Websites

Voyage Of A Domain

I think my work is insanely interesting, but I wouldn’t say people typically agree. But occasionally, I have something so random come to me that I get to do detective work and find a really interesting story.
A month ago, I got a call from Frank, who owned a domain ten years ago. On this domain was a blog about him and a crew circumnavigating the globe on a schooner. The site was originally set up to be a way for friends and family to check in on progress of the trip or for the crew to connect with people on the journey… but then it got big. When Frank told me it got millions of hits, I was really impressed… and sad to find the domain had expired.
The first question (for the actual work) was could we find his old blog posts?
But a second question showed up as we started digging: Where had this domain gone since it left Frank’s possession 5ish years ago?
The first thing to do was to go to the current website. I won’t link to the domain name because, surprise, it’s now a porn site. (If you really want to go look at it, the domain is written in the screenshots of non-porn versions of the website below. Don’t say I didn’t warn you). But what happened to this site during the time between being an innocent schooner blog and a not-so-innocent adult video website?
I decided to see what I could uncover. Knowing that a website with this traffic would have been archived by the Way Back Machine automatically, I went to web.archive.org , typed in the URL and started going back in time. Come on this fantastical journey with me…
First the domain was as schooner blog. Here is what the site looked like from 2008 to 2010:
Then it got hacked.
I know what you’re thinking: doesn’t that just look like the old website? And it does, but if we look closer at the text, we see evidence of the hack:
Further evidence of how deep this hack went happens when you click on any link on the site that isn’t the homepage:

 

Ah, remember what hacks looked like in 2013?

 

Once the domain expired and it wasn’t renewed within the 30 day grace period, it went on the market. In 2016, it was bought by someone and became a spammy looking information site about diabetes:

You may wonder why this happened. A common tactic people use to get their site ranked more quickly is to buy high traffic domains and link to their low traffic domains from them (or redirect the URLs to their websites directly) to give them a little boost. This is just my theory but it explains why 0% effort went into the design and the content seems pretty generic (i.e. like a site pretending to be a real website).
In the same year, this domain became something else even more random: a song lyric website:
I know, random! But notice the “earnings disclaimer” in the menu. Typically if you are going to put up a website that makes money off mainly display ads, it only makes real money if you are getting high traffic. And since song lyrics are a universally appealing topic and something that people frequently Google, bonus.
Then in the past year, it became a porn site. And who knows when it’ll become something else.
The great news is Frank’s blog posts are archived in the Way Back Machine and it’ll be a matter of copying and pasting to get them on his new domain. And in addition to that, now Frank and I have a fun story we didn’t expect from the experience of the domain name’s identity crisis.
The Schooner Maggie B went on an interesting journey but so did its domain name. Because the internet, like the open ocean, was built for adventure.

My Attempt at Giving Up Online Shopping

This winter, I thought I’d try to give up online shopping for 40 days. I don’t think I spend too much money online, most of what I get is stuff I need- and I’m actually part of the 8 out of 10 Americans that participates in ecommerce (source). I even started writing this post about the experience 2 weeks in. I had to change the title of the post, though, because…well, I didn’t make it through the whole 40 days. Instead of writing about my successful endeavor, I get to write about how and why this experiment was a glorious failure.

Convenience

Perhaps the biggest hurdle going into this experiment was the knowledge that everything I needed/wanted wasn’t exactly right at my fingertips for 40 days. Instead, I’d have to be a little more thoughtful about upcoming purchases (especially since we live in a place where geographically you might have to drive a bit for certain things). This isn’t impossible, just inconvenient at times.



Mindful Internet Browsing

The thing that was surprisingly hard was how much more of a conscious effort I had to make whenever I was online. It was actually a bit jarring to realize how complacent I’ve become in my internet browsing. For instance, I’d go on Facebook and an ad for a dress or something baby related would appear in my newsfeed, so I’d usually just click on it and see what there was to see, whether or not I was planning on making a purchase. During this experiment, “window shopping” also wasn’t allowed (meaning I couldn’t just go to Amazon and put stuff in my cart to save for later)- which made things a little trickier.

Scarcity Mindset

Another thing I had to battle was a scarcity mindset. When I got emails with subject lines like “You’ll never see deals like these again,” a very small part of me almost went into panic mode. It was like hitting a tripwire in my brain and suddenly I was like, “Wait, I should probably check and see, just to be sure.” The rational part of my brain knows that next month, I’ll still be getting emails from the same companies with the same message. The irrational part of my brain desperately wanted to see what these deals were, just in case. It doesn’t sound like it should be that hard, but I was fighting against some brain wiring.



