Trying Out Cloudflare

In my previous post, I mentioned that my hosting account has been suspended because of too much server activity. One of the recommended steps of tech support was to install CloudFlare on my sites. It was an optional recommendation so I decided to just install it on a couple of sites to see how it goes.

I’m a bit cautious when it comes to installing third party apps on my sites. This is not a game for me and maintaining sites is not as easy as choosing pallet covers, you know. Questions like, what if I lose all content, what if I lose my traffic, what if I lose the little Adsense earning I get? And so on.

So it was with a lot of caution when I tried CloudFlare coupled with a day’s worth of reading reviews. But first things first, what is Cloud Flare?

CloudFlare Web Service

Well its a web service that:

protects and accelerates any website online. Once your website is a part of the CloudFlare community, its web traffic is routed through our intelligent global network. We automatically optimize the delivery of your web pages so your visitors get the fastest page load times and best performance. We also block threats and limit abusive bots and crawlers from wasting your bandwidth and server resources. The result: CloudFlare-powered websites see a significant improvement in performance and a decrease in spam and other attacks.

CloudFlare Overview

Not bad right? It simply servers as a buffer so that your site can be delivered fast.

So I added it on some of my sites. Set up is easy, some webhosts have 1-click installation, or you can also manually add your site on CloudFlare but be prepared to do some tweaking on your domain registrants.

Here’s what I observed for the past few weeks.

  • Fast loading website. Seriously. Specially my sites with a lot of photos.
  • Significantly lower traffic. Like almost half of the traffic went kaput. I’m guessing its all those bots and spammers. But I’m not turned off with this coz this means the bad traffic is filtered out and I get genuine visitors accessing and reading the site.
  • Visitors tend to stay longer on a page. I don’t know why? Perhaps because the page loaded fast and they have more time to read?
  • Surprisingly more clicks on Adsense. I’m attributing this to faster loading, and filtered traffic. People who actually want to be there on the site. They have more potential to click on related ads.
  • Oh yes! Less spam comments!!!

As for the Cloudflare dashboard/functionalities. I like their analytics, threat control and its also easy to switch on/off most features. But since I’m a tweaker, I like playing with my blog themes etc, and CloudFlare caches the site, it takes awhile to see the changes. Thankfully they have the feature called ‘Development Mode’ which you can turn ON in cases you are making site changes.

All in all  (for now) I like CloudFlare and it helps a lot. Check out CloudFlare, they have free and paid services. If you wanna try them out, the free one is a good deal.

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Blogging Tips: Behind the Scenes

Howdy!

Been itching to post and update but I had to stop myself coz I needed to do things behind the scenes..of my blogs.

You see, a week ago, my webhost had to suspend my account because I was using an excessive amount of server resources. Two of my websites in particular are really getting a lot of traffic and it was churning up a lot of processes. I can understand why my account needed to be locked down.

Thankfully, their tech support was really helpful in recommending what I could do to lower the processes of my sites. It was nerve wracking coz I didn’t really know much about server management. I guess you can just ask me to shop for clarinets than tinker with my cpanel and hosting whatchamacalits.

So what did I do behind the scenes? First things first, 98% of my websites use WordPress. While WordPress itself is lightweight and doesn’t use up much processes, some plugins however are a different story.

I had to install a cache plugin so my sites would be cached and a static version would be served to visitors thereby lowering the processes on the server.

Second, I had to weed out and remove all unnecessary plugins. I’m quite guilty about this because I experiment a lot. Sometimes I’d install something and forget about de-activating and uninstalling when I’m no longer using it.

Third, I had to remove All-in-one SEO pack plugin. While yes, it was working well and helping a lot with my site’s SEO, the consensus was that it has a lot of unnecessary blings that just takes up space and consumes a lot of server resources. The recommended alternative was to use Greg’s High Performance SEO Plugin. And I did change to this plugin but bad me, I forgot to backup my previous SEO details so now I had to add all SEO keywords and descriptions again per post. Sigh.

And lastly, I decided to install Cloudflare to protect and accelerate some of my websites. I have not yet installed it on this blog but on some of my blogs. I’ll be discussing about this on my next post.

So far, so good. After those few tweaks they lifted the suspension and for the last week its been well and good. Hope it stays that way.

