Everyday Solutions – Ninja Forms

Published on Jun 10, 2014   //  Business Topics, Reviews, Web Development, WordPress

This is BlueFur’s blog series: Everyday Solutions! This series focuses on quick and easy solutions for common problems experienced by website owners.

For the average person, building a contact form can be difficult. 15 years ago when finding a talented web developer was far more difficult, building a form from scratch often involved using Microsoft FrontPage or Macromedia Dreamweaver’s built-in tools. If you were not fortunate enough to have a functioning WYSIWYG editor on-hand, you were stuck with Notepad and reading several tutorials trying to slap together what you wanted.

Ah, 1997. But we digress…

With how far things have come since that time, many people still have trouble with forms. And that’s okay! You’re a business owner. Or a graphic designer. Or a stay-at-home mom. You’re not a web developer, and you would much rather focus your time on great content, not on coding. If you use WordPress to power your website, you are in luck.

There is a wealth of contact form plugins out there, the most popular being Contact Form 7, Formstack, Gravity Forms, and Fast Secure Contact Form. Well there is a new kid on the block that’s making waves, and it is well worth a look.

Ninja Forms is slick. Really slick. It has a drag and drop editor to help you place your fields exactly where you want them, reusable fields, the ability to import/export both forms and data, and the ability to add custom styling.

That’s all well and good, but where most contact form plugins fall short for us is during the form creation process. Often things look out of place, the interface has a very high learning curve, and your form elements don’t actually end up where you want them to go. Ninja Forms’ interface makes that all disappear by being very clear about what does what, how to place fields where you want them, and providing all the extras like data validation, hidden fields, and file uploads.

As well as making it easy to build your form, the preview function is far, far easier to use than any other. With every other contact form plugin we have used we are always told to insert the shortcode into a page and then preview the page. Not so with Ninja Forms! There is a handy “Form Preview” link that will actually open the form in a new tab/window in your browser, no embedding necessary.

Beyond all that. it features integrations with many popular services like PayPal, MailChimp, Campaign Monitor, and Freshbooks. It’s a very handy tool that goes beyond simple contact forms. Try Ninja Forms out for yourself and let us know what you think in the comments!

Everyday Solutions – Website Analytics

Published on Feb 27, 2014   //  Business Topics, Did You Know, Marketing Tips, Social Media, Web Development

Welcome to BlueFur’s blog series: Everyday Solutions! This series focuses on quick and easy solutions for common problems experienced by website owners.

If your website’s goal is to help you earn money or attention of some kind, it is imperative to know how many people are visiting your site. And not only how many people are visiting your site but how many are returning visitors, where they are coming from, how they are getting to your website, and so on.

That’s what analytics solutions do for you; they give you information about your visitors that, with a bit of time and analysis, you can act on. Any analytics solution will also help you figure out what promotional methods are working, and which aren’t, ensuring you don’t waste time and money on whatever isn’t working.

So how do you set up an analytics solution? Chances are your host offers something basic like AWstats or Logaholic. These are great for getting started with some basic stats like number of hits (web pages viewed), unique visitors, time of day, and so on. They cannot, however, give you insight about how visitors are interacting with your site.

The behemoth in this space is certainly Google Analytics. Google acquired a well-known solution called Urchin back in April 2005, which eventually became Google Analytics. It is very powerful and has a decent learning curve for the more advanced reports, but generally it’s easy to use and integrate into your site thanks to CMS plugins.

That’s great, but Google Analytics can also slow down your site. Since it has to load code from Google’s servers, Analytics is often the culprit of slower load times. You also lose a bit of a control over your data, and even if you can export it it’s not likely to be useful in other solutions.

Mixpanel is a hosted solution that, while fairly new, has been very well received so far. They have a free tier for sites up to 25,000 data points/events, and the costs quickly go up from there. If you’re aiming to be the next Airbnb or OpenTable though, it might be worth the cost.

Clicky is another hosted solution that focuses on two features: real-time statistics and heatmaps. Real-time is self-explanatory. Heatmaps refers to tracking how your customers interact with your site on a page-by-page basis, giving you insight into where your users click, how often, where their mouse (and likely their eyes) focus, and so on. It’s also much easier to drill down into a single user’s actions, giving you deeper insight if you know how to use it. There is a free tier available as well.

heatmap_example

Example heatmap from Open Web Analytics.

Alternatively you can host your own analytics solution. For a long time Mint was the best alternative to Google Analytics. It has a one-time cost of $30 but you can see the money is well used to develop features and an interface that is very easy to use.

Piwik is a free, open source solution that gives you a lot of the power of Google Analytics and is very popular. The dashboard is entirely customizable, one instance can give you access to the stats for all the sites you’re tracking, and it gives you the vast majority of the stats you’ll need. It isn’t as helpful for e-commerce, but more than good enough for most sites.

Lastly, Open Web Analytics is in many ways a self-hosted, Google Analytics clone. It also features heatmaps, mouse tracking, and even some caching capabilities. If you adore Google Analytics but want to maintain full control over your data, and get access to some of the premium features without all the hassle, OWA is worth a look.

