LiveBlog: Tech Tools (and Free Plug-ins!) You Need to Take Your Blog to the Next Level

This session was captured by Taylor of How to Love Healthy. Taylor is a 22-year-old Nutrition and Exercise Physiology student and smoothie extraordinaire from Spokane, Washington.  

The purpose of this session, lead by Shannyn Allan of FrugalBeautiful.com, is to show bloggers how to improve their blog’s look and function with time-saving tools, money-saving hacks and enhancing plug-ins. Bloggers will learn about free online tools, optimal times for scheduling posts, and deciding when to hire a professional for assistance with editing and branding.

More about Shannyn can be found here.

Shannyn: So this is kind of a tech session.

Here’s some background information about me: I blog at frugalbeautiful, which I started in January 2011 when I was a broke grad student moving from Cali to Chicago and trying to learn how to live on $800 a month in Chicago. It isn’t possible. I was learning how to be happy with almost no money. I wanted to challenge the ideas of living a beautiful life, which led to writing about women’s wellness and an interest in physical wellness.On my first date with my now-fiancee, he told me he ran for fun. I laughed in his face, then drank a beer and ate a doughnut. But then I saw how his life was transformed by running and wanted to be able to change my life and go into Lululemon without looking like a poser. So I started to run and do triathlons and take care of myself.

So why are we at FitBloggin? We want to make money, tell our story, reach more people.

Everyone’s different when it comes to having a successful blog. Successful is a loaded term; it’s different for every single person. How you make money is even more diverse. Everyone who has a successful blog does it differently. Some people do freelance gigs, some make a killing with affiliate sales, some do it with Google ads. Personally I’ve done freelancing and social media, but making money is going to be different for eveyone. What I suggest today might not work for you but I want you to at least go home with some ideas.

My blog got me my job. After being a struggling grad student for two years, I wanted to make money blogging full time. I realized I wasn’t happy and the income was very sporadic. I would go through a regular cycle of panic and fear, while some friends were flying high on freelancing and sponsored posts, I feared I wasn’t enough of a “blogger.”

I had just moved back to Chicago and blogged about how I wanted a job. I decided to put my blog on my resume and got a job doing social asset management/social media for a couple of brands. I’m so happy now. This is a different success story than many bloggers will tell you, but I got a full time job from putting the blog on my resume.

When you grow a blog, it’s not about making money just from the blog. Be persistent and really build it as a brand for you.

I do earn money with Google Ad Sense and rotating/direct ads and sponsored posts, but I also like making money with my full time job.

Don’t compare yourself to other bloggers. No one is the same, no measure of success is the same, be mindful of that as you leave this conference.

At FitBloggin last year I was going through an identity crisis, tired of depending on blog income. I was feeling so insecure around more successful bloggers. I was going to the World Domination Summit the following week in the same city. Another blogger had sold out a 3000-seat conference; he was a really big deal. But no one at FitBloggin had heard of him. At the World Domination conference I mentioned some of the bloggers I felt insecure around at FitBloggin, and no one had heard of them. The different niches are great individualizers. The bottom line: Don’t compare yourself.

Methods of monetization with ad networks: 

  • Mode (formerly Glam) — This is a rotating ad you can opt in or out of. You can earn money based on clicks. Some networks also have the ability to give you sponsored posts in addition to the ad network.
  • Google Ad Sense: The great thing about some of these when you get rotating network ads from disposable razors to banks to credit cards, they give you sponsored posts and you can backfill to Google Ad Sense. If you see a blank space in your side bar you can back fill any empty impressions with Google ad sense so your readers don’t see a blank space on your page. Back filling is an opt-in when you’re in an ad network and they run out of impressions or good visual ads targeted to your site so a blank space shows up. For more information, Google search how to fill Google ads with Ad Sense.

I notice my revenue goes down at certain times when I have less ads from Google Ad Sense, usually in winter months. It’s hard to know when this will happen and every site is different. (For example using BlogHer her vs. Google Ad Sense). Google Ad Sense will help fill in those blanks on your sidebar for you.

Not all add network have rotating banner ads but many have at the very least sponsored blog opportunities; and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Mode has a very good premium rate. Premium ads pay really well. You get paid from impressions and paid more when ads get clicked. With affiliate links, you don’t get money for clicks when a person clicks the ad but doesn’t buy anything.

