Another new vocabulary: Dutch is added by SEO 4.2

Andrew Raynor

 

 

In our quest to speak more of the world’s languages, we’ve now added our mother tongue: Yoast SEO 4.2 premium supports Dutch in its entirety. Our Dutch writing audience can now use all of our innovative features, like Insights and Internal linking suggestions, in their own language. More languages will follow soon.

Insights into more languages

As you might know, the release of Yoast SEO 4.0 saw the introduction of our new Internal linking feature. At that time, this revolutionary tool that helps you build an effective site structure quickly was only available in the English language. Just a couple of weeks ago, we added support for the language of our neighbors to the east: German. Now it’s time for Dutch, the language we know so well.

The text analysis tools of Yoast SEO checks the content of your posts and pages. It actively gives you advice on what to improve. The readability analysis gives you an idea how readable your post is for a regular person. Following the green bullet paradigm, you can see directly if your text is too hard to read. Or if it is littered with passive voice or uses too many words in a paragraph.

To give you correct insights into your writings, we need to fully understand a language. This process takes time, and we’re slowly, but surely adding new languages. After Dutch in Yoast SEO 4.2 premium, it is time to work on support for prominent words and link suggestions in Spanish. Looking past that, we’d like to add support for French.

If you’d like to read up on how we developed the internal linking suggestions tool and the big part language plays, we’d like to recommend this post by our linguist Irene. You can read more about the philosophy behind it in this post by our CTO Omar.

What else is new

Besides adding a new language, we’ve fixed a couple of bugs and made some necessary enhancements. We’ve moved the translations from translate.yoast.com to translate.wordpress.org. To tighten things up, we’ve made sure the settings page and left sidebar are more responsive, so they should accurately scale. In addition to that, we’ve cleaned up the meta box a little and enhanced the styling of the featured image warning screen.

As always, we hope you enjoy this new release. If you need more information, please find the complete changelog on wordpress.org.

Read more: ‘Why you should use Yoast internal linking’ »

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Request Yoast: links that are nofollow split?

Andrew Raynor

 

 

If you have a big eCommerce site with lots of products, layered navigation can help your users to narrow down their search results. Layered or faceted navigation is an advanced way of filtering by providing groups of filters for (many) product attributes. In this filtering process, you might create a lot of URLs though, because the user will be able to filter and thereby group items in many ways, and those groups will all be available on separate URLs. So what should you do with all these URLs? Do you want Google to crawl them all?

In this Ask Yoast, we’ll answer a question from Daniel Jacobsen:

“Should I nofollow layered navigation links? And if so, why? Are there any disadvantages of this?”

Check out the video or read the answer below!
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v9NPmgg7p6M

Layered navigation links

Read this transcript to learn how to deal with layered or faceted navigation links:

“The question is: “Why would you want to do that?” If you have too many URLs, so if you have a layered or a faceted navigation that has far too many options -creating billions of different types of URLs for Google to crawl – then probably yes. At the same time you need to ask yourself: “Why does my navigation work that way?” And, “Can we make it any different?” But in a lot of eCommerce systems that’s very hard. So in those cases adding a nofollow to those links, does actually help to prevent Google from indexing each and every one of the versions of your site.

I’ve worked on a couple of sites with faceted navigation that had over a billion variations in URLs, even though they only had like 10,000 products. If that’s the sort of problem you have, then yes, you need to nofollow them and maybe you even need to use your robots.txt file to exclude some of those variants. So specific stuff that you don’t want indexed, for instance, if you don’t want color indexed, you could do a robots.txt line that says: “Disallow for everything that has color in the URL”. At that point you strip down what Google crawls and what it thinks is important. The problem with that is, that if Google has links pointing at that version from somewhere else, those links don’t count for your site’s ranking either.

So it’s a bit of a quid pro quo, where you have to think about what is the best thing to do. It’s a tough decision. I really would suggest getting an experienced technical SEO to look at your site if it really is a problem, because it’s not a simple cut-and-paste solution that works the same for every site.

Good luck!”

Ask Yoast

In the series Ask Yoast we answer SEO questions from followers! Need help with SEO? Let us help you out! Send your question to ask@yoast.com.

Read more: ‘Internal search for online shops: an essential asset’ »

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Quit Operating the Competition that is Incorrect and Select Your Personal Art

Andrew Raynor

It’s demotivating to run a race and see everyone pulling ahead of you. I know because I’ve been there.

Stop Running the Wrong Race and Choose Your Own Craft

Recently, a friend shared with me a time when he was running a marathon and watching all these people pass him. He was frustrated, because he thought he was in good shape, but here he was, struggling to keep up with the pack.

Just as my friend was on the verge of calling it quits, someone came alongside him and said, “Run your own race.”

The curse of talented friends

Sometimes, I find myself despairing of my lack of abilities in certain areas. This is exacerbated by the fact that I know so many talented people.

For instance, I’m not as good a leader as Michael Hyatt or as good a marketer as Bryan Harris. I’m nowhere near as funny or as clever as Jon Acuff, and I wish I could write half as well as Ally Fallon does.

I remember one day, walking across the street while headed to my office thinking these things, wondering how I could possibly ever catch up the amazing abilities of my friends.

It just seemed so hopeless.

And if this was a game I couldn’t win, then what was the point? As a high achiever, I have to be competing in something I have a chance of winning. Otherwise, I’ll quit. Just ask my wife.

Anytime we break out a board game and I don’t see a clear path towards victory, I give up, saying, “This is a stupid game. Let’s play something else.”

Which really means: Let’s play something I can win.

Winning feels like everything

You can tell me that winning isn’t everything but that doesn’t fully register with a personality like mine. I have to see some kind of path towards success; otherwise, I lose motivation.

And so, while walking across the street that day, I heard a voice interrupt my thoughts, and say, “Don’t beat them at their own game. Beat them at yours.”

I don’t know if that was God or my subconscious or the musician on the street corner. But to whomever the voice belonged, I am grateful. Because it struck a chord.

Choose your craft

You can spend a lot of time feeling bad about not being successful in one area of life or another. And you can always find something to be bad at. Trust me. I do it often.

The challenge here is to choose your craft. Focus on the thing — or portfolio of things — that only you can do. And do it well, without apology or complaint.

And when you see someone excelling in an area that you would like to succeed at, remind yourself, “That’s not my craft.”

This applies to everything from writing in one genre, like literary fiction, and getting jealous at the success of another author in a completely different genre, like self-help, to feeling bad about not being a great marketer when your calling is something else entirely.

That’s not to say we can’t improve at certain skills we may need to succeed, but it should be a reminder to us that we can’t master everything.

At those times when you feel those twinges of envy, tell yourself, “I have already chosen my craft, and that’s not it.”

After all, you can only run one race at a time.

What is your craft? How can you claim it and avoid getting distracted by someone else’s craft? Share in the comments.

Andrew Raynor

Just how to get ready for speech research

Andrew Raynor

 

 

Voice search is picking up steam. You can now use your voice to search the web, play music, navigate home, order sushi or get the latest football results. Not a day goes by without news stories about search assistants like Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana or Google’s – uh – nameless service. It seems like voice assistants are slowly taking over the world. In this article, I’ll elaborate on the rise of natural language and voice searches, plus give you tips on how to prepare your content for these new types of visitors.

What is voice search?

