WordPress 2.6.5 Release: Update Now

WordPress has released version 2.6.5. If you you WordPress, Since the latest version includes a security fix, I highly recommend you upgrade now.

I have started upgrading my sites, and have not found any problems yet.

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Text Link Ads

inLinks: New Link Buying Service From MediaWhiz

MediaWhiz (who owns Text Link Ads) just announced a new product called inLinks. (Sign up with my affiliate link.)

inLinks is a advertising network that places plain text ads within the content of blog pages. This is similar to what services like Kontera do, but with one major difference. These are real HTML text links instead of javascript based links. That means these links will flow PageRank from sites. Much like the original Text Link Ad servce, this is a link buying service, the difference is that these links will be within the content of pages.

Google and other search engines have always frowned upon link buying schemes, and will obviously not like this one either. In fact, Google’s Web Spam Guru, Matt Cutts sent TechCrunch a harshly worded email stating that Google does not approve, saying: “Google has been very clear that selling such links that pass PageRank is a violation of our quality guidelines.”.

With MediaWhiz’s other product, Text Link Ads, it is pretty obvious that the links are paid. The links were put into the sidebar of pages and grouped together. I’m sure Google could pretty easily discount links like these. Since this new service embed the links right into the content of pages, they will be much harder for search engines to detect.

So, although this is a new money making opportunity for bloggers, be warned that Google will be on the lookout for these links.

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Google Working on AdSense Filtering

Google did something yesterday that they rarely do, give us a glimpse into new features that they are working on. They posted an entry on the Inside AdSense blog about ad filtering and mentioned that they were working on better filters:

We’ve heard your feedback about how quickly filters take effect and the ability to block specific categories of ads, and we’re working hard to improve our current controls and provide more powerful ones in the near future. Over the next couple weeks, we plan to improve the speed of your filters, and we’re working towards filters in the future that will take effect in less than an hour. We’ll also continue improving the Ad Review Center, giving you ways to block entire categories of ads in addition to individual ads. We are also working on ways for you to establish guidelines for the type of ads that will be acceptable to your users, so you can “set it and forget it,” while feeling comfortable that users will have a good ad experience.

I’m sure much of their feedback was about Propostion 8, a controversial issue in California that seeks to ban gay marriage. Californians surfing the web before the election on Tuesday saw a lot of ads supporting this proposition. I saw them on my own sites and quickly used the competitive ad filter to stop them.

Many publishers who use AdSense often complain about ads that are inappropriate for their sites, so hopefully these new filtering techniques will help.

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Recommended WordPress Plugin: WP Super Cache

I recently installed the WP Super Cache plugin on most of my WordPress blogs. This plugin in makes blogs much speedier to view by caching pages as static HTML files. The first time someone visits a page, it is served up as PHP like normal and the page is saved as an HTML file, and the next time someone views the page, no PHP is run, the page is served up from a cache, which is quicker for the visitor and saves a lot of processor time on the server.

The one downside of the plugin is that you have to remember to disable it when making any changes to your site, otherwise you don’t see the changes. I keep forgetting to do that and find myself cursing when my changes don’t work.

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Elite Retreat 2009 Open for Registration

Elite Retreat 2009 is now available for registration. It is taking place in San Fransisco February 18-19.

For those of you not familiar with Elite Retreat, it is a very exclusive event, with only 35 attendees allowed to register. It has some great speakers such as: Jeremy Schoemaker (aka Shoemoney), Neil Patel, Chris Winfield, and Kris Jones. The Keynote speaker will be Gary Vaynerchuk.

This is a very good opportunity to get some individual advice from some very popular experts in the industry.

I am seriously considering going this year. I wanted to go last year but had a travel conflict.

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PubCon Las Vegas 2008 Next Week

PubCon Las Vegas 2008 is next week. I wasn’t going to go, but then I realized I had booked a trip to Las Vegas (I go there a lot) that just happened to overlap with PubCon. So, I decided to get an exhibit hall pass and check things out.