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Chick Blogger’s Favorite Domain Name Generators

I build websites for a living. For me, its not just work, its fun and its a challenge too.

Having built dozens of sites already mostly for my own online business as well as for clients, thinking up of names sometimes prove to be difficult. Considering that there are millions if not billions of websites out there competing for a web surfer’s attention, one must pick a catchy and brand-able domain name.

For example, if I want to build a site around toyota seat covers niche, then I will try my best to look for a domain name that would be catchy, memorable and also very important for us, SEO friendly.

Thankfully there are online generators there to help me fast track thinking up a domain name. First things first, you must have an idea of what your site will be. A main keyword or niche would be a great starting point. Then I usually use any of these domain name generators to come up with various combinations..

  • Dot-o-Mator – by far my favorite. I love playing with the combinations and from here I usually come up with some very web sounding domains.  You can easily add beginning and ending words to your main keyword and come up with great domain names.
Best Domain Name Generators
  • Impossibility – another good domain name generator. You can add in adjectives/verbs/nouns to your main keyword.
Best Domain Name Generators
  • Bust a Name – a good domain idea generator. Just make sure you click on the tab – Domain Maker.
Best Domain Name Generator
  • Randomainer – generated names are not as flexible and extensive as the one’s above, but still they come up with something unique from time to time.
Best Domain Name Generators
  • Stuck Domains – another favorite. This is one is slightly different as it searches for a expired domains. These are great domains to grab and you can find some recently expired domains that are still indexed and with a lot of incoming links making your SEO work a bit easier.
Best Domain Name Generators

There are a lot more domain name generators out there but I just picked the one’s above as my favorite’s coz I wanted sites that offer variations and ideas rather than just limited combinations and TLD search on name registrars which is really not much of help when thinking up new names.

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Projects and Goals

For the next six months, I’m setting a personal challenge. A new project and I’m dipping into affiliate marketing.

From my blogs I earn via direct advertisers, in-post adverts and Google Adsense. The income is steady but since my sites are nothing major, the CPC earnings are nothing spectacular.

But since I’m now considering this a full time online business then I want to have more than that because I know its possible and very doable.

Goals

How do I achieve this?

(1) I’ll be making content heavy niche sites. – This will be time consuming and tedious but from what I have experienced,good niche selection + good helpful content + good SEO is the perfect recipe for earning well with Adsense and other CPC companies.

(2)  Affiliate Marketing – yup. For now, I am concentrating on marketing with Amazon. For the past 6 months, I had been experimenting if its really possible to earn from Amazon associates when the commission is just 4%. And yup, after a couple of experiments and not even full scale marketing effort on my part, I found that I’m earning well with Amazon. In fact, the past three months, my Amazon earnings have far exceeded my Adsense earnings. Which was really a huge surprise for me.

So now, I’m  hooked on building this sites. Nothing massive, just niches that interest me and that I could handle. I’m setting also some earning goals come January 2013 (target: $1000 from Amazon)  and I want to double that amount come June 2013.

A friend tells me my goals are too high, but I disagree. It’s very doable, all it requires is diligence, patience and a lot of hard work. I also have several goals to work for. Nope, not gadgets, not even cigars for less. I intend to buy from my online earnings another lot (farm lot preferable where we could retire in gardening bliss), house renovation, and another car.

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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Clean and Easy To Customize FREE WP Themes

There are thousands  (if not millions) of blogs out there. And there are also thousands of themes you can use to make your blog look good, appealing and a standout. I mentioned standout coz if you want some readership, then you have to at least make your blog memorable, unique. It’s not all content (not that I’m discounting the value of content) but any reader would shy away from your blog if it hurts their eyes even if you have outstanding content.

As for WordPress, my favorite blogging platform, there are just countless themes you can pick. From free to premium, you’ll be dizzy with choice, its like trying to pick out the best sunless tanning spray in a sea of tanning spray products.

My personal choice for making a unique standout blog? Premium theme (if I have the money) or heavily customized free theme. And I know some would say, you need to have some HTML/CSS mojo to change the look of a theme. That is true, but there are also a lot of beautiful free themes out there that can be easily ‘dressed up’ without messing up a lot of codes.

