How (And Why) to Create a WordPress Child Theme in the Next 5 Minutes

A WordPress child theme is simply a copy of a theme you have installed on your site.

And this copy allows you to make changes to the code of your theme, without affecting the original theme. The biggest benefit of this is that when the original theme is updated (and good themes are updated quite regularly), you don’t lose all your code changes, but still get all the benefits of the upgrade, since the theme upgrade gets passed down from parent theme to child theme, without overwriting the code changes you’ve made.

So the idea and implementation of child themes is actually very straightforward.  The problem is, the concept, and how to get it up and running on your site isn’t always clearly explained.  So this tutorial is an attempt to put that right!

But first of all – it’s worth noting that if you never actually make changes to the code of your theme (or don’t plan to make changes), then you don’t necessarily need to worry about child themes at all. If all changes you make to a theme are made directly through the theme’s control panel, rather than by tweaking the code, feel free to skip over this article entirely!  But…

Since there’s always a chance, even a slim chance, that you’re going to tweak some of the code of your theme in future, using a child theme is in fact recommended for pretty much every WordPress site.

And one last quick note before we dive into this – not all themes support the ability to create child themes.  All good themes should, and you can double check this by simply creating a child theme through the process below, and making sure everything (in the theme preview screen) looks and acts as it should, before you make it live on your site.

Okay, let’s get started…

You Decide: By Plugin, or by Hand?

If you want the quickest and easiest way to create a child theme, then there’s plugins that do just that. They hide most of the technical mumbo-jumbo from you, so if you’re not particularly technical, or just want to do this the easiest way, a plugin’s the way to go.

However, doing this process by hand does teach you more about working with WordPress, and as you develop these skills it helps you to manage your site more effectively. Plus, even by hand, this process can quite literally be done in five minutes.

But let’s start by creating your child theme using a plugin…

Creating a Child Theme Using: Child Theme Configurator

By searching the WordPress plugin directory for “child themes”, you’ll see plenty of options to help you with this process.  However, in this tutorial I’m going to talk through one plugin in particular that works well for easily creating a child theme.

So, without further ado, introducing the Child Theme Configurator:

Install and activate the plugin, and then you’ll need to go to the Tools menu and choose Child Themes:

So next, select the parent theme that you’re creating the child theme from:

Then choose Create New Child Theme and give your child theme a folder name in your WordPress installation.  This is often just the parent theme folder name with -child added:

 

Next, in Stylesheet Handling the default option of Enqueue parent stylesheet generally works absolutely fine:

Next you can choose an option to copy across menus, widgets and other customizer options from the parent theme:

If you find copying across the menus and widgets in this way causes issues with the child theme (I’ve noticed it does on occasion), then you may just want to recreate those in the child theme by hand.  And if you have any issues at all while setting up the child theme, you can just delete it of course and go through the process again with slightly different options.

But actually, it’s worth noting that when you’ve just installed a brand new (parent) theme and have decided that’s the one you really want to build your site around, it’s worth creating a child theme of it immediately before you really do any customizations at all. That way, all the work you’re doing right from the start is in the child theme, which gives you maximum flexibility when building up your site, while still allowing you to benefit from theme updates.

So leaving the remaining plugin options as the default settings should be fine, and then click on the Generate/Rebuild Child Theme Files button to create the child theme:

And that’s it!

You can then go to your themes screen and you’ll find the child theme has appeared. And then to check how it looks and to see if it’s all working as it should, just click on the Live Preview button:

And when you’re ready for your site to go live with the child theme, just click on Activate.

Or, Creating a Child Theme by Hand…

As mentioned, the benefit of creating a child theme by hand is it may give you more control, but in particular it helps you understand how the process works better, which allows you to run and manage your site better.

And even if you do choose to use plugins as a short cut, also knowing how the process works by hand allows you to double check that the plugin has worked correctly. Because I’ve noticed that some child theme plugins create quite a few unnecessary extra files that can make your installation of WordPress quite messy.

Okay, so this process assumes you’re comfortable working with files and folders on your server (either through FTP software, or using your host’s control panel), and that you know how to create and edit text files.

Now, I’m going through this demonstration using FileZilla as the FTP software.  For text editing you could just use Notepad, or something more powerful like Notepad++.

So first of all, navigate to your themes folder on your server.  In your WordPress installation folder, this will be in the wp-content folder and then in the themes folder:

Next, create a new folder on your server in that folder.  You can do this by right-clicking (on a PC):

And then create an appropriately named folder for your child theme.  This is often the name of the parent theme with -child added (just like we did when using the plugin):

Then you want to create an empty text file on your computer and name is style.css.

Next, open the empty file in a text editor and past in the following text:

/*
Theme Name: Name of Child Theme Goes Here
Theme URI: http://www.YourWebsite.com
Description: A description of child theme goes here
Author: Your Name
Author URI: http://www.YourWebsite.com
Template: twentyfifteen
Version: 1.0.0
License: GNU General Public License v2 or later
License URI: http://www.gnu.org/licenses/gpl-2.0.html
Tags: enter some relevant tags if you like
Text Domain: twenty-fifteen-child
*/

@import url(“../parenttheme/style.css”);

You can replace most of the sample text on each line (the text after the colon), and it doesn’t make a huge amount of difference what you enter there as you’re likely to be the only one viewing it.

The line that you need to pay particular attention to is the Template: line. This should be the exact folder name of the parent theme in the themes folder.  For example, if you were creating a child theme of the Twenty Fifteen theme, the value you would enter there would be: twentyfifteen

And for Text Domain, this is the name of the folder created for the internationalization of the theme. So any folder roughly suitable to the child theme name is absolutely fine.

You also need to pay close attention to the @import line.  There you change parenttheme to the correct folder name for your parent theme.

