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Flywheel Managed WordPress Hosting Review


Back with another WordPress Hosting review, this time it’s Flywheel turn. In this article I’m going to explore the ups and downs of this very decent hosting service for WordPress that has plenty of options. Scalable plans, free migrations, staging sites, nightly backups, free SSL are only some of the features you’ll find at Flywheel. Keep reading to see our review of their service, or click the link to visit their website to learn more.

Learn More About Flywheel

Creating a New Website with Flywheel

Flywheel has a very particular way to start your experience with the service. They don’t let you choose a plan right away so I’ve decided to show you the process just as I’ve experienced it. Payment does not come first with Flywheel as they let you setup your demo site first.

Just fill in all the information and then you’re ready to create your first site. Up until that moment, there are no plans presented whatsoever. This is a very unique way to get started. Flywheel has made it easy for people who want to demo the service (or use it to being building a demo website for a client) but it may become inconvenient for those that consider payment and setup as two completely separate things.

Flywheel lets you pay by two ways: either pay yourself or let your client make payments once they take over the site (note: you can also add a site to bulk plans you already have).

Once you decide how you want to pay, you’re free to choose a plan and after that… it’s creation time. I like that Flywheel has made it easy for people who want to start a demo of the service, and the setup makes a lot of sense for freelancers. But it since not all users will land on the the ricing page before beginning having the plans information accessible during the signup process would be nice.

Flywheel Hosting Plans

Here are the current plans for Flywheel. They offer fully managed WordPress hosting plans, so server settings are configured and WordPress already installed when you signup.

For this review I’ve chosen the Personal Plan. Flywheel has an adequate set of resources, it’s a little more expensive than the competition but it has SSL included and the option for CDN is affordable enough. The only real drawback of their plans is the limited storage space, which for most blogs won’t be an issues but could become a problem for medium to large sites (specifically resource heavy or high traffic sites).

Migrate Your WordPress Site to Flywheel

The ideal way for me to start working on the site is to import the current benchmark site so I’ve tested the migration mechanism, as always.

The are several ways you could import your current site: the usual way (here’s a great starter guide to migrate to WordPress), providing credentials to your current WP site and FTP access, directly via WordPress.com (which is a good addition) or through a ZIP upload – which is just the perfect method for me. Flywheel is confident enough you’ll want to go from WP Engine to Flywheel they even included that option in there too!

Once you make up your mind on what kind of migration method you want, Flywheel will let you choose the type of migration, either a Standard migration which can take up to 3 business days and it’s free or the Expedited migration that is said to be done in less than 8 hours.

Even though I’ve properly zipped the file, that method didn’t work for me and got stuck at 99% so I contacted tech support for assistance. They responded very rapidly and asked me to send them the zip file, which I did. The migration was done in less than 10 minutes without any extra charge involved so, unless your site is really huge, there is really no need to pay for an Expedited migration as the regular service works just fine.

Flywheel Panel Options

Once the site is setup, defining the domain is one the easiest things to do. Flywheel gives you access to all your DNS settings and they actually encourage you to edit them as needed.

This could be a confusing for new users, but for people who know where their domains are pointing Flywheel will not get in your way. They let you define your domains easily and will give you the coordinates to their CNAME defined names and respective IPs. They even provide an easy tool for you to check if the DNS entries are loaded properly.

Flywheel is about the least intrusive and easy to work service for domains and DNS. It’s like they’re telling you: “we know you want to setup your domain so, here is the data, point your domain and check if it’s working… we won’t get in the way” and that’s just perfect.

Once the domain is setup properly, the main panel will let you control the Cache on your WP site, enable the Debug mode and even disable the Cache to see changes instantly. Flywheel does seem to be caching WordPress with their own custom webserver architecture.

Extra Flywheel Services

On top of the usual stuff, Flywheel provides support for backups. While it’s still a good idea to backup WordPress regularly on your own, this is a great backup for your backups.

And if that’s not enough, Flywheel will let you enable a multisite service for $10/mo extra and a CDN service for $10 more.

Certificates are free as long as you use Let’s Encrypt but installing your own certificate through Flywheel will cost you $10 month which is not goodFor most users paying an extra $10 a month for a custom certificate is probably not worth it. Having your own certificate is not much different than using the built in Let’s Encrypt, so we’d recommend the free option for most.

If you’re in need of building your own store with your custom certificate you’re probably better off with another service that does not charge you a monthly fee.

Local by Flywheel

Local by Flywheel

Another exclusive feature is Local by Flywheel. With Local you can design, build and test your website locally (on your computer) then quickly and easy push your design to your live site hosted on Flywheel. Best of all – this is a free feature that works great with all Flywheel plans.

Flywheel Hosting Performance

So how does Flywheel compare to the rest? Let’s put the service to the test.

Website performance is very good, with a response time of less than 1.5 seconds and a solid A score from Pingdom.

Watching the header response closely you can see that Flywheel is using a custom webserver configuration that appears to be quite optimized for the task.

A test from the Australia server also gives an excellent result with another A. Good job!

GTMetrix also shows a superb result and the website loaded in 1.6s confirming that Flywheel does have a nice webserver & cache in place, making this a fine service for any WP addict that needs a very good performance.

What I Liked

Flywheel has a nice intuitive and easy to use interface with standard options but tons of extras. I loved the “we do not get in your way” attitude towards the domains & DNS setup as this is ideal for a quick setup, specially for professionals.

I also liked the way they respond to tickets. The support staff are happy to help and quick on fixes. And I most certainly liked the performance.

What I didn’t like

Having a nice service with a very restrictive storage space is not nice and having to pay tons of money for an even more expensive service just to use more space is not fun at all. I would loved to have more storage space options to the mix. There are tons of blogs & magazines that does not get that many visits but consumes a lot of storage space and Flywheel will be a very costly service for that kind of activity.

I do think the sign up process could be better as the plans are not visible until after you setup your website and choose a form of payment. This needs to improve. Either offer a free demo (with the 14-day limitation visible) or require the user to signup & add payment info first (then setup after) – mixing the two is confusing.

Also Flywheel doesn’t currently offer any e-mail options which could be a problem. Though we can highly recommend G-suite if you want to manage emails yourself.

Wrapping Up

Flywheel is a solid hosting option. The intuitive and easy to use interface combined with extras such as backups, staging, ability to add free SSL certificates, multisite compatibility and optional CDN makes for quite a good deal. Also Flywheel offers one of the least intrusive methods for setting up domains and DNS (aka we don’t stand in your way attitude) and that is a nice gesture.

Plus if you are a freelance web designer there are some extra features like the option to choose client billing and Local (which you can use to connect your local development site to you live client sites).

On the other side of the table the storage space is very limited and Flywheel is somewhat expensive. But if you don’t require tons of space, it’s a good service with excellent performance and tech support. For more information, be sure to visit their website.

Get Flywheel

Overall we think Flywheel is a pretty good managed WordPress hosting service, but what do you think? Have you tried Flywheel? Or do you have any other questions about their hosting? Let us know in the comments.



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How to Prevent Spam and Protect Your WordPress Blog


Your comments section gives you a convenient way to engage with your website’s readers. Unfortunately, opening your website up to comments means you will have to deal with spam. Unless you are the type of blogger who doesn’t solicit feedback via comments and trackbacks/pingbacks, you will have to deal with it at some point or another.

But the question is, how? As spam bots (and human spammers) become more sophisticated, it is more and more difficult to keep your blog clean of irrelevant and inappropriate content.

Luckily, WordPress comes with built-in features and free add-ons to help control and combat spam, including Akismet and comment blacklists. Even better, there are many third-party plugins available to provide additional spam protection.

In this post we will take an in-depth look at the issue of spam on WordPress blogs, the negative impact it can have on your site if left unchecked and how it can be managed and prevented. We’ll also take a look at the tools available in WordPress to combat this problem. Finally, we’ll finish up with some plugin recommendations to take your spam moderation to the next level. Let’s dive in!

What WordPress Comment Spam Is

Screenshot of spam comments

Automated spam comments like these can overrun your WordPress database.

It can be exhilarating when new comments show up on your blog. However, that first blush of excitement often disappears when you see inappropriate replies to your content. These replies, of course, are also known as spam. The dictionary simply defines it as “irrelevant or inappropriate messages sent on the Internet to a large number of users“. Sounds about right to me.

Blog spam is born of the same family as the oh so familiar email spam, but has its own unique aim – to get backlinks. Whether it is via a blog comment, trackback or pingback, the purpose of blog spam is to publish a link on your site that points back to another site. The site in question is typically irrelevant to your niche and often poor quality.

These unsolicited messages is a fact of life if you allow commenting on your posts. Fortunately, identifying it is relatively simple, since it usually takes one of three primary forms.

1. Spambots

These are comments are posted automatically using a script or bot that scour the web in search of targets to flood with comment junk. There is no direct human involvement in these comments, and they are usually pretty easy for the human eye to spot. Spambots are probably the biggest culprits of irrelevant comments.

2. Manual Comments

This is when humans are hired to manually post comments on sites. The quality of these comments can vary from blatantly obvious to debatable, which of course offers up a big headache for anyone trying to eradicate spam from their site. These will almost always include links in the comments, and can be a bit sneakier than bots (we’ve seen comments with questionable links added to blank spaces in the comment text).

3. Trackbacks & Pingbacks

As defined by Google, a trackback is “one of three types of linkback methods for website authors to request notification when somebody links to one of their documents”. For our purposes you can assume pingbacks to be essentially the same thing. You will have probably seen trackbacks before. They exist as a list of links, typically within or below the comments section on a blog post. For a spammers’ purposes, the objective is simple – mention a blog post in their own post and get a link back.

Each of these spam types is problematic, and you’ll often receive more than just one category. Together, they can clog up your comments section and cause all kinds of issues.

How Comment Spam Affects Your WordPress Site

Trackback spam

Spammers use trackbacks to create links back to irrelevant sites.

You may consider spam to be nothing more than an annoyance. However, if left unchecked, it can have negative consequences for your website. In addition to providing a poor user experience for your readers, comment spam can harm your site in many ways, causing:

  • Loss of search engine rankings. Google targets bad links on your site for ranking purposes, even in the comments.
  • Potential risks to your readers. The links in spam comments can lead to malicious sites.
  • Site speed and load time issues. Too many comments can overload your WordPress database and slow down your site.

Every blog that enables commenting is vulnerable to spam. Having a plan of action for reducing and combating it is the only way to protect your site and your readers.

How to Combat WordPress Comment Spam

While comment spam is unavoidable, there is good news. You can combat this blight by moderating your comments and utilizing WordPress’ built-in tools.

First, make sure that you have turned on comment moderation. Doing so enables you to approve any comment before it posts to your site. If you don’t have time to review every single comment, you can set parameters based on several factors. For example, you can:

Don’t forget the biggest weapon in your default arsenal: plugins. There are tons of great free and open source plugins you can add to your WordPress installation to check comments and filter out anything that looks like spam.

