Wordpress

Considering The Affiliate

This month’s theme is showing love to businesses and, much like we’ve formalized love with marriage, the formalization of business love online can be an affiliate agreement.

An affiliate is someone who reps/represents your company a mutually agreed upon way. They aren’t an employee but they’ve typically signed up to let you know they are interested in doing this. You may have terms for them, like they can’t use the product you are trying to sell in a certain way or can’t do certain things with product links. Once signed up, your affiliate can recommend your company and typically they get a financial kickback for doing so (ex: when someone becomes a paid member or upgrades their account.) In other words, they can recommend all they want but until your company gets a conversion, you don’t owe them anything.

By Googling “Warby Parker affiliate” I see what the terms are for me to recommend cool frames and where I can sign up. This brings down Warby Parker’s overall marketing costs while giving me incentive to share my love of them.

How do you know if an affiliate has made a sale for you or not?

Option 1: Give them a custom link.

For example, let’s say your name is Bob and you LOVE our blog and wanted to get people to subscribe. We talk about it and I say I’ll give you $1/person who signs up for email list. I could make a custom email newsletter subscription link like breakingeveninc.com/newsletter%bob that you can share. The people you share that link with are directed to a normal looking page; I’m just tracking it in a special, distinct way. In my website software, I could set up for it to track when someone who got to that link signed up for our email newsletter (filled out and submitted a form successfully). Every month, I sendBob a check for the amount of subscribers he sends.

The link makes things easy because the ‘customer’ doesn’t have to do anything. As the affiliate, you have to remember to use your special link and as the company, I have to set up tracking but the person clicking through is mostly unawares. Note: Bob could do something cool with his website like make bobswebsite.com/becrocks redirect to my fancy affiliate link. That gives Bob’s friends/customers something easy to remember and lets him use the affiliate link we agreed upon together.

Option 2: Give them a coupon code. 

The other way to do this, especially if this relationship involves purchasing, is to offer a code. Let’s say as someone entered their email into my website, I have a ‘coupon code’ portion where the person signing up is supposed to write ‘Bob’ for him to get credit for sending me a subscriber.

The good thing with this is it’s very deliberate coming from the customer… but most people aren’t going to take the extra step unless they get something for doing it. That’s why most coupon codes involve a discount code or free download or something for the customer for taking the trouble. Maybe by entering ‘Bob’ in the signup form, the people get a free ebook from me.

Whether option 1 or 2 is used, both Bob and I understand what is supposed to happen and what Bob will get when that agreed upon thing happens. 

Anchorspace is an affiliate for StandDesk which means when someone buys from our link, they save $50 and we get $50. So we’ve earned $150 just by recommending a product we already use and love and given people too far afield to come into Anchorspace a way to support us through their purchase. You can click on this photo and get taken to our affiliate link to see! http://go.standdesk.co/fHSGR

How do you set up an affiliate program?

You may think this seems complicated. Why set up something just for Bob?

If you think about the power of even having ten people like Bob as sort of un-salaried salespeople for your company, you’ll see that this can be a good idea for you. First of all, you’re only paying when you get what you want and second, by rewarding Bob and people like him, you’re incentivizing him to refer you more often, even if it’s a discount on your own products versus cold hard cash.

So you have two options with affiliate programs.

Option 1: Use an existing (third party) affiliate program. 

Websites like shareasale.com or Commission Junction offer a ‘plug and play’ option where you can set up agreements, have it automatically generate/track links, etc., which is perfect if the idea of DIY totally overwhelms you. If what is preventing you from doing this is the tech, please take that away as a concern. That said, Moz has an excellent point as these websites are creating links that aren’t as direct as you making the links yourself, which can detract from search engine benefits. Also these probably cost money since they are attempting to make your life easier.

Option 2: DIY on your own website. 

Tools like Google Goals and plugins like AffiliateWP Wordpress plugin allow you to set this up on your own website directly. So long as you are clear about how you want it to work, it’s totally doable to set up and even have it create cute reports and stuff. If you ask someone like us, we can get you an estimate at the very least and you can make your decision from there.

(Aside: Whenever people ask me about the difference between using something like Squarespace and Wordpress, I always say your website can ‘do more stuff’ with Wordpress and this is the kind of thing I mean. Here’s what Squarespace forums say about setting up affiliate programs.)

The best thing you can do to understand affiliates better is to try them out yourself as a referrer.

To become your own version of Bob, think of companies you already like. Visit their websites (the best first stop is the navigational menu that is  typically on the bottom of the page) and look for an ‘Affiliates’ link. If you don’t see one there, ask Google if the company has one, or write to the company via their website and ask.

