Category Archives: Work, Wordpress & eCommerce

Skimlinks Review for Affiliates & Bloggers (How to Monetize a Blog)

Starting an affiliate site is tougher than it sounds.  It’s a chicken or the egg situation – you need good affiliate programs to generate revenue and credibility within a network like Commission Junction, Linkshare and Impact Radius, but you can’t get approved for programs because you don’t have any credibility.

So, what do you do?  I started by signing up for FMTC and for Skimlinks.  FMTC is my data feed partner, which ensures that I have current deals on my site, and Skimlinks essentially allows me to get commission from affiliate programs that I’m not yet approved for.  It’s also a great work around to get commission from programs that don’t tend to approve coupon sites.  What’s even better is that FMTC is seamlessly integrated with Skimlinks, so once I’m approved for a program, my links will change over without me having to do any manual work.

But what do you do if you’re not running a coupon site?  Skimlinks is still an amazing solution for monetizing your blog or website!

Skimlinks has some competitors like Viglink, but the FMTC integration has earned my loyalty so far.  It’s also a nice way to aggregate your commissions in one place rather than having small commissions in a ton of different affiliate platforms like Shareasale, Affiliate Window and others.  When you’re starting out, you may not make the threshold to get a payment, so this is a good way to start some cash flow as you ramp up.

As you gain your credibility with the networks, you can consider moving away from Skimlinks since they take a share of your commission (about 25%), but they’ve also negotiated higher rates with some merchants so you essentially stay whole.  You can check their merchant area to see which merchants are preferred and have a higher negotiated rate (they call these Preferred Partners).  In some cases, the Skimlinks rate is higher than what a merchant offers you as a small website, so I’ve actually declined invitations in the past as a way to make more money (this happened recently where I could make several % of commission on a program via Skimlinks and the partner had only offered me 0.5%!).

If you’re a blogger or run a wordpress site, you can also just implement Skimlinks via a WordPress plugin if you don’t want to implement their javascript code.  They have about 22,000 merchants across the USA, Canada, the UK, and other countries, so whenever you mention or link to a store that they’re partnered with, you’ll automatically be in a position to make a commission if someone buys something.  Note that there are some programs that are on a CPC, but that’s the minority.

 

Skimlinks has also introduced APIs if you’re more technically inclined, as well as a suite of products like an Amazon & eBay search box, Amazon overwrite (if you want to run that program through Skimlinks) and product showcases which look a bit like Amazon’s native ads.

One thing that they don’t actively talk about is that you can work your way up to a larger share of commission once you start driving more volume.  A rep reached out to me after I started consistently driving sales and let me in on this secret. It will take a while to work my way up there, but it’s good to know that the option exists.

Overall, I’m been very happy with Skimlinks and plan to keep working with them.

Here are some signup links for Skimlinks, FMTC and Viglink which is a competitor of theirs.  (And, yes, I’ll get a commission, but you’ll help keep me in business by using these links!):

  • Sign up for Skimlinks
  • Signup for FMTC from my other website, Official Coupon Code
  • Sign up for Viglink

 

 

Calculoid Review

I recently decided that I wanted to add some savings calculators to my other website, Official Coupon Code.  It’s built on WordPress (even though it doesn’t look like it!) so I looked for some tools that I could use to whip up some calculators and stumbled upon Calculoid.

Their tool was relatively easy to use, but I’d suggest building your own calculators from scratch. I tried starting with one of the prebuilt ones, and the formula was wrong.  One other piece of advice is to build your more complex formulas in Excel and then put them into Calculoid, versus trying to get it working in their tool to start.

They offer various packages ranging from free with a limited # of views to more robust high-volume packages.  I decided to start with Free until I see how many people are using the calculators, and then I’ll upgrade.  Note that with the free version, you’ll have to link back to Calculoid.

I’m still looking into how Google sees their calculators on my site, and it looks like the calculator may not be rendering properly for spiders (though this seems silly since their embedded link wouldn’t help them with SEO).  This may mean that their tool isn’t going to work as a long term solution for me, but it’s certainly viable as a proof of concept. Just in case it was a fluke, I decided to build a link to my site into the calculators – this way if someone decides to use one of my public calculators, it should help my site out with  SEO.  When I implemented the calculators on my site, I simply hid the title and description (where the link is included) so that it doesn’t look silly.