So I picked out some Clean, Minimal and Easy to Customize Free WP Themes you can have consider for your blog..

Easy to Tweak WP Themes

  • Reddle – one of my absolute favorite. Why? It’s clean, highlights the content well and very easy on the eyes. The problem though was this theme was only available for WordPress.com users but I found a workaround with that (thank you big G, lol!) and found a way to get it to install and work on standalone WordPress. I’m sharing my zip copy of Reddle, download from here.
Customized Reddle WP Theme

I’m using Reddle on this blog, I simply added a checkered background and made a header to achieve the look I wanted. Girly but not pink. 🙂 See the big difference a background and header can make? I also use it on my crafting blog, and there it looks different, again.

 Easy To Tweak WP Themes

  • Twenty Eleven – yup. the default WP installation theme. Some would easily skip this since it is too generic but hey! you can easily change how this looks. And I do love how clean looking it is.
Easy to Tweak WP Themes
  • Scherzo – used this countless times and found it easy to customize. Specially gorgeous if you want to highlight your photos and text.
 Easy To tweak wp themes
  • Origin – minimalist with lots of built-in tweakers.
  • Brunelleschi – very elegant looking. I used it on one blog, I just threw in a ivory damask background and voila! It looks really so gorgeously understated. Check the tweaked theme here.
  • My Base – great start for CSS lovers. easy to customize too for beginners.
  • PressWork – a lot of built-in customizations including fonts. Excellent if you are just starting to learn how to personalize your themes.
  • Codium – minimalist look, but with loads of custom choices. This one makes me think of a rounded Twenty Ten or Eleven theme.
  • Pagelines – lots of built in choices to customize.
  • Platform – same maker as Pagelines.
  • Pico Light – beautiful theme with custom-background, header options.
  • Coraline – clean with lots of options. including custom layouts.

What you can do to dress up these themes? Some easy to do tweaks..

  • Change the background. Google for ‘free backgrounds’, ‘free patterns’, ‘free seamless patterns’ or you can also make your own on Photoshop or other photo/image softwares. Want it easy? Check out PatternCooler (and other free pattern making sites) and play around with the patterns and colors that would suit the look you want for your site.
  • Play with your fonts. Yup, I know this one puts off a lot of people, but you know its fairly easy to do. The main thing first is to have a backup of your style.css and header.php in case you mess something up. The easiest way is to use GoogleWebFonts. Just add in the code of your font pick on your header.php, then on you css-style section of your theme, change the font to the font name you picked. Even changing just the header or title font on  your blog makes a big difference to how it all looks.

 

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On Static IP’s and SSL Certificates

Here’s what I’ve been seriously mulling about for several weeks now. I’m taking time to think about it coz this thing involves some expense and its not as easy as buying switch plate covers. I’m talking about getting Dedicated or Static IP’s for my web blogs.

Why am I contemplating doing this for my blogs? I have several blocks of websites which earn from text link selling. And dedicated IP’s command higher prices and more opportunities compared to blogs on shared IP’s. In short, the blog would have increased value if its on a dedicated IP. Also, dedicated IP’s are great for security as well as to avoid being in a bad neighborhood. If you’re sharing an IP with another website deemed to be ‘bad’ then you may be tagged too as being in a bad neighborhood and having a static IP is a great way to avoid this.

However, getting a dedicated IP is a costly business. My webhost charges $50 per year for a dedicated IP. Which I think is expensive but reasonable coz to get a dedicated IP you need to have an SSL certificate which also costs a lot.

Anyway, after several weeks of studying my options, I have learned a few things.

