Top 7 WordPress Plugins for Real Estate Investor Websites

Do you use WordPress for your real estate investing website and want to know the best plugins to use?  

WordPress is a great platform, and a big part of that is all the plugins that are available.  The problem is, they’re not all good.  The ‘not good’ ones range from simply not working the way you want to actually harming your website by allowing hackers to get in.

I’ve been building websites for real estate investors for over a decade so I’ve tried a lot of things over the years.  I once spent $500 on a real estate-related plugin that sucked and I couldn’t get my money back.  Ouch.  I’ll help you save some time and money by pointing you in the right direction.  Most of the plugins are free.  A couple will cost you a little but are well worth it.

I thought of trying to list these according to importance, but they’re all important for different reasons.  I use all 7 of these on almost every investor website.  So I decided to just list them in alphabetical order. :)

Plugin #1:  Akismet… Really?

If you’ve used WordPress, you probably realize this plugin comes bundled with WordPress, so it may seem like a silly choice.  But I’ve found lots of people don’t really understand what it is (maybe that’s because of the weird name that doesn’t describe what it is) or why they should use it so they don’t set it up.

In short, Akismet prevents you from getting spam comments on your site.  When you set up a new site on WordPress and start posting some things on it, notifications are sent out to different web services that there is new content available.  While that’s a good thing, some people abuse it.  They have automated systems set up that find all WordPress sites and try to post spam comments on the sites.

Why do they do this?  They’re just trying to get links coming to their website.  For SEO purposes, the more incoming links to their site, the higher their site will rank.  Or other times they may be hoping people will see the comment and click the link.

Obviously you don’t want these spammers posting their junk on your website.  One nice thing is that by default WordPress holds the comments in moderation where you have to approve them before they show up on your website.  But this is a hassle to keep up with.  I’ve had sites that, in a short period of time, had hundreds or thousands of spam comments I had to go through and delete which wasted lots of time.

Akismet is a little bit of hassle to set up, but the good news is that once it’s set up, you don’t have to do anything else with it.  It just works.  It filters out spam comments much like how your email filters out spam/junk email.  You can go through and look at them if you want to make sure nothing ended up there that shouldn’t have.  I don’t think I’ve ever had it put something in spam that really wasn’t.

To set it up you have to register for an account at Akismet.com.  Is it free?  Not exactly.  It works on an honor system basically.  For commercial sites it’s currently $5/month.  For non-commercial sites it’s “name your own price”.  The last I checked you could set that to $0.  But an investor website is a commercial site so you’d need the $5/month plan.  Once you have an account you get an API code, which is just a bunch of random numbers and letters.  You’ll need to copy and paste that into your website, on the settings page for Akismet.

Plugin #2:  BackWPup

BackWPup is a way to create backups of your website.  There are other good options too, like BackupBuddy.  I use WP Engine for hosting and they have their own backup system which is great, so I use that instead for sites I have hosted there.

Making backups of your site is very important.  You put all that work and money into setting up your site but you could lose it all in one day if you don’t have backups.  Sometimes hard drives crash on the server or hackers may get in to your site and destroy it.  I’ve had both happen.  If you don’t have backups you’re in trouble.

BackWPup is a free plugin and it’s really flexible and works well.  You can save the backups just about anywhere you want.  What I’d suggest is setting it up so the backups run automatically, preferably in the middle of the night when no one is visiting your website since running backups can slow down your site a little.

You can set backups to run at whatever frequency you want.  For sites that you update multiple times per week, you can run backups daily or a few times per week.  If you don’t update things often, a weekly update is probably fine.

You can have the backups sent to various places.  For example, Dropbox.  Personally, I have an account on Amazon S3, which is very affordable for online storage, so I have backups sent there.

You can set it to keep a certain number of backups and to delete anything more than that.  So I might set it where it keeps a couple months worth of updates on hand and delete anything older than that.  It’s a good idea to keep them for a while.  Sometimes you might find there was a problem with your site that you didn’t notice right away and you may need to go back to older backups to get rid of the problem.

It’s beyond the scope of this article to go into how to set it up because there are lots of settings.  I wrote a tutorial for setting up BackWPup a while back that goes into full detail about setting it up which you can read if you need help.

This is another case where it’s kind of a hassle to set up initially, but once it’s done you don’t really have to worry about it and you have the peace of mind knowing your site is backed up.

Plugin #3: Gravity Forms

Gravity Forms is a plugin that allows you to create forms on your website that people can fill out.  You’re probably going to want lead-capture forms on your website.  If so, Gravity Forms is a great choice.

If all you need is a simple contact form with name, email and a message, then Gravity Forms might be more than you need.  There are other contact form plugins like CForms.

Gravity Forms is great for a few reasons:

  1. It’s powerful – you can create really complex forms if needed.
  2. It’s easy to use – despite having lots of features, it’s simple to create and edit forms
  3. It connects well with other services – there are lots of add-ons for it that can connect it to just about anything you want.

On the downside, it’s not free.  It starts at $39.  It’s well worth it, though.

One of my favorite things about it is the ability to create “conditional” fields.  So let’s say you have a form for motivated sellers.  You ask them if they have a mortgage.  If they do, you need more details like the mortgage balance, whether they’re behind on payments, etc.  But if they don’t have a mortgage, there’s no point in asking those questions, right?  With conditional fields you can set it up where if a user selects one thing, additional fields show up, but if they select something else the fields don’t appear.  Setting that up may be a little advanced, but it’s a powerful feature.  At the end of this article I’ll share a way for you to use some forms like this I made for free.

Gravity Forms in general, though, is very easy to use.  You just click and drag things around to create your form.  Setting up a basic form doesn’t require any special skills.