Exclusivity

The other thing that was hard to work around was making purchases on registries. Around the one-month mark for this experiment, my cousin shared her Amazon Baby Registry with the family for her upcoming baby shower. Then, we got the registry information for my brother and future SIL’s registry for their wedding this fall.  Sure, worst case I could’ve waited until the last minute to buy something, or just gone rogue and purchased some things off-registry, but as someone who just went through the whole birth thing, I understand that registry stuff can be based on needs so I try to be sensitive to that. Point is, there are a lot of things that you can only find online (some stores will even have certain products listed as “online only,” for instance).

Overall, this was a pretty interesting learning experience, even if I ultimately failed.

  1. I’m not as impervious to marketing messages as I thought. And it turns out, 71% of people believe they’ll find a better deal online than in stores (source), and it might have something to do with really good marketing.
  2. I’ve gotten used to the convenience of online shopping. It’s so easy to “just order it online” when I’m getting low on something…and it’ll just come right to wherever I am, no driving or having to deal with crowds (ok, that part isn’t as much of a concern).
  3. It might actually be really hard for me to give up online shopping. Not in a way that I think I’m overspending or anything like that, but in the case of online registries, it’s a part of the lifestyle I’m used to having. I remember the days when you would have to go into a store (like Filene’s) and find someone’s registry. It’s a lot of effort compared to what you can just do from your couch these days.

I do recommend this experiment to anyone who might want to get control of their budget or anyone who wants to understand what kinds of online marketing they are most susceptible too. It’s one thing to buy things because you like them but knowing why could help you find awareness, discipline, and intention in other parts of your life, too. In the meantime, if you have a business, think about what kind of business you could be doing online (our course might help). 

Now please excuse me while I run three errands at once from my web browser.



Experiments In Passive Income: One Month Making Under Minimum Wage

I started off my year with three resolutions:

  1. Simplify my life.
  2. Travel three times a year.
  3. Double my income.

I get those aren’t SMART goals but they gave me something to focus every decision on. If it wasn’t moving toward one of those things, it either went WAY down on the list or removed altogether.

As far as the first two goals go, simplifying my life involved selling many of my worldly possessions and unloading responsibilities. And that was lovely and continues to be as I look around my house and life at what else I can get rid of. Traveling three times a year was twofold of finding cheaper ways to travel (nextvacay.com is my new favorite thing ever) and making it a priority (book it already!). This year, I’m up to two trips, next year hopefully three.



The ‘hardest’ one is of course number three. I promised myself this year no more catering gigs (I even gave away my uniform so I wouldn’t be tempted) so I had to get creative about money but the truth is 1) anything I do can’t take away from my businesses or work (ideally it would ENHANCE them) and 2) this income would be passive.

To me there are three ways to think of “passive income”:

  1. Completely automated. The idea of this is you set it and forget it. Examples of this would be display advertising or some kind of affilate link sharing (if you have social media scheduling software that is).
  2. Moderately hands on. This could be something that needs periodic tweaking or interaction from you. Examples of this may be an online course that you respond to questions/comments on periodically or renting out your spare bedroom on Airbnb.
  3. Stolen moments. This is actually not at all passive but you can fit it in where you fit it in. An example of this would be taking a survey on Swagbucks or performing a task on Amazon’s Mechanical Turk site.

Now I love those “How I Made $10,000 Blogging Last Month” posts as much as the next person, but they also make me roll my eyes. The rest of us would be thrilled with a couple hundred bucks a month, am I right?

I have been spending my weekends exploring some passive income options and thought it would be fun to report back how it works for a moderately sized website run by a moderately internet saavy person who can only give very part time attention to this cause.



I will share a few nuggets I’ve learned so far:

You seem to have to pay your dues before getting the sweet gigs.

I know, don’t spend it all in one place…

As a new person on ANY of these platforms, you are going to be the low person on the totem pole, which means you have to do low paying stuff for awhile and get experience or other “cred” before you qualify for more lucrative gigs.

Let me now bury the lede: Amazon Mechanical Turks has earned me $2.58 for about four hours of work. I applied for this program knowing that much like Amazon Merch, because of its popularity I could be waiting weeks or months to hear back. When I got approved in five days, I was excited to be let into this very exclusive club. Note: I am not sure whether my website creds, my amount of Amazon ordering, some combination of the two, or other factors got me approved. Amazon doesn’t share its criteria but no doubt big data knows a lot about us.

