About John Muldoon

I'm the founder and CEO of The Watermark Group. I love helping companies with SEO, Conversion Optimization & Internet Marketing. Follow me on Twitter @JohnMuldoon.
Author Archive | John Muldoon

Change Adsense Colors to Increase Adsense Clicks

If you’re a blogger, and you’ve decided to monetize your blog with Google Adsense, you’re in the right place. I’m going to outline a quick tip you can use to increase your click-through rate or “CTR” in web-speak.

Default Adsense AdBy default, your Adsense ads look a lot like the ads on Google’s search results pages. Blue links, black text–pretty standard stuff. Like this —–>

“Hey, that’s great, right?” Well, maybe, but…

In our experience, people tend to click more on ads that look like they’re part of the content of the site.

Here’s a fun analogy to illustrate my thinking:

Let’s say you’d like to advertise your product on some traditional outdoor advertising, like a billboard. OK, sure, maybe 50,000 people a day drive by your billboard, and some of them look at it. They look at it and because they know it’s a billboard, they know it’s an ad, and some of them absorb your message.

That’s what the default Adsense ads are like. People look at them through the lens of “this is an ad, so someone is trying to sell me something here.” For a lot of people, that puts a wall up. They don’t pay attention, and they don’t click (even if the ad is for something totally relevant to their needs).

Now, let’s say you have a chance to re-design that billboard.

Instead of making a billboard that looks like a billboard, make it look like a regular highway sign.

You might be thinking, “Hey that makes total sense! People pay more attention to regular highway signs than they do to billboards. If our ads can look like they’re a regular (and important) part of the environment, they’ll get more attention!”

I couldn’t agree more. So, how do you do it?

Standing Out by Blending In

If you followed our Guide to Installing Adsense, this will be super easy for you.

In your WordPress admin panel, under Settings, click on Adsense. This will open up the configuration options for the All in One Adsense and YPN plugin.

Scroll about half-way down the page to the section called “Colors”.

Here you can enter your HTML color codes and tweak your ad borders, background, links, text and URL so they blend in with your site. It usually takes a little trial-and-error to get the colors right (for me anyway, because I’m not a design genius), but give it a shot.

Now, the fun part is trying it for yourself. Let me know how it impacts your Adsense earnings. Or if you’ve tried a strategy that works better, shout about it in the comments.

Here’s a before and after (click each image to enlarge it):

Adsense BeforeAdsense After

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How To: Monetize Your Blog with Adsense & Affiliate Ads

Just as there are many reasons to blog, there are many ways to monetize a blog. Today, I’ll be going over the nuts and bolts of setting up advertising on your blog. Specifically, setting up Google Adsense and Commission Junction affiliate ads on WordPress. I’ve created some helpful step-by-step videos to walk you through the whole process. Before I jump in to the technical “how-to” stuff, let’s talk very briefly about content strategy.

Developing Your Blog Monetization Strategy

Before you try to monetize your blog with ads, ask yourself a few questions. What type of relationship do you have with your blog readers? Why do they come to your blog? Do they read you because you tell them about all kinds of great resources, or because you are the great resource? Are you the intermediary between your audience and all the content your audience wants…or are you the end of the road?

If people come to you because you write 2000 word articles about your original research about your topic, why would they click on an ad? They’re seeking deep content and you’re providing it. They have no reason to go anywhere else.

If, however, you write 400 word articles about what other people are doing, it makes sense for your readers to click away. If your topic is “vegetarian restaurants in San Francisco”, and you just write reviews of different restaurants, you’re acting as an intermediary, rather than the end of the road. To monetize with ads, try to build a niche audience and train them to click on things they might find interesting.

I’ll write more about strategy in a future post. If you’re a blogger with some specific questions or ideas, don’t be shy in the comments.

Want to go through it step by step? Watch these videos full-screen for best results.

Installing Commission Junction Ads in WordPress

This is the first video in the series and covers installing the two plugins we like to use, as well as setting up Commission Junction ads.

Once you’ve finished installing the plugins featured in the above video, move on to…

Installing Google Adsense Ads in WordPress

The second video, showing how to get Adsense ads up and running on your self-hosted WordPress site.

