Friday, February 24, 2017 by Henry GreenWant to work from home and live the dream? Of course you do! Or, are you aiming to earn some extra online cash on the side through your next brilliant idea? Sure! We live in what’s been dubbed the Gig Economy -- everybody’s got some kind of side hustle to make ends meet, and with big dreams of striking it HUGE. With instant access to powerful resources the web affords the entrepreneurial-minded with endless opportunities to earn money. There are now more than ever ways to be gainfully employed either full- or part-time through the web. If you’re motivated to earn some cash, it’s really only a matter of matching up your skills with which job suits you best. The web is your oyster! Make it count!
Thursday, February 23, 2017 by Joseph CruzIt's one thing to have a website, but it's another to have one that people actually like to visit on a regular basis. If it were easy to engage users with a website, then there wouldn't be countless agencies and professionals employed in online marketing. Getting people to want to view and use your website is an art in itself, one that not many are able to master. The more your users engage with your content, the more likely they are to become return visitors who want to share and promote your content, thus bringing in even more visitors. Increasing user engagement doesn't have to be about making big sweeping changes to your website; it's about optimizing all the little details that add up to something big. Ready to engage your visitors? Here are eight strategies you can try.
1. Tweak Your WritingMake sure to use a writing style that's appropriate to your target audience. For example, if you have a news site catered to younger people, then you should write in a more casual way. If you manage a spa, you'd want to use a softer tone. If you work in a formal industry like government, be sure to use a professional tone, or maybe break out your technical and/or academic writing. Another important thing is the readability of your site content. It doesn't matter if your content is informative if it's just a big wall of text that's badly written and barely comprehensible. Splitting it up into bite-sized paragraphs with subheadings can greatly help with the readability of an article. [bctt tweet="Readability tip: Split up your blog post into bite-sized paragraphs with subheadings." username="hostgator"] The white space in between chunks of text is important, so make sure each paragraph is no more than one to three sentences each and no run-on sentences. This makes it easier to read and understand, so visitors are more likely to stick around and actually read it! You can add a one-sentence paragraph as the conclusion to a section just like this. Think of it as your punchline.
2. Optimize Your Internal LinksOnce readers have landed on your company’s blog posts, don’t lose them to the “Back” button. Internal links (links from your website to other parts of your website) aren't just important for the sake of SEO, but also for directing your visitors towards more of the great content on your website. For example, linking to other related posts on your blog allows readers to learn more about a topic. Encourage visitors to stick around by adding extensions and plugins that automatically display related posts.
3. Dig Deeper with AnalyticsBounce rate and average session time are two metrics that can be found in your website's analytics. These illuminate which pages users are immediately bouncing back to Google from, and which ones they're sticking around on to read in-depth. Google Analytics highlights a number of useful metrics for your site, including your top channels and page load time. Check out my guide on how to use Google Analytics so you can better understand your visitor behavior and get more out of your website. [bctt tweet="For user engagement insights, monitor Bounce Rate and Avg Session Time in Google Analytics." username="hostgator"]
4. Get Social and Take FeedbackIt's encouraging for your followers to see someone who's open to feedback as it shows that you actually do care about what your customers or readers think. Streamline the feedback process by sending a survey with your email newsletter. Also make sure that you let people know of your presence in social media and let them have their say. Embed social follow and sharing tools like AddThis or ShareThis. Give visitors a way to follow you on social media, and open a direct line of communication with them.
Speaking of communication... Want your site’s visitors to leave comments on your blog posts? Simply ask them to do so! Ending your blog posts with a question and a prompt for readers to leave their thoughts in the comments section can be a great way to drive post-based activity on your site.
5. Encourage Discussion and DebateAnother advantage of being active in social media is that you can have your users interact with each other. There may be some useful insights you can get from them discussing and debating on topics related to what your website is about during a Facebook Live or Twitter chat. You might also consider setting up a user forum on your website. Though they require additional time and resources to manage, the investment may be worth it when it comes to promoting on-site user activity. Several free tools, like phpBB and Motigo, make the process of forum implementation easy and can add tremendous value for your website’s visitors. Just make sure you're able to keep these exchanges positive or it can quickly escalate into something you don't want in your online space. Make sure to keep an eye out and let them know you're right there so things don't go out of hand. If they're always vocal but also civil, then you must be doing something right! [bctt tweet="Great options for customer feedback: user forums, blog comments, Facebook Live." username="hostgator"]
6. Send a Regular Newsletter
Adding a mailing list to your website allows you to reach out to customers and offer incentives to get them to return to your site in the future.
