MaxBlogPress Stripe Ad Review

Do you use a stripe advert across the top of your site? I was sent a copy of MaxBlogPress Stripe Ad for review. This is a plugin for those ads you see at the top of the screen with a special offer or in my case an offer to subscribe to my email list. For a long time I’ve been using Hello Bar but the free version is limited and I’ve been looking for an alternative.

stripe ad interface

The plugin is easy to install and set up. It adds a menu option under Settings that has two sections as you can see from the screen shot above. “Home” is where you can see your ads and create new ones. “Analytics” shows a nice graph of impressions and clicks and also a table to show click through rate by day.

Adding a stripe ad is easy, just follow the wizard-like interface. You get a letter count to show you how many characters will fit on your ad and you can easily select the link text and if you want to open it in a new window.

stripe ad analytics

The Formatting tab allows you to change fonts, sizes and colors for the text and button. You can then set where on your site you want to display the ad – so you can have different ads on specific pages if you want, or leave it to randomly show an ad on all pages.

If you have more than one stripe ad you can weight the advert to appear more frequently if you wish.

The final feature is great is you have a specific time relevant promotion – you can schedule the advert to only appear at a certain time.

Overall MaxBlogPress Stripe Ad is very nicely done, it does the simple things well, provides great control and covers all the features I think you need from an advert like this. Until midnight (EDT) May 24th 2013 there is 30% off MaxBlogPress Stripe Ad here. So it’s only $45 for lifetime on as many sites as you want, with a 60 day guarantee. Soon it will go up to $67.

How To Add Google Analytics To WordPress

I get asked a lot how to add Google Analytics to a website. For WordPress this is really easy.

1) Go to http://google.com/analytics and sign up and add your website. They will give you some tracking code but just leave that page open for now.

2) In your website’s WordPress admin dashboard to Plugins > Add New and search for ‘Google Analytics for WordPress’

google-analytics

 

3) Click Install Now, confirm and then click Activate.

4) Once done, go to Settings > Google Analytics. The easiest way to add the tracking code is to click the blue ‘Click here to authenticate with Google’ button. If you’re still logged in to Google Analytics you should just follow the steps to ‘Grant Access’ and then select your site in the dropdown. Then click the blue ‘Update Google Analytics Settings’ button to save.

However often this step fails for some reason, so you can check the box to ‘Manually enter your UA code’. This is the code in the tracking code given to you in Step 1) above. Write down the number you see beginning with UA- and then type that into the box, including the UA- part.

google-analytics-2

Then click the blue ‘Update Google Analytics Settings’ button to save.

Where do I view Google Analytics in WordPress?

Another source of confusion is once the above is all set up and working, where in WordPress do you view Google Analytics? The simple answer is you don’t, you do it on http://google.com/analytics in your account.

The Five WordPress Plugins You Should Be Using

This isn’t going to be a long post, or sales pitch but is a list of the plugins I install and tell you to install again and again.
Editorial Calendar

1) WordPress SEO by Yoast

Greatly improves your Search Engine Optimization. Install and activate it and read the guide here (long but worth it).

2) Akismet

This comes with WordPress – activate it and add your API key, and protect yourself from spam.

3) WooCommerce

With version 2.0 coming very soon, WooCommerce is the best shopping cart plugin I’ve used for WordPress, and it’s free. If you don’t need a shopping cart to sell physical or digital products or services then you of course don’t need this.

4) W3 Total Cache

This speeds up your site by making static copies, but please, please refer to your web host for the best way to configure this. Usually it’s simple for shared hosting (page and browser cache on; database and object cache off; minify on if you know what you’re doing) and it can have a big effect on performance.

5) A Contact Form plugin

Having a contact form on your contact page not only looks professional but protects you from spammers. For free I like Contact Form 7, and for paid I love Gravity Forms (which I use on my own site). Gravity Forms has many benefits such as multi-page forms, email newsletter subscriptions, conditional fileds (if this is selected, show that) and so on.

