Monthly Archives: September 2008

Stop Coddling Your Bad Slugs

Bad Slug

A Slug Headed For Trouble

Do the words “Page Slug” make you think of something slimy and unpleasant? Or maybe they sound more like a well deserved jigger of scotch taken to celebrate a finely crafted post? Well… no.

“Slug” is actually an old printer’s term.

Back in day, when we were drunk with the smell of printer’s ink, a printer’s slug identified where a book was printed. More recently, in book layout software like InDesign, a slug will carry information, such as title and date, in some non-printing meta code.

Today, WordPress has adapted this usage to refer to “Page Slugs.” They are the part of the post/page URL that appears after the domain (and date or category when present). The permalink URL of a WordPress blog is highly customizable, and your blog’s set up may differ from Information Sells. But if you click on the title of this post, and then check your browser’s address bar, you should see something like “ghostleg.com/blog/2008/09/stop-bad-slugs”. The page slug is “stop-bad-slugs”.

Now look at the title of this post. It is similar, but not identical. Why the difference?

Readers notice the title. You want readers to be so intrigued by the title that they click through to the post. So you try to make it clever, catchy, and still keyword rich. (Good luck with that).

What Google sees is the slug.

Here’s the problem: Google is never intrigued. Google is cranky and thinks you are trying to cheat with every keystroke. To drive a stake through your cheating heart, Google invented “stop words.” If you use a “stop word” in a search, Google completely ignores that word, as though you’d never typed it at all. If Google doesn’t see a word, there is no value in using it in your Page Slug.

If you are concerned with Search Engine Optimization, WordPress has handed you a gift. The ability to customize permalinks means that your page slug and your post title – two vital areas for SEO with conflicting needs – can differ. You can add adjectives and adverbs to lure your readers while ruthlessly stripping away stop words to appease Google.

Page slugs can be customized by hand (the permalink is displayed on your edit screen, directly below the post’s title) or you can use various SEO plug-ins to do the work for you automatically. Whichever method you use, get in the habit of examining your page slugs for stop words as well as keywords before you publish your post. (You really shouldn’t change the permalink after you publish.)

Photo by Chim Chim Released under Creative Commons License

The Return of the SEO School Ninjas

SEO School Is Back In Session!

SEO School Is Back In Session!

If you are a follower of Naomi Dunford’s IttyBiz (which I most enthusiastically am!), you may have heard about her ebook, SEO School: How to Becoma an SEO Ninja.

The original version of the ebook included email support from Naomi, so she limited the number of books sold to the number she legitimately felt she could support. When the book was pulled from circulation, there was much gnashing of teeth and rending of garments, because it really was Just That Good.

Also, Naomi came in for some rather unpleasant abuse because she didn’t let everyone in on the deal (well, boo hoo!)

Anyway, SEO School is now back on line, available for all, without the support, in a new, updated edition.

Go look at the list of people who endorse this book: Brian Clark of Copyblogger, Dave Navarro of RockYourDay, Havi Brooks of The Fluent Self – how can you go wrong? If you are looking for a simple to understand, yet absolutely useful introduction to Search Engine Optimization, SEO School is the book you should read. Really.

What’s Your Blog’s Job

Border Collie At Work

Border Collie At Work

Blogs, like working dogs, need a job.

If a herding or hunting dog doesn’t have a task, they’ll assign themselves one. And it may not be a job you particularly want them to perform. A bright, hyper-responsible shepherd might drag everything you own – including underwear – out onto the lawn in order to keep an eye on it while you’re gone. A bored lab might rip apart the sofa, just to have something to carry around. It might make you want to scream, but they are just doing what they live to do – a good day’s work.

Does your blog have a job it was born to do?

Is it selling your services? Advertising your store? Educating your clients? Delighting your readers with helpful tips?

Or is it telling the world that:

  • You’re too busy to care about your customers needs (rarely updated)
  • You’re too scattered and undisciplined to trust with a project (no focus)
  • You’re just dragging yourself through another day at the office (no spark)

Your Blog Wants To Work For You

Hello. World? Want Some Help?

Hello, World! Want Some Help?

Like an inquisitive border collie who wants to meet the world head on, greet every task with a yelp of anticipation, and give you 110%  effort, your blog is working all day, every day. It can answer questions, outline procedures, offer contact information. Every post can teach, inform, delight, invite, respond, request, refer.

Have you given your blog a mission?

Would you read your blog if you just stumbled across it? Will new readers find a reason to come back?

If you find that blogging is a chore, or you are stuck and don’t know why you even started the damn thing, it may be time to take a deep breath, clear your head, step back and ask yourself, what one thing should your blog accomplish each week?

