Popular WordPress Plugins

Choosing a theme and plugins for your WordPress blog can be the fun part of setting up your site, but it can also be overwhelming with thousands of possible plugins available and new ones being developed every day. Here are some of the most popular and useful plugins we have found:

Yoast SEO works as a built-in editor to encourage and promote the best writing. It walks you through techniques for readable and consistent content by having you choose a focus keyword for each article as you write it and then making sure you continue to use the keyword throughout your writing. It goes on to show you examples of what your post will look like in search results, giving you an edge on competition to increase rankings. The Page Analysis plugin works as a final copy editor to check that your posts are the optimal length, if your images contain an alt tag with the focus keyword, and if the meta description also contains that keyword. All in all, this plugin optimizes your content for search engines.

wordpress-logo-simplified-rgbFor improving your webpage’s performance and speed, Zen Cache is designed to reduce download time, optimize progressive rendering, reduce the loading time for pages, and more. Search engine rankings will improve with the speed of your site.

BackupBuddy is a secure and complete option for complete reassurance that in case of a catastrophe you will not lose anything from your database, media library, theme files, and so on.  Automated backups are easy to set up and will be quick to restore in the case of emergency.

A great plugin for easily adding nearly any type of online forms, from contact forms to surveys and user submitted posts, is Gravity Forms. It is very popular, in use on over one million WordPress sites.

Ultimate Branding promotes your logo, company name, and so forth across your network in place of any WordPress branding. It makes your site feel more unified and consistent. The best part is that this plugin does all the fussy work for you, so you won’t have to worry about writing a single code.

A helpful plugin for reducing spam is Akismet, which automatically catches comments that look like spam and allows you to review the filtered comments.

Envira Gallery is an aesthetically clean and pleasing plugin to create beautiful image galleries. If your site is photography related or tends to be picture heavy, this plugin simplifies the business with responsive design, fast loading, and stunning effects. It even offers a helpful free version, so you can try out some of the features right away.

Sucuri provides malware protection by blocking attacks, identifying spam, and preventing intrusions. It gives you real time alerts to keep you updated with any causes for concern. When it comes to website security, it is always better to be safer than sorry.

Another excellent way of tightening security on your site is Login Lockdown. This plugin limits the amount of failed attempts a user receives. This is helpful for deterring hack attempts, as most are focused on breaking your password by entering multiple combinations.

Facebook Launches “Universities”

Facebook in the last 12 hours launched Universities on Facebook, a page geared to encouraging interaction between people attending universities. The page also provides deals on goods and services from popular brands like Utrecht Art, NewEgg.com and Eddie Bauer. While some of the offers still need to be ironed out, the prospect of network-specific content starts to rise.

For a enterprise level Facebook Application I’m working on, I have been trying to use the Open Graph API to determine where a user’s network, current city or states (of interests) exist and then serving up content based on the the response. If you’ve seen anything from popular fast food chains such as McDonalds and Burger King you’ll know that not all goods, services and specials are offered nationwide. McRib is a good example: despite availability of ingredients, labor for processing etc, the McRib is only ever around for a short period of time and in certain markets. If a brand like McDonalds wants to promote the McRib on Facebook – they can but they have to add a ton of disclaimers saying ‘price and participation may vary.’

Facebook Ads can be targeted at a particular user group, why not target your custom applications’ content? At the end of the day, a lot of brands utilizing Facebook‘s platform, like Yelp, are trying to provide more accurate, socially relevant and locally available content. While I want to be the first to provide the service, we can all benefit from network-relevant content. Universities – and Facebook’s other programs attempt to target types of users with relevant content and best practices.

I ‘like’ Universities and I have a major take away from this campaign (albeit only a few hours old):

I can target the set-up of my content on a demographic and then through carefully planned code I can target sub-groups of my desired demographic.

I keep harping on Facebook campaigns, but what are some of the focuses of your Facebook campaigns? I know part of how we target the ASPNix Facebook content is to be informative, among other initiatives. What is the focus of your Facebook (or social media) campaign?

What’s Better For Business: Facebook or Twitter?

When examining a social network, you should remember to use the network the way it was intended. Despite the fact that deploying a Facebook Page, multiple Twitter accounts or even a managed LinkedIn profile can help you establish a reputation or a brand online, you must cater to your audience.

Think of it this way: LinkedIn is like a Rolodex, Facebook is a little black book and Twitter is a cocktail party. In short: LinkedIn is for business connections, Facebook is for amicable connections, Twitter is for ad hoc connections. Users don’t use Facebook as their primary tool to search for real estate listings; they don’t use LinkedIn to find friends to go to happy hour with; they don’t use Twitter to shop for groceries. Each tool has an appropriate purpose and appropriate audience.

