My Favorite WordPress Tools and Plugins

Running a blog can be a lot of hard work, so today I’m sharing my favorite WordPress tools and plugins to help improve your site and simplify your life!


7 essential wordpress tools and plugins to  help improve your site  and simplify your life

1. Click To Tweet

This is the easiest way to get more shares for your content! This free plugin allows you to easily create tweetable snippets for your readers right from WordPress. Whoever clicks on the link will have the message automatically added to their Twitter status box. This makes it easy for people to share your content and grow your traffic.

2. HostGator Optimized WordPress

Optimized WordPress is a new hosting platform from HostGator that is specifically built for an optimized WordPress environment. Packages will come pre-loaded with PHP 5.6 by default (the most recent PHP version offered). HostGator will handle all of the core, theme, and plugin updates without the need for any action on your part. In other words, you won’t have to worry about logging into your WP-Admin panel to handle common updates. Additionally, Optimized WordPress does not provide cPanel access, allowing you to install and access your WordPress sites without needing to access or navigate an extra control panel to do the things you want to do.

3. Genesis Framework

The Genesis Framework empowers you to quickly and easily build incredible websites with WordPress. It’s well-coded and well-supported. The Genesis framework uses child themes so you can update without losing your customizations. It’s inexpensive with tons of possibilities and dedicated plugins. It comes with built-in features like multiple layouts, custom body post classes for each post, breadcrumbs and numeric navigation. Unlike other theme companies, StudioPress’s Pro-Plus Package is a one-time fee for life-time membership.

4. CoSchedule

I know I’ve mentioned CoSchedule here before, but it is one of my favorites and worth mentioning again. CoSchedule is a drag-and-drop editorial calendar for WordPress. With it, you can schedule blog posts and automatically send messages to your social. You can use this plugin to view the posts you have published for the month, posts that are in the works, and the posts that you have planned. My favorite part is that you view your content and social media schedule all on the same calendar.

5. Tiny MCE Advanced

Ever wish the visual editor in WordPress offered more options? Well, this plugin is for you! It will let you add, remove and arrange the buttons that are shown on the visual editor toolbar. It includes 15 plugins for TinyMCE that are automatically enabled or disabled depending on what buttons are chosen. I’ve had this one installed for so long I can’t even remember what the original Tiny MCE looks like.

6. Broken Link Checker

If you’ve been blogging for a while, I bet you have tons of broken links in old posts. Dead hyperlinks are not just annoying to your website visitors – their existence can result in a negative impact on your website’s SEO rankings. This plugin will monitor your site (blog posts, pages, comments, etc.) looking for broken links and let you know if any are found.

7. Google Analytics Dashboard

Google Analytics Dashboard gives you the ability to view your Google Analytics data right in your WordPress dashboard. Sure, you can open up Google Analytics every time you want to look at your stats, but if you just want a quick glance, this plugin is certainly convenient. You can also allow other users to see the same dashboard information when they are logged in.

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I hope these resources enable you to simplify your processes and improve your site! Learn more about HostGator and check out HostGator Optimized WordPress for yourself!

Thank you for supporting this blog by allowing me to post occasional sponsored content. All sponsored posts feature products or services that I truly feel would be of interest to you. I was selected for this opportunity as a member of Clever Girls and the content and opinions expressed here are all my own.

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Steps to Refining and Setting Mid-Year Goals

Mid-Year Goals Free Worksheet

I don’t know about you, but I can hardly believe that it is June already! The year is certainly flying by, and it is easy to start to feel panic that the year is almost halfway done when thinking about the goals you have set for your business and all that you want to accomplish in 2015.

Rather than panic, use it as a chance to evaluate the goals you set in January and see if they are still relevant. Didn’t set any? Now is the perfect time to gain focus for the second half of your year. Here are some simple ways to set or refine your goals:

Which aspect of your business is most important to you this year?

You may have a monetary goal for the year, or perhaps you want to achieve a work/life balance that suits your lifestyle needs. Whatever your ultimate intention for your year is, keep that front of mind while evaluating and setting your goals!

Which goals have you already met?

Look back at the goals you set at the beginning of the year and see which ones you can cross off. Whether it was a single item, like finding a new office space, or simply something you are ahead of schedule on, such as booking 15 new clients, take a moment to celebrate, then see how you can either update that goal or expand it for the second half of the year.

Which goals are you not on track to meet?

If you have any quantitative goals, such as “photograph 10 weddings” or “book 20 branding clients,” you should be close to reaching half of that value at this point. If you’re not close, it might be time to step up your efforts to meet that goal! Or, you may wish to adjust that goal if it no longer feels right. If you have a certain time of year that is your busy season, be sure to take that into account when calculating anything quantitative.

