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  • Your Guide to Creating a Membership Website

    Monday, June 26, 2017 by

    Create Membership Website

    How to Launch a Successful Membership Website or Forum

    How does earning a consistent income, month after month, all from a loyal community, sound? Oh, and you get to engage, interact, and discover new ideas in the process. You create in-depth content once and get paid for it, time and time again. Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? Well, that dream can be yours with a membership site.  

    What Is a Membership Website?

    A membership-based website is a style of site with exclusive content that people pay a monthly fee to access. No doubt you’ve come across membership sites and forums in your time online. But, you might not realize how easily you can run your own, thanks to the amount of tools available today. Even if you have no previous experience, our guide below will walk you through how to create, launch, and run your very own membership site from scratch. Let's get started.  

    Why Membership Sites Are a Solid Choice

    Membership sites are a great way to present a lot of information and create a community around it. When you create an eBook it’s usually just a one-off purchase. If you develop your material into a course, then it’s usually the same as well. When you create an active membership site, you’re building a community around the high quality content you create. If you add a forum to your site, too, then you’ll be able to continue the conversation surrounding whatever kind of content you choose to create. A membership site allows you to create a nice stream of recurring income for yourself.  

    Step 1: Finding Your Niche

    Once you’ve made the decision that you’re going to start a membership site, it’s time to decide on your niche. The smaller your niche, the better. Whatever it is, it should be something that you’re passionate about. When doing your research see if there are already any existing membership sites in your niche. This is actually a good thing. Competition automatically verifies that the niche you’ve chosen is profitable. Other ways to test the viability of your niche might include looking for existing blogs, books, and magazines on the topic. If there’s a wealth of information surrounding your niche, then you know the market is big enough.  

    Step 2: Membership Site or Forum?

    There’s a ton of different membership models you can choose from when starting your site. The most common model is a membership site that drip feeds the content out over a set period of time. Usually, you’ll have other evergreen resources like webinars, classes, and forum access as well. You can also create a paid forum. Running a strict forum can be more difficult from scratch, as you’ll generally need a large audience to make it successful. However, it can work for some niches. A good way to test before diving in completely is by driving traffic to a landing page.  

    Step 3: Building Out Your Site

    Building out your membership site or forum doesn’t have to be difficult. If you choose a platform like WordPress, there are a number of plugins that will add membership functionality to your existing theme. When designing your site keep your user in mind. You’ll want your site to be very intuitive and have a content layout that makes sense. Confusing your visitors, or providing them with content in an illogical manner, won’t be much to keep them subscribers. Recommended WordPress Hosting  

    Step 4: Create Your Content

    When planning out what kind of content you’re going to create, you’re going to have a lot of options at your disposal. The most basic includes long-form blog posts and video content. You can even have interviews, webinars, forums, relevant resource lists, and much more. With membership sites you can really go crazy with the quantity of content you’re providing your subscribers. Just make sure that you present the information in a way that’s easy to follow and consume. Need inspiration? Check out how these subscription sites do it.  

    Step 5: Attract New Members

    Once you’ve created the initial content and have your site built out, it’s time to starting bringing in members. It can be helpful to let a few initial members in for free. If you already have an existing blog or website, you can gift these memberships to people who have been incredibly active over the years. This will help you to discover any content gaps you might have and provide your site with that initial engagement. Plus, there’s a chance these people will become your biggest fans and help you get the word out when it’s time to launch. Here are some more ideas of how you can generate new leads for your membership site:  

    Content Marketing

    Depending upon the niche you chose, doing things like guest blogging might be a good way to build initial interest. Simply find a few authoritative blogs in your niche that accept guest writers, and create an incredible post that links back to your site. In this link back to your site, make sure it points to a landing page that you’ve specifically created to capture a reader’s email addresses.  

