Why Great Web Design Matters

Why Great Web Design Matters

You only get one chance to make a good impression.

Your website can either turn people into customers, or turn people away. There is no middle ground. Design plays a huge role in how people think about your brand. Your design should stand out. Your design should grab people’s attention. But above all, your website should be designed to get your visitors to take action.

Studies show that the average adult attention span is a mere 8 seconds. This means you only have seconds to capture your reader’s attention. Of course, there are a few tricks you can employ to improve your website and boost conversions.

Go Responsive

More and more people are accessing the internet through smartphones and tablets. If your website does not work on a mobile phone there is a good chance that you are missing out on visitors. A mobile website is not enough. Ideally, you want your website to be responsive. This will allow your website to scale to any size and display perfectly across any device.

Lose the Clutter

A noisy website offers too many distractions. More choices are not always a good thing, especially on your homepage. With little time to capture the interest of your visitors, you want to make sure your website is laser focused and directs visitors exactly where you want them to go.

If you have too many banners on your site — get rid of them.

Add Call-to-Actions

This is how HubSpot defines a call-to-action:

A call-to-action as an image or line of text that prompts your visitors, leads, and customers to take action. It is, quite literally, a “call” to take an “action.”

A good place to put your CTA is above the fold — make sure it’s immediately visible without having to scroll down. You can also put CTAs after your posts or along your sidebar.

Cross-browser Compatible

This is a biggie: Make sure that your website works correctly across all major browsers. The big three to pay attention to are Google, Bing, and Internet Explorer. You should also check compatibility with Opera. There are online tools you can use to quickly check your website, or you can simply download each browser and check yourself.

Publish Content

Google favors sites that publish unique content. Blogging for your business increases search traffic and gives you more things to share on social media. According to HubSpot, 57% of businesses that blog have acquired a customer directly from their blog.

Make Checkout Easy

Did you know that 67.89% of carts are abandoned during checkout? That is a HUGE number. Even trimming that percentage down a little bit can have a significant impact on sales. The more steps you have in your checkout, the more people are skipping out on making a purchase.

Want the cold hard numbers? Expedia increased profit by $12 million by eliminating a single field from their checkout process.

One field.

If that doesn’t show you that even the small things count, I don’t know what will.

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15 Ways To Promote Your Twitter Account & Get More Followers

15 Ways To Promote Your Twitter Account & Get More Followers

If you’re not on Twitter, you should be. Home to 232 million users, Twitter is the social network for spontaneous conversation, and it’s a great place to reach out to people and network. There are over 340 million tweets shared each day and searches on the network top a whopping 1.6 billion search queries every day.

Those are no small numbers. If you have a website or forum to promote, those numbers likely caught your attention. That still doesn’t answer the major question most people have when it comes to Twitter:

How do I get more Twitter followers?

Fortunately, with the help of the infographic below (and a few other facts we’ve dug up) you’ll have plenty of information at the ready to make a splash on Twitter.

Quick Tips On Getting More Followers On Twitter

1. Embed your tweets on your blog posts to make it easy for people to tweet your article and follow at the same time.

2. Advertise on Twitter. You can promote your account or a tweet. The choice is yours and you don’t have to spend a bunch to get started.

3. Host a webinar. Encourage people to share the webinar as it is taking place and field questions directly off Twitter to boost interaction and engagement.

4. Add a Twitter widget to your site. This one is pretty self-explanatory. You need to make it easy for people to follow you.

5. Run a contest. Giveaways are great for getting traction on social media. Find ways to make tweets and retweets increase entries or raise the value of the prizes. Be creative.

6. Offer support. Don’t relegate your company to email. Branch out into the areas your customers choose. While you may not wish to use Twitter as an official support channel, you can still help your customers find answers to their questions and get help.

7. Business cards. Make sure you add your Twitter handle to your business cards.

8. Share relevant content. Be sure to share content from influencer’s in your niche or industry. You can also share content that your audience will find useful.

9. Share funny content. Everyone likes to laugh. Be the source of a few giggles and people will be more likely to follow.

10. Start guest blogging. Offering to write articles for popular blogs in your niche can widen your audience and help establish you as an authority in your niche. Most webmasters that accept guest posts will allow you to link to your Twitter account in your author bio.

11. Share images. Engagement is 200% higher for tweets with image links, according to Quick Sprout.

12. Ask questions. People are more likely to respond to questions, meaning your tweets will get more engagement.

13. Use hashtags. You should be using hashtags in your tweets — just don’t over do it. 1 or 2 works perfectly, but if you go over that studies show you’ll end up with less engagement.