With voice search, you use your voice to perform actions on the web. In the past, people often laughed at voice assistants because they were slow and had difficulty understanding and answering questions. However, the current generation of assistants is on its way to becoming incredibly sophisticated. Almost every type of query is possible just by uttering it. We’re not there yet, though, to become a real asset to people’s lives, these devices and services have to take it up another notch. Accuracy is often still an issue.

But why voice? For one thing, it’s fast; people can speak much more rapidly than they can type. It’s convenient, because you can work hands-free and, most of the time, get instant, relevant results, be it in answer to a question or performing an action. In addition to that, the developments on using your voice as an interface, have resulted in a context-based system that uses many components to give you relevant results.

While the significant strides were made on mobile devices, it is now at home were voice operated devices find their place. Amazon has sold millions of Alexa enabled devices, and there’s no end in sight. Recently, Google went on the offensive with Google Home; it’s own smart home assistant.

A look at the data

If you look at data from Mary Meeker’s renowned annual trends report, you’ll see that the use of voice assistants is on the rise. In 2015, 65% of US smartphone owners used a voice assistant, up from 56% in 2014 and 30% in 2013. The main reason for this growth is the improvement of the technology. Meeker also suggests that Google voice queries were up 35 times since 2008 and seven times since 2010. The last one, in May 2016 one in five searches on Android devices in the US is voice activated.

voice search graph

From Mary Meeker’s Internet Trends 2016

A recent study by Stone Temple Consulting showed that, while people were generally happy with the performance of voice assistants, they’d like them to answer more questions directly.

Expect search engines to double down on this

Why and how do people use voice search?

It might not come as a surprise that people use voice assistants because they’re convenient, especially when your hands are occupied. They’re a breeze to use, even more so for slow typers. Plus, people love getting fast, relevant results and many just plain enjoy the use of this kind of assistant. However, people rather use these services at home or in the car than on the go and at work. There still seems to be a psychological barrier to belt out search queries in a group of people.

What voice search means for SEO

Voice assistants use so-called conversational search queries to get an answer to an individual question. These kinds of queries are spoken in a full, natural language sentence, and the reply is in a whole sentence as well. This is something you have to keep in mind when working on your content SEO strategy. If you ask [What’s the weather in Amsterdam today?], you might get the answer [‘It’s cloudy today, with a slight chance of rain. The maximum temperature is 16C.’] If you’re on a screen-based device, this result might be accompanied by a screen showing you the conditions.

Google Hummingbird

Google made answering questions a priority in its Hummingbird update in 2013. This update was meant to change the way Google responds to queries people write or speak. Since Hummingbird, the context of every word in the search query is taken into account. It’s no longer about the words themselves, but what they represent or mean. If you need a reminder of what Hummingbird encompassed, watch Joost explain it all in this video. Hummingbird had a significant impact on how Google scanned your content and thus on your SEO tactics. It became incredibly important to structure your text properly.

The 5 Ws

Conversational searches tend to answer the classic 5 Ws: who, what, when, where, why and how. Here are a couple of examples:

  • Who designed the Golden Gate Bridge?
  • What do I need for a BBQ?
  • When did Sesame Street air for the first time?
  • Where can I get the cheapest pizza in the Bronx?
  • Why do birds suddenly appear?
  • How did Google start?

You see that these natural language, conversational searches encompass more words than our typed searches. These are no keywords, but rather key phrases. If you want to rank for these kinds of phrases, you have to have an answer for these questions. Long-tail keywords play an important part in this. More on that in a minute.

The technology is getting smarter

In the early days, searching with your voice was clunky and error-prone. Many people just gave up in frustration. However, nowadays, voice operated technology is getting smart, fast. Think about it; you can now adjust the spelling of a search query if a result came up with the wrong keyword [night vs. knight]. Searches now take into account what was asked before, so you can ask additional questions to narrow down the results. So, you can ask a voice assistant to find all films by Kevin Spacey. After that, you can bring that down to just the ones he won an Oscar for. Or ones that co-star Morgan Freeman.

Context plays a big part in the recent developments of voice assistants. More and more, these assistants look at the world around you to give you relevant results or actions to take. If you’re at home, you might get different options than when you’re commuting to work. Or if you have a particular app running, an assistant might use that information to make an educated guess about what you are doing or what you might want to do. This is only the beginning; we will see a lot more developments on this front.

Now what?

So voice search changes how we search, and therefore we should closely examen the way we provide our content. If you want to answer the natural language questions people use to search for something, your content is the first thing that needs to be fixed. You need to ask yourself what questions your content is answering at this moment and find out if that aligns with the questions people ask. Is the answer all-encompassing or is it incomplete, thus not satisfying the needs of the visitor? You should also think about the readability; is it easy to understand, scannable and instantly comprehensible?

Take a long hard look at the conversational queries people use to find what they need. Not only look at your data but also check how your competitors are doing and see how they are trying to answer these questions. Use the autocomplete feature in search engines to see which questions often pop up.

Put the answers you find in a spot where search engines can easily filter them out. Don’t make it a long winding answer, but get to the point and serve it straight up.

An example of a question answered

Your content and HTML must join hands to respond to questions in the quickest way possible. Optimize the pieces of content you think are valuable for your visitors, plus the ones you suspect people will search for. To illustrate that, we’ll look at an example from Yoast.com. We are continually working on our content to get it highlighted in Google. That’s no easy task, but keep at it and it will work.

In this case, our article on cloaking affiliate links has been optimized in such a way that it can answer the question: [“How to cloak an affiliate link”]. Google figures out the question and the answer right from the content. In general, it helps if you use short answers, and present it with bullet points. If you use ten or more steps, Google will add a ‘read more’ link to the answer box, likely getting you a higher CTR. Answering questions in this way, not only gets your content ready for voice search but can also lead to featured snippets in Google, like the one below.

voice search featured snippet

Google answers a question directly, based on Yoast content

Google takes this piece of content to answer the question

Focus on long-tail keywords

To answer natural language questions correctly, you also need to work on your long-tail keywords. Since these spoken questions contain a lot more words than a typed search command [What is the best restaurant near De Dam in Amsterdam vs. Restaurant De Dam Amsterdam], you can use these extra words to rank for. It might make it a bit easier to rank higher for the phrases you want to be found for. You’ll also see that searchers will increasingly use terms like [best] or [nearest] to search for relevant results, so that’s something you need to keep in mind.

Another good way to answer questions people may have is by adding a FAQ to your site or optimizing the one you already have. Collect the questions people ask and write a short, but relevant answer. Search engines can directly use these answers to give searchers a valid reply to their voice search commands.

Optimize your page for mobile use

In addition to offering valuable answers to questions people are asking, your page needs to work flawlessly on mobile devices. Check how it functions on multiple smartphones, tablets, and other gear. Is it perfectly accessible on these devices? Is it attractive, fast and easily readable?

It is also a good idea to invest in a proper Schema.org implementation because this gives your pages a lot more context for search engines. For instance, you could add Schema.org markup to your review page, so search engines have a valid source to identify your authority.

Conclusion

It sure looks like voice search is here to stay. This brings great opportunities for some, while others might be worried about search engines and digital assistants answering every possible question directly. Should you be worried? Well, that probably depends on your content. If you have high-value content, like recipes, you might be ok. Voice assistants won’t be able to read that recipe for you, yet. If your site offers basic calculation and conversion services, for instance, to calculate the number of teaspoons that fit in a cup, then it’s going to be harder for you to survive in a voice search world.

