The Ultimate WordPress Theme

If it isn’t obvious by now, I’m a bit of a greenhorn to this blogging thing. The truth is I never had to blog exactly to make money online and I never used them for my sales or affiliate sites in the past, although I’ve made a lot of similar websites the hard way and now that I’m seeing what incredible software WordPress can be, I’m definitely going to use WordPress for my blogs from now on.

I was a little burned out on coding my own software, having just spend 6 months with it night and day. So I spent a little time on something easy. WordPress themes are easy to make and I like playing at graphic design, so I went on a little quest to find or create the ultimate WordPress theme.

So what am I looking for in the Ultimate WordPress Theme?

Design Considerations

Flexible designs that stretch to fit the screen are great. But, stretching a text area too wide makes it hard to read. I know that roughly 95% of computer users now use 1024×768 as their screen resolution. A handful of people still use 800×600. And, the rest use a higher resolution. So, this theme needs to be designed for 1024×768, squeeze down to 800×600 if need be, and not stretch so much in higher resolutions that the text becomes difficult to read.

I am creating this particular theme for this particular blog here, but what I’m really trying to create here, overall, is the ultimate WordPress theme… a theme that I, (and you), might use for any blog that I, (or you), throw up for fun or for profit or both. So, there should be room for industry standard advertisement blocks throughout the site.

Plain websites are boring and an all-white design is hard on the eyes when reading on-screen, so I want the site to have some sort of colored, designed layout. But, I don’t want the site to be loaded down with huge graphics, or be held prisoner by it’s design. So, the designed portion should just “wrap” around the main content area and be independent of it. Also, the colors have to be easily changed on the fly and there hould be a place to pop in any header graphic of my choice, or none. The inner portion of the site will only use small icon graphics and no images for layout.

A few additional preferences, at least for me, are that it should be constructed using xhtml and css for easy customization via the stylesheet and have the sidebar widgets capability enabled, possibly with several dynamic sidebars.

SEO Considerations

  • The theme should not have any h2 tags in the sidebar, or h1 tags sprinkled throughout the theme.
  • The h1 tag should be reserved to wrap only the title for a post on it’ss single post page.
  • There are more SEO considerations, but those have more to do with the actual WordPress settings and not the theme files, like setting up permalinks and tags, a static archive and a sitemap, and also getting a decent SEO plugin to handle title and meta tags across your site… all of which I’ll have to cover separately, sometime in the near future.

After a few days of searching, how many themes did I find that had all these features? If you guessed absolutely none, you’re absolutely right. To be fair, there are some decent SEO templates out there, but none that meet all my requirements. Heck, most “SEO” templates still leave the h1 tag in the header! So, I had to roll my own, as the gamers like to say.

I spent a couple days reading up on SEO and WordPress themes (and wading through a flood of sales pitches btw to find real information [boy, is that saturated]) and then I spent another few days splicing and customizing code for this theme. I hope you find it useful.

Remember, the images that make up the outer design wrap around everything else, so you can pop in your own graphics to drastically change the look of the site to just about anything you can imagine, and then of course make with an editor like Photoshop or The Gimp,. Or, you can take them out and go with pure css if you want to.

Starting A Real Product Business?

The weirdest thing has come to my attention lately and it’s just too ludicrous to believe. But, it seems many of you have been convinced by some wingnut that putting your digital products exclusively on CD or DVD is a good idea. At least that’s what I hear and I’ve now watched at least one friend do it themselves. The reason? Apparently, whomever they’re listening to is paranoid about selling anything online anymore because he thinks everyone is out to get him and stealing his stuff. I’ll tell y’all what I told my friend, “I don’t know what he said to everyone to get them following his lead on this, but it sounds like a bad idea for several reasons.”.

First of all, if you want to protect anything online you don’t just slap it up on a page somewhere with a regular link that just anyone in the world can go to. Duh, right? That’s what I’m told this “teacher” used to do anyway. First of all I’d never do that, but if I did… how could I then turn around and complain about people getting it for free? (Another thing I hear he did, when I asked about all this.) By putting something online without any security at all, I’ve essentially just donated it to the world. Besides if people really want to pirate your stuff they’ll find some way. Also, in my experience the tiny amount of sharing going on, especially in Internet business where it’s even more scarce, simply doesn’t cut into the bottom line as much as a lot of companies like to pretend. I think the ones that claim huge losses due to imagined piracy are probably looking for a government handout or lying for tax reasons or something.

Listen… The magic, (and also the danger, if going without protection), of digital products is that they can be instantly delivered, which means, as a consumer, you don’t have to wait around for days or weeks to get what you just paid for. That’s supposed to be a good thing.

What about the energy and resources wasted and the environmental cost of forcing your customers to exclusively purchase disks and have them shipped around the world? The extra plastic alone is enough to be worrisome, but transportation and shipping organizations are one of the worst polluters out there, so that’s probably the biggest waste. When it’s a downloadable digital product in the first place, why not allow your users the convenience and satisfaction of an instant download? Why make them wait around for an extra needless step, like shipping, to be completed? Because you don’t understand basic website security? That’s a terrible reason.

Sure, having the ability to send out disks when customers request them is a necessary function of many software and Internet business companies. Some people would just rather, for whatever reason, order a disk of your product. So… put in a link. Offer it on the side if you want for the few people that occasionally come along that have to have it that way. But, for the majority of your customer’s sakes and even for the planet’s sake, don’t turn a perfectly good download into a physical product for no good reason other than your own selfish needs. It’s bad for your customers and it’s bad for the planet and so it’s just bad for business.

