When you boil it down, there’s no real reason for me to have started my blog, SEO Wordsmith. There is a bevy of information related to SEO online. But I’ve been doing SEO for years – writing content, promoting sites – so it’s something I know well and like writing about. And just because Coke exists doesn’t mean some small company shouldn’t release a soft drink. In the world of SEO information, SEOmoz is Coke. Which I guess makes SEO Book Pepsi.

Even SEOmoz could have trouble finding premium subscribers. After all, with the number of free SEO tools available and thousands of pages of content (much of it good and not even filled with misinformation) why would you want to pay for something that is so abundant?

What do you get with SEOmoz Pro that you don’t get with free SEOmoz or from the SEO blogosphere on the whole? First off, you can be certain you’re getting accurate information. SEO blogs are full of misinformation and sometimes downright contradictory information. Anyone can start a blog, and anyone can call themselves an SEO expert. At SEOmoz you’ll only be getting the most accurate SEO information available – which is of course subject to change, and SEOmoz keeps up daily with all developments in the industry.

Yes, I can hear you saying: I already get that by going to the site for free. What you don’t get is access to SEOmoz’s premium features:

SEO Questions and Answers: this is like having an SEO consultant at your beck and call. Except instead of having to pay an hourly or exorbitant consulting fee, you can just buy the reasonably-priced premium package. Instead of hunting around the site or online looking for SEO answers, you can just ask. Sort of like Yahoo answers for SEO, except your answers will be thorough and not answered by a sixteen-year-old. I would say this is the main selling point to a premium membership.

SEO Guides: Moz has a couple of SEO guides online, but the bulk of their expert guides are for premium members. It costs $39.00 per guide, as opposed to $79.00 for everything, so becoming a member is the far better value. I wrote recently about the top SEO books that have been published, but a problem with these is that books can go out of date – maybe even in as little as six month’s time. With a premium membership, the guides are always up to date.

SEO Tools: Again, they’ve got a few free tools up to whet your appetite, but the most useful SEO tools are for premium members, and even the free tools don’t give you a full report until you become a full member. SEOmoz’s Linkscape is a pioneer in the optimization industry – potentially becoming an alternative to Google’s page rank. It gives a full metric of your site’s success, or failure. Basically, SEOmoz’s tools are the fastest and easiest to use – and actually work, unlike a number of the free tools you find online.

Gain the Competitive Edge with Linkscape from SEOmoz

Link Directory: Sick of submitting your website to low-ranked websites, or being unsure if it’s a trusted site? SEOmoz has a growing list of reputable directories with a high page rank to submit your site.

Discount Store: Get access to discounts on marketing sites or services, like a Best of the Web listing, web hosting, ad network, or others. It’s kind of like having an SEO-based rewards card where the card’s good for discounts on SEO-related products.

Training Seminars: After a certain point, the amount of information you can find – or absorb – online is not enough, so SEOmoz conducts in-depth training seminars. This is a good avenue for beginning site owners too. Some people just respond better to a seminar than trying to incorporate the barrage of information related to SEO. It’s also social – it’s not all business – and a way to network. Members get exclusive access to member events.

Put it all together and a premium membership is invaluable, for the sole reason that you don’t really have to look elsewhere for SEO information (yes, including my blog). With thousands of SEO sites out there, that’s saying something.

SEOmoz.org - Learn From SEO Experts. Become an Expert.

SEO Wordsmith now offers a manual directory submission service. Click the link for complete details, but some of the features of this service include:

  1. 50 titles and 50 descriptions to limit duplicate content and improve anchor text linking.
  2. A majority of sites with a PR 2 or better. Many sites in the PR 4, 5, 6, and 7 range.
  3. Completely manual submission – no submission bots involved.
  4. Deep link, internal page submissions.

Contact Me if you’re interested. I’ll need these details about your site:

Titles (up to 50):
URL:
Deep Link URLs (if applicable):
Keywords:
Categories:
Descriptions (up to 50):
Name:
Email:

Thanks!

