UK Mini Conference – Think Visibility

I’ve enjoyed doing a few speaking gigs this year and intend to do more next year, the first of which is going to be Think Visibility organised by my good friend Dom AKA The Hodge.

Think Visibility is in Leeds on 7th March 2009.

Think Visibility is a one-day mini conference with a focus on the areas of web development and marketing which are usually left behind in the creation process:
SEO, PPC, Monetisation, Blogging, Accessibility and Usability.

Tickets for the conference are limited (~150) and cost £30 which is an absolute bargain. There are 32 great speakers, I won’t mention them all but there are certainly names people in the industry will instantly recognise, like Dave Naylor, Patrick Altoft, Tim Nash, Peter Cooper, the list goes on (check out the speaker bios here ).

There will be plenty of knowledge to pick up on the day itself and even more at the after party afterwards (this is the best time to learn the less public stuff and network like crazy). If you’re in the UK and a regular or a conference virgin this is no brainer to attend. IMHO there are only two things wrong with it, it’s too cheap and there are too many speakers but that can only benefit the networking for everybody.

Hope to see you all at Think Visibility.

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.

Blog Blazers Winners are…

Firstly happy Thanksgiving everyone. I’m in the UK but as most of my business is in the US I celebrate US holidays too, it also provides a good reason for my daughter and I to head out for a meal this evening.

I’ve now taken delivery of a stack of the Blog Blazers books, so it’s time to dish out the prizes from our comment contest.
Originally I was going to give 10 away but I’ve received a few more than expected, so will be sending out 18 (hmm not sure what the postage on that little lot will be). I’ll divide them equally between tweeters and commenters, which also means if you sent me a tweet (twitter.com/AlCarlton) you’ll get a book :) .

So the following twitters will recieve a copy of Blog Blazers:

  • adrianacopacean
  • sciencebase
  • sumesh
  • s2999
  • mtheodoulou
  • ryanajarrett
  • justinbcook
  • jdevalk
  • jgderuvo

Thanks to everyone who left a comment, unfortunately I cannot send a copy to all but the following will all get a copy:

Joey
Something I would like to learn from reading everyones story is how to identify my own strengths and weaknesses. Sometimes I tend to focus on things I like but may not be best suited for or of any entertainment or use to my readers. I would imagine that out of 40 bloggers someone else has struggled with the same thing.
Plus I love to read how people ended up doing what they do.

Robh
I would like to learn how to make loads of money, drive a fast car and have lots of geeky looking groupies.

Matt Apple
I’d like to learn what probloggers think is the primary difference between blogs that make it and blogs that don’t.

Amit
All the bloggers in the list are authority bloggers and have achieved a status where the readers listen when they’ve got to speak!
I’d like to learn how these people kept going when there wasn’t any success to be seen and any money to keep inspirations.

John Essex
There are many things I would like to learn from the book. There are the practical ideas such as mistakes to avoid, how to write better content and how to get more visitors. Then there are the more personal things such as how to stay motivated, how to pick yourself up and recover when things go wrong, how to be inspired and how to be creative. There is also curiosity, what are these bloggers like in the real world, what makes them tick, what do they do for fun and what are their backgrounds? Then finally, I would like to learn that these great bloggers are normal people just like the rest of us and with some hard work and dedication, we too can be great bloggers.

dan
sounds a bit al pacino (or actually was it robert de niro who harped on about ‘motivation’?) but i’d like to learn how to motivate myself to get more stuff done.
the people on that list (yourself included) have great ideas AND are ‘doers‘. i have dozens of great ideas, but I just sit on most of them – or stick a big barrier in my way by overcomplicating them.
i’d like to pick up some of that trait of getting more done.
that’s it! not much to ask!