Another thing I like is that you can connect your forms to other services.  For example, maybe you want to set it up where when someone fills out a certain form, they’re added to your mailing list on Aweber or MailChimp.  It’s pretty easy to make that happen.  There are lots of add-ons available for Gravity Forms that will connect it to other services.

Some of the add-ons that the company who makes Gravity Forms has available require buying some of their more expensive plans.  But there are quite a few free ones available too.  And one cool thing is that they have an add-on available for Zapier, which means you can connect it to just about any other service you can imagine.

For example, every time a certain form is filled out, you could have the info added to a spreadsheet on Google Docs or put it in your CRM system or even send yourself a text message.

What happens by default when someone fills out a form you create?  Two things:  1) You get an email with all the information and 2) The information is stored in the database on your website.

The email part is great so you know when someone fills out a form in case you don’t log in to your website often.  But email isn’t 100% reliable, so it’s great to also have them stored on your website.  You can log in at any time and see all your leads.

Another cool thing is that when you view the leads on your website, you can also add notes.  So, for example, you may want to add a note that you called a certain lead and what you talked about on the phone.

All around, Gravity Forms is a great plugin if you need any kind of forms on your website.

Plugin #4:  SumoMe

SumoMe, besides having a strange name, helps you get more traffic to your website.  It has a number of different tools you can use.  The basic functionality gives you an easy way to let users share your website with their friends on social media sites.

To be honest, I need to experiment with some of the different tools it includes because some of them sound really cool.  I’ll do that and if I find out some cool things I’ll let you know in a future article.

But for now, why I suggest SumoMe is for adding buttons on your website so visitors can share your site with people they know.

For example, maybe someone comes to your site and they think it’s cool and want to share it with someone.  If you have SumoMe set up, they should be able to easily share it with their friends on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, email, etc.  Their friends may see that and click your site to see what it’s all about, which increases your exposure and gets more people to your website without costing you anything extra.

SumoMe is free but they also have some paid plans available.  I’d suggest starting out with free and if you like it you can always upgrade.

Plugin #5:  TinyMCE Advanced

In WordPress when you’re creating a new page / post or editing an existing one, the formatting options are pretty limited.  You get the basic stuff like Bold, Italics, lists, etc.  But there isn’t a way to make the text bigger or to change the font or even underline text.

TinyMCE Advanced is a free plugin that lets you customize the tools available in the WordPress editor.  You can just click and drag the tools you want and even rearrange things so the ones you use most often are the easiest to find.

It’s a pretty simple plugin but it’s nice to have more control over the editing tools available.

Once you install it, you’ll need to go to the settings page for it and customize the toolbar the way you want and save your changes.  Then, when you go to edit a post or page, you’ll see the new options available.

Plugin #6:  WordPress SEO

You probably have heard of SEO (Search Engine Optimization).  It’s a way to let search engines like Google know what your website is all about and help you to rank better for certain search terms.

There are a lot of misconceptions about SEO.  It’s not magic and it’s not instant.  Like just about every other part of your business, to get results it takes time and/or money to see results.  You can’t install this plugin and thing people will just start finding your site right away.  You need to know a little bit about how SEO works (there is lots of free information online) and you’ll have to put in some time getting things set up or pay someone to do it for you.  And you won’t see results right away.  SEO takes time.  As I always say, SEO is a long-term strategy and shouldn’t be viewed as a replacement for marketing.

However, with that out of the way, SEO is a great way to attract people who may be searching online for solutions.  Those can be great leads because they’re actively searching for help you can provide – much better than trying to chase people.  I’ve made thousands of dollars from people who found me through search engines.  So it’s definitely worth pursuing.

WordPress SEO is a free plugin.  You just install it and then you have a new menu item called “SEO” where you can set up a few settings.  But you don’t need to do much there.  On each page of your site there is a section for SEO settings, since SEO is mostly something you do on a page-by-page basis.

One cool feature is that you can put in the keywords you’d like a certain page to be ranked for and it has a little guide that shows you how well you’re doing.  For example, maybe you put that you want your keywords are “wholesale real estate deals in Denver”.  It shows you different elements of the page, like the page title, web address, headings, content, etc. and how well each of those is doing for that search term.  It has a little red light if something is missing and a green light if you’re good to go.  Nice and easy.

Plugin #7:  WP-Property

This is actually the only plugin in the list that is designed specifically for real estate.

WP-Property is a free plugin for putting property listings on your website.  I’ve tried a few different ones and so far this one is my favorite.  It’s not perfect but pretty good.

One nice thing is that it’s pretty flexible.  You can change settings to make it work the way you want.  It’s not designed specifically for investors – it could be used by agents too.  But you can set it up how you want.

Once you install it on your site, you have a new menu item called “Properties”.  You can go there and click Add New to add one.  From that point, it’s pretty much like a WordPress page or post.  It uses the default editor.  So you can add a description, photos, etc.

It does add some extra options to the editor page, though, like pricing, a contact phone number, the address, etc.  If you add the address of the property, it will automatically generate a map.  With some types of deals you probably don’t want to use that.  But for others it might make sense.

I’ve found that on most sites some things don’t look quite right or work the way I want out-of-the-box and I have to change a few settings in the plugins options to make things work the way I want.  But the options are there and once I get it set up it works well.

Although the plugin itself is free, there are some paid add-ons available.  For example, there is one that lets other people submit properties to your site from the front end.  This might be good for bird dogs, for example.

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OK, so there we have it, the top 7 plugins for real estate investors.