In the Search Engine Optimization (SEO) world, we preach about having quality content, and how, without quality content, no SEO campaign can be successful. A similar approach applies when promoting your business through social media networks. What is your quality content?

If our focus was promoting a creative agency, market your services – such as your branding, design for print and film and media – it doesn’t have to be your best work, but it does have to be high quality. Before you start promoting your business, you must acknowledge that people will search for your company online. At some point they’ll have seen or heard enough about your company to try and find your website. If your services are your quality content, have your general info, track record and reputation established in the actual content on your website. Once your website is clear on what you do (what your service offering is), you can begin to target an audience on social networks to promote your business.

What is it you are really trying to accomplish? Generate leads? Establish a reputation or customer loyalty? Share relevant industry information and opinion with (anyone)?

If you want to generate leads, demonstrate your expertise on LinkedIn: answer questions in topics relevant to your service offering. Create a company profile page and encourage employees or consultants to be linked to your page. Reach out to existing or former clients requesting recommendations of you or your staff. Establish your brand and expertise through the professional network.

If you want to take a strong stance and establish a social reputation online, create a Facebook Page for your business. using Facebook applications, connect your blog, Twitter, videos, photos, (the whole nine) and encourage your existing or past clients to be fans of your business profile. Start discussions around your industry perspectives, tag your clients, friends, etc in your posts: tags allow users’ to see themselves (or their pages) be mentioned and encourages them to offer a recommendation, referrals or references for the work you do. If customers have a problem with your product or service, there’s a chance they will post content to their Facebook profile. Perform regular searches for your company name, abbreviations or products offered to be sure to address any client or prospect complaints that may be circulating. LinkedIn is assumed to be completely professional, while Facebook is assumed to be more fun and where actions seldom result in long-term consequence is. Both require a degree of tact to manage your brand online: reputation management, albeit reactive at times, can appear proactive if you address customer concerns, suggestions and comments quickly.

If you want to share relevant industry information, perspectives, random ‘whatever’ with anyone on the internet, use Twitter. The 140 character limit requires you to be concise and engaging. You can put links in Twitter content, while they take some of your character allotment, they can help drive traffic to (anything). Twitter, as mentioned before, is a cocktail party: you can choose to follow, pay attention, subscribe to any conversation at the party. Likewise, you can be the center of attention one minute and suddenly everyone has migrated away to someone or something more interesting. Like with anything else, quality content is key.

Blogging In a Nutshell – Part 3

In Part 1 and Part 2 of this Blogging in a Nutshell series, we talked about types of content to create, when to post and how to start driving traffic to your content. While self-promotion of your content is perfectly acceptable, users are skeptical of someone promoting their own content. You have done a ton of work up until now to create, schedule and syndicate your content, isn’t it time the users started to promote your content too?

Fostering Discussion

The easiest part of blogging is creating content: you are the expert in your field, you are the mastermind behind your company’s products and services, all you have to do is write about what you already know. A more difficult task is driving traffic to your website, gaining popularity without your blog having an established reputation. The most difficult task is providing enough foundation for your users to start a discussion among themselves about your content.

Many journalists start out writing  or blogging wanting to change the world, tell a story, broadcast their ideas or opinions to a massive audience, or demonstrate something that they personally deem worthy. Many editors and publishers are focused on driving revenue from their magazine or blog. Getting users to return to your website to read or browse your content is the third major challenge in maintaining a blog. What was once a proximity-based discussion around newspapers and magazine articles can now happen between a greater sized audience without the discussion being limited people’s physical location. However, there must be a balance between making a point, driving revenue and fostering discussion.

Your content is your point: talk about your products and services, their benefit to your customers, their potential benefit to your prospects, how industry-related technology or government-sponsored legislature supports or challenges your company.

Your revenue is from your website and in generating leads: readers of your content may be presented with ads once they arrive on your website, opportunities to be sold on products or services presented by you or affiliates, viewers of your blog can be considered warm leads, readers of your blog can be considered hot leads, some viewers may even contact you directly – as a content owner or company representative – to learn more information about your company.

Your discussion can be brought on by many things: your content drives readers to think critically about something, your content provokes readers into a reaction (positive or negative), your content is shared on an individual level from your blog to a reader’s network (social, email or otherwise), the more interesting or provocative something is the more readers you’ll get to participate.

It is acceptable for users to have negative reaction to your content provided they participate in discussion explaining why. Typically a negative review of a product or service gets around to other people faster than a positive review. If readers are presented with an opportunity to express their reaction, talk through it and discuss their point of view with other readers, your discussion – albeit initially negative – has been accomplished. Remember, (however) that every second is a deadline: what is important content now, is important now, not a week from now. A user has the ability to dismiss your content without any consequence to them, find an alternate source or blog to read about – at which time your point, revenue and discussion are lost to that user. If your goal is fostering discussion or provoking reactions, timely quality content is a good means to start discussion.