So for Twenty Fifteen it would be:

@import url(“../twentyfifteen/style.css”);

So the entire style.css file could now look something like:

/*
Theme Name: Twenty Fifteen Child
Theme URI: http://www.AWebsiteAddress.com
Description: Child of Twenty Fifteen Theme
Author: John Smith
Author URI: http://www.AWebsiteAddress.com
Template: twentyfifteen
Version: 1.0.0
License: GNU General Public License v2 or later
License URI: http://www.gnu.org/licenses/gpl-2.0.html
Tags: 2015,responsive
Text Domain: twenty-fifteen-child
*/

@import url(“../twentyfifteen/style.css”);

And then upload your updated style.css file into your child theme folder, and that should be it:

Then all that’s left to do is preview the theme to double check it all looks and works okay, and then activate it.

Okay, it’s worth noting that this approach to creating a child theme by hand isn’t considered best practice. What is considered best practice is to enqueue the parent theme stylesheet by creating a functions.php file in the child theme folder.  However, this can start to complicate the process considerably so we’re going to leave it out of this particular tutorial.  That said, a good plugin (like the one above) should use the best practice approach, therefore solving this problem for you!

And so, if you are interested in delving into this ‘more correct’ approach further, create a child theme using the plugin, and then view the files and code they create.  That will then give you a good idea of what’s correct, although will require some understanding of PHP.

So that’s a couple of ways you can quite literally create a child theme in five minutes.  The plugin approach is easier, but the ‘by hand’ approach does get you more involved with the process, which helps you to develop your WordPress knowledge, and can help you to have more control over the process, and over managing your site in general.

Guest Posting in 2014 and Beyond…

 

2014 was a difficult year for guest posting, and yet another difficult year for link building in general.  The changes to Google’s algorithm keep on coming, and these changes keep knocking sites way down the results – what Google’s happy with one day, is what gets your site penalized the next.

So earlier this year, it was guest posting’s turn in the Google cross-hairs.  Now in my opinion, this had been a long time coming.  Lots of guest posting simply came down to poorly written articles on poorly maintained (and little read) websites.  Yes, these all counted as links, but no one was clicking through to visit the actual site, and the entire neighborhood linking to your website was pretty suspect.

In fact, many of these blogs posting guest posts consisted of nothing but guest posts, there was no original content at all, another sure sign that the owner really didn’t care what was being posted, and was just happy with the free content, even if it was poorly researched and written, and hadn’t been within miles of a competent editor.

So How Can Guest Posting Benefit Your Business?

Simple:

A link from a high traffic site with a readership relevant to your business, gets you visitors interested in what you offer.  And there’s no cost for these visitors if you’re writing the content yourself, instead just spending a little of your time creating the content and liaising with blogs to see which one wants to publish your article.

A further benefit includes broadening the brand of your business by getting it in front of more eyeballs.  This can be useful for online brand management (making sure your business name turns up on sites you want it too) and even if readers don’t click through, they may remember your business name and search for it directly, or visit later when they’re in the market for what you offer.

And yet another benefit too is of course these guest posts get you links, and links push your website up the search engine results, right?  Now, these days you’re much more likely to get a nofollow link from a guest post, but I wouldn’t worry too much about that.  Google officially says that nofollow links are ignored from an SEO perspective, but some people (coming from a slightly more objective position) disagree.

So basically, guest posts create:

  1. Direct traffic
  2. Online branding (and building your personal reputation in the market too if you’re the author)
  3. SEO benefits that may happen to occur too

So is Guest Posting Right for Your Business?

Firstly, give some thought to how long it will take you to:

  1. Plan and write content.
  2. Find and liaise with sites that publish similar content and that can drive targeted traffic to your site.
  3. Track traffic and results from this work to make sure it’s worth your time and that you’re on the right track.

The more you go through this process of course, the easier it becomes – articles get planned and written faster, finding and dealing with sites becomes easier (especially once they get to know you), and the more you’re published the more credibility you have when approaching the next site you’d like to be published on.

But guest posting simply takes time and effort, either time and effort that you put in yourself, or that one of your employees puts in, or this effort can be done on your behalf by an agency if you choose to outsource this work.

So guest posting is a further way to diversify your traffic sources while furthering your company and your personal brand (as an author).  If these goals align with your goals and your business’s goals, then give some thought to tracking the ROI (or time spent according to your hourly rate) on this activity and whether it makes sense for you to continue it on an ongoing basis.

Importantly, different results will come from being published on different sites, and you will likely be starting at the lower end of sites (less traffic, less visibility) and moving up, so bear in mind that this won’t be an overnight process.

With enough reputation and the right kind of networking, getting a guest post on the New York Times (it does happen) or similar site may have a dramatic effect on your business, but that’s likely out of your reach at this early stage.

But is 2014 the Beginning of the End for Guest Posting?

Matt Cutts (head of Google’s web spam team) is currently on leave from Google taking a well deserved break, but while he was still working, his every tweet, his every blog post got absorbed by millions of website owners, and dissected at length in forums and on blogs.  And some of his proclamations have ended up devastating a good percentage of website owners, or even entire industries.

Well, on January 20th, 2014 Matt publicly focused on guest posting, and the SEO community predictably went nuts.  There was a lot of confusion too, and perhaps this was Matt’s intention (Google does love spreading Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt about its intentions).  People were asking:

  • Did he mean all guest posting was finished with?
  • Or just guest posting farms?  (Sites comprised of nothing, but guest posts.)
  • How could website owners successfully build links if they can’t publish guest posts?
  • Google’s gone too far this time!

…and so on.

He later clarified that he wasn’t referring to all guest posting, but low quality guest posting, and in particular guest posting where the entire intention of the post is a link for SEO.

So this really comes back to Google’s rule that links shouldn’t ever be built with SEO in mind.  In fact, you should forget that links have any effect on your search engine ranking at all!

A bit of a tall order now that link building has been an integral part of SEO for over a decade, but as mentioned Google does love to keep you guessing.

So he did later clarify that certain types of guest posting is fine – if the content is high quality and if it genuinely adds to the value of the site and is relevant, that’s fine.

And all guest post links are pretty much nofollow across the board now, and if this isn’t the case on some sites you publish on, you may want to ask that site owner to nofollow your link.

