Blog Action Day – Environmentally Friendly Online Business

Today is Blog Action Day which, as I mentioned previously, is a day where the blogosphere unites to talk about a single pressing topic as a whole. The topic for this first annual Blog Action Day is the Environment and really it’s a topic that seems to be on the forethought of everyone these days. I can’t think of a better topic to discuss coming off the heels of the recent Nobel Prize win by Al Gore and the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. It seems the world is finally ready to openly discuss the harm we’re doing to the environment, and I for one am glad to do my part.

I’ve been really negligent lately in updating Bookmark Bliss, so I thought long and hard about what to talk about today. If you’re running a primarily web based business, you are already a bit above many of the other industries when it comes to your environmental footprint. For example, if you work from home, you’re likely to already have a smaller carbon footprint by skipping the daily commute. There are other aspects as well. By running your own home business, you have control over aspects of your work environment such as the use of environmentally friendly lighting and keeping the temperature at a reasonable level. Back when I was working my old 9-5 job, these were things I could not change. Now, I use natural light as much as I can and keep the air conditioning and heating to the absolute minimum needed.


Besides these, there are many things most people don’t think about that you can do to make your home business just a little bit friendlier to the environment.

Turn off your computer when you’re not using it. This is a big one and something I don’t do enough. Turning off your computer when you’re not using it can save a lot of electricity (after all, most computers are power guzzling monsters). If you can’t turn your machine off, your operating system offers plenty of options for saving energy when not being used. You can set your system to power off your monitors and even your hard drives when inactive for long periods of time.

Choose environmentally friendly hosting providers. For many of us, web hosting is the only way that our business exists. When choosing a web host, you usually look at how much drive space you’ll get and how much bandwidth you can have, but few of us look into greener options. So, the next time you’re looking for a web host, consider going with one that makes efforts to reduce their environmental footprint. Even better, talk to your current web host and see what options they have for greener hosting.

Go green with your next PC purchase. The next time you’re considering an upgrade or a whole new machine entirely, make sure your products are environmentally friendly. Many of the big name computer manufacturers are offering green solutions like Dell and Apple.

Dispose of your old computer junk wisely. When you’ve finally decided to upgrade that old junker you’ve had for years, make sure you examine your options for a green disposal . If you can’t donate your old hardware to a needy cause, there are many options near you to help you recycle or dispose of your machine cleanly. Just don’t dump it out on the curb.

Consider the consequences of that fancy new digital gadget. I know a lot of us can’t resist the newest little digital gadget that comes along every few months, but take a moment to research your products before you buy. You never know what kind of environmentally harmful chemicals and components are used in building that gadget. Sometimes just waiting a few months for a new technology can help weed out the poor choices for the environment. 

I hope everyone out there is doing their best to live as carbon neutral as possible.

What Can I do to Help?

For more information on Blog Action Day and things you can do to contribute and do your part for the environment, head on over to the official blog and if you haven’t already, sign yourself up. Also, take the time to visit your favorite blogs today and see what other articles have been posted in support of today’s event. Here are some other great articles form the people I pinged to show support last month. Thanks for jumping on board everyone!


Changing the World, One Blog at a Time…Unite!

I missed announcing this by a couple of days, but I thought it was still worthwhile to do so in case some of you out there still haven’t heard. The folks behind the “Blog Action Day” weblog are organizing the first annual, well, Blog Action Day! On October 15th, 2007, bloggers from all over the blogosphere will unite in a single cause by universally discussing the same topic on the same day, worldwide. This year, that cause is the environment. The idea behind the site is that if everyone is talking about the same topic on the same day, you can help bring awareness to the issue in a way that simultaneously reaches the masses far and wide. I wish they had done a blog action week, but a day is a good start :)


I signed up Bookmark Bliss today, and I’ll most likely discuss something that deals with ways to improve your business without stepping on the environment. You can write about something in your niche dealing with the environment, or go completely off topic and talk about something else. The choice is yours! I encourage all of you out there to sign up as well. The official launch was only 3 days ago, but already they’ve rallied more than 1,000 blogs to the cause. By the time October 15th rolls around, I think that number will be pushing into the 10’s of thousands if not 100’s or more. If you don’t have a blog, they also list several other methods that you can use to participate.  

It’s a great cause and you can head over to their site to read more about it and ultimately sign yourself up should you feel so inclined.

