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  • Why Student Blogging Is a Good Idea

    Monday, August 14, 2017 by

    Student Blogging Benefits

    How Blogging in Schools Builds Better Writers

    In most places, school starts back up in a few weeks. For some teachers, that means thinking about how to help your students develop their writing and reading comprehension skills in the year ahead. For others, it means finding ways to help students retain and use concepts they learn in science, art, history, and math. Having your students write for, read, and critique a class blog is an easy and engaging way to help them become stronger writers, more astute readers, and more adept at working with the knowledge they learn in class. If you're not already familiar with blogging and have never set up a blog before, this post will walk you through the why and how of using student blogs in your classroom. Create Your Blog

    How does blogging help students? Let us count the ways...

    The ability to write clearly is one of the most in-demand skills among employers, and it's important for acing college entrance essays, scholarship applications, and pretty much every email your students will ever send. Blogging can help your students become better writers through:
    • Carefully selecting topic ideas that will appeal to their readers.
    • Finding reliable sources for their blog posts.
    • Drafting and revising their blog posts.
    • Reviewing other students' posts and offering constructive feedback.
    • Listening to, processing and using feedback from other students.
    • Practicing, practicing, practicing.
    Everyone can benefit from being a better communicator, but strong writing skills are especially important for student journalists whose intended careers center on writing. They're also highly valuable for kids who are interested in STEM careers. Engineers and scientists have to keep clear, concise, and accurate journals during college and in the workplace. And writing clearly is critical to success in business, where so much communication happens via email. Writing and reading blogs also helps students develop other skills, like distinguishing between fact and opinion, identifying trustworthy sources of information, and following online rules and codes of ethics. In any subject, a blog run by students can reinforce information and open up discussions that move learning forward. Unlike writing with a pen and paper, which can seem tedious to kids who are used to texting and using email, typing out a blog post feels familiar and comfortable to students who've only known a world with computers and smartphones. Students whose families are on the analog side of the digital divide need hands-on experience with digital communication tools as well as writing practice in order to succeed.  

    General blogging for grades 3-12

    There are blog lesson plans for students in all but the earliest grades. Scholastic offers blogging lesson plans for grades 3-5 that include blogging rules, defining what a blog is, writing blog entries, and evaluating blogs written by others using a rubric that covers grammar, topicality, originality, and tone. For older students, ReadWriteThink has a blogging strategy guide and a long list of related resources for middle school and high school student blogs. Among them are a grade 6-8 five-part lesson plan series on career exploration through online research and blogging and an ongoing lesson plan for high school students that focuses on writing evaluation in blog format. You can create a classroom blog to reinforce knowledge and build skills in just about any subject. For example, yearbook, school newspaper, and AV club teachers can explore these student journalism blogging lesson plans from the American Society of News Editors.  

    How to set up student blogging for your classroom

    Another advantage of class blogging is that it's easy to set up. It's a good idea to review your school's technology and privacy policies and to touch base with your administrators before you begin. Then you – or you and your students – can choose and register a domain name for your class blog. You can review some best practices for choosing a domain name for your blog here, Once you have that domain name, or URL, you're ready to choose your web hosting plan. (What exactly is web hosting? Find out here.) Your host will store your classroom blog's text and other media on its servers,  and provide security for your site. Ideally, your web host will offer a WordPress option that makes it easy to choose a theme to design your blog and plug-ins to add extra functions like social media sharing tools. Find out which type of web hosting best matches your needs here. After that, you can develop a blog writing, editing, and posting schedule that fits your curriculum and classroom goals. You may want to use a single username for all posts to protect your students' privacy, or let them choose their own individual screen names so they have a sense of ownership over their posts as well as some privacy online. Once the blog is up and running, be sure to share the URL with parents so they can keep up with what's happening in the classroom and discuss it at home.   Does your classroom or school already have class blogs? Share your favorite examples in the comments!
  • 7 Online Tools Every Travel Blogger Needs