Use a reputable email list management service like ConstantContact to store your addresses and consider offering some type of incentive (like a free product or coupon code) to encourage sign-ups.
7. Give Them SurprisesKeeping your users on their toes is a good way to keep them interested. It's not just about regularly posting fresh content, but also throwing in the occasional curve ball to pleasantly surprise them. Whether it's an announcement for something entirely new, a giveaway, a promo, or a contest, give your users more reasons to follow you and stay tuned to your updates. “Gamification” features – like badges, user contests and user profile rating systems – turn on-site activity into an engaging game. Tools like Badgeville and BigDoor make adding these elements simple, though larger companies may want to consult developers in order to create their own custom game-based activity reward systems. You can reward visitors for their participation through these surprises as well. Use call-to-actions to encourage people to follow you, or share and comment on your posts, in exchange for prizes or perks.
8. Offer VarietyLast – but not least – freshen up your content by formatting it in different ways, including text, image and video-based posts. Different readers respond to different types of content in different ways, so by including a number of separate formats, you’ll encourage user activity on your site by appealing to all of these different preferences. User engagement is all about combining the good and the familiar with the fresh and the unexpected, as well as encouraging more conversation and feedback. When users make an action or ask for something in your website and they get a result, that builds a positive feedback loop that keeps them coming back for more. Have you tried one of these strategies on your site? Share your experience in the comments below!
Wednesday, February 22, 2017 by Shayla PriceDo you want more blog traffic? Of course, you do! Social media is continuing to be a hub for people to connect with others around the world. Moreover, Pinterest is paving the way for bloggers to drive referral traffic and increase audience engagement. Research shows that “the half-life of a pin is 1,680 times longer than a Facebook post.” This means more people are interacting with your content months after you post it. “Interaction is so easy on Pinterest that other networks have a reason to envy it. The recipe of a successful interaction is a smooth delivery of information across the board... All you need to do is create new boards, add new pins, invite others and like and re-pin other’s pins,” writes Mike Dane, a digital marketing professional. It's time to send Pinterest users to your blog. Here are five ways to get you started.
1. Create Multiple BoardsOn Pinterest, visibility is vital to attracting new individuals to your account. Even with a targeted audience, there are several interests that your pinners will possess. So, make sure you’re catering to those needs by developing multiple boards to gain their attention. For instance, if your blog is dedicated to all things cooking, create a board for slow cooker meals, one for dishes made under 30 minutes, and maybe another for desserts. This segmentation gives someone an opportunity to pick what they want and find it quickly. For example, HostGator has several boards devoted to website inspiration, ranging from blogging tips to design ideas for an arts & craft blog. Another pro tip? Don’t limit yourself to posting your articles in only one board. More than 80% of pins are re-pins. Thus, sharing the same pins in several boards can help more people find your blog via Pinterest’s search function and category algorithms. “It’s okay to pin your blog articles to more than one Pinterest board, but spread them out over time and pin other content in between so your Pinterest feed isn’t just you pinning five pins of your blog post to different boards,” says Peg Fitzpatrick, co-author of The Art of Social Media: Power Tips for Power Users. Want to give your fans a chance to find your blog posts? Drive traffic with multiple boards. [bctt tweet="80% of Pinterest pins are re-pins. Pro tip: reshare pins on multiple boards to increase visibility." username="hostgator"]
2. Post Creative ImagesPhotos make up 92% of all Pinterest posts. So, you should really focus your energy on producing creative images for your followers. Start by formatting images properly. The ideal aspect ratio for Pinterest images is 2:3 with a minimum width of 600 pixels. Add a story-filled background to your images. For example, a recipe blogger might post a bowl of fruit on a checkered tablecloth in front of flowers. You want to set the mood for the person looking at the image, to entice them to want to read the blog post. Take photos up close, suggests blogger Ali at Gimme Some Oven. People should feel like they can actually experience the object on your Pinterest board. Tie your images to seasonal or holiday events. Pinners are two times more likely to celebrate events and holidays. Plan your marketing strategy around pinning images that connect to special occasions, like Valentine’s Day or Halloween. Experiment with your pin images and track which photos resonate with your fans. Then create more of those. [bctt tweet="#Pinterest Photo Tips: Add a story line, take photos up close, and tie in seasonal events." username="hostgator"]
3. Write Descriptive CopyPinterest isn’t all about photos. There’s space to write text to make people take a second glance at your work. For instance, article pins include a headline, the author’s name, and story description. These rich pins let you shape how people perceive your board. The headline should stick out to the reader. Use catchy, bold language that appeals to your audience. What would they like to read? If you have to shorten the original article title, do it! Use the same brand name on your blog on your Pinterest account. So, if everyone knows you as Betty the Gardener, keep the consistency. You don’t want to confuse followers. Lastly, write a description that’s interesting to the individual. You want people to feel compelled to click to learn more. Check out this example from the New York Times: Freelance writer Elna Cain offers some additional tips to boost traffic:
- Make it easy for pinners to find your pin with a spot-on description.
