Things to Learn from Vending Machines
My mom was here and we were sitting at the kitchen table just talking about random stuff and she said that they had this really cool new vending machine at work. This was one of those vending machines that has robotics and you can see the control arm go and pick the stuff up that you bought, it moves it over and drops it into the slot where you can pick it up.
Of course, as marketers we recognize right away that that’s a marketing thing. They build these vending machines in a fancy way to get your attention and get you in front of the vending machine so you’ll buy that Snickers bar. That’s why they do that.
It made me laugh, because Mom, of all things, was talking about a vending machine. I’m a guy who likes vending machines and there’s a reason I pay attention to vending machines. It’s one of the things that I’m always watching, whether it’s one of those cool Snapple machines or a machine like Mom was talking about. We have this machine at work that uses a vacuum cleaner type apparatus to dispense ice cream bars out of a frozen section in the vending machine that’s also really cool.
The reason is because one of the very first meaningful electrical engineering courses that I took in college was a digital design course and we had to design the coin mechanism for a vending machine. We had to actually starting from scratch design a coin mechanism that handled logic like, “If an item is $0.75 and someone puts in a quarter, do you dispense the item?” Well, no of course not because you need another $0.50. So you wait and look to see what comes in next.
“If a nickel comes in, do you dispense the item?” No, you only have $0.30, so you have to wait for that additional $0.45. You have to build this logic that handles all possible combinations of coins coming in, you have to be able to handle the exact change and so forth. We built all of this apparatus out of combinational logic. With a lot of these things there is no software, all of this stuff can be implemented in hardware, so we had to do that.
Prior to taking that course I never took the time to think about how vending machines work. I just totally took them for granted. It never even occurred to me to wonder what was going on in a vending machine. Now that I took the time to design one, every time I put a coin in a vending machine I think about that course in college and I think about the way things work. That’s how my mind works.
The reason that I’m telling you this story and the reason I thought it was so poignant for Late Night Internet Marketing is this is exactly the same mindset that made me interested in internet marketing.
Back in 2007 when I got started with internet marketing, I got started because I wanted to know how money moved around the internet. It had never occurred to me to even think about internet business or the fact that there was money moving around, or that there were pay-per-click advertisements and affiliate commissions, and all this kind of stuff going on with the internet.
As soon as I took the time to understand that a little bit, everything that I looked at and every click that I made on the internet was interesting to me because, just like the vending machines, when I saw something I wanted to know how it worked. So that’s what I’ve been doing for the last five years, almost six years now, with regard to internet marketing.
The point of that is people ask me, “Why do you do this?” I’ve given the answer before that the main reason I do it and one of the things that gives me the most pleasure out of doing this is that I like helping people, I like turning their light bulbs on, I love it when people email me and say, “Thank you so much, I made my first affiliate sale,” or whatever it is. I love that kind of stuff and that’s one of the big drivers for me.
But another big driver is this thing about curiosity and wanting to understand how things work. Because of that, I would characterize myself as a lifetime learner. That’s really a great mindset for you to be in as an internet marketer; to be someone who wants to learn more about their niche and more about internet marketing by listening to podcasts like this, by reaching out to colleagues, by reading books, or whatever it is that you do to learn about the things that you need to know about.
If you have that mindset, that will really help you be successful in your internet business. Give that some thought. The next time you walk up to a vending machine to buy a Coke, I want you to think of me and my mom.
Let’s Talk WordPress Plugins
That gets us to the first part of the interview. Dustin and I know each other from the Podcast Manstermind Group. We’re both in this excellent mastermind community, we’re charter members of this community that was formed by Cliff Ravenscraft. You can read about it over at PodcastMastermind.com.
If you’re interested in podcasting, the mastermind is not so much exactly about podcasting, that’s really Cliff’s A to Z course if you want to learn how to podcast. The mastermind is about growing your business and collaborating on ideas about each other’s business, we have mastermind sessions with hot seats and so forth. So I’ve gotten to know Dustin, he is an awesome guy. He has a similar mindset to me, at least that’s what I observe, that he’s very interested in helping people.