Overall, the tool is easy to use and flexible. Certainly worth a test if you need to build calculators for your site. They offer a wordpress plugin but I skipped it and just popped their code into one of my pages.

Here’s a screenshot, but you can see live examples on my calculators page:

calculod-review

 

SEO for Small Businesses – 20 Questions Answered

I recently responded to request for a source for an SEO article that Manta.com was writing.  While they used a portion of what I submitted, I thought that it would be valuable to publish my entire response since it might help others who are researching the same topic.

What is SEO?

SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization, which is the process of managing variables to increase your presence in the “free” portion of a search results page.  When you look at a page on Google, you’ll notice paid ads at the top and products or other information in the upper right – the “free” or “organic” results come below those.

While driven by an immense number of sub-factors, a simplified way to think about SEO comes in three tranches:

  • the ability for Google & other search engine spiders to crawl and interpret the information on your website
  • the unique content and information search engine spiders find when they crawl your website
  • the number of links from other trusted, relevant sites to your site

How would you define what SEO is not?

SEO is not the same as managing paid search campaigns, which is often referred to as search engine marketing (SEM).  While you should expect to spend money on SEO, any expense is indirect (copyrwriting, technical fixes, etc) whereas SEM requires a direct media investment and allows you to control your placement on search engine results pages (SERPs).

Why is SEO important for small businesses?

It’s key to think of your normal behavior – when you go to a new store, restaurant or even doctor, you likely start on Google or another search engine, right?  Being found on search engines is critical for large, small, local, ecommerce and other types of businesses.

Since small businesses often have finite or limited advertising budgets, ensuring that their websites are set up for success to capture free traffic will help drive both foot and web traffic at a far lower cost than most other media.

Do certain companies need SEO more than others? Which companies need SEO?

All companies should focus on SEO, but it’s most critical for those who have limited advertising budgets and are in a competitive space.  If a small business doesn’t have a strong brand name already, they will need to perform better on “generic” or broad keywords in order to be discovered.

When is SEO necessary?

SEO is not something that happens one time – it’s an ongoing process which evolves, whether due to changing search engine algorithms (think of these as “recipes” by which a search engine spider determines whether or not a site is worth ranking) or changes on the website itself due to product offerings, changing seasons or information.

Where should small business owners begin their SEO efforts?

It’s ideal to build a new site with SEO in mind rather than retrofitting an existing experience, but if that’s not feasible, then they should begin immediately although they will likely work in phases depending on their maturity, resources and budget.  For brand new small businesses, it’s ok to start small – have good quality writing and make sure that the fundamentals are in place.  As you the business grows, put more money into public relations to get links to the site, and invest in other more advanced tactics.

What does a successful SEO strategy look like?

A successful SEO strategy is diversified and ensures that all three pillars are being addressed: on-site content, technical architecture of the website, and obtaining quality links to the website.

How much should small businesses budget to spend on SEO?

Unfortunately, this is a very broad question and it truly depends on the size of the website (# of pages), competitive nature of the space, and whether the business is trying to rank locally or nationally.

What can SEO do for a small business website?

SEO can help drive traffic and sales/leads/foot traffic depending on the objective of the website and the keywords it is optimized for.  This can help create a low-cost marketing channel from which profit can be re-invested in other marketing channels or dropped to the bottom line.

What are the essential SEO tactics to boost a website’s SEO?

A few essential tactics include:

  • Ensuring that you have quality, original content on the website. Content may be everything from product descriptions to a blog, and even product ratings & reviews.
  • Securing links to your website without buying them outright, as this is against Google’s guidelines
  • Making sure your site loads quickly and is mobile-friendly
  • Updating your website’s content on a regular cadence
  • Making sure that the fundamentals are met (site can be indexed, appropriate meta & title tags, etc)

Can you optimize a business’s search rankings if that company doesn’t have a website?

If you do not have a website, you can create a business page on Google.  This can house much of the same information that you’d find on a non-transactional or local small business website.

How can social media help a company’s search rankings?

Awareness is a key element in gaining additional links to your website, a key factor in improving rankings.  With additional awareness through social media, you may be able to secure new links and also have your URLs shared.