    Paid Advertising

    With paid advertising you have all sorts of options, from Facebook ads, to Twitter ads, to Instagram, and even Google Adwords. Your ad should send the traffic back to a specific landing page similar to the one you would create for the guest blogging strategy above. This landing page will allow you to gauge user interest and create a simple email campaign to sign people up for your site.  

    Your Existing List

    If you have an existing email list or audience, then this should be the first place you start. This list is already familiar with you and your work and will be much more likely to hop on a new project you launch.  

    Step 6: Retain Your Members

    The overall profitability of your membership site will ultimately rely on your ability to retain your members. You can’t just create content once and expect the site to take care of itself. The best way to keep members engaged year after year is to consistently create new content that caters to their evolving needs. If you have an active forum or blog section, make sure you pay attention and engage with what’s going on. You can even create a survey that goes out every few months to see what kind of new features your members would like for the site. Creating, launching, and running a membership site isn’t easy work, but it can be incredibly rewarding. If you’ve been looking for an online business model that allows you to explore your passion in a new way, then membership sites might be worth checking out.   Now over to you. What big questions do you have about running your very own membership site? Have you created one in the past and had success? Share your tips!
  • 25 Best WordPress Blogs to Follow

    Monday, June 26, 2017 by
    Best WordPress Blogs

    25 Top Blogs Any WordPress Site Owner Should Follow

    WordPress is an extraordinarily popular platform for running websites. A full 28% of the web is built with WordPress, meaning each time you click on a new website there’s more than a one in four chance that its owners use WordPress to manage it. WordPress appeals to so many people and businesses because it’s free, easy to use, and flexible. As intuitive as it is, for anyone using it, it’s useful to have more information on the possibilities available on the platform and the resources out there you can take advantage of. For that reason, a number of WordPress blogs have risen to prominence that all provide a wealth of useful information on how to get the most out of the popular platform. Here are a few of the best ones to follow. Recommended WordPress Hosting

    1. WordPress.org Blog

    The most obvious place WordPress users should turn to for more information on using the website is the platform’s own blog. The WordPress.org blog announces updates to the platform and related gatherings and events. To stay on top of notable changes to the technology your website depends on, this is an important blog to keep your eye on.

    2. Elegant Themes

    Elegant Themes provides themes and plug-ins to WordPress users, so it makes sense that their blog focuses on topics relevant to the site. They collect examples of people using WordPress well for inspiration, provide advice for doing different things with your WordPress site, and provide general tips for running a website successfully.

    3. Digging into WordPress

    Digging into WordPress is a blog with many helpful how-to posts on using WordPress. The blog (as well as the book by the same name) is a great resource for figuring out how to do almost anything you could think to want to do on your WordPress site.

    4. Codeinwp

    Codeinwp is a blog for designers that use WordPress. It highlights useful themes and templates, plug-ins worth checking out, and tutorials for people new to designing for WordPress.

    5. WP Tavern

    WordPress Tavern covers news in the general world of WordPress like relevant tech acquisitions and product updates, as well as how to articles and resources useful to WordPress users. If you’re interested in staying on top of not only the updates to WordPress itself, but also those for related products and companies, they’re a good source.

    6. WPBeginner

    Like the name suggests, WPBeginner is a good resource for anyone new to using WordPress, but the blog also provides information that can be useful to long-time users as well. They cover tips for WordPress security, how to find the best themes, and all the information you should need to get started.

    7. WPMU Dev

    WPMU Dev covers a variety of topics on running a successful website with a clear emphasis on using WordPress to do so. They have posts full of tips, tools, and best practices for getting what you need out of your website.

    8. WPKube

    WPKube is another website that provides various how to articles and highlights some of the best tools available to WordPress users. With reviews for a wide-ranging number of WordPress tools and tutorials, they can help you figure out how to do what you want to in WordPress more quickly and easily.

    9. WP Squared

    WP Squared publishes round ups of great themes to use for different types of websites and purposes and provides various tips and tutorials on how to do different types of tasks in WordPress.

