Friday, November 30, 2012

Why every blog should have a "Search Box" widget

A couple of months ago, I was deciding whether I should add a "You may also like - Related Posts" widget to my blogs. I remembered that several other blogs that I visited had added LinkWithin a year or more ago and had written blog posts about their experiences. So, I visited them and used their "Search" widget to look for posts about this topic.

However, I was quite surprised that a few did not have a search capability. I did not want to waste my time reading through their posts or traversing their blog archives, so I just gave up on those and went on to the next blogs.

The reason this surprised me was that the blogs that did not have this functionality were all Blogger blogs. Blogger make it really easy for us authors to add various widgets to our sidebars. One of the widgets offered is the "Search Box", which "Lets visitors search hour blog, blogroll, and everything else you've linked to".

While this functionality may not seem important to individual blog authors, it can be an extremely important tool for your visitors.

Think about it. If a reader returns to your blog with the intention of finding a previously published article, he can find it quickly with this tool.

If the Search functionality is not there, the reader will leave, almost immediately.

What this means to the author of a blog is that a valuable reader was lost. Rather than spending time on your blog, that person just went somewhere else for information. Further, that visitor may be less inclined to return to your blog in the future.

In order to grow your readership and followers, it is important for you to think about your visitors. You must organize your blog and offer those tools that a reader may use.

Remember, blogging is not only about writing your opinions and experiences, but it is also about building a set of followers who are eager to return to your site and use your information as reference.

If your blog is hosted on Blogger, you can add this widget easily. Just go to your blog, and click on the "Layout" choice. Then, press the "Add a Gadget" link. You will be presented with a list widgets to add. Just look for the one titled "Search Box" and press the plus button. That's it!

Friday, November 16, 2012

How We Celebrate Our Thanksgiving Dinner

Instead of just wishing everyone a Happy Thanksgiving this year, we thought that we would do something different and tell you about how we celebrate the holiday in our household.

Most of our family lives in Pennsylvania which means that someone has to travel. But having a family with children, we believe that it is important to enjoy at least one holiday at home. For us, it is Thanksgiving. There is nothing better than to start the holiday season by entertaining our family and treating them to a home cooked traditional turkey meal.

The day begins around 6 AM when we awake and prepare a fresh pot of coffee. After drinking our first cup, we begin the preparation. First on our agenda is to prepare the turkey. This is quite simple. We take the turkey out of the refrigerator, remove the packing inside of it, and wash it thoroughly in lukewarm water. Then, we pat it down and dry it with paper towels. While the oven is preheating, we melt some butter and place the turkey inside a large roasting pan with the breast side up. We baste it with butter and add a few pats under the wings and thighs. It is salted and peppered, then loosely covered with aluminum foil. By 7 AM it is in the oven.

Next, we peel a bag of white potatoes, sweet potatoes, and rutabagas which are boiled separately on the stove.

Onions and celery are diced and mixed into a stuffing mix along with butter and eggs. The stuffing is formed into individual serving sized round balls and placed in its own baking dish. This too is covered with foil.

We will then fry some bacon until it is very crisp. We remove the grease and let it cool on paper towels. Later, it is mixed in with Brussels sprouts and cooked on the stove.

Now, we perform our first round of clean up. All the pots, pans, dishes, and knives are washed, dried, and put away.

When all the potatoes and rutabagas are done, they are mashed and placed into 3 heat resistant serving bowls. These set aside in the refrigerator until an hour before serving.

A fresh garden salad it tossed and placed in a bowl. Just before serving we add the dressing (usually oil and vinegar).

By now, it is 10 AM or so, and most of the meal is ready. We once again clean up the dishes and then tend to ourselves. Each of us takes a shower and get dressed for our company. While we are waiting, we will set the dining room table.

At 11 AM our family will arrive from their 2 hour journey. My Mother and Father in Law, my wife's sister and brother will be there. Altogether, we will host 7 more adults, bringing the dinner total to 10 hungry people. Along with them will be desert, a home baked pumpkin pie and an apple pie.

The turkey will be cooked by 1:30 PM, so we will have time to relax and visit.  Since the house will be consumed with the aroma of a fresh baking turkey, everyone will be in a festive mood.We will drink a round of Bloody Mary's, and then some wine and beer. 

When the turkey is done cooking, the ladies will heat the potatoes, stuffing, and vegetables; and I will carve the turkey.

Champagne will be served as we sit at the table. We start the meal by saying a prayer and by remembering all those who have passed away. A toast will be given and we will begin to eat our salad. By 2:30, all the dishes will be heated and placed on the table. The main feast will begin.

Since everyone will be staying overnight, we will be in no hurry. We will take our time and some will eat seconds. We will be at the table for at least two hours.  When we are finished, the men will go downstairs and watch football (or take a nap). The women will clean up.

Sometime after 6 PM, we will meet at the table again to eat our desert. We'll have some coffee and tea, and perhaps a little Sambuca.

After that, we'll just sit around until we fall asleep for the night! We'll all be too full to eat anymore. 