Although I can’t be sure, this seems to be another example one of the biggest problems that I see happening with Internet business over the last few years. I don’t know if it was because the usual hoard of offline sales sharks finally started recovering from the whole dot com bust or what. But, somebody noticed that resourceful Moms & Pops were still making plenty of money on the Internet and over the last several years the online business world seems to have been inundated and virtually taken over by the old offline sales and marketing crowd.

They bring with them the ugly sales culture that causes even people like my own Mom to wrinkle their noses when I tell them I now teach Internet business and marketing , and say, “Oh, you’re one of those?”, like they just stepped in poo… forcing me to try and explain, beginning with, “No, no, I’m not one of those jerks, I promise”.

Offline Newsletters:

Another thing that seems to be becoming more and more popular these days is turning an online newsletter into an offline newsletter. At first glance it may seem that I would naturally be opposed to this too. But, you’re wrong there. An offline newsletter can be a very good thing for some online businesses because it gives the writer a much deeper sense of contact with a smaller audience and he or she can share more personal, or business trade secret, type information with his or her readers. Although, it still creates what might be further unnecessary resources and time wasted for both you and your customers, because of the extra shipping and waiting time and paper used, taking a second look at it reveals that the offline newsletter has some huge benefits that keep it from raising my ire for the time being.

One great example of why I like offline newsletters is what a friend of mine, Aaron Brandon is doing over at: http://www.AaronBrandon.com/newsletter/. Although, his offline newsletter is brand new, it already shares with it’s readers some wonderful insights into online business and marketing, not to mention some awesome deals and giveaways… things that he would never be able to share publicly with just anyone and everyone. As we all know, some kinds of business information are best kept on the down-low, or the next thing you know, whatever it may be will end up flooded with copycats.

Another point in the offline newsletter’s favor is that the offline newsletter is a nice convenience for many that find reading on-screen more difficult, or like to relax on the couch while absorbing information. Also, the offline newsletter, gives the writer more assurance of security; that his information is only going to the people it’s meant to go to. While securing information like this in a private members area online is probably a faster solution for your customers, and usually just as secure, there is always the possibility of some genius hacking in for some nefarious purpose, I suppose, however unlikely that may be.

So, for these reasons, I won’t be so hard on the idea of offline newsletters as I was on the notion of forcing your customers to buy all your products on disk only. For one, there are actually some positive reasons to still offer a paper newsletter in the age of digital. For another, mailing a few letters out to a small group on your special offline newsletter list doesn’t cause even close to as much waste, in time and energy and land-fill space, as does having disks pressed for every one of your customers. And finally, if it really is a secret idea… then protecting it from prying eyes, even from a single super geek set of eyes one single time, is much more crucial than protecting a copy of some download.

How To Make Money With Clickbank

Sure, there are a plethora of affiliate clearinghouse and payment processor services to choose from in the online world. But, I’ve tried most of them and in my experience; none of them is quite as reliable and so perfectly simple and streamlined as Clickbank for either end of the spectrum. In this article I will briefly cover the best ways to make money at Clickbank both as an affiliate and as a merchant selling your own digital products.

How To Make Money With Clickbank As An Affiliate

First, if you’re just getting started trying to make money online, affiliate marketing is a great way to start out and Clickbank is a great place to be an affiliate, earning money while you learn the ropes of Internet business, and/or cutting your teeth in any particular “niche” or target market in the digital product world.

To begin, for those of you just starting out and would just like to make a few extra hundred or thousand a month on the side, start by browsing the marketplace at Clickbank and choose a few products with a high gravity and excellent sales pages that catch your interest (Hint: If you only went there just to browse around and check to see if you want to sell a product, and while reading it’s sales page you suddenly find yourself wanting to buy it for no good reason… it might be a good sales page. 😉 ).

You don’t technically have to love, or even have tried, the products you promote but it helps a lot, so anytime you can… be sure to buy the products that are the best sellers in your chosen area, or even just the ones you like the most at first… then promote the products that end up actually being the best products and get your refund on the stinkers.

Also, besides just looking at Clickbank, try to think in terms of overall industries and their current and future potential. That’s a big enough subject for another post. To learn more about conducting market research online, check out this post here.

Once you have some good looking candidates, then you’re ready to begin your marketing.

Unfortunately, the subject of Internet marketing is so vast that I couldn’t possibly sum it all up in one paragraph, or even an article. But, I’ll give it a shot anyway. The general idea is you just try everything… a little of this and a little of that… until you find out what works for you and your website and your target audience, trying new things tracking your results.(I’ll go deeper into the various methods of online marketing and tracking in later posts.)

Some marketers like to use PPC for the majority of their marketing, for instance, and some like to use article marketing exclusively. And, the really successful marketers use several and a variety of methods at the same time while testing and tweaking and searching for that perfect mix… And, even when you think you know everything; it’s still a good idea to try new things as they come along. Duh, it’s the Internet.

But, try and relax into it if you can. It takes time to learn how to constantly keep learning new things, not to mention learning about all the different avenues a person may take to market their products online, from PPC to SEO and article marketing and forum marketing and blog marketing and list marketing and even YouTube or MySpace type marketing now… plus things like classifieds or, buying traffic anywhere for that matter, even offline or maybe organizing joint ventures… the list is probably endless and I doubt I’ve even discovered everything yet after all these years at it.

