Kung Fu Cabbage Goes Under the Microscope

published on September 5, 2007

First of all I’d like to quickly ask for your forgiveness. You see, yesterday was the first weekday I have not published a post on this blog since it started. However, I need to apologize not for taking the day off, but for not letting you all know ahead of time that I wouldn’t be posting. You see yesterday was my wife and my first anniversary. Can you believe it? That beautiful lady you see in the picture there has suffered through and entire year with me! Anyway, special days like that or major holidays I pretty much will always take the day off blogging. So, please forgive me for not alerting you all sooner. I’ll be back on schedule for the rest of the week and hopefully have some pictures of the beach to share sometime next week. Now, on to the post!

A while back Zane from KungFuCabbage.com asked me to take a look at his site and provide feedback on areas he might be able to improve. He gave me a link in exchange but that wasn’t necessary. I enjoy analyzing websites, especially blogs, and if I can offer up a few comments or remarks that help make it improve, then all the better. In fact, if you’d like me to put your blog under the microscope, just drop me an email with the URL and a bit of what you’d like me to focus on. Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s jump right in!

Kung Fu Cabbage ScreenshotTake a look at the screen shot of KFC (sorry I had to) and what’s the first thing that jumps out at you? If you’re like me, the field of green caught your eye right off the bat. I have no problem with the color, in fact, it plays into the cabbage part quite well, but does it need to be so large and relatively empty? Zane, I think we’ve talked about a tag line for your site previously, and I think this is the perfect place to employ it. Also, an image or something might help spice it up a bit as well. Shoot even something as simple as a cartoon cabbage that you draw a ninja style headband on could easily become your logo. I know most of us aren’t graphic designers or graphic artists but logo’s aren’t expensive to have made and I think it would help you quite a bit in the branding department.

The next thing that caught my attention is the Google Ads. I don’t really want to get into why I hate Adsense with the burning white hot passion of a thousand suns, but believe it or not, I don’t have a problem with people using it on their site. It can be a decent source of income and I’m always in favor of that. However, by displaying multiple adblocks, you could actually be decreasing your earnings. If you allow only a few ads to be displayed, the higher paying ads will be the ones served up. However, by displaying multiple blocks, you allow lower priced ads to eat up space on your site. I’d suggest setting up channels to discover which block of ads generates the most clicks, and then eliminate the rest.

Another change I’d like to see made, would be to put more focus on the content in your upper right hand corner. I’m not sure whether it would be to just increase the font size a bit or perhaps integrate it into the green or even make use of another color but that section contains a lot of good information and I don’t think enough people will notice it right off the bat. As long as we’re up in the top right section, you might want to explain the subscription options a bit more. Right now the only clue that tells me you offer email subscriptions is the “Delivered by Feedburner” part under the email box. If a visitor is not familiar with Feedburner, they’ll have no idea why they should put their email address in that box. Last but not least, I’d like to see the recent entries up above the calender. That’s really more of a personal preference but in my mind, the titles of your last 10 posts are more valuable than knowing your posting schedule. Really though, that kind of option is different for each and every blog and there’s really no “right” way of doing things.

You’ll probably notice that I didn’t mention your content at all. Considering I have often talked about the quality of content being the top priority for a site, that might seem a bit odd. However, I think your content is a) fairly strong as it is and b) probably not getting the amount of attention and exposure it deserves. Hopefully some of these suggestions will help change that and in help your blog hit a growth spurt in the process. I’d also like to mention that these suggestions are simply that, suggestions. If you decide not to take one or all of them, I won’t be offended and I won’t look down my nose at you. This is your blog and I’m simply honored that you’d ask me for input on it. What you do with the input is entirely up to you. I hope this small study has been useful not only to Zane, the author of KungFuCabbage, but to the rest of our readers as well. Check out your own site and see if some of these things might also work for you. And remember, if you’d like me to put your site under the microscope (see how I tied that in to the “experiment” theme there? wasn’t that clever? lol) just drop me an email and let me know. I’ll try to save time for one these every week or two.