The Best Anti-Spam Plugins to Reduce Comment Spam on Your WordPress Site

One of the best things about using WordPress is how easy it is to customize. When it comes to blog comments, you can use plugins shore up your security. Here are three plugins to help you take control of your comment spam.

1. Akismet

Akismet plugin

How could we not mention Akismet? This plugin comes installed by default on WordPress blogs, and is free to use for personal bloggers (with a commercial monthly subscription set at $5 per month, and enterprise solutions available at $50 per month).

In using a “catch-all” spam solution like Akismet, you have to accept that some legitimate comments may get flagged as spam. It’s simply a cost of blogging and using an automated spam blocker. The issue is mainly stems from human spammers. One person’s spam is another person’s legitimate comment, so if humans can’t agree 100% of the time, what chance does a plugin have?

However, for most part, Akismet does a great job. It keeps an enormous amount of spam at bay on my blog, with only the occasional legitimate comment being caught out. Furthermore, it takes care of trackback spam too – a huge bonus.

Key Features:

  • Blocks comment and trackback spam.
  • Automatically checks all comments.
  • Comment history so you can check which comments were blocked by the plugin or by moderators.
  • Includes a “Discard” settings to auto-block the worst spam.

Price: Akismet is a free plugin, and may already be installed on your blog.

Get Akismet

2. WP-SpamShield

WP-Spamshield plugin

This plugin uses the ‘honey pot’ technique to trap bots invisibly. Humans won’t see captchas, but bots will, and they will then be trapped as spam. WP-SpamShield acts as a firewall to block both automated and targeted spam. Since it blocks these comments before they reach your database, you never have to worry about them slowing down your site.

Key Features:

  • Blocks trackback and pingback spam.
  • Prevents spam at the front of the site, so it never hits the WordPress database.
  • Works with all major form builder tools.

Price: WP-SpamShield is a free plugin.

Get WP-SpamShield

3. Anti-spam

Anti-spam plugin

Anti-spam uses invisible captchas to block all spambots from your comments. The pro version also blocks manually submitted spam. While this plugin does a great job of stopping unwanted comments, however, it doesn’t protect other types of forms on your site. This means you might want to use this plugin with something else to get extra form protection. However, it’s still an excellent lightweight option.

Looking for more protection options? Anti-Spam Pro includes added settings for manual spam protection so you can further by automatically preventing comments that rank high on a spam points scale (with more than a set number of links, words or flagged spam words).

Key Features:

  • Blocks trackbacks by default.
  • Prevents automatic spam from ever getting to your WordPress database.
  • Pro version blocks manual spam.

Price: Anti-Spam is free, and the pro version available for $25.

Get Anti-Spam by Webvitaly

4. WPBruiser

WPBruiser plugin

WPBruiser promises to work from the second you install it. This plugin combines brute force attack protection with comment spam blocking. You can use it to protect all of your forms, and your readers will never have to use a captcha. Overall, it’s a comprehensive and user-friendly option.

Key Features:

  • Includes brute force attack protection.
  • Enables you to block malicious IP addresses.
  • Is compatible with WordPress Multisite.
  • Offers extensions that work with all major form tools.

Price: WPBruiser is a free plugin with optional extensions.

Get WPBruiser

5. Hide Trackbacks

This last plugin is very straightforward as it simply does what the title states – hides trackbacks. While you can disable trackbacks completely, there is value in simply hiding them if you want to keep track of who is linking to you. This plugin removes trackbacks from your front end but still allows you to see them on your WordPress dashboard.

Price: Hide Trackbacks is completely free.

Get Hide Trackbacks

Conclusion

Comment spam is a simple fact of life on the internet, unless you plan to disable comments altogether. Safeguarding your site against inappropriate comments is crucial for its overall health and performance. By removing spam comments, you can keep your database clear, maintain a solid user experience, and improve engagement.

Do you have any questions about how to manage spam on your WordPress site? Or tips to add to the list? Let us know in the comments section below!



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WordPress 4.9 Release: New Features You’ll Love


It’s mid November, and we’re ramping up to what just might be one of the biggest Cyber sale weeks in WordPress history (Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales are already getting started). And as if that’s not enough to be excited about, WordPress just dropped 4.9 and we couldn’t wait to show you what it was like when we updated. So without further ado meet WordPress 4.9, more affectionately named “Tipton.”

Customizer Drafts & Scheduling

WordPress 4.9 Customizer Drafts & Scheduling

One feature we’re excited to make use of is the new Customizer Drafts & Scheduling options. Now when you use the live customizer you can save changes as a draft, which is extremely useful when working on a website redesign. This way you can test different colors, fonts, layouts or any other customizer settings included with your theme right on your live site without having to commit to the change right away. Just save and come back to review your design later on. Don’t worry if you forget to save – WordPress will auto save drafts so if you accidentally close your window you should be able to

Equally as useful as drafts is the option to schedule a design change. This is a great way to plan and add promotional assets, sale banners or seasonal ads to your site. Simple make your edits then schedule the day and time to have your new design go live.

Customizer Collaboration Upgrades

Good news for design teams, WordPress 4.9 also adds new features to make working together even easier. The first is customizer locking while you’re making changes. This way another team member can’t interfere in your creative process.

The second is an easy to share customizer preview link option when you save your draft. Just copy and paste the link into your team Slack or group email to get input.

Themes via the Customizer

One other feature we wanted to touch on was the fact that you can now preview and install more than 2,600+ free themes from the WordPress.org repository right from the customizer. This is a great feature, specifically when first setting up your website or blog with WordPress.

New & Updated Widgets

WordPress 4.9 Gallery Widget

This WordPress update adds a new Gallery widget you can use in sidebars, footers and other widget ready areas. This is a great way to showcase features project images, staff photos, or really anything else.

WordPress 4.9 Gallery Widget Settings

The widget works just like regular WordPress galleries. Just click to select images you’d like to add plus set options for linking, columns, ordering and size. Remember to save after inserting your gallery to see it live on your site.

WordPress 4.9 Text Widget

All other notable changes were made to enhance the Text widget, which now supports oEmbed media and and parses shortcodes. What does this mean for you? Well, you can quickly add YouTube videos, SoundCloud podcasts, Polldaddy surveys, Tumblr posts, Spotify music or any other WordPress supported oEmbed media to a widget area by pasting the link in a text widget (you can use that handy media insert option if you’d like). Or if your theme (or any plugins) include shortcodes, you should now be able to successfully use them in your widgets.

Improvements When Changing Themes

Ever lost your widgets, or had menus unassigned from locations when you switched themes? This was a common issue users ran into when updating their website design but with WordPress 4.9 that’s now a thing of the past!

WordPress will now do it’s best to maintain menu locations and widget areas based on similar IDs and naming. So ideally your “Top” and “Main” menu locations will remain when you switch from one theme to another. This assumes both themes use similar menu locations or the same number of menu locations (as WordPress will try to assign the menu from the first location according to your old theme to the first menu location in your new theme). Similarly, sidebar widgets should remain in your sidebar and footer widgets in your footer (again – assuming similar locations exist).

Editor Enhancements

The latest version of WordPress also comes with new and improved updates for the code Editor (even though we personally HIGHLY recommend against using the editor, since really all changes should be made via a custom child theme to ensure your edits remain when you update your themes and plugins).

WordPress 4.9 Editor Enhancements

If you do use the Editor to make changes you’ll be happy to know that it now supports CodeMirror which formats your code like most major code editors. This update integrates improved formatting, autocomplete and live syntax error notification. This new functionality also comes with the ability for developers to enable CodeMirror in plugins.

More for Developers

As always, there were more changes going on under the hood so to speak. This includes customizer JS API improvements, a MediaElement.js upgrade to 4.2.6, REST API updates for objects, as well as brand new roles and capabilities. For a full run down be sure to read over the official dev notes from the Make WordPress Core trac.

Over to You

That’s what we played around with in WordPress 4.9. We’re definitely most excited to use the customizer scheduling, especially with holiday sales and promotions just around the corner. But what about you? What features you you like in 4.9? Let us know below!



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Google+ for WordPress – Tips & Plugins for Your Blog


Although everyone has heard of Google Plus, it is often the last social media channel people consider when promoting their business. Working in a similar way to Facebook and Twitter, Google Plus offers all that you would expect from a social media channel. Google Plus displays a feed of recent events and posts, allows you to follow others and build your own following, share your own content, like and comment on others offerings, and lots more. However, with Googe Plus being undoubtedly less popular than some of the other social platforms out there, why should you use it?

In this article, we consider the benefits of using Google Plus and how to get started with it. We then look in more depth at how you can use this social media platform to promote your business, and how to integrate it with your WordPress website.

Why Use Google Plus?

Google Plus

Google Plus is an ideal platform to promote your business, connect with potential clients, and interact with your current fan base. Google Plus uses and easily integrates with a range of Google tools, including Google Photos, Hangouts, Maps, Calendar, YouTube, and many more. This makes posting on Google immediately a quicker and easier process than many other social channels.

And that’s not all, regular engagement on Google Plus helps to improve the rankings of your website’s pages and posts in Google’s search engine. Those that follow you on this channel are also more likely to be shown your Google Plus content if they search on Google using similar keywords. Lastly, Google Plus doesn’t charge you to promote your businesses posts, and due to its ‘circles’ feature, you can target your content at specific groups of people.

So now we know a bit about Google Plus and the benefits of using it, let’s look at how to get it up and running…

Getting Started With Google Plus

It is extremely quick and easy to sign up with Google Plus. However, you will need a Google account to do so. At the top of the Google Plus homepage, select the ‘Sign In’ button, and either follow the instructions to create a new Google account, or select the Google account you would like to sign in with.

View Your Newsfeed

Home Page

When logging into Google, you will find your Newsfeed on the initially displayed ‘Home’ page. Your Newsfeed contains a selection of posts published, shared and liked by your followers, recommended posts, topics to explore, articles trending on Google Plus, and more. View your Newsfeed to find out what has been going on on Google Plus and what others are publishing.

Under each post displayed, you will see a 1+ button. This is the equivalent of a Facebook ‘Like’. The number of 1+’s a post has received will be shown next to the 1+ icon. You will also see a comments box and a share icon displayed under posts. It is important to engage with others in your niche to help grow your following. Liking, commenting and sharing posts is an effective way to do so.

Edit Your Profile

Profile Page

Your profile is the page that your followers will see when checking you out on Google Plus. Therefore, it is essential that you complete all the necessary details on your profile page, and make it as welcoming and detailed as possible.

There are a number of ways to customize your profile page. To do so, in the left-hand side menu in your Google Plus dashboard, select ‘Profile > Edit Profile’. Here you can write your own tagline and upload a profile picture and background image for your page.

You can also add information about yourself. On your profile page, click ‘About’ to add your date of birth and occupation, as well as upload albums. However, keep in mind, if you choose to add this info it will also be shown across your other Google services too, like Google Drive and Photos. Select the ‘+’ icon to add other details like work and education info, where you are living, and links to your other social media profiles and websites.

Your profile page also shows all posts you have published or shared, as well as the communities you have joined and collections you have created. We will cover communities and collections further on in the article.

