Leaving Work Behind

You Don’t Need That Ten Bucks

Written by Tom Ewer on April 26, 2012. 16 Comments

You Don't Need That Ten BucksReally – you don’t. People who say they are flush out of cash are typically fooling themselves. It’s usually the guy with the expensive cable subscription, or someone who eats takeaway twice a week.

You might be wondering where I’m going with this, so please let me explain.

I have been a user of Alan Trewartha’s excellent Widget Logic plugin for many months. It allows you to control on what pages widgets are displayed. Since I’ve got that big old feature box on the homepage, I don’t need another signup form in the sidebar, do I? Hence Widget Logic. It has been downloaded over 300,000 times and has a four star rating on the WordPress plugins directory. It’s simple, and it works.

A few minutes ago I happened to be scrolling through my (unfortunately rather extensive) list of plugins, and an unusual link stood out:

Widget Logic

Occasionally I have moments in life when I think that maybe the human race isn’t completely doomed. This was one such moment.

So I clicked the link, and I donated what we call (in the UK) a “tenner” – that’s £10 (about $16). It may not be much (I’m not millionaire), but it’s another £10 towards Alan’s measly target.

When I say measly, I do not intend to offend – I intend to point out the fact that a plugin with three hundred thousand downloads should be able to attract £750 worth of charitable donations. If every person who had downloaded the plugin donated £0.0025, Alan would hit his target.

I am sure that there are other plugin developers out there who request charity donations, but I scroll through the 20 I use on this blog and I see no others. So whilst Alan’s efforts may not be unique, they’re enough to provoke me to write this post in the hope that we can all do our bit to raise some cash.

So please – just drink a few less beers this weekend. Don’t buy that DVD. Whatever it is – please take this opportunity to help Alan reach his target, and more importantly help Cancer Research UK.

You’ll have forgotten about the ten bucks a week from now, but collectively, perhaps we can make just a little difference.

Donate via Alan’s page here.

Creative Commons image courtesy of c_ambler

Leaving Work Behind Has Been Google Slapped!

Written by Tom Ewer on April 25, 2012. 43 Comments

Leaving Work Behind Has Been Google Slapped!I once got slapped really hard by a girl once. Actually, it was more of a punch/slap hybrid. It would have made a good photo for this post.

From memory I hadn’t really done anything wrong, although I’m sure I must have done something to deserve such treatment. My attacker was then shepherded away by Gerit, the German foreign exchange student. We used to call him “Gerit the woman beater”, or words to that effect (we were very mature). So it was rather ironic that he decided to protect her (as if I was going to retaliate).

Just to clarify, I was 17 at the time. Playground politics, eh? That reminds me of a post I wrote on this blog many moons ago, the subject matter of which slots in with today’s topic rather fittingly. See how I’m weaving this all together? It’s a thing of beauty.

Anyway…

I don’t login to Google Webmaster Tools as often as I feel I should. But just last week I did, as part of the research I was doing for this article. And I got a rather unpleasant surprise, in the form of one of Google’s now infamous canned messages:

Dear site owner or webmaster of http://www.leavingworkbehind.com/,

We’ve detected that some of your site’s pages may be using techniques that are outside Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.

Specifically, look for possibly artificial or unnatural links pointing to your site that could be intended to manipulate PageRank. Examples of unnatural linking could include buying links to pass PageRank or participating in link schemes.

We encourage you to make changes to your site so that it meets our quality guidelines. Once you’ve made these changes, please submit your site for reconsideration in Google’s search results.

If you find unnatural links to your site that you are unable to control or remove, please provide the details in your reconsideration request.

If you have any questions about how to resolve this issue, please see our Webmaster Help Forum for support.

Sincerely,

Google Search Quality Team

Yep – Google has penalized Leaving Work Behind. I cast my mind back through the blog’s short history, trying to think of what I could have done to offend Google. Then I remembered – a few months ago, I built a few links using the now defunct Rank Jumpers. Since Google deindexed that private blog network, my guess is that they have penalized any site who used it (a wild assumption, but that’s how I roll).

The Effects

The message was received on 8th April. Here is how my search engine traffic levels have fared over the past 60 days, with the penalization date circled:

Search Engine Traffic

Yep – the day after the message was sent, I had a big spike in search engine traffic. But since then, there has been a decline.

It is not possible to draw a solid conclusion from the above data – especially since my site’s traffic numbers have been declining too (it seems my new casual approach to blogging is taking its toll). What I can draw a safe conclusion from though however is how my keyword rankings have been affected:

Keyword Rankings

I am only tracking three keywords (my SEO work on this blog is pretty woeful), but it would appear that Google has gotten a bit slap happy with my poor little blog.

