A $10K+ Automation Example

It’s my super busy time of the year and I’m trying to make the most of the Xmas shopping season. I outsource most of the content creation on Coolest Gadget and have a great team of writers however I still post each week with the coolest gadget of the week contest and for the past few weeks have been producing various gifts guides. I didn’t want to outsource either task but needed to make them a bit less time intensive, so a bit of automation was called for.

Previously with the gift guides I’d created a template in notepad, then for each product I’d copy and paste the relevant details in (myltiple times). I’d also save the image locally, resize it and then upload via the WordPress “Add Media” button. This was both time consuming and error prone. As I come from a coding background should know there’s a better way than copy and pasting.

So to ease the job I’ve created a WP Plugin where I can specify a set of common fields and then a template.

So for the Product details template that I use on my gift guides I’ll need to enter 6 fields and these will then be automagically populated into the template. Most of the fields are used multiple times (the affiliate URL is used 5 times 🙂 ) but only needs to be entered (or pasted) once. Thus reducing errors.

The next image shows the data entry form that’s created, it’s ugly but functional.

When the data entry form is submitted the template is filled and the image is copied over to my server and resized to the dimensions specified in the field type. Producing the code for the blog post:

The plug-in is very rough and designed for inhouse use only but I wanted to share the details as an example of how automation can save a lot of time and errors. Previously it would take me half a day or so to knock a gift guide together, it now takes about 30 minutes (just finding the products and copying the relevant fields) and they are all laid out exactly the same and easier for readers to follow and optimised (the product name is relevantly used 4 times in each post). I also added the functionality to save and load different templates so will now use it every week when posting CGOTW contests.

If you find yourself repeating the same actions over and over is there a way you can automate it, either by using something that’s already out there, coding it yourself or outsourcing the coding to somebody else. With this example it has easily paid for itself time wise (in hindsight I should of coded it 6 months ago) and the gift guides created with it have already generated $10K+ in commissions.

I’m not releasing this plug-in publicly as yet but if you have a need for it, leave a comment explaining why and I’ll see what I can do. I’d also be very happy to hear other ideas on things that can be automated, as I must admit I really enjoyed getting my hands dirty coding for a change.

About Al Carlton

Al quit the 9 to 5 rat race in January of 2007, before then he was a software engineer and systems architect of financial system. Nowadays Al spends the days running his various businesses and experimenting with different ideas and opportunities.
Al can be found on twitter at AlCarlton.

Comments

  1. Hey Al,,
    I’m sure a bunch of people would kindly pay you a buck for it,, hmmm, if 1000 people need it,, (or say 5$!!)

    Also,, shoot me an email, something is weird with the address I have for ya.

    Cheers!
    -Fred

  2. Hey Al,

    I’m thinking this would be ideal for my weekly “Round-Up & Comment Awards” post. It’s by far my most time consuming post of the week as I go through all the comments and pick the best and link out to new commentators.

    If you think it might work for that, I’d love to get my hands on it. I’ll happily send you any beta feedback you want. 🙂

    Jamie

    Jamie Harrop’s last blog post..Where Creativity Comes From – Fun Friday Viral Video

    • If you have a lot of repeated content or formatting it could help, though it’s prob not ideal for what you want it could help I’ll send it over.

  3. I can’t help but think that there may even be a more automated way of automating this routine task. If you’re routinely copying and pasting the same fields or areas of text each time, there has to be a way to simply extract that content, or even create a simple firefox extension to do it. You could take 30 minutes down to 2.

    Justin Cook’s last blog post..What is Google’s new SearchWiki?

    • Definately, I’ve not done a FF plugin before so this was the quickest option for me, I’ll certainly look at that for the future though, nice suggestion.

  4. Hi Al.

    I’d love to have a copy of your plugin if you decide to make it available.

    Cheers

    Ash

    Ash’s last blog post..Christmas Stocking for boys

  5. Cool!
    I do that with an excel worksheet somehow, but having a plugin helps a lot, specially with the image part of it.

    Database Guides’s last blog post..Installing your first WordPress script

  6. I’d gladly test it Al if you need someone to test it somemore 🙂

    An adition I think would help would be the ability to put in a few affiliate URL’s for the product (different country links) and then geo-target the right buy it button for the user. I think Patrick over at Blogstorm gave a good example of geo-targetting a while back although I don’t remember if it needed to access a database which could be a problem.

    • Thanks Matthew, it’s not really up for testing it’s more if somebody has a specific need that I think it will help with I’ll share. It needs to be much more polished before I’d release it normally.

  7. Hi Al,

    I am building a product comparison site based on datafeeds from UK merchants.