Suffice to say that many options are available, whether you want to offload the tracking to a third-party or maintain control over it. Happy testing and picking!

Everyday Solutions – Disqus

Published on Nov 20, 2013   //  Business Topics, Did You Know, Discussion, Marketing Tips, Social Media, WordPress

Welcome to BlueFur’s new blog series: Everyday Solutions! This monthly series will focus on quick and easy solutions for common problems experienced by website owners.

Whether you have a personal or corporate blog, there are two things that really matter: engagement and spam.

One is something you want to increase (engagement), and the other is something no one wants (spam). While many content management systems (CMS) come with a built-in comments feature, or built-in spam reduction capabilities, no CMS includes the measures to achieve the right balance of high engagement with low (or no) spam.

The solution to this problem is actually authenticated comments. Your visitors still have the opportunity to use pseudonyms, which many people value, but those hoping to boost their own profile get a very easy way to authenticate themselves and use their real names.

What is this magical tool that can help solve your conundrum? None other than Disqus.

Disqus solves the issues above by doing a few things:

  • Allowing your visitors to register for their own Disqus account, which is also usable on thousands of popular sites like Bloomberg, the London Free Press, and MobileSyrup.
  • Allow your visitors to comment using their Facebook, Google+, or Twitter account which makes it much easier for them to engage, instead of registering for an account only for your website.
  • Disqus lets users choose a pseudonym, allowing them to comment while also protecting their identity, thus increasing engagement.
  • To cut down on spam, you can require visitors to log in to an account of some kind, whether it’s a Disqus, Facebook, Google+, or Twitter account. This means spambots have no way to access your website’s default commenting system, almost entirely eliminating spam as a potential issue.

We won’t talk about them here, but Disqus also gives you ways to monetize your content, promote your content, and automatically adapts its discussion system for mobile devices. You want your visitors to easily interact with your site no matter where they are, don’t you?

One great thing about Disqus is that they offer a slew of integration options, including native plugins for popular content management systems and platforms like Drupal, Joomla, and WordPress. Disqus can also update the comments in real-time, allowing discussions to flow fluidly, which can increase the amount of time people spend on your website.

There are other, similar solutions to Disqus, which we’ll take a look at another time. For now, just know that the default commenting systems can easily be replaced with something far more dynamic that can solve some real issues your for blog!

Business 101: The Background Check

Published on Sep 27, 2011   //  Business Topics

As a small business owner, you will likely find yourself in the situation where you need to hire an employee or two. The hiring process can seem fairly standard, but things have changed in the age of the Internet.

Yes, you will likely still want to go through the usual process of collecting a resume and a cover letter. Yes, you will likely also want to conduct an interview, ideally in person so that you can get a sense of their demeanor and manner of conducting themselves.

However, you will likely also want to conduct some background checks. Depending on the nature of the job, you may perform a criminal record check, for instance, but the Internet can be a wealth of other information about just about anyone. Do a Google search. Look for the profile on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

The personal decisions of the prospective employee should not carry too much weight, but they will still fall under your consideration. At the same time, be willing to cut some slack, as we all have our moments of indiscretion that inevitably find themselves into Facebook photo albums.

Business 101: Channeling Back to Your Portal

Published on Sep 20, 2011   //  Business Topics

There is absolutely something to be said about maintaining a strong online presence for your company. This could involving maintaining an active Twitter account and an active Facebook page, for example. You may even have a good YouTube channel.

However, you have to build these with a certain set of goals in mind and these goals will oftentimes lend themselves to meaning one thing: channeling those Internet users back to your own portal. In other words, you want to attract people to your website, whether it be a content-based site, an e-commerce site, or what have you.

There are two big take-home messages from this. First, make sure that the URL for your main website is easily visible and accessible across all of your social networking efforts. Most users are not going to be motivated enough to search for your site. Make it easy for them.

Second, make sure that your main website is well designed, well laid out, and properly maintained. There’s no point in channeling users to a site that is not optimized. Consider your goals — making sales, generating leads, building an audience, etc. — and design accordingly.

Business 101: Revenue Tracking Styles

Published on Sep 13, 2011   //  Business Topics

When you first decide to go into business for yourself, you have to go through a lot of the initial setup. You’ll want to register your business name, for instance, and get all the permits that you’ll need to operate legally and effectively. You’ll also need to set up your books.

In general, there are two main styles for tracking your revenue and your expenses. One method isn’t necessarily superior to the other, but they each offer advantages and disadvantages over one another.

First, you can have cash-based accounting. This means that something doesn’t go “into the books” until actual money changes hands, either as revenue or as an expense. This means that if you receive a utility bill, for instance, the entry in your books won’t happen until you pay that bill.

Second, you can record the entries as they are earned or received. Using the same example of the utility bill, you would record the entry in your books on the date the invoice is received. Similarly, your revenue is recorded on the date you send out the invoice to your customer.

Which method do you prefer?

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