14. Follow people. When you follow someone, most will follow you back. Just don’t go overboard on following new people, especially if your account is new. Twitter has daily account limits and will suspend your account for “excessive following” (100 or more in a day).

15. Cross-promote. You should be using all of your social networks to your advantage. Make sure you link to your Twitter account from Facebook, Google+, Pinterest, LinkedIn and anywhere else you have a social presence.

15 Ways To Promote Your Twitter Account & Get More Followers

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How To Stop Forum Spam

How To Stop Forum Spam and Take Back Control of Your Forum

If one thing sucks the enthusiasm out of site Administrators, it’s the never ending battle against spammers. I say battle as effect of forum spam are truly unwarranted and often create long lasting problem like email blacklisting, spam posts and can even slow the speed of your forum.

It’s important to understand the techniques spammers use and know a bit of why spam exists to be able to effectively prevent it. A forum can be attacked with both automated scripts (aka “Bots”) and/or Human “Bots” as well. Yes, a “Bot” could be human but more times than not they simply bypass registration security and go on something like cruise control, for lack of a better way to describe it. What every site owner must realize is just as forum security evolves to combat spam, spammers are also evolving in their methods in order to bypass new security measures. It’s a constant battle.

Why are there “Spambots”? Well that’s simple. For the most part it is to promote their content or links on other sites, with high traffic and page rank being the most valued targets. So if your forum is large , you’d better believe there’s a target on it.

What we’re trying to do here is give you, the site owner needed information and proven methods to help battle the onslaught of spam on their site. Hopefully you’ll find this interesting and informative and we hope to hear back on your spam stopping techniques.
____________________

*Please note that not all of these modifications or methods listed will work for you, some will work better than others, and some in combination will work best instead of just one being utilized. We’ll try to identify conflicts in advance and mark them w/ an  *asterix indicating that you should not use two w/ a * at the same time.

Legend:
Blue *’s indicates mods that are similar in functionality and should not be used in conjunction with each other.

Anti-Spam Modifications:

Recently,  many forum owners have seen an increase in spam registrations and in some rare cases the registration page is being hit so hard it’s almost like a denial of service attack. If this sounds familiar try this mod from BOP5:

Be creative in your prevention methods! Here’s a list of methods, utilities and modifications you could possibly use in helping cleanup if a spammer does hits:

* Paul M recently added in a new modification prefix “Anti-Spam Options” so as new modifications are released, if the author chooses the prefix correctly you will start to notice more listed here for example: http://www.vbulletin.org/forum/forum…i-Spam+Options

Methods:

Some vBulletin 3.x mods will work on vBulletin 4.x, here’s a article by BirdofPrey5 that list quite a few compatible modifications.

Another method that’s proven quite effective is banning spammers using the hourly cleanup cron job or cleanup.php by adding in code similar to the below. PLEASE NOTE this method is based on custom profile fields and requires you to manually monitor spam to determine patterns and repeated entries that make no sense and plainly labels the users as spammers. This does not remove posts; it only bans the spammer to prevent further activity.

The default profile fields in vBulletin are:

  1. Biography
  2. Location
  3. Interests
  4. Occupation

You have the ability to create new profile fields via AdminCP > User Profile Fields > User Profile Field Manager

Using data entered by spambot in the default fields can be used against them however it’s not as effective as utilizing custom fields to help determine a pattern and fight against it! Here are descriptions of the default and other (custom) fields in the query shown so you can see how to go about this:

  • user.username = The members username on the forum.
  • userfield.field1 = Biography
  • userfield.field2 = Location
  • userfield.field3 = Interest
  • userfield.field4 = Occupation
  • userfield.field5 = A Custom field where you required them to enter in let’s use “Youtube Profile URL” as our example here and you used it in some creative way to show a image/link to their Youtube profile below their avatars in posts and profile or other etc etc.
  • userfield.field6 = A Custom field where you required them to enter in let’s use “Facebook Profile URL” as our example here and you used it in some creative way to show a image/link to their Facebook profile below their avatars in posts and profile or other etc etc.
  • userfield.field7 = A Custom field where you required them to enter in let’s use “Twitter Profile URL” as our example here and you used it in some creative way to show a image/link to their Twitter profile below their avatars in posts and profile or other etc etc.
  • userfield.field8 = A Custom field where you required them to enter in let’s use “LinkedIn Profile URL” as our example here and you used it in some creative way to show a image/link to their LinkedIn profile below their avatars in posts and profile or other etc etc.

The key thing to note here is that you need to study new registrations and develop your own ways to identify the spammers using the default and custom profile fields before this will work effectively.

