It’s been seven months since we made the switch. So far… not bad.
This is a post for bloggers and the blog-curious. I’m going to explain the technical details of the move and its revenue. I may omit some Google AdSense proprietary information limited by terms of service, but if you contact me then I’m happy to share that separately.
The biggest change was moving the blog from WordPress.COM (which offers free support for nearly everything) to WordPress.ORG open-source blogging software. WordPress.com is a benevolent dictatorship, and it’s fantastic for beginner bloggers. It was a big help when I started blogging. WordPress.com’s software is hosted by WordPress and locked down so that you can only install approved themes and plugins. You can use their version of advertising (“WordAds”) but nothing else. In exchange, they take care of security and backups and spam filtering and everything else a noob could hope to need. All you have to do is show up with content, and they’ll even help you with “how-to” posts and other inspirational suggestions.
WordPress.org is like moving off the military base to live in the civilian community. You’re responsible for everything that WordPress.com used to take care of, and now you either have to figure out how to do it yourself or find someone to do it for you. You pay for your own hosting (and other services) but you’re free to do just about whatever you want for blogging software, themes, plugins, advertising, marketing, and sales.
I’m glad that I started with WordPress.com and had a couple of years to figure out what the heck I wanted to do. But now the training wheels can come off so that I can ride happy, wild, & free…
The database move to Bluehost went flawlessly. One of my mentors referred the expert help of Scott at BlogCrafted.com. I signed up for a Bluehost account, turned over my Bluehost and WordPress passwords to Scott, and he did the rest. In retrospect, it was totally routine, even boring. Perfect. If I’d tried to do it by myself then it could’ve turned nasty in a nanosecond, especially if I’d misinterpreted a cryptic error message or checked the wrong box on a menu.
As soon as the blog went live on Bluehost, I started getting epic spam comments: over 500 per day. I thought it was just the price of moving out from under the protection of WordPress.com’s servers, and I resigned myself to frequently clearing out the spam queue. A few days after the move, Bluehost sent a customer survey so I commented that I sure had a lot of spam. (You can see the cumulative damage from the spam counter at the bottom of the sidebar.) Overnight Bluehost modified a setting on the shared resources server (the “htaccess” file) that stopped the spam cold. (And that’s as much as I know about the htaccess file!) Maybe once or twice a month I’ll get a spurt of 10-20 spam comments, and the rest of the month I’ll only have one or two a day.
Bluehost also offers backup services, website security, and search-engine optimization support. Some of them are “free with signup” while others are additional fees. I hope I never need to know how well Bluehost’s backups work, but I’ve heard plenty of other host horror stories so I also run my own backups. Security seems to be alert– the staff immediately let me know when Google blacklisted a site that I’d linked to, and they even nagged me every 24 hours until I took care of the bad link. I guess that means they’re doing a good job of watching out for my best interests. I haven’t used Bluehost’s SEO services but I guess they’re ready if I want them.
For the rest of this post, I’m going to praise some (presumed) blogging features and kvetch about others. I’m hoping that you’ve shared the same frustrations and maybe even found solutions for these issues. Please jump in with your comments and helpful suggestions, and I’ll see what I can do to improve the blog’s look & feel.
Genesis Framework for WordPress
The Genesis Framework appears to be a good idea. I say this because it’s applauded by bloggers and coders who are a lot smarter and more experienced than me. Presumably, most of what makes it so good is invisible to the average blogger, who never notices how stable and robust it seems to be. I haven’t noticed that either, but if it’s doing a good job for everyone else then I’d rather jump on the standards bandwagon. If I need to move the blog to a new host, or if I want to switch themes again, or if I start up another blog, then Genesis makes it a lot easier to handle these tasks.
Genesis is a StudioPress product of CopyBlogger Media, and I’m using their free Nomadic theme. I’d hoped that the transition would go better. For example, Nomadic had no idea that I’d assigned categories to the links in the blogroll. I ended up re-creating the categories and then going through over 150 links to re-assign them to the appropriate category. I also had to copy over the metatext descriptions that pop up when you hover your cursor over the link. (That metatext might have been buried in the SQL database, but Nomadic apparently wasn’t reading those fields.) Nomadic also has a hard time displaying very small font sizes, although I might be able to fix that by specifying my preferred Times New Roman font.
One of the nicer Genesis features is the ability to switch blog layouts with each individual post. Some features (like Planwise or 3D Hawaii) work best in a wider display without sidebars, and I can do that right from the control panel. So far it’s the only Genesis feature that I routinely use.
It turns out that I have no idea how to change the text font of a post in WordPress. I can probably figure that out with some HTML research (and I can do it in my word-processing software), but WordPress doesn’t seem to make it easy.
I have to admit that I don’t understand the advantages of FeedBurner well enough to install it, so I didn’t. One significant issue (for me, anyway) is that FeedBurner is now tied to a Google Account. I wasn’t going to link it to all of my other personal Google Account features because someday I might sell the blog. That meant creating a separate Google Account just to set up FeedBurner (and another Gmail address), which meant that I was logging in & out of separate accounts and hopping around chasing down error messages. It gets old fast.