You can check out his site at YourWebsiteEngineer.com and just look at how beautiful it is, he is clearly a talented designer. He’s also good at the code part and he knows how to do a lot of cool stuff with WordPress. I asked him, “Dustin, would you come on the show and talk about plugins that are must-have plugins that people who are starting affiliate sites with WordPress should absolutely include?”
Then I also asked him to talk about some of his favorite plugins. He threw in some bonus content at the front, which I never really thought through this, he also walks through how he selects new plugins when there are many to choose from. When he’s looking for new functionality and he’s trolling around the WordPress.org plugin repository and he has to choose between four or five plugins that have similar functionality, he has things that he looks at before he ever installs a plugin on one of his sites.
Mark: All right. I am very excited to have a real life legitimate WordPress expert on the mic. I throw down a bunch of WordPress advice on the show but now we’ve got a man who makes his living throwing down WordPress advice, which is really cool.
Since we always talk about WordPress and how to use that as a platform for business, I thought we could spend some time with Dustin Hartzler and talk a little bit about the best way to implement WordPress, particularly plugins.
Dustin, how are you doing?
Dustin: I’m doing excellent. Thanks for having me, Mark. I have never really thought of saying that I “throw down WordPress information”. I like that.
Mark: Yes, it’s a throw down. For people who haven’t come across you before, your blog is excellent. I think it’s a good read for anyone who is either learning WordPress, trying to figure out that one thing or is even looking at advanced stuff. There is a really nice mix on your blog.
You are really targeting across a bunch of different groups with that resource. Why don’t you talk about that?
Dustin: I just discovered in the last few months that there are people coming who are brand new to WordPress and have never used it before. They get some advice from my podcast that I do on a weekly basis. I’ve got people who are business owners that just want to know enough to keep a website up and running. They want to keep some plugins updated and know when to update WordPress and things like that.
Then I’ve got some people who really want the geeky stuff. They really want to know what they should be focusing on with their website, how they can do specific things and all about cool features. I never dreamed of it when I started up the podcast over two years ago but there are so many things and I have more content than I know what to do with creating things about WordPress.
It’s so much fun and I just try to help and serve. I don’t try to sell anything while I’m doing it. I’m here to just give advice about cool things that I have found that I can do online. I just want to share that with others.
Mark: We’ll hit this again but you did mention your podcast. Why don’t you tell people a little bit about the podcast, your website and where you are and how to find you. Then I have lots of questions.
Dustin: You can find me at YourWebsiteEngineer.com. That is my online platform if you will. That is where I direct everyone. You can find me on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and all those great places.
I do a weekly podcast that comes out bright and early on Wednesday morning in time for your commute. It’s about 20-30 minutes. I normally pick one topic and stick with it and go through why you should be implementing certain things. Last week we talked about why you should have a content delivery network. I can go into exactly what that is or you can go listen to Episode #113 on YourWebsiteEngineer.com.
I just try to target different things that I feel are valuable. I am a fulltime developer and some of the things I talk about, I run into on a weekly basis as I am developing for other people. Then I normally try to throw in some tips, tools and feedback from people and give a general overview of what is going on in the WordPress world.
I am a big Apple geek and I love those podcasts where the people just report on what is Apple doing. I thought that I could create that for WordPress because I didn’t know of any other websites or podcasts doing that. I created my show and it is one of the highlights of my week.
Mark: I enjoy the show and the website is really gorgeous too. It’s totally professional. It has a very nice design. I love some of the design details like the way that the menu system is folded over the page as though the pages are popping off. I love all of that. Those subtle design touches are really nice.
Mark: Awesome. I really appreciate you coming on today. When I contacted you, it was because I have had several listeners contact me about plugins that I recommend. I have talked about that in the past but I know that as a professional WordPress guy, you have many plugin recommendations. I hope that we can get into your list of favorite plugins but first, could you talk a little bit about what your look for when you are trying to assess a plugin?
The WordPress repository is filled with all these plugins and just like everything else in life, some things are better than others. What kinds of things should people be looking for when they are trying to decide whether or not to download or install a plugin?