*Please Note: This can affect your users in such a way it might be a complete disaster. If you are not comfortable with how this works (sql queries in particular), setup a test site and test your changes first. You can clone your live site and place it in a /testvb folder on the server (htaccess protect it per the license agreement) this will keep you from slipping and causing issues on your LIVE/Production site.

PHP Code:

// Spam Management – Move all spammers based on profile fields to usergroup 8 i.e. Banned Users
$vbulletin->db->query_write(“UPDATE ” . TABLE_PREFIX . “user AS user
LEFT JOIN ” . TABLE_PREFIX . “userfield AS userfield
ON user.userid = userfield.userid
SET usergroupid = ‘8’
WHERE userfield.field7 LIKE user.username
AND userfield.field8 LIKE ‘%12345%’
AND userfield.field3 != ”
AND userfield.field5 != ”
AND userfield.field7 != ”
AND userfield.field3 LIKE userfield.field5
AND userfield.field5 LIKE userfield.field7
“);

Now we interpret the above query as:

Update the user table and join the user table with the userfield table (these tables are separate, we join so we can compare and execute what we want to do) and set the users usergroupid to 8 (the banned usergroup by default) where their Twitter Profile URL matches their Username:

AND (where) their LinkedIn Profile URL contains something like 12345 in any part of the field (why we use the %’s on each end so it reads the field and if for example they entered in 123456 it catches that because it contains 12345 – Also you may want to note that no one’s LinkedIn profile is going to be 123456 i.e. http://www.linkedin.com/in/123456
AND (where) their Interests is not empty
AND (where) their Youtube Profile URL is not empty
AND (where) their Twitter Profile URL is not empty
AND (where) their Interests is like thier Youtube Profile URL
AND (where) their Youtube Profile URL is like their Twitter Profile URL

Logic tells you that if you made the custom profile fields and use them in certain ways… that http://www.linkedin.com/in/123456 or http://www.facebook.com/123456 (even though that will redirect to http://www.facebook.com/ohmycarling the user in question would never enter in /123456 he/she would enter in /ohmycarling see my point?) and when you notice the word Man or Woman in the code shown below, well it seems a common mistake bot scripts to put Man or Woman data in the Biography field.

Now for the != parts near the bottom. This is required when you close out your comparing two fields using a like and if they were both empty it could cause issues as without the != if both are empty and the query moves them, possibly identifiying a normal user as a spammer. Not a good thing, so be careful when creating your own query!

If your are banning the user, go ahead and update their user title as well. This query compliments the first one above:

PHP Code:

$vbulletin->db->query_write(“UPDATE ” . TABLE_PREFIX . “user AS user
LEFT JOIN ” . TABLE_PREFIX . “userfield AS userfield
ON user.userid = userfield.userid
SET usertitle = ‘Banned’
WHERE userfield.field7 LIKE user.username
AND userfield.field8 LIKE ‘%12345%’
AND userfield.field3 != ”
AND userfield.field5 != ”
AND userfield.field7 != ”
AND userfield.field3 LIKE userfield.field5
AND userfield.field5 LIKE userfield.field7
“);

Where to add these codes? Makes sure scheduled tasks are enabled then edit the file cleanup.php You’ll find it in the /includes/cron/ folder. Add your version of the query just below:

PHP Code:

// ########################################################################
// ######################### START MAIN SCRIPT ############################
// ########################################################################

Save the file and upload, when the scheduled task next runs if any accounts match your custom query they will be moved into the banned usergroup.

**To Test a query beforehand you can use SELECT for example here is a query to show you the results BEFORE actually running a query:

Code:

SELECT *

FROM vb_user AS user

LEFT JOIN vb_userfield AS userfield

ON user.userid = userfield.userid

SET usergroupid = ‘8’

WHERE userfield.field7 LIKE user.username

AND userfield.field8 LIKE ‘%12345%’

AND userfield.field3 != ”

AND userfield.field5 != ”

AND userfield.field7 != ”

AND userfield.field3 LIKE userfield.field5

AND userfield.field5 LIKE userfield.field7;

*Prefix added, remove if you are not using one

WARNING: TEST ALL QUERIES BEFORE YOU EXECUTE THEM! Do not perform any query on your database without doing a database backup and without knowing how to use it if required!

