Squeeze Page Resources

Today I’d like to show you some of the landing pages that I have created in the past, and let you know which plug-ins or products I used to create them.

1. HTML

Yes, I have been known to create simple landing pages with HTML (or PHP).  I do this if I need a quick solution for a site that does not already use WordPress.

Here’s an example from my own IT site that I link to on my Twitter profile: http://www.tappenden.de/twitter/

2. WP-SalesLetterTheme

If you want to work in WordPress and are on a tight budget, then this theme is perfect.  The basic theme is free and although you have to do all of the copywriting and layout yourself, the theme at least contains the CSS elements to turn the normal WordPress editor elements into typical sales letter pages with the large red headings and the pale yellow boxes.

Since it replaces your theme it needs to be installed on a WordPress installation on its own, so this would be the case if you had a sub-directory or domain just for selling a product.

There is a more sophisticated version which comes with a number of variants and version that works as a page template, so that you can integrate it into an existing site without changing the theme, but these do cost a small fee.

One example of me using this theme is for my German CV e-book:
http://www.allthingsgerman.net/how-to-write-a-german-cv/

You can download the free version of the theme here.

3. Plain WordPress

If you don’t want those CSS elements, you can even just use a normal WordPress page an set it to be “full width” in the theme (assuming the theme supports that).

I do this for the DIY Blogger sign-up page:
http://www.diy-blogger.com/join-the-diy-blogger/

4. Premise

Premise is a plug-in that comes from the same people who write the Genesis theme.  Unfortunately it’s not that cheap since they released a new version that basically comes with an unlimited site license and appear to have removed the single-site license which was available previously.  I do own a copy, which I bought once during one of their sales, so if you’re not in a hurry it might be worth waiting for one of those to come along again.

Premise has the advantage that it takes care of a lot of things for you, so you can just drop in a sign-up box, place a “buy now” button and choose from a selection of the buttons that they offer.

The latest version also includes some membership features, so if you are just looking to create a site that offers digital downloads or content, then this may actually be worth looking at because it takes care of basically everything, as long as you are using PayPal or Authorize.net as a payment system.  You can even drip content with it and it support vBulletin as a forum.

Now I have a feeling that they are trying to place themselves somewhere near WishListMember, rather than just being a sales page plug-in.

To be honest, I have tried creating some sales pages with it but wasn’t always as successful as I wanted to be and the moment I have to start tweaking CSS then I don’t want to know, as I can go back the SalesLetterTheme instead.  I have, however, made it a priority to use Premise for some new things that I am working on.  Although when I first looked at the new version, I wasn’t that impressed by the membership option, but maybe I need to look at that a bit closer.

Here’s a sample from someone else that was created with it:
http://exchangeserverpro.com/exchange-2003-2010-migration-guide

5. Optimize Press

Optimize Press is a whole theme in itself that contains squeeze page options, so if you own this then you might as well use it to create the squeeze pages.  I have played with it on a test site, but don’t actually have anything that I can show you.

It’s actually cheaper than Premise at the moment, but you do need a membership plug-in if you are going to use it in that way.  Again, I’ve had it running on a test site, but as yet have not created anything with it worth showing.

But as an example for you, I know that David Risley’s Inner Circle uses it, so maybe take a look at that.

6. Presidential List Building

This is landing page plug-in that is meant to help you grow your list.  It mimics the White House landing page which is basically just a large background photo with a sign up box.

If that sounds interesting, then take a look here.

7. Pop-up Domination

You probably saw a lot of sites using this a couple of years ago.  When it first came out it was a great plug-in and I used it quite well on AllThingsGerman.  Sadly through the course of the updates it became more of a problem for me.  Sometimes I could not update a site because the plug-in broke it, then at one of those times they released a new version rather than an update, so I had to pay for it again – although I did receive a discount.  The problem was that they used the opportunity to introduce a new licensing system and my multi-site license was downgraded to a single-site one when I paid for that upgrade, at which point I decided not to use it any more.