What has changed since the beginning of the year?

You may have had a change in your personal life that affects how much you can work. Perhaps you examined your business and started offering additional or new services. Major changes like these will alter the goals you have for the remainder of your year, so take the time to see how the changes in your life or business are affecting your goals.

How can you streamline your work?

A goal for anyone should be to operate in a way that doesn’t waste your time – or your client’s time. Take a look at your systems and see what items could be refined or made more efficient, such as finally writing those canned email replies, updating your website’s contact form to ask better questions or actually hiring that VA. Make it a goal to accomplish those smaller items that have big impact.

Download this free mid year goals worksheet to get you going.

While different businesses require different types of planning and goal setting, it is always crucial to have an objective and develop a plan to get there. Need more help with goal planning? Check out 3 Steps to Planning & Accomplishing Your Goals.

Laura is a graphic designer who loves working with small, creative businesses to build thoughtful brands at her studio, Dotted Design. 

The Best Social Media Marketing Tools That Every Blogger Needs

Social Media Tools for Bloggers and Small Business Owners

It seems like a blogger’s work is never done. You write your post, edit, create graphics, insert screenshots and examples, promote your posts, engage with followers, and then rinse and repeat. So to say that we need a few tools in order to make things even the slightest bit easier for us is quite the understatement. And since social media is such a prevalent marketing avenue for those of us in the online blogosphere, I’m sharing with you my top eight favorite social media marketing tools for bloggers.

1. Buffer

Buffer is a social media scheduling app and I seriously cannot sing enough praises for it. I have said this time and time again. There are a number of reasons that I choose Buffer as my personal scheduling app:

  • Interface: I have used other scheduling apps before and the interface isn’t nearly as pretty or user-friendly as Buffer’s is.
  • Analytics: I love the analytics in Buffer–you’re able to see how many clicks, retweets, shares, etc., that each of your posts got. It shows you your top posts of the week and even emails you a weekly summary comparing this week’s posts to the previous week.
  • Bookmarklet: This is probably my favorite part. If I’m reading an article that I want to share (even on my phone or tablet), I can add it to my Buffer queue directly from the article. I have a browser bookmarklet on my computer and can add the app to my preferred sharing tools on my mobile devices.
  • Scheduling: One thing that is extremely time-consuming with Hootsuite is having to individually schedule each one of your outgoing posts. Buffer allows you to create a preset schedule so that each time you want to schedule an article, you only have to add them to your queue and they automatically go out at their specified time.
  • Pricing: They have both free and paid options

2. CoSchedule

This is probably one of the coolest scheduling apps because its interface is a freaking calendar. Um, genius? Yes, I think so. And it has multiple uses. You can use this plugin to view the posts you have published for the month, posts that are in the works, and the posts that you have planned. Not only that, but you can also share your blog posts to your social media right from the CoSchedule plugin! AND (this is my favorite part) it can be integrated with Buffer to up the social sharing ante even more.

3. Click to Tweet

One great way to encourage social shares in your blog posts is to include a one-click, pre-made tweet for your readers. CoSchedule has a really great FREE Click to Tweet WordPress Plugin that allows you to insert said pre-made tweets right into your blog post! Here is a sample, go ahead and try it out!

4. TweetDeck

Are you a Twitter chatter? If not, then you need to be. Check out this fantastic calendar for Twitter chats for creatives. (or join my favorite chat, #createlounge, every Wednesday at 7PM CST!) If so, then you know how incredibly fast those things move. TweetDeck is my absolute favorite way to keep up with the craziness.

Simply login with your Twitter handle and then create a separate column for: your notifications (so that you can see when someone replies to your tweets or directs a question/comment to you), the Twitter chat’s hashtag (so that you can see all of the tweets for the chat), and the host(s) of the chat (so that you never miss a question). I participate in Twitter chats once or twice a week and have found that this is the best way for me to not miss any of the action!

5. OnePress Social Locker

I personally have never used this plugin, but I think it’s a fantastic idea and I keep it on standby. This free WordPress plugin allows you to lock certain content until a reader shares it on social media. This guarantees a social share for each person who wants to read your post.

6. HelloBar

This is an awesome app to include on your blog and it has several different uses. I started a new Facebook Page when I rebranded my blog (one, because I couldn’t change the name of my old Facebook page and two, because I plan to do a case study of how I gained likes and exposure to my page), so I use the HelloBar social converter to add a box in the lower righthand corner of my blog that allows readers to easily like my Facebook page. It’s done really well so far, so I highly recommend it.

However, you can also use HelloBar to drive traffic to another page of your site or to gather email addresses for your e-newsletter. They also have both free and paid options.