1/100th of the Way There

published on September 3, 2007

The stated goal is to be generating a full time income at the end of only one year and as of tomorrow, I’ll have only ten months left. As the title of this post suggests, I’ve got quite a way to go. In the month of August I made $50.00 just from from the Text Link Ads affiliate program. Unfortunately, that was the only source of income this month. While there’s no denying the ground I have left to cover, I still have reason to be optimistic. Several of the most popular blog monetization programs require your blog to be 90 days old before they’ll accept it into their program. As if that weren’t enough, others require your site to have a minimum Google PageRank to qualify for acceptance. As you may know, this blog has neither. So, until those two criteria are met, I don’t have real high expectations for the monthly income levels. I don’t want to sound like I’m just making excuses, I simply don’t think the income level is the proper way to judge success just yet. In my opinion, the number of RSS subscribers as well as the daily traffic numbers both suggest the blog is doing quite well. In fact, I’ll be publishing the monthly traffic statistics later in the week in hopes of generating some private ad sales to help jumpstart those income numbers while I wait for some of the other programs to open up to me. In the mean time, I’ll continue to post about any new monetization methods I come across and relay the results.

Happy Labor Day everyone!

Help Me Help You! Reader Questions of a Different Sort

published on August 30, 2007

Ladies and Gentlemen, I have one request of you all today….

You know I’ve often been told I bear a striking resemblance to Tom Cruise… Ok, so not really but that clip couldn’t be more perfect for this post. With every blog I’ve ever been a part of, I’ve found that input from the readers is often the most valuable commodity available. Because of that, I’d really appreciate if you’d take just a minute to answer these questions for me. The first two will help me decide when to schedule my posts for publishing and the last two will hopefully guide me to provide you all even more content that you’ll find useful and hopefully enjoy as well. In those immortal words, help me help you!

Thanks everyone!

Dishing up Digg Data

published on August 29, 2007

While there are still several people entering this site from Digg, I think the traffic levels have died down to the point where we can take a look at the data and get a good feel of what benefit hitting the front page of Digg had. There have been a lot of posts like this one, in fact, I’ve written a couple of them myself, but I guess I’m a bit of a stats junkie as I still read every one I come across. If traffic numbers and conversions aren’t your thing, well don’t say I didn’t warn ya!

Just to catch everyone up, about 5 days ago my article Benefits of a Blog Redesign hit the front page of Digg.com. Traffic went through the roof as the site was hit with what is known as the Digg effect. Luckily, my site was able to withstand the onslaught and as far as I can tell, stayed up the entire time. So, what kind of traffic numbers are we talking about?

Digg Data

Now that’s what I’m talkin about! Actually, from most of my experiences that’s a fairly mild Digg spike since the story hit the front page at 2 a.m. central. Another 1,000 or so visitors found there way here over the next few days as well and in fact, as the story starts to rank in the search engines, previous experience suggests I’ll continue to receive a fairly regular, although small, flow of traffic from the social site. For example, the entry on Digg already ranks #3 in Google for the search phrase “blog redesign”.

While the quality of traffic that Digg sends has been denigrated by countless bloggers and webmasters, I actually picked up about 30 new subscribers and sent well over 100 people to Text Link Ads and another 100 to my John Chow page on the milliondollarwiki. While those percentages aren’t what you’d expect to see from normal traffic, that’s hardly what I would call useless. Considering the fact that none of the 500 StumbleUpon users subscribed or clicked through to TLA, I’ll take Digg’s conversion rates any time.

Perhaps the longest lasting benefit of hitting the front page of Digg, or any other social media site for that matter,  is the number of links that follow. Putting your content in front of a large audience of typically young technology inclined people almost always results in links for your site. According to Technorati, I received new links from 25 distinct sites with an average Technorati Authority of nearly 300! Not only will that help increase my Google toolbar PageRank (whenever they get around to updating it) and my Technorati Rankings, it will also help my site rank better in the search engines. Plus, some services such as SponsoredReviews rate your site on the amount of “link pop” it boasts so extra links will often mean extra money.

