7 Great WordPress PlugIns

WordPress plugins can dramatically increase the value of your blog.  But which ones should you pick?
Image Courtesy smemon87 under Creative Commons

WordPress is one of the most powerful tool in the internet entrepreneur’s arsenal. Between the free and open source nature of the software and the massive library of excellent themes available, if you need a great website fast, I ubiquitously recommend WordPress.

One of the best things about WordPress is the amazing plug-in development community. But with over 11,000 plug-ins, which ones should you use? Neil wrote a great post over on Quicksprout about some plug-ins he likes – I thought I’d add a few more of my favorites.

Sexy Bookmarks

If you look at the bottom of this post, you’ll see some cool AJAX bookmarks that pop up when you scroll over them. This is the Sexy Bookmarks plug-in. While it’s probably not as effective as generating re-tweets and facebook shares as Sharebar, I get a lot of my traffic from niche communities like HackerNews, so I want to encourage sharing and upvoting on those sites. (I think those sites are more effective at building links because it gets your content in front of the ‘linkerati’ at a higher rate than tools like facebook and twitter.)

Contact Form 7

A website is a way to broadcast your message – shouldn’t they be able to communicate with you? One way you can do this is through a contact form. (You may say, “well, they’ll just email me,” but I’ve seen the difference in contacts you get between email and a contact form, and it’s huge.) While there’s lots of ways to make contact forms in WordPress, Contact Form 7 is the most fully featured. And you can also include Akismet-based and CAPTCHA-driven spam protection, for when you start having spam issues.

After the Deadline

Everyone needs an editor. Unfortunately, good editors are hard to come by. If you’re like me, most of your friends and family in the immediate vicinity have no idea what you’re talking about in your articles, so finding a qualified editor on short notice can be tough.

Fortunately, software has once again come to my rescue. After the Deadline is a product from Automattic which serves as a beefed up spelling and grammar checker for writers. While it’s not as good as a talented human editor, it identifies passive voice, repeated words, grammatical errors, and overly complex expressions – great for light editing of blog posts before publishing them. Highly recommended.

Dynamic Content Gallery

I don’t use Dynamic Content Gallery on this blog, but if you’re doing something where every post has an image (as I do on some of my affiliate sites), DCG makes your site look incredibly professional. It creates a beautiful, highly customizable jQuery slideshow of your post images on your front page, like here. It’s a lovely effect.

WPTouch Theme

In the last two months, I’ve gotten more than 250 unique visitors on mobile devices – predominantly iPhones. They deserve an excellent experience tooo, so I installed WP Touch iPhone Theme, which shows iPhone users a beautiful version of the site, customized to look like a native iPhone app.

I read lots of blog posts on my iPhone – generally via a click-thru from Twitter – so I think plug-ins like this are important, and will become more important in the coming years as mobile browsing increases.

FD Feedburner

I wanted to put Feedburner on this list, but it’s not really a plug-in, so I’ll go with this one. FD Feedburner redirects all of your blog’s various feeds through Feedburner. That way, they subscribe to your Feedburner feed instead of your regular feed.

If you don’t use Feedburner, you really should. Feedburner lets you measure your RSS feed subscribers, and additionally, makes it possible to subscribe from the link to your feed (as opposed to displaying XML text to confused users.) Perhaps even more conveniently, Feedburner enables people to email subscribe to your blog.

Subscribe Remind

Subscribe-Remind adds a call to action and a link to your RSS feed at the end of each of your posts.. This ensures people who enjoyed your post become subscribers, so they can continue to enjoy your writing in the future.

Thanks for reading! Please share some of your favorite WordPress plug-ins in the comments – I really want to learn about some cool new ones!

What I Learned from the Other Tribe: Five Lessons from Grey Hat Internet Marketer John Chow

As all of my awesome readers know, I’m a serious technology marketer.

Accordingly, I don’t associate myself with those sketchy “internet marketers,” who claim to make hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, from AdSense, or affiliate deals, or selling people PDF files. (It seems like most of these PDF files teach you how to sell people PDF files. What a great industry.)

I found the email list pop-ups spammy, the disclosure policys misleading, and the whole enterprise stinks of ‘get rick quick – instant success with no work’ promotion. While this is often a great way to get lazy people to buy things, it seldom is a path to real revenue. But, even with their cheesy sales tactics, these guys were making real money.

But I was curious – what are these people doing? What’s really their business model? And most importantly, do they know something we ‘legitimate marketers’ don’t? They don’t have to answer to VCs, they keep their team as 1099 remote workers, and they (apparently) travel around the world, constantly. In many ways, they optimize their businesses for personal freedom instead of scale. But can we learn something from the internet marketers and apply them to ‘legitimate’ company building?

I’ve been reading a lot of these materials lately, trying to branch out beyond the Silicon Valley online marketing knowledge. (I think Dave McClure’s stuff is probably the best guide to this, although Patio11 has a lot of good stuff too.) In this series, I’m going to break down what a few of these people are doing, how the written and unwritten business models work, and see what Silicon Valley can learn from the Internet Marketing Circus.

