The Future of Blogging

The Future of Blogging

Ben Thompson posted a piece at Stratechery about Andrew Sullivan retiring from blogging, something I’ve mentioned on the TP2WP Facebook page, as Sullivan was our largest ever Typepad content conversion. I’m still excited about how we played a small part in launch of Sullivan’s site, even if it was limited to tedious data conversion!

Overall, Thompson’s piece is great and inspired me to start posting here again, both because it was so up beat about blogging and because I wanted to add to Thompson’s points about the monetization of blogs. Though Thompson touches on the subject by mentioning how WordPress can be integrated with payment platforms like Stripe, he notes that “there are still holes” when it comes to things like membership management and communities.

While it’s true that integrating paid content features into WordPress is still a chore, it’s mainly a chore of discovery, rather than one of development. Solutions exist, it’s just a matter knowing where to find them.

Andrew Sullivan, for example, used TinyPass—he’s even featured in the demo video on their front page. TinyPass allows content creators to quickly put up a “leaky paywall” similar to how the New York Times or Washington Post. This approach makes content public, but places limits on the type of or how much content a single user can view in a month. This approach strikes a good balances between maintaining the visibility to new audiences while charging daily readers for unmitigated access.

Similarly, the Treehouse or Lynda.com membership model can be implemented with WordPress plugins, like WooCommerce and their “Sensei” online learning extension. This software combo allows content creators to create a non-leaky paywall, placing free content on one side, and members-only content on the other. Woo says that is a non-standard sort of implementation of their plugin, but there are many membership solutions out there that do this with minimal configuration, like “Membership” from WPMUDev.

So while monetizing content on WordPress is still a bit of work, thankfully that work doesn’t involve rolling your own membership system or integrating with a merchant account at a bank. Instead, free or very low-cost plugins combined with simple payment gateways like Stripe, allow for a leaky paywall or membership system to be setup in an afternoon. That’s  nothing short of miraculous when compared to trying to do this even a few years ago.

It’s my hope that this ready-made software will mean new premium blogs will sprout up over the next several years, following in Sullivan’s footsteps. As much as I like free content, I also value good content, and that’s often worth paying for.

WordPress 4.0

Enhanced editing, easier plugin browsing, and a better media library make for a very compelling release of WordPress. We’ve upgraded to 4.0 and will be rolling it out on client sites soon.

No longer fighting against scrolling issues is probably the biggest feature change for me, but see the others for yourself in this video from WordPress.tv:

The Expert

This sketch shows why it’s important for engineers to understand client services and for project managers to learn as much as they can about the technical side of their business. Otherwise, you literally agree to do the impossible, the impractical, the ineffective, or the intolerable. read more…

Is Gmail Helping or Hurting Email Marketing?

I’ve seen conflicting opinions on Gmail’s new image policy—the popular service will now be showing email images by default, rather than requiring used to click “display images” at the top of each received message.

Ryan Tate at Wired says that this will be a boon for email marketers:

The new setup also means that people and companies who send you email will be able to find out when you’ve opened and read their messages, because loading these images requires a call back to the sender’s server. That said, the sender still has to know how to rig their emails to take advantage of this, and that means that sophisticated corporations are far more likely to take advantage of this privacy hole than your friends and relatives. They’ll have to evade Google’s filters for “suspicious” content, and you’ll have to check your Gmail over the web — not via a local client — for this change to impact you. But it’s an important development.

This would seem to make sense were it not for this contradictory explanation of the new image policy from Ron Amadeo at ArsTechnica:

Embedded images will now be saved by Google, and the e-mail content will be modified to display those images from Google’s cache, instead of from a third-party server. E-mail marketers will no longer be able to get any information from images—they will see a single request from Google, which will then be used to send the image out to all Gmail users. Unless you click on a link, marketers will have no idea the e-mail has been seen.

To get the definitive answer on this issue, I went to the authority: MailChimp. As it turns out, both Wires and Ars got at least part of the story wrong. MailChimp contends that this change will both help and hurt their customers:

In Gmail’s announcement today, they said image caching allows them to securely turn on images by default. Image caching still lowers our ability to track repeat opens, but turning those images on means we’ll be more accurate when tracking unique opens. At least, theoretically it should work that way.

By leaving images turned off, Gmail has been allowing subscribers to open emails without downloading our tracking pixel, so those opens were invisible to us. If Gmail is going to display images automatically, those previously invisible opens should suddenly become visible.

