August Contest Update

The August “Win Me As A Slave” contest is about one-third over, so here’s a recap of the results so far.

Lori is currently in the lead, with 13 entries. Rosa is in second, with 7 entries.

There are some other single entries, from people who had marked the blog as a favorite in Technorati before the contest started. Oh, and Enkay (probably unknowingly) has another entry from his recent link to my Valuing Your Blog post. So he’s in third.

Keep in mind that anyone can win, since all the entries go into a hat and one gets picked out. At the moment, Lori is the only one with creative entries, and there may very well be a special prize for creative entries (my current plan is to put the creative entries into a second hat and pick one of those for another prize).

A creative entry is anything outside of what has already been done. This can include offline promotion of the blog, as long as you have proof (take some pictures, or get the blog’s name on the cover of Newsweek, etc).

If I’ve miscounted entries or forgot to count something, be sure to let me know.

Thanks to all the entrants, it’s been fun so far seeing what everyone comes up with!

AutoResponder Review — Infinite Responder

Infinite Responder is an autoresponder script that is free to download.

Since it’s a script, you have to host it on your own domain. This has some advantages, since all the links involved are to your own domain. But, you have to install it and configure it. The author has an installation service if PHP and MySQL isn’t your thing. He charges $30 for the installation. If you don’t have much experience with PHP and MySQL, I’d recommend paying for the installation.

Infinite Responder allows subscription via email. Email subscribers will be sent a confirmation message to ensure they really do want to subscribe. Configuring this is a little bit more involved than with hosted autoresponder services, since you also have to create the email account.

You can customize the thank you page with Infinite Responder, as well as customizing the page they see when they unsubscribe from your newsletter. You also get complete customization of the confirmation email.

Delivery rate is okay, I’ve had some of the confirmation messages flagged as spam in Gmail.

Infinite Responder allows for sending broadcasts (called bursts) to all subscribers. Text and HTML emails are supported throughout.

Link tracking is not supported, so if that’s important to you you’ll also need an ad tracker.

Overall, the feature set in Infinite Responder is quite good, but it’s a little harder to use than most hosted autoresponders. I’ll give it a B+ for features, and an A+ for value.

MDA Jail & Bail Update

The Muscular Dystophy Association’s Jail & Bail event was today. 

To make this post just a little bit on topic for the blog, I’ll share that I raised $400 for the MDA, almost all of it done online through their donation page.  I had one person who gave me a check instead of donating online.

My fundraising method was basically to send out unsolicited emails to everyone I knew.  So yes, spam works.  Send out enough emails and someone will do what you ask them to.

For anyone who wants to donate to the MDA, they’ll have my donation page up for another month.

AutoResponder Review — Traffic Wave

Membership to Traffic Wave is $17.95 a month, and include unlimited autoresponders, ad trackers, and an FFA lead generation system.

Traffic Wave autoresponders do allow subscription by email. Each autoresponder gets its own email address, and email sent to that email is subscribed to the list. To comply with US spam laws, the new subscriber is sent a confirmation message and must click the link in the message before they will receive any emails.

A customizable thank you page is not an option in Traffic Wave autoresponders. Instead, subscribers are taken to a standard thank you page that includes advertising banners you’ve specified.

Update: Traffic Wave just provided new features that do allow for a customizable thank you page for both subscription and confirmation. I’ve updated the final grade below to account for this upgrade.

Customization of emails is limited. You can specify a message to be sent in the confirmation email, but all emails sent have the standard Traffic Wave header and footer. These headers and footers are designed to comply with US spam laws by providing a clear notice that the email was sent from a list, and providing contact information and unsubscribe information. The amount of text in the headers and footers is a bit much, in my opinion, and detracts a bit from the actual email you’re sending.

Delivery rate is very good. I’ve never had a Traffic Wave confirmation message flagged as spam.

The autoresponders allow simple broadcasting of messages to the entire email list. They do not provide split testing.

Link tracking is also not provided in the autoresponder itself, but you do get unlimited ad trackers. So you could easily use ad tracking links to track clicks in your autoresponder emails. It’s just a little more cumbersome to do so than with an autoresponder that has automatic link tracking.

Overall, I’d give Traffic Wave a B for features, and a B- for value. The lack of a customizable thank you page and email customization makes it harder to create a professional feel to subscribing to your list. The monthly price tag is on the high end, but comparable to other professional grade autoresponders.