When there are so many free WordPress themes available, does it make sense at all to purchase a premium theme?  Many people would say no, and designers themselves are seeing the end of the premium WordPress theme.  I’m not so sure.  Recently I updated my theme from a fairly generic Andreas 09 theme to the theme that you see here, put out by Daily Blog Tips.  I’m happy enough with it, but it’s not perfect by any means.

I had a lot of requirements for the template.  I wanted a three column template with a template on either side of the post, but those are few and far between, and because there are so few the free themes are used a lot.  If I couldn’t have that, I wanted two columns in the right sidebar.  I also wanted a comment link at the bottom, not the top, and I wanted page links that would be highlighted when scrolled over (see above).  Finally, I wanted the text to wrap around a picture at the top of a post (not seen here).

In short, I had a fair number of requirements and not all of them were met.  I’d prefer if the page links were beneath the title and this template does some screwy things, like it can’t fit a long title on the same line as the date.  Basically, this is a long way of saying that if I could have afforded a premium theme, I would have done it.  But I set this blog up on the cheap, choosing to put money into some other promotional areas.  Eventually, I’d love to have a theme that’s entirely unique to this blog – because I have to admit it’s kind of deflating to see another blog with this theme.  Like they’ve stolen something from me, even if it’s their’s for the taking.

All in all, there is a lot of value in working with an independent designer – a person that can help you fix problems with the template if they arise (should be a prerequisite for choosing a premium theme).  The tech support for this free theme is next to nil.  It amounts to: I let them know about a problem and never hear back.  They’ve still not updated the theme for WordPress 2.7.  If you’re really serious about branding a business or a blog, you have got to have a unique theme.  Also, if you’re really serious about moving your site beyond the confines of standard blogging into something more media-rich, a premium theme is the only way to go.  If you don’t, it’s going to be hard for your blog to be taken as seriously, and in a competitive blogosphere, any competitive edge helps.

So here are the best premium theme designers available.  They’ve got samples so you can take a look at how themes have been incorporated into working websites.  Themes from these designers are customizable.  I’ll start with the two most popular.

There’s a free Revolution theme floating around, but that has nothing on the customizable Revolution themes that let you set up magazine-style sites, video themes, business quality themes – basically stepping away from standard blogging into a much more professional and feature-rich theme.  Revolution themes are best suited for online magazines and newspapers.  And given the slow and not-so-slow demise of print media, you’re going to be seeing a lot more magazine-style sites, as well as increased demand for online magazines. With pro-grade Revolution themes you also get consultation on both implementing the theme, as well as help with promotion, so it will help you have a pro site right out of the gate.

Thesis WordPress Theme Thesis is one of the most versatile and user-friendly customizable themes available.  Emphasis on the user-friendly.  Consider it a sort of Blogger for customizable WordPress themes.  You don’t have to know anything about coding to make a theme using their basic template that looks entirely different from all the other sites that are currently using the theme.  Their slogan: Code less is apt, as you can change the theme via drop-down menus, rather than tinkering with CSS, possibly ruining the theme in the process.  Cool thing about this theme is the ability to mix up ads according to page – so ads can correlate to the theme of the page, increasing the potential for monetization. All in all, a friendly theme, the pro WordPress theme equivalent of WordPress plugins.  Thesis’ showcase shows the varied ways that you can use this versatile theme.

Theme Forest may be the best of the lot because they don’t only have cheap WordPress themes available (from $10!), but flash animation, custom video, and custom audio to add to your site.  Enhancing a site with video and audio – a step beyond just embedding a Youtube video – is going to be an important component of the next generation of blogging and content creation.  Really, it’s just fun to poke around in al the different animation they have available.  A theme from here will make you highly professional and cutting edge right out of the gate. That sounds like salespeak, but really, check it out.

WordPress Theme Market’s themes aren’t customizable like Thesis or Revolution, but they’re also a lot cheaper. Certainly, you can customize any theme, but you’re going to have to dig into CSS with WTM. But WTM themes have a number of built-in features you’re not going to get with free WordPress themes: free updates and install support, meaning your widgets and plugins will be good forever. Count on it, if you have a free theme, your theme’s going to go out of date and not be able to keep up with advances in plugins and WordPress itself. Additionally, all WTM themes are set up to be fully monetized, with placeholders for ads, from Adsense to 125×125 ads. Take a look: the templates are slick and will look like a pro site.