8. Shortcode Kid

This plug-in is not actually actually for landing pages, but it allows you to create buttons, infoboxes and tabbed contents using shortcodes within the page, so it might be worth looking at.

9. Membership Sales Page Plug-in

This is the only plug-in on the list that I did not own a copy of before I started writing this article, but I do have other software by the same programmer.  It’s actually quite cheap and I like the fact that the on-line button creator (which I do use because it’s part of another product as well) allows you to save the buttons that you create, rather than hosting them as Premise likes to do.  The plug-in turns a page without your site into a sales page by overriding the theme for just that page.  It allows you to set the colours for the headings from within the editor, overriding the CSS styles and making it easy to use.

In fact, if you’re looking for something cheap (currently $17) then give this a try, because the graphic generator alone is probably worth that!

Take a look at it here.

So have I missed anything?  Have you created any landing pages with these products?  Then leave a comment or a link in the forum!

 

Why I started using MailChimp for my mailing lists

As I wrote last week, the mailing lists for my new sites will be hosted by MailChimp.  I thought I’d tell you a bit more about why that is.

I’m assuming that I don’t need to tell you all how important a mailing list is, or how effective auto-responders are.  I do have to tell my IT clients that quite often, and even when I do website optimisation I often discover lists that have been building up for ages that are rarely being used.

Anyway, I started my lists for my IT clients pretty much the moment I launched the business.  I used a piece of software called “SuperMailer”, which ran on my computer and allowed me a lot of flexibility over how the e-mails were sent and also had a lot of integration features.  So even though it was running locally, it used web-based sign-up forms and even had an auto-responder add-on.  Because the software means a cheap, one-off payment, I still recommend it to small businesses that don’t quite want to make the leap to fully web-based systems just yet.

The next step came just over two years ago, when I upgraded to “SuperWebMailer”.  This is a web-based system from the same author that runs on my own web server.  The advantage was clear: my auto-responders no longer required my computer to be running, so they didn’t get stopped when I was on holiday.  Also, I could send out my mailings from anywhere. [Read more...]

Why you should publish on Kindle (and how to do it)

As you may know, I published my e-book “How to write a German CV” on Amazon Kindle this week.  I was amazed at how easy it was to do, and so I thought it was a good chance to look at some of the benefits it has for me as an author, but also a a blogger.

The starting point for a Kindle e-book is your normal electronic version of the book, ideally in .DOC format for Microsoft Word, but as I use a mixture of Google Documents and OpenOffice.org for my writing I used the “Save As” option to convert it first.  You also need a cover, preferably in .JPG format.  But if you are already selling a book on-line, then you probably already have both of those.

I’ll readily admit that I didn’t work out the steps that you take all by myself, because there was already a good post on that from a friend of mine in Spain, Ben Curtis.  However Ben works with a Mac, so I needed to get to grips with the PC software that you use to convert the file called “Mobipocket”.  That software has been around a long time, because I remember using a reader for it on Psion palmtops over 10 years ago!

Basically, your .DOC file gets saved as a .HTML, and from there it gets compiled by Mobipocket into a .PRC file containing the cover image and the table of contents, which then gets uploaded to Amazon.  Simple?  Well, actually it wasn’t too bad.  I used the Kindle Preview software to see what the book was going to look like on the Kindle screen, and did tweak the file a few times before I was happy with it.

Once I came to actually upload the file, I had to set up a Kindle publishing account with Amazon.  This is quite a bureaucratic process, as you have to read through the terms and conditions and then set up bank accounts for the payments in USD, GBP and EUR – or accept payment by check.

But with the file finally uploaded, I was able to sit back and wait for it to appear on-line.  A few hours later, and it was already visible on Amazon.com, .co.uk, .de, .es, .fr and .it.

The final step was to set up my author’s page on Amazon.com, .co.uk and .de, so that when you click on my name you get taken to that page rather than a generic one.