I did a quick scan of the list of already participating members, and I thought I would do a little “call to action” for a few of my favorite blogs who I didn’t notice on the list (if you are on there, I apologize, the list is pretty long!).

Here are some blogs I’m hopping to see sign up:

I hope everyone will take the time to signup, and encourage others to do so as well. Here’s looking forward to October 15th, 2007!

How to Prevent your own Facebook-Style PHP Leak

I don’t know if any of you have kept up on the recent problem Facebook is facing, but it’s actually a fairly interesting topic. For those of you who haven’t followed, basically what happened was some of the PHP code used to power their website, was accidentally leaked to the public, and someone decided to post it on their blog for everyone to see. I actually managed to have this happen to me directly, when using Facebook on Thursday, and I made a copy in notepad with the hopes of checking it out down the line, for curiosity’s sake. Since then, however, the whole issue has ballooned into something big, pretty much overnight, with people challenging Facebook’s ability to keep user data private and questioning whether anyone’s details are actually safe.


For the most part, I think most web developers are somewhat lazy when it comes to security for their sites, especially bloggers. This is especially true whenever someone is using a free open source content management system (CMS) like WordPress because they figure there is nothing worth protecting anyway. This is a dangerous viewpoint to take because even with a system like WordPress, there is a lot of data you wouldn’t want the public gaining access to. For example, your config file containing your database username and password or your customized theme directory containing everything a person needs to copy your site layout.

While the problem at Facebook has been officially clarified as an apache/mod_php bug, there are only a few things that could have caused the problem. Either it was an accident and someone didn’t shut off some output code, it was malicious, or there was a problem with mod_php processing the file which caused it to be displayed as plain text. Facebook says:

“Some of Facebook’s source code was exposed to a small number of users due to a bug on a single server that was misconfigured and then fixed immediately. It was not a security breach and did not compromise user data in any way. The reprinting of this code violates several laws and we ask that people not distribute it further.” It seems that the cause was apache and mod_php sending back un-interpreted source code as opposed to output, due to either a server misconfiguration or high load (this is a known issue). It is also apparent that other pages have been revealed, and that this problem has occured before, but only now has somebody actually posted the code online.

Here are some general tips you can apply to your own site and web server to prevent the same thing from happening to you:

Always, ALWAYS, test your code first before uploading it to your web server. I know I’m guilty of this, and so are a lot of us. When you’re in a rush, and you just need to make a few quick tweaks to your site, it’s easy to quickly connect with Dreamweaver (or another code editing package) and make the changes directly on your live site. You should always maintain a local installed version of your sites where all modifications are made. This way you can test them out in a closed environment, and update your public site once you’re sure the changes are implemented correctly. Installing a local version of PHP, Apache, and MySQL is getting easier all the time and with tools like WAMP available, so there is almost no excuse not to have a local install. If you absolutely can’t run a local version, you can always setup a “test” version on your web server that is password protected on an unknown URL.

Enhance the security of your site using .htaccess. There are simple additions you can make to your .htaccess file that will make it more difficult for people to “accidentally” gain access to your code. In the event that mod_php is unavailable, or fails to load, you can take steps to ensure your php files won’t be displayed as plain text. Simply add some code such as the following to your .htaccess file (making sure to adapt it slightly depending on your mod_php version):

<ifmodule !mod_php4.c>
  <filesmatch ?\.php$?>
    Order allow,deny
    Deny from all
    Allow from none

What this code will do is prevent access to any file ending in .php in the event that mod_php is unavailable.

Modify your default file type for unknown files. This is one of the simplest changes you can make to your configuration, that takes almost no effort and really shouldn’t effect the way most of you currently run your site. In your .htaccess file, you can simply add the line:

DefaultType application/<any application type>.

You can pretty much use any application type you want. All this does is tell your web server to interpret any file extension it doesn’t recognize as something other than a text file. By default, apache assumes everything it doesn’t recognize is a text/plain type, so in the event that PHP is not being processed correctly, it will return your files as plain text. Try out a few different application types until you find one that works right for your site.