Chris Guthrie
The single most important thing to me is the story that shows a key turning point in each blogger’s life that allowed them to do it full time.
Now I’m not entirely familiar with all of the bloggers on the list but I would have to assume that most of these bloggers do it on a full time basis.
If I can take key points away from their journey and incorporate them into my own – than I believe I stand a chance to be more successful than I have been so far. I love to read books like this so even if I don’t win one for free I may pick it up anyway

Shaded from test
Good morning its 4.54 I’m Matt and this is your favourite answer for the day (I hope
What I would like most to achieve from reading Blog Blazers would be valuable insight concerning online entrepernerial endevours. I’m 20 years old and after stumbling across selfmademinds.com I have become seriously interested in the domain game, kicking myself for not being clever enough to buy more LLL.com when I was 11 Now ‘online realestate’ blogs and other internet businesses have me enthralled I just want to tap into all the knowledge and pick all the great minds I can . Let this book make me savvy! I want to learn of realistic success from these webcommandors. You may just help inspire the next Hansup Yoon from Zuneboards.

Adriana Copaceanu
Al, first of all, congratulations on being included. I would love a copy of Blog Blazers so I can learn how to be successful in my blogging endeavors. I only recently started to see some success in my main blog, and learning from others who’ve “been there, done that” would be a great help, and an absolute honor. Thanks.

If you are on the list please get in touch and send my your full International mailing address, please format it in such a way that the postman will understand (I can’t always recognise Zips and States in other countries).

Thanks to everybody commented, if you didn’t win you’ve still given me ideas for future posts which will hopefully provide the info you were after.

Blog Blazers – 40 Top Bloggers Share their Secrets and I have some to give away


Around this time last year I was interviewed by Stephane Grenier for his latest book, I think it took him a bit longer than expected to hit the shelves but it’s now finally available in the shops:

Blog Blazers – 40 Top Bloggers share their secrets

It’s an interesting book (as far as I’ve read so far) and from a personal point it’s the first time I’ve had an interview published in traditional media which is cool as I can show my mum, my daughter is also ecstatic as she took my photo that’s used in the book. I have a number of copies give away so keep reading or skip to the end to find out how to get one :) .

The book consists of interviews with 40 pretty successful bloggers and it’s a real honor being featured alongside these guys:

[thanks Mert Erkal for originally formatting the list]

You can buy the book from Amazon or the Blog Blazers site however we’ve also got 10 copies to give away. To enter simply answer the following question:

“What would you most like to learn from reading Blog Blazers?”

You can leave your answer in a comment here or via Twitter, we’ll give 5 away to our favourite answers from each (so double your chance by doing both :) ). Good luck.

Friday 7th links n things

Off to Edinburgh tomorrow to meet up with some developers & domainers, should be fun.

The lawn sign based business is a great article where the author investigated the origin of multiple dating lawn signs, an enjoyable read.

Humour: This video is old, unrelated but pretty damn funny.

The Pirate Bay has always filled a gap that Hollywood seems reluctant to fill, rather than withhold and sue they could embrace the online world, The Pirate Bay broke a new record recently with 22 million users.

Freeporntube.com sells for $34,800 crickey that seems a tad expensive.

Make sure when you download your versions of WordPress you do it only from the official site, seems to be some trojanised copies being offered for download which would make for a bad start to your new site. I presume that should also apply to downloading plugins as well.

Game: Build the highest tower possible with 99 bricks, tetris with a spin.

Leaving the comfort zone


In many things in life there is often an easy option, be it in relationships, business, careers or simply what you’re doing at the weekend. Taking the easy option is what becomes your comfort zone and the longer you stay in it the harder it is to break out, but when you do, you will reap the rewards.

When I was a child I had a speech impediment which made me very self conscious of speaking in public (though on the plus side did mean I learnt to code at a young age). This still affects me now and there are words I intentionally avoid saying and group situations I’m uncomfortable in. So when Kieron invited me to speak at a4u my first thought was no f’ing way, however it was an opportunity to leave a comfort zone I should of left years ago. So in the end I accepted, did my presentation and it has certainly given me more confidence when speaking in public, so thank you Kieron for the push.

