Homepage elements: what you need to include (or not) and why

About six months ago someone suggested I should write a post about what should be included on a homepage.

So I captured my homepage into a jpg, took a good look at it, compared it to a load of other blogs and websites, and decided it was rubbish.

My homepage as of May 2014

Even though Fairy Blog Mother® had just won the Organisation Digital & Technology Category of the National UK Blog Awards 2014, I still shuddered whenever I looked at my blog. Something desperately needed to be done.

I really felt I couldn’t write such a post when my own homepage was so awful. So I’ve been busy since then, investigating, creating and trialling many versions, and this is what my blog’s homepage looks like at the end of October 2014:

My homepage as from the end of October 2014

And the jury is still out. If you are reading this post in the future, it will probably have changed again!

I know I use my own graphics within a DIY theme, but that is what gives it its charm. Being a Graphic Designer turned Digital Marketer, I wanted to implant my own slant on web design, and be able to apply anything new I had Iearned about digital marketing, which includes what should go into a homepage.

Think of your visitors first

One big mistake some people make is that they think they need to include EVERYTHING on their homepage.

This is a bit like setting up a car boot stall and displaying all your goods all in one go. But this will result in confusion, your visitors won’t be able to understand or appreciate exactly what the business is about, they won’t know what they should do next, and more than likely will leave as rapidly as they came.

What a wasted opportunity. The last thing you want is for your homepage to put your visitors off; you need to encourage them to stay.

Give them something to do

Actually there are three things a visitor to a homepage needs to do:

  • Recognise and be reassured they’ve come to the right website
  • Immediately understand exactly what the website is about, or what the blog post trying to say
  • Do something constructive that helps both the visitor and the website’s owner’s objectives. This could be as simple as deciding to read what’s in front of them, before clicking to read your latest blog post, browsing via the navigation bar, or signing up to your newsletter.

And this all has to happen within a second, even with the third point. It’s certainly not three seconds any more, because people can turn away well within that time.

And if there is any confusion at all, which can even occur due to the design or ambiance of the website, you will have lost your visitor, who will more than likely never return.

Let’s start from the top

The area ‘above the fold’ on a website’s homepage is extremely important, as it is what people see first. This needs to include as much information you can give your visitors before they have to scroll down. Also you also need to be aware that laptop screens are much shallower than PC screens, therefore you shouldn’t waste this opportunity to showcase as much as you can in this area.

At the top of your homepage there should be a banner (or masthead) that introduces the website’s business title, or blog’s subject or niche. If the name presented doesn’t explain exactly what is in the tin, you will need to include a strapline to clarify, enhance or explain the website’s title. This should be descriptive, concise and helpful.

Showing the banner and navigation position at top of my blog

Navigation bars traditionally go across the page, either above or below the banner. This is because visitors usually expect to find it there, and during that short second they are scanning your homepage, they will be taking in as much information as they can, which will include the pages or sections they could explore.

Other elements that should be presented near the top are contact details if you’re a business, such as a telephone number and email address:

Showing contact details in Appletree's banner

or social media buttons if you’re a blogger that regularly participates in social networking and wants to encourage people to visit. Some clever designers incorporate these into the banner:

Showing the social media icons in the Windsor Emporium banner

or alternatively place them as close as they can to the banner, as I have done with mine.

Don’t waste your space

Remember space above the fold in your homepage is at a premium. It should contain as much information as possible to clarify what the website or blog is offering, but it should not be distracting.

In the old days this are was taken up with a descriptive picture. Or even an image that just looked nice. Nowadays this space contains a video or a slideshow. Apparently it’s important to have a moving visual presentation to explain your business.

This is fine if the video is short and dynamic, or the slideshow is regularly populated with new new and appropriate material. But if the visitor is impatient, and hasn’t time to listen to a video, or can’t be bothered to wait to read all the slides, this can be seen as a meddlesome distraction that takes up valuable homepage retail space.

My old homepage contained a Doodle video, which was supposed to be quirky and fun, and I even customised the YouTube screen to entice people to click. Even though it lasted just over a minute, most of my visitors didn’t bother watching it. If you have the time to see it, take a quick gander here, it is worth it!

Being the killjoy that I am, I suggest it would be much better to present a static image (or even interactive) display of what you have to offer instead, which is much more easily scanned, appreciated and understood within a short time.

Show your wares

Below my navigation bar I have inserted three widget spaces that advertise what activities I am offering, which also appear on most of my other pages. I have made them as visual as possible to draw attention to them.

Three widget areas that showcase what I'm doing

I also had this feature on my old homepage (as you can see above), but they were very dull, and nobody clicked on them.

Since then I’ve learned that these need to be eye-catching, ask a question that relates to the visitor, and ideally should contain a call to action, which unfortunately these don’t. My next phase would be to work out how to include this to make more visitors click on them.

Recently I explored The Streamline Pro Theme on the Genesis Framework by CopyBlogger for a client:

Streamline Pro Theme by StudioPress

This is from the example page, which shows three boxes that can be directed to specific pages or sections within the website.

What I like about them is their big orange call to action buttons: Read More. In fact wherever you click on these sections, it goes to its destination, but it’s those buttons that really make you want to click on them.

So I tried my own version of a call to action here:

My call to action images on my homepage

Hmmm, still work in progress. Previously these images just looked like the other pictures above, so my visitors didn’t realise they were clickable. But by adding in the red call to actions in the top left hand corner, hopefully this will induce visitors to notice, click and enjoy what’s on the other side. We shall see.

I’ve also included a similar call to action at the top of this blog page (yes, I know it’s not the homepage, but hopefully you will forgive me):

The call to action at the top of my blog page

With a big red button telling the visitor what to do.

Sometimes you need to include instructions to get a response. Never assume your visitor will understand which images should be clicked on, or even wave their mouse around to see whether anything is interactive. The magic words ‘click here’ can do wonders if appropriately applied.

