The internet version of The West Virginia Surf Report has been around since late 2000, and since that makes me an elder statesman (dried-up old throwback) I’m occasionally asked for advice and recommendations. So… I’ve decided to put all my answers in one convenient place.
On this page, right here.
It’s true that I’ve experimented with plenty of programs and services over the years. Some were valuable, and many were not. I made lots of mistakes, and continue to do so. But I’m using this opportunity to highlight the stuff that actually works, and possibly prevent a few less heartaches for those just starting out.
Below I’ve listed the resources I use to maintain the Surf Report — and my sanity. I’ve also included a few suggestions based on the opinions of trusted experts. Success leaves clues, they say, and I’m finally getting a little better at recognizing them…
I hope this information is helpful.
WordPress is the way to go. It’s free and powerful, and can be made to do whatever you want it to do.
There’s a web-based Blogger-like version at wordpress.com, but you want the downloadable program (from wordpress.org) that can be installed on your host’s server. This gives you ownership of your site, and complete control over it.
There’s a great community surrounding WordPress, and the sites are highly customizable, using themes, plugins, and widgets. Here’s a good overview, and I also read this book when I was starting out. It’s not nearly as confusing as it might seem…
I invested $600 (or was it $800?) in a custom theme, but there are lots of free and kick-ass themes available out there.
If you’re just starting, I’d suggest a freebie, or a premium theme, like Thesis or Affiliate. Later, you might want to jump up to a custom theme. But they can be costly — I received a quote of $5000 to overhaul the Surf Report.
And that still makes my crack sweat a little.
I use a service called Hostito, based in San Francisco. I had trouble (lots of trouble) with my previous host, and a reader of the site recommended those guys to me.
I was looking for a small company that could provide a more personal service, and found it. Their prices aren’t the lowest in the world, but sometimes that’s not the most important factor.
If I have a problem today, I can just call them up and they’ll take care of it. They know me, and treat me like a partner. And that’s worth a lot — especially coming off the nightmare I experienced before them.
If you open an account, tell ’em Jeff Kay sent you! It probably won’t earn you a discount or anything, but it might earn me one. Ahem.
Domain name registration
Most of my sites are registered through GoDaddy. However, the Surf Report is still at Network Solutions. The former is cheaper, but for some reason I feel more secure with the latter. It’s the way I roll.
I used a free “solution” in the beginning, then upgraded to their so-called pro version. Both were fairly lame. Finally I got serious, and invested in the gold standard: AWeber.
They’re the best, and I’ll never use anyone else. It makes me angry that it took me so long to get it together.
I make a few dimes and nickels every month, through the following programs:
I’ve tried a TON of different programs in this category, and most didn’t perform. The ones above are the best — for me. But remember, every site is different. What works at TheWVSR, might not work at YourSite dotcom. And vice-versa.
I purchased this “podcast studio in a box” through Amazon, and use a free software program called Audacity to record and edit my efforts. Everything functions as I’d hoped. Except my voice, which sounds like hillbilly robotics.
Eventually I plan to use Skype to conduct “interviews,” etc. But we’ll burn that bridge when we get to it.
I’m skeptical to the extreme, and assume most self-help and home study ebooks/courses are nonsense designed to sucker people out of their money. That’s probably not fair, but it’s how I’m wired.
However, I’m also interested in improving the site, learning new techniques, increasing traffic, etc. And over the years I’ve tread carefully into the minefield of “information products.”
And I’m prepared to offer a couple of endorsements…
It’s a solid program, and I recommend it without hesitation.
I was already years into the Surf Report when I went through it, and still learned a great deal. Even during the early lessons there was value in making sure I had all the basics covered. Because, in a few cases I did not… But it was in the later, more advanced lessons where I really got my money’s worth.
If you’re a person just starting out, or an established blogger who can’t seem to get over the hump, Blog Mastermind is a good choice. Yaro is a fine teacher, with a real talent for making the complex understandable. And once you’re in, you have lifetime access to all the materials — including the forums and live group calls.
It was a completely positive experience for me. It costs somewhere in the neighborhood of $500, but the mentoring is top-notch, and I still listen to the lessons on mp3 (Yaro is Australian, but sounds like he’s from Ohio for some reason). In my opinion it’s worth more than it costs, and, like I said, I’m one skeptical sumbitch.
Yaro and video expert Gideon Shalwick also have a training program called Become A Blogger. I haven’t been through it, because it’s meant for beginners. But it has a fine reputation, and I have no doubt it’s excellent.
Become A Blogger is taught through a series of video tutorials, to show you EXACTLY how to set-up WordPress, EXACTLY how to install plugins, etc. So, if you’re just starting out, could use a little hand-holding (and who couldn’t?), and are visually-oriented, this is a good place to start, I think.
The only other sizable amount of money I’ve sunk into “information products” was for Aaron Wall’s late, great SEO Book. I believe I paid somewhere in the neighborhood of $75 for it, and it’s on the floor next to me, as I type this.
Unfortunately, the book is no longer available. Aaron has replaced it with a mentoring program, but I don’t know enough about it to have an opinion. It’s probably a safe bet, but I haven’t been through it.
I also recommend this book, a real one available in book stores, etc. It’s co-written by Darren Rowse of Problogger, and provides a good, solid foundation for anyone wanting to make money with a blog.
There are countless programs and downloadable ebooks available out there. But my advice is to be VERY CAREFUL. A lot of it’s crap, and a waste of money. At least that’s the way I see it…
Just for fun
The Surf Report subterranean bunker is usually rocking, and sometimes even rolling. I’m a music nut, almost to the point of mental illness. And these are the things I use to keep myself from completely flipping out:
My iPod. Eighty big gigs of storage space… As I type this there are more then 13,000 songs on it, with enough room for thousands more. It’s so great I could almost cry.
My docking station. I don’t think this thing is still available, but it’s a good one. I did an inordinate amount of advance research, and the iVoice is comparable to docking stations by Bose — for about one-third of the price.
eMusic Here’s my review of this fantastic download service. I took them up on their free trial offer, fully intending to cancel at the end, and fell in love with ’em. Highly recommended, especially if your tastes tend to fall outside the mainstream.
I also purchase more than my share of used CDs online. This is an article I wrote, about how to be a “used CD ninja.” Please use the knowledge for good, and not for evil.
Thanks for reading! Let me know if I’ve left anything out.