Once you have a few affiliate links/codes, try them out with people you think would genuinely appreciate those goods/services. Are people receptive? Does certain language/certain websites seem to work better for you? Do certain things seem to make people take action? Use these experiences as the referrer when you make your own affiliate program.

Like any tool, when used sparingly and in the context of an overall marketing strategy affiliates can be an effective way for people to love your business and get rewarded for it. (Yes we are considering an affiliate program ourselves; contact us if you are interested.) In the meantime, let us know if you are an affiliate yourself or if your company uses affiliates to drive sales!

Nicole runs Breaking Even Communications, an internet marketing company in Bar Harbor Maine. When she’s not online, she enjoys walking her short dog, cooking with bacon, and trying to be outdoorsy in Acadia National Park.

Picking A Wordpress Theme

One of the things we do is training, and some of that training is related to Wordpress, a popular web design software.

It happens that every time we train people, at least one in the group is going to ask me to help pick out a Wordpress theme.

Now it’s not that I don’t want to help… but there are a couple things to know:

  1. There are literally hundreds of thousands of themes and there is no way I can personally be familiar enough to comment offhand about most of them.
  2. Part of what people pay a web designer to do is wade through these options.

So without getting super detailed (and spending about 30-60 minutes of my paid time researching), I couldn’t necessarily recommend (or disqualify) a specific theme. Besides knowing you can Google ‘best wordpress theme insert-your-profession-or-business-here’, here are a few other things to know about evaluating a theme:

Love Something? Stalk It

I will say if there is a website you like (assuming it runs Wordpress), you can put the URL in this website: http://whatwpthemeisthat.com/ and it’ll tell you the name of the theme!

With one client, she sent me three or four websites she really liked and we found that two of them were running the same theme (with customizations of course). Problem solved!

Think General In Search

Let’s say you’re a yoga teacher, and the yoga themes make you want to say ‘namaste’ to Wordpress in a general way. (Little terrible yoga humor there.)
Instead of only searching ‘wordpress theme yoga teacher’, try ‘wordpress theme health’. Simply broadening your search will allow you to still see businesses that look like yours while also giving you some options.

Basic Themes Will Give You Options… And Options Mean Decisions

Picking something basic, like Genesis or Canvas, will give you more options but more options also equal more decisions. Do you want your H1 font to be Helvetica 35 point? Do you want you blog page to be laid out with a left sidebar and the pages on your site not to have a sidebar? Now take these decisions and multiply them by 500 and you have a ‘basic’ custom premium theme. If you are someone decisive and cares that your hoverlink color is 2 shades lighter than your link color, you’ll love having a basic theme.
Some people love this and some hate it. And if you want to be a control freak without doing a ton of code, these ‘basic’ themes are for you. (By basic, I clearly mean minimalist versus uncomplicated.)

All Things Equal, Pick The Better Company

You also want to look at the name of the company making the theme. Do they have documentation? Do they seem fly by night? How are their reviews?

Support is a good thing to have so all things being equal, pick the company that seems better on the support side. If your theme provider has a support page like this, that not only has general information but also a way to get specific questions answered, you are on the right track:

themesupport
Above all, know there are a lot of great Wordpress themes out there and you probably won’t choose wrong if you do a little homework, keeping our tips in mind! Happy theme hunting!
Nicole runs Breaking Even Communications, an internet marketing company in Bar Harbor Maine. When she’s not online, she enjoys walking her short dog, cooking with bacon, and trying to be outdoorsy in Acadia National Park.

Tech Thursday: There’s a Plugin for That!

Ok, remember how a couple years ago everyone was saying “There’s an app for that!” (at least, Kassie is pretty convinced this happened)? Well, we thought we’d take some time this Thursday morning and appreciate the fact that when it comes to Wordpress sites, there’s pretty much a plugin for everything. From simple display preferences to online booking systems, and functional things like security and back ups, if you have a problem, someone has (most likely) already created a solution in the form of a plugin.

We take a moment to appreciate some things that we’ve used plugins for and reflect on some of our favorites. Plugins for the win!

Kassie is a distance runner and a distance reader really. She lives in Ellsworth Maine and, while she might be quiet when you meet her, will throw out something witty when you least expect it.

What Plugin Should I Use?

Building and maintaining websites is endlessly fascinating to me, because there are so many different routes to explore in terms of design and functionality. For the sake of narrowing down this topic (and because this blog post would be more like a collection otherwise), I’m going to share only things I’ve learned from a Wordpress functionality standpoint. The tools in Wordpress that allow for the extra stuff- online ticketing, robust form software, Instagram feed, and whatever else your heart may desire- are called Plugins. A plugin basically helps your Wordpress site “do almost anything you can imagine.”