And in my personal opinion – if sites as credible as the Financial Times and the New York Times are still accepting guest posts (with links in many cases), it would be absolutely ridiculous of Google to penalize such credible and valuable sites because they publish guest posts.

But since those sites really do value their readers and are very careful about the content they publish, this comes under Matt’s clarification that all guest posting definitely isn’t made equal, and if what’s being posted is valuable and relevant to the site’s readers, that’s great.

Which Are the Best Sites to Publish on?

At the simplest level, getting published on a site that drives a positive ROI for you is worthwhile.  There’s the secondary benefits of building your brand and supporting your SEO efforts, but those benefits are less direct and can be harder to measure accurately.

So tracking your ROI will come down to measuring visitors and calls from the guest post, and following those leads down the sales pipeline to calculate how much that guest post has earned you in the short, and long term.  Depending on the length of your sales cycle this may take weeks or even months to measure, so you probably don’t want to post once, and wait that long to decide whether to continue or not, since a more concerted guest posting effort will give you more statistically relevant numbers anyway (results are always more volatile and difficult to track accurately in smaller quantities).

If your business is currently on a shoestring budget, and you can find 30 to 60 minutes daily (or more) to spend on this activity by managing all aspects yourself, that may be a good approach to help get the ball rolling for your business.  This case study is a great example of a business largely built through guest posting.

If you are in a very niche industry, as many of us are, the New York Times may of course be a bit of a stretch, and perhaps even not that beneficial for you.  Getting prominent exposure on a highly relevant niche site may produce much better results for you, with much less work, and with a much faster publishing time.

So, What do You Write About?

Guest posting is about providing value to other sites.  In fact, it’s about giving them your very best content.  Don’t keep it just to yourself!  Publishing in depth tutorials on your site, and then hoping to get that 400 word article that barely skims the surface of the subject published on another site, is a recipe for very poor guest posting results.

Your guest posting content must be as good as, or better, than what’s on your site.  The reason for this is:

  1. You’re trying to get the attention of a site that doesn’t have to publish your content.  Fantastic content that their readers will love helps to put this in your favor.
  2. You’re trying to get traffic, branding, and credibility through getting guest posts published, and fantastic content does this, whereas poor to mediocre content is not a good salesperson for your business.  Great content can build so much credibility for your business, that leads may come to you very warm and with far less resistance to your message and pricing.

So you really need to immerse yourself into your market and what’s being published, to get ideas, and to stay up to date.  This needn’t be difficult – RSS subscriptions to blogs and news feeds in your market is an easy way to stay on top of what’s being published, and to understand what kind of content is timely and of interest to your market.

Approaching sites suggesting they publish out of date content ideas, or content that frankly isn’t that interesting, isn’t going to get you positive reactions.  Guest posts help position you as an expert, but also are there to make the readers happy, interested, and informed.  An uninteresting or irrelevant article isn’t going to get the attention of blogs, nor their readers.

And the title comes into this too and is very important – the title is how people decide whether to read your post, or not.  An uninteresting or uninspired title will result in many less readers.  But on the other hand we’re not publishing on TMZ!  Interesting, intriguing and relevant titles, that are written in a suitable voice for your market, is very important to this process.

And the same goes for the content of the article.  Keep it easy to read and interesting (yet still on topic) with:

  • Short paragraphs (few things put a reader off more than a wall of text)
  • Suitable, and ideally straightforward language for your target market
  • Interesting ideas presented in an easy to absorb way
  • Lots of sub headings to help break up the text
  • And if the blog you’re hoping to get published on doesn’t supply them, include one or more copyright free images, or images you’ve purchased the rights to.  It’s best to include one image at the start of the post, and then potentially more throughout.

Should You Pay for Guest Posts?

Paying for the placement of a post is an option – some sites advertise this option, many don’t.  But this is moving away from pure guest posting (where your content gets published because it really benefits the readers) to sponsored posts which according to Google need to be labeled as such.

Sponsored posts are often more promotional, and are really a form of advertising.  You may find this approach more suitable for your marketing goals, and it can in some ways be a more linear and predictable approach since you pay, get your content reviewed (or created for you by the site), and it gets published.

Often there’s way less messing around and emailing back and forth when compared to standard guest posting, but since this is a form of advertising it will likely be looked upon differently (and likely not as favorably) by readers, but is potentially another marketing approach.

And blogs that don’t publicize their sponsored posts policy may still have one, but you may need to contact them directly first to find out more.  But again – ensure any links from these posts are nofollow and marked as sponsored, otherwise Google could end up getting very upset with you.

Starting Your Guest Posting Journey

Here’s the steps to getting going:

1: Stay up to date

Keep up to date with your market; with what’s being published, what the evergreen and the current hot topics are, what the up and coming technologies or events are …etc.

2: Building a contact list

Build a list of sites that your target market reads (try to aim for niche specific sites here, especially at the start of this process), and rank them according to how easy or difficult it will be to get a post published.  Now, this may largely be guess work, but it gives you a starting point.  The most credible sites in your market want to maintain that credibility, and that’s done through being very careful about what they publish.  Whereas smaller sites may be easier to deal with if you don’t have a guest posting track record.

3: Building connections

Start to contact a few of the sites regarding getting content published.  This relationship building process is different for every site.  Some sites won’t publish guest posts unless they already have a relationship with you, some don’t publish any at all, some may want to see the entire article before considering it, some may be responsive but will want to discuss article ideas, some will just ask for payment, and some you won’t get a response from at all may need to be chased a little on social media or by phone in an attempt to get their attention.

This process is very much more art than science, and is not a fast process.  But the more credibility you already have in your market, the easier this is, whereas if you’re a new business without a track record, this initial process can definitely be harder and slower.  However, having an active and in depth blog on your site definitely helps since it gives potential publishing partners a very good idea about your writing style and level of expertise.

4: Creating and publishing the content

The three previous steps are essential to actually getting your high quality content live, and sending you visitors from other websites.  But of course you’ll need to create the content to be published (or have it created).