  • If you want to make money blogging – can you do a better job positioning AdSense ads?
  • If you want to drive traffic to your web site – are you writing about things your customers want to know or are you just posting inventory lists?
  • If you want to find students for your classes – are you teaching on the blog, so readers can form a bond with you even before they sign up for a class, or are you posting a calendar and turning away?

You don’t have to be a prize winning author to be a good blogger, although you do have to communicate clearly. Taking the time to proofread and correct mistakes shows respect for your readers.

When your blog has a purpose, you’ll discover another trait it has in common with the border collie: the spontaneous leap for joy to celebrate the satisfaction of a job well done.

Photos:
Border Collie & Sheep by statico
Released under Creative Commons License

Border Collie (sheepdog) peeking through Fence by imjustcreative
Released under Creative Commons License


Build Your Own Jib for $50.00

Hardware for Jib

Hardware for Jib

There’s nothing like a swooping high to low shot to add excitement and professionalism to a video. Hollywood film makers use cranes for these shots – which, of course, are far outside the budget of most independent videographers. Many professional videographers use a less expensive tool known as a jib, but even these can still cost several thousand dollars. A jib is basically a very long, carefully balanced extension arm that keeps the camera level with the horizon as the shot moves smoothly from high to low (or low to high).

Tom Benford of Videomaker.com has posted a detailed video (slightly more than 20 minutes long) that will walk you, step by step, through making your own jib with everyday hand tools and a few simple hardware store purchases. The whole set-up should cost around $50.00 and take an hour or so to build.

Cool! I want one!

How To Sell More Books

Do you want to sell more of your self-published books? 

Then you need to be listed on Amazon. Until recently, that meant you had to use a service like Lightning Source to slip in through the side door via Ingram or you had to pay for the privilege by buying a “distribution package” from one of the subsidy presses or you had to list your books in Amazon Marketplace through Amazon Advantage or one of the other Amazon seller programs.

Now, there’s a simple, low cost way available to any author or self-publisher: use Amazon’s CreateSpace publishing/printing service. CreateSpace, Amazon’s answer to Lulu, isn’t a subsidy publisher in the same way that BookSurge, Amazon’s other publishing venture, is.

CreateSpace requires no upfront expense – even for an ISBN number. No books are printed until they are ordered, saving you – the publisher – the expense of shipping, stocking, and warehousing in advance of sales. The flip side to this is that CreateSpace also offers very little in the way of handholding or guidance for novices. They state their submission guidelines for the book block and the cover, and then leave you to figure out how to meet those guidelines.

And let’s be clear – the guidelines are technical, not editorial. CreateSpace will make you a published writer – they don’t even try to make you a good writer. You can submit a manuscript rife with spelling errors, howlingly bad word choices, and the sorts of grammatical mistakes that will make your 7th grade English teacher disavow all knowledge of your existence. As long as the margins are OK and the fonts are embedded in the PDF, CreateSpace will print your book. 

Amazon Listings Make Money

Here’s the profitable part – CreateSpace will give your book automatic entre into Amazon’s main catalog. Whether you use your own ISBN under your own imprint or list CreateSpace itself as the publisher, you book will be listed and sold by Amazon, eligible for free shipping and all the other Amazon perks.

Amazon’s reach will make you money – but first they’ll make some for themselves. Under the Pro Plan upgrade (free until the end of the year), each book with 110 pages or more will have a base price of $0.85 plus $0.012 per page. You set the cover price for any amount you wish – and Amazon will keep 40% 

So – for a 150 page book the costs would look like this:

  • $0.85 base price
  • $1.80 for 150 pages ( at $0.012 per page)
  • $2.65 per book – total printing cost

You decide to sell the book for $14.95. Amazon keeps 40% of that – or $5.98

You make a $6.32 royalty on each book sold. 

Now you may be tempted to subtract $2.65 (the printing cost) from $14.95 (the cover price) and say, I’ll sell it myself on my own web site and keep $12.30 per book! I’ll sell it in the back of the room after my seminars! I’ll sell it on eBay! And so you should. You should sell your book everywhere and anywhere you can. But understand this – Amazon is where buyers, who do not yet know that they want your book, will discover your book and buy it.

Last year, Ghost Leg concentrated our book sales on in-person events, web sales, and third party sales on Amazon. Our books sold steadily in every venue except Amazon, where sales were slow. As an experiment, we decided to take advantage of the free Pro Plan upgrade at CreateSpace to reposition a few books on Amazon.

Our Amazon sales have increased 5 fold in just two months. Not a bad trade off for a smaller percentage of the gross.