Benefits and features

Whilst doing further research for this post I came across the concept of showcasing features versus benefits. My homepage certainly advertises lots of features using my purple imagery:

My homepage is stuffed full of features

What is missing is promoting some of the benefits I could offer. Most likely your homepage will consist of text rather than imagery, and in fact this is more appropriate to include suitable keywords for SEO purposes. But remember that your visitor will be scanning rather than reading, so use clear bullet points rather than copious text.

But really your benefits should be highlighted in your website pages or within your blog posts. Use features to attract your visitors to venture further into the site to find out more, where you will have more room to explain the benefits in plenty of detail.

Provide some incentive

Sidebars should include additional information that encourages the visitor to find out more about the website or business. Here you can place a subscription or newsletter sign-up form, accompanied with a delicious image of the prize attained if you succumb. Its best position would be at the top, to capture the visitor’s eye while it roams around the homepage.

I know this isn’t the case with my present homepage, even though it was with my old version. The search facility, unnecessarily repetitive remnant social media icons and the National UK Blog Awards 2015 badge have taken precedent. Maybe subconsciously these have more priority than my newsletter subscribers? Hmmm.

Actually showing off consumer proof of your expertise and prowess on your homepage is a good thing. Look where I advertised my blogging award, right under my banner! And also I have included widgets in my sidebar and underneath my content that randomly shares my testimonials, presents badges of blogs I’m pleased to be associated with, and links to my latest blog posts:

Show accolades in your other widgets

You may have noticed I’ve moved my sidebar from the left to the right. Previously it was considered necessary to have the most important elements presented as close as possible to the top left hand corner, as that is where the visitor’s eye starts its journey. This seemed more appropriate for my newsletter sign up forms (I had two then, even more confusing for my poor visitors!).

But – it hindered people from reading the main content, which ultimately what is important in a blog. A left sidebar closed the site inwards, whereas a right sidebar appears to be more airy and welcoming.

Can my homepage be too long?

This used to be a bone of contention, especially when space above the fold attracted more attention. But with the advent of smart phones scrolling has become the norm. And there are some new themes that virtually reveal the whole website when you pan down.

But don’t fall into the trap of the car boot seller, by including absolutely everything on your homepage. Get to understand your target customer or audience, know what they want from you and what you can offer them, and present it as efficiently as possible to avoid confusion. Remember simplicity and clarity is key.

Only the correct incentives will encourage a visitor to scroll down. If vital stuff is unavoidably presented in a lower position, include anchor links disguised as call to actions near the top. In fact make sure it’s as easy as possible to explore the site via bright call to action buttons or images, in addition to what is presented in the navigation bar.

What do you think?

Let me know your views, and if you write about your homepage in your blog, include the link in the comments below.

Did you know I’m sharing my expertise at BlogFest 2014?

mumsnetOut of the blue I got an email from MumsNet, which was a very nice surprise. They wanted me to join one of their roundtable sessions at BlogFest 2014 to share my expertise.

Initially the subject they suggested was going to be the Social Media one, but after I had sent in my photo and biography, they quickly realised I would be more suitable for the Techie Tips and Tricks roundtable instead.

You can check out my bio here, I’m in the fourth row! 

Actually I’m secretly pleased to not be doing the Social Media roundtable, as I’m probably not as prolific as other bloggers. But what I do know is that images have a big impact if you want to get noticed, and the badge provided by MumsNet for BlogFest 2014 is a great way of drawing attention within social networking. So I got to work:

Facebook comments about me going to BlogFest 2014

I love it when I get noticed on Facebook, and as you can see my announcement that I’m attending BlogFest 2014 got some attention. I’m not a big Facebook fan, ultimately preferring Twitter, in which you can also put up images to draw attention to your tweet. There was a session when my tweet scheduler offered a week of using images for free, which I jumped at, but then I was left with the dilemma which images attracted the most attention.

Actually images should be a prime focus also in blogging. I regularly guest blog in Birds on the Blog and I always look carefully in Flickr for a suitable image that is not only copyright compliant but also will capture the attention of a passing audience.

Anyhow, back to promoting BlogFest 2014. I’ve been a bit relaxed on Twitter since the summer, but it’s always nice when you get a positive response:

And it looks like there’s another person going to BlogFest 2014 – thanks Jo!

Having the opportunity to speak at conferences is always a huge boost to me. It’s not just the free ticket, it’s the chance to speak to other bloggers, be in an environment where everybody has the same subject on their minds, and to get to hear other experts and learn what they know.

This summer gone was a very successful time. I won the Organisational Digital and Technology Category at the National UK Blog Awards 2014; watch this video (I’m featured at 3 minutes and 15 seconds in):

And I have entered myself for the Organisational Digital and Technical Category again for 2015, so watch this space as public voting will open in mid November.

I was also shortlisted for the BiBs (Brilliance in Blogging) Awards and got to deliver a workshop at the BritMums! Live 2014 conference. Below is a video delivering the contents of my workshop (if you’re ready for a quick coffee and chocolate biscuit break):

Oh dear, that’s quite enough, I need to sit down (fanning myself with an iPad, the closest thing to hand, as my computer’s keyboard just won’t do the same trick). I’ve often been told I don’t promote myself enough, so here’s some to keep me going for a long while yet!

So – if you want to listen to me, come to MumsNet’s BlogFest 2014 in London on 8 November and stay to hear the roundtables in action! I look forward to meeting you.

Great content writing: how Panda continues to look kindly on it [Infographic]

During my daily trawling throughout the net, I came across this fabulous infographic I had to share with you. It gives an excellent visual summary of how the latest Google Panda update (4.1) affects bloggers. It looks like there’s still a glimmer of hope on the blogging horizon, especially those who make a real effort to produce their best great content possible.10 Hidden Gems from Google’s Leaked Quality Rater Guidelines [INFOGRAPHIC]

Via: AudienceBloom.com

And I also need to acknowledge I first saw this infographic on this post: http://keepupwiththeweb.com/google-panda-4-1-rewards-quality/ – well worth reading, and written by the sumptuous Sherryl Perry, who I follow most avidly, and certainly writes lots of great content!

Now, what is my take on this? No, this is not being presumptuous, it’s just another blog writing tactic I’ve been investigating lately as part of my blogging made easier e-courses I’ve working on this autumn – watch this space.

