Category Archives: Social Media

How to Setup a WordPress Blog Properly

Image representing WordPress as depicted in Cr...
Image via CrunchBase

Over the past few months, we’ve averaged around one new blog setup per day.

Recently, Nathan (one of our SEO experts – see his article on Buddy Press) and I started putting together a list of the standard things that we do after we install a WordPress blog.

The following assumes some familiarity with WordPress. We’ve started playing around with the latest version (2.8), and I suggest that you use that unless there’s a pressing reason not to (i.e. incompatible plugins).

1. General Config

  • Make sure that you have configured clean URLs in Settings -> Permalinks.
  • Under Settings -> Writing, put in additional locations to ping whenever you update your blog. There is a decent list here.

2. Themes

  • We try to make small changes to all stock themes that we use. This means that search engines are less likely to group your site along with every other blog that is using the same theme.
  • Even better: use a premium theme, or make your own one.

3. Plugins

Our objective with plugins is to automate the process of creating quality meta information for blog entries to the largest extent possible, and to make sure that our blogs talk nicely to search engines. We install the following set of plugins:

  • TagThePress
  • TagMeta
  • PingPressFM
  • Google Sitemap (there’s a few good options)
  • Ultimate Google Analytics

Make sure you configure all of the above. You may need to create some accounts in various places in order for some of the above to work.

If you’re running Firefox, we highly recommend installing the Zemanta plugin.

We used to put tag clouds into the sidebars of all new blogs, but if Sitemaps is working correctly that isn’t necessary (and it can take up a lot of important real estate).

4. SEO Stuff

  • Make sure you have accounts for Google Analytics and Google Webmaster Tools. Use them. Play around with them. Learn how to use them inside and out.
  • Make sure every new blog has one or two posts containing YouTube videos.
  • Getting the right number of tags per post is critical – we try to hit a sweet spot between 10 and 15 tags for each post. This may change depending on search engines.
  • Make sure that your blog is configured to use different page titles and meta tags for each page. Use HeadSpace if necessary to automate this process.

There’s probably a ton of important things I’m missing here (please let me know!), but this is a minimal list of things that you should be doing whenever you setup a new blog (if you want it to perform well).

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How Much Can a Blogger Earn?

I saw an interesting article via Slashdot today on how much bloggers make. Couldn’t resist throwing in my two cents. The numbers below are based on a wide range of websites that I’ve either run myself, or helped in the creation thereof.

To reiterate something that Evan Carmichael frequently talks about, the amount earned from Google Adwords is equal to the number of click-throughs, multiplied by the dollarvalue of a click-through. Sounds obvious enough, but there’s a huge divergence in the quality of ads, and that is somewhat dependant on the blogger themselves, since Google tries to place ads topically. You’ll see what I mean below.

Let’s talk about traffic quickly first. Building traffic to a website takes a lot of hard work and tremendous patience, which is why many website owners simple throw up their hands and accept whatever comes their way (or try to drive revenue by paying for traffic themselves – which is a tricky proposition for a blog). I’ve seen many websites that have built up to the low thousands of unique visitors per day though, through a ton of sweat equity. Anything beyond that may be a black swan event, so let’s set that as the upper bar of what the average individual can achieve through hard labour.

The value of an ad on a website is largely driven by topic and industry. There are people making higher than average rates using other ad placement systems (or by selling ad space themselves), but Google AdSense is the most accessible system to the average blogger, so let’s use some examples from there. The majority of click-throughs that I get on this site (and others I’ve run in the past) varies between $0.10 and $2.00. In one extreme example, I think I once received $5 for a single click-through. I know of specific topics that pay significantly higher (life insurance being one such).

Click-through rates tend to depend a lot on where people place ads on a page. Having high quality ads can help as well, but since Google tries to tie ads into the contents of a page, bloggers have some control over the sorts of things that generally appear. Spending some time experimenting with placement can have a large payoff. Editor’s Note: I’m guilty here; I do have ads, but I really can’t be bothered where they show up, since ad revenue isn’t what I’m after.

Therefore, the expected average earnings for a statistically significant number of hard-working bloggers could be calculated as being in the following range:

Low End: Assume 1000 visitors per day, 3% click-through rate and $0.10 per click = $3/day or $90/month.

High End: Assume 5% click-through rate and $1 per click = $50/day or $1500/month.

Bear in mind that the above figures are for somebody with average knowledge of how search engines work, a good work ethic, a willingness to experiment, and the patience to build things up over time. I don’t know how many people this covers.