Omni’s a good choice for budget-minded bloggers because at Omni you can get four themes for the price of one – pink, black, brown, and tan. Say if you’re a band manager you could use each one of these themes to help promote bands with different styles. Omni says it’s best suited for Myspace or Facebook profiles, and more and more people are looking for custom themes to stand out from other artists on crowded networks. Myspace may allow for more customization of Myspace pages, but it’s still pretty homogenous, IMO. Anyway, Omni’s more versatile as than just for those social networks – good for anyone looking for a well-organized, plugin-ready WordPress theme, with lifetime support.

Like Thesis, Solostream is a good designer if you can’t navigate your way around CSS (and if you ever try to, you tend to break things). Solostream templates let you change color settings, the number of columns, sidebars, etc. using drop down menus. There’s no reason to code anything. It’s less customizable than Thesis, but also less expensive, and you can have a pro-quality site up in an hour or less. Easily monetized with drop-down menus, post thumbnails, and built-in search engine optimization, among other features.  Check out the screencast the designer’s got up on the site before buying: it shows just how easy it is to use one of these templates and make it your own.

Unique Blog Design has got one of the more unique set-ups for a premium template company. If you’re already thinking about setting up a blog with a domain and a web host (which you should if you’re serious about ranking), then you can sign up for domain registration and hosting through UBD and get a free customized blog template. Wish I had done this initially because their plan is through my web host BlueHost, as well as Hostgator. Aside from that, Unique Blog Design has some pro-level pre-made themes – their Citrus series – as well as a total design service to design a WordPress site around your brand.

For affiliate marketers: Apart from Thesis and Theme Forest, these other template providers are managed through:

E-junkie Shopping Cart and Digital Delivery

No, I’m not talking about the SEO Book, though that certainly qualifies as a top quality SEO tome (I’ll review that ebook in the future). I’m talking about SEO books printed on actual paper. It may seem strange to read a book about online marketing in a bound book, but trust me, reading a bound search engine optimization book is a much different experience than sifting through the pages upon pages of information (and misinformation) posted about SEO and marketing online.

As I mentioned in my post this week about web reading habits, people read much differently online than they read other material. Yes, this even means marketers. Reading online is an experience similar to watching TV – hopping around from one blog to the next, never taking time to absorb any one site for too long.

The brain just absorbs information differently when reading from a printed book. This may seem like a small issue, but it’s not. If you read the same information via a bound book, you’re much more likely to absorb that information, take written notes, and put those issues into practice. As books are fact checked, you can be certain you’re not getting misinformation. It’s also easy to reference a book as you work online, rather than flipping between different websites. Finally, books are portable in ways that computers are not.

In short, reading a book about online marketing is not a contradiction in terms. So here are the top five books on SEO and marketing I’ve found in my work as an SEO, all with recent information:

This book is like a hybrid book and computer screen in one, which is very helpful. Other books are print only with very few pictures, whereas this book lays it all out with screenshots so you can get a good bird’s eye view into comparing your site with the competition. This book covers everything related to SEO. Everything. If you want to save money on hiring a pro SEO (don’t know why I’m saying this, self-defeating) then buy this book and you’ll have most everything you need (except someone to do all the actual work of optimization).

This is a more professional-grade book, useful for marketing professionals. Site owners can benefit too by knowing the jargon before working with a professional marketer and by employing the tactics described here. Covers impressive ground related to search engine marketing, as opposed to straight optimization.

If the above book is a bit too comprehensive, this book is stellar at putting marketing information in more layman’s terms, yet without sacrificing the amount of information. Great info on the entire Web 2.0 experience and beyond – much about viral marketing, rather than just marketing for search engines. It’ll help you devise a complete online marketing program.

This book is a bit outdated, but the basics for using Google Adwords haven’t changed that much in two years, so this is a good Adwords Bible to have by your side that will likely get a lot of use. Adwords is like the stock market – it’s a lot more dangerous than SEO. If you don’t optimize, you might lose money from a lack of sales, but you won’t actually have to pay anything out. A wrong turn with Adwords and it’s like having a bad investment. An Adwords primer is vital.