    10. Developer Drive

    Developer Drive is a bit more advanced in the content it provides than some of the other blogs, but for WordPress developers it’s a valuable resource for the more complex ins and outs of using the platform that developers can benefit from.

    11. WPExplorer

    The WPExplorer blog provides lots of tips and guides on ways to use WordPress including general posts on how to make money with WordPress and more specific how to posts to talk users through the smaller tasks they’ll need to accomplish.

    12. WP Mayor

    WP Mayor is a site primarily devoted to reviews of plug-ins, themes, and services. The site also sometimes covers tutorials and WordPress news as well.

    13. Chris Lema

    Chris Lema is a WordPress expert that provides general online marketing advice for businesses, as well as more WordPress-specific tips and best practices.

    14. Themeisle

    Themeisle offers tutorials for WordPress newbies and advanced users, as well as general advice on running a business website well. They also offer a collection of themes, some free and some for pay.

    15. Torque

    Torque is a fairly comprehensive WordPress blog with content for developers, website owners, and beginners alike. They cover news, themes, and plug-ins and provide a range of helpful articles on ways to use WordPress to get better results.

    16. BobWP

    The BobWP blog is full of posts providing advice on monetizing a WordPress site. That includes covering marketing topics, WordPress updates, and ecommerce tools that work with WordPress.

    17. MHThemes

    The MHThemes blog provides information on a wealth of WordPress related topics like blogging, social media promotion, and, well, themes. They’re a useful resource for anyone running a business website, but especially good for those who use WordPress to do so.

    18. 85Ideas

    The 85Ideas blog is primarily focused on plug-in and theme reviews, but they also sometimes provide tutorials and coverage of events relevant to WordPress users.

    19. ManageWP

    ManageWP publishes posts on a wide-ranging array of WordPress-related topics, from business to security to editorials. They also provide some of the more common types of content you’ve been seeing on this list, like coverage and reviews of plug-ins and themes.

    20. Lady WordPress

    Lady WordPress offers general advice for marketing and blogging, as well as sharing her expertise on using WordPress effectively through tutorials and informational posts.

    21. JustWP

    In spite of the “just” in the name, JustWP covers a wide variety of topics, all of them related to using WordPress. For any designers (or amateur ones) they offer plug-in, theme, texture, and icon suggestions. They provide tips for WordPress security, general maintenance, and useful snippets. And they provide how to posts that answer an array of questions WordPress users may have.

    22. 87Studios

    87Studios is another site that offers WordPress tutorials, points people toward great plug-ins and themes, and provides more general tips and education on using WordPress.

    23. Wpeka

    Like many of the sites on this list, Wpeka pushes out content on WordPress tutorials, themes, plug-ins and products, as well as posting interviews with various WordPress experts.

    24. WP Superstars

    The WP Superstars blog is filled with how to content, reviews, and theme and plug-in roundups. They also highlight deals to help WordPress users find the WP tools they need for less.

    25. WPShout

    WPShout focuses on in-depth WordPress tutorials for developers. In addition to posts and quick guides, they have more in depth courses for those prepared to go a bit deeper. WordPress is one of the most important tools in the online world and those who learn how to use it well can go really far with it. Give these sites a look to learn the different ways you can start to get more out of your WordPress blog.
  • Should You Promote Your Online Shop with Free Items?

    Monday, June 26, 2017 by
    Promote Online Shop with Free Items We’ve looked at the importance of competing on value rather than price, and now here comes a seemingly counterintuitive idea: giving your customers stuff for free. Should you try this promotion tactic? Maybe. Exactly what to hand out and how to do it will vary based on your goals and what you sell. In another post, we covered freebie options for service providers and B2B businesses. Right now, let’s look at some common freebie tactics for online retailers to see whether they’re right for you, and how to use them wisely. HostGator WordPress Hosting

    Email list signup giveaways

    Offering people a free item in exchange for joining an email list is a tradition as old as e-commerce. Most advice on list-signup freebies focuses on information products like special reports, but retailers can use freebies to build a list, too. The best-known retail example is Bed Bath & Beyond’s instant 48-hour, 20% coupon for new list members. If you run a stationery, organization or craft store online, you can offer free printable downloads in exchange for joining your email list. And yes, retailers can offer free information, too. If you sell homemade, allergen-free dog treats, you might write a list of tips for helping dogs with allergies thrive. Format it for easy printing and be sure to include your business name and logo.