Anyhow, back to the infographic.

Use expert writers

Expertise and authority count a lot for Google. The amount of quality content that is found in a post can certainly boost your brownie points, and this is aggregated through the writer really knowing their onions. Added benefits will arise if the blog contains a lot of similar high-profile stuff as great content, revealing a lot of knowledge delivered in a suitable and forthcoming manner.

To overcome this, perhaps more research is in order before placing fingers on keyboard. Posts should contain a lot of information that is valuable and beneficial to the reader, whereas skittish contributions that lack any substance may see short shrift.

Update old content

Your blog needs to be constantly updated. Actually it’s good practice is to go through your old posts and rewrite some of them, both the really good ones and those that have failed, to create different or better great content, especially if you have obtained more expertise in writing and knowledge in the subject since.

As long as you change the title and the permalink, you could republish this regenerated content as a new post, which will certainly help towards producing more fodder to keep both readers and search engines happy.

Link to sources

Linking within content has always been a good thing, but now emphasis is placed on relevant links, presumably outbound (but I’m sure this could also be adapted for internal links too), to sources of authority and credibility placed within what you write. Google claims this will develop more trust by showcasing the authority, but certainly linking to high-ranking and quality websites as points of reference, particularly if it is extremely relevant to your post’s subject, will place you more in Panda’s good books.

Bad, inappropriate and irrelevant links have always scored low to Panda. But now it seems more emphasis needs to be directed to where these references are going, in relation to the post’s subject and readership.

Get positive reviews

This is all about reputation. And reputation seems to come from getting good reviews for your great content, especially on recognised review sites (mentioned above in the infographic). But how else can this reputation be gained? Does sharing and engagement on social media count? Obviously it would be fabulous to get a flurry of comments after the post, but we all know that this practice has been dwindling at an alarming rate recently.

Reputation is enhanced through social networking, engagement and recommendations. It seems that bloggers need to work harder at getting their great content recognised, valued and shared, in order to attract more attention from Panda. But what about those who are just starting, or aren’t able to accumulate a load of subscribers or followers, but still produce fabulous work? The answer is to get off your high horse and start engaging, sharing, commenting, discussing, liking and more.

Question: no mention of Google Authority here, so how much does this influence the new Panda update?

Pay attention to detail

The secondary message here was to focus on user experience within your blog. Apparently how the reader reacts to other stuff apart from the posts can have an affect on Panda. For example, I can think of instant recognition of the blog’s or post’s subject as soon as the reader arrives, the ease they have in being able to read and understand the post, whether it is easy to find links to other relevant posts within the blog, or use the navigation to browse other pages.

I also maintain a visitor, even if they’re not a reader, should have something to do on the blog to keep them there. Involvement results in staying power. Sharing and liking buttons, comment boxes and relevant internal links will help reduce bounce rates. Subscription facilities or incentivised sign ups to newsletters or other products will enable visitors to return another time. Gone are the days of just delivering great content and a pretty theme; interaction is key.

Consistent quality

Obviously a well maintained blog bursting with great content that is readily available for existing and future readers will be a desirable place to index. Dark blogs cannot rely on their old material to help them out any more, especially as Panda now focuses on old content being updated and reissued.

This means if you want your blog to please the new Panda update, you need to get cracking. Guilty here as charged, as I don’t write enough for my own blog, due to a lot of guest blogging elsewhere. Consistency is better than flurries of activity followed by fallow spaces of nothing. Give the spiders something worthwhile to chew on, and you will be justifiably rewarded.

Become trustworthy

A blog shouldn’t only be a post listings site any more. Panda would like to see more static pages, in particular a well-written About page and some sort of contact method so visitors and readers can connect or ask questions. This additional great content is just good practice. If you want your blog or website to flourish, let alone your business or objectives, you need to provide more relevant, valuable and worthwhile pages to keep the punters happy.

Another way of maintaining your relationship with visitors and readers is to show where they can find you elsewhere. Any blogger worth his or her salt should have at least one account on a social media platform, and anyone who visits your blog, human or robot, should be given the opportunity to check this out. This should be packed full of great content as much as on your blog, being another source of great and relevant information about your chosen subject or niche.

The trustworthy bit comes from allowing the rest of your life to be explored. Your blog shouldn’t be your be-all-and-end-all. By being more transparent and open, you will enable your followers to like, know and trust you better, which can only be a good thing in the long run.

Keep up standards

Good writing, perfect spelling, appropriate grammar and suitable sentence syntax, which all contribute towards attention to detail, will obviously place your blog in a higher level. You don’t have to have studied your subject up to a PhD – in fact it is advisable that if you have, it is imperative not to deliver at a similar level, to avoid alienating your readership – but standards need to be maintained to safeguard respectability, reputation and credibility.

There’s nothing more distracting and annoying than reading a post that obviously hasn’t been edited properly (oops, I’d better play particular attention here), but it’s worth bearing in mind people have different styles and some may not have English as their first language. The answer is to pay attention, check your work thoroughly, wait a bit before publishing and get help if necessary from a proof-reader. It will pay dividends in the end.

Good design

This is a bit of a repeat of the user friendly experience I’ve mentioned above. Obviously if the blog is well designed, it will be much easier on the visitor’s eye, and may encourage them to stay, read and investigate further. Attractiveness is relevant, especially if it is in tune with the kind of reader you want to attract. A black background with fiery red imagery isn’t very amenable for the older woman reader, whereas pink and fluffy won’t impress a load of businessmen.

If you want to take this further, there are plenty of psychologists and designers out there to advise you as to what will encourage better retention of visitors and readers. But don’t forget the ultimate reason, great content. A blog is somewhere to read fabulous stuff that will help you, answer your questions, change your mindset, educate you in what you didn’t know, deliver a point of view, set a trend. A well-designed, clearly presented and easy-on-the-eye template will only assist towards better success.

Maintaining expertise

This one is for multi-author blogs. It is difficult to maintain standards and ensure expertise, but with a good set of editorial guidelines, clear rules and adequate vetting, there is no reason why a blog with many writers cannot deliver a fantastic experience stuffed full of great content.