There are other good “a day” books, but I didn’t want to repeat books with some of the same information. Measuring how you’re succeeding is half of success. If you’re not measuring your site’s performance based on a string of different factors, then you’re only doing part of the work. Improve you return on investment by altering your marketing strategy based on what you find in an analytics program.

Good overview for the beginner – thought I’d throw this in if the first optimization book seems a little heavy. Good information on web design and effective copywriting – not just about keyword optimization and other basic SEO principles. Updated with new information.

I’d recommend this book for someone just getting into blogging, or with intermediate experience, but for that it’s invaluable, as is the ProBlogger site. Even this blog entry is based on Darren Rowse’s tips: to improve Amazon commissions, write a series of Best Of posts with Amazon products. I’m revealing my impetus for writing this post, but I also wanted to get across the research I’ve done on SEO in books.  As the title shows, he knows how to market to get a maximum response: Secrets for Blogging Your Way to a Six-Figure Income.

Many who are new to blogging may be impressed by the blogs they see that have advertisements.  For new bloggers there can be the misconception that blogs with advertisements must get a lot of traffic because companies bothered to advertise on the blog space.  The fact that “real” and affiliate advertisements are often indistinguishable leads to this problem.  The actual truth is that a blog with zero hits a day can put affiliate advertisements on a blog – immediately.

Much of the time, you don’t even need to pass a review to have your blog listed.  And even if there is a review process, this just entails determining if the blog is offensive or illegal – not well written or it gets a lot of traffic.  While some affiliate programs are for high-trafficked and well-established sites, this is not always the case.

Stay Away from Adsense and Amazon

Here I’m not going to talk about Google Adsense or Amazon affiliate links.  I would make the argument that you should not include these on your blog.  For a new blog, you’re likely going to make pennies on Adsense – whereas with a good affiliate program, you can make $50 or even more per sale.  Yes, with Adsense every click is money.  But also every click takes away from clicks on the higher-paying affiliate programs I’ll list below.

The same goes for Amazon.  I remember one time I sold a $2500 plasma TV through my Amazon Affiliates account.  I thought I’d struck gold.  How much did I make on Amazon commissions that month?  Zero.  It’s not the amount of money you bring in, it’s the number of sales, and if you don’t pass a very difficult threshold, you won’t be seeing any revenue.  Additionally, Amazon pays a low commission per sale, compared to other affiliates that offer 25% or more.

If you were to choose between Amazon and Adsense, I’d say go with Amazon because customers can buy anything and you’ll still be credited – for instance, I was advertising a book on my site when someone bought a TV through my link – but it’s still a difficult way to make reliable money.  If you have a product-centered blog, then the Affiliates program can work.  But just putting an Associates box in the sidebar is far from effective.  The fact is people use Amazon and Google because they’re easy to use, not because they’re easy to make money.

Today’s Blog Affiliate Programs

In today’s internet, that just doesn’t make any sense because new affiliate programs are as easy to set up as Google and Amazon – the pioneers in blog affiliate programs.  These are general affiliate programs that are appropriate for all blogs – including established blogs.  If you run a flower shop, you’re going to want to find some gardening based links, for instance.  But these referral programs are good for blogs of all topics:

This general affiliate link is useful for all blogs.  Pay Per Post is a way to quickly become a professional blogger, as companies will pay you to blog about certain topics.  There are complaints that this corrupts the purity of the blogosphere by injecting money into blogging.  I don’t buy it: monetization and blogging aren’t enemies.  Fact is, bloggers are able to make money using pay per post.

Add widgets according to your blog’s topic.  Alternately, you can become a  Widgetbucks referral affiliate, which offers 5% on the referrals on anyone who signs up for 12 months.  Often, affiliate referrals dry up after 45 days.

Topic-related text links with 50% payout for each sale.  Give the price of these text links, the payout possibilities are high.  Also has a good referral program, but requires Java in the sidebar, rather than plain HTML.

A wide range of links, from product links to text-based links to automatic keyword-based links.  A great service for a product-affiliated blog.  Money can be earned from referrals (called “leads”), not just purchases, opening up more money-making opportunities.  Includes a good referral program for new member sign-ups.