Dustin: I will go through my step-by-step process of exactly what I do. At my last count, I believe that there are over 23,000 plugins that are free in the WordPress repository. That doesn’t even count the hundreds of premium plugins that you can’t buy through WordPress but you can somewhere else. There is tons of functionality that you can add to your site.
Normally, my process starts by Googling what I’m looking for. We will use a related post plugin as an example. I would type in “related post WordPress plugin” or something like that. I always at least include the words “Wordpress” and “plugin”. That will normally pull up a link to the WordPress repository.
That is a portion of WordPress.org. The URL itself is WordPress.org/extend/plugins. That is where those things are stored and I will just go there. I will navigate to the ones that take me to the WordPress repository first. They have to be approved by a certain person within WordPress. There is actually a team that approves them to make sure they are working correctly and that they are not malicious in any way, shape or form.
I know that the ones there have at least been filtered in that respect. In the WordPress repository and the plugin directory, the very first thing that I look at is the huge banner images that are relatively new. They are six or eight months old. I look to see if a plugin has one of these banner images. It doesn’t have to but if it does, I know that at least the developer cares enough about their plugin that they spent some time creating something that looks visually appealing and tells me, “Hey, I should download this plugin”.
That is the very first thing that I look at. There are great plugins that don’t have that but for the most part, all of the really good ones that I find have that large banner across the top of the entire section or in that WordPress area.
Mark: It’s like websites. If someone cares enough to make it look nice, that is often an indication that they are paying attention. It is not absolute but it is just something to look for.
Dustin: Sure, and sometimes the images are kind of fun. You think, “This looks like a plugin that I would want to use”. The next thing that I look at is the “Last Updated” field. That is on the right hand side a couple of lines down from the big button that says “Download This Version”.
I am just looking at the Akismet plugin which we’ll talk about a little bit. It says, “Last Updated: December 13, 2012”. My personal preference is that it has to have been updated within the last six months for me to consider it. That is not a hard, fast rule because there are a couple that I have been using for years.
There should be a reason for a plugin developer to refresh them, especially when WordPress refreshes. If you are keeping up with your WordPress installations, we just got to 3.5 so most plugins should have updated around that time to make sure they are working properly and are actually doing what they say they are. That is the next field that I always check. If it is outdated, WordPress will let you know that it hasn’t been updated in over two years. For ones that haven’t been touched within that two year mark, there is no indication other than looking at that “Last Updated” field.
Mark: Okay, so recently updated with a nice image. What else are we looking for?
Dustin: Then I look at the number of downloads. I always look for ones that have a lot. My definition of a lot is 10,000 or more. Most of the really popular ones that a to of people are using are in the millions. I am looking at this one right here and it has 13 million downloads.
It’s pretty legitimate if it has 10,000 or more.
Mark: Excellent. That is an indication that people are using it, telling other people about it and that it is spreading. If it is junk, the word gets out and people don’t use it or it is so untested that you don’t want to mess with it.
Dustin: Exactly. You can see that they normally have a ratings area. I do a balance between the five-star and four-star ratings and see how many of those there are. If there are a lot of two- and three-star ratings, I will get concerned. I really don’t look at the one-star ratings because I think a lot of times people think that one star equals good and they are kind of confused on that.
You can actually go in and read the one-star reviews. If they say, “This is the best plugin ever,” you know that they ranked it improperly. Those are some things that I look at in the ratings area.
One more thing that I like to look for is screenshots. For me, screenshots give me a great visual indication of how this plugin is going to work. I am a visual guy. I can read their description, installation guide and all of this stuff but those will normally have the settings or they will show the plugin actually working somehow. I can normally tell from that is going to do the tasks that I am looking for it to do.
Mark: I see. So again, it’s a care and feeding thing. If the developer is taking the time to do all of that, it is also an indication that it is well supported. Then if you look at it and it looks like what you need, you know that you are well on the way to having the right plugin.