*Just for full disclosure, two of the services I mentioned, BackupBuddy and Gravity Forms, have affiliate programs so I used my affiliate link for them.  That’s not why I recommended them by any means, but since I’m giving my honest recommendation and giving them referrals it just made sense to sign up for their affiliate program.  So you can say thanks by using my link if you want, but you don’t have to.

A Shortcut

If you’ve already got a WordPress-based site that’s working well for you, you can get these plugins added to it and make it even better.

If you don’t already have a site or if you don’t want to mess with installing plugins and just want a site that works, I’m giving away free websites for real estate investors to everyone reading this at:  DoneDealWebsite.com!

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How to Make Automatic Backups of a WordPress Site

 

Click here to skip to the step-by-step instructions below.

You probably already know why it’s important to back up your WordPress site – lots of things could go wrong:  hackers could break and in and mess everything up, the database could become corrupt and you lose all your content, your server could crash, you could install a plugin or theme that breaks things, rabid robots could attack… well, maybe not the last one. Continue Reading →

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Online File Backup Services – a Good Way to Protect Your Data

I don’t know about you, but I have had hard drives crash a number of times.  If you haven’t had it happen yet, it will sooner or later.  No matter what kind of backups you have in place, it’s going to be a frustrating experience and a big pain.  But you can take steps to keep it from being worse than it has to be.

Whether you have irreplaceable photos and documents or important work files that spent hours to create or can’t be re-created, you can’t afford to lose your files.

Maybe you’re weighing the pros and cons of an external hard drive versus an online backup service.  If so, I would strongly suggest using both.

An external hard drive is nice because you can set it up to happen automatically as long as the hard drive is connected to your computer.  If your computer’s hard drive crashes, an external hard drive is the quickest way to get your data back.  Let’s say you get the hard drive in your computer replaced and you’re starting from a blank slate.  You can plug in your external hard drive and start copying the files and they’ll be back there within minutes or hours, depending on how many files you have.

An online backup service is going to take longer to transfer your files because you have to download them all from the service.  Depending on your internet speed, it could take anywhere from hours to days.

So maybe you’re thinking, “OK, so an external hard drive is the way to go.”  Before making that decision, you need to consider some serious limitations of an external hard drive.

Reasons an external hard drive is not enough:

  • External hard drives crash too, and pretty often.  I don’t know if it’s because they get moved around or what, but I’ve had about 5 or so external hard drives stop working.  I wouldn’t say they all crashed, but several just stopped powering on when connecting them to my computer.  You just never know when they’ll stop working.  It could be at the worst possible moment, such as when you’re computer’s hard drive crashes.
  • What if your house gets struck by lightning or there is a power surge?  I know, you may be thinking, “I use a surge protector so I’m OK.”  That would be nice, but surge protectors do fail sometimes, and especially against lightning.  I talked to a guy who had his computer and other electronics connected to a surge protector and his house was struck by lighting and it blew the whole outlet out of the wall that everything was plugged into and everything was fried.  It can happen.  If your hard drive is connected to your computer or plugged into electricity, you could lose both your computer and your backup at the same time.
  • What if someone breaks in and steals your computer and external hard drive?  Regardless of how much crime there is in your area, you just never know when someone could break in.  If the thief is smart, they’ll focus on electronics and other valuables.  So your computer and hard drive could both be stolen at the same time.
  • What if your house is hit by a natural disaster?  Whether it be a flood, earthquake, tornado, hurricane, etc., no area is immune to natural disasters.  Of course you hope you’re not hit, but what if you are?  What if you lose all your possessions?  Your irreplaceable photos and files could all be wiped out.
  • What if your computer gets infected by a virus and it gets onto your external hard drive too?  If you get a nasty virus on your computer and your external hard drive is connected, your files there could be infected as well.  Of course, if you don’t catch it fast enough it’s possible infected files could be backed up on an online file backup service, but many of these services keep previous versions of your files too.  So even if infected versions of your files get backed up online, you could potentially find the older versions of your files and get everything back to the way it was.

There are probably other reasons too, but I think you can see that an external hard drive is not enough if you want to really protect your files.

This is where online file backup services come in handy.  No matter what it is that happens to your computer and/or external hard drive, your files will still be safe and secure online.  When you get your computer back up and running or get a new one or whatever, you can download your important files and have everything back.

Many online backup services let you also access your files from multiple locations such as from your mobile device like an iPhone/iPad, etc.

I’ve tried a few different methods of doing online backups, such as Google Drive, GoodSync, Mozy, etc.  I had high hopes about Google Drive, but it flat out failed.  Maybe they’ll eventually get the issues resolved, but I fought with it for weeks and ended up with a big mess that took me a while to straighten out.  I was using GoodSync to sync files with my Amazon S3 account.  In my experience, often the backups just didn’t take place.  Again, maybe they’ve resolved their issues by now but when I tried it, I had problems and my files weren’t backed up.

I’m currently using Mozy, but I’m honestly not a big fan.  I’ll tell you about a new service I’m going to try in just a moment.  For me, Mozy runs really slowly.  Any time I try opening the software to change settings or anything I have to wait what feels like forever for anything to open.  My computer is not that slow.  I use it a lot for web development, graphic design, audio editing, etc. and all the other software works quickly.  Mozy, on the other hand, is very, very slow.

I also had a bad experience the one time I needed to restore a file from Mozy.  To make a long story short, I needed an older version of a file than the most recent backup.  I didn’t see a way to get it through Mozy.  It’s possible they didn’t have that feature at the time, but I see on their website that they do say they keep older versions for 30 days.  Whatever the case, I didn’t find a way to get the older file.  I really don’t like their software interface.  I find it awkward and very slow.