How can online reviews help a company’s search rankings?

On-site reviews can help a company’s rankings by providing a consistent stream of new content which is generally written in a more natural voice.  This can help add new keywords to a given page, which is valuable in helping spiders understand the context of the page.

Off-site reviews, such as those on Yelp, can help if they include links to your website.

How should a company use keywords on a website to improve SEO?

A company’s marketing team should help determine the most important keywords to rank for – not only by looking at traffic, but also by looking at conversion rates.  Once identified, those keywords should be used in copy, meta tags and links on the website, however they should be used sparingly.

Keyword “stuffing” is a no-no and should be avoided.  Google and other search engines are becoming smarter each day in terms of identifying synonyms and misspellings for keywords used on a website, so it’s best to write for your site’s visitors, but ensure that the words are common enough to be worth ranking for.

What are the best SEO tools (free and for purchase) you’d recommend small businesses use?

Personally, I use a variety of tools including Ahrefs, SEMrush, Raven, Google Search Console, Bing Webmaster Tools, ScreamingFrog, DeepCrawl, the Adwords Keyword Planner, Excel and others.  Depending on the size of the small businesses website and number of terms for which the company is trying to rank for, it’s possible to start with free tools.  I would not recommend signing up for any annual plans in the beginning; instead, try out a few tools and see which ones are used frequently enough to justify the cost.

Which is better SEO or SEM? How do the two work together?

SEO and SEM are different and both are valuable.  SEO has a definite cost advantage, however SEM allows you to control the message and landing page, so it’s ideal to use both.  A company can test different strategies to find the optimal mix by keyword – bid on keywords where you have an organic ranking or don’t, bid only on keywords where you don’t rank organically, etc.

What do reputable SEO companies do, and how much should a business budget?

Reputable SEO companies and consultants will perform an analysis of the website and it’s competitive set, identify technical issues, identify low-hanging fruit opportunities and stretch goals, assist with guidance for copywriting and/or provide copy, track keyword ranking changes, and develop a link building strategy.  The cost is highly variable depending on the nature of services rendered and the size of website, but can range anywhere from $1000/month to $25K+/month.

Does SEO takes time? Why, and how long should one expect to wait for results?

SEO will take time – months and potentially years if it’s in a heavily competitive space.  If the business is trying to rank locally on a set of niche terms, then the process will be on the shorter side; if the business is trying to rank on very high traffic keywords at a national level (for example: flowers), they will need to exercise their patience.

What are some reasons SEO might not work?

It’s unlikely that SEO wouldn’t “work”, but instead, a website may not rank highly for a keyword if it’s not deemed to be relevant enough.

One challenge that small businesses will face if they are trying to compete on broad, high volume keywords against other more established sites is that those businesses may simply be outspending them on link acquisition.  This would make it difficult for a small business to reach the top placements or page one.

What is a solid SEO To-Do list for businesses just beginning?

A simple, but efficient to-do list for a small business would be to:

  • Find a trusted advisor, whether that’s an in-house specialist or external firm
  • Pair that advisor with the technical staff that updates the website, copywriters, public relations and merchants
  • Allocate an appropriate budget for copywriting and link acquisition
  • Provide direction to the company or appropriate teams that SEO is a priority.  This can’t be underestimated – SEO is everybody’s job, not just the job of one person.

You can read Manta.com’s SEO article here which features information from tons of other SEO professionals.  I was quoted in section 6 as the owner of OfficialCouponCode.

KingSumo Giveaways Review & Discount Code

As an army of one, I’m always testing new technologies out to see how I can execute things on a quick and scrappy basis.  The latest one I tested was KingSumo Giveaways, which I’m using to run a $200 giveaway.

Overall, the tool was incredibly easy to use and has made getting the contest easy to set up.  You fill out some basic settings (email replies, your social media user names, email integration API, and address), and then use a one page template to create the contest page.  They don’t mention it on the setup page, but the correct size for images 1-3 is 300×100 which I discerned by watching their video tutorial.  Other than that, the setup was intuitive and easy.

The best feature, hands down, is the social sharing that is built in.  I’ve posted a screenshot of my twitter notifications below which shows how the sharing looks.  Users are encouraged to share because they get additional contest entries, and at first blush it seems like more than 10%  of those who enter are sharing on twitter.