    In-store freebies

    Costco knows how to leverage freebies. Shoppers join to buy food in bulk but they get surprisingly excited about the tiny cups of free food and drinks on offer. If you have a physical store or vend at fairs, think about small items you could offer for free to get new customers to try your products or treat repeat customers to a token of appreciation. You may have to make your samples “first-come first-serve” or “the first 50 shoppers” so you don’t unbalance your budget, and be sure to promote your giveaways in advance and in real time on social media for the most mileage. Also, limit in-store freebies to times when you have something new to promote, so you don’t have people coming around all the time for free stuff without ever making a purchase.

    Bonus items with purchases

    Free extras with purchases are an easy way to get your existing customers to try new products. This is actually how the grocery delivery service I use got my entire family hooked on Coke Life; free samples kept arriving with our orders and now we buy some every week. Online beauty retailers like Sephora and Paula’s Choice do something similar by letting shoppers choose their freebies from a menu during the checkout process. [bctt tweet="Free extras with purchases are an easy way to get your existing customers to try new products." username="hostgator"]

    Swag bags, silent auctions and door prizes

    Whether it’s a PTA fundraiser or the Oscars, it’s not an event without swag bags. These goodie bags, along with silent auction items and door prizes, are typically contributed by local businesses at the request of volunteers. If a group asks you to contribute your merchandise, take these steps to make sure your donation benefits your business as well as their event.
    • First, make sure the cause is something you genuinely support and that the event audience matches your customer profile. Over time, your business may get lots of donation requests and you won’t be able to fulfill them all, so choose strategically.
    • Next, make sure your business name and contact information is on your products. Order stickers if you need to and put them on everything you donate. I once got a full-size tube of Mary Kay hand lotion in a swag bag, and I loved it. Unfortunately, by the time I got the bag contents sorted out, the representative’s card was nowhere to be found, so I didn’t know who to repay for their generosity with an order.
    • Finally, if you’re contributing a door prize to an event, make sure in advance that your prize and company name are announced as part of the drawing. Ask that the MC show off what you’ve donated and tell people where to find your table or business cards at the event.

    Giveaways to social media followers

    Giveaways on social media are a good way to add followers. For example, maybe you hold a giveaway drawing for Facebook followers who share your post on their personal page. You can sweeten the deal with a promo code for everyone who participates. For example, maybe you do a drawing for a candle from your home décor collection, and after the drawing, give everyone who shared your post a coupon code for your shop as a thank-you. [bctt tweet="Giveaways on social media are a good way to add followers." username="hostgator"]

    Reviewers and influencers

    Giving samples to reviewers and influencers can expand your audience without spending a lot on advertising. The trick is to choose recipients carefully. Their audience profile should match your customer persona, and you should understand their review policies before you send anything. If they agree to do a review or testimonial, send something great. Then promote their review (assuming it’s good) all over your social media and on your product page. You may get requests for samples from reviewers whose audience is too small or doesn’t match yours. It’s OK to say no, thank them for their interest, and direct your promotional efforts elsewhere.