And there you have it, just about every stat I could think of to pass along about what hitting the front page of Digg did for this site. If you can think of other stats you’d like to see or have other questions, please don’t hesitate to ask. I’ll offer up as much information as possible. If you’re wondering how to go about actually GETTING to the front page of Digg, well that’s a matter for another post (or three).

Blogging Experiment 2.0

published on August 28, 2007

Ladies and Gentlemen, I present to you Blogging Experiment 2.0! For all you RSS readers out there, the site’s been redesigned! We’ve kept much of the same look and feel while expanding the functionality. The search function finally works again, the recent posts and most commented posts are now featured more prominently to help introduce the site’s core content to first time visitors. The subscribe options have been given a bit more emphasis and hopefully draw the eye a bit more. This has pushed the content down the page somewhat but it’s still well above the fold and will always remain so.

I looked around for a different picture to use over there on the right but I discovered that while my wife photographs beautifully with amazing consistency, I don’t. So, as you can see, we’ve stuck with perhaps the only good picture of my ugly mug that exists hehe.

Another area of great change is at the bottom of the page. While the footer section is still the home of the most recent comments, it also now features a list of our Top Commentators. I’ve been looking for a way to reward those of you that are most active on this site and have decided this is the best way to do that. I’ll be writing and publishing a comment policy for this site but until then, let’s stick with the rule of thumb that if you’re commenting for the links, your comment won’t stick around long.

Yet another difference is the addition of a few ads in the right hand column. There are currently only three but that number might increase as direct advertising increases on this site. I’ll have more details on that in the coming days as well.

Last but not least, I’d like to thank StudioJMC for donating the web design work to make this new theme happen. In the interest of full disclosure, the company is owned and operated by my father. If you’re needing any type of webdesign work done, he’s tops in my book.

Well, I think that pretty much covers it. Take a look around, let me know what you think and if you see any glitches or problems.

Affiliate Jump Pages: Why and How

published on August 28, 2007

Well, it looks like I could have probably saved people some time by posting this a bit earlier but hey, better late than never right? As you may have noticed, every time I link to Text Link Ads, I actually link to the URL http://bloggingexperiment.com/recommend/text-link-ads.php. Now, if you copy and paste that address into your browser, you’ll almost instantly be taken over to TLA’s home page. This is what’s called a redirect, a “go” page, or an affiliate jump page. So why don’t I just link straight to their home page? Why bother with these jump pages? Well, I’ll tell ya.

The Why?
First of all, as we’ve seen recently with TLA, affiliate programs will from time to time change their URL’s. Whether it’s switching the name of the campaign or changing the offer or even in this case switching to TinyURLs, there will come a time when you need to change your links. By using an affiliate jump page you only need to change the link in one place. As I mentioned, every time I link to an affiliate program, I’m actually first linking to one of my jump pages. Since the URL of my jump page address won’t be changing, all those links will remain valid no matter what changes need to be made to the jump page itself.

Also, using a jump page allows you to get rid of those often ugly affiliate id laced URLs. In fact, depending on the way you set yours up, you can even convey a sense of trust or legitimacy with your URL’s. If you noticed in the example above, I store most of my redirects in a folder named recommend. The truth is, most people probably won’t notice the URL at all, but if they do, they’ll hopefully be somewhat reassured about the website I’m taking them to since I “recommend” it. A person that is at ease is much more likely to convert than someone who’s skeptical and leery of step. Basically using a jump page can help you avoid some of the negative stigma that has been associated with affiliate marketing in the past.

Another great benefit is the ability to easily track how many referrals you send where. While most affiliate programs will track these numbers for you, I’ve always enjoyed double checking their stats. Most affiliate programs are on the level and would never try to cheat you out of what you’re due. However, I always double check my stats against there’s just to make sure there are no discrepancies. Some stats programs such as MyBlogLog do track where your visitors click, however, others, like Google analytics, don’t offer that information. By creating a jump page, you are then able to install your tracking code on those pages and know how many people hit that page and are then redirected on to the site you’re affiliated with. This can also help you track which sources of traffic convert the best and will help you focus your marketing efforts where they are most effective.

