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Legitimate Online Businesses Run on Free Software

Buying a laptop recently – I got the hard sell on the software upgraded – the salesman knew I ran a business and assuming that I would be spending money on the latest and greatest CRM and office productivity software. He was sadly disappointed. I rarely spend money on software – and only then when I have a) no other choice or b) the free options aren’t working as well as the paid.

Here is my current list of free software which I use to run my online business:

Web Browser

Sure the default which comes with Windows – Internet Explorer is free too but I use Firefox its faster and has a lot more functionality than IE because the software is open source and developer contribute add-on modules all the time.

Email Client

I don’t use one becasuse I don’t want to restricted to using  a single PC to manage my email from – I use Google’s free gmail service – gmail – but Yahoo offers a similar service. I have a number of email addresses and forward them all to my gmail catch-all account.

Office Productivity

I have used OpenOffice for years and it only gets better. I predominantly use the Word alternative and Excel alternative – but there are also programs which mimic Powerpoint and drawing packages. I never have any compatibility with people using Word and Excel.

To create pdf files I don’t use a separate program – this is possible directly from OpenOffice using the “save as pdf” button – another good reason to use the suite!

Simple Text Editors

That said I use heavy duty word processors less and less and write almost all my articles in straight text format so that I can include simple html and I know that there will be no formatting issues with the article when its published on a article site or a WordPress blog. When I am being creative I also like to have few distractions and I like the retro black screen look (think Word Perfect 4.0 if you are old like me) with no clutter. Notepad will work for some people but I like the ability to spell check, word count and save snippets that these programs provide. I have been using Q10 for a long time, but recently have also been experimenting with WriteMonkey

Both these editors are very small programs so you can also load them onto your USB and use them on the go if that’s important to you.

Photo Editing

I am not a heavy user of photo editing software and even though I own Photoshop I often prefer to use the free program Gimp for quick edits or format changes.

Moving Files Around

You will need to compress files and sometimes load them to your website. For compression of files I use winzip which is often already installed with windows. For a simple free ftp program with a nice interface I recommend Filezilla

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Hosting and Domain Names – Make the Right Choices

If you decide that you do want to move beyond ways to make residual income without a website and want to setup your own website – you need two very important things: you need to register a domain name and you need to get some hosting for your websites. If you read nothing else of this post nad remember less – remember this:

DO NOT EVER HOST YOUR WEBSITE WITH THE SAME COMPANY WHO SOLD YOU THE DOMAIN NAME

Sorry for shouting but it really is that important – why – because quite simple if something goes wrong with your hosting arrangement they can hold your domain to ransom. Doesn’t happen? Couldn’t happen to you – sorry its fairly frequent – read a friend’s of mine Dreamhost Review where exactly that happened – and its costing him a lot of money too (the language is a bit rough -he’s very angry I think you would be to).

So stepping back to the basics:

What is a Domain Name Registrar?

This is the company who rents, yes rents not sells, your domain name to you – for example I buy my domains from godaddy.com and I pay around $7.60 a year to rent this domain: netmarketingtoday.com. People talk about buying their domain – but you don’t ever buy a domain – you rent it – so long as you keep paying the fees your will keep the domain name, but if you stop paying you will lose the site name and someone else may buy it.  Domains come in too main flavours : local country domains  e.g. google.co.uk or stuff.co.nz or abc.net.au  which are domains associated with UK, New Zealand and Australia respectively . Generally the last two-l.etters refer to a country – .ws isn’t “website” its Western Samoa  (in the Pacific) .tv isn’t television its Tuvalau (another small country in the Pacific); though more recently  new “top level domains” have been set up which include .biz and .me for business and personal websites respectively. You will generally pay quite a lot more for these TLDs.

The registrar who rents the domain name is critical – if for some reason you lose your domain name you may lose your business. I use godaddy for all my domains – they are cheap for  US based domain names (.com .net .org. info). If I wanted a local .au or .nz domain I would probably use a domain registrar in the appropriate country -they tend to be a lot cheaper.

Tips to avoid losing your domain:

  • give real information – your legal name, your address – if you are worried about privacy you can add a privacy option to any domain name,  or use a PO Box
  • use an email address you check regularly and which is not going to get lose e.g. an email attached to your Internet provider – this is the email that is used to send you renewal notices you want to recieve those notices
  • you can pre-pay up to ten years for important domains – and there may be a slight SEO benefit for registering a domain for more than one year.