Price-wise, I’ve gone down with my price for the Kindle edition.  For a start, it does not include the bonus audio edition that comes with the e-book if you buy it directly from me.  But really I just want to see if I can increase the sales by doing that.  It’s worth noting that there are also limits on the price depending on the amount of royalties you select to receive from Amazon – 35% or 70%.

So why do it?

“To make money” would seem to be the obvious answer.  Every copy I sell on Kindle means money in the bank, and I suspect that the person buying for their Kindle would not have bought directly in the first place.  It’s a simple fact that people trust Amazon.  But even those buyers are prospective readers for my site and may order my “CV checking” service, which has nothing to do with Amazon and means either direct income or maybe affiliate income.  At the very least more readers can mean better advertisers’ rates.

Amazon is, of course, well optimised for search, so I hope that the book will be found that way as well.  And Amazon does do a good job of cross-promoting books to people along the lines of “you bought this book last week, you might like this one as well…”.

I can also promote my book on Amazon using affiliate links, and still get to earn in the traditional Amazon Associates way if someone goes and buys something else.

And for the sake of around 2 hours work, I now have 6 new “blog outposts” on the internet, all of which are there to make me money, but at the same time they will be promoting me as well.  The author’s pages contain my bio in which I talk about other sites (although you can’t link them), and theoretically I could add a video as well.  But what I particularly like is the chance to add a Twitter account to the page, so that my latest tweet appears there – including any links.

So think about what you have written and sold on-line in the past.  How soon can you get your product onto Kindle as well?

 

Alternatives to Google AdSense

As many of you will know, I recently had a run in with Google.  I took their own advice on how to increase my AdSense revenue, and promptly got banned for doing so.

Being forced to do something about the loss of income that would cause (and Google have also kept back my last payment!), I was also faced with the problem of a lot of white spaces on my site where the ad blocks had been.  So I revisited some old ideas and looked for some alternatives.

Obviously, it would have been nice to replace those ads with some new advertisers paying a monthly rate, but since that always requires some effort, it was not going to be instant.

In the end, I took a closer look at Amazon Associates and the eBay Partner Network.

I was already a member of both systems in a number of countries, so it was literally a case of expansion.  But until now I had tried to use targeted adverts from those systems.  If I wrote about Frankfurt, then I would use an Amazon banner for maps or guides of Frankfurt.  If I wrote about a particular ornament that is popular in Germany at Christmas, then I would use an eBay banner for readers to bid for such an ornament.  We also did quite well linking to Royal Wedding souvenirs on both sites a few months ago :-)

I started to work out which search terms would work best on each of my sites and where the visitors were coming from to offer them the best Amazon or eBay site to link to.

The initial results have been good.  There has been an increase in orders on Amazon and clicks on eBay.  One thing that I quickly noticed was the the targeted ads, eg. using search terms from a particular region, were converting better than the systems’ own “relevance ads”.

Another technique that I have tried out is to place more ads in older posts than newer ones.  The latest posts generally don’t have any in-line ads at all so regular readers only see the ones on the sidebar.  Using a plug-in call Ad Injection I have put in-line ads into any post older than a certain number of days and longer than, say, 100 words.

As far as I can tell, this has produced good results.  Not only do the regular readers never see them, but they target anyone coming from a link or a search engine, or from my list of “related posts”, so as long as the ad stays relevant to the post, it is also relevant to something that the visitors are interested in as well.  More so, maybe, than a regular reader who reads everything I read anyway.

And on sites like AllThingsGerman these programmes work better than affiliate programmes for a single product.

But only time will tell whether they can replace the Google Adsense income on a long-term basis.

Has anyone else here been through this with AdSense?  What did you do?  Does anyone have any other ideas on what to replace them with?

 

 

Do Money Back Guarantees actually make a difference?

I have a strange relationship with “money-back” guarantees.  I rarely make use of them, but on some occasions, such as when I dabbled with the Headway theme, I was glad to have one in place.