But, I can tell you for sure that if you keep trying, you’ll eventually “get it” and it won’t all seem so confusing anymore. “It’s not rocket science”, as an old friend of mine likes to say. It just takes awhile to familiarize yourself with the all the concepts and tools and whatnot, and most especially your target market(s). And, of course nothing can substitute for you doing enough research into your chosen “niche”, or target market, beforehand.

One thing that often holds up new affiliates is their lack of understanding of web design principles and the different types of website an affiliate might create.

That’s another thing that’s a large enough topic to have its own series of posts. But, for starters, to learn more about the different types of affiliate websites you can start and get 5 solid ideas, check out this post here.

How To Make Money With Clickbank As A Merchant

Now, once you find a good niche and you start making some money as an affiliate you’ll at some point realize that you’ve become somewhat of an expert in that field, whatever it happens to be, both because you’ve had to do so much research on the topic and you most likely have been writing some sort of content about your main topic, whether that’s articles or web page content, for weeks or even months.

At that point you should start thinking about creating your own digital product(s). For ideas, all you need to have done is paid attention to your target market while you learned to sell to it as an affiliate. If you’ve spent time with your target market and gotten to know them personally, you’re even more qualified to create info-products for your niche as you know exactly what problems they face and what they want.

Once you know that, it’s just a matter of solving a problem or sometimes just giving them what they want. That’s it. It’s perhaps easier said than done but it’s still pretty simple. And, what is easy these days is that all you need is a maybe speech-to-text program or a screen-capture program and you don’t even need to know how to type to create your very own digital product!

Like I mentioned in a previous post, using any speech-to-text program, you can simply dictate what you wish to say into the program and the text will appear, mostly the way you want it, on the screen and then you can simply edit the text later, before you turn it into a PDF and start selling it. Done. Ebook Accomplished.

Or, if you can demonstrate on-screen whatever information you’re sharing with people, you merely have to record your screen with some screen-capture software while you demonstrate how to do something! Now you have a video product with an even higher perceived value to your customers. (Just why that is I don’t know since I find videos to be a slower and more boring way to learn something. But, anyway…)

I see that sort of thing every day and believe me… most of the products that come out like that are terrible and just haphazardly slapped together in a hurry… and yet people still constantly buy them, and apparently even find them useful and keep them, from what I’ve seen.

So, if your product is actually good, and by good I only mean not completely outsourced or slapped together willy-nilly… or, even if it is… and it actually helps people and solves a problem or makes things better in any small way… “you’re golden” and marketing will be simply a matter of letting everyone know your product exists.

So you spend awhile creating your digital product and you’re pleased with the results. You’d think that after all that work you’d be done but there’s still more. Next you have to figure out how to sell it and make the website for that.

Once you get your first info-product created you might start looking around for a payment processor. But, hold on a second. Here’s the main point I’m trying to get across in this article. If you’ve been an affiliate of Clickbank for any length of time you’ve probably already fallen in love with their ease of use, the reliability of their bi-weekly checks and their near instant stats compared with the other affiliate clearinghouse sites. Right? I know I have. Well, you’re in luck and you can look no further when you want to sell your own digital products!

Whether you’ve noticed or not, as a Clickbank affiliate you already use one of the best digital product payment processors on the Internet to help you sell other people’s products… now harness that power yourself when you begin selling your own digital products by becoming a professional Clickbank merchant!

“Okay, I have sounds great. But, how do I actually do it?” you might be asking. Well, the only problem with setting up as a merchant, or publisher, at Clickbank is that they don’t offer much in the way of help in building your sales or subscription sites so you can make sales and accept payments and/or provide private members areas to subscribers only. They also don’t offer any way to protect your downloads if you’re selling a one-time fee info-product that people download.

Well, since I do a lot of info-product sales at Clickbank, I wanted a one-in-all solution that would make it faster and easier to set up shop at Clickbank each time, for any of my info-product ideas as they come along. I was willing to pay several hundred dollars for a good solution and I looked around for months without finding anything worth mentioning.

It seems that there’s really no good solution out there that fits what I need to sell my products through Clickbank. So, I made my own. My new software handles all the Clickbank security, private members’ areas at various “levels” of subscription or one-time payment, download protection and “thank you” pages and even the backend Help and FAQ section for your customers. It does a lot more and is highly flexible and customizable. You can find it here:

http://www.cbmerchantpro.com

But, unless you’re already a rich Clickbank pro and you want to pay full price now just to be one of the first to get your hands on it, you should wait until next Tuesday, when I plan to start a 24hrs special here on the blog, where you can get the entire CBMerchantPro package and access to the private members area with all the extras for a huge discount for a limited time.

But, I’m getting a little off topic. To wrap things up, the gist if what I’m saying is this:

I’ve been using Clickbank for years now, both as an affiliate and as a merchant and amazingly I’ve never had a single problem with them ever… in fact they’ve only ever surprised me with good things, and that’s just totally unheard of online and totally blows my mind when I think about it. So I just have to recommend them to everyone, whether you’re just starting out and would like to make money while you learn, or even if you’re already an expert in some field and you’re ready to create your first digital product, Clickbank is usually the best tool to use to get the job done. And, where it falls short is where my new software begins, making the whole thing more powerful than ever… at least for merchants. Sorry affiliates, I’ll make some cool software to make your lives easier too, one of these days.

Information Product Creation

Ok, so you’ve done your research, you’ve maybe started a few affiliate sales sites to test the waters and find out what most people in your target market seem to want with a passion. And, now you have ideas for information or software products that are just going to knock their socks off. So now what? How does one go about digital product creation?

