for them to just pocket your money and not care about whether or not it’s any good for you…?

Yes, they should care indeed (for we believe in exchanging real value for value, not running some rip-off or similar scheme). Rip-offs are not good, an economy of greed is despicable, businesses should provide real value if they want to make money — always, period. And it’s not even just a “philosophical” matter, it’s also a matter of satisfaction and the “fun of the ride”, and fun we have! If we’re actually helping you being more effective on top — even better. That’s what we hoped for.

What goes for Facebook also goes for all other “social sites” out there (Twitter, LinkedIn, that Google+ thing, Pinterest, you name it).

The most common misconception with paid Social Media ad campaigns is that people optimize their campaigns for Likes. Again, Facebook kind of “suggests” that’s the way it should be — but this is totally wrong. What you really want to do is optimizing for sales because that’s what your business makes its money off, not your page’s number of Fans. No sales, no profits — it’s that easy. So forget about all those FAQs, samples provided by Facebook (or other platforms), default settings, and other “convincing” influences that only mis-lead you, the paying business customer, in the end.

You need to alter these settings and pre-populated fields so that your real business goal is served: making more sales. The best way of doing this is running campaigns not for your Page, or Fb or any other Social Media presence, but your own web shop, selling page, blog or similar internet presence instead.

The first step of doing so is by selecting different targets (from those pre-selected “for you”) when building a campaign. A good place to start would be setting the URL for your own home page. Still better, use some “deep links” into your web presence in order to promote a particular page, ideally a product page or a landing page (AKA squeeze page) or similar. You might also want to use a page providing additional content (or something visually pleasing like a video), always together with a button or link to funnel your visitors where you are selling or offering something (and actually making money). The ins and outs being more complex (and we continue providing solutions to these and other challenges here on this site, so stay tuned and get our newsletter if not already a subscriber)…

The next step will be engaging your site visitors. Whatever page URL you lead them to, this page’s content must intrigue visitors right away, i e grab their attention within the first seconds of reading in order to make them want to read more and/or go ahead and click or do or buy something on your web site. Volumes have been written on how to do this, and we are only briefly touching upon the basics here. Your top priority should be to be clear and concise, present your offer (or outline your cause or campaign or whatever you want to tell people), probably sum up the essentials using bullet points or even more visual tools. Play around with layouts and color (without being obnoxious or creating any sort of overkill) and find out what works best for your audience. Brevity and clarity are king though, you need to keep this in mind.

Finally, you’ll want to obey some usability considerations. Your entry or landing page needs highlights that your visitors will notice and feel inclined to click on, a buy-now button may work in many instances. Once your visitors click and want to proceed, the experience throughout the next steps needs to be fully self-explaining and easy. (No one will go beyond a buy-now click if there are troublesome steps on the next page or the order and checkout process does not work properly, or similar). So take some extra care to make this work, and make this as easy as possible for your customers.

There are a great many commercial tools and services out there to choose from, and most of them work okay. They also come with a price tag though (usually a percentage taken from your sales). These may or may not be worth the extra cost, it all depends on your taste (and actual business figures). A very good alternative is self-hosting everything and implementing this within your own site and/or CMS (content management system), if you get it done properly. It will save you a ton of money in the long run (be warned though, it will kill your business if you don’t get it right). You may also want to hire professional help for this, if unsure. All depends on your experience and own ability and your sound judgement of yourself, your situation and your abilities here. Discuss with a pro or a fellow small business operator you know to learn more and make up your mind. We do a lot of this stuff on our own and strictly within our won site, using Open Source tools (and tons of experience plus hours worked). It provides us more control and independence. Still, we acknowledge that some people may be better off paying a percentage to PayPal or similar commercial service providers that not getting off the ground at all. It’s all a matter of style, your taste, as well as the nature of your business.

To discuss more details, please comment below — join the conversation. You may find likeminded people who want to share their experience, and everyone is better off and learns something new this way. The whole thing is not so much about ready-made knowledge but learning along the way. We hope you enjoy the ride and learn while you are at it — because that’s how success is made!