BONUS 6) WordPress Editorial Calendar

This makes scheduling posts, seeing when posts are scheduled, and changing scheduled posts much easier. Simply shows a calendar with your blog posts (and times) marked on. For sites with multiple authors, or if you schedule a lot of posts, you’ll wonder how you lived without it.

Optimizing WordPress for Mobiles

Can you remember life without a mobile phone? It was different, wasn’t it? Instead of being on call all hours of the day and evening, if we were out and about, we used to have to trudge to a public telephone box to keep in touch, sometimes queuing up in a line, pulling out change, and hoping we wouldn’t run out of coins before we had finished what we needed to say. In a way, I think back to these times with fondness. If you went out fishing, or on holiday with the family, or walking the dog, you knew you were safe from work for a few hours or days, and couldn’t be contacted until you got back home.

Don’t get me wrong, I know mobiles are great devices. What would we do if we didn’t have the capability to refer to a smartphone for help in all sorts of situations? We can go abroad and tap in a translation, removing the need to carry the tourist-shaming phrase book. We can convert money, check the weather, and even order a takeout without actually speaking to anyone. When we’re bored in queues, we can now pull out our phone and play a game, write an article, or take some pictures. In fact, phones are used for all manner of tasks, the least of which is actually dialing a number and connecting with someone.

New Possibilities

We don’t have to like mobiles to appreciate the importance of linking our businesses to them and making sure we have the best possible infrastructure in place to allow customers to access us quickly and easily, no matter where they are. Making your WordPress site more accessible is a critical element in keeping your customers engaged and supportive as you evolve to meet their needs. It brings the following benefits:

  • Enables your readers to order your products swiftly, wherever they happen to be.
  • Demonstrates your commitment to staying at the front-end of technological advancements, eliminating the risk of being left behind as new software and hardware becomes available.
  • Gives you the option of updating your site from anywhere.
  • Opens up your site to a potential new customer base – smartphone users who don’t surf from PCs or laptops.
  • Keeps you close to your dashboard, giving you instant access to your site if things go wrong.
  • Allows you to quickly respond to messages and comments from customers, enhancing your online networking.

Regardless of what you think about the move to smartphones and the impact upon our privacy, you don’t have to be a genius to figure out it’s a great idea to optimize your blog for mobile users. Here’s the lowdown on how to do it . . . .

Manual Configuration

If you want to keep tight control of your site during the optimization process, you can configure your changes manually by setting up a mobile.css stylesheet for WordPress. You can then go on to customize your meta information to decide how your site should be scaled to suit various browsers and smartphone applications. If this sounds complicated, don’t worry – there are easier routes to take that are just as effective.

Automated Optimization

Don’t fancy the manual route? I don’t blame you. It’s actually much easier to optimize your WordPress site for mobile use by installing a plugin.

WPtouch

http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/wptouch/

In my opinion this is currently the best plugin of its kind. A free version is available and it’s quick and easy to use. If you feel like going a bit further, you can purchase the “Pro” version, which adds a number of extra features including advertising, customizable menu options, and themes designed for the iPad. It also gives you access to a comprehensive support service to troubleshoot any issues.

WP Mobile Detector

http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/wp-mobile-detector/

If you want to check out a few more options before making a final decision, take a look at this one.  Again, a free and paid version are available, so consider all the functionality for both options before you make your choice.

WordPress Mobile Pack

http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/wordpress-mobile-pack/

Another great plugin, this has a huge number of different themes to choose from, and a really good selection of different options to let you customize your site.

MobilePress

http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/mobilepress/

Also worth you consideration, this one is really simple to configure, manage, and use.

Testing Your Site

You don’t need a fancy mobile phone to test whether your modifications work properly, so don’t feel the need to rush out and spend several hundred dollars if you’re still not a convert to the smartphone revolution. You can test your site easily with the Firefox browser by downloading a free add-on called “User Agent Switcher”. Once you have it installed you can switch between different options for site access, to check out how your site will look when accessed using different applications, including the iPhone.

WordPress, once again, demonstrates its incredible flexibility by making it ridiculously easy (and free) to optimize your site for mobile phone users.  No excuses . . . block out an hour in your schedule and you’ll probably only need about half of it to place your site on the cutting edge of Internet technology.