No Mercy

I am surprised to be honest. There are plenty of completely natural links pointing to this blog, and the effect of those 20-30 links I built back at the end of last year must be absolutely minimal. In fact, I am pretty sure that Rank Jumpers said they would be removing the links (although whether or not they have done so is another question altogether).

I think we can see here another clear example of Google’s absolute ruthlessness in penalizing any and all sites that engage in any kind of overt link building whatsoever. There would appear to be little in the way of human consideration (as in a recognition of the fact that this is a site of substance). Robot says kill the site, and the site shall be dead.

What Next?

The first obvious step would be to submit a reconsideration request. I have heard so many stories of this having absolutely no effect, but I can’t see any harm in doing so. I have no problem with being up front and confessing to building the Rank Jumpers links.

But there is one thing holding me back at present. I would like to think that Google would see sense and lift whatever penalties it has imposed on the site, but I would be really pissed off if it didn’t. The whole canned message followed up by a canned message really gets on my nerves. If an actual person takes the time to manually review a site following a reconsideration request, you would think that they could take an extra 10 seconds to briefly inform you of the reason for their decision.

Of course I am anticipating something that might not occur, but just thinking about it gets me irritated. Some people argue that you shouldn’t complain, as Google owes you nothing, but that is absolute rubbish. Google wouldn’t exist without websites. Collectively, your blog, my blog, Amazon, theChiveCheese.com and every other damn site out there facilitate Google’s existence. So yes, if I submit a reconsideration request which is subsequently rejected without a human response, I do feel that Google is being an asshole.

What Do YOU Think?

So what do you think I should do? Submit the request? I guess I have to – but how should I phrase it – what should I say? Have any of you had success in submitted reconsideration requests? Let us know in the comments section!

Oh, and in case you were wondering – that girl who slapped me? We’re still good friends. I don’t know what happened to Gerit.

Creative Commons image courtesy of peterp

How Design, Ad Layouts, and Colors Can Dramatically Increase Your Site’s Earnings [Webinar Replay]

Written by Tom Ewer on April 23, 2012. 12 Comments

How Design, Ad Layouts, and Colors Can Dramatically Increase Your Site's Earnings [Webinar Replay]You may know that I hosted my first ever webinar last Thursday. My guest was Spencer Haws of Niche Pursuits – an accomplished internet marketer and all-round nice guy. He was kind enough to offer his time to my newsletter subscribers, and the result was an information-packed hour, with invaluable tips on all aspects of how you can use your site’s design to increase your earnings.

The webinar was recorded in its entirety (with exception to a few seconds chopped off at the start), and you can download the video to watch at your leisure here (right click and save). I wanted to embed the video on this post but I couldn’t figure out how to upload the MP4 video to YouTube (the uploader simply wouldn’t work). If anyone can help me with that, I would be most grateful!

A Special Offer for LWB Readers

In the webinar Spencer went to great lengths to demonstrate how you can increase your site’s earnings, and he also took some time to demonstrate how his new Niche Website Theme can be used to make the process a lot easier.

I am currently porting all of my niche sites onto the Niche Website Theme, as it is far superior to anything else out there that I have spent money on before. To be honest, I think it can operate nicely as a theme for any site, not just niche sites (that matter was addressed in the webinar).

The theme is not actually available to the general public at the moment (it is being launched in May), but Spencer has put together a special deal for Leaving Work Behind readers. Not only is it available to you today at a $30 discount, he has also packed in a couple of awesome free extras:

  1. A comprehensive step-by-step video explaining how to create niche sites from the ground up
  2. Interviews with eight top niche website owners

So basically, with the video, the interviews and the theme, you have a lot of what you need to start developing successful niche sites. All of the above for $67. I didn’t know that Spencer was going to be throwing in the extras, and I’m pretty impressed by the amount of value he is giving away!

If you want to find out more about Niche Website Theme or want to buy yourself a copy (there is a 60 day refund policy), just click here.

Please note that this is a limited time offer and will expire on Thursday 26th April at 3pm Eastern. Once the deal runs out, if you want to purchase Niche Website Theme, you will have to pay full price!

What Did You Think?

I had fun doing the webinar (although Spencer did the vast majority of the work!), and would certainly like to do more in the future. With that in mind, I’d love to get your feedback and constructive criticism.

Did you find the webinar useful? Did the subject matter interest you? Is there anything you would have done differently? Let me know in the comments section!

10 Reasons I Have Switched To Livefyre

Written by Tom Ewer on April 16, 2012. 59 Comments

10 Reasons I Have Switched To LivefyreTime for a confession – I am a comments whore. I love interacting with my readers, and I am disappointed when what I consider to be great posts get few comments (like Margaret’s guest post last week, which was brilliant!).