So, as with most things in tech, this is about trade-offs. The policy change in Gmail is helping marketers by giving more information about who is reading their emails, but less information about unique opens.

Of course email marketing is ultimately about driving sales, traffic, or some other action outside of reading the emails themselves. These conversion metrics will remain unaffected as services like MailChimp will still provide unique tracking URLs for each email recipient.

I’m curious to see if this policy in Gmail is followed by other webmail providers like Hotmail and Yahoo. If so, we could see the entire email marketing industry deemphasize the unique opens metric as it may become a very unreliable measurement.

Attack of the Modal Windows

Andy Beaumont on the rise of modal windows, the new pop-ups:

What we’re witnessing here is the first wave of the second world pop-up war. Those of us who lived through the first one can only describe the horrors to our disbelieving children. This time though, the pop-ups are winning because we don’t yet have the tools to fight back. The web has seemingly evolved into something that actively antagonises people — why would anyone in their right mind hide the content that visitors are there to see?

Beaumont goes on to show how management-beloved “analytics” can only show part of the story of modal windows:

Analytics will tell you that you got more “conversions”. Analytics will show you rising graphs and bigger numbers. You will show these to your boss or your client. They will falsely conclude that people love these modal overlays.

But they don’t. Nobody likes them. Conversions are not people. If you want the whole story here you should also be sat in a room testing this modal overlay with real people. Ask them questions:

  • “Do you like that overlay asking you to sign up for the newsletter?”
  • “Do you understand what will happen if you do sign up for it?”
  • “Do you know that there is content behind it?”
  • “Do you know how to close it to get to the content?”.

It’s extremely unlikely that they like it. It’s fairly likely that they do know there is content behind it. And it is also fairly likely that they don’t know how to close it.

As I’ve said before, building a brand means giving people what they want—high-quality content that’s easily accessible. Trying to build a brand using this kind of digital arm twisting will be perceived by users for what it is, the online equivalent of a a used car salesman giving you the hard sell.

So instead of pursuing conversions, build trust. It’s the foundation of every successful website.

Some Holidays Shouldn’t Involve Sales

With the notable exception of non-profits and other civil organizations who work with veterans, it is generally not a good idea for commercial entities to engage in any sort of social media campaigns involving holidays like Veterans Day or Memorial Day.

At best, your attempt to promote your product, service, or “brand” will come off as being in bad taste.

At worst, you will produce one of the offensive and shameless social media blunders highlighted by the Atlantic’s Philip Bump.

Perhaps most shameful is the spelling-mistake-laden offer of a free bloomin’ onion to veterans. Our veterans deserve better than your deep-fried root vegetables, but more importantly, the holiday deserves more respect.

Save your promotions, discounts, contests, sweepstakes, and other commercial tie-ins for more festive holidays, like Halloween or Independence Day.

Of course even the folks highlighted by Mr. Bump aren’t as bad as 9/11 advertisements. Simply the worst.

2014 Guide to Business SEO

Portent provides a good quick and dirty guide to SEO.

A large swath of these issues are address in our SEO work with clients, so if you’re an existing customer or work with a similarly well-rounded group of geeks, these items can be checked off your list in advance.

However, many of the recommendations provided by Portent are content-specific, so the list is worth reading for non-technical folks who have an editorial role in their company’s website.

It’s only when both sides come together—technical and editorial—that SEO can have a significant impact.

Launched: Manhattan Institute’s “Public Sector Inc”

Launched: Manhattan Institute’s “Public Sector Inc”

The Manhattan Institute had been running their Public Sector Inc blog on Movable Type for years and wanted to move to WordPress, but were unsure of the best way to migrate, especially given the very limited support offered by Movable Type for those who want to leave the platform. Thankfully I met Manhattan’s Communication VP Lindsay Craig (now president of the National Review Institute) at the State Policy Network annual meeting in 2012 and told her about our TP2WP.com conversion tool and how ReadyMadeWeb had considerable experience rescuing folks from both MovableType and its sometimes uglier cousin TypePad.

Late this summer, the folks behind Public Sector Inc—the brilliant Tatyana Kustus, Kasia Zabawa, and Stephen Eide—began working with ReadyMadeWeb on making the transition to WordPress. After a few rounds of design, data conversion, and a few hours of manual content massaging, we’ve launched Public Sector Inc as a new designed and fully mobile-responsive website.

We’re extremely happy with how this project has turned out and grateful to have worked with such talent folks at the Manhattan Institute!