If you know your subject well enough, are comfortable writing the content, and have the time for this, then this process can be straightforward.  If you’re still looking to manage this all yourself but aren’t entirely comfortable with the process yet, it may take you a little time to find your voice and write in a style that blogs like to publish in, but it will come.

Alternatively, having this step handled by a staff member or an agency may be an option and can help speed up the process and free up your time for other matters.

And again, sponsored posts don’t have the same appeal to readers and can be expensive, but that process can be far more predictable and fast moving if you’re looking to get visitors from relevant blogs.

Whereas the guest posting process does take time with outreach, liaising with sites, creating content, building relationships, moving up the ladder from low traffic to high sites… but whether you’re managing this entire process yourself, whether it’s being handled by a staff member, or if you’re thinking of outsourcing the entire process, the extra visitors and brand boost this marketing approach creates can be very positive for your business in both the short and long term.

How Blogging Regularly Took a Site From Zero to 10,000 Visitors a Month

How Blogging Regularly Took a Site From Zero to 10,000 Visitors a Month

Let Me Ask You a Question…

  • Site A has 5 pages of quality content
  • And Site B has 5,000 pages of quality content

Which one will get more traffic?

Well, the short answer (ignoring any number of potential variables) is Site B.

It’s simply because more quality content means:

  • More links from other sites.
  • More of your pages being shared on Twitter and Facebook.
  • More traffic through the search engines.
  • More repeat visitors.
  • People spending longer on your site.

Simply put – a site with more quality pages is a much stronger resource than a site with less pages, and in the vast majority of cases this leads to more traffic.

But a lot of this is what I’ve already touched on in a previous post, so let’s get to the meat of this particular post:

 

From Zero to Ten Thousand Visitors a Month (in Just Under Six Months)

Okay ‘zero’ is a slight  exaggeration.  The site was getting maybe five or ten visitors a day.  But then it took off, and kept taking off.  Here’s how the traffic stats look at the end of December 2012:

And as I write this the site continues to hold steady at 250 – 350 visitors a day, with no new work being done (although new blog posts, and new links could help increase these traffic levels many times over, and relatively quickly).

Now please note I’m not going to reveal this site as that’s private to a client, but I was managing every aspect of the content creation and link building for the site, and that client now owns a site getting over 100,000 visitors a year, and that’s just the start of this site’s potential.  Top sites in this market easily bring in 50,000 visitors a month (as a low estimate).

Right now, for the site in this example the majority of traffic (around 85%) does come through Google, which is always a somewhat unreliable business model to depend upon, but it’s worth nothing that these continued traffic increases came during the multiple Penguin updates, when tens of thousands of sites pretty much disappeared off the map (dropping from top 10 to number 1,000 in the results almost overnight).

One reason for this is with this particular site I played it particularly safe.  With a real focus on high quality content on the site, regularly adding new content to the site, and working to only get quality links that would stand the test of time.

Now, doing things in this way is very time consuming and a lot of work, but it can pay off significantly, and as much as is possible can help a site ride out the ongoing algorithmic updates.

Of course I can’t pretend to predict the future and Google’s whims in one or two years, which is another reason for avoiding depending just on traffic through the search engines – at the very least the site in question should start building an email list as soon as possible:

Even a 5% opt in rate would add around 500 subscribers a month, and honestly 5% is quite a low figure depending how the opt-in is presented.  I’ve seen some sites that easily convert 20% of visitors or more into email subscribers which in this example would grow an email list of around 24,000 in a year (obviously ignoring variations in traffic levels, people unsubscribing…etc).

 

The Point of This Post

Quality link building is of course very important for growing traffic, but this particular post is all about content.

Creating content that attracts traffic to your site is often known as Inbound Marketing as it helps attract traffic to you through the search engines, through links, and through social sharing, compared to spending money on advertising for example, which is in turn referred to in some cases as Outbound Marketing (and also sometimes as Interruption Marketing).

And quality content over time can also help make your site an authority in your market that often gets referenced and linked to by others, and when you reach that point your traffic levels, and business can grow many times over, and actually make your search engine placements much more difficult to dislodge.

That said, you don’t have to be the next Wikipedia.  50 pages is a great starting point and should be enough for you to start seeing results, and then regularly adding new quality content can help your traffic levels, and business, to keep growing.

And again – as I very often mention aim for longer rather than shorter posts, with 1,000 words or more per post a good figure to keep in mind.

So what I’m going to particularly focus on in this post is how I researched the content for the site in question, planned it, created it, and what I kept in mind during this entire process.  Whereas in a future post I’ll spend more time talking through the link building side of this case study.

 

Research and Planning for Content Creation

First things first, it helps to know your market.

If you’re already in the market, you should generally have a good understanding of your potential visitors/customers, what they’re interested in, the problems they’re looking to solve, the current hot topics in the market, the evergreen topics in the market…etc.

Or if you’re moving into a new market, the time spent getting to know your market is time very well spent, as work attracting the wrong segment of your market for example could end up being a complete waste of time.

So getting to know your market could simply involve spending time reading forums, reading blogs, reading magazines, visiting competitor websites, speaking with people already in the market…

All this work will help you:

  • Plan content, and your site’s future.
    .
  • Write content (if you’re going to be doing any of the writing yourself).
    .
  • Understand the potential of the market, and so help you to prioritize how much time to spend on this project, compared to everything else you’ve got going on in your business.

Next generally comes keyword research.  A great starting point is the Google Keyword Tool in which you can enter a root keyword (often a broad and high traffic keyword relevant to your market – for example: car insurance) to bring up a lot of other related keywords.

You can then use these related keywords to grow the list into the thousands quickly by entering those into the keyword tool as well, plus this keyword tool also allows you to ‘scrape’ keyword suggestions from competitor websites.

Just using the tool in this way can build a huge list quickly.  You can then arrange this data in Excel to make sorting columns easy, and then delete duplicate rows.

