RSS For Dummies

Apparently today is RSS Awareness Day.

I’ve known for some time that very few web surfers actually use RSS, and those are the more technically sophisticated. Often they’re bloggers themselves, so blogs that blog about blogging usually have good subscriber numbers. Most web surfers don’t bother with RSS, they do a Google search to find something of interest, read it and get what they need out of it, and then never visit again (my Google Analytics stats for all my web sites bear this out).

So, today is a day dedicated to raising awareness of RSS. Okay, I’ll bite. Here’s my take at RSS For Dummies.

If you think of a blog like having a bulletin board outside your house, you’re not far off the mark. You can write each day on this bulletin board, and people who like what you write can drive by your house and read the board. Regular readers will drive by every day on their way to work, or you might just get people driving by once out of curiosity, and never again.

The main problem with this model is that it requires the readers to come to you. And let’s face it, most of us are pretty busy, so finding time to make that drive doesn’t always happen. There are always more blogs than there is time to visit each, so some get dropped.

RSS is a way to allow people to get the blog posts delivered to their home. So instead of needing to drive by your house to read your board, they get a copy of the day’s posts in their mailbox at home. They can read it at their leisure, without needing to actually visit your blog.

RSS is a mixed blessing for blogs. One the one hand, it allows blogs that might have gotten dropped the chance to get read. The blogs that were interesting enough to think about going back to, but not so interesting that the reader wanted to make that drive every day.

On the other hand, many people who read your blog via RSS don’t actually visit your web site. So they don’t see your ads, and don’t get a chance to earn you any money. They do need to go to your web site to leave a comment, but bloggers are painfully aware that most people don’t leave comments on blogs.

On the whole, though, RSS is a good thing for bloggers. Being read off line is far better than not being read at all.

To actually subscribe to a blog via RSS, you need something called an RSS reader. That’s a piece of software that goes out for you and picks up the daily posts and delivers them to you. It’s like a butler that drives by every blogger’s house and copies down anything on their board that day, so you don’t have to.

The easiest RSS reader to get started with is probably Google’s Reader. It’s easy because you don’t have to install any software, it’s all web based.

So if you haven’t tried subscribing to any blogs via RSS, go over to Google’s Reader and sign up for it, then come back here and subscribe to Online Opportunity via RSS.

5 Tips for What To Do When You Run Out Of Post Ideas

I mentioned in my recent anniversary post that most of my material for post ideas comes from my actual experiences with Internet Marketing. That’s good, because it gives my posts a unique spin that you won’t find anywhere else. It’s also good, because every thing I do online tends to generate at least one post idea, so I rarely run out.

This week has been especially busy, though, so I haven’t had a chance to do much online. So I thought I’d share some tips for what to do when you run out of post ideas.

#5: Use a marginal idea

As you’ve been writing posts all along, there have probably been some ideas that weren’t quite good enough or fleshed out enough for a full post. Well, if you’re out of ideas anyway, you might as well use one of those marginal ideas. It might not be your best post ever, but you might surprise yourself once you start writing.

#4: Read other blogs in your niche

Head on over to your favorite other blogs in your niche, and see what they’ve written about lately. Maybe you can take one of their ideas, put your unique spin on it, and write about that.

#3: Use StumbleUpon for inspiration

Go to StumbleUpon and stumble a few sites in an appropriate niche. Maybe you’ll hit a web comic that provides you with just the inspiration you needed.

#2: Digg Deep

Visit Digg and see what sorts of related news stories are up and coming. If you don’t have any original ideas, you could at least write about one of those news items before it reaches the front page of Digg.

#1: Write a Top 5 List

If all else fails, write a top 5 (or 10, or whatever) list about what to do when you run out of post ideas.

What do you do when you’re just stuck for post ideas, but you’ve got a posting schedule to keep?

Separating Comments & Trackbacks With Threaded Comments

The last guest post of the week is from David over at ProTycoon.com, with a technical how-to article for WordPress blogs. If you try this out, let us know how it worked!

Brian’s Threaded Comments is a very widely used plugin for WordPress that allows your websites visitors to reply to comments in a threaded fashion. This means that you do not need to address your comment towards people, you can instead just reply to their comment, and the comment is formatted accordingly.