It is a bit harder to get into Mode now that it’s rebranded from Glam. Sometimes ad networks require high page views, good social media following, consistent posting. It’s hard to get in and you often have to sign an exclusivity clause. They can also require the ad to be placed above the fold in your blog which is prime real estate on your profile.

Made sure to communicate if you are opted into a network with an ad network or sponsor’s potential competitor.

Monetization with affiliates:

The number one problem with affiliates is you have to opt into so many different programs. If you have a running outfit and want to share how awesome it is, you have so many different brands you have to go through (running shoes are Nike, the leggings are Athleta, etc.) It can be hard to hit the threshold payout.
Now, Amazon associates, Rewardstyle and Shopsense can save you a lot of time. If you sign up for the associates program you can make affiliate sales from thousands of products.

  • Amazon associates: If you do a race and want to share the different clothing and deordorant you wore, the browser will let you pull links and talk about those products more efficiently.
  • Rewardstyle has tons of different brands you can work with. Unlike amazon associates they don’t let just anyone in, you have to work to be let in. They have a cool tool called link Ninja, you can easily click it to see what commission you would get off a product if it were sold.

Monetization with ads:

  • Direct ads: an advertiser doesn’t want to go through an ad network so they buy a direct ad from anywhere from $5 to $80. much more cost effective than hoping someone will click your Ad Sense ad.
  • Negative: You can have someone buy a big banner for free, which you can monitor and track yourself and handle the acquisition yourself.

With direct ads, a platform is created for specific ads that creates a widget to propagate banner ads on your site. You don’t have to monitor it for 30 days, take it down yourself, etc. Buysell adds take a 25% cut. Passionfruit ads is super easy but charges a monthly fee.
It just depends if you want to do the work yourself or pay an ad company to make it a little easier.

It’s always good to disclose your ads by letting readers know you use affiliate links at the bottom of your blog page etc., so that you’re in compliance with the FDC and your readers know you are genuine.

Find what works for your audience and for you. Make money in a way that is respectful to your readers and to the companies you work for.

Other methods of monetization:

  • Freelancing gigs: you can write for other websites, like magazines/online publications/other bloggers anywhere from $5-10 to $200 dollars a post. $200 posts are usually if you’re also taking your own photos or videos that you give up the creative rights for and that the company licenses. Typically it’s right around $75 for a freelance post.
  • Also you can do freelance social media. Many bigger companies have the budget to hire someone full time, but many don’t know how to work with bloggers or social media. You’d be surprised how far you could get by pitching work with social media.

You never know how it could turn out. Put your blog on your resume, on your LinkedIn. Put on your About Me page what you’re passionate about. Put on your resume that you’re social media savvy, know how to work with Ad Sense, etc. It’s a positive to companies. It can be huge on a resume, almost like being bilingual because you speak the language of the Internet, which can be really new to some companies.

Monetization from eBooks, coaching, workshops:

  • There’s blog coaching, on ways to monetize your blog, running blogs leading to run coaching/life coaching, etc. There are ways to turn your blog into coaching without certification (unless you really need it, like for nutrition).
  • Free press: This isn’t really a way to make money but it’s a perk of building your presence online. Being on TV is a cool experience I wouldn’t have had without a blog (TLC’s Extreme Cheapskates came to my house once). It’s just one of those cool things in your sidebar to be “as seen as…” which could lead to other opportunities. Just something to keep in mind.

Free Tools:

Photo editing: I had no money when I started blogging. I lived in a cockroach-infested apartment with no bedroom door. I could not afford Photoshop. I used Picmonkey, Instagram and Gimp to edit my photos.
Gimp is like Picmonkey but more Photoshop-esque.
The latest version of Instagram has a lot of great tools that can make your photos go from “ehh” to awesome. Contrast, brightness, etc. are great for making your photos as crisp and clean as possible, and you can edit them more for your blog later.
WordPress Plug-Ins:
  • Yoast SEO plugin: It’s amazing and free. It’s great. It gives you a green light on each post. You go to the widget at the bottom of every post that gives you a string of focused key words that you’ll want to put in order, like how to find a wedding dress, how to recover from an injury…it will walk you through how to edit your post to optimize it on Google. Does anyone have time to figure out Google? I don’t, so I let this SEO plugin do it for me. It’s so easy to use.
  • Linkwithin generates related posts for the category I put my post under. It displays recommended posts with thumbnails. It’s a good way to increase traffic and lower your bounce rate. It automatically selects a featured image for each one so no matter what you’ll always have an image there, whether it’s from the post or the sidebar.
  • Quick Ad Sense: This plug-in (and there are several out there) will give in zones of where you should plug in your zones. go into wherever you’re doing your ad network and just copy and paste it in the zone of where on your blog you need it to be. it makes it easier. It allows you to plug in Ad Sense ads on your blog without having to know HTML or CSS.
  • You can experiment each month with where you place your ads. You can easily take ads out if readers are unhappy with where your banner ads should be placed. It takes experimenting to figure it out and see what works for you.
  • Tube press: You take the snippet of code that Tube press generates and put it on a page (like a “Videos” page) and it automatically propagates a snippet of all your videos from Youtube, so you can create an easy page with all of your videos on it.
  • WP Smush It: A poor load time means people won’t click your ads or stick around very long. This plug-in compresses your images so your site won’t be bogged down and will load quickly.
  • PinIt: Installs a Pin It! button that magically appears over all your photos. Readers can easily pin without you having to code anything on your site.
Analytics and site health:
Facebook’s organic visibility went from 20 to 0 percent in less than six months. Unless you’re actively working and posting and getting people to comment and using sponsored posts/stories, you’re not being easily seen.
Facebook insights and Twitter demographics: You need to find out what your Twitter demographics are. On Twitter, go to the right hand corner, click ads, then analytics, then followers. It will let you can see your readers, where they’re from, top cities, their interests (most unique vs. top interests). Twitter will give you these insights without you having to pay anything. It also shows who your top influencers are that your followers follow on Twitter.
You can learn a lot without having to pay for Twitter or Facebook ads. Stay diversified, don’t put too many eggs in one social media basket. (Remember that Facebook owns Instagram).
More analytics (You should be doing them. They are completely free!):
Have you checked your site speed lately? Do you know how fast it loads, and how fast on mobile? It’s a good idea to regularly make sure your site is loading quickly. Brands look at that. If they notice it’s not loading fast they may be reluctant to work with you. If you notice it’s slow, reach out to bloggers or design friends to get some advice. It can be really easy to fix small things that will make your site load so much faster.
Pinterest analytics: definitely check it out.
  • Ahaology!: They sign up with features and have a monetization feature. They also give you a score on how your pins are doing (0-100 based on how much they are getting pinned). You can schedule pins to go in the queue at the time when your users are pinning the most often. It has a great scheduling tool, does great reporting and has a great monetization feature.
  • Iconosquare: Hashtag iconosquare to get your Instagram analytics. You can find your most popular posts and a lot of other cool stuff, totally free.

Where to do free and legal posts:

  • freerangestock.com
  • gratisography.com
  • morguefile.com
  • Google Image search: “filter for non-commercial use.”

Use these so that you don’t get sued for incorrectly using someone else’s photo, citing a photo to the wrong person, etc. Make sure you use photos that are friendly; not ripping off anyone else.