Thanks to Tyson and Enkay!

I wanted to thank Tyson and Enkay for being early supporters of the blog.

Tyson, over at Some Make Money, was kind enough to put a link to Online Opportunity in his feed signature for a month or so, as thanks for my referring him to the plugin. I appreciate the gesture!

Enkay, over at Enkay Blog gave me a sitewide link as a Proud Sponsor. That’s pretty generous, considering he’s the one who did the work of promoting my first contest! Thanks!

I’m not sure how they each found the blog, but I’m glad they did. While I don’t get to my RSS reader often enough to comment on their blogs these days (fall semester is arriving quickly!), I do appreciate their early support. That can make or break a starting blog.

So if you have the time today, find a blog that doesn’t have any comments on it at all, and leave a few. You’ll probably make someone’s day and keep them blogging for months to come.

AutoResponder Review — My Traffic Empire

I wanted to look at some popular autoresponders and highlight the features each has. If you don’t have an autoresponder yet but want one, I hope this post and the ones that follow help you to decide which one is best for you.

Membership to My Traffic Empire is a $20 one-time fee. That gives you unlimited autoresponders for life, and a lifetime professional upgrade at the My-E-Traffic exchange.

With most of the other autoresponders I’ll review weighing in at dollars per month, a one-time fee is ideal for someone who isn’t making a profit yet.

The first of the features I mentioned in the last post was subscription by email. The My Traffic Empire autoresponder does not have this feature. This is primarily an issue if you plan to build your list using coregistration services, where subscribing via email is almost always required. If you plan to build your list using search engine traffic and other targeted means, then you can do without subscription by email.

The next feature was a customizable thank you page. This is important mostly to allow you to remind subscribers to check their spam folder for the confirmation email, and to tell them what email address to white list. My Traffic Empire does provide the option to specify your own thank you page, both for when they first signup and then after they confirm their subscription.

Customization of emails is a very nice feature, and My Traffic Empire provides a limited amount. You can add a custom header and footer to every email that is sent. An update that is planned for the near future will allow you to customize the confirmation emails, which can be key to getting them delivered.

The My Traffic Empire autoresponder’s delivery rate isn’t great. My Gmail account flags it as spam every time. When they add in customization of confirmation emails, this should improve considerably.

Broadcasting emails at will is important for providing time sensitive opportunities to your subscribers. My Traffic Empire allows for broadcasting to all subscribers, and even has an advanced feature for split testing emails. You can send one email to some portion of your subscribers, and another email to the other portion. This lets you track which email provided a better response rate.

Link tracking is critical in any advertising. My Traffic Empire has built in link tracking, so you don’t need to use your normal ad tracking service inside your list emails.

Overall, I’d give the My Traffic Empire autoresponder a B for features and an A+ for value.

Quick Zlio Update

Click here for my original Zlio Review if you missed it.

Zlio recently expanded the number of stores you’re able to create to 20. So now you can create 20 niche stores to sell various products. This is a big benefit over having a single store with multiple niches served, because you can perform promotion better on a store with a small niche.

And you do need to perform basic promotion on the stores. Submit them to directories, mention them in your blog to get links, write articles linking to them, etc. Since I originally opened my store I’ve received 1 organic search visitor. I’ve also done zero promotion for the store.

With proper link building and promotion, a Zlio store should do quite well. I like to think of Zlio as the Squidoo of online stores, since it makes creating a niche store trivially easy.

Click here to open your own store.

Essential Autoresponder Features

“The Money’s In The List!”

You hear that all over in Internet marketing circles, and it’s partially true. Having people who have agreed to receive emails from you whenever you want to send them is a great thing. You can develop a relationship with your subscribers, develop trust, and sell them things. (The real money is in the search engine traffic that brings subscribers to your list, but that’s a different post.)

To have a list you need an autoresponder service. That’s the piece of software that allows subscription, handles sending confirmation messages, allow people to unsubscribe, and sends out your automated sequence of messages to new subscribers.

Not all autoresponders are created equal. It seems like each has a different mix of features. In this post I want to discuss those features that I consider to be essential for an autoresponder.

Subscriptions via Email

This feature allows people to subscribe by sending an email to a special address. Not that anyone really does this, but if you signup for co-registration services, they’ll use the special email to subscribe people. (A co-registration service is a place you can list your newsletter and people can say they’re interested in subscribing to the topic.) If you don’t plan on using coregistration services, then you don’t need this.