What is Hosting?

Hosting is where you keep the files which are your website – if you domain name is lease on a  property then your hosting is your house. Now you don’t need to buy hosting – you can set up your own hosting on your own PC in the back-bedroom – but it takes quite a lot of technical knowledge. Most people pay for hosting – its very cheap anyway – you can get a basic account for $5/month – even less sometimes, and it means that you have someone to call if anything goes wrong. Regardless of where you host your website you should have backups of your files (I use a WordPress plugin which automatically emails me a backup of my database everyday).

There is however a catch to cheap hosting – they all offer “unlimited bandwidth, unlimited disk space” – most beginners are more worried about disk space than bandwidth. They are wrong – bandwidth is the issue particularly if you are running WordPress. Why hosting is so cheap is because the vast majority of websites use very, very fewer “resources “(ie bandwidth and disk space) . But if your site becomes popular you will suddenly use an awful lot of bandwidth – and your hosting company, if you are on “shared-hosting” will shut you down.

The reason they shut you down is quite simply to protect their other customers on the same machine – your sudden demands may take a whole lot of websites off-air – not just yours. I don’t have an issue with companies doing this – though its a shame they are not more open about it – the issue is – what happens next.

What should happen is that you are given the option to upgrade your plan, quickly – remember your site is down because you are finally getting some traffic! If you don’t like the option provided – you should be able to move to a new host – again quickly.

Now moving hosts should be very, very easy – particularly if you have a recent backup of you website. You contact another web hosting company – set up an account. Go back to your domain registrar and change your “nameservers” to point at the new servers whcih your new hosting company will have given to you.  It will take maybe 24 hours for the Internet to recognise that you have moved nameservers – you rebuild your website and you are on-air again.

Unless of course the company you have a dispute over hosting also controls your domain. NEVER accept  a free domain as part of a hosting deal – at least not for anything more important than Aunty May’s 80th Birthday Album because as I said before

DO NOT EVER HOST YOUR WEBSITE WITH THE SAME COMPANY WHO SOLD YOU THE DOMAIN NAME

Issues such as my friend’s experience with Dreamhost: deal with the host holding your domain to ransom until you do what they want with your hosting – do not put yourself in this position. Dreamhost is notorious for doing this – so is Godaddy – note I use Godaddy for domains NOT for hosting no matter how much they try to upsell me to do so.

Another option maybe to consider reseller hosting – I use reseller hosting form HostGator this costs a lot more (around $25/month) but means that every domain I have is totally separate – each has its own hosting panel (cpanel) – if one domain runs out of resources – it has no effect on my other sites.It also has the advantage that if I sell a site I can sell the hosting with it – I simply change the login to the cpanel and tine new owner has access – no downtime – not transfer – no mess.

If you have a really big site you need  a dedicated server  -but that is far more than than the most of use.  Again if this is all a bit technical at the moment don’t worry – there is one thing you need to remember:

DO NOT EVER HOST YOUR WEBSITE WITH THE SAME COMPANY WHO SOLD YOU THE DOMAIN NAME

If you have had good experiences or bad with hosting companies or domain regsistrars please leave a comment below – remember you never really know how good a company is until you have a problem. I personally have found hotstagator chat support (I live far from the US so I don’t call them) to be excellent and response both then I have had sites hacked and when I have broken them through my own stupidity. I would never go with a hosting company that did not provide a number to call and chat as well as email – email is just not good enough sometimes.

Adsense and Legitimate Online Businesses

Adsense is one of the most popular ways that webmastes turn their websites become residual income builders. Its often seen as the beginners way to make money online – but it has its pitfalls. This is my take on earning income from Adsense

Pros to Residual Income with Adsense

  • its much easier to get someone to click an ad rather than actually buy or sign up for something from your site. The standard rates for clicks versus visitors for Adsense is usually quoted at around 5% -for affiliate sales it can be 1% or significantly less.
  • because you are being paid per a click rather than per a sale – Adsene income tends to be more consistent than affiate sale income;
  • Adsense has a huge inventory of ads – there are Adwords buyers for almost every conceivable niche;
  • Its very easy to track your Adsense performance thanks to th recent integration with Google Analytics