In my life I’ve had had 2 jobs that I kept for 5+ years. I worked at Barclays Bank for around 5 years (holy shit) and left that to go to Uni to study software Engineering. At the time I was comfortable on an okay wage (well I thought it was okay at the time), so moving city and losing a reliable wage was a hell of a shock to the system but one of the best moves I made.

In my previous job I was earning a steady 6 figures ($) per year and giving that up to do “web stuff” full-time was a somewhat scary experience. I did have a contingency fund in place but it still wasn’t the most comfortable of times. The end result of both these career changes was well worth leaving each respective comfort zone for, the only regret would be not doing them sooner. In fact Barclays ended up laying people off just after I left and the other company I worked for was sold shortly after my departure.

I’ve still got a few comfort zones and barriers to break down and I will over the coming months and probably years as new ones keep popping up. If I’ve learnt anything from past experiences it is always better and easier to leave the comfort zone at the earliest opportunity, and if somebody offers you a scary branch of help, take it with both hands.

Are you currently in a comfort zone that you’d benefit from leaving and if so what’s stopping you and what can you do about it?

A few entertaining and useful links this Halloween

It’s been a while since we did a weekly round up and I promised Tim a suitable game so here goes.

If you use WordPress you need to sign up for Joost de Valk’s free email newsletter (top right of page) and if you don’t use WordPress you need to download it here.

On the subject of newsletters another couple that are well worth reading are those from Patrict Altoft and Shoemoney’s, they both feature useful content that is not available on the respective sites.

Google Tutor reports on an interesting update to Google Reader, writing trends (probably doesn’t look that healthy for SMM at the moment).

At recent meets and conferences I’ve been asked a few times what tool I use for automatic affiliate links, I’ve covered it here before (and is still available) but I’d advise doing a search on Google for a more polished script.

Jamie Harrop has released his “One Killer Interview With 10 Killer Bloggers” as a free eBook.

Cool interview with Richard Millington about building online communities (if you like, Sphinn here).

Courtesy of Red Save I’m giving away 5 digital picture frames to CG readers and another $100 in this week’s coolest gadget.

If you’re a programming or enjoy logic games check out Light Bot whilst if flying and shooting stuff is your cup of tea then give Dogfight 2 a go (I’m stuck on Level 19(?) where you’ve got to guard your bombers).

That’s all folks, have a great Halloween and weekend.

Slides from a4u expo

A few people have asked to see my slides from the a4u expo, so here they are. I don’t think they’ll be that useful, I used them as pointers for what to speak about but if you can get anything from them or want to ask questions the comment section is open.

I’ve been asked to do the same presentation at the next UK Northern Bloggers Meet-Up this Friday in Leeds, so if you fancy popping along, again leave a comment and I’ll send details.

Just so I can share some decent presentation slides, this is the one Joost did on SEO for WordPress (only slightly more slick and professional, okay lots more :) )

WordPress SEO & Optimisation
View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own. (tags: plugin plugins)

Reflecting on the a4u expo experience (and a few session notes)

I experienced my first ever UK Internet conference last week, the a4u expo, a conference dedicated to affiliate marketing with a heavy leaning to SEO. I was invited to speak there by Kieron Donoghue and after a fair bit of umming and arring I accepted and I’m really pleased I did, so thanks again Kieron for putting my name forward.

The expo itself was a really well organised event (dk you could learn something from this :) ) and ram packed with talks and presentations, if anything there were a few too many as a number overlapped so you had to pick and choose which to attend. I won’t go into all the talks here as many have already spoken about them (I’ll post links at the end).

I saw the same presentations as Patrick Altoft (well not exactly as Patrick managed to sleep through the hour long keynote on Day 1, quite amusing when you’re sat/laid in the middle on the second row). I’ve known Patrick online for a number of years and it was great to finally meet face to face. Also met up and had the pleasure of spending time with Chris Garret, who calmed me down more than he’ll ever know.