CrankyAds Plugin Review

CrankyAds is an advertising plugin for WordPress blogs and I thought I would give it a review. I don’t run ads on this site, but many clients do and for years I’ve been recommending Max Banner Ads as a way of managing your adverts, but this doesn’t allow you to take payment, manage campaigns or have many other statistic features that can be required.

CrankyAds looks like a solution to these problems and as it’s run by old friend Yaro Starak (with another online friend Blaine Moore now working for CrankyAds) it’s definitely time for a look at it.

Installation

CrankyAds is a WordPress plugin so installation is a breeze. Just download from their site and then in WordPress go to Plugins > Add new. Select Upload and browse to the zip file to upload, and then select Activate.

When returned the plugin page, a nice Start here message is shown under their plugin:

I’m a little disappointed that for a free plugin they’re not in the WordPress.org plugin repository, as it would make installing it, and updating it, easier, but that’s not unusual.

First use

Clicking on the Start here take you to the settings page. However you have to either register an account or sign in with your current account details. Registration is done on the settings page and is quick and easy. Once done you are taken to the Zones setup page. Zones is a familiar term if you’ve ever used advertising software and essentially refers to the regions or areas of the site you want to sell ads on. So you may have a header zone, a sidebar zone, or a footer zone. What is nice is the page shows a couple of YouTube videos walking you through step by step how to step up zones, which you can open in a new window to follow along.

Adding a Zone

This is as simple as giving the zone a name – like Header zone, a description and then selecting whether it is to have image ads, text ads or video. Then you set the size, the amount (and currency) that you want to charge for that ad space, and the duration that charge is for (i.e monthly).

If you want you can have multiple prices for a zone, so if they sign up for a year instead of monthly it would work out cheaper.

You can also have multiple ads per zone. This is especially useful for sidebar 125×125 ads where you might have 4 or 6 ads slots, not just one like in the header.

Once done you have the choice of adding a widget to display the zone or you get given the template code to add to your theme in the exact location you want the ads.

Advertiser Setup

Below is a screen shot of the default ad in my sidebar on a test side, and also the auto-generated page a potential advertiser is taken to when they click on an ad.

If there are more zones than just one, the plugin highlights the zone that the person had clicked so they know which one is relevant to them.

If they like what they see they can click Order now. They are required to login to (or register for) CrankyAds as that is where their (and your) campaigns are managed.

Pros

There’s a lot to like about the plugin.

  • It’s free and doesn’t add any branding to the zones (it does on the advertise page, but as advertisers need a CrankyAds account this is no problem for me)
  • Setting up an account is quick and straightforward
  • Adding and configuring zones is really easy and the preview shows you what you’re getting so there’s no doubt
  • Makes taking payment really easy
  • Advertisers have control over their ads without any involvement from you
  • You can allow advertisers to have multiple campaigns per ad slot they buy
  • You can upload your own ads/campaigns to fill in the unsold zones with your own, perhaps affiliate, ads
  • The upcoming marketplace will make it easy for potential publishers to find your site. For this CrankyAds will take a portion of the payment as a fee, but ads sold directly through your site do not incur this fee of course

Cons

This is more of a wish list than a cons list.

  • The plugin should be in the WordPress.org plugin repository (apparently it will be soon)
  • There should be other default locations built in. Max Banner Ads uses hooks to allow you to select to insert ads within a post or at the end of a post, or just in the first post etc. This would really help people with no technical knowledge to insert ads in their desired location
  • The automated Advertise here page should have configurable design or at least an option for dark websites. I would like to be able to change the colors, wording on the button and add some other text at the beginning of the page

Summary

CrankyAds is a great, free, easy solution to adding adverts to your site and making it easy for advertisers to sign up completely hands off for you. You can download it here

How To Add Related Posts To WordPress

There are many related posts plugins for WordPress. These are plugins that automatically add a list of other posts that you’ve written to the end of a single post page, before the comment box.

My old favorite used to be Yet Another Related Posts Plugin (YARPP) which outputted a list of highly related posts under each post. I then moved onto LinkWithin that added thumbnail images of the posts but it had very few options.