    Thursday, July 6, 2017 by
    Travel Bloggers Online Tools

    The Travel Blogger's Online Toolkit

    For travel enthusiasts, getting paid to see the country or world—or at least making enough money to defray some of your costs—is a very appealing idea. That's why so many avid travelers start their own travel blogs. To help you go after your travel-blogging goals, we've mapped out a few of the tools you'll need to begin your journey. Create Your Blog

    1. A travel blog name and URL that are unique to your “brand”

    When you think about what to name your travel blog, think about your travel style and scope. For example, popular travel blogs like The Viking Abroad deliver what they promise in the title – unique perspectives on travel. Think about what makes your travel stories unique as you consider name options. Travel blog website You'll also want to think about what URLs are available. You want something short, catchy, and easy to remember—and of course, something that isn't already registered as someone else's domain name. Before you decide what you'll call your blog, make sure you understand the best practices for choosing a domain name, see if the domain name you'd like is available, and understand which top-level domains will work best for your blog. After you find a domain name that works for you, register it with your chosen top-level domain (usually .com) as well as other TLDs that you can redirect to your travel blog.  

    2. A web host that loads videos and images fast

    A travel blog must have videos and photos to appeal to visitors, and internet users don't like to wait for media to load. You'll need to choose a web host that loads even video- and image-heavy pages quickly to keep visitors from navigating away before they see your trek through the Yucatan jungle to Dzibilchaltun or your cool surfing videos from Nosara. Photos and video also call for lots of storage space for site backups. HostGator's WordPress cloud hosting options give you speed and storage space so you can show, not just tell, your adventures.  

    3. A travel-focused design theme for your blog

    To help show off those fast-loading photos and videos, as well as to showcase your travel tips and stories, you need a site design built for travel content. There are more than a hundred travel-oriented free WordPress themes, including Travel Stories, Pugini, and Travel Lite, to make your blog look great from the start. Later, if you like, you can move up to a paid theme or hire a designer to create a custom look for your travel blog. Travel blog WordPress theme  

    4. Plugins for SEO and analytics

    Just as you want to discover cool new destinations, travel blog fans want to discover new blogs. It's up to you to make that easy for them by optimizing your site for search-engine results. And if you plan to make money from your blog, it's up to you to include and learn to understand the data that shows who's visiting your blog, where they're coming from, and what content appeals to them the most. WordPress plug-ins like Jetpack offer SEO and social sharing tools, while Yoast focuses on SEO and proper keyword choices, and MonsterInsights makes it easy to integrate Google Analytics with your WordPress site.  

    5. Social media accounts

    Yes, you're already busy traveling, blogging about it, and planning your next adventure, but to help people find your blog, you'll need to share at least tidbits of your travels on social media, too. That doesn't mean you have to post on every social media platform. Find the ones where people who share your travel interests spend their time and post there – under a handle that matches your blog name. For example, your work might be a great fit for #familytravel on Instagram or one of the many travel boards on Pinterest. FamilyTravel on Instagram  

    6. A professional email address tied to your blog

    Once you have a site name and a web host, you can set up blog email addresses for yourself and anyone else who works on your blog with you. These branded addresses look more professional than using your personal email, and they make it easier to keep blog and personal email separate—important when you may have only a few minutes at a WiFi cafe or in an airport lounge to check your emails. A blog-branded email address is also important for building and using your email list.  

    7. An email list and newsletter

    Make it easy for readers to keep up with your latest adventures by offering an email opt-in form on your home page. You can generate more signups if you have content to offer in return, such as a “top ten tips for road trips with kids” or “the definitive budget guide to getting around Spain.” Later, if you have books, courses, or other products to sell, you can offer those items to your email list, too.  