Add Followers

People

Under ‘People’ in your left-hand dashboard menu, you can find people to follow, see who is following you, and manage those you are following. Under the tab ‘Find People’, Google Plus will suggest people for you to follow, and you can also search for specific individuals using the search function at the top of the page.

The tab entitled ‘Following’ enables you to see who you are following. One of the features that differentiates Google Plus from other social media channels is their concept of ‘circles’. Circles allow you to create different groups, and you can place your followers in these groups accordingly. This can then be particularly useful for creating specific target groups to promote different types of content to.

Begin Posting

Add Post

To post in Google Plus, select ‘Home’ or ‘Profile’ from the menu bar and then simply click on the pencil icon in the bottom right-hand corner of your screen. In the pop-up, write your post, add interactive links, images, share your location and more. Once published, you can still edit a post, move it to a collection, pin it to the top of your profile, and disable comments or sharing, to name a few options.

How to Use Google Plus to Promote Your WordPress Website

So now you know a little about getting started with Google Plus. Take your time familiarizing yourself with this social media platform. Once you are confident using Google Plus, the next step is to consider how to use it to best promote your WordPress website.

Enable Google Plus for Your Brand

Create a Brand

If you want to promote your WordPress website on Google Plus, then you need to create a Google Plus brand account. By setting up your brand’s own page, fans can easily search, find, and follow you on Google Plus. Your brand can also post, comment, and share, as well as create its own collections and communities.

To create a Google Plus brand account open the Google Plus Brand page. Give your brand page a name and select ‘enable’. Google Plus will then open within your new brand account. You can create as many brand accounts as you wish, and switch between them and your personal account by clicking on the accounts icon in the top right-hand corner.

You brand account will be totally blank when you set it up. So you will need to spend time editing your brand’s profile page, finding people to follow, creating collections and generally getting your brand set up.

Optimize Your Google Plus Page

Optimize Brand Page

Try and link the branding of your Google Plus page as closely as possible to that of your website. Apart from displaying the same name, use the same logo and images, so the page is immediately recognizable to your fans trying to connect with you on Google Plus.

Under ‘Profile’, select ‘Edit Profile > Manage Page’. Here you can add contact info, links to your website and other social media platforms. Also, click on ‘Story’ to write a description of your business, making sure you include keywords and further links to content on your website.

When creating posts, use keywords you are looking to rank for in the text. Add calls to action, links to your site, and ask questions to engage your followers and start discussions. Hashtags are also used on Google Plus to enable readers to quickly find the content they are after. So always add relevant hashtags at the end of a post to help increase traffic streams to your content.

Join Communities

New Community

Communities are an effective way to connect with others in your niche. Under ‘Discovery’ in the menu bar, you can view the numerous community categories, or search for a specific community in the search bar. You can also create your own communities under ‘Communities > Create Community’.

Joining communities enables you to access your target audience, share posts, chat about relevant topics, and see what subjects are being widely discussed in your industry. Communities are also a great place to get yourself known as an expert in your field, and help increase your followers.

Create Collections

Create a Collection

Creating a variety of ‘Collections’ will enable you to group your content and share it with specific target groups. To create a collection, click on the ‘pencil’ icon in the bottom hand of your ‘Profile’ or ‘Home’ page. Then next to your name, click on the link and select ‘Create a Collection’. It is here you can also choose which collection to post new content too.

Collections and their content can be shared with your ‘Circles’, and followers can choose to follow individual collections. This is a great way to send the right content to the right people, and not overload your followers with irrelevant info.

How to Integrate Your WordPress Website and Google Plus Channel

It is important to make sure you promote your Google Plus page on your WordPress website to encourage your site visitors to follow you. Displaying social media follow buttons and a social feed will help you to accomplish this.

Display Social Media Follow Buttons

Monarch

Monarch from Elegant Themes is an effective social media plugin, that provides stylish follow buttons that can be displayed in various places on your website. Once your visitors have joined you on Google Plus, you will be able to keep in contact with these potential customers, and increase the chances of them re-visiting your website in the future.

Embed a Google Plus Social Feed

Flow-Flow G+ Social Stream

Embedding a social feed into pages or widgets on your WordPress website is another way to appeal to your site visitors. Flow-Flow WordPress Social Stream enables you to display content and discussions from your Google Plus profile page (plus 15 other social networks and feeds) on your website. This will help give your visitors a brief overview of what they are missing if they aren’t following you on Google Plus. Ultimately, using a social feed should lead to an increase in your Google Plus following, and allow you to keep in contact with your audience well after they have left your website.

Final Thoughts on Using Google Plus

As you can see, Google Plus can be a real weapon in your armor, helping to give you a great advantage over your competition. This social media channel will help you promote your website, reach new potential customers, and keep in contact with current followers. Alongside all of this, it will also help improve your rankings in Google. So what are you waiting for… it’s time to sign up with Google Plus!

What is your experience of using Google Plus? Please share your thoughts on this social media channel in the comments below…



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How to Customize Search Page Results in WordPress


When you search on a regular search engine like Google, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll come up with no results (unless you search for something utterly nonsensical, but even then…). However, this can happen more regularly than one would like when using a WordPress website’s internal search function.

Many of your website visitors will want to find more information about you, your business, or your products. If they hit a blank page after typing a query into your search bar, however, chances are they will leave your site. This is especially true if they are used to Google or a similar search engine.

Internet users expect certain features from the websites they visit. It’s important that you work with their expectations when it comes to searching. Having a custom search page that includes the items they’re used to will help keep them interested and engaged in your content.

In this post, we will discuss what search results pages are and why they’re important. Then, we’ll outline how to customize your WordPress results page to include the functionality your readers expect to see. Let’s get started!

What WordPress Search Results Pages Are (and Why They Matter)

screenshot-wpexplorer-search-results

Here you can see our own search results page for the term “SEO plugins”.

When one of your readers types a word or phrase into the search box on your WordPress site, they’ll see a page listing all the content that matches their query. This is known as a search results page. Of course, an internal search results page is different from the results you would see on a search engine like Google. For one thing, the internal page will only list items that are available within your site, rather than across the entire internet.

An internal search results page is important for any site that features text content and is accessible through standard search engines. Generally, one of three things will happen when someone lands on your site from a basic internet search. They will immediately find what they are looking for, they will use your built-in search to find the information, or they will leave your site. Therefore, your chance of keeping readers on your site relies on their ability to find what they are looking for quickly. Enabling visitors to search and view results on your site is one of the easiest ways to keep them around for longer.

Why You Should Customize Your WordPress Search Results Pages

Visitors come to your website with certain expectations. While they aren’t looking for the same results they would get from Google, they may expect to see similar features. This can include suggested spellings, content suggestions based on their initial search, and more.

Having a customized search results page can keep your readers engaged with your site and its content, even when their searches come up dry. Plus, you’ll be providing your readers with everything they expect from a standard search engine. By mimicking popular search engines, you can also lower bounce rates on your site.

If done correctly, a custom results page offers several additional benefits. It can:

  • Help visitors find what they are looking for
  • Keep visitors on your site longer
  • Offer related information searchers may not have known they needed
  • Show some personality
  • Show you care about the little things, including being helpful

In the end, customizing your WordPress search results to more closely imitate a traditional search engine creates value for you and your visitors. Best of all, you can accomplish it easily through the use of plugins!

How to Customize Your WordPress Search Results Pages

The versatility of WordPress enables you to easily customize your search results. You can use code to alter the search.php file, for example, or you can use a plugin. We recommend the latter approach, as plugins are easier for most WordPress users to install and maintain.

There are several options you can use to customize your internal search results pages. While you could always dive into the search.php code (though this is best left to experienced users comfortable with PHP and CSS coding), there are several plugins you can use to implement simialr changes. Finding the functionality that works best will depend on you and your site. Small personal sites may benefit from free plugins, while larger sites might need a premium solution.

As always, we also recommend that you back up your WordPress site before making any updates or changes. Let’s dive in!

1. Include or Highlight the Search Term as a Reminder of the Original Search

Search Everything Plugin

One of the best tips I’ve ever heard about internal site search results pages is the closer you can make them look like standard Google search results pages, the better. One way to do this is to include the search term your visitor searched for at the top of the search results page. This is a simple technique to show visitors a search did occur even if it came up empty (and perhaps a typo was the culprit). It also enables your readers to double check that they entered the right phrase, and that they spelled the words correctly.

Search Everything is a free plugin that works with the default search function for WordPress. It will enable users to search every non-password protected page on your site. In addition, if offers functionality that makes it possible to highlight search terms on results pages, providing your users with valuable information.

Include the Search Term on Search Results Pages

To do this manually you will need to start by creating a child theme (if you’re not sure how, checkout our guide on how to create a WordPress child theme).

Next, create a search.php file in your brand new child theme and copy over the code from your old theme (you can find this by either opening up theme files on your server via FTP, or from your WordPress dashboard under Appearance > Editor > Search.php). Now you can replace the default title in your child theme’s search.php with the following:

<h1 class="search-title">
<?php echo $wp_query->found_posts; ?> <?php _e( 'Search Results Found For', 'locale' ); ?>: "<?php the_search_query(); ?>"
</h1>

This will display the title with the count of the posts found followed by the term that was searched. So it would look something like “15 Search Results Found For: My Search Query”.

Highlight the Search Term in Results

Highlight-search-terms-free-wordpress-plugin

Another thing you might want to do is highlight the search term in the search results. This way, when visitors to your site are presented with search results, their search term is highlighted within the individual results. The plugin Highlight Search Terms serves this role well. It’s simple but can help direct your visitors more specifically to what they’re looking for.

2. Add Suggested Spellings in Case of Typos

Relevanssi plugin screenshot

Thanks to the popularity of Google and other search engines, most site visitors expect to see spelling suggestions when they interact with your search function. Adding this feature to your results pages improves the user experience, by helping them find what they’re looking for even if they don’t know how to spell it.

With over 100,000 active installs, Relevanssi is one of the most popular WordPress plugins for search. While Search Everything works with WordPress’s default functionality, Relevanssi replaces the search feature altogether. Its free services are perfect for small or personal sites, while the premium version offers amazing functionality for large and multi-site managers. In addition to its suggested spelling feature, this plugin provides an array of options, including the ability to search tags, comments, and categories.

3. Add Suggested Pages to Maintain Interest in Your Site

WPSOLR screenshot

One of the best ways to use your results pages, aside from providing the searched-for information, is to serve up content that is similar to what users are looking for. If you have ever searched Amazon for a product, you’ve probably seen suggestions for other products based on that search. This method of putting valuable content in front of visitors can boost the amount of time they spend on your site. And by suggesting pages for readers to go to – even if it’s not related to their search query – you can do a lot toward decreasing your bounce rate.