If you missed previous parts, you can always go back to Part 1 and Part 2.

What If Facebook Started Its Own Web Search Engine?

A while back, Facebook’s number of weekly hits surpassed hits to Google. This has brought about discussion related to what (else) Facebook could accomplish if it put effort towards other market segments in addition to their social network. Could this milestone be a sign that Facebook, if they so desired, has the strength and means to enter into Google’s search market?

Bing’s search engine is what currently powers the web-based search results provided by Facebook. A big part of the reason why Google is successful is they go out of their way to provide exceptional service(s) for users. Facebook, in a way, already does this: users on Facebook who utilize the search function are most likely looking for Facebook-related material.

In an article from InsideFacebook.com around the same time, there’s a blip about how the recent redesign of Facebook’s layout creates a better opportunity for users to find what they want by searching, rather than combing through sub-links and multiple profiles. Moreover: Bing, being the web-search-engine powering Facebook, is now incorporating meta data from user statuses (which likely means tags as well) into search results. Facebook’s UI and interactions seem to change on a daily basis, but the 30,000+ servers used to support Facebook have changes rolling out constantly and by regions – it’s difficult to tell when everyone has the same search results or expected behavior from Facebook.

I believe the question we should try to answer would be: ‘What if someone tried to encroach on Google’s Market (related to Search)?‘ Facebook, as a social media application, is not the application to do it. Bing, however, powered Facebook meta-data, may be a better candidate to analyse for taking on some of Google’s market share (in search). That said, modify the focus of the question to be “What if Bing starts using Facebook data to power their search results, what will that mean for Google’s market related to search?” Zombies Oh My God: the Privacy Policy wars would wage on for years!

Facebook will not get into web-based search like Google and Bing. The key component of Facebook is the social network(s) that are available to users: Friends, family members, co-workers, etc. A recommendation on a service provider, restaurant, church or concert from a friend of family member (or someone you trust (within reason) who would be a connection on said social network) is more valuable than a web-search result. To Facebook’s advantage, said services and amenities often have Facebook Pages. A co-worker can recommend a service provider, through Facebook, linking to an appropriate page, also on Facebook and the user never leaves the social networking site. Also, it turns out if you are running Facebook Ad campaigns, if you link to a Facebook page, post or profile with your ad, cost-per-click rates are considerably less than linking off of Facebook.

Therefore, I would offer that Facebook may create a niche within search that allows users to search for service providers, amenities or what-have-you and each result is paired with meta-data from trusted members of your network. Ex. Searching for a restaurant or happy hour location yields a list of 5 local results, 3 of which have Facebook Pages, of which one of those Facebook Pages your best friend or sister is ‘a fan of.’ This yields instant credibility, as associated with someone you already trust, for a business or service provider.

Blogging In a Nutshell – Part 2

Last article we explored different types of content to create and how to schedule when blog posts go out. If you missed our little introduction, jump back a few days to learn about forming original content for your blog.

Driving Traffic

In business you know that if you have a good product you can create a brand, business, store front – the whole nine – around your product. Buzz is created by your store’s physical location and buzz around your product by word of mouth from passer-byes or customers. It is far more difficult to attain reputation or recognition by passer-byes without a physical location. An example of a passer-by on the internet would be someone who uses a search engine and finds upon your blog – even if by mistake -they read some of your content and have an opinion about it. Whether they share their opinion on your blog, another means online (sharing on social networks) or discuss it offline, all methods create some level of attention around your content.

Similar to traditional media: distribution or syndication is the top communication channel to generate traffic to your blog. There are several ways to go about attaining syndication or distribution. First and foremost, know that Associated Press is one of the biggest, if not the biggest, content provider in the world. (They are a non-profit co-op and depending on the size of your organization and network, they will require a fee to add your content to their regular postings and provide you with access to their content and photos.) While not a requirement to be syndicated by AP, if your content is relevant for them, it won’t hurt your chances of driving traffic.

The simplest ways to distribute your content are easy, cost effective and steps you should take any way to help build your brand (even if you do not write a blog). First, create a dynamic sitemap; most blogging platforms will do this for you. WordPress, for example, has a series of plug-ins available to automatically (and dynamically) publish a sitemap that can be consumed by Google (and other major search providers). Next, claim your blog on syndication sites like Technorati and Google Blog Search, it’s simple to set up an account and both services will pull your posts daily (or by an interval you can set) so your newest content will always be syndicated. Lastly, any social networks (anywhere) that exist to support your company, blog, content or articles approach them about referencing your material, or post quality comments to their content linking back to your material. While link exchanging is seen as a careless method to generate search engine optimization value, having related content will help readers genuinely interested in a topic to find your blog.