Regular, content-driven sites, need to be able to answer the question voice-driven searchers are looking for. To get your site ready for the slew of voice-activated searches, you need to think carefully about your content; does it answer the questions people have?

Read more: ‘SEO Copywriting: the ultimate guide’ »

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3 Secrets to Completing Your Guide For All As Well As Once

Andrew Raynor

Note: This is a guest post from Chad R. Allen, a writer, speaker, editor, entrepreneur, and writing coach. Chad serves as editorial director for Baker Books, a major trade book publisher. Connect with him on Twitter and his blog.

3 Keys to Finishing Your Book Once and For All

I work with a lot of writers who write down, either mentally or on paper, their goal to finish a book.

They do so for a lot of reasons—because up to this point finishing their book has been elusive, or because the idea recently took shape in a way it hadn’t before, or because they can’t keep pretending it doesn’t exist.

It does exist, and apparently it’s so vehement about existing, it’s not going away no matter what they do to suppress it.

So they might as well give up and do something about it.

That’s what we writers want to do, I think, if we’re honest. We want to do something about it—something so consistent, so thorough, that on the other side of our doing something we look in the day’s mail and there it is. Finished. Not perfect, certainly, but here. Finally here.

And I think of all the writers who months later begin realizing it’s not going to happen. Not this time. And I think about the pangs of guilt and literal pain they will feel deep in their chests. Another disappointment. Another expenditure of wasted effort. No book.

I don’t want that to happen, and so I’m writing this to help.

Finishing your book once and for all

The purpose of this post is to give you an on-ramp to finishing your book once and for all. As I’ve worked with hundreds of writers over the years and observed my own writing practices, I’ve noticed three things that often comprise the difference between finishing and not finishing.

It just so happens the three initials for these elements are C. P. R., so you can think of this as CPR for your book project if you’d like. If nothing else it makes them easy to remember. The three elements are:

  1. Concept
  2. Process
  3. Retreat

Let’s delve deeper into each.

Key #1: A compelling concept

A compelling book concept is one that promises to meet a need people have in a distinctive way. When you have confidence in your concept, you have that much more motivation to keep writing.

The first step to a great concept is to get really clear on the need your book is addressing. One can do this in many different ways, including good ole Google searches in your topic’s space. You might also try doing a search in BuzzSumo. This will produce a list of the most shared articles related to your topic, which will give you clues to the major pain points of your audience.

Once you have the need you want to address in place, brainstorm a distinctive working title and subtitle, and you’re off to the races. Later in this article I’ll share how to obtain an infographic and video tutorial that will help you further with this process.

Key #2: Design a sustainable writing process

When I first started blogging, one of the best pieces of advice I heard was, “Fall in love with your process.” And another equally good piece of advice (from Jon Acuff) was similar: “In the beginning, measure hustle, not traffic.”

The reality is we have very little control over things like how an agent or publisher responds to a query or proposal. We can’t stop someone from writing a negative review on Amazon. One thing we do have control over is our process.

So what’s your process? When do you write? What are your tools? Do you have a certain word count you’re shooting for each day? And so on.

Design your process, fall in love with it, and stick to it. Below I share how to download a worksheet to help you do this.

Key #3: Schedule a writing retreat

I’ve saved the best for last because this one really is the X factor.

Back in 2013 I had an idea for a short manifesto-style book. I had much of the content development done, but between a full-time job and family commitments, I couldn’t find time to put it all together.

Realizing spring break was coming and our family was planning to stay home during this time, I asked my wife if it would be all right with her if I used that week to finish my book. She said yes, and so each morning found me in front of my laptop at a coffee shop.

Five days later I was well on my way to self-publishing what became Do Your Art: A Manifesto on Rejecting Apathy to Bring Your Best to the World.

Writing retreats happen in all sorts of places and times and manners. The important thing is to schedule and take one, if not several. See below for a free writing retreat planner.

Concept, process, and retreat. Start with these three, stick with them, and you’ll be well on your way to holding your book in your hands.

A special gift for Goins, Writer readers

I’m so grateful for this opportunity to write to Jeff’s audience. I have a lot of respect for him and for anybody who follows his content. In light of this, and because I want to make this CPR process as user-friendly as possible, I’ve developed a sequence of free videos and worksheets that I call the Finish Your Book! mini-course.

Inside you’ll find:

  • Seven brief teaching videos
  • An infographic on how to develop a compelling book concept
  • A worksheet to help you design your writing process, and
  • A planner to help you schedule and plan an effective writing retreat

The whole course should take you less than 90 minutes, and at the end of it you’ll be set up to finish your book once and for all. If you’re serious about finishing your book, this course is just what you need (and it’s completely free).

To access it, click here.

Do you have a book in you? Which of these three (C.P.R.) elements would help you the most? Share in the comments.

Andrew Raynor

My article doesn’t position, although our bullets are inexperienced?!

Andrew Raynor

 

 

The Yoast SEO plugin helps you to easily optimize the text of your post. This could definitely result in higher rankings. But unfortunately, green bullets do not magically put you on top of the search results. In this post, I’ll discuss a number of possible reasons why a post doesn’t rank, even though the text has been optimized with the Yoast SEO plugin.

Too much competition

In most cases, the reason a post doesn’t rank on top is because there’s simply too much competition. If you optimize your blogpost for Justin Bieber, chances are high you won’t rank for that term.  Too many sites and blog posts have established themselves in this niche. Your site doesn’t have the authority that some other sites do have. And a large portion of the other sites in this niche are probably also capable of writing SEO-friendly texts. Green bullets won’t help you to rank high in the search results if your niche is too competitive.

Read more: ‘Should you blog about Justin Bieber’ »

If you really want to rank for those highly competitive terms, you should try a long tail keyword strategy. Blog about all the nuances and little variations around the competitive keywords. If these long tail articles start ranking, you’ll be able to rank for more competitive terms as well. Such a strategy requires long-term efforts, but in the end, it will pay off.

Technical issues

If your post doesn’t show up in the search engines at all, it could be that there are technical issues that prevent your post from appearing in the search results. Of course, when set up right, Yoast SEO takes care of all technical issues, but you could be running a plugin that interferes with our plugin. And we’ve seen some themes that actually prevent Google from indexing your site.

Hacked?

Always make sure your site isn’t hacked! If a site is hacked, your older posts will decrease in ranking as well. New post won’t rank as easily as they used to do. This will all evolve rather slowly, depending on how much crap is published on your site, without you knowing it. This really happens!

Keep reading: ‘WordPress Security’ »

Internal linking structure

A reason for your post not to end up high in the search engines , could be because other parts of your SEO strategy are not optimized. The structure of your site – the internal linking structure – is a very important aspect of an SEO strategy. Having a clear site structure leads to better understanding of your site by Google. If your internal linking structure is poor, chances to rank high (even though your content might be awesome) are lower. Yoast SEO premium could help you with your internal linking structure. If you want to improve your site structure, you should check out our site structure training.

Read on: ‘Site structure: the ultimate guide’ »

Few external links

If you just started out with your website, your content won’t instantly rank. Not even if all your bullets are green. You’ll need some links from other websites. Google has to know your website exists. In order to get backlinks, you should reach out to other websites. You’ll need to do some PR or link building. Ask them to mention your site or talk about your product and link to your site. Use social media to get the word out!

Green bullets, no ranking?