Dustin: Exactly. You can check the version number. It can be version 1.2.4, for example or 3.4.7. If it’s got two or three digits worth of numbers, you know it’s been updated a lot. If it’s a 1.0 or a 2.0, that probably hasn’t been updated a lot, or it could be the very first version so there might be some issues and bugs.
That is not something that I normally take into consideration but it is another thing to look at and think about.
Mark: Okay, understood. That is quite a list. If you feel like you have found something that meets your needs, you give it a try?
Dustin: I do but I don’t just click the download button from within WordPress.org. If you do that, you have to download it and save it on your computer and then you have to manually upload it back to WordPress. What I normally do once I find a plugin I like is to copy it’s name which is often up in the banner area.
You can just copy the text of the plugin name, go back into your WordPress installation, go into the “Plugin” section and click on “Add New”. You can type or paste the name in and then hit “Search Plugins”. Once you are in there, it gives you a one-click installation and it automatically installs. It saves you an extra step and then you don’t have those files sitting on your computer.
Mark: Excellent, I understand. So you always do your installs from inside of WordPress. This is a little bit of a technical detail but it used to be that on some servers, that installation would work but on others, it would require FTP and some authentication. I guess that is an issue of whether or now SU-FTP is installed. Does this one-click installation always work now with Fantastico?
Dustin: I think for the most part, you are right and it is on a host-by-host basis. Sometimes it makes you log into your FTP credentials every time you want to do something like that our update WordPress. I have found that there is an easy way around that. You can actually add three lines of codes that define your username, password and server. You add that to your wp-config file, one of the main configuration files within WordPress.
Every time you go to that screen, try to add a new plugin or update WordPress, it will go to your wp-config file. It will look and see all of your credentials and then it automatically logs in for you.
It’s been a long time since I have found a host company that doesn’t allow it where I have had to use that code. These days, I have had no problem installing it on most of them.
Mark: Okay, great. So you click, install the plugin and then you test it out and see if it does what you want to do, I guess.
Dustin: Yes. Once it’s installed then you have the option to activate it. Most of the time, I’ll go in and activate it. I’ll play with it and see if has the functionality that I need and if it doesn’t, I will instantly deactivate it and delete it. We don’t want extra stuff hanging out in our plugin area and we don’t want outdated plugins. If you forget to delete it and it becomes old and outdated, that is a perfect way for a hacker to get in.
If you find that it is not going to work, delete it. I know that I have had issues with people before where they say, “I don’t know if I use this or not or if it’s disabled for a reason”. You get confused and so when in doubt, just remove it from your WordPress installation if you are not going to use it.
Mark: That’s a really important point. For any plugin that you know you are not going to use, hit the delete button. “Deactivate” and “Delete” are not the same thing.
Mark: Okay, great. Tell us a little bit about the plugins that you recommend for new WordPress installations. I talk to people about building affiliate marketing blogs where they are managing traffic and creating content. We use WordPress for that kind of platform which means that people are often installing new WordPress blogs. What plugins are you recommending for those sorts of installations? As a side, do you delete Hello Dolly or do you leave it in there?
Dustin: Hello Dolly is out. When I am installing WordPress, I normally delete Hello Dolly before I even start rolling out installations so I have my own custom install. That way, I don’t have the delete it from every site, just from my main file.
If you are someone who is interested in creating content online and you value that content and don’t ever want to have to retype all of those blog posts or all of those affiliate lines, the very first thing you should install once you have your website up and running is a back-up system. It doesn’t matter if you have content there or not. I can’t stress this enough.
It is so easy to do. There are both free and paid options. I think for most people getting started, a free option is perfectly fine. It is going to be the best way to get you up and running. You don’t have to go out and spend $150 for a program like Backup Buddy. That is going to be more for people who are moving their website from one server to another and is more a developer-type tool.
Two that I have used and really like are BackWP Up and WordPress Backup to Dropbox. I’m going to explain WordPress Backup to Dropbox. I like this one because that backs up your source file. That is going to back up all your themes, plugins and uploaded images. It is going to make sure that you have a backup copy of pretty much everything that is on your server. It saves it to Dropbox and as long as you have a Dropbox account you know it syncs with Cloud and your computer and on your other devices. You have backups within backups by having it on Dropbox.com.