Pretty wild, right? Your website is capable of quite a bit thanks to plugins, but they can be a bit daunting. Oftentimes, if you have a specific task in mind- streaming your business Instagram account on the sidebar in your site, for instance- there are often several plugin options. Which one should you choose?

Finding a plugin doesn’t have to be an Indiana Jones-style ordeal. Here are some things you can look for:

1) Does it work with your theme? Different themes in Wordpress play differently with plugins. BackUp Buddy works well on our site with its current theme, but if we were to switch to a new theme, it may not. The good news is that during your initial plugin search, you can actually see if the plugin is compatible:

Huzzah! A compatible plugin!

Huzzah! A compatible plugin!

This plugin "has not been tested" with our theme- this doesn't meant it definitely won't work, more like "proceed with caution."

This plugin “has not been tested” with our theme- this doesn’t meant it definitely won’t work, more like “proceed with caution.”

Theme isn’t the only important thing your plugin needs to play well with- if you’re using an old version of Wordpress but want to use a newly developed plugin, the two may not communicate. The good news is that updating your version of Wordpress probably isn’t a bad idea and it’s pretty easy (just remember to back up your site first)!

2) Does it have documentation? There’s nothing worse than getting a tool that has vague or useless information on how to operate it. When you’re shopping for plugins, make sure before committing that there’s a healthy amount of helpful information. Below is a screenshot of what appears when you select a plugin, and in terms of documentation, “Screenshots” and “FAQ” are often the best places to gauge how well a plugin is documented.

Plugin_Documentation

Screenshots show you what the plugin looks like in action-using real screenshots, they take you through operating the plugin (usually setup, troubleshooting, general how-to).

Plugin_screenshots

Checking out the documentation of a plugin before committing to it is a great way to assess the level of support available. People/companies who have taken the time to write up and share information about their product are more likely to care about customer service and a job well done. Ideally with a higher level of documentation, you’ll be able to install and solve any problems on your own, but if the developers are willing to document extensively, they’re likely willing to answer any additional questions you have along the way.

3) Does it have good reviews? Reviews are also good to look at- but some are best taken with a grain of salt. I like to look at the reviews to see if there’s consistent feedback, like “X works well if this setting is Y” or “Great support.” Every now and then, there’s an outlier review that doesn’t match up with what the others are saying. These are the reviews to be wary of- one time I saw a review that said something along the lines of “This plugin is the worst thing to have ever existed, doesn’t work” when all the other reviews said things like “Easy to use,” “Excellent support.” One of these things is not like the other…

When you’re looking for your next Wordpress plugin, don’t just download the first one you see. It only takes 5 minutes to do a quick scan for compatibility, support, and reviews, and boom- you’ve got your dream plugin.

Kassie is a distance runner and a distance reader really. She lives in Ellsworth Maine and, while she might be quiet when you meet her, will throw out something witty when you least expect it.

What I Learned At Wordcamp This Summer: Nicole’s Takeaways

2014-boston-wordcamp-logoThere is always something to know… and even though I’ve been working in Wordpress since 2008, I am always blown away not only with the new technology coming out but new ways of using features that I’m already familiar with.

Wordcamp Boston took place at one of MIT’s state of the art buildings and there were about 300 of us on hand to drink coffee and learn what we could from each other. The fact they had 8 sessions (!) in one day I was a little worried about but 45 minutes each was somehow manageable and fun.

We not only attended the after party but also the after-after party where we got to hang out with cool ‘celebrities’ like Sam Hotchkiss, creator of BruteProtect and a rep from Sucuri, a service we’ve used and loved. (A rep from GoDaddy was there too, apparently his sister makes GREAT fondant, and he took the elephant shooting jokes we made about a former GoDaddy exec  in stride!)

Here’s what we learned:

Accessibility is key.
It was fun to meet Jordan Quintal who has a firm that specializes in accessible sites for the disabled. As one of the 1 billion people worldwide who has a disability, Jordan talked about features I just thought were pretty, like mouseover color changes, and how you can test your site’s accessibility level. Bonus is these tools give specific improvements you can make on your own website. You can see his presentation (from a previous conference) here: Jordan’s Presentation about Accessibility (Video)

Us as mad scientists at Wordcamp.Live tweeting is still awesome.
Because of Twitter, not only did we get some of the talking points and ideas of other talks going on at the same time (I literally can’t be in two places at the same time after all!) but it also connected us with some cool people, including Myrna, head of Good Egg Marketing who we hope to collaborate with on some future projects.

