In this article we will discuss some simple promotion techniques that will make it easy for you and your site's users to bring in visitors to their blogs. You will learn how to offer RSS feeds that interested visitors can subscribe to, and how to "converse" with other bloggers via trackbacks. You will also learn how to use pings to tell blog directories that your blog has been updated and how to promote your blog on Twitter.
Tags are a way to label content to make it easier to find later. Tags are a complement to the traditional "categories" way of organizing things. Blog owners can label a post with tags that describe the important content, making it easier for visitors and search engines to find those posts at a later date. You can add as many tags as you wish to a post, giving you extra freedom to tag subjects even if you don't think you'll be posting on that topic regularly. In this way, tags are less restrictive than categories.
As an example, one of our Slayers may write a blog post on the Impending Apocalypse of 2009, where stuffed toys come to life and attempt to kill their owners. If this apocalypse was quickly averted, they may write only one blog post about it, which would be posted under the "Impending Apocalypses" category. There's no point making an entire new category for strange happenings surrounding stuffed toys, as it's unlikely to be a subject that would see many posts, but tagging the post with "apocalypse" and "stuffed toys" would help if any future Slayers encountered killer teddy bears at some point in the future.
Time for action – tagging blog posts
WordPress MU does have a simple, built-in form of tagging system, but it isn't very convenient to use, and many users may decide it's too much trouble to add new tags and figure out which tags to mark each blog post with. Let's offer them a more convenient and nicer looking way of doing things.
- Download WP Auto Tagger from http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/wp-auto-tagger/.
- Upload the contents of the ZIP file to your /wp-content/plugins directory.
- Enable the WP-Auto Tagger Plugin on your main blog via the Site Admin panel.
- Try creating a new post on the main blog. Beside the main post entry box you should see some new tag tools.
- Clicking on the Suggest Tags button should give you a list of appropriate tags.
- Submit the post and then look at the main blog. You should see some tags on the front page and tags on your new post, too.
- Using Plugin Commander, enable the plugin for your users.
Suggest tags not working?
If you get the curl not enabled message when you click on suggest tags or you simply see no suggested tags appear, you will need to have your web host enable curl for you. Some web hosts disable lib-curl by default because of security concerns, but most are willing to enable it if requested to do so.
What just happened?
We have set up an improved tagging system that our users may find very useful. The plugin will read new blog posts and suggest tags for them, saving our users the hassle of typing out tags for each post. Of course, our users can choose to type out the tags by hand if they prefer and can delete any tags that the plugin suggests if they don't like them; however, they should find that they get some very useful inspiration from the suggest tags feature.
SlayerCafe displays a list of tags on the right-hand side of the blog. Tags that appear frequently show in a bigger font than tags that are used less often. This gives visitors an overview of the main focus of each blog.
Now that you have tags displaying for each individual user blog, let's offer a page with a tag cloud, which includes tags from all the blogs on the site.
Time for action – sitewide tag clouds
- Download the WordPress MU Sitewide Tags application from http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/wordpress-mu-sitewide-tags/
- Upload the plugin to your /wp-content/plugins folder.
- Enable the plugin via the Site Admin panel.
- Go to Site Options, scroll down to the bottom of the page, and check the Tags Blog box to enable tags.
- Check the Tags can be indexed by Search Engines box.
- Make a post or two on your test blogs, and then visit the tags subdomain for your site; you should see something like this:
What just happened?
We have just set up an improved tagging system for our users. The WP Auto Tagger plugin pulls out words that it thinks are important from blog posts and uses them as tags. The plugin isn't perfect and it does sometimes come up with silly suggestions, but users can remove tags that they don't want, or replace them with their own.
The Auto Tagger plugin ensures that even users who don't take the time to pick out their own tags will still have the option on of having some kind of tagging system.
Why is this important? Well, think ahead to this time next year—imagine how many posts the average user will have on their blog. Now imagine trying to find those posts by category. Athena may have made a post on SlayerCafe about the apocalypse that Watcherlicious almost caused when she read the wrong spell from the Dark Magikus book, but finding that post in the category "Impending Apocalypses" would be a time-consuming task when you consider that Athena fights to stop an apocalypse almost every week! If Athena used a tagging system, then it is likely that this particular apocalypse related post would have been tagged with "Watcherlicious" and with "Dark Magikus", making it much easier to find.
We also set up a sitewide tagging system. This adds a stream of all new posts to a central blog. Watchers can keep an eye on this blog to see what's happening on a broader level, that is, what are people talking about and what are the most important issues.
The most commonly appearing tags appear in a bolder, bigger font. You can see that at the moment our biggest theme is Slayers. Obviously, there's not much exciting happening on the vampire slaying front at the moment, as the Slayers are just talking amongst themselves about general slayer stuff . If the theme of conversation suddenly changed to "demonic robots", then that tag would appear prominently and the Watchers would know very quickly that there is a global demonic robot problem.
The sitewide tags page is useful from a search engine perspective too, as it presents the most recent content to the search engines in one convenient place.
Have a go hero – styling the tags page
Our tags page at the moment looks just like a normal blog and has a rather boring name—tags.slayercafe.com.
You can rename the tags page in the Site Options panel on the main blog. A better name might be "pulse" or "live-stream".