There’s also plenty of other keyword tools including:

Then once you’ve built a huge list up, rather than the old way of writing every blog post around one single keyword (which can end up with very similar content across your site, and frankly is a rather old fashioned way of doing things), group similar keywords together,  for example:

  • car insurance
  • car insurance online
  • research car insurance
  • find cheapest car insurance
  • …etc…

You could potentially write a post around every single similar keyword, but as mentioned your blog will start becoming very repetitive which could turn off visitors, and even the search engines.

I’ve found it works well to often group such related terms together into a single post, and the more terms you’re bundling together and the more competitive they are, the more in depth the blog post should be, up to potentially many thousands of words in length.  Even tens of thousands.

Bundling related keywords together in this way helps to make your text natural sounding, since you almost automatically use multiple variations and related terms of the keyword.  This also helps to avoid the old practice of thinking about keyword density (“I must use my keyword exactly 3.5% throughout this article!”).

But that said, for really competitive keywords (again, like: car insurance) where there’s plenty you can talk about, creating more than one in depth blog post (as long as the content is unique, high quality, and stands by itself), might be a good idea, since you can’t really guarantee which blog post or article on your site will get the most attention from readers, and from the search engines.  And as long as every post stands by itself, and isn’t just a regurgitated version of another article on your site, every such article is another fishing hook cast into the lake that is Google, so to speak.

This is one of the main reasons more content is better than less content – you naturally cover a lot more keywords.  Plus there’s always the chance one of your articles will go viral, and each new article or blog post increases those chances.

But one point to bear in mind regarding this – since the title tag contents (what’s between the <title>…</title> tags in your page code) is incredibly important for giving context to the search engines, you’ll want your most important keywords to be in the title tag, and if you’ve bundled 20 related keywords into one in depth article, you might have to make a hard decision about which to prioritize in the title tag (usually the one with the highest traffic).  So this in fact is an argument for not bundling too many keywords into a single post.  Really, this is more art than science, so you’ll find your own style with this process.

 

Moving From Planning to Writing…

So by now, you should have a huge spreadsheet with thousands of relevant keywords, and you may have sorted this spreadsheet by either traffic levels or alphabetically.

Then choose one shorter keyword to get the ball rolling, and then search for that keyword throughout your spreadsheet.  You’ll likely find a few, or even dozens of related versions of it, for example:

  • trimmer
  • strimmer
  • buy a strimmer
  • garden strimmers
  • garden trimmer
  • buy petrol strimmer
  • best buy grass strimmer
  • cordless strimmer
  • petrol strimmer reviews
  • best buy petrol strimmers

And there’s well over a hundred similar keywords that Google returns when you type in ‘buy a strimmer’.  Again, if you created a page around each individual term, your blog would become very boring very quickly, so here’s a few ideas for grouping keywords together from the list above:

 

Keyword Bundle 1:   buy a strimmer,  garden strimmer

Article Title 1: Looking to Buy a Garden Strimmer?  Here’s What You Need to Know…

 

Keyword Bundle 2:  buy petrol strimmer,   petrol strimmer reviews,  best buy petrol strimmers

Article Title 2: Looking For a Petrol Strimmer?  You Need to See These Reviews…

 

As you can see it’s often difficult to cover every single variation in the title without it reading strangely, so focus on the most trafficked of the keywords from the ones you’re grouping together, and ones you’re not able to include in the title they’ll generally end up naturally (or very easily) as part of the main content, without sounding forced.

Then once you’ve exhausted your entire keyword list, either get more keywords, or create more articles around the highest traffic keywords, or simply around keywords you’d like more traffic from.  And as you go through this entire process, always be on the lookout for what’s new in your market, what the hot topics and hot products are… and make a note of this so you can keep adding to your keyword list as on ongoing basis.

Okay, so you can either go through your entire keyword list and group keywords together at the start, or just do that as you get ready to write each article.

Here’s the process I take: 

  1. Research keywords.
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  2. Organize keywords into spreadsheet.
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  3. Group keywords for first article.
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  4. Come up with article title, suggested length and also article synopsis (if necessary, not generally required for short articles of 500 words or so).
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  5. Repeat step 3 and 4 until you’ve enough articles planned to get the ball rolling.
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  6. Then either get writing, or outsource the writing.
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  7. Publish articles as they’re finalized (or schedule for later), and then repeat this process for as long as you want to keep adding new content to your site.

 

Now, you don’t necessarily need to create every blog post around a set of keywords, you can if you like just write around any relevant or hot topic you want, but structuring a good amount, if not the majority of your blog posts around keywords while still keeping the content interesting and the article titles punchy, helps set your site up for traffic through the search engines, every step of the way.

 

 

Is Ghost Blogging so Wrong?

Is Ghost Blogging so Wrong?

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What is Ghost Blogging?

Very simply, ghost blogging is when your blog is written for you by someone else.  It’s just like ghost writing, but specifically for a blog.

The only part of this that may be even vaguely controversial is when you put your name to blog posts that are actually written by someone else.  For some strange reason, certain people seem to think this is unacceptable, but frankly if you’ve paid someone to create a well written and informative blog post, and you’re happy with the post, then you may as well have written it yourself!

And many if not most business owners don’t have time to write their own blog, so they either get an employee or service provider to write for them.  Then again, the only part that could be even vaguely misleading to any reader is if the content has your name on it, but wasn’t actually written by you.

But again – if you approve the post, then it’s pretty much the same as the tens of thousands of ghost written books out there (because most celebrities don’t have the time, interest, or skill to write their own autobiographies!).

 

What Are The Benefits of Ghost Blogging?

Well, simply put, it gives you all the benefits of regularly blogging, without having to take time out of your busy day writing the content yourself.

And if you’re not yet sold on the benefits of regular blogging, they include:

  • Making your company website look much more credible.
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  • Positioning you and your business as experts.
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  • Helping reassure visitors about your company, making them much more likely to become customers.
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  • Regular blog updates gets visitors coming back again and again.
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  • Great content gets other sites linking to you, driving more traffic and helping push you up the search results.
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  • Great content gets shared on Facebook and Twitter.
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  • The more good content your site has, generally the more traffic it gets through the search engines.