It is also a matter of consistency. Keep everything relevant, maintain standards, watch what is delivered, supervise content and safeguard against inappropriate behaviour, both from the authors and the readers, and Panda will be happy to index somewhere that regularly provides great content to the Blogosphere.

Let me know if Panda has affected you recently. Ideally if you were aware of the points set out above, and had done something about it, you needn’t worry too much. But as always, you can’t rest on your laurels. Remember great content writing is always imperative in blogging; you just have to get better at it!

Why I like the like facilities in WordPress

Whenever WordPress does an update that delivers a little extra now and again, I’m always agreeably surprised.

This particular one was particularly pleasant – it is the like feature in comments. Now I actually wouldn’t have noticed it until some kind person decided to like one of my comments I made on another blog, and I got this nice notification in my email:

Email notification of liked comment

Intrigued, it made me click on the link to view it in all its glory:

Showing a like on a comment

This may be a bit egotistical, but it did give me a quiet glow.

I love this feature, especially since commenters nowadays need all the encouragement they can get. Writing comments can be sometimes a lonely pursuit, and even thankless if the blog’s author doesn’t respond, so adding a facility that allows another blog reader to show his appreciation for something a fellow commenter has contributed can be a big boost for self-esteem.

After all, the ability to like a comment or contribution has been around on Facebook for ages, and now even Twitter sports the ‘favorite’ icon, which I use for acknowledgement without the need to retweet. I’m sure this is not its true purpose, but this is how I like to use it:

Favorite facility in Twitter

And of course Google+ has its +1 feature, which is also a kind of ‘like’ facility:

+1 facility in Google+

It also allows you to see who did that altruistic deed, which is a nice touch. This feature also happens in the WordPress comment like feature: you are able to see who those kind people were that took the initiative.

This comment like feature is standard in WordPress.com, so here is where in the Settings can you regulate this like facility: Settings > Sharing, right at the bottom of the page:

Where comment Likes are on in WordPress

Where you have the option to turn comment likes on or off.

There are other facilities in WordPress to show appreciation, namely for post liking and also rating. This practice is very much part of interaction and engaging within social media, and is especially good for time-poor readers who may have only five minutes to catch up on what’s going on, or cannot think of something suitable or in addition to contribute to the conversation.

Let’s start with post liking. At the bottom of each post, underneath the sharing buttons, is an opportunity for the reader to like the post via the like button:

A post that has been liked by a reader

And it also conveniently shows the avatar of the person who liked your post (if they have joined WordPress.com and have bothered to upload their gravatar successfully). This feature is regulated in Settings > Sharing:

Where to activate the post liking facility in WordPress

Which allows you to either have the liking facility on automatically for all posts, or if you choose the second option:

The option to choose whether the post should be liked

Then the option for allowing likes on your post, found at the very bottom of the Posts > Edit page, is deactivated, and you can choose whether that post is eligible:

Option to not allow likes on a post

It’s always nice to know when someone likes your posts, especially when you’re starting a new blog or subject. To activate the email notification of a comment being liked is located in Settings > Discussion:

Email notification for comment likes in WordPress

Which lets you know via email whenever someone likes your post, so you can go and check them out! When I wrote my 365 flower blog, I loved to count the number of likes I got for each post. But if you suddenly become popular and get hundreds a day, it’s easy to uncheck it to turn it off.

Liking may be considered a lazy way of showing appreciation for a post, as opposed to writing a full blown comment, but sometimes this is much better than no response at all.

There is also the ratings facility for posts, consisting of a number of stars to be checked according to its quality:

How to rate a post

This is regulated via Settings > Ratings:

Showing ratings feature on posts

And you can adjust where the rating stars go and their position within the post. This facility is also available for comments:

How to regulate ratings on comments

And this shows up as a thumbs up or down feature:

Rating facilities for comments in WordPress

To me this is a bit more clumsy than the star rating system, but some people prefer it.

I started writing this post because Dan Spicer liked the comment I left on Tim Hughes’ blog. I was immensely pleased to see the opportunity for people to like a comment, even if they didn’t feel disposed to leave a comment of their own.

But – does this discourage proper commenting? Has the social media engagement world gone soft? Have we run out of sensible things to write about? Are we too sensitive about being clobbered by the spam eaters such as Akismet, or put off by capture facilities that force us to do extra steps to leave a comment? Or are we so time-poor, it’s much easier to quickly like a comment or rate a post, rather than spend time thinking of something suitable or intelligent to say?

And even though these liking facilities may be fun and quirky, are they destroying the skill of commenting on blogs? Commenting is a skill, which should be developed and cultivated, and not left to the horrific devices of spammers which are giving it a bad name.

What do you think?

15 steps that guarantee to get your new blog post noticed [Infographic]

There’s nothing more despondent than spending a lot of time writing a fabulous new blog post, publishing it, and then having hardly anyone read it. Here’s how this scenario can be amended:

How to get your new blog post seen by a larger audience

And here’s some code you could paste into your own posts (via the text mode) if you want to share this Infographic with your readers to help them get their posts noticed!

1. Get writing

You’ve got to write a new blog post first, of course! As usual I could bang on about the need to find an excellent subject people want to read, creating or researching information that could make their lives better, composing an incredible headline your readers just can’t ignore, bla bla bla, but all this really should be reserved for another post.

2. Publish it

Once everything has been written (I originally wrote ‘said’ – hmmm), and your new blog post has been thoroughly checked and read out loud (actually this is a good exercise, as this shows up any anomalies and awkward phrases which may stilt the flow), it’s time to hit the publish button. But before you do so, is this the right time?

Consider when your readers will be more likely to be around to read it. Consider also the search engine spiders who may be lying in wait for your post ready to index it. Consider how to train these humans and robots to expect your posts at a certain time. The answer is to publish regularly at a designated moment (hour, day or whatever) and they will soon cotton on!