I tried getting rid of the “answer this question to enter,” but the contest won’t publish without that.  Ideally that would be optional, but it’s not.

One thing that could get tricky is managing different email replies if you have multiple contests running at the same time.  I edited my bounceback email to include a reference to the sponsor’s coupon page which wouldn’t work if there are multiple giveaways running.  Fortunately, I can only envision running one at a time, but it will require some workarounds  to handle this if that ever changes.  I’d love to see them offer different email profiles by campaign since I may want to keep people in different email lists.

Overall, it seems like a solid tool for the price.  The trick is getting people to sign up for the contest – thus far, I’ve posted it to reddit, added a Sumome listbuilder popup directing to the contest page, posted on social media and emailed my existing list.

I got about 1700 entries in a week, although at least 500 of those were junk.  Lesson learned – no matter how tempting, don’t disable the confirmation email that requires people to confirm their entry.  I think this would have cut down on people marking my “sorry you didn’t win” email as spam.

If you’re ready to try Kingsumo Giveaways for yourself, here’s a 50% off discount code: CURIOUS50

Here’s a sample giveaway page (note, the background is customizable but my logo looked terrible on a color so I stuck with white):

king_sumo_contest

 

Social sharing once the campaign went live:

Twitter

 

 

 

How to Change your Website’s Category in Websense

One of the lessons that I learned earlier this year when launching a new website with an old domain was that the site was mis-categorized by Websense, and therefore being blocked for many visitors.

Fortunately, a person that I know at a university which used Websense let me know about the problem, but this is something that should be on everybody’s checklist when launching a new site!

It only took about a day to remedy the issue, and you can follow steps on Websense’s site to clear things up.

At a high level, here are the steps you’ll take:

  1. Register for an account
  2. Enter the URL you wish to validate and change on the Site Lookup Tool. Try it with and without http.
  3. If you feel the classification shown is incorrect, fill out details and select a new category. My site was being blocked altogether originally as a parked domain, even though it had been a live site for months.  In other words, don’t assume that they re-scan once content is live.
  4. Fill in some brief comments and hit submit.  You’ll receive a confirmation email.
  5. My site was updated very quickly, but it can take a few days for some people.

Overall, it was a very painless experience!  Make sure to check your site to ensure you’re not being blocked by the companies and universities that use Websense.

 

How to Get Press Coverage for your Business

Over the past few months, I’ve been working hard to get press for my other site, which is still very unknown.  I’ve had amazing luck thus far, landing links from both the Huffington Post and How Stuff Works in the past week, along with some of the other press that you’ve read about on the blog.

Some friends have asked whether I’m pitching writers directly — I’m not. There’s an amazing website called Help A Reporter Out (HARO for short), which connects sources and writers, and this has been the source for much of my press.  You need to be prepared to write eloquent, well informed pitches, and even go after things that might not be directly related to your site – for example, my How Stuff Works link is actually about the Aeron chair – but persistence does pay off.

Many of your pitches won’t be used, and some may net you a placement in the article but not a link to your site, but if you keep at it you’ll end up with some good PR.  Btw, you will be rated as a source by the writers, so make sure you don’t respond to things just for the sake of responding, otherwise you’ll be quickly discredited!

Want to learn more? Check out my article about the topic on Medium.

You can also go the traditional route and submit press releases through services like PRWeb, but be sure to have actual news (survey results can be great), or else you won’t get much traction.

Another more difficult route is to post on sites like Reddit and hope that you get spotted by writers looking for viral content. Follow the rules for posting it in a Subreddit and hope that you get some traction!

Fancy Hands Review

When you’re starting up a business, there are a million things that you need to get done, and there’s never enough time in the day.  Whether it’s writing content, forming partnerships, or writing code, an extra pair of hands is extremely helpful so that you can offload some tasks.

It’s too early for me to hire people, and with the amount of travel I’m doing, I didn’t think it would be fair to bring on an intern.