    As your travel blog covers more ground

    If you write great content, provide eye-catching pictures and videos, and share a perspective that connects with readers, you can develop whole categories on your blog devoted to a particular topic, like posts on visiting Taiwan with toddlers or finding the best surfing in Portugal—whatever you've built up a library of posts on. You can also create a press section to showcase your blog's mentions in the media and offer reporters an easy way to contact you if they're writing a story and need your expertise.   In the meantime, keep learning while you travel. The HostGator blog has information about the top plugins for travel bloggers, how bloggers can connect with brands, and ways to monetize your 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.
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  • 9 Online Tools for Mom Bloggers

    Monday, June 19, 2017 by

    Mommy Bloggers online ToolsThe Mommy Blogger's Online Toolkit

    If you have a kid, a computer, and a love of sharing stories and opinions, you've probably thought about starting a mommy blog. You're not alone – there are about four million moms in the US and Canada with their own blogs, according to mommy blogger coach Candis Lynn Hidalgo. Clearly, blogging is a popular hobby, and for some bloggers, it's also a source of income. So how can you start your own mom blog? First, you'll need to assemble your online toolkit. Here's what you'll need. Create Your Blog  

    1. Your mommy blog needs a goal

    Decide before you begin whether you want your blog to be a hobby or a business. There are a couple of reasons for this. One is that if you're approaching it as a hobby, you can skip some elements of the toolkit, like finding marketing affiliates, and focus on crafting your posts, photos, videos and/or podcasts. Another reason to clarify your goals early on is because if you plan to make money from your blog, you'll need to treat it like a part-time job, with a regular posting schedule, professional networking, and outreach to brands.  

    2. Choose a niche within the mommy blogger universe

    If you're purely a hobbyist blogger who wants to experiment with words and images, do what you like. However, if building an audience matters to you—whether you're a hobbyist or a professional—you'll do better if you choose a niche. With millions of moms blogging, it's not enough to write up your kids' antics and share recipes. Today's most successful mom bloggers describe life through a lens that's both unique and relatable. Here are a couple of very different but successful examples of moms who started blogs and have gone on to become authors, media figures, and experts in their own niches. Lenore Skenazy at Free Range Kids has been pushing back against helicopter parenting for nearly a decade. She's taken heat and won praise for things like letting her son ride the New York City subway unsupervised when he was 9 years old. She's built her blog and her niche by calling out intrusive laws that restrict kids' freedom to play outdoors and by collecting statistics on child safety. Free Range Kids mom blog Emma Johnson at combines two concepts that often don't go together in American culture -- the notions that a mom can be a single parent and financially successful. Always direct, sometimes profane, Johnson has built a following of professional single moms who want to thrive at home, at work, and on the dating scene. One way to find your own niche is to think about what motivates you as a mom, your own personal interests, and goals you have for your family. Maybe that means you're an attachment parent who also knits and wants to raise llamas on some land you own. Maybe you're the mom of special-needs teens, so you've not only learned the ins and outs of dealing with schools, IEPs, and the healthcare system, but you've also helped those kids get into to college. (I know this mom, by the way, and I wish she'd start a blog.) Whatever makes your life and family yours, that's your niche.  

    3. Your blog needs a web host

    Your blog will need a web hosting service that you pay for, rather than a free third-party blogging platform or a social media account. That's because if the third-party site or social media provider decides to suspend or close your account (or shuts down, like Vine did in 2016) you no longer have access to your content or your followers. That's bad if you've built an audience for a hobby blog. It's a disaster if you're blogging for money. For less than $10 a month, you can have your blog hosted with a service like HostGator's WordPress Cloud Hosting that keeps your blog up and running, loads your content fast, and won't arbitrarily vanish.  

    4. Your blog needs a name and a URL

    Naming a mommy blog, like naming a baby, is a big project, not to be taken lightly. First, you'll want to choose something that clearly tells readers what your blog's about (Attachment Mama with Llamas, for example) and that's not already taken by another blogger. Then you'll need to see if the URL for that name is available. If it is, you can register it, and then you've got an address for your blog-to-be. Dive into the details of choosing a domain name for your blog here.  