Adobe Creative Suite 4 Is Almost Here

Adobe Creative Suite 4

Adobe Creative Suite 4

Adobe Creative Suites 4 is available for pre-order. Thank goodness I dithered for six months trying to decide whether or not I could afford Adobe CS3- and if I could buy it, which version I should buy. Otherwise, I couldn’t look forward to another six or seven more months of vacillation. Instead, I’d have to torment myself for buying too soon.

For purchases of $600 or more, I want to be sure that

  1. I’m buying the right things, and
  2. I’ll get a few years use from the product

I would love to have the latest version of Adobe Acrobat Pro and probably also Dreamweaver, Photoshop, Flash, and InDesign. The problem is, they aren’t bundled together.

Considering the chaos in the financial markets, I see two paths going forward:


  • Since the world is coming to an end next Wednesday and there is no point in saving for a rainy day, spring for the full, $1,800.00 complete edition with everything but the kitchen sink (although it’s possible that the kitchen sink is part of the extended version of Photoshop…)
  • Since none of us knows where the economy is going, sit pat with Adobe Acrobat 6 and Photoshop Elements 5


Maybe I’ll compromise and buy the new Adobe Photoshop Elements 7 .

Adobe drives me crazy – I really want the whole magilla. What about you?

What WordPress Plug Ins Must You Absolutely Have?

The Allure of the Plug In

The Irresistible Plug In

What’s the truth about plug-ins? Are they the fastest way to cripple a WordPress blog? Or are they the essential ingredient that makes WordPress blogs so useful?

The answer – as you probably guessed – is both! A bad plug in can take down your blog. Even a good plug in can go bad and suddenly render your blog invisible.

Ah, but those good plug ins are irresistible…

Plug ins (which WordPress likes to spell “plugins”) are tiny add-on bits of code that extend the ability of your blog to do something cool (what geeks call “functionality”).

For instance, if you want to add Google Analytics to your blog’s code, but you don’t want to copy and paste the script into every single relevant template on you blog, you’d look for a Google Analytics plug-in to do the work for you. And you’d be in luck, because there are so many to choose from.

As the 18 pages of results for “Google Analytics Plugins” above demonstrates, finding just the right plug-in can be difficult. Be prepared slog through apparently unrelated plugins while you do your research and comparisons. When the task seems overwhelming, try doing the search on Google (instead of WordPress.org). If you want to confine your search just to WordPress.org, so you can quickly check comments and download history, use Google’s Advanced Search option and confine the search to the domain “http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/”

What Plug Ins Can Do For You

You can divide plug-ins into several major categories. Some will improve your blog’s SEO. Some will improve your readers’ experience. Some will make the day to day management of your blog easier. Some will improve your blog’s appearance. And some will enable your readers to recommend your blog to new readers. No two blogs need the exact same set of plug-ins, but most blogs will benefit from a handful of plug-ins in each of these categories.

SEO

Although WordPress is pretty well optimized for SEO right out of the box, you can always improve the default installation with one or two SEO plug-ins.

READER EXPERIENCE

Better navigation through your blog means better internal linking. And better internal linking is something both Google and your readers will appreciate. Try adding a Recent Posts widget to your sidebar or a Related Posts plug in to your posts. There are lots of plug ins that will do the job, so read the reviews before you decide. And don’t hesitate to disable one and try another. Here are a few I like:

  • Similar Posts and WordPress Related Posts both add links to other posts on your blog with suggestions for related reading.
  • Breadcrumb NavXT helps readers find their way about your blog. Some themes have breadcrumbs already built in.
  • Search Suggest makes WordPress’ default search much more useful by suggesting similar terms, instead of returning a “No matching posts” result, if a reader mistypes or misspells a word.

SITE MANAGEMENT

There are two parts of blog maintenance you don’t want to lose control of: your RSS feed and WordPress updates. Automate them!

  • Feedburner Feedsmith will integrate all your feeds into your Feedburner account. Readers will be able to subscribe more easily, without the confusion of dozens of sidebar chicklets.
  • WordPress Automatic Upgrade will guide you through the nerve-racking process of safely upgrading your blog. Considering how frequently WordPress issues upgrades, this plugin is essential.

APPEARANCE

Eye candy may not be as important as content, but the best blogs are a feast for the eyes as well as the mind. Take advantage of plug-ins for photography, text formatting, and anything else that specifically relates to your niche.

BOOKMARKING, SHARING, SOCIAL MEDIA

There are so many plug ins for social media that I don’t even know where to start in recommending a few. You’ll want to use those that are most relevant to your readers. For instance, you might want to add a Subscribe to Comments option to your RSS feeds. You’ll want to enable Digg, StumbleUpon, and Delicious recommendations, in both your feeds and your posts. Be sure to closely check both the “Optimize” and “Publicize” features in Feedburner. To avoid sidebar clutter, consider an all-in-one typ plug-in such as

Photo by imjustincognito Licensed under Creative Commons

Splits – Not Just For Cheerleaders Anymore

Marketers have long known the value of split testing, while normal folks thought only cheerleaders did the splits. Split testing, sometimes called A/B testing, is a technique for presenting the same information in two different ways to determine which is more effective. Unless you are familiar with both statistical analysis and web coding, split testing can be complicated to set up and the results can be difficult to decipher.