Google Update: Still Promoting Your Site Effectively

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Beginning in April 2012, Google has started to modify their way of “looking” at websites. Changes in basic structures of underlying algorithms around the “Googlebot” and database handling are meant to siphon out useless and dishonest results. These are most often achieved by dubious “consultants” tweaking their SEO methods in order to force overly-advantageous results for their own or their clients’ websites. Comment spamming or building an extensive web of — more or less legit — content that then, oh-so surprisingly, all points to a certain location are chief among these methods.

In order to restrict these con-artists and limit the success of their methods even further, Google has introduced yet another modification, an update to their Penguin update of last year. The consequences are not yet fully understood throughout the community — or rather communities (namely of legitimate SEO and illegitimate black-hat operators).

Here is some advice though:

Whatever the intricacies of the update or, in fact, any future modifications, staying with high-quality content and accepted ways of sharing, commenting or promoting that content will never be wrong (nor “punished” by any reasonable search engine). So instead of thinking up all sorts of stuff, comment spamming and doing stupid things, why not spend just a fraction of the time and effort involved for writing some meaningful content and create some legitimate Social Media buzz around it? Google and all the other bots love Facebook and similar sites. This is hardly a secret, it is a well-established fact, and while it is long known throughout the industry it is actually surprising that it is not the only thing all these strange characters out there are after. Would save them a lot of elbow-grease — and, indeed, trouble. On top, it’s also an integrity thing: as a business person, you really do not want to abuse someone else’s effort (and resources) by exploiting or tainting their operation with your garbage. Get out, you and your dirty BS down there under “comments” are not invited — not anywhere in the world, that is –, and it is not even “helpful” for your own little games anyway. So spend some time thinking (if you can), get a few new books or do some proper research over the net. Then, finally get it right. For all our sakes: your customers’, your own, and ours who do not want to have to constantly clean up after the likes of yourself…

Digital: Photos and Video Footage Made Easy

There was a time when photography was hard work.

Equipment was expensive.  Developing film took hours (sometimes days or even weeks).  You had to keep a journal of all your camera settings and the shots you took at those settings — to see which ones you got right and which were wrong when your pictures came eventually along after being developed — just to learn the craft.

How much easier we have it today: the advent of digital photography has brought leaps of development and improved technical features. Add (or rather subtract) the much lower prices charged for these nice pieces of equipment and you will see what we are  talking about.

The same is true for video. The advent of DV cameras (digital video as opposed to analogue video tape that used to come with clumsy tape recorders or, still clumsy but somewhat more portable, camcorders, let alone film cameras running on tons of expensive photographic film) has brought the same advantages to moving pictures, too. And the price factor is even more dramatic than in the world of still photography.

With today’s equipment, which may for some approaches start with as little as a current iPod model, it’s a breeze to snap photos or produce video footage or clips in Venice… take pictures or videos of the mountains in Alberta… document your hometown for a Blog entry about your home town… and also even sell your photos to third parties for external use… for $100 to $500 (or even more, if you choose a more specialised approach) each. A 6th generation iPod is capable of shooting decent HD 1080p video at 30 fps and has some great features, although Apple have made it not quite as pocket-sized as earlier versions, dropped the stainless steel case for an aluminum one, and also made a number of other questionable “improvements”. Still, this tiny piece of kit gives you a chance of at least starting out in video on top of photos. Videos are even more marketable, particularly when offered to micro-stock video or particular markets that exist for video.

All without formal training or expensive equipment.

In fact, these are the kinds of results some of our followers — people just like you — are taking.

They love the freedom that blogging on one hand and photography or taking videos on the other provide. They love the chance to essentially “play” all day and call it work… the absence of stress because they live life on their own terms… and none of them wake up miserable on a Monday morning wishing the day wasn’t a work day.

And, best of all, if you’re blogging and also can take reasonably quality photos (or videos), now it’s your turn.

Sure it means you’ll be working, but this kind of work will be FUN.

Whether the photography and video part(s) of it is meant to only complement your existing blogging business or is going to be an attempt on extra income alongside your blogging activities, it is sure worth remembering what you can do with photos or video.