Customizable Thank You Page

The thank you page is where the users go to after they subscribe. If you can customize this page, you can alert people about white listing your email, you can try to sell them a one-time offer, etc. Some co-registration services work by having you specify their thank you page, so they can offer other newsletters the person may be interested in seeing.

Customization of emails

Some autoresponders have a framework of text in which your message sits. It’s nice to be able to customize the framework to make the emails seem more like personal communications, instead of official messages.

Delivery Rate

This is how many of the emails get delivered, and how many get blocked by spam filters. Confirmation emails especially should be deliverable since the person has to click the confirmation link to get onto your list. Emails blocked by spam filters aren’t earning you anything. Some autoresponders are great at being delivered, some are not.

Broadcasting

Now and then you’ll want to send an email that isn’t part of your automated series. Maybe there’s a time sensitive offer you want to send out. Being able to broadcast an email to your subscribers whenever you want is a good thing.

Link Tracking

This isn’t really an essential feature, but is nice to have. Link tracking tells you how many of your subscribers clicked on the links in the emails. Some autoresponders have the ability to tell you if a subscriber opened the email, even if they didn’t click on any links.

I’m sure there are features I’ve missed, but those cover quite a bit of ground. In future posts I’ll look at specific autoresponders, from free ones to professional grade ones. You may be surprised at how inexpensively you can get a quality autoresponder service.

Valuing Your Blog

This has gone around before, but I just read about it again over at Eruanna and thought some of you might be interested.

You can go to DNScoop.com to see how much your site is worth. It gives a breakdown of analysis, including page rank, and how much you could get for text links, and comes up with a total.

According to them, I could get $7 a month for a text link on this blog, and the total blog value is worth $740. The number of inbound links and indexed pages is a big factor for the valuation, since an older site of mine that’s PR3 but with only 4 inbound links is only worth $345.

It’ll be interesting to see what effect the next page rank update has on that value. You can also enter any web address and get a valuation. Squidoo.com is worth $6,583,600. Any takers?

Eliminating Comment Spam

A common problem with blogs these days is the huge amount of blog comment spam.

Typically, comment spam promotes sex sites. There’s also a software application out there that automatically posts comments hoping to get backlinks for SEO purposes. An unprotected blog would be overwhelmed with comment spam in short order.

This post is designed to help new bloggers setup their blog so that comment spam is completely eliminated. I’m focusing on WordPress here, but similar techniques may work on other blogging platforms.

Activate Akismet

The first step, once you install your WordPress blog, is to head over to WordPress.com and signup. You don’t want to create a blog, you just want to get your API key for WordPress.com services. The main service being Akismet, their anti-spam plugin. Akismet comes with WordPress, but you can’t use it without an API key.

Once you get your API key, go into the plugins tab in your WordPress dashboard and activate Akismet. You should now see Akismet Configuration as a secondary option in the plugins tab. Click it and enter your API key and click Update Options.

Setup Comment Moderation

Akismet will do a great job of filtering out comment spam. It won’t completely eliminate it, though. To prevent the 1% or so of comment spam that Akismet doesn’t catch from hitting your blog, go into the Options tab of your WordPress dashboard and choose the Discussion sub item.

I recommend setting email notifications so you get email when comments are made or held for moderation.  At minimum, get email when comments are held for moderation.

The last settings provides great protection while minimizing your moderation duties.  You’ll need to moderate everyone’s first comment, but after they’ve shown they can be trusted to not spam your blog, their comments are moderated right away. 

That’s the setting that lets you catch any spam that Akismet doesn’t catch.  When you get an email about moderating a comment, and the comment is clearly spam, don’t hesitate to mark it as spam.  That allows Akismet to get better at recognizing spam.

In that same screen, I also recommend setting the number of links to 2 for holding comments for moderation.  Your regular commentors will often post comments with single links to related websites.  If they post 2 or more, the comment will be held for moderation so you can make sure it’s okay.

A No Spam Blog

These settings help you to run a no spam blog.  You’ll be amazed at the quantity of spam that Akismet catches for you, especially as your blog becomes more popular.  You’ll also be amazed at the extraordinary lack of creativity blog spammers have as you see comment after comment that is all the same.

How about those of you who aren’t using WordPress?  What do you do to avoid comment spam?