I recently wrote a post for my website which informed my sites visitors how they could amend their comments.php file to separate the comments and trackbacks, thus making the comments section of your blog look alot smarter. As part of Jay’s Guest Blogging period, he thought that it would be a good idea for me to do a follow up to my previous post, but this time teaching how to separate the comments and trackbacks on a blog that is running the ‘Brian’s Threaded Comments‘ Plugin, as this plugin uses a different comments.php file.

The best way to go about making the changes is to have the plugin on your PC and edit the files locally, then upload them. I would also recommend that you make a backup of all files that you edit, just in case something goes wrong.

Once you have the files on your PC you will need to locate the comments.php of the plugin. This is the file that is used to output the comments from the plugin onto your blog.

Once you have the file open you need to locate this section of the code, it is just over half way down:


comment_parent][] = $c;
}
$GLOBALS['__writeCommentDepth'] = 0;
if( is_array($GLOBALS['threaded_comments'][0]) ) {
foreach($GLOBALS['threaded_comments'][0] as $comment) {
if ( get_comment_type() == "comment" ) {
$GLOBALS['comment'] = &$comment;
write_comment($GLOBALS['comment']);
}
}
}
?>

The above code is used to output the threaded comments.

You need to replace the above code with the following code which filters to find comments and displays them and leaves out the trackbacks, I will give you the code for the trackbacks shortly.

This is the code for filtering out the trackbacks and displays just the comments, put this code in the place of the above code:


comment_parent][] = $c;
}
$GLOBALS['__writeCommentDepth'] = 0;
foreach($GLOBALS['threaded_comments'][0] as $comment) {
if ( get_comment_type() == "comment" ) {
$GLOBALS['comment'] = &$comment;
write_comment($GLOBALS['comment']);
}
}
?>

You have now separated the comments from the trackbacks, you now need to display the trackbacks, it is advisable that you put the trackbacks underneath the comments, to make things alot smarter. You can do that by adding the following code directly underneath the code you added above:

Responses to this post:

You may need to edit the format of the above text slightly to fit in with your website. If you do not want your trackbacks to be displayed as a list you can display them as they would normally be seen using the code below instead:

Responses to this post:

You should not have the a comments.php file that has the where the ‘#commentlist’ Div tag looks like this:

comment_parent][] = $c;
}
$GLOBALS['__writeCommentDepth'] = 0;
foreach($GLOBALS['threaded_comments'][0] as $comment) {
if ( get_comment_type() == "comment" ) {
$GLOBALS['comment'] = &$comment;
write_comment($GLOBALS['comment']);
}
}
?>

Responses to this post:

You now have a plugin that threads comments and separates the trackbacks. You can now upload the files to your plugins folder, and away you go.

This was a guest post by David Shaw lead author of ProTycoon.com and freelance web designer. David provides great tips on expanding your blog and optimizing it for search engines. If you would like to see more great articles from David Shaw sign up for the ProTycoon RSS
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How To Maximize Exposure From Guest Blogging

Our first guest poster of the week is Alan, of Zero and Up. Appropriately enough, the topic is about getting the most out of guest blogging.

Being a guest blogger at other blogs in a similar niche can have very powerful and positive effects on the traffic and readership of your website. However, if you don’t know how to do it right, you may end up no better off after making your guest appearance. With a little planning and creativity, you can get much more out of that 15 minutes of fame than some people have come to expect.

Casually Reference Your Own Site
If it’s cool with the owner of the blog your post will appear on, try and figure out a way to reference your own site. Be sure and make it subtle though – some people may be turned off if you shamelessly plug your site and ask them to visit.

Write Like It’s Your Own Site
Whether or not you are a well known blogger, be sure and write your guest post with the same flavor and confidence with which you would write a post on your own site. Don’t be worried with the idea that your site is too small – even the big guys started out small. If people truly like the style that you write with, they won’t care how big your site is; they’ll be hooked. Also, if you try and write with a different style when you do guest posts, people may be disappointed when your site doesn’t have the same flair your guest post contained.

Teach Something To The Readers
If people realize that they actually learn something from you, they feel like they are using their time wisely when reading your posts. Try and give a unique outlook on your lesson as well: chances are that someone else has taught it before. It’s not usually the lesson itself that will get you new readers… It’s how you teach the lesson.

Leave Them Wanting More
This aspect is hard to master. You don’t want to give your post any feeling of incompleteness, yet you want to make sure your audience feels like they can learn more from you in the future. Subtly let them know that you have much more to teach them and that you cover similar topics at your site.

Explain Who You Are
It’s always good to either start off or finish out a guest post with a couple sentences about yourself. Make the description short and sweet, and don’t forget to let people know where they can go to read more posts from you!