The default setting indexes the last 5000 posts. This number can be changed, but don't set it too high as it could tax the server.
Try customizing the layout of the Tags blog. The blog network's admin account can be used to log into the Tags blog's admin panel so that you can change the theme and make some other tweaks such as adding widgets.
If you want to take things a step further, take a look at http://www.wordpress.com/tags. Here you can see a great example of a streamlined "what's hot on our network" tags page.
You may have noticed that the Tags blog appears under Recent User Posts, so new posts appear twice—once by the original poster and once under Tags. Check the blog ID number of the Tags blog, and try changing the code we created earlier so that the posts to the Tags blog don't display.
WordPress MU is set up to ping a service called Ping-o-Matic when new posts are made. This service is useful for English language blogs and for bloggers in America in particular because most of the services that Ping-o-Matic works with are U.S. centric. But there are other services that may be more suitable for bloggers in other countries or even blogs in specific niches. Let's look at ways to add extra ping services to our list of sites to ping for each blog.
Time for action – pings
- Open up /wp-admin/includes/schema.php
- Find the line that says
- Change that line so that it reads
- You can add multiple sites as long as you separate each URL with a n.
- Save and upload the file.
- Any future blogs will be created with the new ping sites set in Site Options.
- You can update existing sites either via MySQL or by using the Site Admin panel.
What just happened?
We have added a few extra sites to the list of ping services that will be notified when a new post is made.
A ping is an example of a push mechanism. Instead of blog aggregation services having to look at all the blogs, they are listed to see which ones have new content. The blogs themselves inform the aggregators that they have been updated by sending them a ping.
Ping-o-Matic is a service that receives pings and then passes them on to multiple servers. This reduces the amount of servers you have to ping, saving you time when you publish an article. However, Ping-o-Matic may not cover every site you would want to ping.
We have added only two sites to the ping list— WhiteWiccaBlogs and TheWatcherNetwork. We don't want to draw too much attention from normal people on sites such as NewsNow or the My Yahoo service.
Try to keep the number of individual sites you ping to a minimum. Not only is there a possibility that pinging huge numbers of sites could make adding posts take longer, pinging sites that are outside the topic of your blog is unlikely to get you any valuable traffic. It is better to focus on gaining visits from people who are actually interested in your blog network's subject.
For an English language blog, using Ping-o-Matic, Technorati , and Google would be a good start. If your network is aimed at people who speak a different language, pinging local news aggregators would be a good idea.
Have a go hero – more sites to ping
Take a look at the list of sites in the following table, and think about the type of blog you have and the people you want to reach. The sites in the table are very general ones. You may find that there are aggregator services out there for your niche—be that houses in Singapore, computer games, or travel. A Google search for "keyword aggregator" should help you find the right kind of sites.
Once you've chosen the sites you would like to ping, remember that each URL is separated by the characters n and you need to surround the entire list in double quotes (" "), not single ones (' ').
Blogshares.com is a fun site. It is a fantasy blog share market, where your blog is valued depending on the number of incoming links it has. Depending on your blog network's niche, it may not be a great source of targeted traffic, but it is certainly fun to play with.
Trackbacks are another popular blogging tool. A trackback is oft en used instead of a comment. A reader who owns their own blog may write something about a post they have seen on your blog network and send a trackback to the relevant blog owner using the trackback link. The trackback then appears as a comment with a link back to the post the reader wrote on their blog. Trackbacks look just like normal comments, except the text contains a short excerpt from the blog post that the trackback was sent from:
WordPress MU supports trackbacks by default; blog owners can send a trackback by pasting the correct trackback link into the Send Trackbacks box on the Write Post page. Trackbacks can be sent at the time of posting or by using a cron job that sends all pending trackbacks in one go.
To accept trackbacks, you will need to make sure that the option Allow link notifications from other blogs is ticked on the Discussion Settings page.
Offering RSS feeds
You may have seen the RSS icon on some web sites. It's usually orange and has three little "signal waves" on it. This icon is pretty globally recognized now, and many people subscribe to RSS feeds via their Google or Yahoo accounts without realizing that it is the RSS they are using. WordPress MU offers some RSS links for comments and new posts via the Meta widget, but those are just text links. Let's offer a clearer way for users to subscribe to blogs on your blog network.
Time for action – offering RSS subscription options
- Download the Add to Any Subscribe plugin from http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/add-to-any/.
- Upload the plugin folder to /wp-content/plugins
- Activate the plugin sitewide.
- Go to Settings | Share/Save Buttons; you should see a screen like this:
- Select the size of the subscribe button you would like.
- Untick Display Share/Save button at the bottom of pages.
- If you are not fond of menus that expand when you roll over them, you may want to select Only show the menu when the user clicks the subscribe button.
- Leave Hide embedded objects... checked. This stops any videos from interfering with the menu when it pops out.
- Save your changes and add the widget to your sidebar. You can click and drag on the blue widget bars to move the Add to Any widget to the top. Your menu should look something like this:
- If visitors click on the Share/Save icon, they will be taken to a page with the full list of bookmarking options, which looks something like the following (the list scrolls, so not all bookmarking options are visible in the screenshot):
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