Until now, that is.

Google is offering free split testing using a tool they call the Website Optimizer. To use it, go to http://www.google.com/websiteoptimizer and click the Sign Up button. Like all Google tools, it is free. There are demonstrations, FAQs, and a flash tour on the homepage to help you get started.

Split testing could mean the difference between success and failure for your next product launch. You could just take your best guess at what will be a good marketing campaign, build it, put it on the web, and wait for the money to roll in. If the money stays stubbornly away, you could try plan B. Then C. You might strike finally gold with Plan D. If only you’d tried that sales pitch first… how many more books or DVD might you have sold?

That’s the beauty of split testing. If you test both Plans A and B, you may discover that neither converts very well. You can make the changes Google suggests and re-test.

If you knew, before you went live with your new marketing campaign, that a Buy Now button in the upper right hand corner of the page is clicked on thee times as often as the same button at the bottom of the page, resulting in three times as many sales even with no other changes to the sales copy – which web design would you choose?

That’s exactly the kind of information Google Website Optimizer provides.

If you’ve never done any split testing, start experimenting today. Even if you just check a sales page that has already been online for three years, the knowledge you gain will be invaluable.

Photo by Graeme Bird Licensed under Creative Commons


How To Get Big Studio Special Effects on a Shoestring Studio Budget

Do you want to look like Pixar without spending millions? Here’s a neat effect you can do for free.

You’ve probably seen TV commercials or films where live actors appear to be cartoons. It’s a fun effect, and can even be quite artistic in the right hands. A 2007 Sundance Festival selection, Year of the Fish, employed this technique brilliantly.

NewBlueFX is offering Cartoonr, a plug-in for Vegas, Movie Studio, Adobe Premiere and other video editors, as a free download. It will give live action clips a cartoon-like appearance.

The short clip below, starring Janelle Elms of OSI RockStars, demonstrates the before and after look of Cartoonr. It took me less than 3 minutes to create it. The effect can be customized to alter the thickness of the lines, the paint-like appearance, etc. I just used the defaults to show what it can do straight out of the box. This clip was shot with a Sony camcorder – but you can achieve the same results with your Flip videos. How many ways can you imagine to use something like this in your marketing campaigns?


[flashvideo width=”640″ height=”493″ filename=”http://ghostleg.com/blog/videos/cartoonr.flv” /]

(And If you don’t already have Sony Movie Studio, keep an eye out for rebates. We’ve alerted readers of this blog to some great offers on Movie Studio and Vegas in the past. When I hear of new offers, I’ll post them.)


How To Add Video To Your Blog – Part 1

Video Conquers The Internet

Video Conquers The Internet

Back in the paleolithic era of the internet, all web pages were static.

In time, animated GIFs appeared, proliferated, then faded away. Banners flashed, hamsters danced, babies burbled. Some of these innovations were amusing, some annoying – but all were constrained by the limited download speeds of the average user’s modem and the immense size of video files.

Quicktime and Real Audio/Video sought ways to stream the rich media content web users craved, but the results were still choppy. Old timers remember the brain-numbing routine of watching a few seconds of action… pause…. watch… pause and on and on. It’s never easy to be a pioneer.

The growing adoption of broadband marked the beginning of the end for this stage. The explosive growth of You Tube ushered in today’s interactive internet. Full motion video is no more noteworthy than full color photographs. Your viewers, readers, and buyers expect it. If you aren’t using video today, you will be using it tomorrow – or you’ll be losing business.

Embedding Is Easier Than It Sounds

The fastest, cheapest, easiest way to add video to your site is to simply embed a video from You Tube. Amazingly, you don’t even need a You Tube account to embed You Tube videos. The embed code is displayed right beside every video on the site. Everyone is allowed – indeed encouraged – to borrow it.

Embed Code on You Tube

Embed Code on You Tube

Find the embed code, copy it, and paste it into the HTML on your web site or blog. Presto – instant video. At one time, this process was more difficult for WordPress users, but now, even if you have a WordPress blog, it’s just a question of copy and paste. But note: you must paste the code into the HTML of your site, not into the visual editor. The same process works with Vimeo and other video hosting sites.

If you don’t have video of your own, but you’ve found a You Tube clip that perfectly illustrates your point, use it!

In the next installment we’ll talk about the pros and cons of bypassing You Tube and hosting your own videos.