So effectively — a regularly updated blog with quality content helps attract more visitors, and helps convert more visitors into customers.  Frankly, the only downsides of blogging regularly are that it takes time.

 

Your Name or a Pen Name?

One decision you need to make is whether ghost written posts will be published in your name, or under an employee name or even pen name?

If under your name and you’re going to review every post written, then that can work well.

If under your name, but you won’t be checking posts before they’re published, you’ll want to make sure you’re entirely happy with the quality of the work of the person writing your post.

And different blog post topics can be more or less sensitive to legal and regulatory issues of course, which is another point to keep in mind regarding this process.

 

What About Writing Posts Yourself?

Writing posts is time consuming, there’s no way around that.  Even just writing 500 words a day can take 30 minutes each day which comes to 15 hours of extra work a month.

That’s assuming you want to write something interesting, readable, and up to date.  You can rush through 500 words in ten minutes, but chances are it won’t be fantastic, and could even potentially reflect badly on you and your business.

Or if you have an assistant perhaps you could dictate to them, and they transcribe what you say and turn that into a post, which may work faster.  Or there’s even software like Dragon Naturally Speaking which transcribes (generally with quite a few errors) what you say, but frankly this can still be a slow process as you have to think about what you say, and then edit before publishing.

I do find such software helpful sometimes, but my articles when using dictation software tend to turn out quite stilted, and it’s really not a fast process I’ve found, although less tiring than typing out everything by hand.

 

Deciding on Topics and Keywords

Researching relevant market topics and keywords, and deciding in which order to publish them in articles can also take a while.

This becomes easier the more you do it, and ongoing forward research and planning make this easier, but if you’re looking for your blog to be handled in an entirely hands off way, you may also be looking to outsource the research and planning too.

Generally the process for writing blog posts goes:

  1. Researching/understanding the market.
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  2. Researching keywords and topics.
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  3. Grouping keywords/topics into possible articles.
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  4. Choosing the approximate length of each article.
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  5. Coming up with article titles.
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  6. Creating the article content.
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  7. Editing and finalizing the article.
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  8. Finding one (or more) suitable images for the article, and making sure you have the right to use them.
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  9. Submitting the article to the blog, and either making it live immediately, or scheduling it for a future publishing date.

So as you can see, even for short blog posts the work can be significant.  So if you are busy with other aspects of your business or are looking for a hands off approach to your business, then the more steps of this process that can be handled for you, without you worrying about quality at any step of the process, the quicker and easier your blog can fill out with fantastic content.

 

Deciding on Article Length

This may sound like a minor issue, but article length is actually very important for a number of reasons:

  • It’s widely thought that Google gives priority to longer pages over shorter pages.  Largely due to the fact that a long page generally means more useful and interesting content, plus the longer the page the more time (on average) visitors will spend on it, which is another sign of quality to Google.
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  • It’s an extreme example, but can you include more interesting information in 200 words, or 2,000 words?  Longer is better for that reason, as long as you stay on topic and the content is interesting and easy to read (short paragraphs, lots of sub headings…)

There’s a lot to be said for keeping every post on your blog over 800 or even 1,000 words, without having a hard limit on maximum length.  Or you can have a variety of lengths from 300 words to 3,000 depending on the subject of the posts.

‘News’ type posts are generally quite short, even 300 words or so.  Whereas in depth tutorials and resource level posts (also known as Pillar Articles) can be many thousands of words.  Variety is good in this way, but it is suggested you lean towards longer, again remembering to keep things easy to read.

 

Structuring Blog Post Titles

The title is one of the most important things about your blog posts.  This is what will entice people to actually read your post, and can also be instrumental in people sharing and linking to your content.

A boring post title, however interesting the content, means the post is unlikely to be read much, if at all.  Whereas an interesting, enticing, and even timely blog post title make it much more likely the post will be read and shared.  You can actually take this too far, and make your post title many times more interesting than the post itself.  Or even worse your title promises the moon, but the post content doesn’t actually deliver.

For more details on ideas on structuring post titles see this post.

 

What About Pictures?

Really, every blog post needs a picture these days, whether it’s a photo, vector art…

A great looking picture makes your post look a lot more interesting and makes it much more likely to be read.  It’s worth spending a few minutes finding a suitable picture, or asking the person looking after your blog posting to add at least one great picture to each post.

Generally the picture is included just below the title of the post, and then often other pictures are included throughout the post.

You can take your own photos of course, or there’s plenty of sources for paid pictures including:

And there’s also a ton of sources of free to use pictures – here’s just a few:

With these make sure you’re clear on the terms of use before you start adding the pictures, and make sure the images you use are suitable for commercial use (if your blog is for a business).

 

What Are Your Outsourcing Options?

If you’re not writing blog posts yourself, nor an employee looking after them for you, then you’ll be looking to outsource either the entire research, planning, writing and publishing process, or perhaps just parts of the process.

So if you’re just looking to outsource the writing you could use our article writing service, or there’s plenty of other options too including oDesk, eLance and many other marketplaces for writers.  The consistent problem with outsourcing writing is that it can be very hit and miss finding high quality and reliable writers.  Plus you often have to spend a lot of time recruiting and managing writers, and more often than not, sooner or later they disappear on you due to lack of interest with the work, or personal circumstances.

That’s specifically why we offer our blog writing service that can look after every aspect of the work for you so that all you need to do is approve our posts and publish them, so you get high quality content without any of the usual hassles of managing and working with writers.

 

Getting Your Ghost Blogging Under Way

Hopefully this article has been helpful in helping you decide whether ghost blogging is right for you, and helped give you an understanding of what’s involved with the process.

As you can see, there’s a lot of pros and cons to the many different ways to approach your blog, but one fact stands out – not blogging regularly and with high quality content is detrimental to your business.  Your competitors are blogging and attracting more links and traffic to their sites – you should be too.

 

 

How to Easily Write Conversational Text

I’m talking to you.

Through text.

Using easy to read sentences.

And generally short paragraphs.

Plus I’m making sure the language is clear and easy to follow, rather than dense and hard to read.