Another limitation with Mozy is the amount of space they give you.  I keep upgrading to buy more space but it’s not enough.  I have a lot of large files because I do some video and audio editing, as well as Photoshop files and others that take up a lot of space.  Not to mention my personal photos and music.

I recently came across a service that I’m going to try out called LiveDrive.  For one thing, their basic plan gives you unlimited space, which is really nice.  It can also work out to be a lot more affordable than other services I’ve tried, especially if you pay for a year or two in advance.  As of right now, it can be as low as $3/month if you pay for two years at once.

They also have other packages where you can keep files in sync between multiple computers/devices.  They keep 30 versions of uploaded files, so if something happens to the most recent version, such as if you accidentally messed up the file or if it gets infected with a virus, you can go back to an earlier version.

You can even stream your movies and music.  That’s pretty cool.  Movies and music take up a lot of space.  If you can put them online and stream them, you can get them off your hard drive.

So I’m going to give LiveDrive a try.  It looks pretty nice.  I’ll try to update this post later to let you know how it goes.  But I’d recommend giving it a try.  They have a 14-day free trial, so there’s nothing to lose for testing it.

As I mentioned, the best thing is to have a combination of backups – an external hard drive, which is quick and convenient to restore from, along with an online backup service which gives you off-site protection in case something were to happen to not only your computer but your backup hard drive as well.

Hopefully you never have to use your backups, but chances are you will sooner or later.  Be sure your backups are there when you need them.

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Promoting Your Brand By Giving Away Promotional Products

coffee_cup_your_business_hereDo people know your brand?  Often branding is something that business owners overlook, but it’s something that can make a big difference in the long run.  Today I’m going to talk about one method of promoting your brand:  using promotional products that you can give away to customers or potential customers.

Promoting your brand is different than advertising in general.  When you advertise, you might be promoting a certain product or service you offer, or a special you’re running.  When you promote your brand, though, you’re really promoting the image that you want people to have of your business.  You’re promoting your business as a whole.  You’re also putting your name out there in as many places as possible to raise awareness of your business.  Online you can find many tools for branding.  For instance, there are companies that print your logo and marketing message on promotional products such as pens, t-shirts, frisbees, stress balls, you name it.

For instance, here’s a company that will make all kinds of stuff for you:  Pens.com (they do much more than just pens)

How to not have your promotional items end up in the trash…

We’ve all received free stuff with someone’s business logo on it.  Do things like that actually work?

They can work, if you think it through, but there are several things to consider.  For instance, before having 5,000 mouse pads made, ask yourself how many of your target customers use mouse pads.  If most use laptops (with a built-in touch pad) or maybe a tablet like an iPad, then what’s going to happen to those mouse pads?  They’ll probably end up in the trash, in the bottom of someone’s closet, or in a box of free stuff at a yard sale.  Not to say that you shouldn’t use mouse pads, but I’m just saying think about your target customers and whether they’re likely to use whatever it is you’re giving them.

The same with t-shirts, they can be effective if people are proud of your product/service and glad to promote it, or if the shirt says something clever or funny.  The idea is nice:  have people wear a t-shirt with your marketing message and they’re like a walking billboard, promoting your business everywhere they go.  But if you’ve ever looked through t-shirts at Goodwill, you’ll know the racks are full of promotional t-shirts that people have gotten rid of because they don’t wear them.  Often they’re plain, boring shirts that most people don’t actually want to wear and even Goodwill can’t get rid of them.  Again, t-shirts could be effective if you put some thought into it, but if you just order a bunch of plain t-shirts with your logo on them and don’t put some thought into it, they’ll never make it out of the closet and into the public where people will see your message.

One other caution:  Before ordering a ton of a particular item, get a sample or a small order and test it out yourself.  You want to make sure the product serves whatever purpose it’s supposed to serve.  For instance, we’ve all received free pens with people’s logo and phone number.  But how often do those pens actually work?  Most of the ones I’ve received don’t write half the time so I throw them out.  How frustrating is it having a pen that doesn’t write?  You don’t want people to see your logo and think “frustration”.  If the product doesn’t work, no one is going to use it.  Get a sample and make sure it works as intended.

A true story about why you should get a sample before placing a big order

I learned this lesson the hard way.  I wanted to order some promotional products to give out to my customers to help generate future business.  But I didn’t want to get the typical stuff you see all the time – pens, calendars, etc.  I wanted something unique that my customers would actually use and see often.  Well, I found this little product that was really cool – a USB-powered coffee warmer.  It’s a small device that plugs into the USB port on your computer and it’s basically like a little hot plate, like the area on the bottom of a typical coffee maker that keeps the bottom of the coffee pot warm.  I thought the idea was really cool.  Lots of people enjoy sitting down at the computer with a cup of coffee, but as your coffee starts to cool off, it’s just not as enjoyable.  So being able to keep it hot was appealing.  It seemed simple, unique, and useful.  I knew it was something I would use myself, which is a good sign.

I was envisioning my customers sitting down to their computer, plugging in their little coffee warmer, and enjoying their cup of coffee and mentally thanking me for providing it each time they use it.  And, it’s perfect because I was providing a web-based service, and they’d have this little device next to their computer, so they’d see it every time they’re at their computer.  If they needed something I could help them with, I’d be the first one they’d think of.  And even if they didn’t need something specific, I’d have my website address on the coffee warmer, and maybe they’d even pull up my site periodically out of curiosity to see what’s new.

Well, it sounded nice in my head.  So I ordered about 100 of the little coffee warmers at about $3 each.  I was so excited when they arrived.  I had to open one right away to see if it really worked.  I opened the package, plugged it into my computer and turned it on, and sure enough, it got hot.  But then the next morning, I sat down with my coffee, looking forward to having it stay warm all morning, but something was wrong…  The little device got hot, but my coffee still got cold.  What was the problem?