I spent much of day 1 shitting bricks about my presentation on the day 2, even tried a practice session in front of the mirror in my hotel room but felt like an absolute twonk so gave that one a miss and practised drinking at the bar instead.

After waking later than planned on the Wednesday, had time to read through my script again and calm nerves with a can of Grolsh for breakfast. Headed over to the presentation room that I would be speaking in to see people crowding round the door to listen to an earlier speaker, this did nothing for my nerves and at this point I was thinking of many different ways to cause physical pain to Kieron for getting me into this.

Once my presentation began (did think about bolting when the room filled up) I ended up sacking the script and making it up as I went along from the slides (thanks Tim Nash for advising me that this is the normal approach). I reckon it was the combination of a cool audience and “The Ultimate Guide to Anal Sex for Women (2nd Edition)” slide that helped calm my nerves and the presentation seemed to go pretty well, there were loads of intelligent questions afterwards which I’m told is a good sign. So thanks everyone that witnessed and helped with my first speaking gig, it was an awesome experience and I was on a real high for the rest of the day (though that may of been down to alcohol too).

Many people asked about which WordPress plug-ins I used, I had a brain fart blank at the time as I’ve actually written about this before, New Blog Plug-In Check List. Joost also recommended a collection of plug-ins in his SEO for WordPress Presentation, well worth checking out.

Another item that came up was using Chitika as another source of income. I’d agreed a special deal with Ryan (my rep at Chitika) to give new sign-ups a bonus:

Chitika Promotion:
The bonus will be on a 50% match – for example:
If the user earns $30, we will give them an additional $15 bonus
The max amount of the bonus will be $50, so if they earn over $100, they will receive the max bonus of $50

To be eligible sign up under my referral, if you recently signed up before seeing this let me know and I’ll see if they can back date it somehow (sorry Ryan).

If anybody has any other questions let me know by commenting here and I’ll do my best to answer them.

At the end of the second day I had the pleasure of being taken out for a Thai meal with Becky and Dave Naylor, there was a somewhat motley bunch of Anthony Shapley, Mel Carson, Todd Crawford, Joost De Valk, Marcus Tandler, Patrick and myself. It was a great end to the expo (until my second wind came later on and I ended up at a casino at 7am) so thanks again Becky and Dave.

There are plenty more posts about the expo and other sessions, check out:
Kierons wrapup post – with a gazzillion links to other people experiences.
Peter Anderson – Why a4u sucked (link bait if ever I saw it).
Geoff’s Review – I think I owe him money or a job for that review

When you can’t afford an outright buy, improvise!

I finally managed to track down the owner of a domain that has had my eye for 2 years, it’s rather a high calibre domain and not one I can really afford to go out and buy, but that doesn’t stop me trying, asking, improvising and generally persevering.

I’ve emailed the owner before with no response, that’s not unusual seeing as owners of very good domains ‘not in use’ probably get cheeky offers all the time, can’t remember what I offered last time but it was probably not worth replying to if I was being honest, so yesterday I took a new tactic. I emailed and asked if he had a price in mind, or if he would entertain a swap. I included one of my better domains as a possible trade.

To make a fresh change I actually got a response this time, it was short and to the point but at least it was communication, it went like this

yourdomain.co.uk + £50,000 = mydomain.co.uk

Personally for what it’s worth my gut says this is a 6 figure domain, not that I have 6 figures in my bank but as I mentioned before it doesn’t stop me asking. The counter offer actually isn’t that bad and if I had £50,000 sitting around in my change jar I’d be very tempted. So where do we go from here?

Back and forth, I suggested I lease the domain with an option to buy but this made him increase his price to £75k plus my domain, that’s more like end user pricing now as my domain is valuable, I made a final offer:

Lease the domain for 12 months for £1000 with an option to buy for £75,000 at any point during the 12 months, he accepted, unfortunately he is in out of the country at the moment so it will be a few weeks before we can get the agreement signed but it’s been written up and approved by both of us.

Will I raise the funds to buy it? I don’t know, but I’m willing to bet £1000 that I might.