Okay…

I’m not going to write the entire post in this style, so let’s move on:

 

What Does Conversational Writing Sound Like?

Well, it sounds as if someone is having a conversation with you.  Of course, it’s more of a monologue than a two way chat, but it sounds (in your mind) as if a friend, or perhaps co-worker, is speaking to you.

Now if you have trouble getting clear on exactly how this is different to other styles of writing, after reading this blog visit Wikipedia.  Or read a celebrity news blog, then visit Wikipedia.

Celebrity news blogs are actually a great example as they’re often written very personally, in the first person, and in a flowing and generally quite breathless way.

Whereas Wikipedia is written in a stuffy way, to put it mildly.  In fact, some of the articles are so dense with jargon they’re pretty much unreadable unless you’re already familiar with the topic.

 

What’s the Benefit of Conversational Writing?

Well for one, it’s easy to read. It helps draw in the reader, rather than making them struggle over every sentence.  It’s inviting.  It’s interesting.  And it helps make even the densest of subjects approachable.

Effectively – whether you’re writing for your blog, articles to publish, an eBook… your readers will enjoy reading a lot more if you write as if you’re speaking to them.

And if they enjoy reading you, they’re much more likely to share your blog posts on social networks (so you get more visitors), even link to you from their site.  And it also helps encourage repeat visitors, since if someone enjoyed reading what you wrote on Monday, it’s likely they’ll also enjoy what you wrote on Tuesday.

Now, of course there are different styles of conversational writing, and it’s not necessarily the best option in 100% of cases.  It would rarely, if ever, be a good fit in academic writing, but that’s not the type of writing I’m talking about here.

I’m talking in particular about writing for your business, your website, your blog… something where you want to actively attract readers, rather than repel them.

And importantly there are different styles of conversational writing.  Just as your style of speaking would be different when talking to a friend, when compared to speaking with a co-worker, you can write in a conversational way but in a different style, depending on your audience.

For example – writing a white paper potential clients can download off your site can be information rich, but still readable and the style can flow.  Just because it’s aimed at a corporate market does not mean it has to be overflowing with acronyms and jargon that almost force the reader to re-read sentences again and again just to understand what’s being said.

Putting such unnecessary potential blocks in the way of turning a reader into a client is not beneficial to your business.

 

How to Easily Start Writing Conversationally

Well, first of all, you need to be able to recognize conversational text on screen (or on paper).  If you’re not able to spot it yet, it may take you a while to develop an eye for it, but once you’re familiar with it you’ll be able to spot it every time.

Next, it’s time to learn how to  write in that way, and this purely comes with practice.

Some people suggest finding some text you really like, and simply typing it out (or even better writing it out by hand).  This helps you develop the muscle memory of how it feels to write conversationally.  This may not be the most exciting process in the world, but can be very helpful if you’re looking to develop this skill.

Another tip is that when writing, imagine the person you’re writing to is sitting opposite you.  So imagine you’re typing directly to them.  You may find this helpful for softening your writing style into more conversational prose.

And think about it – when you write emails to friends or family, it’s likely those emails are going to be written in an easy to read and friendly tone.  So transferring that tone to your blog, your articles, or whatever you are looking to write, doesn’t need to be a huge stretch.

 

Quick Tips to Writing Conversationally

Keep paragraphs short, or at least relatively short.  Few things are more off-putting to potential readers than being presented by slabs of text.

Avoid unnecessarily complicated language.  Now, depending on your subject matter it may be impossible to entirely avoid jargon and acronyms, but the easier your text is to read, the more likely it will be read.

Now that said, you don’t need to dumb it down so even a 5 year old could read it.  That of course would be taking it too far, so do keep your potential audience in mind, but also remember they don’t have to read what you write, and have got plenty of other things they need to be doing, so lower as many barriers as you can to them reading, and enjoying, your writing.

And everyone has their own writing, and conversational style, but just as I’ve started this sentence with ‘and’, you may find that helpful too as it helps lead into the sentence and sounds a lot more conversational than not including it.  Other options are “Now,”… “Well,”… “That said,”… and so on.  But again, it comes down to your personal style, which only you can develop.

And I’ve been told that my sentences are often particularly long, which is not something I was aware of until it was mentioned to me.  Well, this seems to unintentionally be my personal style, but again you’ll want to develop your own, which likely won’t happen overnight.

 

Developing Your Style

Anyway, that’s a crash course in conversational writing – what it is, how to recognize it, how to develop it, and its benefits to you.

However, I’ve heard from some people that in university, since you’re asked to write in a very staid way in essays, that habit can be hard to break.

And perhaps (actually, quite likely), conversational text stomps all over many grammatical rules that would make English majors wince.

That may be so, but personally I feel as long as it’s readable and informative, and doesn’t have glaring spelling or grammatical mistakes there’s no problem bending the rules of grammar a little.  They may be grammatically correct, but I don’t think a semi-colon ever makes text more readable; does it?

We’re not writing for the Associated Press here, so the style you choose to write in is up to you.

 

 

How to Write Attention Grabbing Article Titles

 

How to Write Attention Grabbing Article Titles

 

Something as simple as your article title can mean the difference between an online hit, and an article that gets ten readers a month.

Now of course if your title is intriguing, but the content of your article is bland, or even worse doesn’t actually fulfill the promise of the title, then people won’t spend long at all reading the article itself, and even worse they certainly won’t be recommending it to others by linking to it and sharing it.

So if you’ve created great content that you want people to see, share and link to, it’s vital that you also have an article title that captures attention as well as accurately portrays the content.

So first of all — a good rule of thumb is, whatever audience you’re aiming for, think:

Magazine Article Title

Magazines and newspapers are a great source for what consistently works when it comes to titles, since their entire existence depends on capturing people’s attention long enough so that they actually spend money to read the rest of it.

Now of course, different magazines have vastly different tones.  A magazine about marketing is going to have much more conservative article titles than a celebrity gossip magazine, so when constructing article titles, make sure the tone of the title (and the writing tone of the article itself) is right for your audience.