Well, think about how coffee cups are designed.  They always have a little lip at the bottom.  The actual bottom of the cup is just slightly raised.  I’m guessing it’s partially to keep the heat from the coffee from damaging something you may set your coffee cup on, and maybe partially to keep your coffee warmer longer.  Whatever the case, the surface of the bottom of the cup didn’t come into contact with the coffee warmer.  I went to the cupboard to see if I had a different type of cup, but they’re all made that way.  A coffee warmer that doesn’t warm your coffee is not very useful.  I couldn’t send them out to customers because they would think they were defective.  In reality they weren’t, but the design was flawed.  The last thing you want is to have your customers associate you with the words “defective”, “flawed”, or “poor quality”.

In the end I ended up donating them to Goodwill, a $300 lesson learned:  Test the product before having a lot made, and of course before sending them to your customers.

However, despite the mistake I made, hopefully you can see how if you avoid a few common pitfalls and put some thought into your promotional items, you can effectively promote your brand.  If you give people something they will actually use and be glad to receive, they’ll be reminded of your business every time they see and use the item, and when they have a need for the product/service you offer, you’ll be the first one they think of.

Be generous with handing out the promotional items.

Ideally, you want them primarily in the hands of people who are most likely to become (or remain) your customers.  But don’t be stingy either.  Even if the person taking the item doesn’t become your customer, maybe someone in their house, or someone they come in contact with will need what you provide.  Maybe they will see your promotional item, or maybe they’ll ask their friend if they know anyone who provides what you do, and they’ll think of you.

Last summer I went to an outdoor festival and a company had a tent set up with lots of promotional items, mostly koozies and frisbees, tons and tons of them.  Well, I actually wanted a frisbee so I went up and asked if I could have one.  After talking with the girl I realized she was just a volunteer working at the festival and not any kind of representative from the company.  Apparently the promotional items were supposed to be prizes for winning these little games like where you toss a beanbag into a target.  So I thought, fine, I’ll play the game.  So I did, and I tossed the beanbag into the target a few times and went back to see if I could get a frisbee.  Well, the girl didn’t want to give me one.

It was obvious that she wasn’t given very clear instructions about her purpose in working at the booth.  She seemed to think her purpose was to guard these giant piles of koozies and frisbees, but I’m sure the company had in mind giving away as many as possible.  I’m sure the games were just an excuse to give them away and to attract attention.  In the end, I finally talked the volunteers into giving me a frisbee, but it wasn’t easy.  At the end of the day, I’m sure the company giving away the promotional items was confused about why no one took them.  Anyway, the point is, be generous with your promotional items.  You never know where they may end up or who may see them.

Giving promotional items to existing customers can help generate repeat business, and giving them to potential customers can generate new business.

How do you give out the items?

If you have a physical store, you could give the items away there.  If you have an online business, you can mail them out, either to people who have done business with you in the past, or if someone places a new order with you, send it out to them then.  If you’re selling physical products already, just toss the promotional item in the box with whatever they ordered.  If you go to any kind of trade shows or other places where lots of people from your industry are gathered together, that’s a great place to give out these items.  A lot of it depends on what kind of business you’re in, but get creative with it.

People love free stuff, especially if it’s something useful.  So giving out promotional products with your brand on it is a great way to help your business grow.

Ready to get started?

Visit a site like Pens.com and browse through the different categories.  You’ll find some cool stuff and get some ideas for creative ways to promote your business.

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WordPress Customization for Wholesale Real Estate Client

We just finished a WordPress customization project for a client who sells wholesale real estate in Arizona.

We have lots of experience working with real estate investors, having set up websites for hundreds of investors over the years.  So this was right up our alley.

The project consisted of taking a WordPress theme that was designed for real estate agents, where they can list their properties on their site, and customizing the design, layout, creating custom graphics, and tweaking the site to be geared toward wholesale real estate instead of retail real estate.

The site has a featured property slider at the top of the home page.  The individual property listing pages have thumbnails of the photos and when you click on it brings up a slideshow of the photos for that property.  It automatically inserts a Google Map on the page with the property’s location marked on the map.

It has contact forms that are tied in with the MailChimp autoresponder service.

We may do a little more tweaking here and there or add some features in time, but all in all it turned out pretty well.

The site is AZwholesalebuy.com

Do you need a custom real estate site or WordPress customization?  Contact us today!

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WordPress or Blogger: Blogger vs. WordPress

Ok, so you’re trying to decide which blogging platform is better between WordPress or Blogger?  I’ll cover some of the advantages and disadvantages of each, and different scenarios where one is better than the other.

First, you need to be aware that there are two different types of WordPress:  1) hosted and 2) self-hosted.

Hosted WordPress means you’re using WordPress.com and you just create an account on their site and basically let them handle all the technical stuff.  You sign up and instantly have a site.  Your URL (web address) will look like http://yourname.wordpress.com (you can use your own domain name too, but this is how it is by default).

Self-hosted WordPress means you have your own website hosting account and domain name.  So you register a domain name (like yourname.com) somewhere like GoDaddy, then you sign up for a hosting account somewhere like HostGator, install WordPress (either manually by downloading it from WordPress.org or through a one-click install option provided by your hosting company), and you’re responsible for the technical side of things like updating WordPress.

Blogger is pretty similar to hosted WordPress, the first option listed above.  You go to blogger.com, create an account and everything is hosted on their site.  By default your website address will be yourname.blogspot.com, but they also have an option for using a custom domain name (yourname.com).

The big question is:  Are you setting up your new site to make money or is it just for fun?