3. RSS trigger

RSS is such a time-saver, especially for busy entrepreneurs, who think they haven’t the time to faff about pasting in their new blog post URL everywhere. Surely there’s nothing wrong with RSS kicking in and publishing a link to your new blog post on your chosen social media platforms? And at least it’s also sending an email to your blog’s subscribers to keep them happy.

4. Let’s get personal

But the process of publicising your new blog post should not stop there. Social media is, after all, social, and this means personal interaction. RSS is an automatic function that has nothing personal associated with it. The post’s URL will just be dumped, unadorned and neglected, as a link in your social media profiles with nothing to draw attention to it.

5. Get your hands dirty

There’s nothing for it, you’re going to have to physically do something yourself to help publicise your new blog post.

Let’s hope you’ve managed to accrue lots of good and faithful followers on your social media profiles, as this is where they become useful, and you need to start being proactive. It’s time to start being sociable! Learn how they think, what they like to write about, what triggers a discussion, what rocks their boat. Fading flowers in the corner need not apply here.

6. Where do they hang out?

Suss out which social media platforms contain which kind of readers. This also includes understanding the mindset of those who use these platforms. You will need to be able to adapt your publicity message according to the kind of person who may be reading it. Your new blog post may be suitable for them, but the way of attracting readers needs to be diverse and appropriate.

Each new blog post may not be suitable for every social media platform. Don’t think you need to plaster its URL everywhere. Targeted publicity and promotion will be far more cost effective (this includes your time) and will be less inclined to annoy your potential audience with irrelevant material.

7. Descriptions required

As I said earlier, a new blog post URL link sitting on its own in a status update is much more likely to be ignored. Why should anyone click on it when there’s nothing to explain what it contains? It could be anything, not to mention spam or worse. Even if the post’s title placed in front of it, that’s still not much of an incentive, unless, of course, that title is incredibly compelling.

So a short description accompanying your new blog post URL can be extremely helpful to the potential reader. It’s like being properly introduced at a party, there’s a good reason to take things further. Once the content of the post is properly understood, then a decision can be made whether to click on the URL link to read the post.

8. Attract their attention

People read and scan the web at lightning speed. Therefore something is needed to arrest this practice and force their eyes to stop and take notice. And usually this is done through such a headline that springs out of all the dross and hits them between the eyes.

You need to work out what kind of headline would trigger such a response. Usually this matches a desire or a need. It promises a solution to a problem. It provokes an agreement or disapproval. It matches what the reader is thinking or working on at that moment. It provides the necessary information they are looking for. And it needs to be relevant to the environment it is placed in and the target audience it is meant to reach.

9. The more the merrier

Your social media profiles are the only place where you could publicise your new blog post. Most of the main platforms have groups and communities which normally welcome interaction and the sharing of new material. If some of them are a bit iffy about the latter, then this needs to be adapted to make it less obvious. Definitely dumping blog URLs will not be tolerated here.

Your newly practiced skill at writing an introductory description and attention grabbing headline to accompany your your post’s URL link will certainly come into force here. And this is also a great place to practice perfecting it too.

10. Start a discussion

Part of being sociable is talking to each other. The other is creating a discussion where everyone can join in. Take advantage of the group’s capabilities as a forum and initiate a debate based around the subject matter of your new blog post. Then sneak in your blog’s URL link within your responses, but not so blindingly obvious to turn the other participators off, or point them towards its location in your discussion statement.

This is a great way of not offending the group’s mediators who don’t tolerate basic sharing of blog post material. It will also be an opportunity for you to expand and showcase your knowledge around the subject, as long as you are tolerant of other people’s opinions and responses along the way.

11. Remember to respond

Comments arising from discussions or as a result of finding and reading new blog post material within social media are a bonus. They should not be ignored, instead they should be celebrated. Perpetuate these actions by responding and engaging as much as you can to others who take the trouble to have their say, even to the point of a ping-pong conversation. This will generate more interest, because people naturally gravitate towards action and popularity.

Creating such a favourable response to your discussion (and also post’s material) should be a brilliant way of drawing attention to yourself. If people agree or like what you say, they will feel more compelled to visit your blog and read what else you have written on other subjects through your posts. And this may even result in comments on them too, not to mention more sharing on their social media profiles (triggered by a suitable call to action, of course)!

12. Did you choose Twitter?

Twitter isn’t like the other social media platforms. Because it moves at such a rapid rate, constantly updating with new material, your new blog post URL link will soon get lost as it moves down the stream. Therefore it requires more than just one update a day. In fact several. And each update needs to be different from the previous one (not even Twitter tolerates repetition).

13. Set up a scheduling strategy

There are lots of different platforms and applications available to help you schedule your tweets over the day. These could be regularly spaced apart, or concentrated within specific times when your target audience may be more likely online, such as during their commute to work, in a coffee break, lunchtime, in the playground when collecting the kids from school, on the way home from work on the train, or unwinding at the end of the day. There are applications that could work out these times for you too.

Remember each tweet needs to different. This does require a bit more copywriting effort, but since tweets aren’t very long, it’s mostly the captivating statement that accompanies the new blog post URL link that needs to change. Think about your target market and what would make your tweet stand out above the rest. You have less than a second to make an impact, even if your followers have listed you in one of their streams.

14. Reduce your URL

Since each tweet is only 140 characters, it may be advisable to make your new blog post URL into a tinyurl to save space (reducing it to just 28 characters or less). But this is not the only reason. Twitter and the scheduling platforms won’t allow you to repeat a URL during the day, so it is necessary to adapt your post’s URL link into multiple alternatives to overcome this problem.

15. Rinse and repeat

Publicising your new blog post during only one day won’t be as effective as if you promoted it over a series of days (weeks or months). This would give you much more of a chance to expose it to a bigger audience who may not have been around the first time the URL link was available.

But be aware of how often you can repeat promoting your blog post, especially when it ceases to be new any more. The description, discussion, interaction and engagement criteria still stand, preferably in a different guise for variety. And how many times in particular platforms also needs consideration. Twitter requires many exposures a day, whereas Facebook perhaps once a week. Don’t annoy your audience by being unaware how many times they will get to see your URL link, especially if it hasn’t had time to naturally expend its time out in the open.