If you are looking for search functionality that behaves the way Amazon or eBay does, we recommend the WPSOLR plugin. It will enable you to present related content to searchers, and much more. WPSOLR is another freemium plugin, and provides enterprise-level features that only improve with the purchase of its premium versions. While this plugin can work for most sites, you may want to consider the premium version for e-commerce or large sites in particular.

nrelate-related-content-plugin-for-wordpress-wpexplorer

Another simple option for this is the Better Search plugin. Once installed, you can insert a heat map for your most popular searches in the form of a widget. This will ensure visitors will be presented with plenty of options for where to go next.

4. Add a Search Box

Another way to keep people on your site and engaged in their searches is to add a search box on the search results page (if there isn’t one already included in your theme header or added to a widget area). This is especially helpful if no results are returned and you wish to prompt users to try a different search query. You can add a search box directly to any page (via your child theme, as mentioned above) by using the core WordPress function “get_search_form();”.

<?php get_search_form( true ); ?>

This will display the searchform as defined by the searchform.php theme file or if one doesn’t exist WordPress will output HTML for a standard search form. You can learn more at the CODEX.

This will make it so your visitors have no excuses for getting off track on your site. When you’re always steering them back in the right direction, you ensure you’re doing your part to enhance people’s experience on your site. And I can assure you right now, that kind of attention to detail doesn’t go unnoticed or unappreciated.

Conclusion

While many WordPress users think to add the search widget to the sidebar of their sites, a lot forget about what the output of such searches will be. And that’s a major oversight.

You want to make sure every single page of your site is working hard for you – even the search results pages. While most readers may be interested in your home page or core offerings, they probably come to your site looking for something specific. Although your site is likely not a search engine, it’s best to provide the help and functionality visitors are accustom to. You never know how a single page can affect individual users. Present the right visitor with the right information at the right time and you stand to not only keep that visitor on your site for longer but also turn them into a loyal customer.

Have you done any customization on your search results pages? If so, what’s worked best for you? What have you found to be the most effective addition? As always, let me know in the comments.



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Mouseflow Heatmap Analytics for WordPress Review


Analyzing heatmaps is a scientific approach to conversion rate optimization for your online store or website. It is a data-backed way to measure the effectiveness of your landing pages, contact forms and purchase funnels. Mouseflow is a freemium heatmap analysis, session replay and recording tool. In this article, we’re going to review Mouseflow by integrating it with our favourite CMS tool – WordPress.

What is a Heatmap?

For those of you who are new to the topic of heatmap analysis, here’s a simple rundown.

Heatmaps are a visual representation of the most active areas of your website. A region which is clicked the most (for example, the Start Here menu item of a blog), would appear red in a heatmap.

Heatmaps in Search Engines

search engine heatmaps

The evolution of heatmaps in 10 years, source: Two Octobers

Let’s take the example of a heatmap in a search engine.

In Google (or any search engine for that matter), the first three search results are the most clicked links. As a result, that region is represented in red in a heatmap, since it’s the “most active” or “hot” region in the heatmap. The links that follow (i.e. the fifth, sixth, etc.) links have diminishing number of clicks, and have “cooler” colours (orange to yellow to green to blue) in the heatmap.

The screenshot above is a representation of how heatmaps has evolved over a period of ten years. Back in 2005, they used to call it the “holy triangle”, which meant that the first few letters of the first two links commanded most of the searcher’s attention.

Ten years down the line, we’ve trained our eyes to scan the first few words of the top 5-6 links. This gives us the rectangle-like heatmap that we see in the right hand side of the screenshot.

What is Session Recording and Replay?

Heatmaps give us a good look into the most active or most clicked regions of the website. Wouldn’t it be to cool to actually see how a visitor interacted with your website?

The movement of the mouse is a strong indicator as to where the attention of the visitor is, in the website.

Session Recording is the perfect solution. A session is essentially the entire activity done by the visitor in a single visit. This includes the time from which the website was loaded to the time the tab (or window) was closed. Mouseflow records the the individual sessions of your website visitors and allows you to play them, anytime from your browser.

Playing a recorded session is called Session Replay. It’s actually a video of the entire interaction of the visitor with the website. This includes typed information (passwords are always hidden), form interactions, clicks and all other activity.

The Benefits of Session Recording and Replay

Session Recording and Replay is an indispensable tool in user-interaction testing, A/B testing and usability testing – all with the live users.

Let’s take an example of an ebook download page. It’s a classic use-case in lead generation, where you give the user something (in this case the ebook), in return for their email address and permission to send emails to them. A session recording would show how your users are interacting with the form, how many people actually end up filling the form, the number of fields a user fills, before dropping off, etc.

There are tons of other use cases where session recording, replay and heatmaps are used for conversion rate optimization. In this review, we’ll cover the top five features Mouseflow has to offer:

  1. Heatmaps
  2. Session recording
  3. Session replay
  4. Form session recording
  5. Feedback gathering

We’ll cover each of the topics in detail in the following sections.

The Mouseflow Dashboard

mouseflow heatmaps analytics dashboard

A bird’s eye view of the Mouseflow Dashboard

Mouseflow’s dashboard gives you a bird’s eye view of your recent session recordings and your popular heatmaps. The chart represents the number of sessions recorded, and is proportional to the traffic your website gets.

Heatmaps

Mouseflow’s heatmaps analytics supports five distinct dimensions, including click heatmap, movement heatmap, scroll heatmap and geographic heatmap. We’ll evaluate a single page containing a contact form, and test it across each of the five types of heatmap.

Click Heatmaps

A click heatmap represents the regions that receives the highest number of clicks. Each page will have its own unique heatmap representation. For example, in page containing a contact form, the Submit button would register the highest number of clicks.

click heatmap in mouseflow for wordpress

Screenshot of a Click Heatmap in WordPress, created using Mouseflow

This is a screenshot of the click heatmap of a demo website, I built for this tutorial. Since I’ve only submitted the contact form thrice, it registers three clicks. Three is a very small number to be considered in a heatmap, which is why it’s highlighted in blue.

Movement Heatmap

movement heatmap in mouseflow for wordpress

Screenshot of a Movement Heatmap in WordPress, created using Mouseflow

The movement heatmap represents the regions of the website with the highest movement. In the screenshot, you’ll notice the blue patches, which represents low activity.

Attention Heatmap

The Attention Heatmap is an interesting metric. It represents those areas where users spends the maximum amount of time.

Let’s take this screenshot to explain.

attention heatmap in mouseflow for wordpress

Screenshot of an Attention Heatmap in WordPress, created using Mouseflow

The region in green has an average time spent of 10.2 seconds, whereas the regions in red have an average time spent of 21 seconds. This suggests that the site visitors are spending a significant portion of their time on site in the red region. In our case that’s the contact form.

How to Use Attention Heatmaps to improve Sales Page Copy?

The attention heatmap can be an excellent tool to measure where your visitors are spending most of their time. If you’re writing a long sales page, you want your readers to actually read the page from the top (spend most of their time there), followed by the testimonials, and click on the Buy Now button.

Hence, the top bit of your sales page should ideally be red, in an Attention heatmap.

If your visitors are not reading the first few lines of your sales page, it’s a clear indicator that your pitch and copy needs work.

Scroll Heatmap

A scroll heatmap represents the most scrolled regions in your website. Your website visitors would tend to quickly scroll down from the header and reach the bit where the content it.

The scroll heatmap is complementary to the attention heatmap. When the attention is high, the scroll is low. You know someone has skimmed through your copy when you see a red region in the scroll heatmap. The yellow to green regions in a scroll heatmap indicates the bits in your copy which your visitors find interesting or useful. Used correctly, the scroll heatmap can be an excellent tool to improving your landing page copy.

scroll heatmap in mouseflow for wordpress

Screenshot of a Scroll Heatmap in WordPress, created using Mouseflow

However, in our tutorial, I’ve scrolled all over the place, which is why it’s all marked in red. You’d notice that the footer region is in blue, indicating minimal scroll activity.

How many sessions should I record?

Mouseflow gives you the option of choosing how many sessions are recorded, out of the traffic. For example, if your input is ⅓, then one out of every three visitor’s session will be recorded. In other words, 30% of your traffic’s session would be recorded.

This is important in terms of planning your usage. Each recorded session is a credit. Depending on the plan you purchase, you would have to adjust the percentage of recorded traffic, from your total traffic.

A simple way to estimate this number is to lookup your Google Analytics traffic report. For instance, if you get 1000 unique visits per month, and you want to record, say 500 sessions, then you would configure Mouseflow to record one out of every two visitors, i.e. 50% of the traffic.

Geographic Heatmap

geo heatmap in mouseflow for wordpress

Screenshot of a Geo Heatmap in WordPress, created using Mouseflow

The geographic heatmap highlights the countries where most of your visitors come from. This data is available in most analytics software such as Google Analytics or Kissmetrics. The screenshot above is from the demo site, which is why only India is highlighted.

Funnels

ebook download funnel in mouseflow for wordpress

Example of an eBook download funnel in WordPress, created by Mouseflow

A funnel is a series of steps a visitor takes in order to complete an action in your website.

Let’s say that you want your visitors to download a copy of your latest ebook, in exchange for their email address. That’s a classic lead generation campaign, aided by an ebook download.

The action you want your visitors to complete is downloading the ebook. This action has one or more steps involved.

To keep things simple, let’s consider two steps (or pages) in this action.

  1. The first page is where the visitor reads about the offering and enters the email address.
  2. The second page is a confirmation page, where the visitor sees download/ buttons for the PDF.

Thus, the funnel for the eBook download contains of two steps, as shown in the screenshot below.

ebook download funnel in mouseflow for wordpress - setup

Creating a new funnel for ebook download in WordPress using Mouseflow

Mouseflow measures the drop-off rate at each stage in the funnel. In our example, we haven’t downloaded the ebook, and have left the website after viewing the first (landing) page.

ebook download funnel in mouseflow for wordpress - conversion rate

Conversion rate of an ebook download funnel in Mouseflow

This screenshot tells us that the landing page has received 5 visitors, none of whom made it to the confirmation page.

How to Optimize Conversion Rate using Funnels in Mouseflow?

Funnels enable you to track how your visitors are behaving in your site. They are incredibly useful in discovering the leaking areas in your conversion funnel. Once you identify the the leaking page, you know the area of your problem. You can then optimize the copy of the page (or in some cases, remove the page altogether) to see if the drop-off rates decrease.

Forms

how to track a form in wordpress using mouseflow

Tracking forms in WordPress using Mouseflow

Mouseflow enables you to track how visitors interact with your forms in WordPress. This is especially helpful in B2B lead generation and content marketing, where the cost per lead is significantly higher, compared to B2C website/product.

Let us consider the WPExplorer Test Form that I’ve built for this tutorial.

form segmentation in mouseflow wordpress

Segmentation of fields in a tracked form in Mouseflow

This screenshot tells us that there were two visitors to the form’s page, and the maximum time was spent in the email address field. You’ll also note that the conversion rate is 0% since, I did not actually submit the form after filling it up.

How to Improve Form Completion Rate using Mouseflow?

Using Mouseflow, you’ll be able to figure out the data-intensive fields in your form, and measure the time taken to fill a typical form. If the number of fields in your form is too high, or worse, irrelevant, you might notice your visitors dropping off at those particular fields, within the form. With Mouseflow, you’ll be able to identify those fields and optimize around them, to ultimately increase the completion rate of your form.