Most every web host has an affiliate referral program that offers large payouts per sign-up.  Examples are ThinkHost, BlueHost, and HostMonster – three of the most popular web hosts.  They require no approval process to enter the affiliate program.  Just sign up (using the affiliates link at the bottom of the page) and you can add a badge to a web page.

Affiliate Networks

Clickbank has a number of different affiliate programs that you can sign up to immediately based on your niche.  An example in the affiliate marketing niche: Affilorama.  There are programs of every stripe and bloggers can begin making links immediately.

This is a more advanced network.  While you will likely be accepted into Pepperjam immediately, it is possible that you will not be approved by individual affiliates within their network.  This blog has been approved for some, rejected for some.  Given the number of affiliate programs in Pepperjam, it’s one of the main places you should go to find affiliate programs.

Affiliate Program Scams

No affiliate program is perfect.  So don’t be scared off by the number of angry posts you see about a particular program.  There are bad reviews of everything.  Everything.  Including Adsense and Amazon Affiliates.  Do it: type in Adsense scam or Amazon Associates scam.  Every major brand has complaints – customers are never 100% happy.  And there are just as many, if not many more, posts saying that transactions went smoothly. At the very least, putting an affiliate referral badge on your site can earn you a commission on sign-ups, which costs you nothing.

One final tip
: Bloggers love to add a series of widgets on their sites for Mybloglog, Blogcatalog, an extended blogroll, and buttons to every directory imaginable.  Though some of this is OK, as it can lead to good relationships and increased traffic, overloading your site with outbound links will just take away hits from your affiliate ads.  If you’re really trying to make money online, weight your sidebar with affiliate programs, instead of other eye candy.  However, that’s not a license to add 100 affiliate banners to your page.  Not only will Google ban overuse of affiliate links on a page, but people will not study, and click on, a link if there’s too much information.


VistaPrint Free Business Cards

There are more ways to help brand a business than ever before. If you’re an entrepreneur and not taking advantage of these offers then you’re seriously missing out. There are tools available that would have been unheard of only a short time ago. The best company I’ve found to make branded business products is VistaPrint. In one location you can brand a business in a number of different ways: calendars, car magnets, shirts, hats, cards, and on. There are also business identity products, such as letterhead, checks, brochures, business cards, and even websites. In a short time, you can take your business from an idea to being well-branded and recognizable.

FREE Products: At VistaPrint, you can get 250 free business cards, as well as freebies of most everything VistaPrint offers: rubber stamps, calendars, letterhead, car door magnets. There’s nothing to lose to order a copy of one of these free designs to see the quality that VistaPrint offers. Maybe you just want one car magnet to put on your own car. The site also offers free business marketing tools, such as a logo maker, so small business can save money on the expense of a graphic designer.

250 Free Business Cards at VistaPrint!

The Quality of Templates: Many product sites offering templates only have few designs that scream “free,” rather than professional. VistaPrint’s templates differ in that they are well-suited to work on the professional level for all types of industries: farming, real estate, sports, and so on. If you run a business, your niche is covered. Also unlike other free business template emporiums, VistaPrint has an advanced design team who can design a unique and pro-quality logo to use on the different VistaPrint products, if you require something more specialized.  And it’s not just for businesses either: anyone can sign up to make t-shirts, hats, or whatever you might need.

Buying Business Products in Bulk: You could use a site like Cafe Press, but this is more than a little unprofessional for a small or large business – the equivalent of having a Blogspot blog rather than registering your own web address – not to mention expensive.  A site like Lulu.com can print up calendars, but this is both more expensive and limited to a few types of products.

The ability to be able to buy all of your promotional materials in one place saves both time and money. Business owners have been known to purchase their calendars from one place, business cards from another, and brochures from another. As it’s always cheaper to buy in bulk, you can save more money buying these products with VistaPrint. Given that their prices are cheaper than competitors, you’ll be saving even more money.

10 FREE Holiday Products - Order Today!

VistaPrint Affiliates: Finally, VistaPrint has an incredible offer for affiliates. The majority of affiliate programs frown on using the affiliate program merely to get a discount on products. VistaPrint is the exact opposite. When you sign up to be a VistaPrint affiliate, you can use the program merely to receive discounts on VistaPrint products: up to 80% off! There’s no reason not to sign up for a program, even if you just plan on using it in the future.