  • As I’ve mentioned, if you want a dedicated IP, you need to have an SSL certificate. This is the only valid justification to request for a dedicated IP for most webhosts.
  • Domain validated SSL certificate which includes a Dedicated IP address usually costs $50 per year up.
  • Company validated SSL costs $150 up but for a simple blog this isn’t really needed. More for those who need a really secure site like online shops.
  • If you find the $50 per year expensive, you can also purchase a third party SSL certificate for more option when it comes to prices and available certificates. The lowest I’ve seen online for positive domain validated SSL is about $9/yr.  Read this for more info about Cheap SSL Certificates.
  • If you choose to purchase a third party SSL certificate, you can then request to have the dedicated IP address and certificate installed in your webhost. Third party SSL certificate installation fee usually is about $10. Then you also have to pay for the dedicated IP monthy charge of about $2 per month or $24 per year. The average total cost for a third party SSL cert + server installation + IP address would be like $43/year.  Cheaper by a few dollars than going direct but this requires a little bit of work on your part, but I think its worth it specially if you have a lot of blogs you want to place on a dedicated IP.
  • Lastly, its a very good choice to upgrade to a Reseller Hosting account if you are managing a lot of blogs and want it with a dedicated IP each. Personal and business hosting accounts usually just allow 1 dedicated IP for each account and you have to share these among your multiple blogs, which is not bad. But if you want 1 IP per 1 Blog, then it makes sense to get a Reseller Hosting and create 1 Cpanel for each blog, so each can also request for a dedicated IP.
All that said, right now, I’m saving up and will be upgrading my current business hosting plan to a reseller account soon and will be migrating all my blogs to a dedicated IP each soon.
If you’re looking for a webhost, I highly recommend this:

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Traveling with My Blog Earnings

I managed to amaze my husband. He knows my daughter, my sister and I will be traveling to the Philippines in June and this also includes a side trip to Kuala Lumpur for a few days of rest and relaxation. Chos! Hahaha. Last week he asked me if I had already booked our flights and hotels. I said yes. And he was astonished coz he doesn’t remember me withdrawing from our bank account, nor did I use the card to book the flight and accommodations. He asked me if I already paid for it, and he was surprised when I said yes, all paid.

Up to now, he still gets surprised that I could gallivant around, do a lot of shopping without making any dent to our savings. Of course, everything comes from my blogging earnings. I’m pretty much an independent and a thrifty wife. Lol.

For one, all our flights were booked in advance. I subscribed to airline promo alerts and booked our flights when it was still very cheap. I just used my debit card to book this, all funded from my Paypal and my blogging earnings from the last week of March to early April. I have also booked our hotels via Agoda.com and you can easily score early bird discounts there and pay by Paypal.

Travel Stamps

For flights I spent about $540 (2 pax). For hotels about $160. All total: $700. All of these from just about 3 weeks of blogging earnings from direct advertisers, and paid post writing. And I still had an excess to purchase a new air conditioner from March earnings.

March and April has been a really good months for me and to think that April is just halfway through. At the rate its going, I could still save more than enough for pocket money and shopping.

The thing with earning with blogs is that, the earnings can be not uniform, there are months where you can really have a lot. Some are just lean. But the trick is to keep working on it and after awhile you’ll achieve some consistent earnings. As for me, I’m very very happy with what I am doing. I look like I bum around but I earn some, plus some more. I also like the freedom and not having anyone breathing down my neck and screaming about deadlines. Ah, the good life!

Image: africa / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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Blogging Tips: Tagging Your Images

Here’s something I have learned from all those years of blogging: Tagging images is worth it!  ALT for images are simply alternate text for your images. It’s a very basic thing, but we often overlook it.

When I first started blogging, I have zero idea what image tagging is.Once you blog, and start adding images to your blog, you’ll see that when you upload an image on your blogging dashboard, you’ll be asked to add in a title, ALTernate text, caption, description etc.

Here’s a screenshot of basic image uploading on WordPress and Blogger. I’ve highlighted the portion where you can input the ALT text.

Image Uploading & Tagging on WordPress
Image Upload on WordPress
Image Uploading & Tagging on Blogger
Image Upload on Blogger
Tagging an Image Upload on Blogger
Tagging an Image Upload on Blogger

If you have forgotten to add in the ALT and Title tags while uploading the image you can still do so by clicking the image or you can also edit on HTML and this is how a basic image upload looks like.

Image ALT Tagging on HTML

You’ll ask why do we need to add ALT tags to our images? What can it do?