This will have a big impact on which route you choose.

Money-Making Blogs/Websites

If your goal is to make money from the site, in most cases the answer is pretty clear that you’re better off going with self-hosted WordPress.  Not that it’s your only option, but often is the best one.

Why?

If you want to make money from your blog/website, you need to have control over your site.  You need to be able to set things up exactly the way you want, not being stuck working within the boundaries someone else has set.  Self-hosted WordPress is the most flexible option and has the potential to work just about any way you can imagine.

  • Blogger has a couple ways to monetize your site, primarily through Google Adsense, but also Amazon Associates program.  I looked through their terms of service and content policy and didn’t see anything that would prevent you from using their service for affiliate marketing or other typical methods of monetizing a blog.  The main downside is that you’re limited in what you can do to with the layout/look of your site.  They have some nice options built in, but you are limited to what they provide.
  • You can use WordPress.com (hosted) for business purposes, but mainly just for relationship-building purposes, like a realtor or lawyer who gives tips to their potential clients in hopes of getting their business.  That’s pretty different than directly making money from your blog.  WordPress.com (hosted) does allow certain types of ads on your site, but there are so many scenarios that can get your site removed, often with no way of saving all the hard work you’ve done in creating your site, and it’s just not worth it.If you want to do affiliate marketing, which is how a lot of bloggers make money from their sites, you definitely don’t want to use WordPress.com (hosted). WordPress.com lists what types of blogs are and aren’t welcome on their service and it specifically mentions says affiliate marketing blogs are not allowed on their service.  They also don’t allow sites that they consider to be “SEO blogs”, written more for getting search engine traffic than providing value to users.  That’s understandable, but where do they draw the line between that and a site that’s just properly search engine optimized?  I don’t want to find out.
  • On a self-hosted WordPress site, the sky is the limit.  As long as you’re not doing anything illegal, you can do pretty much whatever you want with your site.  You have complete control over how it looks and how you make money with your site.  Besides all the free themes (templates/designs) available, there are lots of “Premium” (usually meaning you have to pay for them) WordPress themes available.  So you can often find a design you like.  And if not, you can have one custom-made.  Granted, unless you find a theme that’s exactly what you want, it does require some technical skill to get a site customized, but there are lots of tutorials online or you can hire someone to help you or do it for you.  Plus there are tons of plugins that you can add to your site that will do just about anything you can imagine – things that you’d otherwise have to hire a programmer to build.  So you can have a powerful site using things other people have already created.

Personal / Just-for-fun blogs

If you’re looking to build a site that you don’t intend to make money from, here are some pros and cons of each:

  • Blogger.comPros: If you just want easy, this is a good way to go.  The interface is pretty self-explanatory and easy to figure out and use.  So if you just want to get started quickly, Blogger is a good option.  If you already have a Google account, such as Gmail, you don’t need to create a new account but can use the same login.  My first real blog was on Blogger.  I wasn’t too picky about how it looked and was fine with just going with one of their pre-made templates.  I didn’t need to do anything too fancy with it, I just wanted to get started.  Another benefit was that I would sometimes get some traffic to my site from people searching on Google’s Blog Search.  You have a fair amount of customization available with the look of your site and customizing it is pretty easy, and if you’re more technically inclined you can even edit the HTML of the template.  Even if your primary concern isn’t making money from your site but you wouldn’t mind making a little here and there, or at least have the option to do so, it’s easy to add Google Adsense to your site.Cons: If you’re more picky about the look of your site and have something more specific you want, or if you’re technically inclined and want more control over your site and like to work “under the hood”, you might prefer WordPress.
  • WordPress.com (hosted)Pros: Also quick and easy to sign up.  There are lots of themes (designs/templates) to choose from, including some premium ones that you have to buy.  If you like control, it does seem to give you more control over Blogger.  There are lots of options.  It basically is like the self-hosted version of WordPress, but with a lot of the popular plugins and features already installed.  It’s easier to get started with than the self-hosted version of WordPress.  One nice feature is that if you want to get started easy but think you may later want to move to a self-hosted WordPress site, it does provide an Export option where you can export your data and import it into your new self-hosted site.Cons: I think there is more of a learning curve with WordPress than Blogger.  It has lots of features and options, but that can overwhelm new users.  It can take a while to figure out out to make it do what you want.  Some of the basic tasks are pretty easy to figure out, but other things can take a while to figure out.  The first time you log in and see the menu that stretches from the top of your browser window, beyond the bottom, full of options, it can be a little overwhelming.  Also, if you decide you want ads on your site, like Google Adsense, well, you can’t.  Also, WordPress may sometimes show ads on your site.  If you don’t want ads on your site you have to pay to upgrade.  If there are specific WordPress themes or plugins you want to use, if they’re not installed by default, it’s not possible to install them on your site.
  • WordPress self-hostedPros: This is the most flexible option if you know exactly how you want your site to look or if you want complete control over it.  There isn’t much you can’t do with it.  You can use any theme (design/template) you want, any plugins you want, and if you feel so inclined, you can edit any code you want and make things work however you want.  Or you can build your own from scratch or hire someone else to.Cons: As with WordPress.com, the self-hosted solution also has quite a learning curve.  Some of the menus are just not very intuitive and you can spend a long time hunting for something that seems like it should be simple.  In addition to that, there is some expense involved.  You have to buy a domain name and pay for web hosting on an ongoing basis.  Getting WordPress installed on your site takes more technical skill as well.  Fortunately, some web hosts have one-click install options available to make it easier, but it’s still a little more work than just signing up on someone else’s website like Blogger and hosted WordPress.com.

