Best Managed WordPress Hosting? WPEngine. No Contest.

10 years. That’s about how long I’ve been working with WordPress sites. It’s grown from a simple blogging platform, so a fully fledged content management system that most use for their website needs, regardless of how they use it. If you’re reading this, chances are you’re currently researching WordPress hosting. Let me make it very simple for you. Stop. This blog post can end any questions you have about who to choose for your managed WordPress hosting. It’s WPEngine. By a long shot. Let’s chat briefly why, and if you’re not convinced after reading through this, caveat emptor.

First, let’s get the obvious out of the way. Yes, this post is designed to earn referrals with WPEngine, but that doesn’t mean what I’m sharing here isn’t 100% on point. WPEngine is a phenomenal hosting company first, and guess what? They’re also a phenomenal affiliate program. Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s break down why you shouldn’t even bother with anyone else when it comes to shopping for managed WordPress hosting.

  1. The hosting is 99.999999% dependable. I’ve been with them for a few years now. Guess how many times any of my sites have been down? ZERO. I’d say 100% here, but nothing in life is that. Seriously, you can’t beat the reliability they offer.
  2. Your site will fly. The difference between the loading time of your site on WPEngine vs. the cheap options is staggering. I’ve used the cheap guys and they will slow your site down to a crawl on numerous occasions. With WPEngine my sites are always loading as quickly as they possibly can. Every time.
  3. The control panel is idiot proof. I’ve used GoDaddy, Bluehost, all the cheap offerings, and their control panels are a mess. WPEngine? Wonderfully designed, easy to use. Which means less time searching for answers or contacting support.
  4. Incredible features. They have so many useful features. The staging site feature is killer and so easy to use. You can work on your site or site redesigns outside your live install, and with the click of a button switch ’em. Awesome. Have a site you need to transfer in or out? Piece of cake. WPEngine makes it as easy as clicking a few buttons. Everything is on point and helps make hosting your site seamless.
  5. Unbeatable support. You ever tried getting on support with the cheap hosting companies? Have fun for the next hour or more. Any time I’ve ever had to reach out to support, I’m talking or chatting to someone within 5 minutes at most. Love it.

Everything can’t be rainbows and unicorns through right? Of course. You can’t host your email with WPEngine, so you’ll have to find alternative options in that regard. At first I found it a little cumbersome to deal with, but what I’ve learned over the years is that this is actually better. It allows WPEngine to focus on what they do best…host your WordPress site. Take your email to Google Apps or Office 365 where it belongs. It’s much more dependable and easier to manage. Plus most web hosting companies that offer email hosting have terrible user interfaces.

WPEngine is also more expensive than many of the cheap managed wordpress hosting companies. It’s easy to be enticed by the less than $10/month options, but trust me when I say you get what you pay for. If you’re serious about your website, be serious enough to pay a few extra bucks for all of the above. The speed, reliability, ease of use, and lack of headaches you’ll have are worth every penny. I’ve learned that a 1000 times over the past few years.

So end your search, take my word, you won’t be disappointed. And as always, feel free to reach out if you have any questions or want to discuss.

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Anatomy Of A Blog Redesign: Meet The Standard WordPress Theme

I have to admit, I’m a WordPress theme junkie.  I’m fascinated with the art of blog design, and I often find myself spending too much time browsing some of the industry leading WordPress theme sites.  My personal favorite site these days is certainly Themeforest as they have a tremendous variety of themes available.

I’m also guilty of growing bored with my theme design on about a yearly basis.  But rightfully so I believe.  Last year I paid a pretty penny for a custom site that initially I really liked, but just like anything, times change.  After a year of blogging, and watching the blogging landscape evolve, I felt the itch to update my look and feel again.  However I wasn’t interested in shelling thousands of dollars on blog that doesn’t really drive any income for me.  So I took to the web to find my next design.

[Read more…]

Klout Adds WordPress But Not For Self Hosted Blogs?

A few weeks ago I noticed that Klout had added the WordPress button to the available channels to connect to which was encouraging. Quite frankly I think those that write successful blogs carry more influence then just about anyone in the social media sphere, so a welcome addition. But not so fast. Apparently the new addition only covers WordPress.com hosted blogs and not self hosted blogs.

Why does this matter?  Anyone that goes to the trouble of self hosting a blog typically is serious about their blogging.  Most of the successful and lasting blogs you find online are self hosted.  This is not a knock on those that do on hosted platforms like WordPress.com, Blogger or Tumblr, they do exist.  But to not include and factor self hosted blogs is a serious miss on Klout’s part.

So you might be thinking, well maybe they are, it’s just that they’re working on it.  Apparently not based on this support thread on Klout’s own site.  Besides the awful, short and careless community support responses implying nothing else is on the way, there was no official announcement or acknowledgement of this.  Double fail.

Who knows, maybe they will eventually add this in the future, but without any transparent communication around it, we’re all left to wonder.  You’d think a company centered around social media would be a bit better with communication and community.

The How & Why I Re-Designed My Blog

For months I wanted to have my blog re-done, but I could never justify spending that much on something that quite frankly, didn’t really make me any money.  Great design costs quite a bit, and I just never felt my blog design was a high enough priority.  Of course I could go the free or premium theme route, but these days, they are all really looking quite the same and if I was going to change things up, I really wanted something unique that no one else could have.