I’ll list down reasons why you should tag your images:

  • Search engines cannot read images. So if your images has ALT tags the it has more chances of being indexed much faster. For example, you upload a photo of plastic card printer but the search crawler cannot see your photo so in order for them to ‘read’ it you have to add in your ALT tag, ie. plastic card printing. A lot of people discount the importance of image search. But when I checked the site statistics of several of my sites where I have religiously tagged my images, well, I was really surprised that majority of my search engine traffic came from those searching for images.
  • Some people disable images on their browsers, and this is where ALT tags on your images comes into full play. If images are disabled then the brower will just show an empty icon, but if you have ALT tags, the empty icon will be displayed coupled with your ALT tag. Which will of course provide more information about your image and you have a better chance to get the interest of the viewer to view your image.

Some people also ask if they need to fill out ALT tag as well as the TITLE tag. There is a difference between the two. Both provide additional information about your image. Title tags however should be short, catchy and displays (in some browsers) when you hover your pointer on the image.

In case you haven’t been tagging your images yet, start now. It’ll your site much good. Read more about image tags on W3Schools.

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Manage Multiple Email Accounts with Thunderbird

I’m off fashion and chic posts for awhile. I’m in a mood for something techie this time, so this one’s not going to be about pretty stuff, ok? But I’m pretty sure some of you will find this post a lot more helpful.

If you’re one of those with multiple email accounts, say you have one for business, one for personal use, another one you use for signing up various newsletters or to catch spam, then you’d find it a bit tough to manage a lot of email accounts. Having to sign in and out of emails, remembering passwords can be pretty tedious specially for busy folks.

That has been my dilemma for awhile when I was still new to blogging. I have a personal email, one for business, and for each of my blogs I also create an admin email for inquiries, advertising etc. Afterawhile, I realized I was handling about 10+ email accounts and it was driving me nuts.

So then, I searched for a desktop application/software that would make it much easier for me to manage lots of email accounts. And I tried a whole load of them but I settled on using Mozilla Thunderbird. Thunderbird is a free, open source email manager that can be easily customized.

Mozilla Thunderbird Free Email Manager

What I love about Thunderbird is that its very easy to use and customize. Adding email accounts is a breeze. You can add in your own emails (based on your domains), Gmail, Yahoo (Plus emails), Hotmail etc. It also comes with a smorgasbord of features that makes it very easy to use, one particular feature I love is their Tabs, Web Search within Thunderbird and the easy migration assistant for easy email adding. If you’re familiar with using Mozilla Firefox browser then using this would be a breeze.

And what makes this special for me is the Add-ons and Personas/Themes. You can dress up your email manager! I always have a lot of fun with this one, and right now my Thunderbird is sporting a ‘Cath Kidston’ persona so it looks all feminine.

Mozilla Thunderbird Email Client
Pretty, right?

As for add-ons, there are hundreds of plugins you can add to your installation to add more functionality. My favorites would be Adblock, Lightning (scheduler/calender), QuickFolders. They have a huge archive of add-ons and for sure you can find an extension for your needs.

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Moving and A Little Blimp

I’ve been thinking about moving a few of my blogs to another host and server, mainly because I don’t want all my blogs to be using a single shared IP addresss (for blog earning purposes hahaha). I upgraded my old hosting account and got a dedicated IP address, meaning only my blogs would be exclusively using that IP. Which is much better than sharing it with God knows how many sites on a single shared server.

Girl Blogger

I have also decided to limit blogs I host for every hosting account to maximize the earning potential of each when it comes to text links. So some of the blogs I have decided to move to my second hosting account and once I’m done with the transfer (about 6 blogs), I will also be purchasing a dedicated IP address for these account.

So that’s what I had been so busy with the past few days. Backing up, and doing the actual transfer of 6 blogs to a new server. I’m halfway through it, as I’m a bit slow and meticulous. I want to make sure all links are working and I don’t miss out anything. Also, I do take the time to test everything first before actually changing the domain DNS. At least I know for sure that when I go live, everything is in order.

After a couple of blog transfers I got the process down pat. It’s easy (although a bit scary at first) and it won’t really require much technical knowledge. There are a lot of tutorials you can follow and as for me, tutorials from the webhosts is what I prefer to follow. Thankfully, everything went beautifully when I transferred this blog. There was a bit of downtime (as normal) while the domain nameservers was changed and it was propagating but it was just a short blimp, so no harm done and now were live from the new host.

Once I’m done with all the moving, I’m going to post a mini tutorial here on how you can do your own tranfers.. complete with screenshots.

Image: suphakit73 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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