Did you find this helpful?  Or do you have something to add?  Please let me know by leaving comments below.

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WordPress Help

Do you need help with WordPress?

You’re in the right place!

Besides offering some free tips and training on our website, I also provide personal, one-on-one WordPress help via phone, e-mail, Skype, etc.

My name is Todd Heitner and I love helping people with WordPress.  I use it almost daily, both on my own sites and those of my clients.  As you can imagine, I’ve run into all kinds of different scenarios that I’ve had to find solutions for.

So whether you just need help learning the ropes and using the basic features, or if you have a more complex problem you need to solve, I’d love to help you.  Or maybe you just need to know the best plugin to use for a particular purpose.

Also, I can either solve the problem for you or teach you how to do whatever it is you’re trying to do.  I realize there are some things you’d like to learn how to do yourself, especially if it’s something that needs to be done on a regular basis.  But then there are other situations where you just want a solution so you can get on with your life.  So I can fix the problem or do whatever technical stuff needs to be done to accomplish what you’re trying to do.

For my current rate or more information, visit this page:

WordPress Coaching, Consulting and Support

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Edit Audio File

Are you looking for someone to edit your audio file?

We provide audio editing services.  We primarily work with editing speech, like cutting out unwanted parts and making your recording sound more professional.  We can also mix in music if you need that.

Whether you have a podcast, an interview, an audio book, a presentation, etc. we can edit your file to make it sound better.

Don’t make a poor impression because of flaws in your recording.  Often many of the mistakes can be removed and no one would ever know they were there.

Check out our audio editing page for pricing and other details.

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How to Record a Podcast – Single Person

This is a straight-to-the-point tutorial about how to record your own podcast. This tutorial will assume you only need to record one person speaking (as opposed to an interview or group discussion).

Here’s an overview of what you’ll need:

  • A computer (of course)
  • A microphone
  • A software program to record

You don’t need anything special when it comes to the computer, so we won’t go into much detail about that.  Just about any computer should do the trick.  You’ll just want to make sure your hard drive isn’t too full and you have space for the recording.

Microphone

Many laptops have a built-in microphone, but I wouldn’t recommend using that for recording a podcast.  On the other hand, you also don’t need to go out and buy an expensive studio-quality microphone to get a decent recording.

About the simplest thing is to buy a headset with a built-in microphone.  There are different types.  Some have two plugs, one to plug in to the microphone jack on your computer, and the other to plug in to the headphone jack.  These are OK and would probably do the job.  You can get one pretty cheap, usually around $10.

For instance, here’s one of this type:

Cyber AcousticsStereo Headset/Microphone, Ambidextrous design AC-201

But I’ve had better success with the type that connect by USB.  These have just a single cable that plugs into a USB slot on your computer.

I’ve found the USB-style headsets tend to sound a little better, at least the ones I’ve tried.  If possible, I’d recommend getting one with a little foam wind screen on the microphone to cut down on popping sounds, like when you say words starting with the letter “p”.  These type of headsets may cost a little more, but are still pretty reasonable.  You can usually get one for $30 or less.

For instance, here’s one for under $20 on Amazon.com:
Microsoft LifeChat LX-3000 HeadsetComputer Headsets & Microphones)

 

The Software

You’ll need a program to be able to record your audio.  There are lots of programs out there, ranging from free to hundreds of dollars, but there is a free program that works well for most things, and I’d recommend using it.

It’s called Audacity.  It’s open source and free.  Plus it’s pretty easy to use and has some really nice features.  Just download it, install it, and you’re ready to get started.

Download Audacity

There is one other thing related to the software that you’ll probably want.  You’ll probably want to export your recording as an MP3 file.  To do that, you’ll need to follow the instructions on this page to be able to do that.  You just have to install another small program to give you the ability to export as MP3.  It’s also free.

Getting Ready to Record

Check Settings

Now that you’ve got all the equipment you need, it’s time to start recording.

Chances are, you can just open Audacity and click the Record button and start recording.  But it’s not a bad idea to check a few settings first.  For instance, you want to make sure Audacity is using the correct microphone.  There’s not much point in doing this if you’re using one of the type of headsets that has two plugs that plug into the microphone and headphone jacks.  But if you’re using a USB-type headset, you should check it.

Go to Edit -> Preferences

Under “Recording”, you’ll see “Device”.  Make sure your headset microphone is selected.  If not, select it from the drop-down menu and click OK.

Quiet on the set

Before you record, do what you can to make sure you won’t have any interruptions or noise in the background of the recording because this can really decrease the quality.  Try to find a quiet room with no barking dogs, crying children, etc.  Don’t have a fan blowing directly on you because this will cause wind noise on the microphone.  In fact, it’s better not to have anything like a fan running in the room at all if possible because it creates background noise.  Listen carefully for any humming noises or anything that might get picked up in the recording.

Also don’t move around a lot because it’s easy to bump the mic.  And don’t try to multi-task and be typing on the computer or other things because that sound will get picked up.  When you make your recording, give it your complete attention.

Adjust the microphone

Make sure the microphone is close to your mouth.  Not so close that your lips will be hitting it when you talk, but close.  Pay attention to the position of the microphone.  It’s easy to forget this and end up with a quiet recording because the microphone was too far away from your mouth.  Also, if you’re making multiple recordings or if you’re recording your podcast in small chunks, you want to make sure the microphone is always the same distance from your mouth or you’ll end up with variations in the volume and quality of your recording.

Do a Test Recording

Before you jump in and record an hour worth of audio, record just a couple minutes then listen to it and see if anything needs to be adjusted, such as the distance of the mic from your mouth, the microphone volume, something that’s creating background noise, etc.  You’ll be really disappointed if you record what you think is a ‘perfect take’ only to discover there is a problem with the recording and you can’t use it.