I will say this system does feel pretty gamified, from the timer that runs as you complete tasks to the ‘pending’ and ‘approved’ statuses of your submitted gigs. So if you enjoy that kind of thing and don’t mind working on it awhile, something like that kind of gig marketplace would be good for you.

We might be able to say the same things about Upwork, Fiverr, and other online gig platforms. In short, you still have to build up a reputation before people throw money at you.

If it seems to good to be true, it is.

Don’t be jealous of me for my roughly $0.06 USD in bitcoin money I made over the course of 6 hours.

So I’ve been looking at bitcoin for a couple months and thinking the idea is pretty neat. This episode of Fresh Air is a really nice primer on cryptocurrency if you aren’t familiar and not at all boring.

Since I personally was unsure about buying hardware and software (or I guess more accurately, knowing how to maintain it), I began looking into cloud mining, which is basically where you use someone else’s equipment (which you can run from your computer) to “mine” for bitcoins (which are being slowly released into the world and will cap out at a certain number). What’s the catch, you ask? There is a minimum amount to withdraw (to save the zeros and put it into understandable US dollars) of like $20… and when you run it you make about $0.01/hour. And you read websites about people getting stiffed on payments so it leaves you to wonder if you really want to invest hundreds of hours in something before knowing if you’ll get a payout.

Most people in the space say this is “worth it” if you have access to cheap or free electricity OR you just buy Bitcoin and hold onto it, like stock.

In other words, too good to be true is just that.



One “dollar” is not equal to $1 USD.

So Swagbucks is a survey taking company that promises you three swagbucks or fifty swagbucks (some amount anyway) that you can earn and cash in. (Note, that is an affiliate link so if you try it, I get three swagbucks). I am a smart person and I keep thinking 3 SW is like $3 USD. It is not. Approximately 300 SB is redeemable for a $3 Amazon gift card. (Different gift cards have different discounts). In other words, you got to get a lot of SB to get real money.

Different earning systems may have similar features, not just to gamify the experience but to keep you from thinking each SB is like $0.01. Because 17 Swagbucks sounds WAY better than $0.17 USD. (And you signing up gives me a whole 3 cents so please, don’t feel like you are getting me too rich clicking on that link!)

You make the most (and easiest) money referring stuff (ie being an affiliate) but a good program is like a unicorn.

The most passive of passive income that generates real money is affiliate ads.

How I knew affiliates were a thing when I noticed them being a substantial part of Darren Rowe’s income report:

https://problogger.com/blogging-income-breakdown-first-half-2016/

Now if you look at his earnings graph even from two years ago, affiliate is not the majority so it represents a shift.

There are tons of affiliate programs out there, but finding one that pays enough to be worthwhile can be a needle in the haystack situation.

On our end, we’re adding our affiliate links to our social media rotation, our email template, and a few other places and will monitor results.



If we add up my weekends of work, I made somewhere between $0.01 and $.50/hour. 

I have also been going through and adding a few ads to some of our better performing blog posts (I started this three days ago). Kassie wrote a post previously about Google Adsense so head there if you want to get a good primer on this. 

So looks like we’re making $0.02 and $0.04/day which makes a whopping $7.30 to $14.60/year. I could similarly add Amazon Affiliate links (which I’ve started doing) to give us 3% of purchase price and probably make around $30/year in very passive income.

Remember, I’m not starting a brand new site with no traffic so this would be harder if I was only getting a couple website visits a day. But you get the idea.

  1. Truly passive income doesn’t pay well unless you have a TON of traffic.
  2. Income that is less passive pays better but you have to put in your dues.
  3. That said, some money for “nothing” is better than no money for nothing.

Pick your poison, my friends. Because I want you to make money, but having made less than minimum wage for a month, I hope this post makes you feel better for not being an instant success. You’re too smart for that and now, I am too.



Ten Things You Can Do To Your Website To Make Peoples’ Lives Easier

If you have a website, chances are you are continuously thinking about making it better. Here are a few things you may or may not have thought of that you can use on your website.