There are multiple reasons that could prevent a post from ranking. If you optimized it correctly with Yoast SEO, the most common cause will definitely be that the competition in a niche is just too hard. Unfortunately, SEO is a long-term strategy. You just need to have a little patience. In the meantime, there are a lot of other aspects of your SEO (site structure, link building) you can tackle. Try to focus on all aspects of website optimization, try to be that best result. It will pay off eventually!

Read more: ‘The temptation of the green bullet’ »

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5 useful WordPress plugins for the website

Andrew Raynor

 

 

Every WordPress website owner occasionally stumbles upon a problem that could probably be fixed in a heartbeat with a handy WordPress plugin. That’s what makes WordPress great, right? I recall a friend of mine asking about the possibility of an answering machine on his website. There’s a plugin for that. Need to add testimonials in an orderly way? There’s a plugin for that as well.

Plugins range from large, like our Yoast SEO plugin (which every website needs) to really small, with almost Hello Dolly-like impact. No matter what the size, plugins can come in really handy, especially when you’re not a developer or you lack the capacity. In this post, I’ll go over a number of plugins that really saved my day in the past!

Auto Post Thumb Pro

Especially webmasters that have had their sites for ages will recognize this issue: a lot of themes you can find in the WordPress theme repo just look a lot better with a post thumbnail, but not all of your posts have that thumbnail. It doesn’t matter if your theme allows for a list of recent posts or if it includes excerpts on your archive pages, chances are that they will include post thumbnails. That just looks so nice, right?

The legacy of your old posts without a thumbnail makes that the alignment of a collection of posts (f.i. in a widget) looks off. It looks messy. In comes Auto Post Thumb Pro. When I wanted to repost Instagram images on a website, this plugin made sure there was a thumbnail for every post. And (re)generated thumbnails for every older post. After installing this plugin, I can use any theme I wanted to use that displayed these thumbnails on (almost) every page.

By the way, if you are looking for a new theme for your blog, I can recommend Anders Noren’s themes. I’ve used a few and really like the clean designs and easy-to-use setup.

Easy Custom Auto Excerpt

One of the things we come across in our SEO consultancy is duplicate content caused by displaying entire posts on taxonomy pages (like category pages). WordPress has plenty of ways to display excerpts instead of full posts. Usually, one of the requirements is using a <!-- more --> tag in your posts. Include that tag by clicking the icon in the Insert More tag | Handy WordPress pluginsimage, located at the styling options on the Edit pages in WordPress. If you feel that that’s too much of a hassle, the Easy Custom Auto Excerpt plugin will help you out. It’s one of those plugins that you install, configure and forget about, simply because it works.

The Easy Custom Auto Excerpt plugin allows you to automate that more tag by, for instance, adding it after a number of characters or after the first (or first two) paragraphs. It allows you to do some basic tweaking of how that excerpt looks like (alignment of the thumbnail for instance). In the premium version, you can also fine tune the Read more button – a feature that convinced me to purchase a license – and disable excerpts for certain post types (like posts that just contain an awesome photo). Of course, this depends on the type of blog/site that you have. Go see for yourself how this handy WordPress plugin can help you out.

Responsive Lightbox

What to say about this handy WordPress plugin? If you’re a bit like me, you installed, removed and re-installed your share of lightbox plugins. The horror! They either don’t work out of the box, add fancy stuff to that pop-up or simply ignore your galleries. And how about those previous/next buttons that are too small to click. Not to start about how crappy things look on a mobile device, right?

Responsive Lightbox | Handy WordPress plugin

I found Responsive Lightbox to be a nice solution. If you are sick and tired of your current lightbox plugin, install this plugin and see for yourself.

Simple Custom CSS

Sometimes you want to do just a little design tweak and not worry about it being overwritten the next time you update your theme. You have two options:

  • Create a child theme, which might be a bit of a hassle for that tiny little tweak, or
  • simply add some lines of CSS code via this little plugin: Simple Custom CSS.

It does just that. I really like it. There are more handy WordPress plugins that do this, but I found this one to be both the less bloated (I just want to add CSS, not learn CSS) and the one that works without the constant need to add !important to my declarations.

Yoast Comment Hacks

Last but not least, I’d like to add this little gem Joost developed: Yoast Comment Hacks. If you have a WordPress blog and receive a lot of comments, use this plugin to add some smart extras to your comment maintenance toolkit. Among others, it allows you to thank first-time commenters by redirecting them to a thank you page. It also allows you to set a minimum comment length, for instance. Go check for yourself how this little handy WordPress plugin can make maintaining your comments just a bit easier!

I’d love to hear about your favorite handy WordPress plugins in the comments!

SEO New Hampshire

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139: Create a Brave Route For The Visitors to Check Out: Meeting with Sowers

Andrew Raynor

You can spot a man of conviction from a mile away. You take notice when a woman with a fire in her heart enters the room. But these people aren’t self-made. They didn’t reach this point on the path alone. Someone showed them the way.

139: Forge a Heroic Path for Your Readers to Follow: Interview with John Sowers

Mentors are the guide on our own hero’s journey. They share their story so we can learn from their experience. Mentors believe in us so we can believe in ourselves.

This week’s guest on The Portfolio Life was raised by two heroic women and always wanted to be a writer. He wrote a doctoral dissertation on fatherlessness (which was later published by Zondervan), co-founded The Mentoring Project, and even visited The White House to meet with the President.

In this interview, John Sowers and I talk about the critical role of mentors, the four steps of the heroic path, and chasing jaguars in Arizona.

Listen to the podcast

To listen to the show, click the player below (If you’re reading this via email, please click here).

Show highlights

In this episode, John and I discuss:

  • The correlation between passion and conviction
  • Knife making and rustic hobbies
  • Shooting wild animals (with a camera)
  • Writing about fatherlessness after growing up without a male role model
  • What would JRR Tolkein say about how the True Myth informs masculinity
  • The fear he faced after becoming a father
  • Listening at the edge of your understanding

Quotes and takeaways

  • “We find courage when we love someone deeply.” -John Sowers
  • “We find strength when we’re deeply loved.” -John Sowers
  • Mentoring gives you purpose, direction and opportunity.
  • “Positive affirmations can change the course of our lives.” – John Sowers
  • Most great things are borne out of a deep sense of conviction.
  • Write what needs to be said.
  • Fatherhood is about saying the things you don’t feel like you need to say.

Resources

Who is one of your mentors? How have they impacted your life and creative work? Share in the comments

Click here to download a free PDF of the complete interview transcript or scroll down to read it below.

EPISODE 139

JS: I don’t feel like the world needs more books. I feel like it needs kind of burning arrows to the heart, you know? That will transform things.

[INTRODUCTION]

[0:00:20.2] JG: Welcome to the Portfolio Life. I’m Jeff Goins. This is a show that helps you pursue work that matters, make a difference with your art, and discover your true voice. I’m your host and I want to help you find, develop, and live out your own creative callings so that you too can live a portfolio life.

So let’s get started.

[INTERVIEW]

[0:00:36.1] JG: All right, John, thanks for being a part of the show.

[0:00:40.0] JS: Thanks so much Jeff, thanks for having me.

[0:00:43.1] JG: So, you are an author, you’re the leader of The Mentoring Project, cofounder I guess, with Donald Miller? Is that title? How does that work?

[0:00:52.8] JS: Yeah, that’s right.

[0:00:53.8] JG: You run the thing?

[0:00:55.1] JS: Yeah, I think so.