That is a free option. The only thing I don’t like about that one is that it does not backup your database. You database is where all your blog posts are stored as well as your links and menus. It’s all the data for your website and so that’s why I like to recommend BackWP Up.
You can use one or the other. If you want to use one, BackWP Up is the perfect one to use. Both of those are in the WordPress repository. I’ve got links for all these things that I can send over to you. With BackWP Up, you have the ability to backup your database and then you can export it to different places. You can email it to yourself, save it on a different server or have them out there in the Cloud.
You will probably never need them but if you get hacked and you want to restore, the simplest way to do it is with a backup.
Mark: Very good. I like that recommendation and I like the idea of installing that absolutely first.
Dustin: Once you’ve got that done, the thing I do absolutely second is a security plugin. I also have two to recommend here. Both are free and in the WordPress repository. They are very similar in detail and how they work. One is called Better WP Security and the other is called WordFence.
I am a personal fan of Better WP Security. It basically gives you a checklist. I think there are 20-30 line items that it goes through and checks. It makes sure that your website is as tightly encrypted as it can be. It will make sure that you have a tough password and if you don’t, it will ask you to configure it.
It will make sure that you can block out other IP addresses from accessing your WordPress Dashboard. I have mine set up so that everyone except for the state of Ohio where I live or the region cannot have access to that. You can set it up so that you can only have access to your site between certain hours in the day. For example, maybe you will only ever edit your website from 5:00am-5:00pm or from 5:00pm-10:00pm. That is the only time that it is ever going to be updated so I don’t want people to be able to log in or get in.
It makes it easy to get rid of your header information so that people can’t see what version of WordPress you’re using. It’s got a ton of stuff in there and you just basically go through it. A lot of times, it’ll ask if you are sure you want to do this, you’re modifying your database. It’s perfectly safe and especially if you have a backup and you are doing this right after you’ve set up your site, you are not going to lose anything.
If you’ve just set up your site, installed the backup and you run a better security plugin that messes something up, the worst case scenario is that you start over and do that ten minutes worth of work all over again. Once it’s set up, it is good to go and you’ll never have to worry about it again.
Mark: Have you seen cases where it has gone in and had an interaction with some other database fields or things it wasn’t expecting or are you just saying that any time something touches the database, you want to have a backup?
Dustin: Any time you run a plugin that is going to do something with the database, you want to have a backup but I have never really seen an issue. The only issue that I could see is maybe other plugins not working quite right. For example, maybe you’re going to change the table names in the database and you have another plugin that draws on that.
There are a few little quirky things that could happen. I don’t think you would ever lose data but it might be there and you can’t access it. Then you would have to have someone who has database access get in and modify a few little things.
I’ve never seen a problem with that but it’s always best just to do it early. That way you don’t have to worry about it.
Mark: Okay, great. We’re backing up, we’ve got some security. Then what?
Dustin: Then I am either going to active or install a new spam filtering system. WordPress comes with one called Akismet. It’s a free plugin but you have to activate it with an authorized account. I think you can still get it for free but there is a suggested donation of a few dollars. There is another one called Antispam Bee. This is one is free as well.
What they do is to check comments against their web servers to see if they are spam or not. I know that for a while on my website, I was getting tens of thousands of spam comments per week. Without Akismet that I had running on my site, I would have had to go through and manually filter each one of them to see if they were a legitimate comment. You can tell that they are not real comments but it is annoying and a pain to have to go in. You have to delete them because otherwise they will show up on your site and this is a headache.
You want to get rid of that spam by using one of both of them. You can run both of them if you want and it might even help because one will catch some that the other doesn’t. I have had great success with both of those.
Mark: I haven’t looked at Akismet in a while but I think the cost and the kind of licensing you need depends on whether or not your intent for your website is commercial. If I remember correctly, they have pricing for regular bloggers with no commercial intent and different pricing if you are going to monetize your site if I recall.