Try and keep as many of your files as possible outside of web accessible directories. This is not always an option, for packages like WordPress, but for any of us writing our own sites from scratch, this is a simple measure that can help protect your private data. In PHP, all data files are added to your site using include statements. For example, if I want to get at a configuration file I have containing database access information like usernames and passwords, I might do something like:

 <?php include( ‘config.php’ ); ?>

If config.php is located inside the root of my web folder (i.e.. anywhere under the www or public_html folder on most apache installs) then technically it is accessible via the web. The only thing that prevents people from being able to see the contents is that you have mod_php installed, which tells your server to interpret all .php files as code to process and not plain text. You could easily protect yourself further by moving config.php outside of the web root:

<?php include( ‘<path to inaccessible directory>/config.php’ ); ?>

The less you have stored in your web root, the less opportunities there are for public visitors to access your private data files. For a site like Facebook, where you have full control over the placement of all files (because you designed it yourself), you can setup almost any structure you want moving most private data files outside of the root folder.

Limit your code access list to trustworthy partners. This seems like a DUH point, but I think it bares mentioning anyway. The best way to prevent malicious code leaks or even accidental code leaks is to limit the number of people with access to your code. On several projects I’ve worked on, we’ve had large teams that included business managers, CEO’s, software engineers, graphic designers, database guys, marketing teams, etc etc. On one project in particular, it was considered “bad form” to prevent any of those people from accessing the source code. At the time I was just software engineer 1 of 20, but I bet you can guess what happened next. One of the business guys decided to “get his feet wet” with the programming aspects of the site and ended up showing off a ton of features that were not ready for release, giving our competitors a leg up. At the end of the day, transparency is key to good synergy within a team, but very few people need access to the live builds of sites and software, and the less people who do, the better.

These are just a few suggestions you can readily implement to help protect your site from a similar PHP leak. It’s always a good habit to get into a security based mind set when it comes to working with the web. This is much more crucial when it comes to designing your own systems for your projects, where the onus of protection is on you entirely. Keep in mind that if you are using a decent web host, many of these changes may have already been made for you on a server-wide level. Nonetheless, it is better to be safe than sorry, so always check first and make sure things are locked up tight. Anyone else have any suggestions for ways in which to improve your security from file leakage?

Update: Nik Cubrilovic, the original reporter on Tech Crunch, has posted his own set of tips on how to ensure your site is leak proof. His article was posted after I finished my first draft on this article, but it contains a few additional tips, and some interesting comments as well, on how to keep your site as secure as possible. Nik Cubrilovic recommends using application/x-httpd-php as a type for the default file type solution. I thought this was a pretty good idea, as it will force your web server to treat anything it doesn’t recognize, as if it was a php document needing to be processed by the PHP interpreter. You can still experiment with different types, and almost all of them will give you the same desired outcome…protected php files.

Balls and Brains: The Lethal Combo of Online Business Success

If you rundown the list of successful bloggers, I guarantee every one of them has at least two traits in common, balls (the mafia kind) and brains. With a new blog born every two seconds and more than a million blog posts published every day, you have be better than your competition in order to stand out in the crowd. This holds true for every online business, including blogging. To be successful you have to constantly think like a businessman, and stay one step ahead of your competition at all times.


Do some self analysis and see where you stand when it comes to Balls and Brains.

If you have Balls, you’re likely to…

  • …push the envelope, try things others aren’t even thinking about. When everyone is is going right, you go left. When everyone else is playing it safe, you try something daring. If you truly want to stand a top a mountain of your fallen competitors, you have to think of things they aren’t thinking of and really push the limits of what you can do with your site.
  • …not back down from a good fight. Think of the number one person in every niche as the UFC champion. They might be tough, but no one is untouchable. If you have an idea that you think has potential, never let competition stand in your way. In many cases, you’ll find their roar is much mightier than their bite. If you need a little inspiration, try learning a few lessons from 300.
  • …exist in the Gray. Don’t be afraid to test the limitations of rules and find the right balance between good techniques and evil techniques. Rules exist for the masses and those who are unwilling to test how far they can bend. If you don’t push the boundaries of what content you can publish or the ads you can display, you’ll never tap the full potential of your site. Never be afraid to try something out.
  • …not be afraid of experimentation. That’s how innovation works and if you want to get ahead you have to constantly think of new ways of doing things. It’s cliche, but thinking outside the box really does apply. If for every 10 ideas you experiment with one idea converts into something long term, like increasing your subscribers or doubling your revenue, shouldn’t you hurry up and get the 9 that don’t work out of the way?
  • …try new technologies. Every day someone is publishing a new plugin for WordPress or a new programming language library for powering your website. Some of these technologies can save you time, money, and effort. Keeping on top of new technology and testing out new methods for achieving your goals can potentially give you an advantage long before your competitors catch on.  