A lot of people these days seem to have a knee-jerk response to this question: “Outsource it”. (Or, worse… some tell you to just slap anything together and sell it.)

But, these sorts of answers seem to be not much more than a cop-out, like the “Just test it” knee-jerk response, they seem to be simply a way to deflect questions that people either don’t want to answer, or maybe they don’t have the creativity or experience to offer an educated guess.

Everything has to start somewhere and skimping on that initial version because you haven’t done your research and you have no idea what your customers actually want and you are “testing”, doesn’t seem to me like the best way to do business.

Besides, I’ve tried a couple of the major freelancing sites over the years and I’ve always felt I got poor quality work at over-inflated prices.

So, just as good old fashioned experience and intuition can be a good way to avoid unnecessarily having to “just test” everything under the sun, right out of the gate… maybe experience and intuition can also be useful in knowing when to outsource and when to roll up your sleeves and do it yourself.

In my experience, where your actual info-product is concerned, it’s usually better to do it yourself. Sure, anything else should be outsourced as much as possible, but, not the main product, in my view.

But, don’t worry, I have good news if you don’t have the cash, or the patience for outsourcing yet you think you don’t have what it takes to create your own info-product either.

Truth is, you’d probably be surprised at how easy it actually is to create an info-product without paying someone to hold your hand. Sometimes all you need is a little more confidence and someone to let you know that it’s not that hard to do and point you in the right direction. Besides, gaining the knowledge you’re about to share was the hard part.

Ideas for creating your info-product:

Dictate an ebook: You don’t even have to type it yourself! Using any speech to text program, like the one that comes with MS Word, all you have to do is say what you want to say and then edit the document to your liking. (Speech to text is not perfect, but if you can’t type it’s fast and easy enough.) Or, even if you type it all out yourself… isn’t it just like doing a report back in school? You just research your topic and assemble all the information with your own insights. It’s not like you’re writing a novel and need to worry about plot and character development. It’s just a report on whatever amazing thing you’ve just discovered. The research is the hard part and maybe a better candidate for outsourcing.

Create screen-capture tutorials: If your subject involves tasks that can be demonstrated on-screen, you can simply use a program like Camtasia, or CamStudio, to create what’s called a screen-capture video. You just record your screen while you show your customers first-hand how to do whatever it is you’re showing them how to do. Although these are recommend as the sole means of info-product creation by some, these “screen caps” shouldn’t be relied on too heavily and should not be used as the primary delivery method of your content, especially if it involves many steps or takes hours to complete, because long screen capture videos get boring and they make it difficult to find specific steps and needed information later on. That said, screen capture videos are a great way to demonstrate any “sticky” spots.

Put up a website with a private members area: This is my favorite method for creating and delivering information products because it is a delivery system that can actually become the product itself when you put your information in a web page in one of your private members areas. Not only does it give you more security and control over your products and who has access to them, but you can also include any of the other types of products within the members areas… videos, downloads, interactive members areas, or whatever else you can think of. And, to top it off, it also gives you the ability to charge either a recurring or a one-time fee for access to any level or specific area of your site. This all around solution has served me well over the years and is actually the main focus of my latest product over at CBMerchantPro.com.
(The site is up, but I haven’t officially begun the marketing for it yet, so don’t run off and buy it today unless you want to pay full price. I won’t mind, if you do. ;~) But, hold onto your hats… I’ll announce the grand opening and a special discount price here on the blog any day now. [ I just included a new file upload system to store digital products for easy customer downloading and I’m putting final touches on the instructions for that.].)

It would probably serve my purposes better to just tell you to get a product outsourced or slapped together as quick as you can so you can try my system that makes it easier to sell your new product online… but that’s just bad advice and I can’t do it.

I can, however, tell you that even if you don’t have a product yet, you could easily create one with my system by simply filling in a members area with the information you plan on selling, without worrying about converting to PDF problems, or security, or wondering how you’re going to deliver it… You could just insert your information into the page and upload your downloads to the database and have it displayed it in the private areas where you allow customers to interact with the system.

So, in conclusion I say that info-products are easier than ever to create and outsourcing is a great tool for some things but it’s not something to be relied upon too heavily or used to create the core of any product. Besides it’s probably easier than you think to just create your own info-products when we live in this age conveniences like screen capture and speech-to-text programs, plus dynamic website software ;~).

Also, the experience of creating your own products can be more difficult, sure, but it also can be more rewarding and enlightening. I recommend you create as much of at least the core of your products as you reasonably can in a doable time-frame.

That said, all the secondary stuff just slows you down and takes time away from you creating your actual products… and for that matter anything that’s not your actual product, like the system you use to set up your “store” or sales or membership sites… (wink, wink) But, no seriously… these sorts of tasks should absolutely, without a doubt, always be outsourced as much as possible to save time and sanity.

And, now you don’t even have to hire out the work to create it all. I made it for you. If you sell information of any kind, it all of it just got a whole lot easier with my new software and systems. But, more on that later…

Passive Income Ideas for Affiliate Websites

I didn’t plan on getting any further into the topic of the last post, affiliate marketing, just yet. I intended get right into more advanced topics like making your own digital products and designing sales websites and such since that’s what I’ve been doing lately.

But, strangely it seems that pointing my mind towards affiliate sales the other day has ensured that for whatever reason, over the last couple of days… I keep thinking of great ideas for quality affiliate sites that I wish I had shared in that previous post.