Some of these steps take practice, but be sure and put yourself out there. If you’re comfortable writing to a new audience, you’ll hopefully be even more comfortable writing to your dedicated readership back at your own website.

Thanks for having me here, and I hope you enjoyed this post!

In case you are wondering, my name is Alan. I’m the author of Zero and Up. I own multiple other sites, and currently earn between $100-300 per month from blogging between the two blogs I own. It just so happens that I love to blog too, so it’s great to be able to earn money doing it.

Results of Testing Adsense Blending

In a post about blending Adsense ads with your site, I showed how to blend the Adsense colors so they matched your site. This is largely considered to be more professional and Adsense ads that stand out.

A couple of readers called me on this, asking me if I’d done any split testing of blended ads versus non-blended ads. I hadn’t, but promised to do so.

This post has the results of that testing.

First, the methodology. I picked a page on one of my sites and tracked blended usage for a 14 day period. I then changed the colors on the ads in that page and tracked the usage for another 14 day period. The basic stats that I tracked were the average click through rate and the average earned per day of the period.

The non-blended ads used a background color that appeared elsewhere on the page, so the ads seemed to fit with the site, but still popped out from the white background of the text.

Unfortunately, the Adsense TOS restrict me from disclosing any form of click through rate specifics. Even aggregate data for the 14 day test periods is probably excluded from disclosure by the TOS.

So, I have to be more vague than I would like to be with the results.

One way of comparing the two results is looking at the relative values of each. The blended CTR was 2.3 times the non-blended CTR. To pick numbers totally at random, if the non-blended CTR was 2%, then the blended CTR would have been 6%.

The total earnings were about the same for the period, which has more to do with the cost-per-click I earned for the ads…this should not have been affected at all by the ad colors, so is more likely an external factor.

These results shouldn’t be considered conclusive, since every site is different and your visitors might react differently than mine. I also did not run the statistical analysis necessary to determine if the difference in CTR was significant, given the number of impressions. I’m happy enough with the practical difference between the two click through rates.

I’ve switched that site back to blended ads now. Hopefully the increased CPC will continue as the CTR gets back to normal.

Advisory Panel Sponsored Blog

The first Advisory Panel sponsored blog is up and running.

A sponsored blog is one that’s hosted and paid for by the forum itself, and written by a group of forum members who volunteer for the effort. Individual authors are free to use affiliate links in their posts, and keep whatever income that generates. Each author also has an equal share in the proceeds from the sitewide monetization (with the Advisory Panel getting a share, too).

The sponsored blogs are a great way for people new to blogging to get some experience, or for people who want to start another blog but don’t have the time to scratch that itch (each author needs only to post once per week).

The first sponsored blog is doWAHdiddy.org, a blog with work at home tips for parents. You can read more about the authors here. They all bring a wide variety of experiences to the blog. I’m excited about the possibilities in a group of authors such as this.

The blog’s still new, but is being updated every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday morning with great tips for parents with stay at home jobs. That probably includes a lot of you reading this, so head on over and take a look!

P.S. If you think you might like to try participating in a sponsored blog, head on over to the Advisory Panel and let me know. If we get a group motivated to start another, I’m willing!

Free Link Cloaking With WordPress

I’d written a post on DIY Link Cloaking a while back that showed how to write your own link cloaking script, and integrating it with WordPress.

That script was very basic, and required editing the PHP file to add new cloaked links. Lately I’ve found a great plugin that, with the most recent version, allows you to do the very same sort of link cloaking, but from inside the WordPress dashboard. The plugin has two main features.

First, you can set it to cloak all the links in posts and/or pages. This really isn’t desirable, since most links are not ones that need to be cloaked. You want to cloak affiliate links, so they don’t look like affiliate links, but you don’t want to cloak links to sites you’re recommending. If you cloak those links, they don’t get any SEO benefit from the link.

The most recent version of the link cloaking plugin, though, adds what the author calls static cloaked links. These are what you want to use for affiliate links.

To use the plugin, get the zip file from the link above, and upload and activate the plugin. Then go to Options->Permalinks and click Update Permalinks. This allows the plugin the chance to modify the .htaccess file, needed to actually do the link cloaking.

Also go to Options->Link Cloaking, and select the radio button that says “Selective Cloaking”. This will prevent the plugin from cloaking every external link in all your posts and pages.