7. Topsy

This tool is amazing for so many things:

  • Searching for relevant content to curate.
  • Searching for social media analytics on specific users, hashtags and keywords.
  • Checking out current trends on social media.

It’s seriously an all-in-one for any kind of social media information you could possibly look for. Search for a topic that you’re interested in finding good articles to share on your own social networks. Check out your own replies or the replies of fellow bloggers in your niche. And see what’s currently trending that you could play off of by writing your own blog post or social media post.

8. Google Docs

This is one of my favorite ways to create my social media editorial calendar. I create a document, add a table with seven columns (one for each day of the week), then I put all of my statuses, links, and images inside of the table before scheduling them all out. This makes it easy for me to visually see what content I have planned all at once. And you can use it fo’ free.

Haven’t started blogging yet or in a rut? Check out Ciera’s new e-book, Blogging With Intention and How to Give Your Readers Exactly What They Need.

Do you have any favorite tools that we missed here?

 

Chloe is a blogger and social media manager who creates content meant to help bloggers and small business owners learn how to DIY their own social media marketing.

6 Simple Ways to Brainstorm Blog Post Ideas + A Free Worksheet

Free Worksheet to Brainstorm Blog Post Ideas

Blogging can be a great tool for small business owners. It provides a way to connect with your audience, share your expertise, and even help convince people to work with you. It can also be a fun creative outlet or provide a needed break in your daily routine.

While the pros are easy to count, that doesn’t mean it is always easy to come up with new blog post ideas! Especially if you’ve been blogging for a while, you may feel like you’ve hit a wall with new post ideas. Luckily, there are several simple ways to generate some quality post ideas.

Why do you blog?

The first step for any blogger is to identify who you are trying to reach. Many bloggers get overwhelmed or feel unfocused when they aren’t sure who to write for. If you are a business owner, you might be writing to attract potential new clients. If you have a personal blog, you might be hoping to connect with fellow fashion lovers or food connoisseurs. When you identify this, it makes your focus that much clearer and the ideas easier to form.

What are some of your favorite blogs?

Think about the blogs you read, and make a list of ones you can’t wait to dive into when you see a new post. What about their posts attracts you? Perhaps they share knowledge, share personal stories, or use a unique voice to tell their story. When you identify what attracts you to your favorite posts, it will help you write your own!

What is a problem you recently had and then solved?

People love reading free tips and learning from their peers. A great way to connect with your readers and contribute to your community is to share something you learned. Not only might you help someone with the same problem, it helps you relate to others by showing you are human and don’t always have all the answers right away either.

What is a question you get asked all the time?

Do you find yourself receiving similar emails, tweets, or queries often wanting to know the same things? Make the answer a blog post! Not only will this help position you as an expert with the answers people are looking for, it will make your responses oh-so fast by simply directing people to your post for an answer.

 

What is something you wish people knew about your business, industry or passions?

Is there a misconception about the industry you are in? Share your perspective and experiences! Do you find yourself running into the same problems with clients or customers? Write a post sharing your advice on dealing with the issue. Instead of feeling frustrated, use the energy to share a positive post and help others who might be fighting the same battles.

What resources or tools that you’ve found could help someone out?

Making a list of helpful resources is a great post generator. You could include tools you use to run your business, people in other fields that could be resources for your clients, or even podcasts within your niche that you love. As with many of these points, being generous with your knowledge not only builds trust with your readers, it will bring them back time and again.

To make this even easier, you can use this free brainstorming worksheet to get your creative vibes flowing. There is also space for those moments when you have a post idea and need to jot it down somewhere before you forget! Try setting aside a small amount of time each week to knock out your ideas, and writing will become even easier.

Download the Free Brainstorming Blog Post Ideas Worksheet

While blogging can seem overwhelming, it is a great tool for connecting with others in your industry, with clients, or with your community. When you look at it as a way to share and have fun, it won’t seem like a daunting chore anymore! Need even more help getting started? Check out Ciera’s new e-book, Blogging With Intention.

 

Laura is a graphic designer who loves working with small, creative businesses to build thoughtful brands at her studio, Dotted Design. 

A 9 Step Guide To SEO

At the end of every year, I really try to evaluate my business, this blog and my website to see what improvements I can make. This year, SEO is something I want to improve so today I have a special guest post and infographic from Jeanette at Create The Bridge. Remember that each person will have to find the right balance for them, your focus should always be your readers and then SEO. Take it away Jeanette!

Any website or blog owner must understand that if you are doing SEO (search engine optimization) the right way, it is not instant and there’s actually no guarantee. But if you do it wrong, you may get quicker results, but your blog will look spammy while attempting to maneuver the search engine traffic.