Cons to Residual Income with Adsense

  • its a lot harder to be accepted into the Adsense program as a publisher than it used to be. Its certainly not automatic, and is particularly difficult if you live  outside of US, Canada, western Europe, Australia and New Zealand.  Don’t just casually make an application make sure that you have a website or at least some HubPages to prove that you have something to offer;
  • although its easy to earn a little money with Adsense – to earn a lot you really need to write your entire webiste around your Adsense niche – adding Adsense to a general website all over the place will do you little good;
  • if you get “smart priced” by Google i.e. they consider that you are providing low-value visitors to their advertisers – your entire network is affected – and its up to figure out which site is causing the problem;
  • Adsense has a complex list of Terms of Conditions which you need to abide by – ignorance is no excuse – the common mistakes people make include  adding Adsense to otherwise empty pages, adding Adsense next to pictures or too close to headings, forgetting to add a privacy page,  changing the Adsense code;
  • Adsense pays on a click so if someone, helpful or malicious, comes to your site and starts clicking you may well have your account suspended – and its very difficult to get an Adsense account back.

Essentially with Adsense you won’t make any money until you have organic (search) traffic finding your site. Visitors from Twitter or StumbleUpon may like your blog but they aren’t going to click on your ads. Traffic that you pay for is against Adsense TOS – don’t do it! So until you have your website ranking in the search engine results there really isn’t much point to adding Adsense!

Residual Income Blogs: Ten Must-Have Plugins

WordPress’s strength is that there are so many plugins available. Plugins are pieces of code which extend the functionality of WordPress. Sometimes plugins are overtaken – I used to use an automatic WordPress updated – but this functionality is now build it with the standard WordPress.

If you are new to installing plugins  you may read that you need to download the plugin, unzip it  and use a ftp program to upload to your website and then activate it. This information is out of date with current WordPress all you need to do is go to the “Add New” tab under Plugins and type in the name of the plugin you want- you will then get the option to install it by:

  • clicking once install
  • activating the plugin
  • usually you will need to change some settings you will find these either under the  Settings tab which will now have a new menu for your new plugin. Sometimes the plugin will give you the link directly to set things up.

Useful For All Blogs

Askimet. The spam killer program. Now there is spam and spam and getting your comments flagged as “spam” by a vindictive webmaster will see a legit blogger sent off to Askimet as well. If your comments aren’t showing up you should contact Askimet via their website and ask for re-inclusion. I run it on high traffic websites though because the level of spam is out of control especially if you are a “do follow” blog.

All-In-One-SEO Pack. This is probably the single most important plug-in that everyone who cares about getting organic search traffic to their blog should run. I’ll talk about the details of how to configure All-In-One another day – but suffice to say – you need it – install it now!

Google XML Sitemaps. I have never been a huge fan of installing site maps but they slightly increase the speed with which Google will crawl your entire website and get you indexed faster. You only have to set this up once and then forget about it.

Similar Related Posts.  You will notice that there are a list of “possibly related” posts at the bottom of the post – they are automatically generated by this plugin. This is useful for getting your readers to stay on the site and read more and there is a SEO benefit to the increased internal linking between blogs. This is extremely simple to use and doesn’t require you to move files as some other posts do. You will also need to install this library plugin.

NoFollow For Posts. This plugin adds a tick box to the standard link button with the text editor for posts and pages in WordPres.

Essential for Adsense Websites – Recommended For Most Other Sites

Easy Privacy Policy. Its been compulsory to have a privacy policy if you run Adsense for months – but I still routinly see sites which fail this most basic requirement. This plugin will automatically generate the page for you. Even if you don’t have Adsense running on a site having a Privacy Policy is good practice.

Useful If You have Active Readers/Commentators

Contact Form 7 My simple contact form is created by using this plugin. There are more sophisticated form generators available as plug-ins but I found this one the easiest to use.

Subscribe to Posts. If you end up with lively debate in your comments then its really, really useful  for commentators to be able to click the “notify me of follow up comments by email” box. This is the plugin that does it for you!

SexyBookmarks I am not a huge fan of social bookmarking – but that is not to say that some of my readers aren’t so if they want to share what I write why not? Anyways these little icons at the bottom of the post are just so darn sexy Icouldn’t resist!