John Chow – Dot Com Mogul

The website I started with belongs to John Chow. It sits at JohnChow.com – the tagline is “Miscellaneous Ramblings of a Dot Com Mogul.” John claims to make more than $100,000 a month from his website, while living an expensive and location-independent lifestyle. (I would use words like gauche or extravagant, but it’s amazing how your perspective changes with your bank account balance)

It’s also worth noting that John has been banned from Digg and severely penalized by Google. Word on the street is this has to do with being public about selling links and blatant link exchanges.

I don’t think you’ll really understand the rest of this unless you go look at John’s site, so go take a look at it now. Notice the email address collector pop-up. It’s incredibly obnoxious. Also notice his disclosures section, which may be the most entertaining disclosure section I’ve ever read:

I make money from every post I put on this blog. If I’m not making money from every blog post, then it was an oversight on my part and it will be corrected soon.

Now that’s something you won’t see on TechCrunch.

John Chow’s Secret

Go download the eBook about making money with your blog. It’s pretty interesting, it’s a quick read, and it’s free. I believe most of the links are affiliate links, but when you’re dealing with the grey-hat corners of the internet, expect every link to be an affiliate link.

Most of these people have a pretty straightforward business model – they get people to their site a variety of means – anything from social traffic to SEO to paid search. Then, they try to get you on their email list, from which they sell you a variety of products on a direct, affiliate, or drop ship basis. Most of them have ads (and I mean LOTS of ads) on their sites as well, which also generate revenue. You’ll also see things like paid links and paid posts, which should be nofollowed to maintain compliance with Google Webmaster Guidelines.

But how, with a free eBook, is John Chow making thousands of dollars a month off his web properties? Lots of companies have unsuccessfully tried to give things away to make money, but a few have made it work. John Cho isn’t using a freemium model – he’s doing something much more devious.

In addition to normal, e-commerce and advertising based revenue streams, John Chow has found the motherload of passive income. Imagine you could have thousands of people paying you,every day, without even noticing it. That’s what John has done – and it’s (mostly) legal.

What is John Chow’s Secret?

John Chow attempts to sign people up for niche ad networks that he has affiliate deals with. He then receives a percentage of that publisher’s future revenue stream. Sure, most of the people interested in this kind of thing never really get their act together, but if anyone does, John makes a good deal of money, wherever he is and whatever he may be doing that day. That’s pretty clever.

So that’s his secret. But what can we learn from John Cho?

Five Lessons About Blogging & Business from John Cho

Deep Link from Your Blog Posts

One way to really leverage the SEO “juice” from a dynamic part of your website (like a blog) is through deep linking. (By deep linking, I mean using your keywords like this – Matt Gratt – to link to static parts of your website from your blog. Often blog posts that draw links will be about slightly different topics than the pages you’d like to rise in SERPs , so you can use deep links to use your blog for SEO.

Additionally, deep links can often get RSS subscribers onto your site. If you’re doing something advertising or page view driven, this is a good tactic.

Canonical URLs

Typically, WordPress sites have posts accessible from multiple pages – the post itself, the home page, the archive, the category pages, the tag pages, etc. Your WordPress pages are also both available at http://yourdomain.com as well as http://www.yourdomain.com. All of this causes your “link juice” to be spread out over multiple posts, when you really only want it in one place.

This can be fixed with canonical URLs, where I believe all the URLs are 301’ed to the main post. (A 301 redirect passes link juice while others do not.) Most good SEO plug-ins can fix this, so you should use one with canonical URLs.

Nothing is Free. Even Free Content.

As most people know, it takes time and effort to put things onto the internet, and even more time and effort to make that content interesting, discoverable, and aesthetically appealing. Very few people do things for free (with maybe the notable exception of the open source movement), and there are frequently ulterior motives behind content creation.
John Cho’s eBooks are free. You can enter his contests, generally for free. You can visit his site for free. But between the paid links, the affiliate links, and doubtless other clever ways to make money I haven’t even thought about, your attention and your clicks are being monetized.

Don’t Taunt Market Dominating Technology Companies

John has been one of the most outspoken advocates of paid reviews, paid links, and reciprocal link exchanges. One day, he was penalized and didn’t even rank for his own name. I imagine his traffic got hit pretty bad (although in the sites I’ve run I’ve seen a pretty solid distribution between search and social traffic), and thus his income. At that time, he didn’t even rank for his name. JohnCow.com and NotJohnChow.com were ahead in the SERPs.

When this happens, you must go hat in hand, and attempt a strategy of appeasement. John worked with Google Search Quality Frontman/SEO Whisperer Matt Cutts, and got his site compliant and resubmitted. Now he does rank for his name.

The Money is in the List

Getting peope to your website for the first time is tough. It’s gotten both harder and easier over the last several years (which I know sounds counter-intuitive), but getting that first order is still tough.

Rather than try to acquire a large number of one-time customers, John Chow focuses on using free content to build lists. These lists can be used to sell John’s own products, or to sell affiliate products through a astonishing variety of schemes. However, for this tactic to work, you need to deliver real value to your customers.