How to Track a Form in WordPress using Mouseflow?

Tracking a form in WordPress using Mouseflow involves a few steps:

  1. First, setup your form in WordPress and copy the URL
  2. Goto the Forms page in your Mouseflow dashboard and click on New Form.
  3. Paste the URL you copied in Step 1.
  4. Mouseflow will automatically recognize the form from the page, along with all it’s fields.
  5. You can assign a name to each field in the form, such that it’s easier to track.
  6. Finally, hit Create Form to start tracking the form interactions.

Feedback

Mouseflow enables you to create beautiful, non-intrusive feedback campaigns for your website visitors. After all, listening to your readers/customers is a sureshot way of improving your site.

Here’s how a typical feedback campaign looks like:

feedback campaign in mouseflow wordpress

Feedback campaign in WordPress created using Mouseflow

Once you complete the survey, this is the confirmation page.

feedback campaign in mouseflow wordpress

Confirmation/Thank you page for the feedback campaign

How to Create a Feedback Campaign in WordPress using Mouseflow?

Now let’s see how one can create a feedback campaign in Mouseflow.

Login to you Mouseflow dashboard and click on Feedback from the left menu and click on Add New Campaign.

Creating a new Feedback Campaign in Mouseflow

You can add as many questions as you need, with a minimum of one question. The answer options include multiple choice, text paragraph (small/large) or a Net Promoter Score.

You can see a preview of the questions and answer options on the right.

Finally, you define the content of the success page and click on Next.

Triggers in the Feedback Campaign

Triggers define when and where each feedback campaign is shown. Mouseflow offers a range of options for you to define your triggers. For example, in the above screenshot:

  1. The feedback campaign would load as soon as the page loads.
  2. It would load for all visitors, regardless of the fact whether they are registered or other segmented users.
  3. The campaign loads in all pages (although it’s a good idea not to show it in the login page!)
  4. An important option – the campaign form is shown only once per user.

Once you’ve defined the triggers, click Next to proceed.

Kill switch for a Feedback Campaign in Mouseflow

Finally, you can choose activate the campaign, immediately after creation.

However, it’s a good idea to first test the campaign in the live site, by limiting it to a non-indexed, or least-popular page, and see if the data is collected properly. Once you’ve verified that the campaign works, you can deploy it site-wide.

What I like about Mouseflow

Mouseflow’s intuitive interface and multiple tracking options makes it a great start for heatmap analytics.

The Freemium Model

mouseflow pricing

Mouseflow Pricing Model

Mouseflow operates on a freemium model, providing you with 200 free credits, every month.

Each credit is equivalent to one recorded session. However, credits are capped at 200 per month, which means if you haven’t use it, you lose it.

Similar to MailChimp (my favourite email service provider), Mouseflow gives me the flexibility to try the service before committing to it. Also, compared to the other heatmap analytics services, Mouseflow has a pretty competitive pricing strategy.

Built-in WordPress Compatibility

mouseflow wordpress plugin

Mouseflow plugin dashboard in WordPress

Mouseflow supports integrations with multiple tools (more on this later), including WordPress. To start tracking your WordPress site with Mouseflow, simply download the Mouseflow for WordPress plugin and activate it.

A new entry called Mouseflow should appear in the left bar in your WordPress dashboard.

adding website tracking code in mouseflow in wordpress

Inserting Mouseflow’s tracking code in WordPress

Click on Tracking Code to insert the tracking code in your WordPress site. You can find the tracking code information for the site from your Mouseflow account, under Settings.

website settings in mouseflow for wordpress

Site information in Mouseflow

Once done, Mouseflow will start recording your sessions in your WordPress site.

Other Cool Stuff

Mouseflow’s New User Onboarding Process

I like Mouseflow’s new user onboarding process, which acquainted me to all the various options in the dashboard. I was up and running in less than 10 minutes, without referring the knowledge base. They also have some cool training videos, neatly organized under six categories.

Third-party Integration 

Mouseflow integrates with over thirty third-party software

Mouseflow supports multiple third-party integrations, ranging from CMS to marketing software to advanced tag management software. At the time of writing, Mouseflow supports 30 native integrations, grouped under six major categories:

  1. Content Management Systems: Other than WordPress, Mouseflow integrates with Joomla, Drupal, Blogger, and good ol’ HTML5 websites. It also integrates with popular site-builders such as Squarespace and Weebly. Wix is yet to get a dedicated integration.
  2. E-Commerce: Mouseflow integrates with leading open-source e-commerce software such as Prestashop, Magento, 3dcart and popular paid solutions such as Shopify.
  3. Analytics: You can integrate Mouseflow’s data with popular analytics software such as Google Analytics, Adobe Analytics, and specialised ones such as Kissmetrics and Coremetrics.
  4. Marketing: Mouseflow supports leading marketing software such as Hubspot, Instapage, Unbounce, Optimizely, and others.
  5. Customer Service: Real-time, helpful customer support is a cornerstone requirement for a successful business and its long-term stability. Mouseflow also integrates with leading customer support and helpdesk software such as Zendesk, Olark, Freshdesk and Zopim.
  6. Tag Management: Attribution is key to measuring your marketing efforts and ROI. There are advanced tag management software such as Segment.io and Google Tag Manager. Mouseflow natively integrates with these, along with Ensighten and Tealium.

Besides this, Mouseflow also has a powerful REST API, using which you can access data from any custom portal.

Mouseflow Clientele

Mouseflow has some kick-ass clientele

Mouseflow is used by some of the biggest names in the industry including Hubspot, Optimizely and Intuit. At the time of writing, their customer base is over 100,000.

Wrapping Up

Website analytics is a booming field in today’s attention-deficit economy. Millions of dollars are poured into funding new research and solutions for analytics and attribution. Mouseflow is a perfect start for any marketer to get acquainted with the basics of heatmap analytics.

Let’s take a quick summary of what we’ve covered so far:

  1. What are heatmaps?
  2. How session recording and replay helps in user behaviour analysis
  3. Mouseflow’s capabilities including heatmaps (click, movement, attention, scroll and geo), funnels, forms and feedback campaigns.
  4. How to setup WordPress and Mouseflow
  5. Cools things about Mouseflow, including its 30+ third-party integration and forever-free plan.

As always I leave you with a question. Are you using heatmap analytics in your site? If so, which software are you using? Is is functionally better than Mouseflow? Let us know in the comments below!



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10 Things You Should Know About Using WordPress Plugins


What would WordPress be without plugins? Our ability to extend the world’s favorite content management system in an almost limitless fashion is what makes WordPress so great. With nearly 25,000 plugins available on WordPress.org alone, the sky really is the limit.

But with great power comes great responsibility and it is an unfortunate fact that using WordPress plugins can have unsavory side effects if you’re not too careful. With that in mind, in this post I want to cover the most important things to keep in mind when using WordPress plugins on your WordPress site so that you can enjoy all of the extra functionality and avoid the pitfalls.

1. Update Your Plugins

http://www.wpexplorer.com/essential-wordpress-plugins/

This is a bit of a no-brainer but it bears mentioning in the interests of completeness: keeping your plugins updated is absolutely vital to the security and functionality of your blog. Out of date plugins are prime targets for those in search of security weaknesses and can also break when newer versions of WordPress and other plugins are released.

Not only should you regularly update your plugins, you should also periodically check your plugins to make sure that they have been recently updated. You should strongly consider removing plugins that haven’t been updated for an extended period of time (as a rule of thumb say one year).

Ideally you should be regularly updating your plugins (Note: Don’t want to forget? You could try the Easy Updates Manager to automate plugin, theme, and minor/major WordPress core updates).

2. Keep Deactivated Plugins Updated or Get Rid of Them

This follows on directly from my previous point: even if a plugin is not active on your site you must ensure that it is still updated. A deactivated plugin is still “live” on your site in the sense that it could be exploited as a security weakness. Incidentally, the same can be said for themes so my advice also applies there.

To be honest, if a plugin isn’t active on your site and you have no intention of using it in the future my advice would be to remove it. The last thing you want is for your site to become a graveyard of unused plugins — it pays to keep things clean and tidy.

3. Deactivate Backend Plugins When They’re Not in Use

Deactivate Backend Plugins When Not In Use

Most plugins put a strain on your site’s resources, even if that strain is only minor. As such it is my recommendation that you only activate backend plugins when they are needed.

Take for example the WordPress Database Reset plugin. This great little plugin makes it easy to reset WordPress by returning all or portions of your WordPress database to their original, default state. However, the WordPress Database Reset plugin only needs to be active when you are running the reset – it can be deactivated at all other times.

In a nutshell, every single active plugin on your site should be utilized by your site. If not, deactivate it.

4. The Number of Plugins Isn’t Important

To put it in layman’s terms, a plugin is simply extra code that is implemented on your site. To an extent you could add the same code within your functions.php file and achieve the same effect.

Therefore, the number of plugins you have installed and activated on your site isn’t necessary a major issue. The major issue is how well coded and resource intensive your plugins are.

Let me put it this way: it would be far better for you to have five lightweight and immaculately coded plugins installed on your site than one bloated, resource intensive and vulnerable plugin. In reality you should be more worried about what plugins you are installing rather than how many.

5. The Number of Plugins Is Important

Having said that, there is one reason why the number of plugins you have installed on your site can be an issue: conflicts.

Theoretically speaking, the more plugins you have on your site, the more likely you are to find one that conflicts with another. Having to deal with plugin conflicts is an issue developers constantly face as there are a near-infinite number of setup combinations across all WordPress installations. Most WordPress blogs are completely unique in terms of the combination of plugins installed.

So although you should be mindful of the quality of plugins you use, you should also keep an eye on the number with a view to keeping things as simple as possible. In this case, less is typically more (don’t be a plugin hoarder).

6. Quality Always Beats Quantity

Star Rating

Along that same line of thinking, you should be very selective in deciding what plugins to install on your site. After all, every plugin you install may leave behind a footprint that is difficult to remove (especially if it is poorly coded). While it can be very tempting to test and install every plugin under the sun on your site, you should err on the side of caution and selectiveness.

When it comes to installing plugins you should look at a few key items such as:

  • Number of downloads
  • Average rating
  • Reviews
  • The developer (are they well-established?)
  • Evidence of active support

The fact is that you’re not just installing a plugin – you’re installing a piece of functionality that you would like to remain functional for the foreseeable future. If the plugin works now that’s a good start but you want to make sure it will work in the future too.

For me, the decision to install a new plugin on my site is a pretty important one. I am careful to ask myself whether or not I really need the functionality or if I am being drawn in by the proverbial shiny lights. It might be worth you asking yourself that same question.

7. Premium Doesn’t Necessarily Mean Best

It’s a well-known fact of psychology that people’s perception of value is affected by cost. If I offer you the same thing free of charge or at cost, your perception of value is likely to change under the separate circumstances.