Now it’s your turn

Quite a daunting task, I know. Start with one or two social media platforms and perfect your methods. See what triggers the best responses from your followers and readers. If it works, do more of it. If you can, analyse why it worked and see if you can improve upon it. But above all, be consistent, or all your previous hard work will be for nought.

Don’t think you can easily farm this out to a VA, unless you know she or he has the superb copywriting abilities to vary and adapt each publicity exposure suitable for the social media platform you’re aiming at. Not to mention the kind of audience you are striving to attract. And of course there is the interaction and engagement, which really ought to come from you, and would work better if you had written the discussion statement or attractive headline in the first place.

And, of course, here’s my call to action: please leave your comments in the box below, or on social media if you have found this post there, and please remember to share this post on your own social media profiles. Many thanks!

If you assume older web users will never catch up, think on!

During my research about older web users, I came across this fabulous infographic from the blog post 10 Reasons Grandpa Is Cooler Than You and I just had to share it!

Older web users: 10 Reasons Grandpa is Cooler Than You

What I love about this infographic are the myths it clears up. Go to the original post to view it more clearly, especially if you need reading glasses like me.

Older web users are embracing the internet in the most wonderful of ways. Retirees are actually booking their holidays online rather than merely posting pictures to drool over on Pinterest. There’s no need to scoff at “loads of love”, Grandpa will not only know the correct meaning of LOL and probably use it too with a twinkle in his eye!

Once they’ve got the grandchildren to programme their TV, older web users will be streaming their films, especially the old and better ones, left right and centre. After all, there’s only crap on the telly at the moment. My Dad watches his sexy Italian films with subtitles to brush up on his Italian – of course.

Both social and technical

Facebook is becoming more of a haven for older web users, driving the younger set out. They use it purely socially, meeting the approval of Facebook, with nobody being horrid or abusive, or showing inappropriate pictures (except ones their children find embarrassing). Many have found old friends they have lost touch with, and some have even started up new relationships!

Once they’ve sat down and read through the manual, older web users love using their smart phones and tablets. They take the time to explore the different apps and what they do, and this patience is also used to thoroughly understand what can be achieved from a web-based programme to the enth degree, using it to its fullest extent, and probably finding out much more than their grandchildren.

Grandpa may take an age to text, especially with fat finger syndrome, but at least it is readable, and probably more succinct in conveying his message. Texting is also more applicable as his hearing-aid may not be compatible with his smartphone to take calls. It certainly beats CB radio or paging.

Are there such things as older web users?

Whatever your age, you can learn how to write and keep a blog like all the other proficient older web users. It just needs a different style of teaching: slower paced, more patience, and with gentle and meaningful repetition. Such as a highly visual, step-by-step, before-and-after, screen-shot based e-course that makes no assumptions of prior knowledge and uses ordinary, everyday language to explain all that jargon and what not.

Blogging is a great way of expressing yourself online. It is essentially like writing a diary on on the web. In it you can write whatever you want, from recording your day to day activities (like Housewife 49) to putting together your first book (plenty of writers have re-used their blog posts this way).

A blog is not necessarily an extremely technical thing, if you don’t want it to be. Once everything has been set up, logging in is as easy as activating your computer. Some older web users have massed extensive followers without even trying, because what they have written has triggered a response at the right time. Other bloggers happily tap away to themselves with only next door’s cat as an audience.

Click here if you want to know more about my beginner blogging e-courses. Otherwise sign up to my newsletter from the sidebar, or below my biography, to keep in touch. I’m working on plenty of new ventures this year to help bloggers become more successful, either technically, literally or to gain more knowledge and understanding.

Magic Moment: Connecting to Google

Even if you’re still a little worried about connecting to Google, it is not something you should ignore, especially if your blog is a WordPress.com one.

So I’ve done a little bit of delving to bring up an action you should have implemented, if you want your blog to be seen more by the search engines.

First, go to the Dashboard, and look for Settings in the left hand sidebar, and click on the Sharing tab:

Google Plus Button in Settings Sharing

And you will see the big red Google+ sign in button. Click on it to sign into Google, if you’re not already in:

Login to your Google account

Next WordPress will start the process of connecting to Google. Check everything is in order in the menu below:

Connecting WordPress to Google

And if you approve, click the Accept button.

If successful, you will see your avatar from your Google account, and confirmation that you are connected.

WordPress successfully connected to your Google account

The result will show at the bottom of your posts:

Google connection shows at bottom of posts.

Now, to enhance the process of connecting to Google even better, why not go back to Settings > Sharing, and update the Publicize option so your posts are automatically published in your Google+ profile:

Connect Publicize option to Google

Since you’re already logged into your Google account, there are only a few acceptance formalities to go through and it’s done!

Taking your blog and connecting to Google, and also publishing your posts on your profile, will make a big difference to how you are noticed within the search engines.

Likes on Comments

Now, scanning a little further down the Settings > Sharing page, I came across this new feature!

Activate the Comments Like feature

Which I immediately checked to activate it. I definitely want people to be able to approve any comments I get on my posts. This is the result:

Like option on comments

And when clicked on (especially by you) it transforms into this:

Comment shown as liked

And if there are multiple likes, you can even get to see who has been so kind:

Showing multiple comment likes
Courtesy of WordPress.com

Brilliant! This acknowledgement feature may deter people from leaving a proper comment by lazily just clicking ‘like’ for any previous comments, but it might well reduce unintentional spam by those who can’t think of anything decent to say.

(At the time of publishing this post, I could not find an equivalent plugin for WordPress.org, except some that allowed readers to either approve or disapprove a post, page or comment. This shows as a green thumb up or a red thumb down, which is not quite the same thing.)

And all this extra interaction, combined with connecting to Google, may well attract the search engines to your favour, so what have you got to lose?

Personal and practical reasons for moving to WordPress.org by CassieFairy

Moving from one WordPress to another

Guest post: Cassiefairy.com‘s experiences of moving to WordPress.org

Earlier this year, I became a self-hosted blog.