Do they really help sales pages to convert better?

Maybe it’s living in Germany that has made me blind to such “guarantees”.  You see, German consumer law works the other way around if you buy a physical product on-line.  The shop has to give you your money back if you return the product with a certain number of days.  The number of days depends on a number of factors, but it’s safe to say it will never be less than 14.  And if the item costs over €40 then they even have to refund the return postage.

So on the one hand, on-line stores must inform you of your right to return a product, and they can be fined for not doing so.  On the other hand, they don’t make a big fuss about it because they have to do it anyway.

But even when I’m visiting the UK I’m someone who knows their rights and am quite happy to start quoting consumer legislation if I need to in a high street shop.

Taking this into the on-line world, I see a number of situations that can arise.

German consumer law, for example, allows me to exclude refunds on products where returning them is not possible, eg. digital downloads, but only if the customer actually was sent the correct download.  There isn’t much room to manoeuvre here.  You either offer the correct number of days, or exclude refunds altogether.

Outside of Germany, if I buy something with a license key, then I can see how refunds are not a problem.  If I cancel my contract or even just don’t pay for some reason, then my license key can be revoked and the product will stop working.

For an e-book this isn’t really feasible, so I think this enters the territory of “is it worth it?”.  Just give them their money back!

And for membership sites?  I can see a good reason to “drip” content.  After all, if someone cancels then they have only seen a small amount of content at that point.  They can’t come in, download everything, and then clear off again.

Of course, neither the Beyond Blogging Project or The DIY Blogger works in that way.  You really can come in, read everything, and then cancel again.  BUT these sites do not offer a money back guarantee.  You have to pay for at least one month.

If I ever start a new membership site though, I will seriously consider “drippping” the content, using a plug-in called WP Drip.

So let me ask you some questions.  Does the offer of a “money back” guarantee really make you more likely to buy?  And do you trust the vendor, potentially in a foreign country, to actually hold that promise?

I’ll admit that as much as I don’t like ClickBank for the fact that they charge me VAT on top of the vendor’s price, they do have a good reputation in this department.  I even tried it out, just once.

PayPal also seems to reliable.  In fact, in Germany they have a reputation of being too reliable sometimes when it comes to refunds.  If I put in a dispute then there is a good chance that I will get my money back.

Otherwise, I’d hate to have to discuss a refund with someone at my credit card company for a product that they don’t even understand the logic behind.

For me, in the few cases that I have ever claimed my money back, my gut feeling about the product in advance was that I might need that option.  If I listened to my instinct a bit more, I probably would not need it.

So it’s fair to say, that the only products where such a guarantee has made a difference, I ended up returning anyway.  Turn that argument around, and offering a money-back guarantee on a site may not actually increase sales in the long run.  Any short-term gain is cancelled out by people asking for refunds.

I find the dripped membership site – with the chance for someone to cancel a subscription if they want to – much better.

What are your thoughts on this subject?

Blogging at events

In the past few months there have been two major events that have given me cause to go blogging either at them or about them.  Today, I’d like to tell you what I did and what effect it had on my sites’ traffic and income.

Back in April I was invited by the local British Club to be a guest at their Royal Wedding celebrations.  They were going to spend 29th April together at someone’s house, the local press were coming and a buffet with dishes such as coronation chicken was being prepared.  At the time I had just re-vamped their website (well, a bit) and so I asked if they wanted me to cover the event for them on it with some updates during the day.

Not only did they say yes, but they also paid me my hourly rate for part of the day for doing so.

Since I knew I had only a short amount of time to get everything on the site quickly, I took along almost every piece of equipment I own that I thought might come in handy.  So that was a laptop, netbook, digital camera, digital video camera, podcast recorder, pocket radio, portable hotspot and lots of cables and adapters.