Last but not least, is the SEO benefit affiliate jump pages offer. Any time you link out to a website you put your site at risk. Please don’t misunderstand me, linking out is a necessary part of the internet and should be done frequently. However, you should always be careful about the sites you link to. If you link to sites that have been identified as spam sites or part of a spam network, your site could suffer in the search engine rankings. Again, most affiliate programs are not dangerous to link to, but Google can be a fickle entity and you never know when they will decide to change what they consider spam. If Google decided tomorrow that all affiliate links were a sign of spam, I’d be protected. By using jump pages it looks to Google and every other search engine out there like I’m simply linking to one of my own pages. I’m not at risk of being associated with any unsavory sites but my own.

The How?
Ok, I’ve convinced you. Now HOW do you go about creating affiliate jump pages? There are several different methods that you can use, but naturally I think the one I use is the easiest and most effective. Here’s an example of one of my affiliate jump pages:

<insert tracking scripts here>
<meta http-equiv=”Content-Language” content=”en-us”>
<title>Sign Up with Text Link Ads</title>
<meta name=”robots” content=”noindex, nofollow”>
<script>window.location=”affiliate url“;</script>
<meta http-equiv=”refresh” content=”1; url=”affiliate url“>
<p align=”center”>You will be taken to the correct page shortly.
<br>If this page does not load after 5 seconds, please
<a href=”affiliate url“>click here</a>.</p>

As you can see, I’ve highlited a few important elements. First of all, you’ll want to include your tracking scripts before the rest of the page so the scripts load first. Otherwise the visitor will have been redirected before you have any record of them.

Next, you should take note of the robots meta tag. You don’t want this page to be indexed and you don’t want your affiliate link to be followed so be sure to include the noindex, nofollow directions in the tag.

Finally, you’ll need to insert your affiliate url in three different places. While the large majority of your users will be immediately redirected, there will be a few with java disabled or what have you so placing a link on the page for those to click through is always a good idea. The rest of the items like your page title and the text you include if the redirect doesn’t work is all up to you.

So there you have it ladies and gents, a quick and easy template for you to follow for your affiliate jump pages. Once the page is finished you’ll obviously want to save it somewhere on your site. Many people save them all in a single “go” folder, but again, that’s all a matter of personal preference. I hope this proves helpful to many of you and I apologize for not posting it sooner.

P.S. We’ve passed the goal of 150 subscribers according to Feedburner’s feed count! There’s always some fluctuation but if on Saturday the number is above 150, I’ll announce the winner of the Complete Blogging Package contest. If you haven’t entered yet, it’s not too late. I’ll be accepting entries up until 12 p.m. (CST) deadline but not a minute after. Check out the complete rules and don’t forget to email me once you’ve entered. Enjoy!

Reader Question Session: Paid Posts with the Wall Street Journal

published on August 27, 2007

This week’s reader question comes from none other than the Wall Street Journal. Journalist Simona Covel wrote in with a very interesting question on the topic of paid or sponsored posts. This was for her piece in today’s paper titled Paying Bloggers for Online Reviews Can Fan Fame in which, yours truly is briefly quoted. While you can read a small portion of my response in the article, I figured I’d share with you my entire response and as always, get your take on the issue. The question I was originally posed was this:

One question that’s coming up is the issue of advertisers being able to “rank” posts one a one to five scale. If an advertiser asks for a neutral review, will a blogger be afraid to be critical for fear of earning a low ranking? Or will the blogger trust that if someone asks for something neutral, they’re not afraid of a little constructive criticism?