Once I got the new job at Strategies 360, I felt the time was right.  My blog has opened up countless doors for me, so even though it does not directly make money for me, it most certainly indirectly does.  The time I’ve spent on this blog has certainly contributed to my success professionally.  I found a great designer by simply researching WordPress theme designers on Google that was priced well, and had a great portfolio.

If you’re ever considering a custom design, there are some great steps I recommend to ensure you end up getting what you really want.

  1. Take the time to find a designer who’s portfolio resonates with you.  Chances are if you really like the sites they’ve designed, they possess a style that will match your likes.
  2. Be VERY specific about what you want.  I actually took additional time to create a list of blogs that I loved, and what specifically I liked about them.  This cut down tremendously on the mock-up back and forth.  In fact, my designer practically nailed it on the first try.
  3. Get multiple quotes from desired designers.  The business is always up and down and depending on when you hit a designer, he may be willing to take less if work is scarce, but don’t nickel and dime.  A great designer is worth every penny and too often this talent is under appreciated.

However if the price tag always seems too high, your next best bet are from resources like Themeforest.net and ElegantThemes.com, 2 of my favorite premium theme sites.

I’m happy with version 1 of my new site and would love your feedback.  I look forward to writing more and taking advantage of the new outfit.

What I’ve Learned About Blogging Based On A Year’s Worth Of Data

I didn’t really get serious about blogging until the past year, and even then, I haven’t written as much as I would like.  Like many bloggers, I’ve gone in and out of writing, and that doesn’t help with maintaining a consistent flow of traffic to your blog.  At the end of the day, driving eyeballs to my blog isn’t really the ultimate goal, writing useful and appreciated content is.  But I like anyone loves to see people visit.  So I decided to dive deep into the analytics of my blog to get a true understanding of what has worked, what hasn’t, and pulling the curtain so that you can hopefully find some insights that you can find useful in your own blogging endeavors.

Let’s start with the following tables.  I’ve embedded them as images since WordPress doesn’t play too nice with real tables (please, anyone with any insights on this one, do share!).  My analysis and thoughts follow.

articles

These were the top 10 visited blog articles I wrote in the past year.  3 of these were lists (no surprise there).  Most achieved a Postrank of higher then 6, and 9 out of the 10 articles dealt with social media.  For those not familiar, Postrank is a nifty little WordPress plugin that provides some analysis into the social engagement factor of the content you create.  For more details on how they reach these measurements, see here.

traffic

In this table we have the top 10 sources of traffic including time spent on the site and bounce rate.  Based on these figures, Linked In is where I’m attracted my strongest audience followed closely by Twitter.  There’s differentiating opinion on what a good bounce rate is, but overall, mine is not where I would like it to be which means I most likely need to focus more on a specific topic.

keywords

Here’s the top 20 keywords that were used to find my site once again including time spent on the site from those searches, and the correlating bounce rates.

Based on the data above, here is what I’ve learned:

1. Use Concise & To The Point Titles – All 10 of my top blog posts in the past year have titles that were to the point.  Bottom line, make sure your readers know what you are linking to, and it’s more likely they’ll visit.

2. Stick To Writing What You Know – The bottom line is anytime I strayed away from blog articles about topics I had a relatively deep experience with, my traffic suffered.  9 of my top 10 blog articles are social media related.  It can be tempting to use your blog to rant about things, but if you are interested in building an audience, focus on a specific topic.

3. Find An Angle & Run With It – One of the most compelling things I found in my research, was around the topic of WordPress Social Media Plugins.  Based on the keyword research, it’s clear that the most impactful blogging I did was around this topic.  My bounce rates plummeted on these blog articles down to a healthy average around 50%, and these visitors spent the most time on my site.  It’s clear based on this data, that I’m providing content that resonates with those that find me through these keywords.  I should be focusing on this area more in my writing.  When you find your niche, don’t stop there, be as specific as you can.  Find ways to take those niches, and make them even more specific.  You’ll find a nice little audience waiting.

4. Be Timely – In my Olive Garden Facebook post, I wrote immediately following stumbling across the scammy offering in my news feed.  I garnered a quick audience on this post, and it was one of the most shared articles on my site.  It struck a cord with people, and I was the first (and really only) person to dedicate a blog post to it.  Of course I added a social media spin to it to make it more relevant to my blog, but at the end of the day, I drove quite a few new people to my blog and I would imagine a few new readers in the process.  This article alone still brings people to my site as shown in the keyword data above.  Of course this is not the most relevant audience as also seen in the time spent and bounce rates, but still contributes to overall traffic numbers.

5. Share Your Ah-Ha Moments – Back when the iPhone only supported one Exchange account, I was frustrated with not being able to use Exchange with both my work and Gmail accounts.  I had to dig deep to find a solution, and being frustrated with their not being an easier way to solve, I felt compelled to share my findings in a blog post.  As the data shows, I get a good % of my traffic just from this one blog post.  Now the smart thing for me would be to combine this approach with my bread and butter topic of WordPress Social Media plugins.  My guess is those would be very successful blog posts.

There’s obviously more to be learned here, but this is a start for me to try and improve my blogging approach.  Numbers are never the be all end all, so only use them to compliment other methods in measuring what works for your blog, but ensure you have free tools like Google Analytics and Post Rank set up so that you can quickly and easily get a pulse of your audience.