Did I miss anything? Get stuck? Have a better way? Shout about it in the comments.

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Create Images With Rounded Corners with RoundPic

RoundPic is a free web service that makes it easy to convert an image with square corners, to an image with nice smooth round corners. It’s possible to make rounded corners Photoshop, but RoundPic makes it dead simple and fast. This is great when you want a modern, web 2.0, look and feel for your logo or avatar, or when your client does. It also works great for making buttons.

Take a look at the before and after.

Of course, the difference is extremely subtle, but we believe that the little details, when you add them all up, make a big difference.

www.roundpic.com

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Where to Find Great WordPress Themes

This is another one of those questions I get asked all the time.

“Where can I find the best themes for WordPress?” I’m glad you asked…

There are a lot of great reasons to use WordPress as a content management system for blogs and small-business websites. It’s a powerful platform that can scale to work brilliantly with small and simple sites, or big and complex sites. Another great thing about building on WordPress is plugging into a huge community of developers and users who have built great themes and plugins you can use to make your site look and work just the way you like.

These are our go-to resources for great WordPress themes. Most of them are Premium Theme sites, which means you’ll pay a little bit up front (but almost always save money overall). We strongly prefer the back-end options and support that come with these paid themes, and the cost is quickly recovered because making changes to the design and architecture of a site are far simpler than with most free themes. It’s the difference between buying a gorgeous pre-fab home versus building the same home from scratch–better to pay early and pay less. All of these resources have earned a reputation for quality and value.

Here’s the list:

StudioPress

StudioPress makes some of the best WordPress themes around, especially for business websites. We’ve built two of our own websites using themes from StudioPress, and we have been extremely happy with both the design and the support we’ve received. There are lots of goodies on the administrative side that make customizing a breeze. Prices for individual themes are about $80, with their special themes for real estate agents starting at $99.95.

The best deal (ever), if you’re going to be setting up multiple sites is the All-Theme Package which gives you all 20 of their current themes, plus all future themes for $349.95. If you’re a developer, you can buy this once and use it on as many sites as you want. See more at StudioPress.com

ThemeForest

ThemeForest is an online marketplace for premium WordPress themes. This is a great place to go when a client wants a site “that doesn’t look like a blog”. That means they have a clean and custom look to them, many with lots of bells and whistles like multiple color palates. Some are specifically designed for e-commerce. Most of these themes are developed by individuals and priced around $30. No kidding! We recently set up a gorgeous site using a theme from ThemeForest, and the client liked the theme so much, our customization time was less than an hour. Talk about getting good value for money. See more at ThemeForest.net

ElegantThemes

Nick Roach from ElegantThemes has been making extremely high-quality and good-looking WordPress themes for years. They’re a dream to work with, and to look at. They release new themes often, and two of the latest to come out are stunning. I can’t wait to try the Minimal theme or the Polished theme. This is what it’s all about, ElegantThemes make you look good. You sign up as a member for $39 per year and get access to all the themes. It’s a pretty amazing deal, considering all you get. Sign up at ElegantThemes.com

Thesis

What can I say about Thesis? If you’re serious about blogging and internet marketing, and you like to have your hands on the wheel, and you like the idea of controlling the design of your site without messing with a bunch of code, take a look at Thesis. Watch the video on DIYthemes.com to see some of what Thesis can do, and how easy it is to use. Great SEO options, support, and pricing. It’s $87 for one site, or $164 for unlimited use on sites you own. You also get 30 days to try it, risk free. How cool is that?

WordPress Free Themes Directory

WordPressMore than a thousand free themes for WordPress. Some of these are great, others are not so great. We’ve built plenty of sites using free themes; and a few free themes are as good as a premium theme (a few out of a thousand). Be sure to check out the tag-filter to help sort through the list. We tend to like features like theme-options, custom-header, and custom-colors–as much because they’re handy as they show some sophistication of the developer. Watch out for themes with spammy links in the footers. We’ve been seeing more of that lately, and sometimes they’re a pain to remove, so just be sure to take a close look.

Know of a great resource we missed? Let us know in the comments.

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5 Reasons Your Website Traffic Isn’t Higher

…and 5 simple steps you can take to increase your traffic.