I was recently emailed about nRelate who have a new related posts WordPress plugin. Initially I wasn’t that interested, as how different could it be? But I was wrong, it’s a cracker of a free plugin.

You can see how it looks at the bottom of this post where it says

You may also like –

It’s easy to set up:

  1. Go to Plugins > Add new and search for nrelate. Install and active the nRelate Related Content plugin.
  2. Once active you will have a new menu on the left of your dashboard called nRelate with two sub-menus, Dashboard and Related Content.
  3. Under Dashboard you can see how the indexing is going (it takes about two hours to get your posts and thumbnails) and also any categories you wish to exclude from being indexed.
  4. Under Related Content there are two tabs, General and Thumbnails Gallery.
  5. General allows you to choose all your options, pages they get displayed on, the image size, number of related posts etc.
  6. Thumbnails Gallery allows you to choose the style of the related posts, or make your own if you know how (see image below).

That’s it. All the hard work is done on their servers so it won’t slow your site down, though means it takes a brief moment to appear on your site.

It has a completely optional advertising network if you want to make any money. I don’t use it so I don’t know how good it is, but it’s there if you want it.

Some other benefits of the plugin are

Analytics reporting is included, so you’ll see which pages your readers are interested in most on your site, as well as the pageviews generated from the internal linking via the plugin.

– Using the WordPress Links/Blogroll feature you can actually choose to not only share related posts from within your website, but you can also include to share related posts from other websites. This is great for cross promoting with other sites you might own or any blogger friends where you could do a reciprocal exchange if you both use the plugin.

No re-directs. Unlike some other plugins (like LinkWithin) when a link is clicked nRelate does not redirect your traffic through anyone’s site but your own. You get all the internal traffic ‘link juice’ with no middleman getting in your way.

So far I really like it. It provides relevant results, allows me to choose a default image for posts without an image, a variety of designs, and works in the background without slowing my site down.

Plus it’s free – get it here.

Let’s Contact Each Other

As busy Internet Marketers, we all know that customer comments, messages and feedback are the bottom line when it comes to blogging success. Knowing this, why do so many of us still forget to optimize our contact forms? Savvy bloggers are turning to smart software to clean up the contact options on their WordPress sites.

Picture the scene: You’ve just moved house. You’re living in a great new pad and you’ve invited all your friends over for a party. You have great nibbles, drinks and music to make the night go with a bang. You’ve decorated your rooms perfectly with balloons and streamers, and maybe even invited a cool band to play on the night. You’ve sent out the invitations and details of the event, and you’re all ready to boogie into the early hours. Your mates start turning up, and the party looks set to be one of the best you’ve ever thrown.
contact letter
Halfway through the night, four thousand people turn up and crash the party. You realize that your invitation has been posted up all over Facebook. Your house gets trashed, your carpets are ruined, and the police are hammering on your door with neighborhood complaints. There are empty beer bottles and pizza boxes everywhere, and cigarette butts ground in to your partner’s favorite antique coffee table. Things are not looking great. You spend the next four weeks cleaning up in the wake of the disaster, and you vow never to hold another party again.

You wouldn’t put your address details online for the world to find and drop in to see you – so why would you do that on your blog?

Getting to Grips with Contact Forms

A lot of sites I see these days still have their contact details listed as a clickable email link. This is the techie equivalent of wearing flares. There are a couple of reasons why having your email contact details in the format your-name@your-website.com is not the best idea, and why using a contact form on your WordPress blog is the way forward when it comes to optimizing your site.

The main reason it’s not a great idea to list your contact details as a plan email address is because it opens up opportunities for spammers to easily harvest your details. Spammers have software that trawls the net looking for people just like you to collect and add to their list of potential suckers, in readiness to bombard them with a deluge of noise. By having your address available for all to see, you’re telling spammers that you would LOVE to receive thousands of email messages about Viagra and Russian Brides.

The second reason why a contact form protects you is that a standard email clickable link on your site only works if you have a desktop email client installed (unless your reader has configured their browser to use a webmail service instead). If your visitor uses a browser-based service instead (such as Yahoo, Gmail or Hotmail), clicking on your email address may result in a browser error.