[0:00:58.9] JG: You’re a man, you’re a dad, right? And a husband? One of the fun things for us to talk about on the show is kind of the answer to this question, I don’t know if you hear this much, but how do you do it all? I think that would be a fun thing, especially because so many people I know go, “How I’m going to find time to write a book?” You are leading an organization and you find time to do lots of different things. I just thought it would be fun to talk about that.

[0:01:25.2] JS: Sure, no, that’s fantastic and yeah, it’s been a real honor I guess since 2009, my wife and I were living in Los Angeles in downtown and Donald Miller, another author, called me and asked me to come and launch The Mentoring Projects. So it was an idea, it was kind of an exciting thing, but it didn’t really have legs yet. So we moved up to Portland from LA and then incorporated it and kind of launched it and started on that piece.

Kind of in that, the first book came out, which was a doctoral dissertation of mine and that we kind of revamped it and then it came out. So yeah, it’s funny that we’re talking about integration because I should probably be a lot more intentional about it, I just kind of do it all. So I don’t have any best read books on integration or those kind of things, but I’m looking forward to learning more about it and about myself and about how to do those things.

Most of those things are born out of deep conviction and, you know, a sense of looking for a purpose but also what I feel like it’s purpose. So The Mentoring Project is felt like a life calling for me and it had for years before I was with The Mentoring Project. So I started on that dissertation in 2002 about fatherlessness.

So it had been a part of who I was for a long time, and so The Mentoring Project for me is really kind of a life calling and so it doesn’t feel so much like “here’s my job and here’s my other job and here’s another job”. It’s like this is a life calling that I can’t really ever quit. I feel like it’s something that I have to do, it’s a part of who I am.

The writing thing, it’s interesting because I feel like, and you can interact with this as you’re a writer, a good writer, a successful writer yourself. The writing thing, for me, kind of fits in that because the writing, the things I write are kind of born out of that same place. I don’t want to just write for fun. I feel like the things that I write, at least in my own heart, feel original, they feel necessary, they feel like someone needs to hear them. Kind of both of those things are birthed out of convictions, the writing and the nonprofit work. So to me, it’s almost kind of like the same thing, which is real interesting.

[0:03:24.1] JG: Yeah, cool. I love that. You’re down in LA, Don Miller calls you and so you come up and what happens next?

[0:03:31.9] JS: Yeah man. So we’re in Portland, it’s 2009 and my wife’s an attorney in LA and so I incorporate The Mentoring Project, we kind of launch it but the thing is, part of the thing with The Mentoring Project which is so crazy was that we had a lot of notoriety before we really ever began. So we had Relevant Magazine calling, I got to meet the president. I’m at the white house talking to the president of the United States and we have like 40 mentors.

We haven’t hardly done anything yet. So we kind of felt this pressure and this burden to — well we probably need to go out and get some mentors as kids. We really kind of scrambled and pushed hard in Portland there and then in other cities, we began to do mentor trainings and recruiting kind of all over the country and so that was fun and it’s been like a whirlwind. at the same time that first book came out, which was called Fatherless Generation, and it was really kind of the story, it’s like the secret convictions, I guess the integration question is really like, that book was the driving force behind the convictions to do The Mentoring Project.

So the fact that 20 million kids are growing up without dads, and that was my story. Saw my dad once a year and never hated him or anything, I just never really knew the man, didn’t have a grand dad, I was raised by two heroic women. So I grew up kind of like, not really thinking about men, but also not knowing how to be one. So that first book was called Fatherless Generation, it was really more about my story and as well as the story of our generation.

And that second book, Heroic Path, later obviously jumping ahead, was about kind of becoming a man which is the question of half our country. Especially when you’re not sure, when you don’t have models, when you don’t have fathers. But in 2009, yeah, we launched it, we got rolling and we opened an office in Portland and we opened a second office in Oklahoma city, we have chapters in different places like Memphis, and Asheville, North Carolina and Pennsylvania and Florida and some other places. So it’s been fun. It’s been a whirlwind for sure, but it’s been a blast.

[0:05:29.9] JG: Yeah, cool. You know, you wrote this thing that became the book, Fatherless Generation, which was a doctoral dissertation. Is that what you said? It was a paper?

[0:05:38.9] JS: That’s right.

[0:05:39.9] JG: I guess that’s how you got into writing.

[0:05:41.5] JS: Yeah, you know, it’s interesting. My mom was actually — she’s a smart one. She graduated from college at 18 and went on and got her double masters and then taught English and a PhD, and so she was always a writer and a reader. My grandmother and my mom both got me into reading and writing. We would go to the libraries in the summer and I would come out with a big stack full of dusty books and love books, and I still love books.

So both of them, I just grew up and I always wanted to be a writer and so the dissertation thing though was the first thing I ever wrote that felt like it really needed to be said. It was really a call to churches and to people of faith and everyone. But really to people of faith to engage relationally, engage our generation relationally. It felt really important and it felt like something I needed to say.

I was going to self-publish it just because I didn’t care. Published or not, whatever is fine. So I was going to self-publish it and then I sent out a bunch of info@ emails. I didn’t have an agent or anything. Six months later I heard back from Zonervan, Harper Collins and they said, “Hey, we love this, do you have a book deal yet? We want to give you a book deal.” So that’s how I got my first book deal and I said, “Yeah, let’s do it.”

They published it I guess nine months, a year later, whatever. So the writing for me was something I’ve always loved to do in my life. But the things that become books for me, or even like essays on my website or whatever, are usually born out of pretty deep conviction, and so I started down several book pass before and written — I’ve written a full book before how to contract forward and walked away. Because I’ve just said, “That’s not where my convictions are right now.”

Yeah, I don’t feel like the world needs more books, I feel like it needs kind of burning arrows to the heart, you know? That will transform things. I don’t think the world needs more short term flashes that get people excited but really this kind of transformational things that have really long trails and that can transform generations for decades.

So I’m not saying I’ve never written that, but I write with that in mind. It’s like, “Okay, no one’s talking about fatherlessness. I need to write about it. I haven’t read a book on rights of passage and from a real personal standpoint, the masculine book, Heroic Path, it’s not about bravado clichés, even though I love that stuff. I love hunting and all of that stuff. But that’s really not where strength is and so that was another book I’d never read about Christ’s journey and how that informs initiation. I’ve never read that. So I was like, “Okay, I’m going to write that.”

So yeah, I guess I’m kind of passionate about that stuff. I love writing, I love your stuff, I love the fact that you just kind of one day said, “You know what? I’m a writer now.” Because you were a writer but you just said, “Hey Jeff Goins, become a writer.” You just took the plunge and I think it takes guts to do that to just step out and do it. For you with integration with writing and your podcast and things, I think this things are just born out of your passions, your god-given passions and your abilities and gifts and those things inspire others to do it too, you know?

[0:08:44.7] JG: Well, I love this topic. I don’t talk about it a lot but I read about it a lot, the topic of initiation and rites of passage. I loved your book, the Heroic Path.

[0:08:52.3] JS: Thank you.

Click here to download a free PDF of the complete interview transcript or scroll down to continue reading it below.

[0:08:54.4] JG: I was reading your bio here, I love this right here, a bunch of education, cool. “He enjoys old books, tracking, knife making, and mythopoeia.” Am I saying that right?

[0:09:04.6] JS: Yes.

[0:09:05.9] JG: I’ve only heard that in referenced to like J.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis.