Like I said before though, there’s a black swan or power law effect that’s at work here. What will typically happen is that the vast majority of bloggers will earn next to nothing through ad revenue, a small but well defined set will make enough to make it worthwhile to do full time, and a tiny (and exceptionally well-known) group will make a fortune. Similar to other kinds of creative efforts right? Think authors or musicians.

Disclaimers (I think they’re needed here):

a) I use Google AdWords on this site. I’ve made $10 in the past 6 months. I’m too busy with other things to care too much. I’ve run sites that made $50 to $100 per month in the past, with minimal effort on my part.

b) I know of several people who make a decent living blogging (by decent I mean more than I make!). There are some interesting differentiators between them and other bloggers. They all approach it as a business. Most of them seem to have found ways to make other people do the hard work for them. They also all find real-world outlets (i.e. seminars, consulting, selling product) that neatly tie in to their blogs, in such a way as to create a reinforcing upward spiral of activity. Believe it or not, only a few of the ones I know are “famous” or are active mainstream journalists. The people I know aren’t a big enough set to be statistically significant.

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WeFollow: A User Powered Twitter Directory
Image by shinyai via Flickr

While I’m on the topic of helpful websites, here’s another simple but useful one: Wefollow.

Its a user-edit Twitter directory, that Nathan pointed out to me a few days ago.

I picked up a few followers just by signing up.

I find it remarkable how many followers some of the top users of Twitter have accumulated. Yes, some of them are leveraging off of some form of celebrity status (real-world or online). Its quite amazing how large the reach of some dedicated tweeters is though. It takes a lot of hard work to scale up a following like that, regardless of where it is.

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Website Grader

Image representing HubSpot as depicted in Crun...
Image via CrunchBase

For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, I suggest taking a look at, a tool provided by web marketing gurus HubSpot.

Their website grading tool provides a host of useful information that can help you fine-tune your site.

I’ve been playing around with their tools for the past few months, and they’ve been extraordinarily useful in terms of tweaking things to make them more search engine friendly. Also useful is their Twitter profile grader.

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My first experiences with BuddyPress (open source social platform)

Nathan Bomshteyn discusses his experiences installing and configuring BuddyPress, a social media platform that installs on top of WordPress MU.

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What Does It Take To Build A Community?

We’re currently building a number of community based “social media” website. Obviously I’m interested generally in what makes a good online community, but this time there’s a practical aspect to this – I want my customer’s sites to succeed!

Let’s throw this open for comments.

What do you think are the critical factors involved? Is it specific functionality? Great moderators? The initial “link bait” content that gets people there in the first place? One or two really sociable users?

A Twittery Update

I’ve been getting a lot of responses from people about my previous posts on the topic of Twitter. Just wanted to post a quick update regarding the rumour that Google is considering buying Twitter – apparently the price discussed was in the ballpark area of $3 billion.

There’s a number of interesting synergies that come to mind (I’m not saying that a merger would or wouldn’t work – honestly, who can tell) and they’re not necessarily AdWords related.

The whole point of Twitter is that it reflects, in many ways, the zeitgeist. I’ve seen breaking news reported on the site more than an hour before it hit the big news sites like CNN. A company like Google could get all kinds of useful information out of scanning keywords on Twitter and cross-referencing them. They could then feed that information into their news site, or even into search listings, in order to make them reflect what is going on in the world. It would probably be hard to prevent that from being “game-able”, but it might be interesting…

How to Compete With Free

The Wall Street Journal issued an interesting article today on a topic that I’ve been pontificating about (here and on Yahoo Answers) for a while now: how are businesses going to switch from mindlessly burning up investors money to actually making money?

Last week I wrote about the 4 categories of business model that exist online. I’d like to take a quick look at a few of the successful (and not yet successful) examples (some from the WSJ’s article and its comments), and see if I can come up with a few specific ways in which websites can compete with “free”.

The issue at hand is fairly simple to describe: in each niche market online, there are many, many competitors. Most of them are giving away their services entirely for free. Some of them charge for specific premium services, but users are often willing to shop around to find some set of useful (to them) services that don’t cost them anything at all. This tends to result in a race to the bottom, where the only way (and it is indeed a dubious way) to make money for a website is through advertising.