If you have Brains, you’re likely to…

  • …diversify yourself. Never put all your eggs in one basket, and this goes for all aspects of online business. Don’t trust all your revenue to one or two ad services. Don’t trust all your site backups to one web host. Don’t trust all your money to be invested in one thing. If you diversify, your business will withstand the test of time. As the old saying goes, the one legged man has only one leg to stand on. The smart entrepreneur has many legs, like a tripod!
  • …network and communicate, expand your reach. If you want to be successful, than you have to extend beyond your own site. Form partnerships with advertisers and competitors help push your brand out as a worthwhile resource. At the end of the day, you could have the best site in the world, but if no one knows you exist, what good is it?
  • …not reinvent the wheel. By using other peoples hard work to your advantage, you can quickly climb the ladder toward your competitors without necessarily having to do everything they did. You can literally find hundreds of posts on the web detailing ways to increase your traffictools to use, plugins to install, revenue options to make money, or even ways to gain readers to your site. If you’ve got brains, you can take this hard work done by others and apply it to your own methods putting you that much father along toward your goals. Knowledge is power… 
  • …generate a brand that improves your image. When it comes to branding, a smart well designed logo and a catchy domain name can make the difference between being a star or being forgotten. Your brand should be an extension of what your site has to offer to your visitors. Something that grabs their attention, and is memorable enough to stick with them even when they leave your site.
  • …play to your strengths. Not all of us are web designers, and not all of us are web developers. Unfortunately, we can’t all be super heroes and single handedly take care of every single aspect of our online business. Knowing your strengths and weaknesses is the first step to improving your productivity and ensuring your competition doesn’t pass you by while you agonize over a frustrating piece of PHP code. 

Some bloggers are intelligent. They are always thinking outside the box and analyzing all the angles. Without Balls though, they never get anywhere because they’re too afraid to act on their game plans and shake up the status quo. Some bloggers have balls. In a heartbeat they’re willing to try new things and test the marketplace with ideas that may or may not end up successful. Without Brains though, they never focus on the intelligent things you need to do to survive and all the balls in the world won’t save you from the fate you lay out for yourself if you push things too far and end up punished as a result.

It’s the combo of these two traits that’s truly lethal when it comes to online business. Keep your wits about you while never shying away from something new, and I guarantee you’ll have a long and successful blogging career.

Tips to Improve your Development Productivity

Of all the questions I receive via email, I think the most prevalent two are how do I stay productive? and how can I consistently think of new ideas without burning out. If you do a quick scan of many of your favorite blogs, you’re almost guaranteed to find at least one post touching on these very subjects. Here are just a few articles on productivity I found in a quick 5 minute search on some of my favorites:

Basically, the reason there are so many of these types of posts out there, is because everyone wants advice and there really is no magical formula that will work for everybody. If you need some tips, your best bet is to absorb as much information as you can from as many sources as you can. Try things out until you find what works well for you. I can almost guarantee you that after you’ve done that, your final work flow will be as unique as it is for the 8 blogs mentioned above.

Improve Your Development Efficiency

What I thought I’d do with this post is share some of my own productivity tips from a development standpoint. Many of the articles you find focus on bloging or how to keep your site interesting over a long period of time. Very few touch on things from an online business standpoint or from a programming/site design standpoint. Since the majority of my time is spent in this arena, I thought I’d talk a little bit about what works for me in keeping my productivity moving along…