If you want to meet for a beer, let me know. I’ll probably be hanging around the Convention Center on the 11th.

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Found: New SEO Conference From O’Reilly

O’Reilly has just announced a new conference called “Found”. The tag line for it is “Search Acquisition and Architecture Conference”. It will be held June 9–11, 2009 in Burlingame, CA.

This conference will be in direct competition with some more established conference including WebMasterWorld’s Pubcon, Search Engine Strategies and Search Marketing Expo.

It looks like the O’Reilly conference is trying to focus more on the developer side of things as opposed to the marketing side. Here is a little bit from their web site:

The way to online success is through being easily found in search engines such as Google, Yahoo!, and Microsoft Live Search. While developers have historically thought of search as a marketing activity, technical architecture has now become critical for search success. Found is the authoritative place to discover best practices for this nascent industry and gain a thorough understanding of why search-friendly architecture is absolutely mission-critical to businesses of all sizes. No spammy tricks. Just solid foundational coding tactics and actionable data that will ensure search engines can easily crawl, index, and rank your site’s content.

This is an interesting take on the subject. Although there is a lot to know about how to build a site to be crawlable, this seems to be ignoring the much bigger, more difficult problem of marketing a website. You can have the most crawlable site in the world but without other aspects of SEO like keyword research and link building, sites will not get any search engine traffic.

I actually don’t agree with the very first sentence on the website, which says: “Startups and enterprise-level companies are on an even playing field when it comes to being found in search, so whether you are an entrepreneur or a CTO of a large corporation, you need to know how to build search engine optimization (SEO) best practices into your development processes.” Enterprise-level companies do have a large advantage when it comes to search engines. They have websites that have been around a long time so Google will automatically rank them better. Since they have been around a long time, they have built up links, which help them rank. Also, large companies have brand awareness and trust, so people will naturally tend to link to them. Saying startups are on a level playing field just seems naive.

The new conference is being chaired by some well know people in this space, Vanessa Fox (formerly from Google Webmaster tools) and Nathan Buggia from Microsoft’s Webmaster Center. That is a good sign.

One thing I am worried about with this conference is the price. O’Reilly conferences tend to be expensive. For example the upcoming Money:tech conference’s standard price is $3295 for the 3 day event. Contrast this to Pubcon, which is $1299 for 4 days, or SES Chicago which is $1,995 for 4 days.

It will be interesting to see how the SEO community reacts to the new kid on the block.

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Securing WordPress Installations

I run several WordPress blogs, and they have been recently hacked. I love WordPress, so I don’t want to change platforms, but I also hate being hacked. These hacks cause a lot of extra work and also cost a lot of money. Seeing my main money-making site sink in Google ranking because it got hacked is not a fun experience.

So, I’m going to go about securing my blogs as much as possible. One great resource I found was the WordPress Whitepaper(PDF file) by BlogSecurty.net.

Based on the whitepaper, and some other tips I have found around the internet, I am going to be doing the following to try to stop the hackers:

  • Use .htaccess files to password potect the wp-admin directory. See Matt Cutt’s blog to see how to do this.
  • Use .htaccess files to block unauthorized access to files in wp-content and wp-includes directories. Public access to various files such as images and css files should be allowed in these directories. See the WordPress Whitepaper on how to do this.
  • Add an empty index.html file to the wp-content/plugins directory. This will prevent people from seeing what plug ins you run. This is another tip from Matt Cutts.
  • Remove all unused plugins and themes. Plugins and themes can be a source of security holes. If you are not using a plugin or theme, it should be deleted.
  • Changing the default WordPress table prefix. By default WordPress prefixes all table names with “wp_”. This may allow hackers to access tables by assuming the name. Changing the prefix makes things a little harder. BlogSecurity.net has a tool for changing the prefix on existing blogs.
  • Changing the “admin” username. Since “admin” is the default username in WordPress hackers can assume that this user exists and this can make it easier to guess passwords. This is another tip from the whitepaper.
  • Removing the “generator” meta tag and any other clue that lets hackers know what version of WordPress is running. If hackers know the version of WordPress they can try specific exploits for that version.
  • Installing PHPIDS for WordPress. This plugin defends against malicious code injections. This was another recomendation from the whitepaper.
  • Installing the WP Security Scan Plugin. This plugin checks installations for security vulnerabilities and suggests fixes.
  • Keeping up to date with the latest WordPress versions. In the past I have been a little lazy about updating my blogs to the latest version, but I will now update them right away. I updated my blogs to WordPress version 2.6.3 the day that they issued the release. I am going to investigate automated update tools to help with this.