Dustin: I believe that is how it looks. We can pull it up really quickly just to see. I am looking at my Akismet stats and in November, it detected 111,000 spam comments to my site. In a six-month period, it’s blocked 313,000 pieces of spam that I didn’t have to deal with.
Mark: Wow, that is very impressive.
Dustin: I’m looking here at the API Key Signup. If it’s a non-personal site or blog, it’s $5 per month. If it’s a personal site for a non-business personal site or blog, it’s anywhere between $0-$120 per year. It is worth not having to delete 313,000 comments for $5 a month.
Mark: That sounds great.
Dustin: It’s not like I have hundreds of thousands of people who are normally coming to my site and leaving comments. It’s all kinds of junk. The robots go out there and they try to hit you up. It’s a nuisance, that’s for sure.
Mark: After this episode goes live, I bet all four of my listeners will rush to your site.
Dustin: And hopefully they send me lots of spam. Just kidding.
Mark: There you go. All right, so we’ve got those. What’s next?
Dustin: From here on out it’s kind of a tossup but the next one I am going to talk about is an SEO plugin. There are a couple of those out there as well. There’s WordPress SEO by Yoast and All in One SEO. I’m not a big SEO guy. I don’t know a lot about it and that is maybe why I am kind of naïve when it comes to that sort of thing.
I just try to do the best job that I can in writing valuable content. I tag my posts accordingly for what I can and what I know and then I leave it at that. I don’t use the tool nearly as much as I should.
The really cool part about using plugins like these is that they add a new little widget area to your posts. I’m going to pull one up here so I can talk through it a little bit. Basically, underneath the edit area where you enter your posts, it gives you the ability to go in and pick a keyword for what you want to focus your post on.
It’s a focus keyword and it goes out and it goes out and finds related keywords that Google has accepted as good keywords or keywords that people are looking for. Then you can modify your site title in your meta-description based on the exact post that you make. That gives you a better ranking when it comes to WordPress and when it comes to someone searching on Google.
The really cool part is that it has a page analysis. This analysis is great because it goes through and says how well your page has been written. It talks about what grade level is it at and how many words it is. It’s like a little checklist that says, “Hey, you should probably add a few more words to your post,” or “You’ve only said your keyword one time and it was at the bottom of the article. Maybe you should put that at the top.”
It gives you an idea of how you should be writing. There’s an SEO check and it’s got a red, yellow and green depending on how many of those things you get right. It’s a neat way to learn how to structure your content and how to write valuable blog posts that Google is going to like and actually index.
I don’t know a lot about it but it gives you a general idea of some things that you could focus on when it comes time to find strong keywords and use them in your blog post.
Mark: You’re right on the money with Yoast’s SEO. I used to use All in One SEO years ago. Of course with focus on land, convert and organic search. I am a heavy user of these sorts of plugins. In addition to the fact that Yoast is basically a genius, the thing about this plugin is that it allows you to preview what the searcher is going to see in Google right there in the plugin.
One of the conversions that a lot of people never talk about when they’re talking about SEO is the conversion for the search engine results page onto your website. It’s one thing to rank up there where they can see you but searchers still have to make a choice. The choice that they make is going to be based largely on what it is that they see.
The Yoast plugin allows you to see what the searchers are going to see and change it right there in the plugin. That is one of the main reasons that I use it so that is what I recommend.
Dustin: There’s more than just SEO in there. You can do a lot of different things. You can do site-wide data so you can go in and change your titles and your meta for all of your pages. It sets up defaults and so you don’t have to do that. You can generate a sitemap and you can do some things with permalinks and your internal links.
You also can export your settings which is really cool so if you get it set up and you want to start up another website or another blog. You can just export your settings and import them into the next one. There are lots of cool things. I think that Yoast is a genius. That is a true statement and I like using his plugin and supporting him.
Thank you for listening to the Late Night Internet Marketing Podcast…
That gets us through the first half of the interview with Dustin. I promise I’ll have the second half next week. Sorry to leave you on pins and needles, but I’m already at 40 minutes on this episode and I didn’t feel like I should sling down an hour and a half long episode. Until next week, I hope it’s all good for you.