I’d been a lifelong WordPress.com user and had run a number of websites and blogs through the platform, but a couple of issues a few months ago led me to consider taking the plunge and moving to a self-hosted WordPress.org installation.

I did a lot of research into the differences between the two versions and it seemed like moving to WordPress.org was the best way for me to make progress in my blogging career. I wanted to share my experiences with you in case you too are considering making the switch, because I learnt a lot during the process and there may be things affected that you haven’t yet considered – I certainly got a few surprises along the way!

What did I start off with?

Well, I’d been using WordPress.com for just under 3 years, as a blogging tool to promote my own fancy dress shop business. I liked how user-friendly the dashboard was compared to other sites I’d used in the past, and I felt like a complete internet-whizz using this software because I could do a lot of my own editing, formatting and site-building without needing outside help.

I saw my blog grow in readership over the years and when I finished my Masters degree I had more time to dedicate to writing, so I started blogging every day. This quickly increased my readership and Cassiefairy.com became a very busy place indeed.

I wanted to monetize my blog

I soon discovered that blogs could be monetized through affiliate links, banner ads and hosted content, but at the time using WordPress for any kind of advertising was completely prohibited. When I purchased my own Cassiefairy.com domain through WordPress.com this allowed me to start earning from WordAds.

These are already on every WordPress.com blog (unless you’ve paid for a no-ads upgrade) so I thought I might as well use the adverts to earn a little money for myself, but I found that I only made a few pounds per month through using WordAds and still couldn’t become an affiliate and earn commission that way like other bloggers did.

I lived in fear that my blog might be taken away from me at any time if I put a link (I’m talking about just a straightforward unpaid natural link) into my posts in case WordPress.com ‘thought’ I was making a profit from it.

I was turning stuff down

I found that I was turning down offers from media agencies and brands because of the restrictions in the WordPress.com terms and conditions and I knew I needed to make a change so that I could keep the blog running as my full-time job.

Interestingly enough, it was a link on my blog that forced me to make the switch earlier this year. I posted a link within one of my blog posts, and through a friend I found out that once my blog post has been published, the link had become an affiliate link for the benefit for WordPress.com. I couldn’t believe it! I wasn’t making any money as an affiliate, but WordPress.com had been redirecting my links so that they could earn from my audience!

The only way to avoid this was by buying a no-ads upgrade.  I later found out that the T&Cs had changed since I first signed up over 3 years ago and affiliate links were now permitted, but I was so incensed that WordPress.com had been skimming my links for their own gain that I decided it was finally time to move.

I decided to transfer over

I was a little grumpy that I needed to pay WordPress.com in order to move through a ‘Guided Transfer’, but that was simply because I am so un-techy that I knew I wouldn’t be able install WordPress.org at my chosen self-hosting server and I was terrified that I would lose 3 years-worth of content, all my settings and blog design. So I paid for the Guided Transfer service and it was quite straightforward – they told me when the transfer would start so that I didn’t use my blog while it was being moved, and they emailed me again once the transfer had been completed.

The Guided Transfer team were available for me to email with any questions over the coming 2 weeks, but each time I asked for assistance or why something unusual had happened, they did get back to me, but without a real answer, nor did they provide any further technical help.

Their replies were along the lines of ‘this is probably what it is…’, ‘here’s is a link to a help page…’, ‘it looks okay from my end…’, ‘you’ll need to do that yourself…’, ‘see how you get on…’, ‘refer that question to your host…’ etc. So I felt both supported by them being available to ask my questions to, but completely on my own in terms of fixing problems myself at the same time.

I’m happy I’ve made the move

Once I started using WordPress.org I was really happy that I’d made the move. Everything was the same in terms of blogging and using the dashboard, and I found that installing plugins wasn’t as difficult or scary as I’d imagined.

The only worrying thing is that WordPress.org doesn’t back up your posts, so it’s a good idea to do so yourself and I’ve been very vigilant with keeping copies of my work. Touch wood, nothing has gone wrong with my self-hosted installation so far, and I’ve found out there are many benefits of being self-hosted (along with a few cons!), so here’s what has been good and bad about the move in my experience:

1. Why I chose DreamHost

I chose DreamHost due to their promise of 100% uptime, yet I’ve already had a total of about 6 minutes downtime this year – but it always seems to be in the middle of the night and I really can’t complain about the service the rest of the time. They have a very helpful support team who always answer any of my questions within hours.

2. What’s happened to my readers

I was told by WordPress.com that I wouldn’t lose my readership as a result of the transfer, but I later discovered that around a third of my readers were finding my blog through tags in the WordPress.com ‘Reader’, and now that I’m self-hosted my tags are no longer included in the Reader app, so I can’t be found by new readers through a keyword search. My blog is still listed on the Reader for my existing followers to read, but they can’t comment through the Reader app anymore, so I’ve found that the number of comments I’m getting has gone down too.

3. I can do competitions

I can now use Rafflecopter for my blog competitions, whereas the widget couldn’t be implemented on WordPress.com. This makes it much easier for me to run giveaways and keep track of entries. I can now work with brands who want to offer prizes to my audience and I’ve found that running giveaways brings in more readers. My follower stats have greatly increased thanks to including more entry options through Rafflecopter such as ‘Follow @Cassiefairy on Twitter’ or ‘Like Cassiefairy’s Facebook page’ for competitions.

4. I can use adverts

I can put any number of banners or adverts in my sidebars or blog posts. This was prohibited through WordPress.com, but now I am free to advertise in this way if I want to. At the moment, I’m resisting adding a lot of banner adverts and only have a couple of sponsors with whom I have a long-standing relationship, but it’s good to have the freedom to be able to do this.

5. My domain name is free

I don’t need to pay WordPress.com for my domain name and mapping every year, because it is now hosted for free at DreamHost for the lifetime of my hosting plan, so as long as I keep paying for hosting, it will be free forever.

6. Freedom with other domains

I can also point other domains that I own towards my blog, such as tuesdayshoesday.co.uk and piedayfriday.co.uk to tie in with my regular blog features.