  • Keep multiple projects on the go, and shift gears when you hit a roadblock. At all times, I’m probably working on a minimum of 5 different projects at once. Right now, I’m in the process of designing two new websites, building a new site infrastructure, and writing 3 different blog posts. Whenever I hit a road block on one project, I switch gears to something else temporarily. This helps reduce my idle time where I’d blankly staring at the wall, and it also lets me put the issue I was having at the back of my brain where subconsciously I can work through the problem. At a minimum, when I eventually come back to the project, I’ll come in with a fresh perspective, which is the key to overcoming whatever roadblock held me up.
  • When a project gets down to the point where you’re wrapping things up for launch – focus! When wrapping up all the loose ends to finish up a project, it’s really easy to want to do something more interesting. I usually have a really strong urge to do something more interesting and not do tedious things like validate my XHTML or fix an obscure bug. When this is the case, I force myself to focus on these projects until they’re complete. If I didn’t, I guarantee I’d have 10 sites right now all 90% ready for launch… 
  • Tackle the things you struggle with first. For me, this is crucial. I’ve mentioned before, the aspect I struggle with the most is graphic design and by association web design. As a result, the first thing I do on any project is tackle design first. Once I have a design in place or even just a logo/site name, it’s enough to drive me through the entirety of the project. I would assume it’s similar to being an author, and choosing a title for your book. Once I have the design/branding out of the way, everything else is much more comfortable and therefore easier to remain productive while doing. If I leave the design till the end, it can weigh on my brain and slow down my progress on other aspects.
  • Look for inspiration from other projects. When your mind is full of clouds, look for the blue sky. If you hit a wall in your projects, one of the best ways to get around them is to look for inspiration from other projects and designs. Just seeing what someone else has programmed can be enough to subconsciously push yourself into getting your own solution off the ground. 
  • If you need a breather, just do it! Some people believe that if you’re having trouble solving a problem, the best way to proceed is to focus harder and push through it. I have the exact opposite opinion. If I hit an impasse that I can’t get through, sometimes the best medicine is just to take a breather and focus on other things for a while. Go for a beer, go see a movie, hit the gym, watch some TV, etc etc. Just a little distraction from your current issues can clear your mind and make you more productive when you get back to it.
  • If you can’t figure something out, put it out of your mind till the next day. A few months ago I was working on a project and had a programming error I just couldn’t figure out. I spent 4-5 hours straight staring at my screen and finally went to sleep angry and frustrated at 6:00 in the morning. After sleeping on it for 3-4 hours before having to get up for work, I woke up, hit my computer, and solved the problem in less than 10 seconds. Now, If I hit a problem I can’t seem to work out, I try not to waste my time by agonizing over it while I’m getting increasingly tired and increasingly stupid (RedBull doesn’t improve your intelligence!). Switching to a new project temporarily or even just catching some Zzzz’s will save you time in the long run, I guarantee it. 
  • Think about names and features, sometimes they help drive development. When I get really deep into a project, I occasionally reach a point where I’m not sure if everything I’m doing is going to work out and improve my business. When that happens, I like to sit back and think about things like new features or names for our sites/products. I also like to think about how I plan to monetize the site and how I think it will perform in the long run. This kind of future thinking helps me visualize the completion of the project and can get me over the hump and actually wrap it up.
  • Start your day by tackling the painful stuff first. If you’re a human being, then you probably have things you need to do everyday that you’d rather not do. You also probably tend to procrastinate about those things and put them off until you run out of time in your day. I know I do. Before I finish working everyday, I like to make a list of all these painful chores and when I start working again, they’re the first things I strike off my todo list. If you do all the exciting stuff first, it’s way too easy to get caught up and neglect the painful stuff. So, until you start outsourcing the painful parts of your daily routine, it’s best to get them done first if you want to be at your most productive throughout the day. 
  • Try to finish every day with something interesting. Before I finish up my work for the day, I try to always tackle something interesting. This helps me remain productive because when something is interesting I tend to think about it in the back of my mind for a longer period of time. This helps me stay interested and also creates an urge to continue it the next day, and hit the ground running as soon as I start working again. If I’m stuck doing things I think are painful first, the anticipation of jumping back in on the exciting project helps me get through the chores that much quicker.
  • Never be afraid to let something go. For many of us, letting go is hard to do, but one of the biggest detractors from productivity is agonizing over minutiae. We’ve all been there, with that application that works well but doesn’t do one tiny thing you want it to. You spend 10-20 hours extra on it just to implement the one feature that no one but you will ever use. I know I’ve been there, but keeping your productivity high also means knowing when to let something die off that’s simply eating up all your time. Sometimes it’s just a feature other times it can be an entire idea. If you analyze your project and the time you still need to invest out weighs the potential from completing it, it might not be worth the drop in productivity on other projects to complete the effort.
  • Setup a work area that enhances your workflow. While not 100% a productivity issue, I think that your work area can really enhance or detract from your ability to get things done. If you need peace and quiet to get things done, then your workspace should be somewhere that you can achieve that. If you need loud music and movies playing in order to work, you need to gear your workspace accordingly. At the end of the day, you workspace should reflect your work habits and your productivity will improve because of it. Here is a look at my workspace in my home office. I can’t get anything done without music going through my headphones and I’m lost without my second monitor :)