Let’s look at a few of the most successful online businesses and see if we can learn anything from them:


Google’s success is based on being able to deliver the largest number of ads, to the largest number of placements, at (in general) the lowest price. This business model depends entirely on having extremely high traffic, a highly viral method for spreading their system around, and excellent system for placing the right ad on the right website (it ain’t perfect, but it is good enough), and constantly doing interesting (but usually non-profitable) things to attract even more attention. At this point in time, it would be virtually impossible for anybody to launch a competing bid for that ad space – in order to do so, they would need to be able to charge advertisers less, while paying website owners more, which would likely make their margins uncompetitive. Google’s model – essentially a middleman model – has a large “moat” to use Warren Buffett’s terminology. Yes, they’re going to take a hit with cost per click going down a bit, but they have enough critical mass to ride out the storm and fend off competitors at the same time.


Craigslist is also a high traffic-dependant model. Basically it is a twist on the “freemium” business model – almost everything is free, except for a few types of ads in specific markets. As far as I can tell, they were the first ones to cotton onto the idea of giving away virtually everything, making yourself completely indispensible, and then charging for a few specific features that are very worthwhile for a small set of people to pay for. There are a great many competing websites – some who actually have quite a bit of traffic – that are giving away for free the specific set of things that Craigslist charges people for. However, they have sufficient traffic to make it worthwhile for advertisers to pay for things that need to attract attention. Basically their model boils down to being sufficiently indispensible that people will pay.

A former employee of mine first alerted me to this website. When they started out, they offered a completely free service for people to organize groups to “meetup”. Their traffic grew exponentially until several years after launching, they switched to a fee-based model. Users of the site get in free. Owners of groups pay a monthly fee. When they switched, they lost about 80% of their groups. The ones that remained provided enough revenue to keep things profitable. Their methodology: lock-in. One people have a successful group with a large member-base, moving it somewhere else – even though feasible – is a pain in the neck. The amount that they charge isn’t high enough to drive away their customer base, although I have my doubts as to whether they’ll be able to grow much further. Basically they’re now a cash cow. gets away with charging a fee for an essentially simple system (there are lots of CRM packages around, some of them free) by providing a high-end feature set, in addition to a lower startup cost. Its easy to get going with Salesforce – you pay per seat, so the initial cost isn’t all that high, it is more convenient than installing and maintaining a system on your own, and then you are locked into a system as you grow to have more seats (which is where they really make their money). With a paid userbase that is apparently around 50,000 customers, they’ve probably grown to as large as their market will bear. Their key strategy: provide lots of features that aren’t available in the free/cheaper competitors; make the initial costs so low that they are painless; tie users in so that it is hard to leave; gradually ramp up the fees. This is essentially a “utility” model. Anyone hoping to compete with them is going to have to provide more features at a lower cost (and hence lower margins).


Wikipedia has a much lower operating cost than a traditional encyclopedia: their content is basically free, they have things set up to run on a surprisingly small number of servers,  the crowd-sourcing model of producing quality (mostly) lends itself to a large amount of useful and accurate content, and people are willing to donate to keep something so useful alive. Like many of the other examples above, this is a business model that relies on being the highest trafficked website in its niche – and it is viral in the sense that the more content it has, the more useful it becomes. By keeping costs down, and basically guilt-tripping a subset of users into donating money, they can make a profit and keep things free. I’m not quite certain how Brittanica hopes to compete with them – yes, Wiki often has high-publicity editing faux-paux, but for the most part they are good enough. I’m not sure that providing a higher quality service (but charging for it) will be sufficient reason for people to switch to a different service.

I think that by now we can see a few specific trends:

  • Be the first one in your niche
  • Have the largest amount of traffic
  • Provide a service that is good enough
  • Make it difficult to switch
  • Make it expensive to start a competing business
  • Be willing to start charging and lose some traffic as a result
  • Charge only for those things that you need to charge for; keep most things free
  • Keep costs down

This isn’t all that different from any “brick and mortar” business model, is it?

Let’s take a look at a current favourite (of mine and many other people!): Twitter. What possible ways can they achieve their revenue goals, given that a) it isn’t necessary to login to their site in order to use it, and b) they provide a very small number of features, all of which are simple and easy to duplicate.