Here are some links provided by Lynne to help you perform a backup:

Now let’s see another example…
You try to see how I used the logic here:

PHP Code:

$vbulletin->db->query_write(“UPDATE ” . TABLE_PREFIX . “user AS user
LEFT JOIN ” . TABLE_PREFIX . “userfield AS userfield
ON user.userid = userfield.userid
SET usergroupid = ‘8’
WHERE userfield.field1 = ‘Man’ OR userfield.field1 = ‘Woman’
AND userfield.field6 = userfield.field7
AND userfield.field3 = userfield.field7
AND userfield.field8 = ‘123456’
AND userfield.field3 != ”
AND userfield.field6 != ”
AND userfield.field7 != ”
“);

The query for usertitle update:

PHP Code:

$vbulletin->db->query_write(“UPDATE ” . TABLE_PREFIX . “user AS user
LEFT JOIN ” . TABLE_PREFIX . “userfield AS userfield
ON user.userid = userfield.userid
SET usertitle = ‘Banned’
WHERE userfield.field1 = ‘Man’ OR userfield.field1 = ‘Woman’
AND userfield.field6 = userfield.field7
AND userfield.field3 = userfield.field7
AND userfield.field8 = ‘123456’
AND userfield.field3 != ”
AND userfield.field6 != ”
AND userfield.field7 != ”
“);

Session Table Issues?
Here’s a quick method if you happen to notice a sudden increase of the number online when nothing has warranted such behavior. Monitor your session table to see possible spammers online however a query like this is only effective if the bot logs in multiple times in which you will see different ip addresses (possibly hundreds) all as the same logged in user (OR the same IP address for countless users) and accessing different locations as well (some even show as logging in again). With it added to your cleanup.php cron job it will interrupt their actions on the fly and upon refreshing your session table you’ll notice quite a few less entries.

PHP Code:

$vbulletin->db->query_write(”
DELETE FROM ” . TABLE_PREFIX . “session
WHERE userid = ‘15065’
“);

To delete the users session based on IP use:

PHP Code:

$vbulletin->db->query_write(”
DELETE FROM ” . TABLE_PREFIX . “session
WHERE host = ‘127.0.0.1’
“);

^ Replace the 127.0.0.1 with the problematic users IP address.

*Yes you can truncate the session table HOWEVER that is not advised, if you do truncate then it simply kicks EVERYONE off the site all at once and they must relogin and also navigate back to the page they were on prior.

**If you have any issues using queries that you develop it may be due to using a table prefix in your database (recommended actually) so the perfect example of what to add in is right above us i.e. ” . TABLE_PREFIX . ” should be pasted before any Table names in the queries otherwise you will receive a error and here is a example:

PHP Code:

$vbulletin->db->query_write(“UPDATE ” . TABLE_PREFIX . “user

As you can note, the code ” . TABLE_PREFIX . ” goes directly in front of the table name without spaces which then converts into the prefix you have listed in the config.php file!

In the other queries shown that you can run via phpmyadmin directly you will need to modify them to add in the prefix so for example if you have a table prefix vb_ then it would resemble this:

PHP Code:

UPDATE vb_user AS user
LEFT JOIN vb_userfield AS userfield
ON user.userid = userfield.userid
SET usergroupid = ‘8’
WHERE userfield.field7 LIKE user.username
AND userfield.field8 LIKE ‘%12345%’
AND userfield.field3 != ”
AND userfield.field5 != ”
AND userfield.field7 != ”
AND userfield.field3 LIKE userfield.field5
AND userfield.field5 LIKE userfield.field7;

_________________________________________________

Contributions to this article from these valued vBulletin community members:

  • Lynne
  • Last Superman

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Taking Your Online Community Offline or How To Use Meetups To Generate Buzz

Taking Your Online Community Offline or How To Use Meetups To Generate Buzz

Building an online community requires you to think outside the box. Sure, the majority of your interactions with members will occur online, mostly on your forum and social media, but should this be the only place you are interacting?

I think not.

Forums are about human interaction. They are a place to discuss ideas and conversate around a topic. The web is becoming more and more social. Why? Because deep down we all crave human interaction and acceptance. We want to belong. We want to share our experiences with people who share our interests.

It’s time to look up from the computer screen. There are other ways to promote your forum.

Using Events To Introduce People to Your Community

Event marketing is a tool used by the pros because they understand that loyalty is easier won through face time. People connect more with those they meet in person. You can use this to your advantage when promoting your forum.

You do have some choices to make though, each with their own advantages and disadvantages.

Conferences. The place where the big kids hangout. Industry conferences are a big deal. Influencers and industry folk from all corners attend, and you’ll get the chance to rub elbows with some of the big names in your niche. If you are thinking about attending a conference or tradeshow it’s best to plan in advance, especially if you’ll have to travel to the event.

Key to success: Maximize the opportunity by planning well in advance and coming prepared. Look sharp, know your USP, know what’s going on in your industry, and bring some business cards.

Drawbacks: Unless you’re lucky enough to live in the city of the event, there is a good chance you’ll have to travel.