    I’d love to have the plugin to use for the blog.

    Thanks for all the great stuff you share here.

    Razvan’s last blog post..WordPress Optimization

  8. Wish I had this a few weeks ago…I used your idea from the 2007 gift guide on one of my site and your right is just taks so long to get each post done.

    Colm’s last blog post..Sony Ericsson T303 Review

  9. Nice plugin Al, I have no need for it (yet!) but have a query I hope you can answer.

    As a non coder, how would you recommend and evaluate a coders capabilities if I was to try and outsource a project? Also where is the best place to look for quality coders as I don’t know any!

    thanks for your help

  10. Hi Al,

    It is great that you’re sharing examples like this with the rest of us. I think that a lot of people are spending far too many hours on tasks that could easily be automated. I know that I do.

    This post was a great reminder that we need to rethink what we’re doing and start automating without hurting the quality or user experience.

    Mikael

    Mikael’s last blog post..De danske IM blogs er gået i stå

  11. I like to add pages to one of my wordpress blogs, just works out well for long articles and ad placement compared to posts. (I also add post BTW)

    As I add over 100 pages I didn’t want all the article in one Group. So what I do it create Page Groups so for example “Widget FAQ” “Widget Reviews” “Widget keyword”

    I have a plugin that allows me to choose which Page Group I want the article in….just like Categories in post. It’s a simple plugin and all you need do then is add a little code to your sidebar or footer that calls the group names. It’s 99% working I’m not happy with the URL is creates but this will be fixed in a few days.

    If this is any use Al let me know maybe we can do a swap..and if anybody else would like it let me know also.

    Colm’s last blog post..Sony Ericsson T303 Review

  12. Thats a really great idea, we’ve been putting some gift guides together this Christmas too and have to say it can be a very time consuming process. I’ve also been trying automate a lot of these tasks but haven’t come up with something as clever as this for the gift ideas.

    Thanks for sharing it.

    Gaj

    Gaj’s last blog post..Pre-Christams sales reveal popular low-end phones

  13. Hi Al

    As i mentioned before i’d love to have a copy of your ‘plugin’ and i’m more than happy to hack it around to suit my needs.

    I’m looking to add a lot of content to a site of mine in the form of the top 10 products being sold by each merchant / shop currently listed on my (wordpress powered) voucher code site http://www.vouchercodes.me.uk

    It sounds like your plugin would be a huge timesaver for this task and i’d be eternally grateful if i could have a copy.

    Cheers

    Ash

    Ash’s last blog post..Christmas Stocking for boys

  14. Hi Al

    Not sure if this would work, but one task I’d love to speed-up is “round-up” posts. For example, once a month (or if and when I remember) I do a post that lists the most popular posts and pages on my blog (and sometimes one or two that are not so popular that I want to push!). Similarly, someone might want to do a round-up of their best posts on a particular subject.

    It would be great to have some sort of picklist, and then create link-text and a couple of sentences about each one.

    Cheers, Jon

    Jon’s last blog post..Salon Retail – Beauty Foods a growing market in 2009?

  15. Al

    Would be interested in integrating a modified version of this into a wordpress plugin for AffiliStore Enhanced that I’m developing.

    Stephen
    Anyname

  16. Hi Al, nice example of automation. I find its lots of small regular takss that eat up the time and can also be tricky to automate. I should really make more of an efort to automate, it’s well worth the investment in the long run.

    John Essex’s last blog post..Permitted Development Regulations Update

  17. Hi Al, you’re probably enjoying Christmas but I just wanted to ask you whether you got my email about using the translation plugin and what you thought of the idea?

    Thanks,
    Mikael

  18. This is a great tool. As many of the people who commented before me said, I’d very much like to experience this plugin hands on, should you choose to make it available.

    All the best with your future development.

    Cheers,
    Beth.

  19. That looks like a really neat plug-in. I’m a huge fan of working smarter and not harder, so your coding exmaple falls right in line. Unfortunately, I’m not a programmer so I don’t have the skillset to overcome a problem like that.

    If you ever decide to release it publicly, let me know.

    Brad’s last blog post..Big & Tall Executive Chair, Upholstered Arms, Burgundy Fabric, TIF6446AG2112

  20. That’ a cool plug-in. Just what I was looking for. Came across a few similar plug-ins but this is the best.May be I’ll try it out and see. But the price is my problem as I’m still schooling. Anyway, awesome stuff.

  21. Neat plug-in. Looks a really good idea for a plug-in like that. it sounds all convincing but it really needs to be taken for a spin. Hope it’s worth the 10$

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