[0:09:10.5] JS: Yeah. That’s actually a couple of things. Mythopoeia is the creation of myths but it’s also a poem that Tolkien wrote to Lewis, one night they argued till three in the morning about faith and about mythology and Lewis was an Atheist and then Tolkien went home and wrote him a poem for his friend Jack and it was called Mythopoeia and that conversation and poem help Lewis to the lord. Lewis became a Christian shortly after that.

Tolkien was kind of miffed he didn’t become a catholic but he became a believer. Many of us have been affected by those two guys. Yeah, the outdoors and the idea of initiation and for me, it really, we all have this wakeup calls in our lives, we all have this moments where something happens and we kind of say, “Oh, what am I going to do now?” You step into a new career or you get married or you have a child or you lose something or someone.

For me, when my daughters were born, I have twin daughters and they’re four. When they were born, I was like stalked by fear. In the book, I call it “something awful” and I remembered like truly being terrified. Like, “How am I going to do this?” That book kind of set me on a two or three year search for how do I become a father, and ultimately how do I be a man? So, when I was in Kodiak, Alaska on Kodiak Island, I was actually thinking of that conversation between Tolkien and Lewis, that same conversation.

I’m on Kodiak Island, we have no electricity, we have no cellphone, we have huge bears all around us and we’re eating Halibut and Salmon every night, it’s really awesome. But it let’s you think. When you get out past the noise, hurrying crowds, and you get out into stillness and you can listen for the one who is listening for you and you begin to listen at the edges of your understanding. I began to listen and I was brought back to that conversation, that very conversation where Lewis says, famously, “Myths are just lies breathe through silver,” and Tolkien says, “No, no. They’re not lies, they’re all true. All the myths you’ve ever read are true.”

And Lewis thinks he’s crazy and he goes on to explain it and he says, “You know, they may not be true in their specifics but they’re true in that they steer us shakily toward the true harbor, the true myth, the one true myth.” So I was kind of asking the question about how to become a man and so I began to look at the one True Myth, capital T, capital M. The Christ story. Then I started thinking about that conversation and I thought, “What would Tolkien say how the true myth informs masculinity and manhood?” So I looked at Christ move from carpenter into Messiah.

At age 30, he leaves the village, he leaves the popular voice, he leaves all these expectations from the village that’s a severance, he leaves all that stuff and then he’s transformed, he goes out, he meets with the crazy camel guy who eats honey and wild locusts and he gets baptized. So he’s transformed through that move, he’s filled with the holy spirit, at least symbolically, and he’s named as a son, “This is my son,” right? “This is my beloved son.”

So he leaves the village, his identified with the father, he’s now more the son of the father than he is the son of Mary, the son of the father, and then — he’s still the son of Mary but he’s the son of the father. Then he heads to the wilderness where he’s tested, the spirit leads him there and then he returns and when he returns to the village, it’s his what I call mythic time. It’s his messiah time. So for three years, he gives his life to the village and ultimately on Gol Gotha and beyond. So when you look at the life of Christ, I said, those four steps really are informing us of — the true myth is informing us of initiation, not just masculine initiation but all initiation.

These steps have severance, of transformation, of confrontation and then return. They all have very glaring implications, have I left the village or am I living for my 401(k) or my truck or my whatever? Am I identified with the father or am I finding my identity somewhere else? Am I living in his power and when I’m tested how am I responding to that? And then ultimately when I return to the village, am I giving my life for the village or am I living for myself or for something else?

So I began to think about that on Kodiak island, and it’s funny because it happened halfway through the book and so it should have probably been in chapter one because it’s the big idea of the book. But it’s in chapter, about five or six. So ghat got me excited because I felt like I heard something at that point that was really worth saying, that I’d never heard before. So it’s like if I’m talking to JR Tolkien, CS Lewis and then we invite Joseph Campbell to the table about his some of his mythologies speak, I think they would come up with something like that.

I think they would come up with something like, “Yeah, that’s true,” and then Tolkien would probably take a toke off of his pipe and pass it along and I would be so happy just to be watching them. I don’t have to talk to them, I don’t really deserve to be in the pub with them, but I would just like to kind of be off somewhere in the shadows.

[0:14:21.9] JG: Yeah, that’s cool. You mentioned me calling myself a writer. Well, you know, the deeper story of this and I think this is actually kind of counter-cultural idea but I think it’s true. Everybody’s saying, “You just need to go do it. You want to be a writer? Go do it. You want to be a speaker? Go do it. You want to start a nonprofit? Go do it.” The truth is, I don’t really think that’s how it works, right? You talk about — I mean, you lead an organization about mentoring fatherless kids all over the country and this is, as you know, a global problem.

[0:14:54.9] JS: Yes.

[0:14:56.5] JG: There’s like real fatherlessness where you didn’t grow up with a dad and then you shared some of your story. There’s a feeling that a lot of us get where our dads are just…

[0:15:04.6] JS: Emotional.

[0:15:05.0] JG: Yeah, just not present in our lives. Anyway, all that to say, my experience of becoming a writer really began with this conversation I had with a friend who was an older gentleman who asked me what my dream was. We weren’t great friends, we just kind of met each other, he asked me what my dream was and I said well, “I don’t know, I guess I don’t really have a dream.” He said, “Really? Because I would have thought you would have said to be a writer.” I was like, “Okay, yeah, I guess I’m a writer. Or I’d like to be a writer,” and he goes, “Jeff, you don’t have to want to be a writer, you are a writer. You just need to write.”

[0:15:33.3] JS: Yeah, that’s good.

[0:15:35.5] JG: I mean, this is like what dads are supposed to do.

[0:15:37.5] JS: That’s right.

[0:15:38.1] JG: They’re like supposed to acknowledge in their sons and daughters, “This is who you really are.”

[0:15:43.3] JS: Yeah, that’s right. That’s the verse. I don’t want to cut you off, but real fast, the verse says, “Train a child in the way they should go,” really says, “Train a child in a way they’re bent, how they’re created, what their passion is,” and so that’s your bent and a guy just called it out on you and you said, it gave you permission, you know?

[0:16:02.7] JG: Yeah, this is a really popular idea in our culture, you don’t need somebody’s permission, right? Which I love the sentiment of that, but you kind of actually do. Or you at least need someone to believe in you, preferably a dad or a father figure, before you’re going to believe in yourself.

So how do you reconcile that in a culture that’s like no, you can go do anything, because obviously I would never tell my children, “You need to wait around for somebody, some guy to come tell you what you need to do with your life.” But at the same time, like I recognized my responsibility as a dad, I grabbed my son by the face the other day and I said, “You are a good boy and I’m proud of you.”

[0:16:40.6] JS: Yeah, that’s good.

[0:16:41.4] JG: He just lit up. I was sort of debriefing with my wife yesterday and I was like, you know, I said this things that I didn’t feel like I needed to say, but I said them anyway because I was just like, I just wanted him to know right before bed, “Buddy, you are just a great boy, you’re kind and thoughtful and I’m so proud of you,” and he’s four and he’s got a baby sister and he loves her baby sister, just taking care of her. I said, “Buddy, I just love it when you take care of your sister. You love her so much. You’re such a kind boy.” And his eyes just lit up and he just had this big grin on his face, and I was telling my wife about it, “That really meant something to him.”

[0:17:17.7] JS: Yeah, that’s right.

[0:17:18.3] JG: She’s like, “Yeah, of course.” But as an insecure broken man who is still working on his own issues of feeling good enough, I almost didn’t say that.