Useful If You Redesign a Site or Buy a Site with Existing Backlinks

Simple 301 Redirects. This is a simplistic approach to what can be quite a technical problem – I found it easy to use – but if you need something more sophisticated than page A is now located here – then you will need to look further.

Residual Income Websites Need Keywords

There are three key elements to building a successful residual income producing website:

Most beginners focus heavily on the second step – building the website – but that really its the least important part of the process. The most important part is finding a profitable niche and finding the right keywords that your potential customers and visitors are using to search for.

In general its not so much a keyword you are looking for – its more a key phrase – the longer the keyword phrase generally the less traffic there is, but also generally the traffic there is is more likely to buy: for example if you had a shoe website who do you think is most likely to buy a pair from you:

  • someone who searches for “shoes” or
  • someone who searches for “girls size 1 pink shoes”

the second person sounds like she needs a pair of pink shoes, and she needs them now! So you may only get a few visitors – but you might make more money because the traffic that you do have is buying traffic.

Think of  it this way: how often do you go to a bookshop – and just browse – you may buy – but basically the bookstore is a destination with probably free coffee and comfortable seats – and you go to be entertained. You buy eventually – but not today. The trouble with a visitor to your website deciding “not today” is that they may get distracted and end up at a different website – its harder to remember which website you were on compared to remembering which book shop offers good free coffee!

Compare that to your local convenience store – you don’t go there just to hang out and see what’ interesting do you? No but when you go there its almost certain that you will leave having purchased something – and do you notice how many times you go to the store for milk but come out with several other items as well? If you want to make a residual income from your website – you want to be a corner convenience store – not a  bookshop 🙂

So don’t decide to build a website about planning a road trip around Australia – just because you are – instead you first need to find out two things

  • whether anyone actually searches for “planning a road trip around Australia”
  • and how much competition there is

There are lots of fancy tools and ebooks who promise to tell you the answer to these two questions – but Google themselves provide a free tool: the Google Adwords Tool which although there a few tricks to how to use it properly, which I will talk about later and which definitely has its limitations – will get you started on your way to building residual income websites.

So click on the link – type in your keyword you are thinking about and do the following:

  • change the search type to “exact” – look for terms which have at least 1000 searches a month for that exact term;
  • add the Adsense CPC column in if you are considering Adsense on your website – eve if you are not a CPC of 5cents means  that no wants to spend money advertising on that particular terms which may mean you need another keyword
  • now check out the competition for that term – do you think you can beat those websites? If you can then you may have found your first niche!

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Residual Income Websites Need Traffic

So how do you make residual income from websites? In essence you need to have visitors on your website – and not just any visitor – you need to have visitors who are motivated to buy what you are selling?

I’m Selling Something?

Well you better be if you are planning on making money online!  Don’t laugh, or feel stupid – it was a point that missed me as well at the start of my online career. You will often see the mantra – follow your passion and the money will come. Well maybe, in my experience my passions don’t make me money, yours may, but even if the topic you are writing about is of huge interest to you – its best to find out in advance whether or not it will actually make you money – don’t you think?

Without Traffic Your Website is Nothing

Here’s my story: my passion is travel – I have a website with lots of photos and lots of content from a long road trip around Australia. Its seemed to me that people might want to buy  guidebooks on my iste, or at least click on the Adsense ads which talked tours and activities in the various towns I talked about visiting. No one ever did though. Why? The only people who ever visited were my friends – they were interested in hearing about my trip, they liked the photos – but they had no intention of planning a road trip in Australia. Who should I have been attracting to the site? Maybe the people who were planning a road trip in Australia? How would I find  those people -the ones who were really interested in the topic of my website.  There is basically four ways to attract visitors to your site:

  • paid advertising
  • traffic exchanges
  • social media
  • organic i.e. search engine traffic

Paid Advertising is Not a Good Place to Start

The biggest paid advertising program is Google Adwords – its the other side of the story from Adsense – Adwords are the people who pay for the advertisements on my income producing websites. Now you can make money with Adwords, and you can lose money as well. Much like foregin exchange  trading – you need deep pockets to learn the game – its not a good place to start !