Now you’re ready to create some cloaked links. Go to Manage->Cloaked Links, and enter the name and destination of the link. The name should not have spaces, and the destination is the ugly affiliate link you’re trying to hide. Click the Add button, and after a moment you’ll see the cloaked link listed. Click “show cloaked link” to see the link you should put into your blog post. It’ll look something like this:

http://www.onlineopportunity.org/goto/LinkName/

If you want something other than “goto” used, you can change that in Options->Link Cloaking. Unfortunately, you can only have one prefix. It’d be very nice to be able to specify multiple prefixes, and select which one to use for a particular cloaked link. That way I could use “goto” or “recommends”, depending on what I was linking to.

Even without that feature, this is still a great link cloaking solution for WordPress blogs. It doubles as an ad tracker, too, since it tells you how many times each cloaked link has been clicked.

And it’s free, so go get the link cloaking plugin. No more excuses for having ugly affiliate links on your blog!

Church Oriented WordPress Themes

I’m doing a charity project for my church, setting up a website for them.

So I decide to use WordPress, because after all that’s one of the easiest ways to allow non-technical people to create content on a web site. And I’m used to using WordPress to create mini-sites, so it seemed like a natural fit.

After I bought web hosting for the church, I installed WordPress and started looking around for a theme. This is the part of creating a site I absolutely hate, because there are a zillion themes floating around the Internet. They all look great, so how do I pick just one?

I happened to do a search for “church wordpress themes”, and up comes Living Open Source’s themes. These are themes created by a minister, Tim, and many of them are designed with churches in mind.

The one I ended up choosing was the Upsilon theme. It has built in integration with SmoothGallery for doing a timed slideshow in the header. The church wants to show off some photos of the church and church life, so that’s a great place to highlight some of the best.

The theme also has integration with the FAlbum plugin for showing Flicker photos, and with Plogger for showing photos you have hosted on your own server using the Plogger script. A photo gallery was one of their wish list items, so having this support built into the theme is terrific.

If you’re ever doing a project for a church, I can highly recommend you head over to <a href="Living Open Source and take a look at the themes there.

Where To Get Great Post Ideas

Most people who blog understand the need to produce regular content at regular times.

Regular content means that Google knows when to visit your page to find your new posts, which means that your posts get indexed nearly immediately. When you don’t produce regular content, Google will not visit your site as often, delaying when your posts are available in search results.

But, producing content on a regular basis is often hard! Especially if you’ve chosen daily posting. Coming up with great content every single day just isn’t possible.

So some posts are one-offs, posts you write to get some content on the blog, but they’re not what you consider to be great posts.

Where do the great post ideas come from?

From your recent experiences. If you’re writing about making money online, for example, you must be out there actually trying to make money online (more than just through your blog). That way you’ll run into the same problems and issues that your readers do, and when you run into those problems and issues…write a post about how you solved them.

That makes the posts relevant, and improves the value of your blog to your readers. If all you do is recycle whatever is on other blogs, then you’re not providing value.

Whatever your niche is, be active within it and the great post ideas will come. Don’t just write, but do.

P.S. Yes, this is one of those one-off posts. The sponsored blog over at The Advisory Panel is getting close to going public, so I’m spending a lot of my online time working with that. It’s exciting to see a project like that grow, and I’m looking forward to doing more sponsored projects when the first one is running well.

The Advisory Panel Looking For Bloggers

The first sponsored blog over at The Advisory Panel is getting under way.

The niche chosen for the blog is stay at home jobs for parents. Topics could include freelance writing, ebay, affiliate marketing, etc. It’s a fairly large niche, but unified by the focus on parents who want to earn an income from home so they can stay with their children.

As a sponsored blog, the blog is hosted and paid for by the forum. Advisory Panel member volunteers will write the posts, and keep any affiliate income from links they put in their posts. The blog-wide advertisements will also generate income, and that’ll be split between the authors and the forum.

We’re only expecting each author to make one post a week. We’ll make up for that by having enough authors that the site itself is updated frequently enough to keep both the readers and search engines happy. And one post a week is easy enough for most anyone to fit into a busy schedule.

So if you’ve been wanting to try your hand at blogging, and the topic sounds like something you could write about, head on over to The Advisory Panel and toss your hat into the ring. We need a limited number of authors, but I expect this to be a sort of revolving cast. Authors may write for the blog for a few months, and then branch out into new blogs of their own with what they’ve learned from the experience.