- Give enough information to entice a pinner to click through to your blog.
- Draw on the emotions of the pinner by using sensory-related words and positive sentiments.
- Add a call-to-action in your description, like, “check out…” or “click to find out more.”
4. Focus on TimingResearch revealed that to optimize audience reach on Pinterest pinners should post 10 to 15 times per day. As your fan base grows, deliberately timing pins becomes important to providing a consistent brand message to your platform. You’ll soon learn that pinning at any time isn’t a good strategy. Bloggers can waste lots of effort posting pins whenever they think is the best. Instead, take a pragmatic approach. Examine your website traffic to uncover when are the best days and times to post your pins. [bctt tweet="When's the best time to post on #Pinterest? Look to your blog traffic for the answer." username="hostgator"] “The smart strategy is to look at your traffic stats for your own blog to see when you consistently get the most traffic, and then plan to pin during those times, because that’s when your audience is surfing the web and most likely to spread the word,” states Beth Hayden, a social media expert. And remember, every sector is different. The time that works well for retail bloggers might not work best for financial bloggers. In the chart below, experts found that the best time for the food and beverage industry pinners is between 11am and Noon Eastern time. Gain more traffic by optimizing when you post your pins. It will help your followers and your blog.
5. Engage With Your CommunitySimilar to most social media networks, engagement is always critical to influencing people to visit your site. The interaction shows people you’re interested in their opinions. Use the comment section of your pins to answer questions and thank your followers. And encourage people to like and save pins and follow you. By doing so, you’ll gather information on what they enjoy most and how to better cater to those desires. The average user stays on Pinterest for close to 15 minutes at a time. That’s remarkable since most people get bored on social media after a couple of minutes. For your active fans, ask them to curate your board with you. It’s an effective way to collaborate with people and lets their followers discover your blog. Here’s a group board focused on blogging. It has more than 50+ people adding their voices to the Pinterest conversation. Involve your community in the creation of your boards. It helps with engagement and brings new fans to your blog.
Start Growing Your Blog TrafficBring attention to your blog today with the help of social media. Use Pinterest to attract people to your posts. Create multiple boards based on your readers’ interests. Post eye-catching photos that will make people take a second look. And engage with your community to lure people to your site. Grow your blog now. Update your Pinterest account (and while you're at it, follow HostGator!)
Tuesday, February 21, 2017 by Kristen HicksWhether you’re a lean startup or a budget conscious behemoth, there’s nothing wrong with saving a few dollars, especially if it’s on something as important as online marketing. But with plenty of snake-oil salesmen and low-quality services out there on the internet, you want to make sure you’re getting your money’s worth.
Luckily, you can find a number of the most important online marketing tools every business needs at either very little cost or no cost at all. To make your search for the best inexpensive online marketing tools out there easier, we’ve rounded up a list of 21 tools worth checking out.