So, I made a list and here are some passive income ideas for affiliate sites to help prevent your new affiliate website from looking like the majority of the affiliate sites out there…
You know… those annoying ones that clog up your search results with useless clutter. I don’t think you want to be just another one of those, if you can help it.

Don’t get too excited though. These ideas are just ideas, and only maybe a good starting place or stepping stone, for you… not anything “turn key” or ready to go as they are.
But, they’re still great ideas for anyone who is wondering what to make for their first money-making website.

  • Create an online tool: I see more and more of these sorts of affiliate sites all the time and I love it. It’s nice to find a quick and easy online tool to solve any repetitive or obscure task; like converting an image into a .ico icon file, or helping me choose a color scheme, or quickly getting some basic keywords. I love this idea so much; I plan on making a few online tools just as soon as I have time, even though I probably don’t need to. But, it sounds like fun.
  • Start a free subscription site: Just recently, all I was hearing about was the huge success of this or that free online subscription site which was monetized using affiliate commissions. Seems like a great way to start out as an affiliate. Although, right after that they all seemed to have realized that they could set their own “commissions” by just selling the ad space outright, (I think) but that’s another story and you need to prove significant traffic to make that transition. Also, I’ve always been in pure awe of some of the obvious affiliate websites (I won’t mention names) that are advertised on television for money related things. These sites are brilliant in the way they subtly offer you something of significant perceived value for free (when you sign up), allowing them to masquerade as some sort of public service, all the while simply funneling you (and all your information) on to their merchants who then begin to shamelessly market directly too you. (Hey, you signed up for it.)
  • Blog, blog, blog your little heart out: I mentioned this almost exclusively in my last post, so I really want to qualify this a bit and offer a bit of fair warning. Personally, I don’t like see a weblog created solely for the sake of affiliate marketing. These kinds of sites are often started by beginners and they usually end up looking like a “billboard” type page with nothing but ads as far as the eye can see and even the articles, if you bother to read them, are just promotions for this and that themselves. I’ve never seen those kinds of blogs do very well, even though I hear tales. So, please be careful not to be one of those lazy affiliates. Pages created purely for Adsense or “arbitrage” leave a bad taste in my mouth too and worse, they clog up honest searches and the Internet in general, with pure garbage. (But, apparently those do make quite a bit of revenue for their owners, unfortunately.) The best way to go if you’re looking into blogging for income is to find and read some really good affiliate blogs. They’re somewhat rare and I don’t think it would be wise to mention any names here. But, some affiliate blogs are simply amazing… incredibly helpful or genuinely useful or just fun to read or purely inspiring… these are great websites. At least aim high, please.
  • Start your own e-store: This is a simple revelation that many would-be affiliate marketers don’t seem to get right away but is still a good starting point for many. With a web store you’re not restricted to selling only digital products, or even selling your merchant’s products merely as an affiliate. You can become a reseller quite easily these days by simply installing something like Zen Cart, http://www.zen-cart.com, and choosing which products to sell and which drop shippers you’ll use. This isn’t like affiliate sales at all and is more like opening a “brick and mortar” store, but without having to pay some expensive payment processor, without having to keep any merchandise in a warehouse or even in your home office, without having to be constrained by your commission level, being able to mark up the products you’re selling however you want. One downside to this path, if you choose to take it, is that since you’re no longer “just an affiliate”, you will be expected to field support emails, handle customers directly and deal with shipping issues, just like any store owner.
  • Start a review site: This last one is a sort of hybrid between a blog and an online store, if you ask me. With this sort of site you’ll want to try having either a great presentation of comparisons or detailed product specs and honest reviews, or both. It’s sort of a web-store in the way it navigates, usually, and more like a blog in that you find brief articles (reviews) on each product. If you start one of these, you can have the power of selling multiple products from multiple merchants, and still not have to put up with any of the headaches of actually being a merchant.

I hope this helps shed some light on at least a handful of the many options available to any would-be affiliate (or reseller), or even the experienced Internet marketer, when formulating ideas for new websites.

Affiliate Marketing

Even though I don’t do much of it anymore, I owe a great debt to affiliate marketing. Prior to making my first sales as an affiliate, I had no idea that that the kind of freedom or self reliance of being able to make an income from anywhere… at any time, just by doing the right things on the Internet, could even be possible. I would never have believed it if someone had told me. In fact, I think someone did tell me and I didn’t believe it. But lucky for me (and probably for you too if you’re reading this), I was curious enough that I started looking into it.

At first I was only casually interested in any of it and I didn’t really want to start a business. I just wanted to make some extra money online, maybe even working for someone else… some kind of “work from home” employment maybe… that was, if it was possible without having to spend too much time money or energy doing any of it. Some of you can probably relate to that.

But, that, I later learned, is the worst attitude with which to approach discovering how to make money online because at first all I found were things that attracted me by what I thought I wanted; something easy that made sense to me at the time. (Back then I thought any “business opportunity” was a scam having been raised around that whole “poor people” mentality and I was really looking for some job, some form of employment that I could work from home or totally online.)

Well, I quickly exhausted my searches at the main job search websites, getting little more than offers for business opportunities disguised as listed jobs. And then I even tried everything from SMC (I fell for Mr. C, Tom Bosley, because I used to watch “Happy Days” as a kid.) to SFI (one step away from a pyramid scheme) and nothing worked for me even after following all the steps and everything. After months of earnestly trying everything I could find I began feeling like I was getting ripped off right and left by bogus opportunities like that paid surveys racket or people that thought I’d make a good mystery shopper if I paid them for some list of places to apply, or even multi-level marketing moms, if you can imagine that. Those marketing pyramids never worked out and I’m still waiting around for those free plane tickets I was promised by those survey people.