To make an optimized blog, focus on the main category or theme of your blog. The topic you promote will, to a massive scale, dictate your ranking. There are high competitions when it comes to SEO for say “real estate” or “weight loss”. Focusing on your geographical location in addition (for example, “real estate in Fort Lauderdale, Florida”) can really help. This is only one part of creating an optimized blog for search engines, check out the infographic to see how you can do more.

9-Step Guide to Creating an Optimized Blog for Search Engines

Let’s wrap this up with a little overview shall we…

Your blog post should be long, containing at least 2,000 words. According to Serpiq, the longer the content, the higher you rank. Your title tag makes all the difference. If the right keywords are missing from the title tag, how will your targeted audience find you? Second to the title, the content in your blog is KING. You should write quality content and post often using long-tail keywords. Research shows that 40% of people will respond better to visual information than plain text. Simply put: it’s all about the images. Having a powerful social media strategy and having a presence on all major social media sites will also affect, positively, your search engine rankings. Pay attention to design. A well-structured site is a crucial element when it comes to building a SEO friendly website. The design of a website is important because it affects how quickly visitors can find what they are looking for. Last, but definitely not least, your blog must not contain misspelled words or grammar errors!

Why Small Businesses and Bloggers Need Private Cloud Storage

Today I want to tell you about why you should set up your own private cloud for your home office or creative business, but first a story.

Why Small Businesses and Bloggers Need Private Cloud Storage

My business has been going through quit a bit lately. Some good, some bad. Let’s get the bad out-of-the-way. I have been having some serious computer issues. I limped it along for months but finally had to send it off for repairs. As y’all know, my computer is a major part of how I make a living and it’s really not possible for me to get much done without it. Luckily I was able to borrow a computer but it still hasn’t been easy. I had to save all my files to a drive making sure I didn’t forget any fonts, graphics, working files, estimates, etc. Not fun.

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Another challenge is that I’ve always worked from a laptop. I like the versatility but it’s not ideal as my only computer. I have been contemplating getting a desktop but I wasn’t sure how I’d work on both without constantly sending files back and forth.

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Now the good! Something else going on behind the scenes right now is that I’m bringing on some part-time help in the design studio, exciting but scary! I’m so used to working alone. Everything is organized in my head but having employees means that everyone needs to be on the same page. So I’m working on some new processes and implementing some new technology. We all need access to the same files, otherwise things will get very confusing.

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I wasn’t really sure how to achieve all of this seamlessness that I was after. Then with absolutely perfect timing WD, a Western Digital Company saved the day by providing me with a My Cloud EX2 to use and review… serious dream come true. This is what I was looking for and I didn’t even know it. Personal cloud storage! Basically, it is a physical hard drive connected to your Internet that you can access from anywhere. Totally ideal for small office and home office businesses.

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Why I Love Private Cloud Storage

  • one-time cost – unlike many public cloud options, the My Cloud EX2 just has a one-time cost, purchase the drive and you’re done. You can also add as many users as you need!
  • easy setup – plug it in and go through the simple setup and you’re up and running with an intuitive interface
  • security – allows you to set up permissions-based folders so you can give an employee or family member limited access to access or upload files
  • peace of mind – knowing your data is backed up and secure with cloud storage for small businesses makes it easier to focus on other things to make your business successful
  • wireless back ups – the drive gets plugged into a power source and your internet during setup but never directly to your computer so your backups happen without you even thinking about it
  • file sharing – easily generate email links for files or folders. When a client clicks on the link they are given a zip of the files you selected. This allows you to send files that are too large for emailing.
  • anytime, anywhere access – with mobile and desktop apps you are not limited to what you can fit on your phone – if you download the app you can view all files from your drive at home. You can connect multiple computers and devices for seamless integration.
  • automatic transfer via camera – you can connect your camera directly to the My Cloud EX2 and it copies files automatically
  • storage space – photos from my blog take up a lot of space and I NEVER delete client projects. Luckily the My Cloud EX2 provides several capacity options, up to 8TB, to choose from.
  • speed – files load much faster to the EX2 than they do to a remote cloud.
  • working remotely – I want to be able to travel and I want employees to work from anywhere.My Cloud EX2 is such a huge benefit when working in multiple offices, computers or on the road.
  • streaming – stream videos and photos to connected TVs, media players, gaming consoles

If you have a small business, you really need to get one of these systems! I can’t believe I’m only now setting one up!

Many thanks to WD for letting me try the private cloud with the EX2. Thank you for supporting this blog by allowing me to post occasional sponsored content. All sponsored posts feature products or services that I truly feel would be of interest to you and all opinions are my own. The two photos of me are by Hannah Hudson Photography.