Even internet outlaws have things to teach use. What are your favorite lessons from the Internet Marketing guys? From other communities online? Leave a comment and share with the community…

WordPress GPL/Themes

There’s been a good deal of conflict in the past couple of days within the WordPress community about Premium Themes.

The whole issue comes down to: do themes that run on a CMS that’s under a GPL license automatically acquire that GPL license?

It depends who you ask. Because I’m not a lawyer, I’ll let you learn about from the experts. Here is a discussion between Matt Mullenweg of WordPress and Chris Pearson of Thesis.

The embed isn’t working – so check it out here at Mixergy.

I think it’s important to respect the license of software. It’s as simple as that.

launching the minimum viable blog – the numbers

Yesterday, I finally put Grattisfaction live on the internet.

I’d been working on it for a while, trying to get it perfect. Shortly after spending way too many late nights tweaking link lists to attain blog perfection, I thought of the “minimum viable blog” concept (it is exactly what you think it is).  I realized that I needed to get something out there so I could iterate.

I unchecked the “make private” box, and tweeted a link out.  And I waited.

I didn’t have to wait long.

I was overwhelmed by the positive response.  And I learned a huge amount about social media, blog strategy, and virality.

What I Thought Would Happen

With great trepidation and only slightly less excitement, I made Grattisfaction public.

Everything on the internet I’d ever done before had gone like this:

Press “public” or “upload” or any other button of power… and then visit site.  Victory!  Now we wait.

Then some search bots come through, so I’d get maybe, 30 hits the first day.  (Actually, this depends on what sort of web analytics you’re using.  Javascript is better than server logs.  But I digress…)

And then I’d get between one and ten hits a week, that would generally bounce.

Because people only found me because they got lost.

What Actually Happened

Shortly after I pressed ‘Public’, I tweeted three posts:

From such small acorns do tall trees grow

~30 hours later, this is what happened:

from small acorns large trees do grow

Things like this make me think the metrics on wordpress.com aren’t accurate.  (I’m told they use urchin and give you a subset of that data.  Wish there was more, but I’ll get to that in the AAARR post next.)

This is really awesome, I think.

I just had one question -

How could such a thing possibly happen?

Moreover, why was one post so incredibly popular, drawing ten times the amount of traffic of the second most popular post?

Let’s start by looking at how traffic arrived at Grattisfaction.

referrers to mattgratt.wordpress.com on 1/20-1/21

(As we enter the metrics section here, I caution you, some of these may not add up perfectly.  I don’t have good metrics tools – just bit.ly and wordpress.com, so a lot of these are screenshots.)

As you can see from the data, the vast majority of the traffic came from twitter.com, twitter derivatives (twirivatives?), and various flavors of news.ycombinator.com.

Let’s also look at the bit.ly numbers – click-through on bit.ly are often misreported as direct traffic by Google Analytics, so WordPress.com might mis-report them:

The post was re-tweeted 48 times and shared on facebook 5 times (I didn’t share on facebook).

Just for fun, here is what the breakdown looks like.  (If anyone knows how to extract insight from bit.ly referrals, please leave some thoughts in the comments.)

Twitter drove almost all of the traffic. Clicks came either directly from twitter or from, at lack of a better term, “social media crossover,” where content crosses from one social media platform to another.  (If anyone knows a real term for this, please let me know.)

Looking for comparisons, I found Fred Wilson’s blog numbers, and tell a similiar tale of twitter traffic (except the numbers are  much larger.  This makes sense because his blog is much better than mine.)    Of course, he has the high pagerank and deep content reserves that search engines penetrate – I don’t have those (yet), so he gets a lot of Google traffic too.  Right now, I have basically no search traffic (maybe 10-12 hits over the last two days.)  I’d love to see Fred’s ratio of Twitter traffic to a post v. Google traffic to a post over the life of the post.

Unlike Fred Wilson, I am not important or famous on Twitter.  I have about a hundred followers, and a slightly greater number of followees.

But how did that one tweet end up getting retweeted and put on news.ycombinator.com, while the other posts did not?

The answer is simple: that tweet had the #leanstartup hashtag affixed to it.

Because it had #leanstartup, it was received by Eric Ries.

And Eric retweeted it to his  7,475 followers.  (Eric is what we call a thought leader.  Thanks Eric.)

After it appeared on @ericries (he was the first person to pick it up), it propagated wildly.  Hiten Shah was kind enough to submit it to Y-Combinator news.

Lessons Learned

- Twitter is an awesome way to promote your web content.

- Use relevant hashtags.  These don’t need to be popular or trending hashtags, just hashtags people check.  (Thought leaders are checking them constantly – these high-follower, high-influence individuals are key to spreading your ideas on twitter.)

- Social Aggregators (like news.ycombinator.com) are like firehoses of traffic onto your site.

- I was more than a little scared to launch my own blog about start-ups and agile biz/tech. I’m awed by how positive, open, and supportive this community isI’m incredibly grateful to have such a great community of others who are trying to make great things and start great companies.

Tomorrow’s Post: AARRR! 3 Days Metrics from the Minimum Viable Blog, and the Iterations I Made As a Result

Thoughts?  Comments?  Numbers from your own blog launch?  Please leave a comment below!