WordPress to the Rescue!

Luckily, good old WordPress has a few solutions to this problem, the main one being the contact form option. The contact form is a great idea as it hides your email address and also allows you to ‘pre-qualify’ who can contact you.

This approach also provides you with an opportunity to place a link, directly to your FAQ page, (so people can solve issues themselves before they get in touch). You can even add in a CAPTCHA anti-spam option, to prevent automated spam submissions.

These features all lend themselves to getting your inbox organized, and make it easier to keep abreast of all your communications, ordering them and prioritizing them in simple ways. Blog technology is advancing all the time, so the days when we had to publicize our personal email address for the whole world to see are long gone. With a few simple plugins, you can reduce your administration and enhance your privacy, while making it easier for your new and existing customers to get in touch to engage your services.

Best WordPress Options

When it comes to adding a contact form to your blog there are a few options to consider. My personal favorite free tool is Secure Form Mailer. It isn’t housed in the WordPress.org plug-in repository, but it’s still quick and simple to install. Simply download the files, login to in your WordPress admin area, and then go to Plugins > Add New > Upload. It is getting a little old now and showing it’s age.

Another option is Contact Form 7. It’s not quite as good as Secure Form Mailer, but it works perfectly well, and this plugin IS in the WordPress.org plug-in directory.

The Way Ahead

A newer solution is a plugin called Gravity Forms. This software is an extremely powerful way of creating contact forms, and it also boasts the capability to route different requests to different email addresses. It enables you to schedule forms to appear at certain times, allows conditional fields, and even has an autoresponder function.

Technology is evolving to make life easier, and this program is showing us the new face of Contact Management. The Gravity Forms software can also be used for more complex creations such as online surveys and competition entries. This isn’t a free plugin, but it’s inexpensive and it provides you with many intelligent features in a highly intuitive, and simple, user interface.

Getting your contact details optimized on your blog will ensure your virtual party can go with a swing… one where only your invited friends show up!

Gravity Forms Contact Form Plugin for WordPress

The Story of a Plugin – Part 4: The FAQ

You may wish to read Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3 first where I talk about the idea for the plugin, early proofs of concept, and getting to the current release version.

There have been quite a few questions about the plugin, so I’ll try to answer some of them here.

What is Pro Blog Stats?

It’s a WordPress plugin that pulls in publicly and privately available statistics about your website(s) / blog(s) and pulls them into your WordPress dashboard.

What version of WordPress is required?

Version 3.1 and above is preferred. It may work on lower versions but that’s up to you!

Any other requirements?

You must have PHP5 or above. PHP 4 will not work, any decent webhost should either easily upgrade you or already be on PHP 5.

How much is it?

There are free and paid versions of the plugin. See our plans/pricing page for more details.

What isn’t it all free?

Gathering the statistics data from tens of sources and storing all that data is quite resource intensive and there is a cost associated with this. It costs us for you to use the plugin, even for the free version, so we have to recoup some of that cost with more intensive plans.

Will this plugin add tracking code for different services into my blog automatically? (Google Analytics, etc)

No, the plugin does not add any tracking code to your site. While it does not require any other plugins to run, you may wish to use plugins for services such as Google Analytics, Clicky, Postrank etc in order to add the tracking code and make the stats available to Pro Blog Stats (if your version supports those stats). Pro Blog Stats will not interfere with any of these plugins as it gets the stats directly from the services themselves and not the plugins.

Why isn’t AWeber included?
This is a common question! We did at one stage have AWeber stats in but their API does not provide a simple count of subscribers by list. To avoid storing any private data we had to do a one-time on-demand calculation that got this statistic. Due to the limits of the API this often failed and brought back incorrect numbers. Rather than provide incorrect numbers we have removed it from the plugin for now.

Do you store any passwords?
No, we avoid asking for any usernames or passwords. Where required we use authentication, like for Google Analytics.

Any other questions please let us know!

The Story of a Plugin – Part 3: The WordPress Years

You may wish to read Part 1 and Part 2 first where I talk about the idea for the plugin and early proofs of concept.