Tools for Marketing Research
Great marketing is built on a foundation of good research. To reach your target audience effectively with the right message, you have to first understand who they are and what they care about. And to position yourself effectively in the industry, you need a good understanding of who your competitors are and what their marketing strategy looks like.Performing audience research to build accurate personas and competitor research to clarify your positioning are two crucial early steps in every marketing effort. Here are a few tools to help you do marketing research that won’t eat up much of your budget.
1. SEC.govCost: Free With government mandated filings for publicly traded firms, posted in plain view for all to see, the SEC stands as a veritable gold mine of information for learning more about your competitors. Two primary items drive the usefulness of the Securities and Exchange Commission’s postings. The first one is comprehensive annual reports in a readily accessible PDF format. The second, however, is probably the most attractive for time conscious tycoons. XBRL (short for eXtensible Business Reporting Language) meta-tagging of vital financial statistics ensures that data can be cataloged and presented in quick-reference, easy-to-understand tables. The combination makes for an insightful look into competitors, risks, and market trends. Instant Survey’s continuing adaptation and development are just accessories to the fact that it performs one basic task extremely well: collecting customer feedback. From real-time results to random assignments for answer order, even seasoned marketers will find exactly what they’re looking for. Instant Survey is currently in beta and, for now, free for both the basic and pro versions. In the future, the pro version is likely to jump up to $10/month, but for many small businesses the basic version will provide many of the features you’ll need. Survey Monkey is one of the other top choices for conducting surveys to learn more about your audience. It offers the ability to make and send surveys, as well as sophisticated data and analytics that can help you make better decisions based on the results. Like Instant Survey, they offer a free basic version, but they also have a couple other plans for anywhere from $25/month to $85/month that provide more useful features, such as custom themes, rich data, and unlimited questions and responses.
4. Census.govCost: Free While querying your existing customers can be useful, brand new companies (and even established names) can always benefit from understanding the clients they haven’t made yet. This is where the US Census comes in. From information about median income and population distribution to detailed facts like computer and internet use, there is no shortage of useful tools to help paint a picture of potential customers. But the Census doesn’t just document people. Detailed information about industries, employment, trade, and so on can help your business understand the greater context of your market. Between these exhaustive statistics and a bevy of research articles on the data itself, there’s no question that whatever you’re looking for, you’ll probably find it here. Did we mention it’s free?
Tools for Website AnalyticsOnline marketing isn’t possible without a website. It’s the home base all your other marketing is pointing toward and if it doesn’t do its job well, all that other work could be for naught. These affordable tools can help you make sure your website is doing its job well – and if it’s not, figure out what changes you should make. We know, we know, it’s a shameless plug, but we had to include it. A key part of running any successful marketing campaign is using your website to its full potential. To do that, you need a web host you can rely on. HostGator offers a variety of hosting plans for small businesses. You can choose WordPress hosting to easily get your blog up and running or you can get a dedicated server to handle huge influxes of web traffic. Whichever plan you choose, our team is available 24/7/365 to help. If you have a website, you should have Google Analytics. Google tracks most of the important data that tells you what’s working (and what’s not) with your online marketing. You can see how many people are coming to your site, how they found you, and what they do once they get there. And those are just some of the more obvious metrics to monitor; when you dig deeper you can learn so much more. The information businesses get from Google Analytics is invaluable, and yet the tool remains 100% free. If you haven’t set up Google Analytics for your website, make that your top priority. It won’t take too long and you’ll start getting some serious value out of the tool relatively quickly. Formerly called Google Website Optimizer, Google Content Experiments is a tool included within Google Analytics that allows you to set up A/B testing experiments to test out how changes to your website can produce different results. You can pit two landing page designs against each other, try out different copy on your home page, or see if a different CTA button makes a difference. The tool even allows you to go beyond A/B testing and test out more than two versions of the same page – up to 10. The results will be easy to track and clearly visualized within Google Analytics, the tool you should already be using to track your website metrics.