Blogging In a Nutshell – Part 1

There are two primary objectives for blog articles: make a point and encourage discussion among readers. For business, there is a third overarching objective: self-promotion. The key to any blog you probably already know: original solid content. With original content your blog will draw an audience; that audience will revisit your blog which will foster discussion around your content. Over the next few days we will briefly discuss in detail how to form original content, followed briefly by means to drive traffic and finally how to foster discussion around your blog articles.

As you are already aware the key to blogging is having original content, good content that your target audience will want to read. Users are able to find the information they want and able to dismiss irrelevant content faster; users bore easier: with tons of resources at their disposal, users will spend 30 to 60 seconds skimming through headlines and initial paragraphs before abandoning your site. For example, at this point in the article, if the content you were looking for is not outlined or easy to find, attention spans are lost. The challenge is in creating and frequently providing content that will keep the attention of your audience. The solution is in planning. There are three types of articles your blog content should be focused on: multi-part series, weekly industry-relevant single posts and ad hoc one-off content.

Forming Original Content

A multi-part series, much like this one, will involve a tutorial, how-to or extended analysis of a technique, software or event. The series should actually be written all at once and broken into smaller consumable pieces after the initial composition. Most blogging software allows users to post-date their articles, which lends itself to a multi-part series very well. The content is already completed and by staggering out the launch dates, what was one longer article is now 5 articles and consumed as regular content for readers.

Each week, post something about what’s going on in your universe or in your industry, something your readers will relate to and already be reading about elsewhere. Weekly industry-relevant single posts are simply reviews, recaps, predictions or brief analysis of a current event or software launch pertinent to your audience. These types of posts are not time-sensitive. For instance a piece of industry news, such as software launch from Google, can be posted a day or two after the actual event takes place. In this example, the author should appropriately evaluate the software, any supporting information from Google’s regular media channels and if possible other bloggers’ reactions to the release of said software; these steps to establish content will allow a higher likelihood of generating solid content. Try to avoid just posting a link with one or two lines of your opinion. For these weekly-posts, try to put some more thought and opinion into your content.

Ad hoc posts should focus on at least one of two things: an account of “here and now” events or brief snippets of information sharing. Micro-blogging, while a concept not covered in detail here, is the act of sharing a link or references to another piece of information – more notably seen and experienced through the deployment of Twitter. Ad hoc posts are similar to micro-blogging: there is an event, an article or some piece of content not featured (or perhaps relevant) to your regular content; talk about it, feature it along with up to five sentences of your own opinion/insight/content. For example, if your blog is about web-based software and you want to feature an announcement about Microsoft’s Sync system, while not directly relevant to your usual topic of discussion an appropriate ad hoc post would: (1) link to the announcement with (2) a few short sentences about why the article is interesting to your audience.

The first key thing to remember is that you are creating solid original content. Your content will entice viewership and greater viewership means more opportunity for discussion. The second key point is having a variety of content. By having three types of posts – regular, one-off and right-now – the content provided to users varies in format enough to be interesting. All three types are essential: regular content users to depend on and expect large-scale content in digestible segments; weekly content allows users to count on and expect relevant regular content; ad hoc posts are the backbone for fresh content in their frequency and tangential relevance.

Scheduling Blog Content

The final challenge when focused on writing a blog is scheduling: when do you write content and when do you post content? Many blogging platforms have the advantage of being able to set the date and time for content to post (similar to full-blown newswires). This works to post content at a previous date and time as well as scheduling when a post will go live in the future. (Briefly: the only reason I would justify launching content at a previous date is to establish credibility during the initial launch of a blog – allowing for simulated longevity of content upon the blog’s launch; however this would demand future posts link and reference the pre-dated posts.) The latter scheduling concept is more pertinent: create content that will be posted at some date in the future. Newspapers used to have multi-editions per day: early morning, mid-morning afternoon, late afternoon and evening, sometimes more; Associated Press often posts out a flurry of articles at 1:00am each morning. Creating content now and planning for a story launch is a perfectly acceptable means of communication through your blog.

Goals for your blog, while not covered in detail here, should include the frequency of your posts. Before you launch your blog, you must have content. You should be prepared to launch your blog with three weeks’ worth of content: one set of content for the week prior to launch date, one set of content for the week of your launch and a final set of content for the week following your launch. At a minimum, the regular articles (the multi-part series or weekly-industry content) should be scheduled and finalized a week ahead of their launch. This way, if your new content is delayed a day or two your users are not affected. By writing content at least a week ahead of time, you allow yourself the flexibility to accommodate your real life. Real life happens: car breaks down, mother-in-law comes to town, and your dog ate your blog. While your readers’ real lives may affect how often they are able to read your content they have no empathy or mercy if your real life got in the way of their content. Your blog lives and dies by its content, no content means no life.

Next we talk about driving traffic to your blog.