Now, as you know, I’ve not yet participated in any paid or sponsored posts on this blog. Not only do most paid blogging services have an age requirement of 90 days for blogs, but this site also does not yet have visible Google PageRank which is another measure used by most services. However, I have written several posts of a sponsored nature on other sites and blogs. I just wanted to establish that so I didn’t sound like I was just pulling this answer out of my ear or something. Anyway here’s what I said:

Personally I think that most of the blogging community wants some type of ranking system. I know that any paid reviews or paid posts I write, I put a lot of effort into to give both the advertiser and my readers the most value. However, there are plenty of bloggers out there that run what I would consider spam blogs or splogs. They don’t care about the quality of their work and are just out to make a buck. Personally, I would welcome any system that helps differentiate myself and my blog from the sploggers.

You mentioned the idea that some bloggers might be more reserved or less likely to critique an advertiser and I think that’s definitely an issue to consider. However, I’ve been critical of advertisers in the past and all but one of them thanked me for my input and suggestions. “Fluff” posts, or posts that are purely promotional don’t do anyone any good. Blog readers will see right through it and lose respect for both the blogger, and the advertiser. However, an advertiser that receives some criticism and eagerly accepts it, or better yet acts on it, stands to gain a lot of respect.

Also, I think any system that openly rewards quality will help legitimize the practice of paid or sponsored posts. Readers will realize that the bloggers that participate aren’t “selling out”. That in turn will give advertisers that do get positive reviews even more bang for their buck so to speak.. So, overall, yes I would expect SOME people using these programs to be upset if or when a ranking system is put into action. However, I would expect the majority of the blogging community, as well as advertisers, to welcome the move and even offer up suggestions for improvement.

That’s my take, what’s yours? Do you think some sort of ranking system would be good for the industry of paid posts? Do you think there would be less criticism for fear of getting a bad score? Weigh in! I’m off to add “quoted in the Wall Street Journal” to my resume (no not really, but I have to admit, I was pretty stinkin excited to get my hands on a copy today).

Why Text Link Ads Changed their URLs

published on August 24, 2007

Ok, I’ve heard a TON of complaining and whining about Text Link Ads changing their URLs. People are upset, think it was a dumb move, and all sorts of other criticism all because they either didn’t know to or were too lazy to use a redirect for their affiliate links. I’ve posted a comment over at the epicenter of the whining comments (in response to John Chow’s recent post about the issue) but I figured I should scoot over here and post it here as well. This was somewhat rushed because I’ve got to head off to the rehearsal but I have a hard time not correcting misinformation when I see it in mass quantities like this.

Come on people!!! Think about it for just a minute… have you noticed Text Link Ads anywhere in Google’s SERPs lately? No, didn’t think so. They have been targeted by Google as selling links, which they do, and now penalized for it. So, everyone that linked to them (affiliates this is you) was linking out to a penalized site. So, that hurts your rankings, which then makes your links even less valuable and then TLA loses business. Plus, if it hurts your rankings to link to them, they’ll also have fewer affiliates.

Basically, this allows people to participate in their affiliate program without Google being able to easily identify them. All you people that didn’t use redirects or jump pages, take it as a lesson but don’t act like it’s some huge injustice.

Now, I’ve had an article about affiliate jump pages sitting in my drafts folder for weeks but it’s apparently time to pull it out and publish it. I’ll add that to the list for next week but for now, consider all the implications and repercussions of a move before you form an opinion on it. Believe it or not, TLA made this move for the sake of their publishers as well as their business.

Our First Fight

published on August 24, 2007

As I mentioned previously, this post was originally written while my wife and I were dating. If you’re wondering why you’re reading this instead of a post about how to make money blogging, you probably need to go back and read the post from earlier today.

So Juliet and I had our first… well lets call it a disagreement. It hardly seems fair to call it a fight as it was not a proper row with screaming and yelling or anything… in fact it was really quite amusing. Well in the true spirit of my current favorite author Mil Millington I will tell you all about it (albeit a *slightly* embellished version). You see it all started when I chased a raccoon… yes that’s correct… you may re-read that last bit if you need to. All caught up now? Grand. I suppose that really is over simplifying things. Let me fill in a few gaps.