After a couple hours of progressive frustration, I went with the familiar ol’ WordPress e-mail subscription and RSS feed buttons. I could see that I’d eventually beat FeedBurner into submission, but I just didn’t see the advantages over the WordPress features. Now that Google Reader is going away, the blogger community is wondering how much longer FeedBurner will be around. I’m going to sit on the sidelines for a few more months until the whole controversy shakes out.
Wow. Talk about being a kid in a candy store. In the case of WordPress.org plugins, over 24,000 of them.
Plugins are great, but they’re worth what you pay for them. Their real cost comes in the additional overhead of page loading time (for your readers) and the possibility of breaking other parts of your blog. I’ve tried really hard to hold myself to the plugins that really make a difference for you… and for me.
My first decision was to push the “Easy” button: the WordPress.org Jetpack plugin. It supplies most of the same blogging features that I’m used to from WordPress.com (with a few minor deficiencies). They add new features every few months, so by now I have everything I need and I don’t miss what I used to want. One advantage of Jetpack is that it runs off WordPress’ servers, not my host server, so it can help offload some host server traffic. Of course, if WordPress or Jetpack goes down then you’re royally screwed, but so far so good.
Speaking of “royally screwed”, my second plugin was BackWPUp and a Dropbox account. I want to make sure that I don’t have any trouble moving to a new host if Bluehost goes down or loses a backup. The most I’ll lose is a week of work.
I use another dozen plugins. They include Akismet to further control spam, Todd Tressider’s “Ultimate Financial Calculators” to insert into posts, and WhyDoWork AdSense to help display the ads. I’m also beta-testing CoSchedule, an editor’s plugin to integrate social media publicity with an editorial calendar. (So far it’s great.) If you want my full list of plugins then add a comment or contact me for the geeky details, but I think they’re pretty standard.
I signed up on 1 October, and after seven months I’m still feeling paranoid. Let me rant about the service. First, it rules the online advertising industry. Every major advertiser is afraid of being left out of Google AdSense, so nobody has mounted a strong competitive alternative. (There are rumbles, and Google may be their own worst enemy in this struggle.) For now, everyone toes the line for fear of being cut off from this de facto monopoly.
Cutoffs are happening more frequently, although it’s possible to violate an AdSense policy for months because enforcement is so unpredictable. (I wonder if Google has grizzled sergeants-major who stomp around every quarter reminding their platoon sergeants to crack down on blogger AdSense violations.)
I’ve always heard persistent rumors of blogger AdSense accounts being suspended, but now I’m reading about them first-hand in my blogger groups. AdSense sends a boilerplate e-mail citing “violation of terms of service” or “invalid clicks” and… you’re done. Bloggers usually have no idea how the specific violation happened, and it’s difficult to tell whether an AdSense human is even involved in the decision. (AdSense may not share the details because that data could be used to reverse-engineer or manipulate their advertising software.)
Sure, there’s an appeals process, with about the same benefits as your right to appeal the results of an IRS audit. However, I’ve only ever heard of one blogger getting their account reinstated. We have no reliable statistics on the number of existing AdSense bloggers publisher accounts or the number suspended or terminated, let alone a breakdown of the reasons. All we know is what we read about on blogger groups or hear when we huddle together around the fire at blogger meetups to whisper about the issues.
You’re also hostage to the AdSense terms of service. I’m a military nuclear engineer with a graduate degree in computer science– yet I think that even reactor plant manuals and nuclear missile publications have a better layout with simpler language. It can take an hour just to parse the AdSense TOS and translate its copious verbiage into a specific layout for your blog. Even then you may have an ad link too close to a title (readers might click an ad thinking that it’s your post), or your ad colors might be too similar to the post colors, or you used a phrase like “Cl**k h*re!” to generate an invalid click on an ad. (Yeah, that’s how scary it can be.)
Even worse, AdSense may trumpet a new feature in an e-mail (which you’ll keep in your IN box and get back to someday) yet restrict some of that feature’s policies in one of their AdSense blog posts (which you’ll forget about until you stumble across it again weeks or even months later).
Yet I completely understand why AdSense is a monopoly: it’s so freakin’ profitable. The blog immediately started earning over $100/month, even though it took me about 10 hours of reading & tweaking to set up the ads. Revenue has grown faster than blog traffic, with some days in double-digit dollars. AdSense even keeps adding larger formats (which advertisers outbid each other to use) and frequently sends helpful hints to us bloggers on what ad formats to put where. I thought that in 2013 I’d earn $2000 in AdSense revenue, but I may go over $3000. If I asked my daily readership to cough up that revenue in membership fees then you’d mutiny with pitchforks and torches, but the advertisers are happy to pay.
Next week I’ll describe some AdSense tweaks and other affiliate income.