    The easiest freebie: shipping

    Online shoppers expect free shipping now, even though intellectually we all know shipping costs are built into product pricing. Offering free shipping can be a tie-breaker for shoppers considering other retailers, and even small shops can make free shipping work as long as you set the conditions carefully. For example, express and international shipping can be breathtakingly costly, so maybe limit your free offer to domestic standard shipping. You can also offer a free gift wrap and card option during the holiday shopping season to make gift-buying easier for your customers. Remember that you need a goal for your giveaways, whether it’s building your email list, expanding your social media following, introducing new products or strengthening your relationship with your current customers. The one goal that should underpin every free promotion you do is getting people to appreciate the value of what you sell. That way, people who get something from you for free are more likely to become repeat customers who shop with you because of your products’ value, not just their price.
  • Why Your Facebook Cover Photo Matters

    Monday, June 26, 2017 by
    Good Facebook cover photo You heard you needed a Facebook presence, so you threw together a page for your business. When it came time to load an image, what did you choose? If you were in a hurry to get something up, you probably just tried to find any image related to your business that seemed like it could work. Maybe you cropped a stock image to be the right size or picked something generic but basically relevant. If you just went for an easy image that fit, you’re missing a real opportunity. Your Facebook cover photo does matter and you should invest the time or money to create one that really communicates what your business is. If you’re still skeptical, here are a couple of reasons to reconsider. HostGator WordPress Hosting

    Facebook is where a lot of your audience is.

    Facebook has over 1.65 billion active users, over a billion of which visit the website every day. With numbers like that, chances are a lot of your customers and potential customers are spending time on Facebook. [bctt tweet="Chances are a lot of your customers and potential customers are spending time on Facebook. " username="hostgator"] And a lot of them are interacting with brands while they’re there. 52% of people using the popular social media platform have said they’ve liked brands on Facebook before. Facebook therefore shouldn’t be treated as an afterthought. It’s a place for you to directly connect with your customers, which is extremely valuable to you. More importantly, for a lot of your customers, it may be the main place they see and interact with your brand. The face you put forward on Facebook will have a significant impact on how your customers see you.

    Your photo is the first thing they’ll associate with your brand on the platform.

    If you look at any Facebook business page, you’ll immediately see that the photo dominates the page. It’s the first place your eyes are drawn to. When someone finds your business page on Facebook, that image will be the first thing they notice and associate with your brand. You need to make sure whatever you use represents your brand well and makes your page look good.

    What Makes a Good Facebook Photo

    Your Facebook cover photo has a few main jobs it needs to do.

    It should match the style of your website branding.

    To start, your Facebook cover photo is a branding opportunity. You can use it to forward the view of your brand that customers will find in other places, in particular, your website. Chewy.com’s Facebook cover photo echoes the website’s blue and white color scheme, prominently features the brand’s logo, and includes the brand’s tagline “where pet lovers shop.” Chewy Cover Photo At a glance, it clarifies who the brand is, who it’s for, and the kind of items they sell. And for anyone that goes from the Facebook page to the website, the visual relationship between the two is clear.

    It should communicate something about what your business does.

    Your Facebook cover photo isn’t just a branding opportunity; it’s a chance to show off what you do. ModCloth’s cover photo shows models wearing several dresses, skirts, and tops available for sale on their website. ModCloth Cover Photo The photo demonstrates the company’s style, makes clear what they do (sell clothes), and doubles as a selling opportunity – several Facebook followers commented on the cover photo to ask where they could find the outfits to buy. ModCloth Cover Comments

    It has to look good.

    Any image associated with your brand has to do one last extremely important job: look good. Adagio teas makes use of the beauty of the setting where their teas are grown to make their Facebook page look great. Adagio Teas Cover Photo The photo’s both beautiful and relevant to what the company sells. With Facebook cover photos though, there’s a bit more you need to consider to make sure you come up with a cover image that looks good to all your users. You see, your image can’t just look good on a desktop; it also has to look good on mobile devices, and Facebook sizes their cover images differently. You need an image that works both at:
    • 828 pixels wide and 315 pixels tall on desktop, and
    • 640 pixels wide and 360 pixels tall on smartphones.
    In other words, you need an image that is at least 828 pixels by 360 pixels, but still works if you shave off some of the top and sides. Adagio’s image works just as well on mobile, but check out the comparison. Adagio Teas Mobile Cover The difference between the two sizes isn’t too big and therefore finding an image that works on both shouldn’t be too hard to pull off, as long as you’re aware of the issue and make a point to choose something that works in both sizes. As we already established, coming up with the right Facebook cover image matters. Consider hiring a graphic designer or photographer to help you get it right. A little bit of expense is worth it if it helps solidify your brand and catch the attention of your customers on Facebook.
  • New Dedicated Server Hosting from HostGator