Having a website is almost mandatory for businesses today. People build websites for all sorts of reasons, but they usually have a few specific goals in mind. Businesses typically want their website to be a tool which helps the company grow and make money. Maybe the website is designed to capture leads, or sell product, or serve as an online portfolio to help sell services. Usually, the website doesn’t do quite as good a job at meeting these goals as we’d hope. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that no website on earth is living up to its full potential (100% conversion rate).

We get a lot of calls from companies and individuals whose websites aren’t living up to their expectations. There are two main categories of reasons for this: Low Traffic & Low Conversion Rates

This article will focus on why sites have low traffic, and some simple things you can do to build it. We’ll follow up with an article about why sites don’t convert more often.

Here are the top 5 problems we see on sites with low traffic, in no particular order:

1. Your website ignores basic on-site SEO principles

This is the biggest problem we see when someone contacts us about a site getting low traffic–which is great, actually, because it’s one of the easiest to fix. Often times, website developers aren’t familiar with all the nuances of good SEO. It’s not their fault, really, I’m not familiar with all the nuances of HTML, PHP and CSS. You can’t be an expert at everything. Building a website and SEO are not the same thing, and it’s important for developers and clients to understand this. Just like you can build a beautiful home in the middle of nowhere, you can have a gorgeous website that’s hard to find. Some common SEO problems: maybe your site is built entirely in Flash with little or no crawl-able content. Or maybe your Title Tags say things like “Home Page” or all of your text is in images.

The solution: make sure all your on-site SEO basics are covered. Usually this is something you can do without scrapping your whole site. Make sure you’ve got good, keyword-rich descriptive Title Tags on every page. Use <h1> and other headlines appropriately. Write a good Description meta tag for each page (for human readers! forget the keywords here). Have good, crawl-able, well-written and relevant content. Use your keywords, but don’t be spammy.

If all of this is Greek to you, don’t worry. Feel free to contact us about our SEO Quick Review.

2. Your website doesn’t have many incoming links

Your website traffic has to come from somewhere.

Imagine opening a restaurant, with a 5-star chef, a great atmosphere, a well-trained staff…but putting it in the middle of the woods, far away from any trail. Maybe some people who know about it, your friends and family will show up and have a meal; but it would be better if it were downtown. At a busy intersection. With lots of signage. It’s the same story with your website. The internet is a crowded place. The barriers to entry are small, far too small to slow down your competition.

The solution: Just like in the real world, it pays to be connected. There are countless opportunities to Show Up on the internet: review sites, social networking sites, social bookmarking sites, professional directories, local directories, online communities, industry profiles, article websites. Get out there, interact, engage, show that you know your stuff, voice your opinion, link to your site. Don’t be an island. Bring ‘downtown’ to you. It’s lonely in the woods, and business is terrible there.

3. Your website is small

Many websites only have 3-5 pages. I call them brochure websites, and there’s nothing inherently wrong with them. You have a Home page, an About Us page and a Contact Us page. Maybe add in a Portfolio or Menu page. That’s all you need, really, and it’s a great cornerstone when building a web-presence. It’s not, however, a huge traffic draw. There just isn’t much content. I hate to repeat the old adage, but content is king. If each one of your pages gets one organic search hit per month, and you have 10 pages, that’s not much traffic. Some sites have many thousands of pages. You don’t need a thousand pages, or even a hundred, of course. If you can organize it well, however, a site with 20 pages will probably have higher traffic than a site with 5.

The solution: Don’t leave too much unsaid. If you’re a graphic designer, and you just have a Home, About, Contact and Portfolio page, consider adding some other content. Maybe you should break your portfolio up by category. Talk about your design philosophy, or why you love designing for non-profits or for corporate clients. Write an article about why serif fonts should be used for premium brands. You’re going to show some depth, which can make you stand out, and you’ll also probably see an increase in traffic from search engines and people linking to your great site.