Free tools to grow your blog:
Mailchimp: If you don’t have a newsletter that uses RSS-syndicated posts that pulls from your posts that have already gone live, you should consider doing so. Mailchimp creates an RSS-driven weekly or bi-weekly newsletter that automatically regenerates to make sure your readers get your latest content. You can add to it. It’s helped me boost my traffic a lot, especially when you have a very personal call to action you want to get out to your readers.
You can have a widget in your sidebar for readers to type in their email. They will get a confirmation to opt into the newsletter (double opt-in system). You can set up a template, logo and automatic weekly sending. It’s super easy; anyone can figure it out. Easy for the user, easy for the blogger.
Ahaology: Sign up to schedule Pinterest posts for optimal times and gives you feedback on how to improve your pins.
HARO (help a reporter out): How to get those awesome news sites and magazines (like Huffington Post, MSN Money, etc). to notice you. Sends a newsletter a certain amount of times a day about magazines that are looking for contributors.
Wisestamp: Easily create a cute little signature for Gmail to highlight your latest blog content and social media, including a picture. It makes your signature look really polished. It also has an RSS feature to generate latest post you’ve written and include a link.
Blogging hacks:
Scheduling tools: Schedule Facebook, Twitter posts (using Hootsuite) and Pinterest posts (using Ahaology). Try and find the times when your readers are most active, using the analytic tools we discussed earlier.
Fiverr: Take some time to see if Fiverr could be useful to you. You can use it for simple graphics, logos (not for your brand–you should use a professional designer for that—but for a quick graphic need you only want to spend $5 on). Not recommended for any heavy lifting, just a quick graphic fix.
Canned responses app for gmail: Get a lot of repetitive emails from PR folks or readers? Use the Canned Responses app! It will save in Gmail and you can just click it to answer repetitive questions. You can personalize the responses, but it will save you a lot of time.
Media Kit: This is your resume and will help you get more sponsorship opportunities. Don’t let it intimidate you; you need one!
Bootstrapping 101:
Mastermind group: Every blogger should have a small group of friends you connect with on a weekly group via Facebook groups or Google hangouts. This should be supportive, collaborative, and keep you accountable. They can also help you out by leaving comments on your blog when you need more traffic/readers. This has helped me tremendously.Blogging bestie: You need someone to turn to. Someone with a similar audience to yours and is near your level. Check in with them to stay accountable.

Time vs. Money: 

Is it worth your time or should you spend money on it or hire someone instead? Figure out what you hate doing and export that to others.

What to spend $$ on? Your blog, even if it’s a serious hobby and not a source of income, is still an investment. You don’t have to be a marathoner to be a runner, or a pro blogger to invest in your blog as a business. Get the right gear just like you would if you were starting to run. Invest in your blog.

  • Website design $$$
  • Photography $$
  • Stuff you hate doing $

Website Design: 

  • Get a professional logo in a variety of formats (for business cards, blog header, email templates, watermarks).
  • Self-host on WordPress or another site that allows for sponsored content and ads. Invest in your own domain and self hosting.
  • Make sure your theme is mobile responsive and Google friendly. Have a savvy web template that is easily searchable.
  • Your theme should include a newsletter opt-in and social media buttons.

Want to hear how I grew in traffic, doubled my email subscribers, and quadrupled my revenue…? Got a better layout! 

I needed a professional graphic designer walk me through the process because I had no idea what I was doing. I didn’t realize Google wasn’t friendly with my site and I wasn’t getting the traffic I should have been getting.

A few key things that turned things around for my blog: A logo that I use on everything (with a tagline), clear navigation on the top menu. And this “don’t miss a thing” subscribe opt-in for email newsletters; within two or three months my blog subscribers tripled, after a year and a half of blogging. This link “Save frugality to…start here,” got people to stick around longer.

For monetization:

  • Glam ad (move and change ads depending on cookies in peoples’ browsers). This premium ad has to be above the fold, couldn’t be moved. this banner ad has upped my revenue.
  • Sometimes there’s an ad wrap that takes over the background of a blogger’s site, but those are premium ads that do really well and can work better with certain layouts and can bring up your revenue. Work with the system; it’s so much easier after working with a professional graphic designer.
  • Photography is different for every blog. You don’t need a DSLR (could cost you upward of $500) but be mindful of your photos on your blog. They shouldn’t be blurry, dark or washed out; they should be pinnable. Shoot in good natural lighting.
  • Having a good professional head shot is key to getting brands and readers to take you seriously. Use the head shots in your email signature, sidebar, media kit, about page—it’s all about branding consistently. It’s a good investment!

Spend money on stuff you hate doing like taxes, migrate/fixing your site, SEO, writing about topics you hate, helping you create products, etc. Don’t let things you hate keep you from things you love. Hire these things out.

Branding:
This is so important. Just like applying for a job, you want to dress for success. If you want your blog to do well for you, you do well for your blog. Make sure you know about your brand and present it in everything you do. In this digital age, you are your brand. Be intentional and descriptive.

It can change over time; I’m not the person I was three years ago when I started my blog. But your brand can stay consistent. Use descriptive keywords in everything you do. A good photo and logo are important. Branding keywords: location, topics, descriptive storytelling with your profile.

[Audience Question]: Who did your web design?
[A]: Carla Archer from Archer Creative. It was expensive but worth every penny. It’s a business expense, like a tax writeoff. Find another website you like the look of and ask who did their layout, and see if they have any recommendations.