Seeing Matt Baya should happen more than once a year.
The fact that the picture with this blog post is the only picture of Kassie and I at this conference is a little sad. And super sad we didn’t get one with Matt. But as usual he blew our minds, this time introducing us to Yik Yack.

My favorite talk of the whole conference was David Hickox’s talk about Designing for Content. Really great overview and actually got me excited about sexy topics like line spacing and h5 tags!

Overall, great job Wordcamp organizers on a smooth conference with a nice range of presenters. Let’s do it again next year!

Nicole runs Breaking Even Communications, an internet marketing company in Bar Harbor Maine. When she’s not online, she enjoys walking her short dog, cooking with bacon, and trying to be outdoorsy in Acadia National Park.

Why You Should Run Screaming When Someone Mentions A Custom CMS

buildinopensourceI am all for paying for a great product. But I am a big believer of using open source (free) content management systems (CMSes) to build websites.

I think this for a few good reasons. I thought of this analogy story to illustrate my point.

Once upon a time, there was a large group of builders who lived and worked in Dreamville. They used materials like plywood and sheet rock to build houses for homeowners.

The homeowners were, for the most part, satisfied. If they decided they didn’t like a particular builder, they could always use another. When builders got busy, they referred work to each other. 

Then came along The Flashy Company. The Flashy Company was also a contracting company but they built all their houses out of kwah, a material that has the toughness of quartz with the flexibility of plywood. They were the only ones who could use kwah and when the contractors tried to look up information about it, they could find very little about it, in Google or otherwise.

Soon people in Dreamville heard about kwah and how amazing The Flash Company was telling everyone it was. Many jumped on board and had kwah houses constructed. Soon there were twenty houses in the town all made of kwah.

One day, The Flashy Company left Dreamville. At first, this was no problem since the houses were so durable. But eventually, even kwah started to fail. Houseowner Hugo called up Contractor Carl to come fix his kwah roof.

The problem was threefold:

1) No one outside The Flashy Company knew how to make kwah so all Carl could do was rig a half-ass solution with his plywood and other materials.
2) It took the Carl a long time to figure out how the house was built. Since the material was so strange, regular solutions didn’t work. This time Carl spent trying to understand kwah meant money to Hugo and was frustrating to Carl since he couldn’t offer a fast efficient solution.
3) Since The Flashy Company hadn’t worked with any other contractors while in town, it was difficult for the homeowners with homes built in kwah to find contractors to be able to work on their house. Contractors had to figure it out quickly yet had no information they could look to to help them.

Carl had to tell Hugo the sad truth: eventually he’d have to rebuild his house. Yes, even though he paid a lot of money to The Flashy Company for kwah, and even though he just paid Carl to come up solution for the room, eventually it would start to completely fail and need to be built in other materials.

What can we learn from kwah (besides it’s an amazing fake building material that should exist elsewhere besides my brain)?

1) Custom CMSes mean only the company that built your site knows how it works. If you need someone else to work with you on your website, they are either going to have a steep learning curve and/or they are going to have to rebuild the whole thing for you.

2) Open source CMSes (like Joomla, Wordpress, and Drupal, among others) have multiple people that can work on them. That means people can share work, find solutions, and otherwise tap into a collective intelligence. Custom CMSes are at the mercy of the relatively small team that built them. Would you rather have a product that 10 people worked to improve or 1 million people worked to improve? Exactly.

3) It’s nice to build in something that has been tested by others. While it is attractive to work in something that’s new and shiny, materials with a track record will stand the test of time, online and off. Joomla has existed since 2005, Wordpress since 2003, and Drupal since 2001. By comparison, many proprietary CMSes haven’t existed that long, or have had millions of people use them in that time.

4) Proprietary CMSes are slower to innovate. Because their code isn’t open to developers around the world, these systems move much slower in terms of features. We had one client using a proprietary software but wanted a responsive site, which the software hadn’t yet started to offer. So they had to pick between keeping their current system or having something their customers were asking for (mobile friendliness).

Now what if you have a very specific kind of business (like you sell farm shares) and this one company has a system that just does that thing perfectly? Then you should do it… but you should do your homework first. Does that monthly fee include payment processing? Are you signing up for this for a certain period, like one year? Do you own the rights to the design, should you want to take it and move it into another platform later? What features does it have to address your concerns like mobile and social media users?

In other words, really look into it and make sure it’s a good fit. Because the kwah website you build may last as long as you need it to. But someday you will need to rebuild, like we all do, and picking a material you know people can work is a good step to ensuring what you build remains standing, long after any company you work with.

Nicole runs Breaking Even Communications, an internet marketing company in Bar Harbor Maine. When she’s not online, she enjoys walking her short dog, cooking with bacon, and trying to be outdoorsy in Acadia National Park.
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