    5. Your blog needs a design

    Just like decorating a nursery or a playroom, there's no limit to the time and money you could put into designing your site. But when you're just starting out, the most cost-effective approach is to use a WordPress theme that saves you lots of time and will display nicely on desktops and mobile devices. Later, if your blog is profitable or you feel like spending more on design, you can.  

    6. You'll need a blog-related email address

    Another advantage to having your blog hosted by a professional service like HostGator is that it gives you the ability to create email addresses using your domain name. This looks more professional than a third-party email address—important if you're looking for sponsors and affiliates—and it can help you sort out your personal email from your blog correspondence. It also makes it easier to set up your email list.  

    7. Your blog needs an email list

    Part of your blog design should be an email signup form so visitors can subscribe to your blog and newsletters. This is a must if you plan to monetize your blog, because your subscriber count will matter to prospective affiliates, and because email marketing is an effective way to reach readers with your own offers of paid content like ebooks and courses. Sweeten the signup invitation by creating a compelling freebie for new subscribers. For example, Emma Johnson offers subscribers her free “15 Secrets to Thriving as a Single Mom” guide. Emma Johnson mommy blogger  

    8. You need a decent camera

    You don't need to buy a digital SLR camera just yet, but good photos and videos are an important part of blogging, so make the most of your smartphone camera and learn to light your shots well. If you're recording podcasts, the built-in mic on your laptop won't deliver the sound quality you need. It's worth investing in a standalone mic, and you can find a good one for under $100.  

    9. Your blog needs at least one social media account

    Don't try to do all the social media platforms. That way lies madness and burnout. Instead, go back to your niche and think about where people who are interested in the same things as you spend their time. Maybe it's Pinterest, maybe it's YouTube, maybe it's Instagram. Pick one for now, and use it to drive traffic to your blog.  

    As your blog grows...

    As your blog grows, if you're running it as a business, you can start adding affiliate links, a press section to show off your mentions in the media, and a resources section where readers can find your books, online classes, or mentorship groups. In the meantime, keep posting and growing your audience, and keep tabs on our HostGator blog, where you'll find tips on everything from creating video tutorials to monetizing your blog.
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  • 10 Tools Every Food Blogger Needs

    Monday, June 12, 2017 by
    Online Tools Food Bloggers

    The Food Blogger's Online Toolkit

    For people who love to cook and create new recipes, food blogging can sound like an ideal career. You get to share your culinary ideas with the world. You can avoid the high-pressure setting and late hours of a restaurant kitchen. If you're a great cook and a good marketer, you can make a pretty sweet living. The Huffington Post reports that Pinch of Yum, a popular husband-and-wife-run food blog, netted more than $400,000 in 2016. That's up from less than $22 per month in 2011, but everyone has to start somewhere. If you're hankering to start a food blog of your own - as a hobby or a business - here's what you need in your online toolkit. Create Your Blog

    1. You need a goal for your food blog

    Before you post that first kitchen tutorial or even pick a name for your food blog, decide if it will be a hobby or a budding business. Why? Because if you plan to make a business of your blog, you'll need to work on marketing as well as cooking from the start. You'll also need to treat your blog like a job from the outset by sticking to a regular posting schedule, networking with other food bloggers and readers, and reaching out to brands you'd like to work with.  

    2. Decide what makes your food blog unique

    It's hard to find reliable numbers on how many food blogs there are, but “thousands” seems like a conservative estimate. Kitchen Konfidence food bloggerTo stand out, think about why readers should come to your blog. You don't need a 100% unique niche – you're unlikely to create a completely new food, after all – but your blog needs a unique voice and personality to get readers reading. For example, here's how the humble waffle gets a fresh spin from four different popular food bloggers.
    1. At A Simple Pantry, whose theme is “easy gourmet,” Karly Gomez offers an edible-flower and berry-bedecked chocolate waffle recipe that looks fussy and complicated but only takes 20 minutes from start to finish.
    2. Meanwhile, at Kitchen Konfidence, Brandon Matzek combines his constant quest for foodie inspiration with a desire to help readers cook intricate dishes fearlessly. His rhubarb waffles with lemon whipped cream (pictured at right) takes more than an hour to prepare.
    3. Vegetarian blogger Erin Alderson at Naturally Ella offers a recipe for spelt waffles with cinnamon peaches that's simple to make and features an unusual grain.
    4. Nevada Berg at North Wild Kitchen serves waffles with a Nordic flavor in honor of Norway's annual vaffeldagen. Her rye-flour waffle recipe includes hand-harvested blueberries and plenty of butter.
    How do you like to prepare waffles? Even if waffles aren't your thing, thinking about how you make classic recipes your own is a good way to find your unique blogging voice.  