The bottom line is, only you know when you’re most productive and the only way to find out what works best is to experiment. You can take advice from other people, like me, but at the end of the day you’re still going to have to tweak it to work for you. What are some of your best tips for productivity when it comes to development and design? What keeps you going, especially when the work that needs to be done is not very interesting?

The 5 Biggest Mistakes I’ve made as a Freshman Blogger

When starting a blog, there comes a point inevitably when you sit back and reflect a bit about where you are and where you’re going with your site. For some of us this happens in the first month while others can go years before they reach it. Ultimately, you ask yourself, what am I doing right with my site, and what am I doing wrong? This is the state I found myself in at the beginning of this month. To try and better analyze where I was at, I made a list of some of things I’ve done wrong as a freshman blogger (especially those things that are holding me back), and I decided to share that list.

In my opinion, these are the 5 biggest mistakes I’ve made as a freshman blogger:

Not building a brand and site that I was willing to part with

This was a real killer for me. Originally, when I decided to start blogging, I used a URL that I have had for quite some time, I really like the URL and in fact, my company is titled the same thing and the original use for the URL was as a portal for my online freelancing business. I converted the site to a blog when I decided to stop doing freelancing and as many of you know already, I started blogging there on a regular basis. The problem with this, however, is that I am not willing to part with the domain This really limits my future options with the site in that anything involving its sale to a third party is completely off the table.

Now don’t get me wrong, the offers definitely weren’t flooding my inbox. I simply think that for someone like me, who started blogging as an experiment, to completely eliminate one of my potential options for revenue is a mistake. To help address this, I’ve decided to separate my blogging from my business side of things and as I’m sure you’ve already noticed, we’ve moved everything from Fuzzy Future to Bookmark Bliss.

In the long run, no matter what the future holds for your blog, keeping all your options open is never a bad move. I really regret not doing that from day one.

Picking a schedule that was too hard to maintain in relation to my other obligations

When I first started blogging, I was really gung-ho and was posting at least one post a day, sometimes two or three. After the first few months though, I started to find it really difficult to keep up that pace. This was not due to a lack of things to write about but more due to time limitations. My schedule for blogging started to slip and slip and gradually got to the point where I was posting one post every 3-4 days. I apologize to everyone who stuck with us through that, but I do feel that it was a learning process in which I came to an understanding about just how much time I really have if I want to sustain it.

It’s like a long distance marathon. If you start out sprinting at full speed, make sure you have the endurance to keep going or those that are slow and steady will gradually pass you by. Here at Bookmark Bliss, it turns out our readers are actually ok with a slower posting rate (our subscribers have gone up 150 since I slowed down) but I’m committed to a minimum of one post a week from here on out. Some weeks I’ll have time to do more, but each week you can expect something fresh and new available on our site.

Failing to do enough promotion of my site through RSS and backlink generation

This was a big oversight on my part, and one a colleague of mine never fails to rub in my face. I was so busy starting out with blogging, that I really neglected the backlink and rss aggregator work that really would have improved our readership over the long haul. Fuzzy Future suffered a bit for it on the last pagerank update when we jumped only one rank from 2 to 3 despite having almost a dozen posts that individually were PR5 and PR6. I’ve definitely learned my lesson with this, and from here on out a major focus will be on building up Bookmark Bliss traffic over the long haul.

Overdoing it with social networking sites like Digg and

This was definitely a big mistake made at Fuzzy Future due to the way our site was originally designed. Initially, we added a Digg button and a Share This button on every single page of our site. This was to encourage people to Digg up submitted articles. Instead, many of our readers submitted articles to Digg on their own, including pages that never had a chance in hell of making it to the front page (things like link roundups). As a result, many of our articles got buried by Digg users, and within the first two months our URL had been flagged by Digg similar to John Chow. Basically, this completely cut off Digg as an option for us.