Tools for Content Marketing and SEOContent marketing and SEO aren’t the same thing, but they go hand in hand. As such, tools that will help you out with one will often be useful for the other as well. For any business practicing content marketing and SEO, these tools can help make your efforts stronger without adding much to the costs of your work. Keyword research is one of the most important steps in any SEO strategy (as well as any PPC strategy), and Google Keyword Planner is one of the most essential tools available to do it. And like the other Google tools on this list, it’s entirely free. It allows you to research how popular and valuable different keywords are based on how frequently they’re searched in Google and how much businesses spend on them in Google Adwords. This can help you expand your list of relevant keywords beyond the ones you brainstorm yourself in order to better shape a content strategy. There are plenty of other keyword tools out there you can use, but between its low, low price (free) and the wealth of data Google’s able to access in providing you the tool, it’s the best one to start with. Surprise, surprise - we have yet another Google tool on the list! The company has so much data that it’s in a powerful position to provide it to businesses in useful formats, and it does so in a number of ways we can all appreciate. Google Trends takes the billions of online searches per day and breaks them down by category, top hits, and geographic region. As if this wasn’t helpful enough, the service even prepares graphic data and customizable reports using the Explore feature. But the real strength of Google Trends lies in the name: Google. Utilizing the most heavily trafficked search engine on the web provides instant access to the behaviors, thoughts, trends, and interests of a cross-section of the population that would otherwise take a huge amount of money and time to survey on your own.
10. Keyword.ioCost: Free and paid plans You know when you start to do a search in Google (or YouTube or Amazon or any number of other search tools) how sometimes you’ll see a dropdown menu of suggestions finishing the phrase you started? The creators of Keyword.io had the idea that all those suggestions for finishing a phrase could become valuable fodder for marketers to understand what their customers are looking for, and by extension what topics they should be covering in their content strategy. So they put together a tool that lets you see the autocomplete options for a number of commonly used search tools. You can enter in a word or two and see a list of the autocomplete keywords that are commonly used that include or are related to the words you entered. You can use Keyword.io for free if you stick with the basic version, or upgrade to one of the paid versions with more features and data access for $29 or $49 a month. Content marketing requires generating what often feels like an infinite list of topic ideas to create content around. When you’re working on your content calendar and you start to feel like you’ve exhausted every relevant idea you can come up with, Portent’s Title Generator can help you get the juices flowing again. The free tool drops the keywords you provide into popular headline formats to help you come up with new subjects to add to your list. The results may be hit or miss, but the tool can be a boon to your topic brainstorming sessions.
Tools for Social Media MarketingOne of the subsets of digital marketing that gets the most buzz is social media marketing, and for good reason. Social media platforms are some of the best spaces to meet your audience where they hang out and gain insights into what they’re talking and thinking about.
12. Social NetworksCost: Free Just as widespread in use as search engines, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn all provide a unique opportunity for research. Besides being heavily-visited and free distribution channels for content and product announcements, these services stand as one of the most potent methods of rapid-fire data gathering on the internet today. While surveys and census data can provide powerful insights, social networking exists in a space where people are encouraged and happy to communicate and provide feedback. The ability to simply click in a comment box, fire off a response, and hit enter, all in a matter of seconds, means an outlet for customers, and a steady stream of intel for you. Creating a comprehensive picture of your market is no easy task, but with some low cost options at hand, the job becomes a little easier. Remember to combine information from all sources and get whatever value you can out of each service. At the end of the day, you’ll have a better understanding of your target market, and you’ll save some money in the process.
13. HootSuiteCost: Free and paid plans Social media manages to be an important marketing tool and a serious distraction for procrastinators all at once. Having a frequent presence on there is generally a good thing – unless it becomes all you’re doing. HootSuite makes it possible to manage all your social media profiles in one space and create a schedule of updates in advance. That way, you can approach social media strategically with a well-thought out plan, instead of doing it as you go and getting sucked in. HootSuite provides a free plan that will work fine for some small business users, as well as paid plans for larger businesses and social media professionals that allow room for more users and profiles.
14. BufferCost: Free and paid plans The other main player in social media management is Buffer. It also lets you schedule your updates in advance and access multiple social profiles in one centralized space. There's a free plan, as well as paid ones with access to more users and social media analytics. The features and functionality are similar, so you might consider giving both Buffer and HootSuite a try to see which one you prefer the look and feel of.