Meetups. These are usually less formal than larger conferences or trade shows, but the smaller group and informality is something you can use in your favor. Plus, chances are you can find some groups near you that share your interests, making them perfect prospects for joining your community.

Key to success: Learn as much about the Meetup group as you can ahead of time and be yourself when you get there. Spend your first Meetup getting to know people. Talk less of yourself and more of others.

Drawbacks: Not as big as a conference or trade show. Not necessarily a bad thing though.

Hosting your own event. This is by far the most difficult to pull off. It requires the most planning and the most attention to detail. Not only do you have to decide on the program and make all the arrangements, you’ll be responsible for making sure people show up.

Key to success: Plan. Promote. It is essential that you are a people person. In fact, it is absolutely necessary. Hosting an event requires a lot of work. If it’s a success, you’ll walk away a winner.

Drawbacks: If no one shows up it could be a disaster.

How To Start Marketing Your Community Through Events

The fastest way to get started is through Meetup. Nearly every city has a Meetup group around an activity or interest. Sign up for Meetup and start exploring the different groups. Pick a few to attend and the next time they have an event make sure you show up with your best foot forward. Starting this way makes it easy. Most Meetups only last a few hours, so you’ll be able to find time to attend.

Tradeshows and conferences are next on the ladder. These events are usually more formal, but it really depends on your niche. The difference here is there will be speakers and different forms of entertainment. Before deciding to host your own event it is a good idea to attend a few conferences to get an idea of what to expect.

One last tip: Meetup let’s you offer ‘Perks’ to members of any group that decides to approve it. The cost is only $5/mo. per group. If you chose right you can get a steady stream of traffic (and members) visiting your site.

Have you ever used Meetup to promote your website?

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Paid, Earned & Owned: What Matters and Where Should You Invest?

Paid, Earned & Owned: What Matters and Where Should You Invest?

Content marketing is here to stay. You should be warned though: it is getting far more sophisticated than it was when no one was doing it. Algorithm updates like Hummingbird (and all the other animals) have spurred website owners into taking stock of the content they put out and have led many to reevaluate their strategy.

Media is the new game in town. Blog posts are just the tip of the iceberg. White papers, videos, infographics, presentations and tools are becoming a big part of the equation. Still, it’s not just about owned media. Just because you build it, doesn’t mean they’ll come. In 2014, diversification is key.

Differences Between Paid, Earned & Owned Media

As you can see in the chart below, each form of media is designed to achieve very specific goals. Owned media is what you control: your blog, website, fan page and so on. Paid media is sponsored content, advertisements, and banner ads. Earned media is the buzz your marketing creates.

Differences Between Paid, Earned & Owned Media

Differences Between Paid, Earned & Owned Media

Owned Media

Each form of media has its own advantages and disadvantages. Owned media puts you in control. It is one of the most important areas you can invest. For a forum owner this would mean adding rich content and tools that will attract more visitors. For example, you can add a blog to increase content around your niche, or create a unique marketplace; something your audience would appreciate. You want people to want to show up and the only way you are going to be able to do that is have something cool or useful.

Here are some examples of Owned media:

Paid Media

Paid media (advertising!) is not the end all solution to success online. More times than not it can be quite expensive to get targeted traffic. The other disadvantage of paid media is as soon as you stop paying, your traffic is gone.

There are still some important reasons to get involved with paid media: it can boost your exposure. Ultimately your goal is to rank for your keywords through owned media, but before you get there you should be leveraging paid traffic to funnel visitors to your site. You want people to be exposed to your content and the only way you are going to get the numbers (without ranking for your keywords already)  is through highly targeted paid traffic.

Some examples:

  • Google Adwords
  • Display advertising
  • Sponsored content
  • StumbleUpon Paid Discovery
  • Content sharing (Zemanta, Content.ad, Outbrain)

Earned Media

Earned media is viral marketing. It is when your customers become the advocates of your brand and create a “buzz”. This is the most difficult to scale and can just as well be negative. Your goal is to achieve this level of media from building your own channels (owned media) and heavily promoting these properties (paid media). When the result of the two equal more people talking about your business, it is called converged media.

What To Do

Whether you are building a blog or a forum, you need to focus on building up useful and relevant content on your site. Owned media is always the best alternative: It’s in your control. Just don’t get so focused on SEO or “content” that you ignore paid advertising channels. Paid media is a great way to get new exposure, so definitely leverage advertising to show off the content you create. With any luck (and a bit of hard work) you’ll start creating a buzz that will keep your visitors hungry for more.