    Sunday, June 25, 2017 by

    Dedicated Server Hosting

    Announcing Our New Dedicated Hosting Platform

    Very excited to announce our new Dedicated Hosting Platform with high performance options including up to 16 cpu threads, 32GB Memory and 1 TB SSD Storage.    HostGator has amped up their Dedicated Platform to meet the increasing demands of doing business online.  With Dedicated Server options that literally double both the processing power and memory available on our current platform.    Dedicated Server  

    Double the Processing Power

    With more and more business being done online, your server has to be able to handle multiple processes simultaneously as the number of visitors to your sites grow, that is why we included the Intel Xeon-D 1541 processor with 8 cores and 16 threads in our new Dedicated Platform.   What is a cpu thread?  Think of cloning yourself 16 times so that you could do multiple different things at once, wouldn’t that be great!?  

    Double the Memory

    To keep up with the increased processing power, we made sure that we had the latest DDR4 Memory with up to 32 GB RAM available on our high end package.  

    Your Choice of Storage

    Of course with the increased compute power, we had to make sure that the storage could keep up the pace.  So we now offer the choice of HDD or SSD for your storage needs.   If you are looking for a lot of storage but don’t need it to be super fast the HDD option is perfect but if speed trumps space demands for your site, the SSD storage is the right solution for you.  But don’t worry with either option, the drives are mirrored in a RAID1 configuration so your data is protected in case of a drive failure.     

    Increased Scalability

    My personal favorite is the improved scalability.  We realize that the compute demands of your website change as your site’s complexity grows and your traffic increases, that’s why we made it easier to increase the resources when you need them.  With our new platform, we are able to dynamically scale the resources so adding more cpu or memory is easy; just pick the package that fits your needs and we will resize it for you right on the same server, no physical migration required.   There is one caveat, if you choose to move from HDD to SDD, we would still need to do a physical migration but don’t worry, we have streamlined that process as well.     

    Free SSL Available

    One other important item is the SSL certificate, both cPanel and Plesk offer free SSL encryption solutions that you have full access to with the new platform.  Fear not, if the limitations of the free Control Panel SSL Options don’t work for you, HostGator still provides other options as well like Extended Validation (EV) or Wildcard Certs.     

    Choice of Operating System

    For those users who prefer command line access to the Control Panel, we now offer your choice of the latest Linux distros including Ubuntu, Debian and CentOS and on the Windows side the Windows 2012 image.  

    Beef Up with a Dedicated Server!

    Our Value Server plan offers 8GB of memory and 1TB HDD. The Power Server plan comes with twice the memory (16GB) and your choice of 2TB HDD or 512GB SSD. Finally, for the ultimate in memory, check out our Enterprise Server plans offering 32GB of memory and 1TB SSD. As always our Dedicated Servers include:
    • Full root access
    • Unlimited email accounts
    • Unlimited databases
    • Unmetered bandwidth
    • 3 Dedicated IPv4 IPs
    • cPanel/WHM or Plesk Onyx Control Panel
    • Free Reseller account with cPanel
    • Fully redundant network in Top of the line datacenter
    • DDOS Protection
    • 24x7 Support via chat or phone
    We are really excited about our new Dedicated Server Platform and hope you are too.  As always if you are looking for something we don’t offer, please let us know. We are always up for designing a custom configuration to suit your needs.  

    Ready for maximum performance?

    Get started with HostGator dedicated server hosting!