Just as I was about to announce that it was all a joke and every “make money online’ product was a total sham and end my quest for Internet riches for good… a dear friend (one who had a “Rich Dad”, to use Robert Kiyosaki’s term) did me a favor in pointing out my biggest misconception about the world.

“Look Mark,” he said, “Those things are a scam and a waste of time for most people… not because there’s not some legitimate opportunity, however buried it may be, in there somewhere for someone to keep it seeming legal, but because most people don’t even look at the opportunities in the correct light in the first place. Any stay at home Mom, or Dad for that matter, that thinks it’s a good idea to give up even more of their already scarce time filling out surveys online for peanuts and change, just doesn’t have the right mindset to ever do very well with money in the first place.”

I began to listen to him explain how much more awesome it is having your own online business, instead of just making a quick buck somewhere or by working for someone else. To make a long story short, suddenly a whole new world opened up before my eyes, the clouds parted and the radiant light of inspiration shot out of the sky and shone on me and I’ve never the same since.

He also pointed out to me a truth that still blows my mind every time I think of how misguided I had been before that realization: that trading your time, “the one thing there will never be enough of in your life”, for money, is the worst deal you can make in this world.

“Now, don’t get me wrong.”, he continued, “Unless you’re starting out with considerable seed money, enough to pay other people or other companies to do all the actual work for you, you’re going to have to put in a lot of time and sweat equity to get the ball rolling. Plus, there’s a lot to learn and it can take awhile to get your business legs. But, the potential gains and future freedom of a small Internet business far outweigh the relatively miniscule investments required to give it a shot. So why not try it?”

“Sounds good to me,” I said, “but how do I get started? I don’t know jack about business or even the Internet right now.”

Well, my friend was more of a “brick and mortar” type back then and was just getting started online too… But, he had a really good suggestion: that I look into something called affiliate marketing or becoming a partner or reseller of some company I liked and try my hand marketing other people’s products while I learned my way around the business world and the Internet.

Needless to say, it worked. I started out doing nothing more than promoting Clickbank products through Adwords without a website or anything and within a few months I was able to quit my job. I came to realize on my journey that you can earn money, really good money, before you know much of anything… and while you learn if you’re an Affiliate! Another amazing thing is these days you can get started for pretty close to free! Back when I started out with Adwords you had to be prepared to risk quite a bit of money on your ability to write decent ad “haikus”, but that’s another story.

For better or worse, the days of just throwing up an Adwords campaign without a website and watching the profit roll in without doing much more than occasionally adding some keywords or writing a new ad, are over. (It still is, in rare cases, possible for someone to just put up some ads and use their affiliate link directly and still make lots of money, [or just test something out] at least for a little while.) I still manage a few long time clients’ Adwords accounts and I highly recommend everyone try it at some point. But, I don’t recommend it to people who are just starting out because of the huge risks and pitfalls I encountered along the way, and these days it’s even harder and there’s more competition, not to mention the click prices are through the roof lately as huge companies come in with the intention of dominating certain areas even if they have to operate at a loss.

If you’re just starting out, it’s not a bad idea to find yourself a little “niche” at first, that your comfortable with and where you can earn while you learn… in a target market that’s either you ( because you’re part of it already ) or one you’ve thoroughly researched (See Part 2) and find promising or just some area of interest of yours, a hobby maybe… by starting a website right out of the gate. Yeah, you heard me right. Just start a website. It has never been easier.

“But, what kind of website?” you ask. Well, that’s the kind of question held me up for a long time when I first realized I needed websites. What kind? How should they be organized? How should they look? How in the world do I write all this code myself? Well, I ended up spending years learning HTML, CSS and PHP, but I have good news for you. You don’t have to learn any of that. All you need is WordPress and it’s free.

How to blog for profit is a big enough subject to fill several e-books so I’ll get more into the actual mechanics of blogging and promoting products in another series of posts.

However, just as affiliate marketing is a great way to get a crash course in, and also earn while you learn about, Internet business and marketing… WordPress is a great way to get set up with a website instantly and easily even if you don’t know anything about code or computer languages or servers or any of that. If you know absolutely nothing, the hardest thing you’ll do is set up your database in Cpanel and that’s not hard at all.

In a nutshell, a blog is a great way to build yourself a sort of marketing platform, if you will, where you can inform and educate your target market, giving them the knowledge they seek to make informed purchases, while trying out many different merchants to see which ones work best with your audience and which products are really the best. At this level of marketing you’re free to just be yourself and have a good time and get to know your customers. I’d say it’s definitely the easiest way that just about anyone can get started. Just start blogging.

To get started right now, head over to WordPress.org and download the free software. If you need a domain name, any registrar will do, I use Godaddy.com myself. But, never get hosting from them or anywhere you get your domains. Get a separate hosting provider. Any shared hosting package will do when you’re just starting out. I do have two suggestions about hosting however: 1. Don’t host with anyone that doesn’t have larger plans you can easily “grow into” if your site suddenly takes off. And, 2. Don’t get a Windows server, make sure the hosting provider has up to date versions of Apache, PHP, MySQL, and Cpanel.