I was on the phone with Juliet the other night and she was telling me a story about her night… well I happen to glance up and notice a raccoon walking across our front yard into the back yard. Now, any of you who know me know about the famous series of raccoon encounters and subsequent killings from a couple of summers ago. Well, being as how I have a soft spot in my heart for raccoons (right next to Martha Stewart and the Chicago Cubs) I decided I didn’t want this overgrown rodent in the back yard where our dogs were. I quickly say “Hold on a second.. I have to chase this raccoon.” I proceed to chase the raccoon (quite bravely might I add….. don’t worry, I will get to the embellishment later) and after satisfying myself that this particular raccoon would no longer be a threat to the family pets I returned to the conversation.

However…. (as some of you more experienced in relationships might have seen coming) Juliet was having none of this. The other end of the phone was completely silent. I, being the very observant guy that I am, ask if something is wrong. Now I will give you all one guess as to Juliet’s response… its not hard… she says “Nothing.” Now apart from the heavens opening up and God himself smiting her down for such a blatant lie, I figure I have two choices as to how to proceed with this discussion. I choose the response of

“Oh come on, I know something is bothering you.”

“Well its just that…. I mean you interrupted my story to chase a RACOON?”

Just as a side note I don’t think her reaction would have been much different had I gone off to chase a wild dingo that had stolen the neighbor’s 6 month old infant… however, that is neither here nor there.

We have quickly come to the climactic moment in this historic first…. what did we settle on? ah yes… this historic first discussion. However, before we get to my retort I feel the need to fill you in with some more background information in order that you may fully appreciate where I am coming from in my ill fated response. Juliet has interrupted me no fewer than 37,842 times in the one month we have been dating. I mean I really don’t mind at all (my thought process is already a train wreck so what do I care if someone comes in and takes out a few more sections of the track?). But… that is not the point. The point is that she interrupts my perfectly good stories all the time and for things much more trivial than heroically chasing down a rabies infested, child eating raccoon (this is the embellished part).

Anyway, my response at this point was “Are you kidding me?” Now see hindsight being 20 20 and all, I too realize that this was not the best response possible. You cant expect a guy to be perfect 24/7. Well at this point, even as these words are escaping my mouth, my muscles are pulling my face into an expression very much like one would have when they realize they have just stepped off the curb right in front of a tractor trailer. A deer in the headlights had nothing on me. Well after a few apologies I finally get her to finish the oh so captivating story of how her paint dried or maybe it was about the grass growing? Anyway the story was thankfully finished and we continued our conversation. I start to tell a story and BAM! I immediately get interrupted. I think a nail had been chipped or something else along those earth shattering lines. Anyway I oh so kindly ask the obvious question that is on everyone’s mind at this point.

“If I am not supposed to interrupt you, then why is it ok for you to interrupt me?” (I really think this just self loathing and masochistic tendencies at this point. I am looking into therapy.)

As you might guess this comment went over about as well as the Hindenburg. I think I even heard the neighbor yell “Oh the humanity!” My reaction time, after a few warm-up idiotic remarks, however was much quicker this time and I just tacked on my apology right on to the end of the comment so it really was more like this:

“If I am not supposed to interrupt you, then why is it ok for you to interrupt me?I am so sorry. I am an idiot. That wasn’t fair at all. Its obviously a different situation. Please forgive me and accept my left arm as a sacrifice to appease the angry gods of relationship.”

Whats the moral of this story? Score one for those god-forsaken raccoons. They may have won this time… but this isn’t over. Not by a long shot.

Editor’s Note: Just so you all don’t think I am trying to prematurely start our second argum… I mean discussion, I asked for permission to post this. Even Michael Jordan needed a night off every now and then.

P.S. Don’t forget, you can still enter the Complete Blogging Package contest. We’re about a week away from the deadline and I’m pretty sure we picked up some subscribers early this morning so hopefully we can push that feed count up over 150 and keep it there until the end of the contest. Have a good weekend everyone!