7. Much more server storage

I don’t have any storage limits for files, photos, videos etc. With WordPress.com I was approaching the maximum storage limit and would have needed to buy the extra storage upgrade. In the past I’d been limiting my photo uploads to two images per post in order to save space, but now I can post as many photos or videos as I like without worrying about storage space.

8. Plenty of support

When I need to make my own technical changes, there are plenty of support forums and DIY tutorials for WordPress.org and I can get extra help through DreamHost. Even so, I am still worried that one little change would bring my whole website down and I wouldn’t be able to get it back again!

9. Affiliates are weclome

I am free to add affiliate links and work with any brands or marketing agencies, but at the moment I’m still only sharing links to products I actually like, things that I have bought myself and products that I am mentioning in my blog posts anyway rather than creating articles with the intention of ‘selling’ products through affiliate links.

10. Personalised emails

I can have any number of personalised email addresses – mine is now cassie@cassiefairy.co.uk – through DreamHost.

11. Installing plugins

I’ve been able to add an Instagram plugin so that I can add a widget on my sidebar for my photos, which looks great. I could never get an Instagram widget on my WordPress.com site.

12. Additional revenue

I can install content feeds such as ContentClick and make a few pence per click referral – this can only be used through WordPress.org and not Wordpress.com. This service was working well, but I found that it interfered with ‘something’ on my blog and occasionally the site wouldn’t load at all due to an error with ContentClick, so I have removed it until I have the time to investigate it properly. So far nothing has gone wrong since I uninstalled the plugin.

Yes, I’m pleased!

All in all, it’s been a positive move for me. I am pleased with the freedom that comes with being self-hosted now that I don’t need to adhere to WordPress.com’s strict terms and conditions, but I still worry occasionally that I will ‘break’ my website and not know how to fix it!

My apprehension is getting better over time, as each change I successfully make surprises me and is always easier than I’d imagined. I hope it will continue to be a good solution for my future blogging and that I’ll continue to find more and more reasons to be self-hosted.

CassieFairy.com moves to WordPress.orgAbout the author: Cassiefairy blogs about everything she does and anything that inspires her; popular culture, film, art, fashion, recipes, craft and design. Read more about her in cassiefairy.com.

 

How can these bluggers change the world?

A group of bluggers

Yes, I have spelled it right, bluggers.

I got this word from this blog post: http://www.josandelson.com/heir-raising/the-bluggers/ which, true to how most portmanteau words are born, arose from a Blog Club, or Blug. If you’re interested, the author of the above post is the third from the right – and I’m the one in blue! The other bluggers also write in the blog CountryWives.co.uk, who often meet in this beautiful garden.

So I have joined a new Blug. And these bluggers are no ordinary bloggers, we have come together with a common aim, and age. Pictured above is part of the vanguard of a new platform that is being created called Post40Bloggers.com, in which bloggers who are aged 40 or over can use a space that is specifically created for them.

Why post 40?

We needed somewhere that represented similar bloggers, a collective world of like-minded people, a group who have participated in the same learning curve and have been exposed to the same inhibitions while trying to cope.

Our kids have grown up in a world of internet, websites, mobile devices, etc, whereas for us computers were these fantastic huge things that only highly technical people knew how to operate. Later we progressed onto word-processors instead of typewriters, which meant we could make a mistake which could be deleted and it wasn’t the end of the world! Eventually as we embraced laptops and tablets, we watched as things around us were adapted and ‘improved’ to make things easier, faster, more possible, the unbelievable believable…

OK, a lot of 40+ bloggers may have grown up with computers and stuff (I only started to use them in 1985), but it isn’t second nature to us. Our offspring may live and breathe technology, but I’m sure they have evolved and developed because of the age they live in: the joke that it’s the 5-year-old who programmes the X-box or whatever still holds true.

What is 40+?

Bloggers over 40 have a different mindset to those who are younger. They find the technological process a bit harder to grasp, but in doing so they tend to ask more questions. These may be seen as irrelevant or superfluous by the younger set, but the older user has a more cautious nature, borne out of past experience from a world where everything wasn’t so easy or instantaneous at a touch of a button, information wasn’t so readily to hand, and everything progressed at a much slower pace.

The older blogger is more likely to think before doing anything. They will envisage security issues, they want to know why something works as it does, they want to understand the processes involved and relate them to how they think, how they have experienced from their life in the past. This means they have less spontaneous intuitive responses, they don’t immediately ‘get’ a function or a new icon, they find it harder to search for an alternative way if it suddenly appears different to what they are used to.

Why these bluggers?

My headline was not meant to be misleading – these bluggers could change the world for the 40+ blogger! So much on the net is becoming increasingly more technical, ever rapidly evolving and changing as new facilities or platforms are developed, new concepts of communicating or connecting are created, and a new way of life is expected of everyone.

And the older blogger adapts wonderfully! Although we embrace these changes at a slower pace, we make full use of them at the limited capacity we choose or select, whichever fits into our existing lives. We wait patiently until new technology becomes glitch free, we watch and learn from the youngsters as they try it out and explore its capabilities, and then we take the bits we want and use them to the fullest extent.

Once this new platform, Post40Bloggers.com, is ready, 40+ bloggers could find out more from these bluggers if they chose to join. Here will be an environment of like-minded people, where they can ask a question without feeling stupid, where issues they can relate to are discussed, where subject matters that appeal to them are blogged about, where things are explained using appropriate language that everyone can understand.

You’re welcome – if you’re the right age!

Please don’t feel we are creating an exclusive clique, we’re just providing a service to a group that may find things heavy going or feel left out. There are a lot of bloggers out there who are over 40. They may not be blogging to make money or to promote a business, they may just enjoy writing, want to connect to others on the web, feel a need to express themselves on an online platform rather than through traditional pen and paper.

If you’ve yet to reach the magic milestone, don’t despair! Make contact via the website to join if your birthday isn’t far off. There may be strict entry requirements, but really this platform has been created by these post 40 bluggers for other post 40 bloggers, who understand how you think and know what you want. And it’s easy to join, first tweet “I’m in. #post40bloggers” and then leave your email details via the Post40Bloggers.com website.