    3. You need a good camera, lighting, and a backdrop

    Food can be surprisingly hard to photograph well. Just ask a certain lifestyle maven and friend of Snoop Dogg. Her social media food pics a few years ago led to headlines like “Martha Stewart takes the worst food photos, ever,” thanks to dreadful lighting, a lack of cropping, and strange angles. Even if you can't buy a digital SLR camera right now, you can still make the most of your smartphone camera, natural light, and appealing backgrounds to make your food photos appetizing.  

    4. Your food blog needs a mouthwatering name (and a URL)

    Choose a name for your blog that (a) isn't already someone else's URL and (b) tells people what's unique about your approach to food. For example, North Wild Kitchen immediately evokes Nordic, fresh cooking. Kitchen Konfidence offers what it says on the label. Once you have a unique name, you'll need to register it as a domain name. Once that's done, you have an address for your new food blog. Learn the details of choosing a domain name for your blog here.  

    5. Your food blog needs a good design

    As with kitchen upgrades, there's no upper limit on the time and money a person could spend designing a site. For most new food bloggers, and even many well-established ones like Kitchen Konfidence, a WordPress platform and theme are ideal. Use WordPress and a free theme that's meant for showing off photos to save setup time and ensure that your blog looks good on computers and mobile devices. Later, when you're raking in the dough, you can upgrade to a paid theme if you like.  

    6. Your food blog needs a reliable, fast web host

    All those food photos take time to load, and web users are an impatient bunch. You need a host for your domain that delivers fast load times and plenty of storage space for your image and text backups. For less than $10 a month, a service like HostGator's WordPress Cloud Hosting can back up your data and serve your delicious posts and photos fast. Recommended WordPress Hosting

    7. Your food blog needs email addresses

    When your blog is hosted by a professional service, you can create email addresses using your blog's domain name. These addresses are more professional-looking than using your personal email, and can help you keep your personal and blog correspondence separate. That's especially important when you're building an email list for your food blog.  

    8. Your food blog needs an email list

    Your blog design should include an email signup form so visitors can subscribe to your posts and your email newsletters, which you can send out through a service like Constant Contact. You can tempt visitors to sign up with a treat like a free e-cookbook, as A Simple Pantry does. “The list” is a must-have if your blog is a business. Your subscriber count, along with your blog traffic, will matter to prospective affiliates, media outlets, and (ahem!) cookbook publishers. Email marketing can also be an effective way to turn subscribers into customers when you have a cool new offer.  

    9. Your blog needs at least one social media account

    You don't need every social media account. If you're pressed for time and want to choose just one, Instagram is a popular platform for food bloggers and foodie fans alike. Put your best photos forward to drive traffic to your blog (and to your email list).  

    10. You need a plan

    If you're running your food blog as a business, take stock every few months to see what you can add to your site. For example, after you've earned some media mentions you may want to collect them in a Press section. You'll definitely want a recipe index and a search box so your readers can find what they're hungry for quickly. You may eventually open a shop and add an e-commerce page—something your web host should be able to help with. And as your audience and storage needs grow, your host should be able to help you scale up to accommodate more traffic and a bigger backed-up archive of images and recipes.   Learn more about the ingredients for blogging success, like Greg Narayan's10 blogging lessons and Kristen Hicks' guide to creating e-books for your business, on the HostGator blog. Bon apetit!