15. FollowerwonkCost: Free and paid versions Followerwonk is a helpful tool that provides a deeper level of analysis to your Twitter use and that of other people in your industry. It makes identifying the people to target for influencer marketing easy with social authority rankings, and helps you strategize growing your follower list by better understanding your current followers and their influence.
Tools for Email MarketingEmail marketing is one of the most powerful forms of online marketing you can do. According to one report, it’s been shown to have a 3800% ROI. That puts it well above any other type of online marketing. To do email marketing, you need a good email marketing software to manage and execute your strategy.
16. Constant ContactCost: Starts at $20/month Constant Contact helps you build your email lists, manage them, create emails from visually appealing templates, and track the important metrics from each marketing email you send out. It’s easy to use and gives you the means to improve your email marketing over time based on the rich data and analytics the product provides.
Other Valuable Marketing ToolsWe’ve covered the main categories, but we’re not done yet. Here are a few more affordable tools that can make your life easier as a marketer.
17. CanvaCost: Free Images are a huge part of online marketing, but for some marketers, they feel like the hardest part. Stock images don’t perform as well as original ones, and original ones are a pain to create. Canva makes putting together original images that look good much easier. They have tons of templates, backgrounds, images, and fonts you can use. While many of the images they make available are free, there are some you can grab the usage rights to for a small price (generally a dollar). If you’ve been struggling with creating worthwhile images, signing up for Canva can immediately make that struggle easier on you. We already looked at a tool for helping you come up with titles; this one helps you gauge how successful your titles, social media updates, and email subject lines will be by comparing them to what data says works best. Simply enter your headline into the tool and it will generate a headline score for you, along with tips for alternate suggestions that are likely to perform better. (Note: for your first use, you will have to provide some basic information about you in order to use the tool, but no payment information.) The analysis is quick, thorough, and helpful. By taking a couple minutes before you publish or send each post, social media update, or email, you can get a fast, valuable idea of how to make it better. There you have it. While you can find loads of online marketing tools out there that will gladly eat up your budget, you now have 21 suggestions for options that can strengthen your online marketing without adding much to your overall marketing costs. Did we miss one of your favorite tools? Let us know in the comments!
Friday, February 17, 2017 by Kevin WoodWhen the time comes to choose your web host you’re probably going to have a ton of questions. Hosting can seem a little complicated. You have cloud hosting, shared hosting, VPS hosting, dedicated servers and you have dozens of hosting companies to choose from as well. Yikes! With this post we hope to reduce a little bit of that confusion. Below we dive into the differences between cloud and VPS hosting.
What Is a VPS?VPS servers are also known as Virtual Private Servers. This style of server is essentially one physical server, which is then divided into several smaller virtual servers. Each one of these virtual servers acts as its own server environment. Since you have your own dedicated section of the server, you have your own set of allocated resources and can customize and configure your server partition exactly the way you want. Plus, there’s no exchange of data or file access between accounts on the VPS server. However, they can tend to be less reliable because if one physical server fails, then every VPS using that server fails as well. Their performance can also vary if one site happens to be hogging resources on the physical server. Who should use VPS hosting? Virtual Private Server hosting is great for users looking for more control over their website, with the technical skills to set up a customized environment.
What Is a Cloud Server?Cloud servers are known by several names including VM or Virtual Machines. Cloud servers are similar to a VPS hosting environment. The key difference is that instead of having a single server that’s dedicated to your site (as is the case with VPS), the resources are spread out amongst a bunch of different physical machines. With a cloud hosting platform, you benefit from the use of multiple servers, so you have more available resources at your disposal. You can increase the power of your server whenever you’d like to meet varying traffic needs. While cloud hosting offers more flexibility than VPS hosting, it doesn't allow for quite as much customization. Who should use cloud hosting? Cloud hosting is a great choice for website owners who need the flexibility that cloud hosting provides, to enable increased performance to meet surges in traffic.
How to Choose the Best Option for Your NeedsThe biggest difference between the two server environments is scale. If you’re looking to launch as quickly as possible and don’t care about scale, then a VPS server can be a great starting point. However, if you demand a flexible hosting setup and a high level of site performance and storage then it’s worth checking out a cloud hosting environment. What hosting environment do you prefer? Share your preferred hosting setup in the comments below.