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Don’t Let Trolls Bring Down Your Community

Don't Let Trolls Bring Down Your Community

Community managers know all too well what a troll can do to a forum. While sometimes a bit humorous, a troll can easily be a disruptive force to your community. As this infographic from Get Satisfaction outlines, there are a few steps you’ll want to take when dealing with online criticism.

The best place I can start would be to quote someone who totally gets it in my opinion. I recently read a post called 10 Tips of Dealing with Online Criticism by Rachel Held Evans, and in the article she talked about how she would often dwell on that lone negative comment, ignoring the vast majority of comments that were not only positive, but personal as well.

In other words, she was investing more time in the troublemaker versus those who are her fans.

Don’t do this. You need to focus on the people in your community that are there adding value and enriching the experience for everyone involved.

That doesn’t mean you can just shake off negative comments and hope they’ll go away. You want to tackle the problem head on, but your plan of action is critical. Not only do you have to analyze the situation and try to fix it, you also have to do it in front of the internet’s watchful eyes.

Just remember…

You want to take the time to assess the situation. Don’t let emotions move you to respond right away. Determine if it is a legitimate complaint, and get to the root of the problem. You want to be professional, and take every opportunity you can to leave on a high note. If you are dealing with a real troll though, follow the tips above.

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Why You Should Build Your Own Forum Vs. Starting A Community Elsewhere

Why You Should Build Your Own Forum Vs. Starting A Community Elsewhere

The benefits of hosting your own community, versus starting one on LinkedIn or Facebook are tremendous. While it may seem like the slower road to having your own discussion group, creating your own forum pays off in the end, with traffic and rankings.

Let’s get right to the quick of it: when you spend time building a community on a platform you do not own, you are not in control. If the platform you are creating your community on decides to discontinue the service, or it falls out of popularity, the work and time you invested is lost.

The Importance Of Community

Community has become essential for online business. A community shows that what you offer is trusted. It’s more than social proof, it’s a referral network and word-of-mouth rolled into one. Having a community will also increase your authority and influence, not to mention help your business bring in more leads and sales.

Social Networks — Forums, Evolved (Sort Of)

Social media sites like Facebook, LinkedIn and Google+ are great sites to connect. They each have their advantages and disadvantages, but in each you are limited in some way. Every one of these sites give users the ability to create topical groups, where they can moderate their community and have discussions.

From my experience, having serious serious discussions, or active conversations on a single topic, is a bit of a headache. Perhaps more so if there are a lot of people joining in. It just becomes too difficult to filter through what’s going on, and in the case of LinkedIn, finding your old comments can be a chore in itself.

You Should Own Your Community

Perhaps one of the greatest disadvantages to creating a community on a social network, versus going the DIY route is the fact that you do not own the content that is being created. Wherever you have built your community, at the end of the day, they are in control. Should they decide to discontinue the service, or drastically change it, you and your members are at the mercy of their whims.

Now, if you built this community yourself, using a self-hosted platform like XenForo or vBulletin, not only would you be in absolute control, you would also benefit from:

  • Search traffic reaching your site
  • Ranking for long-tail keywords
  • User generated content
  • Increased domain authority

That is only one part of the picture. You are also free to monetize your community how you see fit, and build it into a web property that can funnel new business and customers.

Have you ever thought about building a forum? What questions do you have?

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The Benefits of Forums for Community Engagement

The Benefits of Forums for Community Engagement

Community. Engagement. Thought leadership… buzzwords or guiding principles? The true question is: are these a part of your business?

The internet has changed. This didn’t happen yesterday. It’s been happening for a long time. The social web is here. I imagine you are already know that.

No longer are impersonal websites and lackluster social media efforts acceptable. Customers — and people, for that matter — have come to expect more. With the adoption of technology, brought the birth of a connected world. This connectivity sped up conversation, and with the amount of time most of us spend online it’s easy to see why “community” is such a hot topic item these days.

People are more interested in the people behind the business.

They want to relate. Customers want personal treatment. No one wants to feel like a sale.

4 Key Benefits of Forums for Community Engagement

A forum is one of those places that can serve as a springboard to growing a loyal community. Social networks have their place, but if you have ever used Facebook or LinkedIn Groups — and to a lesser degree Google+, it’s easy to see the limitations. While social networks can be a great place to share information, there really isn’t as much room for serious discussions.

Forums are great for community discourse.

Forums offer an easy way to collaborate and discuss anything and everything. Any user can start a discussion on the topic of their choice (within the guidelines of that particular forum) and gather ideas and insight from others.

Forums can bring in killer traffic with long-tail search queries.