In retrospect, I think it’s better not to encourage people to submit your content to social networks simply because of the fact that not all your content deserves to be on social networking sites. Really, only your best content stands a chance of gaining a following on these sites, so it’s better to be selective rather than aggressive.

Not spending enough time communicating with the community in my niche

Finally, I was not spending enough time in my niche getting to know other bloggers. I’ve met some great readers who’ve taken the time to stop by our site and I’ve also met many others visiting sites myself. I don’t think I made enough of an effort, however, and with Bookmark Bliss I hope to make a lot more connections with great members of our community. In addition, I’m also going to look into possibly guest blogging on some other sites, in order to gain some new readers as well as get some guest readers here on our site. I think guest blogging is a great way to get to know your community and help introduce your readers to new sites and authors they may not have known already.

So those are what I feel are my 5 biggest mistakes I’ve made as a freshman blogger. Personally I think that this kind of reflection is absolutely crucial for anyone who plans to keep blogging over the long haul. Only by figuring out where you’re going wrong can you correct your course and get back on track. So, for those of you out there who’ve had your own time to reflect, what do you think are some other big mistakes that bloggers make starting out? What are some other mistakes you think I’ve made starting out? Hit me! I can take it :)

Streamlining your Online Business through Outsourcing

As I’ve mentioned here before, probably the weakest weapon in my web arsenal is the ability to design a good, unique, site layout. I’m pretty good at using Photoshop, as well as other design packages, but my big roadblock is artistic skill. I’ll be the first to admit that a design that can take me 20 hours to do could take someone with artistic skill an hour and completely blow mine out of the water. We may be on the same skill level with Photoshop, but a true designers ability to work with color, layout, and flow is really something that can make the difference between an amateur and professional looking layout.

Knowing this weakness and instead of getting frustrated and wasting my time working on crappy designs, I play to my strengths instead by outsourcing a lot of my design work. Outsourcing has kind of a negative connotation, especially in North America, because the first thing a lot of us think about when we hear that word is loss of jobs to cheap Indian call centers. While that is definitely one type of outsourcing, the actual definition is much more broad. Basically, it’s the idea of giving a job to another person in order to free up your own time and money to work on other things.

Do the people you give the work to have to be in another country outside your own? Absolutely not! Outsourcing could be as simple as getting a friend to do designs while you work on the back-end logic. Even if you don’t know someone who is willing to help out, there are literally hundreds of sites on the web that can easily help you out with almost any aspect of your online business.

Here are just a few examples, for a really comprehensive list of freelancers, check out the monster list of freelancing job sites.

  1. Programmer Meet Designer
  2. eLance
  3. Project4Hire
  4. Blog Posts for Sale
  5. RentACoder
  6. Get a Freelancer

It’s not just programming and design you can outsource either. You can hire people to help you write your blog or even just to be your personal assistant and help you maintain your schedule ( assistu, ivaa, b2kcorp ). Basically, if you can think of a task, there is probably a service or auction site out there with people just itching to help you get it done.

Now I know what you’re saying, this stuff must cost a ton of money and how can I afford to hire people to do any of this work for me?

To be honest, when you look at the work from the perspective of time spent to do it yourself, I think in most cases it actually is cheaper to go with an expert. Take myself for example, I recently was in need of 5 unique WordPress templates on a specific topic. Each one was on the same topic, but all 5 designs had to be different. To come up with those designs myself, would have taken me literally 10-20 hours, and the end result would have been workable but far from amazing.

Instead, I put up a project listing on eLance, and I paid a designer $200 for the layouts (I just needed Photoshop mockups). So if I value my own time at say $25 per hour, at a minimum I would have wasted $250 doing the designs myself. Instead, I received 5 excellent designs and while those were being done I managed to launch all 5 sites. So basically, I doubled my throughput and saved myself a designer’s headache in return.

I think you’ll also be surprised at just how cheap some jobs can be done. For me, I always assume design is really expensive because I estimate it based on the time it would take me to complete the same task. In reality though, a designer takes a fraction of the time it takes me to do the same work and so in a lot of cases it really isn’t that bad at all.

In the end, it all comes down to maximizing your efficiency and playing to your strengths instead of succumbing to your weaknesses. You should always try to improve in areas you need work, but you don’t want to do that at the expense of progress for your business.

Yahoo and Google – Brands you can Trust?