This phenomenon can sometimes be observed in people’s attitude towards premium plugins. The fact is this: there are plenty of unscrupulous premium plugin developers out there. Just because someone is charging you for a plugin does not make it good. There are an awful lot of extremely good quality free plugins out there developed by people who you can trust absolutely.

Having said that, the well-made premium plugins typically are the best. If you pick a reputable premium plugin developer you’re likely to enjoy the best functionality, top notch support and consistent updates. The key is to make sure that you’re supporting the “right” developer. Don’t just do a Google search and go with whatever shows up – find out who people are happy to personally recommend. Get involved in the WordPress community and make note of who is talked about in a positive light. Those are the people you should look to buy from.

8. Some Plugins Are Considered Vital for Almost Any Site

The Yoast SEO plugin for WordPress.

Yoast SEO is a useful tool for most types of WordPress sites.

In most cases, the plugins you install will depend on the kind of site you’re creating. An e-commerce store might require a shopping cart plugin, for example, while a photography portfolio can benefit from an image gallery tool. However, there are some plugins that almost every WordPress installation should include, no matter your site’s focus.

For example, you probably want to attract as many visitors as possible, so your site can always benefit from a solid Search Engine Optimization (SEO) plugin like Yoast SEO. Security is vital for keeping your site’s data and content safe, so a plugin such as Wordfence is always a smart bet. As another example, custom contact forms (like those created with Contact Form 7) are useful for enabling your visitors to get in touch, whether you’re running a blog, business site, or storefront.

Even if you think the kind of site you’re creating doesn’t require plugins, you may be surprised by how many options provide invaluable functionality. There are some WordPress plugins that every website owner should know about – whether or not you end up using them.

9. Plugins Can Integrate Your Site with Other Tools and Platforms

Plugins aren’t created in a vacuum. While it’s true that many are standalone options offering independent features, some are reliant on other software. In fact, there are many plugins designed to integrate your WordPress site with popular tools and platforms of all types. That means you can make those programs work smoothly with WordPress, without knowing a single line of code.

We can hardly cover all the available integrations, but here are just a few examples:

So if you have some favorite tools you use every day to run your website or business, it’s worth checking to see if there’s a way to integrate them with your site. That way, you can streamline your workflow and not have to switch back and forth between platforms constantly.

10. There Are Multiple Places to Find Plugins Online

If you’re completely new to plugins, your best bet is to start with the WordPress Plugin Directory. These plugins are all free, and have been put through a vetting process. This directory also displays customer ratings and reviews, along with the number of WordPress sites currently using each plugin, so you know what you’re getting into.

However, this is far from the only place to find plugins online. Plenty of developers sell plugins through their own websites, and there are other directories with dozens, hundreds, or thousands of options. Keep in mind that most plugins not on WordPress.org will be premium, which means you’ll have to pay a fee to use them. The cost is often quite reasonable, though, and you’ll be able to find plugins that provide more complex, unusual, or targeted functionality.

If you’re just starting to branch out in your plugin search, here are a few places to get started:

  • CodeCanyon: This is the largest directory of premium WordPress plugins online. You can find just about anything here, at prices staring as low as $2. You’ll also be able to view user reviews and ratings, and a great deal of information about each plugin.
  • WPMU DEV: This is an excellent source of quality WordPress plugins, providing options in areas such as analytics, security, design, social media integration, and more. This site works a little differently from most directories, as you’ll need a membership in order to use the plugins. However, the $49 per month price tag can be a good deal if you find multiple plugins you want (especially if you’re running more than one site).
  • WPExplorer: Finally, we would be remiss not to mention our own website! We offer a directory of free and reasonably priced plugins in a wide variety of categories, from e-commerce to page builders to SEO. Check it out, and you’re sure to find something that suits your needs.

Knowing where to find WordPress plugins opens up your options, and enables you to locate the best tools available. If you venture away from the suggestions listed above, just make sure you’re sticking with credible sites and developers. Always look for user reviews and ratings before purchasing new plugins, and remember to back up your site before installing them.

Conclusion

Plugins are one of the best things about using WordPress. However, the sheer number that are available may be overwhelming at first. It can be difficult to know which ones to choose, how to monitor them for conflicts, and how to manage them once you’ve built up a sizable collection.

However, using plugins to get the most out of your WordPress site doesn’t have to be challenging. You’ll just want to follow a few simple guidelines, such as downloading plugins from reliable sources, keeping them updated, and getting rid of the ones you don’t need. Once you’ve learned a few basic facts about plugins, such as those introduced above, you’ll be ready to start customizing your own site.

Do you have any questions about how to use WordPress plugins on your site or blog? Or additional advice to offer to other WordPress users? Let us know in the comments below!



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How to Use Bundled Products as a Marketing Technique for Your WordPress Store


Marketing strategies for e-commerce are like fashion trends. After a time, you simply end up dyeing the fabric a different color and calling it revolutionary. Nevertheless, like the aforementioned analogy, your creativity is what makes the difference in the way you present your product. Amongst the stock of such reliable strategies that can be used for increasing sales, is using bundled products.

Product bundling has been used by digital and physical store owners for a long time now. At its heart, the concept leverages human tendency to opt for a bunch of products at a discounted price rather than purchasing each of these products separately. Given the total savings they make, as perceived by the customer, it can be used to manoeuvre them into making a larger purchase than the original.

Although bundled products are supposed to be an incentive for customers, these days they do not swear by it. Why? Two reasons.

  1. The moment a customer thinks that you are trying to induce them to buy something they do not perceive as required they see the purchase as an expense and back out altogether.
  2. The e-commerce market is nearing saturation. Given the sheer number of e-stores that cater to the same niche audience, customers are likely to navigate to another website to get what they need, if they see you being too pushy about the purchase.

Hold up though! This does not mean that bundled products are a dead-end strategy. On the contrary, there are some great applications where product bundles can be used as the principal marketing method, provided you go about it smartly.

Classic Strategies for Selling More Using Bundled Products

When you build an online store with WordPress you can market your shop, increase revenues and offer more value to customers with these bundled product methods.

Create Value for Customers with Chained Bundles

Chaining bundles refers to the method used when related products are offered to the customer, either free or at a highly discounted rate, as a thank-you for purchasing the principal bundled product on the e-store.

Chained bundles are found to work better than simple product bundles due to their dual advantage; they upsell the principal product bundle as it has these free products associated with it and they act as promotional triggers for similar or relevant products that customers can be induced to buy at a later stage.

However, perhaps the most important task they do is create value for customers. Buyers at the store perceive the additional products as a reward for their larger purchase which encourages them to return to your store more frequently, creating loyal customers.

Think of a grocery store that offers you a free product with bundle A and three free products with a higher value bundle B. Which would you go for?

Offer Customizable Product Kits

Who doesn’t love having choices? In fact, when it comes to shopping online, ‘the more, the better’ is definitely the mantra. Offering your customers the choice of creating their own product bundles is one of the most popular iterations of the bundled product strategy.

This ensures that people have complete freedom in selecting the products they are looking for and packaging them as required.

In case you are worried about the compilation problems this might cause across sellers, you can always offer a pre-specified pool of products for customers to choose from. This lets you effectively be in control of the product bundle but does not restrict customers to buying products included in a pre-packaged bundle.

Consider the case of an online store selling fashion and makeup accessories. Given the range of skin tones, brand choices, color palettes, and personal preferences, it is hardly feasible to create product bundles for every shopper. Instead, here you could create a customizable kit bag, where the shopper would be able to choose from the products offered, as per their requirement.

Offer Customizable Product Kits

The Composite Alternative

Composite product bundles are used whenever some major customization comes into the picture. This is a combination of the value creation and customized bundling methods. Here, your base product, or product bundle, shall remain constant but the peripherals can be customized as required. If you own an e-store that sells cameras and photography equipment, or furniture, or even customized DIY jewelry, this can be an excellent option for increasing the popularity of your product bundles.

Consider the example of a store selling cameras online. You have your DSLR+lens bundle, but offer an additional lens, kit bag, a memory card, and a tripod as an extra bundle that can be purchased with the base bundle. If there is a situation where a customer does not need, say the tripod, he has the freedom to customize this bundle as necessary.

This is a simple example of how composite bundles can be used. You can even encourage cross platform purchases, making more complex bundles.

Add Value & Offer Alternatives

Mix it Up

This is a classic case of bundled products and emulates the live shopping experience to the maximum. Customers can purchase products in bulk at discounted prices, with optional variations in the same bundle. Here, you set a fixed number of items that can be added to the bundle and people can add single/multiple items as per their choice.

Consider the case of an online confectionery store, where people select from a range of chocolates and pastries. You have product boxes of sizes 4, 6, 8, 12, etc. People can choose different varieties of chocolates or multiple units of the same product and checkout with their purchase.

Offer Optional Bundle Variations

Read about the experience of Patrick Poptasi, to know more about the various ways how you can use mixed product bundles in an online confectionery store.

Groups are Good

Selling grouped products is a key strategy for stores which sell essentials that people tend not to spend time browsing for. Citing the grocery store example again, we see how it can be beneficial if you have a ready-to-go package of products one would need for a week or month. This could include everything from oil to bread to veggies to instant food, for say 2 people.

You could even extend the idea and prepare grouped bundles by category; vegans, vegetarians, meat lovers, health and fitness, and many more, or for variable durations, week, fortnight, two months, etc.

The entire bundle can have a fixed price which is lesser than the total cost of each of the individual items and yet within your profit margin. All shoppers have to do is select their product bundle and check out! A couple of clicks and your monthly grocery shopping is done!

Endnote

Bundled products are a great way of encouraging bulk purchases and can be used for a variety of applications. It might be one of the oldest strategies in the book, but it works flawlessly nonetheless.

What is your opinion about using bundled products to increase conversion rates? Any other innovative way you would like to share? Drop a comment to let us know!



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How to Build an Online Store with WooCommerce & WordPress


So you want to start your own shop – well we think that is fantastic! Being your own boss is challenging and rewarding since you can see your hard work directly impact your revenue. We want to help make your venture a success so we’ve put together an easy to follow guide for creating your online store and a few helpful tips for promoting it.

Online Shopping

Selling goods from a physical storefront isn’t always feasible or practical. Especially in this day and age where online shopping has become more and more prevalent. According to the 2016 Total Retail Survey by PwC (a big-four global accounting firm) more than half of all shoppers will make purchases online every month, and more than a third of all online purchases will be made using a mobile phone.

Total Retail Survey 2016: PwC

In addition, the same survey reported that more than two thirds of online shoppers are heavily influenced by social media as well as comments and review for a product. This means it’s more important than ever to get some positive press out for new products.

Don’t get overwhelmed just yet, we have a clean cut plan for you to build your online store and promote it to help you make your business a success! Time is money, so let’s get right to it!

The Easy Way To Create A Website

Before you can build an online store and start adding products you first need a website. We wholeheartedly recommend self-hosted WordPress. Not only is WordPress powerful enough to handle a fully functioning online store, but it’s an easy and affordable option that can be customized to suit any of your e-commerce needs.