4. Your website is static

Many websites are built once, built well, and then left alone. This is especially true for small businesses, independent consultants, restaurants, artists, and writers. The content stays the same all the time; because the business stays the same all the time, or because it’s expensive or difficult to add new stuff. Just like having a small site, there’s nothing inherently wrong with this. Heck, sites like that are cheap and easy to maintain. Just set it and forget it, right? Trouble is, you won’t be the only one to forget it. Your audience will eventually forget, search engines will assume your content is out of date and you’ll lose out in the search results to content deemed fresh. That’s the way it should work, too. If I wrote an article about SEO in 1999, it would be utterly useless today.

The solution: Update your site. Sounds simple, right? Depending on how your site is built, it can be extremely simple, or it can be a pain. This is a major reason why we only build websites on WordPress; we believe people should be able to easily update their sites themselves, without touching a piece of code or calling their web developer. If you have a static site built in HTML, it can be a bit more difficult. Either way, adding new articles, or a section for News and Events can be a big help in drawing traffic; and starting a blog about your topic is one of the best things you can do.

5. Your visitors don’t stay long, or come back often

This can be a symptom of a few different problems. It could be that you don’t have many pages for them to visit, or that your visitors don’t connect with your site’s design. Or perhaps your navigation is unclear or confusing. Maybe the tone of your writing is too formal, or too informal, for your audience. Maybe your visitors don’t know what to do next on your site. This is a trickier problem to fix than the others mentioned, because it’s really a combination of factors at work.

The solution: Make it easy for people to stay longer.

Make sure your site’s design isn’t turning people away. You don’t need a fancy, slick, modern design to appeal to visitors. Just take a look at your design, or ask a friend to, and ask yourself, “is this appropriate for my audience and my topic?” If your design fits your content, and it’s not ugly, then your visitor should feel comfortable.

Take a look at your navigation. Have you organized your content well? Can a first-time visitor look at your navigation and get to the information they want?

Do you write articles about a certain topic? After each article, try adding some links to related articles, so if people like what they read, they can easily read some more.

Does each page on your site have a clearly defined purpose, and/or call-to-action? Help your visitors by telling them, “what next?”

You should also give your visitors both a good reason and simple way to come back often. This can be an easy thing to do: give them an option to subscribe via RSS, or have a clear place they can sign up to receive updates via email. If you provide great content, people will want more of it. Why wouldn’t they? So, make it easy.

Want help?

Drop us a line. Or share your thoughts in the comments below.

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How to value website traffic

Clickonomics

I get a lot of questions from clients and readers about how to value web traffic. This is important for content publishers (valuing and selling ad space) and internet marketers (especially search engine marketers looking to set a maximum bid). I was recently asked these two questions, from different sides of the coin:

“I want to sell ads privately on my blog, how much should I charge?”

“I want to buy traffic to my website, how much should I pay per click?”

The answer to both questions, is the same answer I give to almost all questions about Internet Marketing:

“It depends”.

Of course, if you’re a publisher, you want to charge as much as possible for ad space; while advertisers want to pay as little as possible for their traffic.

The online advertising marketplace is extremely dynamic, with countless variables at work determining the value of each click. Some of these variables are objective and measurable, while others are more subjective. Continue Reading →

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Why have a company blog?

I sort of hate this post, so check back for an update soon.

It’s true, we’re starting a blog, and we’re starting with a question.

You might be asking the same question we are, “Why a blog?” Or, let’s back up a step and ask, “Why would any company have a blog?”

For us, the answer is easy: because the conversations we have with other businesspeople are among the best parts of our work, we may as well open that up to a bigger audience and carry those conversations into the online world.

Here are the reasons many people start a blog, even though those reasons aren’t good enough for us:

  • We’re not blogging for dollars–there won’t be any ads displaying.
  • We don’t care if our content goes viral–though feel free to share it if you like it.  🙂
  • We’re not trying to “position ourselves”–we prefer to let our actions do the talking.

So, what’s left? Like a good marketer, we could say, “It’s all about you.” And really, that’s half true. In the end, it’s about relationships and people helping each other, talking about interests and solving problems. That’s what we do with our clients, and that’s what we hope to do here too. We hope you will join us.

With that in mind, what should we talk about? Business tips, consulting case studies, strategy, SEO, email marketing,  conversion optimizing?

Let us know what’s on your mind…

“If you’ve got an opinion, you belong in the conversation.”

We want to hear from you. Don’t be shy in the comments section.

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