Record

Recording is really simple in Audacity.  Just click the button with the big red circle on it and start talking.  When you’re finished, click the Stop button (the button with a square on it).

Save Your File

You obviously don’t want your efforts to be wasted so be sure to save your file.  Click File -> Save Project As.

Find where on your computer you want to save it, give it a name, and click Save.

Keep in mind, the file you just saved is not an MP3 or anything else that you’d normally send to anyone else to let them listen.  This just saves your work.  Audacity has its own type of files for projects that allow you to do lots of editing and even have multiple track of audio, apply labels/notes at different points of the recording, etc., all things that won’t be visible when you finally produce the file in MP3 or other format for other people to listen to.

Export Your Audio

Once you’ve got the recording sounding the way you want, it’s time to export it in a format that other people can listen to, such as MP3.

Go to File -> Export

You can select where on your computer you would like to save the file.

There is a drop-down menu where you can select what type of file you want.  To be able to export to MP3 you have to follow the instructions listed above under “The Software”.

There are lots of formats available, but I’ll use MP3 as an example.  Once selecting MP3, you’ll want to click Options.  This allows you to choose the quality settings.

If your audio needs further editing by a professional (we offer audio editing services), you’ll want to use a fairly high quality setting.  If your recording contains only speech, you can get by with a lower quality setting than if it contains music.  For speech-only, select “Average” for the Bit Rate Mode and select 96kbps.  If it contains music, use 192kbps, or do Variable bit rate and 170-210kbps.

If, on the other hand, your recording is good enough and ready to be posted online, you can use lower settings for your output file.  If your recording contains speech only, you can use “Average” for the Bit Rate Mode and select 64kbps.  If it contains music, either select Average and 128kbps or you can select Variable and 95-135kbps and Joint Stereo.

Click Save and your file will start to be prepared.  Depending on how long your recording is, it will take anywhere from a few seconds to multiple minutes.

Congratulations!  You’ve just recorded your first podcast.

If you need audio editing services, please let us know.  We can help you sound more professional.  We can cut out things you don’t want to be in the recording, mix in music, and more.  Audio Editing Service

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How to Register a Domain Name For Your Business

Below you’ll find step-by-step instructions for how to register a domain name for your business.  Click play on the video to watch me take you through the process.  Or, below the video you’ll find a summary of the steps in text format.  Be sure to leave a comment if you found this helpful.

[flv]http://servesense.s3.amazonaws.com/media/video/tutorials/how_to_register_domain_name.mp4[/flv]

A domain name is the name of your website, like YourBusiness.com.  There are many sites where you can register a domain name, but be sure to use a company with a good reputation.  GoDaddy is one of the biggest companies.

Visit www.GoDaddy.com

Decide what you’d like your domain name to be.  If your business is primarily local, where people come to your store, you probably want to try to get your business name as the domain name, to build your brand.  For instance, if your business is “Joe’s Cakes”, you’d probably want to try to get “joescakes.com”, or if that’s not available, add your city name, such as “joescakesbaltimore.com”.

If most of your business will be done online and your primary focus is to get people to your website, you might want to try to get a domain name that contains the keywords people might be searching for online to get to your site.  For instance, let’s say I had a business called “Todd’s Shoes” but I primarily sold the shoes online, and they were discount shoes, I might think of what people would be searching for who would be looking for what I offer.  So I might try something like discountshoes.com, cheapshoes.com, or if those aren’t available, toddscheapshoes.com.

Don’t be too surprised if the first domain name you search for is not available.  You’d be surprised how many domains are already registered.  But keep searching and you’ll find something that’ll work.  Sometimes they’ll offer to let you “backorder” domain names.  Don’t mess with that, it’s a waste of money.  It just means someone else already has the domain name you want and, if by some small chance at some point in the future they failed to renew it, you might have a shot at getting it.  But it’s not going to help you right now, and likely the domain will never become available and you will have wasted that money.  So I don’t recommend using that “backorder” option.

Once you find a domain you like, there should be a button to Continue or Checkout.  Be prepared to be upsold on tons of different add-ons.  In many cases you don’t need any of them.  And if you decide later that you do, you can always add them on later.  For instance, they’ll try to sell you hosting.  If you’re hosting your website somewhere else (and I’d recommend it), you don’t need to buy hosting from them.

So skip past all that stuff unless you see something you need.  You can choose the length of your registration.  If you’re not sure if this is the domain you’re going to use long term, or not sure if you’ll be doing this business more than a year down the road, you can choose 1 Year.  Otherwise, I’d recommend going with multiple years.  One reason is that some people feel it has a positive influence on how sites like Google view and rank your website.  Registering your domain for multiple years usually indicates you’re more serious about your business and likely to be around long term.  There is some debate about this and I’m sure it has minimal impact, but it’s just something to keep in mind.

When you’re on the checkout page, it’s good to look over things to make sure you didn’t accidentally add something to your cart that you didn’t mean to.

You’ll need to create an account if you don’t already have one.  One step a lot of people overlook is the step where you create your login name.  By default it’s just a bunch of numbers (which is your customer ID), which you’ll never remember, so it’s best to create a custom login ID.  Most of the other stuff they ask for is pretty standard.  One exception is a call-in PIN #.  This is just a 4-digit code that would be hard for someone else to guess, so that if you need help and call in for support, they can verify that you are the owner.  You don’t want anyone else messing with your domain names, so it’s good to set this to something hard to guess.

Other than that, just follow the instructions on the screen and go through to checkout.

Congratulations, you’ve just registered your domain name!

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