The type of dialogue that occurs in forums is usually highly specific. Usually, when someone asks for advice in a forum it is because the answer is not easily found online. This can lead to highly targeted search traffic. It also can make your forum rank in Google for these long-tail searches.

Forums offer valuable insights into an industry or niche.

Think about how much concentrated knowledge and information an active forum has. I’m sure you can see the big picture. When you have participants sharing their knowledge, over time you are able to build a very respectable resource for people interested in your niche. Any good resource keeps people coming back, plain and simple.

You don’t have to do all the talking.

Another benefit of running a forum or message board is you do not have to do all of the talking. When you have a blog, the minute you stop posting the conversation is over. With a forum, your members are the ones steering the conversation. This is called user generated content. What are the benefits? Not only will contributing members eventually build up content that becomes an excellent resource for your niche, but user generated content means less work in terms of building up content for search traffic and rankings. Your members are constantly contributing to the success of your site.

Is A Forum Right For You?

If you are interested in building a community around your brand and want to interact with people that are interested in you or your business, a forum can be the perfect choice. You might recognize the name Neil Patel. Neil is the founder of Crazy Egg, Hello Bar (look up), Quicksprout, and KISSmetrics.

Neil has adopted this same strategy for his business model by creating a forum on his personal blog QuickSpout. You can see an example here. He uses the forum to connect with his audience, which builds greater loyalty with him and his brand.

If you want to bring your audience closer and create your own platform for dialogue, you should definitely launch your own forum. Just keep in mind that you still have a bit of work to do if you want your audience to stay.

See what goes into building a forum here. Ready to launch your own? We can help you set it up.

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Let This Year Be The Year You Build Your First Website

Let This Year Be The Year You Build Your First Website

Let This Year Be The Year You Build Your First Website

It’s Wednesday… but it’s a little bigger than that. It’s a brand new year. 2014.

We made it.

As is the habit around this time of year, it’s time to start talking about what plans we have for the year ahead. Why not make this year the year you finally do it?

You know, build that website you are always talking about.

Now, I won’t say it will be a walk in the park. There is certainly a learning curve to building a website, much like anything else. Building a website is a labor of love, and if you are finally ready to make it happen, I’ll gladly walk you through how to get started.

So, I guess the ball is in your court. Are you ready to go for it?

Step 1: Choose a domain name

Your domain name is the identity of your website, so you will want to think carefully about the name you choose. You can either choose a domain name that describes your product, or you can choose a domain that is brandable. Either way, the choice is yours. Here is the perfect guide to choosing which option is best for you:

How To Choose The Perfect Domain Name For Your Business

Here are a few quick tips to keep in mind when choosing a domain:

  • Make sure the domain you choose does not infringe on any trademarks.
  • Choose a domain that is also available on popular social networks.

Social media plays a big role for promoting your site, so you want to make sure that all of your usernames will be available. This is important as it will help you stand out and make you easier to find online. You can use services like Knowem or Namecheckr to check domains and multiple social media sites in one search.

Step 2: Get a hosting plan

If you are building a brand new site, chances are you won’t need a VPS or a dedicated server. Starting with a small shared hosting plan is the best choice. It’s more economical, and because your site won’t be seeing much traffic just yet, you won’t need a lot of bandwidth. Also, shared hosting plans typically come with a free cPanel license, which will make managing your new site even easier.

Get 30 Days Free WordPress Hosting — Use Ecode ‘30FREE’

Step 3: What type of website will you build?

This is where you have options. The decision you make will largely depend on the type of site you want to build, as well as, your skill level and budget. Fortunately, our shared hosting plans come with 200+ one-click installs that allow you to publish a forum or blog with a few clicks of your mouse. There are also plenty more options, from ecommerce sites to free message board software.

Here are some compelling reasons to choose a blog or a forum:

7 Reasons You Should Be Using WordPress For Your Small Business

The “I Want To Know Everything” Guide To Starting Your Own Forum

Step 4: Customize your new site

It’s easy to think that you need all the skills in the world to build a beautiful website, but the reality is there are a lot more options out there that are not only affordable, but highly professional. You can find a huge selection of themes for whatever type of site you are building, whether a forum or traditional website.

A good place to start looking for a fresh design is Themeforest. You can find WordPress themes and a nice collection of forum skins for vBulletin, SMF, and phpBB. There are plenty more theme shops and developers that offer professional themes, so do your research until you find something you want to settle on.

Start A Forum With A Small Budget (And Still Stand Out)

Step 5: Create content for your website

Now is where things get a little bit more complicated. You are going to have to figure out what type of content and information you should include on your website. This can be a difficult process if you are just getting started, so the best way to decide on what your site needs is to go look at other websites.