Their options (as I see it) are as follows:

  1. Make it harder to access Twitter from elsewhere. Start charging to use the API. Lock it down with additional security features.
  2. Place advertising on their site. This would rely on a larger percentage of users being forced to actually login to Twitter, as opposed to using tools like
  3. Create additional features that are currently being served up by other websites in their “ecosystem” – all of the cool profile rating, desktop tool, website plugin, karma-inducing stuff. Yes, I know, they would irk a lot of people.
  4. Sell products or services: branded versions of Twitter that are specifically for a particular company (i.e. for sales reps and customer service people, or for staff to tap into other staff’s knowledge). Services specifically for brands trying to tap into Twitter’s user base.
  5. Create their own desktop tool, with advertising spaces on it.
  6. Buy other websites with related features and tie them in.
  7. Find some other product or service (My husband/wife/parents went on a Twitter vacation and all he got me was this lousy t-shirt) that they can sell. Hey check it out: the Twitter eBay account! I don’t know if that would work.

In all of the above cases, they would certainly lose a percentage of their users. I think that is why they’ve been holding off for as long as possible – once they are “big enough” they can set things in stone. They’ll lose some people, and the rest will stay, but it will be hard for them to grow afterwards. I’m also not sure whether or not they would be successful or not with this approach – users could potentially just gravitate to other similar sites. The point is that they do have options, even if they are going to be hard ones.

There are plenty of lessons to be learned from a recession like we’re currently in. I tend to view these times as performing a tough but useful purpose – like controlled fires in a managed forest. Nobody really likes having to deal with reduced source of income (never mind venture capital), but this is an excellent opportunity for businesses to fine-tune their business models so that they can be more profitable once the recession is over. If website owners can move away from “everything is free and I make money from ads” to “I have some set of products and services that I sell, and I also make some money on the side from ads”, the online economy is going to be stronger going forward.

How Schools Could Use Social Media

This is #12 on Chris Brogan’s 100 Blog Topics list, and is part of the 100 Topics Challenge.

There's an opportunity to incorporate social media into the classroom. Will school boards take it?
There's an opportunity to incorporate social media into the classroom. Will school boards take it?

If I had a dollar for every kid that tries to get me to answer their homework questions on Yahoo! Answers, I might have a better than average chance of paying all my bills this month.

Yes, we happen to live in an age where things are changing pretty fast. It still puzzles me that the most common reaction by schools and universities to the social media phenomenon is to try and ban it from the classroom. Hence the proliferation of websites that try to catch cheaters.

If I was running the show, I would try a different tactic: co-opt social media. Make it part of the game. There’s a great learning opportunity here, and it is being missed – at least in North America. In Europe, there’s a heavy push to incorporate e-learning into the classroom (see for some interesting related topics).

Here is how I react when somebody tries to get me to do their homework for them: hey kid, there is an awesome learning opportunity here. I’m not going to solve the problem for you, but I will try to teach you a few interesting things. Maybe I’ll rephrase the question for you so you can understand it better. Maybe I’ll point you in the right direction so that you can discover places online where you can learn more about the problem at hand. Maybe I’ll give you a few pointers on ways to approach a solution. Sounds more like a tutorial? Self assisted learning opportunity?

One critical factor is that one really needs something like a walled garden – at least initially, and at least for younger students. If you toss them onto Yahoo Answers and tell them “good luck kid”, they’re going to come back with some interesting (and probably odd) notions about how the world works. For one thing, many of the so-called experts on sites like these, ain’t. Even on the late, great, there were more than a fair share of kooks. Many of the e-learning projects underway (i.e. the Second Life-based project in the UK) are building things around such walled gardens.

If schools – or maybe school districts – had a site that only kids and teachers could login to, it could be a powerful tool. You need a critical number of users before something like this becomes useful. I don’t think one school is sufficient. On the other hand, if the whole world is involved, it may become too unwieldy (and expensive to maintain – let alone the factor of who owns and manages it).

Let other kids get involved in teaching their peers. After all, teaching something is often the best way to learn it.

Let adult teachers supervise and guide the process. I envision a system that categorizes data by topic, and allows the teacher to put a filter on it – right now you can learning anything you want about math. Here’s todays quick lesson and some questions to answer. Here are the resources to learn more. Need help? Here’s what everyone else in the class is working on? Here’s who else in the school district can help you? Here’s what last year’s class did.

Put in scoring mechanisms so that students can get competitive if they want. Help your fellow student, two points. Get rated for the best question by teach and peers? Bonus points! It would be critical to balance a competitive system so that it doesn’t leave some students behind, possibly through an opt-out system. Or just let kids see their own score and rank, without access to anyone else’s.