P.S. Did you know? You can also use a blog to debut your own products when you have product ideas of your own, much like I plan on doing with this blog here. That’s actually why I haven’t posted in a few days. I’ve been working night and day on a program that I use to run my online sales and paid subscription websites. I’ve been getting requests since last year to release my system, so I’m finally touching up my scripts, polishing my code and making video tutorials to get ready to launch this baby into the stratosphere. I just know everyone is going to go all ga-ga over this one and I’m excited to say the least.

I’ll explain more in part 4 and 5 of this series where I’ll get into product creation and web development and how best to start selling your own products or services online.

Market Research

So you think you might want to start some sort of Internet business. Whether you want to start out as an affiliate selling other people’s products or you’d like to jump right into selling your own products online (or both), one of the first things you should do is some serious market research to find out where to focus your efforts. Today I’ll be briefly going over a few ways to do figure out what market is right for you and then how to find out what sorts of things people in that market want to buy from you.

If you’ve been reading about online business, Internet marketing or affiliate marketing for any length of time you’ve probably heard that brilliant sounding over-simplification, “Find a hot target market. Then find out what they want to buy. Then sell it to them.” Well, that’s true enough, but hardly tells you anything useful about actually doing it. First, let’s start with, “Find a hot target market.”

Method 1 – Keywords

A quick and easy way to get a general idea of the supply and demand and competition for various markets online is to simply find out first how many searches are being performed vs. how much businesses are willing to pay per click for those search terms, or “keywords”.

The simplest way to get a general idea of the demand for anything online is to just type in search terms related to what you’re researching and look at the number of results. It will look something like this “Results 1 – 10 of about 105,000,000 for…your keyword”. It’s not a gauge of how many searches were performed for that term but it shows about how many websites contain information related to your search term, which can give you an idea of how popular something is.

To get the actual search counts per month for any given keyword, you can also use sites like the keyword tool at Digital Point Services, http://www.digitalpoint.com/tools/suggestion/?keywords , or the old Overture Keyword Suggestion Tool which still seems to be online, http://inventory.overture.com/d/searchinventory/suggestion/ , or the new free Wordtracker suggestion tool at http://freekeywords.wordtracker.com/ .

By the way, I use the paid Wordtracker yearly subscription and I love the service. They make keyword research a joy.

Next, to see how much people are paying per click for your keywords, you’ll need to sign up for a Yahoo Search Marketing account and use their bids analyzer tool. Using that, you can see the bids per click that the guys in the top search results are paying for your keywords. This will give you a general idea of how much merchants in that market are willing to pay, and so earning, from that market or niche. It can also give you some insight into exactly who may be your future competition, if you decide to pursue that market.

Here are some extra links to helpful keyword research tools:

A keyword Map of the Internet:
http://www.kwmap.com/

Google’s External Keyword Tool (No Adwords Account Required)
https://adwords.google.com/select/KeywordToolExternal

Webmaster Toolkit
http://www.webmaster-toolkit.com/keyword-research-tool.shtml

Shopping.com Top Searches
http://www.shopping.com/top_searches

Method 2 – Stats and Data

To get a more in-depth look at what is going on in a particular industry or market you can use sites like the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, http://sec.gov/ to find out how much money public companies are making in each industry among other useful things. For information about private businesses, there are services like Hoover’s Online, http://www.hoovers.com/free/ , or Forrester Research, http://www.forrester.com that compile industry and marketing data on just about everything under the sun. Those services offer some pretty cool free tools and newsletters. However, most of their services can be on the expensive side, so you’ll probably want to start out with sites like Yahoo Finance, http://biz.yahoo.com/ic/ and Web Marketing Today, http://www.wilsonweb.com/research/ , that are free and also incredibly in-depth.

I realize that I called this a separate method, but you’ll still usually want to do the keyword research mentioned in the first method also, after you get your target market nailed down.

Method 3 – The “Average Joe” Approach

This last method of doing market research and finding your target market is slower, but a lot easier than the above two methods and can actually be more effective and economical in the long run. You simply take a close look at your own interests and hobbies and skills, or even just things that you would like to learn more about… be sure to write it all down and make a list… then pick one or even a handful of things you’d like to pursue that you think have the possibility of making money (some keyword and regular market research can help here) and then simply join online groups for whatever it is. You can do a search on, for instance “Your Keyword + forums” to find online forums related to your prospective market. You can also do the same search for blogs or groups.

A good place to start is Google Groups, http://groups.google.com . Just sign up to any groups that pertain to the market you’d like to get into and become an active member. It won’t take long until you have a good idea what that target market’s likes and dislikes may be and also what they’d want to buy if you were selling it.

This last approach, unlike the other two, seamlessly leads into the second part of the above phrase, “Find out what they want to buy” without doing anything else. In fact, after you apply either keyword or general market research, it’s not a bad idea to also apply this final method and get to know your target market personally.

Once you get a feel for your target market you can either, A: proceed full steam into either becoming an affiliate or creating products for that market, (or both), or B: You can step back and try another idea if you find out your initial choice of markets don’t look that promising after all. Either way, you save yourself lots of time and money by doing your research, whether it’s keyword research, more traditional market research, or just my “regular guy” approach, before you do anything else. (Tip: Save yourself even further time and money by never stopping your market research.).

“And what about the final step?”, you ask, “Sell it to them… How do I do that?”

Well that’s a huge topic and it will have to be broken up into several parts. Stay tuned for part 3 of this series where I’ll be showing you how to become a profitable affiliate and part 4 where I show you how and where to create your products, or have them created, for your chosen target market.