Find The Right Hosting

WordPress Hosting

First you’ll need a domain name and hosting. Good hosting costs money. You can certainly build an e-commerce website using Bluehost which offers a promotional $2.95/month shared hosting plan. Bluehost offers shared hosting at an affordable price that is great for new websites. Plus the domain name is included so you don’t have to bother with purchasing it separately. Plus setup is easy. The offer 1-click WordPress installation, so just select WordPress as you’re going through setup, enter your domain name and you’re done!

But if you are willing to invest a bit extra we highly recommend giving WPEngine a try. Plans start at $29/month for managed WordPress hosting from WPEngine (all fully deductible as a business expense) which includes fully managed servers, automatic WordPress core updates, 24/7 ticketed support, daily backups of your website, evercache technology, included staging and more. Plus, since it’s managed WordPress hosting you’re ready to go right from the start (no WP installation required). You will however need to purchase a domain name from a registrar like GoDaddy and then point the domain over to your servers at WPEngine. If you follow along with the GoDaddy guide you shouldn’t have any problem.

Add SSL For A Secure Shopping Experience

Since you are creating an online store it is very important to purchase a SSL certificate. A “secure sockets layer” certificate is what your website uses to establish a secure link between your server and the customer’s browser which is reflected in your URL as “https://” (and often will display a green lock symbol too). Luckily SSL is fairly easy to setup with either Bluehost or WPEngine as both hosts offer it as a premium add-on during checkout when signing for hosting.

Choose A Store Design

Now that you have your domain and core WordPress installation ready you can change the aesthetics of your website. A beautiful aspect of WordPress is the huge variety of website design options available through the use of themes. There are thousands of free themes available on WordPress.org with some of them offering e-commerce support, but for more options and more control over the look of your website we recommend choosing a premium theme.

Not only do premium themes include more design options but most also come with premium support and updates from the author. But regardless of your budget, here are some of our favorite e-commerce ready WordPress themes.

Total Glitz&Glam Ecommerce WordPress Demo

Total: A Complete Website & E-Commerce Solution (Glitz & Glam demo)

If you want complete control over page, post and product layouts the Total Multipurpose WordPress Theme is a great option. Not only are there a number of professional looking blog & store demos that you can import to get started, but the theme comes with an easy to use drag & drop page builder, a template builder and two premium sliders so you can create any layout you can imagine. Custom color pickers, font options, entry layouts and tons more can be found in the live customizer with even more options are in the theme panel.

Chic Modern Blog & Store WordPress Theme

Chic Modern Blog & Store Theme

Chic is a lovely blog and store WordPress theme that was tailor made for bloggers looking to start their own business. Built-in options for columns, sidebars, colors, fonts and more are all right in the WordPress customizer. Plus the theme comes with options for social sharing, custom login page, ad areas, custom newsletter widget and more to help you grow your business.

Shopkeeper WordPress Theme

Shopkeeper Responsive WordPress Theme

Shopkeeper is a powerful e-commerce store theme that comes with tons of built-in page templates, custom colors and fonts plus other design options to make beautifying your online shop easy. The theme also comes with a header customizer, a full blog and a premium slider.

Storefront Free WordPress Theme

Storefront A Basic & Free Store Theme

Storefront was created to be a simple theme with a straightforward store layout and compatibility with the WooCommerce plugin. The theme comes with a handful of layouts and color options built-in and is a solid option for a free theme.

How To Build An Online Store

Now that you have a website up and running you can start building your online store and adding your products for sale. While there are premium storefront options, we highly recommend the free, popular and powerful WooCommerce e-commerce plugin (which now also happens to be maintained by the same people who started WordPress). WooCommerce is easy to use, quick to setup and there is a wide variety of optional premium add-ons that you can purchase to add more functionality to your online store.

1. Installing WooCommerce & Quick Setup

To begin you first need to install WooCommerce. This is easy enough since it’s readily available from the WordPress.org free plugin repository which you can access right from your WordPress dashboard.

Install WooCommerce

Simply log into your WordPress installation and click on the Plugins item in your dashboard, then click on the Add New option. Search for “woocommerce” and the WooCommerce plugin should show up as the first result (it’s the one with 1+ million active installs and the cute dolphin icon). Click the Install Now button. This will automatically download and install the plugin files and should only take a minute.

Activate WooCommerce

Once the plugin is installed you need to click the link for Activate Plugin to stat using WooCommerce.

WooCommerce Quick Start

Next you should be prompted to begin setup. It’s much easy to follow along so click on the Let’s Go button to get started.

WooCommerce Setup: Pages

Setup will first ask if you want WooCommerce to automatically create your key pages for you. These pages include your main shop, shopping cart, checkout and a default customer account page. You definitely want all these pages, so click Continue.

WooCommerce Setup: Locale

The next step is to setup your store location, currency format and units of measure. This is important so your customers know how much you’re charging and what they are getting for their money. So make your selections and then click Continue.

WooCommerce Setup: Shipping

Depending on what it is you’re selling you may also need to enable options for basic shipping and sales tax. If you are selling physical goods you’ll need to enable shipping (but if you plan to sell digital goods just skip this part). The basic shipping option on this setup page will allow you to enter flat rates for domestic and international shipping (in you’re in the US and plan on using the USPS flat rate boxes just enter those rates here based on the boxes you’re most likely to use).

If you are selling anything you may have to enable sales tax. Some states require sales tax to be collected on every sale (I’m looking at you Hawaii) while other states exempt purely digital goods (like good ol’ Nevada). Taxjar has a great interactive sales tax map if you live in the US, but no matter where you’re located you should check with your local tax authorities to see what rules apply to you or possibly consider hiring an accountant proficient in state and local taxes (SALT for short). Once you’re done with this page click to Continue.

WooCommerce Setup: Payments

The last part of WooCommerce quick setup is to set your payment options. One of the easiest ways to collect payment for goods is with PayPal so if you’d like to accept payments that way remember to enter your PayPal address on this page. WooCommerce also includes built-in options for payments via check, bank transfer or cash on delivery. Plus you can always use a premium extension for additional payment gateways like Authorize.net or Stripe (not sure which to use? Checkout our article on PayPal vs Stripe for online businesses).

Once you’ve finished enabling your payment method click Continue to finish setup. WooCommerce will ask permission to collect data (this is up to you, although we lean towards kindly declining).

2. Additional (Important) WooCommerce Settings

Next you can continue to creating products, but we recommend clicking the Return to Dashboard link so you can finish establishing all of your crucial WooCommerce settings.

WooCommerce Settings

Once back in your WordPress dashboard navigate to WooCommerce then click on Settings. This first page has your general WooCommerce settings. We recommend that your change the default customer address. Having Geolocate enabled could potentially slow down your site significantly because you’re relying on data from a third party.

WooCommerce Free Shipping

Under the Shipping tab you’ll find additional options for, well, shipping. But the one we want to point out is the option to enable free shipping. This is something you might want to offer with a valid coupon code or for all orders over a certain amount. Just check the box and enter your requirements.

WooCommerce Emails

Moving along, under the Emails tab you can go in and change the recipient email for various standard emails for orders. Perhaps you have multiple people managing your online store, so you might want new order notifications to go to the shipping department while cancelled orders should probably go to finance.

WooCommerce Coupons

The last WooCommerce option you might want to take advantage of before you start adding products is coupons. To create a new coupon click on the Coupons option under WooCommerce then Add New. From here you can create coupons for a set dollar amount or percentage plus add restrictions for usage (such as orders over $100, or create one time use codes).

There are many other setting and options within WooCommerce that you might want to change. The ones we’ve mentioned are some that we thought would apply to most online stores getting setup for the very first time.

3. Adding Products

Now with your settings all set we can begin adding your products! But first you should add some product categories so you can organize your offerings.

WooCommerce Product Categories

To add your categories go over to Products then Categories in your dashboard. Give your category a name, a slug for your URL (or if you leave this blank WooCommerce will use your category name as the slug), a parent category (you would use this for nested items e.g. shoes would be a parent for heels or sandals), a category description, display type (default is to show all items in the category on the archive page, but you can also choose to show subcategories or both) and an image (this image is used when inserting a category grid on pages).

Once you’ve added your categories you can move on to adding tags. This is a similar process and isn’t necessary but can be very helpful for customers. Tags are great for grouping like items that don’t fall into the same category. You might create tags for more specific item descriptions like hipster or modern, or possibly for brand names if you’re selling products from a number of creators. Just be sure you do not duplicate your categories with your tags (having a “fancy” category and a “fancy” tag is bad for SEO and confusing for customers). Once you’re done with tags it’s time to add your products!

WooCommerce Product General

Click on Products and then Add New. WooCommerce comes with everything you need to add your products with plenty of room for information and pictures to keep customers (and search engines) happy.

First give your products a name, assign any categories or tags, and add your featured product image plus optional gallery images. Then in the first text box you can add a long item description. This will be displayed under the “Description” tab next to “Reviews” on the actual product page. In the second text box add a short product description to be shown along side your product images (a few sentences and bullet points work great here).

For the actual Product Data is you choose the Simple Product setting you’ll see basic options to add a SKU (which is usually for your own records) and a price.

WooCommerce Downloadable Product

If you also check the Downloadable options WooCommerce will display added options for the downloadable file. And if you choose to check the Virtual box as well the Shipping tab will be removed from the product section since you don’t need to ship a virtual item.

WooCommerce Affiliate Product

If instead of a simple product you select the External/Affiliate Product option WooCommerce will display settings for linking to other websites with your affiliate link. This is great if you want to add products from stores with affiliate programs (you could create an Amazon affiliate site with WordPress) to your own store to make a referral commission.

WooCommerce Variable Product Attributes

The last option you can select for your product data is a Variable Product. This should be used when you have different styles of the same product, like a shirt in multiple sizes and colors. First you should add the attributes for your product.

WooCommerce Variable Product

Then generate your variations using the attributes you added. This way customers can choose exactly what they want from your selection.

WooCommerce Product Inventory

Under Product Data you’ll also find options for managing your inventory. This makes sense if you keep a stockpile of your products at the ready to be sent out. If your goods are made as they are ordered, or if you’re selling digital goods, you probably won’t have much use for this tab.

You’ll also find additional shipping options where you can specify the product weight and dimensions, and well as advanced settings for adding a purchase note and enabling/disabling the product reviews. Once you’re done you can publish your product.

Total Glitz&Glam WooCommerce Store

It gets easier as you become familiar with the options within WooCommerce (we promise). And once you’ve added all your products you can use your WordPress theme options to create stylish shop pages to impress your clientele.

How To Promote Your Products

Now that your store is setup and ready to go, you have to get the word out that you’re open for business. There are lots of ways to share your new online store with online shoppers, but here are a few to get you started.

Take Advantage of Social Media

Social Media

You should have a Twitter and Facebook are standard social accounts you’ll probably want for any small business, but other networks like Instagram, Pinterest and Google+ might also be very important depending on what it is you’re selling. For example ebooks might not require an Instagram, but if you make jewelry or or home decor you’ll want to get photos of your products trending.