Build in the day’s lessons in a way that the students can explore the topic in their own way and at their own pace, but with guides and video tutorials to help them if they get stuck. I know that this kind of learning methodology doesn’t work for everyone. There has to be a way to incorporate self directed learning into a pedagogical system though.

I wish there had been something like that when I was growing up. Yes, there were computers in the classroom (I got lucky with my schooling). Yes, we learned how to program in Basic and Logo. I also grew up reading Ender’s Game, and there were definite precursors to e-learning social media in there. The concepts involved here aren’t new, and the technology involved isn’t particularly challenging any more. There are even some fairly big companies building pieces of the puzzle – hence Blackbaud and their myriad competitors (e-learning overall is at least a $50 billion USD per year industry). All something like this needs is a vision, some corporate sponsors, and a lot of courage from school boards.

What is the Purpose of Twitter?

Twitter: Love it or Hate it?
Twitter: Love it or Hate it?

A friend of mine and I have had a running argument on this blog and on Facebook for a while now, regarding whether Twitter and other microblog sites are actually useful. His words were something along the lines of “high noise to signal ratio”.

I started with all the usual rehashed arguments again, before realizing that he possibly has a strong case that bears investigation.

Bear with me for a second.

I still think Twitter is incredibly useful – what I am realizing is that it has specific utility for specific people.

If you look at websites like Facebook and MySpace, their audience is on the order of magnitude of one hundred million people. Sites like Yahoo might even have a billion regular users. I’m not talking power users – that’s probably only a fraction of the overall total – what I am saying though it that those sites have a broad, overarching purpose to the general public. Give it enough time and everyone on the planet will have a Facebook account.

If you compare this to Twitter – with supposedly 10 million users (yes, I know, it is new and growing fast) – you see one, possibly two orders of magnitude difference in user base.

I have a number of theories why that is, but basically it indicates that the concept of microblogging is taking a very strong hold within a very specific segment of the market.

It also – based on my friend’s reaction – has a long way to go before it gains wide market acceptance.

The utility of a site like LinkedIn is immediately obvious to most people. You post up your resume, and then you do the same kind of networking activity that you might otherwise do at a BNI meeting.

Same goes for Facebook – you probably don’t have enough time to spend with friends, but you still want to see what is going on in their world.

When a newbie first logs into Twitter, chances are that what they see is a neverending stream of disjointed partial conversations, the vast majority of which are utterly incomprehensible to somebody not part of the original conversation. Its like having your head thrust into a gigantic undertow inducing stream of inside jokes and non sequiturs.

So why the disparity between my position that the website is so useful, and his that it is a not particularly funny, running gag-line? Is it just a matter of Twitter having a steep learning curve?

I’m not so sure.

What I suspect is that there is something deeper, and possibly more interesting going on. The usefulness of Twitter is actually highly, specifically targeted at a few core audiences. I don’t have a complete list, but they probably include:

  • Marketers – whether offline (ad people, cool hunters etc) or online (SEO types), Twitter is THE place to catch the most current memes in circulation. If you want to know what the world is thinking right now, this is how you find out. I frequently am alerted to breaking news via Twitter seconds, minutes, even hours before anyone else gets it.
  • Small business owners – a large chunk of the conversations that I personally engage in with other Twitter users basically amount to an exchange of experience or news or technical information that used to be the domain of card exchanges. Yes, you can get a better feel for the big picture of what somebody is about on LinkedIn. For pure immediacy though, this is the closest you’re going to get to actually pressing the flesh with a bunch of similarly-minded individuals. SMS doesn’t cut it – how would you find people like that in the first place. Its easy on Twitter, particularly if you use some of the other websites in its ecosystem.
  • Not-for-profits and social activists – I have more than a little suspicion that heavy Twitter usage played a part in the phenomenon that carried Mr Obama to the White House. The ability for information to quickly disseminate from a broadcaster to a large number of followers – through a process similar to broken telephone – without losing the sense that it is a personal conversation, is unrivalled elsewhere. You can’t get that with television. Yahoo news? Never. A room full of people can only fit a few hundred or maybe thousand people, and you can’t ever talk to all of them. With Twitter, by the time a strong message has been “retweeted” to all ten million users, they’re all actively taking part in that conversation. And those ten million users are influential. For politics or chariities, or anyone trying to change the world, Twitter matters.
  • Bored people. Yes, my friend has a point. There are a large number of people tweeting inanities for every person who has something useful and interesting to say. But if it makes them happy, what the heck is wrong with that?

Got some other ideas about what is happening here? Please let me know!