I had never really put any thought into the comments system on Leaving Work Behind until last week, when I wrote a post for the ManageWP blog – Choosing The Right Comments System To Maximize Blog Engagement. I did quite a bit of research for that article, and in my opinion me the clear winner was Livefyre. I try to take my own medicine whenever possible, so the next logical step was to fire up the Livefyre system on this blog.

You may however be wondering why I have chosen to go with Livefyre. And you may be wondering whether it will actually have a positive impact on interaction and engagement here. Below are the reasons why I have made the change, and why I believe that it will be a good thing for Leaving Work Behind – complete with screenshots stolen straight off the Livefyre site! 😉

1. Comments Consolidation

Online discussion and debate now takes place over many different mediums. There’s no point fighting change, so why not work with it instead?

Livefyre Comments Consolidation

Livefyre uses clever algorithms to grab related conversations from social media outlets and pull them into the comments section. I do not yet know how effective this system is – only time will tell.

2. Tagging

Any regular reader of Leaving Work Behind will know that I am a big fan of Twitter – it is just so easy to connect and interact with people. Livefyre emulates one of Twitter’s best features perfectly by allowing commenters to “tag” people from directly within comments (just like you would include someone’s handle in a tweet to get their attention):

Livefyre Tagging

3. Real Time Commenting

This is pretty awesome – fresh comments display in real time. No refreshing for Livefyre users. You may wonder if this is a particularly beneficial feature, but if it takes someone 5-10 minutes to read a post, new comments may well have been posted in that time. It’s certainly more useful for larger sites, but a cool feature nonetheless.

4. Notifications

If you have been following this blog for any length of time, you will know that I respond to the vast majority of comments. But what’s the point in commenting if you never get to read the response? Livefyre has a pretty slick notifications system, and although I’m not sure how it works if you sign in via a social media account, I do know that Livefyre users receive an email by default if someone replies to their comment:

Livefyre Notifications

5. Multiple Sign In Options

Like most commenting systems of its ilk, Livefyre allows commenters to sign in via various methods. If you’re into social media, you can use your Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn account. Otherwise, you can use Google, OpenID, or sign up to an actual Livefyre account.

6. Post Promotion

People who leave comments get a link to their most recent blog post:

Livefyre Post Promotion

‘Nuff said.

7. Comments Sharing

Ever commented on a blog post and been stunned by your pure incisiveness? With Livefyre, you can share your wisdom with your followers at the click of a button.

Livefyre Comment Sharing

I don’t know how often this is utilized, but having the option surely can’t be a bad thing.

8. Crawlability

Yes, that is a made up word, but I’m running with it. Livefyre is apparently “the only platform that gives you SEO credit for all the comments happening on your site, Facebook and Twitter”.

I’m not entirely sure what to make of that statement, and whether Livefyre actually offers any additional SEO benefits beyond other comments platforms, but with the SEO community’s current obsession with social signals, it certainly can’t be a bad thing.

9. Spam Protection

In my humble opinion, Akismet is crap. On Leaving Work Behind, it is constantly spamming perfectly legitimate comments (usually for no obvious reason). I hate the idea of someone taking the time to submit a comment, only to find that it doesn’t appear. The general consensus seems to be that Livefyre’s spam protection system is stellar, so I look forward to an improvement on that front.

10. Awesome Moderation Features

I have only just started fiddling with the backend of Livefyre, but filtering, moderating and replying to comments looks like an absolute piece of cake:

Livefyre Moderation

Downsides?

Nothing is perfect. There are three potential shortcomings to using Livefyre that I took note of when deciding whether or not to make the switch:

1. Backlinks

Livefyre provides no backlink to a commenter’s site (by default). This doesn’t particularly bother me – the LinkBack feature automatically provides a link to a commenter’s latest blog post, and besides, I am not interested in commenters who just want to gain a link back to their site.

2. Import Formatting

I can be rather anal when it comes to grammar, sentence structure, and so on. I like to use carriage returns and other such structural elements. Unfortunately, the import process has removed all such things from my previous comments, which leaves me with a whole lot of hefty blocks of text. I don’t like this at all.

3. No Emoticons

I used to hate smilies and emoticons, before I realized that they are a very effective way of conveying meaning behind words that might otherwise be ambiguous. Now I have grown rather attached to them. Livefyre does not have emotions. Boo.

First Impressions – Who Knows?

I’m not really in a position to offer you first impressions yet, given that I have not seen or left a single comment yet! I’m going to jump right in and start testing the features out now.

As always, I hope you will join me in the comments section to let me know your thoughts!

My New Project – A Website Purchase Case Study

Written by Tom Ewer on April 12, 2012. 19 Comments

My New Project - A Website Purchase Case StudyWhen I first started dabbling with internet marketing, the potential of my efforts bearing fruit were generally met with doubt by my friends and family. Most people don’t seem to understand how a website can make enough money to sustain a livable income.