Starting An Internet Business

I know it’s not a pleasant topic. Neither does anyone wish to hear that they don’t know enough to succeed right out of the box. But, for me to be completely honest with you may require that you try and accept that most of these “gurus” (these days they like to call themselves “mentors” too) are lying to you by omission.

I’m not saying you’re stupid, or even ignorant, for goodness sake. All I’m saying is maybe you don’t know everything you need to know to do your own market research, then sell like a madman as an affiliate until you know where you fit in the grand scheme of things, then create your own digital products, or maybe you don’t know where and how to best sell your existing physical products or services, let alone learning how to write attention grabbing sales copy or honest too goodness “pre-sales” technical reports, then proceed to market your wares all across the Internet using the latest in digital media with the skill of a ninja using every possible means at your disposal… just out of the blue or overnight. I’ve only very rarely seen that happen and I know lots of smart people.

For heaven’s sake just think about it a minute! In the corporate world all these widely varied skills get divided into completely separate companies! There are research companies, outsourcing and freelance companies, graphic design companies, web-master and web development companies, marketing companies and even further companies for customer support.

When you begin running your online business you are expected to fill all of those roles, all by yourself, at least at first, unless you can afford to start hiring other companies to do the work for you from the beginning and if you could do that you probably wouldn’t be reading blogs trying to find your answers.

The truth that nobody wants to tell you is that it takes a lot of time and effort to learn things like how to find a decent market, how to get the right information, how to figure out what to promote and then create, or even just how to sell whatever is it is you’re trying to sell online. I won’t lie to you. It isn’t usually easy, or fun, or glamorous, or quick. The honest truth is that it’s a helluva lot of work to do anything worth doing unless you’re already blessed with some sort of magic money tree and you can afford to waste dollar after dollar until you figure out how to turn a profit.

But, here’s the thing. These illusions that these “gurus” are selling, while usually not as easy as portrayed, are technically real and do exist for many persistant people. I suppose that fact is how some of the more shady “gurus” get away with misleading people and leading them to believe that just anyone can make a fortune online in a short time with little effort.

Eventually it IS possible to work 3 hours a week, or less, and still watch those huge checks roll in month after month or every two weeks, by switching everything to auto-pilot while you go on vacation. Imagine spending a few weeks working your tail off and then taking the next 6 months off and travel around the world if you want to. Once you know what you’re doing, that does become a possibility.

My friends and colleagues and I live the dream and we’re not that special, I can tell you. The secret is we work long hours when we have to and we just don’t ever give up trying new things.

But, it’s not something that the average person can do cold turkey, and you only get there after putting in your dues; a lot of long hours to get things started.

Ahem, that is, unless you know the right people… people that can save you time and money by letting you know what works and what doesn’t before you waste your time and money chasing everything under the sun.

But, learning just the basics takes time and learning everything you need to know could take years… especially the way the sharks out there like to try and slow you down by filling your head with useless information to cause you “information overload” and keep you buying their products. To learn only what you need to learn to do it quickly, you need to find someone to show you how to do it right from the beginning.

So this will be my attempt to put the whole thing is some kind of nutshell.

I will begin the next installment with various ways to conduct useful market research from you computer.

Then we’ll get into a little bit about affiliate sales and finding your “niche” in a market. …Then product creation, web design, marketing and copywriting and even customer service and anything else I can think of that might be helpful.

Niche Website Theme Review

niche website themeSeveral months ago the niche website experts Spencer Haws from nichepursuits.com and Chris Guthrie from makemoneyontheinternet.com teamed up to produce a new premium theme. Since they each create dozens of sites a year they were looking to create a solution that would allow them to easily customize each one, as well as allow for easy click-through rate testing to maximize each site’s profits.

ad layouts

The result was released during their webinar last night and is aptly called the Niche Website Theme.

Here are a couple features that makes the theme standout:

  • pre-made color schemes
  • high converting ad layout options
  • easy adsense and amazon banner placements

I just picked up my own copy and will be updating this Niche Website Theme review with the results of my testing. Bookmark this post so you don’t miss out on the many future updates I have planned!

WordPress Directory Theme

elist themeDirectories used to be all the rage in the early days of the Internet, but seem to have fallen off over the last few years. I see a couple listed on Flippa every couple weeks that seem to do well as far as sales are concerned, but I don’t hear them discussed much as a viable online business model.

I got an email earlier in the week from someone looking to setup a directory but didn’t know how to code one up on their own. I did some searching through the inventory of my favorite premium theme developers and came across a really high quality design from the renowned theme shop Elegant Themes.

In fact, they happened to release their WordPress directory theme just a couple months ago. Here’s a glimpse of eList:

wordpress directory theme

I recommended this theme for a couple reasons. As you can obviously see – unlike most directories that still look like they are living in the 90’s – this theme is simply gorgeous. It comes in five different colors so you can suite it to your own preference or tailor it to your niche.

Second, since it was built by Elegant Themes you can be certain that it is a dream to drive through their awesome ePanel theme options panel and shortcode list. and if you can’t figure something out? Drop by the support forums and get top notch assistant from their experts for free (this alone makes the price they charge seem like peanuts).

Lastly, to go back to earlier where I mentioned using a WordPress directory theme to make some income: eList comes complete with ecommerce integration to automatically accept online payments with ease, and if that’s not your style you can setup banner ads to start generating revenue in a snap.

To see eList in action and to check out the rest of the 70+ themes that come with it for under $40, go ahead and visit the site at elegantthemes.com