While I was browsing the web yesterday, I came across an interesting study on the effect of brand awareness on the evaluation of search engine results (PDF). Basically, the entire study boiled down to a series of tests in which search engine users were provided identical results for a query, but those results were branded as coming from one of 4 different search engines, namely Google, MSN, Yahoo, and an in house search called AI2RS.


In the study the researchers found that given identical results, users are overwhelmingly more likely to trust those coming from Yahoo and Google over those coming from a different engine. In fact, users generally claimed Google and Yahoo results were superior to other engine results despite the actual results returned being identical. While you might say this was a foreseeable conclusion, it’s still interesting to note just how much branding effects a user’s trust when it comes to working with the Web.  This is very similar to a study performed last year in Germany that looked at MRI brain scans of people reacting emotionally to different brands.

So, what exactly does this mean for your online business?

I think clearly it shows that users on the web are no different than consumers walking into your average brick and mortar based business. They identify with brands and they establish a trust with those brands. This trust results in several things, but most notably is their willingness to do repeat business with the brand and also to implicitly trust their recommendations and enhancements.  

It’s these traits that you need to take into consideration when deciding many aspects of your web presence such as advertising your products and services or even simply where to focus your search ranking efforts. For example, what converts better sales, being number 1 on or number 15 on Yahoo? While you may get more clicks at Ask, you may not get as many converting customers simply due to the trust issue.

Food for thought, and definitely something every one of us needs to think about when running an online business. One thing I would be interested to try is all three companies have respective advertising networks, and I wonder if promoting Google products converts much better than converting the others? I’d wager on yes, simple because of the brand name associated with it…What do you think?

Does Domain Expiry Date Really Matter?

While I was scanning through my list of blogs today, I came across a really interesting article from over at DailyBlogTips entitled, Renew Your Domain for Longer Periods. I found this article to be really interesting because frankly, it was not an aspect of SEO I really considered. Basically, the idea is that it’s possible that when considering where to rank your site in the search engine result pages (SERPs), Google may use the expiry date of your domain as one of the metrics of legitimacy for your site.

From a Google patent filed several years ago:

Certain signals may be used to distinguish between illegitimate and legitimate domains. For example, domains can be renewed up to a period of 10 years. Valuable (legitimate) domains are often paid for several years in advance, while doorway (illegitimate) domains rarely are used for more than a year. Therefore, the date when a domain expires in the future can be used as a factor in predicting the legitimacy of a domain and, thus, the documents associated therewith.

Earlier this month, I posted a look at the inner workings of Google. In the source article, a top Google engineer mentions that they have more than 200 individual tests that are applied to a site to determine ranking in results. That fact alone would clearly argue that they probably cover most bases, so the fact that they might toss some weight behind domain expiry is not all that far fetched.

SEO is an ever changing field, and no one knows for sure if Google checks expiration dates. However, this is one of those things that it really doesn’t hurt you to fix. If you’re planning to keep a good domain forever anyway, why not renew it for multiple years? Many good domain registrars offer multiple year discounts, so in the long run you’ll actually save yourself a few bucks as well.

I know a few of my own domains are expiring later this year and I think I’ll definitely renew the ones I plan to keep for a long while for multiple years. What do you think of this idea? Have any of you ever noticed a bonus in ranking when renewing a domain for 5-10 years instead of just 1?

Bookmark Bliss – Old School WordPress Version No More

Just a quick note to let everyone know that I finally got around to upgrading Bookmark Bliss to the newest version of WordPress, 2.2.1. I never actually upgraded to 2.2.0, so I guess it’s not so bad now that a new version came out so soon afterward. If you’ve already upgrade to 2.2.0, this patch is mostly just a bug release but is very HIGHLY recommended to patch some security holes found in the last version.

Here are some of the bug updates provided by this new version:

    • Widget compatibility issue fixes 
    • Atom feed fixes
    • Improvements to Page and Text Widgets
    • XML-RPC fixes Widget layout fixes for IE7

Here are some of the major security problems that were fixed:

    • Remote shell security issues with PHPMailer
    • Attribute issues in Default Theme
    • Remote SQL injection in XML-RPC

Upgrading for me was really smooth and simple, but always remember to backup your site and your database before updating just in case. Nothing is a bigger kick to the head than having an update fail and completely toast your previous install.