Traffic Exchanges are a Waste of Time and/or Money

Don’t ever buy traffic. Think about it – someone is being paid a fraction of a cent to click onto your website – do you really think you are going to become your reader or even click on your ads. Its also against the terms for many programs including Adsense anyways. The mutual – you click mine and I will click yours sites which are very popular in certain blogging circles are just as bad – again people aren’t engaged – they don’t want to visit your site – they are just visiting to build up credits in the network so they will advertised more prominently and therefore more people will come and visit …

Social Media is Over-Hyped

I pretty much consider social media a waste of time. Yes I mean Twitter, MySpace, Facebook and all the rest are not the secret to my making residual income while I sleep – don’t bother buying the e-book either. This is highly controversial, many people love social media and find the connect with lots of friends through it. That may be so – but it will not bring traffic to your website  who is going to make you money. In fact it probably won’t bring you much traffic at all.  Recently a friend of mine Steve who has  a cool video blog at bloggerlens.com posted this video where he described a one-to-one comparison of his statistics of being featured by a famous Social Media “guru” and a no-name Internet Marketer who has an ugly free blog – his post about social media hype is well worth a read and this video contains all the statistics. ..

Organic Traffic

If you are developing residual income traffic this is the traffic you want -these are the people who went to a search engine, probably Google, and  typed in “how to plan a road trip around Australia” – if you site comes up #1 then about 40% of then will probably click through to your site. Once you have them on your site you have a better than average chance that they will  click your ads, sign up for your list or buy your featured products. Why? Because these people are looking for a solution to a problem – and you may be able to provide it for them.

You still may not make a  sale – but at least you have someone in the shop  so to speak – that’s a good start! The art of getting organic traffic to your site is the art of making sure that you site is #1 in the search listings when  a relevant search phrase is typed which matches your site’s keywords. That’s what SEO or Search Engine Optimisation is all about.

Learning how to choose your website’s topic so that you will not only get organic traffic – but you can realistically push your site into one of the top three positions in Google – that’s thesingle most important skill you need to building your legitmate online business. It doesnt’ matter if you want to make 100 mini-sites or a 1 huge 1,000 page site, whether you want to develop e-commerce stores or online forums – whatever tyhpe of site you want to make money from – you need to traffic to make that  dream of an online income a reality.
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Are You Already Building an Online Business?

Many business owners want to know how to create an online business without realising that they are already moving in that direction. You may not realise it but many small business owners are already using the Internet for their own marketing purposes. Even unintentionally you may already be starting the process of driving traffic to your website.

This post  will examine some quiet ways  that small business owners may already be developing an online business to complement their real world business, without even realising it.

Does your business already have a website? Owners who can answer yest to the question, are already presenting their products or services online by virtue of their website.  With a functional website you can already have the possibly of capturing the odd curious on-line browser. Even if you are yet to start actively promoting your website online you may still be getting the odd inquiry from potential customers who found your company via the Internet. This is why having a website is often called passive marketing.

Do you hang out in forums and have a link to your website in your forum signature? Its a bit like the on-line equivalent of passing out your business card to acquaintances.  Smart small business people participate in relevant forums and make sure that their signature clearly includes their website’s name and their tag line.  They can also use a forum to establish their product knowledge and credibility in their knowledge of their specialist area. Subtly participating in forums and message boards allows the clever business owner to establish their credibility with future customers.

One thing that is key that your website includes you main keywords. These are not necessarily your business name – say “Cute Cats” – but what need you are actually solving for your business:  practical cat clothing.  Using your keywords affects your website’s search engine optimization (SEO). You need to use your keywords particularly in titles and sub-headings- but not stuff them to much: searh engines caught onto that trick many years ago.  Although the whole area of SEO can be quite complex its a good start if website owners just use their main keywords naturally as they write their site’s content.

Do you get feedback from online customers? This is another way that owners can be marketing their business online without even realising it.  Soliciting feedback can be easy as running an online survey – cheaper and easier than doing it in the real world.

So you may well be doing more online marketing that you realised that you are already

Creating an online business to complement your bricks and mortar business is not as hard as many online consultants would like you to believe. We have already mentioned several ways that owners may already be promoting their business online without even realising it. Moving from accidental online marketing to the next level will really start to show results and drive targeted traffic to their website. Whether you want to go it alone or hire a consultant its not that hard to create an online business