So the first thing to decide on creating a plugin (after, of course, deciding to make one at all!) is whether to do it yourself or hire someone to do it. Not having the skills or time (or really desire) to learn to do it myself I set about hiring someone to do it.

Finding a developer should have been relatively easy, but it’s actually very difficult. PHP programming skills are in high demand which means the best are either very busy or very expensive, or both. I don’t want to go cheap so I found a medium level US company to develop the first version of the plugin.

The Third Version

To be honest, this relationship didn’t go well. I won’t name the company as they’re still big in the WordPress world and it was really both our fault and a fault of timing. Neither of us understood the time and complexity that would evolve and the proposed 6 weeks turned into about 7 months.

The plugin worked, and produced a simple report as shown below. However it quickly became apparent that gathering the data on-demand like it did was taking too much time and causing problems with loading time and lots of zeroes – as you can see below.

So at this point I was speaking to Andrew Rondeau of We Build Your Blog about the plugin and the issues. He had some great suggestions, as well as providing validation of the idea and what I was trying to achieve. So it became our plugin rather than my plugin.

We did a lot of research and hired another company to do the next stage of development.

The Fourth Version

We needed to make the plugin more robust and not time out and cause problems. So the company we hired built a website that gathers the data for you. So when you run the plugin the data is pulled down from our server which already holds the data, rather than querying 50+ different statistics.

They also built the login system and everything that you still see on the site at this moment.

After a few months this version was complete. However (how many times have I said that in this series of articles?!) it became clear they didn’t really understand WordPress that well (the website is not built on WordPress, something we will be moving to eventually) and we wanted to deal with a company with more expertise in WordPress.

Another issue was that the plugin still required some user names and passwords, however we wanted (and have achieved) to remove the need for any user names and passwords to be stored on our server for security reasons.

The Current Version

So the company we have hired (and still used) cleared up a LOT of outstanding issues with the plugin, the website, and the (almost ready) affiliate system. A few weeks ago the plugin was released into the WordPress.org repository and there is a completely free version available.

In part 4 I’ll answer some of the commonly asked questions about Pro Blog Stats. In the meantime, why not download it and give it a try, it’s free!

The Story of a Plugin – Part 2: Proofs Of Concept

In Part 1 I quickly talked about the problem I have had in the past with gathering data and the thought there must be a solution to the problem of too many data sources.

When I started blogging in 1999 (I think, it might have been 1998) measuring traffic was pretty important but a fairly simple process of measuring unique hits. These days it has all changed with bounce rates, comments, click through rates, RSS subscribers…

When I started working with paying clients for BTG back in early 2008 it became apparent a better way of getting all this data in one place was required. Yes, it’s taken three years to get to this point!

The First Version

Initially I started keeping track of things in Excel. Partly because I was very familiar with Excel and could write macros to produce reports from the data I gathered. However in the only screenshot I could find of it, you can see it looks a bit rough and ready.

However it did what it was supposed to do, but it was still taking me too much time to gather the data. At this time it was still an idea for me to produce reports for clients, so a matter of saving them and me time. So I decided to automate getting the data into Excel in a format then I could automatically create the report.

The Second Version

I hired a developer on RentACoder (now Vworker) to develop a piece of desktop software that when given the URLs will go out and gather the stats and save that as a .csv which I could then import into Excel and use to automatically generate my report.

The good news is that it worked brilliantly! The screenshot below shows how it looked in it’s basic format. Click for a larger version.

It didn’t take much for me to enter the URLs (it saved them) and bring down the data, then a few minutes later I had a report. However there were a few problems, with the main one being that a lot of services required the username and password of many sites in order to get access (just for the record the Pro Blog Stats plugin doesn’t require any usernames or passwords!). This became a pain and was a barrier to getting the information quickly.

Then I began thinking about making this a WordPress plugin. The two previous versions were really just proof of concepts. We could get the data directly into WordPress and the user could run reports themselves and pay for the plugin. Well that idea would take a years to come to fruition! I’ll talk more about that in part three.