And in fairness, my friends and family have all been proven right to date – my last successful website was killed off by Google many months ago (just as it was starting to show promise), and since then I have spent far too long going about things in the wrong way.

But I digress. The project that I’m going to tell you about today originated whilst I was skiing with my family in Colorado. Seemingly out of the blue, my dad decided that he was very interested in investing in websites. And since I am involved in internet marketing, he wanted me to help him out. This came as rather a surprise, as last time I knew, the idea of investing in websites struck him as absurd.

I should probably tell you something about my dad. He is an extremely successful businessman, with an eight figure property portfolio spread over the UK, USA, and the Cayman Islands. But more than anything, he loves doing deals. It doesn’t really matter if it is $3,000 or $3,000,000 at stake – it is dealmaking that gets him out of bed in the morning. Which is the only way I can rationalize him spending a couple of grand on a website, when quite frankly, he has far better things to be doing.

For him, it’s just a fun experiment. For me, it’s an educational goldmine. I’m starting with an already-established site and need to take it to the next level. It’s going to be challenging. And if I manage to elevate the income, I will get a cut of the profit. So I have two incentives to make this a winner.

About The Site

Unfortunately, I am not going to be revealing the site itself. Unfortunately, there are plenty of unscrupulous people out there who like to scheme, plagiarize, and generally make a nuisance out of themselves. I hope you understand.

However, I can certainly tell you about the site. It is a review site for a common type of household appliance. As you might guess, it is monetized via the Amazon affiliates program, which is new to me. The site is pretty big, with nearly 150 pages (although I am not sure where they all are, as the navigation system leaves a little to be desired!).

Having said that, I think there is plenty more to be done.

Stumbling At The Starting Line

The first hurdle I had to overcome was transferring both ownership of the site, and the actual content itself. This turned out to be a bit of nightmare, but I eventually figured it out. The whole thing was such a hassle, I decided to document the process in a WPMU article, for others like me!

Once I had got that sorted, it was a case of adding the site to Clicky analytics and changing the Amazon affiliates links to point to my account. I quickly saw that there was a problem – the traffic numbers were about a third of what I expected (and what previous analytics data had indicated).

I now know that the backlinking strategy has been solely based upon the Postrunner private blog network – which I believe hasn’t been subject to one of Google’s manual culls (yet). So I am not immediately sure as to what has caused the dramatic drop in traffic. I am not going to do anything about this for the time being – I’ll just continue to gather more data and see if I can make any before and after rankings comparisons with the information I have available to me.

Although my plan to increase the earnings of this site has apparently taken a huge hit before I have even got started, there is no point in crying over spilt milk.

So What Next?

My provisional plan to increase the value of the site is threefold:

  1. Build a list
  2. Get more traffic
  3. Optimize monetization method(s)

Let’s take a look at each in turn.

1. Build A List

The previous owner made no effort to build an email list, yet most of us know that “the money is in the list”. With a site like this, I believe that an email list could be a relatively huge asset. You could use it to promote new reviews, send out “recommended products” emails…the sky is the limit.

I will probably just put a standard signup form in place to start with, but I would imagine that the conversion rate would increase dramatically if I included an incentive. My idea would be to have a monthly giveaway for all subscribers – perhaps one of the reviewed products. Something to keep in mind.

2. Get More Traffic

As for more increasing traffic, that can theoretically be achieved with more content and better link building. Building links is of course a touchy subject at the moment, so if I do choose to do anything, I will be pretty damn careful about it.

I think article marketing is out of the window, as there are so many different keywords to target (across all of the different review posts). Blog network link building in the vein of the now defunct Build My Rank (and of course Postrunner, which has been previously used for this site) would have been ideal, but I’m not sure that I want to touch that strategy with a barge pole right now.

Social bookmarking might be another option, but beyond that, I am not forming any concrete opinions.

3. Optimize Monetization Method(s)

As previously mentioned, the site is currently monetized with the Amazon affiliates program. It’s a perfect fit for the subject matter, but is there more I that can do? AdSense is an obvious choice, although implementing it may serve to reduce overall income (if potential commissions are lost to advertising clicks). That is something I could test.

Another idea is in-text advertising – this is something I know Chris Guthrie of Make Money On The Internet has used for his Copy Cat Crafts website. I don’t know a great deal about this option, but it is an idea I have in the back of my head.

Finally, I could simply look to better optimize how the Amazon affiliate links are presented and promoted on the website.

What Do YOU Think?

I’m sure that many of you have more experience than me in dealing with Amazon sites (a few names come to mind immediately), and I would like to open this up to anyone who would like to offer their comments and advice. What would you do in my shoes? Let me know in the comments section!

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Alan Cleaver