Try to post everyday and at the beginning experiment with different times of the day. You want to optimize your social sharing to match the schedule of your target audience. You might also want to consider automizing your social sharing. This works especially well if you’re adding content to a blog on your website

You might want to also consider promoting your posts, tweets, pins, etc. Creating a campaign does take a little research since you’ll want to target the right age range, locale and interests for your audience. Even spending just a few dollars a day can help bring in new potential customers.

Run A Promotion

Host A Giveaway

There are many different ways to run a promotion for your online store. The easiest is to offer a discount or free shipping using the coupon feature built into WooCommerce.

Another option is to run a giveaway. There are tons of free contest plugins that you can use to host a promotion on your website, or you can use a service like rafflecopter to manage your own giveaway. Just be sure to read up on the laws governing contests and giveaways in your locale (for example in the US you need to be mindful of laws governing the prize value, minors, tax implications and more – so do your homework!).

Offer Customer Perks

Online Shopping Loyal Customer

If you personalize your WooCommerce store you can quickly buildup a strong customer base. And loyal customers are the perfect people to help you promote your store.

A great way to keep customers coming back to your site (and to get them to share it with friends) is by offering your best customers special perks. This could be a custom birthday freebie with purchase (like that gift you get each year at Sephora), discounted shipping for large purchases (for example, Old Navy offers free shipping on orders over $50), or special discounts for referring friends (similar to Uber’s codes – $15 off for you and a friend).

Start A Newsletter

Newsletter Widget

You definitely want to create a newsletter for your shoppers to stay up to date with new product releases, special promotions and more. You can start for free with MailChimp and if you’re using a theme like Total or Chic there might be a newsletter widget or page element included (just paste in your MailChimp api code). If not there are plenty of free plugins you can use to integrate MailChimp with your website.

Get Networking

Networking

Sometimes more is better, and this is especially true when it comes to spreading word about your business. The wider your network the more people you’ll be able to reach. This applies to online relationships with fellow bloggers and small businesses (who often participate in article-sharing), as well as local brick-and-mortar stores if you’re selling a physical good (being friendly with local boutique hotel owners could mean getting your goods in their gift shop).

You could also join a professional association to help promote your store. You might want to consider interacting with your local Chamber of Commerce whose sole purpose is to help local business owners succeed. Or join Business Networking International (BNI), a professional organization created to help businesses network around the globe. And if you have a local Rotary Club it’s a fantastic place to give back to the community while also strengthening business relationships. Just get out there, meet people and help your business grow!

Other Resources To Run A Successful Online Store

As an online business owner there are tons of other things you need to stay on top of to keep your business running smoothly, including managing your own website. So here are a few more tips & tricks to help you optimize your site:

Hopefully this guide was helpful! We tried to include as many tips as we could think of to help you launch a successful online business, but if you have any additional tips please share them in the comments below!



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How to Integrate the Amazon Associates Affiliate Program with WordPress


If you’re looking for a way to earn an income online, you’re probably familiar with affiliate marketing. There are so many affiliate programs and resources out there, however, that getting started can be an overwhelming prospect.

Fortunately, the Amazon Associates affiliate program is an easy way to introduce affiliate marketing to your blogging routine. It’s also a low-stress starting point if you’ve only just started trying to create a new revenue stream online.

In this post, we’ll explain Amazon’s affiliate marketing system and its benefits. Then we’ll discuss four plugins that can help you easily integrate this program into your WordPress blog. Let’s get started!

What Amazon Affiliate Marketing Is (And How It Benefits You)

The Amazon Associates page.

Affiliate marketing is a commission-based referral program. You partner with a company, and earn a small percentage of its profits by referring your visitors to its products or services. If you’re new to affiliate marketing, we recommend starting with a trusted program, such as Amazon.

Becoming an Amazon affiliate is free, and offers over a million products you can choose to feature on your site. Here are some benefits to becoming an Amazon Associate:

  • The program integrates smoothly with WordPress. You can work your affiliate links into your content wherever they make the most sense.
  • It offers multiple linking tools for your site. You have access to banners, buttons, images, and links for to improve your marketing efforts.
  • You can track your earnings any time you want. Along with tracking trends, orders, and referrals, you can watch your profits with daily online reports.

Amazon’s program is perfect for getting started with affiliate marketing, especially when partnered with WordPress. Since WordPress is easy to use and loaded with SEO features, it’s the perfect tool to build an affiliate website and get your marketing efforts off the ground. There are also many plugins available to help you integrate your affiliate links with your WordPress site.

To get started with Amazon’s affiliate program, you first have to join and create your account. From there, you will need to log in and choose the items you want to feature on your site. Each item has a unique link containing your affiliate ID. After that, you’ll simply add the links to your site!

Easy Plugins to Integrate WordPress with Amazon Affiliates

WordPress is endlessly flexible, thanks to its use of plugins. When starting an affiliate site with Amazon’s program, you’ll want to research your plugin options to find the best fit for your site. To help you out, here are four plugins that are ideal for integrating your WordPress site with your Amazon affiliate account.

1. WooCommerce

The WooCommerce plugin.

WooCommerce is one of the most popular e-commerce plugins. It helps you turn your website into an online store, and is amazingly flexible due to the number of extensions that are available. With the help of one of these extensions, WooCommerce enables you to list your Amazon affiliate products on your site.

To successfully use WooCommerce with Amazon, you’ll need to install an extension such as WP-Lister Lite for Amazon. This will enable you to integrate your WooCommerce catalog with your Amazon inventory (though the pro version of the extension will all you to add sales synchronization and automatic repricing).

WooCommerce might be overkill if you are just getting started with affiliate links. However, if you plan to expand into a full online storefront, it’s a smart investment to make.

Key Features:

  • Provides numerous free and premium extensions to help you customize a storefront.
  • Works with products from any Amazon category.
  • Offers tons of support from its developers and community.

Price: The base version of WooCommerce is free, as is WP-Lister Lite. The WP-Lister Pro extension will cost you $149 per site.

2. WooZone – WooCommerce Amazon Affiliates

WooZone WooCommerce Amazon Affiliates Plugin

Integrating Amazon products into your own e-commerce store doesn’t have to be hard. For example the WooCommerce Amazon Affiliates WordPress Plugin includes built-in modules to easily import products with your unique Amazon affiliate links into WooCommerce. Better yet, the plugin even includes an option to automatically search, find and import products for you based on a set key word or phrase.

Another useful feature is built-in WooZone Reporting so you can track imported product views, updates and purchase rates. This is a great way to mange your store and update links to relevant products.

Want more? You can also upgrade to the WooZone – Amazon Associates Bundle Pack which includes the base plugin plus WooZone Contextual Amazon Advertising Plugin, the Amazon Discount Finder for WordPress and Kingdom (the WooCommerce Amazon Affiliates premium theme). This plugin pack is a great toolset to buildup and promote your affiliate store.

Key Features:

  • Quick and easy setup wizard to configure the plugin with your Amazon Affiliate account.
  • Advanced product search, recommended products and bulk importing options.
  • Synchronization with Amazon product pages to auto-update for price changes, description updates and new reviews.
  • Options for coupons, cross-sale and GEO targeting to provide content relevant to your customers.
  • Product shortcodes to easily insert specific items into posts or pages.

Price: The WooCommerce Amazon Affiliates plugin currently costs $42, and the Bundle Pack is priced at $69.

3. Amazon Associates Link Builder

Amazon Associates Link Builder Plugin

Amazon Associates Link Builder is the official WordPress plugin for the Amazon Associates program. It enables you to search for products, create links within your posts to Amazon product pages, and access availability and price information in real time. This plugin is designed to work with any size affiliate site, and its real time pricing and availability make it great for keeping your links up to date.

This plugin is currently in beta, and promises new features and enhancements in the future. It’s an intriguing option, although we do recommend that you carefully read the reviews before installing it. As with most beta products, your results with this one may vary.

Key Features:

  • Provides official integration (since this is the Amazon Associates Program plugin for WordPress).
  • Enables you to generate text links and create custom add units.
  • Offers real time pricing updates.

Price: Amazon Associates Link Builder is free.

4. Amazon eStore Affiliates

Amazon eStore Affiliates WordPress Plugin

The Amazon eStore Affiliates WordPress Plugin works strictly off of auto-import. Set your keyword and number of pages you’d like to add then let the plugin queue up products. You can also set a recurrence to periodically add to your store based on new products related to your set keyword.

A key helpful feature is the Automated Amazon Content Spinner module. Just choose the number of words you’d like to replace and the content spinner will use thesaurus entries to update imported product pages. This prevents duplicate content and may help improve search engine ranking.

Key Features:

  • Auto-import products based on set keyword (and setup recurring imports).
  • Automated content spinner to ensure unique content on your website.
  • Product stats module to track views, add to carts and cart abandonment.
  • Includes a free WordPress theme with Visual Composer to build your store

Price: The premium Amazon eStore Affiliates plugin has as price tag of $49.

5. Amazon Link Engine

Amazon LinkEngine Plugin

Amazon Link Engine is a useful tool, because it enables your international site visitors to access their local Amazon storefronts from your affiliate links. It instantly localizes your affiliate links each time a visitor loads the page.

This plugin offers an immediate way to increase potential conversions, by creating a better user experience for your site’s visitors. If you plan to include an international audience as part of your affiliate marketing endeavors, this plugin will help you get started.

If you partner the plugin with a Geniuslink account, you can even earn international commissions. Of course, you don’t need this account to use Amazon Link Engine. However, if you are curious about the benefits, it does offer a 14-day free trial.

Key Features:

  • Localizes your Amazon affiliate links instantly.
  • Converts links automatically, with no extra work required.
  • Searches for affiliate links on an ongoing basis.

Price: Amazon Link Engine is a free plugin.

6. Ad Inserter

Ad Inserter Plugin

Ad Inserter is an advertising management plugin, which lets you place Native Shopping Ads anywhere you choose on your WordPress site. Rather than randomly serving up advertisements on your site, you can use this plugin to make relevant shopping recommendations to your visitors based on content.

This plugin enables you to place relevant ads before, after, or even within your post content. You can also use its documentation to learn more about optimal placement for your shopping recommendations.

If you are looking for a way to integrate Amazon’s Native Shopping Ads with your affiliate marketing site, Ad Inserter offers tons of features. It’s built for customization, and integrates with other tools such as Google Analytics. This plugin is perfect if you want to feature more Amazon-related ads on your site.

Key Features:

  • Lets you preview ads before publishing.
  • Provides complete control over ad placement.
  • Integrates with Google Analytics

Price: Ad Inserter is free.

Conclusion

Affiliate marketing requires research and patience, but can also be a lucrative and fun way to earn some extra income. Starting with a tried and true program like Amazon’s can give you a solid entry point and set you on the path to success.

In this post, we introduced some plugins that can help you successfully integrate Amazon’s system with your WordPress site. But if you have any questions about how to combine Amazon’s affiliate program with your WordPress site, or other plugins you’d recommend let us know? Just leave us a note in the comments below!



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