All told, VistaPrint is one of those best kept secrets of the web: easy-to-use with free products and design capabilities not offered by other sites of its kind.

Click here to try out VistaPrint.

I recently switched over my site, SEO Wordsmith, from WordPress.com to BlueHost.  At WordPress.org, BlueHost is listed front and center as WordPress’s premier selection for transferring a WordPress account. I wasn’t entirely lazy: I did some research, looked into other web hosts, like ThinkHost and Host Monster.  Every web host has complaints saying, “My service went out.  Don’t use them.”  BlueHost has a fair number of these, but also glowing praise, so I felt confident enough making the switch.

Switching from WordPress to BlueHost: I’ve never had a web host before.  I’ve worked within every CMS imaginable as a professional copywriter, and I’ve run blogs before using free accounts, but I’ve never had the experience of dealing with a web host content management system.  I wanted to make the switch to have more flexibility for the site, such as using WordPress plugins – I’m a plugins addict – but I also wanted to have the experience of promoting a website from an independent host.

The Verdict: The switch from WordPress.com to BlueHost was not as seamless as it could be, though I imagine this is the case for other web hosts as well.  It’s not as easy as, say, starting a blog and publishing – takes five minutes.  Transferring to a web host was not nearly as quick: you have to know what you’re doing.  And BlueHost customer support was not as helpful as they could be when transferring over information from WordPress: such as where to change the nameservers within WordPress.  As this is probably a common question, I figured the BlueHost tech staff would have some idea of what to do.  WordPress support was able to help with every issue.

BlueHost Tech Support: That said, BlueHost technical support is amazingly efficient.  Somehow, for a company as large as BlueHost, I’ve never had to wait online for tech support for more than 30 seconds.  Literally.  And you can keep calling back with new concerns and they’ll answer your problems.  Such as: I inadvertently deleted my Htaccess file, so only the front page was loading.  The answer: go into WordPress, and re-save your permalink settings.  The Htaccess file will return.  The CMS for any web host is large, so you’re going to have questions about set-up and maintenance of your site.

What BlueHost Offers: Enough about me.  This is what BlueHost offers and why you should feel confident opening up an account.  BlueHost has one main hosting account.  It’s listed as $6.95 a month.  What this means is that you have to pay for the full year upfront, or $83.00.  Given what you get with BlueHost, the price is worth it:

  • Unlimited file transfer (means people can download material from your site)
  • Unlimited disk space
  • Unlimited domains (check me out, I started marketplace.seowordsmith.com, seamlessly adding a subdomain to my main site)
  • Free domain name (I recommend you apply for a domain name with BlueHost first, rather than registering it with WordPress first.  It’s cheaper and it will take 60 days to transfer the domain registration from WordPress)
  • 2500 email accounts
  • User-friendly, free site builder
  • 24/7 Support (as mentioned, BlueHost support is always accessible)

Other Special Features of BlueHost: Enhanced security with user-based permissions.  Attempts by hackers can slow down a website’s processing power and time, but a href=”http://www.seowordsmith.com”>SEO Wordsmith, from WordPress.com to BlueHost is both safe and quick.

An inexpensive dedicated server: only $30 a year.  Using a dedicated server is great for search engine ranking.  Google prizes a dedicated server.  Other web hosts might charge $200 a month for this service.  In addition, certain website tools, such as payment processing, won’t work without a dedicated server – so ebusinesses can save money on high-tech implementation.

For me, aside from a couple hours dealing with getting the site up and running, it’s been a breeze using BlueHost.  No down time.  This isn’t a huge domain, granted, but BlueHost is known for being efficient with high server up-time.  It’s a good solution for small businesses and personal use.

Apply for a Blue Host account here.

06
Dec

Here, I’m going to write about good deals on products and services I’ve found online – product reviews, ebook reviews, service reviews, and other topics that aren’t directly related to SEO on SEO Wordsmith.  It will also be a place where affiliate marketers can find good affiliate deals that are easy to set up and integrate into a site.