    1. Make phone numbers clickable.
      With the invention of touchable screens and cell phones, if you publish a phone number on your website (especially if it’s in an image or a button), why not make it so when people click it, it works? Here’s how to add the code. Save your customers the copy/paste, or worse, trying to repeat the number aloud so they remember it as they dial!
    2. Add conditional fields to your forms.
      Is this item a gift? If the person says yes *then* bring up the gift recipient name, address, and message form fields. Conditional fields in forms show up, as you’d expect, conditionally. They not only allow your form to be shorter and sweeter but allow whatever transaction you are facilitating to be more seamless.
    3. Allow email updates.
      People want to stay in touch when you do things like write a new blog post or launch a new product. Give them a way to get a notification when something happens on your site, ideally via email, so they don’t have to miss anything or follow up with you. I use Mailchimp RSS campaigns to do this with new blog posts (plus you can set them to autopost to Facebook and Twitter when they go out) but there is more than one way to set something up. Bonus points integrating signup into existing forms, like your contact form.
    4. Track ads.
      If you are a non-profit offering a banner ad on your website to those giving you money for X fundraiser, why not add tracking to it? Then when it comes time next year for your contact to ask their boss again for money, they can show them the return on investment. They are not going to ask you to do this but when you do, you will be much more likely to get sponsored again if they can understand their return on investment.



  1. Add closed captioning to your videos.
    Youtube and Facebook both autogenerate them (and you can spend a few minutes correcting them) or you can use Rev.com and get them done for $1/minute. Makes your video more accessible, which is great for people AND search engines.
  2. Make PDFs part of your site search.
    If your website isn’t indexing PDFs as part of the search feature of your website, and you use PDFs with any regularity, consider adding something (a plugin, for instance) so they come up when someone searches for content within them (note: the PDFs have to be readable).
  3. Accept credit cards (not just Paypal).
    There are whole groups of people who, when they get redirected to Paypal.com, cry out internally and click away. If you want someone to buy something, try to keep them on your site to do it. Not only can you collect useful information from them but it puts you in control of the entire process. (If you want to offer the option of paying by credit card AND Paypal, just don’t make Paypal the only option.)
  4. Make your website accessible.
    Your website needs to be as accessible as possible: adding image tags for text only browsers, etc. If you want to test your website and get suggestions for improvement: http://wave.webaim.org/
  5. Don’t make videos/music autoplay.
    This is obnoxious and means people can’t sneak looking at your website at work. Just don’t.
  6. Think about your website’s mobile experience.
    Over half of your website visitors are likely visiting your website from a mobile device. Check how your website looks/works on a mobile device so you can fix issues and make improvements.

If you act on any of these suggestions, please comment below (or message us and let us know). Anything we left out?



Thoughts on Google AdSense

After starting up my own personal blog, I started thinking about ways to make it a bit of a side hustle (oh, and Side Hustle School was inspiring as well). One of the ideas that kept coming up was Google AdSense, a way to display ads on your website.

The whole moral dilemma of whether or not to place ads on my blog is something I’ve grappled with and is ultimately a personal choice. Maybe someday I’ll decide to go back to being ad-free, but for now, I’m intrigued to see how lucrative this might be (for a fairly small website, I’m not anticipating a full paycheck but some rainy day funds would be cool).

The thing about AdSense — as with a lot of things pertaining to Google — is that a) it changes every so often, and b) you don’t necessarily have a lot of control over it.



To get started, you need a website, a Google account, and to visit Google AdSense. Fill out some preliminary information (name, website, etc), and Google will give you a code to copy and paste in your website’s header (don’t worry — they have some tutorials to help). Then, Google will ask you to confirm that the code is ready so they can “review your site.” Although Google tells you the review process can take up to 3 days, I heard back within day 1.

After that, you get taken to this lovely-looking dashboard.



So Google AdSense offers a few different displaying options for the ads. The relatively easy ones to add are Text & Display ads, In-Feed, and In-Article.

In-Feed and In-Article Ads are the ones you’ll see in between a list (feeds) or paragraphs (article). Arguably these are less distracting to your readers, but I have been confused by them before.

My first ad was a Text & Display Ad. This type of ad is probably the easiest with which to get started since all you have to do is copy and paste the code and add it … wherever! I chose to put my first one in my site’s sidebar, but I can play around with it or add more ads later. Sure, you could shove an ad in your footer, but the point is for people to see/click on it, so placement is important. It’s a fine line between putting it somewhere that isn’t completely annoying but remains somewhat attention grabbing.

This is what it looked like on the front end of my site. Yay Birchbox!