Enter Fancy Hands.  Wile there are quite a few similar virtual administrative services out there, Fancy Hands employs folks here in the US.  I’ve used them for everything from gathering links, to doing research for blog posts, and 9 times out of 10 they’ve done excellent work.  I know that Tim Ferris’ 4-hour work week books mention Ask Sunday, but I decided that I wanted to support people who are working here in our home country.  So far, I’ve been using their biggest package each month and am burning through it with relative ease.

While you can use them to do things like make phone calls or manage your calendar, you can also have them work on some bigger projects for you (that’s pretty much all I give them).  I think of them as my part-time, low-maintenance intern!

If you use this link to sign up, I’ll get a credit and you’ll get 50% off your first month – http://fhands.com/6UqtQMH

 

fancy_hands

 

How to create an infographic for free online

You see them everywhere. Infographics that look like they’re designed by top notch artists, and you wonder how to get one for your own company or brand.  While some of them are, in fact, created by incredible artists, you can use online tools to create them for free or at a low cost if you want to remove their branding.

I recently stumbled upon Venngage and created my first infographic.  Work of art? Not necessarily, but certainly decent enough to share.  The core service is free but includes Venngage’s branding.  If you want to remove that and download your infographic to PDF or PNG format, you’ll need one of their premium plans which start at $19 per month.  The tool was super easy to use and includes quite a few templates, but you can also start from scratch and drag & drop icons, pictograms, maps and much more.  There are some competitive services out there like Piktochart, but I haven’t had a chance to try them out.

As you’re getting started, you’re probably wondering what makes an infographic go viral. While this doesn’t really cover topics, I ran across an article that highlights the science behind viral infographics – colors, # of words, etc.

If you need something that is above and beyond what you can create yourself online, and want to find a designer to create something for you, you can tap an agency like Lemonly to create an infographic.

I also learned that it’s tough to get traction for that infographic on social media, but here’s a handy guide to get you started.  The formatting does seem to be the biggest issue I ran across – and if your goal is to get traffic over to your site, you will only want to show a teaser as they suggested.

As a bonus, Venngage was also really useful for creating a one-sheeter for my other site.  This is pretty basic, but still looks better than what people whip up in Word!

one-sheeter-example

Responsive (Mobile) menu plugin review

If I had tried these plugins before writing my “13 essential plugins” article, they would have definitely made the cut.  After trying a couple of mobile menu plugins in the past (for my other site), I had essentially put the change on the back burner.  The existing theme came with a “responsive” menu, but frankly, it looked horrendous and was pretty embarrassing.

Late last night, I decided that it was worth giving it one more shot and looked for another plugin.  Fortunately, I stumbled across Sevenspark and tried their ShiftNav product (and quickly upgrade to the Pro version).  While it took me a couple of tries to get it right (let’s just say that I didn’t read the tutorial), it was super easy to implement.  The key thing is that you have to go into your Menus area and modify each of your nav items if you want them to behave a certain way.  Easy enough, but leads to frustration if you don’t take a minute to read directions.

I still have some customization to do, but it’s the best plugin of its kind – or certainly among the others I had tried. The best feature is that it easily suppressed my theme’s default menu, so I didn’t have to mess with a lot of code. One key change that I made to make everything look a bit cleaner was add a bit of CSS to hide my standard top menu when the screen gets to a certain size (you can see it on the left screenshot, and when I first implemented the mobile menu it was stacking on top of it, which looked bad).  Also, I had to uncheck the option to shift the body.  Hard lesson learned, but I realized after some time that it was causing some key information not to show up if a user clicked on the “get coupon” button.

Earlier today, I implemented one of their other products, Uber Menu.  I still have a bit of work to do on that one, as well, but in general it already looks way better than the menu that came with my theme.

If you’re looking for a new mobile menu, definitely give Shiftnav a try – especially because the free option is really good, and the pro version is only $9.

Before and after shots below, but the real magic is in the actual menu usability.

IMG_2258IMG_2261

 

 

Removing the Yellow Background behind Adsense Ads in WordPress

Have you ever installed a new theme and found that there’s now a yellow background behind your ads?  It happened to me and I kept thinking that something was wrong with my adsense code.  Well it wasn’t…

All you need to do is open your CSS file in your theme and find #fff9c0 or #ff9 (likely where it mentions “ins”), then replace it with white or your background color.  Full instructions provided on Botcrawl if you need more assistance.