If you know of any other tips I would love to hear them.

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Google Adding AdSense Statistics to Analytics

Google has announced some major upgrades to its analytics service. They have added:

Advanced Segmentation – allows you to isolate and analyze different sets of visitors
Custom Reports – allows you to create and save specific reports
Motion Charts – allows you to visualize data over time
A New Dashboard – new quick access to more data on the front page
A Data Export API – will allow custom application or websites to do more analysis or visualization of analytics data

And finally the new feature I’m most excited about…
Integrated Reporting with AdSense
This is something I have been hoping they would do for a while. For a while, I have been using a script that attempts to track AdSense clicks, but it was not as accurate or detailed as what will be available from Google. Here are some useful things you will be able to do with this new data.

Track Which Traffic Source Pay the Most. It is nice to know where you good, revenue generating traffic comes from. If you know that search engine traffic bring better revenue then links from other sites, you know to concentrate on SEO. If other types of sites bring in more revenue per visitor, it is a good idea to concentrate on getting links from those sites.

Track Which Pages Bring the Most Revenue. If some pages on your site bring more revenue per page view than others, it is a good idea to get traffic to those pages. Point your own internal links to these pages and get links from other sites to those pages. Also if you notice that certain types of content bring in more revenue per page view (e.g. product reviews versus how-to articles), you know that creating more of that type of content would be a good idea.

There are some more detail in an Inside AdSense blog post.

Google is rolling out the feature over time into publishers AdSense account, so look for it next time you log in. I haven’t gotten it yet, but I can’t wait.

Update: Here is the official Google Support pages about Adsense and Analytics integration

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Starting a PPC Campaign

I have dabbled in using PPC advertising to drive traffic to my sites, but now I am getting ready to do it for real. This will be for the main site that makes money for us. 75% of that revenue comes from a single affiliate program. About another 20% comes from AdSense, and the remaining 5% comes from other affiliate programs.

I have been doing some reading about PPC and here is the plan I have come up with.

Set Up Tracking
I currently use Google Analytics for my stats. I am adding goals to keep track of affiliate clicks, AdSense click and email list sign ups. I am also adding code to modify the URLs of the affiliate links when the user has come from a PPC ad so I can see which sales are actually from the PPC campaign.

Keyword Research
I’ll start by creating a keyword list for a single product. (All the product are similar, so it should easy to extend the list to other product.)

Here are some sources for keyword research I have come across. I’ve played with most of these before, but this will be the first time I will use them seriously.

I plan to go mostly for mid to long tail keywords to begin with. Once I have a list I will group them into related keywords. Each group of keywords will be used for a different campaign.

Create Landing Pages
For each group of keywords I want to come up with at least 2 initial landing pages for with significant differences on them to do A/B testing.

Setting up Campaign
I’ll set up the campaigns in AdWords. I’ll need to come up with ad variations for each campaign to test out the effectiveness of the ads.

Monitoring and Tweaking
Now its time to monitor everything. Which campaigns are getting the best ROI? Which specific ads do best? Which landing pages get the best conversions? Based on the results, I’ll start tweaking things.

Finally, I can start the whole process over again for each different product.

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