[0:17:29.6] JS: That’s right, that’s good brother.

[0:17:31.6] JG: How do you reconcile that?

[0:17:33.3] JS: Well two things. Speaking about your son first. We find strength when we’re loved deeply. When we’re deeply loved. We find strength when we’re deeply loved. That’s important, it’s not just about motivational quotes on Instagram, those are good and I do them and they’re important, but it’s deeper than that. It’s not just about a rally, a men’s rally where you get all worked up and beat your chest. But you find strength when you’re deeply loved and so when you speak into your kid’s lives in a loving way, you grab their face, you’re actually adding layers of love to them; security, strength.

You’re giving them place, which is belonging, which gives them strength and so I think that’s a very powerful thing in terms of initiation. When someone speaks into your life with love and they love you deeply, it gives you strength and you find courage when you love something deeply. So you love your child deeply and you never thought you could stand up to that man who is seven foot tall and broke into your house and he’s got an axe handle. But he’s about to hit your kid. So guess what? You step in front of him. Whereas normally, you’re running and I’m running too. I’m out. I’m an alley from that guy, I’m Hauling. I

But if he’s trying to get my kid, I’m right in front of him, I’m like, “Let’s do this. This is going to hurt but I’m doing it,” because you love your son. So you find courage when you love someone deeply. Strength and courage are found through love, their byproducts. It’s real interesting to see that. So in terms of what our culture says, secondly, I think there’s some strength to what people say to go try it. But then I think what you have to do is understand when the door slams in your face and you’re not the American Idol.

And in fact, you are not even a very good singer you need to say, “Okay, maybe I should write songs. I love music maybe I should become a DJ, maybe I should have my own studio. Maybe I should just sing for fun at the children’s church where it’s okay that I am off key a little bit.” But I think you’re right, you can’t do anything and part of it is a little bit of a problem sometimes. Because you see people that are not in their zone and they are not in their space and I think that’s one of the reasons mentoring is so important because whether it’s a father or a mentor, someone is actually saying to you, “Hey Jeff, you are actually a good writer bro,” and you’re like, “Man,” and it sets you free and that you do it for 10 or 20 or 30 or 50 years.

And the same thing happened with Don Miller. He was breaking into houses as a junior high kid in Texas and he was shooting guns and houses. He tells the story all the time, he was shooting phone books and I make fun of him. I say, “Is that what you guys did in Texas? Why do you break into a house to shoot a gun? Just shoot it outside.” But that’s what he did and this guy came along and said, this an amazing man named David Gentiles said to him, “Hey Don, you’re a good writer,” at eighth grade and they gave him opportunity.

Mentors also give you opportunity if they can. He said, “Here write for the church newsletter.” And so Don wrote every week to make David proud and so what does Don Miller do today? He does marketing and some other things, but he’s written five bestselling books because one guy said to him in junior high, “You’re good at this.” He called him out and Don is, he’s brilliant at that and so I think it’s important and I think that’s one of the reasons why mentoring is so important. Not mentoring necessarily in a program, not mentoring once a week like after school programs, those are important and we recruit mentors for that.

But really mentoring with our lives and that’s the great commission, it’s this relational challenging call for us to say to kids, like what you did as a dad to also to the kids around us, to your son’s friends maybe, who don’t have a dad on the soccer team or whatever to say, “Good job today, I am proud of you,” and even to say, “I am proud of you not for your performance.” Just, “Hey good way you handled yourself.” Those things change people’s whole trajectory. Because if that guy wouldn’t have said to you, “You want to be writer?” Or the guy hadn’t said to Don or early on for me people said, “You’re a good writer.”

Because I wanted to be a speaker. I wanted to be Lou Giglio. I wanted to be a famous Christian speaker guy and as hard as I tried and I do it, I speak a lot but I’m the better writer and so people kept telling me that. They kept saying, “You should write, you should write, you should write,” and I heard that affirmation and that changed my course.

[0:21:43.0] JG: Yes, that’s powerful stuff. You talked there’s not a lot of books out there about this and I think that’s true. One book that I read that was pretty interesting is a psychology book called Teen 2.0 by Robert Epstein. Have you heard of this book?

[0:21:56.5] JS: I have not, it sounds good.

[0:21:57.5] JG: It’s a tome, it’s a big book. It’s like 500 pages.

[0:21:59.5] JS: A tome.

[0:22:00.4] JG: Yeah, it’s by a Jewish psychologist and I think he’s based in San Diego or something. But part of the book is about rites of passage and what modern rites of passage is or what modern rites of passage look like for young men and young women and how that differs and that’s a cool book. I would recommend you check it out.

[0:22:21.5] JS: That’s beautiful. We see that in other cultures. So the Jewish cultures have some of it. The Hispanic culture has some of it. The American Military has it to an extent. It’s not the same, there is some kind of initiation. You see it in Africa in the Maasai tribes and the Native Americans have it and so we don’t have rites of passage necessarily in the west nor do we have elders. We don’t have fathers, 40% of us anyway to 50 and then we have a culture that is hostile to the idea of gender and this idea at all.

And so when you are returning to the village to give your life to the village, sometimes the village doesn’t want you to give your life for it and they’re throwing things at you and they’re saying, “Give us Barabbas,” or whatever. But in these cultures that embrace initiary practice, they understand that what you do when you go out, when you are being initiated, the dangers you face, the trials that come on you actually has value to the greater community so that whenever you bring back is valuable and they celebrate you.

One of the great challenges of the west is that because we don’t have that kind of initiation path, you see kids still long for it and so you see them finding it in gangs and they find belonging and they find somebody that’s going to tell them they’re good at something or they find a tribe or a pack or a crew or whatever, and so part of the impetus behind Heroic Path was my own learning journey, but it was also a hope that this can start informing some of those conversations even if it’s general, it’s a visual language, it’s broad application.

So I am not very good at less some pretty disorganized. Like, I think I know where my car keys are right now. Yeah I just saw them. Normally I don’t know where they are. And my wallet is — I see it too. So this is a rare day where I know where both of them are right now but the book…

[0:24:00.3] JG: You know what you got to do.

[0:24:03.0] JS: Yeah, strap them to me like motorcyclists?

[0:24:04.8] JG: No, I got this phone case that is also a wallet and this has changed my life. Anyway back to things that matter.

[0:24:13.3] JS: I love that. Well, no that does matter. So the book is a well tangled mess of things but it’s also me and so it’s this visual, it’s broadly applicable, it’s visual language and so I want to stir people to apply for themselves. I don’t have a lot of lists in there because I’m not very good at lists and so it’s this meandering thing like a conversation that you might have in a pub in Oxford. So anyway, yeah man it’s been a real challenge for me.

It’s been a blessing but integrating all of those things for me it’s funny because it just feels like I am just following, like you said, passionate things that come to me whether it’s a book or it’s The Mentoring Project and those are the main two things. I mean the knife making thing is fun. It’s a hobby. My wife told me I needed to get a hobby and I’ll do tracking. I like running around in the outdoors and tracking because I like to chase animals, and I don’t have to shoot them. I’ll take pictures of them sometimes. I’m going to actually chase jaguars this fall. There are jaguars now in our country, in the US. Nobody knows that.

[0:25:15.5] JG: Really? I didn’t know that.