Keep in mind that duplicate content is a no-no. You don’t want to copy content from another website. This not only reflects poorly on your brand, but it can also get you in trouble with Google. You don’t want your new site blacklisted, so it is important to do this right.

First, what you are going to want to do is come up with a list of example websites, with features that you like. Next, create a list of at least 10 of the most popular competitors in your niche. You can uncover quite a bit and set your website off on the right path by making sure you understand your competition. This tutorial from Moz will get you started.

You will also want to make sure that you are structuring your pages and posts with SEO in mind.

Your Content Should Attract The Right People

Step 6: Add Google Analytics

You want to track your progress, right? The only way to judge if what you are doing is working is by tracking results. Before you begin promoting your site you will want to add Google Analytics. This is a free tool by Google that allows you to track visits to your site and see where your traffic is coming from.

Next, just to go the extra mile you should verify your site with Google Webmaster Tools and Bing. This will allow your website to begin getting indexed faster.

Step 7: Setup your social media accounts

Now that you have made it this far you are going to want to create social media accounts to promote your website. While there are a ton of options, the most important ones you can set up for your new website is Google+, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. Be sure to add links to your website and add a design that matches the look you are going for.

Step 8: Start promoting!

This is the step that never ends. Once you have your site ready to launch you will want to market your new website in a variety of ways.

In other words, the journey just started. = )

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5 New Year Resolutions To Make For Your Website (Or Forum)

5 New Year Resolutions To Make For Your Website (Or Forum)

A new year will soon be upon us any day now. I suppose it’s time to start rolling out the resolutions and setting goals for the new year. In fact, I don’t suppose. I would say it’s an absolute must.

Whether you have a website for your business, a blog, or own a forum it takes work to see success. Building an online business or community is no easy feat — it requires a great deal of work. The problem so many website owners face is not having direction. You need to set goals.

Are you ready to make some resolutions for the New Year? Here are a few we can all agree on:

My New Year’s resolution is to…

Increase my traffic by 100%

This is a resolution that most webmasters will gladly nod their heads to. The thing is, you need to be specific with your goals. Don’t simply say, “I want more traffic”. Put a number on it.

The same goes for email subscribers, Facebook fans or Twitter followers — pick a number for your goal so you know when you get there. In other words, be specific.

Make content and social media a habit

Social media and content are not slowing down in 2014. In fact, you can almost certainly expect them to be the gold standard for online marketing. If you are online, you need to be investing in content. There are a number of reason why. Here are a few:

  • Thought leadership
  • Organic search traffic
  • Owned content to share on social media

Good content helps your website perform in the search engines, and it builds trust with your visitors. It may take some upfront work or investment, but down the road when that organic (free) traffic is sending you visitors and customers I don’t think you’ll have any regrets.

Build relationships with influencers

This is important and if you are not doing this right now you are doing your marketing a disservice. It’s easy to get sucked into thinking all you need is links and high rankings, but at the end of the day it’s about relationships more than anything. Connecting with influencers can elevate your brand.

And, over time, you build a rolodex of influencers you can reach out to. A little more time, you become the influencer.

Work on my website like it’s my job

If you have a job, at any given moment you know exactly what you should be doing. In fact, if you’re not doing that right now there is a good chance you’ll hear about it. Despite what some may claim, working online is just as much of a job as… well, a job.

No matter where you’re at right now with your website or forum, clearly defining what tasks you should be doing day-to-day is a must. Having a routine and system for marketing your site will nearly always deliver results.

Fortunately, there are some tools of the trade that will help you keep track of what you should be doing.

Google calendar is a free app that is bundled within Google Drive. It integrates with Google+, and is synced with your email. You can also create individual calendars, to keep everything in its right place.

Trello is a project management app that allows you to work with a team, or simply keep track of your daily ‘to-dos’. Trello uses a ‘list’ style interface, which gives it a natural workflow. Plus, it’s free.

Wunderlist is another ‘to-do’ list style app. What’s handy about this one in particular is that you can create individual lists for specific projects. For example, you can create individual lists for each website you manage, or separate your marketing activities into their own categories to keep your workflow neat.

Here are some examples:

  • Daily Task Checklist
  • Weekly Goals
  • Monthly Planning

I’m sure you get the point. Simply use the Inbox list to add reminders for your next-day tasks. For the things you do everyday, add those to the Daily Task Checklist.

Keep track of my progress

You won’t know when you made progress if you don’t track your progress. The first thing you need to do when building any website is install Google Analytics. Numbers are important. They do not lie. Keeping track of how your site is performing will help you make the right decisions. You’ll be able to see what works for you, what needs work, and what might not be working at all.

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