 

An Easy Example to Get Started With…

As I write this blog post, Windows 8 by Microsoft has just launched, so I’m going to use that as an example.

And let’s imagine you own a technology news blog and want to talk about Windows 8.  With that subject in mind, here’s some quick title possibilities:

 

Windows 8 Has Launched

Boring.  Doesn’t give the visitor any particular reason to read the article in question.  It does present the article as news which is always a good angle, but it could easily be so much stronger.  Let’s try again:

 

All Systems Go! — Windows 8 Has Launched…

Much better.  Gets the reader involved immediately, excited, but still isn’t really giving the reader a strong reason to read right now.  Let’s try once again…

 

All Systems Go!  Windows 8 Has Launched…
But, Should You Wait Before You Buy?

Even better.  Includes all the factors touched on already (exciting, gets reader interested, reports news…) but also asks a leading and relevant question to pull the reader in.

Questions can work great for getting visitors interested in the article itself as mentally they’re already trying to answer it.

And actually as a side note to this — you’ll find questions are often used in magazine article titles, even often slightly ridiculous questions in fact where the answer is almost without fail ‘No’.  An example of such a title would be:

 

Is Today The Beginning of The End For Microsoft?

Very leading, intriguing, over the top, and the answer is 99% likely to be no.

You’ll see this format of title used a lot, and it does work, although generally needs to be somewhat sensationalist to really grab the attention, which may not be suitable for every audience.

Or how about…

 

Five Reasons Windows 8 Will be a Failure

An outlandish, controversial, timely statement delivered with absolute conviction.

You’ll find this format of title used a lot too, and if you do take this route it greatly helps if you can present a strong argument.  You don’t have to necessarily be right, and this type of title may not be right for you, but as long as you can present compelling arguments to back up your case, it can create an interesting and informative article, and create a lot of debate.

Plus, such article titles are often called ‘Link Bait’ as they can attract a lot of links from other sites due to their controversial stance.  Now of course you can take a controversial stance too far and it could end up backfiring on you, but used wisely this can be a great way to get attention, links and traffic.

 

Common Article Title Structures

If you’re not sure where to start when it comes to putting together article titles, do pay attention to what other blogs both in and out of your market are doing, especially the particularly high traffic sites.  And if you’re not sure where to start looking for those go ahead and browse Technorati to find plenty of possibilities.

And it may be a bit of a side note but something definitely worth mentioning as regards article titles:

Just like magazine titles, article titles are often written in what’s known as Title Case, where the first letter of each word is capitalized, except generally the particularly short words (at, the…etc).

So here’s just a few basic title structures to help give you ideas and short cut the process:

 

How to…

The old classic ‘How To…’ is a classic for a reason — it still works great.

Using the Windows 8 example again:

How to Easily Upgrade to Windows 8

How to Decide Whether Windows 8 is Right For Your Business

How to Master Windows 8 in Two Hours or Less 

 

Asking a Question?

Asking a question helps draw in the reader’s attention, particularly if the question is intriguing and the reader wants to know the answer to it.  Some examples:

Will Windows 8 Mean the End of Computer Viruses?

Is a Windows 8 Laptop More Secure That an Apple Laptop?

 

 

5 Ways / Tips / Reasons…

People love to read lists  Some examples…

Note: Due to the amount of numbers referenced in these example headlines (because of the ‘8’ in ‘Windows 8’) I’m going to use words instead of numbers to start these titles as I feel it should make them more readable, but generally I would lean towards using numbers instead of words to start these titles with.

Ten Reasons Why Windows 8 is Inferior Than Windows 7 

Seven Things You Must Know Before Upgrading to Windows 8

Five Windows 8 Upgrade Disasters (And How to Avoid Them) 

 

Writing Your Title First and Then Your Article

If you have an idea of what you’re going to write about, creating an article title first, and then planning the article after can sometimes help clarify your thinking and make the subject and overall impact of the article stronger.

So if you’ve not done it before maybe try this approach for your next article — if you know roughly what you’re going to be writing about, start putting titles together until you’ve a number of strong options.  And then choose your favorite, put together a brief outline for that article, and if it all looks good, then write the article itself.

This approach forces you to think of capturing the reader’s attention first, then once you’ve decided on the title, by next creating an article outline if forces you to make sure you can actually complete the article successfully (that you’ve actually got enough to write about to keep the article on topic with the title), and only then fill in the blanks and write the full article.

 

 

Or — Writing the Article First, Then Creating a Title

Or perhaps you prefer to write an article first, and then figure out the title later.

Whether you start writing an article with a subject in mind, or are creating content purely around certain keywords, once your article is complete and you’re happy with it, you then need to start brainstorming title ideas.

If the subject of the article is one you know readers in your market are interested in, creating a title that draws interest shouldn’t be too difficult.  You may however find it particularly difficult to create interesting and intriguing titles if you’ve simply written about what interests you, and then when trying to create an interesting title you may become particular aware that presenting your content in an interesting way may be difficult.  That’s one benefit of approaching writing articles with the title first, as it forces you to think of your audience and what interests them.

Anyhow, put together a list of possible article titles, and then remove options from that list until you’re happy with the only one remaining.  You may need to do this over a couple of days, as it’s difficult to be particularly objective often in one sitting (for the same reason it’s always good to read through an article you’ve written the next day, before making final edits and publishing it).

 

Choosing the Right Tone for Your Audience

As mentioned earlier, the tone of your article and title should be appropriate for your target audience, and that’s where knowing your market, and in particular being a regular reader of blogs, magazines and news sites in your market not only help keep you up to date with what’s happening in your market, but also helps you to become familiar with the writing tone your market is used to and comfortable with.

Writing in a matter of fact and conservative tone of voice on a celebrity news blog probably isn’t going to get you very far.  And nor is writing breathless headlines with plenty of exclamation points going to go down well on a business blog.

Entirely obvious I know, but knowing the right tone of voice for your market (and being able to write in that tone) will greatly help your content get read and shared, as in particular it will allow you to craft headlines that your market responds to.