[0:25:16.9] JS: Yeah, they’re in Southern Arizona and so friends of mine have game cam pictures of them, drill cams, pictures of these jaguars at night. They’ve come up from Mexico and so I’m going to spend about a week this fall trying to get a real photo of one not a game cam photo. We’ll see, that’s like a needle in the haystack. That’s asking to win the lottery. They’re so elusive and they’re so much better than you are in the woods but I just like that.

And I’ll have a firearm just for self-defense, but I don’t have any interest to shoot that thing. I just want to take pictures of him and be out there in nature and so that’s why I’ve been tracking because I love that. But yeah, I appreciate you man to have me on the show and I love what you’re doing and how you’re inspiring writers and people to think strategically about moving forward but also to do it and to take that step. So thanks so much for having me on the show.

[0:26:05.0] JG: Yeah, thanks for all the things that you do, John, and thanks for this great book. I loved it. I thought it was really good and we’ll link up to that in the show notes and encourage folks to get it. But thanks again man. I love what you’re doing, it really matters.

[0:26:19.6] JS: Thank you brother. Thank you so much for having me on.

[0:26:21.3] JG: Yeah, you bet.

[END OF INTERVIEW]

JS: You find strength when you are deeply loved and so when you speak into your kids’ lives in a loving way, you grab their face, you are actually adding layers of love to them; security, strength. You’re giving them a place, which is belonging, which gives them strength.

[END]

Click here to download a free PDF of the complete interview transcript.

Andrew Raynor

Just how to hide your internet links

Andrew Raynor

 

 

We regularly consult for sites that monetize, in part, with affiliate links. We usually advise people to redirect affiliate links. In the past, we noticed that there wasn’t a proper script available online that could handle this for us, so we created one to tackle this problem. In this post, I explain how you can get your hands on it and how you can get it running on your website.

Why should I cloak my affiliate links?

A quick online search will result in tons of reasons as to why you should redirect your affiliate links. The “historical” reason for this is hiding from search engines that you’re an affiliate. It would be naive to think that search engines don’t understand what’s happening, but nevertheless this seems like a valid reason.

There are also a few more advantages to cloaking your affiliate links, such as:

  1. Ease of management
    Sometimes you might need to change your affiliate links. If said links are spread out across your blog, this could become a quite time-intensive task. By centralizing the affiliate links, you have one location to manage all of them.
  2. Prevents leaking PageRank to advertisers
    Affiliate links are ads and should be nofollowed or otherwise altered to prevent leaking PageRank to the advertiser. Instead of having to do this manually for every individual affiliate link, you can do this is a single location without much hassle. This also prevents the possibility of forgetting to add nofollow to one of the links.
  3. “Clean” links
    Different affiliate programs tend to use different permalink structures. Some might have relatively ‘clean’ links, whereas others tend to add a lot of gibberish. Using the redirect script can help you deal with this issue because the cloaked URL will always follow the same structure. This makes it a lot clearer for the user where the link is taking them to!

Cloaking affiliate links, the how to

The basic process of cloaking affiliate links is simple:

  1. Create a folder from where you’ll serve your redirects. At Yoast we use /out/.
  2. Block the /out/ folder in your robots.txt file by adding:
    Disallow: /out/
    
  3. Use a script in your redirect folder to redirect to your affiliate URLs.

Step 2 ensures search engines won’t follow the redirects, but we’ll add some extra security measures in our script to prevent accidental indexation of our affiliate links. Step 3 is as easy as manually adding each redirect to your redirect directory’s .htaccess file, assuming you’re running your website on an Apache-based server. Alternatively, you can use the script we produced to make it easier on yourself. The added bonus of this script is that it also works for servers running Nginx!

Affiliate link redirect script

The script we created consists of three files, one of which is optional: an index.php file, a redirects.txt file and, to finish it all off, a .htaccess file to prettify your URLs.

Index.php

This file contains the logic that handles the actual redirection by performing a 302 redirect. Additionally, it sends a X-Robots-Tag header along to ensure search engines that can detect this header, obey the noindex, nofollow rules we pass along in it. We do this as an extra security measure in case you might forget to exclude the affiliate link in your robots.txt.

Redirects.txt

The redirects.txt file is a comma-separated file that contains a list of names and destination URLs like so:

yoast,https://yoast.com

Note that the file should always contain the following line at the very top to ensure people don’t attempt to redirect themselves to a non-existing URL:

default,http://example.com

Just change example.com to your own domain and you’re ready to go!

.htaccess

If you only install the above two files, you’ll already have enough in place to get things running. However, we advise you prettify the URLs, because this dramatically increases the readability. Without prettifying your URLs, you’ll end up with something like /out/?id=yoast instead of /out/yoast.

Prettifying can be achieved by adding a .htaccess file to the mix. This small file also helps ensure people can’t access your redirects.txt file to take a peek and see what affiliate links are available.

What about plugins?

In the past we’ve received questions about using WordPress plugins to tackle this cloaking issue. Despite there being a lot of valid options, they have one small caveat: speed. Because these plugins depend on WordPress’ core code, they need to wait for it to be fully booted before being able to execute themselves. This can easily add a second or two to the total loading and redirecting time if you’re on a slow server.
Our non-plugin solution is faster because it doesn’t depend on WordPress to run.

Ultimately, the best option depends on your needs. If you want to collect statistics on your affiliate links, you might be better off with a plugin. Otherwise, just use our script to keep things fast.

The files

If you’re interested in running this nifty script on your own website, head on over to GitHub. Feeling adventurous? You can find the source code here. People running Nginx can find sample code in this gist to see how to make it work for them.

Read more: ‘Playing with the X-Robots-Tag HTTP header’ »

SEO New Hampshire

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Request Yoast: proceed to wp, Aged fixed site?

Andrew Raynor

 

 

Imagine, you created a website a few years ago. It’s still out there, but you didn’t make any changes or updates ever since. So, your site probably needs a major – SEO – update. If you have a static website, you might consider to move your site to a CMS, like WordPress. What’s the best choice? I’ll help you out and explain in which case it would be better to start all over using WordPress.

In this Ask Yoast, we’ll answer a question from Richard Millstein:

““My website was created 10 years ago in HTML, it needs a major SEO update and has other issues. I think it would be better to start over using WordPress. What do you think?”

Check out the video or read the answer below!

Major SEO update

Read this transcript to learn more about choosing a CMS or not, when your website needs a major SEO update:

“Well, you get plus points for using WordPress, of course, no questions asked. Also, if your website was created 10 years ago and not much has happened to it since, then, you really need to think about, “Okay, what will I do once I re-create it? “Will I not do anything with it again for 10 years or will I keep updating it?”

If you want to keep updating it, then yes, you should really go for WordPress, because that makes that an awful lot easier. Of course, with WordPress you also get Yoast SEO and a lot of other advantages or things that you don’t have to build, that will work automatically for you. So, yes, you should probably do that.

The funny thing is, the output from WordPress will still be HTML, so you could probably get your theme of your site to look like your old site very easily. If you just hire someone to copy that into a WordPress theme and maybe do some optimizations as they do that. So, it could be a very simple job on Upwork or some other rental site, where you just go in and say “Hey I want you to change this theme to a WordPress theme and then input my content in it.” That could be a very simple job for someone and might save you an awful lot of time.

Good luck!”

Ask Yoast

In the series Ask Yoast we answer SEO questions from followers! Need help with SEO? Let us help you out! Send your question to ask@yoast.com.

Read more: ‘WordPress SEO’ »

SEO New Hampshire

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