I had also prepared some signs with the URL on them, and as you can see in this photo the guests started texting their friends to let them know where to see the photos online.  I also asked the president of the club to do a guest post for AllThingsGerman (in English) and my wife’s site AllThingsBritish (in German) which linked to their site, and we also sent out information to various e-mail lists.

I used one post on the site as a “live feed” which I updated in parallel to my own Twitter and Facebook accounts, and one as a photo gallery.

The result (and this stays within the project please!) was a ten-fold increase in visitors to the site on the day, which dropped off pretty quickly on the next day, but has never really returned to the pre-wedding levels, although that may have something to do with the re-vamp as well.

Not only that, but there has been a steady flow of new membership applications to the club, so they saw a positive effect on that side as well.

My sites didn’t really get too much out of it, but my business did as the club members saw what I was doing and became aware through the traffic statistics of what was possible with their website.

A few weeks later our town hosted an event called the “Hessentag”.  Imagine something along the lines of  a County Show, combined with a street festival and an series of open-air concerts.  We had 1.4 million visitors here, and the town centre was blocked to road traffic except for residents and  local business owners (it took some persuading, but I eventually had a permit for all but the central zone for my car!)

Since my IT business was inevitably going to suffer, I decided it was best just to shut down almost completely and concentrate on blogging.

So I started off by putting information on our events site about the concerts, and writing posts for the AllThingsGerman blog about how to get here by various means of transport.  I started following the keywords and hashtags on Twitter and replying to people who had stalls or smaller events to ask for more information for the site and to arrange interviews.

Then I took the brave step of asking our local town hall for press accreditation and permission to use the official logo on the site.

The logo permission came fairly quickly with a set of conditions attached, and the town hall’s press office were happy to add me to their mailing list so that I started receiving even more information that I could use at that point.  Only the local state press office vetoed my accreditation, because I don’t hold a German press card (see this thread in the forum).

Nether-the-less I spent almost two weeks out at the festival writing 3-4 posts each evening and updating the events site for the coming days.  Most people I met were only too happy to talk to me and give me information and even let me take photographs.

Whenever possible I took a colour printout of the post back to them the next day and am now trying to stay in touch with as many of the local businesses I wrote about as possible.  Those who rely on web-based sales in particular were able to see the results on their traffic and I am in discussions with them about advertising on our sites.

AllThingsGerman.net received approximately double the normal number of visitors each day, resulting in increased mailing list sign-ups and AdSense revenue, and obviously I hope that many of those who landed there were in our target group and will keep coming back.

I have even been approached by the local town hall as a result (actually it was the Mayor one day at a press appointment) to help re-vamp the forum on the town’s website.

But what I found particularly interesting was how people were finding the site on Google, and how I was able to use the information I was getting to react to that pretty quickly and thus draw in even more visitors.

I’d like to give  you two examples:

1. Just White

One of the local radio stations held a concert which was free to enter if you wore white.  The concert went pretty much unnoticed at first, until they signed Jedward to sing at it, at which point people from as far away as the Netherlands starting tweeting about coming.

Having announced the concert on the events page, we spotted that people were asking how strict the dress code was going to be, and after getting the relevant information from the station’s press office I put up a post about it.  At that point the hits soared.

2. Balloons

Germany’s national railway company were giving out train-shaped helium-filled balloons to children, which at first I did not take much notice of.  Then one day I took my daughter to that part of the fair and she wanted one.  After that, I spent the rest of the day being asked by other parents where to get them.

That evening I wrote a simple post with the location of the stand in it.  The next day we had incoming traffic asking the very question that I had answered.

So I was able to move from the “reporting” phase of the event into a “solve their problems” phase, which helped me increased traffic and income as a result, and all because I had my ear to the ground (or to the Google referrer stats) and responded while the search was still relevant.

OK, it’s been a long post today.  Let me ask you just two questions at the end of it.  Would your blog or website lend itself to the “event” model?   Do you know how to evaluate incoming searches, or is this something I should talk more about?  Please answer in the forum.