Other types of ads are Page Level ads. Anchor ads appear at the very bottom of a mobile screen, while vignette ads will appear while pages are still loading on your website. Quickstart ads are for both desktop and mobile. This cluster of ads will only appear on your website or a page on your website a) once you have added the code in the right spot and b) whenever Google thinks it’s a good time to show them. Meaning, Page Level Ads appear entirely at Google’s discretion.

Some things to keep in mind if you’re considering using AdSense:

  • If you’re a control-freak, this might not be a good option. While you can limit where the ads appear, you don’t necessarily get to control what’s being advertised (you can set up some restrictions, but this is another “Google decides” thing).
  • You may have to deal with code. Getting page-level ads to display on my website was a bit of a hassle because I had no idea where I was supposed to add the code. Fortunately, there are plenty of people who have decided to share their wisdom with the internet, so I figured it out with some research.
  • Once it’s set up, it seems fairly easy. Like anything, I’m sure I could do more, crazier things to optimize my Google AdSense. If you’re just looking to set something up and “coast” for a bit, that’s totally an option as well. (Keep in mind, Google likes to change things up every now and then so you may have to revisit every so often).



How to Write a Good “How To”

It was 11 p.m. on Christmas Eve, 1997. My Dad embarked on a solo mission to the garage to assemble a basketball hoop for my brother and I. Armed with a tool kit, a set of instructions, and the kind of confidence you get from a neighborhood Christmas Eve party, he was ready…or so he thought. Around 1:30 a.m., he had assembled the entire hoop. Backwards. Next steps were taking apart the hoop, waking up my mother, and reassembling. They finished in time (4 or 5 a.m.) to get about an hour of sleep before we woke up, and Santa got all the credit.

Have you ever been totally frustrated by a how-to, online or offline? There’s nothing more frustrating than trying to follow instructions or a tutorial that doesn’t do a great job of explaining how to do something. You may even end up abandoning the project, and worse, harbor a bit of resentment towards the people/company who made such terrible instructions in the first place.

To avoid being the target of someone’s wrath because you’ve written poor instructions, this post is here to guide you through creating a how-to that guides people from start to finish with minimal frustration. Remember, most people “read instructions when they are impatient, fatigued, or even terrified” (see above Christmas Eve anecdote).



Consider your audience. If you’re writing a how to for the general public vs. a specific task for an employee, your instructions will probably look a little different (assuming the employee has some industry/insider knowledge, compared to a random person on the street who probably has no idea what you do).

Introduce the objective/end goal. What is the end result a person should have at the end of these instructions? This can just be one or two sentences, nothing crazy.

List all materials. This is the place where it’s important to be thorough and organized. For instance, if your product is a model airplane, include a list of a) materials included and b) additional materials needed before starting the project. If there’s something that would make the project easier, but isn’t necessary, include it in a “recommended materials” list.

Write instructions as commands. I’m guilty of slipping into passive voice, but when it’s time to give instructions things like “and then you will want to…” or “it should look like…” don’t instill a lot of confidence. People are looking to you for direction, so don’t be afraid to sound bossy.

Don’t get jargon-y. You know what people hate, especially when they’re trying to figure out how to do something? Feeling dumb. If you’re writing instructions that include a lot of jargon or words that people who don’t work in your industry will understand, it’s probably going to be more frustrating than helpful. If you do need to use industry terms to explain something (or name a part, for instance), include a picture showing what it is exactly (you may be surprised how many people find this helpful).

Speaking of visuals, these can be a great thing to include in your how-to (especially since we’re assuming you aren’t using video here). Even in your list of materials, depending on what they are, could include a visual next to each item showing what it looks like. If it’s an assembly project, showing the progress after each completed step assures people as they’re moving through the instructions that they aren’t just blindly going about things and hoping it comes out the way it’s supposed to at the end.

Have someone else read through. Chances are, if you’re writing instructions about something, you are already fairly good at it. Having someone who’s less familiar with the process, or at least some degree of separation, could provide a bit of insight toward where your instructions are unclear. If you can’t get an extra set of eyes, wait a day or so and try to follow your own instructions from scratch, taking notes on areas that could use more clarification.

Although the Christmas Eve basketball hoop incident was mainly user error, it’s an experience we all want to avoid giving to customers if possible. Keep in mind the toughest audience is people who are going to have the hardest time generally: those who are “busy” and/or “grouchy.” This additional resource below can help you cater to that particular group:

 

Instructions: How to Write Guides for Busy, Grouchy People



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