So, from our house to yours, 
we hope that your Thanksgiving Day 
is as enjoyable as ours
We Wish You All
A Very Happy Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 9, 2012

Changing (or Fixing) Publish Date of Blogger Posts to put posts in right order in both Blogger and Feedburner

Are your blog posts out of order because you edited an old post? If so, this article explains how to reset the publish time so that your posts will be displayed in the correct chronological order.

I often edit previous Blogger posts in order to add more information or fix spelling and grammatical errors.  Usually, this is not a problem. I simply select the blog post that I wish to alter, make the changes and then press the orange "Update" button at the top of the page. The post is immediately updated in both Blogger and Feedburner.

However, when I edited a 4 day old post yesterday, it was published with the current time and became the first (most recent) entry in my blog. This was quite a surprise for me because the post title contained the date 11/03/12 and it appeared in the blog before 11/07/12. For me, having posts displayed in a chronological order is important.

Usually when a post is edited, the original post date is maintained but the edit date is updated. Since this information is contained in the Feedburner XML Source, I looked to see what dates were included. For the post in question, I noticed that the published, updated and edited times were all changed to yesterday's date, thus making it the most recently published.

I did not know if this was a Blogger or Feedburner bug because my action began in Blogger and was visible in Feedburner.

After doing a few Google searches, I found that others experienced this same problem as far back as 2009.  This surprised me because I had never experienced it.

Luckily, I discovered a thread in the Google Product Forums for Blogger which described how to fix this problem.

The Solution
The remedy for changing a post's publish date is relatively easy. Simply:
  • edit the post which is out of order,
  • click the "Published on" link in the Post settings toolbar on the right of the Blogger screen (#1)
  • make sure the "Set date and time" toggle is checked
  • click on the calendar day that you wish to be set
  • enter the time that you want the post published
  • press the "Done" button (#2)
  • press the "Update" button next to the post's title. (#3)
Once this is completed, the post will be republished with the date you want and the post will be automatically positioned in the correct chronological order in both Blogger and Feedburner!

Friday, November 2, 2012

Why I chose nRelate instead of Outbrain or LinkWithin

Providing internal links to you blog's other postings helps to engage readership by directing visitors to related content within your blog. This articles explains why I chose nRelate to increase page views and visitor duration time on my blogs.

Early last month (October), I was reading Dave Lucas's blog article EntreCard Effect and noticed that he had mentioned that his traffic tripled since EntreCard closed. Dave attributed this growth to LinkWithin and Outbrain. As I was not familiar with either of these, I performed a Google search and found another post by Dave (Righthaven DMCA LinkWithin) where he welcomed LinkWithin back on his blog.

At this point, I visited both the Outbrain and LinkWithin websites and learned that these were 3rd party widgets that can be added to your blog and will display the pretty "You might also like" references the bottom of each post.  I then remembered reading about this topic a while ago on Sharkbytes's My Quality Day. So I checked her blog and Dickster's Random Thoughts and found that both of these were displaying the related articles as well.

So, in my haste, I registered with Outbrain and added the widget to my 4 blogs. Within a short time, these were displaying my own related links. However, many of my early blog posts did not contain pictures, so Outbrain often presented this content simply as a list of links.

When I compared this to the blogs above, I saw that the also had nice little pictures along with the title of the blog post.  Then, I realized that everyone else was using LinkWithin and not Outbrain.

Outbrain & LinkWithin
Unsure which was better, I decided to remove Outbrain from 2 blogs and replace it with LinkWithin. At first, I was happy with the results, but I wanted to display 4 links on one blog rather than 3. In order to do this, I had to re-install the widget again. However, after I did this, I found that both blogs now had 4 related article links. This meant that all would have either 3 or 4 articles. I settled on the four of them.

I waited 1 month and then checked my Webmaster and Analytics statistics. Neither of these showed an increase in traffic. While the actual visitor traffic remained constant, the appearance in Google Search results decreased substantially.

Further, I found that Outbrain had less images than LinkWithin, so I liked LinkWithin better. But, LinkWithin was redirecting my traffic back to their site, which I did not like.

Thus, I decided to see if there was an alternative to these two, and found the blog article: Switch from LinkWithin to nRelate which described the pros and cons of LinkWithin and nRelate.

Figuring that I was still experimenting, I decided to remove the Outbrain and LinkWithin widgets and replace them with nRelate.

Almost immediately, I found that nRelate was a better solution for my 4 blogs.
  • First, I was able to custom tailor the layout of each widget according to the space available on my blogs (3 blogs display 4 results, and 1 blog displays 5).
  • Second, I was able to change the size of the graphic images being displayed. 
  • Third, nRelate displays "stock" icons on those posts that do not contain their own graphics (so there is always an image).
  • Fourth, I have the ability to display paid ads to generate income payable to Paypal (however, Outbrain also lets you display paid ads). 
  • And fifth, the "related posts" being displayed were relevant to the current post. This means that if someone is reading an Entrecard post, they will see other related Entrecard articles of mine as well.  However, the drawback here is that the initial indexing of the blog can take up to 2 hours before the "You may also like -" results appear.
It is still too early for me to see if the nRelate widget is actually boosting my traffic, but I can already see an increase in page views and visitor duration time now that I am using nRelate.

Lastly, I like the fact that I can choose to display paid ads in these widgets. This provides an opportunity to increase income without having to do any more work.

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